Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Swords in the Book of Mormon or Why Joseph Smith Didn’t Make It Up Part 1

By Sariah S. Wilson

My first novel, SECRETS IN ZARAHEMLA, has a lot of fighting going on, as well as a big battle scene. It became very important to me to have a clear understanding of the weaponry and fighting tactics used by the Nephites and Lamanites.

The most valuable resource I found in my research was a book entitled WARFARE IN THE BOOK OF MORMON, edited by Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin. If you’re at all interested in Book of Mormon weapons and battles, I highly recommend it. (Those in Utah might have a better chance of checking it out from the library--this book is expensive if you buy it!)

I came to a startling realization (that probably most of you already know and I’m just slow) that the swords mentioned in the Book of Mormon are not the metallic swords I had always envisioned. The weapons called swords are what the Aztecs and Maya called macuahuitl, and if you’d like to see some pictures of it, go here:

Macuahuitl Pictures

It has a long, rectangle-shaped hardwood center, and triangular or rectangular obsidian blades all around it. It may not look like a daunting weapon, but it completely freaked the Spaniards out. Bernal Diaz del Castillo, a conquistador who wrote a work called TRUE HISTORY OF THE CONQUEST OF NEW SPAIN (published in 1632 after his death), relates an account of a soldier by the name of Pedro de Moron having his horse’s head cut off by a blow from a macuahuitl (thus making it easy to imagine Ammon chopping off everybody’s arms).

As noted in this article by Matthew Roper on the FARMS website, there has been some disagreement on whether or not the macuahuitl was a sword or a war club. He proves that the Spanish conquistadors considered the macuahuitl to be a sword and cites several instances from various eyewitnesses in the 16th century.

So by now some of you may be shrugging your shoulders and wondering why any of this matters. I think it matters because 1) you’ll have a much different picture in your head when you think of the battles in the Book of Mormon (particularly the Ammon arm-chopping incident), and 2) it has a spiritual significance in our understanding of the scriptures.

As William Hamblin and Brent Merrill point out in “Sword in the Book of Mormon” in the aforementioned WARFARE book, a deeper spiritual meaning appears in Alma 24. The Anti-Nephi-Lehies are swearing their oath to not go out into battle with their brethren, saying they would rather die than kill the Lamanites.

The first significant phrase is the one mentioning no longer staining their swords with blood in several verses in that chapter. How can you stain a metallic sword with blood? You can’t. However, you can stain a wooden sword.

The next thing is in verses 12, 13 and 15 where it speaks of the Lord removing the stains from the swords and making them bright. This becomes even more powerful a promise as you realize the seeming impossibility of the statement. I did a presentation for my mom’s seminary class where I had a metallic dagger and a piece of wood. I put red dye on the dagger, and it wiped clean. I showed them that the promise of blood being removed from a metallic sword is insignificant. Then I put the red dye on the block of wood, and the dye immediately soaked into the wood, forever staining it. I could not remove it. The Anti-Nephi-Lehies received the promise of their wooden swords, stained throughout with blood, being made bright and clean. How much more does this mean to the reader when they understand the sort of weapon being talked about and the depth of the promise of forgiveness?

Joseph Smith had no knowledge of that type of weapon, nor did his contemporaries. If he had made it up, all the swords would have been metal, as he was familiar with.

If readers are interested, I'll be happy to share other cultural/secular things I learned in my research. Or I'll post it anyways because they'd be easy blog posts for me to do, and as my friends and family know when it comes to me, laziness usually wins out. ;)


9 Comments:

At 6/18/2006 4:30 PM, Blogger Mike said...

It actually is possible to stain a metal sword with blood.

 
At 6/18/2006 5:23 PM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

Beyond it being rusted or in disrepair, how? There's nothing for the blood to adhere to.

 
At 6/18/2006 7:03 PM, Blogger Gander said...

Why does Nephi make his people swords based on the sword of Laban (presumably steel)?

Why does he have sufficient knowledge to forge tools to make a ship?

The book of Ether specifically states that the swords were made of steel (Ether 7:9).

 
At 6/18/2006 9:35 PM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

Why does Nephi make his people swords based on the sword of Laban (presumably steel)?

