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Alma 55:4-9:
Nephite and Lamanite Differences:
More about Sound than Look

A Video Supplement for
Come, Follow Me Book of Mormon Lesson 32
“Preserved by His Marvelous Power” (Alma 53-63)

 

 

Transcript

One of the more humorous episodes in late Alma’s “war chapters” happens when Moroni, angry with Ammoron after Ammoron wrote a snotty letter to him, hatches a plot to get the Lamanites drunk in order to free the Nephite prisoners. Before he could do this, however, he needed a Lamanite to deliver the refreshments, beginning with verse 4,

4 And now it came to pass that when Moroni had said these words, he caused that a search should be made among his men, that perhaps he might find a man who was a descendant of Laman among them.
5 And it came to pass that they found one, whose name was Laman; and he was one of the servants of the king who was murdered by Amalickiah.

Notice first that Moroni locates only one Lamanite, either because this is all he has or this is all he needs. Continuing with verse 6,

6 Now Moroni caused that Laman and a small number of his men should go forth unto the guards who were over the Nephites.
7 Now the Nephites were guarded in the city of Gid; therefore Moroni appointed Laman and caused that a small number of men should go with him.
8 And when it was evening Laman went to the guards who were over the Nephites, and behold, they saw him coming and they hailed him; but he saith unto them: Fear not; behold, I am a Lamanite. Behold, we have escaped from the Nephites, and they sleep; and behold we have taken of their wine and brought with us.
9 Now when the Lamanites heard these words they received him with joy; and they said unto him: Give us of your wine, that we may drink; we are glad that ye have thus taken wine with you for we are weary.

Note that it is when they heard him rather than when they saw him that they received him. Thus his appearance was insufficient to convince them to trust him but his speech was sufficient. Note also that they don’t seem to have noticed that the ones carrying the wine were all Nephites. As Brant Gardner has pointed out in a FairMormon blog post [https://www.fairmormon.org/archive/publications/what-does-the-book-of-mormon-mean-by-skin-of-blackness], this suggests that the Nephites do not look significantly different from the Lamanites (as has sometimes been assumed), as a skin pigmentation difference would have made detecting the Nephites trivially easy for the Lamanites and also obviate the need for Moroni to “search his people that perhaps he might find a man who was a descendant of Laman among them.” If Laman looked different enough to notice, Moroni would have had no trouble finding out that he was a Lamanite and the Nephite wine couriers would not have succeeded in impersonating Lamanites.

On the other hand Moroni did think it necessary to find a Lamanite suggesting that there were linguistic or dialectal differences that can be detected when they talked with one another. Ethan Sproat, in a remarkable paper in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, “Skins as garments in the Book of Mormon: A textual exegesis” [https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1572&context=jbms], makes the case that the skins referred to in the Book of Mormon which were changed in color were actually skins that were worn rather than human dermis as has often been assumed. This incident is certainly a point in favor of that hypothesis and I would strongly encourage any interested in this idea to read his paper which is linked in the transcript.

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