BMGD #21: Mosiah 29 and Alma 1-4

May 21, 2012 | 3 comments
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CHAPTER 29

1 Now when Mosiah had done this he sent out throughout all the land, among all the people, desiring to know their will concerning who should be their king.

Once again I am surprised at the outsized role the concept of “desire” plays in the BoM.

Note that the people’s will plays into who will be the king.  Could you then make the case that “king” isn’t the best translation then?

Obligatory Monty Python reference:

King Arthur:  I am your king.
Peasant Woman:  Well I didn’t vote for you.
King Arthur:  You don’t vote for kings.

 2 And it came to pass that the voice of the people came, saying: We are desirous that Aaron thy son should be our king and our ruler.

What do you make of the “voice of the people”?  (I suspect that not every single literal one of them agreed, or said these exact words.)

Desire, again.

Are “king” and “ruler” two separate things or two ways of saying the same thing?

 3 Now Aaron had gone up to the land of Nephi, therefore the king could not confer the kingdom upon him; neither would Aaron take upon him the kingdom; neither were any of the sons of Mosiah willing to take upon them the kingdom.

Why would the people want someone who had no interest in the job?  What does this say about them?

Why mention that the other sons don’t want it when the people didn’t want the other sons?

This isn’t new information; it was covered in the middle of ch28.  But we got a little sidetracked there when Mosiah2 turned his attention from the next-king problem to the records, with some details of Mosiah translating the Jaredite record and giving the plates to Alma.  What this means is that the story of that translation is sandwiched in between discussions of the succession crisis.  How might we read the story of the translation of the Jaredite records differently in that context?  How might we read the story of the succession problem differently in that context?  (One thought is that Mosiah2 was horrified by record of leadership among the Jaredites, but that doesn’t quite make sense of v1 in this chapter when he asks the people which king they want next.)

 4 Therefore king Mosiah sent again among the people; yea, even a written word sent he among the people. And these were the words that were written, saying:

Is it significant that it was a written request?  (Note that we get that idea not just mentioned but repeated in this verse.)

 5 Behold, O ye my people, or my brethren, for I esteem you as such, I desire that ye should consider the cause which ye are called to consider—for ye are desirous to have a king.

Is this the first we get of Mosiah2′s direct speech (writings)?

Desire x2 here.

The last line seems not entirely accurate to me.  This isn’t the OT, where the people are the driving force behind wanting a king.  Here, Mosiah asked them not whether there should be a king, but who the king should be.  So is the reconsideration of the idea of even having a king based on the fact that they wanted someone to be a king who is not available?  (In other words, if Aaron had been willing to come home and be king, would none of this change of government ever have happened?)  Did Mosiah not realize that Aaron would say no?  (But how is that possible when Mosiah 28:10 says, “Now king Mosiah had no one to confer the kingdom upon, for there was not any of his sons who would accept of the kingdom.”?)  So:  Why does this chapter begin with Mosiah asking them who they want when Mosiah knows full well that his sons have already said they won’t serve?  (Did Mosiah think that the “voice of the people” would sway his son[s] into reconsidering?)

6 Now I declare unto you that he to whom the kingdom doth rightly belong has declined, and will not take upon him the kingdom.

Is it significant that Mosiah uses an elaborate circumlocution in order to avoid saying his son’s name?

Was it right or wrong for Aaron to decline?

Is it possible this verse is referring to a son other than Aaron?

How do you reconcile the idea of the kingdom “rightly belonging” to someone with the idea of Mosiah2 seeking the voice of the people “concerning who should be their king”?  (Is there any analogy to modern practices of sustaining callings?)

 7 And now if there should be another appointed in his stead, behold I fear there would rise contentions among you. And who knoweth but what my son, to whom the kingdom doth belong, should turn to be angry and draw away a part of this people after him, which would cause wars and contentions among you, which would be the cause of shedding much blood and perverting the way of the Lord, yea, and destroy the souls of many people.

Why would contentions arise if Aaron was totally clear about not wanting to be king?

This verse sketches an odd scenario:  Would you really worry that a kid who had very publicly turned down the throne would later pitch a fit and cause a civil war?

Note the sequence of shed blood -> pervert ways of the Lord -> destroy souls.  What might you learn from this sequence?

I hate to cast aspersions on Mosiah2′s motives, but I think it is worth remembering that he took over from his father without a peep.  One wonders what he makes of his kids’ different choices and whether any part of his letter here is reactionary.  (It is worth noting that he is going to introduce an entirely new form of government in order to avoid a specific set of problems, but those problems end up happening anyway.)

 8 Now I say unto you let us be wise and consider these things, for we have no right to destroy my son, neither should we have any right to destroy another if he should be appointed in his stead.

So when Simon was about five, he came to me and seemed very angry with me and said something like:  “Nathan’s making me mad.  And he’s going to keep making me mad.  And then I’m going to hit him.  And then you are going to send me to time out for NO REASON!”  I see the same thing happening here:  Mosiah is concerned that “we” will destroy his son, when his son (1) chose to refuse the throne and (2) would choose to cause a civil war to get it back.  How is that “we” destroying his son and not his son destroying himself?

At this point, one wonders why Mosiah solicited the “voice of the people” in the first place if he wasn’t going to go along with it.

 9 And if my son should turn again to his pride and vain things he would recall the things which he had said, and claim his right to the kingdom, which would cause him and also this people to commit much sin.

Webster 1828 recall:

1. To call back; to take back; as, to recall words or declarations.

2. To revoke; to annul by a subsequent act; as, to recall a decree.

3. To call back; to revive in memory; as, to recall to mind what has been forgotten.

4. To call back from a place or mission; as, to recall a minister from a foreign court; to recall troops from India.

Er, is this a “no confidence” vote in the genuineness of his son’s repentance?  And why was he offering the kid the throne in the last chapter if he felt this way?

Does this verse imply that only a wicked person would want to be king?  It seems to, inasmuch as it suggests that unrighteousness would lead the son to the throne, but that sounds like an odd thing for the kid of king Ben to think about a king.

Brant Gardner:

In Zarahemla, we have four known peoples who have had a king tradition of their own, the Nephties, Zarahemlaite/Mulekites, Limhites, and Almaites. Any one of those groups would have within them kin groups that would remember that they had once been in a royal lineage, and might elect to assert that lineage to elevate one of their own to the throne. With the contentions that we have seen lie so close to the surface of Zarahemlaite society already, Mosiah’s fear for outright civil war if there is a contested succession would appear to be quite legitimate.  Citation

 10 And now let us be wise and look forward to these things, and do that which will make for the peace of this people.

Note the words “look forward,” used, I think, in a much more literal sense than the way we mean “looking forward in a good way.”  His scenario here about his son causing a civil war after backsliding seems . . . a bit tenuous, but the one thing that we know about Mosiah2, repeated more than once, is that he is a seer.  He can translate ancient records, and he just did in the last chapter.  So I wonder if maybe we should just trust his judgment on this one.  Perhaps the process of translating the Jaredite record led him to these very concerns, and he wants his people to “look forward” in the sense of being seers of the risks of giving the kingdom to someone other than the person legally entitled to it.

Note that v8 also had the idea of “being wise.”  Why do you think Mosiah mentions that twice?  (Note the idea of “wise” men as judges in the next verse–is he making a link between wise people and wise judges?  Is he suggesting that they should rule themselves?)

 11 Therefore I will be your king the remainder of my days; nevertheless, let us appoint judges, to judge this people according to our law; and we will newly arrange the affairs of this people, for we will appoint wise men to be judges, that will judge this people according to the commandments of God.

So with this verse, the BoM inverts the order of biblical history, which went from judges to kings.

In our view, judges have a judicial role (obviously) and kings have an executive role.  However, there is ample evidence in the book of Judges that those judges also had an executive role (for example, Deborah leads people into battle).  Can you determine what these BoM judges did?

Is there necessarily a decentralizing of power with judges?  Is that a good thing?  (In the book of Judges, it is a problem, because everyone walks after their own path [in a bad way].  Of course, they think kings are bad, too, so there’s pretty much no winning.)

If the judges are judging “according to the commandments of God,” then is there really any separation of civil and religious authority, even if the high priest is separate from the judges (which he won’t be with Alma, but that’s another story).

This verse has “according to our law” and “according to the commandments of God.”  How do those two phrases relate?

Brant Gardner points out that the move from kings to judges elevates the role of the law, because the king can just make stuff up (and claim it is the will of God), but a judge has to judge according to a pre-determined law.  (What I find murky about this is that a judge [according to that definition] just can’t fulfill all of the requirements of a king:  How does foreign policy work?  What about new situations that the law hadn’t anticipated?  How’d they set their budget?)

Mosiah2 seems to think that the existence of laws makes a king more trouble than he is worth.  But that just doesn’t seem right, and history (as we’ll see in the next few chapters–it only takes about 4 years and 3 chapters for this government to implode) seems to prove that his idea was wrong.  How are we supposed to read this chapter, then?  Mormon meticulously preserved Mosiah2′s letter to the people outlining the rationale for a change in government, but are we supposed to nod along as we read, or are we supposed to see the seeds of destruction being planted?  Or something in between?  Or both?  In my more cynical moments, I could read this as a testament to the futility of any political system in a fallen world.

Byron R. Merrill traces the history of Nephite kings:

The only four kings over the main body of Nephites of whom we have any particular knowledge are Nephi, at the very beginning of the monarchy, and Mosiah I, Benjamin, and Mosiah II, the last three kings before the reign of the judges ended the tradition of kingship among the Nephites. These men were prophets as well as civic leaders, largely providing for their own needs instead of burdening the people, and thus serving God by serving his children (2 Nephi 5:14–18; Mosiah 2:12–14; 6:7; 29:14, 40). That other men of similar spiritual stature served as kings during the period between the reigns of Nephi and Mosiah I, a span of over 200 years, is indicated by Jarom’s comment: “Our kings and our leaders were mighty men in the faith of the Lord” (Jarom 1:7). With that heritage, it is easy to understand why the two contemporaries Mosiah II and Alma both counseled that if it were possible to always have just men as kings, it would be well to have a king (Mosiah 23:8; 29:13). Citation

I include that quote because it is worth remembering that the Nephites have had a positive and long track record with their kings.  Now perhaps they were influenced by the train wreck of Noah, but what country would change when things have been going basically pretty well just because some renegades living next door had a bad experience with their own king?  It doesn’t make sense.  One possibility is that Mosiah2 has some qualms about the genuine-ness or stickiness of Aaron’s repentance.  (After all, that is how he introduces the issue of a problem with a king.)  It seems unsavory to me that he would doubt his own son’s repentance, but there you go.

Does it surprise you that Mosiah goes to such great lengths to set out a rational set of reasons for why they should switch governments, instead of just announcing, from his authority as king and/or via religious authority, that this is what they should be doing?  (Does his appeal to reason suggest that the change in government was not divinely inspired?)

 12 Now it is better that a man should be judged of God than of man, for the judgments of God are always just, but the judgments of man are not always just.

It sounds like he is about to point out the weaknesses of having (human) judges, but that isn’t where he goes with this . . .

Because the context is human judges, it is easy to lose the fact that he is pointing out that God is always a just judge.  This is a basic concept, but very important.

Is it possible to always be judged of God?

What are the broader implications of this verse?  (I think one is that he is implying that there is no automatic translation of the judgments of God into the human realm–they are always mediated by flawed human beings.)

 13 Therefore, if it were possible that you could have just men to be your kings, who would establish the laws of God, and judge this people according to his commandments, yea, if ye could have men for your kings who would do even as my father Benjamin did for this people—I say unto you, if this could always be the case then it would be expedient that ye should always have kings to rule over you.

