BMGD #25 Alma 17-22

June 25, 2012 | 8 comments
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An account of the sons of Mosiah, who rejected their rights to the kingdom for the word of God, and went up to the land of Nephi to preach to the Lamanites; their sufferings and deliverance-according to the record of Alma.

Note the emphasis on the fact that the sons gave up the kingdom–I think this is an interpretive key to understanding what happens in these chapters, particularly as we see Ammon exercising a very different kind of power.  Also note “suffering and deliverance;” I think we’ll be able to make a case for reading Ammon as a Christ-figure, and that phrasing in the intro would certainly encourage that reading.

Also note that this is Alma’s record.  Now, it is possible that Alma’s record contained records written by others, but it is also possible that the sons of Mosiah told Alma what happened and he wrote it down.  Why didn’t the sons of Mosiah write their own record?  (Note that there is another header before ch21; that one doesn’t specify that it came from Alma’s record.)  Also note how weird it is that Alma refers to himself in the third person in 17:1, unless you read that as Mormon’s abridgment of Alma’s record.

CHAPTER 17

1 And now it came to pass that as Alma was journeying from the land of Gideon southward, away to the land of Manti, behold, to his astonishment, he met with the sons of Mosiah journeying towards the land of Zarahemla.

Skousen omits the “with” after “met” here.

Is this meeting a coincidence or divine intervention?

Between the header and this verse, we know that the sons of Mosiah are going to have some serious scrapes, but that they are going to make it through them just fine.  Building suspense was clearly not the narrative goal here.

2 Now these sons of Mosiah were with Alma at the time the angel first appeared unto him; therefore Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.

This is a Scripture for Dummies verse–why would Mormon (presumably–perhaps Alma wrote this) think that we would have forgotten this pivotal incident?

This verse is the official scripture of missionary reunions.

Today, we might be a smidge hesitant about sending recently-converted former-anti-Mormons on a mission into Extremely Hostile Territory for over a decade.  But it worked out pretty well here.

Interestingly, the background reminder we get on the sons of Mosiah is not that they worked with Alma to destroy the church from the inside out (although that is true) but rather that they were there for a major spiritual experience.  (In fact, that may mitigate my offense at the Scripture for Dummies aspect of this verse–Mormon [or whoever] is modeling for us how to remember people:  not by their worst moment, but by their best.)

The “therefore” implies that the reason Alma was so excited to see these guys was not that they had been his partners in crime nor that they were from the Old Country, but rather that he had shared a raw and spiritual experience with them.

Maybe I’m just cynical, but if the fact that the sons of Mosiah are still faithful added to Alma’s joy, I think that implies that Alma had entertained the idea that they might not still be “in the Lord.”  (Which is a little startling, given that the sons of Mosiah were missionaries!  Can you imagine running into someone in the SLC airport returning from her mission, and being pleasantly surprised to find out that she was still active in the Church?)

What does it mean to “wax strong in the knowledge of the truth”?  Should we be thinking about the moon waxing and waning here?  (If so, what would that suggest about our knowledge?)  What kind of strength is envisioned here?

What does it mean to have a “sound understanding”?  Is that a gift, or a talent?  Is it related to searching the scriptures?

There are four phrases describing what it means for the sons of Mosiah to be Alma’s brethren in the Lord:

1. they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth

2. they were men of a sound understanding

3. they had searched the scriptures diligently

4. they might know the word of God

(Or perhaps #4 is an explanation of #3?)  What can you learn from this pattern?

 3 But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.

I can’t read “but this is not all” without thinking about game show hosts.

Does the “but this is not all” imply that just studying the scriptures (v1) is not enough?

We considered the list of 4 (or 3, depending on how you parse) elements that contributed to their righteousness in v2; here, we have more items, but it isn’t just a laundry list–it is prefaced with “but this is not all.”  Does that mean that the items that follow (prayer, fasting) are somehow different from the things mentioned in v3?

What does the phrase “given themselves” suggest to you about prayer and fasting?  (I’m thinking the answer should include the concept of submission, or sacrifice.)

What does this verse (read with v2) teach you about what it means to teach with power and authority of God?  ( I think if, out of the context of this chapter, I asked you, “How do you get power and authority of God to teach?” you’d probably answer that God gives you the power and authority to teach.  But v2-3 suggest that you get that power and authority through scripture study, prayer, and fasting.)

Harold B. Lee:

We have a classic example of inspired teachings and how they come. The sons of Mosiah were with Alma at the time the angel first appeared unto him, and when he saw them returning from their missionary journeys, the record says, he rejoiced exceedingly “to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy they were still his brethren in the Lord, yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding, and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God. “But this is not all, they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God” When I read that word “diligently” which the Lord has repeated again and again, as when he said: “And I give unto you as commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom,” and then added, “Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you”, I have tried to define those words “diligently” and “grace.” Diligently, the dictionary says, is “perseveringly attentive, prosecuted with careful attention,” which is opposite laziness, or carelessness, or indifference. Apr 61 GC

Bruce R. McConkie:

I suppose these two commissions—on the one hand to teach the doctrines of the gospel, and on the other hand to testify by personal knowledge that we know that the things that we are proclaiming are true—I suppose these are perfectly illustrated in the ministry of the sons of Mosiah. The record says that “they were men of a sound understanding,” who “had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God. But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.” Now this gives us two premises. On the one hand we are obligated and required to know the doctrines of the Church. We are to treasure up the words of eternal life. We are to reason as intelligently as we are able. We are to use every faculty and capacity with which we are endowed to proclaim the message of salvation and to make it intelligent to ourselves and to our Father’s other children. But after we have done that, and also in the process of doing it, we are obligated to bear testimony—to let the world know and our associate members of the Church know—that in our hearts, by the revelation of the Holy Spirit to our souls, we know of the truth and divinity of the work and of the doctrines that we teach. Apr 73 GC

Thomas S. Monson:

On one occasion, President Harold B. Lee, who was a stake president in the area where I was born and reared and later presided as a bishop, spoke movingly to the Aaronic Priesthood concerning how the priesthood might prepare for its role in caring for the poor. He stood at the pulpit, took the Book of Mormon in hand, and opened it to the seventeenth chapter of Alma. He then read to us concerning the sons of Mosiah: “Now these sons of Mosiah were with Alma at the time the angel first appeared unto him; therefore Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God. But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.” We had been given our pattern, provided by an inspired teacher. Reverently, he closed the covers of this sacred scripture . . . he . . . had tears in his eyes. Apr 86 GC

Joseph B. Wirthlin:

The powerful combination of fasting and prayer is exemplified by the four sons of Mosiah. They faced overwhelming odds, yet worked miracles in bringing thousands of the Lamanites to a knowledge of the truth. They shared the secret of their success. They “searched the scriptures” and “they had given themselves to much prayer and fasting.” What was the result? “They had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.” When we fast, brethren and sisters, we feel hunger. And for a short time, we literally put ourselves in the position of the hungry and the needy. As we do so, we have greater understanding of the deprivations they might feel. When we give to the bishop an offering to relieve the suffering of others, we not only do something sublime for others, but we do something wonderful for ourselves as well.  Apr 01 GC

Note that this verse suggests that prayer and fasting (perhaps:  combined with the v2 stuff) leads to (note the “therefore”) having the spirit of prophecy/revelation.  That’s important.

I suspect some parallelism between:

giving/prayer/fasting

having/prophecy/revelation

teaching/power/authority

What might we learn from that structure?

Are the spirit or prophecy and the spirit of revelation the same thing?  If not, how do they differ?

Are power and authority the same thing?  If not, how do they differ?

Why did our writer (or redactor) feel the need to go off on a tangent here about why the sons of Mosiah were able to maintain their righteousness?  (My idea:  do not assume as a given that missionaries would be able to maintain their righteousness just because they were on a mission–they maintained it because they actively worked for it.)

Thinking more about the attributes named in these verses:  How are they developed?

 4 And they had been teaching the word of God *for the space of fourteen years among the Lamanites, having had much success in bringing many to the knowledge of the truth; yea, by the power of their words many were brought before the altar of God, to call on his name and confess their sins before him.

Why is “word of God” the phrase of choice here? (As opposed to, say:  the plan of salvation, the gospel, the scriptures, the coming Messiah, etc.)

Interesting contrast here that Alma went among the Nephites (in Ammonihah) and it was (in many ways) a disaster, while the sons of Mosiah went among the Lamanites, and had much success.  How does this mesh with all that business about the Lamanites not believing the truth, even when they are taught it, because of the false traditions of their fathers?

Is fourteen years significant?  If not, why mention it?

What does this verse teach you about “success”?

The phrase “bringing . . . knowledge” might imply an image where people are moved from one location (lack of truth, or untruth) to another location (truth).  What might you learn from that image?

I’m intrigued by “by the power of their words.”  Why this phrase?  (Why not focus on the spirit?  Or the agency of the converts?)  In what ways can words have power?

Why is “brought before the altar” used here to mean (roughly) converted?  What does that image imply about the process of conversion?

Is to “call on his name” and “confess their sins” an accurate description of how the altar is used under the Law of Moses?  Either way, what does this image convey?

Is this a literal altar?  (Did the sons of Mosiah build or find a temple in Lamanite lands?)  Or is it metaphorical?  How do you know?

Notice the parallel between the people being brought to knowledge and brought to the altar.  What might you learn from this?

I’m stuck on the idea that this verse totally emphasizes what the sons of Mosiah did in the conversion process and ignores the role of the Spirit and of the agency of the converts.  Why is the conversion presented this way?

 5 Now these are the circumstances which attended them in their journeyings, for they had many afflictions; they did suffer much, both in body and in mind, such as hunger, thirst and fatigue, and also much labor in the spirit.

Why do you think our writer chose to describe their successes first and their afflictions second?

Are “hunger, thirst, and fatigue” sufferings of the body, or the mind, or both?

What does “labor in the spirit” mean anyway?

 6 Now these were their journeyings: Having taken leave of their father, Mosiah, in the first year of the judges; having refused the kingdom which their father was desirous to confer upon them, and also this was the minds of the people;

Note what has happened here:  we’ve transitioned from telling Alma’s story to telling the story of the sons of Mosiah.

Why is “journeyings” the word used in v5 and v6?  What does it imply that some other word might not?

Why did we need to be reminded of their father’s name (duh:  v1 told us that these guys were the sons of Mosiah), the date of their departure, and their refusal of the kingdom?  (We already know all of that.)

I think this verse puts Mosiah in a bad light:  he wanted to give one of his sons a kingdom, a kingdom that neither he, nor his brothers, nor the people, wanted him to have.  (Yes, I am still harping on the idea that the legal innovations of Mosiah were a bad idea.)

When we read Mosiah, we get the impression that Mosiah thought the legal reforms were a great idea for his people.  In this verse, we get the impression that Mosiah’s desire was to give the kingdom to a son, but he was foiled by the desires of his sons and the people; this makes the legal reforms look like Plan B.

7 Nevertheless they departed out of the land of Zarahemla, and took their swords, and their spears, and their bows, and their arrows, and their slings; and this they did that they might provide food for themselves while in the wilderness.

Why does this verse begin with “nevertheless”?  (It seems to me that this verse logically follows from v6; there’s nothing disjunctive that would warrant a ‘nevertheless.’)

Why is this verse here?  Why do we even need to know how they ate on their mission, let alone a list of what they brought that made the eating possible?  (Is there anything to be gained from a sword of Laban link?  Remember that it seems that the sword of Laban functions as something of a kingship marker for the Nephites, and these guys have turned down the kingship.  What about the famous ‘Nephi’s broken bow’ story?  Is that relevant here?)  Is a sword really that useful for finding food in the wilderness?  Of course, the sword will become absolutely central to Ammon’s labors, when he uses it in the Famous Forearm Incident, but that’s later–and that’s certainly not the reason given here for taking the weapons.  Perhaps this verse is a bit of an apology for why a missionary ends up heavily armed later on?  (Also, there’s a bit of weirdness in going in to Lamanite lands with all of these weapons–wouldn’t that increase suspicion of them as being not missionaries but spies or an advance army?)

 8 And thus they departed into the wilderness with their numbers which they had selected, to go up to the land of Nephi, to preach the word of God unto the Lamanites.

Skousen omits “of God” here.

Does this verse mean that there were people with them in addition to the sons of Mosiah?  (I think v12 says ‘yes’ to this.)  Why aren’t these people named?

Now that we know that we won’t be hearing anything else about their preparation (No missionary tracts?  No assorted ties?), the reference to their hunting gear in the previous verse seems even weirder.

9 And it came to pass that they journeyed many days in the wilderness, and they fasted much and prayed much that the Lord would grant unto them a portion of his Spirit to go with them, and abide with them, that they might be an instrument in the hands of God to bring, if it were possible, their brethren, the Lamanites, to the knowledge of the truth, to the knowledge of the baseness of the traditions of their fathers, which were not correct.

Hah–after all of that equipment with which to hunt, they end up fasting.

What work is “if it were possible” doing in this verse?

“Portion of his Spirit” strikes me as odd language, as if it were a finite good (“Sorry–no Spirit for you today–Alma needs all of it over in Ammonihah.”).  Why was this language used?

What is the link between having the Spirit and being an instrument in the hands of God?

I love the phrase “instrument in the hands of God.”  We spend a lot of time talking about the fact of free agency, but this phrase tells us what we should do with that agency–completely abrogate it and do what the Lord would have us do, as if we were a pencil or a chisel in his hands, an object completely without will.

Note that the Lamanites are “their brethren.”

Webster 1828 baseness:

1. Meanness; vileness; worthlessness.

2. Vileness of metal; the quality of being of little comparative value.

3. Bastardy; illegitimacy of birth.

4. Deepness of sound.

I’m once again feeling offended that our writer (or redactor) thought I needed to be explicitly told that the traditions of the Lamanites were “not correct.”  Thank you, Captain Obvious.

Ironically, we’re about to meet a Lamanite who was a believer because of the tradition (well, actually, vision) of her father.  Apparently, we are not to take this verse literally/absolutely.

10 And it came to pass that the Lord did visit them with his Spirit, and said unto them: Be comforted. And they were comforted.

Is comfort what they wanted? (I think a careful reading of v9 would say ‘no.’)  Is it what they needed?

In 26:27, when Ammon retells this story, we’ll learn that they were about to turn back because they were depressed.  But, perhaps significantly, we don’t learn that here.

11 And the Lord said unto them also: Go forth among the Lamanites, thy brethren, and establish my word; yet ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls.

Why does the Lord tell them to go among the Lamanites, which is what they were planning on doing anyway?

Note that the Lord also calls the Lamanites their “brethren.”

What does it mean to establish the word of the Lord?

I’m not sure how to read “ye shall be patient . . .”  Is that a command or a prophecy?

Note the emphasis on being a good example.

Note that we learn from this verse that one of the reasons for the afflictions of the sons of Mosiah is so that they can be good examples to the Lamanites.

12 And it came to pass that the hearts of the sons of Mosiah, and also those who were with them, took courage to go forth unto the Lamanites to declare unto them the word of God.

Thinking about v10, what is the link between comfort and courage?

13 And it came to pass when they had arrived in the borders of the land of the Lamanites, that they separated themselves and departed one from another, trusting in the Lord that they should meet again at the close of their harvest; for they supposed that great was the work which they had undertaken.

Did they go out one-by-one?  (V17 says so.)  If so, why the departure from the “mouth of two or three witnesses”?  I wonder if it was done in order to open a space for Abish to have a role in the conversion story.

What does the image of the harvest suggest to you about missionary work?

What function does the material after the semi-colon have, and how does it relate to the rest of the sentence?

Brant Gardner suggests that the small groups (groups of one, maybe) showed great faith since they were entering politically hostile territory.  He also suggests that the smaller the group, the less likely they would have been perceived as a military threat.

14 And assuredly it was great, for they had undertaken to preach the word of God to a wild and a hardened and a ferocious people; a people who delighted in murdering the Nephites, and robbing and plundering them; and their hearts were set upon riches, or upon gold and silver, and precious stones; yet they sought to obtain these things by murdering and plundering, that they might not labor for them with their own hands.

Is this strictly true, or is it Nephite PR?  (Remember that he’s describing a group that includes Abish and the queen here!)  I don’t think we are supposed to take this as absolutely or literally or always true.  Which, of course, raises the question of what (if anything) we are supposed to read that way.

Note that the primary characteristic of the Lamanites, as described here, is that they view other people as a means for their own gratification, not as ends in themselves. How might we do the same thing, even if we are not actually killing people for their precious stones?

Nephites always make a big deal about “laboring with their own hands.”  Why?  And, how literally do you read that–does it privilege manual labor?  (Does it implicitly criticize hedge fund managers?)

Note that we are about to get a story of Lamanite plunder (the king’s flocks).

15 Thus they were a very indolent people, many of whom did worship idols, and the curse of God had fallen upon them because of the traditions of their fathers; notwithstanding the promises of the Lord were extended unto them on the conditions of repentance.

How “indolent” could they be what with all of that robbing and plundering?

Does the idol worship relate to the rest of their sins, or is it entirely separate?

What exactly is the “curse of God” in this context?  What do you learn about the curse through the conditions of its removal?

Aren’t the promises of the Lord extended to everyone on conditions of repentance?  So are the Lamanites a special case in any way?

Is it fair for a curse of God to fall on you because of the beliefs of your father?  What does this fact teach you about the curse of God?

16 Therefore, this was the cause for which the sons of Mosiah had undertaken the work, that perhaps they might bring them unto repentance; that perhaps they might bring them to know of the plan of redemption.

This verse parallels “bring them unto repentance” with “bring them to know of the plan of redemption.” What might you learn from that?

