“Prostrated Themselves Before Them to the Earth”

Brant Gardner

This terse and violent tale, in modern terms, violates most “rules” of modern warfare. Armed combatants are slaughtering unarmed civilians, including women and children. They do not represent a military objective, and they are not a serious impediment to a real military objective (such as the gateway to a city). So why would they commit such a wanton slaughter?

Again, the characteristics of Mesoamerican warfare provide a helpful context. The process of combat was just as important as the outcome, particularly physical domination and the capture of prisoners. Against unarmed opponents, actions that might have been designed to wound and thus capture an armed opponent might easily have become deadly. Second, it seems likely that the Lamanite army, worked into a battle-rage, may have begun the slaughter before they realized they were hewing down unarmed and unresisting men, women, and children. Indeed, it seems apparent that, when this realization sank in and with it the recognition that this type of combat held no honor, the assailants ceased their attack.

Variant: The original manuscript, printer’s manuscript, and the 1830 edition all begin verse 21 with “And it came to pass that when…”

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