A collection of Cultural Commentary




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Moroni . . . Had Built Forts of Security, for Every City in All the Land:


Alma 49:13 mentions the fact that "Moroni had fortified, or had built forts of security, for every city in all the land round about." According to Glenn Scott, in 1934, an expedition funded by the Carnegie Institution explored a site named Becan in the southeast corner of the state of Campeche Mexico, about 90 miles north of the great Maya site of Tikal.iv That expedition was followed by another three year project, cosponsored by Tulane University and the National Geographic Society.v

Becan is significant because it refuted the archaeologists who had believed that the Lowland Maya were a peaceful people, passing their time raising maize, building temple complexes, and studying the stars. Becan proved to be a strongly fortified city. Though modest in size (about 46 acres), it was completely surrounded by a dry moat more than a mile and a quarter in length, fifty feet wide and seventeen feet deep. It was calculated to have required moving more than four million cubic feet of earth down to bedrock. The earthen wall inside the moat contained about 2.8 million cubic feet. Such a project would require the labor of 5,000 men working steadily for seventy days.

More recently the enormous Preclassic Maya site of El Mirador (The Lookout) in northern Guatemala, the largest Maya city discovered so far and dating to 150 B.C., was found to be bounded on the south and east by a moat and wall about a mile long. The moat averaged twenty feet wide by eight feet deep. The wall was from thirteen to twenty feet high. The moat did not extend all the way around that city. It was protected on the north and west by a steep natural declivity and beyond that on three sides by swampy bajos.vi

It has been confirmed that the great Maya site of Tikal was also once surrounded by a moat and wall. Though the moat was not as deep or the wall as high as that at Becan, it was almost six miles long.vii Rio Azul, a significant site in the northeast corner of Guatemala from 250 B.C. to A.D. 300, also had a moat and earthen wall. It was evidently one of a chain of fortified cities whose role was to defend the eastern frontier against Lamanites coming up the Caribbean coast.

Other sites showing evidences of fortifications include the site of Punta de Chemine, described as one of the most heavily fortified in the Maya world with towering walls and surrounded by a dry moat.viii These fortified sites provide detailed archaeological support to the Book of Mormon description of Moroni's military preparations. [Glenn A. Scott, Voices from the Dust, pp. 170-171]


Alma 49:13 Moroni . . . had built forts of security, for every city in all the land (Illustration): Fortified Cities. (1) "Moroni had . . . built forts of security for every city in all the land round about" (Alma 49:13). Becan is typical of fortified cities in the Maya Lowlands. (2) Reconstruction of fortifications. (3) Comparative cross-sections of fortifications: Moat and wall at Tikal; Moat and wall at Becan. [Glenn A. Scott, Voices from the Dust, p. 169]


Alma 49:18 Because of the Highness of the Bank Which Had Been Thrown Up:


In Alma 49:18 we find that "the Lamanites could not get into [the Nephite] forts of security by any other way save by the entrance, because of the highness of the bank which had been thrown up, and the depth of the ditch which had been dug round about, save it were by the entrance." According to Michael and June Hobby, we can compare the descriptions in the Book of Mormon with descriptions of the Maya site of Becan, located in Campeche, Mexico (Mesoamerica). The report quoted is "Defensive Earthworks at Becan, Campeche, Mexico, Implications for Maya Warfare" by David L. Webster. Webster reports:

Figures derived from our 40 mapping profiles indicate that the vertical distance from the present top of the parapet to the original ditch bottom . . . averages 9.6m. A conservative estimate of the reduction in height of the parapet is put at 2m. Thus when the defenses were first erected, an attacking enemy would have been confronted by a barrier (measured from the bottom of the ditch to top of parapet) about 11.6m high (about 35 ft).

[Michael and June Hobby, Proofs of the Book of Mormon, p. 38]


Alma 49:19 The Nephites Prepared to Destroy All Such As Should Attempt to Climb . . . Casting Over Stones:


Alma 49:19 says that "the Nephites prepared to destroy all such as should attempt to climb up to enter the fort by any other way [other than the entrance] by casting over stones and arrows at them. According to the report "Defensive Earthworks at Becan, Campeche, Mexico, Implications for Maya Warfare" by David L. Webster: "The steep angles of the inner ditch wall and parapet slope could not have been climbed without the aid of ladders; an enemy force caught in the bottom of the ditch would have been at the mercy of the defenders, whose most effective weapons under the circumstances would have been large rocks." [Michael and June Hobby, Proofs of the Book of Mormon, p. 39]

