Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Sword of Laban

I started thinking about the "handed down" and "delivered up" comment in Dave's post about the "Words of Mormon", and ended up on a complete tangent about the Sword of Laban.

The evolution of the Sword of Laban as an object of power is a very interesting one that takes us from the time Nephi and family were still in Jerusalem, all the way to the 19th century, Joseph Smith and the Three Witnesses.

When we first see the sword, it is the sword of a high noblemen of exceedingly fine workmanship. It rests in the hands of Laban who is obviously not favored by the Lord, so much so that Nephi takes the sword and uses it to part Laban from his head as seen in 1 Nephi Chapter 4 starting with verse 9:

"And I beheld his sword, and I drew it forth from the sheath thereof; and the hilt thereof was of pure gold, and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine, and I saw that the blade thereof was of the most precious steel."

At this point it is the weapon of his fallen enemy and becomes the property of Nephi. A common practice that has survived even into modern times whether it be swords, knives, or guns.

The next time we see the sword in 2 Nephi it is being used as an exemplary weapon in the patterning of others. Nephi, who was apparently very good at metal work, used the sword as a model to fashion additional weapons for the Nephite defense against the Lamenites:

"And I, Nephi, did take the sword of Laban, and after the manner of it did make many swords, lest by any means the people who were now called Lamanites should come upon us and destroy us; for I knew their hatred towards me and my children and those who were called my people."

Unless at this point there has already been significant assimilation into the native populations, probably a small number of swords were made by the hand of Nephi. As an aside, it makes one wonder what happened to those original swords of Nephi, and if they might have been handed down among generals. As a double aside, this is the first verse where we see the people identified as Lamanites so called. It makes one wonder if a degree of assimilation had not already occurred by this point with native peoples. Otherwise, why not simply say "the children of my brothers…"

The third time we see the sword is when Jacob, the brother of Nephi, in Jacob 1:10 is conveying the transfer of power to future kings, and mentions the sword as being used by Nephi in the defense of his people:

"The people having loved Nephi exceedingly, he having been a great protector for them, having wielded the sword of Laban in their defence, and having labored in all his days for their welfare—"

At each of these three references so far we see a clear progression in the reverence given to the blade.

The next time it is mentioned is not until the time of King Benjamin in the Words of Mormon where King Benjamin uses it also in the defense of his people, and is where I picked up its trail. At this point it is becoming clear that the blade is being used as a symbol of authority, and a vehicle used in the anointing of the next King:

"And it came to pass also that the armies of the Lamanites came down out of the land of Nephi, to battle against his people. But behold, king Benjamin gathered together his armies, and he did stand against them; and he did fight with the strength of his own arm, with the sword of Laban."

After King Benjamin's use of the Sword of Laban in the defense of his people, he then passes it on to his son Mosiah in Mosiah 1:16 along with many other objects of power further elevating the status of the sword as a nearly divine tool for defending peace and righteousness:

"And moreover, he also gave him charge concerning the records which were engraven on the plates of brass; and also the plates of Nephi; and also, the sword of Laban, and the ball or director, which led our fathers through the wilderness, which was prepared by the hand of the Lord that thereby they might be led, every one according to the heed and diligence which they gave unto him."

At this point, despite the many years and dynasties left in the story of the children of Lehi, the sword goes into hiding, and does not reappear until the 19th century when it makes a cameo in the Doctrine and Covenants 17:1 as the promise to the three witnesses along with many other sacred objects. At this point it is again being used as a clear transfer of power directly to Joseph Smith:

"Behold, I say unto you, that you must rely upon my word, which if you do with full purpose of heart, you shall have a view of the plates, and also of the breastplate, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim, which were given to the brother of Jared upon the mount, when he talked with the Lord face to face, and the miraculous directors which were given to Lehi while in the wilderness, on the borders of the Red Sea." 

It is clear that what began it's existence as a sword of fine workmanship evolved through use and the passage of time into an object of power, as well as an object to symbolize the transfer of power.


  1. Awesome. Along with, I think, the brass plates and the Liahona.

  2. Absolutely. And as sort of a triple aside to my comments in the paragraph about 2 Nephi, I think the comment about those who call themselves my people, is indeed an indicator or the degree of early assimilation to native peoples who were already living in the promised land.