Question: Are the large population counts described in the Book of Mormon during the final battle at the Hill Cumorah accurate?

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Question: Are the large population counts described in the Book of Mormon during the final battle at the Hill Cumorah accurate?

Ancient militaristic texts, including those of the Bible, frequently exaggerated the numbers involved in battle for their own propagandistic purposes

A questionable premise is that the numbers recited in the text should be understood as accurate in the same sense we would understand those numbers today. Ancient militaristic texts, including those of the Bible, frequently exaggerated the numbers involved in battle for their own propagandistic purposes, or to simply convey the general concept of 'a very large number'. Very large numbers in the scriptures should always be taken with a grain of salt, since ancient authors (having their own purposes and approach) did not use such terms with the same precision as a modern military historian.

It has also been noted that "so-and-so and his 10,000" may use the term "10,000" as a designation for a military unit. Roman armies had "centuries" (or centuria) which were lead by a "centurion," which implies a hundred men. While such units originally had 100 men, the normal size of such units (even at full strength) was only 60–80 men.[1]

Interestingly, at the time of the Spanish Conquest, Bernal Diaz described Tlascalan armies in the same terms:

Of the followers of the old Xicotenga . . . there were ten thousand; of another great chief named Moseescaci there were another ten thousand; of a third, who was called Chichimecatecle, there were as many more....[2]

Without further information, it is difficult to know whether the Book of Mormon uses the term literally, in a symbolic/propagandist sense to convey a great number of dead, or as a technical military term familiar to Mormon and Moroni but opaque to the modern reader.

Notes

  1. A. Brent Merrill, "Nephite Captains and Armies," in Ricks and Hamblin, eds., Warfare in the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), 270. Reference cited is Graham Webster, The Roman Imperial Army (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1969). http://publications.mi.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1108&index=13
  2. Bernal Diaz del Castillo, The Bernal Diaz Chronicles, trans. and ed. A. Idell (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1956), 161–162, 110, 103; cited in John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Co. ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1996 [1985]), 263. GL direct link