BMGD #26 Alma 23-29

July 2, 2012 | 10 comments
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CHAPTER 23

1 Behold, now it came to pass that the king of the Lamanites sent a proclamation among all his people, that they should not lay their hands on Ammon, or Aaron, or Omner, or Himni, nor either of their brethren who should go forth preaching the word of God, in whatsoever place they should be, in any part of their land.

“Nor either of their brethren” is odd–it makes it sound as if there were only two more preachers.  Is that what was intended here?

2 Yea, he sent a decree among them, that they should not lay their hands on them to bind them, or to cast them into prison; neither should they spit upon them, nor smite them, nor cast them out of their synagogues, nor scourge them; neither should they cast stones at them, but that they should have free access to their houses, and also their temples, and their sanctuaries.

I find the laundry list here somewhat odd–why do you think all of these items were mentioned individually instead of a generic “leave them alone”?

The part about not casting them out of the synagogues is interesting–it’s one thing to say “don’t bug them” and quite another to say “give them a microphone.”  (This reading assumes that the “their” before synagogues refers to the Lamanites and not to the missionaries.  We could make the same argument about “their” houses, temples, and sanctuaries.)

3 And thus they might go forth and preach the word according to their desires, for the king had been converted unto the Lord, and all his household; therefore he sent his proclamation throughout the land unto his people, that the word of God might have no obstruction, but that it might go forth throughout all the land, that his people might be convinced concerning the wicked traditions of their fathers, and that they might be convinced that they were all brethren, and that they ought not to murder, nor to plunder, nor to steal, nor to commit adultery, nor to commit any manner of wickedness.

Note that the king of the Lamanites has been converted and is now permitting unhampered missionary work in his entire kingdom–this is quite the tweak to our usual Nephites=good, Lamanites=bad reading of the BoM.

Why do you think the idea that they are all brethren has such a prominent place?

Is the “wicked tradition” in question that they were not all brethren, or is this two separate things?

They are hard to recognize, but inherited wicked traditions are super-important to root out.

Why do you think these particular sins were highlighted?  With the exception of the idea of everyone being brethren, the focus here is clearly on acts and not on beliefs–why is that?  Why do you think the coming Messiah wasn’t mentioned here?  Are there any other “basics” you might have expected to be included here that weren’t?

4 And now it came to pass that when the king had sent forth this proclamation, that Aaron and his brethren went forth from city to city, and from one house of worship to another, establishing churches, and consecrating priests and teachers throughout the land among the Lamanites, to preach and to teach the word of God among them; and thus they began to have great success.

In almost all BoM uses, a “proclamation” is sent out by a king or political leader; it is not a religious instrument.

Does this verse imply that “preaching” and “teaching” are not the same thing?  Does the consecration of “priests and teachers” parallel “to preach and to teach,” perhaps implying that priests preached and teachers taught?

I think the “and thus . . .” phrase implies that the political situation was directly responsible for their level of success.  What are the implications of this idea?

5 And thousands were brought to the knowledge of the Lord, yea, thousands were brought to believe in the traditions of the Nephites; and they were taught the records and prophecies which were handed down even to the present time.

Again, this is an interesting nuance to our usual picture of hard-hearted Lamanites who don’t believe because of the traditions of their fathers.  Why were these Lamanites able to overcome the prejudicial beliefs of their fathers?

Our last mention of “traditions” was the wicked traditions in v3.  Here, we have “the traditions of the Nephites.”  What does this suggest to you about traditions?  (My thought:  everyone has them.  Be sure yours are good ones.)

We usually think about the bad traditions when the word “traditions” is used in the BoM, but this verse clearly has room for “good” traditions of the Nephites.

6 And as sure as the Lord liveth, so sure as many as believed, or as many as were brought to the knowledge of the truth, through the preaching of Ammon and his brethren, according to the spirit of revelation and of prophecy, and the power of God working miracles in them—yea, I say unto you, as the Lord liveth, as many of the Lamanites as believed in their preaching, and were converted unto the Lord, never did fall away.

The beginning of this verse sounds like an oath formula–was that intentional?  If so, why was it used here?  (Note that the phrase is repeated later in the verse as well.)

This verse sounds as if “as many as were brought to the knowledge of the truth” is a correction for “as many as believed.”  Is that the best way to interpret this verse?  If so, what does it suggest?  (Brant Gardner reminds us that we don’t know if this correction [if it is a correction] was made by Alma, Mormon, or Joseph Smith.)

What exactly is “the spirit of revelation and prophecy”?

Why does this verse highlight Ammon and not refer to all of the others who were laboring?

“I” and “you” are fairly rare in the scriptures–why do you think they were used here?  Given that the previous verse referred to the author’s “present time” (and not ours), who do you think the “you” is in this verse?

A 100% retention rate is outside of our experience. The idea of thousands of converts with no one falling away is very surprising.  Should we read this as hyperbole?  Either way, can you suss out what led to this unusually faithful state of affairs?  (Note what a huge violation this is of “the pride cycle” that we frequently talk about in the BoM.)

Brant Gardner on why none of them fell away:

One of the important things to remember is the vast distance that the Lamanites had to cross to believe in the Nephite gospel. They not only had to learn and love a new gospel, they had to learn and love a new God. They not only had to accept God, but they had to undo centuries of enculturation that taught them to hate the Nephites and anything Nephite. Under these circumstances, only those who powerfully felt the spirit would have any motivation to change. It is doubtful that there were social reasons why any of the Lamanites converted to the word of God. It is doubtful that any of them converted because their neighbors had. Each of them had to make an individual choice that was difficult, and could be made only through the compelling power of the Spirit. That great a change, with so great a manifestation of the Spirit is not only something not undertaken lightly, it is also unforgettable. At times it appears that the reward for the larger sacrifice to join the church is accompanied by an equally larger confirmation by the Spirit of the truth of that action. Citation

Elaine S. Dalton:

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

7 For they became a righteous people; they did lay down the weapons of their rebellion, that they did not fight against God any more, neither against any of their brethren.

To what does “weapons of rebellion” refer in this verse?  Is it literal or metaphorical?  If metaphorical, what does it represent?

8 Now, these are they who were converted unto the Lord:

9 The people of the Lamanites who were in the land of Ishmael;

10 And also of the people of the Lamanites who were in the land of Middoni;

11 And also of the people of the Lamanites who were in the city of Nephi;

12 And also of the people of the Lamanites who were in the land of Shilom, and who were in the land of Shemlon, and in the city of Lemuel, and in the city of Shimnilom.

13 And these are the names of the cities of the Lamanites which were converted unto the Lord; and these are they that laid down the weapons of their rebellion, yea, all their weapons of war; and they were all Lamanites.

Compare this verse with v7:  How is it the same and how is it different?  To what do you attribute the differences?

Thinking about v9-12, do you find it plausible that every single person in a city would convert?  (What happened to free agency?)  Brant Gardner’s take on this:

We must take care in the way these verses are read. It would be simple to suppose that all of the residents of these cities were converted to the gospel. That cannot be the case. First, it is probable that the phrase that leads off most verses, “and also of the people…” refers to the conversion of some of the people of each city. Simple experience tells us that it would be unusual in the extreme for every single resident in these cities to covert. Secondly, the events that will be described in the next few chapters do not read as through they could possibly refer to the combined inhabitants of six cities. Though Mormon never tells us that the converted Lamanites migrate to a single location, all of the subsequent events imply that single location, and later a population small enough that they might be given a single land, and by implication a single city, when they join the Nephites. At this point, we should therefore understand that only some of these people were converted, and that they left their native cities to form a new community which Mormon did not describe. Citation

Compare Ammon’s mission up to this point with Alma’s.  What might you conclude?

Note the last line:  “they were all Lamanites.”  I think the (completely unnecessary–we already know this) line is here in order to give extra emphasis to the idea that these people were Lamanites (duh).  Why might that be so significant?

14 And the Amalekites were not converted, save only one; neither were any of the Amulonites; but they did harden their hearts, and also the hearts of the Lamanites in that part of the land wheresoever they dwelt, yea, and all their villages and all their cities.

One suspects that there were cultural differences between the cities that led to some being more receptive to the gospel than to others.  (Elder Snow visited our stake conference and said–and I know we aren’t supposed to share notes from these things, but I’m doing it anyway–that when he was a missionary in Germany in the late 60s, the running joke was that they should knock on as many doors as they could, because for every knock, someone would be baptized . . . in Mexico.  It make me think about the differing cultural factors that even today lead to one area being super-receptive to the gospel and others being a barren ground for missionaries.)

I want the story of the one Amalekite who was converted!

Note that the Amalekites and Amulonites were break-away Nephites (see Alma 21).

15 Therefore, we have named all the cities of the Lamanites in which they did repent and come to the knowledge of the truth, and were converted.

Who is the “we” in this verse?

There’s a lot of ink spilled here to let us know which cities were converted.  Why was this included in the record?

16 And now it came to pass that the king and those who were converted were desirous that they might have a name, that thereby they might be distinguished from their brethren; therefore the king consulted with Aaron and many of their priests, concerning the name that they should take upon them, that they might be distinguished.

Why did they want a name?  (Note that they could easily have been named by the cities they were from.  Or, they could have just called themselves Nephites.) Does this happen today?

Ironic that v3 made a point about them learning that they were all brethren, but this verse makes a point of the fact that pretty much the first thing that they wanted to do was get a name to distinguish themselves from their brethren.  How might you explain this paradox?

Why would the king have consulted with Aaron and others and not just picked a name himself (“I think the Lamanite First Ward sounds nice, no?”)?  Does it imply that there is some ritual or sacred significance to the name?

17 And it came to pass that they called their names Anti-Nephi-Lehies; and they were called by this name and were no more called Lamanites.

Skousen thinks “names” should be “name.”  (That what the original, printer’s, and 1830 BoM had.  The 1852 has “names.”)

What does this name mean?  Why do you think it was chosen?

We think of “anti” as meaning against, but I’ve seen LDS argue that “nty” is an Egyptian term meaning “one of,” which makes sense in this context.

