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Reexploring the Book of Mormon  >  Ammon and Cutting Off the Arms of Enemies
CHAPTERS
  1. How Long Did It Take to Translate the Book of Mormon?
  2. The Original Book of Mormon Transcript
  3. Colophons in the Book of Mormon
  4. Two Figurines From the Belleza and Sanchez Collection
  5. Textual Consistency
  6. Lehi's Council Vision and the Mysteries of God
  7. The Book of Mormon and the Heavenly Book Motif
  8. Old World Languages in the New World
  9. Columbus: By Faith or Reason?
  10. The Plain and Precious Parts
  11. Nephi's Bows and Arrows
  12. Lodestone and the Liahona
  13. Lehi's Trail and Nahom Revisited
  14. Winds and Currents: A Look at Nephi's Ocean Crossing
  15. Did Lehi Land in Chile?
  16. Statutes, Judgments, Ordinances, and Commandments
  17. Kingship and Temple in 2 Nephi 5-10
  18. Jacob's Ten Commandments
  19. What Did Charles Anthon Really Say?
  20. Textual Criticism of the Book of Mormon
  21. Parallelism, Merismus, and Difrasismo
  22. View of the Hebrews: "An Unparallel"
  23. No, Sir, That's Not History!
  24. Seven Tribes: An Aspect of Lehi's Legacy
  25. Antenantiosis in the Book of Mormon
  26. Once More: The Horse
  27. Lost Arts
  28. What Was a "Mosiah"?
  29. Ancient Europeans in America?
  30. "Latest Discoveries"
  31. The Ideology of Kingship in Mosiah 1-6
  32. "This Day"
  33. Benjamin's Speech: A Classic Ancient Farewell Address
  34. The Coronation of Kings
  35. "O Man, Remember, and Perish Not" (Mosiah 4:30)
  36. Barley in Ancient America
  37. Decorative Iron in Early Israel
  38. Abinadi and Pentecost
  39. Dancing Maidens and the Fifteenth of Av
  40. New Information about Mulek, Son of the King
  41. Four Quarters
  42. Three Accounts of Alma's Conversion
  43. Joseph Smith: "Author and Proprietor"
  44. The Law of Mosiah
  45. Possible "Silk" and "Linen" in the Book of Mormon
  46. Epanalepsis in the Book of Mormon
  47. Antithetical Parallelism in the Book of Mormon
  48. The Land of Jerusalem: The Place of Jesus' Birth
  49. The Nephite Calendar in Mosiah, Alma, and Helaman
  50. The Destruction of Ammonihah and the Law of Apostate Cities
  51. Ammon and Cutting Off the Arms of Enemies
  52. Directions in Hebrew, Egyptian, and Nephite Language
  53. "A Day and a Half's Journey for a Nephite"
  54. Exemption from Military Duty
  55. Synagogues in the Book of Mormon
  56. The Sons of the Passover
  57. Conference on Warfare in the Book of Mormon
  58. "Holy War" in the Book of Mormon and the Ancient Near East
  59. Symbolic Action as Prophetic Curse
  60. New Year's Celebrations
  61. Concrete Evidence for the Book of Mormon
  62. Mesoamericans in Pre-Spanish South America
  63. Mesoamericans in Pre-Columbian North America
  64. Wordprints and the Book of Mormon
  65. "Secret Combinations"
  66. Chiasmus in Helaman 6:7-13
  67. Chiasmus in Mesoamerican Texts
  68. Nephi's Garden and Chief Market
  69. Was Helaman 7-8 An Allegorical Funeral Sermon?
  70. The Case of an Unobserved Murder
  71. Mormon's Agenda
  72. Thieves and Robbers
  73. The Execution of Zemnarihah
  74. The Sermon at the Temple
  75. The Gospel as Taught by Nephite Prophets
  76. Getting Things Strai[gh]t
  77. Prophecy Among the Maya
  78. The Survivor and the Will to Bear Witness
  79. Mormon and Moroni as Authors and Abridgers
  80. Number 24
  81. The "Golden" Plates
  82. Hebrew and Uto-Aztecan: Possible Linguistic Connections
  83. Words and Phrases
  84. Our Nephite Sacrament Prayers
  85. Climactic Forms in the Book of Mormon
  86. Introduction

Chapter 51
Ammon and Cutting Off the Arms of Enemies

Alma 17:39 "Bearing the arms which had been smitten off
. . . of those who sought to slay him; and they were carried
in unto the king for a testimony of the things which they had done."

The practice of cutting off the arms or other body parts of enemies, specifically as a testimony of the conquest of victims, is attested in the ancient Near East.1 On the extreme left of band 4 on the decorated Gates of Shalmaneser III (858-824 B.C.), Assyrian troops are shown cutting off the heads, feet, and hands of vanquished enemies. "In other reliefs, the artists of the Assyrian kings depict the military scribes recording the number of enemy dead in accordance with the number of severed heads, hands and feet which Assyrian soldiers hold up before them."2 This practice seems related to that of the astounded servants of King Lamoni, who took the arms that had been cut off by Ammon into the king as "a testimony" of what Ammon had done.

There may be several reasons behind this widespread 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 (or his companions) was scrupulous to present precise evidence, so that no one could 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 could have entitled him to payment, heightens all the more the fact that Ammon sought no recognition or reward.

Other reasons for the practice may have included the need to identify the dead; 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, although 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 (Alma 17:28).

Based on research by John M. Lundquist and John W. Welch, from the F.A.R.M.S. newsletters, October 1983 and Fall 1986.
Footnotes

1. Yigael Yadin, The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands, 2 vols. (New York: McGraw Hill, 1963), 2:399.

2. Ibid.