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TitleMosiah 20
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsGardner, Brant A.
Book TitleBook of Mormon Minute
PublisherBook of Mormon Central
CitySpringville, UT
KeywordsMosiah (Book)

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Mosiah 20

Lamanite Maidens Kidnapped

Mosiah 20:1–2

1 Now there was a place in Shemlon where the daughters of the Lamanites did gather themselves together to sing, and to dance, and to make themselves merry.

2 And it came to pass that there was one day a small number of them gathered together to sing and to dance.

Comments

Mormon gives us the essential information that will set up this episode. There are a number of young women gathered together in a place that appears to be unguarded. Mormon doesn’t tell us why, and perhaps he did not know.

The basics of the event suggest that there was some ritual action taking place that involved young women. Perhaps it was a rite of passage. The fact that there “was a place in Shemlon” suggests that this was a recurring event, again underscoring the ritual nature. The enactment of a ritual, such as a rite of passage, would give us the reason behind the periodic gathering, and the reason that it would appear to include women young enough to be described as daughters rather than as women.

Mosiah 20:3–5

3 And now the priests of king Noah, being ashamed to return to the city of Nephi, yea, and also fearing that the people would slay them, therefore they durst not return to their wives and their children.

4 And having tarried in the wilderness, and having discovered the daughters of the Lamanites, they laid and watched them;

5 And when there were but few of them gathered together to dance, they came forth out of their secret places and took them and carried them into the wilderness; yea, twenty and four of the daughters of the Lamanites they carried into the wilderness.

Comments

Mormon had made certain that he noted that the priests of Noah escaped during the episode when Noah had been taken and executed. The reason it was important to note their escape was so that this part of the story could be told. The priests had escaped, but they were on their own. They had left family behind and could not return for them. They were forced into a new life.

We cannot know if they were searching for a way to find wives, or if the chance of finding this place of ritual simply provided an opportunity they chose to use to their advantage. What they did was steal away the daughters of the Lamanites. A similar story of the abduction of young women who were dancing is told in Judges 21:16–23. It is possible that the story from Israel’s history was known to the priests and may have served as their justification.

Mosiah 20:6–7

6 And it came to pass that when the Lamanites found that their daughters had been missing, they were angry with the people of Limhi, for they thought it was the people of Limhi.

7 Therefore they sent their armies forth; yea, even the king himself went before his people; and they went up to the land of Nephi to destroy the people of Limhi.

Comments

The disappearance of their daughters obviously affected the Lamanites. They would have understood that they were taken because the alternative would have been some attack by wild beasts. That, however, would have left traces and probably not resulted in all of the daughters vanishing. The clear conclusion was that they were taken and the Lamanites blamed the obvious enemy, the people of Limhi.

Whatever the conditions of the peace that had been established, this was certainly a breach of that peace and therefore the Lamanites came with armies. Certainly, they intended to recover their daughters, but their anger also dictated that they enact revenge, hence the desire to destroy the people of Limhi.

Mosiah 20:8–11

8 And now Limhi had discovered them from the tower, even all their preparations for war did he discover; therefore he gathered his people together, and laid wait for them in the fields and in the forests.

9 And it came to pass that when the Lamanites had come up, that the people of Limhi began to fall upon them from their waiting places, and began to slay them.

10 And it came to pass that the battle became exceedingly sore, for they fought like lions for their prey.

11 And it came to pass that the people of Limhi began to drive the Lamanites before them; yet they were not half so numerous as the Lamanites. But they fought for their lives, and for their wives, and for their children; therefore they exerted themselves and like dragons did they fight.

Comments

The tower in the city makes its second important appearance, again discovering an approaching army of Lamanites. Limhi prepares his people as well as he is able to defend their homes. Verse 11 notes that even though they were outnumbered, they began to have success because their stakes were so high. They were fighting for their homes and families.

There are two interesting analogies used in these verses. In both verses 10 and 11 Mormon describes the people of Limhi fighting. The first metaphor is that they “fought like lions for their prey.” The second is that “like dragons did they fight.” Modern readers can understand the imagery. We have some notion of powerful lions fighting for prey, and even though we understand dragons as fictional animals, we understand that they could be considered fierce fighters.

We do not know what the references were in the language of the plates. What we have is the English translation, but there were no lions, and the concept of dragons was also an Old World image. This suggests that we have the metaphors in a translation that we could understand, but that the original metaphor might have been animals with which the Nephites and Lamanites would have been familiar. For lions, it is easy to suggest that it could have been a jaguar, which was one of the most powerful New World predators. The second could easily have been a crocodile, which appears frequently in Mesoamerican imagery. Both are plausible for the plate-language metaphors.

Confrontation Between Limhi and the Lamanite King

Mosiah 20:12–13

12 And it came to pass that they found the king of the Lamanites among the number of their dead; yet he was not dead, having been wounded and left upon the ground, so speedy was the flight of his people.

13 And they took him and bound up his wounds, and brought him before Limhi, and said: Behold, here is the king of the Lamanites; he having received a wound has fallen among their dead, and they have left him; and behold, we have brought him before you; and now let us slay him.

