Alma 14:1-5

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Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 8-16 > Verses 14:1-5
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Summary[edit]

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The relationship of Verses 14:1-5 to the rest of Chapters 8-16 the book is discussed at Chapters 8-16.

Discussion[edit]

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  • Chapter breaks. Alma 14 was part of a much larger "unit" in the original (1830) edition of the Book of Mormon. The story of Alma's preaching at Ammonihah was broken up into the following chapter breaks in that edition:
1830 Chapter VI -- 1981 8:1-32
1830 Chapter VII -- 1981 9:1-34
1830 Chapter VIII -- 1981 10:1-11:46
1830 Chapter IX -- 1981 12:1-13:9
1830 Chapter X -- 1981 13:10-15:19
1830 Chapter XI -- 1981 16:1-21
It might be noted that what is now chapter 14 fell within the largest "chunk" of the Ammonihah story, stretching—somewhat awkwardly—from halfway through Alma's sermon about the high priesthood (13:10) to Alma and Amulek's settling again in Zarahemla (15:18-19). Keeping this in mind, chapter 14 should be read with a close eye on the twenty-two verses that precede it and the whole chapter that follows it. At least two effects of the chapter's being caught up in a larger "unit" deserve mention. First, the narrative reporting the responses of the people in Ammonihah (chapter 14 now) cannot be separated from the last part of Alma's speech in which he discusses Melchizedek and makes his final exhortations (13:10-31 now). Second, the harrowing narrative bringing the action in Ammonihah itself to a close (chapter 14 now) cannot be separated from the narrative that reports the aftermath in Sidom (chapter 15 now).
Also see this discussion of the six accusations in Alma 14:1-5 and the basis for those accusations being prepared in the preceding chapters Here (This should be better integrated).
  • Alma 14:1-3: A preliminary note. Verses 1-3 work systematically through the responses of three distinct groups to Alma's and Amulek's preaching. Verse 1 clearly deals with those who were favorable to Alma's words (note that Amulek is not mentioned in connection with this group; see the commentary for verse 1 below). Verse 2 clearly deals with the majority of the Ammonihahites, those who did not believe in Alma and Amulek (note that Alma and Amulek are, as it were, separated in connection with this group; see the commentary for verse 2 below). Finally, verse 3 deals—perhaps somewhat less clearly but no less definitely—specifically with the lawyers and judges in Ammonihah (note that Alma and Amulek are, as it were, lumped together into a single entity in connection with this group; see the commentary for verse 3 below). It is crucial to keep these three groups distinct through the whole narrative of this chapter.
  • Alma 14:1. The word "scriptures" appears rather frequently in the Book of Mormon. Its earliest appearances (in 1 Ne 19:23 and 2 Ne 4:15) clearly understand the term to refer to the brass plates, but later references are often less determinate. Already in the Book of Jacob (see Jacob 2:23; 4:16; 7:10, 19, 23), the word seems to refer more vaguely to holy writ. In the present narrative, though, the word seems to refer more specifically to the brass plates, since all scriptures referenced in the course of the exchange between Alma and the people are to be found in the Book of Genesis.
This verse originally read "And it came to pass that after he had made an end of speaking . . . ." Joseph Smith himself removed the word "that" when preparing the 1837 edition. The change makes relatively little difference in meaning.
Interestingly, Joseph replaced "he" (in "after he had made an end of speaking") with "Alma" in preparation for the 1837 edition. The printer of the 1837 edition, however, missed the change in the manuscript, and so it has never appeared in a printed edition of the Book of Mormon.
  • Alma 14:1: And it came to pass. Generally, this phrase needs no comment, but it should be noted that it appears with relative infrequence in the preceding chapters (which are devoted mostly to discursive material). That it returns here—and with a vengeance (it appears many, many times in the original of the present chapter)—marks the return to straight narrative.
  • Alma 14:1: After he had made an end of speaking unto the people. The locution "made an end of speaking" is actually quite common in the Book of Mormon, appearing twenty-four times. Though there seems to be little theological significance in the phrase, it is worth noting that its use here is formulaic, linking the sermon-followed-by-a-narrative-report-about-the-people's-response structure of this story up with a whole series of texts elsewhere in the Book of Mormon. Perhaps two such parallel texts deserve specific mention because they bear on the meaning of the present text.
One is to be found in Alma 12:19, where it marks the conclusion of the second of Alma's recorded speeches in Ammonihah (that stretching from Alma 12:3 to Alma 12:18). There, as in the present text, the formula marks the transition from a completed (if not fully reported) sermon to a narrative report of the response of the listeners. These two instances (the present verse and Alma 12:19) in turn stand over against the clear indication of disruption that follows Alma's first recorded speech in Ammonihah: "Now it came to pass that when I, Alma, had spoken these words, behold, the people were wroth with me . . . and sought to lay their hands upon me, that they might cast me into prison" (Alma 9:31-32). In this text, the absence of the formula marks the violent disruption of Alma's sermon. (It may also be of significance that the formula appears in those passages where Mormon is clearly the narrator, but not does not appear in the passage where Alma himself is the narrator and Mormon simply copies over Alma's words.)
The other relevant instance of the formula is to be found in Alma 6:1, where it marks the transition from Alma's sermon in Zarahemla to the narrative concerning the response of his hearers there. This instance is relevant because it forms, with the present verse, a kind of set of bookends for the larger narrative of Alma's preaching circuit (from Alma 5 through Alma 14).
  • Alma 14:1: Many of them. Though "many" sounds hopeful, it should be noted that verse 2 will speak of "the more part" of the people as rejecting the word. From this it is clear that "many" does not mean anything like "a majority of," but something more like "a not insignificant number of."
  • Alma 14:1: Did believe on his words. It is specifically "on his [Alma's] words" that the people who believe believe; Amulek, it would seem, is simply left out of account. It is perhaps this passage before others that raises the question concerning the distinct roles that Alma and Amulek play in Ammonihah. Alma, it would seem, is the one who spurs repentance and change, whose words lead to conversion. But Alma's words seem to have had no such effect until Amulek intervened as a second witness, even if his own words had no real converting power. There is reason, at any rate, to look more closely at the respective roles of the two witnesses against Ammonihah.
  • Alma 14:1: And began to repent. That repentance followed belief is not surprising, but perhaps the verb "began" deserves close attention. Interestingly, the phrase "began to repent" appears several times in the Book of Mormon, but always with a rather distinct sense. In every other instance (see Morm 2:10; Ether 9:34; 11:8; 15:3), it describes the not-entirely-genuine turn to repentance that follows after major destruction in war settings. Here, of course, it refers to no such thing, which seems to make clear that the emphasis is less on either the awful circumstances that lead to repentance or the somewhat disingenuous nature of the repentance undertaken, and more on the fact that the turn to repentance among the believing listeners is a general process of change.
One way of making sense of this would be to suggest that "began" here is the first of a series of hints in verses 1-8 that the events therein recorded took place over a longer period of time. While it is perhaps somewhat natural to read these verses as describing a kind of immediate reaction to Alma's sermon (several personal responses, a quick but failed plot, and a trial that—within a day's time—results in holocaust and imprisonment), such hints may suggest that there is a longer sequence of conversion, a slow development of underhanded plots, and only eventually a trial and associated violence.
On this point, it should be noted that this story, quite uniquely in the Book of Mormon, actually gives us an exact measure of the total time the narrative takes to unfold. In Alma 10:6, Amulek gives the exact date of Alma's return to Ammonihah: "the fourth day of this seventh month, which is in the tenth year of the reign of the judges." In Alma 14:23, subsequently, the narrator (presumably Mormon) provides the exact date of the prison's collapse and the escape of Alma and Amulek: "it was on the twelfth day, in the tenth month, in the tenth year of the reign of the judges." From Alma's return to the city to his departure with Amulek took three months and eight days, in all about seventy days (assuming that months were about thirty days for the Nephites). Of course, those seventy days include the "many days" of Alma's stay with Amulek before preaching (see Alma 8:27) and the "many days" of Alma's and Amulek's time in prison (see Alma 14:22), in addition to whatever time would have passed between Alma's last sermon and the martyrdom of Alma 14:8. But it is certainly possible that the time between sermon and martyrdom was even as long as several weeks, perhaps even longer.
If these speculations are not entirely amiss, it may be that the "began" of "began to repent" marks a rather slow process, a development that is long in coming for those who believed in Alma's words. But these speculations may be confirmed or perhaps complicated by the fact that repentance is described but not baptism.
It has been noted above that "made an end of speaking" here echoes Alma 6:1. Mention here of repentance furthers that echo. Alma 6:2 describes the response of Alma's hearers on the occasion of his first sermon: "And it came to pass that whosoever did not belong to the church who repented of their sins were baptized unto repentance, and were received into the church." The pairing in Alma 6 of repentance and baptism is quite common in the Book of Mormon (see, for instance, 2 Ne 9:23-24; 31:11; Alma 7:14; 48:19; 62:45; Hel 16:5; 3 Ne 7:25; 11:37-38; 18:11, 16; 21:6; 27:20; 30:2; 4 Ne 1:1; Morm 3:2; 7:8; Ether 4:18; Moro 7:34; 8:10). In the present text, however, there is no mention of baptism whatsoever. This is all the more curious given that Alma is described, at the beginning of his work in Ammonihah, as "wrestling with God in mighty prayer, that . . . he might baptize them unto repentance" (Alma 8:10). If Alma's sole desire was to baptize, one might wonder why there is no mention of baptism here, why none of Alma's listeners—even among those who believed and repented—were baptized.
One obvious answer would be that there was no time between Alma's sermon and the martyrdom of a few verses later to be baptized. This may be confirmed in that Zeezrom—undoubtedly among Alma's most important converts in Ammonihah—is only baptized later in Sidom (as reported in Alma 15:12). (Curiously, though, there is no specific report of other survivors being baptized in Sidom, although one might suggest that they are referred to implicitly in Alma 15:13.)
If this most obvious interpretation is correct, two interpretive options concerning the word "began" present themselves. On the one hand, the apparent lack of time for baptism might suggest, over against the hints that the events described in verses 1-8 took place over a significant stretch of time, that these events actually made up only a short sequence in a longer stretch of time. (Perhaps Alma and Amulek spent the vast majority of the several months of the Ammonihah experience in prison, for example.) On the other hand, it may be that the events in verses 1-8 did indeed take somewhat longer, but the significance of the word "began" is clarified: beginning to repent is itself a longer process, and it did not have the time to come to fruition in baptism in a longer but nonetheless relatively short time.
  • Alma 14:1: And to search the scriptures. The indication that those favorable to the message of Alma and Amulek not only began "to repent," but also began "to search the scriptures" is certainly significant. (Indeed, it is possible to suggest that the turn to scripture was itself the form or shape of their repentance.) First, turning to the scriptures as a sign of conversion is directly reported only twice in the Book of Mormon—here and in Jacob 7:23 (though possibly referred to in the case of the Sons of Mosiah as well Alma 17:2). The two stories (that of the preaching in Ammonihah and that of Jacob's encounter with Sherem) might perhaps be set side by side for closer comparison. Second, the fact that the response of the persuaded is to turn to scripture makes clear that the larger narrative of the experience in Ammonihah should be read with an eye to what is said about (and done with) scripture.
In light of this last point, it should be noted that in Alma 13:20 (a passage found within the same chapter as the present text in the original version of the Book of Mormon), Alma tells his listeners: "Behold, the scriptures are before you; if ye will wrest them it shall be to your own destruction." One might explore the possibility that Alma's warning had much to do with the response of his hearers: having heard Alma warn about the dangers of wresting scripture, those persuaded by his teachings were convinced of the necessity of searching the scriptures more carefully.
There are, however, some problems with this first interpretation. Alma issued his warning about the misuse of scripture specifically in connection with his discussion of Melchizedek. And the way that he issued the warning seems to indicate that he saw the texts concerning Melchizedek as rather straightforward, such that his listeners could only wrest the text by departing from its rather obvious meaning. Given the content and setting of what Alma says about wresting scripture, it seems somewhat unlikely that his listeners would have taken his words as reason to do sustained, careful work on scripture.
