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The relationship of Chapter 8 to the rest of Chapters 8-16 the book is discussed at Chapters 8-16.
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- Alma 14:6. Regarding Zeezrom's soul being harrowed up: harrowing as an agricultural term is quite distinct from plowing, which digs a single deep trough. A harrow is a long, multi-tined instrument that disrupts the top layers of the soil, breaking up clumps and rendering the surface ready for planting (See Websters 1828 dictionary entry). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, use of the term to refer to lacerating or wounding the feelings; to vex, pain, or distress greatly (rarely with up) apparently dates in English to the early 1600s, and is first attributed to Shakespeare (1603) Hamlet i. v. 16, "I would a tale unfold, whose lightest word Would harrow up thy soule." Harrowing is mentioned 13 times in the LDS scriptures, 10 times in the Book of Mormon--the only source for verses discussing the harrowing up of souls.
- See also Christian beliefs about Christ's "Harrowing of Hell" (Greek: Anastasis) between his death and resurrection. Wikipedia
- Zeezrom's Conversion. Zeezrom's change of heart begins when people testify falsely against Alma and Amulek. His range of emotions begins with "astonishment" at the "blindness of the minds," which leads to a sense of his own complicity and guilt about the collective unwillingness to accept truth, and then to being "harrowed up" and "encircled by pains of hell," and finally: public confession.
- Burning the believers. The reaction of the wicked to burn the believers is entirely shocking. Indeed, it may be the most extreme reaction by the wicked to preaching recorded in scripture. It is surprising for a couple reasons.
- It seems to come out of nowhere. In the preceding verses and chapters, the wickedness of Ammonihah seems to be pretty typical of all wicked cities. No particular mention of their sins is made (besides Alma 8:17) except to say that they're wicked and they reject Alma's teachings. By contrast, Mosiah 11 gives specific attention to the wickedness of King Noah, making a case against them, before introducing Abinadi. Ammonihah feels like your run-of-the-mill prideful city, until you get to v8 and realize just how awful these guys are.
- It's unprecedented. Typically in situations like this, those in power (the king, the chief judge, the governor, etc.) act primarily in the interest of preserving their power and will seek to knock off the head of the movement (e.g. the prophet) that is disturbing the balance of power. There may be some persecution against the believers as well, but not typically this extreme. That seems to be the pattern this story was following until v5. In v5, Alma and Amulek are on trial, suggesting they prefer to keep up a facade of legality and justice. But what is the outcome of the hearing? To burn the believers! But they weren't on trial so what was the point of holding one? It makes no sense. A possible explanation for this sudden turn may be the interposed testimony of Zeezrom.
- It's blatantly illegal. Ammonihah is still accountable to the broader laws of the land, and they must expect some kind of retribution for the execution of women and children who weren’t even on trial in v5. These burnings don’t just represent a rejection of Alma’s preaching, but a rejection of association with the rest of the Nephites. Between this verse and Alma 8:17, it’s clear that these people were already planning some kind of rebellion when Alma came to Ammonihah in ch8, though it isn’t revealed in their actions until this moment.
- It's extremely sarcastic. Since Alma had previously quoted scriptures to the people of Ammonhihah about a time when the wicked's "torments shall be as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever" Alma 12:17, perhaps the wicked leaders are seeking to enact this prediction, throwing it in the face of Alma and Amulek. The wicked leaders will later sarcastically enact another of the prophesies about the damned--by "gnashing their teeth upon them" and specifically mocking them by asking "how shall we look when we are damned?" Alma 14:21.
- Alma 14:6: Power structures. The significance of burning the believers' records may possibly be explained in terms of the power structures discussed above. Because records are a crucial part of any power structure, especially those that are elite/educated (courts and religions and education, constituted of judges, laywers, priests, and teachers), it may be that these scriptural records were recognized as the binding and unifying force for this upstart religious group. Burning the records, then, especially in such a way as to warrant such strong language ("that they might be burned and destroyed by fire") might be aimed at cutting down this threatening power structure at its very roots.
