There is no explanation for the difference in the deaths of Giddianhi and Zemnarihah. Reconstructing the events with the available evidence suggests that Giddianhi was killed during battle, and that Zemnarihah was captured. We cannot tell why Giddianhi was more respected than Zemnarihah, for Giddianhi did not undergo the same shame as did Zemnarihah. The difficulty in this verse lies in the phrase “hanged upon a tree, yea, even upon the top thereof until he was dead.” This would appear to indicate that the hanging on the tree was the cause of death. If this is correct, then it is a departure from the Old World version of “hanging upon a tree.”
We find support for hanging on a tree in Deuteronomy:
22 ¶ And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree:
23 His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.
In the Deuteronomic “hanging,” there are two important facets that bear upon our verse in the Book of Mormon. The first is that the person is put to death first, and then the dead body is hung on the tree. The hanging on the tree is part of the shame and dishonor, not the mode of death. Josephus had Moses giving this particular law:
6. He that blasphemeth God, let him be stoned; and let him hang upon a tree all that day, and then let him be buried in an ignominious and obscure manner. (Josephus, Flavius, Antiquities of the Jews) .)
In Josephus’ telling, the dead body is hung on the tree, and then the burial is also “in an ignominious an obscure manner.”
We therefore have two possibilities for the statement in this chapter. Either the implication that Zemnarihah was alive while hanging on the tree represents a New World innovation, which is possible, or the phrase “until dead,” is an interpolation by Joseph Smith from what he expected the meaning of “hanging on a tree” to mean based on his own cultural context. Either is equally possible.
The second important factor in the Deuteronomic law is that “he that is hanged is accursed of God.” The events surrounding the cutting down of the tree suggest that this second principle is certainly retained in New World practice. When the tree is cut down, it is removed as an object that symbolically “shares” the ignominy of the one who had been hanged on the tree.