“As He Lifted the Sword to Smite Him”

Alan C. Miner

A number of recent studies by Latter-day Saint scholars have suggested that the pre-Columbian Mesoamerican weapon known as the macuahuitl or macana fits the criteria for the Book of Mormon New World "sword." Critics maintain that the term "sword" in the Book of Mormon must refer to a weapon similar to a metal cavalry broadsword (much like we see in the movies of the civil war and the old west). They base their assumptions on certain terms or phrases mentioned in the text. One of these phrases is found in Alma 19:22, "Ammon drew his sword," implying that the sword had a sheath.

According to William Hamblin and Brent Merrill, the clearest instance of a sheath occurs in 1 Nephi 4:9, where Nephi saw Laban's sword," and . . . drew it forth from the sheath thereof." The sword referred to here, however, is Laban's standard Near Eastern sword, which generally was carried in a sheath. Significantly, in the other cases of drawing a sword (Mosiah 19:4; Alma 1:9; 19:22; 20:16), sheaths are not mentioned. . . . Weapons could just as easily be "drawn" from a bag or basket in which weapons were stored or carried. [William J. Hamblin and A. Brent Merrill, "Swords in the Book of Mormon," in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, p. 343]

According to an article by Matthew Roper, the mural from Chichen Itza shows a Toltec soldier carrying a bag or basket holding several macuahuitl on his back. The Maya in highland Guatemala had portable ammunition carts that carried weapons. Mesoamerican soldiers sometimes wore belts in which weapons could be carried. The Toltecs, for example, had a round shield which they carried into battle "and the swords were fastened with belts." While the Nephites may have had sheaths, they could also have "drawn" their swords from a bag, basket, or belt. [Matthew Roper, "On Cynics and Swords," in FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 9/1 1997, pp. 148-153]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary