Evidence #198 | May 28, 2021

Talionic Justice

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Scripture Central

Abstract

Consistent with ancient Israelite law and culture, the Book of Mormon expresses the talionic principle of justice in a variety of ways, both overt and subtle, poetic and straightforward.

Talionic Justice in the Bible

According to legal scholar John W. Welch, “it is fair to say that no principle is more fundamental to the concept of justice in biblical times than the requirement that the punishment should somehow match, relate to, or balance out the nature of the crime or wrongdoing itself.”1 This legal concept, known as talionic justice, was prevalent in all ancient Near Eastern legal systems.2 As further articulated by Welch, “Talionic justice achieved a sense of poetic justice, rectification of imbalance, relatedness between the nature of the wrong and the fashioning of the remedy, and appropriateness in determining the measure or degree of punishment.”3

One famous talionic expression in the Bible can be seen in Leviticus 24:17–21, which uses a literary form called chiasmus to emphasize justice’s reciprocal nature:4

A

And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death.

 

B

And he that killeth a beast shall make it good; beast for beast.

 

 

C

And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he hath done,

so shall it be done to him;

 

 

 

D

Breach for breach,

eye for eye,

tooth for tooth:

 

 

C

as he hath caused a blemish in a man,

so shall it be done to him again.

 

B

And he that killeth a beast, he shall restore it:

A

and he that killeth a man, he shall be put to death.

In biblical law, justice was implemented through human or divine administration in three areas or spheres: social, judicial, and religious. While talionic justice was certainly an important guiding principle, it is important to recognize that not all legal, judicial, or divine decrees implemented it, simply because in many cases it was beyond human capability to accomplish. Moreover, God’s justice is also not strictly “eye for eye,” for He allows for mercy in many cases, usually in the form of giving people more time to correct past errors. Nevertheless, variations of the talionic principle are pervasive in biblical expressions, narratives, and legal situations.

Gehazi. Image via jw.org. 

In some instances, punishments were indeed identical to the offense itself. For example, when Judah and Simeon caught a Canaanite king named Adoni-bezek, they “cut off his thumbs and his great toes” because he had previously done the same thing to 70 kings (Judges 1:6–7). In other circumstances, punishments were closely related to the crime (or intended crime) but were not exactly similar. This can be seen in the case of Gehazi, who greedily accepted a monetary reward for the healing of Naaman’s leprosy, for which Gehazi was struck with leprosy himself (2 Kings 5:27).5

In Mosaic Law, talionic justice was mandated for certain crimes (murder, bearing false witness and bodily injury), but God more often took matters into His own hands (as in the case of Gehazi) to mete out just punishments. “Thus, while talionic formulas are found mostly in cases of divine justice in the biblical period,” noted Welch, “the talionic principle guided judges in certain cases as well. The same was the case in Book of Mormon law and society.”6

Talionic Justice in the Book of Mormon

Book of Mormon prophets expressed the talionic principle on many occasions and in a variety of ways. Some of their statements allude to biblical passages. In an epistle to Ammoron, Moroni wrote, “I will follow you even into your own land, which is the land of our first inheritance; yea, and it shall be blood for blood, yea, life for life” (Alma 54:12). This seems to echo the talionic formula found in Exodus 21:23–25: “thou shalt give life for life.”

Other talionic expressions in the Book of Mormon are quite original, as can be seen in Alma’s chiastic message about the resurrection:

A

the meaning of the word restoration

 

B

is to bring back again evil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devili—

 

 

C

a

good for that which is good;

 

 

 

 

b

righteous for that which is righteous;

 

 

 

 

 

c

just for that which is just;

 

 

 

 

 

 

d

merciful for that which is merciful.

 

 

C

 

 

 

d

Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren;

 

 

 

 

 

c

deal justly,

 

 

 

 

b

judge righteously,

 

 

 

a

and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward;

 

 

C

 

 

 

d

yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again;

 

 

 

 

 

c

ye shall have justice restored unto you again; 

 

 

 

 

b

ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again;

 

 

 

a

and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again.

 

B

For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored; 

A

therefore, the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all. (Alma 41:13–15)

Much like the chiasm in Leviticus 24:17–21, Alma’s statements poetically emphasize the reciprocal nature of justice, whether that be for good or ill. As explained by Welch, “There is no better illustration in the Book of Mormon of a prophet’s explanation of the literal talionic nature of God’s justice than Alma’s admonition to his son Corianton in Alma 41:13–15.”7

Corianton listening. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

In addition to doctrinal statements, a number of Book of Mormon narratives, especially those involving legal cases, offer poignant examples of talionic justice. For instance, Korihor was an outspoken critic of Christ’s church who, through his words, actively sought to lead people away from the truth. For these crimes, and for seeking a sign, “Korihor was struck dumb, that he could not have utterance, according to the words of Alma” (Alma 30:50). Welch explained, “Korihor’s … curse befits his crime. Because he had spoken evil, he was punished by being made unable to speak.”8

This isn’t the only talionic element of the story, though. During his trial, Korihor was adamant that Alma and the leaders of Christ’s church were “glutting” themselves upon the labors of the poor (Alma 30:27, 31). Yet after he was cursed, it was Korihor who ended up going “about from house to house, begging food for his support” (vv. 56, 58).

In addition, Korihor repeatedly accused leaders of Christ’s church of bringing people “down” under various types of unnecessary bondage that had been handed “down” to them through their religious traditions:

  • “O ye that are bound down under a foolish and a vain hope” (Alma 30:13)
  • “Behold, these things which ye call prophecies, which ye say are handed down by holy prophets, behold, they are foolish traditions of your fathers” (v. 14)
  • “I do not teach this people to bind themselves down under the foolish ordinances and performances which are laid down by ancient priests, to usurp power and authority over them, to keep them in ignorance, that they may not lift up their heads, but be brought down according to thy words” (v. 23)
  • “and ye keep them down, even as it were in bondage, that ye may glut yourselves with the labors of their hands” (v. 27)

In contrast, Alma claimed that it was Korihor who, if left unchecked, would bring “many souls down to destruction” (Alma 30:47). It seems fitting that after falsely accusing others of bringing the people down into bondage and of passing down oppressive religious traditions, while he himself was leading the people down into spiritual destruction, Korihor ended up being trodden down by the wicked Zoramites: “and as he went forth amongst them, behold, he was run upon and trodden down, even until he was dead” (v. 59). The irony of this situation doesn’t seem to have been lost on Mormon, who immediately remarked: “and thus we see that the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell” (v. 60).

Image from “All Things Denote There Is a God” via Gospel Media Library, online at churchofjesuschrist.org. 

Unlike overt doctrinal statements, talionic elements are not always readily apparent in Book of Mormon narratives. Sometimes, only careful attention to detail, aided by an awareness of ancient legal customs, reveals them for what they are. In this instance, multiple lines of evidence converge to solidify the talionic nature of Korihor’s fate. Other narratives, such as Alma and Amulek’s ministry at Ammonihah and Teancum’s assassination of Amalickiah, are buttressed by similar sets of converging data. For a lengthy list of talionic passages in the Book of Mormon, accompanied by commentary and explanation, see the Appendix.