Jim F. writes, “In Commentary on the Book of Mormon Reynolds and Sjodahl suggest that the word anti seems to have meant “hill” or “region of hills.” Many Book of Mormon scholars have suggested that the “Nephi-Lehi” part of the name refers to the lands of Nephi and Lehi rather than to their descendants. However Hugh Nibley tells us that the IndoEuropean root is relevant:”to imitate” or “face-to-face” (though he doesn’t explain why the IndoEuropean root rather than the Semitic root is relevant—Teachings of the Book of Mormon, vol. 2). On that evidence,”Anti-Nephi-Lehies” could mean “those who imitate Nephi and Lehi” or it could mean “those who bring together the Nephite and Lehite traditions.” Kent P. Jackson suggests that the name means “descendants of Lehi who are not descendants of Nephi” (Studies in Scripture, vol. 7).”

Note that they will change to “the people of Ammon” (NB:  not “the people of the sons of Mosiah”) pretty soon. Does the change indicate that there was something lacking in this name?

Sam Brown makes a most interesting suggestion here:  that anti means anti.  (When we see “anti-Christ” in the BoM, we don’t begin digging around for explanations–we take “anti” at face value!)  He suggests that the ANLs take this name on temporarily as a sort of penance, a recognition that they have, in fact, been working against Lehi and Nephi.  I have no idea if this is correct or not, but I love the idea that he takes the text at face value and works from there, instead of assuming that a word doesn’t mean what it means.  (Note that if anti doesn’t have the normal connotation of anti, you have to assume that the translation is poor.  Now, I don’t think Joseph Smith gave us a perfect translation–I don’t think a ‘perfect translation’ is possible–but I do think we should give him the benefit of the doubt.)  Sam points out that the ANLs changed their name (to the people of Ammon) once the Nephites welcomed them in–suggesting that the name “ANL” had done its job, so they didn’t need it anymore.

Kevin Barney suggests here that ANL might mean “the men of Nephi and Lehi.”  More on the name here (with a good summary of Royal Skousen on the issue) and another idea here.

It is easy to get so caught up in the “anti” part that we miss the “Lehi” part, but note that they trace things past the Nephite/Lamanite divide.  That part makes sense, but then keeping the “Nephi” part perhaps undermines it.

Why is Nephi mentioned before Lehi in this name?

18 And they began to be a very industrious people; yea, and they were friendly with the Nephites; therefore, they did open a correspondence with them, and the curse of God did no more follow them.

The first thing we hear about the ANLs is that they wanted a new name; the second is that they were “industrious.”  Does this surprise you?

Shouldn’t they have been friendly with the Lamanites, too?

Is the removal of the curse tied to conversion in general, or to the specifics in this verse?  (Note that the removal of the curse is narrated here, and not when the conversion happens in v6 or v7.

Later on, they will be very nervous about moving to Zarahemla.  How does that mesh with the idea that they were friendly with the Nephites here?

What does it mean to say that the curse “followed” them?  (As opposed to, say, “rested upon” or “engulfed” or whatever?)

Brant Gardner:

We must read this verse with great caution. We have seen that Mormon has continued a prejudice concerning the Lamanites that has them as lazy and uncivilized despite all of the textual evidence we have to the contrary. It is therefore logical that when he “changes” these people from Lamanite to Nephite, that they should also leave the stereotype Lamanite behind, and become the stereotype Nephite. While this is a neat transition of concept, it is highly doubtful that it had any historical basis to it. Unfortunately, this verse is best seen as a further confirmation of Mormon’s attitude towards the Lamanites rather than a historical picture of them. Citation

CHAPTER 24

1 And it came to pass that the Amalekites and the Amulonites and the Lamanites who were in the land of Amulon, and also in the land of Helam, and who were in the land of Jerusalem, and in fine, in all the land round about, who had not been converted and had not taken upon them the name of Anti-Nephi-Lehi, were stirred up by the Amalekites and by the Amulonites to anger against their brethren.

Skousen thinks “Amalekites” should be “Amlicites.”

in fine=finally, in conclusion

What does this verse teach you about anger?

So this is, in a sense, continued fallout from the priests of Noah, which means continued fallout of the decision of Zeniff to try to make nice with the Lamanites.

2 And their hatred became exceedingly sore against them, even insomuch that they began to rebel against their king, insomuch that they would not that he should be their king; therefore, they took up arms against the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi.

3 Now the king conferred the kingdom upon his son, and he called his name Anti-Nephi-Lehi.

Is v3 related to v2, or are these events separate?  (This is a very interesting move, given the contentious situation of the people.)

Brant Gardner points out how unusual it is for the king to take the name of the people instead of the people to take the name of the king.  Why do you think this happened in this case?

4 And the king died in that selfsame year that the Lamanites began to make preparations for war against the people of God.

5 Now when Ammon and his brethren and all those who had come up with him saw the preparations of the Lamanites to destroy their brethren, they came forth to the land of Midian, and there Ammon met all his brethren; and from thence they came to the land of Ishmael that they might hold a council with Lamoni and also with his brother Anti-Nephi-Lehi, what they should do to defend themselves against the Lamanites.

Skousen thinks “Midian” should be “Middoni.”

Oh, that’s right:  Anti-Nephi-Lehi would be Lamoni’s brother.  I wonder why Lamoni didn’t get the kingdom.

They name Lamoni first as the person they want to talk to, as if he is the main player, when it is his brother who is the king.  Perhaps they felt a closer connection to him, given the scene in his court, than they did to ANL?

6 Now there was not one soul among all the people who had been converted unto the Lord that would take up arms against their brethren; nay, they would not even make any preparations for war; yea, and also their king commanded them that they should not.

What do you make of their unwillingness to take up arms?  Is it good?  Bad?  Is it universally true that converts to the gospel shouldn’t take up arms?

Note that the not-taking-up-arms reflects both their desire and their king’s.  I wonder which came first.

Note that they wouldn’t even make preparations for war, but later, when they are in Jershon and called the people of Ammon, they had no problem with funding the Nephites’ military efforts on their behalf.  Does it make more sense to (1) see “preparations for war” and funding as two separate things or (2) see them as having softened their anti-war position?

Note that we had a council trying to make a decision before, but here we have the king commanding them.  Is that a discrepancy and, if so, how might we resolve it?

7 Now, these are the words which he said unto the people concerning the matter: I thank my God, my beloved people, that our great God has in goodness sent these our brethren, the Nephites, unto us to preach unto us, and to convince us of the traditions of our wicked fathers.

We should probably assume ANL is speaking here, but Lamoni is also a king.

The normal intro is “beloved brethren;” is it significant that he uses “people” here?  (Especially since he uses “brethren” in the next sentence?)  Maybe this is a stretch, but I wonder if it is subtle evidence of the more pro-female stance of the Lamanites, especially given that this is the audience that constitutes the mothers of the stripling warriors who “knew it.”

Even if they were wicked, there is something that makes me sad about hearing “wicked fathers.”  Perhaps it is particularly odd coming from someone whose (good) father has just died.

8 And behold, I thank my great God that he has given us a portion of his Spirit to soften our hearts, that we have opened a correspondence with these brethren, the Nephites.

Note that the Spirit softens hearts.  How exactly might this work, given that we usually think the Spirit can’t influence someone if her heart is hard?

What does “opened a correspondence” mean in this verse?  (I think it might be in opposition to “hard-hearted” [=hard-minded], implying openness to new ideas.  I wonder what we’d think about differently if we considered one of the key virtues in the BoM to be ‘being open to new ideas.’)

9 And behold, I also thank my God, that by opening this correspondence we have been convinced of our sins, and of the many murders which we have committed.

Is “murders” literal or metaphorical here?  (If literal, does it imply that murders can repent? [See the next verse.] If metaphorical, for what is it a metaphor?)

10 And I also thank my God, yea, my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things, and also that he hath forgiven us of those our many sins and murders which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son.

Note that guilt is one of the things removed through the atonement.

This verse makes it sound as if “sins” and “murders” are two different things (as does v11).  Is that his meaning here?

What do you make of the word “merits” in this verse? (Wouldn’t you have expected “actions” or something?)

11 And now behold, my brethren, since it has been all that we could do, (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to take them away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain—

Is “most lost of all mankind” hyperbole?  How do you know?

Note this is the third reference to murders.

What does the metaphor of a “stain” suggest to you about sin?

Does this verse teach that it is possible to repent of murder?

Dallin H. Oaks:

And what is “all we can do”? It surely includes repentance (see Alma 24:11) and baptism, keeping the commandments, and enduring to the end.  Apr 98 GC

12 Now, my best beloved brethren, since God hath taken away our stains, and our swords have become bright, then let us stain our swords no more with the blood of our brethren.

Is “best beloved” significant or is it boilerplate?

What does it mean when he says that their swords are bright?  Is this literal (from lack of use)?  Is it metaphorical?  (And if so, of what is it a metaphor?)

I’m fascinated by the interplay of literal and metaphorical meanings in this verse.  This might be the big under-appreciated side of this story . . .

13 Behold, I say unto you, Nay, let us retain our swords that they be not stained with the blood of our brethren; for perhaps, if we should stain our swords again they can no more be washed bright through the blood of the Son of our great God, which shall be shed for the atonement of our sins.

Webster 1828 retain:

1. To hold or keep in possession; not to lose or part with or dismiss.

2. To keep, as an associate; to keep from departure.

3. To keep back; to hold.

4. To hold from escape.

5. To keep in pay; to hire.

6. To engage; to employ by a fee paid; as, to retain a counselor.

While definition 3. comes close to our sense of “getting rid of the swords,” it is worth noting that it still has elements of “keeping,” something more explicit in all of the other definitions.  How might you think differently about this story if you viewed it as one where the ANLs “kept” their weapons?

Is he right when he suggests that they might not be able to repent again if they shed blood?  Is that a true principle in all, some, or no cases?  Brant Gardner asks:  if they could be forgiven the first time, then why can’t they be forgiven the second time?  He suggests it is because of the greater knowledge that they have now (And the beginning of v14 seems to support this idea.)  (Of course, the cynic says that this just proves that you shouldn’t increase in gospel knowledge because it makes the penalty for sins worse.  Ignorance is bliss!)

Again, note the counter-factual idea that the swords are “washed bright” through the blood of Christ.  That’s crazytalk on a logical level, and points to the deep mystery of the atonement.

“Shall be shed for the atonement” is an odd phrase–we might have expected “shall be shed to atone for.”  Am I just being pedantic, or is this significant in some way?

Why would going to battle against people who hate them and are planning to go to war against them (v4) result in staining their swords in anything but a literal sense?  And why would the literal staining of their swords in defense of their families mean that they could no longer repent?

