Friday, June 5, 2009

Nephite Military Training

William Hamblin and A. Brent Merrill missed a point of significance in describing Nephite swords in Warfare in the Book of Mormon. Their intent was to mechanically describe what Nephite swords were like. They said that:

The second major incident involving swords is the story of Ammon and the brigands at the waters of Sebus (see Alma 17:26-39, ca. 90 B.C.). While defending the flocks of King Lamoni, Ammon was attacked by a band of brigands who had been marauding in the region..."they came forth with clubs to slay him. But behold, every man that lifted his club to smite Ammon, he smote off their arms with his sword; for he did withstand their blows by smiting their arms with the edge of his sword" (Alma 17:36-37)...

Ammon's sword technique deserves some attention. The text reads, "Every man that lifted his club to smite Ammon, he smote off their arms with his sword." Actually severing an enemy's forearm or hand with a sword is a difficult task. What will generally occur is that the sword will cut into the flesh until it reaches the bone, partially severing or cracking it. However, since the victim's arm is free to rotate at the shoulder, the sword will simply push the limb away in the direction of the blow rather than cut deeper into the limb. Thus, in most situations one would expect a sword to make a deep gash but not actually to sever the arm. In order to sever an arm with a sword, the sword must be extremely sharp, must be swung swiftly, and must strike against a limb that is either somehow fixed, or that is moving toward the sword blade.

Thus Ammon's sword technique makes perfect military sense. He waits for the enemy to attack him with his club. As the club is raised and brought down swiftly toward Ammon, Ammon swings his sword in a fast powerful blow aimed at the forearm. The combination of the attacker's swing toward Ammon and the force of Ammon's own swing is sufficient to sever the forearm. Thus, according to the Book of Mormon, Ammon waited for precisely the right moment to initiate his arm-severing sword technique with maximum efficacy against his enemy.

What is missing from Hamblin's analysis is a discussion of Nephite military training revealed in this passage. Ammon waited for the precisely correct moment for a disarming move. This implies significant military training. Normally, conscripts bring whatever implements they have available such as farming tools. Or they receive a weapon from a government armory and receive only rudimentary training at best before they enter combat. In either case they would hardly have the ability to perform a skilled maneuver in the heat of battle.

Relatively few people in ancient society had the time and equipment for significant military training. The cost of a sword in Ancient Japan or the land requirements to feed a mount in Medieval Europe limited the number of people that had the means to train. Most people engaged in full time labor subsisting as farmers. And you have to factor in the significant training time needed to become a talented Knight or Samurai (to use two well know examples). Thus only a son of King, like Ammon would have the means measured in free time and money for that training.

For people who study warfare this is not a startling revelation. But for people who expect the Book of Mormon to be a 19th century fiction it provides additional evidence for its ancient status as it conforms to other ancient societies.

No comments: