Evidence #19 | September 19, 2020

Scourged with Faggots

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Scripture Central

Abstract

The manner of Abinadi’s execution is consistent with the practices of various North and Central American cultures going back to pre-Columbian times, in which prisoners were often beaten and tortured to death with firebrands.
Abinadi, by Briana Shawcroft. 

The particular manner in which Abinadi was tortured and killed is described in the book of Mosiah. Noah’s priests “took him and bound him, and scourged his skin with faggots, yea, even unto to death” (Mosiah 17:13; emphasis added). As “the flames began to scorch him” (v. 14), Abinadi spoke to his tormentors, warning that they would suffer “the pains of death by fire,” just as he was suffering (v. 18). Then he finally died, “having suffered death by fire” (v. 20).1

The mention of being “scourged … with faggots” may seem rather curious in this context. Instead of simply being burned at the stake, it suggests a prolonged process of severe torture, beating and scorching his skin with burning torches or firebrands until he finally died by fire.2 In a paper published in 1991, Robert J. Matthews explained, “This passage seems to say that Abinadi’s tormentors took burning torches and poked him with these, burning his skin until he died.”3 The oddity of such a practice led Royal Skousen to suggest that it may be a transcription error, and that the text should be amended to read “scorched his skin with faggots” instead.4

Two men beating a youth with fire brands. Image from Codex Mendoza. 

Yet, however strange it may seem, the original reading of the text is consistent with the practices of various ancient North and Central American cultures.5 The Natchez tribe, for example, would scalp and bind a prisoner to a “crosspiece,” and then take dry canes (tall, wood-like grass or reeds), light them on fire, and use them to burn the prisoner.6 The Koroa tribe used a similar form a torture, only they used red-hot irons to sear the skin.7 Among the Hurons, everyone would take “a firebrand in his hand to apply to some part of [the] body” of an Iroquois prisoner.8 In Mexico, the Codex Mendoza (1541) shows two Aztec men punishing a youth “by beating him with burning firebrands.”9

Evidence for this practice going back into pre-Columbian times is found in Mesoamerica. Classic Maya iconography depicts an ancient myth where Junapu and Xblanque (known as the “Hero Twins”) captured the Jaguar Deity and tormented him by scorching his skin with pine wood torches.10 Evidence of the prolonged nature of the torment is seen on a vase that shows the Hero Twins’ father standing by with additional torches.11

Abinadi being scourged with faggots. Image by Jodi Livingston.

Naranjo Stela 35 makes reference to the torture and burning of the Jaguar Deity while depicting a bound war prisoner at the feet of his captor, who holds a burning pine wood torch in his hands, thus illustrating that this was more than mere myth.12 Another iconographic depiction shows a captive bound to a scaffold on all fours, with two men on each side of him, “both brandishing lit pine torches, in the act of scorching the skin of the pitiful captive.”13 This torture could be prolonged for hours, days, and even weeks before the captive finally died.14 On some occasions, the victim would eventually be set on fire, possibly even after succumbing to death, as evidenced by both a figurine and a doorjamb mural, each found in Campeche, Mexico, showing a tortured victim with faggots lashed on their back about to be burned.15

The account of Abinadi’s death is mercifully sparse on all the more gruesome details, but Mark Alan Wright and Kerry Hull, both specialists in ancient Mesoamerica, concluded that it “echoes perfectly what we find in these ancient traditions.”16

Book of Mormon Central, “Why was Abinadi Scourged with Faggots? (Mosiah 17:13),” KnoWhy 96 (May 10, 2016).

Mark Alan Wright and Kerry Hull, “Ethnohistorical Sources and the Death of Abinadi,” in Abinadi: He Came Among them in Disguise, ed. Shon D. Hopkin (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and BYU Religious Studies Center, 2018), 209–230.

Brant A. Gardner, “Scourging with Faggots,” Insights: A Window on the Ancient World 21, no. 7 (2001): 2–3.

Jerry D. Grover Jr., Evidence of the Nehor Religion in Mesoamerica (Provo, UT: Challex Scientific Publishing, 2017), 32–36.

