Thursday, November 21, 2019

Does the Book of Mormon Actually Say This? – Part I

We receive comments from readers, first-time visitors, and articles from other venues about what the Book of Mormon says, in order to back up their claims. Quite often, in this circumstances, what is claimed the scriptures say is in error, is fallacious, and sometimes downright knowingly misleading. In one of these instances, an article came to us that makes numerous misleading and erroneous comments regarding the building technique and experience of the Nephites. Following is their comment and our response:
Comment: “The Book of Mormon states that in the later years of the Nephite culture, there were large cities and villages in all quarters of the land that were circled by moats.”
A typical moat is shown around the Leeds castle in England

Response: First of all, the word “moat” is not mentioned in the scriptural record. Secondly, the only reference to anything close to being moat-like, and that is in “Now behold, the Lamanites could not get into their forts of security by any other way save by the entrance, because of the highness of the bank which had been thrown up, and the depth of the ditch which had been dug round about, save it were by the entrance” (Alma 49:18).
    While this might signal a ditch around a city, it does not meet the requirements of a “moat,” which means “a deep, wide ditch surrounding a castle, fort, or town, typically filled with water and intended as a defense against attack.” In 1828, the word “moat” meant much the same “to surround with a ditch for defense, as a moated castle.”
    Third, the reference is the defense of weak Nephite cities. That is, the cities of Ammonihah and Noah had been fortified since they had been weakly defended earlier and the Lamanites had successfully attacked them. On this occasion, however, “how great was their disappointment; for behold, the Nephites had dug up a ridge of earth round about them, which was so high that the Lamanites could not cast their stones and their arrows at them that they might take effect, neither could they come upon them save it was by their place of entrance” (Alma 49:4).
    In fact, Mormon tells us: “to their astonishment, the city of Noah, which had hitherto been a weak place, had now, by the means of Moroni, become strong, yea, even to exceed the strength of the city Ammonihah” (Alma 49:14). This was all because “the city of Noah had hitherto been the weakest part of the land” (Alma 49:15). Obviously, it required some special defenses, and Mormon tells us what that defense was: “the Nephites had dug up a ridge of earth round about them, which was so high that the Lamanites could not cast their stones and their arrows at them that they might take effect” (Alma 49:4).
A ditch around a fortified city in creating an earth bank at Old Sarum, near Salisbury in England

These ditches in the north were a new thing accomplished by the Nephites—it was not a normal way the Nephites built their cities, towns or villages. As Mormon tells it of the Lamanites: “to their uttermost astonishment, they were prepared for them, in a manner which never had been known among the children of Lehi” (Alma 49:8, emphasis added). In fact, this idea of ditches was so unusual among the Nephites, that the Lamanites were amazed to see one around this northern city, “Now at this time the chief captains of the Lamanites were astonished exceedingly, because of the wisdom of the Nephites in preparing their places of security” (Alma 49:5).
    Fourth, “in all quarters of the land” is an inaccurate statement. We only know that this occurred in the north. As Mormon tells it: “In that same year to build many cities on the north, one in a particular manner which they called Lehi, which was in the north by the borders of the seashore” (Alma 50:15, emphasis added). In fact, since this event followed the earlier comment about a ditch (, it should be noted that the Nephites were building cities in the north after the building of a ditch around the city of Lehi and Noah.
    Eight years later, the Nephites, using captured Lamanites, built a ditch around the city of Bountiful (Alma 53:3). However, this ditch was different, and understandably so because it was their major northern city, which included a breastwork of timbers upon the inner bank of the ditch. This ditch “surrounded the city of Bountiful round-about with a strong wall of timbers and earth, to an exceeding height” (Alma 53:4).
Comment; “The major cities were encircled by fortified moats or trenches built during the reign of the judges.” 
Response: As shown above, it is not discussing “the major cities,” but only four cities are listed: Ammonihah, Lehi, Noah, and Bountiful. All of these cities were in the north, as it says. There is no mention of such ditches or palisades anywhere else.
 Mormon tells us that the Nephites were “building walls of stone to encircle them about, round about their cities and the borders of their lands; yea, all round about the land. Thus, we should see some type of stone walls, such as this one, that is still standing

Compare this situation with Mormon’s discussion of stone walls, in which no specific city is mentioned, but the entire land: “he had been strengthening the armies of the Nephites, and erecting small forts, or places of resort; throwing up banks of earth round about to enclose his armies, and also building walls of stone to encircle them about, round about their cities and the borders of their lands; yea, all round about the land” (Alma 48:8).
    It should be noted that in this last scriptural statement, the “throwing up banks of earth round about to enclose his armies. This does not mean cities, towns or villages—it was to protect the Nephite armies.
Comment: “The dwellings in the land southward were likely constructed of light wood with thatched roofs, built upon raised mounds of rock and earth, with cobbled pathways in-between.
Response: There are several assumptions listed here without specific scriptural reference and without support.
1. The dwellings in the land southward were likely constructed of light wood;
2. With thatched roofs;
3. Built on raised mounds of rock and earth;
4. Cobbled pathways in between.
    We only know that in the Land Southward, which the Lamanites controlled, they lived in two types of facilities: cities built by the Nephites and abandoned (Mosiah 9:7-8); and 2) Tents (Alma 22:28).
A thatched roof, found only on vertical roofs, and are not usable as a floor

As for thatched roofs, it would have been next to impossible to walk upon such a roof. This is important because the entire city of Jerusalem was built of stone beginning in David’s time and extending to Solomon’s reign, with each having a roof upon some living took place. Thus, the type of house construction the Jews built in and around Jerusalem in 600 BC and before were stone buildings (dating back to before Solomon’s time) with an inner courtyard and stairs leading outside to the roof upon which they spent much time in the warm summer evenings. 
    It is hard to do on a wood house with a thatched roof, which never appeared in or around Jerusalem, nor did they build on raised mounds or piles of rock. As an example, Isaiah talks of fallen bricks of houses “to be replaced with hewn stone, and the sycamore trees had been cut down and was to be replaced with cedar“ (Isaiah 9:10) for the internal wood-work of the houses.
Comment: "The people lived in houses of wood and "cement", and on a more temporary basis in tents." 
Response: First, "The people" suggests a majority or basically all, which is inaccurate here regarding "cement" houses. Not all, a majority, or even many Nephites are implied by Mormon, who is describing the first people to enter the Land Northward who found the land devoid of trees, and had to learn how to build their houses out of "cement" (Helaman 3:7,9,11), which is unlikely to be the type of cement we use today.
    Second, There is no mention or suggestion that Nephites lived in tents, even on a temporary basis, once Nephi separated himself and those who would go with him from his older brothers, Laman and Lemual, along with the sons of Ishmael. From that point on we only read about living in cities and never a mention of a tent.
(See the next post, “Does the Book of Mormon Actually Say This? – Part II,” for more on the difference between theorist statements and the scriptural record)


  1. The reference to living in tents comes from:

    Helaman 3:9 And the people who were in the land northward did dwell in tents, and in houses of cement...

    So it does mention Nephites who moved Northward living in tents. That's probably where that comment came from.

  2. Yes,but that was temporary. Lehi and his party upon landing also lived in tents.