Alma 17:35-39, LeGrand Baker, the story of Ammon
As we have observed, the story of Ammon is written in the most classic of ancient literary traditions. Ammon is not just any prince; he is heir apparent to the Nephite throne. Without being told we assume that when he went to the Lamanites he was dressed like a prince, well spoken, well educated, and had a personal presence that commanded respect. The Lamanites would not have had to guess twice to know who he was.
As a prince, Ammon’s education set him apart from every commoner. He was taught military tactics, diplomatic language and protocol, He would have been tutored in the use of personal weapons by the very best of the Nephite instructors. He would also have been given a superb academic education For example, king Benjamin’s sons were taught in all the languages so they could read and understand the scriptures. (Mosiah 1:2)That would include Hebrew, Egyptian, the spoken language of the Mulekites, and the vernacular tongue of the Nephite people. Similarly, even though Zeniff does not tell us his relationship to the king, we know he is a prince because he has a uniquely princely education – knows all the languages. (Mosiah 9:1)
Ammon, the hero prince, leaves home to accomplish an impossible task. He is captured by the Lamanites and immediately confronted with a temptation that would have prevented his fulfillment of that task. What may have been the equivalent of Odysseus’s Sirens stood squarely in the path of his success.
After Ammon was interrogated by King Lamoni, the Lamanite king offers the Nephite prince one of his own daughters as a wife. Whether this was a response to love -at-first-sight on the daughter’s part, or simply a political arrangement devised by the father, we are not told. But Lamoni’s having the next in line to the Nephite throne for a son-in-law (especially if he were one who had defected from his own country) would be a major political coup.
Ammon turns the offer down and opts to help tend the flocks instead, but that may not mean he accepted a demeaning office. The story of Ammon is remarkably like the one Josephus tells about Moses who had just fled from Egypt.
Moses, thinking it would be a terrible reproach upon him if he overlooked the young women under unjust oppression, and should suffer the violence of the men to prevail over the right of the maidens, he drove away the men, who had a mind to more than their share, and afforded a proper assistance to the women; who, when they had received such a benefit from him, came to their father, and told him how they had been affronted by the shepherds, and assisted by a stranger, and entreated that he would not let this generous action be done in vain, nor go without a reward. Now the father took it well from his daughters that they were so desirous to reward their benefactor; and bid them bring Moses into his presence, that he might be rewarded as he deserved. And when Moses came, he told him what testimony his daughters bare to him, that he had assisted them; and that, as he admired him for his virtue, he said that Moses had bestowed such his assistance on persons not insensible of benefits, but where they were both able and willing to return the kindness, and even to exceed the measure of his generosity. So he made him his son, and gave him one of his daughters in marriage; and appointed him to be the guardian and superintendent over his cattle; for of old, all the wealth of the barbarians was in those cattle. (Josephus, Flavius, Antiquities of the Jews, “From the Death of Isaac to the Exodus,” chapter 11: “How Moses Fled out of Egypt into Midian, ).
The obvious difference is that while Moses’s marrying a princess fit well into his assignment, a similar act on Ammon’s part would have precluded his accomplishing his purposes. It appears that Lamoni’s most urgent need was to find someone who could protect his flocks. It was probably true that Lamoni’s wealth was measured by his flocks, and Ammon was apparently put in charge of their safety. If not actually put in charge by the king, his royal education and ability to command quickly became apparent. It was he, the newcomer, who led the others to recover their flocks and then he gave them instructions about what they should do to protect the animals.
35 Therefore they did not fear Ammon, for they supposed that one of their men could slay him according to their pleasure, for they knew not that the Lord had promised Mosiah that he would deliver his sons out of their hands; neither did they know anything concerning the Lord; therefore they delighted in the destruction of their brethren; and for this cause they stood to scatter the flocks of the king.
Two important parts of every prince’s education are military strategy and personal expertise with weapons. Here again we see Ammon as the prince and hero. Hercules like, he confronts the enemy alone. Ammon is an expert with a sling, but cannot be hit by his enemy’s stones (God’s promise of invulnerability had a great deal to do with that).
36 But Ammon stood forth and began to cast stones at them with his sling; yea, with mighty power he did sling stones amongst them; and thus he slew a certain number of them insomuch that they began to be astonished at his power; nevertheless they were angry because of the slain of their brethren, and they were determined that he should fall; therefore, seeing that they could not hit him with their stones, they came forth with clubs to slay him.
When his enemies came at him with clubs (an evidence that they tough guys, but probably not trained soldiers) Ammon did not slaughter them with his sword. (The sword is probably another evidence of his wealth and status). Rather he cut off their arms.
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.
That required a great deal of skill. I wonder if his skill enabled him to sever their arms at the joint of the elbow or if the force of his blows was so great that he cut through their bones. In either case, it is evidence that he had been trained to defend himself rather than just strike at the heart and kill his opponents. We see him exercising that same skill again later when he is engaged in a short dual with Lamoni’s father. That time he only wounded the king’s arm. He was not so sparing toward the leader of the ruffians.
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.
That doesn’t say, but the implication is that after the battle there were quite a few arms laying about for the others to gather up.
This is a remarkable story because it fits into the ancient milieu of the hero man-god so accurately that it a perfect example of the ancient formula of the Cosmic Myth. As with Greek heroes, Ammon is confronted with not just one overwhelming challenge, but with two reasons to fail. The first is temptation, the second is that he is outnumbered by his enemies. Yet Mormon tells the story so casually that it does not have the “romance” of many of the other ancient hero story. Mormon’s purpose is not to create a hero, but to show that the Lord keeps his covenants and to set the stage for the conclusion of the saga which is Ammon’s successful missionary work.