- In addition, it should be remembered that it was Alma and Amulek's reinterpretation of scripture that lead to the mass conversion. Alma 14:1 indicates that the new converts "began to repent, and to search the scriptures." Perhaps the ruling class had a particular interpretation of scripture that they taught (likely similar to the Nehor doctrines discussed elsewhere in the Book of Mormon) and if the people were to take Alma and Amulek seriously and read for themselves, the Nehor fallacies would be discovered and their power as leaders and teachers lost.
- Further evidence that this chapter is steeped in the language of judicial procedure comes in Zeezrom's introspective statement. As Zeezrom realizes his own error and watches the court-room drama unfolding between God and the people of Ammonihah, he exclaims, "Behold, I am guilty, and these men are spotless. He frames his repentant statement in terms of guilt vs. innocence. Immediately after proclaiming his own guilt, he is eliminated from the system, "reviled" and "cast . . . out from among them" in company with the other believers (v. 7).
- Alma 14:11. Webster's 1828 dictonary "Constrain" is to exert moral or physical force in either urging to action or restraining it. However according to Webster's 1828 dictonary "Constrain" can also have a stronger meaning, to force or imprison.
- Alma 14:14. Brimstone, according to the footnote in the LDS version of the Old Testament for Gen. 19:24 is from the Heb. Term meaning, “combustible materials (especially sulphur and pitch).”
- Alma 14:14: Martyrdom of the believers. Verse 8 told us that the wives and children of those men who had been cast out because of their belief plus anyone else who believed was burned. Verse 14 suggests that part of the motivation for choosing this way to kill them was to make a point in contrast to Alma's prophecy in 12:17. There Alma had prophesied that if the people didn't repent they would ultimately be cast into a lake of fire and brimstone. So then, when the wicked cast the believers into a lake of fire, it seems the point is something like "we are the one's with the power to cast people into the fire. Don't be afraid of God's punishment be afraid of ours."
- Elder Maxwell said, "Touting our own “hand” makes it doubly hard to confess God’s hand in all things," and he cites v. 11 as an example of Alma refusing to tout his own hand.
- Alma says in v11 that "the Spirit constraineth me" not to act to prevent these deaths. Other uses of this word in scripture include Paul's discussion of the moment of judgment before God ("for the love of Christ constraineth us" 2 Corinthians 5:14) and Job's refusal to speak ("for I am full of matter, the spirit within me constraineth me" Job 32:18).
- The Greek word used in the New Testament that is translated as “constraineth” in 2 Corinthians 5:14 is συνέχω, (soon-ekh'-o) . This word means to hold something together in order to prevent it from falling apart. The KJV is the only major Bible translation that uses constraineth for this verse. Most English translations use either “control” or “compel.”
- Alma 14:14: Power structures. In these verses, the question of power as such explicitly comes to the fore. Interestingly, it is Amulek who raises the question, perhaps as part of his growing understanding of what it means to be called of God: "Let us stretch forth our hands and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames."
- In verse 15, the chief judge again raises the issue: "ye see that ye had not power to save those who had been cast into the fire; neither has God saved them." Not only is Alma and Amulek's power brought into question, but the clout of God himself is challenged!
- It is striking, then, that sandwiched between these first two mentions of power, the legal overtones of the chapter reach their most significant peak: God has permitted the believers to be burned in order that "the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness." Situated in the center of two questions, one about how one ought to exercise God's power (v.10), and the other about how that power manifests itself in the eyes of others (v.15), is a manifestation of God's exercise of that power as He is seated in righteous judgment. God is judging the people's actions, and their assertion of hierarchy and a power structure over and against his own excites "his [just] wrath."
- Burning the believers. There’s no mention of Alma or Amulek saying or doing anything in v1-9. This is mainly a picture of the people’s reaction to their preaching, and what a reaction! Those that repent immediately turn to the scriptures (but aren’t baptized, which I’m still wondering about). The reaction of the unrepentant is incoherent. They think about killing them, but change their mind and instead bring them to court. Zeezrom tries to defend them so they turn on him, kick him and the rest of the believing men out and burn the women and children. Like, where did that come from? I thought Alma and Amulek were on trial.
- I’ve tried to develop a model in which this reaction might make a bit more sense. I’ve based it on Alma 8:17. In that scripture Alma has turned his back on Ammonihah, but an angel has sent him back with a specific mission to warn them that if they don’t repent they’ll be destroyed. But in v17 the angel kind of gives a reason why Ammonihah is in so much trouble. He says that even at this moment they’re plotting to destroy the liberty of the Nephites. This is the only justification I’ve found (before Alma 14 that is) for the Lord’s intent to destroy Ammonihah.
- This is the situation in Ammonihah when Alma and Amulek are preaching. The people are on the verge of some kind of revolt to gain power over the rest of the Nephites. This would explain their focus on power that Kim has pointed out. Burning the believers and their records is a way of exerting their power over Alma and Amulek, putting them in their place. “Don’t tell us that we’ll be cast into a lake of fire and brimstone. Anyone you convert, we’ll cast into fire and brimstone. We’ll make you watch on, helpless and powerless to save them!” These guys have an intense desire for power and it’s kind of terrifying what it drives them to do.
- Connections between Alma 14 and Mosiah 17-19.
- I’ve also found several connections between the Noah-Abinadi story and this story.
- 1) Accusation of reviling against the law/king
- 2) Putting the righteous to death specifically by fire
- 3) Alma the elder and Zeezrom are parallel characters. Both are introduced as, “one among them.” (Mosiah 17:2 and Alma 10:31) Alma “knew concerning the iniquity which Abinadi had testified.” Zeezrom “knew concerning the blindness of the minds, which he had caused” (Alma 14:6). Alma “began to plead with the king that he would not be angry with Abinadi.” Zeezrom “began to plead for them from that time forth.” King Noah “caused that Alma should be cast out from among them, and sent his servants after him that they might slay him.” The Ammonihahites “cast [Zeezrom] out from among them… and sent men to cast stones at them.”
- 4) The official charge against Abinadi turns out to be that he taught that “God himself should come down among the children of men.” (Mosiah 17:8) The Ammonihahites testify in court that Alma and Amulek had taught that God “should send his Son among the people, but he should not save them.” (Alma 14:5)
- 5) Abinadi held in prison three days before being confronted again (Mosiah 17:6). Alma and Amulek are held in prison for three days before being confronted again (Alma 14:17-18).
- 6) After Noah is killed and his priests are scattered (as prophesied in Mosiah 17:16-19), the people of Noah meet the people of Gideon who tell them “all that had hapened to their wives and their children.” After Ammonihah is destroyed (as prophesied) Alma and Amulek tell the men who fled the city “all that had happened unto their wives and children.”
- 7) Alma Sr. establishes a church and baptize many who say it’s “the desire of our hearts.” (Mosiah 18:11) Alma Jr. establishes a church and baptizes many who are “desirous to be baptized.” (Alma 15:13)
- 8) Noah sees that the “lamanites were within the borders of the land.” Later the “began to slay them” and they take others captive.” (Mosiah 19:6-15) Alma 15 records that “the armies of the Lamanites had come… into the borders of the land… and began to slay the people…” and they took “others captive.”
- Elements prefiguring Christ
- The contents of this section may need possible revision.
- I have a question and a suggested revision.
- Several elements in this narrative prefigure Christ's trial, execution, and resurrection in the New Testament Gospels. They include the chief judge "smote them with his hand upon their cheeks" (v14), being mocked by suggesting they use God's power to save themselves, being forced them to witness the suffering of others, and their period of grief and silence that lasts three days (v18) prior to their dramatic deliverance from the prison, symbolic of triumph over death.
- My question is what moment you have in mind from Christ's atonement where he was forced to witness the suffering of others? Perhaps you mean in performing the atonement he saw our suffering, or that he was crucified with two thieves, or do you mean Peter cutting off Malchus' ear?