Another possible approach to the text presents itself. When the narrative turns from Amulek to Alma (in the transition from what is now chapter 11 to what is now chapter 12), Mormon as the narrator explains that Alma began "to explain things beyond, or to unfold the scriptures beyond that which Amulek had done" (Alma 12:1). This narrative passage, penned, it would seem, by the same narrator who reports the turn to scripture at the beginning of chapter 14, perhaps suggests that it was Alma's profound engagement with scripture in the course of his teachings that drew the attention of his listeners to the scriptures after their conversion.
On this second interpretation, what would seem to have driven Alma's converts to the scriptures would be his careful, detailed, and deeply theological interpretations of scriptural texts—perhaps best embodied in his ruminations on Gen 3:24, the verse quoted to him by Antionah. Here, the emphasis would be less on the danger of misinterpreting texts through neglect than on the rich possibilities of close, theological engagement with texts.
At any rate, there seems to be some indication in this text that part of the Ammonihahites' conversion was a turn to close readings of scriptural texts. Repentance—a turning around or a change of mind—seems to have been for them in part a question of turn to or changing their minds about scripture.
Mormon's passing note about the turn to scripture is also narratively significant in another way. When the converts who are here reported as "search[ing] the scriptures" are subsequently "cast . . . into the fire," Mormon carefully notes that the wicked in Ammonihah "brought forth their records which contained the holy scriptures, and cast them into the fire also" (Alma 14:8). Both because Mormon carefully notes these details, and because scripture seems to have been closely intertwined with the very experience of conversion in Ammonihah, it would seem that the murder of the converts in Ammonihah was motivated in part precisely by the danger of scriptural texts. Where texts can be read and interpreted freely, independently of dominant or dominating ideologies, current structures of power are under threat. It would seem that the "book burning" in Ammonihah was in part a question of such a situation.
  • Alma 14:2. The word "destroy" appears in the Book of Mormon with remarkable frequency (some 408 times!). It is particularly frequent in the Ammonihah story (see Alma 8:16-17; 9:4, 10, 12, 18-19, 22, 24-25; 10:14, 18-19, 22, 27; 11:21, 25; 12:1, 6, 11, 17, 32, 36; 13:20; 14:8-9, 24, 26; 15:17; 16:2-3, 9, 17). In these references, many different kinds of things are described as being (or potentially being) destroyed: a whole people, liberty, a city, a people's fathers, "that which was good," (everlasting) souls, "the works of justice," (physical copies of) scripture, collected women and children—but quite frequently, individual persons. Curiously, several possible meanings occur when the thing being destroyed is a person or persons. In some cases, to destroy a person may be to destroy his/her reputation; in other cases, it is clearly to annihilate his/her physical body; in still other cases, it is clearly to cause his/her spirit torment.
Webster's 1828 dictionary defines "plainness" as "openness; rough, blunt or unrefined frankness." This seems to work with Book of Mormon usage of "plainness" (and especially of "plain"), but not always. It is perhaps particularly important that the word "plainness" appears only here in the Book of Mormon outside of the small plates (where it appears often), while the word "plain" (or "plainly") similarly appears frequently in the small plates and only a few scattered times in the rest of the Book of Mormon. At any rate, it should be noted that while "plainness" is very often equated with "harshness" and so is often understood in the Book of Mormon to lead to offense (if one is not perfectly humble), it is not always used that way. On occasion, the word simply means "simple" or "clear," without any implications about subjective investment.
Webster's 1828 dictionary defines "revile" as "to reproach; to treat with opprobrious and contemptuous language." This word (in its various forms) appears far more frequently in the Book of Mormon than in other scripture, appearing some twenty-five times. Importantly, it often is connected in the Book of Mormon with fighting against something with clearly superior authority: to revile against a political or religious leader, against the truth, against goodness, etc. It, moreover, significantly appears several times in the larger Ammonihah story. In addition to those texts where the same accusation of Amulek appears (see Alma 10:24, 29; 14:5), see Alma 8:13; 12:4; 14:7.
  • Alma 14:2: the more part of them. The transitional "but" that opens this verse marks the comparison that is being made between the "many" of verse 1 and the "more part" of verse 2.
It would seem that although the majority of the people is against Alma and Amulek, that majority may be slim, given that—according to verse 1—there were many who believed the preachers. At the same time, it would seem to require a nearly overwhelming majority to accomplish the kind of genocide described later in this chapter. Ultimately, it is difficult to decide exactly what is signified by "the more part of them."
  • Alma 14:2: Were desirous that they might destroy Alma and Amulek. The word "were," banal as it usually seems, deserves attention here. It should be noted that the construction is a bit awkward: the text could have been rendered "desired to destroy Alma and Amulek," rather than "were desirous that they might destroy Alma and Amulek." But that very awkwardness may be important. For one, it places the "more part" of the people in a passive position, while verse 1 places the "many" believers in a clearly active position: while the believing "did believe," the unbelieving "were desirous." Further, the complex structure allows for the insertion of the word "might" into the phrase here: what the people are described as desiring is not destruction itself, but the possibility of destruction. It would seem, in other words, that the unbelieving are prone to fantasy, rather than to action.
The word "desirous" deserves attention as well. It would seem to echo—ironically—what King Mosiah said ten years earlier when replacing the monarchy with judges: "it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right" (Mosiah 29:26). The majority ("the more part") of Ammonihah is complicit in desiring sin, and Mosiah prophesied that God would visit such peoples with great destruction (Mosiah 29:27). Moreover, "desire" appears two additional times in the Ammonihah story. First, back in Alma 9:20, Alma makes a general statement about "all things [being] made known unto [the Nephites], according to their desires." This theme of things being made known, or being revealed, is clearly related to the discussion in 12:9ff where those who harden their hearts against the word are warned that they will eventually "know nothing concerning [God's] mysteries" (Alma 9:11). The account given here in chapter 14 could, then, be read as a fulfillment of that very warning. Second, in Alma 11:25, Amulek chastises Zeezrom for trying to trap him: "it was only thy desire that I should deny the true and living God." This secret (and similarly fantasy-oriented) desire of Zeezrom's, working as a sort of covert plan against Amulek, can be related to the desire to put Alma and Amulek away "privily" in verse 3 here. Moreover, these covert workings of (frustrated?) desire stand in clear contrast to the "plainness" of Alma's words mentioned here in verse 2 (and in verse 3: "because [Alma and Amulek] had testified so plainly").
