EVIDENCE: Procedure in Zemnarihah’s Execution (3 Nephi 4:28–33)

Ed J. Pinegar, Richard J. Allen

The Nephites’ public execution of Zemnarihah adheres to ancient ceremony and law—but definitely not European law. Zemnarihah is hanged on the top of a tree until he dies, then the tree is chopped down or “felled to the earth.” In Jewish law, if a criminal was hanged, the tree on which he was hanged had to be buried with him so that the tree would not remind people of the person executed on it. Jewish law usually demanded stoning to death for serious offenses, but hanging was allowed in several recorded instances. Paralleling the ancient practice of announcing an important execution, the Nephites “did cry with a loud voice” after Zemnarihah’s hanging, urging the righteous to similarly execute all such usurpers. Then they thanked the Lord for His protection and asked for His continued blessings to be upon them as long as they remained righteous. (See Echoes, 366–369.)

In a further consideration of this theme, some have wondered why the leader of the Gadianton robbers was hanged and not stoned—the customary method of execution under the law of Moses. However, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls declares that a spy—one who “curses his own people” or “causes evil against his people”—should be executed by hanging (see the Temple Scroll, 11Q19, col. LXIV, lines 6–13). (See Echoes, 249–251.)

Commentaries and Insights on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 2