Interesting to note that you said "presumably." You have inferred based on limited information that Nephi made swords that were composed of metal and looked just like Laban's. Nephi doesn't say that. 2 Nephi 5:14 actually says, "And I, Nephi, did take the sword of Laban and after the manner of it did make many swords..." After the manner of it. Nephi did not say, "I made all of my swords EXACTLY like Laban's - they were all made of metal." He says that he made swords based on the sword of Laban, i.e., they had the same functionality. It's like when people read flocks and assume Ammon protected sheep. It doesn't mention sheep once in that account. It only says "flocks." Or like the three wisemen who visited Jesus. We have no idea how many wisemen came to see Jesus. It could have been 100. But people believe that there were three because only three gifts were mentioned. We imagine things a certain way and have a hard time letting go of those imaginings.

So in saying that he created his sword after the manner of the sword of Laban, Nephi could very well have been saying that he followed the pattern (as Michael R. Ash pointed out in his article, "Book of Mormon Anachronisms Part 3: Warfare") of a "double-edged, handheld, long blade."

In coming to Central America, it would also make particular sense to adapt to the highly effective weapons already in use there. Obsidian blades "can be sharper than surgical steel." (Ibid.) It was a substance easily come by in the New World, and the scriptures reference people going to a "place of arms." What would you suggest that such a place would have been? Were there smelted pieces of iron or steel lying around? Not likely. There were, however, fields of obsidian stones, flakes and chips that could have quickly been turned into effective weapons. A place of arms.

The sword of Laban is a whole other post concerning its make-up and ceremonial function. I think so much attention is drawn to it because it was so unusual and an indication of a right to rule (which is also a whole other post). Note that the sword of Laban is used in battle by either the prophet, king or chief captain which suggests that because of its unusual appearance that said wielder was proclaiming themselves to be the rightful leader. It became a rallying point, something the people could look to to know God was with them, particularly since even Nephi notes how exquisitely made the sword of Laban was--it was different than even the weapons Nephi was accustomed to, much finer, golden hilt, precious jewels, etc. It actually reminds me a bit of King Arthur wielding Excalibur.

Why does he have sufficient knowledge to forge tools to make a ship?

I do not dispute that Nephi lacked the knowledge. I do not know to what degree he possessed such knowledge of smelting and mining, because I don't know what profession Lehi had (Nibley suggests Lehi was a caravan master) or what their local family members may have known about it. For all we know Nephi had no prior knowledge of forging tools and was specifically given the knowledge by the Lord when being taught to make the boat.

Regardless, it makes little sense to come to a new place and try to build a forge and mine for metals that they may or may not have been able to find (since they were not particularly prized nor used by Central Americans), when a very deadly, easily constructed, readily available sort of weapon already existed.

The book of Ether specifically states that the swords were made of steel (Ether 7:9).

We know the people of Jared had swords made of metal. Scholars think that the swords were most likely made of "bronze" or an alloy of copper and zinc. They also used iron. They have found iron ore mines in San Lorenzo, the presumed site of the land of the Jaredites.

It is also believed that there was little interaction between the Jaredites and the Nephites/Lamanites as the Jaredites and Lehi's group landed on opposites coasts of Central America (and there was probably more interaction between the Jaredites and the Mulekites, the same Mulekites who did not even possess books of writing and thus it is understandable that certain information and knowledge might have been lost).

When Limhi sent out a scouting expedition to find Zarahemla, his men missed the city all together and ended up in the land of the Jaredites, where they found the plates of Ether and swords and breastplates that Limhi specifically mentions to Ammon were made of metal. Why would it necessitate mention unless it was unusual? That’s like telling someone you saw a metal car. Well, of course you saw a car made out of metal. What else would a car be made out of? However, if you saw a car made out of wood you would explicitly tell people that you saw a wooden car, because you haven’t seen cars made out of wood. I think the same principle applies here - Limhi specifically mentions that the swords are metallic and rusted because it would have been strange or unusual to him.

