In Book of Mormon usage, the word tower relates to the great tower that was built, according to Genesis 11, in the land of Shinar, or Mesopotamia (see Ether 1:3, 5, 33), and is commonly referred to as the tower of Babel. It was a giant platform with stepped, sloping sides, called in the Babylonian (Akkadian) language ziqqurratu and commonly rendered as ziggurat. These structures were thought of as artificial mountains where deity could dwell and appear to mortals in sacred privacy.
It may seem strange to modern readers that bulky earthen platforms could be termed towers by Book of Mormon scribes. Yet when the Spanish invaders saw the Mesoamerican temple platforms, they immediately called them torres (towers), so height, not shape, must have been the main criterion. The towers that King Noah erected by the temple and on a nearby hill are described as being very high and great (Mosiah 11:12, 13).
Among Book of Mormon peoples, these towers served different purposes. King Benjamins tower enabled many of the people to hear his fare well ad dress (see Mosiah 2:7) and to more effectively participate in his son Mosiahs coronation and the covenant-renewal ceremony associated with it (see Stephen D. Ricks, King ship, Coronation, and Covenant in Mosiah 16, in King Benjamins Speech, ed. John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks [Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1998], 23375).
Towers built and controlled by families or kin groups were used as places of personal worship, as shown by Nephi2s praying from the top of his own tower (see Helaman 7:1011). The equivalence of such towers to mountains and the Old World ziggurats is clear: Nephi1 and the brother of Jared ascended mountains to pray (see 1 Nephi 17:7; Alma 31:13; Ether 3:1; 4:1), anticipating the later practice among Book of Mormon peoples of worshipping in sanctuaries built for that purpose (see Alma 15:17; 31:1218).
In addition to affording strategic views of potential enemy attack (see Mosiah 11:1213), towers among both Nephites and Lamanites were marks of an influential community. They served as rallying points for local governments (see Alma 48:1), and like European cathedrals, they asserted the renown and political power of the community. Accordingly, when Captain Moroni subdued the king-men, who had defied the authority of the Nephite government, the defeated survivors of the movement were compelled to hoist the title [flag] of liberty upon their towers, and in their cities as a sign of submission (see Alma 51: 78, 13, 17, 20). Any settlement deserving to be labeled a city would have had a tower, and larger cities might have had many. The ability of a ruler to muster manpower and organize resources to construct a towerthe bigger the bettercommunicated his administrative ability, power, and glory.
Adapted from John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1985), 17174; and Mormons Map (Provo: FARMS, 2000), 99101.