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Mosiah 29:1-5

Home > The Book of Mormon > Mosiah > Chapters 25-29 > Chapter 28-29
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Summary[edit]

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Relationship to Chapters 25-29. The relationship of Chapter 28-29 to the rest of Chapters 25-29 is discussed at Mosiah 25-29.

Story.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapter 28-29 include:

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Mosiah 28-29: Collapse of hereditary leadership. While the establishment of a "rule of the judges" is often interpreted to be a political advance for the Nephites, it can also be seen as the failure of Mosiah to maintain the stability of a heriditary ruling lineage. While the rule of the judges gave people a say in the management of the government, it also created a power vaccuum and political schisms that lasted over 100 years and eventually led to the collapse of Nephite civil society. For three generations (Mosiah, Benjamin, Mosiah), leadership of the combined Nephite/Zarahemlaite region had fallen to "kings" which, in modern anthropological terms, were probably more akin to "big men" or possibly "chiefs". These leaders seemed to rule a small group of people mostly through their own charisma, and we are told that they labored for their own support--ie, they probably didnt have a large court supported by taxes or conscripted labor. While these leaders had managed to keep leadership within the family for three generations, when the Sons of Mosiah left, this arrangement was no longer possible, and rather than turn leadership over to a possibly competing elite lineage (perhaps descendents of Zarahemla?), Mosiah alters the management of the government. It is difficult to reconstruct from the text how these "judges" differed from chiefs--though perhaps we should see these judges more as "chiefs". If so, what we may be seeing here at the end of Mosiah is the transition from a rank or big man based society, or perhaps a small stratified chiefdom, expanded to become a complex chiefdom with a main chief ("chief judge") ruling over regional chiefs ("judges"). Whatever the actual structure of the Nephite polity at this point, the collapse of the previously stable Mosiah-Benjamin-Mosiah lineage rulership, and transition to the new "rule of the judges" did not seem to go smoothly, as a series of dissenters would try to wrest control of the area from the judges for the next 100 years.
Good thoughts. I imagine that the Jaredite record, newly translated (though only available in a stripped-down edition, apparently) probably had some influence on these affairs. Did Mosiah's reading of the record give him some concerns about what kingship would quickly become if Nephite civilization grew any larger? Did the people's reading of the record have anything to do with the movements back toward kingship (Amlici, Amalickiah)? Did the sons of Mosiah and Alma form their secret combination with explicit reference to Jaredite practices? How much of these few chapters are dependent on one's careful understanding of Jaredite society? I don't tend to follow the Central America reading of BoM geography, but if one does, the influence of the Olmecs among both Mayan and the broader Mexican peoples may be incredibly suggestive on this point.
I generally consider that, as suggested, the influence of the Jaredite record on the transition to judges is important to note. Not only does the Jaredite record highlight the weaknesses of monarchy, but the establishment of the kingdom Ether 6:22-27 parallels Mosiah's experience with trying to pass the kingdom on to his sons. Mosiah 29:1-8 Of course the Bible also discourses on the folly of establishing kings. 1 Sam. 8:10-18 The Old Testament does not consider the shift from judges to kings to be a positive move. At the same time, a Republic is not exactly what the people had before. The judges were more of a semi-theocratic rule, though at the same time, they required popular support. The expressly Republican elements of Mosiah's shift are rather interesting and give greater cause to compare their society's struggles with ours than any other government in the scriptures. One element I find interesting is the rising influence and danger from corrupt lawyers and judges. The destruction of the wicked in the city of Ammonihah, where the lawyers seemed to be the antagonists, was apparently necessitated/provoked by their studying to overthrow the government. Alma 8:17 Of course, it's the secret combinations that eventually tear thing apart via their assassinations and intrigues.
I think it is important, as indicated, to remember that these judges are not modern democratically elected leaders as we might too easily consider them, but rather apparently elected presidents for life perhaps most similar to a modern African model. While we don't know very much about how lesser judges were appointed, there doesn't seem to be a regular election cycle involved here, only votes for new rulers upon the current ruler's death. It isn't also clear who got to vote, how the vote was taken, or what is meant by the "voice of the people". In anthropological terms, when a ruler requires the "voice of the people" to stay in power, it is usually considered that the leader does not have enough power to maintain rulership by the use of military force. In modern terms, we might consider such polities as a "weak state", but it might be that the Book of Mormon is describing something that doesn't even reach that level. While it seems like the "Chief Judge" had some level of authority over multiple cities, it isn't clear exactly what that level of authority actually consisted of. Are we talking about a loose confederation of affiliated cities? Whatever the political situation, we don't seem to be talking about a stable government for very long hear, as cities pass back and forth in allegiance to various political alliances over the course of the next 100 years. I'm not sure anyone has done justice yet to the complexity of the political landscape reported in the Book of Mormon. While most readers of the Book of Mormon probably don't give this all much thought, surely the Monarchy to Republic model of a good state (Nephites) contrasted with a despotic bad state (Lamanites) is a gross oversimplification.
I totally agree that far too little--and far too simplistic--attention has been paid to the political themes of the Book of Mormon. At one time, I wondered if it wasn't worth looking into writing a few articles or even a book on the subject. It certainly deserves some closer attention, and most especially in the Book of Mosiah. I'd like to see more work done here on it, that's for sure. Perhaps I'll have to get some things started (or return to some things I've started before).
Once upon a time I wrote a sociopolitical analysis of the Book of Mosiah for an anthropology class at BYU. Maybe its time to see if I still have that laying around somewhere. -- Joe, Rob, Sean
  • Mosiah 29:11-15. I think it must be remembered that Mosiah has just spent years interpreting the Jaredite record. He does not have actual experience with wicked kings possible unremarkable ones through the 200 year Nephite history to date and then Mosiah, Benjamin and then himself. His father and grandfather Mosiah were great reformers who left a wicked and hostile environment in the Land of Nephi to come to Zarahemla and teach that people and eventual rule over them. I don't think he wanted to see his people ever to settle back to the mediocrity and wickedness of previous generations. They needed to do there part as Iam sure they did as they homesteaded the new land. He also didn't want to fall into the generations of progressively wickeder kings as there were in Jaredite times. There was a pattern of:
  • people's law
  • small governable groups
  • lower judges and higher judges
  • law by the people
  • a vote
  • and representation for the offending party
  • with an assumption of innocence until proven guilty
This goes all the way back to Moses' time and was afforded to Nehor and Amlici
  • Mosiah 29:16: Kings in the Old Testament. Although kings are mentioned frequently in the Pentateuch, they are usually associated with Gentiles not associated with the Israel or the Abrahamic covenant. One possible exception to this is Melchezidek who is referred to as a king in Gen 14:18. Another exception is in Deut 17:15, 15 and Deut 28:36 where the first prophecies of a king (or kings) appear. In the Book of Judges, Abimelech (the son of Gideon, one of the judges) is made king in Judg 9:6, but this is a short-lived affair and it's not very clear there what exactly the difference was between a "king" and a "judge". It is not until the Israelites beg Samuel for a king in 1 Sam 8:5 which leads to the Saul being anointed king of Israel (see 1 Sam 9:16ff and 1 Sam 10:22-24). Both Moses and Samuel warned that Israel's kings would lead to problems (see esp. Deuteronomy chapters 17 and 28 and 1 Samuel chapters 8 and 12). The problems associated with these kings becomes especially transparent in 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. Around 920 BCE, the Israelite monarchy split into the Kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam and the Kingdom of Judah under Rehoboam (see 1 Kgs 12). These kingdoms were eventually destroyed by the Assyrians (around 720 BCE, prophesied by Isaiah in Isa 7-12, among others; see also 2 Kgs 17:3-6) and Babylonians (around 590 BCE, prophesied by Isaiah in Isa 13-14; see also 2 Kgs 25:1-9).
  • Mosiah 29:25: The laws given by our fathers. "The laws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord" The reference to the laws here is interesting in terms of how it finesses the issue of the law's origin. First, the law is linked to "the voice of the people" who choose judges in order to enforce the law. Second, the law is associated with "our fathers." Finally, the law is linked at some point in the distant past, apparently, with God, who gave it to our fathers. Notice the claims that are not made: the law is not authored by the people, the law is not derived by the legal exegesis of scripture, the law is not seen as being directly dictated by God. Rather, the law seems to be based on a tradition that is sanctified by some hazily defined divine origin.
The use of the word "correct" here is also suggestive. The Book of Mormon frequently speaks of "incorrect traditions" of the Lamanites, which seems to consist of a counter narrative of the Lehite exodus from Jerusalem, in which Nephi stole the right of government from his older brothers. (See,e.g., Mosiah 10:12, Alma 26:24, Alma 37:9) By calling the "laws of our fathers" "correct" Mosiah may be drawing an implicit contrast with the "incorrect traditions" of the Lamanites. If so, then the costrast of laws with tradition is interesting in that it seems to link the concept of law to a particular narrative. The primacy of narrative in Nephite legal discussions can be seen in other passages, particularlly Alma 30, the one place in the Book of Mormon where a legal rule is derived from a scriptural text. The text in question, however, is a narrative rather than a legislative passage from the Old Testament. (See Alma 30:7-8)
  • Mosiah 29:38: Nephite understanding of kingship. This verse offers a vital clue to how the Nephites understood kingship as a form of government. Under a king, it was apparently not the case that "every man" would "have an equal chance throughout all the land." What that seems to mean, according to the following phrase, is that "every man" was not responsible "to answer for his own sins." The role of the king was, in Nephite society, then, to represent in a single person the whole of the nation: if the kingdom was righteous, so was the king, and if the kingdom was wicked, so was the king (a sort of dialectic between king and kingdom seems implied, rather than a one-way causality). The king, and a unique embodiment of the whole people, carried all the sins of the people, as well as all of the glory: everything was on the head of the king. When Mosiah offers here to change the manner of government, the people become "exceedingly anxious" to answer for their own sins. Each person is given, ultimately, the opportunity to be a king and a priest over a limited domain (this seems, in the end, to be the point of King Benjamin's speech). The king carries the weight (burden/glory), and each is willing to carry his (or her?) own. (It might be noted that this understanding of the monarchy makes quite a gap between the spirit of the Book of Mormon and the American attitudes toward the Revolution.)
  • Relationship of personal responsibility to Davidic kingship. This is a topic I'm very interested, particularly as related to the Davidic Covenant. Avaraham Gileadi makes a big deal about this aspect of the Davidic Covenant, that it puts all the responsibility on the king (prefiguring Christ's atonement). I was skeptical about this idea at first, but am becoming a bit less skeptical. I'd like to study this out more. In particular, I'd like to know: (1) if the passage/parable in Judges can be tied to this in any way, (2) how (if?) the warnings about kings from Samuel fit into this, (3) how (if?) messianic prophecies in the OT address this notion of individual vs. communal responsibility (see also the discussion of communal agency in Joshua 2...).

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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  • Mosiah 28:3-4: Verse 4 says the feelings described in v. 3 are given by the Spirit of the Lord. Would the Spirit give anyone the same feelings? If so, might the absence of such feelings indicate an absence of the Spirit?)
  • Mosiah 28:3-4: Alma the younger had endured endless torment (Mosiah 27:29), but there is no indication that the sons of Mosiah had, even though they did suffer. What might give them the feelings described in verse 3?
  • Mosiah 28:18: Reading of a group of people who were destroyed might sober us or even make us sad, but it usually wouldn’t make us “mourn exceedingly.” Why do you think Mosiah’s people reacted in this way? What kind of knowledge did they get which caused them to rejoice?
  • Mosiah 29:7-9: Aaron has just been converted in a miraculous manner, and he is obviously serious about his conversion. His mission is evidence of that. Nevertheless, here we see Mosiah worried that being king might destroy him. Does he lack confidence in his son? If so, why? If not, how do you explain Mosiah’s remarks?
  • It may have been a hypothetical question on Mosiah's part although as you continue to read in Alma I find it interesting that Ammon is selected as the leader to the mission to the Lamanites and is the one to bless/anoint each missionary as they separate to their assignments. Either Aaron was extremely humble and let his brother lead or Aaron felt less qualified to lead. It is not the first time in the scriptures that the eldest has that issue but it is very commendable and different that Aaron allowed and encouraged his younger brother ie Hyrum and Joseph not Jacob and Esau and encouraged his father to form a new and better form of government.
  • Mosiah 29:12ff: What is necessary in order to have a king? Are the judges that Mosiah suggests as rulers the same or similar to the judges of ancient Israel, or is this a different system of government?
  • Mosiah 29:13: Mosiah tells us that the problem with kings is that sometimes they are unjust. How does having judges instead of kings ameliorate this problem? (Compare vv. 28-29.)
  • Mosiah 29:16: In the Old Testament the king is often understood as a shadow of the Messiah, one who typifies the Savior. Is he suggesting here that, because of our iniquity, that type and shadow doesn’t work?
  • Mosiah 29:16: How is a "king" different from any other type of ruler? If Mosiah is not trying to abolish rulership, what exactly is he trying to accomplish?
  • Mosiah 29:21: What is the definition an "iniquitous" king?
  • Mosiah 29:21: Are there Old Testament precedents for dethroning an iniquitous king, or is this something that comes from the Nephite's American experience?
  • Mosiah 29:21: How is the word contention used here? Does it just mean arguing, or is it something more? How does the use of the term here compare with the way it is used earlier in the Book of Mosiah and elsewhere in the Book of Mormon?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What is meant by "friends in iniquity"? Are these friends kept in iniquity because of the king, is the king brought to iniquity by his friends, or do they mutually reinforce each other?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What does keeping guards have to do with being an "iniquitous king"?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What is the role of tradition in governance? Why would it be iniquitous for a ruler to tear up the laws of those who have come before? Does the tradition have weight in and of itself, or is the problem here only when unrighteous kings break the laws established in righteousness?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What does it mean to trample under your feet the commandments of God? Does this just mean to break the commandments, or is there something more implied?
  • Mosiah 29:23: Mosiah here claims that an unrighteous king a) enacts laws, b) sends them forth, c) punishes those who violate his laws, including d) destroying them, and e) sending armies against them. Are these all prerogatives of a righteous king as well? Are these practices in and of themselves unrighteous, or just when they are used to sustain iniquitous laws or practices?
  • Mosiah 29:23: Can righteous kings send armies against his own people, or just against foreign enemies?
  • Mosiah 29:24: Why does Mosiah consider unrighteous rulership to be an "abomination"? What does abomination mean, and how is it different from any other type of unholy or impure practice?
  • Mosiah 29:25: Does this verse tell us that the judges were elected democratically, or does it mean something else? What evidence can you give for your conclusion?
  • Mosiah 29:25: Is the law referred to in this verse the Law of Moses or some other body of law?
  • Mosiah 29:26: Given the Nephite experience so far, the record they have of Israel before Lehi left, and what they have just read in the Book of Ether, how can Mosiah say this? All the evidence seems to indicate that it is quite common for the majority to desire what is wrong, doesn’t it?
  • Mosiah 29:26: What does it mean to "do your business by the voice of the people"? Is this actual democracy or something else?
  • Mosiah 29:27: Does this verse answer the question just asked about v. 26? How are we to understand these verses as they apply to us today?
  • Mosiah 29:27: What does it mean for God to "visit you with great destruction"?
  • Mosiah 29:28: What is meant here by judges? How are Nephite judges different from kings? How are these judges different from judges described in the Old Testament?
  • Mosiah 29:28: What does it mean to have a judge judged by a higher judge?
  • Mosiah 29:29: What are the difficulties and opportunities afforded by having lower judges judge higher judges "according to the voice of the people"?
  • Mosiah 29:29: How is this system of judges different from other modern judicial systems?
  • Mosiah 29:30: How can King Mosiah establish a democracy by fiat? Is this what he is really trying to do, or is something else going on here?
  • Mosiah 29:31: Israelites also had this belief, that the wickedness of the king caused the wickedness of the nation. It was the flip side of the belief that the king typified the Messiah. What bearing does this belief have on our understanding of government? Why might the ancient Israelites and King Mosiah have believed that a wicked king caused a wicked people?
  • Mosiah 29:31: We don’t usually believe that a wicked CEO in a company is necessarily a bad leader for the company. Why would a wicked national leader necessarily be a bad leader for the country? In other words, how do the two kinds of leadership differ, if they do?
  • Mosiah 29:32: To what inequality is Mosiah referring? What are the implications of there being an inequality of iniquities between rulers and their people?
  • Mosiah 29:33: Is Mosiah arguing that it is too difficult to be king, even for a righteous person, so no one should ask someone to be his or her king? Why would that argument be different for a king than for any other leader?
  • Mosiah 29:33: What exactly are the burdens of kingship that Mosiah is talking about here? Is it just the complaining of his people, or are we talking about some kind of divine kingship whereby the sins of the people are thought to fall upon the king, who is then required to expiate them? How might this relate to Ancient Mesoamerican concepts of divine kingship, whereby the king was required to ceremonially shed his own blood for his people?
  • Mosiah 29:34: What does it mean for each person to "bear his part"? His part of what?
  • Mosiah 29:38: Two things seem to have most impressed Mosiah’s people to give up their desire for a king: they wanted each person to have an equal chance and they wanted each person to answer for his or her own sins. What kinds of things has Mosiah been talking about that would have led them to the conclusion that each should have an equal chance at something or other? To what do you think they want each person to have an equal chance?
  • Mosiah 29:38: How is their desire to have each person answer for his or her own sins a response to Mosiah’s teaching? Why wouldn’t each person be responsible under a king? Is this, perhaps, reflection of the Israelite understanding of the king (see v. 31)?
  • Mosiah 29:38: Are Mosiah's actions here more about establishing democracy for democracy's sake, or for some other purpose?
  • Mosiah 29:39: What are the liberties that "had been granted unto" the people here?
  • Mosiah 29:41: What is meant here by throughout the land? Does this just refer to the Land of Zarahemla, or all of the cities and villages inhabited by the Nephites (v.44)?
  • Mosiah 29:41: How does this reorganization of the Nephite polity represent a true change between how the various cities and villages are governed in relation to each other?
  • Mosiah 29:42: Does this tell us that Alma held two offices or that the office of chief judge and that of high priest were the same, as for example in the United States the President and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Services aren’t two different offices? What is the relationship between the organization of the political and religious leadership in Nephite society at this time?
  • Mosiah 29:42: Alma judged righteously and there was peace throughout the land. Is that a cause and effect relation? If so, how so?
  • Mosiah 29:47: What does it mean for Alma to be the "founder" of their church?

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Previous page: Chapter 27b                      This is the last page for Mosiah

Mosiah 29:6-10

Home > The Book of Mormon > Mosiah > Chapters 25-29 > Chapter 28-29
Previous page: Chapter 27b                      This is the last page for Mosiah


This page would ideally always be under construction. You are invited to contribute.


Summary[edit]

This heading should be very brief. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Relationship to Chapters 25-29. The relationship of Chapter 28-29 to the rest of Chapters 25-29 is discussed at Mosiah 25-29.

Story.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapter 28-29 include:

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Mosiah 28-29: Collapse of hereditary leadership. While the establishment of a "rule of the judges" is often interpreted to be a political advance for the Nephites, it can also be seen as the failure of Mosiah to maintain the stability of a heriditary ruling lineage. While the rule of the judges gave people a say in the management of the government, it also created a power vaccuum and political schisms that lasted over 100 years and eventually led to the collapse of Nephite civil society. For three generations (Mosiah, Benjamin, Mosiah), leadership of the combined Nephite/Zarahemlaite region had fallen to "kings" which, in modern anthropological terms, were probably more akin to "big men" or possibly "chiefs". These leaders seemed to rule a small group of people mostly through their own charisma, and we are told that they labored for their own support--ie, they probably didnt have a large court supported by taxes or conscripted labor. While these leaders had managed to keep leadership within the family for three generations, when the Sons of Mosiah left, this arrangement was no longer possible, and rather than turn leadership over to a possibly competing elite lineage (perhaps descendents of Zarahemla?), Mosiah alters the management of the government. It is difficult to reconstruct from the text how these "judges" differed from chiefs--though perhaps we should see these judges more as "chiefs". If so, what we may be seeing here at the end of Mosiah is the transition from a rank or big man based society, or perhaps a small stratified chiefdom, expanded to become a complex chiefdom with a main chief ("chief judge") ruling over regional chiefs ("judges"). Whatever the actual structure of the Nephite polity at this point, the collapse of the previously stable Mosiah-Benjamin-Mosiah lineage rulership, and transition to the new "rule of the judges" did not seem to go smoothly, as a series of dissenters would try to wrest control of the area from the judges for the next 100 years.
Good thoughts. I imagine that the Jaredite record, newly translated (though only available in a stripped-down edition, apparently) probably had some influence on these affairs. Did Mosiah's reading of the record give him some concerns about what kingship would quickly become if Nephite civilization grew any larger? Did the people's reading of the record have anything to do with the movements back toward kingship (Amlici, Amalickiah)? Did the sons of Mosiah and Alma form their secret combination with explicit reference to Jaredite practices? How much of these few chapters are dependent on one's careful understanding of Jaredite society? I don't tend to follow the Central America reading of BoM geography, but if one does, the influence of the Olmecs among both Mayan and the broader Mexican peoples may be incredibly suggestive on this point.
I generally consider that, as suggested, the influence of the Jaredite record on the transition to judges is important to note. Not only does the Jaredite record highlight the weaknesses of monarchy, but the establishment of the kingdom Ether 6:22-27 parallels Mosiah's experience with trying to pass the kingdom on to his sons. Mosiah 29:1-8 Of course the Bible also discourses on the folly of establishing kings. 1 Sam. 8:10-18 The Old Testament does not consider the shift from judges to kings to be a positive move. At the same time, a Republic is not exactly what the people had before. The judges were more of a semi-theocratic rule, though at the same time, they required popular support. The expressly Republican elements of Mosiah's shift are rather interesting and give greater cause to compare their society's struggles with ours than any other government in the scriptures. One element I find interesting is the rising influence and danger from corrupt lawyers and judges. The destruction of the wicked in the city of Ammonihah, where the lawyers seemed to be the antagonists, was apparently necessitated/provoked by their studying to overthrow the government. Alma 8:17 Of course, it's the secret combinations that eventually tear thing apart via their assassinations and intrigues.
I think it is important, as indicated, to remember that these judges are not modern democratically elected leaders as we might too easily consider them, but rather apparently elected presidents for life perhaps most similar to a modern African model. While we don't know very much about how lesser judges were appointed, there doesn't seem to be a regular election cycle involved here, only votes for new rulers upon the current ruler's death. It isn't also clear who got to vote, how the vote was taken, or what is meant by the "voice of the people". In anthropological terms, when a ruler requires the "voice of the people" to stay in power, it is usually considered that the leader does not have enough power to maintain rulership by the use of military force. In modern terms, we might consider such polities as a "weak state", but it might be that the Book of Mormon is describing something that doesn't even reach that level. While it seems like the "Chief Judge" had some level of authority over multiple cities, it isn't clear exactly what that level of authority actually consisted of. Are we talking about a loose confederation of affiliated cities? Whatever the political situation, we don't seem to be talking about a stable government for very long hear, as cities pass back and forth in allegiance to various political alliances over the course of the next 100 years. I'm not sure anyone has done justice yet to the complexity of the political landscape reported in the Book of Mormon. While most readers of the Book of Mormon probably don't give this all much thought, surely the Monarchy to Republic model of a good state (Nephites) contrasted with a despotic bad state (Lamanites) is a gross oversimplification.
I totally agree that far too little--and far too simplistic--attention has been paid to the political themes of the Book of Mormon. At one time, I wondered if it wasn't worth looking into writing a few articles or even a book on the subject. It certainly deserves some closer attention, and most especially in the Book of Mosiah. I'd like to see more work done here on it, that's for sure. Perhaps I'll have to get some things started (or return to some things I've started before).
Once upon a time I wrote a sociopolitical analysis of the Book of Mosiah for an anthropology class at BYU. Maybe its time to see if I still have that laying around somewhere. -- Joe, Rob, Sean
  • Mosiah 29:11-15. I think it must be remembered that Mosiah has just spent years interpreting the Jaredite record. He does not have actual experience with wicked kings possible unremarkable ones through the 200 year Nephite history to date and then Mosiah, Benjamin and then himself. His father and grandfather Mosiah were great reformers who left a wicked and hostile environment in the Land of Nephi to come to Zarahemla and teach that people and eventual rule over them. I don't think he wanted to see his people ever to settle back to the mediocrity and wickedness of previous generations. They needed to do there part as Iam sure they did as they homesteaded the new land. He also didn't want to fall into the generations of progressively wickeder kings as there were in Jaredite times. There was a pattern of:
  • people's law
  • small governable groups
  • lower judges and higher judges
  • law by the people
  • a vote
  • and representation for the offending party
  • with an assumption of innocence until proven guilty
This goes all the way back to Moses' time and was afforded to Nehor and Amlici
  • Mosiah 29:16: Kings in the Old Testament. Although kings are mentioned frequently in the Pentateuch, they are usually associated with Gentiles not associated with the Israel or the Abrahamic covenant. One possible exception to this is Melchezidek who is referred to as a king in Gen 14:18. Another exception is in Deut 17:15, 15 and Deut 28:36 where the first prophecies of a king (or kings) appear. In the Book of Judges, Abimelech (the son of Gideon, one of the judges) is made king in Judg 9:6, but this is a short-lived affair and it's not very clear there what exactly the difference was between a "king" and a "judge". It is not until the Israelites beg Samuel for a king in 1 Sam 8:5 which leads to the Saul being anointed king of Israel (see 1 Sam 9:16ff and 1 Sam 10:22-24). Both Moses and Samuel warned that Israel's kings would lead to problems (see esp. Deuteronomy chapters 17 and 28 and 1 Samuel chapters 8 and 12). The problems associated with these kings becomes especially transparent in 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. Around 920 BCE, the Israelite monarchy split into the Kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam and the Kingdom of Judah under Rehoboam (see 1 Kgs 12). These kingdoms were eventually destroyed by the Assyrians (around 720 BCE, prophesied by Isaiah in Isa 7-12, among others; see also 2 Kgs 17:3-6) and Babylonians (around 590 BCE, prophesied by Isaiah in Isa 13-14; see also 2 Kgs 25:1-9).
  • Mosiah 29:25: The laws given by our fathers. "The laws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord" The reference to the laws here is interesting in terms of how it finesses the issue of the law's origin. First, the law is linked to "the voice of the people" who choose judges in order to enforce the law. Second, the law is associated with "our fathers." Finally, the law is linked at some point in the distant past, apparently, with God, who gave it to our fathers. Notice the claims that are not made: the law is not authored by the people, the law is not derived by the legal exegesis of scripture, the law is not seen as being directly dictated by God. Rather, the law seems to be based on a tradition that is sanctified by some hazily defined divine origin.
The use of the word "correct" here is also suggestive. The Book of Mormon frequently speaks of "incorrect traditions" of the Lamanites, which seems to consist of a counter narrative of the Lehite exodus from Jerusalem, in which Nephi stole the right of government from his older brothers. (See,e.g., Mosiah 10:12, Alma 26:24, Alma 37:9) By calling the "laws of our fathers" "correct" Mosiah may be drawing an implicit contrast with the "incorrect traditions" of the Lamanites. If so, then the costrast of laws with tradition is interesting in that it seems to link the concept of law to a particular narrative. The primacy of narrative in Nephite legal discussions can be seen in other passages, particularlly Alma 30, the one place in the Book of Mormon where a legal rule is derived from a scriptural text. The text in question, however, is a narrative rather than a legislative passage from the Old Testament. (See Alma 30:7-8)
  • Mosiah 29:38: Nephite understanding of kingship. This verse offers a vital clue to how the Nephites understood kingship as a form of government. Under a king, it was apparently not the case that "every man" would "have an equal chance throughout all the land." What that seems to mean, according to the following phrase, is that "every man" was not responsible "to answer for his own sins." The role of the king was, in Nephite society, then, to represent in a single person the whole of the nation: if the kingdom was righteous, so was the king, and if the kingdom was wicked, so was the king (a sort of dialectic between king and kingdom seems implied, rather than a one-way causality). The king, and a unique embodiment of the whole people, carried all the sins of the people, as well as all of the glory: everything was on the head of the king. When Mosiah offers here to change the manner of government, the people become "exceedingly anxious" to answer for their own sins. Each person is given, ultimately, the opportunity to be a king and a priest over a limited domain (this seems, in the end, to be the point of King Benjamin's speech). The king carries the weight (burden/glory), and each is willing to carry his (or her?) own. (It might be noted that this understanding of the monarchy makes quite a gap between the spirit of the Book of Mormon and the American attitudes toward the Revolution.)
  • Relationship of personal responsibility to Davidic kingship. This is a topic I'm very interested, particularly as related to the Davidic Covenant. Avaraham Gileadi makes a big deal about this aspect of the Davidic Covenant, that it puts all the responsibility on the king (prefiguring Christ's atonement). I was skeptical about this idea at first, but am becoming a bit less skeptical. I'd like to study this out more. In particular, I'd like to know: (1) if the passage/parable in Judges can be tied to this in any way, (2) how (if?) the warnings about kings from Samuel fit into this, (3) how (if?) messianic prophecies in the OT address this notion of individual vs. communal responsibility (see also the discussion of communal agency in Joshua 2...).

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  • Mosiah 28:3-4: Verse 4 says the feelings described in v. 3 are given by the Spirit of the Lord. Would the Spirit give anyone the same feelings? If so, might the absence of such feelings indicate an absence of the Spirit?)
  • Mosiah 28:3-4: Alma the younger had endured endless torment (Mosiah 27:29), but there is no indication that the sons of Mosiah had, even though they did suffer. What might give them the feelings described in verse 3?
  • Mosiah 28:18: Reading of a group of people who were destroyed might sober us or even make us sad, but it usually wouldn’t make us “mourn exceedingly.” Why do you think Mosiah’s people reacted in this way? What kind of knowledge did they get which caused them to rejoice?
  • Mosiah 29:7-9: Aaron has just been converted in a miraculous manner, and he is obviously serious about his conversion. His mission is evidence of that. Nevertheless, here we see Mosiah worried that being king might destroy him. Does he lack confidence in his son? If so, why? If not, how do you explain Mosiah’s remarks?
  • It may have been a hypothetical question on Mosiah's part although as you continue to read in Alma I find it interesting that Ammon is selected as the leader to the mission to the Lamanites and is the one to bless/anoint each missionary as they separate to their assignments. Either Aaron was extremely humble and let his brother lead or Aaron felt less qualified to lead. It is not the first time in the scriptures that the eldest has that issue but it is very commendable and different that Aaron allowed and encouraged his younger brother ie Hyrum and Joseph not Jacob and Esau and encouraged his father to form a new and better form of government.
  • Mosiah 29:12ff: What is necessary in order to have a king? Are the judges that Mosiah suggests as rulers the same or similar to the judges of ancient Israel, or is this a different system of government?
  • Mosiah 29:13: Mosiah tells us that the problem with kings is that sometimes they are unjust. How does having judges instead of kings ameliorate this problem? (Compare vv. 28-29.)
  • Mosiah 29:16: In the Old Testament the king is often understood as a shadow of the Messiah, one who typifies the Savior. Is he suggesting here that, because of our iniquity, that type and shadow doesn’t work?
  • Mosiah 29:16: How is a "king" different from any other type of ruler? If Mosiah is not trying to abolish rulership, what exactly is he trying to accomplish?
  • Mosiah 29:21: What is the definition an "iniquitous" king?
  • Mosiah 29:21: Are there Old Testament precedents for dethroning an iniquitous king, or is this something that comes from the Nephite's American experience?
  • Mosiah 29:21: How is the word contention used here? Does it just mean arguing, or is it something more? How does the use of the term here compare with the way it is used earlier in the Book of Mosiah and elsewhere in the Book of Mormon?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What is meant by "friends in iniquity"? Are these friends kept in iniquity because of the king, is the king brought to iniquity by his friends, or do they mutually reinforce each other?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What does keeping guards have to do with being an "iniquitous king"?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What is the role of tradition in governance? Why would it be iniquitous for a ruler to tear up the laws of those who have come before? Does the tradition have weight in and of itself, or is the problem here only when unrighteous kings break the laws established in righteousness?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What does it mean to trample under your feet the commandments of God? Does this just mean to break the commandments, or is there something more implied?
  • Mosiah 29:23: Mosiah here claims that an unrighteous king a) enacts laws, b) sends them forth, c) punishes those who violate his laws, including d) destroying them, and e) sending armies against them. Are these all prerogatives of a righteous king as well? Are these practices in and of themselves unrighteous, or just when they are used to sustain iniquitous laws or practices?
  • Mosiah 29:23: Can righteous kings send armies against his own people, or just against foreign enemies?
  • Mosiah 29:24: Why does Mosiah consider unrighteous rulership to be an "abomination"? What does abomination mean, and how is it different from any other type of unholy or impure practice?
  • Mosiah 29:25: Does this verse tell us that the judges were elected democratically, or does it mean something else? What evidence can you give for your conclusion?
  • Mosiah 29:25: Is the law referred to in this verse the Law of Moses or some other body of law?
  • Mosiah 29:26: Given the Nephite experience so far, the record they have of Israel before Lehi left, and what they have just read in the Book of Ether, how can Mosiah say this? All the evidence seems to indicate that it is quite common for the majority to desire what is wrong, doesn’t it?
  • Mosiah 29:26: What does it mean to "do your business by the voice of the people"? Is this actual democracy or something else?
  • Mosiah 29:27: Does this verse answer the question just asked about v. 26? How are we to understand these verses as they apply to us today?
  • Mosiah 29:27: What does it mean for God to "visit you with great destruction"?
  • Mosiah 29:28: What is meant here by judges? How are Nephite judges different from kings? How are these judges different from judges described in the Old Testament?
  • Mosiah 29:28: What does it mean to have a judge judged by a higher judge?
  • Mosiah 29:29: What are the difficulties and opportunities afforded by having lower judges judge higher judges "according to the voice of the people"?
  • Mosiah 29:29: How is this system of judges different from other modern judicial systems?
  • Mosiah 29:30: How can King Mosiah establish a democracy by fiat? Is this what he is really trying to do, or is something else going on here?
  • Mosiah 29:31: Israelites also had this belief, that the wickedness of the king caused the wickedness of the nation. It was the flip side of the belief that the king typified the Messiah. What bearing does this belief have on our understanding of government? Why might the ancient Israelites and King Mosiah have believed that a wicked king caused a wicked people?
  • Mosiah 29:31: We don’t usually believe that a wicked CEO in a company is necessarily a bad leader for the company. Why would a wicked national leader necessarily be a bad leader for the country? In other words, how do the two kinds of leadership differ, if they do?
  • Mosiah 29:32: To what inequality is Mosiah referring? What are the implications of there being an inequality of iniquities between rulers and their people?
  • Mosiah 29:33: Is Mosiah arguing that it is too difficult to be king, even for a righteous person, so no one should ask someone to be his or her king? Why would that argument be different for a king than for any other leader?
  • Mosiah 29:33: What exactly are the burdens of kingship that Mosiah is talking about here? Is it just the complaining of his people, or are we talking about some kind of divine kingship whereby the sins of the people are thought to fall upon the king, who is then required to expiate them? How might this relate to Ancient Mesoamerican concepts of divine kingship, whereby the king was required to ceremonially shed his own blood for his people?
  • Mosiah 29:34: What does it mean for each person to "bear his part"? His part of what?
  • Mosiah 29:38: Two things seem to have most impressed Mosiah’s people to give up their desire for a king: they wanted each person to have an equal chance and they wanted each person to answer for his or her own sins. What kinds of things has Mosiah been talking about that would have led them to the conclusion that each should have an equal chance at something or other? To what do you think they want each person to have an equal chance?
  • Mosiah 29:38: How is their desire to have each person answer for his or her own sins a response to Mosiah’s teaching? Why wouldn’t each person be responsible under a king? Is this, perhaps, reflection of the Israelite understanding of the king (see v. 31)?
  • Mosiah 29:38: Are Mosiah's actions here more about establishing democracy for democracy's sake, or for some other purpose?
  • Mosiah 29:39: What are the liberties that "had been granted unto" the people here?
  • Mosiah 29:41: What is meant here by throughout the land? Does this just refer to the Land of Zarahemla, or all of the cities and villages inhabited by the Nephites (v.44)?
  • Mosiah 29:41: How does this reorganization of the Nephite polity represent a true change between how the various cities and villages are governed in relation to each other?
  • Mosiah 29:42: Does this tell us that Alma held two offices or that the office of chief judge and that of high priest were the same, as for example in the United States the President and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Services aren’t two different offices? What is the relationship between the organization of the political and religious leadership in Nephite society at this time?
  • Mosiah 29:42: Alma judged righteously and there was peace throughout the land. Is that a cause and effect relation? If so, how so?
  • Mosiah 29:47: What does it mean for Alma to be the "founder" of their church?

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Mosiah 29:11-15

Home > The Book of Mormon > Mosiah > Chapters 25-29 > Chapter 28-29
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Summary[edit]

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Relationship to Chapters 25-29. The relationship of Chapter 28-29 to the rest of Chapters 25-29 is discussed at Mosiah 25-29.

Story.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapter 28-29 include:

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Mosiah 28-29: Collapse of hereditary leadership. While the establishment of a "rule of the judges" is often interpreted to be a political advance for the Nephites, it can also be seen as the failure of Mosiah to maintain the stability of a heriditary ruling lineage. While the rule of the judges gave people a say in the management of the government, it also created a power vaccuum and political schisms that lasted over 100 years and eventually led to the collapse of Nephite civil society. For three generations (Mosiah, Benjamin, Mosiah), leadership of the combined Nephite/Zarahemlaite region had fallen to "kings" which, in modern anthropological terms, were probably more akin to "big men" or possibly "chiefs". These leaders seemed to rule a small group of people mostly through their own charisma, and we are told that they labored for their own support--ie, they probably didnt have a large court supported by taxes or conscripted labor. While these leaders had managed to keep leadership within the family for three generations, when the Sons of Mosiah left, this arrangement was no longer possible, and rather than turn leadership over to a possibly competing elite lineage (perhaps descendents of Zarahemla?), Mosiah alters the management of the government. It is difficult to reconstruct from the text how these "judges" differed from chiefs--though perhaps we should see these judges more as "chiefs". If so, what we may be seeing here at the end of Mosiah is the transition from a rank or big man based society, or perhaps a small stratified chiefdom, expanded to become a complex chiefdom with a main chief ("chief judge") ruling over regional chiefs ("judges"). Whatever the actual structure of the Nephite polity at this point, the collapse of the previously stable Mosiah-Benjamin-Mosiah lineage rulership, and transition to the new "rule of the judges" did not seem to go smoothly, as a series of dissenters would try to wrest control of the area from the judges for the next 100 years.
Good thoughts. I imagine that the Jaredite record, newly translated (though only available in a stripped-down edition, apparently) probably had some influence on these affairs. Did Mosiah's reading of the record give him some concerns about what kingship would quickly become if Nephite civilization grew any larger? Did the people's reading of the record have anything to do with the movements back toward kingship (Amlici, Amalickiah)? Did the sons of Mosiah and Alma form their secret combination with explicit reference to Jaredite practices? How much of these few chapters are dependent on one's careful understanding of Jaredite society? I don't tend to follow the Central America reading of BoM geography, but if one does, the influence of the Olmecs among both Mayan and the broader Mexican peoples may be incredibly suggestive on this point.
I generally consider that, as suggested, the influence of the Jaredite record on the transition to judges is important to note. Not only does the Jaredite record highlight the weaknesses of monarchy, but the establishment of the kingdom Ether 6:22-27 parallels Mosiah's experience with trying to pass the kingdom on to his sons. Mosiah 29:1-8 Of course the Bible also discourses on the folly of establishing kings. 1 Sam. 8:10-18 The Old Testament does not consider the shift from judges to kings to be a positive move. At the same time, a Republic is not exactly what the people had before. The judges were more of a semi-theocratic rule, though at the same time, they required popular support. The expressly Republican elements of Mosiah's shift are rather interesting and give greater cause to compare their society's struggles with ours than any other government in the scriptures. One element I find interesting is the rising influence and danger from corrupt lawyers and judges. The destruction of the wicked in the city of Ammonihah, where the lawyers seemed to be the antagonists, was apparently necessitated/provoked by their studying to overthrow the government. Alma 8:17 Of course, it's the secret combinations that eventually tear thing apart via their assassinations and intrigues.
I think it is important, as indicated, to remember that these judges are not modern democratically elected leaders as we might too easily consider them, but rather apparently elected presidents for life perhaps most similar to a modern African model. While we don't know very much about how lesser judges were appointed, there doesn't seem to be a regular election cycle involved here, only votes for new rulers upon the current ruler's death. It isn't also clear who got to vote, how the vote was taken, or what is meant by the "voice of the people". In anthropological terms, when a ruler requires the "voice of the people" to stay in power, it is usually considered that the leader does not have enough power to maintain rulership by the use of military force. In modern terms, we might consider such polities as a "weak state", but it might be that the Book of Mormon is describing something that doesn't even reach that level. While it seems like the "Chief Judge" had some level of authority over multiple cities, it isn't clear exactly what that level of authority actually consisted of. Are we talking about a loose confederation of affiliated cities? Whatever the political situation, we don't seem to be talking about a stable government for very long hear, as cities pass back and forth in allegiance to various political alliances over the course of the next 100 years. I'm not sure anyone has done justice yet to the complexity of the political landscape reported in the Book of Mormon. While most readers of the Book of Mormon probably don't give this all much thought, surely the Monarchy to Republic model of a good state (Nephites) contrasted with a despotic bad state (Lamanites) is a gross oversimplification.
I totally agree that far too little--and far too simplistic--attention has been paid to the political themes of the Book of Mormon. At one time, I wondered if it wasn't worth looking into writing a few articles or even a book on the subject. It certainly deserves some closer attention, and most especially in the Book of Mosiah. I'd like to see more work done here on it, that's for sure. Perhaps I'll have to get some things started (or return to some things I've started before).
Once upon a time I wrote a sociopolitical analysis of the Book of Mosiah for an anthropology class at BYU. Maybe its time to see if I still have that laying around somewhere. -- Joe, Rob, Sean
  • Mosiah 29:11-15. I think it must be remembered that Mosiah has just spent years interpreting the Jaredite record. He does not have actual experience with wicked kings possible unremarkable ones through the 200 year Nephite history to date and then Mosiah, Benjamin and then himself. His father and grandfather Mosiah were great reformers who left a wicked and hostile environment in the Land of Nephi to come to Zarahemla and teach that people and eventual rule over them. I don't think he wanted to see his people ever to settle back to the mediocrity and wickedness of previous generations. They needed to do there part as Iam sure they did as they homesteaded the new land. He also didn't want to fall into the generations of progressively wickeder kings as there were in Jaredite times. There was a pattern of:
  • people's law
  • small governable groups
  • lower judges and higher judges
  • law by the people
  • a vote
  • and representation for the offending party
  • with an assumption of innocence until proven guilty
This goes all the way back to Moses' time and was afforded to Nehor and Amlici
  • Mosiah 29:16: Kings in the Old Testament. Although kings are mentioned frequently in the Pentateuch, they are usually associated with Gentiles not associated with the Israel or the Abrahamic covenant. One possible exception to this is Melchezidek who is referred to as a king in Gen 14:18. Another exception is in Deut 17:15, 15 and Deut 28:36 where the first prophecies of a king (or kings) appear. In the Book of Judges, Abimelech (the son of Gideon, one of the judges) is made king in Judg 9:6, but this is a short-lived affair and it's not very clear there what exactly the difference was between a "king" and a "judge". It is not until the Israelites beg Samuel for a king in 1 Sam 8:5 which leads to the Saul being anointed king of Israel (see 1 Sam 9:16ff and 1 Sam 10:22-24). Both Moses and Samuel warned that Israel's kings would lead to problems (see esp. Deuteronomy chapters 17 and 28 and 1 Samuel chapters 8 and 12). The problems associated with these kings becomes especially transparent in 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. Around 920 BCE, the Israelite monarchy split into the Kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam and the Kingdom of Judah under Rehoboam (see 1 Kgs 12). These kingdoms were eventually destroyed by the Assyrians (around 720 BCE, prophesied by Isaiah in Isa 7-12, among others; see also 2 Kgs 17:3-6) and Babylonians (around 590 BCE, prophesied by Isaiah in Isa 13-14; see also 2 Kgs 25:1-9).
  • Mosiah 29:25: The laws given by our fathers. "The laws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord" The reference to the laws here is interesting in terms of how it finesses the issue of the law's origin. First, the law is linked to "the voice of the people" who choose judges in order to enforce the law. Second, the law is associated with "our fathers." Finally, the law is linked at some point in the distant past, apparently, with God, who gave it to our fathers. Notice the claims that are not made: the law is not authored by the people, the law is not derived by the legal exegesis of scripture, the law is not seen as being directly dictated by God. Rather, the law seems to be based on a tradition that is sanctified by some hazily defined divine origin.
The use of the word "correct" here is also suggestive. The Book of Mormon frequently speaks of "incorrect traditions" of the Lamanites, which seems to consist of a counter narrative of the Lehite exodus from Jerusalem, in which Nephi stole the right of government from his older brothers. (See,e.g., Mosiah 10:12, Alma 26:24, Alma 37:9) By calling the "laws of our fathers" "correct" Mosiah may be drawing an implicit contrast with the "incorrect traditions" of the Lamanites. If so, then the costrast of laws with tradition is interesting in that it seems to link the concept of law to a particular narrative. The primacy of narrative in Nephite legal discussions can be seen in other passages, particularlly Alma 30, the one place in the Book of Mormon where a legal rule is derived from a scriptural text. The text in question, however, is a narrative rather than a legislative passage from the Old Testament. (See Alma 30:7-8)
  • Mosiah 29:38: Nephite understanding of kingship. This verse offers a vital clue to how the Nephites understood kingship as a form of government. Under a king, it was apparently not the case that "every man" would "have an equal chance throughout all the land." What that seems to mean, according to the following phrase, is that "every man" was not responsible "to answer for his own sins." The role of the king was, in Nephite society, then, to represent in a single person the whole of the nation: if the kingdom was righteous, so was the king, and if the kingdom was wicked, so was the king (a sort of dialectic between king and kingdom seems implied, rather than a one-way causality). The king, and a unique embodiment of the whole people, carried all the sins of the people, as well as all of the glory: everything was on the head of the king. When Mosiah offers here to change the manner of government, the people become "exceedingly anxious" to answer for their own sins. Each person is given, ultimately, the opportunity to be a king and a priest over a limited domain (this seems, in the end, to be the point of King Benjamin's speech). The king carries the weight (burden/glory), and each is willing to carry his (or her?) own. (It might be noted that this understanding of the monarchy makes quite a gap between the spirit of the Book of Mormon and the American attitudes toward the Revolution.)
  • Relationship of personal responsibility to Davidic kingship. This is a topic I'm very interested, particularly as related to the Davidic Covenant. Avaraham Gileadi makes a big deal about this aspect of the Davidic Covenant, that it puts all the responsibility on the king (prefiguring Christ's atonement). I was skeptical about this idea at first, but am becoming a bit less skeptical. I'd like to study this out more. In particular, I'd like to know: (1) if the passage/parable in Judges can be tied to this in any way, (2) how (if?) the warnings about kings from Samuel fit into this, (3) how (if?) messianic prophecies in the OT address this notion of individual vs. communal responsibility (see also the discussion of communal agency in Joshua 2...).

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. →

  • Mosiah 28:3-4: Verse 4 says the feelings described in v. 3 are given by the Spirit of the Lord. Would the Spirit give anyone the same feelings? If so, might the absence of such feelings indicate an absence of the Spirit?)
  • Mosiah 28:3-4: Alma the younger had endured endless torment (Mosiah 27:29), but there is no indication that the sons of Mosiah had, even though they did suffer. What might give them the feelings described in verse 3?
  • Mosiah 28:18: Reading of a group of people who were destroyed might sober us or even make us sad, but it usually wouldn’t make us “mourn exceedingly.” Why do you think Mosiah’s people reacted in this way? What kind of knowledge did they get which caused them to rejoice?
  • Mosiah 29:7-9: Aaron has just been converted in a miraculous manner, and he is obviously serious about his conversion. His mission is evidence of that. Nevertheless, here we see Mosiah worried that being king might destroy him. Does he lack confidence in his son? If so, why? If not, how do you explain Mosiah’s remarks?
  • It may have been a hypothetical question on Mosiah's part although as you continue to read in Alma I find it interesting that Ammon is selected as the leader to the mission to the Lamanites and is the one to bless/anoint each missionary as they separate to their assignments. Either Aaron was extremely humble and let his brother lead or Aaron felt less qualified to lead. It is not the first time in the scriptures that the eldest has that issue but it is very commendable and different that Aaron allowed and encouraged his younger brother ie Hyrum and Joseph not Jacob and Esau and encouraged his father to form a new and better form of government.
  • Mosiah 29:12ff: What is necessary in order to have a king? Are the judges that Mosiah suggests as rulers the same or similar to the judges of ancient Israel, or is this a different system of government?
  • Mosiah 29:13: Mosiah tells us that the problem with kings is that sometimes they are unjust. How does having judges instead of kings ameliorate this problem? (Compare vv. 28-29.)
  • Mosiah 29:16: In the Old Testament the king is often understood as a shadow of the Messiah, one who typifies the Savior. Is he suggesting here that, because of our iniquity, that type and shadow doesn’t work?
  • Mosiah 29:16: How is a "king" different from any other type of ruler? If Mosiah is not trying to abolish rulership, what exactly is he trying to accomplish?
  • Mosiah 29:21: What is the definition an "iniquitous" king?
  • Mosiah 29:21: Are there Old Testament precedents for dethroning an iniquitous king, or is this something that comes from the Nephite's American experience?
  • Mosiah 29:21: How is the word contention used here? Does it just mean arguing, or is it something more? How does the use of the term here compare with the way it is used earlier in the Book of Mosiah and elsewhere in the Book of Mormon?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What is meant by "friends in iniquity"? Are these friends kept in iniquity because of the king, is the king brought to iniquity by his friends, or do they mutually reinforce each other?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What does keeping guards have to do with being an "iniquitous king"?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What is the role of tradition in governance? Why would it be iniquitous for a ruler to tear up the laws of those who have come before? Does the tradition have weight in and of itself, or is the problem here only when unrighteous kings break the laws established in righteousness?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What does it mean to trample under your feet the commandments of God? Does this just mean to break the commandments, or is there something more implied?
  • Mosiah 29:23: Mosiah here claims that an unrighteous king a) enacts laws, b) sends them forth, c) punishes those who violate his laws, including d) destroying them, and e) sending armies against them. Are these all prerogatives of a righteous king as well? Are these practices in and of themselves unrighteous, or just when they are used to sustain iniquitous laws or practices?
  • Mosiah 29:23: Can righteous kings send armies against his own people, or just against foreign enemies?
  • Mosiah 29:24: Why does Mosiah consider unrighteous rulership to be an "abomination"? What does abomination mean, and how is it different from any other type of unholy or impure practice?
  • Mosiah 29:25: Does this verse tell us that the judges were elected democratically, or does it mean something else? What evidence can you give for your conclusion?
  • Mosiah 29:25: Is the law referred to in this verse the Law of Moses or some other body of law?
  • Mosiah 29:26: Given the Nephite experience so far, the record they have of Israel before Lehi left, and what they have just read in the Book of Ether, how can Mosiah say this? All the evidence seems to indicate that it is quite common for the majority to desire what is wrong, doesn’t it?
  • Mosiah 29:26: What does it mean to "do your business by the voice of the people"? Is this actual democracy or something else?
  • Mosiah 29:27: Does this verse answer the question just asked about v. 26? How are we to understand these verses as they apply to us today?
  • Mosiah 29:27: What does it mean for God to "visit you with great destruction"?
  • Mosiah 29:28: What is meant here by judges? How are Nephite judges different from kings? How are these judges different from judges described in the Old Testament?
  • Mosiah 29:28: What does it mean to have a judge judged by a higher judge?
  • Mosiah 29:29: What are the difficulties and opportunities afforded by having lower judges judge higher judges "according to the voice of the people"?
  • Mosiah 29:29: How is this system of judges different from other modern judicial systems?
  • Mosiah 29:30: How can King Mosiah establish a democracy by fiat? Is this what he is really trying to do, or is something else going on here?
  • Mosiah 29:31: Israelites also had this belief, that the wickedness of the king caused the wickedness of the nation. It was the flip side of the belief that the king typified the Messiah. What bearing does this belief have on our understanding of government? Why might the ancient Israelites and King Mosiah have believed that a wicked king caused a wicked people?
  • Mosiah 29:31: We don’t usually believe that a wicked CEO in a company is necessarily a bad leader for the company. Why would a wicked national leader necessarily be a bad leader for the country? In other words, how do the two kinds of leadership differ, if they do?
  • Mosiah 29:32: To what inequality is Mosiah referring? What are the implications of there being an inequality of iniquities between rulers and their people?
  • Mosiah 29:33: Is Mosiah arguing that it is too difficult to be king, even for a righteous person, so no one should ask someone to be his or her king? Why would that argument be different for a king than for any other leader?
  • Mosiah 29:33: What exactly are the burdens of kingship that Mosiah is talking about here? Is it just the complaining of his people, or are we talking about some kind of divine kingship whereby the sins of the people are thought to fall upon the king, who is then required to expiate them? How might this relate to Ancient Mesoamerican concepts of divine kingship, whereby the king was required to ceremonially shed his own blood for his people?
  • Mosiah 29:34: What does it mean for each person to "bear his part"? His part of what?
  • Mosiah 29:38: Two things seem to have most impressed Mosiah’s people to give up their desire for a king: they wanted each person to have an equal chance and they wanted each person to answer for his or her own sins. What kinds of things has Mosiah been talking about that would have led them to the conclusion that each should have an equal chance at something or other? To what do you think they want each person to have an equal chance?
  • Mosiah 29:38: How is their desire to have each person answer for his or her own sins a response to Mosiah’s teaching? Why wouldn’t each person be responsible under a king? Is this, perhaps, reflection of the Israelite understanding of the king (see v. 31)?
  • Mosiah 29:38: Are Mosiah's actions here more about establishing democracy for democracy's sake, or for some other purpose?
  • Mosiah 29:39: What are the liberties that "had been granted unto" the people here?
  • Mosiah 29:41: What is meant here by throughout the land? Does this just refer to the Land of Zarahemla, or all of the cities and villages inhabited by the Nephites (v.44)?
  • Mosiah 29:41: How does this reorganization of the Nephite polity represent a true change between how the various cities and villages are governed in relation to each other?
  • Mosiah 29:42: Does this tell us that Alma held two offices or that the office of chief judge and that of high priest were the same, as for example in the United States the President and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Services aren’t two different offices? What is the relationship between the organization of the political and religious leadership in Nephite society at this time?
  • Mosiah 29:42: Alma judged righteously and there was peace throughout the land. Is that a cause and effect relation? If so, how so?
  • Mosiah 29:47: What does it mean for Alma to be the "founder" of their church?

