“Ammon Withstood His Blows”

Brant Gardner

This personal combat between the over-king and Ammon seems perplexing. First, it was far from an equal contest. Even without Yahweh’s help, Ammon was a young man in his prime and obviously skilled in arms, while the king is “old” (v. 24). Second, it was unthinkable that the king was traveling alone; why did his companions not intervene, at least to protect him or, even more likely, to attack this enemy?

The solution to these textual dilemmas must be found in the ethic of individual combat that is the hallmark of Mesoamerican warfare. Such personal conflicts were the essence of the warrior’s craft, and it would not be surprising to find a king, even an aged one, participating in battle. The Maya king Itzamnaj B’alam II of Yaxchilan was recorded as taking a war captive when he was in his eighties. Schele and Matthews note: “Emphasis was always given in the Maya monuments to the ‘single-combat’ nature of warfare—to the many one-on-one struggles within the larger context of the battle itself.” If the conflict between Ammon and Lamoni’s father, which escalated from words to blows, was an individual battle in the Mesoamerican tradition, then it is clear why others neither assisted nor interfered.

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