Alma 2:1-19

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Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 1-3 > Chapter 2a / Verses 2:1-19
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Summary[edit]

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Discussion[edit]

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  • Amlici and the Amalekites?: Pronunciation of the name Amlici. The pronunciation of the name Amlici has major implications for the literary unity and power of the Book of Alma. If the name is pronounced Amliki with the accent on the first syllable rather than Amlisi, then Amlici may be seen as a founding father of the Amalekites, provided that the name of that people also has the accent on the first syllable. He becomes Amliki and they the Amlikites. Their otherwise unexplained appearance in Alma 21:2 is explained, and the series of battles recounted in the Book of Alma become part of one long twilight struggle in which freemen resist revanchist Mulekite kingmen. The kingmen seek to reestablish the Mulekite monarchy that ended when Zarahemla took the first Mosiah as his successor (Omni 1:19) rather than one of his own sons. The second Mosiah has now ended the Nephite monarchy, so those with "the blood of nobility" (Alma 51:21), King David's Mulekite descendants, want to reclaim royal power. In other words, those who accept the obligation mentioned in Alma 1:1 to abide by the laws of Mosiah and those who reject that obligation are now violently at odds (see Thesis statement for the book of Alma under the Discussion heading at Alma).
There are substantial grounds for thinking that Amlici and the Amalekites are connected. The preeminent Book of Mormon textual critic, Royal Skousen, notes the inconsistent spelling of Oliver Cowdery, particularly with respect to c and k and with respect to the name Amalekite. And J. Christopher Conkling draws together many pieces of evidence--including Skousen's work--that support this conclusion in ["Alma's Enemies: The Case of the Lamanites, Amlicites, and Mysterious Amalekites]," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 14 (1), pages 108 - 117.
  • Alma 2:1-4: Amlici's abilities, character, and plans. As the comments on the execution of Nehor indicate (see exegesis for Chapter 1), Alma seems to have been an unpolished and perhaps an unskilled politician. Amlici, on the other hand, seems to have had considerable political skill. In verse 1 he is described as cunning. Cunning is what one calls intelligence when a foe possesses it. It is unethical intelligence. Verse 1 also attributes much wisdom of the world to Amlici. From a worldly point of view, he seems to have managed his affairs well. Verses 2 and 3 suggest that he was alarmingly successful in his political endeavors. We can probably reconstruct one of his political arguments from what is said in verse 1 by Mormon (who doesn't like Amlici and who is probably using writings of Amlici's principle foe, Alma, as his source). Mormon assures us that Nehor "was executed according to the law." Amlici presumably argued the opposite: that Nehor was unfairly executed by the head of a rival religion, i.e. that Alma had abused his authority as Chief Judge to advance his interests as High Priest of his church. Part of Amlici's success undoubtedly flows from resentment Nehor's followers would have felt when he was executed by Alma.
Amlici may have suggested that church and state could be better separated as Mosiah intended if he, Amlici, were the sovereign instead of Alma who was also the High Priest. But members of the Church have good reason to fear--as verses 3 and 4 indicate--that Amlici would use state power against them were he to become king. Amlici would frame his actions against the church and its leaders as tit for Alma's tat, as justice for the victim Nehor. Thus, in this period of imperfect separation of church and state, the church has a strong reason to fear the loss of political power for church members and the acquisition of power by their religious opponents. While it is likely that the Nehorites did think Alma was unjust in his execution of Nehor, verse 3 indicates that at least some of the neutral observers--people who were not members of Alma's church--were more alarmed by Amlici than by Alma. This suggests that Alma had built some reputation for judging impartially in conflicts between those who were and weren't members of his church.
The fear the people feel in verse 4 (which may have been matched to some degree by fear the Nehorites felt) shows the importance of separating the state from any particular religion. A state with an official religion cannot be relied upon to protect the right of minority religions to freedom of worship, an especially precious right.
  • Alma 2:5: Respect for Alma. Verse 5 indicates that members of the church and others who respect Alma's abilities and integrity still constitute a majority.
  • Alma 2:6: Cast in their voices. In modern usage it would seem more appropriate to write, "cast in their votes." In the Doctrine and Covenants the word vote is used in seven verses, so it was a familiar term to Joseph Smith; yet the word does not appear in the Book of Mormon.
  • Alma 2:8: Poison politics. It is a bad sign when a political victory causes "much joy." It indicates that the people have become deeply polarized and that too much is riding on victory. It is much better for the stakes in politics to be smaller, i.e., for the consequences to be small if one party rather than the other assumes power. Small stakes mean that a society has achieve a substantial measure of agreement on the basic outlines of the social order. The great joy in the first half of 8 leads very naturally to the beginnings of rebellion in the second half of the verse, for that joy has its antithesis, bitter disappointment. The polity in Zarahemla is sick at this point as is any polity that is deeply riven by a bitter contest between utterly incompatible ideologies. The problem of "policy cycling" that drives this bitter conflict between Alma and Amlici is discussed in a Journal of Book of Mormon Studies article by Ryan Davis, ["For the Peace of the People: War and Democracy in the Book of Mormon"].
