Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The Atlatl and the Book of Mormon

Alma 49:4 describes a battle in which Lamanite warriors tried to "cast" their arrows over the fortified wall of earth around the city (a form of fortification that has since been shown to be an authentic aspect of ancient Mesoamerica, where cultures and geography best align with the Book of Mormon). Why the word "cast"? Surely Joseph Smith knew that Indians using bows and arrows would shoot their arrows, not cast them. Based on what Joseph knew, there is no reason for using the word "cast" -- if he were fabricating the Book of Mormon. But "cast" is an entirely appropriate word for a weapon that was widely used in the ancient Americas, the atlatl, which resembles a sling that throws or cast arrows. You can read about the atlatl and even buy one at Atlatl.com. (What a dramatic object lesson that could be in Sunday School! Tip: be sure to consult the multilingual safety guide before attempting the demonstration.) Other resources include a Canadian site and an article by Thomas Elpel.

The atlatl is the name of the weapon in Nahuatl, the Aztec language. It was a primary weapon of war in ancient Mesoamerica. John Sorenson points out the significance of the atlatl in his chapter, "How Could Joseph Smith Write So Accurately about Ancient American Civilization" in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, ed. D.W. Parry, D.C. Peterson, and J.W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), pp. 261-306. That chapter, and the whole book, are filled with fascinating insights into and evidences for the Book of Mormon. The use of the seemingly odd word "cast" in Alma 49:4 is truly a minor issue, I admit, but one that struck me as interesting this morning.

For other information on weapons and the Book of Mormon, see my page, "Metals, Weapons, and the Book of Mormon."


cayblood said...

One additional problem that the Atlatl presents, however, is that Nephi and his brethren seem to have used real bows and arrows, and the information is specific enough to indicated that his bow broke and that his brothers' bows had lost their spring. These characteristics don't seem like they could apply to Atlatls, which leads me to wonder how they had devolved into using Atlatls, which appear to be inferior technology that eventually evolved into the superior bow and arrow solution. Also, do we have evidence for the use of bows and arrows in the middle east during Lehi's era? Do we have any evidence for the use of Atlatls? (granted, this could have been a development that the Nephites and Lamanites came up with in the New World or even one that they adopted from the native populations)

Jeff Lindsay said...

If the atlatl was used among Lamanites, it probably was not due to Middle Eastern influence. Rather, I would suggest it was from the influence of the ancient American peoples who were already on the continent when Nephi landed. The atlatl was in use in the Americas long before Nephi landed. It's logical that the newcomers would adapt at least some local ways. Apart from adaptation, the people called "Lamanites" almost certainly included a variety of local peoples who had long been using the atlatl and other weapons. The bow and arrow came later.

I discuss some of the signficant evidence for other peoples in the land when Nephi came, and for their influence on Book of Mormon peoples, on my page about DNA and the Book of Mormon.