14 And the great God has had mercy on us, and made these things known unto us that we might not perish; yea, and he has made these things known unto us beforehand, because he loveth our souls as well as he loveth our children; therefore, in his mercy he doth visit us by his angels, that the plan of salvation might be made known unto us as well as unto future generations.

“Beforehand” refers to what here:  Their judgment?  The coming of Jesus?  Before now?  Something else?  (Does it have to do with the references to children and future generations in this verse?)

This verse implies that they have received inspiration that they are not to fight, even when they are threatened or attacked.  It is an important part of the BoM message about warfare.

Why the comparison between their souls and their children?

Brant Gardner suggests that the “these things” in this verse wasn’t the gospel in general, but the spiritual danger of re-arming.  That explanation makes sense of the emphasis on children/future generations in this verse:  the point is that if they return to their warrior ways, their children will be affected by their example.  (And, of course, these children are the stripling warriors.)

Does this verse imply that the sons of Mosiah were “angels”?  (I am suggesting that they were not human, but that they had the function of messengers [which is true of the word in Greek, not that that’s entirely relevant here], and so perhaps we should be reading the word “angels” more broadly in the rest of the BoM.)

Is “our souls” (as opposed to “us”) significant?

What does the plan of salvation have to do with this issue of stained swords?

There are two references (our children, future generations) to the future here; why?

15 Oh, how merciful is our God! And now behold, since it has been as much as we could do to get our stains taken away from us, and our swords are made bright, let us hide them away that they may be kept bright, as a testimony to our God at the last day, or at the day that we shall be brought to stand before him to be judged, that we have not stained our swords in the blood of our brethren since he imparted his word unto us and has made us clean thereby.

Again, I am struck at how difficult it is to resolve whether the stained swords are literal or metaphorical, as neither seems to entirely fit the context.

Is “hide” significant?  (I mean really, you can’t hide things from yourself.)

16 And now, my brethren, if our brethren seek to destroy us, behold, we will hide away our swords, yea, even we will bury them deep in the earth, that they may be kept bright, as a testimony that we have never used them, at the last day; and if our brethren destroy us, behold, we shall go to our God and shall be saved.

This verse makes the hiding conditional on a Lamanite attack, when we might have assumed that they would have hid the swords even in the absence of a Lamanite attack.  What is going on here?

Again, I am struck by the interplay of the literal and the metaphorical . . .

Don’t they have a duty to defend their families?

It’s fun to think about what you could symbolically (or maybe even literally!) bury as a symbol of your devotion to keeping your covenants.

17 And now it came to pass that when the king had made an end of these sayings, and all the people were assembled together, they took their swords, and all the weapons which were used for the shedding of man’s blood, and they did bury them up deep in the earth.

So, this sounds rather literal to me.  But if that is the case, then why couldn’t they use these swords as defensive weapons?  Does this story have no place for a justified self-defense?

Note that they buried others weapons of war, even though the king didn’t mention those.

“Bury them up” is an odd and counterfactual phrase (you bury something down, natch).  Why was it used here?

Is the “deep” significant?

Is the burying just a literal thing or is it symbolic? (See v18)  (Note that we are reading a text that was buried up deep in the earth.)  I have to admit:  I would have worried that I or someone else would have been sorely tempted in a moment of grave danger to dig up those swords and use them–would it not have been safer to melt them down or whatever?  Swords into plowshares and all that?  (Seriously, is this story related to that one?)

Is this story related to the sword of Laban?  To the burying of the BoM?

Brant Gardner:

There are other anomalies in the story that are difficult to understand. At the top of the list is the assertion that the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi must repent of murders. The very idea that these people are accepting a universal guilt for murder is suspicious. Murder is, by definition, an unsanctioned and intended death inflicted on another person. We do not commit murder when one dies by accident, even if we were the particular instrument of the accident. We do not commit murder in war, as casualties in war are declared justified in any society. To top off our problem with the idea of murder we have the clear fact that the entire people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi appear to accept guilt for these “murders,” even women and children. It is inconceivable that every single man, woman, and child of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis had personally committed a murder. Nevertheless, their self-condemnation for these “murders” is so great that rather than any possible stain of those “murders” they would rather give up their lives. Citation

Many OT verses refer to blood crying from the ground in judgment against the person who murdered the former owner of the blood.  Is this story (inversely) related to that idea?

This article is very interesting.  Main points:  the ANLs had engaged in a lot of murder (not war) and this was a key theme in their repentance.

We might imagine an alcoholic who joins the church.  She sobered up and repented.  She has decided that she will never enter a restaurant or bar or home or party where alcohol is being served.  She’ll never eat salted peanuts because of the association they have for her with drinking.  And she won’t ever go more than two days without exercising because that increases her craving for alcohol.  She considers these things to be a covenant.  Now, these things might be necessary and appropriate for her, and she may very well be violating a promise to God by eating a salted peanut.  But it would be crazytalk to think that a salted peanut is a sin for the average LDS.  Is this situation analogous to what the ANLs do here?  Or is there practice of refusing weapons a more universal principle?

Most LDS readers take the ANLs as a “special case,” but I think Alms 26:34 is best read as Ammon saying that the ANL bury-the-weapons plan is a better response than the Nephites’ military one.  So I think we need to at least entertain the idea that the ANLs are not a special case (because of their history of bloodshed) but rather are living a higher law.

I realize this is a stretch, but note that the same word is used for the “arms” that Ammon cut off and the “arms” that the ANLs bury.  (Although, obviously, they refer to different things, and we don’t have access to what word[s] were on the plates, so we don’t know if there would have been any connection between the two on the plates.)  Might there be a connection between these stories?

In Alma 53, they will desire to break their oath and take up arms.  They won’t; their children will do it for them.  What does that bit of history teach us about the oath here?

Brant Gardner quotes (but ultimately disagrees with) Daniel Ludlow:

“The converted Lamanites (Anti-Nephi-Lehies) refused to take up their arms against their brethren because, as they stated, “it has been all that we could do, (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins.” (Alma 24:6, 11.) As part of a covenant with God that they would give up their own lives rather than shed the blood of anyone else in time of war, they “took their swords, and all the weapons which were used for the shedding of man’s blood, and they did bury them up deep in the earth.” (Alma 24:17.) It is entirely possible that this interesting incident could have served as the source of the “bury-the-hatchet” tradition of showing peace, which was a common practice among some of the tribes of American Indians when Columbus and other white men came to their lands.” Daniel Ludlow. A Companion To Your Study Of The Book Of Mormon. Deseret Book, p. 210).

I have no idea if this tradition is related to the ANLs burying their swords, but if it is, it is an interesting departure in that they do not wait for the Lamanites to agree to a peace but they singlehandedly do it themselves.

Brant Gardner:

The story is clearly here because of the remarkable pacifist stance that these people will take, but that stance contradicts all other stories of conflict in the Book of Mormon. While this people are lauded for this act, it is never used as a model for Nephite behavior.  Citation

18 And this they did, it being in their view a testimony to God, and also to men, that they never would use weapons again for the shedding of man’s blood; and this they did, vouching and covenanting with God, that rather than shed the blood of their brethren they would give up their own lives; and rather than take away from a brother they would give unto him; and rather than spend their days in idleness they would labor abundantly with their hands.

Skousen thinks “this they did” should be “thus they did.”

So we seem to have a symbolic act here (since it is “a testimony”).

Are “vouching” and “covenanting” two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?

Notice the extensions they make:  this isn’t just about dying instead of killing, but about giving instead of taking and laboring instead of being idle.

Note how this verse positions “idleness” as parallel to taking from others.

Brant Gardner:

[Mormon’s] conclusion betrays the same anti-Lamanite prejudices we have seen from Mormon. Anti-Nephi-Lehi never mentions anything about abandoning idleness. Indeed, it is quite likely that the over-king of such a large political hegemony was anything but idle. Nevertheless, Mormon’s conclusion trots out the long-standing accusation of idleness that becomes one of the caricatures of the Lamanite culture among the Nephites. Citation

19 And thus we see that, when these Lamanites were brought to believe and to know the truth, they were firm, and would suffer even unto death rather than commit sin; and thus we see that they buried their weapons of peace, or they buried the weapons of war, for peace.

Does this verse support the viewpoint that converts (and maybe even “antis” who convert) are stronger than lifers?

Very interesting example of a corrected error in this verse . . .

Russell M. Nelson:

That assignment requires great fortitude as well as love. In former days, disciples of the Lord “were firm, and would suffer even unto death rather than commit sin.”In latter days, devoted disciples of the Lord are just as firm. Real love for the sinner may compel courageous confrontation—not acquiescence! Real love does not support self-destructing behavior. Apr 94 GC

20 And it came to pass that their brethren, the Lamanites, made preparations for war, and came up to the land of Nephi for the purpose of destroying the king, and to place another in his stead, and also of destroying the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi out of the land.

The original manuscript had “dethroning,” not “destroying,” the king.

21 Now when the people saw that they were coming against them they went out to meet them, and prostrated themselves before them to the earth, and began to call on the name of the Lord; and thus they were in this attitude when the Lamanites began to fall upon them, and began to slay them with the sword.

Such an interesting (if gruesome) picture.  Again, why wasn’t it OK for them to wage a war that would have clearly been defensive?

Larger issue:  Yes, they have made a covenant not to use their weapons.  But shouldn’t we assume that, as part of living the gospel, they have made an [implicit, probably] covenant to defend their families?  I think we might be able to profitably read this story as the ANLs having two conflicting commandments (or, more specifically, two conflicting covenant obligations).  How did they decide which to follow?  What situations might be similar for us?

Note that they go out to meet them (they don’t wait for the Lamanites to come to them).  Why?

Note that they don’t plead to the Lamanites but to the Lord.  (Reminds me of how in 1 Samuel 1, Hannah is troubled by many things but doesn’t deal with the people who are troubling her but takes her complaint to the Lord.)

We get so caught up in the larger narrative that it is easy to miss the other story here:  over a thousand people (see v22) were slaughtered here for their beliefs.  Note that the Lord did not intervene to save them.  (Where’s an earthquake when you need one?)  Would it be profitable to read this as a companion story to that of the martyrs at Ammonihah?  If you read it that way, what might you learn?