As for the word "destroy" here, it seems it should be read carefully. In light of the lexical note above, it should be noted that it does not necessarily mean "kill Alma and Amulek" or "have Alma and Amulek killed," though that of course remains a possibility. At any rate, it should be balanced carefully with verse 3: the people desire to destroy Alma and Amulek, but the lawyers and judges seek to put them away. Whatever the difference between those two actions are, it seems important.
  • Alma 14:2: For they were angry with Alma. The word "angry" (and "anger") plays a significant role in the larger Ammonihah story. Not only does it describe the lawyers and judges also in the next verse, it appears with some frequency in earlier chapters. Significantly, the first several appearance of the word are references not to the people's anger but to God's (potential) anger: in Alma 8:29; 9:12, 18, the message to Ammonihah is described as a warning about destruction that will come "according to the fierce anger" of God (see also 10:23). By the end of Alma's sermon in chapter 9, however, the text begins to speak of the people's anger: "because I said unto them that they were a lost and a fallen people they were angry with me," Alma says (9:32). The people similarly respond with anger to Amulek in 10:24: "the people were more angry with Amulek." By chapter 14, there is no more talk of the anger of the Lord, which seems to have been swallowed up in the anger of the crowd.
  • Alma 14:2: Because of the plainness of his words unto Zeezrom. First, it is worth noting that the people are not angry with Alma for treating Zeezrom harshly; rather it is the plainness or harshness of his words that offend them (see the lexical note above). Also, the people are not said to accuse Alma of speaking to Zeezrom with plainness, only that they are angered by his plainness. (By contrast, the next clause reports that "they also said that Amulek had lied," a clear accusation.) One might well wonder whether Mormon, in using the word "plainness," had 2 Ne 33:5 in mind, where Nephi claims that no one will be angered by the plainness of truth unless they are of the spirit of the devil (in Alma 12:4-6 one finds Alma explicitly claiming that at least Zeezrom had been ensnared by the devil).
But what "plainness" did Alma use with Zeezrom? At first, it is tempting to assume that Alma's plainness is a question of the actual doctrinal content of his sermon in Alma 12. After all, as Nephi had taught centuries earlier, "the guilty take the truth to be hard because it cutteth them to the very center" (1 Ne 16:2). A closer look at the story, however, suggests that there is something different at work in the text than just that.
Zeezrom first comes into the story in Alma 11 (though note that he is mentioned first in Alma 10:31). Throughout that chapter, though, he engages with Amulek, while the people here in chapter 14 are described as being upset with Alma's relationship to Zeezrom. How does Amulek handle Zeezrom, and how is it different from Alma's handling of him?
In chapter 11, Zeezrom offers Amulek money if he will deny the existence of God. Amulek, however, reveals that there was a deceptive plot behind the offer: Zeezrom was, according to Amulek, desirous only to find "cause to destroy me [Amulek]" (Alma 11:25). This leads to a theological exchange between the two, at the conclusion of which—apparently in response to the power of Amulek's teachings—Zeezrom “began to tremble” (Alma 11:46). At that point, Alma jumps in and begins himself to contend with Zeezrom (see Alma 12:1).
At the beginning of his own intervention, Alma comes back to Zeezrom's “subtle plan,” but he glosses it differently. Whereas Amulek had accused Zeezrom of lying to him (that is, to Amulek) and so of seeking to destroy him (again, Amulek), Alma says that Zeezrom's plan was to "lie and to deceive this people" (Alma 12:4). Alma, in other words, casts the attempted deception in terms of Zeezrom's relationship to the people. He thereby suggests both (1) that Zeezrom betrays his people by deceiving them, and (2) that the people are foolish enough to be taken in.
(Significantly, Alma further says: “this was a snare of the adversary, which he has laid to catch this people.” With this further word, Alma suggests that it is the devil himself who works through the city's star lawyer to deceive the whole people. It would not be surprising if the people do not take too kindly to this idea.)
In sum, particularly because nothing in the remainder of Alma 12 mentions any particular rage on the part of the people, it seems best to interpret the accusation of "plainness" here to refer not to Alma's doctrine, but to his way of explaining Zeezrom's relationship to the people (whether as a deceiver of the people, or whether as a simple puppet of the devil in deceiving the people).
  • Alma 14:2: And they also said that Amulek had lied unto them. The people of course accused Amulek of lying in Alma 10:28, and the accusation there was that he lied about not reviling against Ammonihahite law. (Interestingly, the people did not accuse him of lying when he claimed that their lawyers and judges were laying snares. That they only called "reviling.") Why did the people claim that Amulek was speaking against the law, and why did Amulek claim that he was not?
In his own accusation, Amulek pointed back to Mosiah's setting up of the system of Nephite judges (recorded for us in Mosiah 29). Though Amulek directly quoted only Mosiah's warning in Mosiah 29:27 about the majority coming to choose evil (see Alma 10:19), it is crucial—in order to make sense of the situation—to look at the whole of Mosiah 29:25-29. Mosiah's proposed system of judges was meant to insure against the corruption of the law through recourse to the usually conservative "voice of the people," as well as through a balance of powers between lower and higher judges. The system, Mosiah anticipated, could only go wrong when the collective voice of the people desired wickedness, backed by corrupt judges at every level.
