Evidence #234 | September 7, 2021

Secret Combinations

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Scripture Central


Secret combinations similar to those discussed in the Book of Mormon are known from pre-Columbian Mesoamerican history.

Secret Combinations in the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon describes how the people of Lehi and the Jaredites were afflicted by secret combinations to murder and get gain. Wicked and ambitious individuals and groups employed assassination and other means to gain political power and influence (Helaman 1:9–12; 2:3–5; 6:27–30; 3 Nephi 6:27–30; 7:1; Ether 8:9–26; 9:5–6).

The text describes how one ambitious individual named Kishkumen, supported by a secret band of supporters, went “event to the judgment-seat of Pahoran [the Nephite Chief Judge], and murdered Pahoran as he sat upon the judgment seat” (Helaman 1:9). Other subsequent Nephite rulers were murdered in a similar way by this same secret faction (Helaman 6:27, 30).

Secret combination depicted in The Testaments: Of One Fold and One Shepherd.

Much earlier, among the Jaredites, another ambitious ruler named Jared was murdered “as he sat upon his throne, giving audience to his people” by a faction led by his son-in-law (Ether 9:5). Moroni and other prophets warned that these practices, if they remain unchecked and are allowed to spread throughout societies, lead to social disintegration, chaos, and eventual destruction (Helaman 2:13; Ether 8:21–22). Moroni indicates “they are had among all people, and they are had among the Lamanites” (Ether 8:20). Consistent with these claims, historical sources on pre-Columbian history provide examples of secret plots to assassinate political leaders for power and gain. Below are two examples.

The Murder of Chimalpopoca

Historian Diego Duran, whose work, The History of the Indies of New Spain, was first published in English in 1964, recounts the pre-Columbian history of the Aztecs. Duran describes the plot and assassination of the Aztec king Chimalpopoca, which was carried out by agents of the king of Azcapotzalco.

Tezozomoc of Azcapotzalco was dead and the Tepanecs, even more determined to carry out their intentions, agreed among themselves to kill King Chimalpopoca by treachery, thereby facilitating the annihilation of the Mexican nation. They sealed this conspiracy by solemnly vowing to carry out this evil plan. At night, when all was silent, they secretly sent men to Mexico-Tenochtitlan, where the murderers entered the palace while the guards, careless, were asleep. Finding the ruler unprepared, they slew him and his son Teuctleuac, who was sleeping beside him.1

Some historians believe that the murder was not instigated by the Tepanecs and their king, but by the king’s brother Itzcoatl, who thereafter inherited the Aztec throne.2

Chimalpopoca as depicted in the Tovar Codex. Image via Wikipedia. 

The Murder of Acatentehua

A second example comes from a chronicle of the people of Tlaxcala, entitled the Anonimo Mexicano, first published in English in 2005.3 This account describes how an ambitious noble named Tlacomihua, unhappy with his lot as a mere nobleman, conspired to obtain power and kingship and destroy the ruler Acatentehua, king of Ocotelulco. Masking his own ambitions, he shrewdly flattered his fellow nobles and turned their minds and hearts against the king.

Thus, he remembered whichever men of the city were dissatisfied concerning their revered lord ruler. Thus he gathered them together on his property, where he made this speech to them. Still when night fell, he finished this. Sighing thus, he spoke evil against their lord. He moved their will against the king, towards his evil intention, so they would kill their sovereign lord. And then the vassals agreed thus to kill him.4

Having sworn among themselves to move against the king, they went to the palace.

They went as if to be civil. Raising a shout, they attacked. He was not prepared. Thus secretly they killed him. Thus when they left there, their secret deed would not be known. They crossed over to the homes of their poor sovereign lord’s kinsmen. And however many were involved killed the sons, nephews, kin, and all his close kin with their arrows, so that not one of his lineage would remain … It was in this way that this much-loved sovereign lord died, who was greatly loved and respected.5

In the aftermath, there was chaos and fear. “In the city, many became agitated and did not know about the conspiracy. They armed themselves and went about most disturbed, with all the women and children, so that there was very great confusion.”6 Although some wanted to avenge these deaths, they did not punish the perpetrators because so many had been involved in the conspiracy and “if they would kill all the guilty, they would be killing someone’s children and someone’s fathers and friends. They would spill their blood in vain so long as they carried out such a remedy.”7 In the aftermath, Tlacomihua, who had carefully orchestrated the entire conspiracy was made king. This reminds us of the conspirators shortly before the death of Christ who murdered Lachoneus and “had many friends and kindreds” that were willing to deliver them from punishment (3 Nephi 6:27).


Secret and organized plots to murder leaders to gain political power are known from pre-Columbian history. This is consistent with Moroni’s warning that such wicked combinations have been known among other nations and peoples, including among the Lamanites who are among the ancestors of pre-Columbian peoples of Mexico and elsewhere. These accounts, however, were likely unknown at the time of the publication of the Book of Mormon, as they were not translated into English until more recent times.

Book of Mormon Central, “Why Does the Book of Mormon Use the Phrase ‘Secret Combinations?’ (3 Nephi 7:6),” KnoWhy 377 (October 31, 2017).

Brant A. Gardner, Traditions of the Fathers: The Book of Mormon as History (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2015), 325–342.

John Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2013), 274–277.

Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols (Salt Lake City. UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 5:11–29.

John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America: Visualizing Book of Mormon Life (Provo, UT: Research Press, 1998), 118–119, 184.

Daniel C. Peterson, “Notes on ‘Gadianton Masonry,’” in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, ed. Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1990), 174–224.

John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1985), 300–309.

2 Nephi 26:22Helaman 1:9Helaman 1:12Helaman 1:9–12Helaman 2:2–9Helaman 6:15Helaman 6:17–19Helaman 8:27–28Helaman 9:63 Nephi 6:273 Nephi 6:27–303 Nephi 7:1Ether 8:9–26Ether 9:5-6

2 Nephi 26:22

Helaman 1:9

Helaman 1:12

Helaman 1:9–12

Helaman 2:2–9

Helaman 6:15

Helaman 6:17–19

Helaman 8:27–28

Helaman 9:6

3 Nephi 6:27

3 Nephi 6:27–30

3 Nephi 7:1

Ether 8:9–26

Ether 9:5-6

  • 1 Diego Duran, The History of the Indies of New Spain, trans. Doris Heyden (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994), 69. According to Ixtlilxochitl, the king was murdered in one of the temples at Tenochtitlan where he was bludgeoned to death. Don Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, History of the Chichimeca Nation, ed. and trans. Amber Brian, Bradley Benton, Peter B. Villella, Pablo Garcia Loaeza (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2019), 97.
  • 2 Ross Hassig, Aztec Warfare: Imperial Expansion and Political Control (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988), 140–141; Peter G. Tsouras, Warlords of the Ancient Americas: Central America (London: Arms and Armour, 1996), 78–79.
  • 3 Richley Crapo and Bonnie Glass-Coffin, eds., Anonimo Mexicano (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 2005).
  • 4 Crapo and Glass-Coffin, Anonimo Mexicano, 50–51.
  • 5 Crapo and Glass-Coffin, Anonimo Mexicano, 51.
  • 6 Crapo and Glass-Coffin, Anonimo Mexicano, 52.
  • 7 Crapo and Glass-Coffin, Anonimo Mexicano, 52.
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