Resources[edit]

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Notes[edit]

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Previous page: Chapter 27b                      This is the last page for Mosiah

Mosiah 29:16-20

Home > The Book of Mormon > Mosiah > Chapters 25-29 > Chapter 28-29
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Summary[edit]

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Relationship to Chapters 25-29. The relationship of Chapter 28-29 to the rest of Chapters 25-29 is discussed at Mosiah 25-29.

Story.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapter 28-29 include:

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Mosiah 28-29: Collapse of hereditary leadership. While the establishment of a "rule of the judges" is often interpreted to be a political advance for the Nephites, it can also be seen as the failure of Mosiah to maintain the stability of a heriditary ruling lineage. While the rule of the judges gave people a say in the management of the government, it also created a power vaccuum and political schisms that lasted over 100 years and eventually led to the collapse of Nephite civil society. For three generations (Mosiah, Benjamin, Mosiah), leadership of the combined Nephite/Zarahemlaite region had fallen to "kings" which, in modern anthropological terms, were probably more akin to "big men" or possibly "chiefs". These leaders seemed to rule a small group of people mostly through their own charisma, and we are told that they labored for their own support--ie, they probably didnt have a large court supported by taxes or conscripted labor. While these leaders had managed to keep leadership within the family for three generations, when the Sons of Mosiah left, this arrangement was no longer possible, and rather than turn leadership over to a possibly competing elite lineage (perhaps descendents of Zarahemla?), Mosiah alters the management of the government. It is difficult to reconstruct from the text how these "judges" differed from chiefs--though perhaps we should see these judges more as "chiefs". If so, what we may be seeing here at the end of Mosiah is the transition from a rank or big man based society, or perhaps a small stratified chiefdom, expanded to become a complex chiefdom with a main chief ("chief judge") ruling over regional chiefs ("judges"). Whatever the actual structure of the Nephite polity at this point, the collapse of the previously stable Mosiah-Benjamin-Mosiah lineage rulership, and transition to the new "rule of the judges" did not seem to go smoothly, as a series of dissenters would try to wrest control of the area from the judges for the next 100 years.
Good thoughts. I imagine that the Jaredite record, newly translated (though only available in a stripped-down edition, apparently) probably had some influence on these affairs. Did Mosiah's reading of the record give him some concerns about what kingship would quickly become if Nephite civilization grew any larger? Did the people's reading of the record have anything to do with the movements back toward kingship (Amlici, Amalickiah)? Did the sons of Mosiah and Alma form their secret combination with explicit reference to Jaredite practices? How much of these few chapters are dependent on one's careful understanding of Jaredite society? I don't tend to follow the Central America reading of BoM geography, but if one does, the influence of the Olmecs among both Mayan and the broader Mexican peoples may be incredibly suggestive on this point.
I generally consider that, as suggested, the influence of the Jaredite record on the transition to judges is important to note. Not only does the Jaredite record highlight the weaknesses of monarchy, but the establishment of the kingdom Ether 6:22-27 parallels Mosiah's experience with trying to pass the kingdom on to his sons. Mosiah 29:1-8 Of course the Bible also discourses on the folly of establishing kings. 1 Sam. 8:10-18 The Old Testament does not consider the shift from judges to kings to be a positive move. At the same time, a Republic is not exactly what the people had before. The judges were more of a semi-theocratic rule, though at the same time, they required popular support. The expressly Republican elements of Mosiah's shift are rather interesting and give greater cause to compare their society's struggles with ours than any other government in the scriptures. One element I find interesting is the rising influence and danger from corrupt lawyers and judges. The destruction of the wicked in the city of Ammonihah, where the lawyers seemed to be the antagonists, was apparently necessitated/provoked by their studying to overthrow the government. Alma 8:17 Of course, it's the secret combinations that eventually tear thing apart via their assassinations and intrigues.
I think it is important, as indicated, to remember that these judges are not modern democratically elected leaders as we might too easily consider them, but rather apparently elected presidents for life perhaps most similar to a modern African model. While we don't know very much about how lesser judges were appointed, there doesn't seem to be a regular election cycle involved here, only votes for new rulers upon the current ruler's death. It isn't also clear who got to vote, how the vote was taken, or what is meant by the "voice of the people". In anthropological terms, when a ruler requires the "voice of the people" to stay in power, it is usually considered that the leader does not have enough power to maintain rulership by the use of military force. In modern terms, we might consider such polities as a "weak state", but it might be that the Book of Mormon is describing something that doesn't even reach that level. While it seems like the "Chief Judge" had some level of authority over multiple cities, it isn't clear exactly what that level of authority actually consisted of. Are we talking about a loose confederation of affiliated cities? Whatever the political situation, we don't seem to be talking about a stable government for very long hear, as cities pass back and forth in allegiance to various political alliances over the course of the next 100 years. I'm not sure anyone has done justice yet to the complexity of the political landscape reported in the Book of Mormon. While most readers of the Book of Mormon probably don't give this all much thought, surely the Monarchy to Republic model of a good state (Nephites) contrasted with a despotic bad state (Lamanites) is a gross oversimplification.
I totally agree that far too little--and far too simplistic--attention has been paid to the political themes of the Book of Mormon. At one time, I wondered if it wasn't worth looking into writing a few articles or even a book on the subject. It certainly deserves some closer attention, and most especially in the Book of Mosiah. I'd like to see more work done here on it, that's for sure. Perhaps I'll have to get some things started (or return to some things I've started before).
Once upon a time I wrote a sociopolitical analysis of the Book of Mosiah for an anthropology class at BYU. Maybe its time to see if I still have that laying around somewhere. -- Joe, Rob, Sean
  • Mosiah 29:11-15. I think it must be remembered that Mosiah has just spent years interpreting the Jaredite record. He does not have actual experience with wicked kings possible unremarkable ones through the 200 year Nephite history to date and then Mosiah, Benjamin and then himself. His father and grandfather Mosiah were great reformers who left a wicked and hostile environment in the Land of Nephi to come to Zarahemla and teach that people and eventual rule over them. I don't think he wanted to see his people ever to settle back to the mediocrity and wickedness of previous generations. They needed to do there part as Iam sure they did as they homesteaded the new land. He also didn't want to fall into the generations of progressively wickeder kings as there were in Jaredite times. There was a pattern of:
  • people's law
  • small governable groups
  • lower judges and higher judges
  • law by the people
  • a vote
  • and representation for the offending party
  • with an assumption of innocence until proven guilty
This goes all the way back to Moses' time and was afforded to Nehor and Amlici
  • Mosiah 29:16: Kings in the Old Testament. Although kings are mentioned frequently in the Pentateuch, they are usually associated with Gentiles not associated with the Israel or the Abrahamic covenant. One possible exception to this is Melchezidek who is referred to as a king in Gen 14:18. Another exception is in Deut 17:15, 15 and Deut 28:36 where the first prophecies of a king (or kings) appear. In the Book of Judges, Abimelech (the son of Gideon, one of the judges) is made king in Judg 9:6, but this is a short-lived affair and it's not very clear there what exactly the difference was between a "king" and a "judge". It is not until the Israelites beg Samuel for a king in 1 Sam 8:5 which leads to the Saul being anointed king of Israel (see 1 Sam 9:16ff and 1 Sam 10:22-24). Both Moses and Samuel warned that Israel's kings would lead to problems (see esp. Deuteronomy chapters 17 and 28 and 1 Samuel chapters 8 and 12). The problems associated with these kings becomes especially transparent in 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. Around 920 BCE, the Israelite monarchy split into the Kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam and the Kingdom of Judah under Rehoboam (see 1 Kgs 12). These kingdoms were eventually destroyed by the Assyrians (around 720 BCE, prophesied by Isaiah in Isa 7-12, among others; see also 2 Kgs 17:3-6) and Babylonians (around 590 BCE, prophesied by Isaiah in Isa 13-14; see also 2 Kgs 25:1-9).
  • Mosiah 29:25: The laws given by our fathers. "The laws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord" The reference to the laws here is interesting in terms of how it finesses the issue of the law's origin. First, the law is linked to "the voice of the people" who choose judges in order to enforce the law. Second, the law is associated with "our fathers." Finally, the law is linked at some point in the distant past, apparently, with God, who gave it to our fathers. Notice the claims that are not made: the law is not authored by the people, the law is not derived by the legal exegesis of scripture, the law is not seen as being directly dictated by God. Rather, the law seems to be based on a tradition that is sanctified by some hazily defined divine origin.
The use of the word "correct" here is also suggestive. The Book of Mormon frequently speaks of "incorrect traditions" of the Lamanites, which seems to consist of a counter narrative of the Lehite exodus from Jerusalem, in which Nephi stole the right of government from his older brothers. (See,e.g., Mosiah 10:12, Alma 26:24, Alma 37:9) By calling the "laws of our fathers" "correct" Mosiah may be drawing an implicit contrast with the "incorrect traditions" of the Lamanites. If so, then the costrast of laws with tradition is interesting in that it seems to link the concept of law to a particular narrative. The primacy of narrative in Nephite legal discussions can be seen in other passages, particularlly Alma 30, the one place in the Book of Mormon where a legal rule is derived from a scriptural text. The text in question, however, is a narrative rather than a legislative passage from the Old Testament. (See Alma 30:7-8)
  • Mosiah 29:38: Nephite understanding of kingship. This verse offers a vital clue to how the Nephites understood kingship as a form of government. Under a king, it was apparently not the case that "every man" would "have an equal chance throughout all the land." What that seems to mean, according to the following phrase, is that "every man" was not responsible "to answer for his own sins." The role of the king was, in Nephite society, then, to represent in a single person the whole of the nation: if the kingdom was righteous, so was the king, and if the kingdom was wicked, so was the king (a sort of dialectic between king and kingdom seems implied, rather than a one-way causality). The king, and a unique embodiment of the whole people, carried all the sins of the people, as well as all of the glory: everything was on the head of the king. When Mosiah offers here to change the manner of government, the people become "exceedingly anxious" to answer for their own sins. Each person is given, ultimately, the opportunity to be a king and a priest over a limited domain (this seems, in the end, to be the point of King Benjamin's speech). The king carries the weight (burden/glory), and each is willing to carry his (or her?) own. (It might be noted that this understanding of the monarchy makes quite a gap between the spirit of the Book of Mormon and the American attitudes toward the Revolution.)
  • Relationship of personal responsibility to Davidic kingship. This is a topic I'm very interested, particularly as related to the Davidic Covenant. Avaraham Gileadi makes a big deal about this aspect of the Davidic Covenant, that it puts all the responsibility on the king (prefiguring Christ's atonement). I was skeptical about this idea at first, but am becoming a bit less skeptical. I'd like to study this out more. In particular, I'd like to know: (1) if the passage/parable in Judges can be tied to this in any way, (2) how (if?) the warnings about kings from Samuel fit into this, (3) how (if?) messianic prophecies in the OT address this notion of individual vs. communal responsibility (see also the discussion of communal agency in Joshua 2...).

Unanswered questions[edit]

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Prompts for life application[edit]

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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. →

  • Mosiah 28:3-4: Verse 4 says the feelings described in v. 3 are given by the Spirit of the Lord. Would the Spirit give anyone the same feelings? If so, might the absence of such feelings indicate an absence of the Spirit?)
  • Mosiah 28:3-4: Alma the younger had endured endless torment (Mosiah 27:29), but there is no indication that the sons of Mosiah had, even though they did suffer. What might give them the feelings described in verse 3?
  • Mosiah 28:18: Reading of a group of people who were destroyed might sober us or even make us sad, but it usually wouldn’t make us “mourn exceedingly.” Why do you think Mosiah’s people reacted in this way? What kind of knowledge did they get which caused them to rejoice?
  • Mosiah 29:7-9: Aaron has just been converted in a miraculous manner, and he is obviously serious about his conversion. His mission is evidence of that. Nevertheless, here we see Mosiah worried that being king might destroy him. Does he lack confidence in his son? If so, why? If not, how do you explain Mosiah’s remarks?
  • It may have been a hypothetical question on Mosiah's part although as you continue to read in Alma I find it interesting that Ammon is selected as the leader to the mission to the Lamanites and is the one to bless/anoint each missionary as they separate to their assignments. Either Aaron was extremely humble and let his brother lead or Aaron felt less qualified to lead. It is not the first time in the scriptures that the eldest has that issue but it is very commendable and different that Aaron allowed and encouraged his younger brother ie Hyrum and Joseph not Jacob and Esau and encouraged his father to form a new and better form of government.
  • Mosiah 29:12ff: What is necessary in order to have a king? Are the judges that Mosiah suggests as rulers the same or similar to the judges of ancient Israel, or is this a different system of government?
  • Mosiah 29:13: Mosiah tells us that the problem with kings is that sometimes they are unjust. How does having judges instead of kings ameliorate this problem? (Compare vv. 28-29.)
  • Mosiah 29:16: In the Old Testament the king is often understood as a shadow of the Messiah, one who typifies the Savior. Is he suggesting here that, because of our iniquity, that type and shadow doesn’t work?
  • Mosiah 29:16: How is a "king" different from any other type of ruler? If Mosiah is not trying to abolish rulership, what exactly is he trying to accomplish?
  • Mosiah 29:21: What is the definition an "iniquitous" king?
  • Mosiah 29:21: Are there Old Testament precedents for dethroning an iniquitous king, or is this something that comes from the Nephite's American experience?
  • Mosiah 29:21: How is the word contention used here? Does it just mean arguing, or is it something more? How does the use of the term here compare with the way it is used earlier in the Book of Mosiah and elsewhere in the Book of Mormon?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What is meant by "friends in iniquity"? Are these friends kept in iniquity because of the king, is the king brought to iniquity by his friends, or do they mutually reinforce each other?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What does keeping guards have to do with being an "iniquitous king"?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What is the role of tradition in governance? Why would it be iniquitous for a ruler to tear up the laws of those who have come before? Does the tradition have weight in and of itself, or is the problem here only when unrighteous kings break the laws established in righteousness?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What does it mean to trample under your feet the commandments of God? Does this just mean to break the commandments, or is there something more implied?
  • Mosiah 29:23: Mosiah here claims that an unrighteous king a) enacts laws, b) sends them forth, c) punishes those who violate his laws, including d) destroying them, and e) sending armies against them. Are these all prerogatives of a righteous king as well? Are these practices in and of themselves unrighteous, or just when they are used to sustain iniquitous laws or practices?
  • Mosiah 29:23: Can righteous kings send armies against his own people, or just against foreign enemies?
  • Mosiah 29:24: Why does Mosiah consider unrighteous rulership to be an "abomination"? What does abomination mean, and how is it different from any other type of unholy or impure practice?
  • Mosiah 29:25: Does this verse tell us that the judges were elected democratically, or does it mean something else? What evidence can you give for your conclusion?
  • Mosiah 29:25: Is the law referred to in this verse the Law of Moses or some other body of law?
  • Mosiah 29:26: Given the Nephite experience so far, the record they have of Israel before Lehi left, and what they have just read in the Book of Ether, how can Mosiah say this? All the evidence seems to indicate that it is quite common for the majority to desire what is wrong, doesn’t it?
  • Mosiah 29:26: What does it mean to "do your business by the voice of the people"? Is this actual democracy or something else?
  • Mosiah 29:27: Does this verse answer the question just asked about v. 26? How are we to understand these verses as they apply to us today?
  • Mosiah 29:27: What does it mean for God to "visit you with great destruction"?
  • Mosiah 29:28: What is meant here by judges? How are Nephite judges different from kings? How are these judges different from judges described in the Old Testament?
  • Mosiah 29:28: What does it mean to have a judge judged by a higher judge?
  • Mosiah 29:29: What are the difficulties and opportunities afforded by having lower judges judge higher judges "according to the voice of the people"?
  • Mosiah 29:29: How is this system of judges different from other modern judicial systems?
  • Mosiah 29:30: How can King Mosiah establish a democracy by fiat? Is this what he is really trying to do, or is something else going on here?
  • Mosiah 29:31: Israelites also had this belief, that the wickedness of the king caused the wickedness of the nation. It was the flip side of the belief that the king typified the Messiah. What bearing does this belief have on our understanding of government? Why might the ancient Israelites and King Mosiah have believed that a wicked king caused a wicked people?
  • Mosiah 29:31: We don’t usually believe that a wicked CEO in a company is necessarily a bad leader for the company. Why would a wicked national leader necessarily be a bad leader for the country? In other words, how do the two kinds of leadership differ, if they do?
  • Mosiah 29:32: To what inequality is Mosiah referring? What are the implications of there being an inequality of iniquities between rulers and their people?
  • Mosiah 29:33: Is Mosiah arguing that it is too difficult to be king, even for a righteous person, so no one should ask someone to be his or her king? Why would that argument be different for a king than for any other leader?
  • Mosiah 29:33: What exactly are the burdens of kingship that Mosiah is talking about here? Is it just the complaining of his people, or are we talking about some kind of divine kingship whereby the sins of the people are thought to fall upon the king, who is then required to expiate them? How might this relate to Ancient Mesoamerican concepts of divine kingship, whereby the king was required to ceremonially shed his own blood for his people?
  • Mosiah 29:34: What does it mean for each person to "bear his part"? His part of what?
  • Mosiah 29:38: Two things seem to have most impressed Mosiah’s people to give up their desire for a king: they wanted each person to have an equal chance and they wanted each person to answer for his or her own sins. What kinds of things has Mosiah been talking about that would have led them to the conclusion that each should have an equal chance at something or other? To what do you think they want each person to have an equal chance?
  • Mosiah 29:38: How is their desire to have each person answer for his or her own sins a response to Mosiah’s teaching? Why wouldn’t each person be responsible under a king? Is this, perhaps, reflection of the Israelite understanding of the king (see v. 31)?
  • Mosiah 29:38: Are Mosiah's actions here more about establishing democracy for democracy's sake, or for some other purpose?
  • Mosiah 29:39: What are the liberties that "had been granted unto" the people here?
  • Mosiah 29:41: What is meant here by throughout the land? Does this just refer to the Land of Zarahemla, or all of the cities and villages inhabited by the Nephites (v.44)?
  • Mosiah 29:41: How does this reorganization of the Nephite polity represent a true change between how the various cities and villages are governed in relation to each other?
  • Mosiah 29:42: Does this tell us that Alma held two offices or that the office of chief judge and that of high priest were the same, as for example in the United States the President and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Services aren’t two different offices? What is the relationship between the organization of the political and religious leadership in Nephite society at this time?
  • Mosiah 29:42: Alma judged righteously and there was peace throughout the land. Is that a cause and effect relation? If so, how so?
  • Mosiah 29:47: What does it mean for Alma to be the "founder" of their church?

Resources[edit]

This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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.



Previous page: Chapter 27b                      This is the last page for Mosiah

Mosiah 29:21-25

Home > The Book of Mormon > Mosiah > Chapters 25-29 > Chapter 28-29
Previous page: Chapter 27b                      This is the last page for Mosiah


This page would ideally always be under construction. You are invited to contribute.


Summary[edit]

This heading should be very brief. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Relationship to Chapters 25-29. The relationship of Chapter 28-29 to the rest of Chapters 25-29 is discussed at Mosiah 25-29.

Story.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapter 28-29 include:

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Mosiah 28-29: Collapse of hereditary leadership. While the establishment of a "rule of the judges" is often interpreted to be a political advance for the Nephites, it can also be seen as the failure of Mosiah to maintain the stability of a heriditary ruling lineage. While the rule of the judges gave people a say in the management of the government, it also created a power vaccuum and political schisms that lasted over 100 years and eventually led to the collapse of Nephite civil society. For three generations (Mosiah, Benjamin, Mosiah), leadership of the combined Nephite/Zarahemlaite region had fallen to "kings" which, in modern anthropological terms, were probably more akin to "big men" or possibly "chiefs". These leaders seemed to rule a small group of people mostly through their own charisma, and we are told that they labored for their own support--ie, they probably didnt have a large court supported by taxes or conscripted labor. While these leaders had managed to keep leadership within the family for three generations, when the Sons of Mosiah left, this arrangement was no longer possible, and rather than turn leadership over to a possibly competing elite lineage (perhaps descendents of Zarahemla?), Mosiah alters the management of the government. It is difficult to reconstruct from the text how these "judges" differed from chiefs--though perhaps we should see these judges more as "chiefs". If so, what we may be seeing here at the end of Mosiah is the transition from a rank or big man based society, or perhaps a small stratified chiefdom, expanded to become a complex chiefdom with a main chief ("chief judge") ruling over regional chiefs ("judges"). Whatever the actual structure of the Nephite polity at this point, the collapse of the previously stable Mosiah-Benjamin-Mosiah lineage rulership, and transition to the new "rule of the judges" did not seem to go smoothly, as a series of dissenters would try to wrest control of the area from the judges for the next 100 years.
Good thoughts. I imagine that the Jaredite record, newly translated (though only available in a stripped-down edition, apparently) probably had some influence on these affairs. Did Mosiah's reading of the record give him some concerns about what kingship would quickly become if Nephite civilization grew any larger? Did the people's reading of the record have anything to do with the movements back toward kingship (Amlici, Amalickiah)? Did the sons of Mosiah and Alma form their secret combination with explicit reference to Jaredite practices? How much of these few chapters are dependent on one's careful understanding of Jaredite society? I don't tend to follow the Central America reading of BoM geography, but if one does, the influence of the Olmecs among both Mayan and the broader Mexican peoples may be incredibly suggestive on this point.
I generally consider that, as suggested, the influence of the Jaredite record on the transition to judges is important to note. Not only does the Jaredite record highlight the weaknesses of monarchy, but the establishment of the kingdom Ether 6:22-27 parallels Mosiah's experience with trying to pass the kingdom on to his sons. Mosiah 29:1-8 Of course the Bible also discourses on the folly of establishing kings. 1 Sam. 8:10-18 The Old Testament does not consider the shift from judges to kings to be a positive move. At the same time, a Republic is not exactly what the people had before. The judges were more of a semi-theocratic rule, though at the same time, they required popular support. The expressly Republican elements of Mosiah's shift are rather interesting and give greater cause to compare their society's struggles with ours than any other government in the scriptures. One element I find interesting is the rising influence and danger from corrupt lawyers and judges. The destruction of the wicked in the city of Ammonihah, where the lawyers seemed to be the antagonists, was apparently necessitated/provoked by their studying to overthrow the government. Alma 8:17 Of course, it's the secret combinations that eventually tear thing apart via their assassinations and intrigues.
I think it is important, as indicated, to remember that these judges are not modern democratically elected leaders as we might too easily consider them, but rather apparently elected presidents for life perhaps most similar to a modern African model. While we don't know very much about how lesser judges were appointed, there doesn't seem to be a regular election cycle involved here, only votes for new rulers upon the current ruler's death. It isn't also clear who got to vote, how the vote was taken, or what is meant by the "voice of the people". In anthropological terms, when a ruler requires the "voice of the people" to stay in power, it is usually considered that the leader does not have enough power to maintain rulership by the use of military force. In modern terms, we might consider such polities as a "weak state", but it might be that the Book of Mormon is describing something that doesn't even reach that level. While it seems like the "Chief Judge" had some level of authority over multiple cities, it isn't clear exactly what that level of authority actually consisted of. Are we talking about a loose confederation of affiliated cities? Whatever the political situation, we don't seem to be talking about a stable government for very long hear, as cities pass back and forth in allegiance to various political alliances over the course of the next 100 years. I'm not sure anyone has done justice yet to the complexity of the political landscape reported in the Book of Mormon. While most readers of the Book of Mormon probably don't give this all much thought, surely the Monarchy to Republic model of a good state (Nephites) contrasted with a despotic bad state (Lamanites) is a gross oversimplification.
I totally agree that far too little--and far too simplistic--attention has been paid to the political themes of the Book of Mormon. At one time, I wondered if it wasn't worth looking into writing a few articles or even a book on the subject. It certainly deserves some closer attention, and most especially in the Book of Mosiah. I'd like to see more work done here on it, that's for sure. Perhaps I'll have to get some things started (or return to some things I've started before).
Once upon a time I wrote a sociopolitical analysis of the Book of Mosiah for an anthropology class at BYU. Maybe its time to see if I still have that laying around somewhere. -- Joe, Rob, Sean
  • Mosiah 29:11-15. I think it must be remembered that Mosiah has just spent years interpreting the Jaredite record. He does not have actual experience with wicked kings possible unremarkable ones through the 200 year Nephite history to date and then Mosiah, Benjamin and then himself. His father and grandfather Mosiah were great reformers who left a wicked and hostile environment in the Land of Nephi to come to Zarahemla and teach that people and eventual rule over them. I don't think he wanted to see his people ever to settle back to the mediocrity and wickedness of previous generations. They needed to do there part as Iam sure they did as they homesteaded the new land. He also didn't want to fall into the generations of progressively wickeder kings as there were in Jaredite times. There was a pattern of:
  • people's law
  • small governable groups
  • lower judges and higher judges
  • law by the people
  • a vote
  • and representation for the offending party
  • with an assumption of innocence until proven guilty
This goes all the way back to Moses' time and was afforded to Nehor and Amlici
  • Mosiah 29:16: Kings in the Old Testament. Although kings are mentioned frequently in the Pentateuch, they are usually associated with Gentiles not associated with the Israel or the Abrahamic covenant. One possible exception to this is Melchezidek who is referred to as a king in Gen 14:18. Another exception is in Deut 17:15, 15 and Deut 28:36 where the first prophecies of a king (or kings) appear. In the Book of Judges, Abimelech (the son of Gideon, one of the judges) is made king in Judg 9:6, but this is a short-lived affair and it's not very clear there what exactly the difference was between a "king" and a "judge". It is not until the Israelites beg Samuel for a king in 1 Sam 8:5 which leads to the Saul being anointed king of Israel (see 1 Sam 9:16ff and 1 Sam 10:22-24). Both Moses and Samuel warned that Israel's kings would lead to problems (see esp. Deuteronomy chapters 17 and 28 and 1 Samuel chapters 8 and 12). The problems associated with these kings becomes especially transparent in 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. Around 920 BCE, the Israelite monarchy split into the Kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam and the Kingdom of Judah under Rehoboam (see 1 Kgs 12). These kingdoms were eventually destroyed by the Assyrians (around 720 BCE, prophesied by Isaiah in Isa 7-12, among others; see also 2 Kgs 17:3-6) and Babylonians (around 590 BCE, prophesied by Isaiah in Isa 13-14; see also 2 Kgs 25:1-9).
  • Mosiah 29:25: The laws given by our fathers. "The laws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord" The reference to the laws here is interesting in terms of how it finesses the issue of the law's origin. First, the law is linked to "the voice of the people" who choose judges in order to enforce the law. Second, the law is associated with "our fathers." Finally, the law is linked at some point in the distant past, apparently, with God, who gave it to our fathers. Notice the claims that are not made: the law is not authored by the people, the law is not derived by the legal exegesis of scripture, the law is not seen as being directly dictated by God. Rather, the law seems to be based on a tradition that is sanctified by some hazily defined divine origin.
The use of the word "correct" here is also suggestive. The Book of Mormon frequently speaks of "incorrect traditions" of the Lamanites, which seems to consist of a counter narrative of the Lehite exodus from Jerusalem, in which Nephi stole the right of government from his older brothers. (See,e.g., Mosiah 10:12, Alma 26:24, Alma 37:9) By calling the "laws of our fathers" "correct" Mosiah may be drawing an implicit contrast with the "incorrect traditions" of the Lamanites. If so, then the costrast of laws with tradition is interesting in that it seems to link the concept of law to a particular narrative. The primacy of narrative in Nephite legal discussions can be seen in other passages, particularlly Alma 30, the one place in the Book of Mormon where a legal rule is derived from a scriptural text. The text in question, however, is a narrative rather than a legislative passage from the Old Testament. (See Alma 30:7-8)
  • Mosiah 29:38: Nephite understanding of kingship. This verse offers a vital clue to how the Nephites understood kingship as a form of government. Under a king, it was apparently not the case that "every man" would "have an equal chance throughout all the land." What that seems to mean, according to the following phrase, is that "every man" was not responsible "to answer for his own sins." The role of the king was, in Nephite society, then, to represent in a single person the whole of the nation: if the kingdom was righteous, so was the king, and if the kingdom was wicked, so was the king (a sort of dialectic between king and kingdom seems implied, rather than a one-way causality). The king, and a unique embodiment of the whole people, carried all the sins of the people, as well as all of the glory: everything was on the head of the king. When Mosiah offers here to change the manner of government, the people become "exceedingly anxious" to answer for their own sins. Each person is given, ultimately, the opportunity to be a king and a priest over a limited domain (this seems, in the end, to be the point of King Benjamin's speech). The king carries the weight (burden/glory), and each is willing to carry his (or her?) own. (It might be noted that this understanding of the monarchy makes quite a gap between the spirit of the Book of Mormon and the American attitudes toward the Revolution.)
  • Relationship of personal responsibility to Davidic kingship. This is a topic I'm very interested, particularly as related to the Davidic Covenant. Avaraham Gileadi makes a big deal about this aspect of the Davidic Covenant, that it puts all the responsibility on the king (prefiguring Christ's atonement). I was skeptical about this idea at first, but am becoming a bit less skeptical. I'd like to study this out more. In particular, I'd like to know: (1) if the passage/parable in Judges can be tied to this in any way, (2) how (if?) the warnings about kings from Samuel fit into this, (3) how (if?) messianic prophecies in the OT address this notion of individual vs. communal responsibility (see also the discussion of communal agency in Joshua 2...).

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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  • Mosiah 28:3-4: Verse 4 says the feelings described in v. 3 are given by the Spirit of the Lord. Would the Spirit give anyone the same feelings? If so, might the absence of such feelings indicate an absence of the Spirit?)
  • Mosiah 28:3-4: Alma the younger had endured endless torment (Mosiah 27:29), but there is no indication that the sons of Mosiah had, even though they did suffer. What might give them the feelings described in verse 3?
  • Mosiah 28:18: Reading of a group of people who were destroyed might sober us or even make us sad, but it usually wouldn’t make us “mourn exceedingly.” Why do you think Mosiah’s people reacted in this way? What kind of knowledge did they get which caused them to rejoice?
  • Mosiah 29:7-9: Aaron has just been converted in a miraculous manner, and he is obviously serious about his conversion. His mission is evidence of that. Nevertheless, here we see Mosiah worried that being king might destroy him. Does he lack confidence in his son? If so, why? If not, how do you explain Mosiah’s remarks?
  • It may have been a hypothetical question on Mosiah's part although as you continue to read in Alma I find it interesting that Ammon is selected as the leader to the mission to the Lamanites and is the one to bless/anoint each missionary as they separate to their assignments. Either Aaron was extremely humble and let his brother lead or Aaron felt less qualified to lead. It is not the first time in the scriptures that the eldest has that issue but it is very commendable and different that Aaron allowed and encouraged his younger brother ie Hyrum and Joseph not Jacob and Esau and encouraged his father to form a new and better form of government.
  • Mosiah 29:12ff: What is necessary in order to have a king? Are the judges that Mosiah suggests as rulers the same or similar to the judges of ancient Israel, or is this a different system of government?
  • Mosiah 29:13: Mosiah tells us that the problem with kings is that sometimes they are unjust. How does having judges instead of kings ameliorate this problem? (Compare vv. 28-29.)
  • Mosiah 29:16: In the Old Testament the king is often understood as a shadow of the Messiah, one who typifies the Savior. Is he suggesting here that, because of our iniquity, that type and shadow doesn’t work?
  • Mosiah 29:16: How is a "king" different from any other type of ruler? If Mosiah is not trying to abolish rulership, what exactly is he trying to accomplish?
  • Mosiah 29:21: What is the definition an "iniquitous" king?
  • Mosiah 29:21: Are there Old Testament precedents for dethroning an iniquitous king, or is this something that comes from the Nephite's American experience?
  • Mosiah 29:21: How is the word contention used here? Does it just mean arguing, or is it something more? How does the use of the term here compare with the way it is used earlier in the Book of Mosiah and elsewhere in the Book of Mormon?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What is meant by "friends in iniquity"? Are these friends kept in iniquity because of the king, is the king brought to iniquity by his friends, or do they mutually reinforce each other?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What does keeping guards have to do with being an "iniquitous king"?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What is the role of tradition in governance? Why would it be iniquitous for a ruler to tear up the laws of those who have come before? Does the tradition have weight in and of itself, or is the problem here only when unrighteous kings break the laws established in righteousness?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What does it mean to trample under your feet the commandments of God? Does this just mean to break the commandments, or is there something more implied?
  • Mosiah 29:23: Mosiah here claims that an unrighteous king a) enacts laws, b) sends them forth, c) punishes those who violate his laws, including d) destroying them, and e) sending armies against them. Are these all prerogatives of a righteous king as well? Are these practices in and of themselves unrighteous, or just when they are used to sustain iniquitous laws or practices?
  • Mosiah 29:23: Can righteous kings send armies against his own people, or just against foreign enemies?
  • Mosiah 29:24: Why does Mosiah consider unrighteous rulership to be an "abomination"? What does abomination mean, and how is it different from any other type of unholy or impure practice?
  • Mosiah 29:25: Does this verse tell us that the judges were elected democratically, or does it mean something else? What evidence can you give for your conclusion?
  • Mosiah 29:25: Is the law referred to in this verse the Law of Moses or some other body of law?
  • Mosiah 29:26: Given the Nephite experience so far, the record they have of Israel before Lehi left, and what they have just read in the Book of Ether, how can Mosiah say this? All the evidence seems to indicate that it is quite common for the majority to desire what is wrong, doesn’t it?
  • Mosiah 29:26: What does it mean to "do your business by the voice of the people"? Is this actual democracy or something else?
  • Mosiah 29:27: Does this verse answer the question just asked about v. 26? How are we to understand these verses as they apply to us today?
  • Mosiah 29:27: What does it mean for God to "visit you with great destruction"?
  • Mosiah 29:28: What is meant here by judges? How are Nephite judges different from kings? How are these judges different from judges described in the Old Testament?
  • Mosiah 29:28: What does it mean to have a judge judged by a higher judge?
  • Mosiah 29:29: What are the difficulties and opportunities afforded by having lower judges judge higher judges "according to the voice of the people"?
  • Mosiah 29:29: How is this system of judges different from other modern judicial systems?
  • Mosiah 29:30: How can King Mosiah establish a democracy by fiat? Is this what he is really trying to do, or is something else going on here?
  • Mosiah 29:31: Israelites also had this belief, that the wickedness of the king caused the wickedness of the nation. It was the flip side of the belief that the king typified the Messiah. What bearing does this belief have on our understanding of government? Why might the ancient Israelites and King Mosiah have believed that a wicked king caused a wicked people?
  • Mosiah 29:31: We don’t usually believe that a wicked CEO in a company is necessarily a bad leader for the company. Why would a wicked national leader necessarily be a bad leader for the country? In other words, how do the two kinds of leadership differ, if they do?
  • Mosiah 29:32: To what inequality is Mosiah referring? What are the implications of there being an inequality of iniquities between rulers and their people?
  • Mosiah 29:33: Is Mosiah arguing that it is too difficult to be king, even for a righteous person, so no one should ask someone to be his or her king? Why would that argument be different for a king than for any other leader?
  • Mosiah 29:33: What exactly are the burdens of kingship that Mosiah is talking about here? Is it just the complaining of his people, or are we talking about some kind of divine kingship whereby the sins of the people are thought to fall upon the king, who is then required to expiate them? How might this relate to Ancient Mesoamerican concepts of divine kingship, whereby the king was required to ceremonially shed his own blood for his people?
  • Mosiah 29:34: What does it mean for each person to "bear his part"? His part of what?
  • Mosiah 29:38: Two things seem to have most impressed Mosiah’s people to give up their desire for a king: they wanted each person to have an equal chance and they wanted each person to answer for his or her own sins. What kinds of things has Mosiah been talking about that would have led them to the conclusion that each should have an equal chance at something or other? To what do you think they want each person to have an equal chance?
  • Mosiah 29:38: How is their desire to have each person answer for his or her own sins a response to Mosiah’s teaching? Why wouldn’t each person be responsible under a king? Is this, perhaps, reflection of the Israelite understanding of the king (see v. 31)?
  • Mosiah 29:38: Are Mosiah's actions here more about establishing democracy for democracy's sake, or for some other purpose?
  • Mosiah 29:39: What are the liberties that "had been granted unto" the people here?
  • Mosiah 29:41: What is meant here by throughout the land? Does this just refer to the Land of Zarahemla, or all of the cities and villages inhabited by the Nephites (v.44)?
  • Mosiah 29:41: How does this reorganization of the Nephite polity represent a true change between how the various cities and villages are governed in relation to each other?
  • Mosiah 29:42: Does this tell us that Alma held two offices or that the office of chief judge and that of high priest were the same, as for example in the United States the President and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Services aren’t two different offices? What is the relationship between the organization of the political and religious leadership in Nephite society at this time?
  • Mosiah 29:42: Alma judged righteously and there was peace throughout the land. Is that a cause and effect relation? If so, how so?
  • Mosiah 29:47: What does it mean for Alma to be the "founder" of their church?

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Mosiah 29:26-30

Home > The Book of Mormon > Mosiah > Chapters 25-29 > Chapter 28-29
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This page would ideally always be under construction. You are invited to contribute.


Summary[edit]

This heading should be very brief. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Relationship to Chapters 25-29. The relationship of Chapter 28-29 to the rest of Chapters 25-29 is discussed at Mosiah 25-29.

Story.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapter 28-29 include:

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Mosiah 28-29: Collapse of hereditary leadership. While the establishment of a "rule of the judges" is often interpreted to be a political advance for the Nephites, it can also be seen as the failure of Mosiah to maintain the stability of a heriditary ruling lineage. While the rule of the judges gave people a say in the management of the government, it also created a power vaccuum and political schisms that lasted over 100 years and eventually led to the collapse of Nephite civil society. For three generations (Mosiah, Benjamin, Mosiah), leadership of the combined Nephite/Zarahemlaite region had fallen to "kings" which, in modern anthropological terms, were probably more akin to "big men" or possibly "chiefs". These leaders seemed to rule a small group of people mostly through their own charisma, and we are told that they labored for their own support--ie, they probably didnt have a large court supported by taxes or conscripted labor. While these leaders had managed to keep leadership within the family for three generations, when the Sons of Mosiah left, this arrangement was no longer possible, and rather than turn leadership over to a possibly competing elite lineage (perhaps descendents of Zarahemla?), Mosiah alters the management of the government. It is difficult to reconstruct from the text how these "judges" differed from chiefs--though perhaps we should see these judges more as "chiefs". If so, what we may be seeing here at the end of Mosiah is the transition from a rank or big man based society, or perhaps a small stratified chiefdom, expanded to become a complex chiefdom with a main chief ("chief judge") ruling over regional chiefs ("judges"). Whatever the actual structure of the Nephite polity at this point, the collapse of the previously stable Mosiah-Benjamin-Mosiah lineage rulership, and transition to the new "rule of the judges" did not seem to go smoothly, as a series of dissenters would try to wrest control of the area from the judges for the next 100 years.
Good thoughts. I imagine that the Jaredite record, newly translated (though only available in a stripped-down edition, apparently) probably had some influence on these affairs. Did Mosiah's reading of the record give him some concerns about what kingship would quickly become if Nephite civilization grew any larger? Did the people's reading of the record have anything to do with the movements back toward kingship (Amlici, Amalickiah)? Did the sons of Mosiah and Alma form their secret combination with explicit reference to Jaredite practices? How much of these few chapters are dependent on one's careful understanding of Jaredite society? I don't tend to follow the Central America reading of BoM geography, but if one does, the influence of the Olmecs among both Mayan and the broader Mexican peoples may be incredibly suggestive on this point.
I generally consider that, as suggested, the influence of the Jaredite record on the transition to judges is important to note. Not only does the Jaredite record highlight the weaknesses of monarchy, but the establishment of the kingdom Ether 6:22-27 parallels Mosiah's experience with trying to pass the kingdom on to his sons. Mosiah 29:1-8 Of course the Bible also discourses on the folly of establishing kings. 1 Sam. 8:10-18 The Old Testament does not consider the shift from judges to kings to be a positive move. At the same time, a Republic is not exactly what the people had before. The judges were more of a semi-theocratic rule, though at the same time, they required popular support. The expressly Republican elements of Mosiah's shift are rather interesting and give greater cause to compare their society's struggles with ours than any other government in the scriptures. One element I find interesting is the rising influence and danger from corrupt lawyers and judges. The destruction of the wicked in the city of Ammonihah, where the lawyers seemed to be the antagonists, was apparently necessitated/provoked by their studying to overthrow the government. Alma 8:17 Of course, it's the secret combinations that eventually tear thing apart via their assassinations and intrigues.
I think it is important, as indicated, to remember that these judges are not modern democratically elected leaders as we might too easily consider them, but rather apparently elected presidents for life perhaps most similar to a modern African model. While we don't know very much about how lesser judges were appointed, there doesn't seem to be a regular election cycle involved here, only votes for new rulers upon the current ruler's death. It isn't also clear who got to vote, how the vote was taken, or what is meant by the "voice of the people". In anthropological terms, when a ruler requires the "voice of the people" to stay in power, it is usually considered that the leader does not have enough power to maintain rulership by the use of military force. In modern terms, we might consider such polities as a "weak state", but it might be that the Book of Mormon is describing something that doesn't even reach that level. While it seems like the "Chief Judge" had some level of authority over multiple cities, it isn't clear exactly what that level of authority actually consisted of. Are we talking about a loose confederation of affiliated cities? Whatever the political situation, we don't seem to be talking about a stable government for very long hear, as cities pass back and forth in allegiance to various political alliances over the course of the next 100 years. I'm not sure anyone has done justice yet to the complexity of the political landscape reported in the Book of Mormon. While most readers of the Book of Mormon probably don't give this all much thought, surely the Monarchy to Republic model of a good state (Nephites) contrasted with a despotic bad state (Lamanites) is a gross oversimplification.
I totally agree that far too little--and far too simplistic--attention has been paid to the political themes of the Book of Mormon. At one time, I wondered if it wasn't worth looking into writing a few articles or even a book on the subject. It certainly deserves some closer attention, and most especially in the Book of Mosiah. I'd like to see more work done here on it, that's for sure. Perhaps I'll have to get some things started (or return to some things I've started before).
Once upon a time I wrote a sociopolitical analysis of the Book of Mosiah for an anthropology class at BYU. Maybe its time to see if I still have that laying around somewhere. -- Joe, Rob, Sean
  • Mosiah 29:11-15. I think it must be remembered that Mosiah has just spent years interpreting the Jaredite record. He does not have actual experience with wicked kings possible unremarkable ones through the 200 year Nephite history to date and then Mosiah, Benjamin and then himself. His father and grandfather Mosiah were great reformers who left a wicked and hostile environment in the Land of Nephi to come to Zarahemla and teach that people and eventual rule over them. I don't think he wanted to see his people ever to settle back to the mediocrity and wickedness of previous generations. They needed to do there part as Iam sure they did as they homesteaded the new land. He also didn't want to fall into the generations of progressively wickeder kings as there were in Jaredite times. There was a pattern of:
  • people's law
  • small governable groups
  • lower judges and higher judges
  • law by the people
  • a vote
  • and representation for the offending party
  • with an assumption of innocence until proven guilty
This goes all the way back to Moses' time and was afforded to Nehor and Amlici
  • Mosiah 29:16: Kings in the Old Testament. Although kings are mentioned frequently in the Pentateuch, they are usually associated with Gentiles not associated with the Israel or the Abrahamic covenant. One possible exception to this is Melchezidek who is referred to as a king in Gen 14:18. Another exception is in Deut 17:15, 15 and Deut 28:36 where the first prophecies of a king (or kings) appear. In the Book of Judges, Abimelech (the son of Gideon, one of the judges) is made king in Judg 9:6, but this is a short-lived affair and it's not very clear there what exactly the difference was between a "king" and a "judge". It is not until the Israelites beg Samuel for a king in 1 Sam 8:5 which leads to the Saul being anointed king of Israel (see 1 Sam 9:16ff and 1 Sam 10:22-24). Both Moses and Samuel warned that Israel's kings would lead to problems (see esp. Deuteronomy chapters 17 and 28 and 1 Samuel chapters 8 and 12). The problems associated with these kings becomes especially transparent in 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. Around 920 BCE, the Israelite monarchy split into the Kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam and the Kingdom of Judah under Rehoboam (see 1 Kgs 12). These kingdoms were eventually destroyed by the Assyrians (around 720 BCE, prophesied by Isaiah in Isa 7-12, among others; see also 2 Kgs 17:3-6) and Babylonians (around 590 BCE, prophesied by Isaiah in Isa 13-14; see also 2 Kgs 25:1-9).
  • Mosiah 29:25: The laws given by our fathers. "The laws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord" The reference to the laws here is interesting in terms of how it finesses the issue of the law's origin. First, the law is linked to "the voice of the people" who choose judges in order to enforce the law. Second, the law is associated with "our fathers." Finally, the law is linked at some point in the distant past, apparently, with God, who gave it to our fathers. Notice the claims that are not made: the law is not authored by the people, the law is not derived by the legal exegesis of scripture, the law is not seen as being directly dictated by God. Rather, the law seems to be based on a tradition that is sanctified by some hazily defined divine origin.
The use of the word "correct" here is also suggestive. The Book of Mormon frequently speaks of "incorrect traditions" of the Lamanites, which seems to consist of a counter narrative of the Lehite exodus from Jerusalem, in which Nephi stole the right of government from his older brothers. (See,e.g., Mosiah 10:12, Alma 26:24, Alma 37:9) By calling the "laws of our fathers" "correct" Mosiah may be drawing an implicit contrast with the "incorrect traditions" of the Lamanites. If so, then the costrast of laws with tradition is interesting in that it seems to link the concept of law to a particular narrative. The primacy of narrative in Nephite legal discussions can be seen in other passages, particularlly Alma 30, the one place in the Book of Mormon where a legal rule is derived from a scriptural text. The text in question, however, is a narrative rather than a legislative passage from the Old Testament. (See Alma 30:7-8)
  • Mosiah 29:38: Nephite understanding of kingship. This verse offers a vital clue to how the Nephites understood kingship as a form of government. Under a king, it was apparently not the case that "every man" would "have an equal chance throughout all the land." What that seems to mean, according to the following phrase, is that "every man" was not responsible "to answer for his own sins." The role of the king was, in Nephite society, then, to represent in a single person the whole of the nation: if the kingdom was righteous, so was the king, and if the kingdom was wicked, so was the king (a sort of dialectic between king and kingdom seems implied, rather than a one-way causality). The king, and a unique embodiment of the whole people, carried all the sins of the people, as well as all of the glory: everything was on the head of the king. When Mosiah offers here to change the manner of government, the people become "exceedingly anxious" to answer for their own sins. Each person is given, ultimately, the opportunity to be a king and a priest over a limited domain (this seems, in the end, to be the point of King Benjamin's speech). The king carries the weight (burden/glory), and each is willing to carry his (or her?) own. (It might be noted that this understanding of the monarchy makes quite a gap between the spirit of the Book of Mormon and the American attitudes toward the Revolution.)
  • Relationship of personal responsibility to Davidic kingship. This is a topic I'm very interested, particularly as related to the Davidic Covenant. Avaraham Gileadi makes a big deal about this aspect of the Davidic Covenant, that it puts all the responsibility on the king (prefiguring Christ's atonement). I was skeptical about this idea at first, but am becoming a bit less skeptical. I'd like to study this out more. In particular, I'd like to know: (1) if the passage/parable in Judges can be tied to this in any way, (2) how (if?) the warnings about kings from Samuel fit into this, (3) how (if?) messianic prophecies in the OT address this notion of individual vs. communal responsibility (see also the discussion of communal agency in Joshua 2...).

