Source:Echoes:Ch8:10:Execution of Laban and Zemnarihah

The Executions of Laban and Zemnarihah

The Executions of Laban and Zemnarihah

John W. Welch and some of his students have discussed the executions of Laban and Zemnarihah in terms of Jewish law. In the case of Laban, they have noted the concepts of justifiable homicide and the slaying of one for the good of the many.61 Welch has briefly compared Nephi's killing of Laban (see 1 Nephi 4:10–23) with Moses' slaying of the Egyptian who had stricken a Hebrew slave. The following adds to that discussion a few further points found in ancient Jewish texts.62

Nephi wrote, "I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban" and then noted his hesitation and the insistence of the Spirit that he perform the deed (see 1 Nephi 4:10–12). Interestingly, Moses is also said to have hesitated to kill the Egyptian overseer until he received a divine revelation on the matter. According to Abot de Rabbi Nathan 20, thought to have been written in the second century AD but not available in English until the twentieth century, Moses summoned a court of ministering angels and asked them if he should kill the Egyptian, to which the angels responded, "Kill him." The same story is told in Midrash Rabbah Exodus 1:29, which adds that, before calling on the angels for counsel, Moses perceived that no righteous persons would descend from the Egyptian man.63 A similar story is found in an early Jewish text, Tosephta-Targum (V. 1) 2 on 1 Samuel 17:43, which says that just before he slew Goliath, David "lifted up his eyes to heaven and saw angels deliberating on Goliath the Philistine."64

Regarding the execution of Zemnarihah, leader of the band of Gadianton (see 3 Nephi 4:28–29), Welch has discussed the concept of hanging in early Judaism and the symbolism of felling the tree as a warning to other potential wrongdoers.65 My attention has been particularly drawn to the reasons Zemnarihah was hanged rather than, say, stoned—the more usual method of execution under the law of Moses.66

One of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Temple Scroll (also called 11Q19), calls for execution of a spy—one who defects to another nation and curses his own people, or one who "betrays his people to a foreign nation or causes evil against his people"—by hanging.67 The Israelites who joined themselves to their enemies, the Midianites, in the worship of the false god Baal-Peor and were hanged by Moses fit this description of a traitor (see Numbers 25:1–9).

The Gadianton band led by Zemnarihah consisted of dissenters who had turned against the Nephites (see Helaman 11:24–26; 3 Nephi 1:27–28). In Gadianton's day they had fled the land to avoid being apprehended for their treasonous acts in killing the chief judge Pahoran and attempting to slay his successor, Helaman (see Helaman 2:11). Because of this flight, they fit the description found in the Temple Scroll of the man who "escapes amongst the nations." Giddianhi, Zemnarihah's predecessor as leader of the band, admitted that his people had dissented from the Nephites (see 3 Nephi 3:9–11). It is also of interest that Giddianhi swore "with an oath" to destroy the Nephites (3 Nephi 3:8), clearly plotting evil against the people as also mentioned in the Temple Scroll. His successor's execution by hanging is entirely in line with early Jewish law.

From this information we can see that even the minutest details of the executions of Laban and Zemnarihah are in conformity with ancient Jewish traditions unavailable to Joseph Smith.[1]


  1. John A. Tvedtnes, "Ancient Texts in Support of the Book of Mormon," 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 8, references silently removed—consult original for citations.