Question: Why do most of the battles in the Book of Mormon occur between the 11th and 3rd months of the year, and none in the 6th through 9th months?

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Question: Why do most of the battles in the Book of Mormon occur between the 11th and 3rd months of the year, and none in the 6th through 9th months?

In over 30 places, war action is described as taking place near the end or beginning of the year

A fascinating issue on climate is the seasons of war described in the Book of Mormon, mostly between Alma 9 and Alma 47. Several examples provide specific months and days of the battle (e.g., Alma 16:1). Many others indicate the general time of year (e.g., Alma 44:22–24). In over 30 places, war action is described as taking place near the end or beginning of the year. Sorenson has compiled information from the text about the month of the year various military skirmishes are mentioned. Almost all occur between the 11th and 3rd months, with a small number reported in the 4th, 5th, and 10th months, and none mentioned in the 6th through 9th months.[1] Why this pattern?

The Book of Mormon text seems to indicate that the harvest occurred during months 10 through 12

Interestingly, the text also makes reference to cultivation of food a number of times in the 4th through 9th months. The problem of getting food to the troops is mentioned as a concern mainly in the twelfth through second months. Thus it seems that the harvest may have been in months 10 through 12. The Nephite "agricultural year" seems, then, to proceed like this:

  • Cultivation of fields: months 4-9
  • Main harvest: months 10-12
  • Time of warfare: mainly months 11-3).

The Book of Mormon shows remarkable accuracy in dealing with the ancient relationship between agriculture and warfare

This leads to several insights:

  • since the armies were largely made of ordinary citizens (like reservists) who were largely farmers, they were not available for warfare except after the harvest (see Alma 53:7);
  • since an army moves on its stomach, fighting is most easily carried out when food supplies are most available, which would be after the harvest;
  • the Book of Mormon shows remarkable accuracy (and internal consistency) in dealing with the ancient relationship between agriculture and warfare.

Military campaigns in Central America occurred mainly between late October and February

But how do Nephite months correspond to ours? In Mesoamerica, May though September is the best time for growing crops (heat and moisture are most available). October through April is fairly dry. We also know that before Columbus, military campaigns in Central America occurred mainly between late October and February (again, farmers were then free of agricultural duties and food could be gathered—or seized as plunder). Likewise, soggy land from heavy rains would be drier and more passable (and made living in tents easier). These considerations lead Sorenson and others to conclude that the Nephite year may have begun in late December, perhaps with the winter solstice (Dec. 21/22), as did many other ancient peoples.[1]

Different from Joseph Smith's World

The Book of Mormon's consistent representation of the seasonality of Mesoamerican warfare bodes poorly for the theory that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon. A significant battle scene (one in which the long-term survival of the Nephite nation might have been at stake) is described in Alma 51: at the end of the year—around December. After heavy fighting and major marches, both sides were very tired because of their "labors and heat of the day." This takes place on the east coast, "in the borders on the beach by the seashore" (Alma 51:32).

In Mesoamerica, at this season, the rain-swollen rivers have subsided, but the east region (which would correspond to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec area under the limited geography model) is still rather wet, low, and hot. The hottest weather was still months away, but down on the coast it was hot and muggy enough to contribute to the fatigue of the rapidly traveling troops.

If Joseph Smith had created the Book of Mormon based on what he knew, he would have had fighting occur in the summer, not during winter

Alma 51: shows that the land of the Book of Mormon peoples was not a cold, snow-covered place in winter, as upstate New York was for young Joseph Smith. If Joseph had created the book based on what he knew, he would have had fighting occur in the summer, not during winter. The internal consistency of many passages dealing with war during the proper season of war for Mesoamerica is also remarkable—and has not been noted or recognized until the late twentieth century. Though it is a minor point in the text, the geographical and climatic information provided fits and makes sense. It must be considered as one of the many "mundane" but powerful evidences for authenticity.

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 John Sorenson, "Seasons of War, Seasons of Peace in the Book of Mormon," in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, edited by John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co.; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991), 249–256.