Summary: The story of how Ammon, the son of King Mosiah, converted King Lamoni of the Lamanites may seem to some as just an exciting story, but to those who look a little deeper find that it is just one more piece of evidence – out of many – that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God and that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. This article helps us to understand why.
In the Book of Mormon we read of a story where four sons of Mosiah, who was the king of the Nephite nation, traveled into the territory of the Lamanites who were their bitter enemies. The reason for this journey was to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and convert as many of the Lamanites to this religious belief as possible.
As the story unfolds we read how one of these four sons, a man named Ammon, was captured and brought bound to stand before Lamoni, who was the Lamanite king over the land of Ishmael. According to the story, Lamoni asked Ammon what he was doing in his territory and Ammon replied that he wanted to live there, perhaps for the rest of his life (Alma 17:23). For some reason, this impressed Lamoni and he offered his daughter as a wife to this Nephite stranger.
If the Lamanites hated the Nephites so much, why would this Lamanite king make such an offer to someone he didn’t even know? Even so, Ammon refused the king’s offer and instead said he would rather be Lamoni’s servant, to which the king readily agreed.
Three days later, Ammon was working with some other servants as they drove the king’s sheep to the waters of Sebus for their animals to drink, however there were a group of other men there and when they saw the king’s servants they bullied them and scattered their flock.
But how could someone dare to think they could get away with doing such a thing to the king’s property? Did these people belong to a different king who was more powerful than Lamoni? The answer is, no because later in the story we find that they were citizens under Lamoni’s rule (Alma 19:21,22). Then why did they not fear bullying the king’s servants and scattering the king’s sheep?
However, instead of the servants fighting back or even trying to gather the sheep, they moaned in fear that the king was going to kill them for losing his flock as he had done with other servants who had also lost his sheep. Apparently, this was not the first time these bullies had done this to the king’s sheep.
It’s understandable that the king would be quite upset at those servants who did nothing to protect his property, but wouldn’t he be even angrier at the bullies who had scattered his sheep? The answer seems to be, no. Instead of going after these bullies, Lamoni only punished his servants.
At this point, Ammon took charge and gave instructions to the servants to go gather the sheep and protect them while he boldly went forth to confront the band of bullies. As they began to attack him, Ammon killed several of them with the sling and then disarmed a number of them by chopping off their arms with his sword. Finally, in fear of their lives, the remaining bullies fled the scene.
When Ammon returned to the king’s palace, the remaining servants carried the cut off limbs to the king to show him what Ammon had done and when Lamoni heard their story and saw the severed limbs, instead of becoming angry at the men who dared to steal his sheep, he became afraid of Ammon, thinking that he was a god. But why was Lamoni afraid of Ammon? Wouldn’t a powerful king be more concerned that Ammon would seek to overthrow him and therefore bind him and throw him in an escape proof prison or have him put to death? But, instead, when Ammon came before the king, Lamoni was so scared of him that he couldn’t speak.
Seeing his opportunity, Ammon began to preach the gospel of Christ to Lamoni and eventually converted him and his wife to the Christian religion. But what would make a Lamanite king so easily give in to the preaching of a hated Nephite?
A little later in the story we find out that the other three sons of Mosiah had been captured by another Lamanite king, except they had been cast into prison and tortured. When Ammon learned of this, he wanted to immediately leave and race to the city of Middoni where his brothers were being held in an effort to rescue them, but Lamoni said that he would go with Ammon and use his influence to see if he could convince the king of Middoni to let Ammon’s brothers go free.
However, as they traveled to Middoni, Lamoni met his father, who was the king over the entire Lamanite nation and who ruled over all the other Lamanite kings. What this tells us is that there were many Lamanite kings who ruled over certain areas but all of them were subject to this one supreme king.
When Lamoni’s father saw him, he was angry because Lamoni didn’t come to a feast his father had invited him and the other kings to attend, but when he saw Ammon, he became even angrier and demanded to know from his son why he was traveling with a hated Nephite. When Lamoni explained what had happened, his father was unimpressed and ordered his son to kill Ammon. When Lamoni refused, his father became so furious at him that he drew his sword and intended to kill his own son.
However, Ammon stepped forward and protected Lamoni by fighting with Lamoni’s father, until he prevailed to the point where he had it in his power to kill the supreme king of the Lamanites. But instead of doing that, all he asked in exchange for sparing the old king’s life was that he allow his brothers to be released from prison.
Lamoni’s father was so impressed that a Nephite would love his son so much as to risk his own life to protect him, and that Ammon choose to spare the old king’s life, that he granted Ammon’s wish and also said, “I will grant unto you that my son may retain his kingdom from this time and forever; and I will govern him no more” (Alma 20:26).
To some this is just an exciting story, but to those who look a little deeper find that it is just one more piece of evidence – out of many – that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God and that the Book of Mormon is the word of God.
To understand why we have to remember that Joseph Smith lived in a very rural part of New York state in the early 1800s, where there were no great centers of higher education. In fact, Joseph never had any formal education. What little he knew came from his parents who farmed the land for a living and were not very successful farmers at that. Instead, they had to work hard just to meet their basic living needs.
Furthermore, Joseph never knew anyone who was highly educated, mainly because people like that lived in the large cities such a New York, Boston, and Philadelphia and would have had no reason to live in a small, poor rural community.
When Joseph Smith had finished dictating the Book of Mormon to his scribe, Oliver Cowdry, he was only twenty-three years old. He claims that what he dictated came from an ancient historical record written in a language called reformed Egyptian onto plates of gold. However, his critics say that he made up all the stories found in his “golden Bible,” thereby asserting that the Book of Mormon is strictly a work of fiction, written from the fanciful imagination of an obscure farm boy who was looking for notoriety, fame, and money.
However, when we look closely at even one of those “fanciful” stories, we find something rather amazing. Joseph didn’t have any background in psychology and it is doubtful that he learned much about human behavior from observing the people around him. Yet, in the story of Ammon and king Lamoni we see behavior that is perfectly consistent with the way people behave. To understand why, we need to revisit the story through the eyes of a psychologist and when we do we also find the answers to all the questions we asked about Lamoni’s apparent strange behavior.
Most people who become kings are strong warriors who have risen to the rank of supreme authority over their people because of their fearless and often ruthless ambition, but Lamoni was appointed king by his father. As such, he didn’t have to have a strong personality, and because of that he ruled his land as a weak king. Instead of using aggressive power in ruling over his people, he ruled as a privileged son who didn’t have to do much to maintain his authority. This is why his own people didn’t fear scattering his flocks because they knew he wouldn’t confront them. It was easier for him to kill his hapless servants than to actually go searching for and punishing men who were more aggressive than he was.
This is also why he initially feared Ammon rather than taking strong action to have him eliminated. This is also why he was so willing to listen to Ammon when he preached the gospel to him and why this pagan Lamanite so easily accepted Christ’s message of salvation.
On the other hand, the kings over the other lands were men of ruthless ambition, as evidenced by the king of Middoni who had Ammon’s brothers bound and kept in prison under cruel conditions. However, they dared not come against Lamoni, even though he was a weak man, because of who his father was.
From this story we learn that Lamoni’s father was the king over the entire Lamanite nation but to have gained that distinction he had to be the most ruthless of all the kings under his authority. And, in fact, we see that his personality was such that he was willing to kill his own son merely for disobeying his orders. Clearly, this was a man whom people and lesser kings obeyed out of real fear.
Had Joseph Smith invented this story from his own mind, it is highly doubtful that he would have had both Lamoni and his father’s behaviors fit so perfectly to the personalities we would expect to see. If a professional writer or a trained psychologist had written this story, they would have clearly pointed out what a weak king Lamoni was, but that fact is not obvious when we read the story. Even so, all the clues that show his personality are subtly there. If Joseph Smith had made up this story, he was either a literary genius or he actually did translate the Book of Mormon form an ancient record through the power of God as he claims. And if he did, then the Book of Mormon really is the word of God and Joseph Smith was truly a prophet of God.
But this then leads us to yet another piece of evidence of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
If Joseph Smith – a young, poor, uneducated son of a farmer – totally made up the stories found in the Book of Mormon, then it would be an easy task for people with highly specialized knowledge in various fields of education to find a voluminous number of errors in the Book of Mormon. And, in fact, many such people who do not believe Joseph’s account of how he came to write this book have attempted to do just that and have even claimed success in their efforts. However, there’s another group of people whose opinion is even more important, and that is those who do believe that the Book of Mormon is the word of God.
Brigham Young University is a prestigious center of higher learning and the professors who work there are among some of the brightest minds in the world when it comes to their particular fields of study. For this very reason, they cannot afford to have their reputation sullied by making false claims, and nearly every one of them strongly believes in the divine nature of the Book of Mormon.
With an attitude like that, people such as these are anxious to find evidence to support their beliefs and so the Book of Mormon has been studied, scrutinized, and analyzed by men with superior knowledge in every field of education, using the latest information gained over the last hundred and fifty years and using the latest, most sophisticated technology available to us.
If an uneducated man like Joseph Smith had truly made up the entire story found in the Book of Mormon, then men with such high caliber of education, with the integrity their profession requires, would easily find so many discrepancies in what Joseph wrote that it would destroy any belief they had in the book, no matter how much they want it to be true.
More than this, the leaders of the LDS Church have strongly encouraged all of their members to concentrate on studying the Book of Mormon, and the LDS missionaries heavily rely on it to convince those they teach to read it and pray to know if it is true. If this book was truly a work of fiction then the leaders of the LDS Church would downplay its significance and make little mention of it so as not to expose it to close scrutiny, thereby revealing its many faults of inconsistencies, illogic, and implausible storyline.
And yet, what we see happening is just the opposite. The more both highly educated and ordinary people closely examine the Book of Mormon, even in technical details, the more convinced they become of the authenticity of that book.
And this is true if we study if from a perspective of psychology, linguistics, literature, military strategies, Eastern culture, ancient government, Old Testament history, Christian doctrine, and many other areas of inquiry. If even one of these subjects showed great inconsistencies in the accounts found in the Book of Mormon there would be many people, especially among LDS scholars, who would be leaving their faith and detailing their reasons for all to see. Instead what we find is that their faith in the Book of Mormon becomes even stronger and LDS scholars confidently publish their findings for all the world to look at and review. And now, we too have examined one of those pieces of evidence in the story of Ammon and Lamoni.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of Mormonism