The implication is that everything that was taking place in Ammonihah was actually legal, but nonetheless corrupt. Amulek's accusations against the city and what was taking place there could thus be interpreted as a criticism not of the corruption of the people, but of the actual system of Mosiah, which technically validated (rendered "just"; see Alma 10:24) the laws passed in Ammonihah. Thus the people could accuse Amulek of having reviled against the law, and Amulek could defend himself by the—perhaps somewhat tenuous—claim that he had spoken "in favor of [their] law, to [their] condemnation" (Alma 10:26). It is not difficult to see how the Ammonihahites would have seen Amulek's restatement of his position as a prevarication, and the accusation that he was lying would have followed quickly.
This situation is not unlike what happens later with Korihor. There again it is the actual organization of the law itself that seems to generate the trouble, and Alma finds himself with the task of deciding what to do where the system established by Mosiah, for all its promise, is not enough to curb the problems it is meant to foreclose.
  • Alma 14:2: And had reviled against their law. This accusation comes first in Alma 10:24 and is repeated in 10:28. That it is repeated here, in addition to the accusation that Amulek had "lied unto them," perhaps suggests that there is an emphasis on the word "had": "they also said that Amulek had lied unto them, and had reviled against their law," that is, despite what Amulek himself had said.
  • Alma 14:2: And also against their lawyers and judges. This accusation also came originally in Alma 10:24. A lexical note above explains that “to revile” can mean to be verbally abusive. If one is already inclined towards the lawyers and judges, assuming—however problematically—that they were defenders of the system established by Mosiah, then Amulek's words in Alma 10:17 would certainly sound abusive: “O ye wicked and perverse generation, ye lawyers and hypocrites.” Still sharper was Amulek's claim that "the foundation of the destruction of this people is beginning to be laid by the unrighteousness of your lawyers and your judges" (Alma 10:27). Importantly, Amulek nowhere denies the accusation that he had reviled against the Ammonihahite lawyers and judges.
It is worth noting that in all these references in chapter 10, it is the people and not the lawyers and judges who accuse Amulek, precisely as here in Alma 14. (In chapter 10, the lawyers only "put it into their [the people's] hearts that they should remember these things against him [Amulek]." See Alma 10:30.)
  • Alma 14:3. The construction "to put away" is usually assumed, here, to mean "to put to death" (as in, the lawyers and judges sought to kill Alma and Amulek privily). This may be the case, but it should be noted that the phrase does not seem to mean this anywhere else in scripture. It appears around seventy-five times in scripture and only could (and likely does not) refer to execution in a couple of scattered instances (1 Sam 28:3; 2 Sam 7:15; Ps 119:119; perhaps Mal 2:16). Most consistently, the phrase refers either to getting rid of idols/abominations/evil (most commonly in the Old Testament, of course) or to divorce (common in the Old Testament, almost universal in the New Testament, every reference apart from the current text in the Book of Mormon, and the only reference in the Doctrine and Covenants). In at least one instance (1 Cor 5:13), the phrase clearly refers to excommunication. In the text that most clearly resonates in the present text (Matt 1:19), the phrase refers to divorce.
Privily means privately or secretly. (It is the adverbial opposite of "publicly.") The phrasing "to put ... away privily" has a crucial, close biblical antecedent in Matt 1:19. The appearance of the word here also links the present story with that of the Zoramite mission (see Alma 35:5).
The word "and" positioned before "because" in this verse appears in the printer's manuscript of the Book of Mormon only as a later insertion. It is possible that Oliver Cowdery originally miscopied this verse from the original manuscript (the original is no longer extant for this chapter) so that the later insertion is actually a correction. On the other hand (and perhaps more likely), it could be that Oliver added "and" to the printer's manuscript at some point before the Book of Mormon was printed simply to make better sense of the grammar of the verse. If this was the case, it should be noted that Oliver could just as well have added the "and" before the last clause of the verse to make better sense of the grammar. The verse might then have a different meaning, reading: And they were also angry with Alma and Amulek because they had testified so plainly against their wickedness, and they sought to put them away privily. As the verse reads now, the painfully plain testimony of Alma and Amulek serves to explain the desire to "put them away privily." Had the "and" been inserted before the final clause of the verse, the painfully plain testimony of Alma and Amulek would have served to explain first and foremost the emotion (anger) experienced by the Ammonihahites. The difference is slight, but perhaps significant.
Under the latter interpretation, the word "also" could be read as referring to the correspondence between the lawyers' and the peoples' cause for anger, i.e. plainness. Rather than just saying that the lawyers were angry too, the also could be emphasizing that what angered the people also angered the lawyers.
  • Alma 14:3: And they. To whom does the initial "they" of verse 3 refer? There are two obvious ways it can be read. First, it might refer, with the "they's" of the preceding verse, back to "the more part of [the people]" mentioned at the beginning of verse 2. On this reading, both verses 2 and 3 serve to explain the motivations of "the more part of [the people]'s" anger at Alma and Amulek, though verse 2 individualizes or categorizes those motivations (isolating in turn the people's concerns about Alma and their concerns about Amulek), while verse 3 collectivizes those motivations (describing what concerned the people generally about Alma and Amulek). Second, though, verse 3's initial "they" can be read as referring—perhaps with a bit of emphasis—immediately back to "their lawyers and judges," mentioned at the end of verse 2. On this reading, verses 2 and 3 describe two distinct groups and their distinct motivations for anger at Alma and Amulek: verse 2 describes the motivations "the more part of [the people]" had for being angry—which the text curious divides into the motivations associated with Alma and the motivations associated with Amulek—and verse 3 describes the motivations the "lawyers and judges" had for their anger at Alma and Amulek.
In the end, it seems clear that the second of these interpretations is the best. This is clear from the confusion that follows from the first interpretation: if both verse 2 and verse 3 are speaking of the people, then one has difficulty making sense of a number of details. Strengthening the second interpretation above all, however, is the way it makes much of verse 3 quite specific: "their wickedness" would refer specifically to the wickedness of the lawyers and judges (to which Amulek had explicitly referred in Alma 10:27); and the "they" who "sought to put [Alma and Amulek] away privily" would be (as it obviously would have to be anyway) the lawyers and judges specifically. From all this, it is clear that while verse 2 lays out the people's grievances, verse 3 lays out the lawyers' and judges' grievances, as well as the corrupt and violent way that this particular group proceeds.
