Reason #53 — The warfare in the Book of Mormon


The Book of Mormon raises questions when we examine its accounts of warfare. Where is evidence of the great mounds of weapons, the steel-smelting operations necessary for their production, and the warfare technologies described in this book?  LDS apologists grasp at straws with their allusions to things that could “possibly” support its scenarios. (One apologist suggested that the steel mentioned in the Book of Mormon could have been from another metal than iron, for instance: another example of redefining the English terms that were the “correct” translation. Other apologists suggest that perhaps the swords were made of really hard wood with obsidian edges.) But no reputable non-LDS scholar has ever even hinted that there is archaeological evidence of Nephite/Lamanite warfare with the weapons and the scope that the Book of Mormon depict.

The Book of Mormon says that the warlike Lamanites killed off all the good Nephites, and that they loved war.  Are we to believe that this warlike group of people suddenly forgot how to make the superior steel weapons of the BofM and resorted to bows and arrows?

Here’s the crux of the whole question about the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. There is no non-LDS archaeologist who would ever assert that the culture of any civilization anywhere on the two American continents before Columbus resembles as a whole the culture presented in the Book of Mormon. 

For more information, see The Mormon Mirage 3rd Edition:  A Former Member Looks at the Mormon Church Today (Zondervan, 2009). Also available as an audiobook and as an expanded-text E-book for Nook, Kindle and other reading devices.





  1. Morgan Deane
    Apr 11, 2009

    I have to disagree with your analysis posted here. I have studied the warfare in the Book of Mormon extensively. I find that warfare in the Book of Mormon is one of its greatest strengths and invite you to research the matter a little further, either on my blog or in the book “Warfare in the Book of Mormon” which addresses many of your problems.
    I would also like to know what verse in the Book of Mormon mentions “great mounds” of weapons. Thank you for your time.

  2. Latayne
    Apr 11, 2009

    Hi Mr. Deane. Thank you for your comment. I did indeed visit your site and appreciate your studies in military matters. I myself write regularly for Military Officer and Today’s Officer magazines and so am interested in military subjects myself. I have not read the book you recommended.

    Let me address the two main issues you raised. First of all is the matter of warfare in the Book of Mormon. I repeat that there is not a single non-LDS scholar who would agree that there is any archaeological evidence for the warfare described in the Book of Mormon — and on the scale described in the Book of Mormon. If there is such a scholar I would be most grateful to read what he or she has to say.

    I used the phrase “great mounds of weapons” (which you accurately noted is not a phrase from the Book of Mormon, and I did not put it in quotes in my post.) Joseph Smith believed the mounds or drummonds of North America were the result of BofM warfare, as this quote shows:

    We encamped on the bank of the [Illinois] river until Tuesday the 3rd during our travels we visited several of the mounds which had been thrown up by the ancient inhabitants of this county, Nephites, Lamanites, &c., and this morning I went up on a high mound, near the river, accompanied by the brethren. . . . The brethren procured a shovel and hoe, and removing the earth to the depth of about one foot discovered skeleton of a man, almost entire, and between his ribs was a Lamanitish arrow, which evidently produced his death, Elder Brigham Young retained the arrow . . . The contemplation of the scenery before us produced peculiar sensations in our bosoms; and the visions of the past being opened to my understanding by the spirit of the Almighty I discovered that the person whose skeleton was before us, was a white Lamanite, a large thick set man, and a man of God. He was a warrior and chieftain under the great prophet Omandagus, who was known from the hill Cumorah, or Eastern sea, to the Rocky Mountains. His name was Zelph. . . . one of his thigh bones was broken, by a stone flung from a sling, while in battle, by the arrow found among his ribs, during the last great struggle of the Lamanites and Nephites. (Times and Seasons, Vol. 6, No. 1, p. 1076.)

    Why do I say there were great mounds of weapons? “He saw that there had been slain by the sword nearly two millions of his people… two millions of mighty men, and also their wives and their children” (Ether 15:2). In preparation for the next battle, “they were for the space of four years gathering together the people… with their wives and children – both men, women and children being armed with weapons of war… they did march forth one against another to battle” (15:14-15). After about six days of battle, there remained only “fifty and two of the people of Coriantumr, and sixty and nine of the people of Shiz” (15:23). So what happened to all their weapons? Of millions? Are we to believe that the warlike Lamanites wouldn’t have reused them? (In which case Columbus and others would have seen evidence of this.) The only alternative, which Joseph Smith apparently believed, was that they would have been buried — or just disappeared altogether. That certainly isn’t true of Old Testament weapons.

