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3 Nephi Chapter 4

1 And it came to pass that in the latter end of the eighteenth year those armies of robbers had prepared for battle, and began to come down and to sally forth from the hills, and out of the mountains, and the wilderness, and their strongholds, and their secret places, and began to take possession of the lands, both which were in the land south and which were in the land north, and began to take possession of all the lands which had been deserted by the Nephites, and the cities which had been left desolate.

verse 1 "began to take possession of the lands, both which were in the land south and which were in the land north" It would seem likely that the reference here is only to the greater land of Zarahemla, both its northern and southern parts. It seems likely that the robbers took control of all those parts of the greater land of Zarahemla outside the area where the Nephites and Lamanites were gathered.

2 But behold, there were no wild beasts nor game in those lands which had been deserted by the Nephites, and there was no game for the robbers save it were in the wilderness.

verse 2 Hugh Nibley refers to the robbers as "a predatory order" which found itself in difficult straits because "there was no loot" for them to plunder (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 7, 366-67).

3 And the robbers could not exist save it were in the wilderness, for the want of food; for the Nephites had left their lands desolate, and had gathered their flocks and their herds and all their substance, and they were in one body.

verse 3 The only option open to the robbers was to live hungry and in the wilderness, since the Nephites had abandoned their lands and had left them desolate..

The aim of Lachoneus was to simply sit tight and starve out the Nephites' former exploiters. In effect, what Lachoneus did was to call a general strike. There would be no one to provide food and other provisions for the robbers.

4 Therefore, there was no chance for the robbers to plunder and to obtain food, save it were to come up in open battle against the Nephites; and the Nephites being in one body, and having so great a number, and having reserved for themselves provisions, and horses and cattle, and flocks of every kind, that they might subsist for the space of seven years, in the which time they did hope to destroy the robbers from off the face of the land; and thus the eighteenth year did pass away.

verse 4 The use of "horses" in this context suggests that whatever animal is referred to as a "horse" here was used largely for food and not to carry or pull things (see the commentary for 1 Nephi 18:25).

"that they might subsist for the space of seven years" We will learn that these gathered provisions did, in fact, last seven years from AD 18 to AD 25.

5 And it came to pass that in the nineteenth year Giddianhi found that it was expedient that he should go up to battle against the Nephites, for there was no way that they could subsist save it were to plunder and rob and murder.

verse 5 The Gadianton people were literally parasites whose host was no longer providing food. They were forced into battle.

6 And they durst not spread themselves upon the face of the land insomuch that they could raise grain, lest the Nephites should come upon them and slay them; therefore Giddianhi gave commandment unto his armies that in this year they should go up to battle against the Nephites.

7 And it came to pass that they did come up to battle; and it was in the sixth month; and behold, great and terrible was the day that they did come up to battle; and they were girded about after the manner of robbers; and they had a lamb-skin about their loins, and they were dyed in blood, and their heads were shorn, and they had head-plates upon them; and great and terrible was the appearance of the armies of Giddianhi, because of their armor, and because of their being dyed in blood.

8 And it came to pass that the armies of the Nephites, when they saw the appearance of the army of Giddianhi, had all fallen to the earth, and did lift their cries to the Lord their God, that he would spare them and deliver them out of the hands of their enemies.

verse 8 "they . . . and did lift their cries to the Lord their God, that he would spare them and deliver them out of the hands of their enemies" Regarding the pre-battle prayers of the Nephites, Gary L. Sturgess has written:

We do not know what "cry[ing] mightily to the Lord" (Mosiah 9:17) meant, but it occurs so often in this context that we must understand it to be some kind of pre-battle ritual. Alma's son Helaman wrote to [Captain] Moroni a decade or more after his father's departure: "We trust God will deliver us, notwithstanding the weakness of our armies, yea, and deliver us out of the hands of our enemies" (Alma 58:37). There would also appear to have been a ritual thanksgiving after a victorious battle in which Jehovah was praised for delivering the people. Alma 45:1 records fasting and prayer, as well as a form of worship that involved great rejoicing, "because the Lord had again delivered them out of the hands of their enemies." We find this same pattern of deliverance and rejoicing alluded to in Omni 1:6-7; Alma 49:28-30; Alma 62:48-52; and 3 Nephi 4:28-33 (Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, volume 4, Number 2, 126).

9 And it came to pass that when the armies of Giddianhi saw this they began to shout with a loud voice, because of their joy, for they had supposed that the Nephites had fallen with fear because of the terror of their armies.

10 But in this thing they were disappointed, for the Nephites did not fear them; but they did fear their God and did supplicate him for protection; therefore, when the armies of Giddianhi did rush upon them they were prepared to meet them; yea, in the strength of the Lord they did receive them.

11 And the battle commenced in this the sixth month; and great and terrible was the battle thereof, yea, great and terrible was the slaughter thereof, insomuch that there never was known so great a slaughter among all the people of Lehi since he left Jerusalem.

