There are 17 thoughts on “The Ammonites Were Not Pacifists”.

  1. To underscore the author’s point, I think we can also look at Captain Moroni. Not only did he war with the Lamanites, but also with the dissenting Nephites–even simply putting to death those who “would not take up arms in the defence of their country,” and “all those who were not true to the cause of freedom.” (See Alma 51 and 62)
    In short, Captain Moroni was involved with much bloodshed.
    Yet, we read in Alma 48:17 that if “all men” were like him “the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever;” and “the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.”
    The above seems paradoxical, but I think the resolution is given in Alma 48:16 (and this relates to the discussion of the Ammonites above): that his heart did not “glory…in the shedding of blood but in doing good, in preserving his people, yea, in keeping the commandments of God….”

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with Lia’s comments, and would like to add that reading the Book of Mormon in an effort to justify pacifism can hinder one’s ability to grasp the real magnitude of the Ammonites’ story. Here’s a people that had such a monumental change of heart and character, which they demonstrated by the burying of their weapons. They made a profound covenant with God to never again shed the blood of another. A promise that could not be shaken, even in the wake of slaughters that came their way. I’d be hard pressed to find a better example of loyalty and devotion and resolute adherence to the covenants made with our Father than the story of the Ammonites. I fear that seeing the Ammonites as pacifists blurs the significance of their steadfast fidelity.
    I’d also like to add that reading the Book of Mormon anachronistically is not possible, or at least not problematic. It is meant to be applied to our daily lives. Why would we be commanded to read consistently a book that only has real meaning in the time in which it takes place? Also, it is not “clear” in the Book of Mormon that war is morally wrong, even when justified. I won’t go into all the examples of why that is, but I will say that what’s clear to me in the Book of Mormon is that the only reason to abstain from defending your families “even unto bloodshed” is if you’ve made a profound promise to God not to do so. And when you keep this promise, God will bless you with sons to do it for you. OK, that was a little joke.

  3. The way that Boyce reads the Book of Mormon in this piece is anachronistic. This is evident from the way he criticizes Nibley. That war is morally wrong, and that participation in it is morally problematic, even if one is justified in resisting evil, is clearly a part of the Book of Mormon. It does not take its view in terms of some modern theory about warfare. This is Nibley’s insight, that the Book of Mormon belongs to a world different from our own. One that does not regard war in technical terms, as manageable and predictable. The lesson here is that one should not do it, if one is a disciple of Christ. One cannot rest content that one is justified in resisting evil. For often we are led to do evil things in response. We too often read it to justify our own history and make us forget about the moral problems with our own sense of patriotism as that has come down to us from the Cold War. But the Book of Mormon challenges us on this. Joseph Smith and the early Saints understood (even if they did not grasp it from the Book of Mormon) how problematic this is, given the persecutions they faced.
    Throughout the Book of Mormon there are vignettes of a better life, concrete examples of how we should be, that are set against the day to day life of the Nephites and Lamanites. There is the Zion society that came about after the Savior’s visit to the peoples here. There are the Ammonites, who would not fight their brethren, choosing instead to die. These scenes are meant to push back against the kind of reasoning Boyce engages in.

    • I think that Professor Vaggalis is right about our tendency to read the Book of Mormon in an effort to find some justification for our own responses to contemporary events that are genuinely troubling. And often, and perhaps too often, this means that we read the Book of Mormon through categories foreign to its own world, and hence as a justification for some stance we take on contemporary struggles the evils that rage in the world. This could be the case with Duane Boyce’s opinions about Hugh NIbley way of reading the Book of Mormon, or with Nibley’s way of reading the Book of Mormon. I must admit that I find Boyce’s opinions of NIbley not convincing or solidly grounded. But making that case in detail does not seem to me to be worth undertaking.

    • I agree that war is morally wrong, but I do not think that is a significant insight. What I like about this Duane Boyce piece is that he probes the disconnect between not going to war oneself and yet letting, and even encouraging one’s sons to go. It is also anachronistic to just interpret the Book of Mormon through the cultural lens of the Saints in the time of Joseph Smith or the Saints during the Cold War. We are supposed to liken the scriptures to ourselves and I think Duane Boyce has done a good work by inviting us to engage in that process. I also think that Jodi Stoddart takes it to another level in her comments above.

    • I am quite certain that the Nephites never suggested that war was a great idea. However, it was so much a part of their lives that one of the first things Nephi does is prepare to defend his people. Later, there are times of “continuous peace” that almost appear to be euphemisms, for they last a year or two or three–but then it is a return to war. I am quite certain that the Nephites wished to be left alone, but it is hard to be really clear on what Nephites did since much of what we know is seen through Mormon’s filter–and he was certainly unhappy with the result of warfare on his people. They never did complain when they won, though–and suggested that God had a hand in their victory–and Mormon indicates that they only lost because the turned from God. As far as an anachronisms, it would be a non-militant God. The Old Testament God is quite at home in Nephite literature.
      As for the Ammonites, their entire story is problemmatic, and reading it in support of pacifism misreads the text in the same way that reading the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is misread to be an issue of sexual morality instead of hospitality. Boyce is correct that the lesson of the Ammonites is about the covenant–not the subject of the covenant.
      I am unaware of why Boyce didn’t reference his earlier similar article “Were the Ammonites Pacifists,” in the Journal of Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 18/1 (2009):32-47
      I read the story of the Ammonites against a Mesoamerican background and saw issues that were quite apart from warfare. I first presented them in a FairMormon conference paper, and then later in Second Witness. I think both the original covenant and the subsequent actions of the Ammonites in sending their sons to war suggest that concepts of the morality of war were never part of the original storyline (assuming, of course, the Mesoamerican cultural background).