I find it interesting that the Lord didn’t spare them from this experience, but rather the slaughter falls hard on the heels (at least in the record) of the ANLs making a covenant to put down their arms.  Their commitment to their covenant is immediately tested; it apparently wasn’t a part of the covenant that they would be protected from situations where they would want to use their arms.

This verse raises a very penetrating question:  To what lengths would you go to keep your covenants?

22 And thus without meeting any resistance, they did slay a thousand and five of them; and we know that they are blessed, for they have gone to dwell with their God.

Remember when the martyrs are slain at Ammonihah, Amulek wants to stop it but Alma says no and then says:

For behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.  (Alma 14:11)

I think we could read this verse (by which I mean Alma 24:22) as Mormon taking on the explanatory role that Alma took on in 14:11.  (Perhaps that implicitly puts us as readers in the questioning role of Amulek–not the unusual “we” in this verse.)  How do Mormon’s and Alma’s explanations for the death of the innocents compare?  I’m especially intrigued with the idea that the blood of the people of Ammonihah will cry from the ground, but in our current chapter, it is the swords that will be the testimony crying from the ground.  That’s an intriguing parallel, partially because it is not exactly parallel.

23 Now when the Lamanites saw that their brethren would not flee from the sword, neither would they turn aside to the right hand or to the left, but that they would lie down and perish, and praised God even in the very act of perishing under the sword—

24 Now when the Lamanites saw this they did forbear from slaying them; and there were many whose hearts had swollen in them for those of their brethren who had fallen under the sword, for they repented of the things which they had done.

Skousen reads “thing” instead of “things” here.

Note that the Lamanites stopped their slaughter when they realized the faithfulness of the ANLs, contra the people in Ammonihah, who knew full well they were slaughtering people because of their faith.  Once again, our notion of the Lamanites (even the unconverted ones–even the ones who refused conversion) as more wicked is challenged here, and some of the BoM statements (presumably written by Mormon) that paint the Lamanites with a broad brush of wickedness are shown to be hyperbolic.

25 And it came to pass that they threw down their weapons of war, and they would not take them again, for they were stung for the murders which they had committed; and they came down even as their brethren, relying upon the mercies of those whose arms were lifted to slay them.

Note how the ANLs refusal to take up arms did lead to deaths of the innocent, but ultimately led to softening of hearts and conversions.  I think we might see the ANLs collectively as a type of Christ–an innocent willing to die, but through that death, people are moved to repent.

What does the word “stung” suggest to you?

What does the “came down . . . “line mean–does it mean that the Lamanites fell to the earth as the ANLs had?

What phrase does “relying upon . . .” modify?  (I’m having a hard time figuring out how it relates to the rest of the verse.)

Brant Gardner:

Mormon uses this scene as a description of a spontaneous conversion of Lamanites to the gospel. It makes a good story, but may not have happened in this way. For a true conversion, these Lamanites would have had to have heard the gospel, but decided against it at the time. They would also have to know that the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi had embraced that gospel, and that the actions of those people was related to their new belief rather than any other possible explanation. All of these things would be difficult to have combined in the minds of the converted Lamanites. Since we are getting this story of conversion from Mormon some four hundred years later, and Mormon is clearly writing this as a moral story, he may be forgiven if he perhaps improves the story with this spontaneous conversion. The certain historical information would be that certain of the Lamanites threw down their weapons and ceased to kill. What went on in their minds would be unlikely to have been reported in the original source, and is much more likely to have been Mormon’s interpretation of that action. . . .  Seeing Mormon as an active editor who is reworking his material for a particular purpose should not diminish his efforts in our eyes. Mormon is an editor in the ancient mold, not a historian in modern sensibilities. Citation

What do you think would have happened had the ANLs gone out to battle the Lamanites with those swords?  In what type of situations might we be able to model the kinds of choices that they made in this story?

26 And it came to pass that the people of God were joined that day by more than the number who had been slain; and those who had been slain were righteous people, therefore we have no reason to doubt but what they were saved.

Honestly, I don’t like “more than the number who had been slain”–it makes it sound as if the slaying was OK because we ended the day with a net increase in membership.  I’m sure the people who lost husbands or sons didn’t find much comfort in that?

Is it significant that it says “no reason to doubt but” instead of saying “we have reason to believe that they were saved”?

The implication here seems to be that the martyrs were justified by the conversions that they provoked.

27 And there was not a wicked man slain among them; but there were more than a thousand brought to the knowledge of the truth; thus we see that the Lord worketh in many ways to the salvation of his people.

This “and thus we see” is very interesting–what precisely does he mean by “many ways” here?

28 Now the greatest number of those of the Lamanites who slew so many of their brethren were Amalekites and Amulonites, the greatest number of whom were after the order of the Nehors.

29 Now, among those who joined the people of the Lord, there were none who were Amalekites or Amulonites, or who were of the order of Nehor, but they were actual descendants of Laman and Lemuel.

Skousen reads “after the order” instead of “of the order” here.

This verse adds a new wrinkle to the story–if the slaughter stopped, but none of the Nehor-ites converted, then the other Lamanites must have stopped the Nehor-ites from killing people.

30 And thus we can plainly discern, that after a people have been once enlightened by the Spirit of God, and have had great knowledge of things pertaining to righteousness, and then have fallen away into sin and transgression, they become more hardened, and thus their state becomes worse than though they had never known these things.

This is a very interesting editorial insertion.  Why do you think the principle described here is true?  How might it be relevant to us?

I think virtually all readers of this chapter focus on the oath of the ANLs to avoid war.  But that is definitely not the point that Mormon makes here (although he did make the point in v19)–it appears that he has been telling this story for an entirely different reason.  I think this raises a most interesting interpretive question:  Is it OK to focus on the refusal to take up arms in an analysis of or lesson from this chapter if that wasn’t Mormon’s intention in including it in the record?

CHAPTER 25
1 And behold, now it came to pass that those Lamanites were more angry because they had slain their brethren; therefore they swore vengeance upon the Nephites; and they did no more attempt to slay the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi at that time.

There was no chapter break here originally.

In “they had slain their brethren,” who is the “they” and who is the “their”?  I think this is saying that the Lamanites had slain the ANLs, with the fascinating implication that their slaughtering of their brethren made them(selves) more angry.  (You know, I usually think I’ll feel better if I yell at my kids, but I’m often even angrier afterwards.)

Note the “therefore”:  I think what is happening here is this:  Lamanites slay ANLs and are now even more angry, and so they decide to slay the Nephites.

Brant Gardner:

Yet again we have Mormon explaining the mindset of a people for whom he could not know the mindset.  Citation

This verse suggests that their inability to act upon their wicked desires frustrated them and made them want revenge.  Is there something we should learn from this?

2 But they took their armies and went over into the borders of the land of Zarahemla, and fell upon the people who were in the land of Ammonihah and destroyed them.

Interesting–we’ve already learned about the destruction of Ammonihah from another angle.  This time, the focus is on the anger of Lamanites as the cause of the action; the last time we heard about it, the Ammonihah-ites were being punished for killing the martyrs.  I think this suggests that we might expect to find more than one cause (perhaps a proximate cause and an ultimate cause) for an action.  A cynic might also read it to say either (1) God caused the anger in 25:1 to use for his ends and/or (2) the people of Ammonihah weren’t really being punished by God; they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  How would you respond to these claims?

3 And after that, they had many battles with the Nephites, in the which they were driven and slain.

Who is the second “they” in this verse? (Perhaps the reference to “Lamanites who were slain” in the next verse answers that question.)

4 And among the Lamanites who were slain were almost all the seed of Amulon and his brethren, who were the priests of Noah, and they were slain by the hands of the Nephites;

Is it significant that it is “almost” all of the seed and not all of it?

5 And the remainder, having fled into the east wilderness, and having usurped the power and authority over the Lamanites, caused that many of the Lamanites should perish by fire because of their belief—

Should we see any parallel between this action and the Ammonihah-ite martyrs, since both perish by fire?

6 For many of them, after having suffered much loss and so many afflictions, began to be stirred up in remembrance of the words which Aaron and his brethren had preached to them in their land; therefore they began to disbelieve the traditions of their fathers, and to believe in the Lord, and that he gave great power unto the Nephites; and thus there were many of them converted in the wilderness.

What does this verse teach about loss and afflictions?

Interesting that they are converted with no missionaries around!

7 And it came to pass that those rulers who were the remnant of the children of Amulon caused that they should be put to death, yea, all those that believed in these things.

You know, there are a lot of martyrs in this section of the BoM:  the Ammonihah-ites, the ANLs, and these guys.  (And, a little earlier, Abinadi–v11 below makes this connection)  What can you learn from comparing their stories?

8 Now this martyrdom caused that many of their brethren should be stirred up to anger; and there began to be contention in the wilderness; and the Lamanites began to hunt the seed of Amulon and his brethren and began to slay them; and they fled into the east wilderness.

Who is getting angry here:  other believers (why weren’t these other believers martyred?) or non-believers (why would this make them angry–is it the same principle from the beginning of the chapter, where acting on their anger makes them angrier)?

9 And behold they are hunted at this day by the Lamanites. Thus the words of Abinadi were brought to pass, which he said concerning the seed of the priests who caused that he should suffer death by fire.

I love “at this day.”  I presume that was the day Alma was writing?

10 For he said unto them: What ye shall do unto me shall be a type of things to come.

11 And now Abinadi was the first that suffered death by fire because of his belief in God; now this is what he meant, that many should suffer death by fire, according as he had suffered.

I presume “the first” means in the BoM, and not the first ever.

Subtext:  When we introduce a form of wickedness (even if only in our own lives), we can expect that wickedness to proliferate and ultimately harm us, in the same way that a fire can spread out of control.

12 And he said unto the priests of Noah that their seed should cause many to be put to death, in the like manner as he was, and that they should be scattered abroad and slain, even as a sheep having no shepherd is driven and slain by wild beasts; and now behold, these words were verified, for they were driven by the Lamanites, and they were hunted, and they were smitten.

Are you surprised that Abinadi (and Alma/Mormon in this chapter) focused more on the earth-bound and not the eternal consequences of these wicked actions?

13 And it came to pass that when the Lamanites saw that they could not overpower the Nephites they returned again to their own land; and many of them came over to dwell in the land of Ishmael and the land of Nephi, and did join themselves to the people of God, who were the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi.