Conclusion

“In summary,” concluded Welch, “the talionic principle—that one will or should be treated as he treats others—is applied in the Book of Mormon in the same pattern as in ancient Israel.”9 In some instances, Book of Mormon expressions of justice clearly interact with or draw upon those found in the Bible, but even then, the specific phrasing and structure is often distinctive. This is especially so in narratives (particularly legal cases) where the talionic principle is subtly conveyed by the outcomes of events, rather than through formal expressions.

The pervasive presence of talionic justice in the Book of Mormon may be best explained as coming from authors who were intimately familiar with its usage in the Bible, whose culture implemented and emphasized the principle on a regular basis, and who had the literary training and skills to articulate it in a variety of ways, both overt and subtle, poetic and straightforward. These criteria are consistent with the Book of Mormon’s own claims about its authorship.

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), 107–138.

BibleExodus 21:23–25Leviticus 24:17–21Psalm 7:15Psalm 7:16Psalm 9:15Psalm 40:14 Psalm 63:9Psalm 85:2Proverbs 9:7 Proverbs 20:22Proverbs 28:10Ecclesiastes 10:8Isaiah 3:9Isaiah 26:21 Isaiah 49:261 Peter 3:9 Revelation 17:6Book of Mormon1 Nephi 3:291 Nephi 4:131 Nephi 4:181 Nephi 7:14–151 Nephi 15:33–341 Nephi 17:481 Nephi 22:131 Nephi 22:142 Nephi 5:212 Nephi 6:17–182 Nephi 9:162 Nephi 9:302 Nephi 9:382 Nephi 28:30Jacob 2:12–15Jacob 2:15Jacob 2:29Jacob 3:9–10Jacob 4:14Jacob 7:20Enos 1:10Mosiah 2:33Mosiah 4:16–18Mosiah 4:22–23Mosiah 17:13–14Mosiah 17:20Mosiah 17:18Mosiah 19:20Mosiah 27:19Alma 36:10Alma 2:1Alma 1:18Alma 2:31Alma 3:18–19Alma 3:26–27Alma 4:19Alma 5:41–42Alma 7:21Alma 8:16–17Alma 12:6Alma 12:11Alma 12:17Alma 13:30Alma 14:4Alma 14:14Alma 14:17–18Alma 14:22–23Alma 14:8Alma 14:8Alma 14:21Alma 14:22Alma 14:27Alma 16:9Alma 19:22Alma 19:22Alma 29:5Alma 30:10Alma 30:47Alma 30:47Alma 30:50Alma 30:56Alma 30:58Alma 30:59Alma 30:60Alma 36:9Alma 40:26Alma 41:4–5Alma 41:13–15Alma 42:19Alma 42:27–28Alma 43:37–38Alma 44:7Alma 49:23Alma 51:33Alma 51:34Alma 52:1Alma 54:13Alma 54:16Alma 54:18Alma 61:11Helaman 1:8Helaman 2:9Helaman 7:22Helaman 12:18–19Helaman 12:24Helaman 13:7–8Helaman 13:18–23 Helaman 13:31Helaman13:33–36Helaman 13:29Helaman 14:20Helaman 14:27Helaman 14:29–313 Nephi 4:13–143 Nephi 4:293 Nephi 6:133 Nephi 9:5–83 Nephi 9:9–113 Nephi 18:29Mormon 3:15Mormon 4:5Mormon 8:19Moroni 9:14Ether 12:27Ether 12:37Moroni 7:18

Bible

Exodus 21:23–25

Leviticus 24:17–21

Psalm 7:15

Psalm 7:16

Psalm 9:15

Psalm 40:14

Psalm 63:9

Psalm 85:2

Proverbs 9:7

Proverbs 20:22

Proverbs 28:10

Ecclesiastes 10:8

Isaiah 3:9

Isaiah 26:21

Isaiah 49:26

1 Peter 3:9

Revelation 17:6

Book of Mormon

1 Nephi 3:29

1 Nephi 4:13

1 Nephi 4:18

1 Nephi 7:14–15

1 Nephi 15:33–34

1 Nephi 17:48

1 Nephi 22:13

1 Nephi 22:14

2 Nephi 5:21

2 Nephi 6:17–18

2 Nephi 9:16

2 Nephi 9:30

2 Nephi 9:38

2 Nephi 28:30

Jacob 2:12–15

Jacob 2:15

Jacob 2:29

Jacob 3:9–10

Jacob 4:14

Jacob 7:20

Enos 1:10

Mosiah 2:33

Mosiah 4:16–18

Mosiah 4:22–23

Mosiah 17:13–14

Mosiah 17:20

Mosiah 17:18

Mosiah 19:20

Mosiah 27:19

Alma 36:10

Alma 2:1

Alma 1:18

Alma 2:31

Alma 3:18–19

Alma 3:26–27

Alma 4:19

Alma 5:41–42

Alma 7:21

Alma 8:16–17

Alma 12:6

Alma 12:11

Alma 12:17

Alma 13:30

Alma 14:4

Alma 14:14

Alma 14:17–18

Alma 14:22–23

Alma 14:8

Alma 14:8

Alma 14:21

Alma 14:22

Alma 14:27

Alma 16:9

Alma 19:22

Alma 19:22

Alma 29:5

Alma 30:10

Alma 30:47

Alma 30:47

Alma 30:50

Alma 30:56

Alma 30:58

Alma 30:59

Alma 30:60

Alma 36:9

Alma 40:26

Alma 41:4–5

Alma 41:13–15

Alma 42:19

Alma 42:27–28

Alma 43:37–38

Alma 44:7

Alma 49:23

Alma 51:33

Alma 51:34

Alma 52:1

Alma 54:13

Alma 54:16

Alma 54:18

Alma 61:11

Helaman 1:8

Helaman 2:9

Helaman 7:22

Helaman 12:18–19

Helaman 12:24

Helaman 13:7–8

Helaman 13:18–23

Helaman 13:31

Helaman13:33–36

Helaman 13:29

Helaman 14:20

Helaman 14:27

Helaman 14:29–31

3 Nephi 4:13–14

3 Nephi 4:29

3 Nephi 6:13

3 Nephi 9:5–8

3 Nephi 9:9–11

3 Nephi 18:29

Mormon 3:15

Mormon 4:5

Mormon 8:19

Moroni 9:14

Ether 12:27

Ether 12:37

Moroni 7:18

 

Topic

Key Scriptures

Explanation

Nephi Will Rule Over Those Who Smote Him with a Rod

1 Nephi 3:29

As Nephi’s brothers beat him with a rod, an angel came and declared “Why do ye smite your younger brother with a rod? Know ye not that the Lord hath chosen him to be a ruler over you, and this because of your iniquities?” (1 Nephi 3:29). Because the rod was anciently seen as a symbol of rulership,10 the angel’s rebuke can be viewed as ironically reversing the punishment Nephi’s older brothers were inflicting upon him. He was to rule over them, not the other way around.