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  • Mosiah 28:3-4: Verse 4 says the feelings described in v. 3 are given by the Spirit of the Lord. Would the Spirit give anyone the same feelings? If so, might the absence of such feelings indicate an absence of the Spirit?)
  • Mosiah 28:3-4: Alma the younger had endured endless torment (Mosiah 27:29), but there is no indication that the sons of Mosiah had, even though they did suffer. What might give them the feelings described in verse 3?
  • Mosiah 28:18: Reading of a group of people who were destroyed might sober us or even make us sad, but it usually wouldn’t make us “mourn exceedingly.” Why do you think Mosiah’s people reacted in this way? What kind of knowledge did they get which caused them to rejoice?
  • Mosiah 29:7-9: Aaron has just been converted in a miraculous manner, and he is obviously serious about his conversion. His mission is evidence of that. Nevertheless, here we see Mosiah worried that being king might destroy him. Does he lack confidence in his son? If so, why? If not, how do you explain Mosiah’s remarks?
  • It may have been a hypothetical question on Mosiah's part although as you continue to read in Alma I find it interesting that Ammon is selected as the leader to the mission to the Lamanites and is the one to bless/anoint each missionary as they separate to their assignments. Either Aaron was extremely humble and let his brother lead or Aaron felt less qualified to lead. It is not the first time in the scriptures that the eldest has that issue but it is very commendable and different that Aaron allowed and encouraged his younger brother ie Hyrum and Joseph not Jacob and Esau and encouraged his father to form a new and better form of government.
  • Mosiah 29:12ff: What is necessary in order to have a king? Are the judges that Mosiah suggests as rulers the same or similar to the judges of ancient Israel, or is this a different system of government?
  • Mosiah 29:13: Mosiah tells us that the problem with kings is that sometimes they are unjust. How does having judges instead of kings ameliorate this problem? (Compare vv. 28-29.)
  • Mosiah 29:16: In the Old Testament the king is often understood as a shadow of the Messiah, one who typifies the Savior. Is he suggesting here that, because of our iniquity, that type and shadow doesn’t work?
  • Mosiah 29:16: How is a "king" different from any other type of ruler? If Mosiah is not trying to abolish rulership, what exactly is he trying to accomplish?
  • Mosiah 29:21: What is the definition an "iniquitous" king?
  • Mosiah 29:21: Are there Old Testament precedents for dethroning an iniquitous king, or is this something that comes from the Nephite's American experience?
  • Mosiah 29:21: How is the word contention used here? Does it just mean arguing, or is it something more? How does the use of the term here compare with the way it is used earlier in the Book of Mosiah and elsewhere in the Book of Mormon?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What is meant by "friends in iniquity"? Are these friends kept in iniquity because of the king, is the king brought to iniquity by his friends, or do they mutually reinforce each other?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What does keeping guards have to do with being an "iniquitous king"?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What is the role of tradition in governance? Why would it be iniquitous for a ruler to tear up the laws of those who have come before? Does the tradition have weight in and of itself, or is the problem here only when unrighteous kings break the laws established in righteousness?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What does it mean to trample under your feet the commandments of God? Does this just mean to break the commandments, or is there something more implied?
  • Mosiah 29:23: Mosiah here claims that an unrighteous king a) enacts laws, b) sends them forth, c) punishes those who violate his laws, including d) destroying them, and e) sending armies against them. Are these all prerogatives of a righteous king as well? Are these practices in and of themselves unrighteous, or just when they are used to sustain iniquitous laws or practices?
  • Mosiah 29:23: Can righteous kings send armies against his own people, or just against foreign enemies?
  • Mosiah 29:24: Why does Mosiah consider unrighteous rulership to be an "abomination"? What does abomination mean, and how is it different from any other type of unholy or impure practice?
  • Mosiah 29:25: Does this verse tell us that the judges were elected democratically, or does it mean something else? What evidence can you give for your conclusion?
  • Mosiah 29:25: Is the law referred to in this verse the Law of Moses or some other body of law?
  • Mosiah 29:26: Given the Nephite experience so far, the record they have of Israel before Lehi left, and what they have just read in the Book of Ether, how can Mosiah say this? All the evidence seems to indicate that it is quite common for the majority to desire what is wrong, doesn’t it?
  • Mosiah 29:26: What does it mean to "do your business by the voice of the people"? Is this actual democracy or something else?
  • Mosiah 29:27: Does this verse answer the question just asked about v. 26? How are we to understand these verses as they apply to us today?
  • Mosiah 29:27: What does it mean for God to "visit you with great destruction"?
  • Mosiah 29:28: What is meant here by judges? How are Nephite judges different from kings? How are these judges different from judges described in the Old Testament?
  • Mosiah 29:28: What does it mean to have a judge judged by a higher judge?
  • Mosiah 29:29: What are the difficulties and opportunities afforded by having lower judges judge higher judges "according to the voice of the people"?
  • Mosiah 29:29: How is this system of judges different from other modern judicial systems?
  • Mosiah 29:30: How can King Mosiah establish a democracy by fiat? Is this what he is really trying to do, or is something else going on here?
  • Mosiah 29:31: Israelites also had this belief, that the wickedness of the king caused the wickedness of the nation. It was the flip side of the belief that the king typified the Messiah. What bearing does this belief have on our understanding of government? Why might the ancient Israelites and King Mosiah have believed that a wicked king caused a wicked people?
  • Mosiah 29:31: We don’t usually believe that a wicked CEO in a company is necessarily a bad leader for the company. Why would a wicked national leader necessarily be a bad leader for the country? In other words, how do the two kinds of leadership differ, if they do?
  • Mosiah 29:32: To what inequality is Mosiah referring? What are the implications of there being an inequality of iniquities between rulers and their people?
  • Mosiah 29:33: Is Mosiah arguing that it is too difficult to be king, even for a righteous person, so no one should ask someone to be his or her king? Why would that argument be different for a king than for any other leader?
  • Mosiah 29:33: What exactly are the burdens of kingship that Mosiah is talking about here? Is it just the complaining of his people, or are we talking about some kind of divine kingship whereby the sins of the people are thought to fall upon the king, who is then required to expiate them? How might this relate to Ancient Mesoamerican concepts of divine kingship, whereby the king was required to ceremonially shed his own blood for his people?
  • Mosiah 29:34: What does it mean for each person to "bear his part"? His part of what?
  • Mosiah 29:38: Two things seem to have most impressed Mosiah’s people to give up their desire for a king: they wanted each person to have an equal chance and they wanted each person to answer for his or her own sins. What kinds of things has Mosiah been talking about that would have led them to the conclusion that each should have an equal chance at something or other? To what do you think they want each person to have an equal chance?
  • Mosiah 29:38: How is their desire to have each person answer for his or her own sins a response to Mosiah’s teaching? Why wouldn’t each person be responsible under a king? Is this, perhaps, reflection of the Israelite understanding of the king (see v. 31)?
  • Mosiah 29:38: Are Mosiah's actions here more about establishing democracy for democracy's sake, or for some other purpose?
  • Mosiah 29:39: What are the liberties that "had been granted unto" the people here?
  • Mosiah 29:41: What is meant here by throughout the land? Does this just refer to the Land of Zarahemla, or all of the cities and villages inhabited by the Nephites (v.44)?
  • Mosiah 29:41: How does this reorganization of the Nephite polity represent a true change between how the various cities and villages are governed in relation to each other?
  • Mosiah 29:42: Does this tell us that Alma held two offices or that the office of chief judge and that of high priest were the same, as for example in the United States the President and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Services aren’t two different offices? What is the relationship between the organization of the political and religious leadership in Nephite society at this time?
  • Mosiah 29:42: Alma judged righteously and there was peace throughout the land. Is that a cause and effect relation? If so, how so?
  • Mosiah 29:47: What does it mean for Alma to be the "founder" of their church?

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Mosiah 29:31-35

Home > The Book of Mormon > Mosiah > Chapters 25-29 > Chapter 28-29
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Summary[edit]

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Relationship to Chapters 25-29. The relationship of Chapter 28-29 to the rest of Chapters 25-29 is discussed at Mosiah 25-29.

Story.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapter 28-29 include:

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Mosiah 28-29: Collapse of hereditary leadership. While the establishment of a "rule of the judges" is often interpreted to be a political advance for the Nephites, it can also be seen as the failure of Mosiah to maintain the stability of a heriditary ruling lineage. While the rule of the judges gave people a say in the management of the government, it also created a power vaccuum and political schisms that lasted over 100 years and eventually led to the collapse of Nephite civil society. For three generations (Mosiah, Benjamin, Mosiah), leadership of the combined Nephite/Zarahemlaite region had fallen to "kings" which, in modern anthropological terms, were probably more akin to "big men" or possibly "chiefs". These leaders seemed to rule a small group of people mostly through their own charisma, and we are told that they labored for their own support--ie, they probably didnt have a large court supported by taxes or conscripted labor. While these leaders had managed to keep leadership within the family for three generations, when the Sons of Mosiah left, this arrangement was no longer possible, and rather than turn leadership over to a possibly competing elite lineage (perhaps descendents of Zarahemla?), Mosiah alters the management of the government. It is difficult to reconstruct from the text how these "judges" differed from chiefs--though perhaps we should see these judges more as "chiefs". If so, what we may be seeing here at the end of Mosiah is the transition from a rank or big man based society, or perhaps a small stratified chiefdom, expanded to become a complex chiefdom with a main chief ("chief judge") ruling over regional chiefs ("judges"). Whatever the actual structure of the Nephite polity at this point, the collapse of the previously stable Mosiah-Benjamin-Mosiah lineage rulership, and transition to the new "rule of the judges" did not seem to go smoothly, as a series of dissenters would try to wrest control of the area from the judges for the next 100 years.
Good thoughts. I imagine that the Jaredite record, newly translated (though only available in a stripped-down edition, apparently) probably had some influence on these affairs. Did Mosiah's reading of the record give him some concerns about what kingship would quickly become if Nephite civilization grew any larger? Did the people's reading of the record have anything to do with the movements back toward kingship (Amlici, Amalickiah)? Did the sons of Mosiah and Alma form their secret combination with explicit reference to Jaredite practices? How much of these few chapters are dependent on one's careful understanding of Jaredite society? I don't tend to follow the Central America reading of BoM geography, but if one does, the influence of the Olmecs among both Mayan and the broader Mexican peoples may be incredibly suggestive on this point.
I generally consider that, as suggested, the influence of the Jaredite record on the transition to judges is important to note. Not only does the Jaredite record highlight the weaknesses of monarchy, but the establishment of the kingdom Ether 6:22-27 parallels Mosiah's experience with trying to pass the kingdom on to his sons. Mosiah 29:1-8 Of course the Bible also discourses on the folly of establishing kings. 1 Sam. 8:10-18 The Old Testament does not consider the shift from judges to kings to be a positive move. At the same time, a Republic is not exactly what the people had before. The judges were more of a semi-theocratic rule, though at the same time, they required popular support. The expressly Republican elements of Mosiah's shift are rather interesting and give greater cause to compare their society's struggles with ours than any other government in the scriptures. One element I find interesting is the rising influence and danger from corrupt lawyers and judges. The destruction of the wicked in the city of Ammonihah, where the lawyers seemed to be the antagonists, was apparently necessitated/provoked by their studying to overthrow the government. Alma 8:17 Of course, it's the secret combinations that eventually tear thing apart via their assassinations and intrigues.
I think it is important, as indicated, to remember that these judges are not modern democratically elected leaders as we might too easily consider them, but rather apparently elected presidents for life perhaps most similar to a modern African model. While we don't know very much about how lesser judges were appointed, there doesn't seem to be a regular election cycle involved here, only votes for new rulers upon the current ruler's death. It isn't also clear who got to vote, how the vote was taken, or what is meant by the "voice of the people". In anthropological terms, when a ruler requires the "voice of the people" to stay in power, it is usually considered that the leader does not have enough power to maintain rulership by the use of military force. In modern terms, we might consider such polities as a "weak state", but it might be that the Book of Mormon is describing something that doesn't even reach that level. While it seems like the "Chief Judge" had some level of authority over multiple cities, it isn't clear exactly what that level of authority actually consisted of. Are we talking about a loose confederation of affiliated cities? Whatever the political situation, we don't seem to be talking about a stable government for very long hear, as cities pass back and forth in allegiance to various political alliances over the course of the next 100 years. I'm not sure anyone has done justice yet to the complexity of the political landscape reported in the Book of Mormon. While most readers of the Book of Mormon probably don't give this all much thought, surely the Monarchy to Republic model of a good state (Nephites) contrasted with a despotic bad state (Lamanites) is a gross oversimplification.
I totally agree that far too little--and far too simplistic--attention has been paid to the political themes of the Book of Mormon. At one time, I wondered if it wasn't worth looking into writing a few articles or even a book on the subject. It certainly deserves some closer attention, and most especially in the Book of Mosiah. I'd like to see more work done here on it, that's for sure. Perhaps I'll have to get some things started (or return to some things I've started before).
Once upon a time I wrote a sociopolitical analysis of the Book of Mosiah for an anthropology class at BYU. Maybe its time to see if I still have that laying around somewhere. -- Joe, Rob, Sean
  • Mosiah 29:11-15. I think it must be remembered that Mosiah has just spent years interpreting the Jaredite record. He does not have actual experience with wicked kings possible unremarkable ones through the 200 year Nephite history to date and then Mosiah, Benjamin and then himself. His father and grandfather Mosiah were great reformers who left a wicked and hostile environment in the Land of Nephi to come to Zarahemla and teach that people and eventual rule over them. I don't think he wanted to see his people ever to settle back to the mediocrity and wickedness of previous generations. They needed to do there part as Iam sure they did as they homesteaded the new land. He also didn't want to fall into the generations of progressively wickeder kings as there were in Jaredite times. There was a pattern of:
  • people's law
  • small governable groups
  • lower judges and higher judges
  • law by the people
  • a vote
  • and representation for the offending party
  • with an assumption of innocence until proven guilty
This goes all the way back to Moses' time and was afforded to Nehor and Amlici
  • Mosiah 29:16: Kings in the Old Testament. Although kings are mentioned frequently in the Pentateuch, they are usually associated with Gentiles not associated with the Israel or the Abrahamic covenant. One possible exception to this is Melchezidek who is referred to as a king in Gen 14:18. Another exception is in Deut 17:15, 15 and Deut 28:36 where the first prophecies of a king (or kings) appear. In the Book of Judges, Abimelech (the son of Gideon, one of the judges) is made king in Judg 9:6, but this is a short-lived affair and it's not very clear there what exactly the difference was between a "king" and a "judge". It is not until the Israelites beg Samuel for a king in 1 Sam 8:5 which leads to the Saul being anointed king of Israel (see 1 Sam 9:16ff and 1 Sam 10:22-24). Both Moses and Samuel warned that Israel's kings would lead to problems (see esp. Deuteronomy chapters 17 and 28 and 1 Samuel chapters 8 and 12). The problems associated with these kings becomes especially transparent in 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. Around 920 BCE, the Israelite monarchy split into the Kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam and the Kingdom of Judah under Rehoboam (see 1 Kgs 12). These kingdoms were eventually destroyed by the Assyrians (around 720 BCE, prophesied by Isaiah in Isa 7-12, among others; see also 2 Kgs 17:3-6) and Babylonians (around 590 BCE, prophesied by Isaiah in Isa 13-14; see also 2 Kgs 25:1-9).
  • Mosiah 29:25: The laws given by our fathers. "The laws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord" The reference to the laws here is interesting in terms of how it finesses the issue of the law's origin. First, the law is linked to "the voice of the people" who choose judges in order to enforce the law. Second, the law is associated with "our fathers." Finally, the law is linked at some point in the distant past, apparently, with God, who gave it to our fathers. Notice the claims that are not made: the law is not authored by the people, the law is not derived by the legal exegesis of scripture, the law is not seen as being directly dictated by God. Rather, the law seems to be based on a tradition that is sanctified by some hazily defined divine origin.
The use of the word "correct" here is also suggestive. The Book of Mormon frequently speaks of "incorrect traditions" of the Lamanites, which seems to consist of a counter narrative of the Lehite exodus from Jerusalem, in which Nephi stole the right of government from his older brothers. (See,e.g., Mosiah 10:12, Alma 26:24, Alma 37:9) By calling the "laws of our fathers" "correct" Mosiah may be drawing an implicit contrast with the "incorrect traditions" of the Lamanites. If so, then the costrast of laws with tradition is interesting in that it seems to link the concept of law to a particular narrative. The primacy of narrative in Nephite legal discussions can be seen in other passages, particularlly Alma 30, the one place in the Book of Mormon where a legal rule is derived from a scriptural text. The text in question, however, is a narrative rather than a legislative passage from the Old Testament. (See Alma 30:7-8)
  • Mosiah 29:38: Nephite understanding of kingship. This verse offers a vital clue to how the Nephites understood kingship as a form of government. Under a king, it was apparently not the case that "every man" would "have an equal chance throughout all the land." What that seems to mean, according to the following phrase, is that "every man" was not responsible "to answer for his own sins." The role of the king was, in Nephite society, then, to represent in a single person the whole of the nation: if the kingdom was righteous, so was the king, and if the kingdom was wicked, so was the king (a sort of dialectic between king and kingdom seems implied, rather than a one-way causality). The king, and a unique embodiment of the whole people, carried all the sins of the people, as well as all of the glory: everything was on the head of the king. When Mosiah offers here to change the manner of government, the people become "exceedingly anxious" to answer for their own sins. Each person is given, ultimately, the opportunity to be a king and a priest over a limited domain (this seems, in the end, to be the point of King Benjamin's speech). The king carries the weight (burden/glory), and each is willing to carry his (or her?) own. (It might be noted that this understanding of the monarchy makes quite a gap between the spirit of the Book of Mormon and the American attitudes toward the Revolution.)
  • Relationship of personal responsibility to Davidic kingship. This is a topic I'm very interested, particularly as related to the Davidic Covenant. Avaraham Gileadi makes a big deal about this aspect of the Davidic Covenant, that it puts all the responsibility on the king (prefiguring Christ's atonement). I was skeptical about this idea at first, but am becoming a bit less skeptical. I'd like to study this out more. In particular, I'd like to know: (1) if the passage/parable in Judges can be tied to this in any way, (2) how (if?) the warnings about kings from Samuel fit into this, (3) how (if?) messianic prophecies in the OT address this notion of individual vs. communal responsibility (see also the discussion of communal agency in Joshua 2...).

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. →

  • Mosiah 28:3-4: Verse 4 says the feelings described in v. 3 are given by the Spirit of the Lord. Would the Spirit give anyone the same feelings? If so, might the absence of such feelings indicate an absence of the Spirit?)
  • Mosiah 28:3-4: Alma the younger had endured endless torment (Mosiah 27:29), but there is no indication that the sons of Mosiah had, even though they did suffer. What might give them the feelings described in verse 3?
  • Mosiah 28:18: Reading of a group of people who were destroyed might sober us or even make us sad, but it usually wouldn’t make us “mourn exceedingly.” Why do you think Mosiah’s people reacted in this way? What kind of knowledge did they get which caused them to rejoice?
  • Mosiah 29:7-9: Aaron has just been converted in a miraculous manner, and he is obviously serious about his conversion. His mission is evidence of that. Nevertheless, here we see Mosiah worried that being king might destroy him. Does he lack confidence in his son? If so, why? If not, how do you explain Mosiah’s remarks?
  • It may have been a hypothetical question on Mosiah's part although as you continue to read in Alma I find it interesting that Ammon is selected as the leader to the mission to the Lamanites and is the one to bless/anoint each missionary as they separate to their assignments. Either Aaron was extremely humble and let his brother lead or Aaron felt less qualified to lead. It is not the first time in the scriptures that the eldest has that issue but it is very commendable and different that Aaron allowed and encouraged his younger brother ie Hyrum and Joseph not Jacob and Esau and encouraged his father to form a new and better form of government.
  • Mosiah 29:12ff: What is necessary in order to have a king? Are the judges that Mosiah suggests as rulers the same or similar to the judges of ancient Israel, or is this a different system of government?
  • Mosiah 29:13: Mosiah tells us that the problem with kings is that sometimes they are unjust. How does having judges instead of kings ameliorate this problem? (Compare vv. 28-29.)
  • Mosiah 29:16: In the Old Testament the king is often understood as a shadow of the Messiah, one who typifies the Savior. Is he suggesting here that, because of our iniquity, that type and shadow doesn’t work?
  • Mosiah 29:16: How is a "king" different from any other type of ruler? If Mosiah is not trying to abolish rulership, what exactly is he trying to accomplish?
  • Mosiah 29:21: What is the definition an "iniquitous" king?
  • Mosiah 29:21: Are there Old Testament precedents for dethroning an iniquitous king, or is this something that comes from the Nephite's American experience?
  • Mosiah 29:21: How is the word contention used here? Does it just mean arguing, or is it something more? How does the use of the term here compare with the way it is used earlier in the Book of Mosiah and elsewhere in the Book of Mormon?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What is meant by "friends in iniquity"? Are these friends kept in iniquity because of the king, is the king brought to iniquity by his friends, or do they mutually reinforce each other?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What does keeping guards have to do with being an "iniquitous king"?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What is the role of tradition in governance? Why would it be iniquitous for a ruler to tear up the laws of those who have come before? Does the tradition have weight in and of itself, or is the problem here only when unrighteous kings break the laws established in righteousness?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What does it mean to trample under your feet the commandments of God? Does this just mean to break the commandments, or is there something more implied?
  • Mosiah 29:23: Mosiah here claims that an unrighteous king a) enacts laws, b) sends them forth, c) punishes those who violate his laws, including d) destroying them, and e) sending armies against them. Are these all prerogatives of a righteous king as well? Are these practices in and of themselves unrighteous, or just when they are used to sustain iniquitous laws or practices?
  • Mosiah 29:23: Can righteous kings send armies against his own people, or just against foreign enemies?
  • Mosiah 29:24: Why does Mosiah consider unrighteous rulership to be an "abomination"? What does abomination mean, and how is it different from any other type of unholy or impure practice?
  • Mosiah 29:25: Does this verse tell us that the judges were elected democratically, or does it mean something else? What evidence can you give for your conclusion?
  • Mosiah 29:25: Is the law referred to in this verse the Law of Moses or some other body of law?
  • Mosiah 29:26: Given the Nephite experience so far, the record they have of Israel before Lehi left, and what they have just read in the Book of Ether, how can Mosiah say this? All the evidence seems to indicate that it is quite common for the majority to desire what is wrong, doesn’t it?
  • Mosiah 29:26: What does it mean to "do your business by the voice of the people"? Is this actual democracy or something else?
  • Mosiah 29:27: Does this verse answer the question just asked about v. 26? How are we to understand these verses as they apply to us today?
  • Mosiah 29:27: What does it mean for God to "visit you with great destruction"?
  • Mosiah 29:28: What is meant here by judges? How are Nephite judges different from kings? How are these judges different from judges described in the Old Testament?
  • Mosiah 29:28: What does it mean to have a judge judged by a higher judge?
  • Mosiah 29:29: What are the difficulties and opportunities afforded by having lower judges judge higher judges "according to the voice of the people"?
  • Mosiah 29:29: How is this system of judges different from other modern judicial systems?
  • Mosiah 29:30: How can King Mosiah establish a democracy by fiat? Is this what he is really trying to do, or is something else going on here?
  • Mosiah 29:31: Israelites also had this belief, that the wickedness of the king caused the wickedness of the nation. It was the flip side of the belief that the king typified the Messiah. What bearing does this belief have on our understanding of government? Why might the ancient Israelites and King Mosiah have believed that a wicked king caused a wicked people?
  • Mosiah 29:31: We don’t usually believe that a wicked CEO in a company is necessarily a bad leader for the company. Why would a wicked national leader necessarily be a bad leader for the country? In other words, how do the two kinds of leadership differ, if they do?
  • Mosiah 29:32: To what inequality is Mosiah referring? What are the implications of there being an inequality of iniquities between rulers and their people?
  • Mosiah 29:33: Is Mosiah arguing that it is too difficult to be king, even for a righteous person, so no one should ask someone to be his or her king? Why would that argument be different for a king than for any other leader?
  • Mosiah 29:33: What exactly are the burdens of kingship that Mosiah is talking about here? Is it just the complaining of his people, or are we talking about some kind of divine kingship whereby the sins of the people are thought to fall upon the king, who is then required to expiate them? How might this relate to Ancient Mesoamerican concepts of divine kingship, whereby the king was required to ceremonially shed his own blood for his people?
  • Mosiah 29:34: What does it mean for each person to "bear his part"? His part of what?
  • Mosiah 29:38: Two things seem to have most impressed Mosiah’s people to give up their desire for a king: they wanted each person to have an equal chance and they wanted each person to answer for his or her own sins. What kinds of things has Mosiah been talking about that would have led them to the conclusion that each should have an equal chance at something or other? To what do you think they want each person to have an equal chance?
  • Mosiah 29:38: How is their desire to have each person answer for his or her own sins a response to Mosiah’s teaching? Why wouldn’t each person be responsible under a king? Is this, perhaps, reflection of the Israelite understanding of the king (see v. 31)?
  • Mosiah 29:38: Are Mosiah's actions here more about establishing democracy for democracy's sake, or for some other purpose?
  • Mosiah 29:39: What are the liberties that "had been granted unto" the people here?
  • Mosiah 29:41: What is meant here by throughout the land? Does this just refer to the Land of Zarahemla, or all of the cities and villages inhabited by the Nephites (v.44)?
  • Mosiah 29:41: How does this reorganization of the Nephite polity represent a true change between how the various cities and villages are governed in relation to each other?
  • Mosiah 29:42: Does this tell us that Alma held two offices or that the office of chief judge and that of high priest were the same, as for example in the United States the President and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Services aren’t two different offices? What is the relationship between the organization of the political and religious leadership in Nephite society at this time?
  • Mosiah 29:42: Alma judged righteously and there was peace throughout the land. Is that a cause and effect relation? If so, how so?
  • Mosiah 29:47: What does it mean for Alma to be the "founder" of their church?

Resources[edit]

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Notes[edit]

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Mosiah 29:36-40

Home > The Book of Mormon > Mosiah > Chapters 25-29 > Chapter 28-29
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Summary[edit]

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Relationship to Chapters 25-29. The relationship of Chapter 28-29 to the rest of Chapters 25-29 is discussed at Mosiah 25-29.

Story.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapter 28-29 include:

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Mosiah 28-29: Collapse of hereditary leadership. While the establishment of a "rule of the judges" is often interpreted to be a political advance for the Nephites, it can also be seen as the failure of Mosiah to maintain the stability of a heriditary ruling lineage. While the rule of the judges gave people a say in the management of the government, it also created a power vaccuum and political schisms that lasted over 100 years and eventually led to the collapse of Nephite civil society. For three generations (Mosiah, Benjamin, Mosiah), leadership of the combined Nephite/Zarahemlaite region had fallen to "kings" which, in modern anthropological terms, were probably more akin to "big men" or possibly "chiefs". These leaders seemed to rule a small group of people mostly through their own charisma, and we are told that they labored for their own support--ie, they probably didnt have a large court supported by taxes or conscripted labor. While these leaders had managed to keep leadership within the family for three generations, when the Sons of Mosiah left, this arrangement was no longer possible, and rather than turn leadership over to a possibly competing elite lineage (perhaps descendents of Zarahemla?), Mosiah alters the management of the government. It is difficult to reconstruct from the text how these "judges" differed from chiefs--though perhaps we should see these judges more as "chiefs". If so, what we may be seeing here at the end of Mosiah is the transition from a rank or big man based society, or perhaps a small stratified chiefdom, expanded to become a complex chiefdom with a main chief ("chief judge") ruling over regional chiefs ("judges"). Whatever the actual structure of the Nephite polity at this point, the collapse of the previously stable Mosiah-Benjamin-Mosiah lineage rulership, and transition to the new "rule of the judges" did not seem to go smoothly, as a series of dissenters would try to wrest control of the area from the judges for the next 100 years.
Good thoughts. I imagine that the Jaredite record, newly translated (though only available in a stripped-down edition, apparently) probably had some influence on these affairs. Did Mosiah's reading of the record give him some concerns about what kingship would quickly become if Nephite civilization grew any larger? Did the people's reading of the record have anything to do with the movements back toward kingship (Amlici, Amalickiah)? Did the sons of Mosiah and Alma form their secret combination with explicit reference to Jaredite practices? How much of these few chapters are dependent on one's careful understanding of Jaredite society? I don't tend to follow the Central America reading of BoM geography, but if one does, the influence of the Olmecs among both Mayan and the broader Mexican peoples may be incredibly suggestive on this point.
I generally consider that, as suggested, the influence of the Jaredite record on the transition to judges is important to note. Not only does the Jaredite record highlight the weaknesses of monarchy, but the establishment of the kingdom Ether 6:22-27 parallels Mosiah's experience with trying to pass the kingdom on to his sons. Mosiah 29:1-8 Of course the Bible also discourses on the folly of establishing kings. 1 Sam. 8:10-18 The Old Testament does not consider the shift from judges to kings to be a positive move. At the same time, a Republic is not exactly what the people had before. The judges were more of a semi-theocratic rule, though at the same time, they required popular support. The expressly Republican elements of Mosiah's shift are rather interesting and give greater cause to compare their society's struggles with ours than any other government in the scriptures. One element I find interesting is the rising influence and danger from corrupt lawyers and judges. The destruction of the wicked in the city of Ammonihah, where the lawyers seemed to be the antagonists, was apparently necessitated/provoked by their studying to overthrow the government. Alma 8:17 Of course, it's the secret combinations that eventually tear thing apart via their assassinations and intrigues.
I think it is important, as indicated, to remember that these judges are not modern democratically elected leaders as we might too easily consider them, but rather apparently elected presidents for life perhaps most similar to a modern African model. While we don't know very much about how lesser judges were appointed, there doesn't seem to be a regular election cycle involved here, only votes for new rulers upon the current ruler's death. It isn't also clear who got to vote, how the vote was taken, or what is meant by the "voice of the people". In anthropological terms, when a ruler requires the "voice of the people" to stay in power, it is usually considered that the leader does not have enough power to maintain rulership by the use of military force. In modern terms, we might consider such polities as a "weak state", but it might be that the Book of Mormon is describing something that doesn't even reach that level. While it seems like the "Chief Judge" had some level of authority over multiple cities, it isn't clear exactly what that level of authority actually consisted of. Are we talking about a loose confederation of affiliated cities? Whatever the political situation, we don't seem to be talking about a stable government for very long hear, as cities pass back and forth in allegiance to various political alliances over the course of the next 100 years. I'm not sure anyone has done justice yet to the complexity of the political landscape reported in the Book of Mormon. While most readers of the Book of Mormon probably don't give this all much thought, surely the Monarchy to Republic model of a good state (Nephites) contrasted with a despotic bad state (Lamanites) is a gross oversimplification.
I totally agree that far too little--and far too simplistic--attention has been paid to the political themes of the Book of Mormon. At one time, I wondered if it wasn't worth looking into writing a few articles or even a book on the subject. It certainly deserves some closer attention, and most especially in the Book of Mosiah. I'd like to see more work done here on it, that's for sure. Perhaps I'll have to get some things started (or return to some things I've started before).
Once upon a time I wrote a sociopolitical analysis of the Book of Mosiah for an anthropology class at BYU. Maybe its time to see if I still have that laying around somewhere. -- Joe, Rob, Sean
  • Mosiah 29:11-15. I think it must be remembered that Mosiah has just spent years interpreting the Jaredite record. He does not have actual experience with wicked kings possible unremarkable ones through the 200 year Nephite history to date and then Mosiah, Benjamin and then himself. His father and grandfather Mosiah were great reformers who left a wicked and hostile environment in the Land of Nephi to come to Zarahemla and teach that people and eventual rule over them. I don't think he wanted to see his people ever to settle back to the mediocrity and wickedness of previous generations. They needed to do there part as Iam sure they did as they homesteaded the new land. He also didn't want to fall into the generations of progressively wickeder kings as there were in Jaredite times. There was a pattern of:
  • people's law
  • small governable groups
  • lower judges and higher judges
  • law by the people
  • a vote
  • and representation for the offending party
  • with an assumption of innocence until proven guilty
This goes all the way back to Moses' time and was afforded to Nehor and Amlici
  • Mosiah 29:16: Kings in the Old Testament. Although kings are mentioned frequently in the Pentateuch, they are usually associated with Gentiles not associated with the Israel or the Abrahamic covenant. One possible exception to this is Melchezidek who is referred to as a king in Gen 14:18. Another exception is in Deut 17:15, 15 and Deut 28:36 where the first prophecies of a king (or kings) appear. In the Book of Judges, Abimelech (the son of Gideon, one of the judges) is made king in Judg 9:6, but this is a short-lived affair and it's not very clear there what exactly the difference was between a "king" and a "judge". It is not until the Israelites beg Samuel for a king in 1 Sam 8:5 which leads to the Saul being anointed king of Israel (see 1 Sam 9:16ff and 1 Sam 10:22-24). Both Moses and Samuel warned that Israel's kings would lead to problems (see esp. Deuteronomy chapters 17 and 28 and 1 Samuel chapters 8 and 12). The problems associated with these kings becomes especially transparent in 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. Around 920 BCE, the Israelite monarchy split into the Kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam and the Kingdom of Judah under Rehoboam (see 1 Kgs 12). These kingdoms were eventually destroyed by the Assyrians (around 720 BCE, prophesied by Isaiah in Isa 7-12, among others; see also 2 Kgs 17:3-6) and Babylonians (around 590 BCE, prophesied by Isaiah in Isa 13-14; see also 2 Kgs 25:1-9).
  • Mosiah 29:25: The laws given by our fathers. "The laws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord" The reference to the laws here is interesting in terms of how it finesses the issue of the law's origin. First, the law is linked to "the voice of the people" who choose judges in order to enforce the law. Second, the law is associated with "our fathers." Finally, the law is linked at some point in the distant past, apparently, with God, who gave it to our fathers. Notice the claims that are not made: the law is not authored by the people, the law is not derived by the legal exegesis of scripture, the law is not seen as being directly dictated by God. Rather, the law seems to be based on a tradition that is sanctified by some hazily defined divine origin.
The use of the word "correct" here is also suggestive. The Book of Mormon frequently speaks of "incorrect traditions" of the Lamanites, which seems to consist of a counter narrative of the Lehite exodus from Jerusalem, in which Nephi stole the right of government from his older brothers. (See,e.g., Mosiah 10:12, Alma 26:24, Alma 37:9) By calling the "laws of our fathers" "correct" Mosiah may be drawing an implicit contrast with the "incorrect traditions" of the Lamanites. If so, then the costrast of laws with tradition is interesting in that it seems to link the concept of law to a particular narrative. The primacy of narrative in Nephite legal discussions can be seen in other passages, particularlly Alma 30, the one place in the Book of Mormon where a legal rule is derived from a scriptural text. The text in question, however, is a narrative rather than a legislative passage from the Old Testament. (See Alma 30:7-8)
  • Mosiah 29:38: Nephite understanding of kingship. This verse offers a vital clue to how the Nephites understood kingship as a form of government. Under a king, it was apparently not the case that "every man" would "have an equal chance throughout all the land." What that seems to mean, according to the following phrase, is that "every man" was not responsible "to answer for his own sins." The role of the king was, in Nephite society, then, to represent in a single person the whole of the nation: if the kingdom was righteous, so was the king, and if the kingdom was wicked, so was the king (a sort of dialectic between king and kingdom seems implied, rather than a one-way causality). The king, and a unique embodiment of the whole people, carried all the sins of the people, as well as all of the glory: everything was on the head of the king. When Mosiah offers here to change the manner of government, the people become "exceedingly anxious" to answer for their own sins. Each person is given, ultimately, the opportunity to be a king and a priest over a limited domain (this seems, in the end, to be the point of King Benjamin's speech). The king carries the weight (burden/glory), and each is willing to carry his (or her?) own. (It might be noted that this understanding of the monarchy makes quite a gap between the spirit of the Book of Mormon and the American attitudes toward the Revolution.)
  • Relationship of personal responsibility to Davidic kingship. This is a topic I'm very interested, particularly as related to the Davidic Covenant. Avaraham Gileadi makes a big deal about this aspect of the Davidic Covenant, that it puts all the responsibility on the king (prefiguring Christ's atonement). I was skeptical about this idea at first, but am becoming a bit less skeptical. I'd like to study this out more. In particular, I'd like to know: (1) if the passage/parable in Judges can be tied to this in any way, (2) how (if?) the warnings about kings from Samuel fit into this, (3) how (if?) messianic prophecies in the OT address this notion of individual vs. communal responsibility (see also the discussion of communal agency in Joshua 2...).

Unanswered questions[edit]

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Prompts for life application[edit]

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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. →

  • Mosiah 28:3-4: Verse 4 says the feelings described in v. 3 are given by the Spirit of the Lord. Would the Spirit give anyone the same feelings? If so, might the absence of such feelings indicate an absence of the Spirit?)
  • Mosiah 28:3-4: Alma the younger had endured endless torment (Mosiah 27:29), but there is no indication that the sons of Mosiah had, even though they did suffer. What might give them the feelings described in verse 3?
  • Mosiah 28:18: Reading of a group of people who were destroyed might sober us or even make us sad, but it usually wouldn’t make us “mourn exceedingly.” Why do you think Mosiah’s people reacted in this way? What kind of knowledge did they get which caused them to rejoice?
  • Mosiah 29:7-9: Aaron has just been converted in a miraculous manner, and he is obviously serious about his conversion. His mission is evidence of that. Nevertheless, here we see Mosiah worried that being king might destroy him. Does he lack confidence in his son? If so, why? If not, how do you explain Mosiah’s remarks?
  • It may have been a hypothetical question on Mosiah's part although as you continue to read in Alma I find it interesting that Ammon is selected as the leader to the mission to the Lamanites and is the one to bless/anoint each missionary as they separate to their assignments. Either Aaron was extremely humble and let his brother lead or Aaron felt less qualified to lead. It is not the first time in the scriptures that the eldest has that issue but it is very commendable and different that Aaron allowed and encouraged his younger brother ie Hyrum and Joseph not Jacob and Esau and encouraged his father to form a new and better form of government.
  • Mosiah 29:12ff: What is necessary in order to have a king? Are the judges that Mosiah suggests as rulers the same or similar to the judges of ancient Israel, or is this a different system of government?
  • Mosiah 29:13: Mosiah tells us that the problem with kings is that sometimes they are unjust. How does having judges instead of kings ameliorate this problem? (Compare vv. 28-29.)
  • Mosiah 29:16: In the Old Testament the king is often understood as a shadow of the Messiah, one who typifies the Savior. Is he suggesting here that, because of our iniquity, that type and shadow doesn’t work?
  • Mosiah 29:16: How is a "king" different from any other type of ruler? If Mosiah is not trying to abolish rulership, what exactly is he trying to accomplish?
  • Mosiah 29:21: What is the definition an "iniquitous" king?
  • Mosiah 29:21: Are there Old Testament precedents for dethroning an iniquitous king, or is this something that comes from the Nephite's American experience?
  • Mosiah 29:21: How is the word contention used here? Does it just mean arguing, or is it something more? How does the use of the term here compare with the way it is used earlier in the Book of Mosiah and elsewhere in the Book of Mormon?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What is meant by "friends in iniquity"? Are these friends kept in iniquity because of the king, is the king brought to iniquity by his friends, or do they mutually reinforce each other?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What does keeping guards have to do with being an "iniquitous king"?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What is the role of tradition in governance? Why would it be iniquitous for a ruler to tear up the laws of those who have come before? Does the tradition have weight in and of itself, or is the problem here only when unrighteous kings break the laws established in righteousness?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What does it mean to trample under your feet the commandments of God? Does this just mean to break the commandments, or is there something more implied?
  • Mosiah 29:23: Mosiah here claims that an unrighteous king a) enacts laws, b) sends them forth, c) punishes those who violate his laws, including d) destroying them, and e) sending armies against them. Are these all prerogatives of a righteous king as well? Are these practices in and of themselves unrighteous, or just when they are used to sustain iniquitous laws or practices?
  • Mosiah 29:23: Can righteous kings send armies against his own people, or just against foreign enemies?
  • Mosiah 29:24: Why does Mosiah consider unrighteous rulership to be an "abomination"? What does abomination mean, and how is it different from any other type of unholy or impure practice?
  • Mosiah 29:25: Does this verse tell us that the judges were elected democratically, or does it mean something else? What evidence can you give for your conclusion?
  • Mosiah 29:25: Is the law referred to in this verse the Law of Moses or some other body of law?
  • Mosiah 29:26: Given the Nephite experience so far, the record they have of Israel before Lehi left, and what they have just read in the Book of Ether, how can Mosiah say this? All the evidence seems to indicate that it is quite common for the majority to desire what is wrong, doesn’t it?
  • Mosiah 29:26: What does it mean to "do your business by the voice of the people"? Is this actual democracy or something else?
  • Mosiah 29:27: Does this verse answer the question just asked about v. 26? How are we to understand these verses as they apply to us today?
  • Mosiah 29:27: What does it mean for God to "visit you with great destruction"?
  • Mosiah 29:28: What is meant here by judges? How are Nephite judges different from kings? How are these judges different from judges described in the Old Testament?
  • Mosiah 29:28: What does it mean to have a judge judged by a higher judge?
  • Mosiah 29:29: What are the difficulties and opportunities afforded by having lower judges judge higher judges "according to the voice of the people"?
  • Mosiah 29:29: How is this system of judges different from other modern judicial systems?
  • Mosiah 29:30: How can King Mosiah establish a democracy by fiat? Is this what he is really trying to do, or is something else going on here?
  • Mosiah 29:31: Israelites also had this belief, that the wickedness of the king caused the wickedness of the nation. It was the flip side of the belief that the king typified the Messiah. What bearing does this belief have on our understanding of government? Why might the ancient Israelites and King Mosiah have believed that a wicked king caused a wicked people?
  • Mosiah 29:31: We don’t usually believe that a wicked CEO in a company is necessarily a bad leader for the company. Why would a wicked national leader necessarily be a bad leader for the country? In other words, how do the two kinds of leadership differ, if they do?
  • Mosiah 29:32: To what inequality is Mosiah referring? What are the implications of there being an inequality of iniquities between rulers and their people?
  • Mosiah 29:33: Is Mosiah arguing that it is too difficult to be king, even for a righteous person, so no one should ask someone to be his or her king? Why would that argument be different for a king than for any other leader?
  • Mosiah 29:33: What exactly are the burdens of kingship that Mosiah is talking about here? Is it just the complaining of his people, or are we talking about some kind of divine kingship whereby the sins of the people are thought to fall upon the king, who is then required to expiate them? How might this relate to Ancient Mesoamerican concepts of divine kingship, whereby the king was required to ceremonially shed his own blood for his people?
  • Mosiah 29:34: What does it mean for each person to "bear his part"? His part of what?
  • Mosiah 29:38: Two things seem to have most impressed Mosiah’s people to give up their desire for a king: they wanted each person to have an equal chance and they wanted each person to answer for his or her own sins. What kinds of things has Mosiah been talking about that would have led them to the conclusion that each should have an equal chance at something or other? To what do you think they want each person to have an equal chance?
  • Mosiah 29:38: How is their desire to have each person answer for his or her own sins a response to Mosiah’s teaching? Why wouldn’t each person be responsible under a king? Is this, perhaps, reflection of the Israelite understanding of the king (see v. 31)?
  • Mosiah 29:38: Are Mosiah's actions here more about establishing democracy for democracy's sake, or for some other purpose?
  • Mosiah 29:39: What are the liberties that "had been granted unto" the people here?
  • Mosiah 29:41: What is meant here by throughout the land? Does this just refer to the Land of Zarahemla, or all of the cities and villages inhabited by the Nephites (v.44)?
  • Mosiah 29:41: How does this reorganization of the Nephite polity represent a true change between how the various cities and villages are governed in relation to each other?
  • Mosiah 29:42: Does this tell us that Alma held two offices or that the office of chief judge and that of high priest were the same, as for example in the United States the President and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Services aren’t two different offices? What is the relationship between the organization of the political and religious leadership in Nephite society at this time?
  • Mosiah 29:42: Alma judged righteously and there was peace throughout the land. Is that a cause and effect relation? If so, how so?
  • Mosiah 29:47: What does it mean for Alma to be the "founder" of their church?

Resources[edit]

This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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.



Previous page: Chapter 27b                      This is the last page for Mosiah

Mosiah 29:41-47

Home > The Book of Mormon > Mosiah > Chapters 25-29 > Chapter 28-29
Previous page: Chapter 27b                      This is the last page for Mosiah


This page would ideally always be under construction. You are invited to contribute.


Summary[edit]

This heading should be very brief. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Relationship to Chapters 25-29. The relationship of Chapter 28-29 to the rest of Chapters 25-29 is discussed at Mosiah 25-29.

Story.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapter 28-29 include:

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Mosiah 28-29: Collapse of hereditary leadership. While the establishment of a "rule of the judges" is often interpreted to be a political advance for the Nephites, it can also be seen as the failure of Mosiah to maintain the stability of a heriditary ruling lineage. While the rule of the judges gave people a say in the management of the government, it also created a power vaccuum and political schisms that lasted over 100 years and eventually led to the collapse of Nephite civil society. For three generations (Mosiah, Benjamin, Mosiah), leadership of the combined Nephite/Zarahemlaite region had fallen to "kings" which, in modern anthropological terms, were probably more akin to "big men" or possibly "chiefs". These leaders seemed to rule a small group of people mostly through their own charisma, and we are told that they labored for their own support--ie, they probably didnt have a large court supported by taxes or conscripted labor. While these leaders had managed to keep leadership within the family for three generations, when the Sons of Mosiah left, this arrangement was no longer possible, and rather than turn leadership over to a possibly competing elite lineage (perhaps descendents of Zarahemla?), Mosiah alters the management of the government. It is difficult to reconstruct from the text how these "judges" differed from chiefs--though perhaps we should see these judges more as "chiefs". If so, what we may be seeing here at the end of Mosiah is the transition from a rank or big man based society, or perhaps a small stratified chiefdom, expanded to become a complex chiefdom with a main chief ("chief judge") ruling over regional chiefs ("judges"). Whatever the actual structure of the Nephite polity at this point, the collapse of the previously stable Mosiah-Benjamin-Mosiah lineage rulership, and transition to the new "rule of the judges" did not seem to go smoothly, as a series of dissenters would try to wrest control of the area from the judges for the next 100 years.
Good thoughts. I imagine that the Jaredite record, newly translated (though only available in a stripped-down edition, apparently) probably had some influence on these affairs. Did Mosiah's reading of the record give him some concerns about what kingship would quickly become if Nephite civilization grew any larger? Did the people's reading of the record have anything to do with the movements back toward kingship (Amlici, Amalickiah)? Did the sons of Mosiah and Alma form their secret combination with explicit reference to Jaredite practices? How much of these few chapters are dependent on one's careful understanding of Jaredite society? I don't tend to follow the Central America reading of BoM geography, but if one does, the influence of the Olmecs among both Mayan and the broader Mexican peoples may be incredibly suggestive on this point.
I generally consider that, as suggested, the influence of the Jaredite record on the transition to judges is important to note. Not only does the Jaredite record highlight the weaknesses of monarchy, but the establishment of the kingdom Ether 6:22-27 parallels Mosiah's experience with trying to pass the kingdom on to his sons. Mosiah 29:1-8 Of course the Bible also discourses on the folly of establishing kings. 1 Sam. 8:10-18 The Old Testament does not consider the shift from judges to kings to be a positive move. At the same time, a Republic is not exactly what the people had before. The judges were more of a semi-theocratic rule, though at the same time, they required popular support. The expressly Republican elements of Mosiah's shift are rather interesting and give greater cause to compare their society's struggles with ours than any other government in the scriptures. One element I find interesting is the rising influence and danger from corrupt lawyers and judges. The destruction of the wicked in the city of Ammonihah, where the lawyers seemed to be the antagonists, was apparently necessitated/provoked by their studying to overthrow the government. Alma 8:17 Of course, it's the secret combinations that eventually tear thing apart via their assassinations and intrigues.
I think it is important, as indicated, to remember that these judges are not modern democratically elected leaders as we might too easily consider them, but rather apparently elected presidents for life perhaps most similar to a modern African model. While we don't know very much about how lesser judges were appointed, there doesn't seem to be a regular election cycle involved here, only votes for new rulers upon the current ruler's death. It isn't also clear who got to vote, how the vote was taken, or what is meant by the "voice of the people". In anthropological terms, when a ruler requires the "voice of the people" to stay in power, it is usually considered that the leader does not have enough power to maintain rulership by the use of military force. In modern terms, we might consider such polities as a "weak state", but it might be that the Book of Mormon is describing something that doesn't even reach that level. While it seems like the "Chief Judge" had some level of authority over multiple cities, it isn't clear exactly what that level of authority actually consisted of. Are we talking about a loose confederation of affiliated cities? Whatever the political situation, we don't seem to be talking about a stable government for very long hear, as cities pass back and forth in allegiance to various political alliances over the course of the next 100 years. I'm not sure anyone has done justice yet to the complexity of the political landscape reported in the Book of Mormon. While most readers of the Book of Mormon probably don't give this all much thought, surely the Monarchy to Republic model of a good state (Nephites) contrasted with a despotic bad state (Lamanites) is a gross oversimplification.
I totally agree that far too little--and far too simplistic--attention has been paid to the political themes of the Book of Mormon. At one time, I wondered if it wasn't worth looking into writing a few articles or even a book on the subject. It certainly deserves some closer attention, and most especially in the Book of Mosiah. I'd like to see more work done here on it, that's for sure. Perhaps I'll have to get some things started (or return to some things I've started before).
Once upon a time I wrote a sociopolitical analysis of the Book of Mosiah for an anthropology class at BYU. Maybe its time to see if I still have that laying around somewhere. -- Joe, Rob, Sean
  • Mosiah 29:11-15. I think it must be remembered that Mosiah has just spent years interpreting the Jaredite record. He does not have actual experience with wicked kings possible unremarkable ones through the 200 year Nephite history to date and then Mosiah, Benjamin and then himself. His father and grandfather Mosiah were great reformers who left a wicked and hostile environment in the Land of Nephi to come to Zarahemla and teach that people and eventual rule over them. I don't think he wanted to see his people ever to settle back to the mediocrity and wickedness of previous generations. They needed to do there part as Iam sure they did as they homesteaded the new land. He also didn't want to fall into the generations of progressively wickeder kings as there were in Jaredite times. There was a pattern of:
  • people's law
  • small governable groups
  • lower judges and higher judges
  • law by the people
  • a vote
  • and representation for the offending party
  • with an assumption of innocence until proven guilty
This goes all the way back to Moses' time and was afforded to Nehor and Amlici
  • Mosiah 29:16: Kings in the Old Testament. Although kings are mentioned frequently in the Pentateuch, they are usually associated with Gentiles not associated with the Israel or the Abrahamic covenant. One possible exception to this is Melchezidek who is referred to as a king in Gen 14:18. Another exception is in Deut 17:15, 15 and Deut 28:36 where the first prophecies of a king (or kings) appear. In the Book of Judges, Abimelech (the son of Gideon, one of the judges) is made king in Judg 9:6, but this is a short-lived affair and it's not very clear there what exactly the difference was between a "king" and a "judge". It is not until the Israelites beg Samuel for a king in 1 Sam 8:5 which leads to the Saul being anointed king of Israel (see 1 Sam 9:16ff and 1 Sam 10:22-24). Both Moses and Samuel warned that Israel's kings would lead to problems (see esp. Deuteronomy chapters 17 and 28 and 1 Samuel chapters 8 and 12). The problems associated with these kings becomes especially transparent in 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. Around 920 BCE, the Israelite monarchy split into the Kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam and the Kingdom of Judah under Rehoboam (see 1 Kgs 12). These kingdoms were eventually destroyed by the Assyrians (around 720 BCE, prophesied by Isaiah in Isa 7-12, among others; see also 2 Kgs 17:3-6) and Babylonians (around 590 BCE, prophesied by Isaiah in Isa 13-14; see also 2 Kgs 25:1-9).
  • Mosiah 29:25: The laws given by our fathers. "The laws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord" The reference to the laws here is interesting in terms of how it finesses the issue of the law's origin. First, the law is linked to "the voice of the people" who choose judges in order to enforce the law. Second, the law is associated with "our fathers." Finally, the law is linked at some point in the distant past, apparently, with God, who gave it to our fathers. Notice the claims that are not made: the law is not authored by the people, the law is not derived by the legal exegesis of scripture, the law is not seen as being directly dictated by God. Rather, the law seems to be based on a tradition that is sanctified by some hazily defined divine origin.
The use of the word "correct" here is also suggestive. The Book of Mormon frequently speaks of "incorrect traditions" of the Lamanites, which seems to consist of a counter narrative of the Lehite exodus from Jerusalem, in which Nephi stole the right of government from his older brothers. (See,e.g., Mosiah 10:12, Alma 26:24, Alma 37:9) By calling the "laws of our fathers" "correct" Mosiah may be drawing an implicit contrast with the "incorrect traditions" of the Lamanites. If so, then the costrast of laws with tradition is interesting in that it seems to link the concept of law to a particular narrative. The primacy of narrative in Nephite legal discussions can be seen in other passages, particularlly Alma 30, the one place in the Book of Mormon where a legal rule is derived from a scriptural text. The text in question, however, is a narrative rather than a legislative passage from the Old Testament. (See Alma 30:7-8)
  • Mosiah 29:38: Nephite understanding of kingship. This verse offers a vital clue to how the Nephites understood kingship as a form of government. Under a king, it was apparently not the case that "every man" would "have an equal chance throughout all the land." What that seems to mean, according to the following phrase, is that "every man" was not responsible "to answer for his own sins." The role of the king was, in Nephite society, then, to represent in a single person the whole of the nation: if the kingdom was righteous, so was the king, and if the kingdom was wicked, so was the king (a sort of dialectic between king and kingdom seems implied, rather than a one-way causality). The king, and a unique embodiment of the whole people, carried all the sins of the people, as well as all of the glory: everything was on the head of the king. When Mosiah offers here to change the manner of government, the people become "exceedingly anxious" to answer for their own sins. Each person is given, ultimately, the opportunity to be a king and a priest over a limited domain (this seems, in the end, to be the point of King Benjamin's speech). The king carries the weight (burden/glory), and each is willing to carry his (or her?) own. (It might be noted that this understanding of the monarchy makes quite a gap between the spirit of the Book of Mormon and the American attitudes toward the Revolution.)
  • Relationship of personal responsibility to Davidic kingship. This is a topic I'm very interested, particularly as related to the Davidic Covenant. Avaraham Gileadi makes a big deal about this aspect of the Davidic Covenant, that it puts all the responsibility on the king (prefiguring Christ's atonement). I was skeptical about this idea at first, but am becoming a bit less skeptical. I'd like to study this out more. In particular, I'd like to know: (1) if the passage/parable in Judges can be tied to this in any way, (2) how (if?) the warnings about kings from Samuel fit into this, (3) how (if?) messianic prophecies in the OT address this notion of individual vs. communal responsibility (see also the discussion of communal agency in Joshua 2...).

