“Cast into Prison”

Brant Gardner

The Ammonites had lived in the land of Nephi before emigrating to join the Nephites in Zarahemla. As discussed in the commentary accompanying Alma 24:9–11, Mesoamerican religion at this time included keeping captives for public torture and eventual sacrifice. Maya specialists Simon Martin and Nikolai Grube assert: “To be taken captive was the greatest disaster to befall a Maya king. Public humiliation was obligatory and many seem to have been tortured before their execution by beheading, burning, or being tied into balls and cast down flights of steps.” Although this history predates the Maya period Martin and Grube describe, such a fate may well have awaited the two brothers. Presumably Mormon’s assertion that the party of Lamanites who entered the prison were coming to slay the missionaries came from some record of Nephi and Lehi. They may have assumed the Lamanites’ intention because they understood the Lamanite cult of war and human sacrifice.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 5