Evidence #410 | June 26, 2023

Blood Vengeance

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Scripture Central


Ammoron’s statements about avenging his brother’s death appear to invoke the legal concept of blood vengeance articulated in the Hebrew Bible.

After Amalickiah was assassinated by a Nephite warrior named Teancum, Amalickiah’s brother wrote an epistle to Moroni, stating, “I am Ammoron, the king of the Lamanites; I am the brother of Amalickiah whom ye have murdered. Behold, I will avenge his blood upon you, yea, and I will come upon you with my armies for I fear not your threatenings” (Alma 54:16).1

Ammoron contextualized his vow of vengeance by recounting a tribal conflict from the earliest days of the Nephite-Lamanite split: “For behold, your fathers did wrong their brethren, insomuch that they did rob them of their right to the government when it rightly belonged unto them” (Alma 54:17). His epistle concluded with another reference to past wrongs and a declaration of impending vengeance: “I am Ammoron, and a descendant of Zoram, whom your fathers pressed and brought out of Jerusalem. And behold now, I am a bold Lamanite; behold, this war hath been waged to avenge their wrongs” (vv. 23–24).

Portrait of Ammoron, by James H Fullmer. 

Blood Vengeance in Hebrew Law

Ammoron’s statements appear to invoke the Hebrew judicial concept of “blood vengeance.”2 In a world with no real equivalent to modern law enforcement, “one of the most important clan duties” in many ancient cultures was “for the nearest of kin to hunt down and carry out the death-penalty on a person that had slain a member of the sept or family.”3

Ancient Hebrew law allowed for this, granting the legal right and duty for a kinsman to avenge the blood of a murdered family or clan member (Exodus 21:12–14Numbers 35:16–28Deuteronomy 19:4–13).4 This avenger of blood is called a goel in biblical Hebrew. Conventionally translated as “redeemer,”5 one of the responsibilities of being an avenging kinsman (a goel) was to bring about justice, rectifying the intentional and hateful murder of a near family member by killing the murderer or a substitute.6

Image via Scripture Central. 

Rhetorical Intent

To be clear, Ammoron’s stated rationale doesn’t perfectly reflect the biblical concept of blood vengeance. The Hebrew legal statutes called for sanctuary cities where the alleged killer could take refuge until a court established the killer’s guilt or innocence (Numbers 35:9–24Deuteronomy 4:41–44). Moreover, vengeance could only be appropriately taken out on the one who had committed the homicide.7 In contrast, Ammoron liberally cast blame on Moroni and the entire Nephite army for his brother’s death, and there were no sanctuary cities or agreed upon modes of adjudicating the alleged murderers’ guilt or innocence.

It should be remembered, though, that Ammoron was a Nephite dissenter who no longer accepted the religious teachings—including, presumably, the legal codes—of the Nephites (Alma 54:21–22). Moreover, the Nephites and Lamanites were formally at war. Thus, there is no reason to expect him to perfectly comply with archaic biblical laws.

Ammoron’s strategy seems to have been more geared towards scoring rhetorical points in an ideological debate rather than trying to formulate an air-tight legal argument based on biblical law. At least among Ammoron’s supporters, his words may have been seen as shrewdly using the Nephites’ own supposedly pious legal principles against them. Alternatively, it is possible that the Lamanites perpetuated some form of blood vengeance among their own people, perhaps initially based upon but adapted from biblical precedent. Either way, by invoking a Hebrew legal principle, Ammoron achieved at least a semblance of legal backing for his behavior, while simultaneously casting doubt on the justness of the Nephites’ cause (insinuating they were guilty of murder).


Ammoron’s mention of blood vengeance provides an example of how the Book of Mormon is often subtly aware of ancient Hebrew legal concepts.8 In addition, his overall rhetorical strategy is both sophisticated and situationally believable.9

John W. Welch, The Legal Cases in the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2008), 139–210.

John W. Welch, “Statutes, Judgments, Ordinances, and Commandments,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon: A Decade of New Research, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 62–65.

James Rasmussen, “Blood Vengeance in the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon,” FARMS Preliminary Report (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1981).

Alma 54:15–24

Alma 54:15–24

  • 1 Ironically, Amalickiah had sworn that he would drink the blood of Moroni (Alma 49:2751:9), but now it was Amalickiah’s blood that needed to be avenged.
  • 2 See Hendrik George Laurens Peels, The Vengeance of God: The Meaning of the Root NQM and the Function of the NQM-Texts in the Context of Divine Revelation in the Old Testament (New York, NY: Brill, 1995), 79–86; John Harrison Tullock, Blood-Vengeance among the Israelites in the Light of Its Near Eastern Background (PhD. thesis, Vanderbilt University, 1966).
  • 3 Morris Jastrow, Jr., “Avenger of Blood,” in Jewish Encyclopedia, online at jewishencyclopedia.com. A “sept” is an archaic term synonymous with “clan” or “family.” Compare “Blood-Avenger,” in Encyclopedia Judaica, online at jewishvirtuallibrary.org.
  • 4 Ze’ev W. Falk, Hebrew Law in Biblical Times (Provo, UT and Winona Lake, IN: BYU Press and Eisenbrauns, 2001), 72.
  • 5 Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 1:169.
  • 6 See David Ewert, “Avenger of Blood,” in The Oxford Companion to the Bible, ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1993), 68; Bernhard W. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, abridged 4th edition (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice–Hall, 1998), 430–431. Other duties of a goel pertained to redeeming property, including family sold into debt slavery (Leviticus 25:25, 47–55Jeremiah 32:6–12), and marrying the widow of a close family member (Deuteronomy 25:5–10Ruth 3–4).
  • 7 For additional constraining factors, see Peels, The Vengeance of God, 83.
  • 8 For more evidence along these lines, see Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: Law (Main Category),” online at evidencecentral.org.
  • 9 For another example of cunning rhetoric from a Nephite apostate, see Book of Mormon Central, “Why was Giddianhi So Polite? (3 Nephi 3:2),” KnoWhy 190 (September 19, 2016).

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