Some notes from John W. Welch, ed., Reexploring the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book and Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1992):
Neither modern speakers of English nor the King James translation of the Bible make much distinction between thieves and robbers. Anciently, though, and particularly in Hebrew law, the distinction was a strong one: Thieves were locals who robbed from their neighbors. They were dealt with civilly, usually by a court drawn from their townsmen. Robbers, by contrast, were outsiders. They were handled militarily, and could be summarily executed. The Book of Mormon conforms to precisely that ancient Hebrew distinction. (248-249)
The execution of the captured Gadianton robber chief Zemnarihah (3 Nephi 4:28) fits its claimed ancient background in several striking ways. First, ancient Jewish law required that the felling of a tree that had been used for an execution, just as the tree was felled from which Zemnarihah was hanged. Second, trees used for executions were chopped down and buried so that they would not be sad memorials or reminders of the execution’s victim –and the Nephites explicitly remembered Zemnarihah and his tree in that very way. Third, hanging was, in fact, a genuinely ancient Hebrew form of execution. Fourth, executions were often carried out — as Zemharihah’s was — in a way or place peculiarly appropriate to the offense being punished. Fifth and last, there seems, in Zemnarihah’s case, to be an echo of the ancient Hebrew practice of “heralding” a notorious execution. (250-252)
From the remarkable Robert Boylan:
Another piece, offering some additional references, on that same “Mormon lawyer” and on his loss of faith over the archaeology of the Book of Mormon:
The second installment of the new weekly Interpreter Radio Show will be broadcast tonight from 7 PM to 8 PM on K-Talk (1640 AM), and will also be available on your computer via the K-Talk website.