17 Therefore they separated themselves one from another, and went forth among them, every man alone, according to the word and power of God which was given unto him.

This verse is basically a re-hash of v13.  Why was it so important to emphasize that they each went out alone?

18 Now Ammon being the chief among them, or rather he did administer unto them, and he departed from them, after having blessed them according to their several stations, having imparted the word of God unto them, or administered unto them before his departure; and thus they took their several journeys throughout the land.

I like the way that this verse implies that to be the chief is to administer to people.  And, that to administer to people is to deliver the word of God to them.

What does “according to their several stations” mean?

I find it interesting that Ammon “imparts the word of God” unto them, these missionaries.  This verse nuances our usual view of imparting the word of God as a one-time missionary deal and changes it to an ongoing, ever-necessary task that all people need.

19 And Ammon went to the land of Ishmael, the land being called after the sons of Ishmael, who also became Lamanites.

The sons of Ishmael were not literal descendants of Laman, so this verse makes clear that “Lamanite” means something other than blood descent.

20 And as Ammon entered the land of Ishmael, the Lamanites took him and bound him, as was their custom to bind all the Nephites who fell into their hands, and carry them before the king; and thus it was left to the pleasure of the king to slay them, or to retain them in captivity, or to cast them into prison, or to cast them out of his land, according to his will and pleasure.

One wonders if Ammon was aware of this custom before he agreed to this mission.  (Although it does seem more the rule than the exception in the BoM that newcomers to a city are bound and plunked down before the king/chief.)

I think this verse implies a difference between “retain them in captivity” and “cast them into prison,” although I am not sure what that difference would be.

21 And thus Ammon was carried before the king who was over the land of Ishmael; and his name was Lamoni; and he was a descendant of Ishmael.

Interesting that they’ve maintained the same kingly line for 600 years or so, while the Nephites have had multiple changes of leadership.

22 And the king inquired of Ammon if it were his desire to dwell in the land among the Lamanites, or among his people.

Do “among the Lamanites” and “among his people” mean the same thing?  If so, then why the repetition?

23 And Ammon said unto him: Yea, I desire to dwell among this people for a time; yea, and perhaps until the day I die.

Interesting irony there, since, for all he and the immediate audience knows, today might be the day he dies.

24 And it came to pass that king Lamoni was much pleased with Ammon, and caused that his bands should be loosed; and he would that Ammon should take one of his daughters to wife.

Why would Lamoni have been pleased by Ammon’s answer?  (Wouldn’t he have expected some ruse, given that Nephites didn’t, apparently, normally move in with Lamanites?)

Why does Lamoni want Ammon to marry one of his daughters?  It seems quite a jump from capturing him to offering him a daughter just based on v23.  (“Oh, you want to live here?  Have a daughter!”)  Brant Gardner suggests that maybe the marriage was the only way that Ammon would have been able to legitimately live there, by binding him to a local family.  This is an interesting observation, because it further contextualizes Ammon’s offer to be a servant in the next verse as a counter-offer–another way that he could live there, embedded to the king not as a son-in-law but as a servant.

25 But Ammon said unto him: Nay, but I will be thy servant. Therefore Ammon became a servant to king Lamoni. And it came to pass that he was set among other servants to watch the flocks of Lamoni, according to the custom of the Lamanites.

What does Ammon’s offer to be a servant teach you about missionary work?

Why do you think Lamoni’s response to Ammon’s offer isn’t narrated?  (Shouldn’t he have at least marveled, or something?)

We never hear about Nephite kings having servants, but we hear a lot about the servants of Lamanite royalty.  (Of course, the Nephite kings–and, later, judges–may very well have had servants, and that just didn’t make it in to our very abridged record.)  Ammon’s offering to be a servant, if he comes from a society where the royalty doesn’t have servants (and, of course, a society that no longer has royalty) is very interesting.

There’s a great bit of irony here:  we think that this plan to be a servant has spared the life of Ammon, but that’s only because Ammon is (presumably) probably not aware that Lamoni’s servants have a rather short life expectancy.

26 And after he had been in the service of the king three days, as he was with the Lamanitish servants going forth with their flocks to the place of water, which was called the water of Sebus, and all the Lamanites drive their flocks hither, that they may have water—

Skousen reads “waters” of Sebus here.  (I like that much better.)

Is the “three days” significant?

Apparently sheep are unknown in the pre-Columbian New World.  (Although it never says sheep, actually. What other animals could you have a flock of?)  Brant Gardner writes:

We know only two things, that they require water and that they may be easily scattered. This latter behavior rather discourages the image of sheep, as they will tend to stick together rather than scatter. Whatever animal it was, it was not one with a herd instinct, and was one that was fast enough that when scattered they could not be easily recovered. Citation

I’m wondering if “Lamanitish” means something other than “Lamanite.”  (The same word is used to describe Abish later.)

27 Therefore, as Ammon and the servants of the king were driving forth their flocks to this place of water, behold, a certain number of the Lamanites, who had been with their flocks to water, stood and scattered the flocks of Ammon and the servants of the king, and they scattered them insomuch that they fled many ways.

I think we usually assume that these would-be thieves are outsiders, Lamanites that live in some other kingdom.  But 19:21 says that they lived close enough to the king’s home that Abish could run there and back. So it seems more likely that they were not outsiders, but locals.  Which makes it weird that the king didn’t do anything about it, unless they had some sort of power in the society that he couldn’t counter.  (Which would make sense of Lamoni taking it out on the poor shepherds instead.  And, if we are seeing Ammon as a Christ figure, interesting that his actions here will save the lives of the innocent victims . . .)

28 Now the servants of the king began to murmur, saying: Now the king will slay us, as he has our brethren because their flocks were scattered by the wickedness of these men. And they began to weep exceedingly, saying: Behold, our flocks are scattered already.

“Murmur” is a little odd here . . .is this type of statement what you usually think about when someone “murmurs” in the scriptures?

This seems a little weird to me:  Wouldn’t the king send military dudes out to attack the sheep-stealing Lamanites instead of just killing his own servants?  (Which he’d then have to replace with new servants–shampoo, rinse, repeat.)

Another weirdness:  They just sit there weeping like lumps instead of trying to re-gather the flock. Perhaps you think that an effort to re-gather the flocks would involve danger, but no more danger, certainly, than being killed by the king. Is their lack of initiative explainable?

Sidenote:  it is clear that Lamoni is a really nasty guy.  Yet, he’s given an opportunity to repent of his sins and he’s presented with the plan of salvation.  This is a big deal–his past wickedness does not leave him beyond the reach of redemption.

29 Now they wept because of the fear of being slain. Now when Ammon saw this his heart was swollen within him with joy; for, said he, I will show forth my power unto these my fellow-servants, or the power which is in me, in restoring these flocks unto the king, that I may win the hearts of these my fellow-servants, that I may lead them to believe in my words.

I’m a little put off that his first response to their weeping from fear is joy.  (Second response, maybe, OK, that I could understand.  But not first.)  Contrast Jesus’ response of weeping with those who are weeping for Lazarus, despite the fact that Jesus knows he’s going to raise Lazarus in just a few verses.  So is this a compassion fail on Ammon’s part?

Is Ammon’s thinking here manipulative?  He doesn’t want to save their lives, or ensure justice, or even protect the flock–he wants to use his power (which, note, he first claims as his own and then only later walks back as God’s power) to do something so the people will believe him. Particularly in contrast with Alma’s refusal to use his power to save innocent women and children from being tortured, Ammon’s calculated use of power to further his ends here (even if it involves saving lives) seems a wee bit too Machiavellian for my tastes.

30 And now, these were the thoughts of Ammon, when he saw the afflictions of those whom he termed to be his brethren.

Duh.  Of course these were his thoughts.  V29 makes that obvious.  What is this verse doing here?

“Whom he termed to be” makes it sound as if the author does not agree with that assessment.  (But the Lord said that their mission would be to their brethren–see v11.)

31 And it came to pass that he flattered them by his words, saying: My brethren, be of good cheer and let us go in search of the flocks, and we will gather them together and bring them back unto the place of water; and thus we will preserve the flocks unto the king and he will not slay us.

Skousen reads “restore” the flocks here.  (It might be kind of interesting if you read this allegorically re restoration.  Satan=bandits, etc.)

The narrator tells us this is flattery; is it?  Would you have expected something like this to be labelled flattery?  (I find it odd that this story uses the words “murmur” and “flattery” to describe speech acts that, I don’t think, most readers would stick those labels on.)

Is he really proposing anything revolutionary here?  (Wouldn’t any of the servants have come up with basically the same plan:  “Let’s go look for them and gather them”?)

This verse implies that all they have to do is gather the scattered flocks.  I thought the whole point was that those other Lamanites had taken the flocks.  (I wonder if we could read it this way:  Bad Lamanites come and scatter flocks; wimpy servants don’t bother re-gathering them [but why?]; bad Lamanites plan to come later to steal flocks; king kills wimpy servants.)

Robert D. Hales:

Now, we may read this as a story about some shepherds trying to round up some missing sheep, but the message is much more powerful and significant than that. Ammon was a missionary with noble intentions to bring the king and his kingdom back to the fold of righteousness, to the well of living water. The challenge looked daunting to those who could see only, in everyday terms, sheep strung out on hillsides and not enough manpower to round them up. They were discouraged and fearful that the king would discover their loss. Ammon not only led the force to recapture the sheep, he drove away the evil men who caused the problems; and his heroic efforts persuaded the king to follow him and to follow the Savior. Ammon teaches us that no matter our circumstances, we can be an example to others, we can lift them, we can inspire them to seek righteousness, and we can bear testimony to all of the power of Jesus Christ. Apr 97 GC

32 And it came to pass that they went in search of the flocks, and they did follow Ammon, and they rushed forth with much swiftness and did head the flocks of the king, and did gather them together again to the place of water.

“Rushing . . . with much swiftness” is quite redundant (or:  emphatic).  Why is this language used?

33 And those men again stood to scatter their flocks; but Ammon said unto his brethren: Encircle the flocks round about that they flee not; and I go and contend with these men who do scatter our flocks.

I’m getting the impression that Ammon isn’t a superhero (of a literal, or physical, or spiritual) sort, but rather a decent guy offering completely commonplace ideas and exercising a bare modicum of leadership.

34 Therefore, they did as Ammon commanded them, and he went forth and stood to contend with those who stood by the waters of Sebus; and they were in number not a few.

(This verse does show Ammon being very brave.  Of course, given that the alternative is death by the king, is it really that brave to risk his life here?)

35 Therefore they did not fear Ammon, for they supposed that one of their men could slay him according to their pleasure, for they knew not that the Lord had promised Mosiah that he would deliver his sons out of their hands; neither did they know anything concerning the Lord; therefore they delighted in the destruction of their brethren; and for this cause they stood to scatter the flocks of the king.

The promise is in Mosiah 28:6.  I’m thinking that the promise to a parent like this is quite rare, no?  Why might it have been made in this case?

Is Mormon (or Alma) just totally making up this information, or how might he have known it?

It seems sort of odd to mention the promise to Mosiah here (especially since it is a negative–they didn’t know about it.  In fact, one wonders if Ammon even knew about it.), but it sets up something interesting:  the promise didn’t mean that Ammon could sit on his duff and enjoy divine protection.  He still has to, literally in this case, fight his own battles.

Is this flock-scattering behavior related to the “state of the Lamanites” summary that we got in v14-15?

36 But Ammon stood forth and began to cast stones at them with his sling; yea, with mighty power he did sling stones amongst them; and thus he slew a certain number of them insomuch that they began to be astonished at his power; nevertheless they were angry because of the slain of their brethren, and they were determined that he should fall; therefore, seeing that they could not hit him with their stones, they came forth with clubs to slay him.

We’ve heard about this sling before–he brought it with him so he could have something to eat in the wilderness.  And now he’s using it here.  Is that significant?

Can you make a useful parallel between this story and the other famous scriptural sling story, David and Goliath?

37 But behold, every man that lifted his club to smite Ammon, he smote off their arms with his sword; for he did withstand their blows by smiting their arms with the edge of his sword, insomuch that they began to be astonished, and began to flee before him; yea, and they were not few in number; and he caused them to flee by the strength of his arm.

This story (and we haven’t even gotten to the part in the next verse where these armless guys don’t even die) has the ring of a folktale to it.  Do you read it as literally, historically true?  Should you?

Are we to assume divine intervention here (because this seems an unlikely scenario, given the numbers)?

38 Now six of them had fallen by the sling, but he slew none save it were their leader with his sword; and he smote off as many of their arms as were lifted against him, and they were not a few.

Skousen reads “but he slew none with the sword save . . .”

We’ll learn in the next chapter that “fallen by the sling” means that they died.

Chiasmus:

A But behold, every man that lifted his club to smite Ammon,
B he smote off their arms with his sword;
C for he did withstand their blows by smiting their arms with the edge of
his sword, insomuch that they began to be astonished,
D and began to flee before him;
E yea, and they were not few in number;
D and he caused them to flee by the strength of his arm.
C Now six of them had fallen by the sling, but he slew none save it were
their leader with his sword;
B and he smote off as many of their arms
A as were lifted against him, and they were not a few.  Citation

Is it significant that none of the de-armed people died (and, if so, why?), or is this only mentioned to complete the details of the story?

39 And when he had driven them afar off, he returned and they watered their flocks and returned them to the pasture of the king, and then went in unto the king, bearing the arms which had been smitten off by the sword of Ammon, of those who sought to slay him; and they were carried in unto the king for a testimony of the things which they had done.

I plan, someday, on selling Mormon-themed fruit snacks for use in sacrament meeting.  One package will have nothing but arms in it.

Ewww . . . why do they have to take the arms to the king?

More on cutting off arms.  And here.

CHAPTER 18

1 And it came to pass that king Lamoni caused that his servants should stand forth and testify to all the things which they had seen concerning the matter.

If we want to read Ammon as a Christ figure, here we have our shepherds announcing good tidings of great joy (or, you know, whatever).

2 And when they had all testified to the things which they had seen, and he had learned of the faithfulness of Ammon in preserving his flocks, and also of his great power in contending against those who sought to slay him, he was astonished exceedingly, and said: Surely, this is more than a man. Behold, is not this the Great Spirit who doth send such great punishments upon this people, because of their murders?

OK, so singlehandedly going up against the marauders was pretty brave, but Ammon gets credit for preserving the flocks?  One senses that the Lamanite bar was rather low.

What can you learn from Lamoni’s error here?  (Reminds me of 1 Nephi 17:55 when Nephi’s brothers stop beating him long enough to try to worship him.)

Lamoni describes the Great Spirit as a sender of punishments, but Ammon has just saved his bacon, not punished them.  (Although he did punish the would-be sheep stealers.)

3 And they answered the king, and said: Whether he be the Great Spirit or a man, we know not; but this much we do know, that he cannot be slain by the enemies of the king; neither can they scatter the king’s flocks when he is with us, because of his expertness and great strength; therefore, we know that he is a friend to the king. And now, O king, we do not believe that a man has such great power, for we know he cannot be slain.

They don’t know that he can’t be slain by the king’s enemies; they just know that in this particular situation, he was not.  This entire verse is, in its logic, a big ‘ol mess.

It seems that they actually do believe that Ammon is “not a man,” but they don’t want to come out and say it.  Why?

4 And now, when the king heard these words, he said unto them: Now I know that it is the Great Spirit; and he has come down at this time to preserve your lives, that I might not slay you as I did your brethren. Now this is the Great Spirit of whom our fathers have spoken.

Ha!  The ineptitude of the servants has now deceived the king.

What was it about v3 that made the king more sure?

Why is this comically inaccurate exchange included in our record? What might we learn from it?
It seems a little odd that there is no middle ground–regardless of our lack of knowledge about Lamanite religion at this moment, it seems likely that in addition to humans and the Great Spirit, there would also be angels (or whatever they call their messengers) and people given power by the Great Spirit.  In other words, is Lamoni jumping to conclusions even within his own context?  (Something about his reaction–jumping to the assumption of the Great Spirit punishing them for murder–which doesn’t really fit the scenario–make me think that he is feeling super-guilty for killing those other shepherds.)  Another reason it doesn’t make sense–wouldn’t a Great Spirit in that case not worry so much about the scattered flocks but instead smack down Lamoni when he tried to kill the shepherds?

5 Now this was the tradition of Lamoni, which he had received from his father, that there was a Great Spirit. Notwithstanding they believed in a Great Spirit, they supposed that whatsoever they did was right; nevertheless, Lamoni began to fear exceedingly, with fear lest he had done wrong in slaying his servants;

Wait a minute–Lamoni introduced the Great Spirit to us as someone who punished people for murder (v2), but this verse narrates that the Lamanites didn’t have a moral code.  How did that work exactly?  (I don’t think there has, historically, been a religious tradition where the gods did not circumscribe human behavior.)

So why exactly is Lamoni beginning to fear here if that is what he believed about the Great Spirit?  (Because even if Ammon were that spirit, he was here to fix the situation so that Lamoni wouldn’t kill them, not to punish Lamoni for having killed others.)  Is this really the first time it has occurred to him that it might be wrong to kill servants for negligence on the job?

What do you make of the shift in Lamanite religious beliefs over the centuries?  What might we learn from it?  (Note that the Nephites appear to have had some changes as well, at least in organization if not in doctrine.)

So Lamoni used to believe two things (1a) there is a Great Spirit and (2a) anything I do is OK.  Now he believes (1b) there is a Great Spirit and (2b) I may be in huge amounts of trouble for killing those shepherds.  But the change from 2a to 2b doesn’t entirely make sense to me–he already knew there was a Great Spirit.