It is also important to note that Central Americans did have access to metals and did do metalworking. I am not suggesting that the Nephite/Lamanite cultures were devoid of metals at all. There are multiple archaeological findings that suggest otherwise. Not to mention the golden plates (a copper/gold alloy known as tumbaga)--so obviously, there was metal use and metalworking knowledge. I was only suggesting that the use of the word sword in the Book of Mormon most likely referred to the macuahuitl.

In favor of the macuahuitl, take a look at Alma 44:12-13. After the unnamed soldier scalps Zerahemnah, the soldier has to pick the scalp off of the ground by the hair and then lay it on the point of his sword. If the soldier had possessed a metallic weapon with a pointed edge, he could have simply speared the scalp and lifted it up. With a metal sword it would seem strange that he had to pick it up and then place it on the point. Some designs of macuahuitls include an obsidian blade at the top. It could not be used for spearing, but a scalp could have been placed on it and held there.

It is also important to note that superior weaponry (and steel swords had an advantage over macuahuitls as shown when the Spanish came) in the melding of cultures is usually quickly adapted and used by both sides (such as Native Americans adapting to guns in fighting European settlers). Had Nephi made large amounts of the weapons it would have allowed him to easily defeat his brothers, and such swords would have been used by the Lamanites as well (because they could not hope to militarily stand a chance without an equally advanced weapon) and we would find more evidence of such swords in the archaeology and study of Central American cultures.

We also don’t know the quality of the metals where the Nephites and Lamanites lived. If the metals were of a poor quality, any sword constructed with them would have been ineffective - weak and possibly brittle and unusable in battle.

 
At 6/19/2006 1:36 AM, Blogger Gander said...

the scriptures reference people going to a "place of arms." What would you suggest that such a place would have been?

How about a weapons storage depot?

Regardless, it makes little sense to come to a new place and try to build a forge and mine for metals that they may or may not have been able to find

2 Nephi 5:15 "And I did teach my people ... to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance."

If you have the knowledge (Nephi), the raw materials (ore), and a prototype (sword of Laban), why would you not fashion swords of steel?

When Limhi sent out a scouting expedition to find Zarahemla, his men missed the city all together and ended up in the land of the Jaredites, where they found the plates of Ether and swords and breastplates that Limhi specifically mentions to Ammon were made of metal. Why would it necessitate mention unless it was unusual?

The swords are never referred to as "metal". The most notable thing I see is that Limhi is aware that "the hilts have perished" and "the blades are cankered with rust". He appears familiar with the blades and hilts of traditional sword architecture.

Even if the swords were singled out as "metal", it shouldn't be surprising from a book using phrases like "dreamed a dream".

In favor of the macuahuitl, take a look at Alma 44:12-13.

I don't have an answer as why the soldier picked up the scalp. But I do find it interesting that Zerahemnah's sword "broke by the hilt".

"Cimeter" is used throughout the book of mormon. Do you view macuahuitl = sword = cimeter?

 
At 6/19/2006 10:44 AM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

How about a weapons storage depot?

A weapon storage depot being kept in the middle of nowhere up on a hill? I can’t buy into that one. :) It seems far more likely to me that as obsidian fields are quite common in Central America and we know that the cultures there used obsidian as weapons, that a place of arms would be an obsidian field.

2 Nephi 5:15 "And I did teach my people ... to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance."

Metalworking, yes. Weapon making, doesn’t say.

A couple of interesting things to note here though - there were a lot of people in Central America already when Lehi’s family showed up. So if they landed and there were materials in great abundance, that suggests to me that they were not used by the people already there, which would mean their weapons would have to be of another sort all together. Like the macuahuitl.

Nephi doesn’t mention what condition or quality the metal was. It may not have been practical to use for making weapons, but fine for fashioning jewelry or plates.

Plus, we may be running into translation issues here without being aware of it - Nephi would have named available metals after those he was already familiar with, regardless of whether or not they were the same as what is found in the Old World.

I also have to wonder to what degree that “abundance” continued after Lehi’s family settled in. Their culture took over as the superior one and if they taught the people that such things were to be prized and could be sold and/or traded, it’s hard for me to imagine that such “abundance” would have continued indefinitely. Sort of like the gold in California.

