Skipping the Good Parts
In the first few verses, Zeniff glosses over a lot of exposition that sounds like it really doesn't deserve to be exposition. Here's what happens:
- Zeniff is sent to spy on the Lamanites to aid the Nephite army in destroying them
- Zeniff sees good things in the Lamanites and argues in favor of peace
- Zeniff is ordered to be executed, but is saved by a violent rescue
- Two factions of the army fought against each other with family members on opposing sides
- Zeniff's half is defeated but he survives, vowing to reclaim the land of his fathers
That sounds like a pretty good story. I want to hear more about that. But instead, Zeniff goes into more detail about how he and his followers wandered, found the land they were looking for, and started living there. Lame.
So, in previous chapters, we've learned that (at least, according to Limhi, who really doesn't have a good handle on anything) Zeniff entered into a treaty with the Lamanite king way back when so that he could inherit the land of his fathers.
I really have no idea why it's so important to him, but if that's what he wants from life, then more power to him.
Limhi's account of his people's history seems to blame Zeniff for being overenthusiastic about this and blundering his way to selling his people into subjugation. Verse 10 of this chapter even cites the "cunning and craftiness of king Laman" that slyly tricked Zeniff's people into bondage. This bondage is kind of the accepted reality by the time Ammon comes along two generations later.
But this chapter makes no mention of the heavy taxes imposed on the Nephites—something you'd think Zeniff would have mentioned. King Laman not only agreed to let Zeniff's followers live in part of his kingdom, but he ordered that the Lamanites currently living in the area pack up and move somewhere else. I'm sure his approval rating dropped pretty steeply after that brilliant decision.
But his evil plan continued--Laman craftily waited twelve years and then decided to declare war on Zeniff's society. According to Zeniff, Laman was scheming to enslave the Nephites...but then wouldn't it have been easier for Laman to overtake them by force when the society was just starting out instead of giving them twelve years to organize and arm themselves? Clearly waiting twelve years wasn't a good idea, because when Laman attacks, he's defeated—and not by a slim margin. How exactly is this an ingenious ploy to enslave the Nephites?
Furthermore, after the Nephites have beaten back the Lamanite conquerors, why are they still considering themselves to be in bondage? Generally, the outcome of a war determines the dominant nation. As the victors, you'd think that Zeniff's people would—I don't know—stop paying exorbitant taxes to the Lamanites. But for some reason, Zeniff says, "Hey, we just kicked your asses. Here's your money."
I don't think the Zeniff's bondage is a result of Lamanite trickery—it's a result of Nephite stupidity.
Who Counts These Bodies, Anyway?
Not bad for a peaceful society repelling a surprise attack from an organized army:
Lamanite losses: 3,043
Nephite losses: 279
You're out there on yesterday's battlefield digging a mass grave for the gruesome, stinking dead, and you're really going to count them all? Approximate numbers seem more reasonable. But this weirdly specific battle report implies that Zeniff was watching the burials like a hawk, shouting, "Did you count the funny-looking one with the javelin through his neck? Okay, make that 2,047 so far."