Comments about the Stripling Soldiers
I had the good fortune of being permitted to include "chapter notes" in my book. In these notes, I was able to note down various points of interest. Some of the notes are comments regarding the writing of the book. Others are notes of personal "ah-ha's" I gained from researching the book. For the most part, the notes were made for myself because I found them of interest, or used them to keep fact and fiction separate. They were included in case others also found them of interest.
One bit of information that did not make it into the notes was the following regarding the "Stripling Soldiers." I have to confess that going into this work, I was among the few who hypothesized that the Stripling Soldiers were labeled "stripling" because of their degree of experience in battle, and not due to their age. What this means is that they may have been much older than teenagers, and possibly in their 30's.
I found that my research contradicted my assumption. If one strictly adheres to the text found in the Book of Mormon, then one must logically conclude that these brave souls were in their teens to mid-twenties, at best.
An interesting tidbit of info about the "Stripling Warriors" is that they were never given that label in the Book of Mormon. The closest they came to that label was "Stripling Soldiers." More often, they were referred to as "Stripling Ammonites," (actually, as "young Ammonites") in reference to the name their people took upon themselves.
The etymology of the word "stripling" clearly delineates that it is in reference to something or someone that is not fully grown. That (in the case of a person) they are in an undeveloped state from what they will be upon maturity. There are various on-line dictionaries that bear this out, but it is also found in the massive Oxford English Dictionary available in university-type libraries.
The OED says that stripling means an "Adolescent boy or girl, not yet mature or full developed" (p. 2264). According to the OED's etymology of the word, this is the definition for the word today, and in the 1820's when Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon.
Not counting other physical dictionaries to which I can't post links, similar definitions are provided by the American Heritage Dictionary, Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary, WordNet (Princeton), the Online Etymology Dictionary, Dictionary.com, and so on. That the word "stripling" essentially means "inexperienced" or "undeveloped" hasn't been the point of contention regarding the Stripling Soldiers. The contention has been over whether or not the word "stripling" referred to their age and maturity, or if it referred to their experience in battle.
(Actually, I'm being very lenient in those above comments. None of the above definitions refer literally to an amount of "experience." They all give varying takes on the definition of "an adolescent youth." I'm willing to concede that one could argue that "stripling" could connote "inexperience," but read on to see why I no longer support that contention, personally...)
The following is extracted from an e-mail I sent to a friend in which I provided the logic that finally led me to understand that "stripling" referred to their station in life, not just their experience with warfare. That they were untried in battle is made poignantly clear by Helaman, and cannot be disputed. But, they were also brave, young, faithful souls who stepped up and saved their nation at a time of dire need. Their contributions cannot and should not be undermined by quibbling over their age.
Ok, here are my findings on how "stripling warrior" could be synonymous with an "inexperienced warrior." I reviewed the original text. Helaman used the word "stripling" twice.
Alma 53:22 ‑ He called them "stripling soldiers." This is the verse that one could argue means "inexperienced soldiers". Note that Helaman called them "soldiers," not "warriors". The word "warrior" is only used once in Alma, in 51:31. This was not about Helaman's band, but about Teancum's. The word was apparently chosen to designate them as highly skilled, fierce, big, burly, strong guys that you didn't want to have to go up against in battle:
"But behold he met with a disappointment by being repulsed by Teancum and his men, for they were great warriors; for every man of Teancum did exceed the Lamanites in their strength and in their skill of war, insomuch that they did gain advantage over the Lamanites."
Think of the difference between "soldier" and "warrior". A "soldier" is anyone drafted or who volunteered in a way that led to them being in a battle situation. They may or may not be skilled or fierce. When the battle is over, these guys have as much of an opportunity of ending up dead as they do alive. Or, maybe there's even more of a chance that they'll end up dead. A "warrior," however, connotes someone highly experienced and capable of winning in battle.
Given all of this, it's agreeable that "stripling soldier" could mean that these guys were inexperienced in battle, and may or may not have been young.
The other reference is Alma 56:57 ‑ Here Helaman talks about what happened after his men succeeded in capturing the city of Cumeni, but then lost their captives as they were trying to convey them to Zarahemla. He speaks of what he did with his men sending some on one errand, "¼and the remainder I took and joined them to my stripling Ammonites, and took our march back to the city of Judea."
Here, Helaman used "stripling" in conjunction with the term "Ammonites." "Ammonite" was one of many terms used to describe the people who were converted by the missionary labors of Ammon and his brethren. The most recognizable converts were King Lamoni and his people. However, they also included the converts of Aaron who preached to King Lamoni's father (King Laman), and others.
After being converted, life in the Land of Nephi became hostile for these people and Ammon prayed for direction. He learned that he should move the people up toward the Land of Zarahemla. He contacted Alma and received permission to move them north. The people in the Land of Jershon agreed to move out and have them settle there. I believe this area was in the northeastern part of the land, which put the entire Nephite nation between the converts and the menacing Lamanites (who, by the way, were actually being spurred on to hate the converts by apostate Nephites ‑ but that's another story). (See Alma 43:11.)
Anyway, these people loved Ammon for having brought them the gospel. Among the names by which they became known was "the people of Ammon" (Alma 43:11,13; 47:29; 53:10; 58:39 ; 62:17, 27, 29 ‑ gotta love the "search" feature...) or more simply as "Ammonites".
There are only two references to the word "Ammonites" in the book of "Alma." Both are used in the context of references to Helaman's army. The one is cited above, the other is Alma 57:6 that speaks of "the sons of the Ammonites" in conjunction with the same story above about Cumeni.
Helaman likely used "stripling" in the same manner to refer to his men as "stripling soldiers" as he did to refer to them as "stripling Ammonites." If "stripling" was intended to be an adjective to go with the succeeding word, as in "inexperienced soldiers," then he must have meant that they were young, untried, inexperienced, not‑yet‑familiar‑with‑the‑norms‑rigors‑and‑expectations of being a soldier. That's a fair definition.
However, it falls apart when used in the context of being an "Ammonite." Were the men "inexperienced Ammonites"? Hardly. They were born "Ammonites" ‑ or had converted to becoming "Ammonites". If they weren't born as such, then they surely would have converted to becoming such at the same time as their fathers. In short, they were quite possibly "Ammonites" for the entire historical duration for which there had ever been "Ammonites" up to that time. They were as equally skilled ‑ or inexperienced ‑ with being an "Ammonite" as any other "Ammonite" had ever been. It doesn't make sense that Helaman ‑ especially if these guys were in their 30's ‑ would tag them and say, "Yeah, they're Ammonites, but they're very INEXPERIENCED Ammonites. In fact, I would choose to call them 'stripling' Ammonites, because of how unfamiliar they are with being an Ammonite."
Bringing this closer to home, ask yourself, do you consider yourself to be an inexperienced Caucasian? An inexperienced Utahn? An inexperienced American? Even if you may or may not feel "inexperienced" about many things in life, you probably wouldn't answer any of those with a "Yes!" It makes more sense to assume that Helaman used the word "stripling" to describe his men's experience with life in general, not their experience specific to either being a soldier, or to being an Ammonite.
A search on the word "young" ties directly to Helaman's description of his soldiers. He talks about how he was afraid to allow the fathers to fight due to their oath of peace, but that their sons volunteered. He pointed out, "Now behold, there were two thousand of those young men, who entered into this covenant and took their weapons of war to defend their country." (Alma 53:18)
He distinctly called them "young men." This coincides with all known definitions of the word "stripling." It is wholly interchangeable with the word, meaning ‑ aside from our being unfamiliar with it ‑ it doesn't raise eyebrows to swap the words, such as, "there were two thousand of those stripling men, who entered into this covenant..."
The argument could be made that "some" of them were "young men," but the rest were surely in their 30's. Well, actually, that argument falls apart two verses later when Helaman points out, "And they were all young men..." (Alma 53:20) With this, Helaman has set the stage for referring to his men as "young." He continued to talk about them and only two verses later, he wanted to tell us that they had been made soldiers. He's used the word "young" twice already, so he chose another synonym, "stripling." This reference, in verse 22, became the ONLY verse in the BofM that referred to them as "stripling soldiers." In fact, the only other time he used "stripling" was to refer to them as "young Ammonites" which was discussed above.
So, now the discussion would have to turn to what was meant by the word "young" (which was used more often than "stripling"). Is someone in their 30's considered "young"? Perhaps, if the observer is considerably older than 30. Is someone in their 20's considered "young"? Today, one could arguably say, "Yes, that's young." However, was that considered "young" in the 1830's when the BofM was translated, and the average life expectancy was considerably less than it is today? Was it considered "young" in 74 BC when life expectancy was even less?
In addition to the "young" word issue, is the issue of the soldiers referring to the faith they were taught by their "mothers." How many men ‑ excuse me, young men ‑ in their 20's or 30's would tell their commanding officer that they were taught by their mothers? That's one of those ages in life where men traditionally try to stand up for themselves and not only cut the apron strings, but pretend they never existed. Even faithful, good men tend to do this. On top of that is the issue of Helaman calling them "his sons" ("for they were all deserving of being called my sons") and they're eagerness to call their commanding officer "father." That's a bit much for men in their 30's, or even 20's, to have done.
Actually, the reference to them being called sons, is not "...being called my sons," but is instead simply "for they are worthy to be called sons" (Alma 56:10). This wording seems to take away the emphasis of the men being attached to Helaman as being HIS sons, and puts it back to the emphasis on their age, meaning that they were so young that they were worthy of being referred to as "sons" rather than as "men." Although, I believe it's clear that Helaman had an affection for the group and wouldn't mind the connection made by the phrase "my sons," which he does seven verses later when he refers to "those sons of mine."
A search on the words "sons" brings up yet another reference to their youthful age. Alma 56:30 says, "...Antipus ordered that I should march forth with my little sons..." Would men in their 20's or 30's be referred to as "little sons?" I don’t know anyone that age that would appreciate that phrase. Nor, do I think it would be reasonable for a commanding officer to refer to his soldiers as "little sons" unless he was trying to belittle them. Clearly, both Antipus and Helaman held these soldiers in high regard and would not have belittled them. Instead, I believe that Helaman was trying to make a point: these young men were doing astonishingly brave and worthwhile deeds, and they were succeeding because of their great faith and brotherhood. They did all this in spite of their young age, not to mention their inexperience in battle.
©2004 by Douglas V. Nufer
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