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Prompts for life application[edit]

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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  • Mosiah 28:3-4: Verse 4 says the feelings described in v. 3 are given by the Spirit of the Lord. Would the Spirit give anyone the same feelings? If so, might the absence of such feelings indicate an absence of the Spirit?)
  • Mosiah 28:3-4: Alma the younger had endured endless torment (Mosiah 27:29), but there is no indication that the sons of Mosiah had, even though they did suffer. What might give them the feelings described in verse 3?
  • Mosiah 28:18: Reading of a group of people who were destroyed might sober us or even make us sad, but it usually wouldn’t make us “mourn exceedingly.” Why do you think Mosiah’s people reacted in this way? What kind of knowledge did they get which caused them to rejoice?
  • Mosiah 29:7-9: Aaron has just been converted in a miraculous manner, and he is obviously serious about his conversion. His mission is evidence of that. Nevertheless, here we see Mosiah worried that being king might destroy him. Does he lack confidence in his son? If so, why? If not, how do you explain Mosiah’s remarks?
  • It may have been a hypothetical question on Mosiah's part although as you continue to read in Alma I find it interesting that Ammon is selected as the leader to the mission to the Lamanites and is the one to bless/anoint each missionary as they separate to their assignments. Either Aaron was extremely humble and let his brother lead or Aaron felt less qualified to lead. It is not the first time in the scriptures that the eldest has that issue but it is very commendable and different that Aaron allowed and encouraged his younger brother ie Hyrum and Joseph not Jacob and Esau and encouraged his father to form a new and better form of government.
  • Mosiah 29:12ff: What is necessary in order to have a king? Are the judges that Mosiah suggests as rulers the same or similar to the judges of ancient Israel, or is this a different system of government?
  • Mosiah 29:13: Mosiah tells us that the problem with kings is that sometimes they are unjust. How does having judges instead of kings ameliorate this problem? (Compare vv. 28-29.)
  • Mosiah 29:16: In the Old Testament the king is often understood as a shadow of the Messiah, one who typifies the Savior. Is he suggesting here that, because of our iniquity, that type and shadow doesn’t work?
  • Mosiah 29:16: How is a "king" different from any other type of ruler? If Mosiah is not trying to abolish rulership, what exactly is he trying to accomplish?
  • Mosiah 29:21: What is the definition an "iniquitous" king?
  • Mosiah 29:21: Are there Old Testament precedents for dethroning an iniquitous king, or is this something that comes from the Nephite's American experience?
  • Mosiah 29:21: How is the word contention used here? Does it just mean arguing, or is it something more? How does the use of the term here compare with the way it is used earlier in the Book of Mosiah and elsewhere in the Book of Mormon?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What is meant by "friends in iniquity"? Are these friends kept in iniquity because of the king, is the king brought to iniquity by his friends, or do they mutually reinforce each other?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What does keeping guards have to do with being an "iniquitous king"?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What is the role of tradition in governance? Why would it be iniquitous for a ruler to tear up the laws of those who have come before? Does the tradition have weight in and of itself, or is the problem here only when unrighteous kings break the laws established in righteousness?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What does it mean to trample under your feet the commandments of God? Does this just mean to break the commandments, or is there something more implied?
  • Mosiah 29:23: Mosiah here claims that an unrighteous king a) enacts laws, b) sends them forth, c) punishes those who violate his laws, including d) destroying them, and e) sending armies against them. Are these all prerogatives of a righteous king as well? Are these practices in and of themselves unrighteous, or just when they are used to sustain iniquitous laws or practices?
  • Mosiah 29:23: Can righteous kings send armies against his own people, or just against foreign enemies?
  • Mosiah 29:24: Why does Mosiah consider unrighteous rulership to be an "abomination"? What does abomination mean, and how is it different from any other type of unholy or impure practice?
  • Mosiah 29:25: Does this verse tell us that the judges were elected democratically, or does it mean something else? What evidence can you give for your conclusion?
  • Mosiah 29:25: Is the law referred to in this verse the Law of Moses or some other body of law?
  • Mosiah 29:26: Given the Nephite experience so far, the record they have of Israel before Lehi left, and what they have just read in the Book of Ether, how can Mosiah say this? All the evidence seems to indicate that it is quite common for the majority to desire what is wrong, doesn’t it?
  • Mosiah 29:26: What does it mean to "do your business by the voice of the people"? Is this actual democracy or something else?
  • Mosiah 29:27: Does this verse answer the question just asked about v. 26? How are we to understand these verses as they apply to us today?
  • Mosiah 29:27: What does it mean for God to "visit you with great destruction"?
  • Mosiah 29:28: What is meant here by judges? How are Nephite judges different from kings? How are these judges different from judges described in the Old Testament?
  • Mosiah 29:28: What does it mean to have a judge judged by a higher judge?
  • Mosiah 29:29: What are the difficulties and opportunities afforded by having lower judges judge higher judges "according to the voice of the people"?
  • Mosiah 29:29: How is this system of judges different from other modern judicial systems?
  • Mosiah 29:30: How can King Mosiah establish a democracy by fiat? Is this what he is really trying to do, or is something else going on here?
  • Mosiah 29:31: Israelites also had this belief, that the wickedness of the king caused the wickedness of the nation. It was the flip side of the belief that the king typified the Messiah. What bearing does this belief have on our understanding of government? Why might the ancient Israelites and King Mosiah have believed that a wicked king caused a wicked people?
  • Mosiah 29:31: We don’t usually believe that a wicked CEO in a company is necessarily a bad leader for the company. Why would a wicked national leader necessarily be a bad leader for the country? In other words, how do the two kinds of leadership differ, if they do?
  • Mosiah 29:32: To what inequality is Mosiah referring? What are the implications of there being an inequality of iniquities between rulers and their people?
  • Mosiah 29:33: Is Mosiah arguing that it is too difficult to be king, even for a righteous person, so no one should ask someone to be his or her king? Why would that argument be different for a king than for any other leader?
  • Mosiah 29:33: What exactly are the burdens of kingship that Mosiah is talking about here? Is it just the complaining of his people, or are we talking about some kind of divine kingship whereby the sins of the people are thought to fall upon the king, who is then required to expiate them? How might this relate to Ancient Mesoamerican concepts of divine kingship, whereby the king was required to ceremonially shed his own blood for his people?
  • Mosiah 29:34: What does it mean for each person to "bear his part"? His part of what?
  • Mosiah 29:38: Two things seem to have most impressed Mosiah’s people to give up their desire for a king: they wanted each person to have an equal chance and they wanted each person to answer for his or her own sins. What kinds of things has Mosiah been talking about that would have led them to the conclusion that each should have an equal chance at something or other? To what do you think they want each person to have an equal chance?
  • Mosiah 29:38: How is their desire to have each person answer for his or her own sins a response to Mosiah’s teaching? Why wouldn’t each person be responsible under a king? Is this, perhaps, reflection of the Israelite understanding of the king (see v. 31)?
  • Mosiah 29:38: Are Mosiah's actions here more about establishing democracy for democracy's sake, or for some other purpose?
  • Mosiah 29:39: What are the liberties that "had been granted unto" the people here?
  • Mosiah 29:41: What is meant here by throughout the land? Does this just refer to the Land of Zarahemla, or all of the cities and villages inhabited by the Nephites (v.44)?
  • Mosiah 29:41: How does this reorganization of the Nephite polity represent a true change between how the various cities and villages are governed in relation to each other?
  • Mosiah 29:42: Does this tell us that Alma held two offices or that the office of chief judge and that of high priest were the same, as for example in the United States the President and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Services aren’t two different offices? What is the relationship between the organization of the political and religious leadership in Nephite society at this time?
  • Mosiah 29:42: Alma judged righteously and there was peace throughout the land. Is that a cause and effect relation? If so, how so?
  • Mosiah 29:47: What does it mean for Alma to be the "founder" of their church?

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Alma

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Summary[edit]

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Relationship to Book of Mormon. The relationship of Alma to the Book of Mormon as a whole is discussed at Book of Mormon: Unities.

Story. Alma is a very long book, comprising about a third of the entire Book of Mormon. Alma consists of two parts with many subparts:

  • Alma 1-44: The record of Alma the Younger. The first two-thirds of Alma, often called the missionary chapters, consists of seven major sections:
  • Chapters 1-3: Nehor and the Amlicite Rebellion. Nehor's teaching is the religiously liberal doctrine of universal salvation taken to a murderous extreme: Since God will save everyone regardless of what they do, it does matter if I kill you. Here the Nehor adherent Amlici starts a rebellion that results in a pitched battle at the River Sidon. The false doctrine of the Nehors, and Alma's response to it, dominate chapters 1-16.
  • Chapters 4-7: Alma regulates the church. Alma preaches throughout the land, with his preaching at Zarahemla and Gideon recorded. In this preaching Alma's authority as high priest over the members of the church is accepted, as is his teaching.
  • Chapters 8-16: Mission to apostate Nehors at Ammonihah. Alma leads a mission to the Nehors at Ammonihah. They reject Alma's authority as high priest, they reject his teaching, and they kill those of their own people who accept his teaching. The city of Ammonihah is then destroyed.
  • Chapters 17-29: Mission of Mosiah's sons to the Lamanites. The Lamanites are agnostic and unsure of exactly what to believe. But like the apostate Nehors and Zoramites, they believe that whatever they do is right. This belief system leads king Lamoni to kill many of his servants. At the end of this section those who have not been converted are led to start the War over the Anti-Nephi-Lehi's. Here preaching is not by the high priest Alma, but by the sons of Mosiah who have renounced all claims to authority and begins with Ammon being a servant. Also at the end of this section is a brief account of Alma's encounter with Korihor (Chapter 30). Korihor is also an agnostic, but he is a militant agnostic: "I don't know, and neither do you!" This agnosticism, and the response of the sons of Mosiah and Alma to it, dominate chapters 17-30.
  • Chapters 31-35: Mission to apostate Zoramites at Antionum. The teaching of the Zoramites is the religiously conservative doctrine of predestination taken to a murderous extreme: Since God will save me and condemn you at the last day regardless of what we do, it does not matter if I kill you. Alma's authority as high priest is again rejected. The Zoramites do not kill those of their own people who accept Alma's teaching, but they do cast them out. The false doctrine of the Zoramites, and Alma's response to it, dominate chapters 31-44.
  • Chapters 36-42: Alma instructs his sons. Alma's last instructions to his sons Helaman, Shiblon, and Corianton is recorded. Alma's authority as father is not questioned, and his son Corianton apparently accepts his father's call to repentance.
  • Chapters 43-44: The Zoramite War. Here the apostate Zoramites start a war that results in a pitched battle at the River Sidon.
  • Alma 45-63: The record of Helaman I. The last third of Alma, often called the war and disunity chapters, consists of __ major sections:
  • Alma 45: Changing of the guard.
  • Alma 63: Changing of the guard and the record of Shiblon.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Alma include:

Historical setting[edit]

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Discussion[edit]

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The book of Alma[edit]

Importance of Alma: Words per year[edit]

Events in the Book of Alma are covered in more detail than those in other periods of Book of Mormon history. There are 2,065 words per year in Alma whereas there are only 5 per year in 4 Nephi. Apparently, in Mormon's view, the events treated in Alma are of special relevance to us, the intended audience of the book. Presumably, the Book of Alma is so important because it recounts the years that lead up to the coming of Christ in the New World. That first coming in the Americas is the best analog we have for the Second Coming of Christ. In both cases, the Lord comes in power to usher in an extended period of righteousness and peace. Mormon, presumably, thinks this account of the last days before Chrit's arrival in power in the New World has special value for the last few generations who live in the period that leads up to the Second Coming of the Savior.

Editorial comment[edit]

  • Alma 46:8-10
  • Alma 50:19-22
  • Alma 51:10

Alma 1:1: Thesis Statement for the Book of Alma[edit]

The opening of any well-constructed piece of writing is always important, and the Book of Alma is a carefully crafted literary work. The book opens with a morally and politically normative thesis statement that encapsulates the point of view that will govern the narrative: “[Mosiah] had established laws, and they were acknowledged by the people; therefore they were obliged to abide by the laws which he had made” (Alma 1:1). The main narrative thread of the book then focuses on the conflict between those who accept and those who reject this obligation.

When one reads an ancient history, one must reconstruct the points of view of losers from what their winning opponents say about them. In the Book of Alama, the losers are those who opposed Mosiah's political reforms. Their position, while unstated, is clearly implied. The antithesis of the book’s thesis is the following: when Mosiah died without a royal successor, the right to rule reverted by virtue of the Davidic covenant to the Mulekite royal line that had governed prior to the arrival of Mosiah. Mormon leaves this antithesis unstated, probably because it is so plausible and so well supported by scripture that stating it might leave readers ambivalent about the conflict between the judges and the revanchist Amlicite\Amalekite kingmen. (It was, after all, the Davidic covenant that entitled Jesus to rule as king of Israel [Matthew 1: –17].) Mormon reveals what was surely a key political fact and the strongest argument of the Mulekites—that they descend from Mulek, a son of David—only after the land of Zarahemla has fallen into the hands of the Lamanites and thereby weakened any Mulekite claim to the throne (Hel 6:10; 8:21). This conflict between incompatible Nephite and Mulekite ideologies pervades the Book of Alma, from the appearance in verse two of Nehor, the religious leader of the Amlicites, to a final great battle in the last three verses of the book as the dissenters again stir up anger and send forth yet another army that must be repelled (Alma 6314–17). It is also an important, though more subtle theme in the Book of Mosiah, and the conflict continues in Helaman as Coriantumr, another Mulekite descendant of Zarahemla (Helaman 1:15), the last king of the Mulekites, attacks and temporarily seizes power in the land of Zarahemla (Helaman 1:18-20).

Mormon and His Sources[edit]

The superscription to the Book of Alma—the italicized paragraph found immediately following "The Book of Alma, the Son of Alma" in the current edition of the Book of Mormon—is, like many superscriptions in the Book of Mormon, original text. This superscription not only offers a summary of the material to be found in the Book of Alma; it also tells the reader something about Mormon's relationship to his sources. Most important in this regard is the following phrase: "according to the record of Alma, the first and chief judge."

What this phrase implies, though, is difficult to know. In order to sort out its implications, it is necessary to look at other clues about Mormon's editorial procedure, clues that are scattered throughout the Book of Alma.

Alma 1-29

Occasional lengthy quotations from "the record of Alma" make clear that the source Mormon was working with was—or at least purported to be—originally written and/or compiled by Alma (the Younger) himself. Alma was, according to Mosiah 28:20 and Alma 37:1, the keeper of the large plates of Nephi for twenty years or more (from before the inauguration of the reign of the judges to the eighteenth year of the judges' reign. Usually, it is clear that Mormon is the "author" of the text, since Alma appears in the narrative as a character, but at times—for instance, in Alma 9 and Alma 28-29—it is clear that Alma's own words from the original record are quoted at length, since Alma appears as narrator, speaks of himself in the first person, and describes events in the present (rather than past) tense. Of course, even where it is clear that Mormon is the authorial voice, much (most?) of what he says can be presumed to be copied directly over from his sources, but it is much more difficult in these cases to determine what is Mormon's contribution and what comes directly from Mormon's sources.

Addressing these issues somewhat naively, one might divide up the first half of the Book of Alma as follows:

Alma 1:1 - 5:1 — Mormon as author/editor
Alma 5:2 - 5:62 — Alma's original words
Alma 6:1 - 6:8 — Mormon as author/editor
Alma 7:1 - 7:27 — Alma's original words
Alma 8:1 - 8:32 — Mormon as author/editor
Alma 9:1 - 9:33 — Alma's original words
Alma 9:34 - 28:6 — Mormon as author/editor
Alma 28:7 - 29:17 — Alma's original words

(Parts of this interpretation can be called into question and are based on what at times is somewhat problematic evidence. See, in particular, the commentary for the superscription to Alma 9, for Alma 9:34, for Alma 10:12, for Alma 11:20, for Alma 11:46, for Alma 13:31, and for Alma 28:7.)

Alma 1-44: The record of Alma the Younger[edit]

Outline[edit]

I. Nehor, invasion by dissenter Amlici at River Sidon (1-3)
II. Alma regulates two churches(4-7)
III. Nehors kill converts (8-16)
IV. Mission of sons of Mosiah (17-29)
IV. Korihor (30)
III. Zoramites expel converts (31-35)
II. Alma's last counsel and regulation of his sons (36-42)
I. Invasion by dissenter Zoramites at River Sidon(43-44)

Part 1 of Alma (chapters 1-44) addresses the atonement from several different angles. Chapters 4-7 focus on church members who, though many of them needed exhortation and stirring up unto remembrance, knew the truth and were entreated back into the way of righteousness without raising opposition: If you have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, do you still feel that now? The parallel chapters 36-42 focus on Alma's sons, who were similarly situated.

Chapters 8-16 focus on the Nehors, who took the liberal doctrine of universal salvation to a murderous logical extreme: Since God is going to save both you and me no matter what we do in mortality, I can kill you today without any consequence on judgment day. The parallel chapters 30-35 focus on the Zoramites, who took the conservative doctrine of predestination to an equally murderous logical extreme: Since God is going to save me and condemn you no matter what we do in mortality, I can kill you today without any consequence on judgment day. These groups illustrate incorrect beliefs about God's salvation.

The middle chapters focus on two groups who did not know what to believe. Like the Nehors and Zoramites, the Lamanites (chapters 17-29) also believed that whatever they did was okay. But this Lamanite belief did not derive from a mistaken belief about God, but rather from a lack of knowledge about God. This is epitomized in King Lamoni's prayer: God, if there is a God, and if you are God, ... Like the Lamanites, Korihor (chapter 30) was also agnostic. But he was much more certain and militant about his agnosticism: I don't know, and neither do you.

Part 1 of Alma (chapters 1-44) is a record of preaching the atonement to people holding each of these different points of view. It is not surprising then that so many of the great atonement sermons in the Book of Mormon are contained in these chapters.

The Nephites confront false religious doctrine[edit]

Alma 1-44 is unique in the Book of Mormon. We as readers are warned in other places about false doctrines that will prevail among the Gentiles in the last days (see especially Second Nephi 28; Mormon 8-9). But only in Alma 1-44 do we watch the Nephites confront false doctrines in narrative real time. In particular, those who preach the gospel in Alma 1-44 confront four groups of people who all believe that it does not matter what you do in this life, or that there is no right and wrong. This begins immediately when Nehor is introduced in the second verse of Alma and his false doctrine is introduced in the fourth verse.

In Chapters 8-16 Alma preaches to the Nehors at Ammonihah. The Nehors believe what we today would call a very liberal doctrine of universal salvation: that God will save everyone at the last day regardless of what they do in this life (Alma 1:4, 15; 15:15; 16:11). But the Nehors take this doctrine to a logical extreme: Since God is going to save everyone at the last day anyway, including me, I can kill you without suffering any eternal consequences.

In Chapters 31-35 Alma preaches to the Zoramites at Antionum. The Zoramites believe what we today would call a very conservative doctrine of predestination: that God has already decided who will be saved and who will not regardless of what they do in this life (31:16-18). Unsurprisingly, the Zoramites believe that they have been preselected for salvation and that all others have been preselected for damnation. Like the Nehors, the Zoramites take this doctrine to a logical extreme: Since God is going to save me and condemn you at the last day anyway, I can kill you without suffering any eternal consequences.

In between, in Chapters 17-29, the sons of Mosiah preach to the Lamanites who appear to have a vaguely defined notion of God as a Great Spirit. This is epitomized in Lamoni's prayer: "O God … if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me" (Alma 22:18). We are not informed of any supporting doctrine except that, again, "They supposed that whatsoever they did was right" (Alma 18:5).

In each case the response is to teach that it does in fact matter what we do in this life. Because righteousness matters, and because we all fall short, we must all repent in order to be saved through Christ's atonement. The reason that so many of the great atonement sermons are located here together in Alma 1-44 is that this portion of the Book of Mormon is designed specifically to counteract false doctrines that deny not only the existence of the atonement, but also any need for an atonement. To oversimplify, First Nephi can be read as saying that Christ does deliver those who come unto him (1 Ne 1:14, 20), Mosiah as saying that the only name by which one can be saved is that of Christ (Mosiah 3:17; 5:8), and Alma 1-44 as saying that because it matters what you do in this life, you do in fact need to be saved by Christ.

In Chapter 30 Alma confronts Korihor who, like the Lamanites, does not have a highly developed alternative theology of God (or at least not one that we are told about) and believes that "whatsoever a man did was no crime." In today's terms, he is agnostic. But in contrast to the Lamanites, he is militantly agnostic. To paraphrase: I don't know, but I do know that neither do you! (Alma 30:15-17). In Korihor's case Alma's response is not to teach why Korihor is wrong, but simply to demonstrate through power that God is in fact real. This lack of extended discussion makes Chapter 30 the shortest section in Alma 1-44.

Note: Sherem is often identified as belonging to a group of four anti-Christ's in the Book of Mormon: Sherem, Nehor, Korihor, and the Zoramites. Like Korihor (Alma 30:13-15, 48-50), Sherem denies that Christ will come or that his future coming even can be known, and he is stricken after demanding a sign as proof of the prophet's teaching (Jacob 7:7, 13-15). He therefore does qualify as an anti-Christ. But there are also significant differences between Sherem's teaching and the four doctrines addressed in Alma 1-44. Sherem does acknowledge his belief in the Law of Moses, Jacob does not turn Sherem's denial of Christ into a discussion of why the atonement is necessary but rather simply affirms in a single sentence that the atonement is needed (Jacob 7:7, 12), and nowhere does it say that Sherem ever denied the existence of a final judgment based on a person choosing right and wrong during this life. The story of Sherem appears in Jacob rather than in Alma 1-44, and it likely fits better there as a contrast to Jacob's good shepherding (Jacob 1:19; 2:6-7; 7:4, 18) than it would in Alma 1-44 as a discussion about the existence of right and wrong and the reasons why the atonement is necessary.

Place in Book of Mormon[edit]

Preaching in First and Second Nephi and in Jacob tends to emphasize exhortation, or obedience to what the audience already knows is correct behavior. Mosiah and Alma tend to emphasize teaching people so they will feel the Holy Ghost and have a change of heart. Ether and Moroni tend to address those who are already living correctly how to obtain greater faith to not only obey but to also work miracles, ant to obtain hope and charity.

First Nephi teaches that God will deliver those who come unto him so that they will not perish. Mosiah teaches that there is not other name given by which we can be saved than the name of Christ. Alma Part 1 teaches that we do in fact need to be saved or delivered.

Mosiah teaches that there is a problem with monarchy: it is not accountable to you and may abuse you. Alma Part 2 teaches that there is also a problem with democracy: it is accountable to your neighbor, and may therefore become paralyzed by disunity. Helaman teaches that democracies are also susceptible to secret combinations. Ether teaches that monarchies are likewise susceptible.

Alma 45-63: The record of Helaman I[edit]

Part 2 of Alma (chapters 45-63) is very different. While it contains references to righteousness and revelation from God, it does not contain a single reference to the atonement or to the process of personal conversion. What is discussed is the need for unity. Mromon expressly tells us that the cause of all the Nephites' hardship was the internal dissension of the kingmen. And it is after the Nephites finally deal with the kingmen that they begin again to be victorious and rather quickly recover all of their territory.

Correspondences between the two halves of Alma[edit]

The difference between "the atonement chapters" at the beginning of Alma and "the war chapters" at the end is widely recognized. The wide extent of this recognition suggests that Mormon, who was a skillful editor, intended to draw a contrast between the two halves of the book. He even marked the point of contrast by labeling the first half as being taken from the record of Alma the Younger (superscript to Alma 1), and the second half from the record of Alma's son Helaman (superscript to Alma 45).

But Mormon did edit the book of Alma into its final form as a single book, not two books. This suggests that the reader should read each half of Alma in light of the other. In other words, the reader should look for correspondences or points of similarity between the two halves, and then use those similarities as guides to recognize what in the first half should be contrasted with what in the second half.

Two halves of Alma through the lens of agency[edit]

The Book of Mormon repeatedly addresses two social institutions that affect free agency: the church and the state. The role of the church is to provide accurate information so that people accurately understand the nature and consequences of their choices. Part 1 of Alma shows the prophet Alma providing this accurate information in his role as high priest of the church and prophet of God. It also shows others such as Ammon, Amulek and Zeezrom who either volunteered or were enlisted to preach. But Part 1 also recounts a time when there were many threats to this function as anti-Christs preached false doctrine so that people were misled and misunderstood their choices. Indeed, with the sole exception of Sherem in Jacob 7, lists of anti-Christs in the Book of Mormon usually draw exclusively from Part 1 of Alma.

The role of the state is too protect liberty so that people are free to in fact act upon their choices. Part 2 of Alma recounts a time when this function was threatened. The Lamanite invasion is characterized as a threat to life, livelihood and free exercise of religion. So is the internal dissension that threatened the Nephite democracy with paralysis and overthrow. Part 2 of Alma likewise describes how people can protect their liberty by standing up to both external and internal threats.

The main character at the middle of Part 1 is Ammon, a Nephite prince who gives up the throne to go be a servant among the Lamanites. He refuses an offer to marry the king's daughter, and when it appears that he has killed the king, he explains the situation to the king's wife. His Lamanite converts eventually migrate to go live with the Nephites in peace. Ammon does all this in the process of fulfilling the church's mission to preach truth to all and thereby increase their free agency.

The main character in Part 2 of Alma is Amalackiah, a Nephite who acquires the Lamanite throne by killing the king, lying about it, and marrying the king's widow. He then sends his Lamanite subjects into a lengthy war against the Nephites. This is done as Amalackiah abuses the state to compel his own people - against their own better judgment - to attack another people for the purpose of subjugating them and ending their access to the church and the accurate information it provides.[1]

It is significant that in both halves part of the lesson is that regular people are able to act and influence the outcome of both struggles.

Complete outline and page map[edit]

This heading contains an outline for the entire book. Items in blue or purple text indicate hyperlinked pages that address specific portions of the book. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

I. Nehor, invasion by dissenter Amlici at River Sidon (1-3)
II. Alma regulates two churches(4-7)
III. Nehors kill converts (8-16)
IV. Mission of sons of Mosiah (17-29)
IV. Korihor (30)
III. Zoramites expel converts (31-35)
II. Alma's last counsel and regulation of his sons (36-42)
I. Invasion by dissenter Zoramites at River Sidon (43-44)


Alma 45-63

● Alma's departure, 19th year (Chapter 45a)

• Nephites rejoice and are devout because of their deliverance (45:1)
• Alma requests that Heleman confirm his faith (45:2-8)
• Alma's prophecy that Nephites will be destroyed around 400 AD (45:9-14)
• Alma blesses his sons, the land, and the church, and departs, not heard of again (45:15-19)


● ___, 19th year (Chapter 45b-46)

• Helaman regulates the church but is rejected by social elites that are flattered by Amalickiah (45:20-46:7)
thus we see: that people forget, that one man can cause great wickedness, and how liberty is attacked (46:8-10)
• Moroni raises the title of liberty (46:11-27?)
• Amalickiah flees, Moroni heads off his army (46:28?-33)
• Moroni and Helaman regulate dissenters and the church, peace for four years (46:34-41)


● Amalickiah obtains the Lamanite kingdom (Chapter 47)

• Amalickiah stirs up Lamanite king, given command of loyal troops to compel Lamanite army to invade Nephites (47:1-8)
• Amalickiah delivers his troops into hand of Lehonti, becomes leader of entire army (47:9-19)
• Amalickiah kills Lamanite king, blames the king's servants (47:29-31)
• Amalickiah marries queen and becomes king of the Lamanites (47:32-36)


● (Chapter 48)

• Amalickiah stirs up the Lamanites to anger against the Nephites, 19th year (48:1-6)
• Moroni prepares Nephites with fortification, his philosophy of war, Helaman preaches (48:7-20 -25?)

● (Chapter 49)

• invading Lamanite army is scared off from attacking Ammonihah (49:1-8 -13?)
• Lamanite army is defeated at city of Noah (49:14-24)
• Lamanite army reports its defeat to Amalickiah (49:25-29)


● (Chapter 50a)

• Moroni continues fortifying Nephite cities (50:1-6)
• Nephites drive Lamanites out of east wilderness to secure east border (50:7-12)
• Nephites build new cities on east to secure east border (50:13-16)
• the Nephites are in prosperous and blessed circumstances, peace (50:17-24)


● (Chapters 50b-51)

• dispute between cities of Morianton and Lehi, Moroni stops people of Morianton fleeing (50:25-36)
• Nephihah succeeded as chief judge by Pahoran (50:37-40)
• Pahoran refuses to install a king, people vote support, Amalickiah invades, Moroni execute kingmen who will not defend, rest in prison, 25th year (51:1-21)
• Amalickiah takes new cities built to secure east border (51:22-28)
• Teancum halts Amalickiah at borders of Bountiful, sneaks into camp and kills Amalickiah (51:29-37)


● (Chapters 52-53)

• Ammoron succeeds his brother Amalickiah, Lamanites retreat to conquered cities (52:1-4)
• Teancum likewise fortifies his cities and retains prisoners for trade (52:5-10)
• Ammoron attacks on west border, defended by Moroni (52:11-14)
• Teancum abandons his planned assault on Mulek and joined by Moroni's army, 27th year (52:15-18)
• Moroni, Teancum, and Lehi employ a ruse to capture city of Mulek, 28th year (52:19-40)
• summary: with a ruse Moroni has beaten a large army, captured stronghold Mulek, and turned Bountiful into a stronghold (53:1-7)
• West: Nephite intrigues allow Lamanites to capture several cities (53:8-9)
• Helaman persuades people of Ammon to not break oath, he leads 2,000 stripling warriors to west border, end 28th year (53:10-23)


● Negotiating for and rescuing prisoners (Chapters 54-55)

• Ammoron writes a letter offering to exchange prisoners (54:1-3)
• Moroni's letter back to Ammoron (54:4-14)
• Ammoron's reply (54:15-24)
• Moroni determines to rescue prisoners without an exchange (55:1-3)
• Moroni liberates Nephite prisoners with ruse of drunkenness (55:4-26)
• Nephites again begin to e victorious over Lamanites (55:27-35)


● Helaman's account of his stripling warriors, written early 30th year (Chapters 56-58)

• historical background (56:1-8)
• Helaman's warriors join downtrodden army of Antipas in the west, not attacked, 26th year (56:9-20a)
• once fortified, hope Lamanites will attack but they do not, 27th year (56:20b-26)
• stratagem decoys Lamanites out of _____, 2,000 warriors return to fight, none killed (56:27-57)
• Ammoron offers city of Antiparah in return for prisoners, then abandons city anyway, end 28th year (57:1-5)
• Nephites cut off Cumeni from resupply and it surrenders (57:6-12)
• Lamanite prisoners escape en route to Zarahemla, guards return in time to protect Cumeni (57:13-27)
• guards explain how the prisoners escaped (57:28-36)
• West army receives no response to request for resources to conquer Manti (58:1-8)
• West army prays and receives comfort, so conquer Manti by ruse (58:98-28)
• Lamanites abandon the entire western front (58:29-31)
• Helaman questions why the west army is not sent more support, end 29th year (58:32-41)


2,060 wounded?


● Putting down kingmen and victory, 30th year (Chapters 59-62)

• Moroni and his chief captains worry when Pahoran does not send support to Helaman or city of Nephihah (59:1-13)
• Moroni writes a second letter to Pahoran (60:1-__)
• Pahoran writes a reply to Moroni's letter (61:1-__)
• Moroni and Pahoran put down second rebellion of kingmen and defeat Lamanites (62:1-38)
• Moroni raises the title of liberty as he marches to Pahoran's aid in the land of Gideon, 30th year (62:1-6)
• Moroni and Pahoran defeat and execute the kingmen, peace restored in Zarahemla (62:7-11)
• Moroni sends reinforcements to Helaman and Teancum, marches to city of Nephihah, 31st year (62:12-18)
• Moroni sneaks over wall of Nephihah and captures city, no Nephites killed (62:12-19)
• Nephites drive Lamanites before them, Teancum sneaks in to kill Ammoron Lamanites driven away (62:30-38)
• peacetime (62:39-52)
• summary of what the Nephites suffered during this invasion, 32nd year (62:39-41)
• peace restored, regulation of the church and the state (62:42-47)
• Nephites prosper but remain humble rater than proud (62:48-52)


● Shiblon's record (Chapter 63)

• Helaman I delivers the record to his brother Shiblon, 36th year (63:1-3)
• many people migrate to the north and are not heard from again, 37th-38th years (63:4-9)
• Shiblon publishes the record to the people and delivers it to Helaman II, 39th year (63:10-13)
• newly dissenting Nephites stir up another Lamanite invasion that is quickly defeated, 39th year (63:13-17)

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. →

Resources[edit]

This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Previous editions.

The original 1830 edition of Alma was divided into only thirty chapters (I-XXX). For the 1879 edition Parley Pratt further divided those thirteen into the sixty three chapters (1-63) still used today. • I: 1-3 • II: 4 • III: 5 • IV: 6 • V: 7 • VI: 8 • VII: 9 • VIII: 10-11 • IX: CH.12-13:9 • X: 13:10-ch.15:19 • XI: 16 • XII: 17-20 • XIII: 21-22 • XIV: 23-26 • XV: 27-29 • XVI: 30-35 • XVII: 36-37 • XVIII: 38 • XIX: 39-42 • XX: 43-44 • XXI: 45-49 • XXII: 50 • XXIII: 51 • XXIV: 52-53 • XXV: 54-55 • XXVI: 56-68 • XXVII: 59-60 • XXVIII: 61 • XXIX: 62 • XXX: 63

Related passages that interpret or shed light on First Nephi.

References cited on this page.

  • Book of Mormon, 1830 edition: Alma

Other resources.

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.

  1. Many of these correspondences are noted and explored in a blog post by Joe Spencer.

                                                                 Next page: Chapters 1-3


Alma 1-3

Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 1-3

Subpages: Verses 1:1-15 Verses 1:16-33 Verses 2:1-19 Verses 2:20-38 Verses 3:1-27

Previous page: Alma                      Next page: Verses 1:1-15


This page would ideally always be under construction. You are invited to contribute.


Summary[edit]

This heading should be very brief. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Relationship to Alma. The relationship of Chapters 1-3 to the rest of Alma is discussed at Alma.

Story. Chapters 1-3 consists of ___ major sections:

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapters 1-3 include:

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • These chapters introduce the Amlicites, who are Nehors (Alma 2:1), and who are likely also the same group as the Amalekites.[1]
Chapters 1-3 relate two episodes. In the first year of the reign of the judges over the Nephites, Nehor is executed, leading to societal unrest. In the fifth year of the judges, Amlici seeks to be king and causes warfare. The break between these two episodes at Verse 2:1 is clear. The other divisions between page breaks are reasonable ways to divide long wiki pages, but are not hard breaks between separate episodes.
  • Alma's political error. However just the execution of Nehor in Verses 1:1-15 may have been, it proves to be politically catastrophic. In the wake of the execution, an uprising of followers of Nehor occurs that extends throughout the Book of Alma into the Book of Helaman and that kills tens of thousands. This uprising is fairly predictable. Influenced by Alma the Elder who had learned the bad effects of mixing church and state in Noah’s kingdom (something that could not have been learned in the kingdom of Benjamin and Mosiah), Mosiah tried to separate religion from government. But while he formally separated church and state by vesting civil authority in the Chief Judge and religious authority in a High Priest, he fatally undercut his own reform by favoring the appointment of Alma the Younger as the first Chief Judge. Since Alma also inherited from his father the office of High Priest, civil and religious authority once again came to be vested in the same person.
Alma executes Nehor, a rival religious leader, acting in the office of Chief Judge. But this execution surely appeared to Nehor’s followers to be an unjust exercise of state power by the High Priest to suppress the rise of a competing religion. People of Mulekite heritage would be especially likely to perceive injustice in this execution. Nehor appears to be a Mulekite (with possible Jaredite heritage as well). Alma, on the other hand, is a pure-blooded Nephite whose heritage lay in the Land of Nephi rather than in Zarahemla where Nephites and Mulekites have mixed. Alma executes Nehor because he killed Gideon, another pure-blooded Nephite who was a military hero in the Land of Nephi. Gideon was a feisty man and, though aged, probably drew his weapon in the confrontation with Nehor. But Alma whose family is connected by ethnic heritage, personal history, and religion to Gideon judges the death of Gideon to be a crime. Clearly Alma was not a disinterested party in this trial and was surely not perceived to be by the followers of Nehor.
Evidence suggests that when Mosiah ended the monarchy, some of the descendants of Zarahemla, the last Mulekite king, felt they had a legitimate claim on power in light of their Davidic heritage. Alma seems to have stoked the revanchist passions of these Mulekite kingmen by executing their religious leader (see exegesis on Alma 1:1). So however just the execution may have been (and Alma’s personal rectitude makes it likely that appearances notwithstanding, it was just), this act was politically maladroit. A politician more deeply skilled than Alma probably would have avoided creating this casus belli by minimizing Nehor’s punishment based on some technicality. At a minimum, a more adroit politician would have avoided a forced confession and an especially ignominious execution tailor made to dishonor a political and religious opponent and, thus, stir up his followers. However unjust it might have been to Gideon to let Nehor off lightly, it may have saved tens of thousands of lives. And Gideon was a man who, like Nephi, would have understood that it is generally better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and, ultimately, perish (1 Nephi 4:13) through endless war.
In verse 1:12 Nehor has, presumably, committed murder by killing Gideon (though Gideon probably drew his own weapeon which complicates that issue [ see exegesis on verse 9 ]). But in this verse, Alma focuses more on the issue of priestcraft than on the murder. Since Alma, as High Priest, is the head of a rival religion, this emphasis in the text on Nehor's crime being priestcraft could easily lead Nehor's followers to conclude that their leader has been executed by his religious opponent because of his religious views and practices. See the exegesis above on Alma's political error.
  • Assessing Alma as a politician. Some of the commentary for Chapters 1-3 suggests that, politically, Alma mishandled Nehor. How would a really skilled politician handle this case? Nehor has a large constituency, but so does Gideon. The savvy political response would have been to assign some blame to Gideon, some to Nehor. It would have struck a balance by punishing Nehor moderately, just enough to sufficiently satisfy Gideonites, not enough to alienate the Nehorites. It certainly would have avoided alienating Nehor's followers by humiliating their leader with a maximum, ignominious punishment. A skilled politician would probably have been a nominal member of the leading religion but known to be not particularly devout so that competing religions would not feel threatened. The skilled politician would definitely have avoided a situation in which he is a devout member of one major religion who appears to be suppressing the most devout members of another major religion. Nehor probably deserved the punishment he got, both as a civil matter and still more clearly as an eternal matter. Alma was right to worry about the eternal consequences of Nehor’s teachings. But skilled politicians focus on more mundane matters. A narrow, pragmatic focus is an important part of their craft. The appearance of justice is often more important for them than real justice. Keeping people just happy enough is often more important than upholding highest standards of truth. And all have a stake in their successfully practicing their craft, for when they fail as policians (as Alma does here), war breaks out.
Alma is the exponent of a particular kind of conservatism--one that uses the power of the state to enforce a particular religious vision. Using the state in this way raises the stakes in the acquisition of power. If those with other moral views likewise use the power of the state to enforce their moral vision, then shifts in power will lead to dramatic shifts in what kind of behavior is permitted and not permitted in the society. All parties will rightly fear the acquisition of power by people with other views because those others will limit their ability to act on their beliefs. This dynamic seems to have taken hold in Zarahemla during Alma's reign as chief judge. He suppresses the Nehorites and they, in turn, fight to seize power from him. The fight is bitter because the stakes are so high for both parties. Winning means one has the right to live one's religion and losing means one does not have that right.

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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Resources[edit]

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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.

  1. Conkling, J. Christopher. "Alma's Enemies: The Case of the Lamanites, Amlicites, and Mysterious Amalekites." Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 14, No. 1, p. 108-17. (Provo, Maxwell Institute: 2005).

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Alma 1:1-5

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Summary[edit]

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Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 1:1-2. The first verse begins setting the reader up to hear what will happen in the first year of the reign of the judges. We may expect that this introductory clause is to be answered within the first sentence, but instead it serves as an opening phrase for a large section of text. This construction (an opening phrase incomplete by the end of the sentence) is odd for readers but occurs elsewhere in the Book of Mormon as well [fill in other examples]. More unique is the use of the phrase "from this time forward" which though we expect it to lead to some explanation of what happens from this point forward, we realize after finding nothing in front to complete it's thought, must point backward to mean something like the judges reigned over the people of Nephi from this point in history forward.
  • Alma 1:4: Nehor's doctrine and the War in Heaven. In Satan's War on Free Agency, Greg Wright offers a deeply persuasive interpretation of the War in Heaven. Teryl Givens independently comes to the same conclusion in a Meridian Magazine article. Both interpretations are highly germane to and greatly illuminate this verse. Brothers Wright and Givens both suggest that Satan's plan in the preexistence was not (as is often said) to destroy human agency by controlling all human action and compelling it to be good. He would, rather, destroy agency by letting people do whatever they wanted with no consequences. In other words, he told people they could do their own thing on earth, follow their bliss, with a guarantee that he, Satan, would return them to heaven no matter what they did. Satan offered a no risk guarantee and, thus, destroyed agency not by controlling choice but by rendering it meaningless. If all choices lead to the same end, human beings do not have the power to choose their own destiny. Thus, choice without consequence is antithetical to agency.
It is unsurprising that Satan's seductive plan was popular: giving free reign to the natural man without fear of damnation is a seemingly attractive proposition. Nor is it surprising that Nehor, Satan's agent, should offer the same seductive plan here on earth. When Nehor and his followers, ancient and modern, preach and believe that all will be saved regardless of what they do, they embrace in mortality the plan they rejected in the pre-existence. They here vindicate a plan that they there rejected. Nehor gives us an exceptionally clear presentation of Satan's plan from the preexistence. But other variants are ubiquitous, e.g., the atheistic variant of the plan assures us that no matter what we choose to do in this life, all end up the same--eternally dead. So do as you please. The cheap grace version suggests that all who merely confess that Christ is their Savior are saved, regardless of what their antecedent or subsequent behavior may be. In other words, all are saved and come to the same end regardless of what choices they make (apart from the choice to confess Christ). Except for that one choice, they have no ability to determine their eternal destiny.
  • Alma 1:5. The Book of Mormon often makes a point of saying that false prophets are supported financially by the people. In this case, they give money to Nehor who preaches that salvation will come to everyone. It seems they are willing to sacrifice their money for an easy salvation rather than their sins for true salvation.
We might be tempted to look with disdain at those in the past who appear so easily deceived. It seems the danger of our day is to think that the Former-day Saints were fools and we in the Latter-days are wise (see Related Links, Carlos E. Asay). Here we might apply Mormon's test for passing judgment (Moro 7:15-17).
  • Alma 1:9: Feisty Gideon. It is no surprise to see the Gideon from the Land of Nephi, the man who chased King Noah to the top of his tower (Mosiah 19:4-8), standing boldly against Nehor even as an old man. Verse 9 implies that Gideon drew his weapon and battled Nehor. This is implied in the statement that Gideon's age made him unable to withstand Nehor's blows. Age would be a factor only if Gideon was battling with his own weapon. No person of any age could withstand an attack with a sword if unarmed and unresisting. Thus, this language suggests that Gideon did draw and was fighting. To see the importance of this fact, go to the exegesis below of verses 11 - 15 on Alma's political error and the assessment of Alma as a politician in the exegesis at the end of this chapter.
  • Alma 1:10: Land of Gideon. While it is not explcitly stated here, this episode probably occured in the Land of Gideon, a land named after Gideon who is now slain. This is the land in which the Zeniffites (followers of Limhi and Alma the Elder) settled after their escape from the Land of Nephi. Gideon played a major role in that escape (Mosiah 22:3 - 8), just one of the reasons why he was viewed as a hero and especially revered by the now resettled Zeniffites. Having once been apostate and having learned from their past mistakes, the people of the Land of Gideon have become especially faithful and resistant to apostacy. As these people here resist Nehor's seductive doctrine, they will later again resist the false doctrines of Korihor (Alma 30:21-22). Just as these people here forceably carry Nehor before Alma, so they will forceably carry Korihor to Alma for judgment (Alma 30:29). When Alma begins his great preaching mission to the Nephites, it is the people in the land of Gideon who most warmly receive him. His sermon in the land of Gideon basically congratulates the people on their righteousness and faithfulness, a message very different from the one he delivers in the lands of Zarahemla and Ammonihah.
  • Alma 1:14. Here Alma feels he has to argue for the rule of law. Judging by Mosiah 29:11, 15, 22-23, they seem to have had laws during the reigns of the kings -- but laws that existed at the kings' pleasure. The rule of the king had been primary, not the rule of law. With Mosiah newly dead, Alma takes pains to emphasize that the law both remains and rules.
Alma grounds the rule of law in the people's acceptance of it, not in the authority of his office as chief judge. This is a distinct break from the old ways described in Mosiah 29:22-23.
  • Alma 1:14-15: Rule of law, or rule of man. Alma tries in verse 14 to depersonalize his execution of Nehor, framing it as a disinterested enforcement of the law handed down by Mosiah and agreed to by the people (see exegesis on verse 1). This claim was probably not persuasive for Nehor's followers, and it is undercut in verse 15 by the suggestion that Nehor "was caused" to confess errors, i.e., was forced to say something he didn't believe before "he suffered an ignominious death," i.e., was dishonored in the mode of his death. The compelled confession and ignominious mode of execution undercut the suggestion of a depersonalized rule of law in verse 14.
  • History is written by the victors. Here is an interesting thought experiment. Suppose it had been a younger Gideon who had been traveling and that he had met Nehor in Ammoniah. Suppose that after a heated theological exchange Nehor had started the swordplay but Gideon had prevailed and then Gideon was taken before a local Order of Nehor judge. Suppose the events were then described by a pre-conversion Zeezrom. With minor changes it could be the same story with only the names reversed.

Unanswered questions[edit]

This section is for questions along the lines of "I still don't understand ..." Please do not be shy. The point of these questions is to identify things that still need to be addressed on this page. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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 1:1: How significant is it that the Mosiah-Benjamin-Mosiah dynasty would no longer continue, but the laws would?
  • Alma 1:1: Why were the people "obliged to abide by the laws which [Mosiah] had made"?
  • Alma 1:1: The end of this verse greatly resembles the end of verse 14. Are Mormon and Alma both citing some constitutional document? (Perhaps Mosiah certified to the people's acknowledgement of the law after Mosiah 29:38?) Is Mormon just quoting Alma twice? (Why?)
  • Alma 1:2: This verse introduces Nehor as "a man brought before [Alma] to be judged." Why don't we learn Nehor's name until the end of the story, in verse 15, when Nehor is about to be killed?
  • Alma 1:2: Why is it noted that Nehor "was Large" and "noted for his much strength"? In what ways might his size and strength have been evident? Is there a relationship here between how he is described and how the royal Mulekite Ammon and his brothers are described in Mosiah 7:3? Who else in the Book of Mormon is described as large and mighty?
  • Alma 1:3: What does it mean for priests and teachers to "become popular"?
  • Alma 1:3: This occurs just after political leadership among the Nephites is turned over to the voice of the people. Is Nehor now mainly arguing that leadership in the church should also be established by the voice of the people?
  • Alma 1:3: Why would Nehor argue that the priests "ought to be supported by the people"? The Nephite kings Mosiah, Benjamin, and Mosiah had all labored with their hands for their own support, why would Nehor argue that priests and teachers shouldn't have to do this as well? Were the new judges supported by the people? Is this a reflection of the practices in King Noah's time, when the priests were supported in the court of the king through taxation?
  • Alma 1:4: Where might Nehor have gotten these teachings? Do they reflect the teachings of the priests of Noah, who rather than seeing their own wickedness wanted to justify their position and status through an appeal to Isa 52:7?
  • Alma 1:5: Is it likely that some of the many who "did believe on his words" were members of Christ's church? If so, how is it that they left the truth and believed in these false doctrines?
  • Alma 1:12: To what group does “this people” refer? Is Alma saying that this is the first case of priestcraft since Lehi’s colony arrived? Why would priestcraft result in the destruction of the people? Do we have priestcraft among us today? Outside the Church? In it?
  • Alma 1:12-13: Why does Alma reason from collective, corporate consequences and responsibilities, and not (as modern American law would do) from Gideon's individual right to live?
  • Alma 1:13-14: What is Alma’s justification for the death penalty?
  • Alma 1:14: What does the last part of v. 14 mean: “[the law] has been acknowledged by this people; therefore this people must abide by the law"? How do we acknowledge our laws? Why does Alma need to ground even the rule of law in the people's collective acknowledgement, rather than taking it as given? (Is he establishing a constitutional precedent? Was the rule of law itself somewhat novel?)
  • Alma 1:15: Why do you think ancient peoples felt it was important for a criminal given the death penalty not only to die but to suffer an ignominious death?

Resources[edit]

This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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.