- Regarding their three days in prison (v18), v22-23 make it clear that they spent much more than three days in prison before being delivered. That being said, I do think their dramatic deliverance from prison is reminiscent of the resurrection.
- I did not write this paragraph, but I like both the original reading and the questions that follow. I find comparisons with Christ within this chapter both plentiful and yet problematic. When was Christ forced to witness suffering? This is a great question. I suppose from the time that he was born. He witnessed more suffering than any of us ever could since his earthly mission was the ultimate mission of healing. Perhaps then Alma 14:10-11 was how Christ felt on a daily basis? Of course, I have no idea if this is true, I am just thinking off the top of my head here.
- I feel like the line about being forced to witness suffering weakens the point. There's no direct parallel in mind. Pretty much whenever Christ did witness suffering, he alleviated it, unlike Alma and Amulek. And also, there's a bit of a difference between witnessing suffering and being forced to witness suffering as Alma and Amulek are here. I think a closer comparison would be to 2 Kgs 25:7 where Zedekiah is forced to watch his sons be murdered. --Mike Berkey
- Order and Faith of Nehor.
- At this point in the story we are finally told the nature of the politico-religious rebellion taking place in Ammonihah--the leadership of the city is "after the order and faith [and profession] of Nehor" (v16, 18). Nehor had advocated for the establishment of priestcraft--paid religious leadership--and here we find that his system was actually implemented in Ammonihah. Nehor taught that "all mankind should be saved at the last day" Alma 1:4, here in Ammonihah the Nehorites appear to be challenging the idea of a Christ rescuing only the repentant--showing to their mind the futility of such a belief by casting the religious followers into flames where they were not saved.
- Profession of Nehor. In v18 we are told that some of the leaders are not just of the "order and faith" of Nehor, but are of the "profession" of Nehor. Based on the current punctuation it may be impossible to know if the "lawyers, and judges, and priests, and teachers" were all "of the profession of Nehor" or if that phrase should just refer to a subset of these. As Nehor had originally taught that priests and teachers should be paid Alma 1:3, perhaps we could read v18 as "there came many lawyers and judges, and priests and teachers who were of the profession of Nehor." This raises interesting questions about the relationship between Nehor's philosophy, paid priesthood, and the political leadership of the breakaway apostate Nephites/Mulekites society in Ammonihah and elsewhere (such as Jerusalem near the Land of Nephi Alma 21:4). Judges and lawyers were paid for their time according to the law of Mosiah Alma 11:1, but presumably Nehorite priests and teachers in Ammonihah were also paid as Nehor had advocated.
- Smote them...on their cheeks. In Alma 1:22 we learn that those who followed Nehor were prone to contending with the believers, "even unto blows; yea, they would smite one another with their fists." Here the Nehorite judge assaults Alma an Amulek in the same manner.
- Alma 14:21. According to Websters 1928 Dictionary “Gnashing”, is “a grinding or striking of the teeth in rage or anguish.” Also compare this usage with Matt 8:12 “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The Greek New Testament word translated as gnashing is βρυγμός, broog-mos' which is “used to denote extreme anguish and utter despair of men consigned to eternal punishment in hell.”
- Timeline. The inclusion of the date in v23 is parenthetical to the point that "they had thus suffered many days." Perhaps the date here is meant to give us an idea of how long they were in prison. In ch8 Alma seems to begin his preaching in Ammonihah within the first couple of weeks of the tenth year. From the time he starts preaching in ch8 to the time that the believers are burned doesn't seem to be more than a couple months, so that the time spent in prison here is probably several months.
- Power structures. The language of power continues to escalate as the conclusion nears. In verses 19 and 20, the chief judge again attempts to goad Alma and Amulek into displaying power. In verse 19, the judge declares his own power over their life, and then rhetorically asks them why they haven't yet delivered themselves in v. 20. The next mention of power is in v. 24, where the question is no longer rhetorical, and the judge commands, "If ye have the power of God deliver yourselves." In the midst of this progression from question to demand, however, sits v. 22, in which Alma and Amulek are submitted to deprivation of food, water, and clothing. Their stubborn silence has goaded the chief judge to an actual exercise of power, fulfilling threats. Through their very silence, ironically, Alma and Amulek have declared themselves to be outside of the structure, and in the following verses, God finally allows them to exercise true power in demolishing the prison.
