Was Mormon a Member of a Military Caste?

Was Mormon a Member of a Military Class?

by John A.Tvedtnes

QUESTION: Was Mormon a member of a military class?

ANSWER: A comment by one of my students in a Book of Mormon class prompted the investigation represented by this response. He suggested that Mormon, the father of the abridger of the Nephite record, was a professional soldier. As evidence, he noted that the younger Mormon was eleven years of age when his father carried him into the "land southward" (Mormon 1:6) and that "in this year there began to be a war between the Nephites and the Lamanites ... And it came to pass that the war began to be among them in the borders of Zarabemla, by the waters of Sidon." (Mormon 1: 8, 10) The family's departure into the war zone hints at a military transfer. In light of this possibility, I suggest that the historian/general/prophet Mormon was in fact, from a line of army leaders who belonged to a military class.

Typically, Mesoamerican peoples were divided into six basic classes or occupations: peasants, merchants, warriors, priests, judges, and government officials. Among the Aztecs, all of these except the peasants were directly involved in war. For example, the merchants formed, when necessary, their own military units. Warriors and priests replenished the ranks of the judges and other government officials and most priests began their service for a time in special military units. Aztec boys destined for a military career were dedicated for the task at birth by their parents and trained at an early age. This fact of Mesoamerican life is reflected in the youth of the Nephite chief captains. It would explain how Monnon came to command the Nephite armies at the tender age of 16 (Mormon 2:1-2).

Moroni 1, who had commanded the Nephite armies some five centuries before Mormon, was also a relatively young man when he became chief captain at the age of 25 (Alma 43:17). Moroni had given up the command of the armies to his son Moronihah (Alma 62:43), which implies that the position was inherited. Moroni 1 himself became chief captain in the 18th year of the judges (Alma 43:3) and his son Moronihah in ca. the 31 st year (Alma 62:39). If Moronihah was born when his father was 20 years of age, he would have been only 18 when he succeeded him. The prophet Mormon was so impressed with the faith, the military genius, and the character of the earlier Moroni that his praise of the man seems almost an exaggeration (Alma 48:11-13, 16-18). Mormon also praised another earlier Nephite warrior, Gideon (Mos. 19; Alma 1: 13). It seems quite likely that he named his own son Moroni 2 from the earlier general. Moroni 2 was also a military captain, leading 10,000 at the great battle at Cumorah under his father Mormon (Morm. 6:12). And, like the other military leaders, he appears to have been quite young. If, for example, he was 60 years of age when he buried the plates in ca. the 410th year after Christ (Moroni 10:1), he would have been 25 in the 375th year when he fought at Cumorah (Moro. 6:5). I suggest that Mormon's admiration for Moroni I derives not only from the man's character, but also from the fact that he may have been one of Mormon's paternal ancestors. This reason alone would be sufficient to explain why he would call his own son by the same name. It might also imply that the Moronihah who, along with Moroni 2, commanded a group of 10,000 under Mormon, was a member of the same family (Morm. 6:14).

If Mormon belonged to a military class, we have, at last, an explanation of why, after having refused to continue in his position, he was later readily accepted as chief captain once again (Morm. 5: 1). It was an inherited responsibility which he assumed in his youth. If these assumptions are correct, then we can more readily understand Mormon's approach to the writing of the Nephite history, which is essentially a war record. Mormon's first recorded words in the Book of Mormon tell of the destruction of his people in the last great war with the Lamanites (W of M 1-2). Much of the account in his own record (Mormon) discusses this war, while in another place (Alma 43-62), he devotes 20 chapters to the war in the time of the first Moroni. In the latter, he places great stress on military strategy, descriptions of fortifications, and the like (See esp. Alma 48:7-9; 49:4, 13, 18, 22; 50:1-5). His listing of war casualty statistics in his own time (Mormon 6) and during earlier periods (e.g., Mos. 9:18-19; 29:19; Alma 3:26; 24:21-22, 24-27; 51:19) seems to be a waste of precious space on the plates. Not only does Mormon spend more time describing battles than any other topic, but he also dwells on such things as the physical stature and prowess of various Nephites and Lamanites. If Mormon's military profession was the result of a long-standing family tradition, then we can better understand his "blood-and-guts" approach to the history of his people. Ammon's slaying of the Lamanite sheep raiders (Alma 17-25-39), the lengthy and detailed account of the war led by Moroni (Alma 43-62) and even Mormon's admiration for the "large and mighty" Lamanite leader Coriantumr (Hel. 1: 15-16), attest to Mormon's special interest in the subject of warfare and physical strength. When describing the battle scene, he is usually very careful to specify exactly what kinds of weapons were used by each of the armies (e.g., Alma 43:18-2 1) and the kinds of armor they wore. He places great stress on the "bones" of the dead Jaredites which lay strewn across the land, along with their weapons, and on the fact that the bodies of the Lamanites were often heaped up or thrown into the river to be washed to the sea. (For some of the gory details, see Alma 3:3; 43:37-38,44; 44:12-14.)

Moroni 2 wrote from the same background as his father. His account of Jaredite history, aside from the religious comments which he inserts in the form of personal testimony of Jesus Christ, is essentially a military history. Logic and textual evidence would dictate that the Jaredites did, in fact, enjoy many years in which battles were not waged. They could not have grown to number over two million people (Ether 15:2) had they not lived most of their time in peace and tranquillity, growing crops and raising families. Yet, of the 1% of Ether's history which Moroni chose to write (Ether 15:33), virtually all of it concerns the wars of the Jaredites.

Despite the emphasis on martial history in the Book of Mormon, both Mormon and Moroni 2 were great lovers of peace. To them, military might was to be used only for defending righteous principles. Negotiations and reliance on the Lord were preferable to fighting. As a prime example, we note that the main reason given for the mission of King Mosiah's sons to the Lamanites was to ensure peace between the Nephites and Lamanites (Mos. 28: 1; Alma 23:16-18; 24:6,12-13,15; 28:9). Mormon noted that converted Lamanites laid down their weapons of war and returned captured Nephite lands (Hel. 5:51-2). Mormon ties the cycle of alternating evil and righteousness in with the cycle of alternating war and peace (e.g., Hel. 12). From prosperity came wealth and then pride, which brought about decadence and war. When the Nephites and Lamanites lived in peace for a couple of centuries following the visit of Christ, it was because there was no pride resulting from wealth (4 Ne. 1: I- 18).

On moral grounds, the Book of Mormon sees defense as justifiable and aggression as unacceptable (3 Ne. 3:20-2 1). War, especially in the time of Moroni 1, was justified only when the Nephites fought for their homes, liberty, families, and religion (Alma 43:45-47-46:72; 48:10-14). Moroni and his people, we read, did not delight in the shedding of blood (Alma 48:11-16,23). By contrast, the Nephites of Mormon's day were not fighting the Lamanites for a righteous cause. When they lost battles, they sorrowed, cursed God and died in rebellion against Him (Morm. 2:11-15). When they won, they boasted in their own strength and swore revenge and destruction on the Lamanites (Morin. 3:9-16; 4:8,15). Unlike their ancestors, they delighted in the shedding of blood (Morm. 4: 10-11). Mormon urged them to stand and fight for their families and homes (Morin. 2:23-24) but, because they remained unrepentant, at one point he resigned as their chief captain (Morm. 3:9-16).

Mormon, then, was a righteous man who fought when necessary and whose perspective of Nephite history was military in nature. It seems likely that he and his family were part of a military class. Further evidence for this comes from what is known of later inhabitants of Mesoamerica.



Tvedtnes, John A.