Previous page: Chapters 1-3                      Next page: Verses 1:16-33

Alma 1:6-10

Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 1-3 > Chapter 1a / Verses 1:1-15
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Summary[edit]

This heading should be very brief. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 1:1-2. The first verse begins setting the reader up to hear what will happen in the first year of the reign of the judges. We may expect that this introductory clause is to be answered within the first sentence, but instead it serves as an opening phrase for a large section of text. This construction (an opening phrase incomplete by the end of the sentence) is odd for readers but occurs elsewhere in the Book of Mormon as well [fill in other examples]. More unique is the use of the phrase "from this time forward" which though we expect it to lead to some explanation of what happens from this point forward, we realize after finding nothing in front to complete it's thought, must point backward to mean something like the judges reigned over the people of Nephi from this point in history forward.
  • Alma 1:4: Nehor's doctrine and the War in Heaven. In Satan's War on Free Agency, Greg Wright offers a deeply persuasive interpretation of the War in Heaven. Teryl Givens independently comes to the same conclusion in a Meridian Magazine article. Both interpretations are highly germane to and greatly illuminate this verse. Brothers Wright and Givens both suggest that Satan's plan in the preexistence was not (as is often said) to destroy human agency by controlling all human action and compelling it to be good. He would, rather, destroy agency by letting people do whatever they wanted with no consequences. In other words, he told people they could do their own thing on earth, follow their bliss, with a guarantee that he, Satan, would return them to heaven no matter what they did. Satan offered a no risk guarantee and, thus, destroyed agency not by controlling choice but by rendering it meaningless. If all choices lead to the same end, human beings do not have the power to choose their own destiny. Thus, choice without consequence is antithetical to agency.
It is unsurprising that Satan's seductive plan was popular: giving free reign to the natural man without fear of damnation is a seemingly attractive proposition. Nor is it surprising that Nehor, Satan's agent, should offer the same seductive plan here on earth. When Nehor and his followers, ancient and modern, preach and believe that all will be saved regardless of what they do, they embrace in mortality the plan they rejected in the pre-existence. They here vindicate a plan that they there rejected. Nehor gives us an exceptionally clear presentation of Satan's plan from the preexistence. But other variants are ubiquitous, e.g., the atheistic variant of the plan assures us that no matter what we choose to do in this life, all end up the same--eternally dead. So do as you please. The cheap grace version suggests that all who merely confess that Christ is their Savior are saved, regardless of what their antecedent or subsequent behavior may be. In other words, all are saved and come to the same end regardless of what choices they make (apart from the choice to confess Christ). Except for that one choice, they have no ability to determine their eternal destiny.
  • Alma 1:5. The Book of Mormon often makes a point of saying that false prophets are supported financially by the people. In this case, they give money to Nehor who preaches that salvation will come to everyone. It seems they are willing to sacrifice their money for an easy salvation rather than their sins for true salvation.
We might be tempted to look with disdain at those in the past who appear so easily deceived. It seems the danger of our day is to think that the Former-day Saints were fools and we in the Latter-days are wise (see Related Links, Carlos E. Asay). Here we might apply Mormon's test for passing judgment (Moro 7:15-17).
  • Alma 1:9: Feisty Gideon. It is no surprise to see the Gideon from the Land of Nephi, the man who chased King Noah to the top of his tower (Mosiah 19:4-8), standing boldly against Nehor even as an old man. Verse 9 implies that Gideon drew his weapon and battled Nehor. This is implied in the statement that Gideon's age made him unable to withstand Nehor's blows. Age would be a factor only if Gideon was battling with his own weapon. No person of any age could withstand an attack with a sword if unarmed and unresisting. Thus, this language suggests that Gideon did draw and was fighting. To see the importance of this fact, go to the exegesis below of verses 11 - 15 on Alma's political error and the assessment of Alma as a politician in the exegesis at the end of this chapter.
  • Alma 1:10: Land of Gideon. While it is not explcitly stated here, this episode probably occured in the Land of Gideon, a land named after Gideon who is now slain. This is the land in which the Zeniffites (followers of Limhi and Alma the Elder) settled after their escape from the Land of Nephi. Gideon played a major role in that escape (Mosiah 22:3 - 8), just one of the reasons why he was viewed as a hero and especially revered by the now resettled Zeniffites. Having once been apostate and having learned from their past mistakes, the people of the Land of Gideon have become especially faithful and resistant to apostacy. As these people here resist Nehor's seductive doctrine, they will later again resist the false doctrines of Korihor (Alma 30:21-22). Just as these people here forceably carry Nehor before Alma, so they will forceably carry Korihor to Alma for judgment (Alma 30:29). When Alma begins his great preaching mission to the Nephites, it is the people in the land of Gideon who most warmly receive him. His sermon in the land of Gideon basically congratulates the people on their righteousness and faithfulness, a message very different from the one he delivers in the lands of Zarahemla and Ammonihah.
  • Alma 1:14. Here Alma feels he has to argue for the rule of law. Judging by Mosiah 29:11, 15, 22-23, they seem to have had laws during the reigns of the kings -- but laws that existed at the kings' pleasure. The rule of the king had been primary, not the rule of law. With Mosiah newly dead, Alma takes pains to emphasize that the law both remains and rules.
Alma grounds the rule of law in the people's acceptance of it, not in the authority of his office as chief judge. This is a distinct break from the old ways described in Mosiah 29:22-23.
  • Alma 1:14-15: Rule of law, or rule of man. Alma tries in verse 14 to depersonalize his execution of Nehor, framing it as a disinterested enforcement of the law handed down by Mosiah and agreed to by the people (see exegesis on verse 1). This claim was probably not persuasive for Nehor's followers, and it is undercut in verse 15 by the suggestion that Nehor "was caused" to confess errors, i.e., was forced to say something he didn't believe before "he suffered an ignominious death," i.e., was dishonored in the mode of his death. The compelled confession and ignominious mode of execution undercut the suggestion of a depersonalized rule of law in verse 14.
  • History is written by the victors. Here is an interesting thought experiment. Suppose it had been a younger Gideon who had been traveling and that he had met Nehor in Ammoniah. Suppose that after a heated theological exchange Nehor had started the swordplay but Gideon had prevailed and then Gideon was taken before a local Order of Nehor judge. Suppose the events were then described by a pre-conversion Zeezrom. With minor changes it could be the same story with only the names reversed.

Unanswered questions[edit]

This section is for questions along the lines of "I still don't understand ..." Please do not be shy. The point of these questions is to identify things that still need to be addressed on this page. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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 1:1: How significant is it that the Mosiah-Benjamin-Mosiah dynasty would no longer continue, but the laws would?
  • Alma 1:1: Why were the people "obliged to abide by the laws which [Mosiah] had made"?
  • Alma 1:1: The end of this verse greatly resembles the end of verse 14. Are Mormon and Alma both citing some constitutional document? (Perhaps Mosiah certified to the people's acknowledgement of the law after Mosiah 29:38?) Is Mormon just quoting Alma twice? (Why?)
  • Alma 1:2: This verse introduces Nehor as "a man brought before [Alma] to be judged." Why don't we learn Nehor's name until the end of the story, in verse 15, when Nehor is about to be killed?
  • Alma 1:2: Why is it noted that Nehor "was Large" and "noted for his much strength"? In what ways might his size and strength have been evident? Is there a relationship here between how he is described and how the royal Mulekite Ammon and his brothers are described in Mosiah 7:3? Who else in the Book of Mormon is described as large and mighty?
  • Alma 1:3: What does it mean for priests and teachers to "become popular"?
  • Alma 1:3: This occurs just after political leadership among the Nephites is turned over to the voice of the people. Is Nehor now mainly arguing that leadership in the church should also be established by the voice of the people?
  • Alma 1:3: Why would Nehor argue that the priests "ought to be supported by the people"? The Nephite kings Mosiah, Benjamin, and Mosiah had all labored with their hands for their own support, why would Nehor argue that priests and teachers shouldn't have to do this as well? Were the new judges supported by the people? Is this a reflection of the practices in King Noah's time, when the priests were supported in the court of the king through taxation?
  • Alma 1:4: Where might Nehor have gotten these teachings? Do they reflect the teachings of the priests of Noah, who rather than seeing their own wickedness wanted to justify their position and status through an appeal to Isa 52:7?
  • Alma 1:5: Is it likely that some of the many who "did believe on his words" were members of Christ's church? If so, how is it that they left the truth and believed in these false doctrines?
  • Alma 1:12: To what group does “this people” refer? Is Alma saying that this is the first case of priestcraft since Lehi’s colony arrived? Why would priestcraft result in the destruction of the people? Do we have priestcraft among us today? Outside the Church? In it?
  • Alma 1:12-13: Why does Alma reason from collective, corporate consequences and responsibilities, and not (as modern American law would do) from Gideon's individual right to live?
  • Alma 1:13-14: What is Alma’s justification for the death penalty?
  • Alma 1:14: What does the last part of v. 14 mean: “[the law] has been acknowledged by this people; therefore this people must abide by the law"? How do we acknowledge our laws? Why does Alma need to ground even the rule of law in the people's collective acknowledgement, rather than taking it as given? (Is he establishing a constitutional precedent? Was the rule of law itself somewhat novel?)
  • Alma 1:15: Why do you think ancient peoples felt it was important for a criminal given the death penalty not only to die but to suffer an ignominious death?

Resources[edit]

This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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.



Previous page: Chapters 1-3                      Next page: Verses 1:16-33

Alma 1:11-15

Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 1-3 > Chapter 1a / Verses 1:1-15
Previous page: Chapters 1-3                      Next page: Verses 1:16-33


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Summary[edit]

This heading should be very brief. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 1:1-2. The first verse begins setting the reader up to hear what will happen in the first year of the reign of the judges. We may expect that this introductory clause is to be answered within the first sentence, but instead it serves as an opening phrase for a large section of text. This construction (an opening phrase incomplete by the end of the sentence) is odd for readers but occurs elsewhere in the Book of Mormon as well [fill in other examples]. More unique is the use of the phrase "from this time forward" which though we expect it to lead to some explanation of what happens from this point forward, we realize after finding nothing in front to complete it's thought, must point backward to mean something like the judges reigned over the people of Nephi from this point in history forward.
  • Alma 1:4: Nehor's doctrine and the War in Heaven. In Satan's War on Free Agency, Greg Wright offers a deeply persuasive interpretation of the War in Heaven. Teryl Givens independently comes to the same conclusion in a Meridian Magazine article. Both interpretations are highly germane to and greatly illuminate this verse. Brothers Wright and Givens both suggest that Satan's plan in the preexistence was not (as is often said) to destroy human agency by controlling all human action and compelling it to be good. He would, rather, destroy agency by letting people do whatever they wanted with no consequences. In other words, he told people they could do their own thing on earth, follow their bliss, with a guarantee that he, Satan, would return them to heaven no matter what they did. Satan offered a no risk guarantee and, thus, destroyed agency not by controlling choice but by rendering it meaningless. If all choices lead to the same end, human beings do not have the power to choose their own destiny. Thus, choice without consequence is antithetical to agency.
It is unsurprising that Satan's seductive plan was popular: giving free reign to the natural man without fear of damnation is a seemingly attractive proposition. Nor is it surprising that Nehor, Satan's agent, should offer the same seductive plan here on earth. When Nehor and his followers, ancient and modern, preach and believe that all will be saved regardless of what they do, they embrace in mortality the plan they rejected in the pre-existence. They here vindicate a plan that they there rejected. Nehor gives us an exceptionally clear presentation of Satan's plan from the preexistence. But other variants are ubiquitous, e.g., the atheistic variant of the plan assures us that no matter what we choose to do in this life, all end up the same--eternally dead. So do as you please. The cheap grace version suggests that all who merely confess that Christ is their Savior are saved, regardless of what their antecedent or subsequent behavior may be. In other words, all are saved and come to the same end regardless of what choices they make (apart from the choice to confess Christ). Except for that one choice, they have no ability to determine their eternal destiny.
  • Alma 1:5. The Book of Mormon often makes a point of saying that false prophets are supported financially by the people. In this case, they give money to Nehor who preaches that salvation will come to everyone. It seems they are willing to sacrifice their money for an easy salvation rather than their sins for true salvation.
We might be tempted to look with disdain at those in the past who appear so easily deceived. It seems the danger of our day is to think that the Former-day Saints were fools and we in the Latter-days are wise (see Related Links, Carlos E. Asay). Here we might apply Mormon's test for passing judgment (Moro 7:15-17).
  • Alma 1:9: Feisty Gideon. It is no surprise to see the Gideon from the Land of Nephi, the man who chased King Noah to the top of his tower (Mosiah 19:4-8), standing boldly against Nehor even as an old man. Verse 9 implies that Gideon drew his weapon and battled Nehor. This is implied in the statement that Gideon's age made him unable to withstand Nehor's blows. Age would be a factor only if Gideon was battling with his own weapon. No person of any age could withstand an attack with a sword if unarmed and unresisting. Thus, this language suggests that Gideon did draw and was fighting. To see the importance of this fact, go to the exegesis below of verses 11 - 15 on Alma's political error and the assessment of Alma as a politician in the exegesis at the end of this chapter.
  • Alma 1:10: Land of Gideon. While it is not explcitly stated here, this episode probably occured in the Land of Gideon, a land named after Gideon who is now slain. This is the land in which the Zeniffites (followers of Limhi and Alma the Elder) settled after their escape from the Land of Nephi. Gideon played a major role in that escape (Mosiah 22:3 - 8), just one of the reasons why he was viewed as a hero and especially revered by the now resettled Zeniffites. Having once been apostate and having learned from their past mistakes, the people of the Land of Gideon have become especially faithful and resistant to apostacy. As these people here resist Nehor's seductive doctrine, they will later again resist the false doctrines of Korihor (Alma 30:21-22). Just as these people here forceably carry Nehor before Alma, so they will forceably carry Korihor to Alma for judgment (Alma 30:29). When Alma begins his great preaching mission to the Nephites, it is the people in the land of Gideon who most warmly receive him. His sermon in the land of Gideon basically congratulates the people on their righteousness and faithfulness, a message very different from the one he delivers in the lands of Zarahemla and Ammonihah.
  • Alma 1:14. Here Alma feels he has to argue for the rule of law. Judging by Mosiah 29:11, 15, 22-23, they seem to have had laws during the reigns of the kings -- but laws that existed at the kings' pleasure. The rule of the king had been primary, not the rule of law. With Mosiah newly dead, Alma takes pains to emphasize that the law both remains and rules.
Alma grounds the rule of law in the people's acceptance of it, not in the authority of his office as chief judge. This is a distinct break from the old ways described in Mosiah 29:22-23.
  • Alma 1:14-15: Rule of law, or rule of man. Alma tries in verse 14 to depersonalize his execution of Nehor, framing it as a disinterested enforcement of the law handed down by Mosiah and agreed to by the people (see exegesis on verse 1). This claim was probably not persuasive for Nehor's followers, and it is undercut in verse 15 by the suggestion that Nehor "was caused" to confess errors, i.e., was forced to say something he didn't believe before "he suffered an ignominious death," i.e., was dishonored in the mode of his death. The compelled confession and ignominious mode of execution undercut the suggestion of a depersonalized rule of law in verse 14.
  • History is written by the victors. Here is an interesting thought experiment. Suppose it had been a younger Gideon who had been traveling and that he had met Nehor in Ammoniah. Suppose that after a heated theological exchange Nehor had started the swordplay but Gideon had prevailed and then Gideon was taken before a local Order of Nehor judge. Suppose the events were then described by a pre-conversion Zeezrom. With minor changes it could be the same story with only the names reversed.

Unanswered questions[edit]

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Prompts for life application[edit]

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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 1:1: How significant is it that the Mosiah-Benjamin-Mosiah dynasty would no longer continue, but the laws would?
  • Alma 1:1: Why were the people "obliged to abide by the laws which [Mosiah] had made"?
  • Alma 1:1: The end of this verse greatly resembles the end of verse 14. Are Mormon and Alma both citing some constitutional document? (Perhaps Mosiah certified to the people's acknowledgement of the law after Mosiah 29:38?) Is Mormon just quoting Alma twice? (Why?)
  • Alma 1:2: This verse introduces Nehor as "a man brought before [Alma] to be judged." Why don't we learn Nehor's name until the end of the story, in verse 15, when Nehor is about to be killed?
  • Alma 1:2: Why is it noted that Nehor "was Large" and "noted for his much strength"? In what ways might his size and strength have been evident? Is there a relationship here between how he is described and how the royal Mulekite Ammon and his brothers are described in Mosiah 7:3? Who else in the Book of Mormon is described as large and mighty?
  • Alma 1:3: What does it mean for priests and teachers to "become popular"?
  • Alma 1:3: This occurs just after political leadership among the Nephites is turned over to the voice of the people. Is Nehor now mainly arguing that leadership in the church should also be established by the voice of the people?
  • Alma 1:3: Why would Nehor argue that the priests "ought to be supported by the people"? The Nephite kings Mosiah, Benjamin, and Mosiah had all labored with their hands for their own support, why would Nehor argue that priests and teachers shouldn't have to do this as well? Were the new judges supported by the people? Is this a reflection of the practices in King Noah's time, when the priests were supported in the court of the king through taxation?
  • Alma 1:4: Where might Nehor have gotten these teachings? Do they reflect the teachings of the priests of Noah, who rather than seeing their own wickedness wanted to justify their position and status through an appeal to Isa 52:7?
  • Alma 1:5: Is it likely that some of the many who "did believe on his words" were members of Christ's church? If so, how is it that they left the truth and believed in these false doctrines?
  • Alma 1:12: To what group does “this people” refer? Is Alma saying that this is the first case of priestcraft since Lehi’s colony arrived? Why would priestcraft result in the destruction of the people? Do we have priestcraft among us today? Outside the Church? In it?
  • Alma 1:12-13: Why does Alma reason from collective, corporate consequences and responsibilities, and not (as modern American law would do) from Gideon's individual right to live?
  • Alma 1:13-14: What is Alma’s justification for the death penalty?
  • Alma 1:14: What does the last part of v. 14 mean: “[the law] has been acknowledged by this people; therefore this people must abide by the law"? How do we acknowledge our laws? Why does Alma need to ground even the rule of law in the people's collective acknowledgement, rather than taking it as given? (Is he establishing a constitutional precedent? Was the rule of law itself somewhat novel?)
  • Alma 1:15: Why do you think ancient peoples felt it was important for a criminal given the death penalty not only to die but to suffer an ignominious death?

Resources[edit]

This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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.



Previous page: Chapters 1-3                      Next page: Verses 1:16-33

Alma 1:16-20

Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 1-3 > Chapter 1b / Verses 1:16-33
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Summary[edit]

This heading should be very brief. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 1:16: Political consequences of Nehor's execution. If Alma was hoping that Nehor's execution would end priestcraft, it did not. Unfortunately--but unsurprisingly given the politics of the execution--it didn't have the intended effect. Alma and Nephite society instead find themselves opposed on every side by followers of Nehor's doctrine (Alma 2:1, 14:18, 24:29).
  • Alma 1:17: Fear that is ironic and the compromise of religious liberty. Mormon's sympathies (and ours) lie with Alma. But to fully understand the history that is recounted, we must sympathetically imagine how the death of Nehor was viewed by his followers. In verse 12, Alma discusses the danger of priestcraft enforced by the sword. While Alma does not take money for preaching, it is clear in this verse--and unsurprising given the execution of Nehor--that Alma's views are ironically being enforced by the power of the state, i.e., by the sword. Thus other Nehorites are afraid of openly expressing their views, a fear that is probably justified given the ignominious death of Nehor. Mosiah has tried to lead his people to embrace religious liberty, but change takes time and the transition to freedom of conscience has not yet taken hold, even for Alma who is, undoubtedly, trying in good faith to uphold the legacy of Mosiah.
In certain respects, Mosiah's failure to fully establish religious liberty is analgous to the failure of the American founders to fuly establish the liberty they envisioned. The first amendment alone could not create the envisioned liberty. So while the Constitution of the United States was probably a necessariy predicate for the restoration of the gospel, it did not save the saints from persecution or Joseph Smith from martyrdom because the doctrine articulated in the first amendment had not fully distilled in the American soul. God restored the gospel at the earliest possible moment, at a moment that was too early for Joseph to survive to old age. Had he waited a few decades, Joseph probably would not have been slain by a mob because Americans eventually came to understand that local popular sovereignty must be trumped by the guarantee of freedom of religion vouchsafed by the Constitution. We should all be grateful to God (and to Joseph and the persecuted pioneers who paid the price) that the gospel was established at the earliest possible moment so that we can now benefit from its growth and maturation.
Unfortunately for Alma and his people, they do not yet fully understand how to preserve both civil order and religious liberty. The break from a past in which religion and society were coterminous is too recent for the habits of liberty to be fully formed.
  • Alma 1:21. Note how the Church passed laws to govern themselves first. The normal human tendency might be to try and enforce rules on the outside groups who were persecuting them (see v. 20).
  • Alma 1:22: Religious violence. Presumably, the violence over religious differences occurs, at least in part, between Nehorites and Christians. Alma apparently tried to suppress the conflict by excommunicating church members who engaged in violence against people with other beliefs. There is a certain irony in this given his actions in verse 15, but it may also be a token of the good faith we know characterizes Alma.
  • Alma 1:25-31: Living after the manner of happiness. The Book of Mormon gives more and clearer examples of moral degradation than of moral virtue in its discussion of peoples and societies. The book, 4th Nephi, that covers the most extended period in which a people lived up to high moral and social ideals is very short. Thus the book of Alma, which shows so much war and misery, contains 2,065 words per year covered whereas 4 Nephi contains only 5 words per year. Since passages in which people are described in some detail as living "after the manner of happiness" (2 Nephi 5:27) are rare, they can have special value. Verses 25 - 31 of this chapter (like 2 Nephi chaper 5) provide one of those rare glimpses into the lives of people living in nearly perfect righteousness.
  • Alma 1:26: The poetry of structure and meaning. The Book of Mormon writers are often artful in their phrasing. Verse 26 is an example. Mormon means to suggest here that priests and people were equal, that there was no status difference between them. The poetic structure of what is said reinforces the intended meaning:
And when the priests left their labor / to impart the word of God unto the people,
the people also left their labors / to hear the word of God.
The structure of the sentence equates priests with people, both being situated in the same place in their respective couplet, and both doing the same thing, leaving their labor. The only distinction between them in the sentence is that one imparts and one hears. The two couplets are bound together by the first couplet ending and the second beginning with "the people." This situates the people at the heart of the set of couplets, perhaps emphasizing the centrality of their well being. The next sentence is also gramatically and poetically parallel. It begins with the same words but now puts priest and people together in both phrases:
And when the priest had imparted unto them the word of God // they all returned again diligently unto their labors
The remainder of the verse makes the equivalence of all in God's kingdom fully explicit, again with structural poetry and repetition:
for the preacher was no better than the hearer, // neither was the teacher any better than the learner;
The equivalence of priest and people is then recapped by again, as in the previous phrase, combining them in "they all":
and thus they were all equal
These well crafted expressions have a political as well as a spiritual purpose: they contrast the egalitarian ideology of Mosiah and Alma with the class riven ideology of Nehor who teaches that some labor while others teach.
  • Alma 1:32-33: Religious and political polarization. The description of the church members in verses 25 - 31 and the nonmembers in 32 is Manichean. The members are saintly, the nonmembers devilish. Verse 33 then indicates that the power of the state was used against the nonmembers to force them to conform to the values of the church. The nonmembers dared not act in harmony with their own wishes. If the nonmembers were as deeply wicked as suggested in 32, Alma may have had no choice but to use state force to constrain them. But it is possible that political polarization has resulted in them being painted in blacker hues than they deserved. In any case, verse 33 is the perfect recipe for civil war which duely follows in chapter 2. See the comment below assessing Alma as a politician for additional discussion of Alma's high stakes approach to governance.

Unanswered questions[edit]

This section is for questions along the lines of "I still don't understand ..." Please do not be shy. The point of these questions is to identify things that still need to be addressed on this page. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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 1:19-22: The non-members persecuted the members “with all manner of words.” On the other hand, there was a strict law that forbade the members from persecuting others or each other. What was the result? (Be sure also to look at v. 24.) What lesson is in this for us?
  • Alma 1:25-27: What are the three things that distinguish this church?
  • Alma 1:29-30: Why do you think the writer felt it so important to record these two verses?
  • Alma 1:31: Prosperity is here linked with wealth. Is this always the case when prosperity is mentioned in the Book of Mormon? What does it mean that the members of the church were "far more wealthy" than those around them? Did this cause any problems?
  • Alma 1:32: What is meant here by "sorceries"?
  • Alma 1:32: Is the idolatry mentioned here idol worship, or just "idleness"?
  • Alma 1:32: What is the connection between "wearing costly apparel" and the other sins mentioned here?
  • Alma 1:32: This verse makes it sound like a good portion of the Nephite society was very wicked. What proportion of the people were actually righteous at this time? How much of wars and destruction during this time are the result of this wickedness?
  • Alma 1:33: What do we know about Nephite laws and penalties? Were these in any way related to what we consider to be the Laws of Moses?

Resources[edit]

This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 1:18, 30: Robbing versus stealing. John W. Welch discusses the ancient distinction between robbing and stealing here. It is quite clear in verse 18 that robbing and stealing are seen as two different things and that this distinction was an important one anciently.

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.



Previous page: Verses 1:1-15                      Next page: Verses 2:1-19

Alma 1:21-25

Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 1-3 > Chapter 1b / Verses 1:16-33
Previous page: Verses 1:1-15                      Next page: Verses 2:1-19


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Summary[edit]

This heading should be very brief. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 1:16: Political consequences of Nehor's execution. If Alma was hoping that Nehor's execution would end priestcraft, it did not. Unfortunately--but unsurprisingly given the politics of the execution--it didn't have the intended effect. Alma and Nephite society instead find themselves opposed on every side by followers of Nehor's doctrine (Alma 2:1, 14:18, 24:29).
  • Alma 1:17: Fear that is ironic and the compromise of religious liberty. Mormon's sympathies (and ours) lie with Alma. But to fully understand the history that is recounted, we must sympathetically imagine how the death of Nehor was viewed by his followers. In verse 12, Alma discusses the danger of priestcraft enforced by the sword. While Alma does not take money for preaching, it is clear in this verse--and unsurprising given the execution of Nehor--that Alma's views are ironically being enforced by the power of the state, i.e., by the sword. Thus other Nehorites are afraid of openly expressing their views, a fear that is probably justified given the ignominious death of Nehor. Mosiah has tried to lead his people to embrace religious liberty, but change takes time and the transition to freedom of conscience has not yet taken hold, even for Alma who is, undoubtedly, trying in good faith to uphold the legacy of Mosiah.
In certain respects, Mosiah's failure to fully establish religious liberty is analgous to the failure of the American founders to fuly establish the liberty they envisioned. The first amendment alone could not create the envisioned liberty. So while the Constitution of the United States was probably a necessariy predicate for the restoration of the gospel, it did not save the saints from persecution or Joseph Smith from martyrdom because the doctrine articulated in the first amendment had not fully distilled in the American soul. God restored the gospel at the earliest possible moment, at a moment that was too early for Joseph to survive to old age. Had he waited a few decades, Joseph probably would not have been slain by a mob because Americans eventually came to understand that local popular sovereignty must be trumped by the guarantee of freedom of religion vouchsafed by the Constitution. We should all be grateful to God (and to Joseph and the persecuted pioneers who paid the price) that the gospel was established at the earliest possible moment so that we can now benefit from its growth and maturation.
Unfortunately for Alma and his people, they do not yet fully understand how to preserve both civil order and religious liberty. The break from a past in which religion and society were coterminous is too recent for the habits of liberty to be fully formed.
  • Alma 1:21. Note how the Church passed laws to govern themselves first. The normal human tendency might be to try and enforce rules on the outside groups who were persecuting them (see v. 20).
  • Alma 1:22: Religious violence. Presumably, the violence over religious differences occurs, at least in part, between Nehorites and Christians. Alma apparently tried to suppress the conflict by excommunicating church members who engaged in violence against people with other beliefs. There is a certain irony in this given his actions in verse 15, but it may also be a token of the good faith we know characterizes Alma.
  • Alma 1:25-31: Living after the manner of happiness. The Book of Mormon gives more and clearer examples of moral degradation than of moral virtue in its discussion of peoples and societies. The book, 4th Nephi, that covers the most extended period in which a people lived up to high moral and social ideals is very short. Thus the book of Alma, which shows so much war and misery, contains 2,065 words per year covered whereas 4 Nephi contains only 5 words per year. Since passages in which people are described in some detail as living "after the manner of happiness" (2 Nephi 5:27) are rare, they can have special value. Verses 25 - 31 of this chapter (like 2 Nephi chaper 5) provide one of those rare glimpses into the lives of people living in nearly perfect righteousness.
  • Alma 1:26: The poetry of structure and meaning. The Book of Mormon writers are often artful in their phrasing. Verse 26 is an example. Mormon means to suggest here that priests and people were equal, that there was no status difference between them. The poetic structure of what is said reinforces the intended meaning:
And when the priests left their labor / to impart the word of God unto the people,
the people also left their labors / to hear the word of God.
The structure of the sentence equates priests with people, both being situated in the same place in their respective couplet, and both doing the same thing, leaving their labor. The only distinction between them in the sentence is that one imparts and one hears. The two couplets are bound together by the first couplet ending and the second beginning with "the people." This situates the people at the heart of the set of couplets, perhaps emphasizing the centrality of their well being. The next sentence is also gramatically and poetically parallel. It begins with the same words but now puts priest and people together in both phrases:
And when the priest had imparted unto them the word of God // they all returned again diligently unto their labors
The remainder of the verse makes the equivalence of all in God's kingdom fully explicit, again with structural poetry and repetition:
for the preacher was no better than the hearer, // neither was the teacher any better than the learner;
The equivalence of priest and people is then recapped by again, as in the previous phrase, combining them in "they all":
and thus they were all equal
These well crafted expressions have a political as well as a spiritual purpose: they contrast the egalitarian ideology of Mosiah and Alma with the class riven ideology of Nehor who teaches that some labor while others teach.
  • Alma 1:32-33: Religious and political polarization. The description of the church members in verses 25 - 31 and the nonmembers in 32 is Manichean. The members are saintly, the nonmembers devilish. Verse 33 then indicates that the power of the state was used against the nonmembers to force them to conform to the values of the church. The nonmembers dared not act in harmony with their own wishes. If the nonmembers were as deeply wicked as suggested in 32, Alma may have had no choice but to use state force to constrain them. But it is possible that political polarization has resulted in them being painted in blacker hues than they deserved. In any case, verse 33 is the perfect recipe for civil war which duely follows in chapter 2. See the comment below assessing Alma as a politician for additional discussion of Alma's high stakes approach to governance.

Unanswered questions[edit]

This section is for questions along the lines of "I still don't understand ..." Please do not be shy. The point of these questions is to identify things that still need to be addressed on this page. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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 1:19-22: The non-members persecuted the members “with all manner of words.” On the other hand, there was a strict law that forbade the members from persecuting others or each other. What was the result? (Be sure also to look at v. 24.) What lesson is in this for us?
  • Alma 1:25-27: What are the three things that distinguish this church?
  • Alma 1:29-30: Why do you think the writer felt it so important to record these two verses?
  • Alma 1:31: Prosperity is here linked with wealth. Is this always the case when prosperity is mentioned in the Book of Mormon? What does it mean that the members of the church were "far more wealthy" than those around them? Did this cause any problems?
  • Alma 1:32: What is meant here by "sorceries"?
  • Alma 1:32: Is the idolatry mentioned here idol worship, or just "idleness"?
  • Alma 1:32: What is the connection between "wearing costly apparel" and the other sins mentioned here?
  • Alma 1:32: This verse makes it sound like a good portion of the Nephite society was very wicked. What proportion of the people were actually righteous at this time? How much of wars and destruction during this time are the result of this wickedness?
  • Alma 1:33: What do we know about Nephite laws and penalties? Were these in any way related to what we consider to be the Laws of Moses?

Resources[edit]

This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 1:18, 30: Robbing versus stealing. John W. Welch discusses the ancient distinction between robbing and stealing here. It is quite clear in verse 18 that robbing and stealing are seen as two different things and that this distinction was an important one anciently.

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.



Previous page: Verses 1:1-15                      Next page: Verses 2:1-19

Alma 1:26-30

Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 1-3 > Chapter 1b / Verses 1:16-33
Previous page: Verses 1:1-15                      Next page: Verses 2:1-19


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Summary[edit]

This heading should be very brief. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 1:16: Political consequences of Nehor's execution. If Alma was hoping that Nehor's execution would end priestcraft, it did not. Unfortunately--but unsurprisingly given the politics of the execution--it didn't have the intended effect. Alma and Nephite society instead find themselves opposed on every side by followers of Nehor's doctrine (Alma 2:1, 14:18, 24:29).
  • Alma 1:17: Fear that is ironic and the compromise of religious liberty. Mormon's sympathies (and ours) lie with Alma. But to fully understand the history that is recounted, we must sympathetically imagine how the death of Nehor was viewed by his followers. In verse 12, Alma discusses the danger of priestcraft enforced by the sword. While Alma does not take money for preaching, it is clear in this verse--and unsurprising given the execution of Nehor--that Alma's views are ironically being enforced by the power of the state, i.e., by the sword. Thus other Nehorites are afraid of openly expressing their views, a fear that is probably justified given the ignominious death of Nehor. Mosiah has tried to lead his people to embrace religious liberty, but change takes time and the transition to freedom of conscience has not yet taken hold, even for Alma who is, undoubtedly, trying in good faith to uphold the legacy of Mosiah.
In certain respects, Mosiah's failure to fully establish religious liberty is analgous to the failure of the American founders to fuly establish the liberty they envisioned. The first amendment alone could not create the envisioned liberty. So while the Constitution of the United States was probably a necessariy predicate for the restoration of the gospel, it did not save the saints from persecution or Joseph Smith from martyrdom because the doctrine articulated in the first amendment had not fully distilled in the American soul. God restored the gospel at the earliest possible moment, at a moment that was too early for Joseph to survive to old age. Had he waited a few decades, Joseph probably would not have been slain by a mob because Americans eventually came to understand that local popular sovereignty must be trumped by the guarantee of freedom of religion vouchsafed by the Constitution. We should all be grateful to God (and to Joseph and the persecuted pioneers who paid the price) that the gospel was established at the earliest possible moment so that we can now benefit from its growth and maturation.
Unfortunately for Alma and his people, they do not yet fully understand how to preserve both civil order and religious liberty. The break from a past in which religion and society were coterminous is too recent for the habits of liberty to be fully formed.
  • Alma 1:21. Note how the Church passed laws to govern themselves first. The normal human tendency might be to try and enforce rules on the outside groups who were persecuting them (see v. 20).
  • Alma 1:22: Religious violence. Presumably, the violence over religious differences occurs, at least in part, between Nehorites and Christians. Alma apparently tried to suppress the conflict by excommunicating church members who engaged in violence against people with other beliefs. There is a certain irony in this given his actions in verse 15, but it may also be a token of the good faith we know characterizes Alma.
  • Alma 1:25-31: Living after the manner of happiness. The Book of Mormon gives more and clearer examples of moral degradation than of moral virtue in its discussion of peoples and societies. The book, 4th Nephi, that covers the most extended period in which a people lived up to high moral and social ideals is very short. Thus the book of Alma, which shows so much war and misery, contains 2,065 words per year covered whereas 4 Nephi contains only 5 words per year. Since passages in which people are described in some detail as living "after the manner of happiness" (2 Nephi 5:27) are rare, they can have special value. Verses 25 - 31 of this chapter (like 2 Nephi chaper 5) provide one of those rare glimpses into the lives of people living in nearly perfect righteousness.
  • Alma 1:26: The poetry of structure and meaning. The Book of Mormon writers are often artful in their phrasing. Verse 26 is an example. Mormon means to suggest here that priests and people were equal, that there was no status difference between them. The poetic structure of what is said reinforces the intended meaning:
And when the priests left their labor / to impart the word of God unto the people,
the people also left their labors / to hear the word of God.
The structure of the sentence equates priests with people, both being situated in the same place in their respective couplet, and both doing the same thing, leaving their labor. The only distinction between them in the sentence is that one imparts and one hears. The two couplets are bound together by the first couplet ending and the second beginning with "the people." This situates the people at the heart of the set of couplets, perhaps emphasizing the centrality of their well being. The next sentence is also gramatically and poetically parallel. It begins with the same words but now puts priest and people together in both phrases:
And when the priest had imparted unto them the word of God // they all returned again diligently unto their labors
The remainder of the verse makes the equivalence of all in God's kingdom fully explicit, again with structural poetry and repetition:
for the preacher was no better than the hearer, // neither was the teacher any better than the learner;
The equivalence of priest and people is then recapped by again, as in the previous phrase, combining them in "they all":
and thus they were all equal
These well crafted expressions have a political as well as a spiritual purpose: they contrast the egalitarian ideology of Mosiah and Alma with the class riven ideology of Nehor who teaches that some labor while others teach.
  • Alma 1:32-33: Religious and political polarization. The description of the church members in verses 25 - 31 and the nonmembers in 32 is Manichean. The members are saintly, the nonmembers devilish. Verse 33 then indicates that the power of the state was used against the nonmembers to force them to conform to the values of the church. The nonmembers dared not act in harmony with their own wishes. If the nonmembers were as deeply wicked as suggested in 32, Alma may have had no choice but to use state force to constrain them. But it is possible that political polarization has resulted in them being painted in blacker hues than they deserved. In any case, verse 33 is the perfect recipe for civil war which duely follows in chapter 2. See the comment below assessing Alma as a politician for additional discussion of Alma's high stakes approach to governance.

Unanswered questions[edit]

This section is for questions along the lines of "I still don't understand ..." Please do not be shy. The point of these questions is to identify things that still need to be addressed on this page. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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 1:19-22: The non-members persecuted the members “with all manner of words.” On the other hand, there was a strict law that forbade the members from persecuting others or each other. What was the result? (Be sure also to look at v. 24.) What lesson is in this for us?
  • Alma 1:25-27: What are the three things that distinguish this church?
  • Alma 1:29-30: Why do you think the writer felt it so important to record these two verses?
  • Alma 1:31: Prosperity is here linked with wealth. Is this always the case when prosperity is mentioned in the Book of Mormon? What does it mean that the members of the church were "far more wealthy" than those around them? Did this cause any problems?
  • Alma 1:32: What is meant here by "sorceries"?
  • Alma 1:32: Is the idolatry mentioned here idol worship, or just "idleness"?
  • Alma 1:32: What is the connection between "wearing costly apparel" and the other sins mentioned here?
  • Alma 1:32: This verse makes it sound like a good portion of the Nephite society was very wicked. What proportion of the people were actually righteous at this time? How much of wars and destruction during this time are the result of this wickedness?
  • Alma 1:33: What do we know about Nephite laws and penalties? Were these in any way related to what we consider to be the Laws of Moses?

Resources[edit]

This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 1:18, 30: Robbing versus stealing. John W. Welch discusses the ancient distinction between robbing and stealing here. It is quite clear in verse 18 that robbing and stealing are seen as two different things and that this distinction was an important one anciently.

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.



Previous page: Verses 1:1-15                      Next page: Verses 2:1-19

Alma 1:31-33

Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 1-3 > Chapter 1b / Verses 1:16-33
Previous page: Verses 1:1-15                      Next page: Verses 2:1-19


This page would ideally always be under construction. You are invited to contribute.


Summary[edit]

This heading should be very brief. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 1:16: Political consequences of Nehor's execution. If Alma was hoping that Nehor's execution would end priestcraft, it did not. Unfortunately--but unsurprisingly given the politics of the execution--it didn't have the intended effect. Alma and Nephite society instead find themselves opposed on every side by followers of Nehor's doctrine (Alma 2:1, 14:18, 24:29).
  • Alma 1:17: Fear that is ironic and the compromise of religious liberty. Mormon's sympathies (and ours) lie with Alma. But to fully understand the history that is recounted, we must sympathetically imagine how the death of Nehor was viewed by his followers. In verse 12, Alma discusses the danger of priestcraft enforced by the sword. While Alma does not take money for preaching, it is clear in this verse--and unsurprising given the execution of Nehor--that Alma's views are ironically being enforced by the power of the state, i.e., by the sword. Thus other Nehorites are afraid of openly expressing their views, a fear that is probably justified given the ignominious death of Nehor. Mosiah has tried to lead his people to embrace religious liberty, but change takes time and the transition to freedom of conscience has not yet taken hold, even for Alma who is, undoubtedly, trying in good faith to uphold the legacy of Mosiah.
In certain respects, Mosiah's failure to fully establish religious liberty is analgous to the failure of the American founders to fuly establish the liberty they envisioned. The first amendment alone could not create the envisioned liberty. So while the Constitution of the United States was probably a necessariy predicate for the restoration of the gospel, it did not save the saints from persecution or Joseph Smith from martyrdom because the doctrine articulated in the first amendment had not fully distilled in the American soul. God restored the gospel at the earliest possible moment, at a moment that was too early for Joseph to survive to old age. Had he waited a few decades, Joseph probably would not have been slain by a mob because Americans eventually came to understand that local popular sovereignty must be trumped by the guarantee of freedom of religion vouchsafed by the Constitution. We should all be grateful to God (and to Joseph and the persecuted pioneers who paid the price) that the gospel was established at the earliest possible moment so that we can now benefit from its growth and maturation.
Unfortunately for Alma and his people, they do not yet fully understand how to preserve both civil order and religious liberty. The break from a past in which religion and society were coterminous is too recent for the habits of liberty to be fully formed.
  • Alma 1:21. Note how the Church passed laws to govern themselves first. The normal human tendency might be to try and enforce rules on the outside groups who were persecuting them (see v. 20).
  • Alma 1:22: Religious violence. Presumably, the violence over religious differences occurs, at least in part, between Nehorites and Christians. Alma apparently tried to suppress the conflict by excommunicating church members who engaged in violence against people with other beliefs. There is a certain irony in this given his actions in verse 15, but it may also be a token of the good faith we know characterizes Alma.
  • Alma 1:25-31: Living after the manner of happiness. The Book of Mormon gives more and clearer examples of moral degradation than of moral virtue in its discussion of peoples and societies. The book, 4th Nephi, that covers the most extended period in which a people lived up to high moral and social ideals is very short. Thus the book of Alma, which shows so much war and misery, contains 2,065 words per year covered whereas 4 Nephi contains only 5 words per year. Since passages in which people are described in some detail as living "after the manner of happiness" (2 Nephi 5:27) are rare, they can have special value. Verses 25 - 31 of this chapter (like 2 Nephi chaper 5) provide one of those rare glimpses into the lives of people living in nearly perfect righteousness.
  • Alma 1:26: The poetry of structure and meaning. The Book of Mormon writers are often artful in their phrasing. Verse 26 is an example. Mormon means to suggest here that priests and people were equal, that there was no status difference between them. The poetic structure of what is said reinforces the intended meaning:
And when the priests left their labor / to impart the word of God unto the people,
the people also left their labors / to hear the word of God.
The structure of the sentence equates priests with people, both being situated in the same place in their respective couplet, and both doing the same thing, leaving their labor. The only distinction between them in the sentence is that one imparts and one hears. The two couplets are bound together by the first couplet ending and the second beginning with "the people." This situates the people at the heart of the set of couplets, perhaps emphasizing the centrality of their well being. The next sentence is also gramatically and poetically parallel. It begins with the same words but now puts priest and people together in both phrases:
And when the priest had imparted unto them the word of God // they all returned again diligently unto their labors
The remainder of the verse makes the equivalence of all in God's kingdom fully explicit, again with structural poetry and repetition:
for the preacher was no better than the hearer, // neither was the teacher any better than the learner;
The equivalence of priest and people is then recapped by again, as in the previous phrase, combining them in "they all":
and thus they were all equal
These well crafted expressions have a political as well as a spiritual purpose: they contrast the egalitarian ideology of Mosiah and Alma with the class riven ideology of Nehor who teaches that some labor while others teach.
  • Alma 1:32-33: Religious and political polarization. The description of the church members in verses 25 - 31 and the nonmembers in 32 is Manichean. The members are saintly, the nonmembers devilish. Verse 33 then indicates that the power of the state was used against the nonmembers to force them to conform to the values of the church. The nonmembers dared not act in harmony with their own wishes. If the nonmembers were as deeply wicked as suggested in 32, Alma may have had no choice but to use state force to constrain them. But it is possible that political polarization has resulted in them being painted in blacker hues than they deserved. In any case, verse 33 is the perfect recipe for civil war which duely follows in chapter 2. See the comment below assessing Alma as a politician for additional discussion of Alma's high stakes approach to governance.

Unanswered questions[edit]

This section is for questions along the lines of "I still don't understand ..." Please do not be shy. The point of these questions is to identify things that still need to be addressed on this page. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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 1:19-22: The non-members persecuted the members “with all manner of words.” On the other hand, there was a strict law that forbade the members from persecuting others or each other. What was the result? (Be sure also to look at v. 24.) What lesson is in this for us?
  • Alma 1:25-27: What are the three things that distinguish this church?
  • Alma 1:29-30: Why do you think the writer felt it so important to record these two verses?
  • Alma 1:31: Prosperity is here linked with wealth. Is this always the case when prosperity is mentioned in the Book of Mormon? What does it mean that the members of the church were "far more wealthy" than those around them? Did this cause any problems?
  • Alma 1:32: What is meant here by "sorceries"?
  • Alma 1:32: Is the idolatry mentioned here idol worship, or just "idleness"?
  • Alma 1:32: What is the connection between "wearing costly apparel" and the other sins mentioned here?
  • Alma 1:32: This verse makes it sound like a good portion of the Nephite society was very wicked. What proportion of the people were actually righteous at this time? How much of wars and destruction during this time are the result of this wickedness?
  • Alma 1:33: What do we know about Nephite laws and penalties? Were these in any way related to what we consider to be the Laws of Moses?

Resources[edit]

This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 1:18, 30: Robbing versus stealing. John W. Welch discusses the ancient distinction between robbing and stealing here. It is quite clear in verse 18 that robbing and stealing are seen as two different things and that this distinction was an important one anciently.

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.



Previous page: Verses 1:1-15                      Next page: Verses 2:1-19

Alma 2:1-5

Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 1-3 > Chapter 2a / Verses 2:1-19
Previous page: Verses 1:16-33                      Next page: Verses 2:20-38


This page would ideally always be under construction. You are invited to contribute.


Summary[edit]

This heading should be very brief. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • 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.

Unanswered questions[edit]

This section is for questions along the lines of "I still don't understand ..." Please do not be shy. The point of these questions is to identify things that still need to be addressed on this page. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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 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?

Resources[edit]

This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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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Alma 2:6-10

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

This heading should be very brief. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • 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.

Unanswered questions[edit]

This section is for questions along the lines of "I still don't understand ..." Please do not be shy. The point of these questions is to identify things that still need to be addressed on this page. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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 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?

Resources[edit]

This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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.



Previous page: Verses 1:16-33                      Next page: Verses 2:20-38

Alma 2:11-15

Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 1-3 > Chapter 2a / Verses 2:1-19
Previous page: Verses 1:16-33                      Next page: Verses 2:20-38


This page would ideally always be under construction. You are invited to contribute.


Summary[edit]

This heading should be very brief. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • 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.

Unanswered questions[edit]

This section is for questions along the lines of "I still don't understand ..." Please do not be shy. The point of these questions is to identify things that still need to be addressed on this page. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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 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?

Resources[edit]

This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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.



Previous page: Verses 1:16-33                      Next page: Verses 2:20-38

Alma 2:16-20

Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 1-3 > Chapter 2a / Verses 2:1-19
Previous page: Verses 1:16-33                      Next page: Verses 2:20-38


This page would ideally always be under construction. You are invited to contribute.


Summary[edit]

This heading should be very brief. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • 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.

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 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?

Resources[edit]

This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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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Alma 2:21-25

Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 1-3 > Chapter 2b / Verses 2:20-38
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Summary[edit]

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Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 2:20: Symbolic Justice in the Valley of Gideon. This verse demands a symbolic reading of a telling detail--the fact that the Nephites ended their pursuit of the Amlicites and enjoyed their apparent victory in the valley of Gideon. Ending there signifies justice. The underlying causus belli for this war was Nehor killing Gideon and Alma then executing Nehor. Nehor probably killed Gideon in this same valley, this being the place where Gideon and the people of Limhi settled. In his battle with Nehor, Gideon seemed to be the loser. But the fight between freemen and kingmen continues on a grander scale. And the freemen achieve victory in the very spot where the trouble began, the very spot where the good guy seemed to have lost. Thus, good tribumphs over evil. Gideon becomes a posthumous victor over Nehor, his opponent, when those who honor him drive from the field those who honor his enemy, Nehor.
  • Alma 2:24: Cardinal directionality in the Book of Mormon. The reference to Minon as being above Zarahemla is a subtle detail supporting the authenticity of Book of Mormon. The land of Minon is probably located between the land of Nephi from which the Lamanties would be coming and the land of Zarahemla. Thus Minon is probably south of Zarahemla. So south is described as being up or above. Why? In the Bible, people go up to Jerusalem no matter what direction they are coming from. The Book of Mormon replicates that pattern, but instead of Jerusalem, it is the land of Nephi that is the reference point. Having lived there for 400 years, the Nephite people regard the land of Nephi as the homeland of their hearts even when there is no prospect of their ever inhabiting it again. This way of thinking and describing directions is onsistent with the way Nephites would think but not with the way an American like Joseph Smith would think. (See Mosiah 20:7, 28:1, 5, 29:3; Alma 17:8, 20:2, 24:20, 26:23, 29:14 for examples of "up to the land of Nephi").
It is also possible that to say "go up to" literally meant an ascent uphill. It is noted that the head of the Sidon river was south of the land of Zarahemla in the border wilderness near the land of Manti. (Alma 22:27) This the land of Zarahemla must necessarily be at a lower elevation than the head of Sidon if the river flows from their past the city of Zarahemla through the land of Zarahemla.
  • Alma 2:24-25: Coordinated attack of Amlicites and Lamanites. The meeting and joining of the Amlicite and Lamanite armies is very unlikely to be by chance. At a minimum, the Lamanites have been informed that civil war has broken out in Nephite lands, making this an opportune time to attack. More likely, the Amlicites have previously arranged for the Lamanites to join them in their attack on the Nephite leaders in Zarahemla. We know that people (most likely disgruntled Mulekites) have been resisting the Nephite monarchy and dissenting over to the Lamanites for generations (Words of Mormon 1:12). We learn that the Amlicites (called Amalekites for reasons discussed in the exegesis of Alma 21:2) had joined with the Lamanites to build a city called Jerusalem in the land of Nephi. The inhabitants of that city are followers of Nehor and would have been upset by his execution. These Mulekite dissenters would have been effective mediators between Amlici and the Lamanite king. Given that this meeting was planned, the Nephites should count themselves fortunate (or more likely blessed) that the impatient Amlicites joined battle and were defeated before the arrival of their Lamanite allies. The army that now joins the Lamanites is much reduced by their defeat the day before.
It is also possible that the first battle was a diversionary tactic to draw the Nephite armies away from Zarahemlah leaving it open for conquest by the combined Amlicite/Lamanite force.
  • Alma 27-28: Hyperbole and the glory of God. Verse 27 speaks hyperbolically of the immense size and power of the combined army of Lamanites and Amlicites. Describing the enemy in this way elevates in verse 28 our repect for the faith exhibited by the smaller force of Nephites and our admiration for the power and blessings of God before whom such an army is nothing. In other words, 27 makes 28 all the more miraculous.
These two verses represent a way of thinking at odds with the scientific mindset of our day. This is seeing with the eye of faith. The key implicit assumption is that what matters in any situation is for it be seen correctly in spiritual/moral terms. To see correctly, one must recognize that God’s hand is always operative and should be looked for. The objective, scientific eye sees only material reality, a small force and larger one that is certain to triumph because of its magnitude. In this case, the eye of faith anticipates what science can’t: the victory for the smaller force. The smaller force triumphs because they have faith that God will deliver them (which makes them braver). Their eye of faith is an unseen force multiplier that turns the battle. Unbelievers have lower confidence in victory and greater fear of death. They are also motivated by a worse and less compelling cause (See Alma 43:45 - 47).
  • Alma 2:29: Alma one on one against Amlici. How did Alma come to face Amlici mano a mano? Their one-on-one encounter is somewhat mysterious because only a small part of the smaller Nephite force has crossed the river when the Lamanites attack. Alma was among first to cross, so he and a small group of Nephites face huge army of Amlicites/Lamanites. They seem to be easy pickings. And yet, the battle narrows to a hand to hand fight between Alma and Amlici.
  • Conjecture 1: Amlici initiates the one-on-one contest. Amlici may want to preserve the Nephite forces he plans to lead after getting rid of Alma. If he were confident in own superior prowess, he might have chosen a personal contest between the two leaders in spite of his overwhelming advantage in numbers. The Nephite army might, thus, remain fully intact following his defeat of Alma. He as king cold then lead a now preserved and unified people.
  • Conjecture 2: The good defensive position and superior armor of Alma and his personal guard may protect him from successful attack by ordinary soldiers. Perhaps only another similarly armored combatant would be in a position to dislodge a well clad Alma from some easily defended position. Brent Merrill raises this possibility in an essay, “Nephite Captains and Armies,” (see link below).
  • Alma 2:32: More face to face combat by leaders. The fact that the king of the Lamanites, like Amlici, personally contends with Alma indicates that norms dictated direct conflict between rival leaders, though people of lower status were also permitted to join the battle if called upon by their leaders. From this battle, Alma probably developed a reputation for military prowess. These verses may explain why the Zoramite poor come en mass to the hill Onidah, the place of arms, to ask Alma what they should do. What Alma does here may suggest that the poor Zoramites hope that Alma might lead them in a military uprising against their betters. But just as Alma will now reject politics and direct leadership of the army following this episode and embrace only the High Priest role with its spiritual duties, so Alma will reject the implicit appeal to lead a revolution and instead seek to create a transformation of individual souls through the gospel.
  • Alma 2:36: Effects of flight. Here again, as discussed above in the exegesis on verse 19, most of the battle losses occurred once line broke and the army began to flee.
  • Alma 2:37-38: Animal symbolism and the enemy. Writers of Book of Mormon generally and unsurprisingly include only significant details. Space is limited and they have much to communicate. We should, thus, ask what larger meaning is suggested in discussing what happened to Lamanites in Hermounts? The scattered Lamanites end up in a place known for wild and ravenous beasts. This detail is probably meant mainly to illustrate the ignomineous death of those who wrongly attacked the Nephites. They were devoured by ravenous animals, a fate suitable for animals, not for human beings. In other words, the Lamanites are subtley framed as being subhuman or at least as justly experiencing a fate that suits an animal but not a human being. In placing the fleeing Lamanites among the wild and ravenous beasts, the detail may also hint that they are a kind of wild, ravenous beast. Emphasizing their fate among the beasts is probably meant to accomplish the same thing as heaping up the Lamanite bones. Both serve as warnings to anyone tempted to make another assault on Zarahemla.

