“They Separated Themselves and Departed One from Another”

Brant Gardner

John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book/Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies), 222. Map used by permission.

Their great faith is evidenced in their willingness to separate. The smaller the group, the greater the danger if they encountered hostile raiding parties. However, separation into smaller groups had the proselytizing advantage of letting them speak to more people and also eliminating the possibility that they would be seen as a military threat.

A facet of many ancient societies that may help us understand the dynamics of this visit to the Lamanites is the dichotomy between official tensions among different peoples and the rules of hospitality. While the Lamanites and Nephites as groups certainly do not get along in the Book of Mormon, smaller numbers of people apparently had no difficulty traveling from place to place and even entering the cities of their enemies. The official wars and armed conflicts take place on a larger, more political level. But on a personal level, people appeared to follow the rules of offering hospitality to guests. Descriptions of individual movements report nothing that we would term racial hatred. In short, the “walk” was frequently different from the official “talk.”

The Nephite stereotyping of Lamanites began very early in the Book of Mormon, and a rather complete pejorative catalog of Lamanite traits appears in Enos 1:20. Those early categorizations reappear periodically in the rest of the Book of Mormon, indicating that these descriptions are generic rather than specific. Despite official antipathy and stereotypes of the Lamanites, individual interactions show a contrast. When even enemies meet in circumstances that do not require hostile interactions (as the clash of armies), the interactions become much more cordial than the bellicose official pronouncements would lead us to expect. Despite holding adverse beliefs about each other, people extend hospitality to travelers, particularly when they obviously represent no political or military threat.

Literature: “At the close of their harvest” refers to the harvest of souls, not the farming season.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 4