We know that in later years trading became very important, particularly for the exchange of precious goods. Perhaps an early exploitation of existing metal stores would have made it nearly impossible to sustain the number of weapons you’re suggesting?

If you have the knowledge (Nephi), the raw materials (ore), and a prototype (sword of Laban), why would you not fashion swords of steel?

You’re assuming that Nephi knew how to forge swords. I see nothing in the scriptures that suggests to me that Nephi possessed this sort of knowledge, and seeing as how he left Jerusalem at about 16 years old, I wonder how much he could have known about making weapons. He made tools for a boat through divine inspiration and knew how to do some metalworking (perhaps through observation?). That does not immediately translate to he also knew how to forge swords. From having personally watched this process it is not easy to make swords. It takes training in getting temperatures exactly right, because in tempering them correctly you walk a fine line between hammering the sword out into its proper shape while avoiding making it too brittle. Blacksmiths used to have songs that they sang that were exactly the right length for this process so that they wouldn’t mess it up. If Nephi truly was the son of a caravan master, this could very well have been knowledge beyond him.

Again, it doesn’t make sense to me to waste time on trying to create metal swords when the weapons already there were more than adequate for their needs. Macuahuitls could kill people just as easily as metal swords could. Bernal Diaz said in talking about the macuahuitl, “Their swords, which were as long as broadswords, were made of flint which cut worse than a knife.” So if the weapons you already have cut worse than a metal knife, why use the knife or the sword? (The swords of the Book of Mormon were obviously extremely sharp as they managed to slice through body parts and scalp people.)

Also, the Nephites did have an economy. Within a generation people began to seek after riches and there was class stratification. It would have been very costly to try and outfit every man with a metal sword. Macuahuitls were easy and cheap to produce, and could be easily repaired in battle

As far as the word “steel” is concerned, that’s a whole other blog on what exactly that word meant.

The swords are never referred to as "metal". The most notable thing I see is that Limhi is aware that "the hilts have perished" and "the blades are cankered with rust". He appears familiar with the blades and hilts of traditional sword architecture.

Since only metal can rust and canker, that to me means Limhi was referring to them being metal and therefore, unusual to him. He does specifically mention that “they have brought breastplates, which are large, and they are of brass and of copper, and are perfectly sound.” If breastplates among Limhi’s people were always made of brass and copper, why mention it?

It also doesn’t necessarily mean that he is familiar with metal blades because macuahuitls have the same sort of design, a hilt with a blade.

Even if the swords were singled out as "metal", it shouldn't be surprising from a book using phrases like "dreamed a dream".

Again, not necessarily true. I find the singling out of metal significant, you don’t. Dreamed a dream is more a manner of speaking and perhaps has more significance in the Hebrew tongue or reformed Egyptian than we know.

I don't have an answer as why the soldier picked up the scalp.

I do. See my previous post. :)

But I do find it interesting that Zerahemnah's sword "broke by the hilt".

It would have been much easier to break a wooden-based sword at the hilt than it would have a metal sword.

"Cimeter" is used throughout the book of mormon. Do you view macuahuitl = sword = cimeter?

Nope. A cimeter is a different weapon all together. It’s suggested that the cimeter was a hardwood sickle-shaped weapon. A simple version of it was used by Maya peasants/farmers to clear fields (as late as WWII). There are also versions that had inset stone blades - the Spanish compared it to a “cutlass” (which would make sense considering the curved blade).

I will say this, and you can take it for whatever it’s worth, but I have yet to read a single LDS scholar who believes that the swords in the Book of Mormon were anything but the macuahuitl. It makes sense, and correlates properly with what is said in the scriptures.

I also found it interesting that while teaching Primary last year on the Book of Mormon, the pictures in my manual had been replaced with European-styled weaponry and the Lamanites in the pictures now had very Mesoamerican weapons and looks to them - and the macuahuitl is the only sword shown in any of them. Somebody high up in the Church had to approve those pictures as “official” to be used along with the lessons, because that’s what they want us to show the kids to teach them about this time period.

 
At 6/19/2006 1:16 PM, Blogger Gander said...

A weapon storage depot being kept in the middle of nowhere up on a hill? I can’t buy into that one. :)

You're right! I pulled that one out of my *^*!