Comments

Earlier, in verse 7, Mormon made sure to note that the king of the Lamanites was at the head of his army. That information leads directly to this episode where the king is among the injured. In later Maya descriptions, the kings are often depicted as warriors, and while some of them were more likely only symbolically present, it would not have been surprising to find a king on the battlefield. Note that later in the book of Alma we will have Alma2 himself in battle.

That the king was wounded, but not dead, is also part of ancient warfare. The types of injuries that would debilitate occurred frequently, and the actual dead were often fewer than the injured. In this case it is fortuitous, and perhaps divinely fortuitous, that he is alive, even though injured.

The people of Limhi suggest that Limhi kill the king. Although they could have done so on the battlefield, it was more appropriate for their king to pass judgment on another king. Therefore, while they suggest that Limhi kill him, they nevertheless allow Limhi to make his own declaration of the Lamanite king’s fate.

Mosiah 20:14–16

14 But Limhi said unto them: Ye shall not slay him, but bring him hither that I may see him. And they brought him. And Limhi said unto him: What cause have ye to come up to war against my people? Behold, my people have not broken the oath that I made unto you; therefore, why should ye break the oath which ye made unto my people?

15 And now the king said: I have broken the oath because thy people did carry away the daughters of my people; therefore, in my anger I did cause my people to come up to war against thy people.

16 And now Limhi had heard nothing concerning this matter; therefore he said: I will search among my people and whosoever has done this thing shall perish. Therefore he caused a search to be made among his people.

Comments

The wisdom of allowing the king to live is demonstrated when Limhi is able to ask for an explanation. The important subtext behind the exchange is the importance of oaths. The people of Limhi and the people of the Lamanite king had made mutual oaths to each other. Limhi declares that his people have kept their oath and asks what could have caused the Lamanite king to break his.

The answer is that the Lamanite king saw the kidnapping of the daughters as a violation of Limhi’s oath and therefore he was retaliating. Limhi appears to see that as a violation of the oath as well but not one that he had authorized. Thus, he declares that he has kept the oath and searches for those who had not.

Blame for Kidnapping Associated with Noah’s Priests

Mosiah 20:17–21

17 Now when Gideon had heard these things, he being the king’s captain, he went forth and said unto the king: I pray thee forbear, and do not search this people, and lay not this thing to their charge.

18 For do ye not remember the priests of thy father, whom this people sought to destroy? And are they not in the wilderness? And are not they the ones who have stolen the daughters of the Lamanites?

19 And now, behold, and tell the king of these things, that he may tell his people that they may be pacified towards us; for behold they are already preparing to come against us; and behold also there are but few of us.

20 And behold, they come with their numerous hosts; and except the king doth pacify them towards us we must perish.

21 For are not the words of Abinadi fulfilled, which he prophesied against us—and all this because we would not hearken unto the words of the Lord, and turn from our iniquities?

Comments

Gideon realizes that it must have been the priests of Noah who had stolen the Lamanite daughters. He was correct, but we do not know if it was only suspicion or if there were some evidence of it.

In any case, it is Gideon’s reasoning that is important. First, he wants to explain the problem to the Lamanite king. Perhaps if the Lamanite king understood that the people of Limhi had kept their oath, but that it was a separate and disgraced group who had done this, the peace might be destroyed.

The rest of the argument focuses on the alternative, which is an even larger army and even more destruction. While Gideon is attempting to forestall that event, he ties it into Abinadi’s prophecy of doom upon the people. Abinadi had said that they would be “scattered to and fro” in Mosiah 17:17. Gideon sees this current battle, and the possible future engagements, as fulfillment of Abinadi’s prophecies.

Mosiah 20:22–26

22 And now let us pacify the king, and we fulfil the oath which we have made unto him; for it is better that we should be in bondage than that we should lose our lives; therefore, let us put a stop to the shedding of so much blood.

23 And now Limhi told the king all the things concerning his father, and the priests that had fled into the wilderness, and attributed the carrying away of their daughters to them.

24 And it came to pass that the king was pacified towards his people; and he said unto them: Let us go forth to meet my people, without arms; and I swear unto you with an oath that my people shall not slay thy people.

25 And it came to pass that they followed the king, and went forth without arms to meet the Lamanites. And it came to pass that they did meet the Lamanites; and the king of the Lamanites did bow himself down before them, and did plead in behalf of the people of Limhi.

26 And when the Lamanites saw the people of Limhi, that they were without arms, they had compassion on them and were pacified towards them, and returned with their king in peace to their own land.

Comments

In verse 22 the important statement is that Gideon believes that they can explain that “we fulfil the oath which we have made.” This is an issue of oath-taking. Just as when Zoram calmed down when Nephi swore an oath that he would be family, these oaths were the foundations of firm understanding. It was important that the people of Limhi be seen as fulfilling, rather than breaking their oath.

The Lamanite king was able to see reason. The result is yet another oath. The Lamanite king’s people had felt justified in desiring to kill the people of Limhi because of an apparent broken oath. With the oaths in place, peace could resume.

There is no chapter break at this point in the 1830 edition.

Scripture Reference

Mosiah 20:1-26