Source:Rediscovering the Book of Mormon:Ch:2:4:Mormon smoothes history

Hardy: "Mormon was willing to simplify or streamline the facts to emphasize transcendent spiritual realities"

Parent page: Book of Mormon/Complexity/Mormon as editor

Hardy: "Mormon was willing to simplify or streamline the facts to emphasize transcendent spiritual realities"

Grant Hardy:

The preceding chapters of Alma (8:-15:) recorded the story of Alma and Amulek's mission to Ammonihah, recounting their sermons and telling how, despite limited success, they were eventually rejected and thrown into prison. Then, in an act of terrible brutality, the people of Ammonihah drove Alma's male converts from the city and burned to death their wives and children. Finally Alma and Amulek were miraculously delivered from prison. Alma 16 :{{{4}}} begins as follows:

[1] And it came to pass in the eleventh year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, on the fifth day of the second month, there having been much peace in the land of Zarahemla, there having been no wars nor contentions for a certain number of years, even until the fifth day of the second month in the eleventh year, there was a cry of war heard throughout the land. [2] For behold, the armies of the Lamanites had come in upon the wilderness side, into the borders of the land, even into the city of Ammonihah, and began to slay the people and destroy the city. [3] And now it came to pass, before the Nephites could raise a sufficient army to drive them out of the land, they had destroyed the people who were in the city of Ammonihah, and also some around the borders of Noah, and taken others captive into the wilderness.

Mormon continued his tale by telling how the Nephite armies, with the help of the prophetic high priest Alma, defeated the Lamanites and rescued the captives. Then Mormon made the moral of his story absolutely clear. His editorial summary stressed that "there was not one soul of them had been lost that were taken captive," while "the people of Ammonihah were destroyed; yea, every living soul of the Ammonihahites was destroyed . . . and the carcases were mangled by dogs and wild beasts of the wilderness" (16:8-10—remember, the bad things that happen are truly terrible, while the good things are wondrous indeed). Thus this chapter offers a striking illustration of God's justice, by which the righteous are saved while the wicked are punished.

But something is wrong with this picture. The innocent bystanders are all rescued, and the wicked Ammonihahites are all destroyed, but there is a third group not mentioned at all in Mormon's summary. These are the people "around the borders of Noah," some of whom were also killed in the Lamanite raid. What exactly had happened to them? Why did some die and some escape? We do not know, for they dropped entirely out of Mormon's account and were never referred to again.

Mormon obviously had some information about them (thus he mentioned them in verse three), but he chose not to elaborate upon their fate. He edited them out. Why? I believe the answer is that these people did not fit into the pattern of "the righteous prosper, the wicked suffer." They complicated the moral message of his history. This is not to say that Mormon's message is false. The principle of God's justice is, in an ultimate sense, true, but the facts of day-to-day history do not always illustrate this principle adequately.

The purpose of the Book of Mormon makes the spiritual meaning of history much more important than any specific set of facts. Mormon was willing to simplify or streamline the facts to emphasize transcendent spiritual realities. He did not want too many complicated details to distract us from simple, vitally important truths. This type of editorial bias is complicated, for it involves the careful balancing of moral interpretation and historical accuracy. It was important to Mormon that his spiritual principles were manifested in actual events—the Book of Mormon is not a work of abstract theology, and Mormon did not make up stories to illustrate his principles. This editorial bias seems to be a constant in Mormon's editing. And it is all the more impressive for not being explicit.[1]


  1. Grant R. Hardy, "Mormon as Editor," in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, edited by John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co.; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991), Chapter 2.