Unanswered questions[edit]

This section is for questions along the lines of "I still don't understand ..." Please do not be shy. The point of these questions is to identify things that still need to be addressed on this page. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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 2:22: Why are we given the names of these four spies? Do we ever see their names again? How does this relate to other traditions of four brothers/spies/emissaries in the Book of Mormon (see commentary at Mosiah 7:6)?
  • Alma 2:22: This is the only person named Manti mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Since Nephite places at this time were named after their first settlers (Alma 8:7), is there a connection between this soldier Manti and the Hill Manti where Nehor was killed or the southernmost Nephite Land of Manti?
  • Alma 2:22: Seven years later, we read of a captian Zoram who leads an army "beyond the borders of Manti" (Alma 16:7). Is there a connection between this Zeram and that Zoram? Another seven years later, we read of a Zoram who leads the apostate Zoramites in the land of Antionum (Alma 31:1,3). Is there a connection between this Zoram and the previous one, and maybe Zeram?
  • Alma 2:30: What is significant about Alma’s prayer? How does his intent differ from that of Amlici?

Resources[edit]

This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 2:29. A. Brent Merrill offers a partial explanation for why Alma and Amlici face off one-on-one here.

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.



Previous page: Verses 2:1-19                      Next page: Verses 3:1-27

Alma 2:26-30

Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 1-3 > Chapter 2b / Verses 2:20-38
Previous page: Verses 2:1-19                      Next page: Verses 3:1-27


This page would ideally always be under construction. You are invited to contribute.


Summary[edit]

This heading should be very brief. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 2:20: Symbolic Justice in the Valley of Gideon. This verse demands a symbolic reading of a telling detail--the fact that the Nephites ended their pursuit of the Amlicites and enjoyed their apparent victory in the valley of Gideon. Ending there signifies justice. The underlying causus belli for this war was Nehor killing Gideon and Alma then executing Nehor. Nehor probably killed Gideon in this same valley, this being the place where Gideon and the people of Limhi settled. In his battle with Nehor, Gideon seemed to be the loser. But the fight between freemen and kingmen continues on a grander scale. And the freemen achieve victory in the very spot where the trouble began, the very spot where the good guy seemed to have lost. Thus, good tribumphs over evil. Gideon becomes a posthumous victor over Nehor, his opponent, when those who honor him drive from the field those who honor his enemy, Nehor.
  • Alma 2:24: Cardinal directionality in the Book of Mormon. The reference to Minon as being above Zarahemla is a subtle detail supporting the authenticity of Book of Mormon. The land of Minon is probably located between the land of Nephi from which the Lamanties would be coming and the land of Zarahemla. Thus Minon is probably south of Zarahemla. So south is described as being up or above. Why? In the Bible, people go up to Jerusalem no matter what direction they are coming from. The Book of Mormon replicates that pattern, but instead of Jerusalem, it is the land of Nephi that is the reference point. Having lived there for 400 years, the Nephite people regard the land of Nephi as the homeland of their hearts even when there is no prospect of their ever inhabiting it again. This way of thinking and describing directions is onsistent with the way Nephites would think but not with the way an American like Joseph Smith would think. (See Mosiah 20:7, 28:1, 5, 29:3; Alma 17:8, 20:2, 24:20, 26:23, 29:14 for examples of "up to the land of Nephi").
It is also possible that to say "go up to" literally meant an ascent uphill. It is noted that the head of the Sidon river was south of the land of Zarahemla in the border wilderness near the land of Manti. (Alma 22:27) This the land of Zarahemla must necessarily be at a lower elevation than the head of Sidon if the river flows from their past the city of Zarahemla through the land of Zarahemla.
  • Alma 2:24-25: Coordinated attack of Amlicites and Lamanites. The meeting and joining of the Amlicite and Lamanite armies is very unlikely to be by chance. At a minimum, the Lamanites have been informed that civil war has broken out in Nephite lands, making this an opportune time to attack. More likely, the Amlicites have previously arranged for the Lamanites to join them in their attack on the Nephite leaders in Zarahemla. We know that people (most likely disgruntled Mulekites) have been resisting the Nephite monarchy and dissenting over to the Lamanites for generations (Words of Mormon 1:12). We learn that the Amlicites (called Amalekites for reasons discussed in the exegesis of Alma 21:2) had joined with the Lamanites to build a city called Jerusalem in the land of Nephi. The inhabitants of that city are followers of Nehor and would have been upset by his execution. These Mulekite dissenters would have been effective mediators between Amlici and the Lamanite king. Given that this meeting was planned, the Nephites should count themselves fortunate (or more likely blessed) that the impatient Amlicites joined battle and were defeated before the arrival of their Lamanite allies. The army that now joins the Lamanites is much reduced by their defeat the day before.
It is also possible that the first battle was a diversionary tactic to draw the Nephite armies away from Zarahemlah leaving it open for conquest by the combined Amlicite/Lamanite force.
  • Alma 27-28: Hyperbole and the glory of God. Verse 27 speaks hyperbolically of the immense size and power of the combined army of Lamanites and Amlicites. Describing the enemy in this way elevates in verse 28 our repect for the faith exhibited by the smaller force of Nephites and our admiration for the power and blessings of God before whom such an army is nothing. In other words, 27 makes 28 all the more miraculous.
These two verses represent a way of thinking at odds with the scientific mindset of our day. This is seeing with the eye of faith. The key implicit assumption is that what matters in any situation is for it be seen correctly in spiritual/moral terms. To see correctly, one must recognize that God’s hand is always operative and should be looked for. The objective, scientific eye sees only material reality, a small force and larger one that is certain to triumph because of its magnitude. In this case, the eye of faith anticipates what science can’t: the victory for the smaller force. The smaller force triumphs because they have faith that God will deliver them (which makes them braver). Their eye of faith is an unseen force multiplier that turns the battle. Unbelievers have lower confidence in victory and greater fear of death. They are also motivated by a worse and less compelling cause (See Alma 43:45 - 47).
  • Alma 2:29: Alma one on one against Amlici. How did Alma come to face Amlici mano a mano? Their one-on-one encounter is somewhat mysterious because only a small part of the smaller Nephite force has crossed the river when the Lamanites attack. Alma was among first to cross, so he and a small group of Nephites face huge army of Amlicites/Lamanites. They seem to be easy pickings. And yet, the battle narrows to a hand to hand fight between Alma and Amlici.
  • Conjecture 1: Amlici initiates the one-on-one contest. Amlici may want to preserve the Nephite forces he plans to lead after getting rid of Alma. If he were confident in own superior prowess, he might have chosen a personal contest between the two leaders in spite of his overwhelming advantage in numbers. The Nephite army might, thus, remain fully intact following his defeat of Alma. He as king cold then lead a now preserved and unified people.
  • Conjecture 2: The good defensive position and superior armor of Alma and his personal guard may protect him from successful attack by ordinary soldiers. Perhaps only another similarly armored combatant would be in a position to dislodge a well clad Alma from some easily defended position. Brent Merrill raises this possibility in an essay, “Nephite Captains and Armies,” (see link below).
  • Alma 2:32: More face to face combat by leaders. The fact that the king of the Lamanites, like Amlici, personally contends with Alma indicates that norms dictated direct conflict between rival leaders, though people of lower status were also permitted to join the battle if called upon by their leaders. From this battle, Alma probably developed a reputation for military prowess. These verses may explain why the Zoramite poor come en mass to the hill Onidah, the place of arms, to ask Alma what they should do. What Alma does here may suggest that the poor Zoramites hope that Alma might lead them in a military uprising against their betters. But just as Alma will now reject politics and direct leadership of the army following this episode and embrace only the High Priest role with its spiritual duties, so Alma will reject the implicit appeal to lead a revolution and instead seek to create a transformation of individual souls through the gospel.
  • Alma 2:36: Effects of flight. Here again, as discussed above in the exegesis on verse 19, most of the battle losses occurred once line broke and the army began to flee.
  • Alma 2:37-38: Animal symbolism and the enemy. Writers of Book of Mormon generally and unsurprisingly include only significant details. Space is limited and they have much to communicate. We should, thus, ask what larger meaning is suggested in discussing what happened to Lamanites in Hermounts? The scattered Lamanites end up in a place known for wild and ravenous beasts. This detail is probably meant mainly to illustrate the ignomineous death of those who wrongly attacked the Nephites. They were devoured by ravenous animals, a fate suitable for animals, not for human beings. In other words, the Lamanites are subtley framed as being subhuman or at least as justly experiencing a fate that suits an animal but not a human being. In placing the fleeing Lamanites among the wild and ravenous beasts, the detail may also hint that they are a kind of wild, ravenous beast. Emphasizing their fate among the beasts is probably meant to accomplish the same thing as heaping up the Lamanite bones. Both serve as warnings to anyone tempted to make another assault on Zarahemla.

Unanswered questions[edit]

This section is for questions along the lines of "I still don't understand ..." Please do not be shy. The point of these questions is to identify things that still need to be addressed on this page. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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 2:22: Why are we given the names of these four spies? Do we ever see their names again? How does this relate to other traditions of four brothers/spies/emissaries in the Book of Mormon (see commentary at Mosiah 7:6)?
  • Alma 2:22: This is the only person named Manti mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Since Nephite places at this time were named after their first settlers (Alma 8:7), is there a connection between this soldier Manti and the Hill Manti where Nehor was killed or the southernmost Nephite Land of Manti?
  • Alma 2:22: Seven years later, we read of a captian Zoram who leads an army "beyond the borders of Manti" (Alma 16:7). Is there a connection between this Zeram and that Zoram? Another seven years later, we read of a Zoram who leads the apostate Zoramites in the land of Antionum (Alma 31:1,3). Is there a connection between this Zoram and the previous one, and maybe Zeram?
  • Alma 2:30: What is significant about Alma’s prayer? How does his intent differ from that of Amlici?

Resources[edit]

This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 2:29. A. Brent Merrill offers a partial explanation for why Alma and Amlici face off one-on-one here.

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.



Previous page: Verses 2:1-19                      Next page: Verses 3:1-27

Alma 2:31-35

Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 1-3 > Chapter 2b / Verses 2:20-38
Previous page: Verses 2:1-19                      Next page: Verses 3:1-27


This page would ideally always be under construction. You are invited to contribute.


Summary[edit]

This heading should be very brief. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 2:20: Symbolic Justice in the Valley of Gideon. This verse demands a symbolic reading of a telling detail--the fact that the Nephites ended their pursuit of the Amlicites and enjoyed their apparent victory in the valley of Gideon. Ending there signifies justice. The underlying causus belli for this war was Nehor killing Gideon and Alma then executing Nehor. Nehor probably killed Gideon in this same valley, this being the place where Gideon and the people of Limhi settled. In his battle with Nehor, Gideon seemed to be the loser. But the fight between freemen and kingmen continues on a grander scale. And the freemen achieve victory in the very spot where the trouble began, the very spot where the good guy seemed to have lost. Thus, good tribumphs over evil. Gideon becomes a posthumous victor over Nehor, his opponent, when those who honor him drive from the field those who honor his enemy, Nehor.
  • Alma 2:24: Cardinal directionality in the Book of Mormon. The reference to Minon as being above Zarahemla is a subtle detail supporting the authenticity of Book of Mormon. The land of Minon is probably located between the land of Nephi from which the Lamanties would be coming and the land of Zarahemla. Thus Minon is probably south of Zarahemla. So south is described as being up or above. Why? In the Bible, people go up to Jerusalem no matter what direction they are coming from. The Book of Mormon replicates that pattern, but instead of Jerusalem, it is the land of Nephi that is the reference point. Having lived there for 400 years, the Nephite people regard the land of Nephi as the homeland of their hearts even when there is no prospect of their ever inhabiting it again. This way of thinking and describing directions is onsistent with the way Nephites would think but not with the way an American like Joseph Smith would think. (See Mosiah 20:7, 28:1, 5, 29:3; Alma 17:8, 20:2, 24:20, 26:23, 29:14 for examples of "up to the land of Nephi").
It is also possible that to say "go up to" literally meant an ascent uphill. It is noted that the head of the Sidon river was south of the land of Zarahemla in the border wilderness near the land of Manti. (Alma 22:27) This the land of Zarahemla must necessarily be at a lower elevation than the head of Sidon if the river flows from their past the city of Zarahemla through the land of Zarahemla.
  • Alma 2:24-25: Coordinated attack of Amlicites and Lamanites. The meeting and joining of the Amlicite and Lamanite armies is very unlikely to be by chance. At a minimum, the Lamanites have been informed that civil war has broken out in Nephite lands, making this an opportune time to attack. More likely, the Amlicites have previously arranged for the Lamanites to join them in their attack on the Nephite leaders in Zarahemla. We know that people (most likely disgruntled Mulekites) have been resisting the Nephite monarchy and dissenting over to the Lamanites for generations (Words of Mormon 1:12). We learn that the Amlicites (called Amalekites for reasons discussed in the exegesis of Alma 21:2) had joined with the Lamanites to build a city called Jerusalem in the land of Nephi. The inhabitants of that city are followers of Nehor and would have been upset by his execution. These Mulekite dissenters would have been effective mediators between Amlici and the Lamanite king. Given that this meeting was planned, the Nephites should count themselves fortunate (or more likely blessed) that the impatient Amlicites joined battle and were defeated before the arrival of their Lamanite allies. The army that now joins the Lamanites is much reduced by their defeat the day before.
It is also possible that the first battle was a diversionary tactic to draw the Nephite armies away from Zarahemlah leaving it open for conquest by the combined Amlicite/Lamanite force.
  • Alma 27-28: Hyperbole and the glory of God. Verse 27 speaks hyperbolically of the immense size and power of the combined army of Lamanites and Amlicites. Describing the enemy in this way elevates in verse 28 our repect for the faith exhibited by the smaller force of Nephites and our admiration for the power and blessings of God before whom such an army is nothing. In other words, 27 makes 28 all the more miraculous.
These two verses represent a way of thinking at odds with the scientific mindset of our day. This is seeing with the eye of faith. The key implicit assumption is that what matters in any situation is for it be seen correctly in spiritual/moral terms. To see correctly, one must recognize that God’s hand is always operative and should be looked for. The objective, scientific eye sees only material reality, a small force and larger one that is certain to triumph because of its magnitude. In this case, the eye of faith anticipates what science can’t: the victory for the smaller force. The smaller force triumphs because they have faith that God will deliver them (which makes them braver). Their eye of faith is an unseen force multiplier that turns the battle. Unbelievers have lower confidence in victory and greater fear of death. They are also motivated by a worse and less compelling cause (See Alma 43:45 - 47).
  • Alma 2:29: Alma one on one against Amlici. How did Alma come to face Amlici mano a mano? Their one-on-one encounter is somewhat mysterious because only a small part of the smaller Nephite force has crossed the river when the Lamanites attack. Alma was among first to cross, so he and a small group of Nephites face huge army of Amlicites/Lamanites. They seem to be easy pickings. And yet, the battle narrows to a hand to hand fight between Alma and Amlici.
  • Conjecture 1: Amlici initiates the one-on-one contest. Amlici may want to preserve the Nephite forces he plans to lead after getting rid of Alma. If he were confident in own superior prowess, he might have chosen a personal contest between the two leaders in spite of his overwhelming advantage in numbers. The Nephite army might, thus, remain fully intact following his defeat of Alma. He as king cold then lead a now preserved and unified people.
  • Conjecture 2: The good defensive position and superior armor of Alma and his personal guard may protect him from successful attack by ordinary soldiers. Perhaps only another similarly armored combatant would be in a position to dislodge a well clad Alma from some easily defended position. Brent Merrill raises this possibility in an essay, “Nephite Captains and Armies,” (see link below).
  • Alma 2:32: More face to face combat by leaders. The fact that the king of the Lamanites, like Amlici, personally contends with Alma indicates that norms dictated direct conflict between rival leaders, though people of lower status were also permitted to join the battle if called upon by their leaders. From this battle, Alma probably developed a reputation for military prowess. These verses may explain why the Zoramite poor come en mass to the hill Onidah, the place of arms, to ask Alma what they should do. What Alma does here may suggest that the poor Zoramites hope that Alma might lead them in a military uprising against their betters. But just as Alma will now reject politics and direct leadership of the army following this episode and embrace only the High Priest role with its spiritual duties, so Alma will reject the implicit appeal to lead a revolution and instead seek to create a transformation of individual souls through the gospel.
  • Alma 2:36: Effects of flight. Here again, as discussed above in the exegesis on verse 19, most of the battle losses occurred once line broke and the army began to flee.
  • Alma 2:37-38: Animal symbolism and the enemy. Writers of Book of Mormon generally and unsurprisingly include only significant details. Space is limited and they have much to communicate. We should, thus, ask what larger meaning is suggested in discussing what happened to Lamanites in Hermounts? The scattered Lamanites end up in a place known for wild and ravenous beasts. This detail is probably meant mainly to illustrate the ignomineous death of those who wrongly attacked the Nephites. They were devoured by ravenous animals, a fate suitable for animals, not for human beings. In other words, the Lamanites are subtley framed as being subhuman or at least as justly experiencing a fate that suits an animal but not a human being. In placing the fleeing Lamanites among the wild and ravenous beasts, the detail may also hint that they are a kind of wild, ravenous beast. Emphasizing their fate among the beasts is probably meant to accomplish the same thing as heaping up the Lamanite bones. Both serve as warnings to anyone tempted to make another assault on Zarahemla.

Unanswered questions[edit]

This section is for questions along the lines of "I still don't understand ..." Please do not be shy. The point of these questions is to identify things that still need to be addressed on this page. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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 2:22: Why are we given the names of these four spies? Do we ever see their names again? How does this relate to other traditions of four brothers/spies/emissaries in the Book of Mormon (see commentary at Mosiah 7:6)?
  • Alma 2:22: This is the only person named Manti mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Since Nephite places at this time were named after their first settlers (Alma 8:7), is there a connection between this soldier Manti and the Hill Manti where Nehor was killed or the southernmost Nephite Land of Manti?
  • Alma 2:22: Seven years later, we read of a captian Zoram who leads an army "beyond the borders of Manti" (Alma 16:7). Is there a connection between this Zeram and that Zoram? Another seven years later, we read of a Zoram who leads the apostate Zoramites in the land of Antionum (Alma 31:1,3). Is there a connection between this Zoram and the previous one, and maybe Zeram?
  • Alma 2:30: What is significant about Alma’s prayer? How does his intent differ from that of Amlici?

Resources[edit]

This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 2:29. A. Brent Merrill offers a partial explanation for why Alma and Amlici face off one-on-one here.

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.



Previous page: Verses 2:1-19                      Next page: Verses 3:1-27

Alma 2:36-38

Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 1-3 > Chapter 2b / Verses 2:20-38
Previous page: Verses 2:1-19                      Next page: Verses 3:1-27


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Summary[edit]

This heading should be very brief. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 2:20: Symbolic Justice in the Valley of Gideon. This verse demands a symbolic reading of a telling detail--the fact that the Nephites ended their pursuit of the Amlicites and enjoyed their apparent victory in the valley of Gideon. Ending there signifies justice. The underlying causus belli for this war was Nehor killing Gideon and Alma then executing Nehor. Nehor probably killed Gideon in this same valley, this being the place where Gideon and the people of Limhi settled. In his battle with Nehor, Gideon seemed to be the loser. But the fight between freemen and kingmen continues on a grander scale. And the freemen achieve victory in the very spot where the trouble began, the very spot where the good guy seemed to have lost. Thus, good tribumphs over evil. Gideon becomes a posthumous victor over Nehor, his opponent, when those who honor him drive from the field those who honor his enemy, Nehor.
  • Alma 2:24: Cardinal directionality in the Book of Mormon. The reference to Minon as being above Zarahemla is a subtle detail supporting the authenticity of Book of Mormon. The land of Minon is probably located between the land of Nephi from which the Lamanties would be coming and the land of Zarahemla. Thus Minon is probably south of Zarahemla. So south is described as being up or above. Why? In the Bible, people go up to Jerusalem no matter what direction they are coming from. The Book of Mormon replicates that pattern, but instead of Jerusalem, it is the land of Nephi that is the reference point. Having lived there for 400 years, the Nephite people regard the land of Nephi as the homeland of their hearts even when there is no prospect of their ever inhabiting it again. This way of thinking and describing directions is onsistent with the way Nephites would think but not with the way an American like Joseph Smith would think. (See Mosiah 20:7, 28:1, 5, 29:3; Alma 17:8, 20:2, 24:20, 26:23, 29:14 for examples of "up to the land of Nephi").
It is also possible that to say "go up to" literally meant an ascent uphill. It is noted that the head of the Sidon river was south of the land of Zarahemla in the border wilderness near the land of Manti. (Alma 22:27) This the land of Zarahemla must necessarily be at a lower elevation than the head of Sidon if the river flows from their past the city of Zarahemla through the land of Zarahemla.
  • Alma 2:24-25: Coordinated attack of Amlicites and Lamanites. The meeting and joining of the Amlicite and Lamanite armies is very unlikely to be by chance. At a minimum, the Lamanites have been informed that civil war has broken out in Nephite lands, making this an opportune time to attack. More likely, the Amlicites have previously arranged for the Lamanites to join them in their attack on the Nephite leaders in Zarahemla. We know that people (most likely disgruntled Mulekites) have been resisting the Nephite monarchy and dissenting over to the Lamanites for generations (Words of Mormon 1:12). We learn that the Amlicites (called Amalekites for reasons discussed in the exegesis of Alma 21:2) had joined with the Lamanites to build a city called Jerusalem in the land of Nephi. The inhabitants of that city are followers of Nehor and would have been upset by his execution. These Mulekite dissenters would have been effective mediators between Amlici and the Lamanite king. Given that this meeting was planned, the Nephites should count themselves fortunate (or more likely blessed) that the impatient Amlicites joined battle and were defeated before the arrival of their Lamanite allies. The army that now joins the Lamanites is much reduced by their defeat the day before.
It is also possible that the first battle was a diversionary tactic to draw the Nephite armies away from Zarahemlah leaving it open for conquest by the combined Amlicite/Lamanite force.
  • Alma 27-28: Hyperbole and the glory of God. Verse 27 speaks hyperbolically of the immense size and power of the combined army of Lamanites and Amlicites. Describing the enemy in this way elevates in verse 28 our repect for the faith exhibited by the smaller force of Nephites and our admiration for the power and blessings of God before whom such an army is nothing. In other words, 27 makes 28 all the more miraculous.
These two verses represent a way of thinking at odds with the scientific mindset of our day. This is seeing with the eye of faith. The key implicit assumption is that what matters in any situation is for it be seen correctly in spiritual/moral terms. To see correctly, one must recognize that God’s hand is always operative and should be looked for. The objective, scientific eye sees only material reality, a small force and larger one that is certain to triumph because of its magnitude. In this case, the eye of faith anticipates what science can’t: the victory for the smaller force. The smaller force triumphs because they have faith that God will deliver them (which makes them braver). Their eye of faith is an unseen force multiplier that turns the battle. Unbelievers have lower confidence in victory and greater fear of death. They are also motivated by a worse and less compelling cause (See Alma 43:45 - 47).
  • Alma 2:29: Alma one on one against Amlici. How did Alma come to face Amlici mano a mano? Their one-on-one encounter is somewhat mysterious because only a small part of the smaller Nephite force has crossed the river when the Lamanites attack. Alma was among first to cross, so he and a small group of Nephites face huge army of Amlicites/Lamanites. They seem to be easy pickings. And yet, the battle narrows to a hand to hand fight between Alma and Amlici.
  • Conjecture 1: Amlici initiates the one-on-one contest. Amlici may want to preserve the Nephite forces he plans to lead after getting rid of Alma. If he were confident in own superior prowess, he might have chosen a personal contest between the two leaders in spite of his overwhelming advantage in numbers. The Nephite army might, thus, remain fully intact following his defeat of Alma. He as king cold then lead a now preserved and unified people.
  • Conjecture 2: The good defensive position and superior armor of Alma and his personal guard may protect him from successful attack by ordinary soldiers. Perhaps only another similarly armored combatant would be in a position to dislodge a well clad Alma from some easily defended position. Brent Merrill raises this possibility in an essay, “Nephite Captains and Armies,” (see link below).
  • Alma 2:32: More face to face combat by leaders. The fact that the king of the Lamanites, like Amlici, personally contends with Alma indicates that norms dictated direct conflict between rival leaders, though people of lower status were also permitted to join the battle if called upon by their leaders. From this battle, Alma probably developed a reputation for military prowess. These verses may explain why the Zoramite poor come en mass to the hill Onidah, the place of arms, to ask Alma what they should do. What Alma does here may suggest that the poor Zoramites hope that Alma might lead them in a military uprising against their betters. But just as Alma will now reject politics and direct leadership of the army following this episode and embrace only the High Priest role with its spiritual duties, so Alma will reject the implicit appeal to lead a revolution and instead seek to create a transformation of individual souls through the gospel.
  • Alma 2:36: Effects of flight. Here again, as discussed above in the exegesis on verse 19, most of the battle losses occurred once line broke and the army began to flee.
  • Alma 2:37-38: Animal symbolism and the enemy. Writers of Book of Mormon generally and unsurprisingly include only significant details. Space is limited and they have much to communicate. We should, thus, ask what larger meaning is suggested in discussing what happened to Lamanites in Hermounts? The scattered Lamanites end up in a place known for wild and ravenous beasts. This detail is probably meant mainly to illustrate the ignomineous death of those who wrongly attacked the Nephites. They were devoured by ravenous animals, a fate suitable for animals, not for human beings. In other words, the Lamanites are subtley framed as being subhuman or at least as justly experiencing a fate that suits an animal but not a human being. In placing the fleeing Lamanites among the wild and ravenous beasts, the detail may also hint that they are a kind of wild, ravenous beast. Emphasizing their fate among the beasts is probably meant to accomplish the same thing as heaping up the Lamanite bones. Both serve as warnings to anyone tempted to make another assault on Zarahemla.

Unanswered questions[edit]

This section is for questions along the lines of "I still don't understand ..." Please do not be shy. The point of these questions is to identify things that still need to be addressed on this page. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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 2:22: Why are we given the names of these four spies? Do we ever see their names again? How does this relate to other traditions of four brothers/spies/emissaries in the Book of Mormon (see commentary at Mosiah 7:6)?
  • Alma 2:22: This is the only person named Manti mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Since Nephite places at this time were named after their first settlers (Alma 8:7), is there a connection between this soldier Manti and the Hill Manti where Nehor was killed or the southernmost Nephite Land of Manti?
  • Alma 2:22: Seven years later, we read of a captian Zoram who leads an army "beyond the borders of Manti" (Alma 16:7). Is there a connection between this Zeram and that Zoram? Another seven years later, we read of a Zoram who leads the apostate Zoramites in the land of Antionum (Alma 31:1,3). Is there a connection between this Zoram and the previous one, and maybe Zeram?
  • Alma 2:30: What is significant about Alma’s prayer? How does his intent differ from that of Amlici?

Resources[edit]

This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 2:29. A. Brent Merrill offers a partial explanation for why Alma and Amlici face off one-on-one here.

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.



Previous page: Verses 2:1-19                      Next page: Verses 3:1-27

Alma 3:1-5

Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 1-3 > Chapter 3 / Verses 3:1-27
Previous page: Verses 2:20-38                      Next page: Chapters 4-7


This page would ideally always be under construction. You are invited to contribute.


Summary[edit]

This heading should be very brief. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 3:1-2: Artful representation of suffering and death. In verse 1, Mormon artfully emphasizes the magnitude of the destruction and the magnitude of the task of burying the Nephite dead through the form of his sentence. He starts with the burial of the dead--which is interrupted by an extended statement that there were countless corpses--with the burials continuing after the interruption. In other words, he brackets an interjection that repeats the word number three times to emphasize how many dead there were with phrases that describe the burial of those dead. The sentence highlights the large number of people who were buried over an extended period of time by bracketing the unnumbered dead by phrases discussing their burial. The burying starts before and is still going after the long interjection about the countless number of the dead.
Mormon then artfully manages our emotions to bring the devastation home to us. After describing the sad burial, Mormon shifts to the language of joy: "they all returned to their lands, and to their houses, and their wives, and their children." These Nephite soldiers have survived. They are returning to hearth and home. They will have the experience every soldier dreams of during battle, a safe return to the arms of their wives and children. Except that they won't. The next sentence is devastating: "Now many women and children had been slain with the sword...."
These devastating verses make a critically important point about miracles—they do not fully protect us from great loss and pain. The victory of the Nephites is miraculous. They have defeated enemies as numerous as sands of sea. But they have also suffered unnumbered losses of their own, including many innocent non-combatant women and children. While God sometimes intervenes to protect us, his interventions never remove all pain and suffering from our lives. In part, this is because we are the co-creators of this world who get to choose what kind of world we and others will live in (see exegesis of verse 19). God respects our agency to choose for good and ill with real consequences for ourselves and others. To set aside those consequences would be to deprive us of our agency. (See exegesis on Alma 1:4, Nehor's doctrine and the War in Heaven.)
  • Alma 3:3: Death with honor and dishonor. As with Alma 2:38 (see exegesis), this verse is designed to illustrate the fate of those who fight against God by fighting against his righetous people. Mormon and his sources drive home the dishonor of Lamanites who were cast into Sidon (Alma 3:3) or had their bones piled up (Alma 2:38) by highlighting the respectful burial of the bodies of the Nephite honored dead (Alma 3:1). So while war and disaster are bad for the righteous, they are worse for the wicked who, in aggregate, suffer more than the righteous and lack the consolations of faith if they survive.
  • Alma 3:4-19: Sociologcial Seam in the text. This section constitutes a seam in the text. A seam is an insertion that breaks the thread of a narrative to provide background or other information. Often, the inserted material appears to have been added after the fact and can be deleted without a trace, i.e., no one would know it had ever been part of the text because it is not an integral part of the narrative. Mormon here breaks the narrative thread and provides sociological context much as Nephi broke the continuity of his narrative with Nephi's Psalm, another seam in the text, that artfully comments upon the narrative with a lyrical lament for Nephi's personal weakness in that moment of family dissolution (2 Nephi 4:10 - 35). Here, the sociological seam provides background on the three combatant groups, with special attention to how the new group, the Amlicites, relates to the now familiar Nephites and Lamanites. In its structure, this passage is analogous to the artful first sentence of this chapter. It contains a seam within a seam. The discussion of the Amlicites seam brackets the discussion of the Nephites and Lamanites seam just as the act of burying bodies brackets the countless corpse interjection. Structure aptly mirrors meaning in this passage, for the Amlicites combine attributes of Nephites and Lamanites, the two groups they bracket. The Amlicite bracket is found in verses 4 and then 13 - 19. The review of the controversies between Nephites and Lamanites is the bracketed content in verse 5-12. By strucuring the seam in this way, Mormon signals that discussion of controversies between the Nephites and Lamanites is really about Amlicites.
  • Alma 3:5-12: Competing cultures and foundational myths. The Nephites and Lamanites have developed two competing cultures that are disinct in their clothing, grooming norms, modes of ornamentation, religion, and foundational myths. These verses summarize the differences between the cultures, with the summary being inflected by the Nephite point of view. The contrasts are as follows, in each case putting the Nephite value first, Lamanite second: shaved/unshaved head, covered/uncovered body, and light/dark complexion (possibly because of unshaved and covered versus shaved and uncovered bodies). The most important difference, however, is in their religion and foundational myths. The Nephites hold to the religion handed down to them in the Brass Plates and the Christian teachings of Lehi and Nephi. The Lamanites hold to a religion of their own devising. The Nephite foundational myth holds that Nephi had the right to rule Lehi's family because his righteousness led to God's explicit endorsement of his leadership. The Lamanites have rebelled against that legitimate leadership. The Lamanite foundational myth holds that Laman had the right to rule as the eldest son. Laman and Lemuel rightly sought to destroy the usurper, Nephi, who stole the Brass Plates and other symbols of sovereignty afer Lehi died.
  • Alma 3:4, 13-18: Amlicite mix of Nephite and Lamanite attributes. The Amlicites have grown up in the culture of the land of Zarahemla. In their dress, grooming, complexion, and other cultural attributes, they resemble the Nephites. Since they look so much like Nephites, they put a mark upon themselves, red paint on their foreheads, that links them to the Lamanites and becomes the mark of their curse. The important point Mormon makes in the structure of his narrative is that the real divide among the people is what foundational myth they embrace. When Nephites became kings over the combined Nephite and Mulekite peoples, the Amlicites embraced the Nephite foundational myth (while also learning more about David, their own royal progenitor from the Brass Plates that the Nephites brought with them). Now that the Nephite monarchy has ended, the Amlicite rebels, it appears, want to reestablish a Davidic monarchy with Amlici as king. They now view the Nephites as usurpers. In other words, they have embraced a foundational myth that is aligned with that of the Lamanites because both frame the Nephites as usurpers of legitimate authority. Having a compatible myth, Amlici allied himself with the Lamanites to overthrow what both groups perceive to be Nephite usurpers.
  • Alma 3:8: Assumption of asymmetrical potential for conversion. The reasoning in verse 8 seems flawed. There seems to be an implicit assumption that conversion runs only one way. Only Nephites have the power to choose between belief and unbelief. The Lamanites must be marked to keep them separate from the Nephites because when they mix, the Nephites become Lamanites rather than the other way around. But why should that be? The people of Ammon and the Lamanites who later respond to Nephi and Lehi demonstrate that Lamanites can become Nephite in their beliefs and culture. They, too, have the power to choose. Thus, the idea of the mark seems unnecessarily defensive. Most troubling is the idea that dark complexion is the mark, that darker skin is somehow associated with unbelief. But verse 4 indicates that the mark and race are not the same thing. The Amlicites do not differ from tne Nephites racially but are nevertheless marked as being one with the Lamanites now that they have adopted a similar foundational myth. While the often implicit assumption in Nephite discourse that Lamanites are incorrigible, that only Nephites are moral agents, is ill founded, the mark of the curse may nevertheless have practical spiritual value. As the liken unto us exegesis below indicates, those who are weak in faith do need to separate themselves from those who bear the mark and its associated curse. On the other hand, those who are very strong in the faith should gravitate to the lost souls who bear the mark and curse as, e.g., the sons of Mosiah do in chapters 17 - 27
  • Alma 3:4, 8-10: Likening the mark and cursing unto us. What is relevance of this section on marks and cursing to our time? Do we have marks? Do we have a cursing? We do. The markings of our day are piercings, tattoos, the goth look, and almost all extreme styles of dress and grooming and music and dance. The cursing that follows the adoption of these styles is separation from God and his people. If we, or more typically, our children adopt the styles of the world in dress and comportment, we or they will in most cases ultimately move away from the faith. This is partly a function of natural social dynamics. Adopting dress, grooming, and behavioral norms that differ from those typical among the saints reflects and intensifies alienation from the Lord's chosen people. When our dress and grooming are outre, faithful people will naturally tend to distance themselves from us. In some cases--e.g., if our deviations reflect a need for friendship and acceptance--they probably shouldn't withdraw, and the best of them won't. After all, their Lord was found among the publicans and sinners, not joining but saving them. In other cases--e.g., when our deviation reflects defiance, hostility, a desire to leave the kingdom and drag others down with us--they probably should withdraw unless they are themselves very strong in their faith. Young people, in particular, who are just beginning to build their own testimonies need to be cautious about associating closely with those who bear the marks of the world and their associated curse of separation from God and his people.
  • Alma 3:11: Foundational myths and ethnic identity. Whether people are Nephite or Lamanite is a function of the foundational myth they embrace. While there are other markers, the one that matters in the end and determines their long-term identity is the story of origin that they accept. See also Jacob 1:13-14.
  • Alma 3:12: True and false myths. Mormon indicates in this verse that the Nephites tell the true story of both the Nephites and Lamanties. He warrants the truth of the Nephite and denies the truth of the Lamanite foundational myth. While the truth or falsity of a foundational myth is worth knowing, it doesn't affect the social function of the myth. Myths define a people's sense of self and their social cohesion. The resentments of the Lamanites are stoked just as much by a false myth as they would have been by a true myth.
  • Alma 3:14-17: Source of quotation. These verses quote a revelation given by God to Nephi. This revelation is not found in Nephi's writings in the Small Plates. It must have been taken from the Large Plates.
  • Alma 3:15: Meaning of mingling. What does it mean to mingle one's seed with the Lamanites? The most likely meaning is to adopt the foundational myth handed down by Laman and Lemuel rather than that handed down by Nephi. It probably doesn't mean marriage. Mingling with the people of Ammon would anchor one more fully in Nephite culture given their deep faithfulness.
  • Alma 3:17: The Nephites yet live and walk among us. The Nephite people were not entirely extinguished in 400 A.D. and can never be extinguished while any descendant of Lehi or Nephi believes in the Book of Mormon. This fact is implicit in verse 17 and is made quite explicitly in Jacob 1:13-14. Those who depart from the faith cease to be Nephites (as the Amlicites here illustrate) regardless of their bloodline. Conversely, those who have some trace of the blood of Lehi or Nephi and who embrace the foundational myth of the Nephites, e.g., those who believe the Book of Mormon which articulates that foundational myth, become Nephites by virtue of those beliefs. They inherit the birthright of Nephi. As the Lord promised Nephi, they will be blessed henceforth and forever as Nephi himself has been blessed. Thus, members of the Church who have a Native American heritage should not be called Lamanites. They should be called Nephites. See discussion of verses 11 and 12 above.
  • Alma 3:19: Powerful statement of the Law of Justice. Verse 19 is theologically profound. It is a pithy statement of one of the two most fundamental laws of moral universe: the law of justice. Any eternal cursing that comes upon us is the natural consequence of our actions. We get what we have chosen. This verse provides a solid foundation for theodicy--for dealing with the problem of evil in the world. In the end, it is we, not God, who are responsible for the evils we and others suffer in this world. We create those evils by our choices. Even random natural disasters may be necessitated by human evil because they complicate the calculations of the natural man, situating him always on the edge of eternity and in the aggregate probably lessening the sum total of suffering that would exist if the natural man was not constrained by an awareness of his own contingent mortality which can elicit salutary fear of God.
This verse sheds light on the cursing of the Lamanites and Amlicites. Their differentiation and separation from the people of God is self inflicted. The red mark that both Lamanites and Amlicites put on their foreheads is clearly a self inflicted mark of the curse. They willfully mark themselves as being at odds with those who hold to the true religion and the valid foundational myth. Indeed, the grooming and clothing choices of the Lamanites mentioned in verse 5 may explain their darker skin, which may be a natural consequence of greater exposure to the sun.
The principle of justice that is articlated in this verse is applied in verse 26.
See exegesis on Alma 1:4, Nehor and the War in Heaven, and exegesis on verses 3:1-2 above.
  • Alma 3:20-24: The denouement of Alma's political career. This second great battle--what seems to have been the decisive battle for it is the one that ushers in a period of peace--gets little attention. The most prominent person in the passage is one who doesn't go up to battle--Alma. This is a lineage history with Alma as its focus. Since he didn't participate in this battle, it is ipso facto less important than the previous battle reported in such detail in 2:11 - 38. The passage devotes more attention to Alma's act of sending out a numerous army than to the great battle that ensued.
Alma’s wound and non-participation in this battle may have been included as a symbol that foreshadows his resignation from his political role as Chief Judge and war leader. Alma the politician has been wounded and will be less active. Alma the politician will give way to Alma the Prophet and High Priest who takes up his full time ministry in chapter 4.
  • Alma 3:26: Echo of Benjamin's great discourse. This verse echoes King Benjamin in Mosiah 2: 32, "But, O my people, beware lest there shall arise contentions among you, and ye list to obey the evil spirit, which was spoken of by my father Mosiah." The stakes in this verse are the same as those in Benjamin's valedictory sermon. The principle of justice that is so well articulated in verse 19 is applied in this verse.
  • Alma 3:25, 27: Dual endings--secular and spiritual--of the passage. Sections in this part of the Book of Mormon often end by stating in what year of the reign of judges the events occurred. This section of the book (and this chapter) are unusual in having two standard endings instead of the usual one. The first ending occurs in verse 25: "all these wars and contentions were commenced and ended in the fifth year of the reign of the judges." The second occurs in verse 27: "And thus endeth the fifth year of the reign of the judges." Why was it necessary to mention twice that these events occurred in the fifth year of the reign of judges? The reason for the two endings is that they offer different readings of the same event. The first is a secular/temporal ending of the war, with the soldiers returning home in 24 and the summative statement of the date in 25. The second is a spiritual/eternal reading of the same events, with tens of thousands of souls returning to their eternal home and facing final judgment, with the summative statement of the same date in 27. Once again, Mormon is artful in his recounting of content from his sources.

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 3:14-18: How do these verses understand the mark put on the Lamanites and others? How do you reconcile these verses with verses such as 2 Ne 5:21-24? How do you reconcile the fact that in vv. 14-16 the Lord says he will put a mark on certain groups of people and v. 18 tells us that the people put the mark on themselves?

Resources[edit]

This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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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Alma 3:6-10

Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 1-3 > Chapter 3 / Verses 3:1-27
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Summary[edit]

This heading should be very brief. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 3:1-2: Artful representation of suffering and death. In verse 1, Mormon artfully emphasizes the magnitude of the destruction and the magnitude of the task of burying the Nephite dead through the form of his sentence. He starts with the burial of the dead--which is interrupted by an extended statement that there were countless corpses--with the burials continuing after the interruption. In other words, he brackets an interjection that repeats the word number three times to emphasize how many dead there were with phrases that describe the burial of those dead. The sentence highlights the large number of people who were buried over an extended period of time by bracketing the unnumbered dead by phrases discussing their burial. The burying starts before and is still going after the long interjection about the countless number of the dead.
Mormon then artfully manages our emotions to bring the devastation home to us. After describing the sad burial, Mormon shifts to the language of joy: "they all returned to their lands, and to their houses, and their wives, and their children." These Nephite soldiers have survived. They are returning to hearth and home. They will have the experience every soldier dreams of during battle, a safe return to the arms of their wives and children. Except that they won't. The next sentence is devastating: "Now many women and children had been slain with the sword...."
These devastating verses make a critically important point about miracles—they do not fully protect us from great loss and pain. The victory of the Nephites is miraculous. They have defeated enemies as numerous as sands of sea. But they have also suffered unnumbered losses of their own, including many innocent non-combatant women and children. While God sometimes intervenes to protect us, his interventions never remove all pain and suffering from our lives. In part, this is because we are the co-creators of this world who get to choose what kind of world we and others will live in (see exegesis of verse 19). God respects our agency to choose for good and ill with real consequences for ourselves and others. To set aside those consequences would be to deprive us of our agency. (See exegesis on Alma 1:4, Nehor's doctrine and the War in Heaven.)
  • Alma 3:3: Death with honor and dishonor. As with Alma 2:38 (see exegesis), this verse is designed to illustrate the fate of those who fight against God by fighting against his righetous people. Mormon and his sources drive home the dishonor of Lamanites who were cast into Sidon (Alma 3:3) or had their bones piled up (Alma 2:38) by highlighting the respectful burial of the bodies of the Nephite honored dead (Alma 3:1). So while war and disaster are bad for the righteous, they are worse for the wicked who, in aggregate, suffer more than the righteous and lack the consolations of faith if they survive.
  • Alma 3:4-19: Sociologcial Seam in the text. This section constitutes a seam in the text. A seam is an insertion that breaks the thread of a narrative to provide background or other information. Often, the inserted material appears to have been added after the fact and can be deleted without a trace, i.e., no one would know it had ever been part of the text because it is not an integral part of the narrative. Mormon here breaks the narrative thread and provides sociological context much as Nephi broke the continuity of his narrative with Nephi's Psalm, another seam in the text, that artfully comments upon the narrative with a lyrical lament for Nephi's personal weakness in that moment of family dissolution (2 Nephi 4:10 - 35). Here, the sociological seam provides background on the three combatant groups, with special attention to how the new group, the Amlicites, relates to the now familiar Nephites and Lamanites. In its structure, this passage is analogous to the artful first sentence of this chapter. It contains a seam within a seam. The discussion of the Amlicites seam brackets the discussion of the Nephites and Lamanites seam just as the act of burying bodies brackets the countless corpse interjection. Structure aptly mirrors meaning in this passage, for the Amlicites combine attributes of Nephites and Lamanites, the two groups they bracket. The Amlicite bracket is found in verses 4 and then 13 - 19. The review of the controversies between Nephites and Lamanites is the bracketed content in verse 5-12. By strucuring the seam in this way, Mormon signals that discussion of controversies between the Nephites and Lamanites is really about Amlicites.
  • Alma 3:5-12: Competing cultures and foundational myths. The Nephites and Lamanites have developed two competing cultures that are disinct in their clothing, grooming norms, modes of ornamentation, religion, and foundational myths. These verses summarize the differences between the cultures, with the summary being inflected by the Nephite point of view. The contrasts are as follows, in each case putting the Nephite value first, Lamanite second: shaved/unshaved head, covered/uncovered body, and light/dark complexion (possibly because of unshaved and covered versus shaved and uncovered bodies). The most important difference, however, is in their religion and foundational myths. The Nephites hold to the religion handed down to them in the Brass Plates and the Christian teachings of Lehi and Nephi. The Lamanites hold to a religion of their own devising. The Nephite foundational myth holds that Nephi had the right to rule Lehi's family because his righteousness led to God's explicit endorsement of his leadership. The Lamanites have rebelled against that legitimate leadership. The Lamanite foundational myth holds that Laman had the right to rule as the eldest son. Laman and Lemuel rightly sought to destroy the usurper, Nephi, who stole the Brass Plates and other symbols of sovereignty afer Lehi died.
  • Alma 3:4, 13-18: Amlicite mix of Nephite and Lamanite attributes. The Amlicites have grown up in the culture of the land of Zarahemla. In their dress, grooming, complexion, and other cultural attributes, they resemble the Nephites. Since they look so much like Nephites, they put a mark upon themselves, red paint on their foreheads, that links them to the Lamanites and becomes the mark of their curse. The important point Mormon makes in the structure of his narrative is that the real divide among the people is what foundational myth they embrace. When Nephites became kings over the combined Nephite and Mulekite peoples, the Amlicites embraced the Nephite foundational myth (while also learning more about David, their own royal progenitor from the Brass Plates that the Nephites brought with them). Now that the Nephite monarchy has ended, the Amlicite rebels, it appears, want to reestablish a Davidic monarchy with Amlici as king. They now view the Nephites as usurpers. In other words, they have embraced a foundational myth that is aligned with that of the Lamanites because both frame the Nephites as usurpers of legitimate authority. Having a compatible myth, Amlici allied himself with the Lamanites to overthrow what both groups perceive to be Nephite usurpers.
  • Alma 3:8: Assumption of asymmetrical potential for conversion. The reasoning in verse 8 seems flawed. There seems to be an implicit assumption that conversion runs only one way. Only Nephites have the power to choose between belief and unbelief. The Lamanites must be marked to keep them separate from the Nephites because when they mix, the Nephites become Lamanites rather than the other way around. But why should that be? The people of Ammon and the Lamanites who later respond to Nephi and Lehi demonstrate that Lamanites can become Nephite in their beliefs and culture. They, too, have the power to choose. Thus, the idea of the mark seems unnecessarily defensive. Most troubling is the idea that dark complexion is the mark, that darker skin is somehow associated with unbelief. But verse 4 indicates that the mark and race are not the same thing. The Amlicites do not differ from tne Nephites racially but are nevertheless marked as being one with the Lamanites now that they have adopted a similar foundational myth. While the often implicit assumption in Nephite discourse that Lamanites are incorrigible, that only Nephites are moral agents, is ill founded, the mark of the curse may nevertheless have practical spiritual value. As the liken unto us exegesis below indicates, those who are weak in faith do need to separate themselves from those who bear the mark and its associated curse. On the other hand, those who are very strong in the faith should gravitate to the lost souls who bear the mark and curse as, e.g., the sons of Mosiah do in chapters 17 - 27
  • Alma 3:4, 8-10: Likening the mark and cursing unto us. What is relevance of this section on marks and cursing to our time? Do we have marks? Do we have a cursing? We do. The markings of our day are piercings, tattoos, the goth look, and almost all extreme styles of dress and grooming and music and dance. The cursing that follows the adoption of these styles is separation from God and his people. If we, or more typically, our children adopt the styles of the world in dress and comportment, we or they will in most cases ultimately move away from the faith. This is partly a function of natural social dynamics. Adopting dress, grooming, and behavioral norms that differ from those typical among the saints reflects and intensifies alienation from the Lord's chosen people. When our dress and grooming are outre, faithful people will naturally tend to distance themselves from us. In some cases--e.g., if our deviations reflect a need for friendship and acceptance--they probably shouldn't withdraw, and the best of them won't. After all, their Lord was found among the publicans and sinners, not joining but saving them. In other cases--e.g., when our deviation reflects defiance, hostility, a desire to leave the kingdom and drag others down with us--they probably should withdraw unless they are themselves very strong in their faith. Young people, in particular, who are just beginning to build their own testimonies need to be cautious about associating closely with those who bear the marks of the world and their associated curse of separation from God and his people.
  • Alma 3:11: Foundational myths and ethnic identity. Whether people are Nephite or Lamanite is a function of the foundational myth they embrace. While there are other markers, the one that matters in the end and determines their long-term identity is the story of origin that they accept. See also Jacob 1:13-14.
  • Alma 3:12: True and false myths. Mormon indicates in this verse that the Nephites tell the true story of both the Nephites and Lamanties. He warrants the truth of the Nephite and denies the truth of the Lamanite foundational myth. While the truth or falsity of a foundational myth is worth knowing, it doesn't affect the social function of the myth. Myths define a people's sense of self and their social cohesion. The resentments of the Lamanites are stoked just as much by a false myth as they would have been by a true myth.
  • Alma 3:14-17: Source of quotation. These verses quote a revelation given by God to Nephi. This revelation is not found in Nephi's writings in the Small Plates. It must have been taken from the Large Plates.
  • Alma 3:15: Meaning of mingling. What does it mean to mingle one's seed with the Lamanites? The most likely meaning is to adopt the foundational myth handed down by Laman and Lemuel rather than that handed down by Nephi. It probably doesn't mean marriage. Mingling with the people of Ammon would anchor one more fully in Nephite culture given their deep faithfulness.
  • Alma 3:17: The Nephites yet live and walk among us. The Nephite people were not entirely extinguished in 400 A.D. and can never be extinguished while any descendant of Lehi or Nephi believes in the Book of Mormon. This fact is implicit in verse 17 and is made quite explicitly in Jacob 1:13-14. Those who depart from the faith cease to be Nephites (as the Amlicites here illustrate) regardless of their bloodline. Conversely, those who have some trace of the blood of Lehi or Nephi and who embrace the foundational myth of the Nephites, e.g., those who believe the Book of Mormon which articulates that foundational myth, become Nephites by virtue of those beliefs. They inherit the birthright of Nephi. As the Lord promised Nephi, they will be blessed henceforth and forever as Nephi himself has been blessed. Thus, members of the Church who have a Native American heritage should not be called Lamanites. They should be called Nephites. See discussion of verses 11 and 12 above.
  • Alma 3:19: Powerful statement of the Law of Justice. Verse 19 is theologically profound. It is a pithy statement of one of the two most fundamental laws of moral universe: the law of justice. Any eternal cursing that comes upon us is the natural consequence of our actions. We get what we have chosen. This verse provides a solid foundation for theodicy--for dealing with the problem of evil in the world. In the end, it is we, not God, who are responsible for the evils we and others suffer in this world. We create those evils by our choices. Even random natural disasters may be necessitated by human evil because they complicate the calculations of the natural man, situating him always on the edge of eternity and in the aggregate probably lessening the sum total of suffering that would exist if the natural man was not constrained by an awareness of his own contingent mortality which can elicit salutary fear of God.
This verse sheds light on the cursing of the Lamanites and Amlicites. Their differentiation and separation from the people of God is self inflicted. The red mark that both Lamanites and Amlicites put on their foreheads is clearly a self inflicted mark of the curse. They willfully mark themselves as being at odds with those who hold to the true religion and the valid foundational myth. Indeed, the grooming and clothing choices of the Lamanites mentioned in verse 5 may explain their darker skin, which may be a natural consequence of greater exposure to the sun.
The principle of justice that is articlated in this verse is applied in verse 26.
See exegesis on Alma 1:4, Nehor and the War in Heaven, and exegesis on verses 3:1-2 above.
  • Alma 3:20-24: The denouement of Alma's political career. This second great battle--what seems to have been the decisive battle for it is the one that ushers in a period of peace--gets little attention. The most prominent person in the passage is one who doesn't go up to battle--Alma. This is a lineage history with Alma as its focus. Since he didn't participate in this battle, it is ipso facto less important than the previous battle reported in such detail in 2:11 - 38. The passage devotes more attention to Alma's act of sending out a numerous army than to the great battle that ensued.
Alma’s wound and non-participation in this battle may have been included as a symbol that foreshadows his resignation from his political role as Chief Judge and war leader. Alma the politician has been wounded and will be less active. Alma the politician will give way to Alma the Prophet and High Priest who takes up his full time ministry in chapter 4.
  • Alma 3:26: Echo of Benjamin's great discourse. This verse echoes King Benjamin in Mosiah 2: 32, "But, O my people, beware lest there shall arise contentions among you, and ye list to obey the evil spirit, which was spoken of by my father Mosiah." The stakes in this verse are the same as those in Benjamin's valedictory sermon. The principle of justice that is so well articulated in verse 19 is applied in this verse.
  • Alma 3:25, 27: Dual endings--secular and spiritual--of the passage. Sections in this part of the Book of Mormon often end by stating in what year of the reign of judges the events occurred. This section of the book (and this chapter) are unusual in having two standard endings instead of the usual one. The first ending occurs in verse 25: "all these wars and contentions were commenced and ended in the fifth year of the reign of the judges." The second occurs in verse 27: "And thus endeth the fifth year of the reign of the judges." Why was it necessary to mention twice that these events occurred in the fifth year of the reign of judges? The reason for the two endings is that they offer different readings of the same event. The first is a secular/temporal ending of the war, with the soldiers returning home in 24 and the summative statement of the date in 25. The second is a spiritual/eternal reading of the same events, with tens of thousands of souls returning to their eternal home and facing final judgment, with the summative statement of the same date in 27. Once again, Mormon is artful in his recounting of content from his sources.

