“The Lamanites Took Him and Bound Him”

Brant Gardner

Even armed, Ammon would hardly constitute a threat to the Lamanites, yet he was bound as were “all the Nephites who fell into their hands.” How did they recognize Ammon as a Nephite? Certainly he could have simply introduced himself as such on sight, since there was no apparent linguistic barrier. Or possibly, his style of dress was a signal; even today, unique styles and patterns of ornamentation among the Maya of Guatemala provide information to the knowledgeable about the person’s village of origin. There is no indication that skin color was a clue. (See commentary accompanying 2 Nephi 5:21.)

The most significant information is that Ammon is definitely treated as a captive. In Mesoamerican art, captives, as already discussed (see commentary accompanying Alma 14:21–22), had great religious and political importance and are always shown bound. Rather than being “brought” before the king, which implies walking under his own power under guard, Ammon is “carried.” Although carrying a captive definitely causes more work for the guards, the prisoner is utterly helpless, which signals his greater public humiliation and submission. According to Simon Martin, honorary research fellow at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, and Nikolai Grube, professor of anthropology and art history at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Bonn, “Public humiliation was obligatory.”

Significantly also, Mormon lists the treatment options open to the king. Ammon’s only crime is that he is a foreigner on Lamanite land, but he is treated like a prisoner of war. The king can imprison him, expel him, keep him in permanent captivity, or execute him. These options also fit what is known of the way that Mesoamerican captives were treated. (See commentary accompanying Alma 14:14 and 14:21–22.)

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