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Prompts for life application
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Prompts for further study
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- Alma 14:6: Was Zeezrom "astonished at the words which had been spoken" by "the people" in v5 or by Alma and Amulek in the previous chapters?
- Alma 14:6: Zeezrom caused the people to have "blindness of the mind" due to his lying words. Does this mean that the people were weakminded, or does it mean something else?
- Alma 14:6: What are the pains of hell?
- Alma 14:7: What is it in Zeezrom's confession/testimony in v7 that may have provoked the people to cast out or burn the believers?
- Alma 14:7: When Zeezrom declares himself as guilty is he volunteering to take the punishment for the “crimes” committed by Alma and Amulek?
- Alma 14:7: Is there a religious significance to the casting of stones in this verse?
- Alma 14:7: What is the connection between what the people do to Zeezrom here (revile, spit, cast out) and what they did to Alma when he first went to Ammonihah? (revile, spit, cast out: see Alma 8:13) Is this a ritual in their city?
- Alma 14:8: Verse 7 records that Zeezrom and all those who believed in the words which had been spoken were exiled from Ammonihah, yet verse 8 says their wives and children were rounded up to be burned. Is this second group more extensive, because it contained "whosoever had been taught to believe in the word of God," or was it less extensive, because other believers had already been cast out or stoned?
- Alma 14:8: How plentiful were copies of the “holy scriptures”?
- Alma 14:8: What physical form did scripture take? This verse implies that they can be burned. Is carbon-based material (paper, parchment, or other similar materials) evident elsewhere in the Book of Mormon? Were scriptures bound, rolled, kept on animal skins, printed on textiles?
- Alma 14:9: Both v8 and v9 suggest that both the location and means of execution may have been previously established in Ammonihah: for example, use of "the fire" without any description of fire-building or site selection, and reference to "the place of martyrdom" as if this was well known. Did the actual place bear this designation, "the place of martyrdom", and if so, was it already so designated before v8, or did the place only take on this designation historically because of this event?
- Alma 14:9: Why it is important to the people of Ammonihah that Alma and Amulek "witness the destruction"? More generally, why is it important that we become witnesses to suffering, injustice, and the pains of others? Does their use of "witness" as a verb rather than a noun make a difference here?
- Alma 14:9: How does the use of "fire" in this verse compare with other uses of the word in scripture? How do these burnings compare with Mosiah 17:13, Mosiah 19:20, Alma 25:11, or even perhaps Hel 5:23?
- Alma 14:9: What affect might watching this gruesome scene have had on Alma and Amulek? Are the people trying to break down Alma and Amulek psychologically? How might this experience influence the their future preaching?
- Alma 14:9: Why is Amulek only seeing women and children being burned in the fire? Verse 8 states that “whosoever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God they cause that they should be cast into the fire.” Are Alma and Amulek standing next to other men while they watch this scene, or were all the men driven out in v7 and only women and children cast into the fire?
- Alma 14:11: Alma declares that the people being burned are received “unto himself [God], in glory.” The footnote for glory in your scriptures leads you to the topical guide heading for “exaltation.” Is this verse declaring that martyrdom equals exaltation? If not, what does “in glory” mean? If so, does all martyrdom equal exaltation or does glory refer only to this specific case?
- Alma 14:11: What does this verse teach us about Ethics and priesthood responsibly? After all, don't we have an ethical responsibility to protect those around us from harm?
- Alma 14:11: What does the "last day" refer to in this verse? Is that refering to this life or the next?
- Alma 14:11: Is Alma reinforcing John the Beloved's message (in the book of Revelation) that the Saints are to spend their time, energy, and resources doing good and preaching repentance rather than fighting against evil?
