“Ammon and His Brethren Saw Lamanites Preparing for War”

Brant Gardner

Redaction: Mormon is abbreviating too heavily for our modern tastes. He apparently begins to rely again on Ammon’s record rather than Aaron’s at this point, suggested by the fact that Ammon is listed as the principal in this verse. Furthermore, either the source material was skimpy or Mormon was writing too hastily or was in some confusion himself. People’s movements for the next several verses are not clear. I attempt a logical reconstruction based on the material he does supply.

History: Ammon and his brethren “and all those who had come up with him” observe the “Lamanite” preparations for war. They are in Midian where Ammon meets “all his brethren,” then they travel to Ishmael and hold a council that includes Lamoni and his brother (or half-brother), Anti-Nephi-Lehi, who is now the over-king and ruler of the city and land of Nephi.

The text identifies Ammon, his brethren, “and all those who had come up with him.” This phrase suggests that Ammon and his brethren are leading a group, logically the believers whom they have converted in the various cities and whom they are bringing to a new location. This hypothesis receives some support from the fact that the next verses begin to speak of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies as a single group. The very next verse (v. 6) tells us that they all refused to take up arms. The king’s speech appears to be directed to the entire group of converts, and verse 17 suggests that all of the people are gathered together.

When this group reaches Midian, they meet another body of people, unidentified but who have similarly gathered at Midian. It might include some of the missionaries but may be only converts from some of the other cities. This is the Book of Mormon’s only mention of Midian, and there is no indication of its location.

Midian’s geographical vagueness continues a general problem with location throughout this chapter. The two clear facts are that (1) “they” went from Midian to Ishmael for a council, and that the massacre occurred in the land of Nephi, not the land of Ishmael (v. 20). Here is my reconstruction of both the problem and a tentative solution.

A large group goes to Midian. Some, if not all of the same people, go to Ishmael, including the king of the land of Nephi (Lamoni’s brother). Then everyone, or at least a significant number of them, are in Nephi. Many of the cities where conversions took place were south and west of Nephi. The strongholds of the Amulonites and Amalekites were north and west of Nephi and north of Ishmael. It appears reasonable, then, that Midian was a convenient collection place between the more distant cities of Shemlon, Shilom, and Nephi. When the newly named people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi followed their missionaries out of the cities, they met at Midian where they took on the identity of a single body.

At Midian, the Anti-Nephi-Lehies split into two bodies. The larger group went “up” to Nephi and were there when the Lamanites invaded. It was a logical refuge both because it was the location of their king (Lamoni’s brother, Anti-Lehi-Nephi) and because, as the central city of the polity formerly ruled over by Lamoni’s father, it probably had better fortifications.

I hypothesize that the “they” who went to Ishmael from Midian consisted, not of the whole group, but of Ammon and his brothers. Because they were holding a war council in Ishmael, a large group of emigrants would have slowed their speed and hampered their deliberations. They may have met at Ishmael instead of Nephi because Ishmael was closer to the strongholds of the Amulonites and Amalekites, and thus they could get fresher intelligence about their enemies. At the council’s end, all of the believers would have retreated from both Ishmael (small group) and Middoni (larger group) to Nephi.

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