The Instrument of Laban’s Death Matched His Lust for Wealth

1 Nephi 4:9–10Laban “did lust after” (1 Nephi 3:25) the wealth of Lehi, including his “gold” and “precious” things (v. 33). Laban was then slain by his own sword, which had a hilt of “pure gold” and was made of “precious steal” (1 Nephi 4:9). According to Welch, “Considerable irony looms in the fact that not only Laban would be killed by his own sword, after having threatened and sought to kill Nephi and his brothers, but also the sword was extremely valuable—the instrument of Laban’s death thus talionically representing his lust for gold and precious things as a cause of his own undoing.” (John W. Welch, “Homicides in the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon,” Clark Memorandum (Fall 2018): 29.)

Laban Perished Physically Instead of a Nation Perishing Spiritually

1 Nephi 4:13

When convincing Nephi of the justness of slaying Laban, the Spirit said, “It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief” (1 Nephi 4:13; cf. Alma 30:47; Helaman 1:8). Stated another way, Laban deserved to perish physically because his unjust actions would have led an entire nation to perish spiritually.11

Nephi Slew Laban Who “Sought to Take Away” Nephi’s Own Life

1 Nephi 4:18

Laban falsely accused Laman of trying to rob him (1 Nephi 3:13) and then attempted to slay Nephi and his brothers without cause (v. 25). Falsely accusing someone of a capital offense (in this case, of being a robber12) and then unjustly seeking to slay them was itself a crime punishable by death.13 Thus, Nephi’s slaying of Laban (1 Nephi 4:18) effectively reversed the punishment that Laban unjustly sought for Nephi and his brothers. Nephi implicitly invoked the talionic principle when noting that Laban “sought to take away mine own life” (v. 11).

Jews Will Perish Who “Sought to Take Away” Lehi’s Life

1 Nephi 7:14–15

When trying to persuade his brothers and Ishmael’s children to not return to Jerusalem, Nephi mentioned that its inhabitants: “sought to take away the life of my father” (1 Nephi 7:14) and that those who returned would “perish with them” (v. 15). Placing their crime of seeking to kill Lehi immediately before mentioning their punishment (perishing) implies a talionic rationale behind Nephi’s explanation.

Those Whose Works Have Been Filthy Will Receive a Place of Filthiness

1 Nephi 15:33–34

When explaining God’s justice to his brothers, Nephi mentioned that those whose “works have been filthiness … must needs be filthy” (1 Nephi 15:33) and that “a place of filthiness” would be “prepared for that which is filthy” (v. 34).

Nephi’s Brothers Wanted to Throw Him into the Sea for Comparing them to Drowned Egyptians

1 Nephi 17:48

When arguing with his brothers over whether he could build a ship to cross the sea, Nephi referred to the Israelites who passed through the Red Sea on dry ground, and also to the Egyptians who “were drowned in the Red Sea” (1 Nephi 17:26–27). Immediately after his speech, Nephi reported that Laman and Lemuel “were desirous to throw me into the depths of the sea” (v. 48). This action was likely aimed, in part, to punish him for comparing Laman and Lemuel to those who drowned in the sea. It also may have seemed to be a fitting response to Nephi’s claim that he could build a ship and cross the sea.

Various Talionic Metaphors Describe How the Great and Abominable Church Will Destroy Itself

1 Nephi 22:13

When describing the future fate of the wicked, Nephi prophesied that the “blood of that great and abominable church, which is the whore of all the earth, shall turn upon their own heads; for they shall war among themselves, and the sword of their own hands shall fall upon their own heads, and they shall be drunken with their own blood” (1 Nephi 22:13; cf. Psalm 7:16; Isaiah 49:26; Revelation 17:6).

Those Who Dig a Pit Will Fall in It Themselves

1 Nephi 22:14

When describing the future fate of the wicked, Nephi prophesied that “every nation which shall war against thee, O house of Israel, shall be turned one against another, and they shall fall into the pit which they digged to ensnare the people of the Lord” (1 Nephi 22:14; cf. Psalm 7:15; Psalm 9:15; Proverbs 28:10; Ecclesiastes 10:8).

Blackness Comes upon Those with Hearts of Black Flint

2 Nephi 5:21

Concerning Laman and Lemuel, Nephi mentioned that because “they had hardened their hearts against [the Lord], that they had become like unto a flint … the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them” (2 Nephi 5:21). Thus, the skin of blackness (whatever its nature) is presented as a fitting punishment for having hearts like unto flint.

Wicked Will Be Fed Their Own Flesh and Blood

2 Nephi 6:17–18

Concerning Israel, the Lord declared, “I will contend with them that contendeth with thee—And I will feed them that oppress thee, with their own flesh; and they shall be drunken with their own blood as with sweet wine” (2 Nephi 6:17–18). Such statements seem to compare those who oppress Israel with predatory beasts, who instead of devouring Israel’s people end up eating themselves. For “Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered” (v. 17; emphasis added).

The Righteous Shall Remain Righteous and the Filthy Shall Remain Filthy

2 Nephi 9:16

Jacob taught that after God’s judgment, “they who are righteous shall be righteous still, and they who are filthy shall be filthy still” (2 Nephi 9:16). Thus, people inherit at final condition and place of dwelling that is commensurate to their own degree of righteousness or wickedness.

Those Who Set Hearts on Riches Shall Perish with Riches

2 Nephi 9:30

Jacob warned that those whose “hearts are upon their treasures” are in spiritual danger, for their “their treasure shall perish with them also” (2 Nephi 9:30). In this instance, the punishment (perishing) is poetically linked to the ephemeral nature of the riches which people sinfully seek.

Those Who Die in Sins Shall Remain in Sins

2 Nephi 9:38

Jacob taught that “all those who die in their sins” shall “remain in their sins” after their judgment (2 Nephi 9:38). In other words, the crime (sins) itself becomes a type of punishment that is perpetually inflected upon the sinner.

Those Who Say They Have Enough Will Lose What They Have

2 Nephi 28:30

Nephi taught that “from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have” (2 Nephi 28:30). In this case, the taking away of what is possessed is poetic punishment for the pride and overconfidence in what is possessed. 

God Will Smite to the Dust Those Who Seek Treasures in the Earth

Jacob 2:12–15

After Jacob declared that his people had begun to “search for gold, and for silver, and for all manner of precious ores” (Jacob 2:12) and were becoming proud of their riches (v. 13), he warned that God would “smite you to the dust” (v. 15). This punishment seems fitting because it was pride in riches obtained from the earth (often poetically described as “dust”14) which was the crime.

God Can Pierce the Souls of Those Who Pierce Others’ Souls

Jacob 2:15

 

When preaching to his people, Jacob several times used the word “pierce” to describe how men had harmed the tender hearts of their wives and children. He said they had “daggers placed to pierce their souls and wound their delicate minds” (Jacob 2:9) and that “many hearts died, pierced with deep wounds” (v. 35). With this in mind, Jacob’s warning to his people that God would “show you that he can pierce you” (v. 15) was surely intended as a talionic consequence for their sins.

