Monday, September 14, 2009

Surrender in the Book of Mormon

Michaela, who blogs at scriptorium blogorium, asked a very interesting question. She says:
I've noticed that often Captain Moroni causes the opposition to enter into a covenant to keep the peace once he has beat them. I'd like to know whether this covenant IS the surrender or whether it is one of the terms of surrender that Moroni requires of them.

I'm honored that she presented the question to me and I will do my best to answer. As with anything on this site, feel free to disagree or comment on it. The most detailed knowledge of surrender we find in Alma 43-45 in a battle between Zarahemnah and Moroni [1]. Once the enemy is fearful and surrounded the battle stops, Moroni presents his terms for surrender which include a covenant. Zarahemnah rejects these terms and the battle resumes. After further destruction of their army the terms are offered again and the battle is over.

There are several other instances of a "covenant surrender". In 1 Nephi we read that Zoram quite struggling with Nephi after the latter covenanted to "give him a place" at Lehi's camp. Zoram also covenanted to remain with the paty (1 Nephi 4:35-37). In the battle of Mulek one section of the army was forced to surrender (Alma 52:32). The verse is unclear if it was by covenant or not.

From my understanding the covenant is the surrender. Since its a ritual, there are many aspects to it. These are most clearly seen in Alma 44 where Zerahemnah has his weapons returned to him by Moroni and the battle is resumed. Since the ritual would have spiritual meaning, it would "damn their souls" to reject it (Alma 56:7-8). They would also fight without the benefit of their god, or demon like power in the Lamanites case (Alma 43:44).

In my study of ancient conflict, warfare was a clash of the gods. Victory was by divine favor, defeat was an divine diagnostic of Nephite spiritual health. The Chinese often talk of "Heavenly Mandates" and "auspicious omens" with campaigns even starting on a specific day in order to win ideological support for the war (Arthur Wright's Sui Dynasty or Ralph Sawyer trans. Seven Military Classics).

In Mesoamerica they fought under banners infused with the power of deity. A ritual oath to the victorious army and god, meant that any subsequent battles by the defeated force would be without the help of their deity. It would be unthinkable to enter combat without your deity. It would be difficult to even raise an army when under covenant to another god. For instance, in Alma 47:2 the Lamanites are justly afraid of even mustering for battle because the Nephite God have been victorious so many times. These soldiers don't seem to have taken the oath and even they are cautious about attacking again.

Thus the surrender of an opposing army through covenant was the most complete temporal and spiritual victory sought by the Nephite armies. This was accomplished through a ritual that at least included the physical deposit of weapons. Other factors may include a particular march home and maybe even vassal status (Alma 62:29). Included in The Book of Mormon is a "pull[ing] down of their pride and nobility and levelling them to the earth" (Alma 51:17). This may be metaphorical, but I suggest this includes defacing monuments and temples to rival deities, especially since Moroni then forced them to place the banner in "their towers...and cities" (Alma 51:20). (Please see this post for more) Other suggestions for a ritual surrender include the hanging of the Gadianton robber Zemnarihah in 3 Nephi 4:28-33. For further study John Welch has some very interesting observations found here regarding the law of war and ritual surrender.

Thank you for your question and thank you for reading.