Can you determine what made them choose to be righteous?

14 And they did also bury their weapons of war, according as their brethren had, and they began to be a righteous people; and they did walk in the ways of the Lord, and did observe to keep his commandments and his statutes.

Notice the “began to be”:  is that significant?  (Didn’t they “begin to be” well before this statement?)

Are “commandments” and “statutes” two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?

15 Yea, and they did keep the law of Moses; for it was expedient that they should keep the law of Moses as yet, for it was not all fulfilled. But notwithstanding the law of Moses, they did look forward to the coming of Christ, considering that the law of Moses was a type of his coming, and believing that they must keep those outward performances until the time that he should be revealed unto them.

What does “expedient” mean?  (I think today it has the connotation of “efficient,” but I don’t think that was necessarily meant here.)

It’s been a long time in the BoM since we have had a reference to the law of Moses; in fact, you could be forgiven to thinking that we’d moved on to a focus on baptism, churches, and judges.  Why does the law of Moses re-appear here?  (Brant Gardner suggests that it was the reference to Abinadi that triggered this rumination of the law of Moses.)

This verse almost makes it sound as if keeping the law of Moses might be an impediment to looking forward to Christ (hence the “notwithstanding the law”); is that what is meant here?  If so, in what ways is that true?

Usually we consider the actions of people to be a type of the coming of Christ, but this verse teaches that the law of Moses is a type of the coming of Christ.  (See here for more on this.)

What does it teach you about the law of Moses to call it “outward performances”?  Do we have outward performances today?  (I wonder if “outward performances” might be a useful gateway to thinking about modesty, or if it would just lead us to more female body shaming.)

I presume the “he” that should be revealed is Christ.  That’s interesting language–that Christ would be revealed to them.  What does it imply that a simple “born” or “visit” might not?

16 Now they did not suppose that salvation came by the law of Moses; but the law of Moses did serve to strengthen their faith in Christ; and thus they did retain a hope through faith, unto eternal salvation, relying upon the spirit of prophecy, which spake of those things to come.

So the Lamanite thinking was “we’re doing all this stuff that won’t save us, but will strengthen our faith.”  Is there anything that might fit into that category for us today?

How would keeping the law of Moses have strengthened their faith in Christ?

How would you organize this sentence?  How do the phrases relate to each other?  What causes what?

17 And now behold, Ammon, and Aaron, and Omner, and Himni, and their brethren did rejoice exceedingly, for the success which they had had among the Lamanites, seeing that the Lord had granted unto them according to their prayers, and that he had also verified his word unto them in every particular.

Is “every particular” hyperbole?  (I’m thinking that having every word of the Lord verified is not something that normally happens in mortality; they had not, for example, had the promises that Christ would come verified by his coming.)

CHAPTER 26
1 And now, these are the words of Ammon to his brethren, which say thus: My brothers and my brethren, behold I say unto you, how great reason have we to rejoice; for could we have supposed when we started from the land of Zarahemla that God would have granted unto us such great blessings?

There’s no chapter break here originally, and these verse clearly concludes the through from 25:17.  Note especially the link between the Lord’s words and Ammon’s words.

We don’t have a lot of recorded speeches in the BoM that were to anything but the general public (and, usually, an unconverted public at that).  How might we read this differently noting that it was, in effect, a mission conference?

There’s that unusual “brothers and brethren” thing.  What did those words mean to Ammon?  (When you see it in the KJV, “brethren” is nothing more or less than the plural of “brother.”  But it apparently means something different here.)

2 And now, I ask, what great blessings has he bestowed upon us? Can ye tell?

How do you take this question?  Do you think Ammon thought his audience would or would not know the answer to this question?  (We might assume that successful missionaries would automatically know the answer to this question, but the fact that the blessings are somewhat unusual would perhaps cause us to rethink that.)

3 Behold, I answer for you; for our brethren, the Lamanites, were in darkness, yea, even in the darkest abyss, but behold, how many of them are brought to behold the marvelous light of God! And this is the blessing which hath been bestowed upon us, that we have been made instruments in the hands of God to bring about this great work.

Why is darkness a good metaphor for lack of spiritual knowledge?  Why is abyss a good metaphor?

Why does Ammon answer his own question?

Note that the change in spiritual state of the Lamanites is a blessing on Ammon and his brethren, because they were instruments in God’s hands.  What might we learn from this concept?

4 Behold, thousands of them do rejoice, and have been brought into the fold of God.

Why is “fold” a good metaphor for the people of God?

I think this section is setting up “anger” and “rejoicing” as opposites.

5 Behold, the field was ripe, and blessed are ye, for ye did thrust in the sickle, and did reap with your might, yea, all the day long did ye labor; and behold the number of your sheaves! And they shall be gathered into the garners, that they are not wasted.

Why is “field” a good metaphor?  Why is Ammon constantly mixing metaphors?  (Or, stated more nicely:  Why are there so many different metaphors in this section?)

This is obviously a metaphor, but in what sense were the Lamanites “ripe”?

Brant Gardner:

The imagery of the ripe field being reaped with a sickle was natural in the Old World, and probably to Joseph on the American frontier. It would not, however, be the appropriate imagery for Mesoamerica. This is not because of the ripened fields, for surely there were ripened fields, and indigenous Mesoamerican imagery is full if the import of ripening foodstuffs. The difference is the sickle. The sickle is an instrument for harvesting grains that grown on long flexible stalks. The principal grains of the New World would not have fit that description, and it is quite doubtful that anyone would have an image of harvesting corn with a sickle, as a straight bladed instrument would be quite sufficient. Citation

6 Yea, they shall not be beaten down by the storm at the last day; yea, neither shall they be harrowed up by the whirlwinds; but when the storm cometh they shall be gathered together in their place, that the storm cannot penetrate to them; yea, neither shall they be driven with fierce winds whithersoever the enemy listeth to carry them.

The harrow is a wooden frame with metal spikes that churns up the ground before planting.  What, then, would it mean to be “harrowed up by the whirlwinds”?

Why are winds a good metaphor for what Satan does?

David A. Bednar:

The Prophet Joseph Smith declared that in all ages the divine purpose of gathering the people of God is to build temples so His children can receive the highest ordinances and thereby gain eternal life. This essential relationship between the principle of gathering and the building of temples is highlighted in the Book of Mormon:

“Behold, the field was ripe, and blessed are ye, for ye did thrust in the sickle, and did reap with your might, yea, all the day long did ye labor; and behold the number of your sheaves! And they shall be gathered into the garners, that they are not wasted” (Alma 26:5).

The sheaves in this analogy represent newly baptized members of the Church. The garners are the holy temples. Elder Neal A. Maxwell explained: “Clearly, when we baptize, our eyes should gaze beyond the baptismal font to the holy temple. The great garner into which the sheaves should be gathered is the holy temple” (in John L. Hart, “Make Calling Focus of Your Mission,” Church News,Sept. 17, 1994, 4). This instruction clarifies and emphasizes the importance of sacred temple ordinances and covenants—that the sheaves may not be wasted.

Is the storm a generic threat, or is something specific envisioned here?

7 But behold, they are in the hands of the Lord of the harvest, and they are his; and he will raise them up at the last day.

What does the image of being in the hands of the Lord suggest to you?

Henry B. Eyring:

You and I can and will by small means be part of a great work. We will study and pray and serve to qualify for the companionship of the Holy Ghost. We will then be allowed to see the new members as precious, beloved children of our Heavenly Father, and we will be led to nourish them with love, with opportunity to serve, and with the good word of God. And then we will see in our own time what the great missionary Ammon described to his missionary companions, just as we are now companions to the missionaries laboring across the world.  Oct 97 GC

8 Blessed be the name of our God; let us sing to his praise, yea, let us give thanks to his holy name, for he doth work righteousness forever.

Do you interpret “sing” literally or metaphorically here?  (Are there any references to music in the BoM?  Can’t help but consider the feminist implications of that lacuna . . . Other than the Lamanite girls dancing [with, presumably, some music in the background], I’m not thinking of anything offhand.)

This verse sounds very poetic.  Is Ammon quoting something, or writing some poetry here?

Are “singing praises” and “giving thanks” two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?

9 For if we had not come up out of the land of Zarahemla, these our dearly beloved brethren, who have so dearly beloved us, would still have been racked with hatred against us, yea, and they would also have been strangers to God.

How literally do you take this verse?  (It seems to say precisely the opposite of Esther 4:14 in terms of what happens when someone doesn’t fulfill a calling, and it creates some concerns for the free agency of the Lamanites if a decision by a few recent converts [=the sons of Mosiah] could have resulted in their continued estrangement from God.)

Webster 1828 racked:

1. Tortured; tormented; strained to the utmost.

2. Drawn off, as liquor.

This definition suggests the idea of being tormented by anger, something we have seen a few times recently as the unconverted Lamanites allow their anger to take them into more and more warring.

10 And it came to pass that when Ammon had said these words, his brother Aaron rebuked him, saying: Ammon, I fear that thy joy doth carry thee away unto boasting.

We’ve had some very positive things to say about joy and rejoicing recently; what does Aaron say about joy here?  How might joy lead to boasting?  In what situations might we need to worry about this?

This is very interesting, if only because we almost never in the BoM see a “loyal opposition”–characters are usually pretty cleanly good or evil.  But here, Aaron (a good guy) rebukes Ammon (another good guy).  This is, perhaps, more reminiscent of the rebukes that flow between Jesus and Peter or Peter and Paul in the NT.

Why do you think this incident was recorded, and does it suggest anything to you about how we should present our history today?  (Hint:  I think it suggests that we should not remove every trace of disagreement from the record.)

Do you think Ammon was boasting?  Did anything in the previous verses sound boastful to you?  (As I said, I think v9 may reflect an incorrect theology that the Lamanites would not have been converted without the sons of Mosiah, which makes them look really, really important.  Perhaps the thrust of Aaron’s rebuke is, as Esther 4:14 puts it, if the sons of Mosiah had
“[held] thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the [Lamanites] from another place; but [they and their] father’s house shall be destroyed.”)

11 But Ammon said unto him: I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God.

Ammon seems to imply that it would have been boasting had he focused on his own strength and/or wisdom.  What might we learn from this?

Did Aaron draw a reasonable conclusion from Ammon’s words?  Does it make sense to read this verse as Ammon’s clarification and/or backtracking?