Mosiah 17:13–14, 18–20

Mosiah 17:13–14, 18–20

  • 1 Jerry D. Grover Jr., Evidence of the Nehor Religion in Mesoamerica (Provo, UT: Challex Scientific Publishing, 2017), 32 helpfully itemizes the details of Abinadi’s death.
  • 2 See Robert J. Matthews, “Abinadi: The Prophet and Martyr,” in Mosiah, Salvation Only Through Christ, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1991), 102. To scourge, in the 1820s, meant “to whip severely; to lash,” or “to punish with severity,” or “to afflict greatly; to harass, torment or injure.” See Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language (1828), s.v., “scourge.” A faggot (or fagot) was “a bundle of sticks … used for fuel.” Webster, American Dictionary, s.v., “fagot.”
  • 3 Robert J. Matthews, “Abinadi: The Prophet and Martyr,” in Mosiah, Salvation Only Through Christ, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, Religious Studies Center, 1991), 102.
  • 4 See Royal Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, 6 parts (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2004–2009), 3:1362–1364; previously discussed in Royal Skousen, “‘Scourged’ vs. ‘Scorched’ in Mosiah 17:13,” Insights: A Window on the Ancient World 22, no. 3 (2002): 2–3. It should be noted that even if Skousen’s proposed textual emendation is correct, that doesn’t preclude the possibility that Abinadi was poked or flogged with bundles of sticks.
  • 5 See Mark Alan Wright and Kerry Hull, “Ethnohistorical Sources and the Death of Abinadi,” in Abinadi: He Came Among them in Disguise, ed. Shon D. Hopkin (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and BYU Religious Studies Center, 2018), 209–230.
  • 6 Account of Antoine-Simon Le Page du Pratz, as cited in Nathaniel Knowles, “The Torture of Captives by the Indians of Eastern North America,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 82, no. 2 (1940): 171–172; cf. Wright and Hull, “Ethnohistorical Sources,” 213–214.
  • 7 Account of Andre Penicaut, as cited in Knowles, “Torture of Captives,” 170; cf. Wright and Hull, “Ethnohistorical Sources,” 226 n.12.
  • 8 Father Francois de Peron to Father Joseph Imbert du Peron, April 27, 1639, in Iroquois Wars I: Extracts from the Jesuit Relations and primary sources from 1535 to 1650, ed. Anthony P. Schiavo Jr. and Claudio R. Salvucci (Bristol, PA: Evolution Publishing, 2003), 155; cf. Wright and Hull, “Ethnohistorical Sources,” 214–215.
  • 9 Frances F. Berden and Patricia Rieff Anawalt, eds., The Essential Codex Mendoza, 4 vols. (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1997), 4:191; cf. 2:180. See also Kurt Ross, Codex Mendoza: Aztec Manuscript (Fribourg: Liber, 1984), 92; Brant A. Gardner, “Scourging with Faggots,” Insights: A Window on the Ancient World 21, no. 7 (2001): 2–3; Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 3:319; Wright and Hull, “Ethnohistorical Sources,” 216–218.
  • 10 Wright and Hull, “Ethnohistorical Sources,” 222–223. See K1299 and K4598 in the Maya Vase Database, online at http://research.mayavase.com/.
  • 11 See K 4598, online at http://research.mayavase.com/.
  • 12 Wright and Hull, “Ethnohistorical Sources,” 221–222.
  • 13 Wright and Hull, “Ethnohistorical Sources,” 220. The scene is depicted on K2781 in the Maya Vase Database, online at http://research.mayavase.com/. Karl A. Taube, “A Study of Classic Maya Scaffold Sacrifice,” in Maya Iconography, ed. Elizabeth P. Benson and Gillett G. Griffin (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988), 334, states that in this scene, “the individuals [are] burning the victim’s back.” Cf. Grover, Evidence of Nehor Religion, 34.
  • 14 Wright and Hull, “Ethnohistorical Sources,” 214–215; Knowles, “Torture of Captives,” 194.
  • 15 Linda Schele and Mary Ellen Miller, The Blood of Kings: Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art (New York, NY: George Braziller and Kimball Art Museum, 1986), 228, pl. 94; Taube, “Scaffold Sacrifice,” 336, fig. 12.5a. Cf. Wright and Hull, “Ethnohistorical Sources,” 219.
  • 16 Wright and Hull, “Ethnohistorical Sources,” 224. See also Grover, Evidence of Nehor Religion, 32–36.
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