- Alma 14:12: Could you read this as Amulek actually hoping to die also, since members of his own family were likely consumed in the flames before his eyes? In other words, is it possible to read verse 12 as a sort of death wish on Amulek's part?
- Alma 14:13: Does this verse say anything about free will if Alma and Amulek are not free to either die or be killed?
- Alma 14:13: Why does the judge punch Alma and Amulek in the face ("smote on their cheeks)? What significance is there to being punched in the face in ancient culture? How does this connect to the Savior's words of "turning the other cheek?"
- Alma 14:14: What is meant by the "chief judge of the land" here? Is this a title or just descriptive? How is this different from the "chief judge" title that Alma gave up to Nephihah? Does this tell us anything about the actual structure of government or about differences between government in Zarahemla and Ammonihah?
- Alma 14:14: Is the Chief judge using “fire and brimstone” as a literal term, or is condemning those who were burned to hell? Compare Gen. 19:24 and Ps. 11:6 for Biblical usage of this term.
- Alma 14:15: When the chief judge taunts them for not having power to save those who had been cast into the fire, is he referring to the conversation they had in v10-11?
- Alma 14:15: What is the chief judge looking for? Is he asking rhetorical questions or does he expect real answers? Does the text give us any indication that Alma and Amulek can escape punishment if they answer these questions to the satisfaction of the Chief judge?
- Alma 14:16: What is the order and faith of Nehor? Is there a difference between the faith of Nehor and the order of Nehor? Why is it significant that the judge was a Nehorite?
- Alma 14:16: How is the word “faith” being used in this verse? Is Mormon talking about a religious faith/sect, or some other kind of faith.
- Alma 14:17: Why didn't Alma and Amulek answer the judge? Is their silence a strategic form or passive aggressiveness or it is something else?
- Alma 14:17: Who are these officers that deliver the prisoners into prison? What is the nature of their office? What can we infer about the organization of Ammonihah society based on the presence of "officers"?
- Alma 14:17: What do we know about Nephite or Nehorite prisons?
- Alma 14:18: What do we know about the position of lawyers, judges, priests, and teachers in this society?
- Alma 14:18: What does "who were of the profession of Nehor" modify--lawyers, and judges, and priests, and teachers or just a subset of these; perhaps just teachers or priests and teachers? What does the "profession" of Nehor mean, and how is it related to the "order" and "faith" of Nehor (v.16)?
- Alma 14:18: What kind of information were they trying to get out of Alma and Amulek as they sat in prison?
- Alma 14:19: Did Alma and Amulek refuse to answer the judge because of Alma's revelation from the Lord that they still had work to do? Did their silence mean anything?
- Alma 14:19: Are the words "power" and "command" in this sentence used to highlight and contrast the judge's (earthly) authority against Alma and Amulek's message of Jesus Christ, the true Judge who possesses all true Power and who authors all Commands?
- Alma 14:21: What does it mean to gnash teeth?
- Alma 14:21: Since the damned are described in the scriptures as gnashing their teeth, are the people here being sarcastic? If so, how common is sarcasm in the scriptures?
- Alma 14:23: Why is the exact day of Alma and Amulek's deliverance important to note, but not the exact day of the martyrdom of the believers?
- Alma 14:23: Why would the chief judge take many of the teachers and lawyers to the prison with him?
- Alma 14:23: What connection do the teachers have with the lawyers in Ammonihah?
- Alma 14:23: Are the teachers responsible for educating the upcoming lawyers in the ways of Nehor for this society?
- Alma 14:25: What do the united actions of these people tell us about them?
- Alma 14:25: What is the "power of God"? Is it the priesthood, the Holy Ghost, or something else?
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- This link contains additional material which isn't designed to be direct commentary on Alma 14, but which may be helpful to interested readers of Alma 14.
- Alma 14:16-20. See the end of the essay, "Ammonihah," by Kent Brown for some interesting comments on why the enemies of Alma and Amulek felt they had to return again and again to demand that the prisoners speak.
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