    • Actually, I read Boyce as doing exactly the opposite of what you claim: He has caught Nibley and others applying *their* modern attitudes about war and pacifism to the story of the Ammonites, and he objects to their reading. His entire point is that if you read all the details of that story, the modern ideal of pacifism simply doesn’t fit. In almost every paragraph he is examining the actual written history of the Ammonites to show that it is, as you say, of its own time, and most definitely not a reflection of modern ideas of pacifism.
      I love your observation that the Book of Mormon offers us these inspiring glimpses of a better life. But if we are to truly learn from these stories, I think we must read them as they are fully recorded. It is the Book of Mormon that tells us the Ammonites sent their sons to fight and kill in war, not Mr. Boyce.

  4. I am grateful for this well-reasoned article for an additional reason—the self-sacrifice of the Ammonites would leave many widows and fatherless children, and worse, leave them defenseless. I have wondered if those who chose not to resist aggression had counseled with their wives beforehand.

  5. It is really quite a simple explanation. In learning from psychology we see that as we repeat any action, it becomes a habit. The longer we repeat that action, the easier it is to start it back up again right where we left off. As we repeat an action, a neurological pathway begins in our brain. The more we repeat that action, the longer the pathway in our brain becomes. That is why it is so easy to remember how to ride a bike even if it has been years or decades since we mounted one.
    When we quit a bad habit, smoking for instance, if we start it up again, we don’t begin with one cigarette a day, but we go back to where we left off. If we quit at a pack a day, that is where our brain wants to pick back up at.
    I believe that the Ammonites innately recognized this, and having been a blood thirsty people, they knew that if they began kiling again, EVEN IF IT WERE JUSTIFIED, that all those feeling of anger, lust, and a thirst for blood would return.
    Repentance has to do with changing our hearts, thoughts, feelings, motivations. Those are the things that direct our actions. Rather than go back to those feelings and that mindset, they realized they would rather die in righteousness.

    • This has been my understanding of the Ammonites’ motivation to avoid committing again the specific sin of physical violence.
      Alma 24:11-19

  6. Insights come when we ponder things that don’t make sense. I have felt the incongruity Duane Boyce has identified in the article before and have also considered that ‘the pacifist’ explanation was unsatisfactory. But because I did not ponder as much as Boyce has, the insight did not come. Thank you for your work.
    One other thing has occurred to me in the past that may strengthen the case you have made. And that is the name Anti-Nephi-Lehi. For many years that name seemed very odd. But when one realises how obsessively the Laminates hated the Nephites, it must have been difficult culturally for these converts to renounce everything they once believed in one moment. It is similar with converts today. They can accept gospel covenants more easily than they can renounce cultural practices that are inconsistent with living according to their gospel covenants in the future. The name, Anti-Nephi-Lehi, indicates that they found their way to peaceful coexistence and gospel obedience through their Lehite ancestry even though they had hated the Nephites. Boyce’s penitential insight, that their particular covenant of repentance required that they not return to bloodshed of any kind lest it invite some of those evil practices back into their lives, raises the question whether they took upon themselves the new name, Anti-Nephi-Lehi, in the Abrahamic tradition to further signify their change of heart to the rest of the Lamanite people among whom they expected to continue to live. That is, they may have been saying – “We still value our culture and heritage as Lamanites, but we are going to live as children of Lehi in the future.”
    That the Anti-Nephi-Lehi people were later happy to be known as ‘Ammonites’ tributes Ammon’s stature and example as a prince of peace after the order of Melchizedek. But it also suggests that a further name change was appropriate when they no longer lived among their Lamanite relatives.

  7. I’ve heard some speculation that the murders were actually human sacrifices of Nephites to various pagan deities, in true Mesoamerican fashion.
    So they were not just killing in battle while plundering–like Vikings did–, they were actually taking Nephites and murdering them on altars, along with robbery, etc.
    This of course would be particularly abhorrent to a bunch of new Christians, and would be a reason to eschew violence ever again.

  8. Thank you for a thought provoking article. As I think about this article, it seems to be that the winner of this debate is going to be the one who controls the definition of pacifist. The article states that pacifism means “participation in and support for war is always impermissible.” And it rejects the notion that pacifism can be “an attitude as vague as a general abhorrence of violence, by others to capture the fundamental attitude of favoring peace over war in resolving conflict, by others to refer to active efforts to create mechanisms for ensuring a peaceful world, and so forth.” Yet my Webster’s at least says pacifism, in part, can refer to “an attitude or policy of nonresistance.” To the degree we accept this definition, the Ammonites were pacifists with regard to how they conducted their affairs. But that is fine, at least for me, because the Book of Mormon makes clear that it is big enough and expansive enough to wrap within its embrace military generals, governors, warriors, servants, kings, and even a unique group of pacifists (as Websters defines it) who for their own reasons adopted a policy of nonresistance. Again, though thank you for your article.

    • I too wonder whether there is a definition of pacifist that the Ammonites would qualify for. I don’t think “nonresistance” makes the cut, though, since they supported Nephite armies and sent their sons to war… Both pretty highly resistant moves.

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