What connection is Ammon making between strength and wisdom?

Ammon’s saying that his joy is full doesn’t really address Aaron’s rebuke, since Aaron had said that it was the joy that was the cause of the problem!  (Of course, backing away from his strength and wisdom does address the rebuke.)

Does this verse leave open the possibility that Ammon is boasting, just not in his own strength and wisdom?  (I think v12 supports this idea.)

12 Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.

What does it mean to boast of God?  What kind (if any) of boasting is OK?

I love that Mr. Forearm Remover is saying that he is weak.

Marvin J. Ashton:

Ammon gives us excellent guidelines for putting our success in proper perspective. . . . In our conversations and conduct we can be much more effective if we avoid the demeaning effect of that which could be classified as boasting. We should wisely let others become aware of accomplishments by observations rather than to have us appear to flaunt them before the world. Boasting diminishes credibility and too often alienates friends, co-workers, family members, and even those who may observe us from a distance. Apr 90 GC

I think this little exchange between Aaron and Ammon raises an interesting issue re taking credit.  For example, if I had an amazing singing voice (and believe you me, I don’t), would it be OK to say, “God gave me this voice”? It might sound arrogant, inasmuch as it claims that the singing voice is excellent.  Of course, if I didn’t say that, I would be denying the source of the gift. What might we do about this?

Does “therefore I will not” (as opposed to “therefore I did not”) indicate that Ammon is changing his position here?

13 Behold, how many thousands of our brethren has he loosed from the pains of hell; and they are brought to sing redeeming love, and this because of the power of his word which is in us, therefore have we not great reason to rejoice?

Why does Ammon say that–I don’t think Aaron was suggesting that they didn’t have reason to rejoice?

14 Yea, we have reason to praise him forever, for he is the Most High God, and has loosed our brethren from the chains of hell.

Skousen reads “loosed these our brethren.”

What does the metaphor of “chains” suggest to you about hell?

If you read v13 and v14 together, “rejoice” and “praise” look like synonyms.

Is the shift from “pains of hell” in v13 to “chains of hell” in this verse significant?

15 Yea, they were encircled about with everlasting darkness and destruction; but behold, he has brought them into his everlasting light, yea, into everlasting salvation; and they are encircled about with the matchless bounty of his love; yea, and we have been instruments in his hands of doing this great and marvelous work.

Given that it didn’t last, what does “everlasting” (as a modifier for darkness) mean in this verse?

Given the phrase “everlasting darkness and destruction,” we might have expected “everlasting light” to have an “and ____” after it, but it doesn’t.  What effect does this have on the reader?  Does the next phrase about “everlasting salvation” fill in the parallel?

Notice the contrast between the “chains of hell” in v14 and being “encircled by his love” in this verse.

Note the difference between being encircles by chains and being instruments in his hands–these things are not compatible.  But being encircled with his love and being instruments in his hands are compatible.  Is this just mixing metaphors, or how might this work?

16 Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel.

Are glorying and rejoicing the same thing?  What about praising?

Does this verse define glorying as “saying . . . much of his great power” etc.?

17 Who could have supposed that our God would have been so merciful as to have snatched us from our awful, sinful, and polluted state?

This is an interesting verse–do we put limits on what God can do?

Note that the emphasis here is on what God did for the sons of Mosiah, not the Lamanites.

18 Behold, we went forth even in wrath, with mighty threatenings to destroy his church.

Why do you think Ammon has pivoted from what God had done for the Lamanites to what God had done for him and his brothers in this section?

19 Oh then, why did he not consign us to an awful destruction, yea, why did he not let the sword of his justice fall upon us, and doom us to eternal despair?

What do you learn from the image of a sword of justice?  (Is this related at all to the ANLs burying their weapons?)

20 Oh, my soul, almost as it were, fleeth at the thought. Behold, he did not exercise his justice upon us, but in his great mercy hath brought us over that everlasting gulf of death and misery, even to the salvation of our souls.

Remember:  the last thing we want is justice!

What does the image of the “gulf” suggest to you?  Why is there a gap?  What is the gap?

21 And now behold, my brethren, what natural man is there that knoweth these things? I say unto you, there is none that knoweth these things, save it be the penitent.

What does this verse suggest to you about “nature” and “natural”?

How do you reconcile the sentiment in this verse with the idea that all people have the light of Christ, or with the idea that we should be as little children, etc.?

Note that “the penitent” is placed in opposition to the “natural man.”  Therefore it is not natural to be penitent.

22 Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed; yea, and it shall be given unto such to bring thousands of souls to repentance, even as it has been given unto us to bring these our brethren to repentance.

At this point, is Ammon still addressing the objection that Aaron raised, or has he returned to the main thread of his talk?

What does “mysteries of God” mean in this verse?  While it isn’t the usual definition, if you read this verse in context, with the previous verse, you might conclude that it has something to do with being penitent.  This verse gives us one typical answer (“things that have never been revealed”) and another odd one:  bringing lots of people to repentance.

Dallin H. Oaks:

In the scriptures, the Lord has specified how we learn by faith. We must be humble, cultivate faith, repent of our sins, serve our fellowmen, and keep the commandments of God. As the Book of Mormon says, “Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God.”

I have seen some persons attempt to understand or undertake to criticize the gospel or the Church by the method of reason alone, unaccompanied by the use or recognition of revelation. When reason is adopted as the only—or even the principal—method of judging the gospel, the outcome is predetermined. One cannot find God or understand his doctrines and ordinances by closing the door on the means He has prescribed for receiving the truths of his gospel. That is why gospel truths have been corrupted and gospel ordinances have been lost when left to the interpretation and sponsorship of scholars who lack the authority and reject the revelations of God. Apr 89 GC

23 Now do ye remember, my brethren, that we said unto our brethren in the land of Zarahemla, we go up to the land of Nephi, to preach unto our brethren, the Lamanites, and they laughed us to scorn?

Is there any chance they forgot this?  If not, why does Ammon ask?

This information could have been included when the story of their departure for their mission was narrated, but it was not.  What effect does it have on the reader not to know about this until this late stage in the game?

24 For they said unto us: Do ye suppose that ye can bring the Lamanites to the knowledge of the truth? Do ye suppose that ye can convince the Lamanites of the incorrectness of the traditions of their fathers, as stiffnecked a people as they are; whose hearts delight in the shedding of blood; whose days have been spent in the grossest iniquity; whose ways have been the ways of a transgressor from the beginning? Now my brethren, ye remember that this was their language.

It wasn’t only their language, but the language of more than one BoM writer! (See, for example, Enos 1:20.) In fact, this is, I think, one of the few times that we see one someone in the BoM criticize a BoM writer.  Interesting that this is hot on the heels of Aaron criticizing Ammon.  Can we compare these two incidents?  Why does this very rare phenomenon happen twice in one chapter?

The church-going people of Zarahemla were very hostile to the idea of this mission.  They thought that it would be impossible for the Lamanites to convert.  Why?  (There is some delicious irony in this verse:  they claim that the false traditions of the Lamanites will make it impossible for them to convert, but not only is this false, but it is a false tradition of their own to believe it!) In what situations might we be tempted to have the same reaction today?  (I’m also thinking of Jonah here.  There’s something very difficult about being sent on a mission to your historic [or current] political enemies.)

25 And moreover they did say: Let us take up arms against them, that we destroy them and their iniquity out of the land, lest they overrun us and destroy us.

Notice that they position military conquest as the alternative to missionary work.  Notice that we’ve seen the inverse of that (missionary work–in the sense of refusing to arm and then pleading with the Lord as a substitute for military conquest) in the last chapter.

A lot of airtime is devoted here to recounting the attitude of their adversaries.  Why?  Are there any modern situations that are analogous?

This makes the story of the sons of Mosiah taking weapons (to gather food) on their mission look a little more fraught.

26 But behold, my beloved brethren, we came into the wilderness not with the intent to destroy our brethren, but with the intent that perhaps we might save some few of their souls.

What do you learn about intent from this verse?

Note that their goal was “some few” souls but they ended up with thousands of converts.  Is it safe to say that the false tradition that the Lamanites would never convert infected them to some extent as well?

27 Now when our hearts were depressed, and we were about to turn back, behold, the Lord comforted us, and said: Go amongst thy brethren, the Lamanites, and bear with patience thine afflictions, and I will give unto you success.

This is the first time that we hear about this!  In the initial telling, we knew that they were comforted, but we didn’t know that they were about to turn back.  What effect does it have on the reader to not know how deep their despair was at that point?

What exactly made them to depressed at that point, when they were still in the wilderness and hadn’t even begun their missions?  (It’s like a missionaries still on the airplane deciding he wants to go home–he doesn’t even know what a mission is yet!)

This verse–both their wanting to go home and the Lord telling them to press forward–knowing that these guys are going to end up fighting off bandits, in jail, etc.

28 And now behold, we have come, and been forth amongst them; and we have been patient in our sufferings, and we have suffered every privation; yea, we have traveled from house to house, relying upon the mercies of the world—not upon the mercies of the world alone but upon the mercies of God.

So none of this is news to his audience.  Why is he saying it, and why was it preserved for us?

Note that “every privation” is hyperbole.

29 And we have entered into their houses and taught them, and we have taught them in their streets; yea, and we have taught them upon their hills; and we have also entered into their temples and their synagogues and taught them; and we have been cast out, and mocked, and spit upon, and smote upon our cheeks; and we have been stoned, and taken and bound with strong cords, and cast into prison; and through the power and wisdom of God we have been delivered again.

Why the mention of various venues for missionary work in this verse?

30 And we have suffered all manner of afflictions, and all this, that perhaps we might be the means of saving some soul; and we supposed that our joy would be full if perhaps we could be the means of saving some.

31 Now behold, we can look forth and see the fruits of our labors; and are they few? I say unto you, Nay, they are many; yea, and we can witness of their sincerity, because of their love towards their brethren and also towards us.

What function does Ammon’s question serve here?  (Note that he answers it immediately.)

Note that this verse presents a metric for judging the sincerity of a convert:  their love towards their brethren and towards their enemies.

32 For behold, they had rather sacrifice their lives than even to take the life of their enemy; and they have buried their weapons of war deep in the earth, because of their love towards their brethren.

When the king and the people decided to bury their weapons, the decision was couched in language about preserving their own souls–not in language about love of brethren.  How do you reconcile Ammon’s explanation of their act with their own explanation of their act?

33 And now behold I say unto you, has there been so great love in all the land? Behold, I say unto you, Nay, there has not, even among the Nephites.

Interesting that Ammon turns their refusal to fight into a symbol of love.

Once again, as he did with Lamoni’s wife the queen, we have a statement from Ammon claiming that the Lamanites are more virtuous than the Nephites.  This time, the issue is love, not faith; the issue is willingness to die instead of willingness to believe.  Again, this is a HUGE statement–imagine President Monson referring to the actions of the Iranian army (=a political enemy) or a gay rights group (=a ‘moral enemy,’ if you will) and saying that they showed greater love than the Saints ever had.  Even if the statement were interpreted as hyperbole, it would still be a very striking statement.

This statement about he Nephites’ love fail is even more barbed given that we just learned that the Nephite response to the mission plans of the sons of Mosiah was to suggest a military attack to destroy them instead (see v33–that was only a few verses ago!).

34 For behold, they would take up arms against their brethren; they would not suffer themselves to be slain. But behold how many of these have laid down their lives; and we know that they have gone to their God, because of their love and of their hatred to sin.

I presume the first sentence refers to Nephites and the second sentence to the ANLs.  Note that it is critical of Nephites defending themselves militarily.  Were the Nephite defensive maneuvers misguided?

Note the juxtaposition between loving their brethren and hating sin.

I think the usual LDS reading of the ANLs burying their weapons is that it was a special case because of their history of bloodshed (the classic example, as I gave above, would be an alcoholic LDS convert who builds a hedge around the Word of Wisdom that no one else needs).  But I think this verse questions that reading, since it specifically contrasts the ANL and Nephite responses to being threatened militarily and says that the Nephite response is inferior.  This does not sound like the ANLs were a special case; it sounds like Ammon thinks the ANLs were doing a better job than the Nephites of obeying the general principle of love.

35 Now have we not reason to rejoice? Yea, I say unto you, there never were men that had so great reason to rejoice as we, since the world began; yea, and my joy is carried away, even unto boasting in my God; for he has all power, all wisdom, and all understanding; he comprehendeth all things, and he is a merciful Being, even unto salvation, to those who will repent and believe on his name.

Is this hyperbole?  How do you know?

Are “wisdom” and “understanding” the same thing in this verse?  What about “comprehending all things”?

Is a link made between God’s power/wisdom/understanding/comprehension and mercy?

So Ammon is clearly spiking the ball in this chapter, even if he claims God scored the touchdown and not him.  Is there something unseemly about this?  (How’d you feel reading this chapter if you served your mission in Japan or another other low-baptizing area?)  I must admit that I am somewhat bothered by the idea of Ammon tying his joy to numbers, instead of to, say, obedience or patience or perseverance, or whatever else that isn’t dependent on someone else’s use of agency.

36 Now if this is boasting, even so will I boast; for this is my life and my light, my joy and my salvation, and my redemption from everlasting wo. Yea, blessed is the name of my God, who has been mindful of this people, who are a branch of the tree of Israel, and has been lost from its body in a strange land; yea, I say, blessed be the name of my God, who has been mindful of us, wanderers in a strange land.

So:  Is this boasting?

There is almost a parallelism here:  life/light, joy/salvation, redemption/ . . . and then the pattern breaks with the “from” (everlasting wo) instead of the “and” that we expected.  Do you think this pattern–and its rupture–was deliberate on Ammon’s part?

Notice the tense shift from “who are a branch” to “has been lost.”  What do you make of that?

The strange land business makes it sound as if going to the New World was a mistake for the Lamanites.  Was that Ammon’s intention?  How else might we read this phrase?

Note that first Ammon mentions God being mindful of the Lamanites for being in a strange land, but then shifts to God being mindful of the sons of Mosiah for being in a strange land.  Nice parallel there.

Does the discussion of boasting here mean that everything in v11 onward was part of Ammon’s answer to Aaron?

37 Now my brethren, we see that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people, and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth. Now this is my joy, and my great thanksgiving; yea, and I will give thanks unto my God forever. Amen.

What do you think Aaron’s reaction to this chapter, particularly v36, was?  Do you think he was satisfied?

Note how Ammon extrapolates from two cases of God being mindful to concluding that God is mindful of “every people.”  Is that legitimate?  Is it dangerous?  (It raises some really interesting issues re extrapolating from spiritual knowledge.)

What does the image of God numbering his people convey to you?

This “thus we see” type statement seems like an odd conclusion to the whole boasting discussion–how does it relate?

CHAPTER 27
1 Now it came to pass that when those Lamanites who had gone to war against the Nephites had found, after their many struggles to destroy them, that it was in vain to seek their destruction, they returned again to the land of Nephi.

This returns us to the narrative thread before Ammon’s speech that comprised ch26.  How might you read Ammon’s words differently if you consider them in this larger context?

In the last chapter, Ammon criticized the Nephites for being willing to defend themselves.  Here, that defense stymies the Lamanites.  How do you reconcile this?

2 And it came to pass that the Amalekites, because of their loss, were exceedingly angry. And when they saw that they could not seek revenge from the Nephites, they began to stir up the people in anger against their brethren, the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi; therefore they began again to destroy them.

Is this just facts, or should we learn something from this?

3 Now this people again refused to take their arms, and they suffered themselves to be slain according to the desires of their enemies.

Again, it is easier to lose the enormous sacrifice represented in this verse because of the spareness of the account.  (Which raises the question:  Why wasn’t the account of these martyrs shared at more length?)

Note again the frequency with which desire is mentioned in the BoM.  What do you learn about desire from this verse?

4 Now when Ammon and his brethren saw this work of destruction among those whom they so dearly beloved, and among those who had so dearly beloved them—for they were treated as though they were angels sent from God to save them from everlasting destruction—therefore, when Ammon and his brethren saw this great work of destruction, they were moved with compassion, and they said unto the king:

Why the aside about treating them like angels?  What effect should that have on the reader?

This verse is 4x as long as the verse describing the martyrdom (v3), as if we needed a huge and elaborate rationale to convince us that it was OK for Ammon to be moved by compassion for people willing to die for their faith.  But that isn’t exactly a stretch.  (Although I hasten to note that Alma maybe didn’t show boatloads of compassion for the martyrs of Ammonihah in ch14).  Why is this verse so long?

5 Let us gather together this people of the Lord, and let us go down to the land of Zarahemla to our brethren the Nephites, and flee out of the hands of our enemies, that we be not destroyed.

Interesting:  This verse implies that dying without resistance is not as good of an idea as hightailing it for safer ground.  Is there a moral to this story?

Shouldn’t they have proposed this after the first ANL slaughter?

6 But the king said unto them: Behold, the Nephites will destroy us, because of the many murders and sins we have committed against them.

Is the king right about this?  If so, it reflects terribly on the Nephites, that they wouldn’t (1) help anyone in need of safe harbor and (2) believe that their repentance was genuine.

7 And Ammon said: I will go and inquire of the Lord, and if he say unto us, go down unto our brethren, will ye go?

Do you interpret this verse to say that Ammon had not previously inquired about this plan–that it was his own idea?  If so, what might you conclude from that–was this a mistake on Ammon’s part?  (It almost sounds like Amulek wanting to use God’s power to free the martyrs, but having Alma stop him.  Of course, Alma’s and the king’s reasons are quite different.)

8 And the king said unto him: Yea, if the Lord saith unto us go, we will go down unto our brethren, and we will be their slaves until we repair unto them the many murders and sins which we have committed against them.

Note that the king was not willing to go along with this plan when Ammon presented it to him, but would be willing if there was divine confirmation.  (And note the king’s condition:  it is that the Lord says unto “us” to go, not unto Ammon.  [Although maybe the language in v7 mitigates against that being significant.])  This is an interesting lesson in the idea that we are, perhaps, not the (1) assume that our leaders have had a revelation just because they present an idea and (2) seek more confirmation for any ideas that sound like dangerous schemes.

Does this king know that the Nephites don’t have slaves?

Interesting that Ammon came in as a servant, and here the king is willing to have the people make the return journey as slaves.

If they went to Zarahemla as slaves, that would be an interesting semi-inversion of the exodus story:  they’d get some freedom (from Lamanite swords) at the expense of other (personal) freedoms.

Is it possible to repairs and sins through slavery, as the king implies here?

Are there shades of the parable of the prodigal son in their offer to be slaves?

9 But Ammon said unto him: It is against the law of our brethren, which was established by my father, that there should be any slaves among them; therefore let us go down and rely upon the mercies of our brethren.

Slavery was not against the law of Moses.  In fact, the anti-slavery bit is one of the few Nephite departures from the law of Moses that we know about.  Why was this change made?

Is the implication of this verse that, if it wasn’t against the law, it would have been a great idea?

10 But the king said unto him: Inquire of the Lord, and if he saith unto us go, we will go; otherwise we will perish in the land.

Note again the king’s insistence of getting some divine confirmation and his unwillingness to just take Ammon’s word for it.  This is a big deal.  Note that the king isn’t smitten (in the punishment sense, not the in love sense!) for asking this.

11 And it came to pass that Ammon went and inquired of the Lord, and the Lord said unto him:

12 Get this people out of this land, that they perish not; for Satan has great hold on the hearts of the Amalekites, who do stir up the Lamanites to anger against their brethren to slay them; therefore get thee out of this land; and blessed are this people in this generation, for I will preserve them.

Why does the Lord not want these people to perish, but was OK with the people two chapters ago perishing and the martyrs of Ammonihah perishing? (Or was the Lord OK with that?  How would we know?)

This is the first mention of Satan in this story–is that significant?

Note that they are told to get out of the land, but not specifically told to live among the Nephites. Is that significant?  (Note that v15 implies that Ammon is not sure of their reception in the land.)

13 And now it came to pass that Ammon went and told the king all the words which the Lord had said unto him.

14 And they gathered together all their people, yea, all the people of the Lord, and did gather together all their flocks and herds, and departed out of the land, and came into the wilderness which divided the land of Nephi from the land of Zarahemla, and came over near the borders of the land.

15 And it came to pass that Ammon said unto them: Behold, I and my brethren will go forth into the land of Zarahemla, and ye shall remain here until we return; and we will try the hearts of our brethren, whether they will that ye shall come into their land.