God Will Curse the Land If People Greedily Seek Riches from It

Jacob 2:29

Jacob declared that his people had begun to “search for gold, and for silver, and for all manner of precious ores, in the which this land … doth abound most plentifully” (Jacob 2:12). In a poetic reversal involving the very land that was making the people rich, Jacob later warned that “this people shall keep my commandments … or cursed be the land for their sakes” (v. 29; emphasis added).15

The Nephites Judge the Lamanites Unrighteously

Jacob 3:9–10

Jacob told the Nephites that reviling against the Lamanites due to their filthiness was sinful because “their filthiness came because of their fathers” (Jacob 3:9). In relation to this sin, Jacob next warned that the Nephites may, through “your filthiness bring your children unto destruction, and their sins be heaped upon your heads at the last day” (v. 10). Thus, Jacob warns that the Nephites could be punished for the very crimes that they ascribed to the Lamanites, whom God would treat with mercy because of their sinful parents.

Jews Received Things They Couldn’t Understand Because They Desired It

Jacob 4:14

When speaking of the Jews, Jacob taught that they “sought for things that they could not understand.” Because of this, “God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it” (Jacob 4:14). While not a reversal, the punishment nevertheless involves a type of irony. When God’s children desire something sinful, he sometimes grants that desire to their condemnation, rendering the punishment as a fitting reward for the crime.

Sherem Died for Falsely Accusing Jacob of Crimes Punishable by Death

Jacob 7:20

Sherem accused Jacob of three crimes that would be punishable by death under Mosaic law: apostasy, blasphemy, and false prophecy (Jacob 7:7).16 Yet, in the end it was Sherem who was killed through divine intervention (Jacob 7:20). According to John W. Welch, “Sherem’s death, therefore, suited his crimes and conditions. His is a classic case where talionic justice and divine retribution were appropriately applied under ancient Israelite law.”17

Nephite Transgressions Will Fall on Their Own Heads

Enos 1:10

When speaking to Enos, the Lord declared concerning the Nephites that “their transgressions will I bring down with sorrow upon their own heads” (Enos 1:10). While more vague that other renditions of this idea, it still gives the impression that the transgressions (presumably offenses toward others, perhaps the Lamanites) would be reversed so that they fall upon their own heads. 

Those Who Knowingly Sin Drink Damnation to Their Own Souls

Mosiah 2:33

King Benjamin taught that the wicked man who sins “contrary to his own knowledge” shall drink “damnation to his own soul” (Mosiah 2:33; cf. Mosiah 3:22, 25; 3 Nephi 18:29). Here, the ownership of the punishment seems to be related to the ownership of knowledge between good and evil (and then knowingly choosing evil).

Those Who Leave Beggars to Perish Will Perish Themselves

Mosiah 4:16–18

Concerning the beggar and anyone in need, King Benjamin warned against those who “turn him out to perish” (Mosiah 4:16) and then justify their neglect by saying: “The man has brought upon himself his misery” (v. 17). In an ironic reversal, those who do this will bring upon themselves the same punishment (spiritually speaking), for “except he repenteth … he perisheth forever (v. 18).

Those Who Condemn Beggars and Withhold Substance So They Perish Will Be Condemned and Perish Themselves

Mosiah 4:22–23

King Benjamin taught that “if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done. I say unto you, wo be unto that man, for his substance shall perish with him;” (Mosiah 4:22). This passage contains the same imagery about a man perishing with his substance or riches as 2 Nephi 9:30. Yet it also sets up a contrast, where the poor man’s relationship to the rich man is analogous in several ways to the rich man’s relationship with God. In the end, the rich man is condemned and will perish precisely because he condemned the poor man who was in danger of perishing, showing a one-to-one relationship between crime and punishment.

Abinadi Suffered Death by Fire after Comparing Noah to a Garment in a Hot Furnace

Mosiah 17:13–14

Mosiah 17:20

Abinadi prophesied that “the life of king Noah shall be valued even as a garment in a hot furnace” (Mosiah 12:3). After his trial, Abinadi “suffered death by fire” at the hands of King Noah and his priests (Mosiah 17:13–14, 20). According to John W. Welch, “it appears that Noah’s priests tailored an unprecedented mode of execution for Abinadi alone that mirrored the evil that Abinadi had said would befall, and did indeed befall, King Noah.”18

Abinadi’s Prophesied That Those Punishing Him by Fire Would Receive the Same Punishment

Mosiah 17:18

Just before suffering death by fire, Abinadi prophesied to King Noah and his priests that “ye shall suffer, as I suffer, the pains of death by fire” (Mosiah 17:18). Thus, he predicted that the very thing that Abinadi’s executioners unjustly did to him would happen to them.

King Noah Suffers Death by Fire, Just as He Punished Abinadi by Fire

Mosiah 19:20

After King Noah led the men among his people to leave their wives and children to be captured by the Lamanites, “they were angry with the king, and caused that he should suffer, even unto death by fire” (Mosiah 19:20). This punishment is directly reciprocal to the fate of Abinadi and seems to, at least in part, fulfill Abinadi’s prophecy in Mosiah 17:18.

After Leading People Astray with His Words, Alma Was Struck Dumb

Mosiah 27:19

Alma 36:10

Alma the Younger is introduced in the text as “a man of many words” who “did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities” (Mosiah 27:8). Because of the prayer of the righteous, an angel appeared to Alma and rebuked him for his sins. Afterward, Alma “became dumb, that he could not open his mouth” (Mosiah 27:19; cf. Alma 36:10). His speechlessness seems to correspond to his crime of flattering the people into wickedness with his words.

Nehor Was Executed for Slaying Gideon

Alma 2:1

Nehor sought to establish priestcraft among the people, which Alma said “would prove their entire destruction” (Alma 1:12). Moreover, Nehor “endeavored to enforce it by the sword” (v. 12) and had “shed the blood of a righteous man” (v. 13). For these crimes, he was “condemned to die, according to the law” (v. 14) and “suffered an ignominious death” (v. 15; cf. Alma 2:1) at the top of the Hill Manti. The public nature of Nehor’s execution reflects the public nature of his apostasy. And his death itself corresponds to his slaying of an innocent man and of trying to lead the people to perish spiritually.19

Murder Is Punished by Death

Alma 1:18

In the aftermath of Nehor’s execution, the talionic punishment for murder is articulated as follows: “for he that murdered was punished unto death” (Alma 1:18); cf. Alma 30:10; Alma 42:19).

Amlici, a Follower of Nehor, Was Slain with the Sword

Alma 2:31

Amlici is introduced into the text as “being after the order of the man that slew Gideon by the sword, who was executed according to the law” (Alma 2:1; cf. v. 20). After stirring up a rebellion and joining forces with the Lamanites, Amlici fought with Alma “with the sword, face to face” (v. 29), but Alma prevailed and “insomuch that he slew Amlici with the sword” (v. 31). The “sword” may be repeatedly mentioned in these passages to emphasize the poetic nature of Amlici’s death. Those like Amlici who followed Nehor’s example and tried to enforce his corrupt philosophy by the sword would themselves die by the sword.

Amlicites Bring Curse upon Themselves

Alma 3:18–19

After the Amlicites apostatized from the Nephites, “they began to mark themselves in their foreheads” as a sign of rebellion (Alma 3:18). Yet, in doing so, they “knew not that they were fulfilling the words of God” (v. 18) and that they “they brought upon themselves the curse; and even so doth every man that is cursed bring upon himself his own condemnation” (v. 19). Thus, by their own hands, they marked themselves as deserving the divine judgment they would receive. They would inherit the curse upon Laman and Lemuel and be “cut off from the presence of the Lord” (2 Nephi 5:20), just as they willingly cut themselves off from the Lord’s covenant people.

We Are Rewarded by Whom We Obey

Alma 3:26–27

In his summary of the Amlicite rebellion and the wars that followed, Mormon concluded that the people would “reap eternal happiness or eternal misery, according to the spirit which they listed to obey, whether it be a good spirit or a bad one. For every man receiveth wages of him whom he listeth to obey” (Alma 3:26–27).

Alma Set Out to “Pull Down” Those “Lifted Up” in Pride

Alma 4:19

During a time of wickedness, when even many among Christ’s Church were “lifted up in the pride of their eyes” (Alma 4:6, 8), Alma set out to “pull down, by the word of God, all the pride and craftiness and all the contentions which were among his people” (v. 19). The consequences of his actions were therefore meant to directly reverse the stated crimes.

Those Who Follow the Devil Receive His Wages

Alma 5:41–42

Alma taught that “if a man bringeth forth good works he hearkeneth unto the voice of the good shepherd, and he doth follow him; but whosoever bringeth forth evil works, the same becometh a child of the devil, for he hearkeneth unto his voice, and doth follow him. And whosoever doeth this must receive his wages of him; therefore, for his wages he receiveth death, as to things pertaining unto righteousness, being dead unto all good works” (Alma 5:41–42).

The Filthy Shall Remain in Filthiness

Alma 7:21

Alma taught “that he who is filthy shall remain in his filthiness” (Alma 7:21), wherein the punishment is a mirror image of the crime.

The People of Ammonihah Were Destroyed for Seeking to Destroy the Nephites’ Liberty

Alma 8:16–17

Concerning the people of Ammonihah, an angel told Alma that “the Lord God will destroy them. For behold, they do study at this time that they may destroy the liberty of thy people” (Alma 8:16–17). They would receive destruction for seeking destruction.

Alma and Amulek Bound with Cords after Warning of Being Bound by the Devil

Alma 12:6

Alma 12:11

Alma 12:17

Alma 13:30

Alma 14:4

Alma 14:14

Alma 14:17–18

Alma 14:22–23

Alma repeatedly warned the people of Ammonihah of being held captive by the devil or being bound by his chains or the chains of hell (see Alma 12:6, 11, 17; 13:30). As a punishment, the rulers of Ammonihah took Alma and Amulek “and bound them with strong cords” (Alma 14:4; cf. v. 14, 22–23). Later Alma and Amulek were “cast into prison” (vv. 17–18). This punishment mirrors Alma and Amulek’s message that the wicked would be held captive by the devil. Evidence of the symbolic importance of these bands can be seen in the chief judge’s statement: “If ye have the power of God deliver yourselves from these bands, and then we will believe that the Lord will destroy this people according to your words” (v. 24).

Women and Children Burned with Fire after Alma Warned of the Fires of Hell

Alma 14:8

Concerning the wicked, Alma taught the people of Ammonihah that “their torments shall be as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever” (Alma 12:17). Later, the rulers of Ammoniha caused that “whosoever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God … should be cast into the fire” (Alma 14:8). These believers were specifically identified as wives and children (their husbands had been cast out and stoned). The chief judged then asked, “will ye preach again unto this people, that they shall be cast into a lake of fire and brimstone?” (v. 14). “Thus the burning of the women and children,” explains John W. Welch, “was a perverse form of talionic punishment, fashioned to mirror the very words spoken by Alma and Amulek.”20

Scriptures Are Burned after Alma Taught That God’s Word Would be Taken from the Wicked

Alma 14:8

Alma taught that those who “harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning [God’s] mysteries” (Alma 12:11). Later on, the rulers of Ammonihah gathered the scriptural records which supported Alma and Amulek’s message and “cast them into the fire also, that they might be burned and destroyed by fire” (Alma 14:8). This action may have been intended as a form of retribution for Alma’s claim that those with hard hearts will be deprived of the word of God.

After Warning of Hell, Alma and Amulek Were Treated as If They Were in Hell

Alma 14:21

Alma taught the people of Ammonihah that those who are evil “shall reap the damnation of their souls” (Alma 9:28). He also warned of being bound as a captive in hell (see Alma 12:11 and Alma 13:30). During Alma and Amulek’s imprisonment, the rulers of Ammonihah abused them by “gnashing their teeth upon them, and spitting upon them, and saying: How shall we look when we are damned?” (Alma 14:21). This punishment seems aimed to mirror the conditions of hell and damnation that Alma had warned about.

After Teaching about Holy Garments, Alma and Amulek’s Clothing Was Removed

Alma 14:22

Alma taught the people of Ammonihah that “garments” of the righteous would be “washed white through the blood of the Lamb” (Alma 13:11) and that “after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God” they “could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence” (v. 12). In reversal of this imagery, when the rulers of Ammonihah imprisoned Alma and Amulek, “they also did take from them their clothes that they were naked;” (Alma 14:22). This punishment may have been meant to symbolically (or even literally) remove the holy garments that Alma said the righteous will be garbed in.

Prison Walls Fall on Those Unjustly Imprisoning Alma and Amulek

Alma 14:27

After a divinely wrought earthquake, the rulers of Ammonihah were killed by the very prison walls that they had used to unjustly confine Alma and Amulek (Alma 14:27).

After Killing or Expelling Righteous Citizens, Ammonihah Was Completely Destroyed

Alma 16:9

Amulek warned that if the wicked people of Ammonihah were to “cast out the righteous from among you” they would be destroyed. Later, the wicked rulers cast out all the men who believed in Alma and Amulek, and then burned their wives and children to death (Alma 14:7–10). The rulers of Ammonihah may have viewed this punishment as a type of ḥerem, which under Mosaic law was meant to remove something unclean or impure from a righteous community, sometimes by utterly destroying the unclean thing. As explained by John W. Welch, “In a talionic twist of fate, a stronger form of ḥerem soon returned to Ammonihah when the Lamanite armies attacked it: ‘Yea, every living soul of the Ammonihahites was destroyed’ (Alma 16:9), fulfilling Alma’s prophecy that the Ammonihahites would suffer ‘utter destruction’ (9:18).”21

Lamanite Seeks to Slay Ammon for Slaying His Brother

Alma 19:22

When Ammon and King Lamoni’s household were all under the influence of the Spirit, the people gathered to witness the scene. Then “one of them, whose brother had been slain with the sword of Ammon, being exceedingly angry with Ammon, drew his sword and went forth that he might let it fall upon Ammon” (Alma 19:22). The description evokes talionic imagery, where the man’s intent to slay Ammon with the sword is directly linked to Ammon’s slaying of his brother with the sword.  

Lamanite Falls Dead for Trying to Slay Ammon

Alma 19:22

In the very act of trying to slay Ammon with a sword, a man was killed through divine intervention: “and as he lifted the sword to smite him, behold, he fell dead” (Alma 19:22). Thus, his punishment was equivalent to his crime, with his life being taken in the very act of trying to take a life.

Desires Determine Punishments

Alma 29:5

Alma taught that “he that knoweth good and evil, to him it is given according to his desires, whether he desireth good or evil, life or death, joy or remorse of conscience” (Alma 29:5). While different outcomes are associated with good or evil desires, Alma’s point is that rewards/punishments are directly related to the desires themselves. In cases of evil desires, the punishment corresponds directly with the crime itself.

Murder Is Punished by Death

Alma 30:10

In an articulation of Nephite law, Mormon noted that if a man “murdered he was punished unto death; and if he robbed he was also punished; and if he stole he was also punished; and if he committed adultery he was also punished; yea, for all this wickedness they were punished” (Alma 30:10; cf. Alma 1:18; Alma 42:19). Interestingly, the only crime for which a punishment is given is murder, and the punishment is reciprocal to the crime itself.

Korhior’s Soul Would Be Destroyed for Seeking to Destroy Souls

Alma 30:47

When debating with Korihor, Alma stated that “I am grieved because of the hardness of your heart, yea, that ye will still resist the spirit of the truth, that thy soul may be destroyed. But behold, it is better that thy soul should be lost than that thou shouldst be the means of bringing many souls down to destruction” (Alma 30:47); cf. 1 Nephi 4:13; Helaman 1:8). The talionic implication is that the destruction of the soul is a fitting punishment for attempting to destroy many souls.

Korihor Cursed with Speechlessness for Unrighteous Use of Speech

Alma 30:47

Alma 30:50

For seeking to lead people into apostasy, “Korihor was struck dumb, that he could not have utterance” (Alma 30:50). As an explanation for this divine punishment, Alma earlier stated that “thou shalt never open thy mouth any more, that thou shalt not deceive this people any more” (v. 47). As noted by John W. Welch, “Korihor’s punishment provides another good example of divinely executed talionic justice: his curse befits his crime. Because he had spoken evil, he was punished by being made unable to speak.”22

Korihor Begs for Food after Accusing Others of “Glutting” Themselves on the Poor

Alma 30:56

Alma 30:58

Korihor twice accused leaders of Christ’s church of “glutting” themselves upon the labors of the poor (Alma 30:27, 31). In an ironic reversal, Korihor himself ended up going “about from house to house, begging food for his support” after he was cursed (vv. 56, 58). Thus, an outcome of his punishment correlated directly with his false accusation.

Korihor Trodden Down after Accusing Others of Bringing People Down

Alma 30:59

Alma 30:60

Korihor multiple times accused the leaders of Christ’s church of bringing people “down” under various types of unnecessary bondage that had been handed “down” to them through their religious traditions:

 

  • “O ye that are bound down under a foolish and a vain hope” (Alma 30:13)
  • “Behold, these things which ye call prophecies, which ye say are handed down by holy prophets, behold, they are foolish traditions of your fathers” (v. 14)
  • “I do not teach this people to bind themselves down under the foolish ordinances and performances which are laid down by ancient priests, to usurp power and authority over them, to keep them in ignorance, that they may not lift up their heads, but be brought down according to thy words” (v. 23)
  • “and ye keep them down, even as it were in bondage, that ye may glut yourselves with the labors of their hands” (v. 27)

 

Alma seems to have recognized the irony of these statements, claiming that it was Korihor who, if left unchecked, would bring “many souls down to destruction” (v. 47). It thus seems fitting that after falsely accusing others of bringing the people down into bondage, while he himself led them down into destruction, Korihor ended being trodden down by the wicked Zoramites: “and as he went forth amongst them, behold, he was run upon and trodden down, even until he was dead” (v. 59). The irony of this situation also doesn’t seem to have been lost on Mormon, who remarked: “and thus we see that the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell” (v. 60). In this case, multiple reported textual details all work together to emphasize the talionic nature of Korihor’s fate. 

Alma Was in Danger of Destruction for Seeking to Destroy God’s Church

Alma 36:9

When recounting his conversion experience to Helaman, Alma explained that an angel warned, “If thou wilt of thyself be destroyed, seek no more to destroy the church of God” (Alma 36:9). Illuminating the talionic nature of such a punishment, Alma later noted that he had “murdered many of [God’s] children, or rather led them away unto destruction” (v. 14). His punishment, if he persisted in his sins, would directly correlate with his crime.

The Wicked Partake of the Fruits of Their Labors

Alma 40:26

Alma taught Corianton that the wicked are “consigned to partake of the fruits of their labors or their works” (Alma 40:26).

Evil Will Be Restored for Evil

Alma 41:4–5

Concerning the wicked, Alma taught Corianton that “if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil” (Alma 41:4). In the next verse, Alma extends the talionic principle to evil desires as well, “The one raised to happiness according to his desires of happiness, or good according to his desires of good; and the other to evil according to his desires of evil” (Alma 41:4–5; Proverbs 20:22; 1 Peter 3:9).

Alma’s Chiasm Describes Divine Justice

Alma 41:13–15

Similar to Leviticus 24:17–21, the statements in Alma 41:13–15 form a chiastic structure that poetically emphasizes the reciprocal nature of God’s justice. Alma explained the principle of “restoration” in the next life by first laying out four paired terms which he then repeated in reverse order twice. As John W. Welch succinctly put it, “Alma writes a list of pairs and then a pair of lists.”23 In the list of pairs, the first occurrence of goodrighteousjust, and merciful are each describing a reward which is paired with a condition to be met in the second occurrence of goodrighteousjust, and merciful. This order is reversed in the list of pairs—the first list urges Corianton to be mercifuljustrighteous, and good, while the second list promises that if he does these things, he will be rewarded with mercyjusticerighteousness, and goodness. Welch concluded, “There is no better illustration in the Book of Mormon of a prophet’s explanation of the literal talionic nature of God’s justice than Alma’s admonition to his son Corianton in Alma 41:13–15.”24

Murder is Punished by Death

Alma 42:19

When counseling his son Corianton, Alma articulated the talionic consequence for murder under Nephite law “Now, if there was no law given—if a man murdered he should die—would he be afraid he would die if he should murder?” (Alma 42:19; cf. Alma 1:18; Alma 30:10).

Evil Shall Be Restored to Those with Evil Desires

Alma 42:27–28

In another variation of the talionic principle, Alma taught to Corianton: “in the last day it shall be restored unto him according to his deeds. If he has desired to do evil, and has not repented in his days, behold, evil shall be done unto him, according to the restoration of God.” (Alma 42:27–28).

Irony in Apparel

Alma 43:37–38

After the Zoramites defected from the Nephites, they joined the Lamanites and attacked the Nephites. Yet the Zoramites lost the battle, in part, because the Nephites had armor while the Zoramites and the Lamanites (who were mostly naked) did not (Alma 43:20–21; 37–38; 44:9, 18). That this disparity in clothing played a major factor in the Lamanite/Zoramite defeat is noteworthy since a major sin among the Zoramites was their pride in their fine apparel.25

Destruction, Subjection, and Bondage for Lamanites Instead of Nephites

Alma 44:7

In Alma 43:29, readers learn that “Moroni knew the intention of the Lamanites, that it was their intention to destroy their brethren, or to subject them and bring them into bondage” (cf. vv. 7–8). Moroni later mentioned each of these concepts, in sequence, as consequences that would instead come upon the Lamanites if they did not desist in their efforts: “And now, if ye do not this, behold, ye are in our hands, and I will command my men that they shall fall upon you, and inflict the wounds of death in your bodies, that ye may become extinct; and then we will see who shall have power over this people; yea, we will see who shall be brought into bondage (Alma 44:7).

Lamanites Overpowered and Slain after Seeking to Overpower and Slay Nephites

Alma 49:23

Having adopted the manner in which the Nephites’ protected themselves with armor, the Lamanites thought they could “overpower and subject” the Nephites “to the yoke of bondage, or slay and massacre them according to their pleasure” (Alma 49:7). Yet, Moroni’s innovative fortifications made it so that the Nephites “had all power over their enemies; and thus the Lamanites did attempt to destroy the Nephites until their chief captains were all slain and more than a thousand of the Lamanites were slain; while, on the other hand, there was not a single soul of the Nephites which was slain” (v. 23). Thus, the very things the Lamanites were planning to do to the Nephites ended up happening to them. John W. Welch noted that “This defeat in Ammonihah and Noah was a kind of  poetic  justice  for  the  Lamanites,  who  fought  until  their  chief  captains  were  all  gone.”26

Amalickiah’s Death Mirror’s His Assassination of Others

Alma 51:33

Alma 51:34

Alma 52:1

Before attaining complete control of the Lamanite armies, Amalickiah assassinated two Lamanite leaders. As part of his effort to take control of Lehonti’s army, he engaged in secret negotiations “when it was night” (Alma 47:10), joined Lehonti’s army, and then turned against his former army “so that before they awoke at the dawn of day they were surrounded by the armies of Lehonti” (v. 14). After assassinating Lehonti, Amalickiah next “stabbed the king [of the Lamanites] to the heart” (v. 24) and blamed it on the servants of the king.

 

With this context in place, the circumstances of Amalickiah’s own death take on talionic significance. Just as Amalickiah tricked Lehonti at night, “Teancum … went out by night, and went into the camp of Amalickiah” (Alma 51:33). Just as Amalickiah had stabbed the Lamanite king to the heart, Teancum “put a javelin to his heart” (v. 34). And just as the Amalickiah’s army woke up in alarm at his deceit and were surrounded by Lehonti’s men, they “awoke on the first morning of the first month” to discover that “Amalickiah was dead in his own tent; and they also saw that Teancum was ready to give them battle on that day” (Alma 52:1). In effect, the circumstances of Amalickiah’s own assassination played out similarly to the assassinations that he inflicted upon others.

Moroni Promises Life for Life

Alma 54:12

In an epistle to Ammoron, Moroni wrote, “I will follow you even into your own land, which is the land of our first inheritance; yea, and it shall be blood for blood, yea, life for life; and I will give you battle even until you are destroyed from off the face of the earth” (Alma 54:12). These statements echo the talionic formula found in Exodus 21:23–25: “And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

Moroni Will Seek to Destroy Those Seeking to Destroy Nephites

Alma 54:13

In an epistle to Ammoron, Moroni wrote: “But behold, if ye seek to destroy us more we will seek to destroy you” (Alma 54:13; Psalm 40:14; Psalm 63:9). This short talionic statement is also chiastic, emphasizing the reciprocal nature of justice.

Ammoron Wants Blood Vengeance for Murder

Alma 54:16

In an epistle to Moroni, Ammoron stated, “am the brother of Amalickiah whom ye have murdered. Behold, I will avenge his blood upon you” (Alma 54:16). This invokes the consistent law among the Nephites that murderers should be put to death.

Ammoron Seeks Mutual Disarmament

Alma 54:18

In an epistle to Moroni, Ammoron stated, “And now behold, if ye will lay down your arms, and subject yourselves to be governed by those to whom the government doth rightly belong, then will I cause that my people shall lay down their weapons and shall be at war no more” (Alma 54:18). Ammoron’s request for mutual disarmament seems to be a rhetorical strategy to cast his intentions in the most just and equitable light possible.

Pahoran Justifies Shedding Blood of Those Who Seek to Destroy His People

Alma 61:11

In an epistle to Moroni, Pahoran stated, “We would not shed the blood of our brethren if they would not rise up in rebellion and take the sword against us” (Alma 61:11). While more vague than other iterations of talionic justice, this statement nevertheless emphasizes the justness of Nephites shedding the blood of any Lamanites who seek to shed their own blood with the sword. 

After Seeking to Destroy Liberty, Paanchi was Condemned unto Death

Helaman 1:8

As he was about to incite a rebellion, Paanchi “was taken, and was tried according to the voice of the people, and condemned unto death; for he had raised up in rebellion and sought to destroy the liberty of the people” (Helaman 1:8). This talionic justification is similar to the rationale behind the slaying of Laban and the curse that came upon Korihor (see 1 Nephi 4:13; Alma 30:47).

Kishkumen Assassinated While Trying to Assassinate the Chief Judge

Helaman 2:9

After Paanchi was sentenced to death, one of his followers named Kishkumen was secretly sent “to the judgment-seat of Pahoran, and murdered Pahoran as he sat upon the judgment-seat” (Helaman 1:9). Later, when Kishkumen was sent to assassinate Helaman on the judgement seat, the servant of Helaman “did stab Kishkumen even to the heart” (Helaman 2:9). Thus, in a twist of talionic fate, the assassin was himself assassinated on his way to perform an assassination.

Cities Will Be Taken When People Set Heart on Riches

Helaman 7:22

Nephi prophesied to his people that “if ye will not repent, behold, this great city, and also all those great cities which are round about … shall be taken away that ye shall have no place in them” (Helaman 7:22). This punishment seems directly related to the people’s sin of seeking “to get gain, to be praised of men, yea, and that ye might get gold and silver. And ye have set your hearts upon the riches and the vain things of this world” (v. 21). In other words, their lands, which were a symbol of their worldly possessions, would be taken away because they placed their hearts upon them.

Treasures Become Lost to Those Who Hide Them

Helaman 12:18–19

In his commentary on Nephite wickedness, Mormon explained, “if a man hide up a treasure in the earth … the Lord shall say—Be thou accursed, that no man shall find thee from this time henceforth and forever—behold, no man getteth it henceforth and forever” (Helaman 12:18–19). This punishment involves a type of poetic justice. Instead of being hidden from others, the treasures would become lost to the very people who hid them away for protection and safekeeping.  

Grace for Grace

Helaman 12:24

Mormon stated, “may God grant, in his great fulness, that men might be brought unto repentance and good works, that they might be restored unto grace for grace, according to their works” (Helaman 12:24; John 1:16) . This iteration of talionic justice emphasizes the positive aspect of reciprocal rewards. Instead of a punishment fitting a crime (as in Alma 54:12; Exodus 21:23–25), grace is given as a blessing for showing grace.

God Takes Away His Word If People Refuse to Obey God’s Word

Helaman 13:7–8

To the Nephites, Samuel the Lamanite declared, “Behold, I, Samuel, a Lamanite, do speak the words of the Lord which he doth put into my heart” (Helaman 13:5). And yet he later noted that the people “would not receive me” (v. 7). In response to this sin, the Lord declared, “except they repent I will take away my word from them” (v. 8). The punishment (God taking away his word) thus corresponds with the crime (the people rejecting God’s word).

Treasures Become Lost to Those Who Hide Them

 Helaman 13:18–23

Helaman 13:31

Helaman13:33–36

The Lord declared, “whoso shall hide up treasures in the earth shall find them again no more, because of the great curse of the land” (Helaman 13:18), for “he that hideth not up his treasures unto me, cursed is he, and also the treasure” (v. 19); cf. vv. 20–23, 31, 33–36). The punishment (curse on land and riches) is once again directly related to the crime (placing one’s heart on riches).

Physical Darkness Covers Spiritually Dark Land

Helaman 13:29

Helaman 14:20

Helaman 14:27

When preaching to the people of Zarahemla, Samuel asked, “Yea, how long will ye choose darkness rather than light?” (Helaman 13:29). It may be that the literal darkness that would cover the land after Christ’s death (Helaman 14:20, 27) was meant to be viewed (at least in part) as a symbolic consequence of the people choosing darkness over light. 

He Doeth It unto Himself

Helaman 14:29–31

To the Nephites, Samuel the Lamanite declared, “if they are condemned they bring upon themselves their own condemnation. And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; … and ye can do good and be restored unto that which is good, or have that which is good restored unto you; or ye can do evil, and have that which is evil restored unto you” (Helaman 14:29–31; Proverbs 9:7; Isaiah 3:9). This series of talionic statements served as an emphatic declaration that God’s judgments upon the people would indeed be just.

Giddianhi Not Spared and Slain, Just as He Commanded

3 Nephi 4:13–14

In his letter to Lachoneus, Giddianhi declared that his armies “shall not stay their hand and shall spare not, but shall slay you, and shall let fall the sword upon you even until ye shall become extinct” (3 Nephi 3:8). Later, when Giddianhi’s robbers had failed to besiege the Nephites, the Nephite commander Gidgiddoni “commanded that his armies should pursue them as far as the borders of the wilderness, and that they should not spare any that should fall into their hands by the way; and thus they did pursue them and did slay them” (3 Nephi 4:13). Ironically, Giddianhi himself was overtaken and slain during this Nephite offensive (v. 14), falling victim to the same type of merciless instructions he gave his own soldiers.

Zemnarihah Executed for Seeking to Slay the Righteous

3 Nephi 4:29

At Zemnarihah’s execution, the Nephites declared, “May the Lord preserve his people in righteousness and in holiness of heart, that they may cause to be felled to the earth all who shall seek to slay them” (3 Nephi 4:29), signifying that who seek to slay the righteous deserve to be slain themselves.

Railing for Railing

3 Nephi 6:13

In his summary of the 29th year, Mormon explained that some of the people “were lifted up in pride, and others were exceedingly humble; some did return railing for railing, while others would receive railing and persecution and all manner of afflictions, and would not turn and revile again, but were humble and penitent before God” (3 Nephi 6:13; cf. 1 Peter 3:9). This indicates that the talionic principle was not viewed among righteous Nephites as being ideal for all crimes or offenses, at least not for being carried out by citizens themselves. In many cases, vengeance was to be left to God.

Natural Disasters Cover Sins

3 Nephi 9:5–8

After the destruction among the Nephites, the Lord’s voice was heard declaring, “that great city Moronihah have I covered with earth, and the inhabitants thereof, to hide their iniquities and their abominations from before my face” (3 Nephi 9:5); Psalm 85:2; Isaiah 26:21). Similar explanations are given in verses 7–8, wherein the specific nature of the disasters was meant symbolically cover or hide the crimes of the people.

Cities Destroyed with Fire for Destroying Peace

3 Nephi 9:9–11

In the aftermath of the great destruction in 3 Nephi, the Lord declared concerning the people of Jacobugath “I did destroy the peace of my people and the government of the land; therefore I did cause them to be burned, to destroy them from before my face” (3 Nephi 9:9). A similar talionic rationale was given for the cities of Laman, Josh, Gad, and Kishkumen (v. 10–11).

Unworthily Partaking of Sacrament Means Eating and Drinking Damnation to Soul

3 Nephi 18:29

When giving instructions about the administration of the sacrament, Jesus taught, “For whoso eateth and drinketh my flesh and blood unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to his soul” (3 Nephi 18:29). This seems to invoke the same self-inflicting talionic imagery as other passages, such as Mosiah 3:25–26 and Alma 14:21.

Cut Off from the Face of the Earth

Mormon 3:15

After winning a battle against the Lamanites, the Nephites in Mormon’s day boasted in their own strength and “did swear by the heavens, and also by the throne of God, that they would go up to battle against their enemies, and would cut them off from the face of the land” (Mormon 3:10). In a clear reversal of fortune, the Lord declared, “Vengeance is mine, and I will repay; and because this people repented not after I had delivered them, behold, they shall be cut off from the face of the earth” (v. 15). Thus, the unrighteous thing that the Nephites wanted to do to the Lamanites would instead be done to them.

Wicked Punished by Wicked

Mormon 4:5

In explaining his people’s rash offensive against the Lamanites, Mormon declared, “it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished” (Mormon 4:5). In this instance, it is not the punishment but instead the punisher which evinces the talionic principle. The wicked are destroyed by those like unto themselves.

Smitten and Judged Rashley

Mormon 8:19

In his warning to those who would reject the Book of Mormon, Moroni declared “For behold, the same that judgeth rashly shall be judged rashly again; for according to his works shall his wages be; therefore, he that smiteth shall be smitten again, of the Lord” (Mormon 8:19).

Filthy, Righteous, Happy, and Unhappy Still

Moroni 9:14

In his description of the final judgment, Moroni provided a series of contrasting talionic concepts, “and then cometh the time that he that is filthy shall be filthy still; and he that is righteous shall be righteous still; he that is happy shall be happy still; and he that is unhappy shall be unhappy still” (Moroni 9:14).

Weakness Becomes Strength Through Humility

Ether 12:27

Ether 12:37

The Lord told Moroni that if men will “humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27). The Lord later reiterated this principle saying, “because thou hast seen thy weakness thou shalt be made strong” (v. 37). This may be seen as a type of reverse talionic principle, where the Lord rewards men with a blessing that is opposite to the action performed.

Judged with Same Judgment

Moroni 7:18

Mormon taught, “see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged” (Moroni 7:18). This is a near-verbatim quotation of Christ’s teachings in 3 Nephi 14:2: “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

Perishing for Thinking Children Will Perish

Moroni 8:15–16

Mormon taught, “For awful is the wickedness to suppose that God saveth one child because of baptism, and the other must perish because he hath no baptism. Wo be unto them that shall pervert the ways of the Lord after this manner, for they shall perish except they repent” (Moroni 8:15–16). Thus, the punishment of perishing correlates closely with the sin of thinking children will perish without baptism. 

 

Law
Book of Mormon

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