Saturday, August 11, 2012

Mighty Prince Ammon and the Trophy Presentations at the Palace of King Khyan (Archaeological Discovery in Egypt Sheds Light on the Book of Mormon)

In what surely is one of the most dramatic moments in a book replete with dramatic moments, Book of Mormon prince and missionary Ammon withstands a band of plunderers with sword and sling (Alma 17:37-9):

37 But behold, every man that lifted his club to smite Ammon, he smote off their arms with his sword; for he did withstand their blows by smiting their arms with the edge of his sword, insomuch that they began to be astonished, and began to flee before him; yea, and they were not few in number; and he caused them to flee by the strength of his arm.

38 Now six of them had fallen by the sling, but he slew none save it were their leader with his sword; and he smote off as many of their arms as were lifted against him, and they were not a few.

39 And when he had driven them afar off, he returned and they watered their flocks and returned them to the pasture of the king, and then went in unto the king, bearing the arms which had been smitten off by the sword of Ammon, of those who sought to slay him; and they were carried in unto the king for a testimony of the things which they had done. 

It is a marvelous story--but can there yet remain a "testimony of the things" which Ammon once did? A newly announced archaeological discovery in Hyksos Egypt--the first of its kind--recalls the presentation of the enemies' right arms to the Ismaelite king, Lamoni, and bespeaks the earnest ritual nature of such trophy presentations:

For a prior look at the same Book of Mormon episode in light of Ancient Near Eastern texts and iconography (but not archaeology), see John Welch and John Lundquist, "Ammon and Cutting Off the Arms of Enemies":

Hugh Nibley, in his Book of Mormon classes, would also comment on "the Sebus sport":

"The games of chivalry were just as rough and deadly as the Sebus sport, and far more ancient. Sinuhe is a thousand years older than Achilles or David, and monuments from prehistoric Egypt show the first 'pharaohs' bashing the heads of rival rulers with the ceremonial mace. The famous scenes of the battles of Megiddo and Carchemish display the piles of severed hands and arms brought as trophies to the king. That's how you would prove that you had slain them; you would bring the right arms to the king and pile them up. This is Bible stuff, too, as well as Babylonian, and the Egyptians were in it, too. At Carchemish and Megiddo the king sat there with big piles of arms in front of him. Well, Ammon brought piles of arms to show his prowess to King Lamoni" (Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Lecture 51: Alma 17-19).

At Carchemish and Megiddo the trophies were laid before the king right on the spot--on the battlefront. But the evidence of sixteen hands found in four burial pits near the palace of the Hyksos Pharaoh Khyan at Avaris even more closely recalls the statement in Alma about how the servants of the king carried the arms "in unto the king," that is, into his palace. "Two of the pits," we read, "[are] located in front of what is believed to be a throne room" (

Arma virumque cano--valorous deeds and glorious feats of arms are the province of the king, and the hands buried in front of Khyan's throne room serve as a lasting testimony of that fact.

Copyright 2012 by Val Sederholm