Remember that the set-up here was that, in ch28, he offered his sons the kingship and got turned down.  In this chapter, he sought the “voice of the people” and then told them “nah, you don’t really want that.”  It’s weird.

How did he make the shift in v12 from judges to kings in this verse? (It seems as if one way of relating v12 to v13 is that a king is capable of transmitting the judgments of God, but another type of ruler is not.  Is this accurate?  Does it suggest that kings have a bit 0′ divinity in them?)

Again, given that the Nephites have had a history of righteous kings, this verse feels like a big ol’ slap in the face to his son Aaron.  (It’s a good thing that Aaron is on a mission and not reading this, because a rough translation is, “I seriously doubt my son can do as good of a job as my dad did.”) I’m having a hard time getting past the idea that Mosiah2 doesn’t really believe that his son’s repentance is genuine.

Note how similar this verse is to Mosiah 23:8:  “Nevertheless, if it were possible that ye could always have just men to be your kings it would be well for you to have a king,” which is Alma1 speaking.  Given that Mosiah didn’t come by his anti-monarchy ideas from his dad (!), one wonders if he has gotten them from Alma.  One also wonders if they are actually the right thing for his society (given how spectacularly disastrous their adoption is), or if Mosiah is making a mistake here in importing ideas that might have been beneficial/inspired for a community emerging from the post-King-Noah chaos, but not right for a community with a lengthy history of decent kings (Of course, this doesn’t address the issue of who the next king would have been, given that the sons of Mosiah and, we can presume, Alma2 wouldn’t accept the gig.  That’s a problem.  But it isn’t the problem that Mosiah is concerned about–he’s concerned about his son changing his mind and causing a civil war.)

Why didn’t God raise up someone who could be a decent king for them in this generation?

 14 And even I myself have labored with all the power and faculties which I have possessed, to teach you the commandments of God, and to establish peace throughout the land, that there should be no wars nor contentions, no stealing, nor plundering, nor murdering, nor any manner of iniquity;

 15 And whosoever has committed iniquity, him have I punished according to the crime which he has committed, according to the law which has been given to us by our fathers.

 16 Now I say unto you, that because all men are not just it is not expedient that ye should have a king or kings to rule over you.

“All men” is a lovely euphemism for the fact that he is mainly talking about his son here!

Why “king or kings”?

 17 For behold, how much iniquity doth one wicked king cause to be committed, yea, and what great destruction!

This verse (and, obviously, v18) suggest that Mosiah’s thinking about monarchy was deeply affected by the experience of their renegade brethren with Noah.

 18 Yea, remember king Noah, his wickedness and his abominations, and also the wickedness and abominations of his people. Behold what great destruction did come upon them; and also because of their iniquities they were brought into bondage.

But, we want to object, this is a fruit of the poisonous tree.  Had Zeniff not caused a civil war and stormed off in a huff, they never would have had a wicked king–they would have been home safe and snug with good old Ben.  Wasn’t the real problem defecting from a functioning society because you thought the Lamanites were not-so-bad?

 19 And were it not for the interposition of their all-wise Creator, and this because of their sincere repentance, they must unavoidably remain in bondage until now.

This is the only time the word “interposition” is used in the scriptures.

My theory that Mosiah2 is suspicious of the genuine-ness of his son’s repentance is, I think, added to by the reference to “sincere repentance” in this verse.

 20 But behold, he did deliver them because they did humble themselves before him; and because they cried mightily unto him he did deliver them out of bondage; and thus doth the Lord work with his power in all cases among the children of men, extending the arm of mercy towards them that put their trust in him.

Do v19-20 refer to Limhi’s people as well as Alma’s?

 21 And behold, now I say unto you, ye cannot dethrone an iniquitous king save it be through much contention, and the shedding of much blood.

Was this really true of Noah?  Is it really not true of a bad judge?

 22 For behold, he has his friends in iniquity, and he keepeth his guards about him; and he teareth up the laws of those who have reigned in righteousness before him; and he trampleth under his feet the commandments of God;

What’s to stop a judge from doing the same thing?

 23 And he enacteth laws, and sendeth them forth among his people, yea, laws after the manner of his own wickedness; and whosoever doth not obey his laws he causeth to be destroyed; and whosoever doth rebel against him he will send his armies against them to war, and if he can he will destroy them; and thus an unrighteous king doth pervert the ways of all righteousness.

 24 And now behold I say unto you, it is not expedient that such abominations should come upon you.

 25 Therefore, choose you by the voice of this people, judges, that ye may be judged according to the laws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord.

Will there be any mechanism for the creation of new laws?

Are these strictly religious laws, or are they also secular?  (Can secular laws be “correct?”)

Ryan W. Davis:

Mosiah’s new regime is not a democracy as the term is understood in contemporary society. Unlike American democracy, there is no legislative branch. By modern standards, other nondemocratic elements include that the chief judge is not apparently limited in his term of office and that judges not only govern but also “reign,” to point out a few examples (see Alma 1:2; 60:21). And although political dynasties do occur in democratic states, the anticipation of familial succession seems especially strong in Nephite governance. Further, it is unclear whether the “voice of the people” implies democratic choice in creating the set of possible political options or only in choosing among a set arranged by leaders.  Citation

 26 Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people.

NB “desire.”

What (if anything) does his statement about the voice of the people usually desiring the good say about our society today?  What does it say about minority rights/desires?

Again, I am curious if “voice of the people” is a technical term.

Irony alert:  the whole point of this letter is that the “voice of the people” has desired something that is not right and he, the monarch, is trying to talk them down.

Probably the most surprising thing about this verse is that it locates the check on judges not with the church hierarchy, but with the people, even while acknowledging the fallibility of the people (and not providing a corrective mechanism for that fallibility, other than destruction!).  Why do you think that these verses didn’t direct them to consider the voice of the high priest or the elders?

Is Mosiah2 right about this?  It seems that we are repeatedly warned in scriptures about the evils of a people or a society.  Shouldn’t his knowledge of things under King Noah have shown him that it is entirely possible for virtually everyone in a society to want the wrong thing?

Harold B. Lee:

Those who have served as public officials soon learn that there is always the imperative necessity of deciding whether or not demands on a controversial issue are being made by a well-organized loud minority or by a greater majority of those who might be less vocal but whose cause is just and in accordance with righteous principles. Always we would do well to reflect upon the counsel of a wise king of ancient times: “Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore . . . do your business by the voice of the people.”  Let this counsel of that wise ancient king be our counsel to our Church members and the honorable of the earth everywhere. Be alert and active in your business and political interests. The great danger in any society is apathy and a failure to be alert to the issues of the day, when applied to principles or to the election of public officials.  Apr 72 GC

Delbert L. Stapley:

As in past ages, men will continue to arise to plague the work of God, for this is the intent of Satan and ever has been since the beginning of man on the earth. There are infallible guiding principles found in the revelations and in the historical records of the Lord’s dealings with his people for their guidance and protection. Here is a very important one given in this last dispensation to the Prophet Joseph Smith. The Lord gave it as a guiding admonition to his people. Said he:

“And all things shall be done by common consent in the church, by much prayer and faith, for all things you shall receive by faith” (D&C 26:2).

If the members of the Church will follow this counsel and act together in prayer and true faith, the Holy Ghost will not permit them to yield to the influence of error and false teachings of those who seek to overthrow the work of God. The great Nephite prophet, Mosiah, warning his people against kingcraft, counseled them concerning the manner in which judges to govern them should be selected, and wisely advised:

“Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people” (Mosiah 29:26).

All wavering and disaffected individuals should remember the safeguards to faith and testimony given by the Lord through revelation, and, recognizing and working through constituted channels of priesthood authority, submit their views or claims and be willing to abide by the voice of the people, who, conforming to the above-quoted revelation, are to decide the matter after exercising much faith and prayer. If they would do this before permitting themselves to follow a deviating or contrary course, and manifest the faith to abide by the voice of the Saints, they would not go astray nor depart from the right way, and their souls and those of their posterity would, through obedience to the commandments, be saved in the kingdom of God.  Oct 59 GC

I find it interesting that he applied these verses to matters within the Church, not just political matters.

27 And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land.

I think you could read this verse as saying that either the “voice of the people” will lead you to righteousness or to destruction, and either is fine.  But shouldn’t we want some “voice” leading the people back to righteousness?  I guess I am just surprised that the son of King Ben could write this letter.

So . . . what does this verse say to you about government in modern societies?

 28 And now if ye have judges, and they do not judge you according to the law which has been given, ye can cause that they may be judged of a higher judge.

Who is the “ye” in this verse?  How precisely would the appeals process work?

It seems sort of odd to me that we were not introduced to the idea of levels of judges (“higher judge”) until we need them for appeal.

 29 If your higher judges do not judge righteous judgments, ye shall cause that a small number of your lower judges should be gathered together, and they shall judge your higher judges, according to the voice of the people.

This strikes me as something of a circular firing squad (and about as likely to be successful)–if the lower judges didn’t get it right, and the higher judges didn’t get it right, then why would the lower judges judging the higher judges get it right?  And how exactly does “the voice of the people” fit in to this system?

 30 And I command you to do these things in the fear of the Lord; and I command you to do these things, and that ye have no king; that if these people commit sins and iniquities they shall be answered upon their own heads.

Wait–this chapter begins and ends with the importance of “the voice of the people,” but now he’s commanding them here to do something contrary to the voice of the people?  (“Help, help, [they're] being oppressed!”)

 31 For behold I say unto you, the sins of many people have been caused by the iniquities of their kings; therefore their iniquities are answered upon the heads of their kings.

General thought:  the idea that the Lord is the king is fairly well established in the OT, and is part of the basis for the prophetic distaste for earthly kings.  Given that that argument fits Mosiah’s context so very well, one wonders why he does not resort to it.

 32 And now I desire that this inequality should be no more in this land, especially among this my people; but I desire that this land be a land of liberty, and every man may enjoy his rights and privileges alike, so long as the Lord sees fit that we may live and inherit the land, yea, even as long as any of our posterity remains upon the face of the land.

What inequality?  Does “inequality” refer to the dynamic in v31?  Is that what “inequality” always means in the BoM?

Wouldn’t the presence of judges (and “higher judges”) reproduce inequality?  If not, why not?

Desire x2.

Brant Gardner:

It is very interesting that Mosiah declares that “this inequality should be no more in this land, especially among this my people.” He appears to make a distinction between this land and my people. It is possible that he is referring to the presence of this mode of kingship in other locations, and that he wishes it were removed from other cities as well as from his own people. Citation

 33 And many more things did king Mosiah write unto them, unfolding unto them all the trials and troubles of a righteous king, yea, all the travails of soul for their people, and also all the murmurings of the people to their king; and he explained it all unto them.

What a whiner!  I don’t remember Ben complaining about any of this.  Ben thought he was serving them and God by being a good, humble king.

I think it is interesting that Mormon gives us a summary, and not the direct text, of Mosiah’s whining here.

 34 And he told them that these things ought not to be; but that the burden should come upon all the people, that every man might bear his part.

OK, three dozen verses ago, he seemed content to put this burden on someone.  (Remember how the chapter began by him asking the voice of the people regarding who the next king should be?)  Has he had a mid-chapter change-of-heart?  If so, what caused it?  Or was the initial request a set-up?

 35 And he also unfolded unto them all the disadvantages they labored under, by having an unrighteous king to rule over them;

Once again–this is his son we’re talking about here!  The missionary!

 36 Yea, all his iniquities and abominations, and all the wars, and contentions, and bloodshed, and the stealing, and the plundering, and the committing of whoredoms, and all manner of iniquities which cannot be enumerated—telling them that these things ought not to be, that they were expressly repugnant to the commandments of God.

Wait, have these people never read the book of Judges?  Because having judges didn’t spare them from any of this.

 37 And now it came to pass, after king Mosiah had sent these things forth among the people they were convinced of the truth of his words.

So much for the usefulness of “the voice of the people”!  I’m just completely overwhelmed at how this chapter collapses in on itself as the voice of the people, which wanted the wrong thing, is thrown under the bus by the dictatorial king, who wants the right thing.  It’s making my head hurt.

Interesting to compare this letter (which, according to this verse, seems to have been effective) with, say, Paul’s letters, where the sense is that no one listened to him.

 38 Therefore they relinquished their desires for a king, and became exceedingly anxious that every man should have an equal chance throughout all the land; yea, and every man expressed a willingness to answer for his own sins.

What do you make of the linkage between form of government and responsibility for sin in this verse?

In keeping with our examination of the theme of desire, I’m fascinated by the idea of them “relinquishing” a desire.

39 Therefore, it came to pass that they assembled themselves together in bodies throughout the land, to cast in their voices concerning who should be their judges, to judge them according to the law which had been given them; and they were exceedingly rejoiced because of the liberty which had been granted unto them.

Irony alert:  they were granted liberty by a good king.

 40 And they did wax strong in love towards Mosiah; yea, they did esteem him more than any other man; for they did not look upon him as a tyrant who was seeking for gain, yea, for that lucre which doth corrupt the soul; for he had not exacted riches of them, neither had he delighted in the shedding of blood; but he had established peace in the land, and he had granted unto his people that they should be delivered from all manner of bondage; therefore they did esteem him, yea, exceedingly, beyond measure.

Argh!  Again!  I swear Mormon is playing with us here–pitching out the kingship system was supposed to make everyone bask in their liberty and equality, but what’s the very first thing that happens?  They get all gushy over their king!  This text is enacting precisely the opposite of what it is saying.  The whole point of getting rid of kings is so that everyone would be equal, but the very first thing they do with their new-found freedom is to “esteem [the king] more than any other man . . . exceedingly, beyond measure.”  This is CRAZY!

41 And it came to pass that they did appoint judges to rule over them, or to judge them according to the law; and this they did throughout all the land.

 42 And it came to pass that Alma was appointed to be the first chief judge, he being also the high priest, his father having conferred the office upon him, and having given him the charge concerning all the affairs of the church.

Skousen omits “first” here.

Once again, I ask how much we are really protecting against abused of power by conjoining religious and civil authority.

Note that the first act of this newly-expanded “voice of the people” is to (re)conjoin civil and religious authority.

43 And now it came to pass that Alma did walk in the ways of the Lord, and he did keep his commandments, and he did judge righteous judgments; and there was continual peace through the land.

We really need to ask:  Would this have been any different had he been named king instead of chief judge?

 44 And thus *commenced the reign of the judges throughout all the land of Zarahemla, among all the people who were called the Nephites; and Alma was the first and chief judge.

 45 And now it came to pass that his father died, being eighty and two years old, having lived to fulfil the commandments of God.

 46 And it came to pass that Mosiah died also, in the thirty and third year of his reign, being sixty and three years old; making in the whole, five hundred and nine years from the time Lehi left Jerusalem.

Skousen omits “old” here.

 47 And thus ended the reign of the kings over the people of Nephi; and thus ended the days of Alma, who was the founder of their church.

CHAPTER 1

1 NOW it came to pass that in the first year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, from this time forward, king Mosiah having gone the way of all the earth, having warred a good warfare, walking uprightly before God, leaving none to reign in his stead; nevertheless he had established laws, and they were acknowledged by the people; therefore they were obliged to abide by the laws which he had made.

General comment on the book of Alma from the Feast wiki:

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.

“Warred a good warfare” sounds borrowed from Paul’s “fight the good fight,” but, if anything, more literal and less metaphorical.  How literally do you read it?

Is “leaving none to reign in his stead” a good thing?  That language makes it sound like an accident, but we know it was definitely deliberate.  The “nevertheless” that follows it suggests that it may not have been a good thing.

More on the laws of Mosiah here.

Brant Gardner:

When the people of the land of Zarahemla agreed to abandon kingship for the rule of judges they were signaling a major change in their understanding of their relationship to those who ruled over them. One of the ways they used to emphasize this complete change in their social structure was to accompany this new government with a completely new count of years. Rather than continue with the count of years since the departure from Jerusalem, they begin a completely new count that dates years from the first year of the reign of the judges. According to the Nephite-year-to-modern-year correlation used in this commentary, the reign of the judges begins in 92 BC. The social implications of resetting the year should not be missed. There was no compelling reason for the people of Zarahemla to change the way they ordered their conception of time. Nevertheless, they made a change so complete as to discard a mode of counting years and establish a new one. Such calendric manipulations are not made upon whimsy, as the way years are conceived partially orders our perception of the world. Citation

2 And it came to pass that in the first year of the reign of Alma in the judgment-seat, there was a man brought before him to be judged, a man who was large, and was noted for his much strength.

(I’m going to start calling him Nehor, even though we won’t get his name until the end of the story, and I don’t think that that is accidental, but it is too awkward not to name him.)  Why is the first thing that we need to know about Nehor his physical strength and size?  (It comes into play later in his story with Gideon, but doesn’t seem immediately relevant to his false preaching.)  So this very curious thing happens:  we need his name now, but we don’t get it until the end of the story.  We don’t need to know how strong and big he is until later, but we learn that now.  Is Mormon playing with us and, if so, to what effect?

What is the point of v3-8, given that the crime of murder happens in v9?  (In other words, Mormon could have very easily told this story and omitted those verses; why were they included?)

 3 And he had gone about among the people, preaching to them that which he termed to be the word of God, bearing down against the church; declaring unto the people that every priest and teacher ought to become popular; and they ought not to labor with their hands, but that they ought to be supported by the people.

What does “bearing down” suggest to you about false preachers?

Dallin H. Oaks:

A gospel teacher does not preach “to become popular” (Alma 1:3) or “for the sake of riches and honor” (Alma 1:16). He or she follows the marvelous Book of Mormon example in which “the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner” (Alma 1:26). Both will always look to the Master. Oct 99 GC

So the BoM makes a huge deal about priests laboring “with their own hands.”  But note that what Nehor is proposing here is not just that they go on the church payroll, but that they get paid according to how popular they are.  (Which, incidentally, is the way it works out with many ‘celebrity’ preachers today and, one might add if one were brave, LDS teachers/leaders/preachers who make money from speaking/writing.)

Webster 1828 popular:

1. Pertaining to the common people; as the popular voice; popular elections.

2. Suitable to common people; familiar; plain; easy to be comprehended; not critical or abstruse.

3. Beloved by the people; enjoying the favor of the people; pleasing to people in general; as a popular governor; a popular preacher; a popular ministry; a popular discourse; a popular administration; a popular war or peace. Suspect the man who endeavors to make that popular which is wrong.

4. Ambitious; studious of the favor of the people.

[This sense is not used. It is more customary to apply this epithet to a person who has already gained the favor of the people.]

5. Prevailing among the people; extensively prevalent; as a popular disease.

6. In law, a popular action is one which gives a penalty to the person that sues for the same.

[Note. Popular, at least in the United States, is not synonymous with vulgar; the latter being applied to the lower classes of people, the illiterate and low bred; the former is applied to all classes, or to the body of the people, including a great portion at least of well educated citizens.]  Note that the material in the brackets is from Mr. Webster, not from me!

I think most people think #3 is the definition of “popular.”

What I find so interesting about Nehor’s position here is that it is nicely aligned with Mosiah2′s plan for the government, where instead of a king hoarding (and probably misusing) power, it belongs to “the voice of the people.”  Nehor is here suggesting that precisely the same principle be applied to preachers and teachers, which, given the overlap in Zarahemla civic/religious structure, is really not a leap at all.  So I think analysis of this story needs to go much deeper than “paying priests is bad” to tease out what precisely was wrong about Nehor’s suggestion, and how it might have seemed to be a natural outgrowth of Mosiah’s reforms.

 4 And he also testified unto the people that all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life.

Will all mankind be saved at the last day?  Should people fear and tremble?  Should people lift up their heads and rejoice?  Has the Lord redeemed all people?  Will all people have eternal life?  The reason that I turned all of Nehor’s statements into questions is that I think his intermixing of truth and error is fascinating and subtle.  Mostly, he’s taken absolutely true things and decontextualized them to make them misleading.  This seems to me to be a huge danger that we should be aware of today.  It isn’t as simple as “making a false statement;” it is more like uprooting a true statement and presenting it in a false way.

Irony:  Nehor is a preacher of salvation and eternal life and rejoicing and the Lord as creator.

There may be a link between the rise of Nehor and the new system of government.  Note that some of Nehor’s key ideas are that all mankind should be saved and that all men are redeemed and that all should have eternal life.  I think we can say that he has taken this whole equality idea just a little too far.  We can see the same twisting in v2, where the idea that priests should be popular could be based on the idea that people have an increased responsibility for themselves (now that their is no king) and that part of that responsibility is supporting their priests.  (And you are probably tired of me beating this drum, but I’m still toying with the idea that Mosiah2′s governmental innovations were a mistake, and that the rise of Nehor is some evidence for that.)

Is there a link between the false ideas he preaches or is it just a grab bag?  (That is to say, is there something about popular preachers that is somehow linked to the idea of universalism?)

L. Tom Perry:

Nehor’s words appealed to the people, but his doctrine, while popular to many, was incorrect. As we face the many decisions in life, the easy and popular messages of the world will not usually be the right ones to choose, and it will take much courage to choose the right. Oct 93 GC

D. Todd Christofferson:

On the surface such philosophies seem appealing because they give us license to indulge any appetite or desire without concern for consequences. By using the teachings of Nehor and Korihor, we can rationalize and justify anything. When prophets come crying repentance, it “throws cold water on the party.” But in reality the prophetic call should be received with joy. Without repentance, there is no real progress or improvement in life. Pretending there is no sin does not lessen its burden and pain. Suffering for sin does not by itself change anything for the better. Only repentance leads to the sunlit uplands of a better life. And, of course, only through repentance do we gain access to the atoning grace of Jesus Christ and salvation. Repentance is a divine gift, and there should be a smile on our faces when we speak of it. It points us to freedom, confidence, and peace. Rather than interrupting the celebration, the gift of repentance is the cause for true celebration. Oct 11 GC

5 And it came to pass that he did teach these things so much that many did believe on his words, even so many that they began to support him and give him money.

Interesting that they are supporting a (wicked) cause that is against their own economic self-interest (because they are better off if they don’t have to pay their preachers, but the preachers are self-supporting).

Brant Gardner:

This verse contains a clear translation error. The people of Zarahemla clearly provided Nehor support so that he did not have to work, but Joseph Smith translated this support as “money.” The use of money as a medium of exchange was not known in Mesoamerica. Even though the original Nephites would have known of money, it is unlikely that they would have instituted a monetary system early in their community as there was nothing to give it value. Money has value only because we agree that it has value. In the types of communities known in Mesoamerica, there was little to “buy” in many cases. Barter was the means of exchange, and the support Nehor received would have initially been subsistence that he didn’t provide with his own hands. However, it is also clear that he was provided with more than simple necessity. He was supplied with some type of surplus. Nehor was able to turn his “support” into the trappings of wealth. It is in this sense that Joseph translated “money.” Nehor was able to “buy” the trappings of wealth. While the word is technically incorrect, the connotation is correct. Citation

If Gardner is right about that, then it may be that was he was given was the fine clothing described in the next verse.

 6 And he began to be lifted up in the pride of his heart, and to wear very costly apparel, yea, and even began to establish a church after the manner of his preaching.

I find in intriguing that pride wasn’t a problem *before* this.

Do you conclude from this verse that wearing expensive clothes is an outward manifestation of pride?

Given that this church he establishes requires people to do something that is against their own economic self-interest, why would it have been appealing to people?

7 And it came to pass as he was going, to preach to those who believed on his word, he met a man who belonged to the church of God, yea, even one of their teachers; and he began to contend with him sharply, that he might lead away the people of the church; but the man withstood him, admonishing him with the words of God.

8 Now the name of the man was Gideon; and it was he who was an instrument in the hands of God in delivering the people of Limhi out of bondage.

Once again, we get this odd thing where we aren’t given Gideon’s name when we would have expected it, in the middle of v7, especially since we have been introduced to him before.

What does the image of “an instrument in the hands of the Lord” suggest to you?

The “it was he . . . ” seems a little gratuitous, given that we should, I think, be able to remember what happened in Mosiah 22–it wasn’t that long ago.  But characterizing Gideon’s actions there (which, frankly, seemed like a somewhat odd plot, especially given the parallels with the way that Alma’s people escape–they didn’t have to get anyone drunk, God took care of it for them) as being an instrument in God’s hands is quite the gloss on that story.  Why do we get that gloss here and not before?

9 Now, because Gideon withstood him with the words of God he was wroth with Gideon, and drew his sword and began to smite him. Now Gideon being stricken with many years, therefore he was not able to withstand his blows, therefore he was slain by the sword.

We were introduced to Gideon in Mosiah 19:4:

And now there was a man among them whose name was Gideon, and he being a strong man and an enemy to the king, therefore he drew his sword, and swore in his wrath that he would slay the king.

Is this a “he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword” moment?

They start with a verbal battle, but when Nehor seems to be losing, he switches to a physical battle.  Gideon wins the verbal but loses the physical battle; Nehor is the reverse.

 10 And the man who slew him was taken by the people of the church, and was brought before Alma, to be judged according to the crimes which he had committed.

Skousen reads “crime” here.

This verse is quite awkward because it doesn’t use Nehor’s name.  One suspects at this point, given that awkwardness, that the lack of a name is deliberate for some reason.  What effect does it have on the audience?

 11 And it came to pass that he stood before Alma and pleaded for himself with much boldness.

Was he pleading just because he was desperate?  Or did he have some reason to think he might be treated leniently?

 12 But Alma said unto him: Behold, this is the first time that priestcraft has been introduced among this people. And behold, thou art not only guilty of priestcraft, but hast endeavored to enforce it by the sword; and were priestcraft to be enforced among this people it would prove their entire destruction.

What does this verse (and the preceding story) teach you about the definition of “priestcraft”?

Why would priestcraft be so destructive?

This verse is Alma explaining why Nehor shouldn’t be treated leniently . . . why is that entirely necessary given that he just murdered someone?

Is this really the first time priestcraft is introduced?  On the one hand, that’s a pretty good record.  On the other hand, I can’t help but noting that the first time it is introduced is in the first year of the judges.  Did the shift from kings to judges make priestcraft more likely?  If so, why?

One would have suspected that Alma would have been focused on the murder, but instead Alma leads off with a discussion of priestcraft.  Why?

 13 And thou hast shed the blood of a righteous man, yea, a man who has done much good among this people; and were we to spare thee his blood would come upon us for vengeance.

How literally do you take the idea of blood seeking vengeance?

 14 Therefore thou art condemned to die, according to the law which has been given us by Mosiah, our last king; and it has been acknowledged by this people; therefore this people must abide by the law.

Does this mean that they aren’t really following the law of Moses anymore?

Do the last two phrases imply that there was a formal, explicit social contract?

 15 And it came to pass that they took him; and his name was Nehor; and they carried him upon the top of the hill Manti, and there he was caused, or rather did acknowledge, between the heavens and the earth, that what he had taught to the people was contrary to the word of God; and there he suffered an ignominious death.

What effect does it have on the reader not to get Nehor’s name until the story is almost over?

In the Bible, to know someone’s name is to have some control over them.  (This explains some of the odder elements of the stories involving Jesus and demons.)  In this case, we don’t get Nehor’s name until the people have “taken him.”  We are at quite a distance from biblical culture here, but I wonder if there is something going on here with us not getting Nehor’s name (when it was pretty darn awkward to tell the entire story without using it) until Nehor was taken in control by the people.

Brant Gardner:

Nehor was the main city in the land of Nehor described in the Book of Ether (Ether 7:4,8). Thus Nehor is a Jaredite name. Nehor appears to be old enough that his naming would have preceded Mosiah’s translation of the record of Ether (recorded in Mosiah 28:11-18). Had he been named after the translation, we might suppose that he could have been named for the city because of the translation. Since this does not appear to be the case, he must have received his name through some other connection to the Jaredite culture and lands. While a name in and of itself does not clearly indicate an affiliation, it is likely that Nehor’s differences in religion have something to do with outside influences coming from the Jaredite regions. Citation

If Gardner is right about that link, then that may explain the reason for withholding Nehor’s name until the end of the story–it would answer the looming question of “where did this guy come from?” in a most dramatic way.

Is there any link between the idea of “acknowledging” the law in the previous verse and Nehor’s acknowledgement in this verse?

What does “between the heavens and the earth” mean?

I want gory details on his ignominious death!

This is the only time “ignominious” is used in the scriptures.

Spencer W. Kimball:

The antediluvians were a law unto themselves and locked doors against themselves. Jonah, in his egotism, took offense when the repentance of Nineveh rendered unnecessary the fulfillment of his prophecy (Jonah 4:1-3). Judas fought against God (Luke 22:3) and suffered the buffetings of Satan (D&C 104:9). Sherem with his learning, his eloquence and his flattery, sought to turn away people from the simple faith, and he died in remorse and humiliation (Jacob 7:17-20). Nehor tried to advance his own cause, increase his popularity, and lead a following with his criticisms and flatteries, and came to ignominious death (Alma 1:15). Korihor, with his teachings of intellectual liberty and his rationalizations, followed his temporary popularity with begging in the streets (Alma 30:58-59). The Jonahs and Almas and Korihors live on and undertake cover their sins, gratify their pride, and vain ambitions (D&C 121:37). They grieve the Spirit of the Lord, withdraw from holy places and righteous influences, and in the words of the Savior: Behold, ere he is aware, be is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints and to fight against God (D&C 121:38).  Apr 55 GC

(Mostly I included that SWK statement because [1] ‘antediluvian’ is one of my favorite words and [2] he doesn’t white-wash Jonah like most LDS readers do.)

Does this sound like a coerced confession to you?

16 Nevertheless, this did not put an end to the spreading of priestcraft through the land; for there were many who loved the vain things of the world, and they went forth preaching false doctrines; and this they did for the sake of riches and honor.

Should we have expected his death to put an end to priestcraft?

What do you conclude from the fact that a public confession and execution was not enough to end priestcraft?

Why would loving the vain things of the world correlate with spreading priestcraft?  What are the vain things of the world?  (Are they riches and honor?  Isn’t honor usually a good thing?)

So does this mean that Alma was wrong in v12?

In what ways is what Nehor preaches “vain”?

Given that the execution of Nehor didn’t stop his ideas, what is the moral of the story?  Was executing him the right thing to do?  Why was his story included in the record?  Was there something that they could have done to stop priestcraft?  If so, what?  Contrast with the story of Sherem, where a religious figure (and not a judge, applying the law) dealt with the situation.  There was more divine intervention there (at least in the record that we have), and what seems like genuine contrition (see Jacob 7:18f) (as opposed to Nehor, where it feels forced).  And note the conclusion to that story:  not more dissent, but “it came to pass that peace and the love of God was restored again among the people; and they searched the scriptures, and hearkened no more to the words of this wicked man.”  In other words, I think it is safe to say that the resolution to the Sherem story is far superior to that of the Nehor story.  Sherem wasn’t executed via legal mechanism, he dies according to the will and act of God.  I think you can compare the Nehor and Sherem story and easily conclude that the religious solution to heresy is far superior in its effects than the legal solution.  So, again, are we supposed to conclude that Mosiah2′s legal reforms were a bad idea?

Did the Nephite policy of not paying priests (but requiring them to earn their own money through other labor) open the door to problems of seeking riches that might have been avoided if they’d all been boringly, predictably, middlingly, on the church payroll?

In what ways would their false preachings have brought them honor?

So the BoM doesn’t like market economics applied to priests.  I don’t think anyone would disagree with that; but the more interesting question to me is this:  What else should we not be monetizing?  (Can’t wait to read this.)

 17 Nevertheless, they durst not lie, if it were known, for fear of the law, for liars were punished; therefore they pretended to preach according to their belief; and now the law could have no power on any man for his belief.

A question to ponder, but not to ask in Sunday School:  What laws do we have that could be considered as punishing someone for their beliefs?

I think this verse implies that they could preach things contrary to the Nephite church as long as (and only as long as) they genuinely believed those things.  How might this have worked?  I think this verse is saying that if the law could show that they preached things that they knew to be false, they’d be toast.  But if they preached things that they pretended to believe, they were fine.  This strikes me as weird, since it locates the violation of the law in the (dis)belief of the preacher, which strikes me as a difficult and subjective case (on both sides) to have to make in front of a judge.

 18 And they durst not steal, for fear of the law, for such were punished; neither durst they rob, nor murder, for he that murdered was punished unto death.

Is the implication that they wanted to steal or rob?

Are stealing and robbing two different things in this verse?

Do v17-18 picture a society where the “letter of the law” was followed but evil was allowed to flourish because people were just following the letter of the law?  It seems to me that if this reading is correct, then it is quite the indictment of Mosiah2′s reforms that placed the law and not the king at the center of their society.  Brant Gardner provides an opposing view:

Mormon finishes with these two affirmations of law. These should be seen in contrast to the continuation of the pressures towards priestcraft in verse 16. What Mormon is doing is noting that law did not cure the priestcraft, but that law was applied for greater order. It is as if he is contrasting the failure on the one hand with successes on the next. Also implicit in Mormon’s argument is that the ideas of priestcraft were not against the law.  Citation

 19 But it came to pass that whosoever did not belong to the church of God began to persecute those that did belong to the church of God, and had taken upon them the name of Christ.

(How) is this related to the verse before it?

Why would non-members persecute members?  (Is it specifically related to the false teachings in some way?)

Given that we already know that church members have taken Christ’s name, what does that phrase accomplish in this verse?

 20 Yea, they did persecute them, and afflict them with all manner of words, and this because of their humility; because they were not proud in their own eyes, and because they did impart the word of God, one with another, without money and without price.

I love the idea of being afflicted with words!

Why would their humility make them a target of persecution?

 21 Now there was a strict law among the people of the church, that there should not any man, belonging to the church, arise and persecute those that did not belong to the church, and that there should be no persecution among themselves.

How might we be guilty of persecuting those who do not belong to the church?

Does this “law” mean a law through the legal system, or the law of the church?  What are the implications of a civil law that prevented persecution of non-members?

 22 Nevertheless, there were many among them who began to be proud, and began to contend warmly with their adversaries, even unto blows; yea, they would smite one another with their fists.

I think, based on v21, that this verse is describing something that is happening within the church.

Again, does this activity suggest that their legal regime was insufficient?  Note that even church members ended up participating in physical violence here.

Do you take Mormon’s abridgment as objective fact, or do you suspect that he or his source(s) would have placed Nephite participation in violence and persecution in the best possible light?

 23 Now this was in the *second year of the reign of Alma, and it was a cause of much affliction to the church; yea, it was the cause of much trial with the church.

Wow!  That happened fast!

Are affliction and trial two separate things or two ways of saying the same thing?

 24 For the hearts of many were hardened, and their names were blotted out, that they were remembered no more among the people of God. And also many withdrew themselves from among them.

Skousen thinks “remembered” should be “numbered.”

The second sentence seems to be describing something different from the first sentence.  What is the distinction between the two groups?

 25 Now this was a great trial to those that did stand fast in the faith; nevertheless, they were steadfast and immovable in keeping the commandments of God, and they bore with patience the persecution which was heaped upon them.

In what ways would what was described in v24 be a trial to the saints?

Usually the image is “walking with God” but here it is “steadfast and immovable.”  Interesting inversion.  Maybe this was chosen because other people are walking out of the church and this group is staying firmly in place.

 26 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. And when the priest had imparted unto them the word of God they all returned again diligently unto their labors; and the priest, not esteeming himself above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; and thus they were all equal, and they did all labor, every man according to his strength.

Note that the frequent BoM theme of priests laboring is shown here to be motivated by a desire to maintain equality (not, as we might think, to avoid corruption or burdening the church members).  Implications?

I think it is safe to say that the BoM hits us over the head with the idea that (1) inequality is really bad and (2) the chief source of inequality stems from the improper relationship to labor/wealth.  What conclusions and modern applications might we draw from this?

 27 And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted; and they did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely.

Note again the emphasis given to clothing as an indicator of equality.

I’m curious about a possible relationship between the Lamanite “mark” and the mark of costly apparel.  How might they be related and what could we learn from that?

Susan W. Tanner:

The pleasures of the body can become an obsession for some; so too can the attention we give to our outward appearance. Sometimes there is a selfish excess of exercising, dieting, makeovers, and spending money on the latest fashions (see Alma 1:27). Oct 05 GC

Brant Gardner:

Mormon is continuing his descriptions of the good things about the Nephite church. Notice that the very specific “good things” are defined economically. When these good things are contrasted with the “bad things” of the non-churchmen, the differences will continue to be defined economically rather than theologically. No matter what else Mormon is telling us, he is highlighting the fact that the major controversy between churchmen and non-churchmen was a particular attitude towards a social system of economics. The churchmen advocated an egalitarian society, and the non-churchmen advocated a stratified society. Citation

 28 And thus they did establish the affairs of the church; and thus they began to have continual peace again, notwithstanding all their persecutions.

 29 And now, because of the steadiness of the church they began to be exceedingly rich, having abundance of all things whatsoever they stood in need—an abundance of flocks and herds, and fatlings of every kind, and also abundance of grain, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious things, and abundance of silk and fine-twined linen, and all manner of good homely cloth.

What does this verse tell us about the bad kind of costly apparel?  (Or:  is it OK to wear silk and fine-twined linen, or is that part of the problem?)

I think it is possible to read this verse as saying that “having abundance of all things whatsoever they stood in need” is the definition of “rich.” (This could perhaps be distinguished from their larger cultural view of wealth, as having the ability to wear costly clothes.) Is that the case?  If so, how might that impact our reading of the idea of wealth in the BoM?

James E. Faust:

We recognize that the process of establishing the Lord’s church encompasses much more than baptizing people. In the first chapter of Alma in the Book of Mormon we find an instructive sequence of events outlining the way by which the Lord’s church is established. Beginning with verse 26 we read: “The priests left their labor to impart the word of God unto the people. … And when the priest had imparted unto them the word of God they all returned again diligently unto their labors; … and thus they were all equal, and they did all labor, every man according to his strength. And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted; and they did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely” (Alma 1:26–27). Let us take note of this process: First, the doctrines are taught (see Alma 1:26). Second, members esteem each other as themselves (see Alma 1:26). Third, they all labor; they work and earn that which they receive (see Alma 1:26). Fourth, they impart of their substance to the less fortunate; they serve one another (see Alma 1:27). Fifth, they discipline their own appetites while at the same time caring appropriately for their own needs (see Alma 1:27). Now, listen to the declaration of the prophet: “And thus they did establish the affairs of the church. … And now, because of the steadiness of the church they began to be exceeding rich, having abundance of all things whatsoever they stood in need” (Alma 1:28–29). This mighty change happened, not because the people were given things, but rather because they were taught and began to help themselves and to care for those who were less fortunate. It was when they gave of themselves in the Lord’s way that their circumstances began to improve. This process of establishing the Church can apply anywhere. Oct 79 GC

 30 And thus, in their prosperous circumstances, they did not send away any who were naked, or that were hungry, or that were athirst, or that were sick, or that had not been nourished; and they did not set their hearts upon riches; therefore they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need.

Note that they are following King Ben’s counsel not to judge people who are needy.

Usually, prosperous people have a problem with wealth but here we are specifically told that they did not set their hearts upon riches.  Are there any indications in the text as to how they were able to accomplish this?

I love how the climax of their wealth is not “stuff” but the ability to care for everyone who needs it.

 31 And thus they did prosper and become far more wealthy than those who did not belong to their church.

Note the “thus”:  the reason they became wealthy was because they were giving their wealth away.  This is a nice parallel to Psalm 72, which posits the peace, stability, and overall success of Israel as the outgrowth of the king’s actions in caring for the poor (discussion here).

 32 For those who did not belong to their church did indulge themselves in sorceries, and in idolatry or idleness, and in babblings, and in envyings and strife; wearing costly apparel; being lifted up in the pride of their own eyes; persecuting, lying, thieving, robbing, committing whoredoms, and murdering, and all manner of wickedness; nevertheless, the law was put in force upon all those who did transgress it, inasmuch as it was possible.

We can imagine how idolatry or wearing costly clothing would deplete their riches, but what is the relationship to sorcery, babblings, etc.?  I think this verse is fascinating when read in conjunction with v31, because it in effect is saying:  if you want to be wealthy, don’t do these things.  And many of “these things” have no obvious economic impact.

Note the final line:  once again, I feel that Mormon or his source is implicitly criticizing the legal regime established by Mosiah2 because of the system’s tepid ability to respond to social problems.

 33 And it came to pass that by thus exercising the law upon them, every man suffering according to that which he had done, they became more still, and durst not commit any wickedness if it were known; therefore, there was much peace among the people of Nephi until the fifth year of the reign of the judges.

CHAPTER 2

1 And it came to pass in the commencement of the *fifth year of their reign there began to be a contention among the people; for a certain man, being called Amlici, he being a very cunning man, yea, a wise man as to the wisdom of the world, he being after the order of the man that slew Gideon by the sword, who was executed according to the law—

Why “their reign” and not “his reign?

Does “after the order” mean that Nehor wasn’t a lone wolf?  If so, why are we not learning that until now?  (The natural order of things would have been to have introduced the idea of an “order” when Nehor introduced it and not wait until after his story is over to mention it.)

“Who was executed”–we know that.  Why repeat it?

“The man that slew Gideon” is a lot more work to write than “Nehor.”  Why do you think Nehor’s name is left out?  (Is that at all related to the fact that Nehor was not named until, awkwardly, the very end of his story?  It is hard to escape the idea that the [un]naming of Nehor has some fairly weighty significance.)

2 Now this Amlici had, by his cunning, drawn away much people after him; even so much that they began to be very powerful; and they began to endeavor to establish Amlici to be a king over the people.

Note that this is the second time in as many verses that we are told about his cunning.  What are we to learn from that?

So–does this mean that all of Mosiah2′s planning was for naught, since even having judges didn’t save them from plotters who would be king?  (And it has only been five years!)

I would have expected Amlici to be seeking religious authority, since Nehor was concerned with religious, not civil, issues and Amlici was just described as being “after the order of [Nehor].”  But this verse shows Amlici seeking civil authority.  What gives?

What kind of power did they have?  Where did they get it and how was it manifest?  (And how does their quick and disturbing rise to power relate to the recent switch away from having kings, which was justified in terms of potential abuse of power?)

What does this verse tell us about cunning?  What should our attitude toward it be?  How can we recognize it?

3 Now this was alarming to the people of the church, and also to all those who had not been drawn away after the persuasions of Amlici; for they knew that according to their law that such things must be established by the voice of the people.

Again I am curious about the tension between their laws from their fathers and the voice of the people.

Does the last line mean that it would have been OK to have a king had it been the will of the voice of the people?

4 Therefore, if it were possible that Amlici should gain the voice of the people, he, being a wicked man, would deprive them of their rights and privileges of the church; for it was his intent to destroy the church of God.

So . . . does this mean Mosiah2 did a bad job of setting up the government?  After all, if they had a king, then they wouldn’t have to worry about Amlici amassing power via the voice of the people here.  Note that the first mention of the “voice of the people” is Mosiah 7:9, which is Zeniff, who we know was at best over-zealous and at worst a civil-war-starting crazy dude.  (But to be fair, Mosiah 2:11 implies that Ben was chosen by the voice of the people without using those exact words.)  Of course, this raises the question of what exactly Mosiah2′s reforms would accomplish if they had already been selecting their leaders by the voice of the people.  Brant Gardner examines the evidence for how the voice of the people functioned in Nephite society here.

5 And it came to pass that the people assembled themselves together throughout all the land, every man according to his mind, whether it were for or against Amlici, in separate bodies, having much dispute and wonderful contentions one with another.

What does “in separate bodies” mean:  just that for practical reasons they had to have many small confabs, or that the “pro” and “anti” Amlici groups met separately?

Does “wonderful” mean these contentions were good, or that they caused wonder?

6 And thus they did assemble themselves together to cast in their voices concerning the matter; and they were laid before the judges.

I’m curious about “voices” (especially voices that can be “cast in”), since “the voice of the people” has been something of a technical term, but always singular, as it is in the next verse.

7 And it came to pass that the voice of the people came against Amlici, that he was not made king over the people.

8 Now this did cause much joy in the hearts of those who were against him; but Amlici did stir up those who were in his favor to anger against those who were not in his favor.

Doesn’t this verse prove that Mosiah2′s effort to establish a “no kings = no contention” government has just failed?

9 And it came to pass that they gathered themselves together, and did consecrate Amlici to be their king.

10 Now when Amlici was made king over them he commanded them that they should take up arms against their brethren; and this he did that he might subject them to him.

11 Now the people of Amlici were distinguished by the name of Amlici, being called Amlicites; and the remainder were called Nephites, or the people of God.

12 Therefore the people of the Nephites were aware of the intent of the Amlicites, and therefore they did prepare to meet them; yea, they did arm themselves with swords, and with cimeters, and with bows, and with arrows, and with stones, and with slings, and with all manner of weapons of war, of every kind.

What made the Nephites aware of their intents?  (It seems to be the taking on of a new name . . . very interesting.)

Why was it important to Mormon that we get a weapons catalog here?

13 And thus they were prepared to meet the Amlicites at the time of their coming. And there were appointed captains, and higher captains, and chief captains, according to their numbers.

Interesting that their military organization is parallel to their civic one (X, higher X, chief X, where X can be judge or captain, but note in v16 that there is more than one chief captain), but not their religious one (where we have teachers, elders, priests, and a high priest).

14 And it came to pass that Amlici did arm his men with all manner of weapons of war of every kind; and he also appointed rulers and leaders over his people, to lead them to war against their brethren.

15 And it came to pass that the Amlicites came upon the hill Amnihu, which was east of the river Sidon, which ran by the land of Zarahemla, and there they began to make war with the Nephites.

Skousen reads “up upon” here.

16 Now Alma, being the chief judge and the governor of the people of Nephi, therefore he went up with his people, yea, with his captains, and chief captains, yea, at the head of his armies, against the Amlicites to battle.

What does “governnor” mean here–is it a title or a description?

Interesting that he isn’t the chief captain.

Does “at the head of his armies” mean that the chief captain(s) was the head of the army, or that Alma was?  (I think it is interesting in v29 it is Alma taking on the enemy leader and not one of the chief captains.)

17 And they began to slay the Amlicites upon the hill east of Sidon. And the Amlicites did contend with the Nephites with great strength, insomuch that many of the Nephites did fall before the Amlicites.

18 Nevertheless the Lord did strengthen the hand of the Nephites, that they slew the Amlicites with great slaughter, that they began to flee before them.

Skousen reads “a great slaughter” here.

The point seems to be that the Nephites are losing (v17) until the Lord intervenes.  What should we learn from this?

19 And it came to pass that the Nephites did pursue the Amlicites all that day, and did slay them with much slaughter, insomuch that there were slain of the Amlicites twelve thousand five hundred thirty and two souls; and there were slain of the Nephites six thousand five hundred sixty and two souls.

I think that there might be a moral here that even when the Lord is fighting your battles for you, you still have to fight your own battles.

Why do you think Mormon wanted us to know the death tallies here?

Brant Gardner:

What makes these numbers most fascinating is that they appear to be interrelated. Using numerals instead of words, we have 12,562 and 6,532. There are comparisons that are difficult to explain between the two. First, there is 12,000 versus 6,000. Whatever we might think of the 12 and the 6, the very fact that one is precisely twice the other is suspicious. On top of the precise doubling of the thousands, and have an absolute match in the hundreds, with both having 500. In the final set of numbers, there is a difference, but a fascinating one. In the tens column we again have a doubling, and then in the ones column an exact match. The gross match is then described as doubled/exact/doubled/exact. The more exact pattern, from the larger to the smaller number, is: halved/exact/doubled/exact. This most specific set of counts in the Book of Mormon is highly suspicious, and appears to be a created number. Citation

Gardner also posits a relationship between this and Mesoamerican number systems, but I dunno.

20 And it came to pass that when Alma could pursue the Amlicites no longer he caused that his people should pitch their tents in the valley of Gideon, the valley being called after that Gideon who was slain by the hand of Nehor with the sword; and in this valley the Nephites did pitch their tents for the night.

Does this verse imply that the location is significant?  (I suspect that the explanation of why it was called after Gideon and who Gideon was–which we already know!–implies that it is significant.)

Why couldn’t he pursue them any longer?

Note that Nehor is named this time; that’s unusual for him.  Why might this be?

21 And Alma sent spies to follow the remnant of the Amlicites, that he might know of their plans and their plots, whereby he might guard himself against them, that he might preserve his people from being destroyed.

I’m curious about the idea of spies in the BoM.  Remember that Zeniff was a spy, and his (mis)interpretation of what he saw when spying leads to an unimaginable calamity.

Is there a moral to be drawn from the idea of sending spies if we read allegorically?  (Crazy idea for a short story:  a little department of the church that sends its employees into strip clubs and porn websites so they can be aware of what the enemy is doing.  Haha.)

22 Now those whom he had sent out to watch the camp of the Amlicites were called Zeram, and Amnor, and Manti, and Limher; these were they who went out with their men to watch the camp of the Amlicites.

Why do we need to know the names of the spies?  (This is the only time they show up in the record, but Manti will be a hill and Amnor a unit of measurement later on.)

23 And it came to pass that on the morrow they returned into the camp of the Nephites in great haste, being greatly astonished, and struck with much fear, saying:

Echoes of the spies sent to Jericho here?  Echoes of Zeniff’s spying mission?

Was fear the right reaction to have?  After all, the Lord is helping them?  Is the point that they mess up?  Why was their emotion recorded in the first place?  Or is the point that they are valiant in that they didn’t succumb to Lamanite charms the way that Zeniff did?

24 Behold, we followed the camp of the Amlicites, and to our great astonishment, in the land of Minon, above the land of Zarahemla, in the course of the land of Nephi, we saw a numerous host of the Lamanites; and behold, the Amlicites have joined them;

Is there a “moral of the story” to the idea that the Amlicites joined the Lamanites?  (It seems to me that in some ways, the BoM is one big long winnowing, as more and more people peel away from the righteous remnant and choose to join the Lamanites.)  How might this be relevant to our day?

25 And they are upon our brethren in that land; and they are fleeing before them with their flocks, and their wives, and their children, towards our city; and except we make haste they obtain possession of our city, and our fathers, and our wives, and our children be slain.

But note that these Nephites (even though they have to risk their lives to spy on them, and they are their military enemies) haven’t disowned the Amlicites, but still call them “our brethren.”

Is there a moral to be drawn from this–perhaps something about leaving Zarahemla insufficiently defended?

Fathers, wives, and children is an interesting grouping–it is usually wives and children.  And why the heck don’t they mention their mothers?

Do you find it odd that the Lamanites would so willingly accept the Amlicites, especially when, to all observers, the Amlicites would have looked as if they were prepared to go to battle against the Lamanites?

Brant Gardner writes, “The ethnic identity of the Amlicites apparently held no inherent impediment for joining with the Nephites,” which is very interesting food for thought when thinking about all this business of “marks” and “curses” that we are about to read.

Brant Gardner:

Sorenson suggests that this meeting was planned beforehand, and that the Amlicite attack on the East side of the Sidon was calculated to draw the Nephite army off away from Zarahemla, and thus leave it more vulnerable from the main Lamanite attack on the West side of the Sidon (Sorenson 1985, p. 196). While there is no direct hint at collusion between the Amlicites and the Lamanites in the text itself, the particulars of the Amlicite attack make this scenario quite plausible, and perhaps best explains how the Amlicites could come upon the Lamanite army in full battle regalia and be accepted so quickly.  Citation

26 And it came to pass that the people of Nephi took their tents, and departed out of the valley of Gideon towards their city, which was the city of Zarahemla.

Is it significant that they are called “the people of Nephi” and not called some military designation here?  (“The armies of Nephi” or something seems to make more sense.)

We already know that their city was the city of Zarahemla–why mention it?

27 And behold, as they were crossing the river Sidon, the Lamanites and the Amlicites, being as numerous almost, as it were, as the sands of the sea, came upon them to destroy them.

“The sands of the sea” is frequently used to describe the extent of Abraham’s posterity.  Is that meaning alluded to here?  Also, the last number we got was a very specific death count.  How does that relate to this very imprecise count?

28 Nevertheless, the Nephites being strengthened by the hand of the Lord, having prayed mightily to him that he would deliver them out of the hands of their enemies, therefore the Lord did hear their cries, and did strengthen them, and the Lamanites and the Amlicites did fall before them.

This is the second time in this passage that we hear of the hand of the Lord strengthening them.  What I find interesting is that the spy mission and its results are not described in terms of divine intervention, but are sandwiched in between references to that intervention.

I think the right way to read v28 is as a pre-summary of the material in v29-38.  If this is correct, why would Mormon have wanted us to have this summary (and interpretation) of events before we read the story itself?  Also, this summary suggests a very general thing (“deliver them,” “strengthen them,” “fall before them”) but what is actually narrated is a one-on-one story of Alma.  Why do you think this summary is more corporate but the narrated experience is more personal?

29 And it came to pass that Alma fought with Amlici with the sword, face to face; and they did contend mightily, one with another.

Is it significant that the leaders are going mano a mano here?

The sword of Laban functioned for many generations as a symbol of Nephite kingship.  There is reference to a sword here, but not the sword of Laban.  It is wielded by the Nephite leader, who is not a king.  What’s going on here?

If we want to read metaphorically, I find it most interesting that what the Lord has done for Alma is strengthen him (v28, v31), not fight his battles for him or find a way to help him avoid his battles.

30 And it came to pass that Alma, being a man of God, being exercised with much faith, cried, saying: O Lord, have mercy and spare my life, that I may be an instrument in thy hands to save and preserve this people.

Skousen reads “protect” instead of “preserve” here.

Throughout this entire section of the BoM, the phrase “instrument in the hands of God” is frequently used.  What does that metaphor suggest to us about how we should view our lives?

Are “save” and “preserve” to different things or two ways of saying the same thing?

31 Now when Alma had said these words he contended again with Amlici; and he was strengthened, insomuch that he slew Amlici with the sword.

In what situations might you want to model Alma’s prayer here?

Are you bothered by the fact that the answer to Alma’s prayer was his ability to kill someone?  (But note that he didn’t pray for Amlici’s death; he prayed that his own life would be spared.  This may be an important key to understanding warfare in the BoM.)

Note that Alma asked for his life to be preserved and what he got was strength.

32 And he also contended with the king of the Lamanites; but the king of the Lamanites fled back from before Alma and sent his guards to contend with Alma.

Does this text encourage you compare Amlici and the king of the Lamanites?  If so, what do you conclude and what should you learn from this?

Is the point of this just to show that the Lamanite king was a wimp (and, if so, what should we learn from that?) or is there more going on here?

33 But Alma, with his guards, contended with the guards of the king of the Lamanites until he slew and drove them back.

34 And thus he cleared the ground, or rather the bank, which was on the west of the river Sidon, throwing the bodies of the Lamanites who had been slain into the waters of Sidon, that thereby his people might have room to cross and contend with the Lamanites and the Amlicites on the west side of the river Sidon.

I’m having a hard time figuring out what is happening in this verse–is he saying that they crossed the river on a bridge of corpses (ew), or is he saying that he put the bodies into the river so the bank would be unencumbered so they could approach the river?  (See 3:3 for, maybe, support for this idea.) The fact that the ground cleared and the battle occur on the west side of the river sounds as if he cleared the bodies so there would be room to fight–is that right?  Either way, why was this material included in the record?

35 And it came to pass that when they had all crossed the river Sidon that the Lamanites and the Amlicites began to flee before them, notwithstanding they were so numerous that they could not be numbered.

Why would they flee if they had superior numbers?

I assume the “they” that crossed in the first phrase were Nephites.  If so, it suggests that crossing the river was the turning point of the battle, which suggests that moving the bodies was the cause of the turning point of the battle.  Are we to learn something from this and, if so, what?

36 And they fled before the Nephites towards the wilderness which was west and north, away beyond the borders of the land; and the Nephites did pursue them with their might, and did slay them.

37 Yea, they were met on every hand, and slain and driven, until they were scattered on the west, and on the north, until they had reached the wilderness, which was called Hermounts; and it was that part of the wilderness which was infested by wild and ravenous beasts.

We also learned that the area near the waters of Mormon was infested with wild beasts–is there a connection here?

Should you be reading this (especially the references to wilderness and scattering) metaphorically?

Brant Gardner:

Mormon’s description of what happened to the army does not appear to be a first hand account, but rather one that is made of conjecture. His evidence for those who died by being devoured is the bones which have been found. When those bones were found is a question, but certainly it was not during the pursuit, but some time later. What we have with [sic] Mormon’s relation is second hand information and inference. The bones that are found are presumed to relate to this incident, but there would be little clear evidence for that fact. This type of “historical” recording is very typical of ancient writers. The supposition is easily taken as declaration of fact, a presumption that would not pass modern historical practices.  Citation

38 And it came to pass that many died in the wilderness of their wounds, and were devoured by those beasts and also the vultures of the air; and their bones have been found, and have been heaped up on the earth.

Why was this included in the record?

CHAPTER 3

1 And it came to pass that the Nephites who were not slain by the weapons of war, after having buried those who had been slain—now the number of the slain were not numbered, because of the greatness of their number—after they had finished burying their dead they all returned to their lands, and to their houses, and their wives, and their children.

Note here.

In the last chapter, we got the number of the slain.  It sounded terrible.  In this case, we find out that the numbering was actually suggestive of the fact that the slaughter was not as terrible.

Note that the “fathers” drop out here–in the last chapter, they wanted to protect fathers, wives, and children.  Is the change significant?

Brant Gardner points out that this verse implies that they did not have a standing army.  In what ways might this be significant?

