Short Notes on Recent Research

The Arms of Ammon’s Victims
In October 1983, the F.A.R.M.S. Newsletter reported the way in which the gates of Shalmanese III (858-824 B.C.), pictured in Yigael Yadin’s The Art of Warfarw in Biblical Lands 2:399, attests to the practice of cutting off the arms, hands, feet, or other body parts of vanquished enemies. This ancient military practice seems related to Alma 17:39, where Ammon cuts off the arms of those thieves who tried to steal the king’s livestock and the shepherds take the arms to the king as a tesimony of what has been done. In a recent conversation, John Lundquist, at the New York Public Library, has explored several of the reasons why this was a widespread and frequently attested phenomenon in the ancient world, ranging throughout the Near East and Egypt.

First, there was a need to obtain an accurate count of the dead. Military officers tended to exaggerate their conquests for self-aggrandizement and political gain; thus, a precise statistic was necessary to avoid misrepresentation. Similarly, Ammon was scrupulous to present precise evidence, so that he could not be accused of overstating his feat.

Second, there was a need for mercenary soldiers to be paid, and they were often rewarded based on the number of victims they had killed. Ammon, of course, had no interest in receiving compensation for his loyal service to King Lamoni, but the fact that the evidence was presented to the King, which would have entitled him to payment, heightens all the more the fact that Ammon sought no recognition.

Other reasons for the practice may have included the need to identify the dead, and, thus, body parts were usually selected that were somehow unique to the victims. Taking an arm may also have had symbolic significance in punishing thieves who had misappropriated property by hand. Such became a common punishment for thieves in the Moslem world, but Jewish jurisprudence came to avoid any bodily mutilation. Finally, an often-heard threat in the Near East today is that of vowing to cut down any arms raised against a person. Similarly, “as many of their arms as were lifted against” Ammon were smitten off (17:28). Thus, several ideas may shed additional light upon the practice reported in Ammon’s case in Alma 17.

Nephite Daily Prayers
As work on Volume 3 of the Book of Mormon Critical Text continues steadily, many interesting details emerge. For example, three consistent passages in the Book of Mormon have allowed the likely conclusion that the Nephite liturgical day ran from morning to evening. Alma 34:21 exhorts the people to pray “both morning, mid-day and evening,” which would seem to call for a daily schedule beginning in the morning. Mos. 27:23 and Hel. 9:10 both seem to indicate that fasting for Alma and for the slain chief judge began the day after Alma was struck dumb and the day after the chief judge was assassinated and that the fasting was for the entire day, thus also indicating that their religious routine began in the morning. This appears to differ from the typical Israelite and Jewish practices, which regulated their daily prayers from evening to evening. Psalms 55:17 states, “Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray.” See also Dan. 6:10; Acts 3:1; 10:3, 9; Didache 8:3; Babylonian Talmud Berakot 4:1. The daily routine was often a cause of debate and differentiation among various Jewish sects.

Also intriguing is the close relationships between the Zoramite prayer in Alma 31:15-18 and the Jewish ‘Amida or “Standing” Shemone-‘Esreh prayer. The Jewish prayer, which always uses “we, us” and is communal, included eighteen (now nineteen) benedictions, consisting of prais of “Holy God,” petitions and thanksgiving. J. Heinemann, Prayer in the Talmud (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1977), pp. 26-29. Babylonian Talmud Berakot 4:3. Some basic similarities exist between this prayer and the prayers offered by the Zoramites standing on their rameumptom, although it is equally indisputable that the Zoramite prayer was a shocking corruption of what had originally been a legitimate expression of Israelite piety.

Lehi’s Council Vision and the Mysteries of God
When Lehi saw God seated on his throne amidst the council in heaven and was entrusted to deliver the decree of woe and judgment which was issued upon Jerusalem (1 Ne. 1:8-13), his vision was fully consistent with the spiritual experiences of other classic Israelite prophets of his day. They, too, expressed their visions in terms of participating in an assembly in heaven and receiving the judgments of that council concerning God’s will about the destiny of man and the world. Compare, for example, 1 Ki. 22:19-22; Isa. 6:1-10; 40:1-8; Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6; Zech. 1:8-13; 3:1-7; 6:1-8; Jer. 23:18, discussed at length in T. Mullen, The Divine Council in Canaanite and Early Hebrew Literature (Chico: Scholars Press, 1980). Recent research by John W. Welch on 1 Nephi has placed Lehi’s words more specifically in this preexilic context than ever before.

Interestingly, the Hebrew word for the “council” was sod. By association, it also came to mean “a decree of the council.” Because the council and its actions were not open to the general public, but were private and intimate, these decrees were “secrets,” known only to the prophets. Accordingly, Raymond E. Brown has concluded that the Semitic background of the concept of “mysteries” resides in the idea of prophets like Lehi being “intorduced into the heavenly assembly and gaining a knowledge of its secret decrees.” See “The Pre-Christian Semitic Concept of ‘Mystery,’ ” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 20 (1958), 417-43, esp. p. 421. Thus, it is remarkable and understandable that when Nephi described his desire to receive a personal confirmation of the truth of the words which his father Lehi had spoken, he said that he wanted to “know of the mysteries of God.” Those “mysteries” (sod) were apparently synonymous with the decrees and knowledge which Lehi had received in the council (sod).

Stylometry Research Progresses
John Hilton, in Walnut Creek, California, reports significant progress in his research with Kenneth D. Jenkins, developing a consistent and conservative model to measure a set of noncontextual word patterns for authorship identification. John’s latest report is highly technical and is entitled “On Maximizing Author Identification by Measuring 5000-Word Texts.” It examines several statistical issues to determine the extent to which word-print measurement can be validly taken on two texts. It concludes that in over 60% of the cases, a valid author separation is achievable. While one cannot, therefore, always prove by word-print analysis who did write a text, unambiguous results were obtained in determining who did not write each 5000-word sample. “I believe,” John writes, “we have now demonstrated that there can be valid word printing to study Joseph Smith and the larger authors from the Book of Mormon.” These recently developed results have yet to be applied to the texts of the Book of Mormon themselves.