  • Alma 2:10: Subjection. Amlici seeks power in order to "subject" others to his will. He wants to deal with Alma and members of his church as Alma appears to have dealt with Nehor in 1:15. So while the perception that Alma mistreated Nehor may not have been valid, it nevertheless exists and feeds the poison politics of Zarahemla.
  • Alma 2:11: The implications of names. There is lot of emphasis on naming of peoples in Book of Mormon. Why are names important? What is the thrust of names these people adopt? Names create social cohesion. They are a way of erasing differences that individuals always have. People can become one under an abstract category, e.g., Amlicite or Nephite, in spite of their many actual differences. The name Amlicite emphasizes the centrality of the charismatic Amlici to his movement. It suggests devotion to monarchy, to sovereignty being invested in one person. The name Nephite emphasizes continuity with the established order, including the legitimacy both of Mosiah as Nephi’s successor and of the new social arrangement Mosiah made that empowers Alma. The people continue to be Nephites; becoming Amlicites is new. As noted in the exegesis on chapter 1, this appears to be a Mulekite rebellion. The name Mulekite is also significant. The root MLK signifies king in Hebrew, so Mulekite might be translated as Kingite. Thus, the Mulekite kingmen who are here rebelling are aptly named.
  • Alma 2:12-14: Made in the image of one's enemy. Alma 1:30 indicates what the people of the church wanted to be, and were. Here they are remade in the image of the Amlicites, being organized for war with a hierarchy of military commanders. In ["Warfare in the Book of Mormon"] Nibley cites an apt quotation of Clausewitz that explains why one comes to mirror one's enemy:
“'If the enemy should choose the method of the great decision by arms, our own method must on that account be changed against our will to a similar one.’ What the enemy does, we must do. ‘If the enemy should choose the method’ he's going to use, ‘of the great decision by arms,’ we can't do anything but reply in the same way. We must on that account, against our own will, adopt a similar method.”
While it is sometimes--as here--a necessary evil, war is a win/win proposition for Satan because the righteous must take on the hierarchical social structure and heartless demeanor of the wicked when they engage in war.
  • Alma 2:18-19: How armies lose in ancient battles. In ancient battles, losses mainly occurred in retreat. Why? If your side turns and runs, there is no hope if you alone turn to fight. So everyone runs. Pursuers have nothing to fear from those who flee, while those who flee have nothing to gain by resisting. Fast pursers can kill all slow fleers, with constant back up from slower pursuers if someone does try to resist. So one by one, those who flee can be picked off, only the most fleet of foot surviving. This dynamic is what leads to such great slaughter of the Amlicites in these verses. ["For the Peace of the People"] explains why, as in this instance, democratic societies tend to defeat their autocratic opponents. The basic reason is that citizens of a democracy have more to fight for, their lives and the lives of their families being better than those of an autocrat's subjects. The factors that weaken autocracies are on full display in the account of King Noah in the land of Nephi, he being a great wastrel of societal resources that could have been used to benefit his subjects and, thus, give them a greater stake in the survival of the regime or that could have been devoted to developing a more robust defense.

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  • Alma 2:1-3: Why is the power to be cunning attributed to Amilici's wisdom, rather than to Satan's powers of deception? Why are we told that the deceived Nephites are following Amlici rather than following Satan? Is this an indication that the righteous Nephite leaders feared the power of men like Amlici at some level and attributed a lot of it to their verbal prowess?
  • Alma 2:10: Amlici commands his people to go to war so that he can subjugate his people. How does going to war do that? Do you know of contemporary examples of someone using a declaration of war to subjugate his people? What lesson is there in this for us?
  • Alma 2:11: Why are the Nephites here equated with the "people of God" when previously the "people of God" referred to the members of the Church? Does this indicate that those who are no longer part of the Church do not consider themselves to be Nephites? Does this indicate that the Amlicites have separated themselves from the church and now wish to rule over those who do not belong to their faith? What is the relationship between religious and political leadership according to the Amlicites?
  • Alma 2:16: Alma is described as both the chief judge and the governor. What is the difference between these titles? What is the difference between a governor and a king? Alma also seems to be the military leader of the people. What is the relationship between the political, religious, and military leadership at this time? How does that compare to the relationship between these types of leaders at other times in Nephite history?

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Notes[edit]

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