Brant Gardner:

 It is quite probable that the particular translation of the Lamanite deity as “Great Spirit” is an artifact of Joseph’s experience with Native American traditions in his own day.   Citation

6 For he had slain many of them because their brethren had scattered their flocks at the place of water; and thus, because they had had their flocks scattered they were slain.

 

Not only is the content of this verse not news, but the verse repeats itself within itself.  What’s going on here?

7 Now it was the practice of these Lamanites to stand by the waters of Sebus to scatter the flocks of the people, that thereby they might drive away many that were scattered unto their own land, it being a practice of plunder among them.

First, I don’t think we need this explanation.  Second, if we did, we needed it in the last chapter, not this one.  Why is it here?

8 And it came to pass that king Lamoni inquired of his servants, saying: Where is this man that has such great power?

9 And they said unto him: Behold, he is feeding thy horses. Now the king had commanded his servants, previous to the time of the watering of their flocks, that they should prepare his horses and chariots, and conduct him forth to the land of Nephi; for there had been a great feast appointed at the land of Nephi, by the father of Lamoni, who was king over all the land.

I think, “behold, he is feeding thy horses” is one of the best lines in the entire Book of Mormon.  We would have expected a man with such great power to be doing a great thing; instead, he is being a servant.

Info on horses in the BoM here and here.  The chariots may be even more troublesome, since there was no use of wheels (except for toys, oddly) that we know of in pre-Columbian times.

10 Now when king Lamoni heard that Ammon was preparing his horses and his chariots he was more astonished, because of the faithfulness of Ammon, saying: Surely there has not been any servant among all my servants that has been so faithful as this man; for even he doth remember all my commandments to execute them.

Again, one senses that the bar is pretty low for the Lamanites.

Mary Ellen Smoot:

Service is a key to being an effective instrument. The sons of Mosiah chose to serve the Lamanites rather than assume leadership of their father’s kingdom. And in many instances, their service softened the hearts of the Lamanites and made them receptive to the gospel. When Lamoni’s servants were busy recounting Ammon’s exploits in fending off marauders, Ammon himself was in the stable feeding the horses and serving the king. We, too, delight in service and good works. Service softens and opens hearts, for it is truly the gospel in action. Oct 00 GC

11 Now I surely know that this is the Great Spirit, and I would desire him that he come in unto me, but I durst not.

Ha–again, he uses the evidence before him to draw exactly the wrong conclusion.

Once again, his logic is wanting:  would the Great Spirit really show himself as an obedient servant?  (Especially if he were there to punish murderers?)

12 And it came to pass that when Ammon had made ready the horses and the chariots for the king and his servants, he went in unto the king, and he saw that the countenance of the king was changed; therefore he was about to return out of his presence.

Ammon thought the countenance had changed from what to what?  (In other words, why does he plan on leaving?  Fear?)  This verse is somewhat unclear.

13 And one of the king’s servants said unto him, Rabbanah, which is, being interpreted, powerful or great king, considering their kings to be powerful; and thus he said unto him: Rabbanah, the king desireth thee to stay.

Presumably, every single word in this account has been “interpreted” (or:  translated).  But for some reason, we are given “Rabbanah” in the Lamanite language.  Why?  (Note that there are a handful of times in the NT when we are given an Aramaic word that Jesus uses.  There are different theories as to why those words were included in the Greek text.  One is that they are ritually significant.  Another is that they reflect Jesus’ actual words.)

Is it significant that Ammon doesn’t object to the title he is given here?

Why does it make sense, if they think he is the Great Spirit, to call him “Rabbanah,” which sounds as if it means something other than “Great Spirit”?

14 Therefore Ammon turned himself unto the king, and said unto him: What wilt thou that I should do for thee, O king? And the king answered him not for the space of an hour, according to their time, for he knew not what he should say unto him.

 

Really?  If you thought the Great Spirit were in your presence, and if you thought you might be in some hot water for capriciously killing a bunch of servants, and the Great Spirit asked what he could do for you, don’t you think you might take somewhat less than an hour to think of a thing or two to say?

“An hour” is interesting; one wonders how they reckoned time.

This is a deeply weird scene, with Lamoni and Ammon staring at each other for an hour without speaking.

15 And it came to pass that Ammon said unto him again: What desirest thou of me? But the king answered him not.

16 And it came to pass that Ammon, being filled with the Spirit of God, therefore he perceived the thoughts of the king. And he said unto him: Is it because thou hast heard that I defended thy servants and thy flocks, and slew seven of their brethren with the sling and with the sword, and smote off the arms of others, in order to defend thy flocks and thy servants; behold, is it this that causeth thy marvelings?

And thank you, Captain Obvious.  It really took divine intervention for Ammon to figure out that Lamoni was amazed at his mano-a-mano combat prowess?  Really?

Interesting that Ammon says he defended the servants (from Lamoni, presumably, although the verse later implies some threat from the raiders) and the flocks (from the raiders).  That parallel puts Lamoni on the same plane as the would-be thieves.

Note that we are specifically told that Ammon knows the thoughts of the king.  But Ammon doesn’t say, “Well, I know what you are thinking and . . .”  Instead, he asks the king a question and gives the king an opportunity to express his thoughts.  What might we learn from this?

17 I say unto you, what is it, that thy marvelings are so great? Behold, I am a man, and am thy servant; therefore, whatsoever thou desirest which is right, that will I do.

Is Ammon slow?  Because, really, single-handedly taking on a whole bunch of people and cutting their arms off is fairly marvelous, no?

I think what the Spirit really had to tell him is that Lamoni’s hesitation was brought on by Lamoni’s thinking that Ammon was the Great Spirit.  That would make sense of the “I am a man” statement here.

Interesting that Ammon not only doesn’t capitalize on Lamoni thinking that he is the Great Spirit, but he ratchets it down a further notch by claiming that he is not only a man, but, primarily, the king’s servant.  You can imagine how it would have blown Lamoni’s mind to think that Ammon was god but then be told that Ammon was his servant.  If we want to read Ammon as a type of Christ, it is pretty powerful stuff here to think about Jesus Christ, a God, choosing to become our servant on earth–to serve us by performing the atonement, by washing our feet.

18 Now when the king had heard these words, he marveled again, for he beheld that Ammon could discern his thoughts; but notwithstanding this, king Lamoni did open his mouth, and said unto him: Who art thou? Art thou that Great Spirit, who knows all things?

So we can see why the whole “I can read your mind” thing might lead Lamoni to think that Ammon was the Great Spirit, but Ammon just said that he was only a man.  So why does Lamoni ask this question here–it suggests that he doesn’t quite believe what Ammon just told him, which doesn’t quite fit with thinking that Ammon is the Great Spirit.

I think this whole Ammon as Great Spirit bit strikes us as weird because the faux Native American sound of Great Spirit turns us right off, but I think something else going on here is perhaps to draw out the idea of Ammon as a type of Christ.  But here, Ammon is most decidedly not Christ–he is most certainly not a god.  Jesus was a God, acted like a servant, and no one believed he was a God.  Ammon is not a god, acted like a servant, and everyone thought he was a god.  I’m not entirely sure what conclusion to draw from that (other than just the raw irony that people always seem to interpret things wrong), but I suspect the parallel might be significant.

“Who knows all things” presumably comes out of Ammon knowing why Lamoni chose to be silent but, again, did we really need divine intervention to know why Lamoni was feeling flummoxed by Ammon’s presence?

19 Ammon answered and said unto him: I am not.

20 And the king said: How knowest thou the thoughts of my heart? Thou mayest speak boldly, and tell me concerning these things; and also tell me by what power ye slew and smote off the arms of my brethren that scattered my flocks—

21 And now, if thou wilt tell me concerning these things, whatsoever thou desirest I will give unto thee; and if it were needed, I would guard thee with my armies; but I know that thou art more powerful than all they; nevertheless, whatsoever thou desirest of me I will grant it unto thee.

Note that they both want to do what the other one desires.

Did it never occur to Lamoni to guard his flocks with his armies?

22 Now Ammon being wise, yet harmless, he said unto Lamoni: Wilt thou hearken unto my words, if I tell thee by what power I do these things? And this is the thing that I desire of thee.

I love “wise, yet harmless.”  Is the presumption, though, that wise people are generally not harmless?

23 And the king answered him, and said: Yea, I will believe all thy words. And thus he was caught with guile.

Is “caught with guile” really how we should approach missionary work?

Is it significant that Ammon asks him to “hearken” but he agrees to “believe”?

There’s something  . . . unseemly . . . about all of this:  everything Ammon has done to this point (from coming there, to de-arming the bad guys, to this conversation) has been something of a set-up to force Lamoni’s hand.  It feels like a major agency violation to me (after all, don’t we often say that the reason the gold plates aren’t demonstrated on TV [well, that's what we used to say, now we'd probably say on a YouTube video] is because it would destroy the agency of those who would then really have no choice but to believe)?  Also, in what sense does he reallyreally believe what Ammon teaches, or just feel obligated to assent to whatever the magical dude says?

24 And Ammon began to speak unto him with boldness, and said unto him: Believest thou that there is a God?

Why does he ask this?  Wouldn’t Lamoni’s professed belief in the Great Spirit have led Ammon to conclude that he believed in a God?

25 And he answered, and said unto him: I do not know what that meaneth.

Why’s Lamoni going all post-modern on him?  How could he not know what that means?  Why wouldn’t he have taken that as an equivalent to the Great Spirit?

I know it has been 600 years, but this is a pretty amazing darkening of the Lamanite mind from the founding generation (I’m thinking of Lehi here).

26 And then Ammon said: Believest thou that there is a Great Spirit?

27 And he said, Yea.

28 And Ammon said: This is God. And Ammon said unto him again: Believest thou that this Great Spirit, who is God, created all things which are in heaven and in the earth?

Note that Ammon has started from where Lamoni is (that is, with a belief in the Great Spirit).  Note that Ammon initially didn’t know where Lamoni was, but had to talk to him to figure out a mutual starting point.

Are there any dangers to Ammon saying that the Great Spirit is God?  (Here’s what I am thinking:  What about Lamoni [or other observers] who think that all of the things that they think about the Great Spirit are true of God?)  A larger question:  How do we know how much to accommodate the world?  Is there a message in this verse about the (ab)use of religious language?  (It is frequently noted by evangelicals that LDS use a lot of the same words that evangelicals use, but with a very different meaning.)

Brant Gardner:

Ammon is using a technique similar to the one Paul used in Acts 17 when he used the altar to the Unknown God as the springboard to his discussion of the Christian godhead. Citation

Why the “and Ammon said unto him again,” instead of just continuing the quotation?

Why does Ammon begin with the creation?  (In one sense, that seems logical, but it may not necessarily be so–I don’t think that our missionaries have ever begun with the creation in any iteration of the discussions.)

29 And he said: Yea, I believe that he created all things which are in the earth; but I do not know the heavens.

Lamoni is very careful here; interesting contrast to above, where he was willing to follow faulty logic to the conclusion that Ammon was the Great Spirit.  I don’t have time to pursue this know, but I’m wondering if you could follow the trajectory of Lamoni’s statements from credibility/false logic through careful analysis of beliefs/moderation as he comes to learn more about the truth.  (Wouldn’t that be a great take-away lesson!)

Is it significant that Ammon referred to the heaven (singular), but Lamoni refers to the heavens (plural)?  Might that explain Lamoni’s confusion here?  (The same Hebrew word was used for heaven and sky in the OT; I doubt the language would be the same here [if Lamoni didn't even know what 'God' meant], but perhaps there is some similar conceptual overlap?)

Why does he hesitate about the heavens?  (Seriously.)  If God created the earth, wouldn’t one assume that God created the heavens?  (Who else would have created them?)

30 And Ammon said unto him: The heavens is a place where God dwells and all his holy angels.

Why does Ammon say this–was the issue really the definition of heaven (which is what Ammon gives him), or was it that Lamoni didn’t know about the heavens?

What are the implications of Ammon’s definition of heaven?

31 And king Lamoni said: Is it above the earth?

John E. Clark:

Have you ever thought that this was an incredibly bone-headed question for Lamoni to ask?  . . . Can you imagine asking a preacher whether the heavens are above the earth? I can’t. This dialog is beyond my cultural understanding. What is going on? I submit to you that the question makes sense in a Mesoamerican setting in which most of the gods resided under the earth. In this brief dialog between a Nephite Prince and a Lamanite King, we are given a precious glimpse into Lamanite beliefs. Citation

32 And Ammon said: Yea, and he looketh down upon all the children of men; and he knows all the thoughts and intents of the heart; for by his hand were they all created from the beginning.

I think there has been a strain of Mormon thought that heaven is Right Here.  Is it possible to reconcile that idea with this verse?

Does Ammon envision God in the clouds, as it were?  Is he right?

Is there a way to read “looketh down” besides the strictly literal?

What is the link between being a creator and knowing human thoughts?

Does this reference to the creation explain why Ammon began this discussion with a reference to the creation?

33 And king Lamoni said: I believe all these things which thou hast spoken. Art thou sent from God?

I like the unsolicited testimony here.

Should it not have been obvious to Lamoni that Ammon was sent from God?

34 Ammon said unto him: I am a man; and man in the beginning was created after the image of God, and I am called by his Holy Spirit to teach these things unto this people, that they may be brought to a knowledge of that which is just and true;

I like how he simultaneously answers the question (“I am a man”) but instantly pivots back to what he wanted to talk about, which was the creation and not himself.  

35 And a portion of that Spirit dwelleth in me, which giveth me knowledge, and also power according to my faith and desires which are in God.

36 Now when Ammon had said these words, he began at the creation of the world, and also the creation of Adam, and told him all the things concerning the fall of man, and rehearsed and laid before him the records and the holy scriptures of the people, which had been spoken by the prophets, even down to the time that their father, Lehi, left Jerusalem.

Does this verse imply that the creation of the world and the creation of Adam were not the same thing?

37 And he also rehearsed unto them (for it was unto the king and to his servants) all the journeyings of their fathers in the wilderness, and all their sufferings with hunger and thirst, and their travail, and so forth.

Why the emphasis on the servants here, when it wasn’t there before?

38 And he also rehearsed unto them concerning the rebellions of Laman and Lemuel, and the sons of Ishmael, yea, all their rebellions did he relate unto them; and he expounded unto them all the records and scriptures from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem down to the present time.

Note that Ammon begins with history and then after that (v39f) talks about doctrine.  Is this something that we should model in missionary situations today?

This took a lot of chutzpah, because presumably he is squashing their nation creation myth and their ancestors with this part of his speech.

Funny how “the present time” is used to mean the present of the writer, not the reader.  Usually BoM writers are exceedingly aware of their audience, but not with that comment!

39 But this is not all; for he expounded unto them the plan of redemption, which was prepared from the foundation of the world; and he also made known unto them concerning the coming of Christ, and all the works of the Lord did he make known unto them.

This verse implies a lack of chronological approach to Ammon’s speech, almost as if he doubles back at this point.  Is that what happened?  If so, why?

Obviously, he couldn’t literally make “all the works of the Lord” known to him.  What is accomplished by this hyperbole?  How can we recognize less obvious hyperbole in the scriptures?

40 And it came to pass that after he had said all these things, and expounded them to the king, that the king believed all his words.

I’m always fascinated when people change their minds.  Note how very simply a complete change of worldview is narrated here.  What happened?  How does it happen?  

41 And he began to cry unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, have mercy; according to thy abundant mercy which thou hast had upon the people of Nephi, have upon me, and my people.

Did Ammon teach him about mercy?  Did he intuit that it was necessary?  Why does he use the word “Lord” when Ammon had been using “God”?

Did God have abundant mercy on the Nephites?

I find it interesting that Lamoni’s first response to his new knowledge is to plead for mercy.

42 And now, when he had said this, he fell unto the earth, as if he were dead.

What’s up with this?  No one drops like this in the Bible.  (Am I forgetting anyone?  Maybe Eutychus, but that’s not quite the same thing . . .)

Is the dead-dropping evidence of the Lord’s mercy?  Is it an action of the Lord?  Is it something under Lamoni’s control?  (See 19:6 for a possible explanation.)

43 And it came to pass that his servants took him and carried him in unto his wife, and laid him upon a bed; and he lay as if he were dead for the space of two days and two nights; and his wife, and his sons, and his daughters mourned over him, after the manner of the Lamanites, greatly lamenting his loss.

Is the two days significant?

Does this verse imply that his family thought he was dead?

Why would the Lord allow/require this to happen?

I’m wondering if we might draw some parallels to Alma’s conversion experience–is this what Alma looked like to the outside world when he was being “harrowed up” for his sins?  (Note that that would put Ammon in the role of the angel, and killing the shepherds parallel to trying to destroy the church.)

Is there any parallel to be found in Lamoni’s slaying of shepherds and his own apparent death?

Brant Gardner:

While these experiences certainly took place as recorded, it is still important to understand that this particular understanding of the effect of the spirit was particularly familiar to Joseph Smith from his experience with the revivalist movement in upstate New York. In addition to this particular form, much of the language that is in the Book of Mormon concerning the conversion process contains echoes if not outright repetitions of conversion terminologies with which Joseph was familiar.  Citation

CHAPTER 19
1 And it came to pass that after two days and two nights they were about to take his body and lay it in a sepulchre, which they had made for the purpose of burying their dead.

Why did our writer think that we wouldn’t know what a sepulchre is?

Is the two days and two nights significant?

2 Now the queen having heard of the fame of Ammon, therefore she sent and desired that he should come in unto her.

It seems that she waits until after the two days to summon him.  Why?  (I’m wondering if we might see some useful comparison to the story of the raising of Lazarus, where Jesus delays before going to Lazarus.)

3 And it came to pass that Ammon did as he was commanded, and went in unto the queen, and desired to know what she would that he should do.

