“People of Ammon Give Large Portion of Their Substance to Support Nephites Armies”

Brant Gardner

Culture: At this moment of crisis, the Nephites did not abandon the refugees in their midst or encourage them to solve their own problems. Rather, both groups stepped forward to fulfill their mutual responsibilities. The people of Ammon assumed the economic burden of provisioning the army and no doubt helping to support their families while the men were in the army.

This passage also clarifies that, within the generic appellation “Lamanite,” were still identifiable tribes or clans, who traced their descent from Laman, Lemuel, and Ishmael. In addition to these lineal “Lamanites” are more clans who “had dissented from the Nephites, who were Amalekites and Zoramites, and the descendants of the priests of Noah.”

This dissent was extensive, since Mormon notes that “those descendants were as numerous, nearly, as were the Nephites” (v. 14). The list of clans is lengthy, but only “those descendants” appear to be singled out as “numerous.” It is possible that the term refers to all of those descended from Laman, Lemuel, and Ishmael, but this interpretation seems unlikely, since earlier statements indicate that the Lamanites alone, prior to the addition of any dissenters, were already more numerous than the Nephites. For example, as early as about two hundred years after the initial split between the groups, Jarom 1:6 describes the Lamanites as “exceedingly more numerous than were they of the Nephites.”

The record contains no indication of a radical drop in the number of Lamanites that would have changed these ancient ratios. I also find it unlikely that Noah’s priests had the “numerous” descendants. They were roughly contemporaneous with Alma’s father (a former priest of Noah), and it is not possible that they could have fathered a larger progeny than almost all of the Nephites in a single generation. Even adding in the Amalekites and Zoramites, which is stretching the sense of the sentence a bit, would not produce this large group of “descendants.” Possibly the priests had risen in power, giving them control over political dependents whom Mormon metaphorically designated as “descendants.” But this explanation also seems thin.

The important point, however, is the implication about the serious problem of dissenters. Two of the three dissenting groups are large enough to warrant distinctive names. Omitted are the Amulonites, who were mingled with the Amalekites in Jerusalem, and the Ammonihahites, also dissenters from the Nephite religion though still part of the Nephite hegemony. The Ammonihahites are no longer players; they were destroyed by the Lamanites/Amalekites when the Anti-Nephi-Lehies were expelled from the land of Nephi (Alma 25:2).

Thus, the picture that emerges is of Zarahemla, a dominant city whose political and religious hold on its dependent cities is tenuous. Even Zarahemla has pressures to adopt “Lamanite” ways, as the rise of the king-advocates will show. Nephite history for the next several years shows fighting on multiple fronts, including against internal enemies.

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