Scourging with Faggots
|Fig. 1. Aztec artist’s depiction of a youthful miscreant being scourged with what are described as “burning firebrands.” Courtesy Bodleian Library|
The means by which the Book of Mormon prophet Abinadi was put to death by order of wicked King Noah is described in Mosiah 17:3: “And it came to pass that they took him and bound him, and scourged his skin with faggots, yea, even unto death.”
The antiquated terms scourge and faggot may be unfamiliar to many modern readers. In Joseph Smith’s day the verb scourge meant “to whip severely” or “to punish with severity,” and the noun fagot denoted a bundle of sticks used for firewood.1
Punishment by scourging was known in the ancient Near East of Lehi’s day. A wooden rod was the usual instrument of punishment in ancient Egypt2 and remains so in some modern Arab countries. The Romans used whips as well as wooden rods to scourge malefactors.
|Fig. 2. In Aztec society a common form of punishment was to beat malefactors with sticks or cudgels. Illustrations from the Florentine Codex, from top: punishment of an immoral merchant, judgment and execution of an adulterer, and a noblewoman who corrects and punishes. Illustrations courtesy Bodleian Library|
The scourging of Abinadi recalls the Old World practice, with the exception that the Old World sticks are not said to have been firewood. There is, however, a direct parallel between Abinadi’s scourging and a form of punishment common in the much later Aztec culture of Mexico. Codex Mendoza, a richly illustrated ethnographic record of Aztec daily life that was produced in Mexico City around 1541, contains a painting that depicts two men beating a youth with firebrands (see fig. 1).
The caption for the painting is tlequahuital, which means “firebrand.” The translated annotation next to the painting reads in part, “The two telpuchtlato, who are masters who govern youths, punished a youth who had been living with a woman by beating him with burning firebrands.”3 Referring to this same painting, the editors of a modern edition of the codex note, “Cudgels almost identical to these . . . appear in three illustrations of the Florentine Codex. They are used to punish an adulterer, a careless musician, and a merchant who had misused a woman.”4 Many such infractions resulted in the death penalty.
Although the Aztec practice of beating transgressors with firewood followed more than 1,000 years after the death of Abinadi, it provides an interesting parallel to the method of Abinadi’s execution.
4. Ibid., 2:180. The Florentine Codex is the most complete version of Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún’s General History of the Things of New Spain, a 16th-century record of Aztec culture written in Náhuatl (the language of the Aztecs) with parallel Spanish text.