Sunday School Lesson 32

August 9, 2004 | 21 comments
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Lesson 32: Alma 53-63

Many people find it difficult to read the Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon. Though I certainly understand why they have difficulty, for me the most difficult chapters are those on war at the end of Alma. I understand that they show us what happened to the Nephites, an important part of the Book of Mormon’s message. But I don’t find a lot of spiritual meaning in them, so I find myself just reading through them, not stopping to think, wonder, or meditate.

I am interested in what others might contribute to helping me think about these chapters.

Chapter 53

Verses 10-15: What do we learn about the people of Ammon? What do we learn about Helaman? Why is he afraid they will lose their souls defending themselves?

Verse 18: How did Nephite armies differ from today’s armies? Do our soldiers have any say as to who their officers are? What might this tell us about the Nephites?

Chapters 54 and 55

Compare the letters in these two chapters to those in chapters 60 and 61. What kind of personality do you think Moroni has? For example, does he carry out the threat he makes in verse 12? What kind of person is Ammoron?

Chapter 60

Verses 14-17: What is the best thing the Nephites could have done to have prevented the attacks of the Lamanites?

Verses 18-21: What are the three possible explanations Moroni can think of for Pahoran’s failure to help?

Chapter 61

Verses 9, 19-20: What kind of person is Pahoran?

Chapter 62

Verses 48-51: Given what we’ve seen before in the Book of Mormon, what is surprising about these Nephites?

Chapter 63

Verses 4-10: Why is this material important to the Book of Mormon narrative? Why is it important to us?

Verse 11: Why would these departures, rather than Shiblon’s impending death, have made it necessary for Shiblon to pass the records to Helaman’s son, Helaman 2?

I apologize for not making the links to the scripturess for each of these paragraphs, as I’ve done for previous lessons. I short on time right now, so I decided not to take the time to make those links.

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21 Responses to Sunday School Lesson 32

  1. Andrew D Harris on August 9, 2004 at 10:44 am

    I always knew that there were allusions to our fighting “spiritual battles” in the so-called war chapters of the Book of Mormon, but I never knew how many until I read this article. John Bytheway has written a whole book devoted entirely to the war chapters, which seems very interesting based on the few examples given in the article.

  2. danithew on August 9, 2004 at 11:51 am

    I think the war chapters are useful either as counsel for real-life war situations (what is acceptable and not acceptable in war, for example) and also as allegories for how we might conduct ourselves in our spiritual battles (as Andrew said in his previous comment). War is such a major part of any country’s history … the scriptures probalby have to deal with the topic.

    The war chapters might also be useful for getting young boys and men to take an interest in the Book of Mormon. As a child I found the scriptures fascinating, but it didn’t hurt that there were swords, armor and action as well as gospel lessons to learn from.

  3. JWL on August 9, 2004 at 1:21 pm

    In taching this lesson I am thinking of focusing on the Moroni-Pahoran correspondence in chapters 59-61. Of course, I have no idea whether the class will be engaged by this focus, but I am intrigued by this example of how two adults with major responsibilities miscommunicate and then resolve their miscommunication on matters of very serious consequence. Although not usually life and death or war and peace, might we learn something from this about how we work together in adult settings like work, church, and particularly between spouses?

  4. JWL on August 9, 2004 at 1:24 pm

    Sorry, I am going to teach the lesson, not tach it.

  5. Languatron on August 9, 2004 at 1:33 pm

    Every attempt to comment here has been stifled. This is clearly an attempt by Vivendi-Universal to silence those who oppose them.

    [REMAINDER OF POST REMOVED BY ADMIN]

  6. Kaimi on August 9, 2004 at 1:57 pm

    Languatron,

    You wrote:

    “Every attempt to comment here has been stifled. This is clearly an attempt by Vivendi-Universal to silence those who oppose them.”

    Umm, no. It is because your comments are in violation of our comment policy.

    You have made several comments, all of which were promptly deleted because they had nothing to do with the posts on the blog.

    This post is about Sunday School. Not Battlestar Galactica. Get a clue. Go post your rants about Battlestar Galactica someplace where someone cares. Find a sci-fi board, for instance.

    In the meanwhile, off-topic posts, including rants about Battlestar Galactica, will continue to be deleted promptly. It’s not a conspiracy — sorry to disappoint you — it’s just our blog’s boring old comment policy.

  7. Languatron on August 9, 2004 at 2:07 pm

    Battlestar Galactica is Mormons in Space. Nothing could be more on topic. Why not admit the truth – that Vivendi-Universal now owns this site and is working overtime to keep me from getting the truth out?

    [REMAINDER OF COMMENT AGAIN DELETED]

  8. Kaimi on August 9, 2004 at 2:22 pm

    *sigh*

    “Battlestar Galactica is Mormons in Space. Nothing could be more on topic.”

    This post relates to Alma 53-63. It has nothing to do with Mormons in space. Is that so hard to understand?

    “Why not admit the truth – that Vivendi-Universal now owns this site and is working overtime to keep me from getting the truth out?”

    Right. Because multi-billion dollar corporations have nothing better to do than to buy Mormon blogs. (But hey, they’re a publicly owned corporation — so why don’t you look over their public filings and find where it discusses this acquisition?)

    We’re not owned by any conglomerate or corporation. We’re not owned by anyone. We’re a bunch of LDS people who run a non-profit blog.

    And we don’t like off-topic comments.

  9. Languatron on August 9, 2004 at 2:31 pm

    Alma 53-63 has a nice story about javelins. Everyone LIKES javelins almost as much as they like Battlestar Galactica. I know I do. Vivendi-Universal may not, though. Is that why they covertly purchased this blogs and all its minions? IS IT?!!

    [REDACTED]

  10. Kaimi on August 9, 2004 at 2:39 pm

    Hey, looney boy.

    Think of it this way:

    Either we’re all under Vivendi’s secret control — in which case we’re not going to put up with your wacky, off-topic screeds.

    Or, we’re all a bunch of Mormon bloggers who want to discuss Mormon issues. In which case we’re not going to put up with your wacky, off-topic screeds.

    Take your garbage elsewhere. Is that so hard to understand? GO AWAY.

  11. Randy on August 9, 2004 at 2:40 pm

    Kaimi, at this point it seems clear that someone is either pulling your leg or has lost their marbles. I like Battlestar Galactica as much as the next guy (well, maybe not quite as much), but why don’t we just ignore this drivel?

  12. Kaimi on August 9, 2004 at 3:08 pm

    Jim,

    I’ve long thought that Alma 60:23 is a particularly powerful verse.

    “Do ye suppose that God will look upon you as guiltless while ye sit still and behold these things? Behold I say unto you, Nay. Now I would that ye should remember that God has said that the inward vessel shall be cleansed first, and then shall the outer vessel be cleansed also.”

  13. Languatron on August 9, 2004 at 7:27 pm

    I’ve always found 1 Chronicles 1:44 a particularly striking verse, too. “And when Bela was dead, Jobab the son of Zera of Bozrah reigned in his stead.”

    I quote from MEMORY. MEMORY!!!

    Maybe next week.

  14. Jonathan Green on August 9, 2004 at 9:28 pm

    1) Don’t feed the trolls. It only encourages them. If their posts disappear without a sound, like the proverbial tree in the woods, all the better.

    2) If Vivendi-Universal actually did offer to buy they site, take the offer!

    3) I, for one, think that Alma 53-63 would be an excellent time to compare and contrast traditional understanding of Just War Theory with the war in Iraq. Make pointed references to striking first before you have to turn the first cheek, let alone the second. Best of all, a member of the bishopric or stake presidency (your pick) will likely appear the next Sunday to teach your lesson for you.

  15. Bryce I on August 9, 2004 at 11:29 pm

    I was a member of the elders quorum presidency that received the inspiration to call Jonathan Green as an elders quorum instructor at BYU, and I see that he has learned much from that experience. Would that he had raised such a ruckus then — it was a rather tame group that could have used a little controversy now and then.

    Now to get to the subject at hand, in my usual wordy and overblown, overly parenthesized, self-referential fashion. My wife is a Gospel Doctrine teacher, and as we were talking about the wars section of Alma this weekend, my thought turned to great works of literature with similar seemingly out-of-place sections: the whaling chapters of Moby Dick, the Waterloo section of Les Miserables, and to a lesser extent, the early childhood section of Jane Eyre came to mind. Having read all three of these works in their unabridged form, I can’t imagine reading them again and skipping the often skipped sections. Why?

    For one thing, there’s a certain effect that a lot of text on a relatively mundane or uninteresting subject has on a reader that is not reproducible by any other means. One really gets the sense of the pace of life aboard a whaling ship by reading Moby Dick, as it takes nearly as long to read that section of the book as it did for the sailors in the book to complete their voyage. In the Book of Mormon, much of the action is given over to wars and fighting, but it is in the last part of Alma that we get to experience, after a fashion, the nitty gritty details. Fighting is unpleasant, hard work. Sure, we could skip the chapters, but the experience of reading the Book of Mormon would be very different.

    The long descriptions also bring home the idea that during wartime, most of a people’s energy is focused on survival, and spiritual development is largely put on hold, except in those instances where the Lord intervenes on behalf of the Nephite armies. Even then, the hand of the Lord is evident in the preservation of the physical well-being of the warriors, as opposed to their spiritual well-being (although the two seem to be linked in some way). All of which is to show that war and conflict is generally not a good state of affairs for the spiritual well-being of a society. It’s an easy enough point to make, but is made much more powerfully, in my opinion, through these chapters than any simple declarative statement.

    One other lesson I glean from reading this section is that although I try to live my life unfettered by the demands made by “the world”, the reality is that a good portion of my life is spent trying to earn enough money to take care of the physical needs of my family. Mormon is showing us here that sometimes, you’ve got to fight the war before you can read your scriptures. No matter how hard you try, the demands of living in the world require our attention, and sometimes they temporarily take precedence over what we would normally consider to be our highest priorities.

    One can imagine that Melville, Hugo and Bronte would have vociferously objected to any editor’s suggestion that their works be shortened to make the text more readable. I’m pretty sure that Mormon, being the careful editor that he was, would react the same way to such a suggestion. The content of the chapters is not as important as the overall effect that their inclusion produces.

  16. Bryce I on August 9, 2004 at 11:36 pm

    And for those of you who missed the entirely unintentional irony, my previous post seems to have exemplified the type of writing it describes.

    Sorry.

  17. danithew on August 10, 2004 at 12:56 am

    Kaimi, good luck getting rid of those comments that are annoying and unrelated to this post.

    LOL… Jonathan, I loved your thoughts about bringing up a comparison of Nephite war chapters with the Just War theory and the possibility that it might inspire some leaders to take charge of the next lesson. :)

    Bryce, wow… no reason to ‘pologize. Nice literary comments and comparisons to the Alma war chapters. That was really an amazing read. I hope you’ll continue to share your thoughts here at T&S like that.

  18. Last_lemming on August 10, 2004 at 1:30 pm

    I tend to view these chapters as largely reflecting Mormon’s personal interests. His on-again-off-again generalship indicates that he was conflicted about the issues raised here and to help himself resolve those conflicts, he must have studied this period of Nephite history thoroughly. Heck, he even named his son after the story’s hero. It is understandable that he would have assumed that everybody else would be as interested in it as he was.

  19. JWL on August 10, 2004 at 4:58 pm

    I appreciate all of the non-Battlestar Galactica comments here, but am struck by the extent to which we trip over these chapters, as exemplified by Jim F’s initial uncertainty as to what to make of them and Bryce I’s reference to them as “seemingly out-of-place.”

    I see these sections as integral to Mormon’s inspired editorial/authorial project. The purpose of the Book of Mormon is to bring people to Christ. I believe it is clear that the Book aims to do this more broadly than simply testifying of Christ or teaching about Him through religious doctrine (not to detract from the importance of those aspects). It also aims to teach us how to live as Christians in all aspects of our lives, including the social and political. All through these war chapters Mormon is constantly trying to gage the morality (Richard Bushman used the phrase “take the moral temperature”) of the society and people he is writng about. I see Mormon wrestling in this section with some of the hardest kinds of moral issues we can face — how do you act as a Christian when faced with war, destruction, oppression, and treason? Not to mention the themes of social and economic justice which will become ever more prominent later.

    However, as the post mentioning “Just War” theory showed, we are very hesitant to address these aspects of the Book of Mormon’s message. Why have we so thoroughly depoliticized a Book which is so totally in your face about its concerns with social and political justice? Is it the concern to avoid political contention in Sunday School class? Is it distaste at the way these passages have been interpreted by some of our more right-wing brethren? Or is it the tradition that every Sunday School lesson must end with some immediate personal application for the class members?

    Many argue that great literature is morally worthwhile because it touches us as humans. For example, the Iliad certainly has plnety of exciting fight scenes, but ends powerfully because it touches on our common humanity. I think these passages can be taught the same way, and very poignantly, by always reading the subtext which is Mormon asking apocalyptically when and what went wrong with his people (again thanks to Richard for that insight). Has a Gospel Doctrine teacher done her or his job if the class members go away with that kind of appreciation of the Book of Mormon message, even if they are not left with a guilt trip for the week?

  20. Jonathan Green on August 11, 2004 at 11:35 am

    Bryce,

    Remember, I was the quorum instructor that kept my clothes on during all the lessons. Did we really need a second one to stir things up?

    (For the curious: Luckily, he was wearing a second set of clothing underneath.)

  21. Bryce I on August 12, 2004 at 5:01 pm

    JWL, your comment has given me much cause for reflection over the past few days. I’m not sure if I can express what’s going on in my head, but I’ll try.

    Our ward is a few weeks behind Jim F’s (or he prepares several weeks in advance). At any rate, she was teaching Lesson 29 last week, which has no content involving war. The class president apparently brought up the subject of the war in Iraq in connection with the later chapters in Alma, and my wife reported to me that her heart sunk. Fortunately, another member of the class made a comment in response which effectively cut off that avenue of discussion, and discussion of the war was put off for at least one more week.

    Why is she so relcutant to let the class discuss the Book of Mormon in light of current events in Iraq? I think you’ve identified the primary reason: it’s very difficult, if not impossible to maintain the proper spirit of mutual rejoicing and edification when there is contention. When you’ve got 70+ people in a class, all of whom have some opinion about an emotionally charged topic like the current administration’s policy in Iraq, best to steer clear of such topics.

    Jonathan wryly illuminates another reason why we generally avoid topics of discussion that have been politicized in our society: people don’t like to feel like they are being preached to on matters on which faithful members of the Church might reasonably disagree. A good Sunday School teacher encourages discussion rather than lecture, but even the best teacher will find it difficult to steer a class through a political discussion without offending someone unintentionally.

    I agree that there are topics and themes in the scriptures that go unstudied as a result. Fortunately, we have places like this where we can explore ideas that might not be appropriate for Sunday School.

    All this got me to thinking about how we study the scriptures in Sunday School. We rarely take time to consider the Book of Mormon as a whole. Instead, we approach it piecemeal. The newer editions of the teacher manuals do a better job of approaching the material topically, but overall, the plan is still to march through the book from beginning to end, a few chapters at a time.

    This is completely different from the way we generally study books. In a literature class, for example, a professor is much more likely to assign a work, have the class read the entire work, and then discuss ideas using evidence and examples from throughout the work. Some topics in the Book of Mormon would be much better studied in this fashion. In discussion rationales for war, for example, it is much more instructive to look at the broad historical sweep of the book rather than at any one or two specific instances.

    The focus of on the verse and chapter as the central unit of study in the scriptures is reflected in the use of footnotes. One might think that Elder McConkie didn’t have much to say on the chapters covered in lesson 32, judging solely by the number of footnotes in these chapters as compared to other sections of the book. Now I doubt highly that he would have been unable to provide commentary on the chapters taken as a whole — it’s just that the ideas contained therein do not yield as readily to verse-by-verse analysis.

    So I guess what I’m proposing is a topical discussion of the Book of Mormon. Someone out there is probably hosting someone like this somewhere. I should go look.