Question: What were the relative size of Nephites vs. Lamanites?

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Question: What were the relative size of Nephites vs. Lamanites?

Despite the majority of the immigrants going with Nephi, the Lamanites are consistently mentioned as being much more numerous (at least double) than the Nephites

Despite the majority of the immigrants going with Nephi, the Lamanites are consistently mentioned as being much more numerous (at least double) than the Nephites. This includes the period before Mosiah I's exodus (See Jarom 1:6) and afterward, despite the introduction of Zarahemla's people (the so-called 'Mulekites') to bolster Nephite numbers. (See Mosiah 25:3, Helaman 4:25.)

There is one intriguing passage in which Mormon explains the numeric disparity as it applies to Captain Moroni's wars:

...thus the Nephites were compelled, alone, to withstand against the Lamanites, who were a compound of Laman and Lemuel, and the sons of Ishmael, and all those who had dissented from the Nephites, who were Amalekites and Zoramites, and the descendants of the priests of Noah. 14 Now those descendants were as numerous, nearly, as were the Nephites; and thus the Nephites were obliged to contend with their brethren, even unto bloodshed. [italics added] Alma 43:13-14.

Mormon here lists a variety of peoples under the rubric 'Lamanites,' and then indicates that these descendants almost match the Nephites in numbers. Yet, clearly, the 'Lamanites' (in a broader sense) always have a massive manpower advantage, as we are told just a few verses later in Alma 43:51.

The phrase "those descendants," by this reading, does not apply merely to the "descendants of the priests of Noah," since this is a tiny group of only 24 Lamanite women and their former-priest husbands. (See Mosiah 20:5, Mosiah 23:31-39.) These "Amulonites" had been decimated by angry Lamanites only a few years earlier, and were ever after persona non grata on both sides of the conflict. (See Alma 25:3-9.) Their numerical contribution to the Lamanite hordes was likely negligible.[1]

Mormon's point seems clear—all the 'Nephites': original Lehi/Nephi descendants, Zarahemla descendants, and any 'others' or client peoples—are nearly numerically matched simply by the descendants of Laman, Lemuel, Ishmael and a variety of Nephite descendants. To this must then be added the manpower "sink" which the Lamanites possess in the form of the 'others' which they control politically.

This is what makes the Lamanite invasion so dangerous, since as defenders the Nephites require fewer men to hold off an attacking army (See Alma 49:1-25, Alma 59:9). If the Nephites were "nearly" outnumbered by all the "Lamanites" (in the broader sense of those under Lamanite political control), then a Lamanite attack would be both foolhardy and of no great worry to a well-entrenched general like Moroni.

The Lamanites' vast numerical superiority is repeatedly emphasized

But, the Lamanites' vast numerical superiority is repeatedly emphasized: (See Alma 43:51, Alma 48:3-4).

Moroni struggles to provide his troops with reinforcements and adequate garrisons (see Alma 52:16-17,Alma 58:3-5, Alma 58:32-36) while the Lamanites can continually field large new armies (see Alma 51:9-11, Alma 52:12, Alma 57:17, Alma 58:5).

The Lamanites even seek to exploit their numerical advantage by opening a two front war (See Alma 52:13, Alma 56:10). This strategy splits their forces and risks defeat in detail, which would be very unwise if they did not enjoy a marked numerical advantage. This advantage is clearly present, since their tactics very nearly succeed (See Alma 52:14, Alma 53:8, Alma 58:2).

In short, Mormon spells the problem out clearly—the Nephites are dramatically outnumbered— and he explains that this is because the Lamanite and dissenter numbers alone nearly match all the Nephite manpower, with the understanding that the client people(s) available as Lamanite manpower tip the balance.

No other reading makes sense of the text, which is rigorously consistent.

Alma refers to the dissident Zoramites, and prays, "O Lord, their souls are precious, and many of them are our brethren"

Alma refers to the dissident Zoramites, and prays, "O Lord, their souls are precious, and many of them are our brethren." (See Alma 31:35). Yet, the Nephites refer to Lamanites, Nephites, and "Mulekites" as their "brethren." (See Mosiah 1:5, Mosiah 7:2-13,Alma 24:7-8). Clearly, the Zoramites are a mixed group of those who immigrated from Palestine and 'others.'

Mormon also mentions another "people who were in the land Bountiful" near the narrow neck that Moroni worries will ally themselves with Nephite enemies (See Alma 52:32).

Demographically, much more is going on here than the critics' skimming of the text reveals.

Notes

  1. An alternate explanation is that the Amulonites have also assimilated their own client peoples, increasisng their numbers. This is suggested in John L. Sorenson, "When Lehi's Party Arrived in the Land Did They Find Others There?," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1/1 (1992): 1–34. wikiGL direct link