2 Nephi 5:15 "And I did teach my people ... to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance."

Metalworking, yes. Weapon making, doesn’t say.


Can't buy into that one. The previous verse explains how he fashioned swords after the manner of the sword of Laban. Why immediately transition into an explanation of the abundance of steel and ore?

If he had made swords of obsidian and wood, I would expect the verse to read more like, "Due to the abundance of volcanic glass, I fashioned swords after the manner of the natives."

Let me give you an analogy. Suppose I tell you that I love Philly cheesesteak sandwiches. I tell you that everyone in my neighborhood eats hot dogs for lunch. Then I tell you that I've made subway sandwiches before. My freezer is stocked with philly cheesesteak foodstuffs. And I'm drooling at a picture of a philly cheesesteak right now. Is it more logical to assume that I'm going to have a relatively time intensive, more satisfying phillycheesesteak for lunch, or a hot dog like everyone else? I'd argue the former.

I also have to wonder to what degree that “abundance” continued after Lehi’s family settled in. ... it’s hard for me to imagine that such “abundance” would have continued indefinitely. Sort of like the gold in California.

Do you have a feel for the extent of iron ore in Central America? I don't find a comparison to gold stores helpful.

Since only metal can rust and canker, that to me means Limhi was referring to them being metal and therefore, unusual to him.

I think it's more likely that the mention of rust is Limhi's attempt to attach a sense of time to his finding, i.e. the swords are not new.

You’re assuming that Nephi knew how to forge swords. I see nothing in the scriptures that suggests to me that Nephi possessed this sort of knowledge, and seeing as how he left Jerusalem at about 16 years old, I wonder how much he could have known about making weapons. He made tools for a boat through divine inspiration and knew how to do some metalworking (perhaps through observation?). That does not immediately translate to he also knew how to forge swords.

The record doesn't suggest that Nephi made tools through divine inspiration. All he got was a blueprint. The only thing he asked for was the location of ore. Sounds like someone confident in smelting and forging skills.

I'm not suggesting he was a master swordmaker. But the above reference to the sword of Laban, and his continual reference to metalworking make it more likely that he created swords similar to those that he knew.

I have no idea how long this skill persisted in the book of mormon culture.

It is interesting that Nephi was the only sibling with a steel bow.

If Nephi truly was the son of a caravan master, this could very well have been knowledge beyond him.

A large assumption built on an even larger assumption. As a literate, middle class youth, Nephi would be well aware of the technology of his time, just as enterprising youth today can take apart cars.

So if the weapons you already have cut worse than a metal knife, why use the knife or the sword?

A sword can pierce you through from a distance relatively greater than that required for the use of a swung instrument such as an axe or a club. Isn't this one of the advantages the Spaniards had in hand-to-hand combat?

As for the Zerahemnah story, I am curious as to how you envision the macahuitl. Is it a dual edged blade of wood with obsidian insets forming the dual edges, or is it a hardwood club with repeating patterns of obsidian around the entire circumference? If the first, how does this explain the difficulty of picking it up, if the latter, how do you shear off someone's scalp without causing severe blunt trauma (knocking them at least unconscious).

Somebody high up in the Church had to approve those pictures as “official” to be used along with the lessons, because that’s what they want us to show the kids to teach them about this time period.

I don't find this line of reasoning convincing, but I am curious as to which stories showed illustrations of the macahuitl.

I hope I haven't come across as too belligerent. Even though I disagree with you, it's obvious that your knowledge base of the Book of Mormon far outstrips my own. Hope your book is coming along well.

 
At 6/19/2006 2:47 PM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

This is going to have to be my last post on this for now because I have a deadline and I’m spending waaaayy too much time on this. LOL

Can't buy into that one. The previous verse explains how he fashioned swords after the manner of the sword of Laban. Why immediately transition into an explanation of the abundance of steel and ore?

If he had made swords of obsidian and wood, I would expect the verse to read more like, "Due to the abundance of volcanic glass, I fashioned swords after the manner of the natives."


