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Taylor Halverson: Evidences for the Book of Mormon: In cover of darkness and the turning of the New Year

The Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon
Deseret News archives

The Book of Mormon provides many small or subtle clues that are relevant to its authenticity as an ancient record. The story of Nephi’s confrontation with Laban and the story of Teancum contain some of these often unnoticed, yet relevantly essential details.

A reader of the Book of Mormon might ask, “How is it after the death of Laban, Nephi put on his clothes and Zoram didn’t see what a mess the clothes were? Shouldn’t that have tipped Zoram off that something was out of place, that there was a problem?”

This is a great question.

What is significant are the small details that are found in the Book of Mormon and that are easy to overlook. Particularly intriguing is that we hear on occasion Book of Mormon authors saying that they are careful not to include extraneous details in the record.

So, why the apparently extraneous details? Because upon closer inspection, we see that these details matter to the truthfulness of the story.

When Nephi encountered Laban, we learn that Laban was drunk (1 Nephi 4:7). If Laban’s clothes were later visible to Zoram, then perhaps if he did see any blood on the clothes he may have mistook it for spilled wine. More likely is that the darkness of night meant Zoram couldn’t see a thing. No amount of blood-stained clothes would be visible in the darkness of an ancient Jerusalem night. That is one fact that modern people don’t typically appreciate, how truly dark nighttime is without artificial light.

And how do we know that it was night? Nephi includes as a small detail, almost as an afterthought, this seemingly innocuous statement as he narrates his entry into the city.

“And it was by night; and I caused that they should hide themselves without the walls. And after they had hid themselves, I, Nephi, crept into the city and went forth towards the house of Laban” (1 Nephi 4:5, emphasis added).

Nephi’s confrontation with Laban is one of many stories in the Book of Mormon that contains subtle, yet essential clues to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

Consider another creeping-by-night story. At the end of chapter 51 in the Book of Alma, we hear the story of the Nephite general Teancum going forth at night to seek out Amalickiah, the opposing general in the Lamanite army. Teancum finds the tent of Amalickiah and assassinates him with a javelin. Successfully returning to his camp, Teancum wakes his soldiers and has them stand ready to battle.

What many of us miss, however, are some important calendric details. They appear at the beginning of the next chapter:

“And now, it came to pass in the twenty and sixth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, behold, when the Lamanites awoke on the first morning of the first month, behold, they found Amalickiah was dead in his own tent; and they also saw that Teancum was ready to give them battle on that day. And now, when the Lamanites saw this they were affrighted” (Alma 52:1-2, emphasis added).

Notice that it is the first day of the first month — New Year’s Day. Why does Mormon occupy any space on the plates with dates? And why should we care? In the ancient Near Eastern culture, which likely influenced Book of Mormon culture, New Year’s Day was the time when the king of the land would sally forth to demonstrate his vitality and liveliness to successfully rule as a king for another year. The rising forth of the king on this day was like a divine foreshadowing of a prosperous year. A dead king was the sure sign of a disastrous future.

Hence, no act could be more psychologically demoralizing to an opposing army than to find their king dead on New Year’s Day. Teancum chose New Year’s Eve to assassinate Amalickiah. He sought to win a massive psychological victory against the Lamanites by sending a message of disaster, despair and fear.

The seemingly small details in the text of the Book of Mormon matter. In narrative context, they signify the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as an ancient text.

Taylor Halverson (Ph.D., biblical studies, instructional tech) is a BYU teaching & learning consultant; founder of Creativity, Innovation & Design Group; and travel leader to Mesoamerica and Middle East. His views are his own.