“They Could Not Hit Him”

Brant Gardner

Culture: Bows were clearly known in later Mesoamerican periods, but the more common Mesoamerican method of propelling an arrow was “throwing” it from an atlatl. (See commentary accompanying Alma 49:19–20.)

The fact that the archers could not hit Samuel suggests an expectation of high accuracy—since missing him seemed so miraculous that several became believers on those grounds alone. Possibly Samuel’s location on the wall made the shot more difficult; but in that case, missing him would be a natural event, not a supernatural one.

Interestingly, the jaguar, a sacred being with supernatural powers in Mesoamerica religion, was also (in folklore) invulnerable to death by arrow:

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; howsoever many he shoots at it, to all [the jaguar] does the same.

In one of the stories of Quetzalcoatl’s birth, his father, Mixcoatl the hunter-deity, sees a woman, Chimalmán. He shoots arrows at her but is unable to hit her. Convinced of her supernatural nature, he weds her; and their son Quetzalcoatl is born in a miraculous (and culturally significant) four days. The invincibility to arrows would therefore suggest that Samuel was at least touched by an other-worldly spirit (see v. 6) and was possibly a demi-god himself. (See commentary accompanying Alma 18:2.)

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