  • Alma 14:3: Were also angry with Alma and Amulek. The word "angry" has been analyzed within the larger Ammonihah narrative in the commentary on verse 2.
It is interesting that while the people draw a strong distinction between what angers them about Alma and what angers them about Amulek, the lawyers and judges here draw no such distinction: they are apparently angry with Alma and Amulek together ("because they had testified so plainly against their wickedness"). Whatever distinctions between Alma and Amulek concerned the people (Alma was an outsider, but Amulek was an Ammonihahite; Alma had been the chief judge, but Amulek had only social status; Alma had claimed that Zeezrom was an enemy of the people, while Amulek had only claimed that Zeezrom was his own enemy; Alma had preached theologically, but Amulek had directly addressed the law and local politics; etc.), they mean nothing to the lawyers and judges. Alma and Amulek function, for them, as a unit.
A couple of points may help to explain this. In Alma 11:25, when Amulek accused Zeezrom of trying to "destroy" him, it seems he took Zeezrom's plan to be to show that Amulek was insincere in his testimony, that he had been bribed by Alma to offer his testimony as a second witness. In a word, it seems that Zeezrom's (the lawyers and judges') plan was to show that Amulek was simply Alma's tool. Thus, even from that relatively early point in the narrative, it would seem that the lawyers and judges wanted to reduce Alma and Amulek to a single unit, pinning trumped up crimes on just one of the two and rendering the other a mere (and perhaps unthinking) accomplice.
Interestingly, Alma and Amulek are still at this later point treated as a kind of unit, but there may be some evidence that the lawyers and judges now want to pin their trumped up charges on Amulek and treat Alma as a simple accomplice. At any rate, it is significant that the show trial of verse 5 consists of accusations that only could have been made against Amulek. From this one might gather that with the clear demonstration that Amulek was no unthinking accomplice to a machinating former chief judge, the lawyers and judges have determined that Amulek himself is a machinating figure: he sneaked an obviously disappointed Alma back into the city, opportunistically drawing on the prophet's dour message in order to stage a coup of sorts, claiming local power for himself.
At any rate, while the people see Alma and Amulek as quite different figures with intertwined agendas, it is clear that the lawyers and judges take them as working on a single cause, likely with Amulek in the lead.
  • Alma 14:3: Because they had testified so plainly against their wickedness. There is, as has been mentioned above, a clear connection between the "plainly" of this phrase and the "plainness" of verse 2. Once it is clear that the "they" of this verse (along with the "their" of "their wickedness" here) refers to the lawyers and judges and not to the people more generally, it becomes clear that the plainness in the two verses is more or less identical. In the commentary for verse 2, it has been suggested that Alma's apparently offensive plainness to Zeezrom was a question of his explicitly stating that Zeezrom was at odds with or an enemy to the people. Here in verse 3, it is clear that the plainness referred to is the plainness of Alma's and Amulek's criticisms of the lawyers and judges specifically—"their wickedness." It thus seems that the plainness spoken of in the two passages is the same: a too-straightforward identification of the fact that the lawyers and judges, in their wickedness, are trying to deceive—and ultimately to destroy—the people.
Perhaps it is worth asking about the relationship here between the words "testified" and "against." What is the difference between testifying of and testifying against? And how did Alma and Amulek do the latter specifically?
With the meaning of this part of the verse clear, it must be asked what role it plays in the larger grammatical economy of the verse. As made clear in the lexical notes above, the "and" that precedes this clause in the current edition of the Book of Mormon should not be there. Without it, there are two distinct ways the verse can be read: the "because" clause might serve to explain the anger of the lawyers and judges (might be subordinate to the first independent clause); or the "because" clause might serve to explain the attempt to put Alma and Amulek away privily (might be subordinate to the second independent clause). Of course, in the end and ignoring the grammar, the first independent clause largely explains the second independent clause: it is clearly the anger of the lawyers and judges that ultimately leads them to seek to put Alma and Amulek away privily. But how does the grammar function here?
In the end, what makes this question so tortured is that the absence of the interpolated "and" leaves this verse sounded not-so-Book-of-Mormon-like. If the "because" clause is suspended from the first independent clause, the verse ends with what, for the Book of Mormon's style, is a far too abrupt independent clause: "They sought to put them away privily." If the "because" clause is suspended instead from the second independent clause, the subordinate clause opens the sentence of which it forms a part too abruptly for the Book of Mormon's style: "Because they had testified so plainly against their wickedness, they sought to put them away privily." However the "and" found its way into the text, it would seem that it was added in order to help this verse to sound more like the rest of the Book of Mormon—to maintain the standard "feel" of Book of Mormon prose. An "and" has to be inserted somewhere to retain the usual feel of Nephite scripture, but whether it should be inserted before "because," or whether it should be inserted after "wickedness," it is unclear.
In the end, the grammatical question is interpretively crucial, particularly for making sense of the first part of verse 4 (see the commentary there).
  • Alma 14:3: They sought to put them away privily. Even if the Nephite law provides some public process for such personal injuries (and perhaps it does not; see also Alma's legal reasoning in Alma 1:12-13), they cannot seek redress without conceding the point: Alma and Amulek have stung their conscience. It wouldn't have hurt if it weren't true. "To put them away privily" may have felt like the only option for these lawyers and judges who felt personally injured (whether "put them away" means "persuade them to keep quiet" or something more violent), until a suitably public charge could be drummed up (verse 5).
  • Alma 14:4. It is clear from Alma 14:23 that the chief judge referred to here is the chief judge in charge only of the local jurisdiction ("the chief judge over the land of Ammonihah"). Though the Book of Mormon seldom makes reference to such local "chief judges," it does so consistently. (See also the references in Alma 30.)
