“Zemnarihah Was Taken and Hanged Upon a Tree”

Alan C. Miner

In 3 Nephi 4:28 we find that "Zemnarihah was taken and hanged upon a tree." According to an article by John W. Welch, 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, people saying: 'This is the tree on which so-and-so was hanged.' "

Third, the text suggests that the Nephites understood Deuteronomy 21:22 as allowing execution by hanging - a reading that the rabbis saw as possible.

Fourth, observe that the ancient idea of fashioning a punishment that fits the crime was carried out here. For example, if a thief broke into a house, he was to be put to death and "hung in front of the place where he broke in." Ancient punishments were often related symbolically to the offense. Likewise, the punishment for a false accuser was to make him suffer whatever would have happened to the person he had falsely accused (see Deuteronomy 19:19). In Zemnarihah's case, he was hung in front of the very nation he had tried to destroy, and he was felled to the earth just as he had tried to bring that nation down.

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) [John W. Welch, "The Execution of Zemnarihah," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, p. 252]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary