Alma 14:1-5

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The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapter 14

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Verse 1

  • Is it safe to assume Mormon is narrating here?
  • What did the people repent of?
  • Belief and repentance are often paired together as the response to preaching, and it's common for baptism to be included as well (as in Helaman 16:5). In Alma 8:10, "labored much in the spirit, wrestling with God in mighty prayer... that he might baptize them unto repentance." With such an intense focus on baptism at the beginning of this story, why is it noticeably left out in the end?
  • Instead of being baptized, it says they searched the scriptures. Are there any other scriptures where belief (or faith), repentance, and scripture study are mentioned together like this?
  • How accessible would the scriptures have been to the people? And what did they contain - only the brass plates, or would they also have had access to any of the writings of Lehi, Nephi, King Benjamin or other prior Nephite prophets?
  • What physical form did they take? (Verse 8 implies they can be burned, for example). Is paper, or something similar to paper, evident elsewhere in the Book of Mormon? Were they bound, or scrolls, animal skin, or textile?
  • What can be said about the focus on scriptures in Alma 14 (especially in verses 1 and 8)?
  • Most of Alma and Amulek's preaching seems more theological than devotional. Why did this motivate the people to repent? What does this tell us about preaching?
  • The people are lead to the scriptures via repentance. Does repentance lead us to the scriptures, or do the scriptures lead us to repentance? Which is more common?
  • What might it have meant for the people of Nephi to "search the scriptures." For today's Latter-day Saints this often means not only close study but use of extratextual resources like cross referencing across multiple standard works. Absent this, what does "search" mean in this context?

Verse 2

  • Why did the people think Alma had spoken to Zeezrom in plainness while Amulek had lied to them? Why were they angry at both men for this?
  • They were already angry with Alma before he rebuked Zeezrom (Alma12:3). Is the main reason for their anger that Alma and Amulek had spoken against their law or is that just something to pin them on? Are they primarily angry about being told to repent or be destroyed? Is there anything in Alma's theology that is upsetting to them? How exactly do the words of Alma or Amulek revile against their law?
  • How does this verse tie to other BoM scriptures that use the word "plainness"?

Verse 3

  • Since we are told in v2 that the people were angry with Alma and angry with Amulek, why are we told here that they were "also angry with Alma and Amulek"? Is there a way to punctuate this verse to make it more clear?
  • What does "put them away privily" refer to? Is this a reference to a secret assassination plot, the first instance of a secret combination in Nephite history? Or might it refer, as in Matt 1:19, to a lawful but discreet process?

Verse 4

  • What made the people change their minds about killing Alma and Amulek?
  • Where did the people who "bound" Alma and Amulek get their authority? Is this an organized police force, or is this more akin to an angry mob? Can we infer that the Chief Judge does not seem to object about the way Alma and Amulek are brought before him?

Verse 5

  • What does it mean to revile "against the law" or against the lawyers and judges?
  • What does the phrase "and also of all the people that were in the land" refer to? Does it refer to the lawyers and judges being over all the people, or does it refer to Alma and Amulek reviling against all the people?
  • Which of the following doctrines do the people take issue with theologically: There is but one God, the Son of God will come among the people, or “he” should not save them? Do the people disagree with only the result of not being saved, or do they disagree with the gospel of Alma and Amulek altogether?
  • The people claim that Alma and Amulek said that God will “send his Son among the people, but he should not save them.” Who is the “he” being spoken of here, God or his Son? If the answer is the Son, then are the people taking issue with God having a son that had the power of granting salvation? If the answer is God, then are these people claiming they are a “chosen people?” Thus, God must save them.

Lexical notes

  • Verse 3: Privily means privately or secretly. The phrasing "to put ... away privily" has a KJV antecedent in Matt 1:19.


Chapter Breaks

Alma 14 was part of a much larger "unit" in the original (1830) edition of the Book of Mormon. The story of Alma's preaching at Ammonihah was broken up into the following chapter breaks in that edition:

  1830 Chapter VI -- 1981 8:1-32
  1830 Chapter VII -- 1981 9:1-34
  1830 Chapter VIII -- 1981 10:1-11:46
  1830 Chapter IX -- 1981 12:1-13:9
  1830 Chapter X -- 1981 13:10-15:19
  1830 Chapter XI -- 1981 16:1-21

It might be noted that what is now chapter 14 fell within the largest "chunk" of the Ammonihah story, stretching—somewhat awkwardly—from halfway through Alma's sermon about the high priesthood (13:10) to Alma and Amulek's settling again in Zarahemla (15:18-19). Keeping this in mind, chapter 14 should be read with a close eye on the twenty-two verses that precede it and the whole chapter that follows it. At least two effects of the chapter's being caught up in a larger "unit" deserve mention. First, the narrative reporting the responses of the people in Ammonihah (chapter 14 now) cannot be separated from the last part of Alma's speech in which he discusses Melchizedek and makes his final exhortations (13:10-31 now). Second, the harrowing narrative bringing the action in Ammonihah itself to a close (chapter 14 now) cannot be separated from the narrative that reports the aftermath in Sidom (chapter 15 now).

Verse 1

Perhaps in accordance with the Greek word, metanoeo, which means a change of mind or feelings and is often translated as repentance in the New Testament, some of the people are moved to repent and search the scriptures to understand the new point of view that they have adopted in response to Alma's words.

Alma 13:31 says Alma spoke many more words which Mormon chose not to record. It could be that the part of his speech that was omitted was more directly focused on the people and less focused on theology. Maybe it was this part of his speech that actually motivated the people to repent.

began to search the scriptures

The indication that those favorable to the message of Alma and Amulek began "to search the scriptures" is certainly significant. First, turning to the scriptures as a sign of conversion is directly reported only twice in the Book of Mormon—here and in Jacob 7:23 (though possibly referred to in the case of the Sons of Mosiah as well Alma 17:2). The two stories (that of the preaching in Ammonihah and that of Jacob's encounter with Sherem) might perhaps be set side by side for closer comparison. Second, the fact that the response of the persuaded is to turn to scripture makes clear that the larger narrative of the experience in Ammonihah should be read with an eye to what is said about (and done with) scripture.

In light of this last point, it should be noted that in Alma 13:20 (a passage found within the same chapter as the present text in the original version of the Book of Mormon), Alma tells his listeners: "Behold, the scriptures are before you; if ye will wrest them it shall be to your own destruction." One might explore the possibility that Alma's warning had much to do with the response of his hearers: having heard Alma warn about the dangers of wresting scripture, those persuaded by his teachings were convinced of the necessity of searching the scriptures more carefully.

There are, however, some problems with this first interpretation. Alma issued his warning about the misuse of scripture specifically in connection with his discussion of Melchizedek. And the way that he issued the warning seems to indicate that he saw the texts concerning Melchizedek as rather straightforward, such that his listeners could only wrest the text by departing from its rather obvious meaning. Given the content and setting of what Alma says about wresting scripture, it seems somewhat unlikely that his listeners would have taken his words as reason to do sustained, careful work on scripture.

Another possible approach to the text presents itself. When the narrative turns from Amulek to Alma (in the transition from what is now chapter 11 to what is now chapter 12), Mormon as the narrator explains that Alma began "to explain things beyond, or to unfold the scriptures beyond that which Amulek had done" (Alma 12:1). This narrative passage, penned, it would seem, by the same narrator who reports the turn to scripture at the beginning of chapter 14, perhaps suggests that it was Alma's profound engagement with scripture in the course of his teachings that drew the attention of his listeners to the scriptures after their conversion.

On this second interpretation, what would seem to have driven Alma's converts to the scriptures would be his careful, detailed, and deeply theological interpretations of scriptural texts—perhaps best embodied in his ruminations on Gen 3:24, the verse quoted to him by Antionah. Here, the emphasis would be less on the danger of misinterpreting texts through neglect than on the rich possibilities of close, theological engagement with texts.

At any rate, there seems to be some indication in this text that part of the Ammonihahites' conversion was a turn to close readings of scriptural texts.

Mormon's passing note about the turn to scripture is also narratively significant in another way. When the converts who are here reported as "search[ing] the scriptures" are subsequently "cast . . . into the fire," Mormon carefully notes that the wicked in Ammonihah "brought forth their records which contained the holy scriptures, and cast them into the fire also" (Alma 14:8). Both because Mormon carefully notes these details, and because scripture seems to have been closely intertwined with the very experience of conversion in Ammonihah, it would seem that the murder of the converts in Ammonihah was motivated in part precisely by the danger of scriptural texts. Where texts can be read and interpreted freely, independently of dominant or dominating ideologies, current structures of power are under threat. It would seem that the "book burning" in Ammonihah was in part a question of such a situation.

A Textual Variant

This verse originally read "And it came to pass that after he had made an end of speaking . . . ." Joseph Smith himself removed the word "that" when preparing the 1837 edition. The change makes relatively little difference in meaning. Interestingly, Joseph also replaced "he" (in "after he had made an end of speaking") with "Alma" at the same time, but the printer of the 1837 edition missed the change, and it has never appeared in a printed edition of the Book of Mormon.

Verses 2

These people seem to be angry with Alma and Amulek for at least two reasons. First, "the guilty take the truth to be hard because it cutteth them to the very center" (1 Ne 16:2). Second, they were angry with Alma because he had confounded one of their own, perhaps even one whom they had covenanted to uphold by wicked secret combination. So, they seek to put them away, but in their accusations and related actions we find hints of apostasy and even self-justification. When their attempt fails to simply put [Alma and Amulek] away privily, they attempt to self-righteously find justification for punishing them with death and even invoke what they interpret as a contradiction of their beliefs: "that [God]...should send his Son among the people, but he should not save them". They seem to think that they are actually in the right!

Verse 2 says here that "the more part of [the people] were desirous that they might destroy Alma and Amulek." This serves as a striking contrast with what King Mosiah said 10 years prior when initiating the change from monarchy to judges: "it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right" (Mosiah 29:26). The majority of this city is complicit in sin, and as Mosiah prophesied, God will visit them with great destruction. Also, in addition to usage of the term desire in this verse and in Mosiah's speech, desire also appears twice in the Alma 9 through 14 textual unit (see the subheading before chapter 9) prior to the occurrence in this verse. Firstly, in Alma 9:20, we read a general statement about "all things [being] made known unto [the Nephites], according to their desires." This theme of things being made known, or revealed, is related to the discussion in Alma 12:9ff where those who harden their hearts against the word are warned they will eventually "know nothing concerning [God's] mysteries" (Alma 9:11). The account given in this chapter could, then, be read as an example of this very warning being fulfilled. Secondly, in Alma 11:25, Amulek chastises Zeezrom for trying to trap him (Amulek): "it was only thy desire that I should deny the true and living God." This secret desire of Zeezrom's, working as a sort of covert plan against Amulek, can be related to the desire to put Alma and Amulek away "privily" in this chapter (14:3). These covert workings of (frustrated?) desire thus stand in contrast to the "plainness" of Alma's words mentioned here in verse 2 (cf. v. 3: "because [Alma and Amulek] had testified so plainly).

Verse 3

The word "and" positioned before "because" in this verse appears in the printer's manuscript of the Book of Mormon only as an insertion after the fact. It is possible Oliver Cowdery originally miscopied this verse from the original manuscript (the original is no longer extant for this chapter), or it could be that Oliver added "and" to make better sense of the grammar of the verse. If the latter is the case, it should be noted that Oliver could just as well have added the "and" before the last clause of the verse to make better sense of the grammar. The verse might then have a different meaning, reading:

And they were also angry with Alma and Amulek because they had testified so plainly against their wickedness, and they sought to put them away privily

This also clarifies the confusing initial phrase about the people "also" being angry, which otherwise makes little sense since v2 already states that the people were angry with Alma and Amulek.

As the verse reads now, the painfully plain testimony of Alma and Amulek serves to explain the desire to "put them away privily." Had the "and" been inserted before the final clause of the verse, the painfully plain testimony of Alma and Amulek would have served to explain first and foremost the emotion (anger) experienced by the Ammonihahites. This difference is slight, but perhaps significant.

In "they sought", the word "they" is still tied to "the more part of [the people]". However it wouldn't make sense for the more part of the people to seek to put Alma and Amulek away privily. It wouldn't be a private conspiracy if the public is all in on it. This suggests that all the "they's" refer to the actions of a few people, but that their actions represent the attitude of the people.

An additional thought on being put away privily

Under the assumption than "put away privily" means "assassinate" or at least "extralegally imprison":

In verse two, the people attempt to use a political argument against Alma and Amulek. They accuse the two of reviling “against their law” and “against their lawyers and judges.” However, these same people revile against the very government that they are claiming to support. In order to put Alma and Amulek away “privily” they must undoubtedly break their own laws. Either the lawyers and judges would have to ignore their actions or this group of people would have to find a way to do this without anyone knowing.

Perhaps the people "sought" the lawyers and the judges, but could not convince them of their dishonest plan. Thus, the people chose to actually prosecute Alma and Amulek, rather than illegally execute. Either way, these people are hypocrites. They are using the law as an excuse to push their own political (and perhaps spiritual) agenda. They call on the law for support only when it is to their own benefit. These people have no actual respect for the law itself.

Personal and public offenses and remedies

The motives in verse two and the accusations in verse five concern the way Alma spoke in public, the things Amulek said about their public institutions, doctrines proclaimed openly to the populace, and so forth. Here in verse three, though, they are angry because Alma and Amulek have condemned their morals; the injury is personal and covert, and they seek to remedy it covertly. Even if the Nephite law provides some public process for such personal injuries (and perhaps it does not; see also Alma's legal reasoning in Alma 1:12-13), they cannot seek redress without conceding the point: Alma and Amulek have stung their conscience. It wouldn't have hurt if it weren't true. "To put them away privily" was the only option (whether "put them away" means "persuade them to keep quiet" or something more sinister), until a suitably public charge could be drummed up (verse five).

Verse 4

"...they did not" probably means they did not put Alma and Amulek away privily. The rest of the verse sounds less like an organized conspiracy and more like a mob. The "they" (v.3) that was seeking to put them away is different from the "they" (v.4) that bound them and took them to the judge. So maybe what's happening here is that the organized conspiracy was undermined by the more immediate action of the mob. Also, Alma 8:31 foretells that it wouldn't be possible for any man to slay them. Perhaps, we're meant to understand that the secret plans in verse 3 were thwarted by God.

Verse 5

A couple of significant textual variants appear in verse 5.

First, it has been suggested (see links below) that the word "the" appeared before "judges" in the original manuscript, which is no longer extant. (See the link to find the full justification for this idea.) If the proposed emendation is correct, then it is only the lawyers who are qualified as theirs, the people's, while the judges are the judges of the land.

Second, the word "of" in the phrase "and also of all the people that were in the land" was not originally in the text. It seems to have been (accidentally?) added by the printer of the 1837 edition, without any direction from Joseph Smith. Significantly, it changes the meaning of the text. Without the "of," the passage explains that Alma and Amulek were accused of reviling against (1) the law, (2) the people's lawyers, (3) the judges of the land, and (4) all the people there. With the unwarranted "of," the passage explains that Alma and Amulek were accused of reviling against (1) the law, (2) the people's lawyers, and (3) the judges, who are described, awkwardly, as being both "of the land" and "of all the people that were in the land." (Note that both of these description assume the proposed emendation from above.) It seems clear that the "of" should never have been inserted.

Third, the words "Now this" in the last sentence of the verse originally appeared as "And it came to pass that it," the change being made by Joseph Smith himself in preparation for the 1837 edition. This was, it should be noted, one of several "it came to passes" that Joseph removed from this chapter for the 1837 edition. It is worth noting these deletions because the phrase, despite being removed for good reasons, may be narratively significant.

Power Structures

In verses 2 and 5, Alma and Amulek are accused specifically with "revil[ing] against their law and also against their lawyers and judges." In verse 2, the people single out Amulek with concern that he "had lied" unto them, and the word "testify" (with its variants) is repeated four times in v. 3-5, with the word "witness" being repeated another four times in the verses that follow (v. 5-11). There are a number of clues in this text to suggest that the key issue at hand is a confrontation between power structures. Later in the chapter, Alma and Amulek are interrogated by members of the social, educated elite, "many lawyers, and judges, and priests, and teachers" (v. 18), and are again accused of "condemn[ing] our law."

In conjunction with other key phrases throughout the rest of the chapter (see below), the picture that emerges may be something like this: Alma and Amulek begin preaching, which the wicked immediately perceive as a threat to their established power structure. It is telling, as ever, that it is precisely the lawyers who react most vehemently to their sermon. The lawyers react violently and incite the elite to believe that Alma and Amulek are directly attacking the established power structure, and the upper class rallies to bully the two itinerant preachers into submission.

Related links

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