  3. Morgan Deane
    Apr 11, 2009

    Those are some good points. I would refer you to my post entitled “Ad Hominem in Mormon Studies”. Mormon scholars can make good points if they are indeed scholars. For instance, I have now been published mulitpled times by a variety of credible secular publishers. Its rather insulting to think that analysis and writing which is good enough for the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies is suddenly not good enough if it I turn my attention to The Book of Mormon.

    In reference to the “mounds of weapons” I would point you to textual analysis that points to rather dubious foundations for the Joseph Smith quote. (There is a good article by Kenneth Godfrey in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies for one) The “millions” you refer to in 15:2 links to the prophecy of Ether in 13:20-21. Between 13:20 and 15: 2 there are 12 references to battle over 10 years that range over “all the land”. (Ether 13: 25, 28, 29, 30, 31; 14:3, 4, 5, 13, 14, 15, 16,17, and 27 ) Thus there are enough battles and references to destruction of women and children that millions could be accurate. “millions” may be a literary device, but that still does not disqualify the books historicity. Herodatus said that the Persian army numbered in “millions”. This number was obviously false, but we still consider him a real historian. (See an article by Brant Gardner called “If I told you once” or my blog post called “The problem with numbers”) Externally, anthroplogist John Sorenson has outlined the parallels between Nephite history and Mesoamerican history. I am moving and have my books packed up, but his “Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon” places Jaredite history with the collapse and depopulation of the Olmec culture.

    As far as the use of weapons goes, the book of Mosiah mentions a search party that found rusted and unusable weapons in Jaredite lands. So many weapons could have been unusable after a short time. But there are some scholars (like Hugh Nibley) that say there was a slight continuation of Jaredite culture, thus it would be an unstated and obvious assumption that the weaponry would be laregly similar, since many aspects and military leaders were. (Helaman 1:15 has an army led by Coriantumr for example) There is a good article by William Hamblin that discusses swords throughout the Book of Mormon. In his article he hints that there was a technological loss between Nephis time (550 BC) and the next mention of swords (around 200 BC), perhaps there was some cultural borrowing based on the remaining weapons from Jaredite society.

    And the Lamanites were on the south and there are numerous references to the Nephites denying the Lamanites access to the lands in the North, so there would be little contact between Lamanites and the Jaredite homeland untill about 300 AD, or almost 600 years after the final Jaredite battles. Given that they were mortal enemies the Nephites would seek to deny access to those weapons, providing one more reason for the incessant warfare between them, and making the strategic decisions of Lamanite leaders make more sense. (Like Amalikiah seeking “the lands north” instead making a turn and flanking the Nephite capital, or that same Coriantumr from Helaman 1:15 driving for the land north as his top priority)

    Finally, the time of Columbus’s arrival was over 1000 years after the end of the Book of Mormon. In a general sense many things were found. My post entitled “But Ricky” has many of them, Jeff Lindsey has complied many, John Sorenson, and Clark have as well, you simply need to take so time to look at many of these “evidences” that pile up in the Book of Mormons favor.

    This post is getting rather long winded, I hope it made sense and answered some of the problems you had. If it doesn’t, I can clarify anything I left unclear. I appreciate your time, and suggest that you study the Book of Mormon more in depth and read some arguments from its adherents before you disqualify them right off the bat. If you don’t have any questions about my post, I will humbly bow out and agree to disagree with you.

  4. Latayne
    Apr 11, 2009

    I appreciate your courtesy and documentation. I do not believe that Joseph Smith believed that the words he wrote in the Book of Mormon, such as the figure “two millions” in the book of Ether, should be taken anything but literally.

    I point you to Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe, “Editor’s Introduction,” American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), vii-xvii. I strongly urge anyone who is swayed by the arguments of some supposed experts on Book of Mormon archaeology to read this essay, and Thomas Murphy, “Simply Implausible: DNA and the Mesoamerican Setting for the Book of Mormon,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Winter 2003, 109-132.

    I guess you’re right that we have arrived at agreeing to disagree. May God bless you as you continue to study.

  5. Charles
    May 8, 2015

    I just have to mention on the concept of lost technology. When was the last pyramid made? How did they build them? Where did that technology go? When the last of the nephites were destroyed…I’m sure it was a difficult time to show the younger generation how to make a sword. Michigan is none for lost, random mines that all manner of ore was retrieved from. Hopewell civilizations which existed and became extinct during the time frame of the nephites used various minerals from said mines for many things. Copper lasts a lot longer than iron or steel. However a sword of copper would be strong in comparison. Copper is found in the Hopewell mounds…iron isn’t. As I said prior iron would not last being buried in the ground for 1000 years.

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