“Their Leader Zemnarihah Was Taken and Hanged Upon a Tree”

Bryan Richards
"Third Nephi 4:28-33 recounts in considerable detail the execution of Zemnarihah, the captured leader of the defeated Gadianton robbers. It has recently been suggested that this public execution followed ancient ceremony and law…After the Nephites had chopped down the tree on which Zemnarihah had been hanged, they all cried out ‘with one voice’ for God to protect them. Then they sang out ‘all as one’ in praise of God (3 Nephi 4:30-33). Is there some kind of ritual involved here? Several evidences point to an ancient background for this execution. Consider these few items.
"First, notice that the tree on which Zemnarihah was hung was felled. Was this ever done in antiquity? Apparently it was. For one thing, Israelite practice required that the tree upon which the culprit was hung be buried with the body. Hence the tree had to have been chopped down…
"Second, consider why the tree was chopped down and buried. As Maimonides explains: ’In order that it should not serve as a sad reminder [with] people saying: This is the tree on which so-and-so was hanged.’ In this way, the tree became associated with the person being executed; it came to symbolize the culprit and the desire to forget him or her. By way of comparison, the Nephites identified the tree with Zemnarihah and all those like him, that his infamy might not be forgotten, when they cried out: ’May [the Lord] cause to be felled to the earth all who shall seek to slay them, … even as this man hath been felled to the earth.’
“…Finally, the people all chanted loudly, proclaiming the wickedness of Zemnarihah, which may be reminiscent of the ancient practice of heralding a notorious execution. Deuteronomy 19:20 says that ’those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you.’ How was this to be accomplished? Rabbi Jehudah explained: ’I say that he is executed immediately and messengers are sent out to notify the people.’ Indeed, public matters, such as the execution of a rebelling judge (see 3 Nephi 6:22-28), had to be heralded. An even clearer example of heralding in the Book of Mormon is found in Alma 30:57, where the results in Korihor’s case were heralded abroad. In both these cases, the apparent requirement of publishing the wickedness of the culprit was satisfied, so that all who remained would ’hear and fear,‘ and the evil would be removed from among God’s people.” (Reexploring The Book of Mormon, p. 250-2)