  • Alma 14:4: But. The strong contrastive that opens this verse announces in advance that the plan to put Alma and Amulek away privily did not come to fruition. There are, ultimately, two ways this "failure" can be interpreted. On the one hand, it might be that the initial plan of the lawyers and judges was somehow frustrated, apparently by some kind of external force (a higher power, the imposition of the people, an act of Providence, etc.). On the other hand, it might be simply that the lawyers and judges themselves changed their minds about how to go about achieving their desires; the plan to put Alma and Amulek away privily was superseded by what was regarded as a better plan, one that would involve a public trial.
  • Alma 14:4: It came to pass that. That the phrase "it came to pass that" appears between "But" and "they did not" is significant. Had Mormon (the presumed narrator) meant to show simply that the plans of the lawyers and judges were thwarted, a straightforward "But they did not" would have sufficed. (Indeed, the fact that Joseph Smith did not remove this "it came to pass" for the 1837 edition of the Book of Mormon, when he removed five other "it came to passes" in this chapter, is significant. It seems it is crucial to the meaning of Mormon's intentions.) The implication, then, is that there was an event or a series of events (which "came to pass") that altered the decision made by the lawyers and judges. Whatever event(s) might have taken place, the text does not make clear, but it seems clear that something deterred the lawyers and judges from putting Alma and Amulek away privily: the course of events revealed to them either the preferability or the necessity of taking a different approach to the situation.
  • Alma 14:4: They did not. It is clear that the lawyers and judges did not go through with their initial plan, but it remains to be determined whether that was because they were forced to take a different approach, or because they determined to take a different approach of their own volition.
Also, Alma 8:31 foretells that it wouldn't be possible for any man to slay them. Perhaps, we're meant to understand that the secret plans in verse 3 were thwarted by God.
  • Alma 14:4: But they took them and bound them with strong cords. One might suggest, with reference to the contrastive "but" that opens this clause, that "they" here refers not to the lawyers and judges (as previously in this verse), but to the people. That is, one might suggest that this verse stages a kind of limitation on the power of the lawyers and judges: they sought to put Alma and Amulek away privily, but they could not do so, because the people (the mob?) instead took the two, bound them, and hauled them off to the chief judge. In the end, though, such a reading is tenuous at best. Though the Book of Mormon does on occasion change referents without changing pronouns, causing some confusion, the continuity here seems secure. Moreover, the fact that "the people" are reintroduced at the beginning of verse 5 seems to make clear that the referent of "they" has been constant through verses 3 and 4. Still more, if the meaning of the verse was that the people thwarted the lawyers and judges' attempt at putting Alma and Amulek away privily, one would suspect that the contrastive "but" would be replaced by a causal "for": "But it came to pass that they [the lawyers and judges] did not; for they [the people] took them and bound them," etc. That "but" appears instead of "for" seems to make clear that "they" continues to refer to the lawyers and judges.
This point of apparently pointless clarification is actually interpretively crucial. It has been made clear above that there are two ways of interpreting the "they did not" business at the beginning of this verse. On the one hand, the lawyers and judges' initial desire was frustrated, implicitly by some external force. On the other hand, the lawyers and judges simply changed their minds about how to accomplish their desires. The clarification of the meaning of the contrastive "but" here suggests that there are at least problems with the first interpretation of the "they did not." If "they" continues to refer to the lawyers and judges, and does not now refer to the people, at least the people were no external force that thwarted the lawyers and judges in their initial plan. (It remains a possibility, however, that some other external force thwarted their plans, but there is no mention of such force in the text.)
From all this, it seems best to interpret verse 4 as claiming that the lawyers and judges quickly abandoned their original plan to put Alma and Amulek away privily in favor of a public trial, and that they did so willingly. Why they would choose to do so, however, remains to be sorted out below.
  • Alma 14:4: And took them before the chief judge of the land.
  • Alma 14:5. It has been suggested that the word "the" appeared before "judges" in the original manuscript, which is no longer extant. (See the book linked to below to find the full justification for this suggestion.) If the proposed emendation is correct, then it is only the lawyers who are qualified as theirs, the people's, while the judges are the judges of the land.
The word "of" in the phrase "and also of all the people that were in the land" was not originally in the text. It seems to have been (perhaps accidentally) added by the printer of the 1837 edition, without any direction from Joseph Smith. Significantly, it changes the meaning of the text. Without the "of," the passage explains that Alma and Amulek were accused of reviling against (1) the law, (2) the people's lawyers, (3) the judges of the land, and (4) all the people in Ammonihah. With the unwarranted "of," the passage explains that Alma and Amulek were accused of reviling against (1) the law, (2) the people's lawyers, and (3) the judges, who are described, awkwardly, as being both "of the land" and "of all the people that were in the land." It seems clear that the "of" should never have been inserted.
The words "Now this" in the last sentence of the verse originally appeared as "And it came to pass that it," the change being made by Joseph Smith himself in preparation for the 1837 edition. This was, it should be noted, one of several "it came to passes" that Joseph removed from this chapter for the 1837 edition (see verses 7, 10, 18). It is worth noting these deletions because the phrase, despite being removed for good reasons, may be narratively significant in the original.
When the attempt fails to simply put Alma and Amulek away privily, they attempt to self-righteously find justification for punishing them with death and even invoke what they interpret as a contradiction of their beliefs: "that [God]...should send his Son among the people, but he should not save them". They seem to think that they are actually in the right!
  • Alma 14:5: Power Structures. In verses 2 and 5, Alma and Amulek are accused specifically with "revil[ing] against their law and also against their lawyers and judges." In verse 2, the people single out Amulek with concern that he "had lied" unto them, and the word "testify" (with its variants) is repeated four times in vv. 3-5, with the word "witness" being repeated another four times in the verses that follow (vv. 5-11). There are a number of clues in this text to suggest that the key issue at hand is a confrontation between power structures. Later in the chapter, Alma and Amulek are interrogated by members of the social, educated elite, "many lawyers, and judges, and priests, and teachers" (v. 18), and are again accused of "condemn[ing] our law."
In conjunction with other key phrases throughout the rest of the chapter (see below), the picture that emerges may be something like this: Alma and Amulek begin preaching, which the wicked immediately perceive as a threat to their established power structure. It is telling, as ever, that it is precisely the lawyers who react most vehemently to their sermon. The lawyers react violently and incite the elite to believe that Alma and Amulek are directly attacking the established power structure, and the upper class rallies to bully the two itinerant preachers into submission.

