Some might wonder how to reconcile the following:
1. Lamoni was king over the land of Ishmael (Alma 17:20); and
2. The land of Ishmael was where Lamoni had his “inheritance” (Alma 21:18); but
3. The land of Ishmael was “called after the sons of Ishmael, who also became Lamanites” (Alma 17:19); &
4. It was the custom of the people of Nephi [and their record keepers?] to call their lands, and their cities,
and their villages, yea, even all their small villages, after the name of him who first possessed them
This might imply that Lamoni was a descendant of Ishmael; however:
5. The “father of Lamoni was ”king over all the land" (Alma 20:8); and
6. The father of Lamoni had made a feast unto my “sons” (Alma 20:9).
7. King “Laman” is the last Lamanite king mentioned as being “king over all these lands” (Mosiah 24:2-3);
8. He “was called after the name of his father” (Mosiah 24:3).
9. We might presume that the Lamanites have always been ruled by the descendants of Laman (see 2 Nephi
This might imply that Lamoni was a descendant of Laman as were all the vassal kings; however:
10. The king of the land of Middoni, Antiomno, was just “a friend” to King Lamoni (Alma 20:4).
Thus: Was Lamoni a descendant of Ishmael or of Laman? And what was the relationship of Lamanite vassal kings?
According to Avraham Gileadi, we might obtain some insight into this situation by understanding the ancient Near Eastern suzerain (lord)--vassal (servant) covenant relationship. In the covenant of grant, when a vassal or servant king demonstrates exceeding loyalty to a suzerain or overlord king, the latter may bestow on him the unconditional right of an enduring dynasty to rule over a city-state of the suzerain’s empire. [a “land of inheritance”] … These vassal kings are from among the peoples over whom they rule. That is, they are not commonly related to the suzerain by blood. Nevertheless, there is an establishment of a father-son relationship between the suzerain and the vassal, by a formula declaring the suzerain’s adoption of the vassal. This creates a legal basis for the suzerain’s bestowal of an enduring dynasty on the vassal; in the treaty language, the vassal is thus known both as “son” of the suzerain and as his “servant.”
The suzerain holds a feast or feasts annually (Alma 18:9; 20:9) at which his vassals renew their covenant with him. (Compare the Old Testament feasts of King Solomon as suzerain--1 Kings 8:65, and of King Ahasuerus the Persian as suzerain with Ether 1:1-3). That custom explains Lamoni’s awkward encounter with his “father.” The suzerain, who is king over all the land, seeks out Lamoni and immediately questions him about why he didn’t attend the feast (Alma 20:8-9). Such an act signified a vassal’s rebellion against the suzerain. It is doubtful the king is Lamoni’s familial father, for apparently Lamoni is an Ishmaelite (see Alma 17:21). Moreover, the father king is old (Alma 20:24); and only some forty years earlier a King Laman, son of Laman, was king over all the land (Mosiah 24:2-3). [Avraham Gileadi, The Last Days: Types and Shadows from the Bible and the Book of Mormon, pp. 181, 215]