“They Could Not Hit Him”

Brant Gardner

Cultural: When the text tells us that they “shot arrows” this might have been from a bow, because a bow was known, but the more common method in Mesoamerica was more technically “throwing” the arrows from a device into which an arrow is placed and which provides a more powerful throw to the arrow.

This verse indicates two important facts. The first is that the people could not hit Samuel, and the second is that they took this inability to hit Samuel as miraculous. This is a situation that should receive at least a little attention. We are a society grown up on Western movies and Police shows where modern guns are fired at all kinds of people and no one seems to be hit. For the sake of the story, people in these movies have remarkably poor aim. In this case, there might be a possibility of poor aim. There might also be a possibility that Samuel’s location on the wall made the shot more difficult.

Neither of these possibilities fits the statement, for then the missing would be natural, not supernatural. In this case, it is important to note that there was every reason to expect that they would have been successful. It is this contrast between what should have happened and what did happen that became the miracle that caused even more people to believe and to seek out Nephi.

Interestingly, the inability to be shot with arrows when the target should easily have been killed became part of the Mesoamerican definition of a supernatural being. The jaguar was considered a sacred and supernatural being in Mesoamerica, and this difficulty of killing it with arrows became part of its legend:

“When it sees one, when it meets, when it comes upon a huntsman, a hunter, it does not run, it does not flee. It just settles down to face him. It places itself well; it hides itself not at all, this [jaguar]. Then it begins to hiss, so that by its breath it may make faint, may terrify the hunter. And when the hunter begins to shoot arrows at it. The first reed, the arrow, which he shoots, the [jaguar] just catches with its paws; it shatters it with its teeth. It seats itself upon it growling, snarling, rumbling in its throat. When [the hunter] shoots more, it is just the same; howsowever many he shoots at it, to all [the jaguar] does the same.” (Bernardino de Sahagun. Florentine Codex. School of American Research and University of Utah, 1963, 11:2).

In one of the stories of the birth of Quetzalcoatl, his father, Mixcoatl the hunter-deity sees the woman Chimalman. He shoots arrows at her, but is unable to hit her. This becomes the sign of her supernatural nature, and he weds her to produce their son Quetzalcoatl in a miraculous (and culturally significant) four days. (History and Mythology of the Aztecs: The Copdex Chimalpopoca. Tr. John Bierhorst. University of Arizona Press, Tucson and London, 1992, p. 153. Interestingly, one of the arrows shot at Chimalman she also catches in her hand, as does the jaguar in the Florentine Codex text).

When the people saw that Samuel could not be killed with arrows, and that he should have been, then they saw that this was a miracle. Whether that event alone, or some other Mesoamerican conditioning to see the inability of killing something with arrows as a marker of divinity, the people did recognize the miracle, and through that miracle the presence of the protection of the Lord with Samuel. This miracle was what turned even more to repentance.

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon