“What were the ages of Helaman’s stripling warriors?” Ensign, Sept. 1992, 28
John A. Tvedtnes, Gospel Doctrine teacher, Hunter Thirty-fifth Ward, Salt Lake Hunter Central Stake. I had long supposed that Helaman’s “stripling” Ammonite warriors were roughly twenty years old—the minimum age for Israelite soldiers according to the law of Moses. (See Num. 1:3.) I think the Book of Mormon may provide a way to test this idea.
The parents of Helaman’s warriors had been converted to the gospel of Christ through the missionary labors of Ammon and his brothers. Soon after swearing to never use their weapons again, the defenseless Lamanite converts were attacked by loyalist Lamanites opposed to the Nephite religion. (See Alma 24:20.) As a result, many of the “people of Ammon” (also known as “Anti-Nephi-Lehis”) were killed. However, a large number of Lamanites were so struck by their countrymen’s faith that they, too, laid down their weapons.
To avenge the deaths of their converted countrymen whom they had slain, the remaining Lamanites fixed their attention on the Nephites and destroyed the city of Ammonihah in the eleventh year of the reign of the judges. (See Alma 16:1–3, 9; Alma 25:2.) That event and the people of Ammon’s oath of pacifism (see Alma 24:18)1 appear so close together in the scriptural record that it seems likely that the oath was taken that same year. That covenant would probably have excluded children under age eight if the Nephites considered them to be under the age of accountability. (See D&C 68:25.)
The people of Ammon fled to Nephite territory and settled in the land of Jershon. (See Alma 28:1.) Honoring their oath, they were not able to assist the Nephites in the ensuing war against the Lamanites. Ten years later, in the twenty-fifth year of the reign of the judges, another war broke out. (See Alma 51:1, 9.) The following year, some two thousand young men from the Ammonite group marched to war under command of the high priest Helaman. (See Alma 56:9.) These “stripling warriors”2, it seems, could have ranged in age from approximately twenty (going by the Mosaic rule) to approximately twenty-two (those who could have been around age seven when the oath was taken) in the twenty-sixth year of the judges.
Three years later, sixty more young men from the land of Jershon joined ranks with their comrades (see Alma 57:6), perhaps having recently qualified by age for military service. Thus, in the thirtieth year, when Helaman wrote his long epistle to Moroni (see Alma 56:1), it seems possible that his youngest soldiers perhaps were age twenty-one, and his eldest, twenty-six.