12 And notwithstanding the threatenings and the oaths which Giddianhi had made, behold, the Nephites did beat them, insomuch that they did fall back from before them.

13 And it came to pass that Gidgiddoni commanded that his armies should pursue them as far as the borders of the wilderness, and that they should not spare any that should fall into their hands by the way; and thus they did pursue them and did slay them, to the borders of the wilderness, even until they had fulfilled the commandment of Gidgiddoni.

verse 13 "his armies should pursue them as far as the borders of the wilderness" We might presume that this "wilderness" is an uninhabited mountainous area which is part of the west wilderness that lay between the greater land of Zarahemla and the west sea.

14 And it came to pass that Giddianhi, who had stood and fought with boldness, was pursued as he fled; and being weary because of his much fighting he was overtaken and slain. And thus was the end of Giddianhi the robber.

15 And it came to pass that the armies of the Nephites did return again to their place of security. And it came to pass that this nineteenth year did pass away, and the robbers did not come again to battle; neither did they come again in the twentieth year.

16 And in the twenty and first year they did not come up to battle, but they came up on all sides to lay siege round about the people of Nephi; for they did suppose that if they should cut off the people of Nephi from their lands, and should hem them in on every side, and if they should cut them off from all their outward privileges, that they could cause them to yield themselves up according to their wishes.

17 Now they had appointed unto themselves another leader, whose name was Zemnarihah; therefore it was Zemnarihah that did cause that this siege should take place.

18 But behold, this was an advantage to the Nephites; for it was impossible for the robbers to lay siege sufficiently long to have any effect upon the Nephites, because of their much provision which they had laid up in store,

19 And because of the scantiness of provisions among the robbers; for behold, they had nothing save it were meat for their subsistence, which meat they did obtain in the wilderness;

20 And it came to pass that the wild game became scarce in the wilderness insomuch that the robbers were about to perish with hunger.

21 And the Nephites were continually marching out by day and by night, and falling upon their armies, and cutting them off by thousands and by tens of thousands.

22 And thus it became the desire of the people of Zemnarihah to withdraw from their design, because of the great destruction which came upon them by night and by day.

23 And it came to pass that Zemnarihah did give command unto his people that they should withdraw themselves from the siege, and march into the furthermost parts of the land northward.

verse 23 Throughout the Book of Mormon, the Nephite military leaders consistently manifest a reluctance to allow their enemies to flank them and escape to the north. Perhaps they feared the strategic disadvantage of being surrounded, particularly since there may been have peoples in the lands to the north of the narrow neck of land willing to form an alliance with the Nephites' enemies.

24 And now, Gidgiddoni being aware of their design, and knowing of their weakness because of the want of food, and the great slaughter which had been made among them, therefore he did send out his armies in the night-time, and did cut off the way of their retreat, and did place his armies in the way of their retreat.

25 And this did they do in the night-time, and got on their march beyond the robbers, so that on the morrow, when the robbers began their march, they were met by the armies of the Nephites both in their front and in their rear.

26 And the robbers who were on the south were also cut off in their places of retreat. And all these things were done by command of Gidgiddoni.

27 And there were many thousands who did yield themselves up prisoners unto the Nephites, and the remainder of them were slain.

28 And their leader, Zemnarihah, was taken and hanged upon a tree, yea, even upon the top thereof until he was dead. And when they had hanged him until he was dead they did fell the tree to the earth, and did cry with a loud voice, saying:

29 May the Lord preserve his people in righteousness and in holiness of heart, that they may cause to be felled to the earth all who shall seek to slay them because of power and secret combinations, even as this man hath been felled to the earth.

verses 28-29 After the Nephites chopped down the tree on which Zemnarihah was hanged, they all cried out "with one voice" for God to protect them. Then they sang out "all as one" in praise of God (see verses 30-33). It certainly appears that some kind of ritual or legal procedure was involved here, and several evidences point to an ancient and previously unknown background for this form of execution:

1. Notice that the tree used in carrying out the execution was felled. Was this ever done in antiquity? Apparently it was. For one thing, Jewish practice required that the tree upon which the culprit was hanged should be buried with the body, so the tree had to be chopped down. Since the rabbis understood that this burial would take place immediately, the Talmud recommended hanging the culprit on a precut tree or post so that, in the words of Maimonides, "no felling is needed" (Maimonides, Sanhedrin XV, 9; see also Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin VI, 6).

2. Consider why the tree was chopped down and buried. As Maimonides explains: "In order that it should not serve as a sad reminder, people saying: 'This is the tree on which so-and-so was hanged'" (Maimonides, Sanhedrin XV, 9). In this the tree became associated with the person being executed; it came to symbolize the culprit and the desire to forget him or her. By way of comparison, the Nephites identified the tree with Zemnarihah and all those like him, that his infamy might not be forgotten, when they cried out: "May [the Lord] cause to be felled to the earth all who shall seek to slay them . . . even as this man hath been felled to the earth."