Disagree for several reasons. Verse 15, in my opinion, has nothing to do the manner of making swords. Nephi is giving a short historical summary. We prospered. We multiplied in the land. Made swords to protect ourselves. Made buildings, did working in wood, iron, copper, etc. Made a temple (“after the manner,” or as I’ve been asserting, “in the pattern of”). We were industrious and labored with our hands. They wanted me to be king, etc.

I think it’s a big leap in logic to think that because he mentions swords and protecting themselves in v. 14 that the mention of metal in v. 15 automatically means that the swords were metal. As I reread these scriptures, I think one has nothing to do with the other.

If anything, if you look more closely in verse 15 it starts off with Nephi speaking of how he taught his people to make buildings, and then to work in wood, iron, copper, brass, steel, gold, silver, precious ores, etc. The phrasing of that verse suggests more to me that the mention of working with those various items had to do with the first part of the verse, the building of buildings. Particularly since v. 16 deals with the building of the temple, which would incorporate those objects. A couple of events intervene between I made swords and we worked with these materials - his concern over his brothers attacking him and the building of buildings. I don’t see how you can logically connect the two.

As far as fashioning swords after the natives, it would be redundant in my opinion to say what the weapons were composed of. Everybody knew what the weapons were composed of. Mentioning it would seem weird. That’s like saying I built a computer using a microchip, processor, motherboard and hard drive. If I said I built a computer, that’s adequate even for people living now who have no idea what’s inside the machine. Or that you built a house using beams of wood, sheetrock, bricks, roofing tiles, carpet, etc. We know what houses are made of. You wouldn’t tell us. You would only tell us if you used something unusual, like you made a house out of cotton candy.

Maybe the volcanic glass is some of the precious materials and ores that Nephi makes reference to. Just because we call it volcanic glass or obsidian or flint doesn’t mean that’s what the Nephites called it. Maybe they called it ore because it served the same function as ore in Jerusalem - making weapons.

Do you have a feel for the extent of iron ore in Central America? I don't find a comparison to gold stores helpful.

Want me to find out? I know there’s been quite a bit found where the Jaredites lived, but haven’t read anything about its readiness in other areas.

The record doesn't suggest that Nephi made tools through divine inspiration. All he got was a blueprint. The only thing he asked for was the location of ore. Sounds like someone confident in smelting and forging skills.

I'm not suggesting he was a master swordmaker. But the above reference to the sword of Laban, and his continual reference to metalworking make it more likely that he created swords similar to those that he knew.


We don’t know one way or the other what Nephi did or did not know. I certainly don’t think the record suggests one over the other.

I also disagree that something was “more likely” for the various reasons I’ve already listed - time consuming, costly, and far too much possibility for error over native weapons that were nearly as good. It seems more likely to me that he built an arsenal with easily obtainable weapons and materials rather than mining, smelting and forging.

I have no idea how long this skill persisted in the book of mormon culture.

The last time steel is mentioned is in Jarom. Even if we take the assumption that some form of metal sword making existed, it appears that it was pretty much done by Jarom.

A large assumption built on an even larger assumption. As a literate, middle class youth, Nephi would be well aware of the technology of his time, just as enterprising youth today can take apart cars.

Now, that’s a large assumption. Literate, middle class youths in Nephi’s time were nothing like literate, middle class youths of our time. Being literate does not necessarily mean he understood all the technology of his time. An enterprising youth today can take apart a car by seeking advice from professionals, reading books on the subject, looking it up on the Internet, spending time with friends who know a little about cars, etc. I doubt Nephi had the same sort of recourses available.

It's my understanding from researching ancient civilizations that people in certain professions kept their work secret from others. The only way they could continue to profit was to have a hold on the market. You didn’t teach anyone who wanted to learn how to be a blacksmith. It was a skill you passed along to your sons alone, or took an apprentice if you had no children of your own. The masons who worked on Solomon’s temple jealously guarded their technology, skills and abilities from outsiders. It was why guilds would later form. People didn’t freely share their knowledge and talents. It’s most likely one of the reasons why technology was stunted for so long - people didn’t trade their knowledge and experiences as they did in later centuries.

Sword making is a delicate science in balancing the forming of a weapon against making it too weak to be used in battle, and something that takes a while to learn. I can’t imagine that it was part of Nephi’s schooling.

