“Escaped into the Country Southward”

Brant Gardner

Historical: Mormon had only indicated twenty four survivors of the devastating final battle (Mormon 6:11). However, there were still others who had escaped from the battle earlier, and gone to the countries in the south (Mormon 6:15). It is not clear in Moroni’s text if those who escaped were the twenty four or the ones mentioned in Mormon 6:15. In either case, the idea that every last Nephite was killed is rhetorical hyperble.

The greatest number of the survivors would have been those who simply changed sides in the battle (Mormon 6:15). In the text, both Mormon and Moroni appear to make a distinction between the twenty four and others who might be designated Nephites who also survived the destruction of their people. The evidence for this assertion comes from Moroni himself. Moroni tells us that all have been killed in verses 2 and 3. Nevertheless, some twenty one years later he states:

Moroni 1:1-3

1 Now I, Moroni, after having made an end of abridging the account of the people of Jared, I had supposed not to have written more, but I have not as yet perished; and I make not myself known to the Lamanites lest they should destroy me.

2 For behold, their wars are exceedingly fierce among themselves; and because of their hatred they put to death every Nephite that will not deny the Christ.

3 And I, Moroni, will not deny the Christ; wherefore, I wander whithersoever I can for the safety of mine own life.

Moroni’s statement twenty one years later than the current text shows him as a man on the run, but that there are other Nephites who are similarly endangered. This situation could not occur if every single Nephite had been killed save twenty four at Cumorah, or even all of those who had gone to the southern countries. The obvious conclusion is the one that fits the history of mankind and such battles. While the polity may be destroyed, the people are not. Just as much is made of the disappearance of the Classic Maya, they never actually disappeared. Their descendants still live on the same lands, still speak the same languages, and retain the same much the same way of life as did farmers in those earlier days. What is gone is the political structures and the culture. So it was with the Nephites. There were people who remained, many of whom did deny the Christ and remain alive.

These twenty four needed to go somewhere, and where they go is southward. This begs explanation, for the attack of the Lamanite/Gadianton army came from that direction. It would appear that retreating into the heart of the enemy would be a dangerous thing to do. Why not go northward away from the people who had caused the destruction?

The answer lies in a combination of culture, language, and kinship. To the north were lands that were occupied by other peoples of a different culture and language. Even more importantly, there would be no kinship ties in the lands northward. Therefore, to the north would lie unfriendly territory that would be just as likely to kill them as the Lamanite army. Southward, however, was at least land that they understood, and a language they spoke. In that land there had been a revolution of people (Mormon 2:8) who had apparently shifted sides from Nephite to Lamanite. It is possible that among these were kin of at least some of the twenty four. Their kin would have the responsibility of care for other kin, and therefore there was hope of survival southward, but little to the north.

In spite of their expectations, they were hunted and killed. This raises several questions. First, what would twenty four people to do a Lamanite polity that no controlled large amounts of land? Secondly, how were they found, as they spoke the same language, looked the same, and were part of the same culture as the land southward into which they went?

The only distinguishing aspects of these men were their connection to the Nephite polity and their religion. Neither of those was visible, so the hunting down of these men came through betrayal rather than active search. They would have been killed to eliminate any of the connections to the formal polity to prevent them from fomenting unrest in the people – something they might have done either through political connection to rulership among the Nephites, or simply through their religion which was now a subversive element in the larger society. The process of finding and killing these twenty four takes a period of fifteen years. This tells us that the twenty four were successful in blending in for a time, but were eventually betrayed into the hands of the now governing Lamanites.

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon