Category:Book of Mormon/Anthropology/Warfare/Guerrilla

Guerilla Warfare in the Book of Mormon

Parent page: Book of Mormon/Anthropology/Warfare

Warfare and the Book of Mormon

Readers of the Book of Mormon invariably wonder why so much attention is given to the preparation for, execution of, and recovery from war by the Jaredites, Nephites, and Lamanites. An estimated one-third of the text is somehow related to military matters, and the description of war-related items is further enhanced by the many prophets who were also military leaders. William J. Hamblin, a professor of history at Brigham Young University, has studied the Book of Mormon in the context of his knowledge regarding ancient warfare and has discovered that on general principles and specific details the Book of Mormon accurately describes an ancient system of warfare.30 He states, "Despite the fact that Joseph Smith lived in the age of Modern, or technical, warfare, following the great military transformations of both the sixteenth century and the Napoleonic wars, the Book of Mormon consistently reflects the basic patterns of Pre-Modern warfare."31

Ancient societies usually viewed warfare as inevitable, and thus they devoted most government resources to the military and maintained a martial mentality among the citizenry, who themselves constituted the bulk of the army. Such attitudes are readily recognizable in the Book of Mormon accounts. Historians of war divide the human experience into two broad categories, Modern and Pre-Modern warfare, with the rise of Modern warfare beginning in Europe in the sixteenth century. Pre-Modern warfare was always bound by certain environmental constraints, including the limitations of the human body, the terrain, the climate, and animal resources. Consistent with that fact, Book of Mormon accounts of war often explicitly speak of the constraints placed on the various armies by human, geographical, and seasonal circumstances. Significantly, Book of Mormon armies did not use animals during war, a situation that differed from much of the ancient world but that reflects exactly what archaeologists have discovered about ancient Mesoamerican warfare.32 Weaponry mentioned in the Book of Mormon is likewise consistent with weapons used elsewhere in antiquity. In this regard the Book of Mormon most closely parallels Mesoamerican use of war technology, which lacked many of the elements, such as coats of mail and cavalry, that distinguished warfare in the ancient Near East. Additionally, the Book of Mormon does not present a static account of war technology but accurately portrays the constantly changing nature of warfare over the centuries.

Ancient warfare, which generally involved the entire society in its economic and social implications, was usually organized communally under the command of an elite hereditary military aristocracy. This also appears to be the case in the Book of Mormon. Military operations in the Book of Mormon also accurately reflect what is currently known about warfare throughout antiquity. War usually included complex preparations, an emphasis on marching to ensure that both supplies and men arrived in timely fashion at the correct locations, some guerrilla warfare, spies, a council of war, and a necessity of group cohesion on the battlefield—all elements of Book of Mormon warfare. Additionally, the pattern of organizing Book of Mormon armies in a decimal system (hundreds, thousands, ten thousands) is also found in ancient Israel and elsewhere in the ancient world.

Emphasis in the Book of Mormon on personal oaths of loyalty and of surrender is also typical of the ancient world, a fact that represents "perhaps the greatest distinction between modern and ancient international affairs."33 Another major difference between Modern and Pre-Modern warfare is that war in antiquity was characterized by its religious connections, while war in modernity has become a secularized affair. In the Book of Mormon actions and beliefs associated with military culture (God's frequent intervention in battles on behalf of the righteous, consultation with prophets over military matters, the code of purity typified by Helaman's stripling warriors, to name a few examples), are representative of a ritualistic and sacral approach to warfare, paralleling patterns in the ancient Near East and Mesoamerica. Hamblin notes that of the three major themes of ancient literature and art—God, war, and love—the Book of Mormon accurately reflects the ancient world in its thematic emphases on two—God and war. Thus Hamblin concludes that the Book of Mormon describes a system of ancient warfare that in both general principles and specific practices would have been foreign to the world of Joseph Smith and yet is entirely consistent with what scholars now know about that feature of ancient societies.[1]


  1. Noel B. Reynolds, "By Objective Measures: Old Wine in New Bottles," in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), Chapter 6, references silently removed—consult original for citations.

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