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1 And now it came to pass that after the people of Ammon were established in the land of Jershon, and a church also established in the land of Jershon, and the armies of the Nephites were set round about the land of Jershon, yea, in all the borders round about the land of Zarahemla; behold the armies of the Lamanites had followed their brethren into the wilderness.
2 And thus there was a tremendous battle; yea, even such an one as never had been known among all the people in the land from the time Lehi left Jerusalem; yea, and tens of thousands of the Lamanites were slain and scattered abroad.
3 Yea, and also there was a tremendous slaughter among the people of Nephi; nevertheless, the Lamanites were driven and scattered, and the people of Nephi returned again to their land.
The latter part of the book of Alma is well known for its description of war and tactics. That long military narrative arc might lead a reader to assume that Mormon, as a military general, was very interested in war and, therefore, spent time in it. There must be a different explanation, for in these verses we learn that there was a terrible war in the fifteenth year of the reign of the judges (see verse 7). It was “a tremendous battle; yea, even such an one as never had been known among all the people in the land from the time Lehi left Jerusalem.” The greatest battle in Nephite history up to that point is described in just two verses.
Mormon includes no tactics, no descriptions of valor, and no stories of inspirational faithfulness. He simply says that “tens of thousands of the Lamanites were slain and scattered abroad,” and that “there was a tremendous slaughter among the people of Nephi.” That is the whole story of the most devastating battle in Nephite history up to that point.
While Mormon certainly was a general, and obviously admired Captain Moroni, Mormon’s interests in war had more to do with the people and their decisions than the battles themselves. This battle doesn’t involve personalities that interest him or move his purposes along, so he gives only the abbreviated indication of what happened.
4 And now this was a time that there was a great mourning and lamentation heard throughout all the land, among all the people of Nephi—
5 Yea, the cry of widows mourning for their husbands, and also of fathers mourning for their sons, and the daughter for the brother, yea, the brother for the father; and thus the cry of mourning was heard among all of them, mourning for their kindred who had been slain.
6 And now surely this was a sorrowful day; yea, a time of solemnity, and a time of much fasting and prayer.
Mormon spends more time on the human aftermath of the war than he does on the war itself. It was a time of “great mourning and lamentation.” Although Mormon is looking at this record from a time period some five hundred years later, he can relate to and empathize with the human suffering that accompanied the battle. The “cry of widows mourning for their husbands, and also of fathers mourning for their sons, and the daughter for the brother” were emotions with which Mormon was personally familiar. His emotional involvement in the terrible aftermath of this battle is clear.
This empathy leads into Mormon inserting his reaction to this war. Once again, we see Mormon caring much more about the people who were left after the destructive battle than for any of the events or people who had participated in the battle.
7 And thus endeth the fifteenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi;
8 And this is the account of Ammon and his brethren, their journeyings in the land of Nephi, their sufferings in the land, their sorrows, and their afflictions, and their incomprehensible joy, and the reception and safety of the brethren in the land of Jershon. And now may the Lord, the Redeemer of all men, bless their souls forever.
9 And this is the account of the wars and contentions among the Nephites, and also the wars between the Nephites and the Lamanites; and the fifteenth year of the reign of the judges is ended.
10 And from the first year to the fifteenth has brought to pass the destruction of many thousand lives; yea, it has brought to pass an awful scene of bloodshed.
In three verses, Mormon mentions the “fifteenth year” of the reign of the judges three times. We saw very little of the counts of the years in the material Mormon selected from Alma’s personal record. However, the dating by years is a hallmark of the organizational structure of the large plates, beginning with the book of Alma. Nevertheless, stating the fifteenth year this frequently is unusual.
Mormon is combining information from two records, Alma’s personal record and the large plates. He is also inserting his own opinions as well as copying Alma’s statements. What we are seeing in these verses appears to be a transition from Mormon using the large plates to a return to copying from Alma’s personal record.
What we will see is more than a repetition of the year, but a repetition of the aftermath of the terrible war. First, Mormon gave his reaction. Now Mormon will return to Alma’s reaction. Although the dating by years is not a feature of Alma’s personal record, Alma does mention the years from time to time. In this case, we are probably seeing the shift in Mormon’s use of the sources between verses 8 and 9.
The story of the sons of Mosiah began in the first year of the reign of the judges, and Mormon has been telling a story that occurred in Lamanite lands and according to a record that wasn’t part of the large plates. Here, he reconnects the story of the sons of Mosiah not only with their meeting with Alma, but with what has happened in the time that they were gone. Not only were there Lamanite incursions that Mormon somewhat awkwardly mentioned in Alma 25:13 and again in Alma 27:1, but here Mormon indicates that there were many wars in those fifteen years. It appears that Mormon had also attempted to include some of this information from the large plates as he was discussing the story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, but did so in an incomplete manner.
11 And the bodies of many thousands are laid low in the earth, while the bodies of many thousands are moldering in heaps upon the face of the earth; yea, and many thousands are mourning for the loss of their kindred, because they have reason to fear, according to the promises of the Lord, that they are consigned to a state of endless wo.
12 While many thousands of others truly mourn for the loss of their kindred, yet they rejoice and exult in the hope, and even know, according to the promises of the Lord, that they are raised to dwell at the right hand of God, in a state of never-ending happiness.
13 And thus we see how great the inequality of man is because of sin and transgression, and the power of the devil, which comes by the cunning plans which he hath devised to ensnare the hearts of men.
14 And thus we see the great call of diligence of men to labor in the vineyards of the Lord; and thus we see the great reason of sorrow, and also of rejoicing—sorrow because of death and destruction among men, and joy because of the light of Christ unto life.
Verse 11 repeats that terrible destruction from the end of the war that Mormon recorded in verses 3 and 4. Here, we are probably getting the information from Alma’s personal record. There is no chapter break at this point in the 1830 edition. The next modern chapter begins with Alma’s great soliloquy. There is no introduction to who is speaking, which is unusual in Mormon’s use of sources. However, working from the clear indications that it is Alma giving the soliloquy, we can move back to this part of the text and see that it is part of what Mormon was copying from Alma, including the moralizing statements in verses 12 through 13. Those statements are the ones that shift from pure lament to Alma’s soliloquy.
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