Unanswered questions[edit]

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Prompts for life application[edit]

This section is for prompts that suggest ways in which a passage can influence a person's life. Prompts may be appropriate either for private self reflection or for a class discussion. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Prompts for further study[edit]

This section is for prompts that invite us to think about a passage more deeply or in a new way. These are not necessarily questions that beg for answers, but rather prompts along the lines of "Have you ever thought about ..." Prompts are most helpful when they are developed individually, thoughtfully, and with enough background information to clearly indicate a particular direction for further study or thought. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 14:1: Most of what Alma and Amulek preach in Alma 9-13 is more theological than hortatory. Why did this motivate repentance? What does this tell us about preaching?
  • Alma 14:1: Alma 13:31 informs us that "Alma spake many more words unto the people" than what is now to be found in chapters 12-13. Here in this verse Mormon makes an explicit reference to Alma's "ma[king] an end of speaking." How did Alma close his sermon?
  • Alma 14:1: The response of the people is presented as being neatly divided between the "many" that believed and repented and the "more part" that desired to destroy Alma and Amulek. Might this be a simplification for the sake of telling the story, or was the response really so polarized? If so, how and why did the people split into believers and non-believers when the sermon concluded?
  • Alma 14:1: How accessible would scripture have been to the people? And what did they contain? Would Alma's listeners have been acquainted only with the brass plates, or would they also have had access to writings of Lehi, Nephi, King Benjamin or other Nephite prophets?
  • Alma 14:1: Today, Latter-day Saints would understand "searching the scriptures" to mean not only close study but use of extra-textual resources like cross-referencing and historical contextualization. What might it have meant for the people of Nephi to "search the scriptures"?
  • Alma 14:1: This verse asserts a strong relationship between repentance and reading scripture. What is the relationship between repentance and reading scripture? What might this story teach us about how that relationship should look?
  • Alma 14:2: The people—unlike the lawyers and judges in verse 3—draw a distinction between what motivates their anger against Alma and what motivates their anger against Amulek. Why this distinction?
  • Alma 14:2: The text says that the people are angry with Alma because he spoke to Zeezrom in "plainness," but they're angry with Amulek because he "lied" to them. What should be thought about the difference between these two accusations, plainness and deception?
  • Alma 14:2: Alma 9:31 makes clear that the people were already angry with Alma before he rebuked Zeezrom. Why would the text here root their anger solely in what Alma said to Zeezrom specifically?
  • Alma 14:2: What is the difference between Amulek's alleged reviling against lawyers and Alma's plain-speaking to one lawyer in particular? It seems that the people are generally concerned about what has been said to and about lawyers, but this marks the difference between Alma and Amulek. What is that difference worth?
  • Alma 14:2: Given that the people wouldn't have believed that Amulek had seen an angel, is it possible that they have his testimony that he did see an angel in mind when they accuse him of lying?
  • Alma 14:3: While the people in verse 2 have distinct reasons for their anger with Alma and Amulek respectively, the lawyers and judges in verse 3 seem to draw no distinction between their two enemies. What is behind this?
  • Alma 14:3: Given that the "and" that appears before "because" in this verse is not original to the text (note the textual variant in the lexical notes), to which independent clause does the dependent "because" clause attach? In other words, should verse 3 be read as claiming that "they were also angry with Alma and Amulek because they had testified so plainly against their wickedness," or should it be read as claiming that "because they [Alma and Amulek] had testified so plainly against their [the lawyers and priests'] wickedness, they sought to put them away privily"? The added "and" predisposes us to the latter reading, but is it to be preferred over the former reading?
  • Alma 14:3: There is an implicit link between the people's concern about Alma's "plainness" to Zeezrom and the lawyers and priests' concern about Alma and Amulek's testifying "plainly" against their wickedness. What should be said about this link? What, first, should be said about the link between the two related words, "plainness" and "plainly"? And what, second, should be said about the fact that Zeezrom is one of the lawyers, and so that the accusations seem to be linked?
  • Alma 14:3: What does "put them away privily" refer to? Is this, as perhaps seems obvious, a reference to a secret assassination plot (in a gesture not unlike what will become that of the secret combination)? Or might it possibly refer, as in Matt 1:19, to a lawful but discreet process?
  • Alma 14:4: Did the people change their minds about killing Alma and Amulek, or are there different groups involved in v2-4? What are these groups?
  • Alma 14:4: Where did the people who "bound" Alma and Amulek get their authority? Is this an organized police force, or is this more akin to an angry mob? Can we infer that the Chief Judge does not seem to object about the way Alma and Amulek are brought before him?
  • Alma 14:5: What does it mean to revile "against the law" or against the lawyers and judges?
  • Alma 14:5: What does the phrase "and also of all the people that were in the land" refer to? Does it refer to the lawyers and judges being over all the people, or does it refer to Alma and Amulek reviling against all the people?
  • Alma 14:5: Which of the following doctrines do the people take issue with theologically: There is but one God, the Son of God will come among the people, or “he” should not save them? Do the people disagree with only the result of not being saved, or do they disagree with the gospel of Alma and Amulek altogether?
  • Alma 14:5: The people claim that Alma and Amulek said that God will “send his Son among the people, but he should not save them.” Who is the “he” being spoken of here, God or his Son? If the answer is the Son, then are the people taking issue with God having a son that had the power of granting salvation? If the answer is God, then are these people claiming they are a “chosen people?” Thus, God must save them.

Resources[edit]

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  • Alma 14:1. For Hugh Nibley's comments on the importance of the turn to scripture in verse 1, see his lecture on Alma 12-14. (They are to be found between two-thirds and three-fourths of the way down the page, beginning with the paragraph that begins, "Then he told them to search the scriptures . . . .")
  • This probably needs revising, but here is a look at the accusation in these 5 verses throughout the previous 6 chapters. (Feel free to edit.)

Notes[edit]

Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.



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