Unanswered questions[edit]

This section is for questions along the lines of "I still don't understand ..." Please do not be shy. The point of these questions is to identify things that still need to be addressed on this page. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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 3:14-18: How do these verses understand the mark put on the Lamanites and others? How do you reconcile these verses with verses such as 2 Ne 5:21-24? How do you reconcile the fact that in vv. 14-16 the Lord says he will put a mark on certain groups of people and v. 18 tells us that the people put the mark on themselves?

Resources[edit]

This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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.



Previous page: Verses 2:20-38                      Next page: Chapters 4-7

Alma 3:11-15

Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 1-3 > Chapter 3 / Verses 3:1-27
Previous page: Verses 2:20-38                      Next page: Chapters 4-7


This page would ideally always be under construction. You are invited to contribute.


Summary[edit]

This heading should be very brief. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 3:1-2: Artful representation of suffering and death. In verse 1, Mormon artfully emphasizes the magnitude of the destruction and the magnitude of the task of burying the Nephite dead through the form of his sentence. He starts with the burial of the dead--which is interrupted by an extended statement that there were countless corpses--with the burials continuing after the interruption. In other words, he brackets an interjection that repeats the word number three times to emphasize how many dead there were with phrases that describe the burial of those dead. The sentence highlights the large number of people who were buried over an extended period of time by bracketing the unnumbered dead by phrases discussing their burial. The burying starts before and is still going after the long interjection about the countless number of the dead.
Mormon then artfully manages our emotions to bring the devastation home to us. After describing the sad burial, Mormon shifts to the language of joy: "they all returned to their lands, and to their houses, and their wives, and their children." These Nephite soldiers have survived. They are returning to hearth and home. They will have the experience every soldier dreams of during battle, a safe return to the arms of their wives and children. Except that they won't. The next sentence is devastating: "Now many women and children had been slain with the sword...."
These devastating verses make a critically important point about miracles—they do not fully protect us from great loss and pain. The victory of the Nephites is miraculous. They have defeated enemies as numerous as sands of sea. But they have also suffered unnumbered losses of their own, including many innocent non-combatant women and children. While God sometimes intervenes to protect us, his interventions never remove all pain and suffering from our lives. In part, this is because we are the co-creators of this world who get to choose what kind of world we and others will live in (see exegesis of verse 19). God respects our agency to choose for good and ill with real consequences for ourselves and others. To set aside those consequences would be to deprive us of our agency. (See exegesis on Alma 1:4, Nehor's doctrine and the War in Heaven.)
  • Alma 3:3: Death with honor and dishonor. As with Alma 2:38 (see exegesis), this verse is designed to illustrate the fate of those who fight against God by fighting against his righetous people. Mormon and his sources drive home the dishonor of Lamanites who were cast into Sidon (Alma 3:3) or had their bones piled up (Alma 2:38) by highlighting the respectful burial of the bodies of the Nephite honored dead (Alma 3:1). So while war and disaster are bad for the righteous, they are worse for the wicked who, in aggregate, suffer more than the righteous and lack the consolations of faith if they survive.
  • Alma 3:4-19: Sociologcial Seam in the text. This section constitutes a seam in the text. A seam is an insertion that breaks the thread of a narrative to provide background or other information. Often, the inserted material appears to have been added after the fact and can be deleted without a trace, i.e., no one would know it had ever been part of the text because it is not an integral part of the narrative. Mormon here breaks the narrative thread and provides sociological context much as Nephi broke the continuity of his narrative with Nephi's Psalm, another seam in the text, that artfully comments upon the narrative with a lyrical lament for Nephi's personal weakness in that moment of family dissolution (2 Nephi 4:10 - 35). Here, the sociological seam provides background on the three combatant groups, with special attention to how the new group, the Amlicites, relates to the now familiar Nephites and Lamanites. In its structure, this passage is analogous to the artful first sentence of this chapter. It contains a seam within a seam. The discussion of the Amlicites seam brackets the discussion of the Nephites and Lamanites seam just as the act of burying bodies brackets the countless corpse interjection. Structure aptly mirrors meaning in this passage, for the Amlicites combine attributes of Nephites and Lamanites, the two groups they bracket. The Amlicite bracket is found in verses 4 and then 13 - 19. The review of the controversies between Nephites and Lamanites is the bracketed content in verse 5-12. By strucuring the seam in this way, Mormon signals that discussion of controversies between the Nephites and Lamanites is really about Amlicites.
  • Alma 3:5-12: Competing cultures and foundational myths. The Nephites and Lamanites have developed two competing cultures that are disinct in their clothing, grooming norms, modes of ornamentation, religion, and foundational myths. These verses summarize the differences between the cultures, with the summary being inflected by the Nephite point of view. The contrasts are as follows, in each case putting the Nephite value first, Lamanite second: shaved/unshaved head, covered/uncovered body, and light/dark complexion (possibly because of unshaved and covered versus shaved and uncovered bodies). The most important difference, however, is in their religion and foundational myths. The Nephites hold to the religion handed down to them in the Brass Plates and the Christian teachings of Lehi and Nephi. The Lamanites hold to a religion of their own devising. The Nephite foundational myth holds that Nephi had the right to rule Lehi's family because his righteousness led to God's explicit endorsement of his leadership. The Lamanites have rebelled against that legitimate leadership. The Lamanite foundational myth holds that Laman had the right to rule as the eldest son. Laman and Lemuel rightly sought to destroy the usurper, Nephi, who stole the Brass Plates and other symbols of sovereignty afer Lehi died.
  • Alma 3:4, 13-18: Amlicite mix of Nephite and Lamanite attributes. The Amlicites have grown up in the culture of the land of Zarahemla. In their dress, grooming, complexion, and other cultural attributes, they resemble the Nephites. Since they look so much like Nephites, they put a mark upon themselves, red paint on their foreheads, that links them to the Lamanites and becomes the mark of their curse. The important point Mormon makes in the structure of his narrative is that the real divide among the people is what foundational myth they embrace. When Nephites became kings over the combined Nephite and Mulekite peoples, the Amlicites embraced the Nephite foundational myth (while also learning more about David, their own royal progenitor from the Brass Plates that the Nephites brought with them). Now that the Nephite monarchy has ended, the Amlicite rebels, it appears, want to reestablish a Davidic monarchy with Amlici as king. They now view the Nephites as usurpers. In other words, they have embraced a foundational myth that is aligned with that of the Lamanites because both frame the Nephites as usurpers of legitimate authority. Having a compatible myth, Amlici allied himself with the Lamanites to overthrow what both groups perceive to be Nephite usurpers.
  • Alma 3:8: Assumption of asymmetrical potential for conversion. The reasoning in verse 8 seems flawed. There seems to be an implicit assumption that conversion runs only one way. Only Nephites have the power to choose between belief and unbelief. The Lamanites must be marked to keep them separate from the Nephites because when they mix, the Nephites become Lamanites rather than the other way around. But why should that be? The people of Ammon and the Lamanites who later respond to Nephi and Lehi demonstrate that Lamanites can become Nephite in their beliefs and culture. They, too, have the power to choose. Thus, the idea of the mark seems unnecessarily defensive. Most troubling is the idea that dark complexion is the mark, that darker skin is somehow associated with unbelief. But verse 4 indicates that the mark and race are not the same thing. The Amlicites do not differ from tne Nephites racially but are nevertheless marked as being one with the Lamanites now that they have adopted a similar foundational myth. While the often implicit assumption in Nephite discourse that Lamanites are incorrigible, that only Nephites are moral agents, is ill founded, the mark of the curse may nevertheless have practical spiritual value. As the liken unto us exegesis below indicates, those who are weak in faith do need to separate themselves from those who bear the mark and its associated curse. On the other hand, those who are very strong in the faith should gravitate to the lost souls who bear the mark and curse as, e.g., the sons of Mosiah do in chapters 17 - 27
  • Alma 3:4, 8-10: Likening the mark and cursing unto us. What is relevance of this section on marks and cursing to our time? Do we have marks? Do we have a cursing? We do. The markings of our day are piercings, tattoos, the goth look, and almost all extreme styles of dress and grooming and music and dance. The cursing that follows the adoption of these styles is separation from God and his people. If we, or more typically, our children adopt the styles of the world in dress and comportment, we or they will in most cases ultimately move away from the faith. This is partly a function of natural social dynamics. Adopting dress, grooming, and behavioral norms that differ from those typical among the saints reflects and intensifies alienation from the Lord's chosen people. When our dress and grooming are outre, faithful people will naturally tend to distance themselves from us. In some cases--e.g., if our deviations reflect a need for friendship and acceptance--they probably shouldn't withdraw, and the best of them won't. After all, their Lord was found among the publicans and sinners, not joining but saving them. In other cases--e.g., when our deviation reflects defiance, hostility, a desire to leave the kingdom and drag others down with us--they probably should withdraw unless they are themselves very strong in their faith. Young people, in particular, who are just beginning to build their own testimonies need to be cautious about associating closely with those who bear the marks of the world and their associated curse of separation from God and his people.
  • Alma 3:11: Foundational myths and ethnic identity. Whether people are Nephite or Lamanite is a function of the foundational myth they embrace. While there are other markers, the one that matters in the end and determines their long-term identity is the story of origin that they accept. See also Jacob 1:13-14.
  • Alma 3:12: True and false myths. Mormon indicates in this verse that the Nephites tell the true story of both the Nephites and Lamanties. He warrants the truth of the Nephite and denies the truth of the Lamanite foundational myth. While the truth or falsity of a foundational myth is worth knowing, it doesn't affect the social function of the myth. Myths define a people's sense of self and their social cohesion. The resentments of the Lamanites are stoked just as much by a false myth as they would have been by a true myth.
  • Alma 3:14-17: Source of quotation. These verses quote a revelation given by God to Nephi. This revelation is not found in Nephi's writings in the Small Plates. It must have been taken from the Large Plates.
  • Alma 3:15: Meaning of mingling. What does it mean to mingle one's seed with the Lamanites? The most likely meaning is to adopt the foundational myth handed down by Laman and Lemuel rather than that handed down by Nephi. It probably doesn't mean marriage. Mingling with the people of Ammon would anchor one more fully in Nephite culture given their deep faithfulness.
  • Alma 3:17: The Nephites yet live and walk among us. The Nephite people were not entirely extinguished in 400 A.D. and can never be extinguished while any descendant of Lehi or Nephi believes in the Book of Mormon. This fact is implicit in verse 17 and is made quite explicitly in Jacob 1:13-14. Those who depart from the faith cease to be Nephites (as the Amlicites here illustrate) regardless of their bloodline. Conversely, those who have some trace of the blood of Lehi or Nephi and who embrace the foundational myth of the Nephites, e.g., those who believe the Book of Mormon which articulates that foundational myth, become Nephites by virtue of those beliefs. They inherit the birthright of Nephi. As the Lord promised Nephi, they will be blessed henceforth and forever as Nephi himself has been blessed. Thus, members of the Church who have a Native American heritage should not be called Lamanites. They should be called Nephites. See discussion of verses 11 and 12 above.
  • Alma 3:19: Powerful statement of the Law of Justice. Verse 19 is theologically profound. It is a pithy statement of one of the two most fundamental laws of moral universe: the law of justice. Any eternal cursing that comes upon us is the natural consequence of our actions. We get what we have chosen. This verse provides a solid foundation for theodicy--for dealing with the problem of evil in the world. In the end, it is we, not God, who are responsible for the evils we and others suffer in this world. We create those evils by our choices. Even random natural disasters may be necessitated by human evil because they complicate the calculations of the natural man, situating him always on the edge of eternity and in the aggregate probably lessening the sum total of suffering that would exist if the natural man was not constrained by an awareness of his own contingent mortality which can elicit salutary fear of God.
This verse sheds light on the cursing of the Lamanites and Amlicites. Their differentiation and separation from the people of God is self inflicted. The red mark that both Lamanites and Amlicites put on their foreheads is clearly a self inflicted mark of the curse. They willfully mark themselves as being at odds with those who hold to the true religion and the valid foundational myth. Indeed, the grooming and clothing choices of the Lamanites mentioned in verse 5 may explain their darker skin, which may be a natural consequence of greater exposure to the sun.
The principle of justice that is articlated in this verse is applied in verse 26.
See exegesis on Alma 1:4, Nehor and the War in Heaven, and exegesis on verses 3:1-2 above.
  • Alma 3:20-24: The denouement of Alma's political career. This second great battle--what seems to have been the decisive battle for it is the one that ushers in a period of peace--gets little attention. The most prominent person in the passage is one who doesn't go up to battle--Alma. This is a lineage history with Alma as its focus. Since he didn't participate in this battle, it is ipso facto less important than the previous battle reported in such detail in 2:11 - 38. The passage devotes more attention to Alma's act of sending out a numerous army than to the great battle that ensued.
Alma’s wound and non-participation in this battle may have been included as a symbol that foreshadows his resignation from his political role as Chief Judge and war leader. Alma the politician has been wounded and will be less active. Alma the politician will give way to Alma the Prophet and High Priest who takes up his full time ministry in chapter 4.
  • Alma 3:26: Echo of Benjamin's great discourse. This verse echoes King Benjamin in Mosiah 2: 32, "But, O my people, beware lest there shall arise contentions among you, and ye list to obey the evil spirit, which was spoken of by my father Mosiah." The stakes in this verse are the same as those in Benjamin's valedictory sermon. The principle of justice that is so well articulated in verse 19 is applied in this verse.
  • Alma 3:25, 27: Dual endings--secular and spiritual--of the passage. Sections in this part of the Book of Mormon often end by stating in what year of the reign of judges the events occurred. This section of the book (and this chapter) are unusual in having two standard endings instead of the usual one. The first ending occurs in verse 25: "all these wars and contentions were commenced and ended in the fifth year of the reign of the judges." The second occurs in verse 27: "And thus endeth the fifth year of the reign of the judges." Why was it necessary to mention twice that these events occurred in the fifth year of the reign of judges? The reason for the two endings is that they offer different readings of the same event. The first is a secular/temporal ending of the war, with the soldiers returning home in 24 and the summative statement of the date in 25. The second is a spiritual/eternal reading of the same events, with tens of thousands of souls returning to their eternal home and facing final judgment, with the summative statement of the same date in 27. Once again, Mormon is artful in his recounting of content from his sources.

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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  • Alma 3:14-18: How do these verses understand the mark put on the Lamanites and others? How do you reconcile these verses with verses such as 2 Ne 5:21-24? How do you reconcile the fact that in vv. 14-16 the Lord says he will put a mark on certain groups of people and v. 18 tells us that the people put the mark on themselves?

Resources[edit]

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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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Alma 3:16-20

Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 1-3 > Chapter 3 / Verses 3:1-27
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Summary[edit]

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Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 3:1-2: Artful representation of suffering and death. In verse 1, Mormon artfully emphasizes the magnitude of the destruction and the magnitude of the task of burying the Nephite dead through the form of his sentence. He starts with the burial of the dead--which is interrupted by an extended statement that there were countless corpses--with the burials continuing after the interruption. In other words, he brackets an interjection that repeats the word number three times to emphasize how many dead there were with phrases that describe the burial of those dead. The sentence highlights the large number of people who were buried over an extended period of time by bracketing the unnumbered dead by phrases discussing their burial. The burying starts before and is still going after the long interjection about the countless number of the dead.
Mormon then artfully manages our emotions to bring the devastation home to us. After describing the sad burial, Mormon shifts to the language of joy: "they all returned to their lands, and to their houses, and their wives, and their children." These Nephite soldiers have survived. They are returning to hearth and home. They will have the experience every soldier dreams of during battle, a safe return to the arms of their wives and children. Except that they won't. The next sentence is devastating: "Now many women and children had been slain with the sword...."
These devastating verses make a critically important point about miracles—they do not fully protect us from great loss and pain. The victory of the Nephites is miraculous. They have defeated enemies as numerous as sands of sea. But they have also suffered unnumbered losses of their own, including many innocent non-combatant women and children. While God sometimes intervenes to protect us, his interventions never remove all pain and suffering from our lives. In part, this is because we are the co-creators of this world who get to choose what kind of world we and others will live in (see exegesis of verse 19). God respects our agency to choose for good and ill with real consequences for ourselves and others. To set aside those consequences would be to deprive us of our agency. (See exegesis on Alma 1:4, Nehor's doctrine and the War in Heaven.)
  • Alma 3:3: Death with honor and dishonor. As with Alma 2:38 (see exegesis), this verse is designed to illustrate the fate of those who fight against God by fighting against his righetous people. Mormon and his sources drive home the dishonor of Lamanites who were cast into Sidon (Alma 3:3) or had their bones piled up (Alma 2:38) by highlighting the respectful burial of the bodies of the Nephite honored dead (Alma 3:1). So while war and disaster are bad for the righteous, they are worse for the wicked who, in aggregate, suffer more than the righteous and lack the consolations of faith if they survive.
  • Alma 3:4-19: Sociologcial Seam in the text. This section constitutes a seam in the text. A seam is an insertion that breaks the thread of a narrative to provide background or other information. Often, the inserted material appears to have been added after the fact and can be deleted without a trace, i.e., no one would know it had ever been part of the text because it is not an integral part of the narrative. Mormon here breaks the narrative thread and provides sociological context much as Nephi broke the continuity of his narrative with Nephi's Psalm, another seam in the text, that artfully comments upon the narrative with a lyrical lament for Nephi's personal weakness in that moment of family dissolution (2 Nephi 4:10 - 35). Here, the sociological seam provides background on the three combatant groups, with special attention to how the new group, the Amlicites, relates to the now familiar Nephites and Lamanites. In its structure, this passage is analogous to the artful first sentence of this chapter. It contains a seam within a seam. The discussion of the Amlicites seam brackets the discussion of the Nephites and Lamanites seam just as the act of burying bodies brackets the countless corpse interjection. Structure aptly mirrors meaning in this passage, for the Amlicites combine attributes of Nephites and Lamanites, the two groups they bracket. The Amlicite bracket is found in verses 4 and then 13 - 19. The review of the controversies between Nephites and Lamanites is the bracketed content in verse 5-12. By strucuring the seam in this way, Mormon signals that discussion of controversies between the Nephites and Lamanites is really about Amlicites.
  • Alma 3:5-12: Competing cultures and foundational myths. The Nephites and Lamanites have developed two competing cultures that are disinct in their clothing, grooming norms, modes of ornamentation, religion, and foundational myths. These verses summarize the differences between the cultures, with the summary being inflected by the Nephite point of view. The contrasts are as follows, in each case putting the Nephite value first, Lamanite second: shaved/unshaved head, covered/uncovered body, and light/dark complexion (possibly because of unshaved and covered versus shaved and uncovered bodies). The most important difference, however, is in their religion and foundational myths. The Nephites hold to the religion handed down to them in the Brass Plates and the Christian teachings of Lehi and Nephi. The Lamanites hold to a religion of their own devising. The Nephite foundational myth holds that Nephi had the right to rule Lehi's family because his righteousness led to God's explicit endorsement of his leadership. The Lamanites have rebelled against that legitimate leadership. The Lamanite foundational myth holds that Laman had the right to rule as the eldest son. Laman and Lemuel rightly sought to destroy the usurper, Nephi, who stole the Brass Plates and other symbols of sovereignty afer Lehi died.
  • Alma 3:4, 13-18: Amlicite mix of Nephite and Lamanite attributes. The Amlicites have grown up in the culture of the land of Zarahemla. In their dress, grooming, complexion, and other cultural attributes, they resemble the Nephites. Since they look so much like Nephites, they put a mark upon themselves, red paint on their foreheads, that links them to the Lamanites and becomes the mark of their curse. The important point Mormon makes in the structure of his narrative is that the real divide among the people is what foundational myth they embrace. When Nephites became kings over the combined Nephite and Mulekite peoples, the Amlicites embraced the Nephite foundational myth (while also learning more about David, their own royal progenitor from the Brass Plates that the Nephites brought with them). Now that the Nephite monarchy has ended, the Amlicite rebels, it appears, want to reestablish a Davidic monarchy with Amlici as king. They now view the Nephites as usurpers. In other words, they have embraced a foundational myth that is aligned with that of the Lamanites because both frame the Nephites as usurpers of legitimate authority. Having a compatible myth, Amlici allied himself with the Lamanites to overthrow what both groups perceive to be Nephite usurpers.
  • Alma 3:8: Assumption of asymmetrical potential for conversion. The reasoning in verse 8 seems flawed. There seems to be an implicit assumption that conversion runs only one way. Only Nephites have the power to choose between belief and unbelief. The Lamanites must be marked to keep them separate from the Nephites because when they mix, the Nephites become Lamanites rather than the other way around. But why should that be? The people of Ammon and the Lamanites who later respond to Nephi and Lehi demonstrate that Lamanites can become Nephite in their beliefs and culture. They, too, have the power to choose. Thus, the idea of the mark seems unnecessarily defensive. Most troubling is the idea that dark complexion is the mark, that darker skin is somehow associated with unbelief. But verse 4 indicates that the mark and race are not the same thing. The Amlicites do not differ from tne Nephites racially but are nevertheless marked as being one with the Lamanites now that they have adopted a similar foundational myth. While the often implicit assumption in Nephite discourse that Lamanites are incorrigible, that only Nephites are moral agents, is ill founded, the mark of the curse may nevertheless have practical spiritual value. As the liken unto us exegesis below indicates, those who are weak in faith do need to separate themselves from those who bear the mark and its associated curse. On the other hand, those who are very strong in the faith should gravitate to the lost souls who bear the mark and curse as, e.g., the sons of Mosiah do in chapters 17 - 27
  • Alma 3:4, 8-10: Likening the mark and cursing unto us. What is relevance of this section on marks and cursing to our time? Do we have marks? Do we have a cursing? We do. The markings of our day are piercings, tattoos, the goth look, and almost all extreme styles of dress and grooming and music and dance. The cursing that follows the adoption of these styles is separation from God and his people. If we, or more typically, our children adopt the styles of the world in dress and comportment, we or they will in most cases ultimately move away from the faith. This is partly a function of natural social dynamics. Adopting dress, grooming, and behavioral norms that differ from those typical among the saints reflects and intensifies alienation from the Lord's chosen people. When our dress and grooming are outre, faithful people will naturally tend to distance themselves from us. In some cases--e.g., if our deviations reflect a need for friendship and acceptance--they probably shouldn't withdraw, and the best of them won't. After all, their Lord was found among the publicans and sinners, not joining but saving them. In other cases--e.g., when our deviation reflects defiance, hostility, a desire to leave the kingdom and drag others down with us--they probably should withdraw unless they are themselves very strong in their faith. Young people, in particular, who are just beginning to build their own testimonies need to be cautious about associating closely with those who bear the marks of the world and their associated curse of separation from God and his people.
  • Alma 3:11: Foundational myths and ethnic identity. Whether people are Nephite or Lamanite is a function of the foundational myth they embrace. While there are other markers, the one that matters in the end and determines their long-term identity is the story of origin that they accept. See also Jacob 1:13-14.
  • Alma 3:12: True and false myths. Mormon indicates in this verse that the Nephites tell the true story of both the Nephites and Lamanties. He warrants the truth of the Nephite and denies the truth of the Lamanite foundational myth. While the truth or falsity of a foundational myth is worth knowing, it doesn't affect the social function of the myth. Myths define a people's sense of self and their social cohesion. The resentments of the Lamanites are stoked just as much by a false myth as they would have been by a true myth.
  • Alma 3:14-17: Source of quotation. These verses quote a revelation given by God to Nephi. This revelation is not found in Nephi's writings in the Small Plates. It must have been taken from the Large Plates.
  • Alma 3:15: Meaning of mingling. What does it mean to mingle one's seed with the Lamanites? The most likely meaning is to adopt the foundational myth handed down by Laman and Lemuel rather than that handed down by Nephi. It probably doesn't mean marriage. Mingling with the people of Ammon would anchor one more fully in Nephite culture given their deep faithfulness.
  • Alma 3:17: The Nephites yet live and walk among us. The Nephite people were not entirely extinguished in 400 A.D. and can never be extinguished while any descendant of Lehi or Nephi believes in the Book of Mormon. This fact is implicit in verse 17 and is made quite explicitly in Jacob 1:13-14. Those who depart from the faith cease to be Nephites (as the Amlicites here illustrate) regardless of their bloodline. Conversely, those who have some trace of the blood of Lehi or Nephi and who embrace the foundational myth of the Nephites, e.g., those who believe the Book of Mormon which articulates that foundational myth, become Nephites by virtue of those beliefs. They inherit the birthright of Nephi. As the Lord promised Nephi, they will be blessed henceforth and forever as Nephi himself has been blessed. Thus, members of the Church who have a Native American heritage should not be called Lamanites. They should be called Nephites. See discussion of verses 11 and 12 above.
  • Alma 3:19: Powerful statement of the Law of Justice. Verse 19 is theologically profound. It is a pithy statement of one of the two most fundamental laws of moral universe: the law of justice. Any eternal cursing that comes upon us is the natural consequence of our actions. We get what we have chosen. This verse provides a solid foundation for theodicy--for dealing with the problem of evil in the world. In the end, it is we, not God, who are responsible for the evils we and others suffer in this world. We create those evils by our choices. Even random natural disasters may be necessitated by human evil because they complicate the calculations of the natural man, situating him always on the edge of eternity and in the aggregate probably lessening the sum total of suffering that would exist if the natural man was not constrained by an awareness of his own contingent mortality which can elicit salutary fear of God.
This verse sheds light on the cursing of the Lamanites and Amlicites. Their differentiation and separation from the people of God is self inflicted. The red mark that both Lamanites and Amlicites put on their foreheads is clearly a self inflicted mark of the curse. They willfully mark themselves as being at odds with those who hold to the true religion and the valid foundational myth. Indeed, the grooming and clothing choices of the Lamanites mentioned in verse 5 may explain their darker skin, which may be a natural consequence of greater exposure to the sun.
The principle of justice that is articlated in this verse is applied in verse 26.
See exegesis on Alma 1:4, Nehor and the War in Heaven, and exegesis on verses 3:1-2 above.
  • Alma 3:20-24: The denouement of Alma's political career. This second great battle--what seems to have been the decisive battle for it is the one that ushers in a period of peace--gets little attention. The most prominent person in the passage is one who doesn't go up to battle--Alma. This is a lineage history with Alma as its focus. Since he didn't participate in this battle, it is ipso facto less important than the previous battle reported in such detail in 2:11 - 38. The passage devotes more attention to Alma's act of sending out a numerous army than to the great battle that ensued.
Alma’s wound and non-participation in this battle may have been included as a symbol that foreshadows his resignation from his political role as Chief Judge and war leader. Alma the politician has been wounded and will be less active. Alma the politician will give way to Alma the Prophet and High Priest who takes up his full time ministry in chapter 4.
  • Alma 3:26: Echo of Benjamin's great discourse. This verse echoes King Benjamin in Mosiah 2: 32, "But, O my people, beware lest there shall arise contentions among you, and ye list to obey the evil spirit, which was spoken of by my father Mosiah." The stakes in this verse are the same as those in Benjamin's valedictory sermon. The principle of justice that is so well articulated in verse 19 is applied in this verse.
  • Alma 3:25, 27: Dual endings--secular and spiritual--of the passage. Sections in this part of the Book of Mormon often end by stating in what year of the reign of judges the events occurred. This section of the book (and this chapter) are unusual in having two standard endings instead of the usual one. The first ending occurs in verse 25: "all these wars and contentions were commenced and ended in the fifth year of the reign of the judges." The second occurs in verse 27: "And thus endeth the fifth year of the reign of the judges." Why was it necessary to mention twice that these events occurred in the fifth year of the reign of judges? The reason for the two endings is that they offer different readings of the same event. The first is a secular/temporal ending of the war, with the soldiers returning home in 24 and the summative statement of the date in 25. The second is a spiritual/eternal reading of the same events, with tens of thousands of souls returning to their eternal home and facing final judgment, with the summative statement of the same date in 27. Once again, Mormon is artful in his recounting of content from his sources.

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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 3:14-18: How do these verses understand the mark put on the Lamanites and others? How do you reconcile these verses with verses such as 2 Ne 5:21-24? How do you reconcile the fact that in vv. 14-16 the Lord says he will put a mark on certain groups of people and v. 18 tells us that the people put the mark on themselves?

Resources[edit]

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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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Alma 3:21-27

Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 1-3 > Chapter 3 / Verses 3:1-27
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Summary[edit]

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Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 3:1-2: Artful representation of suffering and death. In verse 1, Mormon artfully emphasizes the magnitude of the destruction and the magnitude of the task of burying the Nephite dead through the form of his sentence. He starts with the burial of the dead--which is interrupted by an extended statement that there were countless corpses--with the burials continuing after the interruption. In other words, he brackets an interjection that repeats the word number three times to emphasize how many dead there were with phrases that describe the burial of those dead. The sentence highlights the large number of people who were buried over an extended period of time by bracketing the unnumbered dead by phrases discussing their burial. The burying starts before and is still going after the long interjection about the countless number of the dead.
Mormon then artfully manages our emotions to bring the devastation home to us. After describing the sad burial, Mormon shifts to the language of joy: "they all returned to their lands, and to their houses, and their wives, and their children." These Nephite soldiers have survived. They are returning to hearth and home. They will have the experience every soldier dreams of during battle, a safe return to the arms of their wives and children. Except that they won't. The next sentence is devastating: "Now many women and children had been slain with the sword...."
These devastating verses make a critically important point about miracles—they do not fully protect us from great loss and pain. The victory of the Nephites is miraculous. They have defeated enemies as numerous as sands of sea. But they have also suffered unnumbered losses of their own, including many innocent non-combatant women and children. While God sometimes intervenes to protect us, his interventions never remove all pain and suffering from our lives. In part, this is because we are the co-creators of this world who get to choose what kind of world we and others will live in (see exegesis of verse 19). God respects our agency to choose for good and ill with real consequences for ourselves and others. To set aside those consequences would be to deprive us of our agency. (See exegesis on Alma 1:4, Nehor's doctrine and the War in Heaven.)
  • Alma 3:3: Death with honor and dishonor. As with Alma 2:38 (see exegesis), this verse is designed to illustrate the fate of those who fight against God by fighting against his righetous people. Mormon and his sources drive home the dishonor of Lamanites who were cast into Sidon (Alma 3:3) or had their bones piled up (Alma 2:38) by highlighting the respectful burial of the bodies of the Nephite honored dead (Alma 3:1). So while war and disaster are bad for the righteous, they are worse for the wicked who, in aggregate, suffer more than the righteous and lack the consolations of faith if they survive.
  • Alma 3:4-19: Sociologcial Seam in the text. This section constitutes a seam in the text. A seam is an insertion that breaks the thread of a narrative to provide background or other information. Often, the inserted material appears to have been added after the fact and can be deleted without a trace, i.e., no one would know it had ever been part of the text because it is not an integral part of the narrative. Mormon here breaks the narrative thread and provides sociological context much as Nephi broke the continuity of his narrative with Nephi's Psalm, another seam in the text, that artfully comments upon the narrative with a lyrical lament for Nephi's personal weakness in that moment of family dissolution (2 Nephi 4:10 - 35). Here, the sociological seam provides background on the three combatant groups, with special attention to how the new group, the Amlicites, relates to the now familiar Nephites and Lamanites. In its structure, this passage is analogous to the artful first sentence of this chapter. It contains a seam within a seam. The discussion of the Amlicites seam brackets the discussion of the Nephites and Lamanites seam just as the act of burying bodies brackets the countless corpse interjection. Structure aptly mirrors meaning in this passage, for the Amlicites combine attributes of Nephites and Lamanites, the two groups they bracket. The Amlicite bracket is found in verses 4 and then 13 - 19. The review of the controversies between Nephites and Lamanites is the bracketed content in verse 5-12. By strucuring the seam in this way, Mormon signals that discussion of controversies between the Nephites and Lamanites is really about Amlicites.
  • Alma 3:5-12: Competing cultures and foundational myths. The Nephites and Lamanites have developed two competing cultures that are disinct in their clothing, grooming norms, modes of ornamentation, religion, and foundational myths. These verses summarize the differences between the cultures, with the summary being inflected by the Nephite point of view. The contrasts are as follows, in each case putting the Nephite value first, Lamanite second: shaved/unshaved head, covered/uncovered body, and light/dark complexion (possibly because of unshaved and covered versus shaved and uncovered bodies). The most important difference, however, is in their religion and foundational myths. The Nephites hold to the religion handed down to them in the Brass Plates and the Christian teachings of Lehi and Nephi. The Lamanites hold to a religion of their own devising. The Nephite foundational myth holds that Nephi had the right to rule Lehi's family because his righteousness led to God's explicit endorsement of his leadership. The Lamanites have rebelled against that legitimate leadership. The Lamanite foundational myth holds that Laman had the right to rule as the eldest son. Laman and Lemuel rightly sought to destroy the usurper, Nephi, who stole the Brass Plates and other symbols of sovereignty afer Lehi died.
  • Alma 3:4, 13-18: Amlicite mix of Nephite and Lamanite attributes. The Amlicites have grown up in the culture of the land of Zarahemla. In their dress, grooming, complexion, and other cultural attributes, they resemble the Nephites. Since they look so much like Nephites, they put a mark upon themselves, red paint on their foreheads, that links them to the Lamanites and becomes the mark of their curse. The important point Mormon makes in the structure of his narrative is that the real divide among the people is what foundational myth they embrace. When Nephites became kings over the combined Nephite and Mulekite peoples, the Amlicites embraced the Nephite foundational myth (while also learning more about David, their own royal progenitor from the Brass Plates that the Nephites brought with them). Now that the Nephite monarchy has ended, the Amlicite rebels, it appears, want to reestablish a Davidic monarchy with Amlici as king. They now view the Nephites as usurpers. In other words, they have embraced a foundational myth that is aligned with that of the Lamanites because both frame the Nephites as usurpers of legitimate authority. Having a compatible myth, Amlici allied himself with the Lamanites to overthrow what both groups perceive to be Nephite usurpers.
  • Alma 3:8: Assumption of asymmetrical potential for conversion. The reasoning in verse 8 seems flawed. There seems to be an implicit assumption that conversion runs only one way. Only Nephites have the power to choose between belief and unbelief. The Lamanites must be marked to keep them separate from the Nephites because when they mix, the Nephites become Lamanites rather than the other way around. But why should that be? The people of Ammon and the Lamanites who later respond to Nephi and Lehi demonstrate that Lamanites can become Nephite in their beliefs and culture. They, too, have the power to choose. Thus, the idea of the mark seems unnecessarily defensive. Most troubling is the idea that dark complexion is the mark, that darker skin is somehow associated with unbelief. But verse 4 indicates that the mark and race are not the same thing. The Amlicites do not differ from tne Nephites racially but are nevertheless marked as being one with the Lamanites now that they have adopted a similar foundational myth. While the often implicit assumption in Nephite discourse that Lamanites are incorrigible, that only Nephites are moral agents, is ill founded, the mark of the curse may nevertheless have practical spiritual value. As the liken unto us exegesis below indicates, those who are weak in faith do need to separate themselves from those who bear the mark and its associated curse. On the other hand, those who are very strong in the faith should gravitate to the lost souls who bear the mark and curse as, e.g., the sons of Mosiah do in chapters 17 - 27
  • Alma 3:4, 8-10: Likening the mark and cursing unto us. What is relevance of this section on marks and cursing to our time? Do we have marks? Do we have a cursing? We do. The markings of our day are piercings, tattoos, the goth look, and almost all extreme styles of dress and grooming and music and dance. The cursing that follows the adoption of these styles is separation from God and his people. If we, or more typically, our children adopt the styles of the world in dress and comportment, we or they will in most cases ultimately move away from the faith. This is partly a function of natural social dynamics. Adopting dress, grooming, and behavioral norms that differ from those typical among the saints reflects and intensifies alienation from the Lord's chosen people. When our dress and grooming are outre, faithful people will naturally tend to distance themselves from us. In some cases--e.g., if our deviations reflect a need for friendship and acceptance--they probably shouldn't withdraw, and the best of them won't. After all, their Lord was found among the publicans and sinners, not joining but saving them. In other cases--e.g., when our deviation reflects defiance, hostility, a desire to leave the kingdom and drag others down with us--they probably should withdraw unless they are themselves very strong in their faith. Young people, in particular, who are just beginning to build their own testimonies need to be cautious about associating closely with those who bear the marks of the world and their associated curse of separation from God and his people.
  • Alma 3:11: Foundational myths and ethnic identity. Whether people are Nephite or Lamanite is a function of the foundational myth they embrace. While there are other markers, the one that matters in the end and determines their long-term identity is the story of origin that they accept. See also Jacob 1:13-14.
  • Alma 3:12: True and false myths. Mormon indicates in this verse that the Nephites tell the true story of both the Nephites and Lamanties. He warrants the truth of the Nephite and denies the truth of the Lamanite foundational myth. While the truth or falsity of a foundational myth is worth knowing, it doesn't affect the social function of the myth. Myths define a people's sense of self and their social cohesion. The resentments of the Lamanites are stoked just as much by a false myth as they would have been by a true myth.
  • Alma 3:14-17: Source of quotation. These verses quote a revelation given by God to Nephi. This revelation is not found in Nephi's writings in the Small Plates. It must have been taken from the Large Plates.
  • Alma 3:15: Meaning of mingling. What does it mean to mingle one's seed with the Lamanites? The most likely meaning is to adopt the foundational myth handed down by Laman and Lemuel rather than that handed down by Nephi. It probably doesn't mean marriage. Mingling with the people of Ammon would anchor one more fully in Nephite culture given their deep faithfulness.
  • Alma 3:17: The Nephites yet live and walk among us. The Nephite people were not entirely extinguished in 400 A.D. and can never be extinguished while any descendant of Lehi or Nephi believes in the Book of Mormon. This fact is implicit in verse 17 and is made quite explicitly in Jacob 1:13-14. Those who depart from the faith cease to be Nephites (as the Amlicites here illustrate) regardless of their bloodline. Conversely, those who have some trace of the blood of Lehi or Nephi and who embrace the foundational myth of the Nephites, e.g., those who believe the Book of Mormon which articulates that foundational myth, become Nephites by virtue of those beliefs. They inherit the birthright of Nephi. As the Lord promised Nephi, they will be blessed henceforth and forever as Nephi himself has been blessed. Thus, members of the Church who have a Native American heritage should not be called Lamanites. They should be called Nephites. See discussion of verses 11 and 12 above.
  • Alma 3:19: Powerful statement of the Law of Justice. Verse 19 is theologically profound. It is a pithy statement of one of the two most fundamental laws of moral universe: the law of justice. Any eternal cursing that comes upon us is the natural consequence of our actions. We get what we have chosen. This verse provides a solid foundation for theodicy--for dealing with the problem of evil in the world. In the end, it is we, not God, who are responsible for the evils we and others suffer in this world. We create those evils by our choices. Even random natural disasters may be necessitated by human evil because they complicate the calculations of the natural man, situating him always on the edge of eternity and in the aggregate probably lessening the sum total of suffering that would exist if the natural man was not constrained by an awareness of his own contingent mortality which can elicit salutary fear of God.
This verse sheds light on the cursing of the Lamanites and Amlicites. Their differentiation and separation from the people of God is self inflicted. The red mark that both Lamanites and Amlicites put on their foreheads is clearly a self inflicted mark of the curse. They willfully mark themselves as being at odds with those who hold to the true religion and the valid foundational myth. Indeed, the grooming and clothing choices of the Lamanites mentioned in verse 5 may explain their darker skin, which may be a natural consequence of greater exposure to the sun.
The principle of justice that is articlated in this verse is applied in verse 26.
See exegesis on Alma 1:4, Nehor and the War in Heaven, and exegesis on verses 3:1-2 above.
  • Alma 3:20-24: The denouement of Alma's political career. This second great battle--what seems to have been the decisive battle for it is the one that ushers in a period of peace--gets little attention. The most prominent person in the passage is one who doesn't go up to battle--Alma. This is a lineage history with Alma as its focus. Since he didn't participate in this battle, it is ipso facto less important than the previous battle reported in such detail in 2:11 - 38. The passage devotes more attention to Alma's act of sending out a numerous army than to the great battle that ensued.
Alma’s wound and non-participation in this battle may have been included as a symbol that foreshadows his resignation from his political role as Chief Judge and war leader. Alma the politician has been wounded and will be less active. Alma the politician will give way to Alma the Prophet and High Priest who takes up his full time ministry in chapter 4.
  • Alma 3:26: Echo of Benjamin's great discourse. This verse echoes King Benjamin in Mosiah 2: 32, "But, O my people, beware lest there shall arise contentions among you, and ye list to obey the evil spirit, which was spoken of by my father Mosiah." The stakes in this verse are the same as those in Benjamin's valedictory sermon. The principle of justice that is so well articulated in verse 19 is applied in this verse.
  • Alma 3:25, 27: Dual endings--secular and spiritual--of the passage. Sections in this part of the Book of Mormon often end by stating in what year of the reign of judges the events occurred. This section of the book (and this chapter) are unusual in having two standard endings instead of the usual one. The first ending occurs in verse 25: "all these wars and contentions were commenced and ended in the fifth year of the reign of the judges." The second occurs in verse 27: "And thus endeth the fifth year of the reign of the judges." Why was it necessary to mention twice that these events occurred in the fifth year of the reign of judges? The reason for the two endings is that they offer different readings of the same event. The first is a secular/temporal ending of the war, with the soldiers returning home in 24 and the summative statement of the date in 25. The second is a spiritual/eternal reading of the same events, with tens of thousands of souls returning to their eternal home and facing final judgment, with the summative statement of the same date in 27. Once again, Mormon is artful in his recounting of content from his sources.

Unanswered questions[edit]

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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 3:14-18: How do these verses understand the mark put on the Lamanites and others? How do you reconcile these verses with verses such as 2 Ne 5:21-24? How do you reconcile the fact that in vv. 14-16 the Lord says he will put a mark on certain groups of people and v. 18 tells us that the people put the mark on themselves?

Resources[edit]

This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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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Alma 4:1-5

Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 4-7 > Chapter 4
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Summary[edit]

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Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 4. Chapter 4 is a transitional chapter. In it, Alma makes the transition from functioning in Nephite society (and in the text) primarily as a civil and military leader to functioning primarily as a religious leader. This transition may be foreshadowed by the dual endings, secular then spiritual, of chapter 3 (see exegesis on Alma 3:25 and 3:27). Like those endings, Alma moves from the secular to the spiritual doman, from Chief Judge to full time High Priest, in this chapter.
A major theme in this chapter is the swift moral decline of the Nephite people, a decline that establishes the need for Alma to go on the preaching missions that are the focus of the ensuing chapters 5 - 15. The swiftness of the moral decline, the sudden transition from great righteousness to great wickedness may indicate that the narrative here and elsewhere in the Book of Mormon is conventional rather than strictly and empirically historical in its descriptions of the righteousness and wickedness of the people. The narrative frame tends to be Manichean, with sudden sharp transitions from great righteousness to great wickedness. While these passages no doubt reflect real changes in the degree of Nephite faithfulness, there is reason to believe that their righteousness in the good times and wickedness in the bad times are both somewhat exaggerated by the Manichean narrative conventions of Mormon and his sources.
  • Alma 4:1-2: What Alma has wrought politically. As the exegesis for Alma 1:11 - 15 indicates, Alma has not been an entirely successful politician. He seems to have mishandled the Nehor affair and may, thus, bear some responsiblity for the bitter war that is recounted in Alma chapters 1 and 2 and for the terrible plight of his people in verse 2 of this chapter. To be sure, there is no contention now, but the war just ended has been devastating. Verse 3 tells us that "every soul had cause to mourn." No one escaped the suffering engendered by this unfortunate war.
  • Alma 4:3: War caused by the wickedness of the people — or was it? The people believe that the war and their sufferings are a judgment of God because of their wickedness, but is this attribution valid? Read Alma 1:25-31 which describes the state of affairs in Zarahemla before the outbreak of the war. As the exegesis in this wiki for those verses indicates, this passage is one of the lengthiest descriptions of people living in perfect righteousness found anywhere in the Book of Mormon. It is hard to imagine a people less deserving of God's judgments than the Nephites described in that period just prior to the outbreak of this war. It is worth noting that Mormon says only that they believed their wickedness caused the war, not that it actually did.
This is probably an example of the human need for a narrative explanation of events that occur and an instance of seeing with the eye of faith (Alma 5:15). Like the apostles in Mark 14:19, these righteous Nephites ask, to their credit, "Is it I?" when calamity befalls them. They look for possible personal failings that might have occasioned their suffering. But far from validating their attribution of being themselves blameworthy, this pattern of thought is consistent with the righteousness described in 1:25 - 31 and is a further sign of it. While some of the blame for this war may be ascribable to Alma's mistakes as a politician, the bulk of the fault must rest with Amlici and his followers. Human beings are co-creators of this world in which we live. Not all that happens to us is God's doing or God's will. So while we should follow the example of these Nephites and closely inspect our behavior for any example of faithlessness or wickedness, we should also recognize that the agency of others will sometimes visit misery upon us.
This passage may explain why the Nephites are so often described as being morally fickle, as transitioning so easily from complete righteousness to utter moral degradation and visa versa. They have a strong instinct for seeking coherent narrative explanations for what happens to them, and their narrative conventions seem to include a Manichean assumption that they must be guilty of wickedness and abominations if something bad happens and must be people of sterling good character when somthing good happens. It is likely that the swings in their moral praiseworthiness and blameworthiness are less violent than the Book of Mormon narrative implies. In other words, the story Mormon tells may sometimes be truer to Nephite narrative conventions than it is to empirical reality.
This instinct to seek narrative explanations for material good or bad fortune is not confined to the Nephites. Modern investors demand from the business press narrative explanations for why stock markets move up or down on a given day. Journalists accommodate this desire by providing narratives that attribute the movment to this announcement or that technical factor when, in fact, no one really knows what motivates most of the millions of buying and selling decisions that move markets from day to day. While reality is often complexly unintelligible, the human need for causal attribution means that people, ancient and modern, develop and accept narratives they can understand that explain what happened and why it happened even if the facts actually defy explanation.
This comment suggests that Mormon's accounts of utter moral transformation in Nephite society may sometimes be exaggerated by his narrative conventions and by his audience's need for clarity. A prophet’s narrative must be adapted to human nature if it is to benefit hearers or readers. A narrative may be pragmatically more true—may have more capacity to move people to be righteous—if it meets needs of the human mind for clear causality than if it describes an empircally more accurate series of random events that form no coherent narrative. While God has the capacity to fully know reality in all its complexity, the limitations of the human mind require of us that we often humbly settle for pragmatic rather than absolute truth as a guide for living our lives. Fortunately, when we are guided by the Holy Ghost, we can act in harmony with the absolute truth that God can know but we can't.
  • Alma 4:4: Contrasting symbolism of bodies immersed in the River Sidon. This verse echoes two previous sections of the Book of Mormon. The first echo is of Alma the Elder baptizing people at the Waters of Mormon (Mosiah 18:8 - 17). Here his son, Alma the Younger, renews the strength of the church founded by his father by again baptizing multitudes. Like his father, Alma the Younger is a collosal figure in Nephite history. This verse is a first sign of the spiritual power of Alma the Younger that will be revealed to us more fully in diverse settings, sermons, and personal communications to his children. This passage echoes the baptisms at the Waters of Mormon by direct parallel.
But the verse also echoes an earlier passage by contrast. In Alma 2:33-34 and 3:3 we also see Alma at the edge of the river Sidon putting bodies into the water, the bodies of his slain enemies. The enemies he casts into Sidon go under the water never to rise again. "Their bones are in the depths of the sea, and they are many" (Alma 3:3). The thousands Alma baptizes rise again to new life after their immersion while the enemies he immerses are lost forever. These contrasting passages thus symbolize the contrasting fates of those who support and oppose Alma, of those who keep the commandments of God and those who break them.
  • Alma 4:5: A golden moment. This verse describes a golden moment in Nephite history (not a golden age because there are none outside of 4 Nephi). Lots of baptisms, lots of peace. In short, the people are poised to experience a sudden and complete reversal.
  • Alma 4:6-8: The revenge of Nehor. In an article entitled "For the Peace of the People," Ryan W. Davis argues that King Mosiah's democratic reforms make the Nephites a formidable military power (see link below). They also seem to facilitate great material prosperity. Unlike King Noah's people who were "reduced" by taxes and other economic burdens (Mosiah 19:2), these Nephites are free to prosper. But in their prosperity, they become in their behavior followers of Nehor whom they had earlier rejected and defeated. Like him, they become full of pride and wear costly apparel (Alma 1:5-6). Alma's greatest political achievment was his defeat of the Nehorite Amlicites. But the people described in verses 6 and 8 sound like followers of Nehor, not of Alma. This is Nehor's revenge. Though Alma won the battle, Nehor is winning the war for the souls of those who rejected Amlici and, as an organization, the Nehorite religion. The irony of this is probably not lost on Alma. It may explain his great sorrow in verse 7.
  • Alma 4:8: The significance of "will and pleasure." The phrase "own will and pleasure" has special significance in the Book of Mormon. It is typically used to describe the exercise of God's agency. God is a being who rightly acts according to his will and pleasure. (See 2 Nephi 10:22, 25:22; Jacob 4:9, 5:14; Mosiah 7:33). The phrase is used one time to describe the acts of the Lamanite king (Alma 17:20) and one time by Laman and Lemuel to accuse Nephi of usurping authority that was not rightly his (1 Nephi 16:38). The only other use is in this passage. Here, the phrase suggests that the people of the church are deifying themselves, that they are aspiring to and presumptively assuming the status of God who rightly acts according to his will and pleasure and rightly judges others and visits punishments on them. These church members should be much more humble.
  • Alma 4:9-10: Conventional narrative and the importance of myth. In these verses, the people of the church are described as being more wicked than those who are not part of the church. One reading of this passage is to see it as reflecting a narrative convention, not the empirical reality of the people at that time. (See the exegesis on verse 3 above.) To be sure, these verses undoubtedly reflect real moral decline and forgetfullness, but is it really so complete in such a short period of time that those who were paragons a short time before are now the most base of men?
If these verses are to be taken literally, they make a strong statement on the importance of foundational myths. Given that Nephites now exhibit moral failings that exceed those of the Nehorite Amlicites and the Lamanites, why are these fallen Nephites rather than Lamanites or Amlicites still God’s chosen people? The answer must be that they continue to embrace the foundational myth of Nephites: that Nephi was a prophet and the rightful ruler, that his words and those of other prophets are binding. The Amlicites have adopted a variant of the Lamanites foundational myth: that Nephites are usurpers (of a Mulekite right to rule). Alma can still appeal to Nephites using scripture to persuade them that they are fallen. He can’t do that with Amlicites or Lamanites who have rejected the correct Nephite tradition. So we must distinguish between individual and cultural culpability. Individual Lamanites/Amlicites may now be superior to individual Nephites as these verses suggest, but Nephite culture remains superior to Amlicite/Lamanite culture. Salvation for any who are saved will occur within the Nephite tradition, so the Nephites remain the chosen people even though many individuals have not been true to their tradition.
  • Alma 4:11-14: Narrative Manicheanism. As the exegesis on verse 3 above indicates, there seems to be a Manichean convention in Nephite narrative. That convention is fully evident here. In verses 11 - 12, we see people who, though members of the church, are diabolically evil and untouched by any goodness. Then in verses 13 - 14, we see people who are angelically good and untouched by any evil. What we don't see are people who are trying to be good but fail because of weakness, who condemn themselves and try to repent but often relapse into sin, and yet, having true faith in Christ, repent again. In other words, people like us.
We do see this more recognizable type in Nephi's Psalm, 2 Nephi 4:26-29. Nephi's anguish at his own weakness may be the most important contributor to the power of that great piece of poetry. Nephi's narrative, on the other hand, is decidedly Manichean. Nephi is always good and Laman and Lemuel always bad. (The lack of nuance in Nephi's narrative might have been due to its political purpose [See the Larsen article linked below]). Nephi's Manichean narrative may have influenced subsequent Nephite historians, including Mormon, so the people in verses 11 - 12 are Laman and Lemuel analogs while those in 13 - 14 are analogs of Nephi.
  • Alma 4:12-14: Helping the poor. These verses represent a reversal of the process found in Alma 1:29-30. In Alma 1 Mormon chooses to highlight the temporal effects of the charity, that the members of the church became richer and more prosperous than those that did not belong to the church. In these verses he highlights their probably motivation for helping the poor, that these actions helped them retain a remission of their sins as taught by King Benjamin in Mosiah 4:26.
  • Alma 4:10-12, 13-14: Asymmetrical effects of good and bad examples. Verses 10–12 describe very wicked behavior on the part of church members and verses 13–14 very righteous behavior on their part. What is striking in this passage is that the bad example of church members is repeatedly described as strongly affecting surrounding unbelievers whereas the good example is not described as having any positive effect. This passage, therefore, seems to suggest that the effects of good and bad examples are asymmetrical, with bad effects outweighing good. Though it is not stated here, we know good examples do sometimes have good effects on nonmembers. It is nevertheless possible—judging from this passage—that wickedness in the Church has a more powerful effect for bad than goodness has for good, i.e., the example of good a Mormon is dominated by the example of a bad Mormon in the lives of non-members. If true, this is one point of advantage for Satan in the competition for souls.
  • Alma 4:16. At this time in the Book of Mormon the people are ruled by judges. As we can see from verse 16, judges had the power to enact laws in their government. The following phrase "according to the laws which had been given" suggests though that unlike the kings previous, there were restraints on how new laws could be enacted by the the chief judge.
Verse 16 also tells us that there was some form of democratic process was a part of the process. When Alma gives Nephihah power, he does it "according to the voice of the people."
  • Alma 4:16: Election by the nod. The government of the Nephites has a democratic element but is not a recognizable democracy in the modern sense. The best modern analogue may be the one party government of Mexico from the 1930’s to 2000 in which each successive president of the country selected his successor by giving him “the nod.” Here Alma, like Mosiah before him, selects his successor. In subsequent years, the Chief Judgeship comes either by the nod or by sons succeeding their fathers. It thus is closer to being a monarchy than a democracy in the modern sense, though the people do, at least in theory, have a check on the power of their ruler.
  • Alma 4:17. This is the first time that a '-hah' name is used in the Book of Mormon. The origin is an Egyptian suffix, meaning, 'eternal'. Much like we would call a child by our own name today, like Frank 'Junior', the Nephites sought to perpetuate the name of their first parent eternally. See also, for example, Shine-hah from the Book of Abraham, etc.
  • Alma 4:19: Preview of Alma's ministry. Verse 19 gives us a preview of the rest of Alma's life, as it is recorded in the Book of Mormon

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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 4:6-8: What do you make of the fact that wearing costly apparel is the sign of Nephite pride? To what could we compare this in our own day? The word “heresy” originally referred to something that created divisions in the Church. What does verse 8 tell us created divisions among the Nephites? What sorts of things are comparable today?
  • Alma 4:10: This verse tells us that the wickedness in the church became a stumbling-block for non-members. It is pretty easy to understand how that can happen. Verse 11 tells us that the wicked example of chuch members was leading unbelievers from one iniquity to another. Why did the wicked examples of church members lead unbelievers from one iniquity to another?
  • Alma 4:10-11: Shepherding. Verses 10-11 make a strong point about how our actions affect others. I'd love to see some deeper analysis of this point and/or at least cross-references to other passages that teach similar doctrine. For example, here are some related passages I'd like to look up when I get the time:
  • Cain asking "am I my brother's keeper?"
  • I'm thinking of at least one passage (Jacob in the BOM?) that says something to the effect of "if we didn't preach to them, we knew we'd be held accountable"
  • though not as directly related, verses related to the "where much is given much is required" (D&C 82 somewhere?) concept and how Lamanites are given more chances than Nephites b/c they were sinning against less light.
  • Matthew's recent comment about robbing the poor by not giving to them - those verses also suggest a very strong connection between our actions and their effect on others. (Again, this is only indirectly related and should probably be analysed on a user page or somewhere other than this commentary page.)
  • Alma 4:10-11: If the wickedness of the members is described as a stumbling block for nonmembers in v. 10, and in v. 11 we read that it lead the unbelievers on from one iniquity to another, should these be read as two separate points, or the same point stated differently? Are nonmembers and unbelievers the same people? Is the stumbling block something different than the leading to iniquity? As the question is currently worded, it suggests the stumbling block is easy to understand but the leading to iniquity isn't, suggesting two different notions (unless you are trying to emphasize the how vs. the why...). Any thoughts on that difference?
  • Alma 4:12-13: What kind of inequality begins to come among the people? What causes it? How is that inequality related to the sins we saw described in verses 6 and 8?
  • Alma 4:18: When Alma said that he "delivered" the judgment-seat to Nephihah, does that mean that it was a sort of calling or was it a responsibility? Is it like the church today that some teachers who teach Seminary are called to do so and others have to go through college to get paid to do so?
  • Alma 4:19: What does the last part of this verse suggest we must do if we wish to see peace in the world? How is this related to Alma’s teaching in Mosiah 18:9? Does Alma here imply that other things are unnecessary? This verse suggests that testimony has a saving power, not only in heavenly, but also in temporal things. How can that be?