Alma 49:20 Thus They Were Prepared, Yea, with a Body of Their Strongest Men:


In Alma 49:20 we find that the Nephites "were prepared, yea, [with] a body of their strongest men, with their swords and their slings, to smite down all who should attempt to come into their place of security by the place of entrance." According to the report "Defensive Earthworks at Becan, Campeche, Mexico, Implications for Maya Warfare" by David L. Webster: "Even if there was not time enough to shut off the causeways, they could have been held successfully by a few seasoned warriors, protected on flanks and rear." [Michael and June Hobby, Proofs of the Book of Mormon, p. 40]


Alma 49:23 Thus the Nephites Had All Power over Their Enemies:


Alma 49:23 states that because of the many strategic military fortifications which Moroni had instituted, "the Nephites had all power over their enemies." In his report "Defensive Earthworks at Becan, Campeche, Mexico, Implications for Maya Warfare," David L. Webster states:

The Becan earthworks represent one of the most simple yet effective types of defensive system -- the ditch and parapet (embankment). Such systems have a number of distinct advantages, the first of which is simplicity. It requires no particularly inventive mind or prior tradition of military architecture to conceive of a ditch as an effective barrier, and the simple expedient of heaping up the excavated material to form an inner embankment is an immediately logical extension of the latter." . . . I believe the earthworks were thrown up in one continuous effort. Obviously the effort was an extraordinary one, arguing unusual pressures. Under the circumstances, a partially completed defensive system would have been almost as useless as none at all.

[Michael and June Hobby, Proofs of the Book of Mormon, p. 41]


Alma 49:25 Amalickiah, Who Was a Nephite by Birth:


Amalickiah is said to have been "a Nephite by birth" (Alma 49:25), though later, in Alma 54:24, he says, "I am a bold Lamanite," after joining that group politically. Yet his brother and successor, Ammoron, is said to be a descendant of Zoram, Laban's servant (see Alma 54:23). According to John Tvedtnes, it appears reasonable to assume that the Zoramites appointed as leaders in the Lamanite army were not merely members of a religious sect, but were, in fact, actual descendants of the original Zoram of Nephi's day. The fact that converted Zoramites went to live with the Ammonites in the land of Jershon rather than mingle with the general Nephite population (see Alma 35:6,14) indicates that they were a distinct ethnic group. [John A. Tvedtnes, "Book of Mormon Tribal Affiliation and Military Castes," in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., p. 306]


Geographical Theory Map: Alma 48:6 Lamanites March Toward Ammonihah (19th Year)

Geographical Theory Map: Alma 49:12-25 Lamanites Retreat & Return to the Land of Nephi (19th Year)


Alma 50:1 Moroni Did Not Stop Making Preparations for War:


Some might misinterpret Moroni's actions ("[he] did not stop making preparations for war"--Alma 50:1) to represent the full embrace of military might. After all, when one reads these chapters of the Book of Mormon they are filled with military strategy and tactics. Hugh Nibley adds a tone of caution to this cultural view:

What kind of religious book is this that goes on telling us who moved where and what forces go where? Why the purely technical side? Well, these are the games men play, and there's a purpose for putting them in here. Why these games? Is this to be the nature of our probation, waging battle? Back to Liddell Hart's statement on why we do it, we mentioned the three reasons before. He thought at first that wars were caused by economics. That has long been held by everybody in modern times. Then he decided the cause was psychological. Then he finally decided it all came down to certain individuals; certain ambitious individuals are the cause of war. This is the clear-cut pattern that emerges all through here [in the book of Alma], isn't it? Without those leaders such as Ammoron and Amalickiah, and for that matter without Moroni, you are not going to have these wars. But they go on all the time because of ambitious men. This is an interesting thing. Why should we be told this? Because we are in it deeper than ever before today. . . . John Adams, the second president of the United States, said, "Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak, and that it is doing God's service when it is violating all his laws." . . . The supreme law that we should never violate is in Ether 8:19: "For the Lord worketh not in secret combinations, neither doth he will that man should shed blood, but in all things hath forbidden it, from the beginning of man."

So what is this to us? Well, look where we stand today. I'm going to read you something from a military manual I have been reading, a very interesting manual. This is what we read here. This is since World War II. "In the last four decades since World War II the United States has participated in more wars, caused more casualties, and lavished more money on war and arms than in its entire history up until then. Between 1945 and 1975 was a period during which some 120 wars were recorded globally [that's the world we live in]. The United States participated directly in 27 wars and indirectly in 36 other wars. Even now, out of the 40 odd current [1988] wars raging over the Third World, the United States is involved in over one-quarter of them. If one was to judge its involvement on the basis of its arms supply, then involvement is even greater. For instance, out of the 41 countries at war today the United States is the major supplier of arms to 21 and the not-so-major supplier to 18 others [that just about covers them all]. . . . So what is this to us? As we are told in Matthew 26:52, he who takes up the sword shall perish by the sword. . . . [The Nephite nation was ultimately destroyed by the sword].

There are four things that Joseph Smith deplored. He said you should never be guilty of four things, and they are what make up careers today. There are two a's and two c's. The first is to aspire. He said, an aspiring spirit is from the devil. Satan aspired and that was his fall. Don't aspire. Of course, that's our competitive spirit, to aspire to be number one, etc. The second is to accuse. Devil means accuser (Gk. diabolos). He's called "the accuser of his brethren." . . . [The third thing is] you should never contend. When the Lord comes to the Nephites in the Book of Mormon, the first thing he says to them is "there shall be no disputations among you . . . he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil" (3 Nephi 11:28-29). . . . The last one is to coerce. . . . We give orders to everybody and back them up with force. We tell everybody what to do. So we coerce, we contend, we command--we do all these things. This is the atmosphere in which we live. . . .

Only the Book of Mormon can get us out of this hole. That's the interesting thing; that's why we have it. . . . The world has no solution. The Book of Mormon is grim because our condition is grim. . . . [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 3, F.A.R.M.S., pp. 154-157]


Alma 50:1 Preparations for war . . . digging up heaps of earth round about all the cities (Illustration): Excavations at Becan, a Maya site in the middle of the Yucatan peninsula, provides the basis for this artist's reconstruction of the appearance of a dry moat and wall that dates back before the end of the Nephite era. [John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America, p. 133]


Alma 50:4 He Caused Towers to Be Erected:


According to the report "Defensive Earthworks at Becan, Campeche, Mexico, Implications for Maya Warfare" by David L. Webster: "A series of low mounds . . . 1-3m high, lines the inner bank of the moat (ditch); in some places these are clearly seen to be the remains of structures." . . . "I suspect that a (wooden) palisade may well have existed but that all traces of it have been obliterated. About the only remaining evidence would be a line of post holes or soil discolorations along the outer edge of the embankment, but this is precisely where the most severe erosion has taken place." . . . "Defenders, possibly screened by a palisade, could have rained long-distance missiles on approaching enemies using spear throwers and slings. The cleared ground on the outside of the ditch would have left attackers with little protection, and their approach would have been easily spotted by observers on tall buildings (towers) such as Structure I, who could have directed reinforcements to threatened points." [Michael and June Hobby, Proofs of the Book of Mormon, p. 43]


Alma 50:4 He caused towers to be erected that overlooked those works of pickets . . .: Moroni had them dig deep ditches around their cities with heaps of earth topped by strong timbers and sharp pickets, and with towers from which they could cast stones. [W. Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Vol. 3, p. 3130] [See also the illustrations for Alma 49:2]


Alma 50:6 Strongholds Round about Every City in All the Land:


In Alma 50:6, Mormon states that the Nephites prepared "strongholds round about every city in all the land." One might wonder whether the phrase "round about" refers to: (1) the nature of these fortifications (timber, picket fortifications that were built completely around "every city"); or (2) the building up of a national defensive perimeter ("round about every city in all the land"). Presumably this phrase means all the cities that the Nephites had control over; however, it is worth noting that eight years later (see Alma 53:3-4) Bountiful apparently had no such fortification, even though it was clearly a Nephite possession. Perhaps the meaning of "round about" in the original verse meant just those major cities positioned on the borders exposed to attack by the Lamanites; or perhaps Bountiful was not considered part of the land of Zarahemla or the "land" of the Nephites. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]


Alma 50:6 Moroni Did Prepare Strongholds . . . about Every City in All the Land:


According to Hunter and Ferguson, on his famous journey from Mexico City to Honduras in 1524-1525 A.D., Cortez passed through certain towns in what is now the state of Campeche of the Gulf Coast Maya area. Speaking of these towns, the following was written: "All villages mentioned were surrounded by a deep moat, a high stockade of cut poles, and defensive towers of wood." [Milton R. Hunter and Thomas Stuart Ferguson, Ancient America and The Book of Mormon, p. 273]


Alma 50:6
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