4 And she said unto him: The servants of my husband have made it known unto me that thou art a prophet of a holy God, and that thou hast power to do many mighty works in his name;

I don’t think Ammon is a prophet–is he?  The text has never identified him as such.  Once again, I am fascinated by the way that people in this story draw incorrect conclusions.

5 Therefore, if this is the case, I would that ye should go in and see my husband, for he has been laid upon his bed for the space of two days and two nights; and some say that he is not dead, but others say that he is dead and that he stinketh, and that he ought to be placed in the sepulchre; but as for myself, to me he doth not stink.

I find it interesting that the king was extra-sure of himself, even when he was wrong (about Ammon being the Great Spirit), and the queen is kind of the opposite–super-hesitant.  Especially given the fact that whether he stinks should be most easily verifiable (as opposed to whether Ammon is the Great Spirit, which might be rather hard to evaluate).

The fact that v1 said they were about to bury Lamoni but this verse indicates that the queen and others didn’t think he was dead points to, I think, an undercurrent of serious disagreement about the state of affairs.  I suspect that a big theme in this entire story is Conclusions Based on Ambiguous Evidence (such as all of the theories spun by people Abish drags to the court scene).  Of course, the stakes are quite high here given that we are talking about the death of a king–if he’s dead, someone gets to take over.

I’m struck by the fact that Lamoni’s spiritual rebirth has left him in a state where his death is uncertain.  I suspect that this is symbolically significant in some way, but I’m not exactly sure how.

Presumably, ancient people, who had more close encounters with death than we do, would be intimately familiar with the signs of life and death–cold skin, no breathing, etc.  How is it possible that there was dispute as to whether the king was alive?  They either could see him breath, or they couldn’t.  They either could feel him get cold, or they couldn’t.

References to scent in scripture are fairly rare, but an intriguing parallel might be John 12, where the woman anoints Jesus (something normally done in preparation for burial), and we learn that the scent of the ointment fills the entire house.

Marion D. Hanks:

In the story of Ammon’s missionary work among the Lamanites there is one statement the unusual language of which sometimes evokes mirth in a student when he first hears it, but which to me is one of the most sacred and provocative verses in all the record. The king has been stricken and lies as if he were dead. Ammon is summoned by the queen, his loving, loyal wife. She says: . . . I would that ye should go in and see my husband, for he has been laid upon his bed for the space of two days and two nights; and some say that he is not dead, but others say that he is dead and that he stinketh, and that he ought to be placed in the sepulchre; but as for myself, to me he doth not stink. The love of this faithful wife for her beloved husband seems typical to me of the love which will obtain in the heavenly kingdom and which should here characterize our relationships with those dear to us. Apr 57 GC

Pretty much every single time I did a butt inspection on a diaper-clad baby and found nothing, I would say, “to me, he doth not stink.”  Eventually, the baby’s older brother(s) would start saying that, which was always fun in public.

6 Now, this was what Ammon desired, for he knew that king Lamoni was under the power of God; he knew that the dark veil of unbelief was being cast away from his mind, and the light which did light up his mind, which was the light of the glory of God, which was a marvelous light of his goodness—yea, this light had infused such joy into his soul, the cloud of darkness having been dispelled, and that the light of everlasting life was lit up in his soul, yea, he knew that this had overcome his natural frame, and he was carried away in God—

Once again, I am a little creeped out that Ammon so transparently enjoys others’ distress, since it leads to an opening to share the gospel with them.  Remember that we have here a grieving widow and a succession crisis, but his first response is that he’s happy!

What does the image of a “dark veil of unbelief” suggest to you?  (Wouldn’t this have happened before he fainted–isn’t that why he said he believed what Ammon was teaching and asked for mercy then?)

Is “his soul” referring to Ammon or to Lamoni here?

Ironic that the light of “everlasting life” was lit up in his soul, but people thought he was dead.

This verse has one heck of a (poetic) tangent.  Why?

This verse provides something of an explanation for Lamoni’s state.

Does this experience happen to converts today?  Should it?  (If not, what does that imply about the cultural element of conversion experiences?)

7 Therefore, what the queen desired of him was his only desire. Therefore, he went in to see the king according as the queen had desired him; and he saw the king, and he knew that he was not dead.

8 And he said unto the queen: He is not dead, but he sleepeth in God, and on the morrow he shall rise again; therefore bury him not.

So that gives us three days . . . should we see an allusion to the time Jesus was in the tomb here? Are these events parallel in any meaningful ways?

In Mark 5:39, Jesus tells the onlookers that Jairus’ daughter is not dead, but asleep.  (Note that that is not, technically, true, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic.)  Is there a useful parallel?

9 And Ammon said unto her: Believest thou this? And she said unto him: I have had no witness save thy word, and the word of our servants; nevertheless I believe that it shall be according as thou hast said.

Why does she believe him?

She makes it sound like she is believing something incredible despite a lack of evidence, but she is actually believing something she pretty much already believes (“to me, he doth not stink”) and for which she has multiple other witnesses (Ammon, servants).  What other witness would she have expected besides two external witnesses and her own senses?

Given Ammon’s gift of understanding people’s thoughts, does he need to ask this question?

Joe Spencer:

We have a too-natural predilection to read this story in terms of male dominance, but it is worth asking exactly how Ammon asks the question. Is it spoken with the confident, deep intonation we’re accustomed to hearing in correlated Church films? Or was the question asked hesitantly, fearfully, a sign that Ammon was more than half convinced that the queen wasn’t buying any of this? Is Ammon testing her, or is he just testing the waters?  Citation

10 And Ammon said unto her: Blessed art thou because of thy exceeding faith; I say unto thee, woman, there has not been such great faith among all the people of the Nephites.

 

This verse is HUGE.  We have here Ammon telling a Lamanite queen that she has greater faith than any Nephite.  Even if you read it as hyperbole (which perhaps you should), this is huge.  Imagine President Monson visiting with members of [any church but ours], in a nation that was, historically and presently, hostile to the US, and telling the queen that she had greater faith than he had ever seen among the Latter-day Saints.  The impact of that on the LDS would be HUGE.  (Of course, there’s always the risk of a ‘pedestal problem’ here, too . . .)

Now that I’ve said that, is her faith really that big?  She’s had reports from servants (that she has no reason to doubt) that Ammon has super-human strength.  She then doesn’t herself think her husband is dead.  Ammon says, “nope, not dead” and she believes him.  Is that really such great faith when you have the evidence of your own senses and multiple witnesses?  In her defense (and, really, in Ammon’s defense, because he’s the one making the statement), perhaps the exceedingness of her faith is due to her background:  she has, presumably, had absolutely no contact with Nephite belief in her entire life.  She’s also enjoyed a life of (relative) privilege and high status.  So her willingness to believe Ammon would then be a pretty big deal given her context.  Maybe Ammon’s point is much more subtle that I was giving him credit for–her faith is greater than any Nephite’s not in raw terms, but because of the deficit from which she begins.

Why does he call her “woman” here?  Is there any relationship to Jesus’ use of this word (eight times) in the NT?  (What does that title mean in the NT?  The standard line is ‘a title of respect’ by I think that is too neat by half.)

Maybe this is a stretch, but this verse makes me think of this passage from Luke (4:25-26):

 But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow.

Here’s the link I’m seeing:  The praise of the non-chosen-people woman as the recipient of a special blessing.

Camille Williams:

It appears that Lamoni’s queen used her own powers of observation (“as for myself, to me he doth not stink”), investigation (“The servants of my husband have made it known unto me that . . .”), and judgment to know that Lamoni was not dead before calling Ammon to confirm her evaluation (see Alma 19:4–5). By believing Ammon, a witness for the Lord’s hand in the matter, she demonstrated a faith greater than any Ammon had witnessed among the Nephites (see Alma 19:10). She was quite obviously teachable and amenable to the Spirit, despite her elevated social status and Ammon’s servant/alien status. Citation

11 And it came to pass that she watched over the bed of her husband, from that time even until that time on the morrow which Ammon had appointed that he should rise.

Is it useful to compare this queen to the female witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection in the NT?

Does “appointed mean” that Ammon controlled when Lamoni would rise, or did he just predict it?

12 And it came to pass that he arose, according to the words of Ammon; and as he arose, he stretched forth his hand unto the woman, and said: Blessed be the name of God, and blessed art thou.

 

Does stretching forth the hand have ritual significance?

What is accomplished by calling the queen “the woman” here?  Why is she never given a proper name in the entire story?

Why would Lamoni declare the queen blessed here?

Compare this verse with v10, where Ammon blesses the queen.  How do these statements relate? How are they the same?  Different?  Why does the queen get two blessings here?  Note that she gets the first one explicitly for her faith; the reason for the second is not specified, but is likely to be for her bedside vigil.  Note that Ammon doesn’t stretch forth his hand as a part of the blessing.  Note that the woman spoke before Ammon’s blessing, but it is her silent presence that provokes the second one.

Note that this blessing puts God and the queen into a parallel relationship.  This is interesting, because when we hear “blessed be God,” we think it means something like, “Thanks be to God,” but when we hear “blessed be [mortal person],” it sounds like, “I am asking for God’s blessings to be given to [mortal person."  In other words, I think we normally use the same phrase two different ways, but putting them in parallel calls attention to the tension.  So:  Does the phrase mean the same thing in both iterations?  Also note that he doesn't bless God--he blesses the name of God.  Two thoughts:  is this somehow related to his previous confusion re God and the Great Spirit?  Second thought:  Is it significant that we have a reference to the name of God in a verse that, somewhat awkwardly, doesn't include the name of the queen?

13 For as sure as thou livest, behold, I have seen my Redeemer; and he shall come forth, and be born of a woman, and he shall redeem all mankind who believe on his name. Now, when he had said these words, his heart was swollen within him, and he sunk again with joy; and the queen also sunk down, being overpowered by the Spirit.

Why "be born of a woman"?  Why would that matter here?  (Shouldn't that be a given?)

Fascinating:  he doesn't say "for as sure as I livest" but "as thou livest."  Note further that this verse begins with "for," linking it to the blessing Lamoni has just pronounced on the queen.  So, to recap:  he pronounces a blessing on the queen and then, as if it were a logical conclusion to the blessing, compares the life of the queen to the fact that he has seen the Redeemer.  In other words, he compares the queen's life to the Redeemer's reality.

Is the sinking of the queen related to Lamoni's words, or Lamoni's touch, or what?

Note that it seems to be the bearing of testimony that causes such incredible joy that he faints (or whatever it is he is doing) a second time.

What precisely caused the queen to be overpowered?

Presumably, Ammon had previously taught Lamoni that there would be a Redeemer who would redeem everyone.  But note how Lamoni reacts to that knowledge here.

Significant:  a Lamanite king has had a vision of the Lord.

Joe Spencer points out here that, even though we are reading about a man's (and a king's, at that) conversion, it is directed to a woman, and focused on the idea of the Redeemer being born of a woman, and has a large effect on the nearest women.

Joe Spencer also calls our attention to the four uses of "woman" in this chapter (a word never used elsewhere [as a singular] in the BoM, unless the BoM is quoting, and one other time that doesn’t really count).  The four “woman” references in this chapter are:  Ammon to the queen (v10, odd, because we don’t get her name and because that’s a weird noun of direct address and v12), the reference to Mary in this verse, and a reference to Abish as a woman servant in v28.

Joe Spencer points out that the last verse ended with paralleled references to God and a woman; this verse digs in with references to God and a woman.  This serves to parallel the queen with Mary.  What might we learn from that parallel?

14 Now Ammon seeing the Spirit of the Lord poured out according to his prayers upon the Lamanites, his brethren, who had been the cause of so much mourning among the Nephites, or among all the people of God because of their iniquities and their traditions, he fell upon his knees, and began to pour out his soul in prayer and thanksgiving to God for what he had done for his brethren; and he was also overpowered with joy; and thus they all three had sunk to the earth.

Notice yet again that the Lamanites are called “his brethren.”

Is there a relationship between the Spirit being poured out and Ammon pouring out his soul?

I was ready to write off “sinking for joy” as a weird Lamanite thing, but now Ammon’s doing it.  (Maybe it is a “when in Rome” kind of thing?)  What’s going on here, and why doesn’t this happen today?

15 Now, when the servants of the king had seen that they had fallen, they also began to cry unto God, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them also, for it was they who had stood before the king and testified unto him concerning the great power of Ammon.

16 And it came to pass that they did call on the name of the Lord, in their might, even until they had all fallen to the earth, save it were one of the Lamanitish women, whose name was Abish, she having been converted unto the Lord for many years, on account of a remarkable vision of her father—

 

Some source that I can’t find right now (humor me) suggested that “father” maybe should be “fathers.”   That could mean a missing apostrophe (since Oliver Cowdery rarely put them where they belonged) or perhaps a reference to ancestors in general, except that it would be odd to think of them collectively having one vision (or would it be odd? maybe not).  Maybe Abish had a vision where she saw her fathers.  (Ancestors?  Mothers?)

Why didn’t Abish fall?  (Is it because she was already converted?)

Is the language of “falling” meant to make an allusion to the Fall?

This is the only use of “remarkable” in all of scriptures.  That’s remarkable.  (Sorry.)

Why do we learn Abish’s name but not the queen’s name?

Brant Gardner:

Abish is one of the very few named women in the Book of Mormon. That her name is present here is even more remarkable because she was a servant, and the records of the world typically record the names of royalty, but not the names of servants. The presence of her name, and the details of this little aside, suggest that Abish was more important in the original record than we see her in Mormon’s account. While the description of her conversion provides an explanation of why she did not fall down, nevertheless, it would not be anything that would require that she be recorded by name when other women, such as the queen, are not named. This contrast between the named servant and the unnamed Abish hint at a much more important role for Abish in the establishment of the gospel through Ammon than we have in our records. Citation

Extending on Gardner’s thinking here:  If the queen’s name wasn’t recorded but Abish’s was because Abish was more significant than the queen, AND Ammon said that the queen had greater faith than any Nephite, THEN we can do a little syllogism and conclude that Abish was enormously important in the original iteration of this story.  Which raises the question:  why is her importance (at least relative to the queen) not better conveyed in the account that we have?

Joe Spencer says that the Hebrew word “Abish” would mean “my father, a man.” John A. Tvedtnes says that the name “Abish” “has defied establishing a meaning” (Citation).

John Gee writes:

Abish is the name of a Lamanite woman, a servant to king Lamoni’s queen (see Alma 19:16). Abish corresponds to the Hebrew name ‘bš’, found on a seal from pre-exilic times (prior to 587 BC) in the Hecht Museum in Haifa. The addition of the Hebrew letter aleph (symbolized by ‘ in transliteration) to the end of the name is known from other Hebrew hypocoristic names, suggesting that the name on the seal may be hypocoristic. (See Hypocoristic Forms on page 50.) However, no etymology has been proposed. The form ‘bš’ is also attested as a Semitic name on a wall relief in the tomb of Khnum-hotep III at Beni Hasan, Egypt, dating to the nineteenth century BC The relief depicts a group of Asiatics, probably Semites, entering Egypt with their donkeys. Scholars have often compared the scene to the emigration of Abraham and later his grandson Jacob into Egypt. Citation

Note that if you were to describe Nephi in one sentence, you’d probably go with “having been converted unto the Lord for many years, on account of a remarkable vision of [his] father.”  (I read this in something published by FARMS, but can’t remember where.) What other parallels can you draw between Nephi and Abish?

I read somewhere (sorry, major citation fails this week) that we might read this as “a remarkable vision of her Father,” as in, Abish had had a vision of God the Father.  It is also possible that Abish had a vision of her earthly father, and this is why she converted.  Also, and maybe this is a stretch, her father’s vision was of the role she would play in these very events, and that’s how she knew (1) what was happening and (2) what to do about it.  This makes her tears later on a little more understandable–if you spent your entire converted life preparing for this moment, and then thought you’d bungled it, you’d cry, too.

I’m thinking about the fact that we usually emphasize Ammon-as-servant in thinking about his missionary work.  Well, here’s an actual servant who is a pretty good missionary as well.  You almost want to call this a gender pair, something that Luke’s gospel, for example, is chock-full of, but that is basically MIA in the BoM.

You know, I think we tend to emphasize Abish’s low social status (as a servant), and there is certainly that element when her story places her in the context of royalty.  But royal servants weren’t the lowest-of-the-low either, I’d presume.  In a sustenance society, she’d at least have known where her next meal is coming from.

The king’s servants herd sheep and have their lives threatened for things beyond their control.  Can we make a useful comparison between them and Abish, as the queen’s servant?  (Seriously, the scene where everyone is engaging in [wrong] conspiracy theories about what has happened makes me think of herding cats.)

Abish has become something of a Mormon patron saint for the Young Women, probably on the assumption that she is single and that she’s a great missionary.  But it is worth noting that the text tells us she had been converted for “many years,” which may imply that she’s a little older (or not).  The NT’s Anna is one of the few (only?  maybe Sarah in her infertility?) women for whom we get a similar reference to advanced age.  Is there a useful comparison there?

Joe Spencer:

The text, oddly, appears at first to place Abish among theking’s servants: “they [that is, what verse 15 describes as “the servants of the king”] had all fallen to the earth, save it were one of the Lamanitish women” (verse 16). (Jerrie Hurd takes this as an indication that Abish was among the servants who told the queen that Ammon was a prophet.) But appearances here are deceiving, since verse 17 speaks of the queen as Abish’s “mistress,” and later texts make clear that Lamanite royal households differentiated between the servants of the king and the servants of the queen (note that in Alma 22:19 distinguishes “her [the queen’s] servants” from “the servants of the king,” and that 22:21 has the queen command her servants to do what the king’s servants refuse to do). If Abish was indeed a servant, then, it seems clear enough that she was attached to the queen and not to the king. (Even so, Hurd may still be right that Abish was among those who informed the queen that Ammon was a prophet. The whole question of what Abish would have known of Ammon before she enters the story is a tortured one I’ve decided not to speculate about here.) Citation

So here’s a thought:  I was kind of flummoxed above where we got all that ink about how they separated out and did their missionary work “one by one” (as it were), instead of the usual two by two.  But, perhaps, Abish is the second witness here.  (Had Ammon had a junior comp at his side, there would have been no role for Abish, would there?)

17 Thus, having been converted to the Lord, and never having made it known, therefore, when she saw that all the servants of Lamoni had fallen to the earth, and also her mistress, the queen, and the king, and Ammon lay prostrate upon the earth, she knew that it was the power of God; and supposing that this opportunity, by making known unto the people what had happened among them, that by beholding this scene it would cause them to believe in the power of God, therefore she ran forth from house to house, making it known unto the people.

Can you start with “never having made it known” and make any useful comparisons between Abish and Esther?

How did she know that it was the power of God?  Did the same thing happen to her when she was converted?

Interesting contrast between her never making her faith known, but now knowing that this was the power of God.

This is the story of Ammon’s mission, but Ammon is more-or-less dead on the floor and the missionary work is being done by a Lamanite woman.  What should we learn from this?

Note the word “opportunity.”  I’ve criticized (sorta) Ammon for being an opportunist–for being pleased at difficult situations because they would give him an opening as a missionary.  Is that what is happening here?  If so, might we find a useful parallel between Ammon and Abish?  (Joe Spencer points out that Ammon uses his opportunity by searching and gathering–the same thing Abish does–although his is sheep and hers is people.  But that sheep/people link might be interesting and lead to a fruitful comparison in its own right.)

A comment at FMH reads the “suppose” here as suggesting that Abish was overzealous:

A quick search for BOM usages of the various forms of “suppose” shows that the word is most often used to denote a foolish belief, one that is doomed to failure and even death (physically or spiritually). When Alma juxtaposes Abish’s supposition–that the mere sight of the prostrate people in the palace would cause the observers to believe in God’s power–with her knowledge (bolstered by her seeing how and why the prostrate fell), he might be cautioning against indescriminate dissemination of information (“ran forth from house to house”) that we might “suppose” people are ready for.  Citation

Joe Spencer points to an interesting irony:

Because of her conversion experience, Abish had spent “many years” being the only convert among so many Lamanites, always functioning as the tacit exception to her people in that she had experienced the Spirit. Now, and also because of her conversion experience, Abish is the only Lamanite among so many converts who is not overcome by the Spirit, functioning yet again as the tacit exception to her people, but now in almost the opposite way, as if she were the only one not experiencing the Spirit. Citation

Note the subtext of this story:  during the time that our narrative was focused on events in the world of the Nephites, random Lamanites were having visions of God, converting their children, and secretly living the gospel.  And we didn’t know anything about it.  All we heard about the Lamanites was that they were a ferocious and bloodthirsty people, deceived by the traditions of their fathers.  I’ve suggested all along that those statements might be more Nephite PR than actual factual, and I think a story like this suggests that they were, at the very least, generalizations with unmentioned exceptions.

Abish is a missionary here.  She runs (not walks) from house to house.

Might we make a useful comparison between Abish and the Samaritan woman in John 4, who also serves as a missionary among people who fill the role as ‘enemies of the covenant people’?

Elaine S. Dalton:

Abish was converted by her father’s sharing with her his remarkable vision. For many years thereafter, she kept her testimony in her heart and lived righteously in a very wicked society. Then the time came when she could no longer be still, and she ran from house to house to share her testimony and the miracles she had witnessed in the king’s court. The power of Abish’s conversion and testimony was instrumental in changing an entire society. The people who heard her testify became a people who “were converted unto the Lord, [and] never did fall away,” and their sons became the stripling warriors! Oct 11 GC

Note that we are given a peek into Abish’s thought process here–she wants to tell everyone so they will believe.  Note that this is precisely the thing that does not happen (instead, they all argue, to the point of bringing her to tears).  Is it unfair to then characterize Abish as naive?  (I suspect that a big theme in this chapter has to do with Interpreting Events.  Here, Abish makes an assumption that everyone will interpret the fallen bodies a certain way, but she is wrong in this assumption.)

18 And they began to assemble themselves together unto the house of the king. And there came a multitude, and to their astonishment, they beheld the king, and the queen, and their servants prostrate upon the earth, and they all lay there as though they were dead; and they also saw Ammon, and behold, he was a Nephite.

Why are they astonished, when Abish told them what to expect?

(Note that Ammon’s Nephite-ness is identifiable even when he looks dead–presumably, through his clothing styles?)

19 And now the people began to murmur among themselves; some saying that it was a great evil that had come upon them, or upon the king and his house, because he had suffered that the Nephite should remain in the land.

Does this really make sense, if the Nephite is dead as well?

20 But others rebuked them, saying: The king hath brought this evil upon his house, because he slew his servants who had had their flocks scattered at the waters of Sebus.

This also does not make sense (if they know what Ammon did the last time the flocks were scattered which, presumably, they do because it has been at least three days and you have to figure that a story involving that many severed forearms is going to spread pretty quickly, and the next verse seems to suggest that eyewitnesses were present).

21 And they were also rebuked by those men who had stood at the waters of Sebus and scattered the flocks which belonged to the king, for they were angry with Ammon because of the number which he had slain of their brethren at the waters of Sebus, while defending the flocks of the king.

This is weird that these guys show up here.  It almost makes it sound as if the scatterers were some of Lamoni’s own people (after all, they live close enough to the king’s home that Abish can run right there), instead of the “outsider, other” Lamanites that we presume them to be.  Also, they seem pretty open, in this setting, in making their anger known.

Is this reasonable?  Who thinks they should be able to steal the king’s flock without consequences?

22 Now, one of them, whose brother had been slain with the sword of Ammon, being exceedingly angry with Ammon, drew his sword and went forth that he might let it fall upon Ammon, to slay him; and as he lifted the sword to smite him, behold, he fell dead.

So the presumption here is that he thinks Ammon is not dead.  (Unless he thinks he is desecrating a corpse, but that isn’t what our narrator says here.)

This is a pretty phenomenal display of supernatural power, precisely the kind of thing that we would tell an investigator not to expect, because to show power like this would pretty much negate the agency of the people witnessing it.  (I mean, seriously, who could see this happen and have any doubt that God was on Ammon’s side?  There’s no room left for faith.)  I say this gingerly, but I think we may need to consider that there are some folkloric elements, if not a folktale itself, in this story.  (What makes that position more difficult to maintain than it is with a Jonah or a Job is that we have a pretty clear provenance here:  Ammon tells Alma, Alma writes it down, Mormon edits it.  But how do we know that they didn’t tell tall tales and think nothing of it?  Maybe that sounds crazy, but I’ve heard stories over the pulpit that both the audience and the speaker knew to be false or embellished but that are considered completely kosher in our culture.)

23 Now we see that Ammon could not be slain, for the Lord had said unto Mosiah, his father: I will spare him, and it shall be unto him according to thy faith—therefore, Mosiah trusted him unto the Lord.

Interesting commentary from the narrator here, especially since we’ve heard this before.

See Mosiah 28:7 (“And the Lord said unto Mosiah: Let them go up, for many shall believe on their words, and they shall have eternal life; and I will deliver thy sons out of the hands of the Lamanites.”).  But note that the wording there is not identical to the wording here.  I also wonder if Ammon knew about this promise (somehow I doubt it).

24 And it came to pass that when the multitude beheld that the man had fallen dead, who lifted the sword to slay Ammon, fear came upon them all, and they durst not put forth their hands to touch him or any of those who had fallen; and they began to marvel again among themselves what could be the cause of this great power, or what all these things could mean.

Note exactly what is said here:  the people wouldn’t touch them out of fear.  This makes a nice contrast to the touching that Abish and the queen are about to do; it emphasizes that they are not ruled by fear.  And why aren’t they?  Because their intentions are not to harm anyone.

25 And it came to pass that there were many among them who said that Ammon was the Great Spirit, and others said he was sent by the Great Spirit;

OK, so their knowledge is increasing line upon line, and they are moving closer to the truth (but not in v26), but they still are not correctly interpreting events.  Again, I think the theme of What This All Means is huge in this story, and the text is almost comical in all of the different versions of incorrect conclusions that it gives us (both here and earlier from Lamoni).

How much sense does it make to think that he either was or was sent by the Spirit when he’s lying there looking all dead?  (I wonder if we are to read all of these misunderstandings as humorous–people will believe any crazy, illogical thing before they will believe the true thing.)

26 But others rebuked them all, saying that he was a monster, who had been sent from the Nephites to torment them.

27 And there were some who said that Ammon was sent by the Great Spirit to afflict them because of their iniquities; and that it was the Great Spirit that had always attended the Nephites, who had ever delivered them out of their hands; and they said that it was this Great Spirit who had destroyed so many of their brethren, the Lamanites.

There is an awful lot of text (v18-27) devoted to describing all of the various and wrong theories that people reached when given the same evidence.  That’s a lot of ink to spill (or characters to engrave, whatever) on a somewhat tangential topic.  Why is it there?  (I’m sensing that a subtext to this entire story has to do with the conclusions people draw, beginning with Lamoni thinking that Ammon was the Great Spirit.)  Note that the event does not interpret itself!

28 And thus the contention began to be exceedingly sharp among them. And while they were thus contending, the woman servant who had caused the multitude to be gathered together came, and when she saw the contention which was among the multitude she was exceedingly sorrowful, even unto tears.

Why is she called “the woman servant” and not Abish here?  Is it to draw a connection between her role as servant to the queen and Ammon’s as servant to the king?  What else could you learn from comparing the two of them?  (This is an interesting topic–wish I had more time to work on it.)

Note that this verse implies that Abish has missed most of what happened before this (presumably including the attempt on Ammon’s life and his miraculous protection) because she was still out ringing doorbells.

Joe Spencer sees another link between Ammon and Abish here–but Ammon willingly went to “contend” with the would-be sheep stealers, while Abish is saddened at the contention she encounters (and, actually, that she caused).

I think we might read some criticism of Abish here:  she was perhaps naive to think that a scene that looked like a bunch of dead royalty, servants, and an outsider would be self-explanatory (or, if she had explained it to people, that they would believe her).

Joe Spencer:

Her first response, interestingly, is this: “she was exceedingly sorrowful, even unto tears.” Is this an unfortunate stereotype? It should be noted that “tears” appears only seven times in the Book of Mormon, and it is always associated either with a group of people (indiscriminately male and female) or with a woman (here and in 1 Nephi 18:19). On the other hand, the verb “to weep” is always associated either with a group of people (again, indiscriminately male and female) or with a man (2 Nephi 4:26; Jacob 5:41; 3 Nephi 17:21, 22). Is there an indication that in Nephite thinking “tears” are a female thing, while “weeping” is a male thing? And what is the difference between the two? Citation

29 And it came to pass that she went and took the queen by the hand, that perhaps she might raise her from the ground; and as soon as she touched her hand she arose and stood upon her feet, and cried with a loud voice, saying: O blessed Jesus, who has saved me from an awful hell! O blessed God, have mercy on this people!

It isn’t 100% clear whether the end of this verse and all of v30 are about the queen or about Abish, although I suppose it reads more naturally if it is about the queen.

Why does she go to the queen and not to the king or Ammon or another servant?

This story makes a huge deal of people touching other people.  Can we draw any useful parallels to the woman with the hemmorage who touched Jesus’ hem?  (In both cases, you have a woman of low status reaching out to touch someone of a higher status, in hopes of a miracle.  Note that this reading would place the queen into a parallel with Jesus.) What about Jesus’ post-resurrection comment to Mary that she should not touch him?

I’ve seen commenters say that the reason that Abish didn’t faint is that her prior conversion meant that she was already familiar enough with the workings of the spirit that it didn’t knock her flat.  But how can that be true when the spirit knocks Ammon flat in this story?  Are we to assume that he didn’t have as much experience with the spirit as Abish did?  Related question:  It is not hard to imagine God orchestrating this story differently, but the way it is arranged has a woman (a servant, a Lamanite) in the key role while the male, official, Nephite servant is old cold.

Note that when Lamoni was raised the first time, he also quickly pronounced two blessings, but the first was on God and the second on his wife.  When the queen is raised, she quickly pronounces two blessings, but the first is on Jesus and the second is on God.  What might we learn from this (not exact) parallel?

When the king was raised, it was without a touch and on a time-table that Ammon was able to know prophetically.  Here, the queen is raised at Abish’s touch.  How do you explain the differences?

Is the touch here ritually significant?  (It seems that way from the effect that it has on the queen, but doesn’t necessarily seem that way from Abish’s intent.)

Are the two exclamations that the queen makes parallel?

30 And when she had said this, she clasped her hands, being filled with joy, speaking many words which were not understood; and when she had done this, she took the king, Lamoni, by the hand, and behold he arose and stood upon his feet.

Skousen reads “clapped” instead of “clasped” here.

Is she speaking in tongues here?  Joe Spencer points out:

When the gift is mentioned in the abstract (that is, without reference to an actual event of someone employing the gift), it is called the gift of tongues (see 2 Nephi 31:13; Omni 1:25; Alma 9:21; 3 Nephi 29:6; Mormon 9:7; Moroni 10:15); but when the gift is mentioned concretely (that is, with reference to an actual event of someone speaking in tongues), it is never said that one has the gift of tongues, but some other way of describing the event is employed in the narrative (Alma 19:30; Helaman 5:36; 3 Nephi 26:16).  Citation

Did Abish understand the queen’s words?

I’ve noted in other contexts that there is no story of raising from the dead in scriptures that does not have at least one woman as a major character.  While this isn’t exactly a raising from the dead, it is certainly thematically similar and, of course, is the only significant story (maybe except Sariah) in the BoM with female characters.  That doesn’t feel coincidental to me.  One way we might read the lack of women in the BoM is this:  they were edited out by militaristic male writers and editors.  But there presence, the only time they are present, emphasizes the important role women play in relation to the idea of resurrection.

In the Gospel of John, a text which certainly has some resonances with this one, we find in ch12 that Mary anoints and wipes Jesus’ feet; in the next chapter, Jesus does the same to the disciples (two actions, although wash and wipe are used instead of anoint and wipe).  Is it too much of a stretch to see the same chain reaction here, where Abish raises the queen and then the queen raises the king?  If so, notice that we have once again put the queen into a role that is a type of Christ.

Again, does the touch have ritual significance?

Note that we aren’t sure who’s hands are being clasped here–this might possibly be a ritual clasp between Abish and the queen for all we can tell.

Compare and contrast the queen and king’s experiences in this chapter; what do you find?  Note that Lamoni arises at a certain time; the queen rises when Abish touches her.  Why the difference?  Joe Spencer compares the two stories here.

Joe Spencer writes, “The fact that Abish completely disappears from the story the moment the queen regains consciousness alerts one to the further fact that she only comes into the story in the first place when the queen loses consciousness. Abish is, as it were, narratively awakened only when the queen passes out, and she disappears again the moment the queen returns to conscious activity.”  (Citation)  He points out that the same thing happens with Lamoni and the queen.

31 And he, immediately, seeing the contention among his people, went forth and began to rebuke them, and to teach them the words which he had heard from the mouth of Ammon; and as many as heard his words believed, and were converted unto the Lord.

What do you make of the fact that the queen was entirely focused on her own and then her people’s salvation but the king is entirely focused on the contention?

Once again, I am struck by the ease with which the supposedly evil Lamanites repent and believe.  (Although v32 makes it clear that not everyone believed him.)

Why do they believe him and not Abish?

32 But there were many among them who would not hear his words; therefore they went their way.

Why do the non-believers leave, when, previously, the non-believers hung around and argued for their own point of view?

33 And it came to pass that when Ammon arose he also administered unto them, and also did all the servants of Lamoni; and they did all declare unto the people the selfsame thing—that their hearts had been changed; that they had no more desire to do evil.

What does “administering” mean in this context?  Does the “also” mean that actions of “administering” have just been described and, if so, what would this include:  touching, testifying, speaking in tongues, rebuking, preaching, etc.?  Note that the other servants also administer.

I think a possible reading of this verse is that Ammon also feels that his heart has been changed (hence the “all declare”) and he has no more desire to do evil, although one wonders but that he didn’t feel that way before this story.  Maybe some of my previous criticisms of Ammon were justified–maybe he wasn’t the strongest missionary, and this experience was pivotal for him.  (That would explain why he was out cold while Abish was knocking on doors.)

Remember that hearts = minds.

What do you make of them losing their desire to do evil?  Is this normally part of the conversion experience?

34 And behold, many did declare unto the people that they had seen angels and had conversed with them; and thus they had told them things of God, and of his righteousness.

35 And it came to pass that there were many that did believe in their words; and as many as did believe were baptized; and they became a righteous people, and they did establish a church among them.

Again, this is the wicked Lamanites doing this–a pretty big deal!

This is the first time since the Lamanite/Nephite split that we have any fruits of righteousness among the Lamanites.  And I can’t help but note that this came about because, in large part, of the actions of two women.  And, with all due respect to Alma and Mormon, one wonders if the women in a story of any less importance would have been left on the cutting room floor.  (As Carol Lynn Pearson suggested, had General Patton edited Gone with the Wind, Scarlett probably wouldn’t have been in the final version.)  As we grapple with the question of why there are so few women in the BoM (even relative to other ancient texts such as the OT or NT), I suspect this is relevant.  And it seems interesting to me that, for how few women there are in the BoM, here they are in this pivotal story.

36 And thus the work of the Lord did commence among the Lamanites; thus the Lord did begin to pour out his Spirit upon them; and we see that his arm is extended to all people who will repent and believe on his name.

Of what is the arm of the Lord a symbol for here?  Does it have any relationship to all of the stretched hands and touching in this chapter?

The extended arm metaphor just a few chapters after all of the arms get cut off makes me laugh. (Or maybe it should be read more seriously re the use of power.  Or maybe it points to the fact that the de-arming at the water of Sebus shouldn’t be read quite so literally.)

Note the “all people” and how literally that plays out in this chapter:  Nephites, Lamanites, women, men, queens, serving girls, etc.

General question:  This chapter seems qualitatively different from the rest of the BoM.  It isn’t just the presence of women (although that is certainly part of it), but something that I can’t quite put my finger on–it seems much more NT-ish, in the sense of being similar to the stories about Jesus’ life (healing, touch, little slices of life, dialogue, action).  I don’t know.  Help me out here.  What makes this story different from the rest of the BoM, and why is it different?

General thought about Abish:  She seems remarkably free from stereotypical feminine characteristics (OK, except for being a servant and for crying when things get out of control), but she’s brave, firm, a runner, an expounder of truth, and not defined as wife/mother/etc.

Joe Spencer explores the links between this chapter and John 11 here.  (It’s good stuff–read it.  But as Robert C. points out in the comments, the possibly most interesting avenue–Abish-as-paralleled-to-Jesus-raising-the-dead, doesn’t get enough attention.)

Joe Spencer has a great series of posts on this chapter here.  Note especially the structure he finds in the book of Alma; it leads him to compare Abish with the stripling warriors.  That’s interesting, but I think he might have done better to compare Abish with this:

Morianton being a man of much passion, therefore he was angry with one of his maid servants, and he fell upon her and beat her much. And it came to pass that she fled, and came over to the camp of Moroni, and told Moroni all things concerning the matter, and also concerning their intentions to flee into the land northward. (Alma 50:30-31)

Note that both Abish and this woman are servants.  Both are privy to information that others do not have.  Both flee/run.  Both do that for the purpose of sharing information to change behavior, and both are successful in changing the outcome of events that are pivotal to their stories.

There are three conversion stories in this chapter:  the king, the queen, and Abish.  (Abish’s, of course, happens before this chapter, but it is narrated here.)  It would be interesting to spend some time thinking about how they relate.

CHAPTER 20
1 And it came to pass that when they had established a church in that land, that king Lamoni desired that Ammon should go with him to the land of Nephi, that he might show him unto his father.

Note again what a huge role desire plays in the BoM.

Any idea why Lamoni wanted to show Ammon off to his father?

“Show him” is a little weird (it makes Ammon sound like a new toy)–just awkward phrasing or is something going on here?

2 And the voice of the Lord came to Ammon, saying: Thou shalt not go up to the land of Nephi, for behold, the king will seek thy life; but thou shalt go to the land of Middoni; for behold, thy brother Aaron, and also Muloki and Ammah are in prison.

What do you learn about divine intervention from this verse?

This is deliciously ironic because, as we’ll see in v8, on the way to Middoni, they run in to Lamoni’s father!  But, presumably, events transpire differently there than they would have had they met in the land of Nephi, and so Ammon’s life is spared.  Having said that, it is pretty easy to imagine Ammon wetting his pants when they run into Lamoni’s father in v8–this communication has primed him to think that Lamoni’s father will kill him.

3 Now it came to pass that when Ammon had heard this, he said unto Lamoni: Behold, my brother and brethren are in prison at Middoni, and I go that I may deliver them.

What does this verse teach you about the meaning of “brother” and “brethren” in the BoM?  (Note that in the Bible, “brethren” is nothing more or less than the plural of “brother,” or “brothers and sisters.”)

Note that Ammon has added in the idea of delivering them; the Lord said nothing about that.

Note that Ammon apparently doesn’t communicate to Lamoni the part about how Lamoni’s father would kill him.

4 Now Lamoni said unto Ammon: I know, in the strength of the Lord thou canst do all things. But behold, I will go with thee to the land of Middoni; for the king of the land of Middoni, whose name is Antiomno, is a friend unto me; therefore I go to the land of Middoni, that I may flatter the king of the land, and he will cast thy brethren out of prison. Now Lamoni said unto him: Who told thee that thy brethren were in prison?

Can Ammon do all things?  (Does “in the strength of the Lord” limit the statement enough to make it true?)

Is “flatter” a good thing in this context?

I think the “Now Lamoni . . .” indicates that some time has passed, and it has occurred to Lamoni that there’s no way that Ammon could have known this.

5 And Ammon said unto him: No one hath told me, save it be God; and he said unto me—Go and deliver thy brethren, for they are in prison in the land of Middoni.

Note that v2 said nothing about delivering.  Does this mean that v2 was an incomplete record of the divine communication, or does it mean that this verse is an extrapolation that Ammon has assumed?

6 Now when Lamoni had heard this he caused that his servants should make ready his horses and his chariots.

Is this just stage direction, or is it significant that Ammon had been making the horses and chariots ready right before all of that fainting broke out?

Isn’t this what was happening in v1 anyway (although Lamoni thought the destination was different)?

Brant Gardner explores the idea that the horses and chariots had a ritual/ceremonial function and not a transportation-related one.

7 And he said unto Ammon: Come, I will go with thee down to the land of Middoni, and there I will plead with the king that he will cast thy brethren out of prison.

Notice before he said “flatter” and here he says “plead.”  I am wondering if Ammon’s explaining his revelation caused Lamoni to change his mind re how to approach the king in Middoni.

8 And it came to pass that as Ammon and Lamoni were journeying thither, they met the father of Lamoni, who was king over all the land.

We don’t ever learn anything about why Lamoni’s father was traveling . . .

9 And behold, the father of Lamoni said unto him: Why did ye not come to the feast on that great day when I made a feast unto my sons, and unto my people?

For some reason, this totally cracks me up.  Reminds me of the whiny ethnic grandmother.  (“And such food we had . . . and you missed it.”)

10 And he also said: Whither art thou going with this Nephite, who is one of the children of a liar?

Can you tell what made Lamoni less susceptible to ethnic discrimination than his father?

Note the two very different comments in v9 and v10, and their order.  What does this teach you about the father of Lamoni?

11 And it came to pass that Lamoni rehearsed unto him whither he was going, for he feared to offend him.

Is fearing to offend a good thing or a bad thing?

This verse is a little weird, in that the reason given (“for he feared to offend him”) doesn’t seem to really fit the action (“Lamoni rehearsed . . .”)  You’d think that if he was worried about offending him, he wouldn’t have explained where they were going.

12 And he also told him all the cause of his tarrying in his own kingdom, that he did not go unto his father to the feast which he had prepared.

V9-12 have an odd little structure, with Dad asking two questions, and the son answering them in the reverse order in which they were asked.

13 And now when Lamoni had rehearsed unto him all these things, behold, to his astonishment, his father was angry with him, and said: Lamoni, thou art going to deliver these Nephites, who are sons of a liar. Behold, he robbed our fathers; and now his children are also come amongst us that they may, by their cunning and their lyings, deceive us, that they again may rob us of our property.

Why is he astonished that his father is angry, given that he was just worried about offending him?

Who is the “he” who robbed “our fathers”?

Notice that Lamoni’s father (Why do we never get a name for this guy?  It’s awkward.) focusing his anti-Nephite sentiment on a historical “robbery.”  What does this teach us about Lamanite views of history and why might it be relevant to us today?

We don’t know exactly what Lamoni told his father, but we can guess.  Note that Lamoni’s father dismisses the entire story of severed forearms, faithful servants, multi-day fainting spells, and a single touch reanimating people as Nephite cunning and lying, motivated by a desire for material gain.  What might we learn from this and how is it relevant to us?

You read a verse like this and kind of wonder:  if faithful service and a whole slew of miracles wasn’t enough to give this person a moment’s pause, then what?  What’s the lesson here for us as we think about missionary work?

I hate to be difficult, but I have to wonder if perhaps there was a grain of truth to the Lamanite accusations of Nephite theft (not by Ammon, obviously, but past Nephite performance shaping Lamoni’s dad’s perception of future results).  (If only because it is hard to imagine two groups sharing a border for 500 years without at least a few people from each group encroaching on the rights of the other.)  We can imagine why that would not be included in the record, but it might be important in how we think about the Lamanites.

14 Now the father of Lamoni commanded him that he should slay Ammon with the sword. And he also commanded him that he should not go to the land of Middoni, but that he should return with him to the land of Ishmael.

Interesting that Lamoni is under the command of his father; usually, we consider kings a law unto themselves.  I suspect that the translation choice of “king” might not be the best one.  (Although I admit that “provincial governor” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.)

Remember from the beginning of the chapter that Ammon was told by the Lord that king Lamoni’s father would seek his life, but Ammon did not repeat this to Lamoni.  This would have been a very trying moment for Ammon (in addition to the part about his life being threatened) because he would have felt that he had done exactly what the Lord had told him to do (by not going to the land of Nephi) but had still ended up with the terrifying result the Lord had warned him about.  In this moment, he has reason to doubt that the promises of the Lord are sure.  (Because we know the end of the story, it is easy to miss the trial of faith here and other similar scriptures–such as the raising of Lazarus, where Jesus had said that Lazarus would not die–where it appears that the word of the Lord would not be fulfilled.)

Note the problem this verse presents to the idea of being subject to kings, as the Articles of Faith suggest.

Can you make an interesting (inverse) comparison between this story and the binding of Isaac?

Brant Gardner points to the political implications of this verse:  if Lamoni sides with the Nephite over his father, presumably that would sever the alliance between them and leave Lamoni’s kingdom on its own, if not hostile to the rest of his father’s lands.  We can then see this story (which is so fast-moving and sparsely told that it is easy to miss what is happening, unlike, say, the binding of Isaac where we pause to pick up a bundle of sticks and walk up the hill) as quite a test of faith for Lamoni.  (And so it would then be interesting to contrast the test that this story poses to Ammon with the one that it poses to Lamoni.)

15 But Lamoni said unto him: I will not slay Ammon, neither will I return to the land of Ishmael, but I go to the land of Middoni that I may release the brethren of Ammon, for I know that they are just men and holy prophets of the true God.

Once again, Lamoni is claiming to know things that I am not sure he knows.  (But, on the other hand, I like the unsolicited and very brave testimony-bearing.)

How do you reconcile this story with the fifth commandment?

I find it interesting that the Lord gave Ammon a preview-of-coming-attractions to save him from the king, but then placed him in a situation where that protection from the king required the cooperation of Lamoni.  So now it is possible to go back to v2 and read that as an enormous vote of confidence for Lamoni’s faith.  (Also interesting is that, presumably, had this confrontation taken place in the father of Lamoni’s court, Ammon would not have been able to get away–I think v2 implies that.  Does that mean that, in his father’s court, Lamoni would have crumbled?  Or does it mean the guards would have swooped in and killed Ammon anyway?)

16 Now when his father had heard these words, he was angry with him, and he drew his sword that he might smite him to the earth.

Really?  He would have killed his son over this?

17 But Ammon stood forth and said unto him: Behold, thou shalt not slay thy son; nevertheless, it were better that he should fall than thee, for behold, he has repented of his sins; but if thou shouldst fall at this time, in thine anger, thy soul could not be saved.

From the FEAST wiki:  “In verse 17 Ammon tells the King of all the land, King Lamoni’s father, that were he to die right now when he is in anger (and about to kill his innocent son) that his soul could not be saved. We see later that this King does not kill his son and that he does repent. But since when he lives he does repent, why wouldn’t he have had the same opportunity to repent were he to die?”

I like how Lamoni defended Ammon and now Ammon is defending Lamoni.  Nice partnership action there.  (Any useful parallels to the Alma/Amulek partnership?)

18 And again, it is expedient that thou shouldst forbear; for if thou shouldst slay thy son, he being an innocent man, his blood would cry from the ground to the Lord his God, for vengeance to come upon thee; and perhaps thou wouldst lose thy soul.

How do you account for the shift from “your soul couldn’t be saved” in v17 to “maybe your soul couldn’t be saved” in this verse?

Blood crying from the ground is a fairly common biblical image.  What should we learn from it?

Given that Lamoni’s dad completely rejected Lamoni’s tale of miracles and conversion, is Ammon naive here to think that v17-18 will make a difference?

Brant Gardner:  “It is interesting that the argument that Ammon uses says nothing about Lamoni, but only about the harm done to Lamoni’s father.”  Citation

19 Now when Ammon had said these words unto him, he answered him, saying: I know that if I should slay my son, that I should shed innocent blood; for it is thou that hast sought to destroy him.

Wait . . . he knew his son was innocent, but he was going to kill him anyway?

How does the “for it is thou . . .” phrase explain the rest of the verse?  (The logic here is unclear to me.)

Why do you think this verse was included in the record?  (The story works just fine without it.)

20 And he stretched forth his hand to slay Ammon. But Ammon withstood his blows, and also smote his arm that he could not use it.

Oy, what is it with Ammon and arms? He’s like a one-trick pony.  (More seriously, should we read this story as a parallel to the water of Sebus one?  Is this king no different from the sheep thieves?)  Is it significant that the king loses use of his arm, but perhaps not the arm itself?

Note that Lamoni’s dad was going to kill Ammon, but Lamoni stopped him.  Then he was going to kill Lamoni, but Ammon stopped him.  Then he went back to Ammon . . . and Ammon stopped him.  Is there any significant to all of this?

21 Now when the king saw that Ammon could slay him, he began to plead with Ammon that he would spare his life.

22 But Ammon raised his sword, and said unto him: Behold, I will smite thee except thou wilt grant unto me that my brethren may be cast out of prison.

Is it fair to threaten a leader with death if he won’t release prisoners?  Once again, I am getting a slight vibe of Ammon as manipulative.

23 Now the king, fearing he should lose his life, said: If thou wilt spare me I will grant unto thee whatsoever thou wilt ask, even to half of the kingdom.

Why are we given the king’s motive here (when it is pretty obvious)?

Herod offers the daughter of Herodias half of his kingdom (Mark 6:23).  Can we profitably compare these stories?

Why does the king make this offer, when he already knows what Ammon wants, and knows that it isn’t half of his kingdom?  (That leads me to suspect that the link to Herod is more significant, since this statement isn’t strictly necessary for the advancement of the story.)

24 Now when Ammon saw that he had wrought upon the old king according to his desire, he said unto him: If thou wilt grant that my brethren may be cast out of prison, and also that Lamoni may retain his kingdom, and that ye be not displeased with him, but grant that he may do according to his own desires in whatsoever thing he thinketh, then will I spare thee; otherwise I will smite thee to the earth.

Why is he called “the old king” here?

Again, is it fair for Ammon to make these demands?

25 Now when Ammon had said these words, the king began to rejoice because of his life.

26 And when he saw that Ammon had no desire to destroy him, and when he also saw the great love he had for his son Lamoni, he was astonished exceedingly, and said: Because this is all that thou hast desired, that I would release thy brethren, and suffer that my son Lamoni should retain his kingdom, behold, I will grant unto you that my son may retain his kingdom from this time and forever; and I will govern him no more—

What made “the great love” manifest?  (I’m thinking probably the conditions in v24, where Ammon could have just profited himself but instead chose to ask for conditions that would help Lamoni.  Note how directly this would have refuted the father of Lamoni’s position that the Nephites were just after personal gain; this perhaps would explain his great astonishment.

Note that the king recites some but not all of the conditions that Ammon gave him here–is the lacuna significant?

27 And I will also grant unto thee that thy brethren may be cast out of prison, and thou and thy brethren may come unto me, in my kingdom; for I shall greatly desire to see thee. For the king was greatly astonished at the words which he had spoken, and also at the words which had been spoken by his son Lamoni, therefore he was desirous to learn them.

Does this story recapitulate the ‘faithful servant at Sebus’ story as we see Ammon using his power for good and therefore gaining converts?

Mary Ellen Smoot:

Love must undergird everything we do.  . . . Lamoni’s father, who was king of the Lamanites, softened his heart when he saw how sincerely Ammon loved his son. Eventually Ammon’s love led to the conversion of Lamoni’s family. Oct 00 GC

28 And it came to pass that Ammon and Lamoni proceeded on their journey towards the land of Middoni. And Lamoni found favor in the eyes of the king of the land; therefore the brethren of Ammon were brought forth out of prison.

Why did Lamoni need to find favor with that king–didn’t Lamoni’s dad already guarantee the release?

29 And when Ammon did meet them he was exceedingly sorrowful, for behold they were naked, and their skins were worn exceedingly because of being bound with strong cords. And they also had suffered hunger, thirst, and all kinds of afflictions; nevertheless they were patient in all their sufferings.

Does “patient in their sufferings” imply a contrast to Alma and Amulek, who voiced serious complaints to God about their suffering a few chapters ago?

Random question:  a few chapters ago, a big point was made that they all separated to perform their work.  But here, they ended up all together.  How did that happen?

So picking up the story from their perspective, they go to serve a mission and end up suffering in prison and needing to be rescued by a fellow missionary.  What’s the moral of their story?  (Does v30 try to explain this, by saying that they just so happened to end up serving in a difficult area?)

What exactly does it mean to be patient in suffering?  That you are patient with God?

30 And, as it happened, it was their lot to have fallen into the hands of a more hardened and a more stiffnecked people; therefore they would not hearken unto their words, and they had cast them out, and had smitten them, and had driven them from house to house, and from place to place, even until they had arrived in the land of Middoni; and there they were taken and cast into prison, and bound with strong cords, and kept in prison for many days, and were delivered by Lamoni and Ammon.

What work is “as it happened” doing here?

21:3 explains the “more hardened” business.

Why weren’t they delivered by divine intervention, as Alma and Amulek were?

CHAPTER 21

1 Now when Ammon and his brethren separated themselves in the borders of the land of the Lamanites, behold Aaron took his journey towards the land which was called by the Lamanites, Jerusalem, calling it after the land of their fathers’ nativity; and it was away joining the borders of Mormon.

Are you surprised that the Lamanites named something “Jerusalem”?  (Kind of ironic, I suppose, after all that their ancestors went through to get out of Jrsm.)

Is all of this stage directions, or is it significant?

2 Now the Lamanites and the Amalekites and the people of Amulon had built a great city, which was called Jerusalem.

Amulon was chief of the priests of Noah (see Mosiah 23).

Brant Gardner:

We know very little about the history of the Amalekites. This is the first mention of this people, in the Book of Mormon, but we do know that they, like the Amulonites, were dissenters from the Nephites (see Alma 43:13). Citation

3 Now the Lamanites of themselves were sufficiently hardened, but the Amalekites and the Amulonites were still harder; therefore they did cause the Lamanites that they should harden their hearts, that they should wax strong in wickedness and their abominations.

Skousen reads “wax stronger” here.

How does one group cause another group to further harden their hearts?

Brant Gardner:

Mormon reminds us of the Amalekites and the Amulonites, both of which were peoples living among the Lamanites but with a Nephite heritage that was quite recent. For those peoples, the wounds of separation were still much newer, and their hatred of the people upon whom they had both turned their backs and previously engaged in battle must have been extreme. Citation

4 And it came to pass that Aaron came to the city of Jerusalem, and first began to preach to the Amalekites. And he began to preach to them in their synagogues, for they had built synagogues after the order of the Nehors; for many of the Amalekites and the Amulonites were after the order of the Nehors.

Interesting that the “order of Nehors” was big not only with the Nephites.

Nehor (Alma 1) was *after* the whole priests of Noah thing.  I think this verse is suggesting that Nehor’s ideas predate his appearance–as Brant Gardner says, they much have been “Nehors before Nehor.”

I’m curious about the fact that “Nehor” is plural here–why is that?

I find it most interesting that these people built a city called Jrsm and built synagogues in it, but were among the most hostile to Nephite religion.  What should we learn from this?

5 Therefore, as Aaron entered into one of their synagogues to preach unto the people, and as he was speaking unto them, behold there arose an Amalekite and began to contend with him, saying: What is that thou hast testified? Hast thou seen an angel? Why do not angels appear unto us? Behold are not this people as good as thy people?

Can we draw useful parallels to Jesus preaching in the synagogue here?

Note that these very hardened people have and attend religious services.

Had Aaron seen an angel?  (Yes, presumably, when Alma had his experience.)

Why would an Amalekite ask if Aaron had seen an angel?

What is the attitude behind “Why don’t angels appear to us?” and do we see this attitude today?

Note that the Amalekite assumes that angelic visitations are a sort of reward for goodness.  Is that true?

6 Thou also sayest, except we repent we shall perish. How knowest thou the thought and intent of our hearts? How knowest thou that we have cause to repent? How knowest thou that we are not a righteous people? Behold, we have built sanctuaries, and we do assemble ourselves together to worship God. We do believe that God will save all men.

Does Aaron know the thoughts of their hearts?

Note what evidence this Amalekite presents for being righteous:  building churches and attending them.

It seems that a key theme in inaccurate BoM belief is universal salvation.  What might we learn from this?

Why do you think so much airspace is given to these false ideas and this cross-examination of Aaron?  (I’d be pretty surprised today to find a Church publication include at any length the heckling that an anti delivered to a missionary.)

7 Now Aaron said unto him: Believest thou that the Son of God shall come to redeem mankind from their sins?

Think about v7 as an answer to v5-6.  How does that work exactly?  Why does Aaron answer his questions with a question?

8 And the man said unto him: We do not believe that thou knowest any such thing. We do not believe in these foolish traditions. We do not believe that thou knowest of things to come, neither do we believe that thy fathers and also that our fathers did know concerning the things which they spake, of that which is to come.

Why does he say “we do not believe that thou . . . thing,” when Aaron hasn’t testified to anything in v7, but just asked a question?  (In other words, why does he avoid the question?)

Why has our Amalekite interlocutor not been named?

Would the Amalekite have found any contradiction between (1) attacking Aaron for thinking he could know of things in advance (namely, that the Son of God would come) and (2) claiming that he knew that all people would be saved?

Fascinating that he says that he knows that his own “fathers” didn’t know what they were talking about–

9 Now Aaron began to open the scriptures unto them concerning the coming of Christ, and also concerning the resurrection of the dead, and that there could be no redemption for mankind save it were through the death and sufferings of Christ, and the atonement of his blood.

I think it is safe to assume, given Aaron’s tactic here, that these people thought of themselves as scripture believers.

Why do you think Mormon (presumably) omitted the actual speech that Aaron gave here and just gave us this summary instead?  (This seems a little more odd given that so much airspace was devoted to the heckler’s speech above.)

10 And it came to pass as he began to expound these things unto them they were angry with him, and began to mock him; and they would not hear the words which he spake.

How do the three responses to Aaron narrated in this verse relate to each other?

11 Therefore, when he saw that they would not hear his words, he departed out of their synagogue, and came over to a village which was called Ani-Anti, and there he found Muloki preaching the word unto them; and also Ammah and his brethren. And they contended with many about the word.

Is “contending” a good thing in this verse?

12 And it came to pass that they saw that the people would harden their hearts, therefore they departed and came over into the land of Middoni. And they did preach the word unto many, and few believed on the words which they taught.

Note that, when they don’t get a decent reception, they have a pattern of moving on.  Contrast this with Alma being told to go back to Ammonihah even though they had kicked them out.  Why the difference?  (I’m wondering, actually, if it has something to do with the covenant differences between the Nephites and Lamanites.)

13 Nevertheless, Aaron and a certain number of his brethren were taken and cast into prison, and the remainder of them fled out of the land of Middoni unto the regions round about.

Why “nevertheless”?  (This verse seems to flow logically from v12, not in opposition to it.)

Were they wimps for fleeing?

14 And those who were cast into prison suffered many things, and they were delivered by the hand of Lamoni and Ammon, and they were fed and clothed.

Wait, weren’t they delivered by the hand of Lamoni’s dad?

15 And they went forth again to declare the word, and thus they were delivered for the first time out of prison; and thus they had suffered.

This is a weird, redundant verse–why is it there?

16 And they went forth whithersoever they were led by the Spirit of the Lord, preaching the word of God in every synagogue of the Amalekites, or in every assembly of the Lamanites where they could be admitted.

Note that this is the first reference to their being led by the Spirit.  One begins to wonder if the previous leave-taking when they were not successful and imprisonment might be related to the lack of spiritual direction, especially since v17 says that the Lord “began” to bless them.  

17 And it came to pass that the Lord began to bless them, insomuch that they brought many to the knowledge of the truth; yea, they did convince many of their sins, and of the traditions of their fathers, which were not correct.

What do you make of the word “convince” in this verse?

18 And it came to pass that Ammon and Lamoni returned from the land of Middoni to the land of Ishmael, which was the land of their inheritance.

Can you make a useful comparison between Alma/Amulek and Ammon/Lamoni?

Whose “inheritance,” exactly?

19 And king Lamoni would not suffer that Ammon should serve him, or be his servant.

Why?  Was this a good thing?

20 But he caused that there should be synagogues built in the land of Ishmael; and he caused that his people, or the people who were under his reign, should assemble themselves together.

21 And he did rejoice over them, and he did teach them many things. And he did also declare unto them that they were a people who were under him, and that they were a free people, that they were free from the oppressions of the king, his father; for that his father had granted unto him that he might reign over the people who were in the land of Ishmael, and in all the land round about.

Contrast the set-up here with both King Benjamin’s reign and Mosiah’s reforms.  What do you conclude?

Note that they could be “a free people” despite the fact that they still had a king.

22 And he also declared unto them that they might have the liberty of worshiping the Lord their God according to their desires, in whatsoever place they were in, if it were in the land which was under the reign of king Lamoni.

Does this just mean that they were free to follow what Ammon had preached, or were they free to follow whatever other religious tradition they chose?

23 And Ammon did preach unto the people of king Lamoni; and it came to pass that he did teach them all things concerning things pertaining to righteousness. And he did exhort them daily, with all diligence; and they gave heed unto his word, and they were zealous for keeping the commandments of God.

Is “zealous” good or bad? (Remember Zeniff!  He was overzealous, though.)

CHAPTER 22
1 Now, as Ammon was thus teaching the people of Lamoni continually, we will return to the account of Aaron and his brethren; for after he departed from the land of Middoni he was led by the Spirit to the land of Nephi, even to the house of the king which was over all the land save it were the land of Ishmael; and he was the father of Lamoni.

Skousen reads “other brethren” here.

“We” is an extremely rare word in the scriptures.  (Note how it teams the writer and the reader.)  Why is it used here?

Why don’t we ever get a name for king Lamoni’s father?  (That sure would make things easier!)

We already know that this king was the father of Lamoni; why mention it again?

“Continually” is a really interesting word to use here, given that he was passed out cold for awhile.

In what sense are we “returning” to the account of Aaron, when the last chapter was about Aaron?  Is the juxtaposition of the stories meant to teach something in addition to the content of the stories?

Brant Gardner:

As we noted in the story of Zeniff, it appears that the land of Nephi was populated with many who were lineally Nephite, but politically Lamanite. This may explain some of the great antipathy of the father of Lamoni towards the Nephites. We see through multiple examples in the Book of Mormon that those who are most vehemently anti-Nephite are those who had once been Nephite. Citation

Fascinating that we were specifically told that the Lord was keeping Ammon away from the land of Nephi, even to the house of the king, but that the Spirit was leading Aaron to precisely the same place.

2 And it came to pass that he went in unto him into the king’s palace, with his brethren, and bowed himself before the king, and said unto him: Behold, O king, we are the brethren of Ammon, whom thou hast delivered out of prison.

3 And now, O king, if thou wilt spare our lives, we will be thy servants. And the king said unto them: Arise, for I will grant unto you your lives, and I will not suffer that ye shall be my servants; but I will insist that ye shall administer unto me; for I have been somewhat troubled in mind because of the generosity and the greatness of the words of thy brother Ammon; and I desire to know the cause why he has not come up out of Middoni with thee.

I love how they took a leaf out of Ammon’s playbook in asking to be the servants of a king.  In what other situations might we want to model this idea?

Note how closely this story is paralleling Ammon’s:  you show up and offer to be the king’s servant.  (But note that Lamoni’s dad does not take them up on the offer.)

Lamoni’s dad makes a distinction between being a servant and administering here.

His question seems fair–he had requested more time with Ammon and didn’t get it.

We know that Aaron and Co. got terrible receptions in the other cities they visited; we don’t know if they made the offer to be servants there, or if this is a teaching technique that they recently learned from Ammon.

How can words be “generous”?  (Or maybe I am understanding that phrase wrong, and “of the words” only describes “greatness” and not “generosity.”)

4 And Aaron said unto the king: Behold, the Spirit of the Lord has called him another way; he has gone to the land of Ishmael, to teach the people of Lamoni.

Is Aaron making stuff up here (at the end of the last chapter, it says Ammon went back to Ishmael, but it doesn’t say why)?

5 Now the king said unto them: What is this that ye have said concerning the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, this is the thing which doth trouble me.

Brant Gardner:

Mormon’s editorial process necessarily leaves out certain pieces of information. The father of Lamoni is interested in what Aaron has to say because of his experience with Ammon. This verse makes it appear that one of the points on which the over-king has questions is about the Spirit of the Lord. This would appear to be a phrase that he had learned in connection with Ammon. Our record, however, never tells of any conversation including the phrase “Spirit of the Lord” between Ammon and the over-king. Nevertheless, we may assume that it was contained in the explanations among Ammon, Lamoni and his father. This Spirit of the Lord was instrumental in moving Lamoni from unbeliever to believer, and it is most likely this context that has the over-king most curious as to what happened to his son. Therefore Aaron begins with a simple statement addressing Ammon’s current location, and the king focuses on the phrase that is important to him, and likely the reason that he has allowed the Nephites into his court and still refused them as servants. Citation

6 And also, what is this that Ammon said—If ye will repent ye shall be saved, and if ye will not repent, ye shall be cast off at the last day?

The meaning of a statement like this seems pretty obvious to us.  What do you think was in the background here that made this statement incomprehensible to Lamoni’s dad?

7 And Aaron answered him and said unto him: Believest thou that there is a God? And the king said: I know that the Amalekites say that there is a God, and I have granted unto them that they should build sanctuaries, that they may assemble themselves together to worship him. And if now thou sayest there is a God, behold I will believe.

This strikes me as somewhat of an odd question to ask–one presumes by the fact that Lamoni’s dad has killed neither Ammon nor Lamoni nor Aaron that he was convinced that there was (at least) a God.  So why might Aaron have asked this?

I’m struck in this section of the BoM how frequently the questions that investigators ask are responded to not with an answer but with another question.  Why was this done?  What might we learn from this?  In what situations might we want to model this?

Fascinating that those super-hard-hearted Amalekites were known for claiming a belief in God and asking for permission to worship and to build places of worship.

This whole conversation is weird to me . . . who says, “if you say so, I’ll believe”?  He seems very, very tepid in his belief.

Brant Gardner suggests that Lamoni’s dad might have been polytheistic, making the addition of another god no big deal.

8 And now when Aaron heard this, his heart began to rejoice, and he said: Behold, assuredly as thou livest, O king, there is a God.

Was this the right response for Aaron to have, given the extreme tepidness of the statement in v7?  (After all, it isn’t like he passed out because he was overcome by the Spirit like some people we know . . .)  I do think that Aaron’s recognition of the timidness of the confession in v7 is shown as Aaron here feels the need to reiterate the existence of God.

Interesting that Aaron would tie (at least rhetorically) the existence of God to the existence of the king here.

9 And the king said: Is God that Great Spirit that brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem?

Note that the implication of the king’s statement is that they believe that “the Great Spirit” was the god of their fathers.  Interesting insight into Lamanite religion at this point in time . . .

10 And Aaron said unto him: Yea, he is that Great Spirit, and he created all things both in heaven and in earth. Believest thou this?

Note how very similar this conversation is to the one between Ammon and Lamoni.  What can you conclude from comparing them?

Again, I have some concerns about calling God the “Great Spirit.”  Does this not open the door to confusion, as they might import all of their beliefs about the Great Spirit to their belief in God?  Why was it OK for Aaron and Ammon to teach this?  Is there any relevance of this practice to our thinking about missionary work today?

11 And he said: Yea, I believe that the Great Spirit created all things, and I desire that ye should tell me concerning all these things, and I will believe thy words.

What do you make of his willingness to believe things he hadn’t even heard yet?

(Note that his son was concerned about the creation of things in the heaven, but Lamoni’s dad apparently had no issue with that.)

12 And it came to pass that when Aaron saw that the king would believe his words, he began from the creation of Adam, reading the scriptures unto the king—how God created man after his own image, and that God gave him commandments, and that because of transgression, man had fallen.

If you take this fairly literally, you conclude that God gave Adam commandments (note the plural) before the transgression.

What do you make of the complete elimination of Eve from this account?

Is the presumption that these people did not have this record?  Or that they interpreted it differently?

Does “after his own image” differ from “in his own image”?

13 And Aaron did expound unto him the scriptures from the creation of Adam, laying the fall of man before him, and their carnal state and also the plan of redemption, which was prepared from the foundation of the world, through Christ, for all whosoever would believe on his name.

I’m trying to figure out the relationship between v12 and v13 (restatement, chronological, summary, or what)–does it hinge on the difference between reading the scripture and expounding the scriptures.

What does the word “laying” convey to you?

What does “carnal state” mean here?  What does it teach you about the fall?

When was “the foundation of the world”?

14 And since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself; but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for their sins, through faith and repentance, and so forth; and that he breaketh the bands of death, that the grave shall have no victory, and that the sting of death should be swallowed up in the hopes of glory; and Aaron did expound all these things unto the king.

Was is it about the fall that means that people couldn’t merit anything of themselves?  Could they merit it before the fall?  And what does it actually mean to merit something of yourself?

I like the parallelism of “sting of death” and “hopes of glory.”

Why do you think Aaron chose this topic to be the focal point for his teaching of the king, when the king had said he was troubled about the role of the Spirit?

What’s the “and so forth”?

I think an undercurrent here is that the atonement makes no sense without the fall.

15 And it came to pass that after Aaron had expounded these things unto him, the king said: What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.

Is the king asking a whole bunch of different questions, or is he asking the same question in a bunch of different ways?

What do you see in the king’s attitude here that you should model?

What does the image of a wicked spirit rooted out of the breast suggest to you?

Note that before, he offered half his kingdom to Ammon to save his life.  Here, he offers his to give up his entire kingdom for eternal life.

I like the emphasis on joy here.

Note the profound conversion that has taken place in this case, based on the reading and expounding of the scriptures.

16 But Aaron said unto him: If thou desirest this thing, if thou wilt bow down before God, yea, if thou wilt repent of all thy sins, and will bow down before God, and call on his name in faith, believing that ye shall receive, then shalt thou receive the hope which thou desirest.

I can’t help but suspect that, had Ammon been here, he would have been thrilled with the offer from v15, taken the entire kingdom, and turned it into a Nephite theocracy.