Resources[edit]

This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

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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Alma 4:6-10

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Summary[edit]

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Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 4. Chapter 4 is a transitional chapter. In it, Alma makes the transition from functioning in Nephite society (and in the text) primarily as a civil and military leader to functioning primarily as a religious leader. This transition may be foreshadowed by the dual endings, secular then spiritual, of chapter 3 (see exegesis on Alma 3:25 and 3:27). Like those endings, Alma moves from the secular to the spiritual doman, from Chief Judge to full time High Priest, in this chapter.
A major theme in this chapter is the swift moral decline of the Nephite people, a decline that establishes the need for Alma to go on the preaching missions that are the focus of the ensuing chapters 5 - 15. The swiftness of the moral decline, the sudden transition from great righteousness to great wickedness may indicate that the narrative here and elsewhere in the Book of Mormon is conventional rather than strictly and empirically historical in its descriptions of the righteousness and wickedness of the people. The narrative frame tends to be Manichean, with sudden sharp transitions from great righteousness to great wickedness. While these passages no doubt reflect real changes in the degree of Nephite faithfulness, there is reason to believe that their righteousness in the good times and wickedness in the bad times are both somewhat exaggerated by the Manichean narrative conventions of Mormon and his sources.
  • Alma 4:1-2: What Alma has wrought politically. As the exegesis for Alma 1:11 - 15 indicates, Alma has not been an entirely successful politician. He seems to have mishandled the Nehor affair and may, thus, bear some responsiblity for the bitter war that is recounted in Alma chapters 1 and 2 and for the terrible plight of his people in verse 2 of this chapter. To be sure, there is no contention now, but the war just ended has been devastating. Verse 3 tells us that "every soul had cause to mourn." No one escaped the suffering engendered by this unfortunate war.
  • Alma 4:3: War caused by the wickedness of the people — or was it? The people believe that the war and their sufferings are a judgment of God because of their wickedness, but is this attribution valid? Read Alma 1:25-31 which describes the state of affairs in Zarahemla before the outbreak of the war. As the exegesis in this wiki for those verses indicates, this passage is one of the lengthiest descriptions of people living in perfect righteousness found anywhere in the Book of Mormon. It is hard to imagine a people less deserving of God's judgments than the Nephites described in that period just prior to the outbreak of this war. It is worth noting that Mormon says only that they believed their wickedness caused the war, not that it actually did.
This is probably an example of the human need for a narrative explanation of events that occur and an instance of seeing with the eye of faith (Alma 5:15). Like the apostles in Mark 14:19, these righteous Nephites ask, to their credit, "Is it I?" when calamity befalls them. They look for possible personal failings that might have occasioned their suffering. But far from validating their attribution of being themselves blameworthy, this pattern of thought is consistent with the righteousness described in 1:25 - 31 and is a further sign of it. While some of the blame for this war may be ascribable to Alma's mistakes as a politician, the bulk of the fault must rest with Amlici and his followers. Human beings are co-creators of this world in which we live. Not all that happens to us is God's doing or God's will. So while we should follow the example of these Nephites and closely inspect our behavior for any example of faithlessness or wickedness, we should also recognize that the agency of others will sometimes visit misery upon us.
This passage may explain why the Nephites are so often described as being morally fickle, as transitioning so easily from complete righteousness to utter moral degradation and visa versa. They have a strong instinct for seeking coherent narrative explanations for what happens to them, and their narrative conventions seem to include a Manichean assumption that they must be guilty of wickedness and abominations if something bad happens and must be people of sterling good character when somthing good happens. It is likely that the swings in their moral praiseworthiness and blameworthiness are less violent than the Book of Mormon narrative implies. In other words, the story Mormon tells may sometimes be truer to Nephite narrative conventions than it is to empirical reality.
This instinct to seek narrative explanations for material good or bad fortune is not confined to the Nephites. Modern investors demand from the business press narrative explanations for why stock markets move up or down on a given day. Journalists accommodate this desire by providing narratives that attribute the movment to this announcement or that technical factor when, in fact, no one really knows what motivates most of the millions of buying and selling decisions that move markets from day to day. While reality is often complexly unintelligible, the human need for causal attribution means that people, ancient and modern, develop and accept narratives they can understand that explain what happened and why it happened even if the facts actually defy explanation.
This comment suggests that Mormon's accounts of utter moral transformation in Nephite society may sometimes be exaggerated by his narrative conventions and by his audience's need for clarity. A prophet’s narrative must be adapted to human nature if it is to benefit hearers or readers. A narrative may be pragmatically more true—may have more capacity to move people to be righteous—if it meets needs of the human mind for clear causality than if it describes an empircally more accurate series of random events that form no coherent narrative. While God has the capacity to fully know reality in all its complexity, the limitations of the human mind require of us that we often humbly settle for pragmatic rather than absolute truth as a guide for living our lives. Fortunately, when we are guided by the Holy Ghost, we can act in harmony with the absolute truth that God can know but we can't.
  • Alma 4:4: Contrasting symbolism of bodies immersed in the River Sidon. This verse echoes two previous sections of the Book of Mormon. The first echo is of Alma the Elder baptizing people at the Waters of Mormon (Mosiah 18:8 - 17). Here his son, Alma the Younger, renews the strength of the church founded by his father by again baptizing multitudes. Like his father, Alma the Younger is a collosal figure in Nephite history. This verse is a first sign of the spiritual power of Alma the Younger that will be revealed to us more fully in diverse settings, sermons, and personal communications to his children. This passage echoes the baptisms at the Waters of Mormon by direct parallel.
But the verse also echoes an earlier passage by contrast. In Alma 2:33-34 and 3:3 we also see Alma at the edge of the river Sidon putting bodies into the water, the bodies of his slain enemies. The enemies he casts into Sidon go under the water never to rise again. "Their bones are in the depths of the sea, and they are many" (Alma 3:3). The thousands Alma baptizes rise again to new life after their immersion while the enemies he immerses are lost forever. These contrasting passages thus symbolize the contrasting fates of those who support and oppose Alma, of those who keep the commandments of God and those who break them.
  • Alma 4:5: A golden moment. This verse describes a golden moment in Nephite history (not a golden age because there are none outside of 4 Nephi). Lots of baptisms, lots of peace. In short, the people are poised to experience a sudden and complete reversal.
  • Alma 4:6-8: The revenge of Nehor. In an article entitled "For the Peace of the People," Ryan W. Davis argues that King Mosiah's democratic reforms make the Nephites a formidable military power (see link below). They also seem to facilitate great material prosperity. Unlike King Noah's people who were "reduced" by taxes and other economic burdens (Mosiah 19:2), these Nephites are free to prosper. But in their prosperity, they become in their behavior followers of Nehor whom they had earlier rejected and defeated. Like him, they become full of pride and wear costly apparel (Alma 1:5-6). Alma's greatest political achievment was his defeat of the Nehorite Amlicites. But the people described in verses 6 and 8 sound like followers of Nehor, not of Alma. This is Nehor's revenge. Though Alma won the battle, Nehor is winning the war for the souls of those who rejected Amlici and, as an organization, the Nehorite religion. The irony of this is probably not lost on Alma. It may explain his great sorrow in verse 7.
  • Alma 4:8: The significance of "will and pleasure." The phrase "own will and pleasure" has special significance in the Book of Mormon. It is typically used to describe the exercise of God's agency. God is a being who rightly acts according to his will and pleasure. (See 2 Nephi 10:22, 25:22; Jacob 4:9, 5:14; Mosiah 7:33). The phrase is used one time to describe the acts of the Lamanite king (Alma 17:20) and one time by Laman and Lemuel to accuse Nephi of usurping authority that was not rightly his (1 Nephi 16:38). The only other use is in this passage. Here, the phrase suggests that the people of the church are deifying themselves, that they are aspiring to and presumptively assuming the status of God who rightly acts according to his will and pleasure and rightly judges others and visits punishments on them. These church members should be much more humble.
  • Alma 4:9-10: Conventional narrative and the importance of myth. In these verses, the people of the church are described as being more wicked than those who are not part of the church. One reading of this passage is to see it as reflecting a narrative convention, not the empirical reality of the people at that time. (See the exegesis on verse 3 above.) To be sure, these verses undoubtedly reflect real moral decline and forgetfullness, but is it really so complete in such a short period of time that those who were paragons a short time before are now the most base of men?
If these verses are to be taken literally, they make a strong statement on the importance of foundational myths. Given that Nephites now exhibit moral failings that exceed those of the Nehorite Amlicites and the Lamanites, why are these fallen Nephites rather than Lamanites or Amlicites still God’s chosen people? The answer must be that they continue to embrace the foundational myth of Nephites: that Nephi was a prophet and the rightful ruler, that his words and those of other prophets are binding. The Amlicites have adopted a variant of the Lamanites foundational myth: that Nephites are usurpers (of a Mulekite right to rule). Alma can still appeal to Nephites using scripture to persuade them that they are fallen. He can’t do that with Amlicites or Lamanites who have rejected the correct Nephite tradition. So we must distinguish between individual and cultural culpability. Individual Lamanites/Amlicites may now be superior to individual Nephites as these verses suggest, but Nephite culture remains superior to Amlicite/Lamanite culture. Salvation for any who are saved will occur within the Nephite tradition, so the Nephites remain the chosen people even though many individuals have not been true to their tradition.
  • Alma 4:11-14: Narrative Manicheanism. As the exegesis on verse 3 above indicates, there seems to be a Manichean convention in Nephite narrative. That convention is fully evident here. In verses 11 - 12, we see people who, though members of the church, are diabolically evil and untouched by any goodness. Then in verses 13 - 14, we see people who are angelically good and untouched by any evil. What we don't see are people who are trying to be good but fail because of weakness, who condemn themselves and try to repent but often relapse into sin, and yet, having true faith in Christ, repent again. In other words, people like us.
We do see this more recognizable type in Nephi's Psalm, 2 Nephi 4:26-29. Nephi's anguish at his own weakness may be the most important contributor to the power of that great piece of poetry. Nephi's narrative, on the other hand, is decidedly Manichean. Nephi is always good and Laman and Lemuel always bad. (The lack of nuance in Nephi's narrative might have been due to its political purpose [See the Larsen article linked below]). Nephi's Manichean narrative may have influenced subsequent Nephite historians, including Mormon, so the people in verses 11 - 12 are Laman and Lemuel analogs while those in 13 - 14 are analogs of Nephi.
  • Alma 4:12-14: Helping the poor. These verses represent a reversal of the process found in Alma 1:29-30. In Alma 1 Mormon chooses to highlight the temporal effects of the charity, that the members of the church became richer and more prosperous than those that did not belong to the church. In these verses he highlights their probably motivation for helping the poor, that these actions helped them retain a remission of their sins as taught by King Benjamin in Mosiah 4:26.
  • Alma 4:10-12, 13-14: Asymmetrical effects of good and bad examples. Verses 10–12 describe very wicked behavior on the part of church members and verses 13–14 very righteous behavior on their part. What is striking in this passage is that the bad example of church members is repeatedly described as strongly affecting surrounding unbelievers whereas the good example is not described as having any positive effect. This passage, therefore, seems to suggest that the effects of good and bad examples are asymmetrical, with bad effects outweighing good. Though it is not stated here, we know good examples do sometimes have good effects on nonmembers. It is nevertheless possible—judging from this passage—that wickedness in the Church has a more powerful effect for bad than goodness has for good, i.e., the example of good a Mormon is dominated by the example of a bad Mormon in the lives of non-members. If true, this is one point of advantage for Satan in the competition for souls.
  • Alma 4:16. At this time in the Book of Mormon the people are ruled by judges. As we can see from verse 16, judges had the power to enact laws in their government. The following phrase "according to the laws which had been given" suggests though that unlike the kings previous, there were restraints on how new laws could be enacted by the the chief judge.
Verse 16 also tells us that there was some form of democratic process was a part of the process. When Alma gives Nephihah power, he does it "according to the voice of the people."
  • Alma 4:16: Election by the nod. The government of the Nephites has a democratic element but is not a recognizable democracy in the modern sense. The best modern analogue may be the one party government of Mexico from the 1930’s to 2000 in which each successive president of the country selected his successor by giving him “the nod.” Here Alma, like Mosiah before him, selects his successor. In subsequent years, the Chief Judgeship comes either by the nod or by sons succeeding their fathers. It thus is closer to being a monarchy than a democracy in the modern sense, though the people do, at least in theory, have a check on the power of their ruler.
  • Alma 4:17. This is the first time that a '-hah' name is used in the Book of Mormon. The origin is an Egyptian suffix, meaning, 'eternal'. Much like we would call a child by our own name today, like Frank 'Junior', the Nephites sought to perpetuate the name of their first parent eternally. See also, for example, Shine-hah from the Book of Abraham, etc.
  • Alma 4:19: Preview of Alma's ministry. Verse 19 gives us a preview of the rest of Alma's life, as it is recorded in the Book of Mormon

Unanswered questions[edit]

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Prompts for life application[edit]

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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 4:6-8: What do you make of the fact that wearing costly apparel is the sign of Nephite pride? To what could we compare this in our own day? The word “heresy” originally referred to something that created divisions in the Church. What does verse 8 tell us created divisions among the Nephites? What sorts of things are comparable today?
  • Alma 4:10: This verse tells us that the wickedness in the church became a stumbling-block for non-members. It is pretty easy to understand how that can happen. Verse 11 tells us that the wicked example of chuch members was leading unbelievers from one iniquity to another. Why did the wicked examples of church members lead unbelievers from one iniquity to another?
  • Alma 4:10-11: Shepherding. Verses 10-11 make a strong point about how our actions affect others. I'd love to see some deeper analysis of this point and/or at least cross-references to other passages that teach similar doctrine. For example, here are some related passages I'd like to look up when I get the time:
  • Cain asking "am I my brother's keeper?"
  • I'm thinking of at least one passage (Jacob in the BOM?) that says something to the effect of "if we didn't preach to them, we knew we'd be held accountable"
  • though not as directly related, verses related to the "where much is given much is required" (D&C 82 somewhere?) concept and how Lamanites are given more chances than Nephites b/c they were sinning against less light.
  • Matthew's recent comment about robbing the poor by not giving to them - those verses also suggest a very strong connection between our actions and their effect on others. (Again, this is only indirectly related and should probably be analysed on a user page or somewhere other than this commentary page.)
  • Alma 4:10-11: If the wickedness of the members is described as a stumbling block for nonmembers in v. 10, and in v. 11 we read that it lead the unbelievers on from one iniquity to another, should these be read as two separate points, or the same point stated differently? Are nonmembers and unbelievers the same people? Is the stumbling block something different than the leading to iniquity? As the question is currently worded, it suggests the stumbling block is easy to understand but the leading to iniquity isn't, suggesting two different notions (unless you are trying to emphasize the how vs. the why...). Any thoughts on that difference?
  • Alma 4:12-13: What kind of inequality begins to come among the people? What causes it? How is that inequality related to the sins we saw described in verses 6 and 8?
  • Alma 4:18: When Alma said that he "delivered" the judgment-seat to Nephihah, does that mean that it was a sort of calling or was it a responsibility? Is it like the church today that some teachers who teach Seminary are called to do so and others have to go through college to get paid to do so?
  • Alma 4:19: What does the last part of this verse suggest we must do if we wish to see peace in the world? How is this related to Alma’s teaching in Mosiah 18:9? Does Alma here imply that other things are unnecessary? This verse suggests that testimony has a saving power, not only in heavenly, but also in temporal things. How can that be?

Resources[edit]

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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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Alma 4:11-15

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Summary[edit]

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Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 4. Chapter 4 is a transitional chapter. In it, Alma makes the transition from functioning in Nephite society (and in the text) primarily as a civil and military leader to functioning primarily as a religious leader. This transition may be foreshadowed by the dual endings, secular then spiritual, of chapter 3 (see exegesis on Alma 3:25 and 3:27). Like those endings, Alma moves from the secular to the spiritual doman, from Chief Judge to full time High Priest, in this chapter.
A major theme in this chapter is the swift moral decline of the Nephite people, a decline that establishes the need for Alma to go on the preaching missions that are the focus of the ensuing chapters 5 - 15. The swiftness of the moral decline, the sudden transition from great righteousness to great wickedness may indicate that the narrative here and elsewhere in the Book of Mormon is conventional rather than strictly and empirically historical in its descriptions of the righteousness and wickedness of the people. The narrative frame tends to be Manichean, with sudden sharp transitions from great righteousness to great wickedness. While these passages no doubt reflect real changes in the degree of Nephite faithfulness, there is reason to believe that their righteousness in the good times and wickedness in the bad times are both somewhat exaggerated by the Manichean narrative conventions of Mormon and his sources.
  • Alma 4:1-2: What Alma has wrought politically. As the exegesis for Alma 1:11 - 15 indicates, Alma has not been an entirely successful politician. He seems to have mishandled the Nehor affair and may, thus, bear some responsiblity for the bitter war that is recounted in Alma chapters 1 and 2 and for the terrible plight of his people in verse 2 of this chapter. To be sure, there is no contention now, but the war just ended has been devastating. Verse 3 tells us that "every soul had cause to mourn." No one escaped the suffering engendered by this unfortunate war.
  • Alma 4:3: War caused by the wickedness of the people — or was it? The people believe that the war and their sufferings are a judgment of God because of their wickedness, but is this attribution valid? Read Alma 1:25-31 which describes the state of affairs in Zarahemla before the outbreak of the war. As the exegesis in this wiki for those verses indicates, this passage is one of the lengthiest descriptions of people living in perfect righteousness found anywhere in the Book of Mormon. It is hard to imagine a people less deserving of God's judgments than the Nephites described in that period just prior to the outbreak of this war. It is worth noting that Mormon says only that they believed their wickedness caused the war, not that it actually did.
This is probably an example of the human need for a narrative explanation of events that occur and an instance of seeing with the eye of faith (Alma 5:15). Like the apostles in Mark 14:19, these righteous Nephites ask, to their credit, "Is it I?" when calamity befalls them. They look for possible personal failings that might have occasioned their suffering. But far from validating their attribution of being themselves blameworthy, this pattern of thought is consistent with the righteousness described in 1:25 - 31 and is a further sign of it. While some of the blame for this war may be ascribable to Alma's mistakes as a politician, the bulk of the fault must rest with Amlici and his followers. Human beings are co-creators of this world in which we live. Not all that happens to us is God's doing or God's will. So while we should follow the example of these Nephites and closely inspect our behavior for any example of faithlessness or wickedness, we should also recognize that the agency of others will sometimes visit misery upon us.
This passage may explain why the Nephites are so often described as being morally fickle, as transitioning so easily from complete righteousness to utter moral degradation and visa versa. They have a strong instinct for seeking coherent narrative explanations for what happens to them, and their narrative conventions seem to include a Manichean assumption that they must be guilty of wickedness and abominations if something bad happens and must be people of sterling good character when somthing good happens. It is likely that the swings in their moral praiseworthiness and blameworthiness are less violent than the Book of Mormon narrative implies. In other words, the story Mormon tells may sometimes be truer to Nephite narrative conventions than it is to empirical reality.
This instinct to seek narrative explanations for material good or bad fortune is not confined to the Nephites. Modern investors demand from the business press narrative explanations for why stock markets move up or down on a given day. Journalists accommodate this desire by providing narratives that attribute the movment to this announcement or that technical factor when, in fact, no one really knows what motivates most of the millions of buying and selling decisions that move markets from day to day. While reality is often complexly unintelligible, the human need for causal attribution means that people, ancient and modern, develop and accept narratives they can understand that explain what happened and why it happened even if the facts actually defy explanation.
This comment suggests that Mormon's accounts of utter moral transformation in Nephite society may sometimes be exaggerated by his narrative conventions and by his audience's need for clarity. A prophet’s narrative must be adapted to human nature if it is to benefit hearers or readers. A narrative may be pragmatically more true—may have more capacity to move people to be righteous—if it meets needs of the human mind for clear causality than if it describes an empircally more accurate series of random events that form no coherent narrative. While God has the capacity to fully know reality in all its complexity, the limitations of the human mind require of us that we often humbly settle for pragmatic rather than absolute truth as a guide for living our lives. Fortunately, when we are guided by the Holy Ghost, we can act in harmony with the absolute truth that God can know but we can't.
  • Alma 4:4: Contrasting symbolism of bodies immersed in the River Sidon. This verse echoes two previous sections of the Book of Mormon. The first echo is of Alma the Elder baptizing people at the Waters of Mormon (Mosiah 18:8 - 17). Here his son, Alma the Younger, renews the strength of the church founded by his father by again baptizing multitudes. Like his father, Alma the Younger is a collosal figure in Nephite history. This verse is a first sign of the spiritual power of Alma the Younger that will be revealed to us more fully in diverse settings, sermons, and personal communications to his children. This passage echoes the baptisms at the Waters of Mormon by direct parallel.
But the verse also echoes an earlier passage by contrast. In Alma 2:33-34 and 3:3 we also see Alma at the edge of the river Sidon putting bodies into the water, the bodies of his slain enemies. The enemies he casts into Sidon go under the water never to rise again. "Their bones are in the depths of the sea, and they are many" (Alma 3:3). The thousands Alma baptizes rise again to new life after their immersion while the enemies he immerses are lost forever. These contrasting passages thus symbolize the contrasting fates of those who support and oppose Alma, of those who keep the commandments of God and those who break them.
  • Alma 4:5: A golden moment. This verse describes a golden moment in Nephite history (not a golden age because there are none outside of 4 Nephi). Lots of baptisms, lots of peace. In short, the people are poised to experience a sudden and complete reversal.
  • Alma 4:6-8: The revenge of Nehor. In an article entitled "For the Peace of the People," Ryan W. Davis argues that King Mosiah's democratic reforms make the Nephites a formidable military power (see link below). They also seem to facilitate great material prosperity. Unlike King Noah's people who were "reduced" by taxes and other economic burdens (Mosiah 19:2), these Nephites are free to prosper. But in their prosperity, they become in their behavior followers of Nehor whom they had earlier rejected and defeated. Like him, they become full of pride and wear costly apparel (Alma 1:5-6). Alma's greatest political achievment was his defeat of the Nehorite Amlicites. But the people described in verses 6 and 8 sound like followers of Nehor, not of Alma. This is Nehor's revenge. Though Alma won the battle, Nehor is winning the war for the souls of those who rejected Amlici and, as an organization, the Nehorite religion. The irony of this is probably not lost on Alma. It may explain his great sorrow in verse 7.
  • Alma 4:8: The significance of "will and pleasure." The phrase "own will and pleasure" has special significance in the Book of Mormon. It is typically used to describe the exercise of God's agency. God is a being who rightly acts according to his will and pleasure. (See 2 Nephi 10:22, 25:22; Jacob 4:9, 5:14; Mosiah 7:33). The phrase is used one time to describe the acts of the Lamanite king (Alma 17:20) and one time by Laman and Lemuel to accuse Nephi of usurping authority that was not rightly his (1 Nephi 16:38). The only other use is in this passage. Here, the phrase suggests that the people of the church are deifying themselves, that they are aspiring to and presumptively assuming the status of God who rightly acts according to his will and pleasure and rightly judges others and visits punishments on them. These church members should be much more humble.
  • Alma 4:9-10: Conventional narrative and the importance of myth. In these verses, the people of the church are described as being more wicked than those who are not part of the church. One reading of this passage is to see it as reflecting a narrative convention, not the empirical reality of the people at that time. (See the exegesis on verse 3 above.) To be sure, these verses undoubtedly reflect real moral decline and forgetfullness, but is it really so complete in such a short period of time that those who were paragons a short time before are now the most base of men?
If these verses are to be taken literally, they make a strong statement on the importance of foundational myths. Given that Nephites now exhibit moral failings that exceed those of the Nehorite Amlicites and the Lamanites, why are these fallen Nephites rather than Lamanites or Amlicites still God’s chosen people? The answer must be that they continue to embrace the foundational myth of Nephites: that Nephi was a prophet and the rightful ruler, that his words and those of other prophets are binding. The Amlicites have adopted a variant of the Lamanites foundational myth: that Nephites are usurpers (of a Mulekite right to rule). Alma can still appeal to Nephites using scripture to persuade them that they are fallen. He can’t do that with Amlicites or Lamanites who have rejected the correct Nephite tradition. So we must distinguish between individual and cultural culpability. Individual Lamanites/Amlicites may now be superior to individual Nephites as these verses suggest, but Nephite culture remains superior to Amlicite/Lamanite culture. Salvation for any who are saved will occur within the Nephite tradition, so the Nephites remain the chosen people even though many individuals have not been true to their tradition.
  • Alma 4:11-14: Narrative Manicheanism. As the exegesis on verse 3 above indicates, there seems to be a Manichean convention in Nephite narrative. That convention is fully evident here. In verses 11 - 12, we see people who, though members of the church, are diabolically evil and untouched by any goodness. Then in verses 13 - 14, we see people who are angelically good and untouched by any evil. What we don't see are people who are trying to be good but fail because of weakness, who condemn themselves and try to repent but often relapse into sin, and yet, having true faith in Christ, repent again. In other words, people like us.
We do see this more recognizable type in Nephi's Psalm, 2 Nephi 4:26-29. Nephi's anguish at his own weakness may be the most important contributor to the power of that great piece of poetry. Nephi's narrative, on the other hand, is decidedly Manichean. Nephi is always good and Laman and Lemuel always bad. (The lack of nuance in Nephi's narrative might have been due to its political purpose [See the Larsen article linked below]). Nephi's Manichean narrative may have influenced subsequent Nephite historians, including Mormon, so the people in verses 11 - 12 are Laman and Lemuel analogs while those in 13 - 14 are analogs of Nephi.
  • Alma 4:12-14: Helping the poor. These verses represent a reversal of the process found in Alma 1:29-30. In Alma 1 Mormon chooses to highlight the temporal effects of the charity, that the members of the church became richer and more prosperous than those that did not belong to the church. In these verses he highlights their probably motivation for helping the poor, that these actions helped them retain a remission of their sins as taught by King Benjamin in Mosiah 4:26.
  • Alma 4:10-12, 13-14: Asymmetrical effects of good and bad examples. Verses 10–12 describe very wicked behavior on the part of church members and verses 13–14 very righteous behavior on their part. What is striking in this passage is that the bad example of church members is repeatedly described as strongly affecting surrounding unbelievers whereas the good example is not described as having any positive effect. This passage, therefore, seems to suggest that the effects of good and bad examples are asymmetrical, with bad effects outweighing good. Though it is not stated here, we know good examples do sometimes have good effects on nonmembers. It is nevertheless possible—judging from this passage—that wickedness in the Church has a more powerful effect for bad than goodness has for good, i.e., the example of good a Mormon is dominated by the example of a bad Mormon in the lives of non-members. If true, this is one point of advantage for Satan in the competition for souls.
  • Alma 4:16. At this time in the Book of Mormon the people are ruled by judges. As we can see from verse 16, judges had the power to enact laws in their government. The following phrase "according to the laws which had been given" suggests though that unlike the kings previous, there were restraints on how new laws could be enacted by the the chief judge.
Verse 16 also tells us that there was some form of democratic process was a part of the process. When Alma gives Nephihah power, he does it "according to the voice of the people."
  • Alma 4:16: Election by the nod. The government of the Nephites has a democratic element but is not a recognizable democracy in the modern sense. The best modern analogue may be the one party government of Mexico from the 1930’s to 2000 in which each successive president of the country selected his successor by giving him “the nod.” Here Alma, like Mosiah before him, selects his successor. In subsequent years, the Chief Judgeship comes either by the nod or by sons succeeding their fathers. It thus is closer to being a monarchy than a democracy in the modern sense, though the people do, at least in theory, have a check on the power of their ruler.
  • Alma 4:17. This is the first time that a '-hah' name is used in the Book of Mormon. The origin is an Egyptian suffix, meaning, 'eternal'. Much like we would call a child by our own name today, like Frank 'Junior', the Nephites sought to perpetuate the name of their first parent eternally. See also, for example, Shine-hah from the Book of Abraham, etc.
  • Alma 4:19: Preview of Alma's ministry. Verse 19 gives us a preview of the rest of Alma's life, as it is recorded in the Book of Mormon

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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  • Alma 4:6-8: What do you make of the fact that wearing costly apparel is the sign of Nephite pride? To what could we compare this in our own day? The word “heresy” originally referred to something that created divisions in the Church. What does verse 8 tell us created divisions among the Nephites? What sorts of things are comparable today?
  • Alma 4:10: This verse tells us that the wickedness in the church became a stumbling-block for non-members. It is pretty easy to understand how that can happen. Verse 11 tells us that the wicked example of chuch members was leading unbelievers from one iniquity to another. Why did the wicked examples of church members lead unbelievers from one iniquity to another?
  • Alma 4:10-11: Shepherding. Verses 10-11 make a strong point about how our actions affect others. I'd love to see some deeper analysis of this point and/or at least cross-references to other passages that teach similar doctrine. For example, here are some related passages I'd like to look up when I get the time:
  • Cain asking "am I my brother's keeper?"
  • I'm thinking of at least one passage (Jacob in the BOM?) that says something to the effect of "if we didn't preach to them, we knew we'd be held accountable"
  • though not as directly related, verses related to the "where much is given much is required" (D&C 82 somewhere?) concept and how Lamanites are given more chances than Nephites b/c they were sinning against less light.
  • Matthew's recent comment about robbing the poor by not giving to them - those verses also suggest a very strong connection between our actions and their effect on others. (Again, this is only indirectly related and should probably be analysed on a user page or somewhere other than this commentary page.)
  • Alma 4:10-11: If the wickedness of the members is described as a stumbling block for nonmembers in v. 10, and in v. 11 we read that it lead the unbelievers on from one iniquity to another, should these be read as two separate points, or the same point stated differently? Are nonmembers and unbelievers the same people? Is the stumbling block something different than the leading to iniquity? As the question is currently worded, it suggests the stumbling block is easy to understand but the leading to iniquity isn't, suggesting two different notions (unless you are trying to emphasize the how vs. the why...). Any thoughts on that difference?
  • Alma 4:12-13: What kind of inequality begins to come among the people? What causes it? How is that inequality related to the sins we saw described in verses 6 and 8?
  • Alma 4:18: When Alma said that he "delivered" the judgment-seat to Nephihah, does that mean that it was a sort of calling or was it a responsibility? Is it like the church today that some teachers who teach Seminary are called to do so and others have to go through college to get paid to do so?
  • Alma 4:19: What does the last part of this verse suggest we must do if we wish to see peace in the world? How is this related to Alma’s teaching in Mosiah 18:9? Does Alma here imply that other things are unnecessary? This verse suggests that testimony has a saving power, not only in heavenly, but also in temporal things. How can that be?

Resources[edit]

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Notes[edit]

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Alma 4:16-20

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Summary[edit]

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Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Alma 4. Chapter 4 is a transitional chapter. In it, Alma makes the transition from functioning in Nephite society (and in the text) primarily as a civil and military leader to functioning primarily as a religious leader. This transition may be foreshadowed by the dual endings, secular then spiritual, of chapter 3 (see exegesis on Alma 3:25 and 3:27). Like those endings, Alma moves from the secular to the spiritual doman, from Chief Judge to full time High Priest, in this chapter.
A major theme in this chapter is the swift moral decline of the Nephite people, a decline that establishes the need for Alma to go on the preaching missions that are the focus of the ensuing chapters 5 - 15. The swiftness of the moral decline, the sudden transition from great righteousness to great wickedness may indicate that the narrative here and elsewhere in the Book of Mormon is conventional rather than strictly and empirically historical in its descriptions of the righteousness and wickedness of the people. The narrative frame tends to be Manichean, with sudden sharp transitions from great righteousness to great wickedness. While these passages no doubt reflect real changes in the degree of Nephite faithfulness, there is reason to believe that their righteousness in the good times and wickedness in the bad times are both somewhat exaggerated by the Manichean narrative conventions of Mormon and his sources.
  • Alma 4:1-2: What Alma has wrought politically. As the exegesis for Alma 1:11 - 15 indicates, Alma has not been an entirely successful politician. He seems to have mishandled the Nehor affair and may, thus, bear some responsiblity for the bitter war that is recounted in Alma chapters 1 and 2 and for the terrible plight of his people in verse 2 of this chapter. To be sure, there is no contention now, but the war just ended has been devastating. Verse 3 tells us that "every soul had cause to mourn." No one escaped the suffering engendered by this unfortunate war.
  • Alma 4:3: War caused by the wickedness of the people — or was it? The people believe that the war and their sufferings are a judgment of God because of their wickedness, but is this attribution valid? Read Alma 1:25-31 which describes the state of affairs in Zarahemla before the outbreak of the war. As the exegesis in this wiki for those verses indicates, this passage is one of the lengthiest descriptions of people living in perfect righteousness found anywhere in the Book of Mormon. It is hard to imagine a people less deserving of God's judgments than the Nephites described in that period just prior to the outbreak of this war. It is worth noting that Mormon says only that they believed their wickedness caused the war, not that it actually did.
This is probably an example of the human need for a narrative explanation of events that occur and an instance of seeing with the eye of faith (Alma 5:15). Like the apostles in Mark 14:19, these righteous Nephites ask, to their credit, "Is it I?" when calamity befalls them. They look for possible personal failings that might have occasioned their suffering. But far from validating their attribution of being themselves blameworthy, this pattern of thought is consistent with the righteousness described in 1:25 - 31 and is a further sign of it. While some of the blame for this war may be ascribable to Alma's mistakes as a politician, the bulk of the fault must rest with Amlici and his followers. Human beings are co-creators of this world in which we live. Not all that happens to us is God's doing or God's will. So while we should follow the example of these Nephites and closely inspect our behavior for any example of faithlessness or wickedness, we should also recognize that the agency of others will sometimes visit misery upon us.
This passage may explain why the Nephites are so often described as being morally fickle, as transitioning so easily from complete righteousness to utter moral degradation and visa versa. They have a strong instinct for seeking coherent narrative explanations for what happens to them, and their narrative conventions seem to include a Manichean assumption that they must be guilty of wickedness and abominations if something bad happens and must be people of sterling good character when somthing good happens. It is likely that the swings in their moral praiseworthiness and blameworthiness are less violent than the Book of Mormon narrative implies. In other words, the story Mormon tells may sometimes be truer to Nephite narrative conventions than it is to empirical reality.
This instinct to seek narrative explanations for material good or bad fortune is not confined to the Nephites. Modern investors demand from the business press narrative explanations for why stock markets move up or down on a given day. Journalists accommodate this desire by providing narratives that attribute the movment to this announcement or that technical factor when, in fact, no one really knows what motivates most of the millions of buying and selling decisions that move markets from day to day. While reality is often complexly unintelligible, the human need for causal attribution means that people, ancient and modern, develop and accept narratives they can understand that explain what happened and why it happened even if the facts actually defy explanation.
This comment suggests that Mormon's accounts of utter moral transformation in Nephite society may sometimes be exaggerated by his narrative conventions and by his audience's need for clarity. A prophet’s narrative must be adapted to human nature if it is to benefit hearers or readers. A narrative may be pragmatically more true—may have more capacity to move people to be righteous—if it meets needs of the human mind for clear causality than if it describes an empircally more accurate series of random events that form no coherent narrative. While God has the capacity to fully know reality in all its complexity, the limitations of the human mind require of us that we often humbly settle for pragmatic rather than absolute truth as a guide for living our lives. Fortunately, when we are guided by the Holy Ghost, we can act in harmony with the absolute truth that God can know but we can't.
  • Alma 4:4: Contrasting symbolism of bodies immersed in the River Sidon. This verse echoes two previous sections of the Book of Mormon. The first echo is of Alma the Elder baptizing people at the Waters of Mormon (Mosiah 18:8 - 17). Here his son, Alma the Younger, renews the strength of the church founded by his father by again baptizing multitudes. Like his father, Alma the Younger is a collosal figure in Nephite history. This verse is a first sign of the spiritual power of Alma the Younger that will be revealed to us more fully in diverse settings, sermons, and personal communications to his children. This passage echoes the baptisms at the Waters of Mormon by direct parallel.
But the verse also echoes an earlier passage by contrast. In Alma 2:33-34 and 3:3 we also see Alma at the edge of the river Sidon putting bodies into the water, the bodies of his slain enemies. The enemies he casts into Sidon go under the water never to rise again. "Their bones are in the depths of the sea, and they are many" (Alma 3:3). The thousands Alma baptizes rise again to new life after their immersion while the enemies he immerses are lost forever. These contrasting passages thus symbolize the contrasting fates of those who support and oppose Alma, of those who keep the commandments of God and those who break them.
  • Alma 4:5: A golden moment. This verse describes a golden moment in Nephite history (not a golden age because there are none outside of 4 Nephi). Lots of baptisms, lots of peace. In short, the people are poised to experience a sudden and complete reversal.
  • Alma 4:6-8: The revenge of Nehor. In an article entitled "For the Peace of the People," Ryan W. Davis argues that King Mosiah's democratic reforms make the Nephites a formidable military power (see link below). They also seem to facilitate great material prosperity. Unlike King Noah's people who were "reduced" by taxes and other economic burdens (Mosiah 19:2), these Nephites are free to prosper. But in their prosperity, they become in their behavior followers of Nehor whom they had earlier rejected and defeated. Like him, they become full of pride and wear costly apparel (Alma 1:5-6). Alma's greatest political achievment was his defeat of the Nehorite Amlicites. But the people described in verses 6 and 8 sound like followers of Nehor, not of Alma. This is Nehor's revenge. Though Alma won the battle, Nehor is winning the war for the souls of those who rejected Amlici and, as an organization, the Nehorite religion. The irony of this is probably not lost on Alma. It may explain his great sorrow in verse 7.
  • Alma 4:8: The significance of "will and pleasure." The phrase "own will and pleasure" has special significance in the Book of Mormon. It is typically used to describe the exercise of God's agency. God is a being who rightly acts according to his will and pleasure. (See 2 Nephi 10:22, 25:22; Jacob 4:9, 5:14; Mosiah 7:33). The phrase is used one time to describe the acts of the Lamanite king (Alma 17:20) and one time by Laman and Lemuel to accuse Nephi of usurping authority that was not rightly his (1 Nephi 16:38). The only other use is in this passage. Here, the phrase suggests that the people of the church are deifying themselves, that they are aspiring to and presumptively assuming the status of God who rightly acts according to his will and pleasure and rightly judges others and visits punishments on them. These church members should be much more humble.
  • Alma 4:9-10: Conventional narrative and the importance of myth. In these verses, the people of the church are described as being more wicked than those who are not part of the church. One reading of this passage is to see it as reflecting a narrative convention, not the empirical reality of the people at that time. (See the exegesis on verse 3 above.) To be sure, these verses undoubtedly reflect real moral decline and forgetfullness, but is it really so complete in such a short period of time that those who were paragons a short time before are now the most base of men?
If these verses are to be taken literally, they make a strong statement on the importance of foundational myths. Given that Nephites now exhibit moral failings that exceed those of the Nehorite Amlicites and the Lamanites, why are these fallen Nephites rather than Lamanites or Amlicites still God’s chosen people? The answer must be that they continue to embrace the foundational myth of Nephites: that Nephi was a prophet and the rightful ruler, that his words and those of other prophets are binding. The Amlicites have adopted a variant of the Lamanites foundational myth: that Nephites are usurpers (of a Mulekite right to rule). Alma can still appeal to Nephites using scripture to persuade them that they are fallen. He can’t do that with Amlicites or Lamanites who have rejected the correct Nephite tradition. So we must distinguish between individual and cultural culpability. Individual Lamanites/Amlicites may now be superior to individual Nephites as these verses suggest, but Nephite culture remains superior to Amlicite/Lamanite culture. Salvation for any who are saved will occur within the Nephite tradition, so the Nephites remain the chosen people even though many individuals have not been true to their tradition.
  • Alma 4:11-14: Narrative Manicheanism. As the exegesis on verse 3 above indicates, there seems to be a Manichean convention in Nephite narrative. That convention is fully evident here. In verses 11 - 12, we see people who, though members of the church, are diabolically evil and untouched by any goodness. Then in verses 13 - 14, we see people who are angelically good and untouched by any evil. What we don't see are people who are trying to be good but fail because of weakness, who condemn themselves and try to repent but often relapse into sin, and yet, having true faith in Christ, repent again. In other words, people like us.
We do see this more recognizable type in Nephi's Psalm, 2 Nephi 4:26-29. Nephi's anguish at his own weakness may be the most important contributor to the power of that great piece of poetry. Nephi's narrative, on the other hand, is decidedly Manichean. Nephi is always good and Laman and Lemuel always bad. (The lack of nuance in Nephi's narrative might have been due to its political purpose [See the Larsen article linked below]). Nephi's Manichean narrative may have influenced subsequent Nephite historians, including Mormon, so the people in verses 11 - 12 are Laman and Lemuel analogs while those in 13 - 14 are analogs of Nephi.
  • Alma 4:12-14: Helping the poor. These verses represent a reversal of the process found in Alma 1:29-30. In Alma 1 Mormon chooses to highlight the temporal effects of the charity, that the members of the church became richer and more prosperous than those that did not belong to the church. In these verses he highlights their probably motivation for helping the poor, that these actions helped them retain a remission of their sins as taught by King Benjamin in Mosiah 4:26.
  • Alma 4:10-12, 13-14: Asymmetrical effects of good and bad examples. Verses 10–12 describe very wicked behavior on the part of church members and verses 13–14 very righteous behavior on their part. What is striking in this passage is that the bad example of church members is repeatedly described as strongly affecting surrounding unbelievers whereas the good example is not described as having any positive effect. This passage, therefore, seems to suggest that the effects of good and bad examples are asymmetrical, with bad effects outweighing good. Though it is not stated here, we know good examples do sometimes have good effects on nonmembers. It is nevertheless possible—judging from this passage—that wickedness in the Church has a more powerful effect for bad than goodness has for good, i.e., the example of good a Mormon is dominated by the example of a bad Mormon in the lives of non-members. If true, this is one point of advantage for Satan in the competition for souls.
  • Alma 4:16. At this time in the Book of Mormon the people are ruled by judges. As we can see from verse 16, judges had the power to enact laws in their government. The following phrase "according to the laws which had been given" suggests though that unlike the kings previous, there were restraints on how new laws could be enacted by the the chief judge.
Verse 16 also tells us that there was some form of democratic process was a part of the process. When Alma gives Nephihah power, he does it "according to the voice of the people."
  • Alma 4:16: Election by the nod. The government of the Nephites has a democratic element but is not a recognizable democracy in the modern sense. The best modern analogue may be the one party government of Mexico from the 1930’s to 2000 in which each successive president of the country selected his successor by giving him “the nod.” Here Alma, like Mosiah before him, selects his successor. In subsequent years, the Chief Judgeship comes either by the nod or by sons succeeding their fathers. It thus is closer to being a monarchy than a democracy in the modern sense, though the people do, at least in theory, have a check on the power of their ruler.
  • Alma 4:17. This is the first time that a '-hah' name is used in the Book of Mormon. The origin is an Egyptian suffix, meaning, 'eternal'. Much like we would call a child by our own name today, like Frank 'Junior', the Nephites sought to perpetuate the name of their first parent eternally. See also, for example, Shine-hah from the Book of Abraham, etc.
  • Alma 4:19: Preview of Alma's ministry. Verse 19 gives us a preview of the rest of Alma's life, as it is recorded in the Book of Mormon

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 4:6-8: What do you make of the fact that wearing costly apparel is the sign of Nephite pride? To what could we compare this in our own day? The word “heresy” originally referred to something that created divisions in the Church. What does verse 8 tell us created divisions among the Nephites? What sorts of things are comparable today?
  • Alma 4:10: This verse tells us that the wickedness in the church became a stumbling-block for non-members. It is pretty easy to understand how that can happen. Verse 11 tells us that the wicked example of chuch members was leading unbelievers from one iniquity to another. Why did the wicked examples of church members lead unbelievers from one iniquity to another?
  • Alma 4:10-11: Shepherding. Verses 10-11 make a strong point about how our actions affect others. I'd love to see some deeper analysis of this point and/or at least cross-references to other passages that teach similar doctrine. For example, here are some related passages I'd like to look up when I get the time:
  • Cain asking "am I my brother's keeper?"
  • I'm thinking of at least one passage (Jacob in the BOM?) that says something to the effect of "if we didn't preach to them, we knew we'd be held accountable"
  • though not as directly related, verses related to the "where much is given much is required" (D&C 82 somewhere?) concept and how Lamanites are given more chances than Nephites b/c they were sinning against less light.
  • Matthew's recent comment about robbing the poor by not giving to them - those verses also suggest a very strong connection between our actions and their effect on others. (Again, this is only indirectly related and should probably be analysed on a user page or somewhere other than this commentary page.)
  • Alma 4:10-11: If the wickedness of the members is described as a stumbling block for nonmembers in v. 10, and in v. 11 we read that it lead the unbelievers on from one iniquity to another, should these be read as two separate points, or the same point stated differently? Are nonmembers and unbelievers the same people? Is the stumbling block something different than the leading to iniquity? As the question is currently worded, it suggests the stumbling block is easy to understand but the leading to iniquity isn't, suggesting two different notions (unless you are trying to emphasize the how vs. the why...). Any thoughts on that difference?
  • Alma 4:12-13: What kind of inequality begins to come among the people? What causes it? How is that inequality related to the sins we saw described in verses 6 and 8?
  • Alma 4:18: When Alma said that he "delivered" the judgment-seat to Nephihah, does that mean that it was a sort of calling or was it a responsibility? Is it like the church today that some teachers who teach Seminary are called to do so and others have to go through college to get paid to do so?
  • Alma 4:19: What does the last part of this verse suggest we must do if we wish to see peace in the world? How is this related to Alma’s teaching in Mosiah 18:9? Does Alma here imply that other things are unnecessary? This verse suggests that testimony has a saving power, not only in heavenly, but also in temporal things. How can that be?

Resources[edit]

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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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