Evidence #158 | March 1, 2021

Fiery Darts

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Scripture Central

Abstract

Nephi’s reference to “fiery darts” is not out of place for his time and location. Fiery arrows were used in ancient Near Eastern combat both before and after Nephi’s day. They were also used by Aztec warriors.

“Fiery Darts”

When describing the meaning of Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life to his brothers, Nephi explained that the “fiery darts of the adversary” can’t overpower those who hold fast to the word of God (1 Nephi 15:24). Notably, this is the only passage in the Book of Mormon that mentions flaming projectiles or that specifically uses the phrase “fiery darts.”

The phrase isn’t used at all in the Old Testament, nor is it found in Joseph Smith’s other revelations about the ancient world.1 The only other place it shows up in ancient scripture is Ephesians 6:16, and the specific phrasing in the Book of Mormon’s English translation may be an allusion, at least in part, to this passage.2 Historians also recognize that fiery arrows or projectiles were used in ancient warfare both before and after the time of Nephi.

Assyrian Relief Depicting Archers in Battle. 

Fiery Arrows in Psalm 7

The concept of “fiery arrows” appears in the Hebrew text of Psalm 7 (verse 13 in English and verse 14 in Hebrew). The verse in the KJV reads, “He hath also prepared for him the instruments of death; he ordaineth his arrows against the persecutors” (emphasis added). However, the translators of this passage misunderstood the underlying Hebrew. The verse instead contains the concept of fiery arrows, as seen in the NRSV: “he has prepared his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts” (emphasis added). This reading is confirmed by the Greek and Latin translations of the Hebrew Bible,3 which unmistakably render the passage the correct way, as picked up by many modern English Bible translations.4

Relief of the seige at Lachish in the 8th century BC. Flaming torches can be seen being thrown from teh walls of the city.

Fiery Arrows in Other Ancient Sources

If we look to the ancient world, there is evidence that the Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and even the Aztecs used fiery arrows in combat. According to Stephen O. Smoot,

Historically, the use of fiery arrows or missiles is known in ancient Near Eastern warfare perhaps as early as the Neo-Assyrian period in the eighth century BC. Robert G. Grant reports that the Assyrian siege engines used during Sennacherib’s attack on Lachish in 701 BC were evidently “covered with dampened leather hides to protect [them] from flaming arrows­ — an incendiary weapon apparently used by both sides.” In the Persian and classical Greek periods, Herodotus (Histories 8.52) and Thucydides (History 2.75) mention the use of fiery missiles, both likewise in the context of siege warfare. Interestingly, Bernardino de Sahagún recorded at the time of the European conquest of the New World the ancient Aztec use of fiery arrows in Mesoamerican warfare in his General History of the Things of New Spain (the celebrated “Florentine Codex”).

Incendiary arrows were also evidently used in dispelling infantry ranks. “With their shields on fire,” Williams explains, “soldiers were tempted to throw them down, thus making themselves more vulnerable to the enemy.” If that weren’t enough, “heavier loads of burning material were [also] launched by catapults, against which a shield was of little protection.” Such is recorded by the anonymous native author of the so-called Anónimo Mexicano (“a twelve-chapter document concerning the history of the Nahuatl Tlaxcalteca”) who mentioned the use of “some sort of smoking arrows” in Aztec infantry combat.5

Conclusion

When viewed in an ancient context, the reference to “fiery darts” in 1 Nephi 15:24 is not out of place. Such projectiles were clearly used in warfare prior to Nephi’s time, and he most likely had read about them in Psalm 7:13. Moreover, as noted by Smoot, “it would have been practically impossible for Joseph Smith to have stumbled upon any of this, as first, the KJV, the only biblical translation feasibly accessible to the Prophet, mistranslated Psalm 7:13, and second, Joseph began his study of Hebrew and Greek some five years after the translation of the Book of Mormon.”6

Book of Mormon Central, “What are the ‘Fiery Darts of the Adversary’ Spoken of by Nephi? (1 Nephi 15:24),” KnoWhy 18 (January 25, 2016).

Stephen O. Smoot, “The ‘Fiery Darts of the Adversary’ in 1 Nephi 15:24,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 18 (2016): 5–9.

1 Nephi 15:24

1 Nephi 15:24

Warfare
Book of Mormon

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