Is bowing down a symbol of repentance, or of worship, or of something else?  Is it meant to be read literally?  (See the next verse!)

17 And it came to pass that when Aaron had said these words, the king did bow down before the Lord, upon his knees; yea, even he did prostrate himself upon the earth, and cried mightily, saying:

18 O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day. And now when the king had said these words, he was struck as if he were dead.

Are you surprised by the hesitation after he had told Aaron that he would believe everything that he said?

Note that Aaron did not tell him to pray that God would make himself known–Aaron told him to repent.

We usually take the “I’ll give away all of my sins to know you” as a lovely thing (and it is), but it is also, in its context, a conditional promise (“if you make yourself known to me”).  Is it right to put that kind of a condition on repentance?

Is the striking here the same thing that happened in Lamoni’s court, or a different phenomenon?

Brant Gardner points out that this verse is a great illustration of the Alma 32 principle of having only a desire to believe, as manifested by the king’s minimal, tentative faith in this verse.

Note the shift from being willing before to give up his kingdom, to here being willing to give up his sins.

19 And it came to pass that his servants ran and told the queen all that had happened unto the king. And she came in unto the king; and when she saw him lay as if he were dead, and also Aaron and his brethren standing as though they had been the cause of his fall, she was angry with them, and commanded that her servants, or the servants of the king, should take them and slay them.

This is so similar to the Ammon/Lamoni scene, but here, the queen reacts differently.  What can you learn from comparing them?

20 Now the servants had seen the cause of the king’s fall, therefore they durst not lay their hands on Aaron and his brethren; and they pled with the queen saying: Why commandest thou that we should slay these men, when behold one of them is mightier than us all? Therefore we shall fall before them.

So these servants are probably the counterpart to Abish in the other story.  What do they do the same as and different from what she did?

21 Now when the queen saw the fear of the servants she also began to fear exceedingly, lest there should some evil come upon her. And she commanded her servants that they should go and call the people, that they might slay Aaron and his brethren.

Does this seem logical to you?  (Because it doesn’t to me.)

The queen performs the same role Abish did (that is, she gathers together people from outside the scene), but motive and knowledge of the situation and her desired result are rather different.  What do you make of this partial parallel?

22 Now when Aaron saw the determination of the queen, he, also knowing the hardness of the hearts of the people, feared lest that a multitude should assemble themselves together, and there should be a great contention and a disturbance among them; therefore he put forth his hand and raised the king from the earth, and said unto him: Stand. And he stood upon his feet, receiving his strength.

This verse reminds us that Aaron has been standing there the whole time without intervening in the situation.  Why might he have been silent?

Interesting that his fears here are precisely what did happen when Abish gathered people together to witness the scene.

The parallels between Abish and Aaron are quite strong:  faced with (the threat of) contention, they touch the fallen one to raise them to end the conflict.  What might you learn from comparing Abish and Aaron?  Note that Aaron speaks (“Stand”) but Abish did not.  Why might this be?

23 Now this was done in the presence of the queen and many of the servants. And when they saw it they greatly marveled, and began to fear. And the king stood forth, and began to minister unto them. And he did minister unto them, insomuch that his whole household were converted unto the Lord.

Skousen reads “his servants” here, which seems a little awkward to say “the queen and many of his servants,” but presumably the queen and king had different servants, and the reference is to the king’s servants his.

Wait–hadn’t they already begun to fear before this?

What does minister mean in this verse?  (Note that it results in conversion.)

Why do you think the story of this queen’s conversion is not narrated?  (Interesting inverse parallel with Lamoni’s wife here . . .)

24 Now there was a multitude gathered together because of the commandment of the queen, and there began to be great murmurings among them because of Aaron and his brethren.

Note the parallel to the people who were contentious when Abish gathered them.

25 But the king stood forth among them and administered unto them. And they were pacified towards Aaron and those who were with him.

Note the difference from the Ammon/Abish story:  in that story, the people saw the raising that Abish initiated and were placated; here, that result comes from the administering of the king.  What might you learn from the difference?

26 And it came to pass that when the king saw that the people were pacified, he caused that Aaron and his brethren should stand forth in the midst of the multitude, and that they should preach the word unto them.

27 And it came to pass that the king sent a proclamation throughout all the land, amongst all his people who were in all his land, who were in all the regions round about, which was bordering even to the sea, on the east and on the west, and which was divided from the land of Zarahemla by a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east even to the sea west, and round about on the borders of the seashore, and the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla, through the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon, running from the east towards the west—and thus were the Lamanites and the Nephites divided.

Why the geography lesson here?

A little note on geographic terms.

Haha, it sounds like Mormon was going to let us know more about the proclamation’s contents, but got on a tangent about geography and lost his train of thought.

28 Now, the more idle part of the Lamanites lived in the wilderness, and dwelt in tents; and they were spread through the wilderness on the west, in the land of Nephi; yea, and also on the west of the land of Zarahemla, in the borders by the seashore, and on the west in the land of Nephi, in the place of their fathers’ first inheritance, and thus bordering along by the seashore.

Skousen reads “lived in tents” here.

This is interesting; normally, in the ancient world, we’d think of the more idle people living in cities and exploiting the labor of rural farmers.  Here, the more industrious people apparently live in cities, with more idle nomadic-type people in the wilderness.

Why is this verse in the record?

29 And also there were many Lamanites on the east by the seashore, whither the Nephites had driven them. And thus the Nephites were nearly surrounded by the Lamanites; nevertheless the Nephites had taken possession of all the northern parts of the land bordering on the wilderness, at the head of the river Sidon, from the east to the west, round about on the wilderness side; on the north, even until they came to the land which they called Bountiful.

This is very interesting verse, because it hints that the Nephites had “driven” the Lamanites, an action which (fairly or not) might have been perceived by the Lamanites as stealing their land.

30 And it bordered upon the land which they called Desolation, it being so far northward that it came into the land which had been peopled and been destroyed, of whose bones we have spoken, which was discovered by the people of Zarahemla, it being the place of their first landing.

31 And they came from there up into the south wilderness. Thus the land on the northward was called Desolation, and the land on the southward was called Bountiful, it being the wilderness which is filled with all manner of wild animals of every kind, a part of which had come from the land northward for food.

32 And now, it was only the distance of a day and a half’s journey for a Nephite, on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea; and thus the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward.

Skousen reads “line between the land Bountiful and . . .” here.

Note on “day and a half” here.

33 And it came to pass that the Nephites had inhabited the land Bountiful, even from the east unto the west sea, and thus the Nephites in their wisdom, with their guards and their armies, had hemmed in the Lamanites on the south, that thereby they should have no more possession on the north, that they might not overrun the land northward.

34 Therefore the Lamanites could have no more possessions only in the land of Nephi, and the wilderness round about. Now this was wisdom in the Nephites—as the Lamanites were an enemy to them, they would not suffer their afflictions on every hand, and also that they might have a country whither they might flee, according to their desires.

Note that we began with the king sending out a proclamation and detoured into an enormous discussion of geography.  Was this a total lapse on Mormon’s part, or is there a real connection between the two topics.  Note also that it isn’t just geography, but a discussion of Nephite defenses.

Brant Gardner:

It may have been seen as wisdom on the part of the Nephites to protect their territory from a general Lamanite intrusion, but this “wisdom” was shortly to lead to pressures that mounted into escalated warfare. The Nephites held a respected territory with many defensive options, but apparently also stood directly in the path of the desired expansion of the Lamanites, a geographical push described in the Book of Mormon.  Citation

35 And now I, after having said this, return again to the account of Ammon and Aaron, Omner and Himni, and their brethren.

General thoughts:

(1) A big theme in the missionary work of both Ammon and Aaron is service.  Why is this so?  (Note that this is not, as far as we have recorded, true of Alma and Amulek’s missionary experiences.)

(2) I think these chapters merit close analysis as guides for missionary work.  Not just regarding the idea of service, as just mentioned, but also noting the role of dialogue and questioning (as opposed to lecturing) and other aspects.

(3) The similarities between Ammon’s audience with a king and Aaron’s are profound, but there are also significant differences.  It is hard to read this without thinking that we are supposed to be comparing the two stories.  If you do, what do you learn?

(4) There’s a lot of people falling over as if dead in these chapters.  Why? (death and rebirth imagery, cultural custom, visionary experience, type of Christ)

(5) This is pretty much the only time women are major characters in the BoM.  Why is that?  (Two questions there:  Why are they normally MIA?  Why are they here?)  One theory:  note that every time any scripture has a story of the raising of the dead, women are key characters in the story.  While these stories are not raisings-from-the-dead per se, they are in that mold.  Perhaps that explains why women are present here.  Also, several people have noted that the only time we get major female characters in the BoM, they are Lamanites.  What’s up with that?  Joe Spencer suggests here that a main BoM theme is found in Jacob 3:5-8, where the Nephites are told that the Lamanites will not be destroyed because they treat their women better than the Nephites do. He links this to Moroni 9, where the Lamanites are treating women terribly, but, our narrator notes, they are not treating them as badly as the Nephites are (!).  Orson Scott Card writes:

It is telling, perhaps, that the only Book of Mormon culture in which mothers play an important role is not the culture of the writers of the book — not Nephite culture. Rather when two thousand young soldiers give credit to their mothers for having taught them courage and righteousness, they are products of Lamanite culture. And, again, it is within Lamanite culture where the queen of the Lamanites plays an important role in the conversion of her people, and where a servant named Abish saves the lives of the Lamanite king and queen who lie in a trance, overwhelmed by the Spirit. Remove these Lamanite cultural expressions from the story, and you find the Book of Mormon quite startling in its omission of women from the events of Nephite history. Citation

Card’s thinking is similar in some ways to Pearson’s “Could Feminism Have Saved the Nephites?” More on women in the BoM here.

(6)  Excursus: Women in the Book of Mormon

Bible names 188 women; the Book of Mormon 6 (3 from Bible). Why are there so few women in the Book of Mormon?

(a) there is a link between militarism and anti-feminism; remember that the Book of Mormon teaches us what not to do

(b) there’s more than you think (about 150 verses) and what there is is really positive, not limiting (2 Nephi 26:33, Mosiah 5:7, Alma 19:10 and 32:23)–no household codes, no Eve blaming, no blaming women for men’s sexual misdeeds

(c) writers were limited by their own culture (see Mormon 9:31)

(d) we can choose to read women into the story

–by forcing women to read men’s stories, you avoid the Mary and Martha ghetto

–read 2 Nephi 9:21 and 10:16: do these imply always inclusive, or only as mentioned?

–provides opportunity for women to ‘enlarge the soul’ with new perspective

–so much of religion is more woman?friendly

(e) short answer: “we don’t know”

(f) it isn’t fair to impose our concerns on the text

(g) public sphere/private sphere issue

(h) women are used as an ‘index of social health’ in the Book of Mormon–is this a good thing?

(i) the primary concern of the Book of Mormon is to bring people to Christ (but what about women (and men) who find the text alienating?)

(j) is this question really important or is it a veiled reference to women in the Church today?

(7) The recurring theme of desire:  Joe Spencer points out that there are three occasions where we see that Ammon’s desire perfectly fits his circumstances (17:22-23 and 18:21-22 and 19:6-7).  I suspect there’s a pattern here, but I am not sure what it is meant to imply.

(8) Theme of power.  Richard Dilworth Rust writes:

The missionary endeavor of the sons of Mosiah, found in a single chapter in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon (Alma 17 through 20 in the current edition), is one of the most interesting stories in the Book of Mormon. By looking at this narrative as a single story, one discovers that its center is the kingdom of God in contrast with the kingdom of man, the power of God in contrast with that of man. It shows the ideal power of the missionary. Mormon’s headnote underlines this theme: The sons of Mosiah reject their “rights to the kingdom” (an earthly kingdom with its accompanying power) “for the word of God” and go up to the land of Nephi “to preach to the Lamanites.” There they experience “sufferings and deliverance.” This acceptance of God’s power and denial of earthly glory is emphasized in the first paragraph of the 1830 edition. The sons of Mosiah, we are told, “taught with power and authority, even as with the power and authority of God, . . . having refused the kingdom which their father was desirous to confer upon them” (cf. Alma 17:3, 6). From this point on, the word power becomes a repeated drum beat throughout the narrative. Citation

Rust’s entire article is great; he shows how frequently the word “power” is used in the Ammon/Lamoni story, and how Ammon’s divestiture of royal power opened up room for him to exercise God’s power.  Rust doesn’t go in this direction, but I’d add that the showcasing of people from various social strata (servant, woman, Lamanite, etc.) expands on the theme of power, especially when Ammon announces that the Lamanite queen has more faith than any Nephite.  The idea of power is also significant as key players lose all of their power (by falling as if dead).  This then nuances our thinking about Abish, who is the only main character who doesn’t lose power over her body.  Rust also points out that not only did Ammon refuse Mosiah’s kingdom, he also refuses Lamoni’s kingdom (through offer of marriage to his daughter, presumably), and then, later, half the kingdom from the king over all the land (20:23).

(9) Could you read the entire Ammon story with Ammon as a type of Christ? (He gives up his inheritance, chooses to be a servant, protects the innocent, [symbolically] dies, has ‘news’ of the event spread by a woman, etc.)  If Ammon is a type of Christ, what does that make Abish, his female counterpart?

(10) We get so busy with Abish and the queen that it is easy to forget the other woman in this story:  the daughter of Lamoni offered to–and refused by–Ammon.  How should her presence influence our interpretation of the other women’s stories in this section?  (I think we might, for example, note that her [high] status makes her a non-actor, whereas Abish’s [low] status does not stand in the way of her key role in the story.)

(11) Before we get the story of the missionary labors of the sons of Mosiah, Mormon (presumably, perhaps Alma) gives us a pre-summary in 17:5:  “Now these are the circumstances which attended them in their journeyings, for they had many afflictions; they did suffer much, both in body and in mind, such as hunger, thirst and fatigue, and also much labor in the spirit.”  Is this how you would have summarized Ammon’s missionary experience?  Why or why not?

(12) Good reflections on this story here.  Particularly read bottom of p22-top of p23, where he explores the larger-than-life aspects of Ammon, as compared to several biblical heroes.

 

 

8 Responses to BMGD #25 Alma 17-22

  1. J Town on June 26, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Good stuff, as always.

    Regarding 18:23 –

    “It feels like a major agency violation to me (after all, don’t we often say that the reason the gold plates aren’t demonstrated on TV [well, that's what we used to say, now we'd probably say on a YouTube video] is because it would destroy the agency of those who would then really have no choice but to believe)?”

    Is this a common belief? If so, I really don’t know why. It doesn’t violate agency (the ability to choose) at all. Many people choose to disbelieve regardless of physical evidence. We especially treat with skepticism things that we see on TV or the internet. But even in the scriptures, when faced with overwhelming physical evidence, we see that many will still choose to disbelieve. Laman and Lemuel SAW AN ANGEL, for goodness sake, and their ability to choose was obviously unimpaired.

    There is always a choice to believe. I tend to think that one reason the Lord does not simply show everything to all people is because it takes away potential blessings. The Lord said to the Nephites in 3 Nephi 12 that those who believed in the words of the people who testified of Christ would be more blessed than those who believed after they had seen Him. Likeise, even seeing the golden plates still allows for agency and the exercise of faith.

  2. Julie M. Smith on June 26, 2012 at 10:07 am

    Good point, J Town.

  3. Robert Ricks on June 26, 2012 at 10:40 am

    Julie, I think that reading 17:1 and 17:2 as Mormon’s abridgment, transitioning into the body of Alma’s record is pretty straightforward. Either that, or Alma is an illeist, which doesn’t seem impossible either.

  4. Stephanie on June 26, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    Thanks, Julie. I crib shamelessly from your notes every other week.

  5. Amira on June 26, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    Julie, I’ve also wondered why Alma 19 is so different from the rest of the BOM. One of my theories is that Mormon was using Abish’s own record/writings. Of course I can’t know whether that’s true, but it makes sense to me in many ways.

  6. Raymond Takashi Swenson on June 27, 2012 at 8:20 am

    While the term “Great Spirit” sounds like a European depiction of American Indian divinity, it would be very similar in meaning to the conventional term used for “God” in the Japanese language Bible and Book of Mormon. Aside from the imported concepts of Buddhism, Japanese native religion is a form of Animism that sees “spirits” or “kami” in natural phenomena, such as Mount Fuji. The usual way of addressing another person politely is with their name followed by the honorific term “san”. A great, superior personage is referred to by their name, followed by the superior honorific term “sama”. It is used similarly to the way Europeans have called impirtant rulers “the Great”.

    When faced with translating the term “God” into Japanese concepts, Christian missionaries adapted the term for “spirit” and added the superior honorific “sama”, so the standard term for God is “kamisama” (thrte is no capitalization in Japanese script”) which is literally “most honored spirit” or more crudely “great spirit”.

    The Lamanite religious beliefs depicted in these chapters seem to be pretty degraded from Judaism and the Nephite Christianity, but the concept of a panoply of spiritual beings, among whom is one Great Spirit, sounds similar to the pre-islamic beliefs of the Arabs.

    I think the issue is not the use of the term Great Spirit but our own overlay of cultiral denigration of what is a perfectly good term for God, one that is used by the million Christians in Japan.

  7. Julie M. Smith on June 27, 2012 at 9:36 am

    I should have included this cross-reference:

    17:12: Ammon’s account of this event is in 26:24-27, and it presents a rather different portrait of events.

  8. RivertonPaul on July 7, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    Of note is that the Book of Mormon only uses the term “flocks” not sheep. Too often interpreting scripture based on our own preconceived notions, I think we simply assume the flocks were sheep.