“This They Did It Being in Their View a Testimony to God”

Brant Gardner

The burial of the weapons certainly put them beyond easy reach, and the function of reinforcing their resolve was accomplished by such a burial. However, Anti-Nephi-Lehi makes it clear that his reasons for burying the weapons are primarily religious, and any pragmatic reinforcement of their resolve is left entirely unsaid. When he explains the reason for burying the weapons, it is specifically “that they might be kept bright, as a testimony that we have never used them…”

Beginning with the oldest high culture in Mesoamerica, there is a tradition of burying important religious relics. At La Venta the Olmec created a massive mosaic picture made of hundreds of serpentine blocks, and then buried it. Other offering caches included polished jade celts, concave mirrors of magnetite or other iron ores, and other items sacred to the Olmec (Richard A. Diehl and Michael D. Coe. “Olmec Archaeology.” The Olmec World. Ritual and Rulership. The Art Museum, Princeton University, 1996, pp. 18-19).

The excavations at Copan found several offering caches, comprising ceramic censers, jadeite pieces, a flint knife, a shell, and sting-ray spines (William L. Fash. Scribes, Warriors and Kings. Thames and Hudson, 1991, p. 147). All of these items have great religious meaning among the Maya. An excellent discussion of Maya ceremonial caches may be found in Maya Cosmos (David Freidel, Linda Schele, Joy Parker. Maya Cosmos. William Morrow and Company, 1993, pp. 240-256).

With such a long history of making offerings in the earth, it would not be surprising if this action were a continuation of that tradition. Even though it was of pagan origin, the religious feeling that burying an offering was an appropriate action would have been strong with the Anti-Nephi-Lehis. Modern Christians feel quite comfortable with Christmas trees and Easter bunnies, in spite of the ultimately pagan origins of those symbols. So too the Anti-Nephi-Lehies could have been quite comfortable with a porting an acceptable religious practice to their new faith.

Daniel Ludlow has suggested:

“The converted Lamanites (Anti-Nephi-Lehies) refused to take up their arms against their brethren because, as they stated, “it has been all that we could do, (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins.” (Alma 24:6, 11.) As part of a covenant with God that they would give up their own lives rather than shed the blood of anyone else in time of war, they “took their swords, and all the weapons which were used for the shedding of man’s blood, and they did bury them up deep in the earth.” (Alma 24:17.) It is entirely possible that this interesting incident could have served as the source of the “bury-the-hatchet” tradition of showing peace, which was a common practice among some of the tribes of American Indians when Columbus and other white men came to their lands.” Daniel Ludlow. A Companion To Your Study Of The Book Of Mormon. Deseret Book, p. 210).

There is certainly a parallel between the burying of the weapons, but the burial is the only thing that is parallel. The more modern action was a symbol of peace, entered into by two warring peoples. That has no parallel with the Anti-Lehi-Nephies. The explicit imagery that Anti-Nephi-Lehi invokes is very different. The quantity of weapons buried would have been very different. The distances in both time and space are so great as to further suggest that this is only the most superficial of connections. It is much more probable that the event was related to the pervasive Mesoamerican caching devotion than to such an act so far separated in time, space, and meaning.

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon