Sunday, February 22, 2009

Prearranged Battle in the Book of Mormon?

In page 7 of Warfare in the Book of Mormon John Welch describes tactics in the Amlicite War as a "prearranged, open battle". I disagree and find the text unsporting of that claim.

Verses 12 through 15 describe the pre battle preparation and would presumably describe the agreement for battle. In particular v. 12 and 13 say that:

The people of the Nephites were aware of the intent of the Amlicites, and therefore they did prepare to meet them; yea, they did arm themselves[...]with all manner of weapons of war, of every kind. And thus they were prepared to meet the Amlicites at the time of their coming...

It seems that Welch's argument comes from his interpretation of "prepared to meet them" as though they had prearranged correspondence concerning the time and place of their conflict. There is internal evidence to support this, Captain Moroni requested that the garrison in Mulek meet him on the open plains. (Alma 52:20) And the final battle at Cumorah was also prearranged.

In my reading of the Book of Mormmon the strategy and tactics of this war seems similar to the American Civil War. Both Richmond and Washington were very close to each other, and it was a basic conclusion that each side would aim for the others capital. The close proximity of capitals, route of the railroads and ease of gaining intelligence made a direct clash seem scheduled. If we accept Sorenson's model, the city Sidon was more populous and culturally significant than Zarahemla and text suggests that the Amlicites anointed their King and created the apparatus (at least an army) of an independent state. Thus the Nephites were prepared to meet them, not because they arranged a play date, but because the intelligence almost fell in their lap. They already knew a city just upstream was bigger, they had appointed a king, formed an army, and even marked their foreheads with their tribal affiliation. (Alma 3:4-5, which would sure make human intelligence easy)

The tactics surrounding the location of the fight also support a seemingly foreordained battle. The hill just to the east of Zarahemla could have screened the Amlicite force. This hill could also be vital defensive terrain for the city, armies with cannon would love to have a hill top view of the city beneath them. And the text says the Nephite armies went "up" to the hill. The defensive benefits of this terrain would force the armies to fight over it, and make the ensuing battle seem prearranged. Later in the Book of Mormon the Chief Judge Pahoran lost control of the capital due to a coup. But he was able to flee with the government to the city of Gideon. (Alma 61:5-7) Notice v. 7 where the rebellious forces were "fearful" to strike at Gideon despite the fact that they just seized the government. Perhaps a part of his enemies fear was due to his control of the decisive defensive terrain just across the river from the city.

After reading Alma chapters 1-3 I find scant evidence for a prearranged battle. I did find a great deal of evidence that suggests the tactics of this episode were heavily influenced by cultural and physical geography to the point where the battle seemed foreordained. The creation of a new nation and rival army combined with dominant terrain around the city broadcast the intent of the enemy to the point where the Nephites were "prepared" to meet them.

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