“They Were So Wroth with the Chief Judge That They Would Not Take Up Arms to Defend Their Country”

Brant Gardner

Mormon describes the king-men as sufficiently sympathetic to the attacking Lamanites that they refuse to take up arms. Yet how could they expect to be in a better position if the Lamanites controlled Zarahemla? The answer lies in the typical pattern of Mesoamerican conquest. The conquering army did not typically establish a physical presence, but rather allowed local governments to continue operating as long as they paid the demanded tribute. Archaeologist Michael D. Coe describes the data:

Drawing upon data on the Aztecs, the ethnohistorian Ross Hassig has suggested that Mesoamerican “empires” such as Teotihuacan’s were probably not organized along Roman lines, with total replacement of local administrations by the imperial power; rather, they were “hegemonic,” in the sense that conquered bureaucracies were pretty much left in place, but controlled and taxed through the constant threat of the overwhelming military force which could have been unleashed against them at any time. Thus, we can expect a good deal of local cultural continuity even in those regions taken over by the great city.

The king-men were those with the kind of lineage rank that the Lamanites would recognize, and they certainly found the Lamanite social structure more compatible than faithful Nephites did. Thus, these king-men could refuse to defend Zarahemla because it would be to their advantage for an enemy to conquer it. In the aftermath, they could easily elevate their own positions and install their desired social system, which, in all likelihood, would closely resemble that of the Lamanites.

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