2 Now many women and children had been slain with the sword, and also many of their flocks and their herds; and also many of their fields of grain were destroyed, for they were trodden down by the hosts of men.

Does it surprise you that they left the homeland undefended?  Does it surprise you that the Lord intervened so they would win the battle, but didn’t protect the civilians back home?  What are we to learn from this?

3 And now as many of the Lamanites and the Amlicites who had been slain upon the bank of the river Sidon were cast into the waters of Sidon; and behold their bones are in the depths of the sea, and they are many.

Why was this included in the record?  (The multiple references to this seem to suggest some importance, but for the life of me, I cannot figure out what that might be.)

4 And the Amlicites were distinguished from the Nephites, for they had marked themselves with red in their foreheads after the manner of the Lamanites; nevertheless they had not shorn their heads like unto the Lamanites.

Is this a new practice after the battle (and the Nephites are, perhaps, only finding out about it now either as a result of the battle or of the handling of the corpses) or something they had been doing before?

What does it suggest about the Amlicites to say that they adopted one of the Lamanite markers but not the other?

What might a red mark on the forehead have symbolized?  What might a shorn head have symbolized?  Why aren’t we told?

Does this verse (and the following discussion) apply only to the dead bodies?  Or does it apply to the entire culture, but was brought to mind by the handling of the dead bodies in v3?  (Perhaps this is when these Nephites learned of these differences, if they hadn’t already noticed them in battle.)  More generally, what is the link between v3 and v4?

Presumably (and as v6 suggests), the Lamanites had darker skin than the Nephites.  Remember that the Amlicites were Nephites about ten minutes ago, but have now joined the Lamanites.  So it is interesting that they choose to identify with the Lamanites through this red mark.  But their skin colors would have been different.  If you saw the battle, you would have seen Nephites (no red mark, light[er] skin), Amlicites (red mark, light[er] skin), and Lamanites (red mark, darker skin).  So the “deciding factor” in identification was the red mark, not the darker skin.  I find that interesting, because it wasn’t the mark the Lord put on anyone but one that they chose to take upon themselves (and why, by the way, did the Lamanites choose this mark?) that becomes the main identifier.

5 Now the heads of the Lamanites were shorn; and they were naked, save it were skin which was girded about their loins, and also their armor, which was girded about them, and their bows, and their arrows, and their stones, and their slings, and so forth.

Skousen reads “a skin” here.

This reminds me of the time I picked up one of my kids from a playdate and asked, “Have you eaten anything?”  “No . . . just a hamburger.  And a hot dog.  And three cookies.”  So:  What is accomplished here by saying that they were naked, when they weren’t really naked?  Is there a relationship between their “nakedness” and their shorn heads?  In the Bible, nakedness is associated with innocence (before the fall) or shame (after the fall)–are either of those meanings here?

Mosiah 10:8 also lumps nakedness with a catalog of military gear–why link these two things together?

6 And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren, who consisted of Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph, and Sam, who were just and holy men.

So we are now talking about three marks:  red forehead, shorn heads, and dark skin.  How do these relate?  How are they different?

It is very difficult to talk about a curse that takes the form of darkened skin.  Given that the BoM was written “for our day,” what is this material doing here and what should we learn from it?

Previously, leadership was seen to belong to Nephi; why do you think Jacob, Joseph, and Sam are also mentioned here?  Perhaps more significantly, why are we reminded that they were “just and holy” men here?

Is “transgression” the same thing as, or different from, sin in this verse?

Is the reference to “skins” in this verse related to the reference to “skin” in the previous verse?

7 And their brethren sought to destroy them, therefore they were cursed; and the Lord God set a mark upon them, yea, upon Laman and Lemuel, and also the sons of Ishmael, and Ishmaelitish women.

From this book:

6 A And the skins of the Lamanites were dark,
B according to the mark which was set upon their fathers,
C which was a curse upon them
D because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren,
E who consisted of Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph, and Sam,
E who were just and holy men.
7 D And their brethren sought to destroy them,
C therefore they were cursed;
B and the Lord God set a mark upon them,
A yea, upon Laman and Lemuel,

What’s interesting about that chiasmus is the shift in the word “brethren.”  In the D line, brethren refers to the Nephites, but in the D’ line, it refers to the Lamanites.  But, significantly, both groups are described as “brethren” to each other.  It is a sad little thing.

The logic of this verse is a little hard to follow, especially with all of the pronouns where we might have appreciated nouns.  I think that the “their brethren” means Laman and Lemuel and the first “them” is the Nephites.  The people who get the mark are the Lamanites, and they get it from God because they tried to destroy the Nephites.

What is accomplished by mentioning Ishmael and the women?  (And isn’t it interesting that that poor guy got dragged to the new world just to see his descendants cursed?)

8 And this was done that their seed might be distinguished from the seed of their brethren, that thereby the Lord God might preserve his people, that they might not mix and believe in incorrect traditions which would prove their destruction.

The one main story of mixing that we have had up to this point is there the priests of Noah (who, being descended from the Nephites that followed Zeniff, would not have had the curse) stole Lamanite girls and married them.  So . . . did the curse not work then and, if not, why not?  (In other words, why did the priests of Noah “mix” with the daughters?)

Implicit in this verse is the importance of not “mixing” (Is that just marriage, or is it broader? I think this verse is broad, but v9 points to marriage.)  Also implicit is the idea that otherwise righteous people might be tempted beyond that which they could bear to “mix,” but that a physical mark would stop them from so doing.  Do you agree with my analysis and, if so, what does it teach you about humans and about God?

So in the OT, the concern is always that a son will marry a pagan woman, because the assumption is that the wife’s beliefs/practices will become the children’s.  In the BoM, we don’t hear about that–we hear that an entire group has a visible mark so that there will be no intermarrying.  What does this difference tell us about the old world and new world cultures?  What else might we learn from it?

Note that the emphasis here is on belief (“believe in incorrect traditions”) and not practice (“commit sinful acts” or whatever).  What might we learn from this?

This verse sorta sounds as if beliefs were a sexually transmitted virus (i.e., something you might unwilling pick up from someone you are in an intimate relationship with, not something you choose one way or the other).  What are the consequences of thinking about beliefs in this way?

9 And it came to pass that whosoever did mingle his seed with that of the Lamanites did bring the same curse upon his seed.

Shouldn’t he also have brought that curse upon himself?

10 Therefore, whosoever suffered himself to be led away by the Lamanites was called under that head, and there was a mark set upon him.

This verse suggests that the mark didn’t only go to the person’s children (which is covered in v9), but went to the person who followed the Lamanites.  Does this imply that the mark was not simple “race,” since, we would presume, one’s race would not change in this situation?  (Or did it?  Does this verse assume divine intervention to darken the skin of anyone who followed the Lamanites?)

11 And it came to pass that whosoever would not believe in the tradition of the Lamanites, but believed those records which were brought out of the land of Jerusalem, and also in the tradition of their fathers, which were correct, who believed in the commandments of God and kept them, were called the Nephites, or the people of Nephi, from that time forth—

Now, we used to define “Nephite” as followers of God and “Lamanite” as “everyone else,” but here, we begin the definition of Nephites with a negative (“whoever would not believe . . .”).  What is accomplished by this?

It seems that this verse sets up a four-part Nephite statement of faith:

1.  did not believe Lamanite tradition

2. believed Jrsm records

3. believed traditions of their fathers

4. believed in the commandments and kept them

What can you learn from that list?  In what ways would, for example, 2 and 4 be different?  Of what would 3 have consisted if it wasn’t the same thing as 2 and 4?

12 And it is they who have kept the records which are true of their people, and also of the people of the Lamanites.

Notice how very central the records are to what is happening in v12.  The records and the foundation and delineation of their societies.

13 Now we will return again to the Amlicites, for they also had a mark set upon them; yea, they set the mark upon themselves, yea, even a mark of red upon their foreheads.

This verse acknowledges that v5-12 have been something of a digression from the main story line.  Why was this digression inserted?  What does the sad story of the Amlicites have to do with the curse–they aren’t part of the curse (they didn’t have children with Lamanites, they just died with them) and they choose themselves to take on a Lamanite mark (and a different one from the curse) themselves before they die. Mormon (or his source) seems to be making a link between the mark of the Amlicites and that of the Lamanites, but what exactly is that link–and why isn’t it explained to us?  (One theory:  by putting a mark in their own forehead, the Amlicites were taking the Lamanite curse on themselves. I think v18 supports this.  What is interesting about that is that it is an entirely different mark than the one that the Lord put on the Lamanites.  It also has a slightly different function–it identifies the Amlicites for purposes of battle, not for marriage.)

I’ve never met a member of the church who wasn’t made a little squirmy by these verses (and other discussions of the curse/dark skin) in the BoM, and yet we know the BoM was written “for our day.”  What do you do with this material?  What is the message in it for us?  Is there anything palatable and useful that can be drawn from it?  Is it as ugly as it seems?

So was this mark “set upon them” or did they “set the mark upon themselves”?  Or what?

The Lamanite mark is dark skin; the Amlicite mark is a red forehead.  What to make of this?

14 Thus the word of God is fulfilled, for these are the words which he said to Nephi: Behold, the Lamanites have I cursed, and I will set a mark on them that they and their seed may be separated from thee and thy seed, from this time henceforth and forever, except they repent of their wickedness and turn to me that I may have mercy upon them.

Is the suggestion here that the mark is something that people set upon themselves?  (This would fit nicely with the idea from Ben’s speech that hell is entirely self-selected and self-inflicted and internal.)

What does “forever” mean in this verse?  Does it mean that this verse should be applied to our lives in some way?

Interesting that we don’t have this statement to Nephi recorded in Nephi’s own writings.  How did it end up here and not there?

15 And again: I will set a mark upon him that mingleth his seed with thy brethren, that they may be cursed also.

16 And again: I will set a mark upon him that fighteth against thee and thy seed.

Why the triple repetition here?  Triple repetition, especially when it is clearly signposted as such, is a huge, huge deal.  What made the concept of the mark worth mentioning three times?

There’s an interesting shift from v15 (mingling seed) and v16 (fighting against seed).  These things would seem to be opposites (love and war! life and death! sex and battle!), but here, they have precisely the same consequence.  Why is that?

17 And again, I say he that departeth from thee shall no more be called thy seed; and I will bless thee, and whomsoever shall be called thy seed, henceforth and forever; and these were the promises of the Lord unto Nephi and to his seed.

This feels very much like the “punchline” to the entire Amlicite story, but what’s weird about it is that we didn’t have this revelation from the Lord to Nephi until this moment.  What effect does it have on the reader to get it now?

18 Now the Amlicites knew not that they were fulfilling the words of God when they began to mark themselves in their foreheads; nevertheless they had come out in open rebellion against God; therefore it was expedient that the curse should fall upon them.

But . . . if God was giving the curse, and the curse was darker skin, and the point was to avoid intermarrying, then how does a self-inflicted, red-forehead, battle-identifying mark fulfill the words of God?  Since it apparently does fulfill the curse, then what does this verse teach us about the curse?

Is it only “bad guys” who can fulfill prophesy without knowing that they are doing it?  In what other situations might this happen?

19 Now I would that ye should see that they brought upon themselves the curse; and even so doth every man that is cursed bring upon himself his own condemnation.

Direct address is very rare in the scriptures.

Note what a huge point Mormon (presumably) is making here of making sure we know that the Amlicites brought the mark upon themselves.  This reminds me of the teachings about “hell” that we’ve gotten:  hell is an internal state that you bring upon yourself when you know what you have given up.

Ah, I love these explanatory verses from Mormon–if only the author of Genesis had similarly made our lives easy by explaining the point of the story!  In this case, it appears that the entire point of the Amlicite story is to show that people curse themselves.

20 Now it came to pass that not many days after the battle which was fought in the land of Zarahemla, by the Lamanites and the Amlicites, that there was another army of the Lamanites came in upon the people of Nephi, in the same place where the first army met the Amlicites.

21 And it came to pass that there was an army sent to drive them out of their land.

22 Now Alma himself being afflicted with a wound did not go up to battle at this time against the Lamanites;

23 But he sent up a numerous army against them; and they went up and slew many of the Lamanites, and drove the remainder of them out of the borders of their land.

24 And then they returned again and began to establish peace in the land, being troubled no more for a time with their enemies.

25 Now all these things were done, yea, all these wars and contentions were commenced and ended in the *fifth year of the reign of the judges.

26 And in one year were thousands and tens of thousands of souls sent to the eternal world, that they might reap their rewards according to their works, whether they were good or whether they were bad, to reap eternal happiness or eternal misery, according to the spirit which they listed to obey, whether it be a good spirit or a bad one.

Is this verse suggesting that one’s works determine one’s eternal destiny?

Does this verse provide a scriptural gloss to the popular image of a little angel on one shoulder and a little demon on the other?

This verse described one year when tens of thousands of people die.  But the previous verse said that it was a time of peace.  So . . . does this verse backtrack?  (And, if so, why is the text structured so oddly?) Or was there a plague or natural disaster or something? (Then why not explain that?) Or is the population so large that 10s of 1000s is the normal mortality?  (But then why mention it if it were the norm?)

Mormons pride themselves on a multi-level heaven; how do you reconcile that idea with this binary verse?

27 For every man receiveth wages of him whom he listeth to obey, and this according to the words of the spirit of prophecy; therefore let it be according to the truth. And thus endeth the fifth year of the reign of the judges.

What does the idea of “wages” suggest to you about eternal rewards?

CHAPTER 4

1 Now it came to pass in the *sixth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, there were no contentions nor wars in the land of Zarahemla;

2 But the people were afflicted, yea, greatly afflicted for the loss of their brethren, and also for the loss of their flocks and herds, and also for the loss of their fields of grain, which were trodden under foot and destroyed by the Lamanites.

3 And so great were their afflictions that every soul had cause to mourn; and they believed that it was the judgments of God sent upon them because of their wickedness and their abominations; therefore they were awakened to a remembrance of their duty.

Does the fact that they stopped mourning surprise you?  (If anything, I think they might be mourning more!)

Were they right about it being the judgments of God?

What does “awakened” suggest to you about what happened to them here?

4 And they began to establish the church more fully; yea, and many were baptized in the waters of Sidon and were joined to the church of God; yea, they were baptized by the hand of Alma, who had been consecrated the high priest over the people of the church, by the hand of his father Alma.

Remember that the last time Alma, the river Sidon, and bodies were mentioned, Alma was putting dead Lamanite bodies into the river.  I suspect these verses are related, but how?  What is the point?

5 And it came to pass in the *seventh year of the reign of the judges there were about three thousand five hundred souls that united themselves to the church of God and were baptized. And thus ended the seventh year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi; and there was continual peace in all that time.

6 And it came to pass in the *eighth year of the reign of the judges, that the people of the church began to wax proud, because of their exceeding riches, and their fine silks, and their fine-twined linen, and because of their many flocks and herds, and their gold and their silver, and all manner of precious things, which they had obtained by their industry; and in all these things were they lifted up in the pride of their eyes, for they began to wear very costly apparel.

Does pride in the BoM focus on clothing because that was one of the few avenues that they had for displaying social status, or is there something special about clothing?

Note that it was only two years ago that they were suffering from a war-induced famine–this is a remarkably quick turn-around.  In fact, all of the events of the reign of the judges seem to happen remarkably quickly.  Why might this be?

Virtually every time clothing is criticized in scripture, it is because of cost, not modesty (using the modern sense of modesty, not the broader sense).  What should we learn from this?

So we have industry -> accumulating good stuff -> pride.  What should we learn from this progression?  (The cynic would say:  industry is the start of bad stuff.  Better to watch Netflix.)

The beginning of this verse seems to suggest that they were proud because of their nice stuff; the end seems to suggest that their pride caused them to accumulate nice stuff.  Which way is the arrow pointing?

7 Now this was the cause of much affliction to Alma, yea, and to many of the people whom Alma had consecrated to be teachers, and priests, and elders over the church; yea, many of them were sorely grieved for the wickedness which they saw had begun to be among their people.

We’ve heard a lot about priests and teachers, but I think this is our first reference to “elders” in Alma’s church.  Is this just a result of the randomness of the record, or is it significant that they are introduced in this context?

What do you think of “grief” as a response to wickedness?  (Is that our usual response?)

Nice irony that “affliction” was used in v3 to describe how the people felt about the famine but is used here to describe how the church leaders felt about wealth (=the inverse of a famine).  Another point of comparison is that the famine caused mourning and here the leaders are grieving.

8 For they saw and beheld with great sorrow that the people of the church began to be lifted up in the pride of their eyes, and to set their hearts upon riches and upon the vain things of the world, that they began to be scornful, one towards another, and they began to persecute those that did not believe according to their own will and pleasure.

How does being scornful stem from pride?  In what ways are people scornful today?  Is it every OK to be scornful?

What work is “according to their own will and pleasure” doing in this verse?

9 And thus, in this eighth year of the reign of the judges, there began to be great contentions among the people of the church; yea, there were envyings, and strife, and malice, and persecutions, and pride, even to exceed the pride of those who did not belong to the church of God.

Note that church members were more prideful than those outside of the church.

Are you surprised at how quickly this all happened?

10 And thus ended the eighth year of the reign of the judges; and the wickedness of the church was a great stumbling-block to those who did not belong to the church; and thus the church began to fail in its progress.

What should we learn from this verse?  How might this happen today?

Does this verse define the “progress of the church” in terms of how well the church appeals to non-members?

What does the image of a stumbling-block suggest to you?

Do you believe Mormon here?  It seems equally (if not more) likely that the progress of the church was slowed by the fact that their wealth made them less receptive to the gospel than a famine did.

11 And it came to pass in the *commencement of the ninth year, Alma saw the wickedness of the church, and he saw also that the example of the church began to lead those who were unbelievers on from one piece of iniquity to another, thus bringing on the destruction of the people.

What does “piece” suggest to you about iniquity?

Note that the church members were setting an example (although in this case a bad one!) for those outside the church.

12 Yea, he saw great inequality among the people, some lifting themselves up with their pride, despising others, turning their backs upon the needy and the naked and those who were hungry, and those who were athirst, and those who were sick and afflicted.

Does this verse teach that great inequality is a sin?

13 Now this was a great cause for lamentations among the people, while others were abasing themselves, succoring those who stood in need of their succor, such as imparting their substance to the poor and the needy, feeding the hungry, and suffering all manner of afflictions, for Christ’s sake, who should come according to the spirit of prophecy;

14 Looking forward to that day, thus retaining a remission of their sins; being filled with great joy because of the resurrection of the dead, according to the will and power and deliverance of Jesus Christ from the bands of death.

 

15 And now it came to pass that Alma, having seen the afflictions of the humble followers of God, and the persecutions which were heaped upon them by the remainder of his people, and seeing all their inequality, began to be very sorrowful; nevertheless the Spirit of the Lord did not fail him.

16 And he selected a wise man who was among the elders of the church, and gave him power according to the voice of the people, that he might have power to enact laws according to the laws which had been given, and to put them in force according to the wickedness and the crimes of the people.

Notice the interplay of the voice of the people and Alma’s choice–what does that tell you about how things were being run?

17 Now this man’s name was Nephihah, and he was appointed chief judge; and he sat in the judgment-seat to judge and to govern the people.

It would have been more natural to give his name in v16.  Why don’t we get his name here?

Do v16-17 imply that Mosiah2′s reforms needed, well, reform?  That is, Mosiah pictures laws from the fathers sufficient for governing, but here, Nephihah is given the authority to enact new laws (v16).  Note that Mosiah’s system lasted less than 10 years, and virtually every year was horrid, with things moving at an unbelievably fast pace.

Are judging and governing two separate things?

18 Now Alma did not grant unto him the office of being high priest over the church, but he retained the office of high priest unto himself; but he delivered the judgment-seat unto Nephihah.

Does this action imply that Mosiah2′s plan of uniting chief judge + chief priest was not a great idea?  (Or is the message here that different times require different church/civic organizations in order to work most effectively?)

Is there a lesson about the separation of church and state here?  Why do you think this change of government was included in the record?

19 And this he did that he himself might go forth among his people, or among the people of Nephi, that he might preach the word of God unto them, to stir them up in remembrance of their duty, and that he might pull down, by the word of God, all the pride and craftiness and all the contentions which were among his people, seeing no way that he might reclaim them save it were in bearing down in pure testimony against them.

What does “stir up” suggest to you?

What does “bearing down” suggest to you?

Why use “pure” to modify “testimony”?

This verse (and the next one) implies that the reason for making the chief judge separate from the high priest is so he (Alma) could focus on the church and that the civil matters were a distraction to him.  If this is the case, then how do we reconcile the frequent admonitions in the BoM that priests should labor with their own hands–wouldn’t that also be a huge distraction?

20 And thus in the commencement of the ninth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, Alma delivered up the judgment-seat to Nephihah, and confined himself wholly to the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to the testimony of the word, according to the spirit of revelation and prophecy.

What is “the holy order of God” in this verse–is it the same as the high priesthood?

General thoughts:

(1) I’ve always thought that Gideon deserved a Best Supporting Actor award.  He’s never the protagonist, but he keeps showing up and quietly doing amazing things.  See Mosiah 19:4-8, 20:16-18, 22:3-9; Alma 1:8-9.

(2) Nephite government.  There’s an awful lot of ink spilled in this section about their form of government, its merits and drawbacks, and its consequences.  (An interesting article on this here.) Noel B. Reynolds wrote this:

Alma2 became the first chief judge and served simultaneously as high priest, governor, and military chief captain. Because these offices required the approval of the people, who had rejected monarchy, critics have tended to confuse the Nephite system with the democracy of the United States. However, there was no representative legislature, the essential institution in American republican ideology. Also, the major offices were typically passed from father to son, without elections (Bushman, pp. 14—17); “the voice of the people” is reported many times as authorizing or confirming leadership appointments and other civic or political actions.  Citation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Responses to BMGD #21: Mosiah 29 and Alma 1-4

  1. cynthia on May 28, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Such a pleasure to read your commentary each week as part of my prep for teaching SS.

    Your questions regarding the translation of “king” reminded me of Tom Standage’s book, AN EDIBLE HISTORY OF HUMANITY (2009), where he writes: “An important step along the road from an egalitarian village to a stratified city seems to be the emergence of “big men.” These big men didn’t use violence to rule but generosity. “By bestowing gifts on others, he places them in his debt, and they must reciprocate with more generous gifts in the future. Such gifts most often take the form of food” (39). In this model, Mosiah would likely still be farming, as well as administering to the distribution of surplus to others and to the administration of the temple. However, with the influx of new peoples into Zarahemla, this mode of rule might not work well any longer because of the increase of complexity and scale. Thus the whiney/weariness in his voice. It might also explain his reluctance regarding Aaron–with the missions of his sons, there was no heir to run the family farm or keep up the reciprocity of relationships. If his sons returned from their missions seeking to become “big men,” their absence from weaving the webs of reciprocity might lead to civil conflict, especially if other big men had stepped into that role.

  2. Julie M. Smith on May 28, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    cynthia, very interesting insights!

    (I have that book but haven’t read it yet . . .)

  3. Heather B in SC on June 9, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    so grateful, as ever…. as is my class. Especially this week, as we’re in the middle of a move… so grateful to have your thoughts moving through my mind as well as my own.