3. Stoning was the more usual method of execution under the law of Moses. One of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Temple Scroll (also called 11Q19), calls for execution of a spy-one who defects to another nation and curses his own people, or one who "betrays his people to a foreign nation or causes evil against his people"-by hanging (column LXIV, lines 6-13, in Garcia Martinez, Dead Sea Scrolls Translated, 178). The Israelites who joined themselves to their enemies, the Midianites, in the worship of the false god Baal-Peor and were hanged by Moses fit this description of a traitor (see Numbers 25:1-9). The Gadianton band led by Zemnarihah consisted of dissenters who had turned against the Nephites (see Helaman 11:24-26, 3 Nephi 1:27-28). In Gadianton's day they had fled the land to avoid being apprehended for their treasonous acts in killing the chief judge Pahoran and attempting to slay his successor, Helaman (Helaman 2:11). Because of this flight, they fit the description found in the Temple Scroll of the man who "escapes amongst the nations." Giddianhi, Zemnarihah's predecessor as leader of the band, admitted that his people had dissented from the Nephites (3 Nephi 3:9-11). It is also of interest that Giddianhi swore "with an oath" to destroy the Nephites (3 Nephi 3:8), clearly plotting evil against the people as also mentioned in the Temple Scroll. His successor's execution by hanging is entirely in line with early Jewish law.

4. There is an ancient idea of fashioning a punishment that fits the crime. For example, if a thief broke into a house, he was to be put to death and "hung in front of the place where he broke in." Under both biblical and ancient Near Eastern Law, ancient punishments called "talionic punishments" were often related symbolically to the offense. Thus the punishment for a false accuser was to make him suffer whatever would have happened to the person he had falsely accused (see Deuteronomy 19:19). In Zemnarihah's case this widely recognized principle of ancient jurisprudence was followed when he was hanged in front of the very nation he had tried to destroy and when he was felled to the earth just as he had tried to bring that nation down.

5. Finally, the people all chanted loudly, proclaiming the wickedness of Zemnarihah, which may be reminiscent of the ancient practice of heralding (publicizing or announcing) the execution of a particularly notorious criminal (see Deuteronomy 19:20). An even clearer example of heralding in the Book of Mormon is found in Alma 30:57, where the results in Korihor's case were heralded abroad. In both these cases, the apparent requirement of publishing the wickedness of the culprit was satisfied, so that all who remained would "hear and fear" and the evil would be removed from among God's people. (John W. Welch, "The Execution of Zemnarihah," Reexploring the Book of Mormon, 250-52.)

Terrence L. Szink has noted a similarity between the peculiar ritual described in these two verses to Egyptian "execration texts." He wrote: "In such texts, the Egyptians of the Middle Kingdom ritually cursed their enemies by writing their names on bowls or figures of clay and then smashing them. As they broke the bowls or figures they believed they were destroying the power of those whose names were inscribed thereon" (Studies in Scripture, Volume Eight, Alma 30 to Moroni, 132).

30 And they did rejoice and cry again with one voice, saying: May the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, protect this people in righteousness, so long as they shall call on the name of their God for protection.

31 And it came to pass that they did break forth, all as one, in singing, and praising their God for the great thing which he had done for them, in preserving them from falling into the hands of their enemies.

32 Yea, they did cry: Hosanna to the Most High God. And they did cry: Blessed be the name of the Lord God Almighty, the Most High God.

verse 32 "Hosanna" may be interpreted: Save us now; we pray thee (or we beseech thee)!

33 And their hearts were swollen with joy, unto the gushing out of many tears, because of the great goodness of God in delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; and they knew it was because of their repentance and their humility that they had been delivered from an everlasting destruction.

verse 33 "their hearts were swollen with joy, unto the gushing out of many tears" This phrase is a favorite of Elder Neil A. Maxwell who has taught us that even the most profound earthly joy which we may experience during this mortal existence does not compare to that we will feel at the moment of our reunion with family and friends in the life hereafter (Notwithstanding My Weakness, 58; Not My Will, But Thine, 143).

These Nephites tearfully "stood all amazed" at the mercy of God. At this point they truly realized the truth of the common and recurring theme emphasized and re-emphasized by the prophet Mormon throughout the Book of Mormon text. Mormon believed literally in the "promise/curse" of the Book of Mormon: The Lord was committed to defend his covenant people and protect them from being placed in bondage to any other people when they were righteous, but not under other circumstances (see the commentary for 2 Nephi 1:20 and the introductory commentary for Alma 43; see also the following verse).

No matter how formidable and how threatening the enemy and by how much they outnumbered the Nephites, the Nephites' most significant problem was not the enemy's military might. It was rather their own unrighteousness.

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