Alma 49

 

The Lord Confirms the Covenant Way

      Alma 45 -- 3 Nephi 10


 

 

Alma 49:1 Lamanites Were Seen Approaching:

 

     The fact that "the Lamanites were seen approaching towards the land of Ammonihah" (Alma 49:1) might suggest that the Lamanites took some open route through the wilderness strip which separated them from the land of Ammonihah. Assuming a Mesoamerican setting (and that Chiapas = the general land of Zarahemla), as one proceeds from the Pacific coastal plain northward through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, there is a road which branches off and passes over the mountains starting at Arriaga and ultimately connecting to the area of Cintalapa, a proposed location for the city of Ammonihah. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See Geographical Theory Maps]

 

Alma 49:2 They Had Cast Up Dirt Round About to Shield Them from the Arrows:

 

     Alma 49:2 states that as part of Moroni's effort to fortify the city of Ammonihah, "they had cast up dirt round about to shield them from the arrows and the stones of the Lamanites." 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. The report quoted is "Defensive Earthworks at Becan, Campeche, Mexico, Implications for Maya Warfare" by David L. Webster. The report is an outgrowth of the National Geographic Society - Tulane University program of research in Campeche, directed by Dr. E. Wyllys Andrews IV of the Middle American Research Institute. Webster reports:

           Despite the dense forest cover, Ruppert and Dennison were able to recognize and map with considerable accuracy the three basic features of the defensive system: the ditch, the parapet, and the causeways. . . . The basic feature of the defenses, the ditch, was originally a deep trough with an average width of about sixteen meters (about 48 feet). To judge from the bedrock outcrops which are still visible, the sides of the trough must have been vertical or near vertical, steep enough to keep attackers from clambering up them. . . . The extreme width of the defenses provides additional protection, for heavy missiles can be thrown only with great difficulty from the embankment to the outer edge of the ditch in most places. To throw uphill from the outside is almost impossible. . . . The ditch has a total length of about 1,890 meters (about 1.2 miles). . . . The actual width (of the ditch), except near the causeways, is never less than twelve meters and may reach twenty-seven meters with an average of about sixteen meters (forty-eight feet).

 [Michael and June Hobby, Proofs of the Book of Mormon, pp.36-37]

 

Alma 49:2 They had cast up dirt round about to shield them from the arrows (Illustration): The most effective system utilized by the Nephites under Moroni's command was the Ditch and Parapet. This system was constructed by digging a deep ditch of considerable width, and heaping the excavated soil along the ground adjacent to the ditch on the inner side. In this manner, for each unit of depth excavated, a unit of height was generated. [Michael and June Hobby, Proofs of the Book of Mormon, p.32]

 

Alma 49:2 They had cast up dirt round about to shield them from the arrows (Illustration): By completely encircling the exposed portions of the site with the ditch, leaving causeways across it only at selected points of entrance, the defensibility of the site would be maximized. [Michael and June Hobby, Proofs of the Book of Mormon, p.33]

 

Alma 49:4 The Lamanites Could Not Cast Their . . . Arrows at Them That They Might Take Effect:

 

     According to an article by William Hamblin, the most detailed passages describing archery in Book of Mormon warfare are found in Alma chapters 49-50. . . . These passages provide us with the following important facts concerning archery in the Book of Mormon:

     1. Both Nephites (Alma 49:19) and Lamanites (Alma 49:2) were armed with arrows.

     2. A large mound of earth negated the effectiveness of Lamanite archery to the extent that no Nephites were killed by Lamanite arrows. (Alma 49:2)

     3. In the same battle, Nephite archers, shooting from the top of the earthen fortifications, were quite effective against the Lamanites, managing to kill more than a thousand of them (see Alma 49:19, 22-23).

     4. Nephite fortifications are said to have been effective against both arrows and stones (see Alma 49:2,4; 50:4), implying to me that the stones and arrows had essentially the same range, or that the stone throwers were uniformly at closer range than the archers. However, there is no evidence in the Book of Mormon for this type of special regimentation according to weapons. The text does not say whether the stones were thrown or cast from slings.

     5. Lamanite archery was not effective enough to wound Nephites when they wore armor, but could cause "very severe" (Alma 49:24) wounds on unarmored legs.

     6. It may be significant that the bow is never mentioned in these passages, only arrows.

[William J. Hamblin, "The Bow and Arrow in the Book of Mormon," in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., p. 371]

 

Alma 49:13 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.14 That expedition was followed by another three year project, cosponsored by Tulane University and the National Geographic Society.15

     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.16

     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.17 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.18 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)