The Message of the Broken Bow
Alan Goff has turned up an interesting article in the 1978 Jewish Quarterly Review entitled "The Breaking of the Bow." It appears, from ancient Babylonian sources, that bows were symbols of political power. One thinks also of Odysseus bending the bow to prove himself. An overlord would break the bow of a disobedient vassal to symbolically put the rebel in his place.
Jer. 49:35 and 51:56 are examples of Biblical passages where the breaking of a bow is symbolic of destroying another's military power.
In 1 Ne. 16, Nephi's bow breaks and the others lose their springs. Although Nephi reads no specific symbolic significance into these events, as soon as he fashions a new bow — the only bow in camp — his brothers (for the first time) accuse Nephi of having political ambitions over them: he has "taken it upon him to be our ruler" and "after he has led us away, he has thought to make himself a king and a ruler over us" (1 Ne. 16:37-38).
This article, with Goff's two page introduction can be ordered on the enclosed form.