“Without Any Resistance, They Did Slay a Thousand and Five”

Brant Gardner

This casualty report consists of two “units:” the first one thousand and the second five. (See Helaman, Part 1: Context, Chapter 4, “The Meaning of Numbers: Counts and Estimates in the Book of Mormon.”) Pan-Mesoamerican culture had either four or five cardinal directions depending on the emphasis. The fifth “direction” was the center and might be represented with dots not unlike the “5” on a die. Thus five represents a very complete and comprehensive number. Possibly, “five” here represents, not an accurate count, but a symbolic number. This number must have been in Mormon’s source, since he would have no way of knowing the actual casualties and no interest in interjecting a symbolic number.

History: An interesting parallel to the situation of the Anti-Lehi-Nephites occurred around A.D. 287 in the Old World. The political situations are different, but both communicate a powerful testimony of the gospel. According to David Linn and Kevin Barney, the parallel was

preserved by Saint Eucher, bishop of Lyon (died A.D. 494). He wrote of the Theban Legion, Christians from the region of Thebes in Upper Egypt who had been recruited for the Roman army in the third century A.D. When the Bagandae of Gaul (today’s France) rebelled, the emperor Maximian assembled an army to which he added the Theban Legion, composed of 6,600 men. After the rebellion was quelled, Maximian ordered that the army join in offering sacrifices to the Roman gods for the success of their mission. This included the killing of Christians.
The Theban Legion refused to comply and was moved by their commander, Maurice, to Aguanum, present-day St. Maurice-en-Valais in Switzerland. When news of their disobedience reached Maximian’s camp at nearby Octudurum, he sent several messages repeating his order, each of which was refused. He then ordered that the legion be “decimated,” that is, that every 10 man (Latin, decimalis) be put to death. He threatened a second decimation unless the men obeyed. The Christians from Thebes shouted that they would never commit the sacrilege the emperor demanded. The second decimation was ordered, yet the Thebans remained adamant. In this, they were like the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, of whom we read, “Now there was not one soul among all the people who had been converted unto the Lord that would take up arms against their brethren; nay, they would not even make any preparations for war; yea, and also their king commanded them that they should not” (Alma 24:6). The stirring speech of king Anti-Nephi-Lehi strengthened their resolve (Alma 24:7–16).
Like the Lamanite king, the Theban commander, Maurice, addressed his legion, calling attention to the example of their slain comrades and persuading them all to be ready to die to keep their baptismal vows, which included the renunciation of Satan and the worship of God only. The Anti-Nephi-Lehies, too, had made a covenant, in which they vowed never to take up arms against their brethren (Alma 24:18).
Maurice sent a message to Maximian in which he declared, “We readily oppose your enemies whoever they are, but we cannot stain our hands with the blood of innocent people. We have taken an oath to God before we took one to you; you cannot place any confidence in our second oath if we violate the other.… We have arms in our hands, but we do not resist, because we would rather die innocent than live by any sin.” His words remind us of those of the Lamanite king, who said, “Since God hath taken away our stains, and our swords have become bright, then let us stain our swords no more with the blood of our brethren. Behold, I say unto you, Nay, let us retain our swords that they be not stained with the blood of our brethren; for perhaps, if we should stain our swords again they can no more be washed bright through the blood of the Son of our great God, which shall be shed for the atonement of our sins” (Alma 24:12–13).
Upon hearing the message from the Theban commander, the emperor sent troops to massacre the remaining Thebans. Declining to resist, they put aside their weapons and offered their necks to the executioners. St. Eucher wrote that, in doing this, they bore witness to Christ, who similarly died without protest.…
We are not suggesting that the Book of Mormon account of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies derives from the story of the Theban Legion. They are too remote in time and place, and it is safe to say that Joseph Smith was unaware of the writings of St. Eucher. Rather, what we have are two accounts of people whose faith in Christ was so strong that they chose death over a betrayal of their sacred vows. It has always been thus with true believers.

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