Sons would expect to grow up and work in the family business. Christ was a carpenter, just like Joseph. I suppose it’s possible that Lehi could have been a blacksmith, but then Laman and Lemuel would have had the knowledge as well and we would see evidences of the metal swords in the etchings and drawings we find from these time periods. Plus, if Nibley says he thinks Lehi was a caravan master, that’s more than adequate for me. He knew more about this stuff than anyone else. :)

Nephi says he was "taught somewhat" in the learning of his father. That doesn't sound like an all-encompassing education to me.

A sword can pierce you through from a distance relatively greater than that required for the use of a swung instrument such as an axe or a club. Isn't this one of the advantages the Spaniards had in hand-to-hand combat?

But a macuahuitl functioned just like a sword, which is why all the Spanish conquistadors called it a sword. It had a slash and cut function, just like a metal sword. It was also long, just like a regular sword. It was NOT used as an axe or war club. They had actual axes and war clubs.

The advantage the Spanish had in hand-to-hand combat was that the Spanish were trying to kill the Aztecs/Maya and the Aztecs/Maya weren’t much trying to kill them back. It wasn’t about the death of your foe. They didn’t gain honor in that way. Warriors only gained honor in taking captives for sacrifices. The more live captives you brought back for ritual sacrifice, the higher your respect, ranking and honor as a warrior. Warrior orders/clubs had minimums for how many captives you had to personally capture in order to join. Death happened in battle, but death was the result of a messy fighter. Death was not the goal. Had the natives fought the same way the Spanish did, with the goal of obliterating the enemy, they most likely would have wiped the Spanish out. They were way too busy trying to take the Spanish captive. All you had to do to end an Aztec or Maya fight was to kill the leader and the fight would be over. The Spanish continued to fight even if their leader had been killed - they didn't buy into the superstition that the gods were with the enemy if the leader fell. Which is why when Cortes took out Moctezuma, the Aztecs didn’t resist him. Just like Book of Mormon fighting where fights would end when the leader was dead. :)

It's one of the reasons why the Nephites were always so concerned about their freedom and the Lamanites coming after them. They knew what the Lamanites would do to them if they became tributary states. In addition to heavy taxation and prohibition of their ability to practice their religion, there would have been a requirement to provide yearly sacrifice victims to their Lamanite overseer states/kingdoms.

As for the Zerahemnah story, I am curious as to how you envision the macahuitl. Is it a dual edged blade of wood with obsidian insets forming the dual edges, or is it a hardwood club with repeating patterns of obsidian around the entire circumference? If the first, how does this explain the difficulty of picking it up, if the latter, how do you shear off someone's scalp without causing severe blunt trauma (knocking them at least unconscious).

It’s a long, hand-held piece of hardwood with obsidian chips on both edges, so that the edges of the sword are sharp and can cut. There was a handle called the hilt which they used to hold onto it, often with a ball at the end presumably so that your hand wouldn’t slip off while you were fighting. So, no difficulty picking it up. It’s just like picking up a regular sword.

It’s not a club. The wood was thin. It functioned just like a metal sword.

I don't find this line of reasoning convincing, but I am curious as to which stories showed illustrations of the macahuitl.

I don’t remember specific pictures, but I do remember that quite a few had people with weapons. You don’t find it convincing that Church-approved manuals and their accompanying pictures specifically depict the macuahuitl? My mom, a seminary teacher, says the Church seminary videos on Book of Mormon battles also use the macuahuitl. Considering the amount of control I believe the leadership of this Church exercises over what is being taught in our manuals and to our youth, I have a hard time believing this is all just a coincidence. Ask your Primary president if you can see the Book of Mormon pictures that they use along with the BoM manuals. There’s still a couple of Friberg pictures in there (that have had such a strong impact on us that we continue to imagine things his way regardless of whether or not he was right in his depictions), but so many new ones that I had never seen before. I was excited to share the new pictures with my Valiant 10 kids.

 
At 6/19/2006 4:33 PM, Blogger Gander said...

You made some great points. Thanks for your detailed responses. I am curious about the pictures and will have to look for them around here.

 

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