“They Buried the Weapons of War, for Peace”

Brant Gardner

Redaction/Translation: Mormon also spells out a larger moral to this story. The Anti-Nephi-Lehies’ conversion was so complete that they would rather die than sin again. Certainly, Mormon admired their courage.

At the end of this verse, Mormon wrote, “They buried their weapons of peace,” then corrects himself: “or they buried the weapons of war, for peace.” Daniel H. Ludlow suggests this passage as confirming the difficulty (even impossibility) of erasing on the plates. The cause of the error is easy to understand. Some of the elements of the intended phrase are present and are “recut” into the erroneous phrase. English speakers are familiar with such recutting on a word basis, where “another whole… ” becomes “a whole nother.… ”

The error could have occurred either in Mormon’s text or in Joseph’s translation. If Mormon made the error, then he was thinking “ahead” of his writing and committed himself in metal without realizing the inaccuracy. Joseph could have made the error as he dictated. As he saw the intended meaning coming, he recut the phrase on the fly, correcting it immediately after. The ultimate source is impossible to determine without access to Mormon’s plates. However, it seems more like an oral error than a written one. Assuming that the translation was a tightly controlled process would make the possibility of Mormon’s error more attractive, but this commentary takes the position that the translation process was quite fluid. This “weapons of peace” would be an example that supports that conclusion.

Although Mormon never mentions a draft, presumably on material easier to work with than metal, he sometimes refers to future events, giving the impression that they might already have been written. Certainly he conceived the outline of his story before committing it to metal. The pragmatic advantages of writing a first draft on a perishable material are obvious; however, if he did, opportunities for this type of error are limited. It is not a copyist’s error because the elements that have been recut are too far from the point of the copying. There are spontaneous elements in Mormon’s writing where he inserts a tangent on the plate text that was not part of his original outline. This incident does not follow the markers of those occasions. (See commentary accompanying Alma 17: 16–17.)

Oral discourse, in contrast, is full of such mid-course corrections. Since Joseph dictated the translation, it requires no particular effort to see Joseph “reading ahead,” making an oral error in the dictation, and then correcting it immediately.

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