It’s amazing to me that Ammon thought there was a real possibility that the Zarahemlaites wouldn’t let the ANLs into the land.  It certainly does not speak well of the spiritual state of the people of Z.

Does the plan Ammon makes in this verse show a lack of faith in the Lord?  (Although note that v12 did not promise them long life and happiness in Z.; it just told them to get out of the land.)

16 And it came to pass that as Ammon was going forth into the land, that he and his brethren met Alma, over in the place of which has been spoken; and behold, this was a joyful meeting.

What’s fascinating about this is that, while we already knew that Alma and Ammon had this change encounter, we had no idea of Ammon’s circumstances during it–we just assumed they were blithely returning from their mission and didn’t have 1000s (presumably) of Lamanites hiding in the bushes, worried over their future.  All we cared about what that Alma was happy that the sons of Mosiah were still faithful.  We got the story from Alma’s perspective and we didn’t know beans about all of this drama!  I think there is a fascinating lesson here about how differently events can look when seen from different perspectives.

17 Now the joy of Ammon was so great even that he was full; yea, he was swallowed up in the joy of his God, even to the exhausting of his strength; and he fell again to the earth.

Is the assumption that Ammon thought that Alma would be able to convince the Z leaders to let the ANLs in to the city?  (Was that a reasonable assumption?)  If not, it kind of sounds that Ammon was so happy to see Alma (for his own reasons) that he sorta forgot about the thousands of people hiding in the bushes.

What does the image of being swallowed up in joy convey to you?

Is this the same phenomenon that happened in Lamoni’s court?

18 Now was not this exceeding joy? Behold, this is joy which none receiveth save it be the truly penitent and humble seeker of happiness.

It is very unusual for the writer to pose a question to the reader. What is accomplished by this (presumably rhetorical) question?

Obviously, joy is a huge theme in this section.  What does this passage teach about joy?

What does it mean to seek happiness humbly?

What does this verse suggest (if anything) about the difference between happiness and joy?

19 Now the joy of Alma in meeting his brethren was truly great, and also the joy of Aaron, of Omner, and Himni; but behold their joy was not that to exceed their strength.

What’s the point of the material after the semicolon?  Is our writer just a scold?  Or is there meant to be a difference here, perhaps a contrast with all of the people blacking out in Lamoni’s court?

So Ammon falls but no one else.  What are we to take from that?

20 And now it came to pass that Alma conducted his brethren back to the land of Zarahemla; even to his own house. And they went and told the chief judge all the things that had happened unto them in the land of Nephi, among their brethren, the Lamanites.

Why was it significant enough to warrant mention that they went to Alma’s own house?  Is there any comparison to Alma having been in Amulek’s house?

Presumably the chief judge was not in Alma’s house!

21 And it came to pass that the chief judge sent a proclamation throughout all the land, desiring the voice of the people concerning the admitting their brethren, who were the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi.

Was this the right thing to do?  (Is it what a king, if we had not had Mosiah’s legal reforms, would have done?)

What do you learn about their government from this verse?  (In what way might they have determined “the voice of the people”?)

22 And it came to pass that the voice of the people came, saying: Behold, we will give up the land of Jershon, which is on the east by the sea, which joins the land Bountiful, which is on the south of the land Bountiful; and this land Jershon is the land which we will give unto our brethren for an inheritance.

Was it a good thing or not a good thing that they didn’t want to integrate the ANLs into their own cities?  Is there a lesson for us in this verse?

It’s a pretty big deal to give up land, especially since, as the next verse will show, they were willing to still defend the land.

Crazy thought:  as this article indicates, murder was a main theme when the people of Ammon talked about their repentance.  Might it be useful to see Jershon as one of the “refuge cities” like in the OT?

23 And behold, we will set our armies between the land Jershon and the land Nephi, that we may protect our brethren in the land Jershon; and this we do for our brethren, on account of their fear to take up arms against their brethren lest they should commit sin; and this their great fear came because of their sore repentance which they had, on account of their many murders and their awful wickedness.

Again, why would a defensive war have been a sin for them?  And, is this universal?

We’ve had the ANLs explanation for their covenant, we’ve had Ammon’s, and now we get the “voice of the people”s.  How is this one different?

Brant Gardner:

It may have been the unstated purpose that should these repentant Lamanites ever decide to choose their old ways, the people of Zarahemla might also be protected by the same forces providing the protective buffer for the Anti-Nephi-Lehies. Citation

24 And now behold, this will we do unto our brethren, that they may inherit the land Jershon; and we will guard them from their enemies with our armies, on condition that they will give us a portion of their substance to assist us that we may maintain our armies.

Skousen reads “by” instead of “with” our armies here.

Is this a fair deal?  Why or why not?

John Welch on how this exemption from military duty might fit in with the law of Moses here.

Why would it not have, metaphorically speaking, stained their swords if they were to provide financial support for warfare.  (No one thinks that if Country A provides money to Country B to wage a war against Country C that Country A is an innocent bystander.)

Does the seeking of the voice of the people mean that this plan was not made via inspiration, or does it mean that the inspiration came through the voice of the people, as opposed to through the chief judge or chief priest or Alma or Ammon?  What is the lesson for us from this practice?

What do you learn about political issues from this little story?  In what situations might these principles apply today?  (Note:  Do not ask this question in Sunday School!)

25 Now, it came to pass that when Ammon had heard this, he returned to the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi, and also Alma with him, into the wilderness, where they had pitched their tents, and made known unto them all these things. And Alma also related unto them his conversion, with Ammon and Aaron, and his brethren.

Why did Alma pick this moment to tell his conversion story?  Are you surprised that the sons of Mosiah hadn’t already told this story to the ANLs?  (Or had they already told it–after all, it was their story, too.)

26 And it came to pass that it did cause great joy among them. And they went down into the land of Jershon, and took possession of the land of Jershon; and they were called by the Nephites the people of Ammon; therefore they were distinguished by that name ever after.

There’s that joy, again.

Why do they shift from being called the ANLs to being called the people of Ammon?

Are we to assume that they abandoned their monarchy and were under the chief judge in Z now? Are we to presume that King ANL abdicates here?

Why not “the people of the sons of Mosiah”?  If I were one of those other sons, I’d be ticked!

27 And they were among the people of Nephi, and also numbered among the people who were of the church of God. And they were also distinguished for their zeal towards God, and also towards men; for they were perfectly honest and upright in all things; and they were firm in the faith of Christ, even unto the end.

Skousen reads “numbered among the people” in the first phrase here.

Is it really possible to be perfectly honest?  (It would be deliciously ironic if this statement were not perfectly honest!)  Is it desirable? (“Yes, as a matter of fact, that dress does make you look fat.”)

Are “honest” and “upright” two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?

28 And they did look upon shedding the blood of their brethren with the greatest abhorrence; and they never could be prevailed upon to take up arms against their brethren; and they never did look upon death with any degree of terror, for their hope and views of Christ and the resurrection; therefore, death was swallowed up to them by the victory of Christ over it.

This verse makes it sound as if someone did in fact try to get them to take up arms; do you think that was the case?  If so, why did that happen when they had a deal worked out with the people of Z to defend them?

Is there a relationship between their view of death and their refusal to take up arms?

29 Therefore, they would suffer death in the most aggravating and distressing manner which could be inflicted by their brethren, before they would take the sword or cimeter to smite them.

Is this verse a recap of old events, or does it suggest that some of the people of Ammon suffered these things while they were in the land of Jershon?  (And, if that is the case, why weren’t the people of Z defending them the way they had agreed to?)

Why is the cimeter introduced here?  (Previously, we’d always just talked about swords or weapons of war more generally.)

30 And thus they were a zealous and beloved people, a highly favored people of the Lord.

Note that “overzealous” was bad when Zeniff did it, but here, “zealous” is good.

CHAPTER 28
1 And now it came to pass that after the people of Ammon were established in the land of Jershon, and a church also established in the land of Jershon, and the armies of the Nephites were set round about the land of Jershon, yea, in all the borders round about the land of Zarahemla; behold the armies of the Lamanites had followed their brethren into the wilderness.

I’m not sure what the order of events is here:  did the Lamanites follow the people of Ammon in to the wilderness originally, or did they only follow them after they were set up in Jershon?

Why did the Lamanites follow them?

2 And thus there was a tremendous battle; yea, even such an one as never had been known among all the people in the land from the time Lehi left Jerusalem; yea, and tens of thousands of the Lamanites were slain and scattered abroad.

3 Yea, and also there was a tremendous slaughter among the people of Nephi; nevertheless, the Lamanites were driven and scattered, and the people of Nephi returned again to their land.

4 And now this was a time that there was a great mourning and lamentation heard throughout all the land, among all the people of Nephi—

Wouldn’t you think there was also a great mourning among the Lamanites as well?  Is it PR that prevents it from being mentioned?

5 Yea, the cry of widows mourning for their husbands, and also of fathers mourning for their sons, and the daughter for the brother, yea, the brother for the father; and thus the cry of mourning was heard among all of them, mourning for their kindred who had been slain.

One wonders why he didn’t mention mothers mourning for sons.

6 And now surely this was a sorrowful day; yea, a time of solemnity, and a time of much fasting and prayer.

Why do you think v4-6 are in the record?  What should we take from them?

7 And thus endeth the fifteenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi;

8 And this is the account of Ammon and his brethren, their journeyings in the land of Nephi, their sufferings in the land, their sorrows, and their afflictions, and their incomprehensible joy, and the reception and safety of the brethren in the land of Jershon. And now may the Lord, the Redeemer of all men, bless their souls forever.

Why is this verse here?  Don’t we already know this?  Is the point that suffering, sorrow, and affliction lead to joy?

Why does our writer (or redactor) feel the need to ask the Lord to bless them here?

9 And this is the account of the wars and contentions among the Nephites, and also the wars between the Nephites and the Lamanites; *and the fifteenth year of the reign of the judges is ended.

I think v8 is the end of one record and v9 the beginning of another.

Why do we need an account of wars in the BoM?  Are we seeing nothing more than the personal preference of a general/editor?

10 And from the first year to the fifteenth has brought to pass the destruction of many thousand lives; yea, it has brought to pass an awful scene of bloodshed.

Is this verse a verdict on the reign of the judges?  (Yes!  I am still harping on the idea that Mosiah’s legal reforms were a bad idea!  Seriously, as soon as those reforms kick in, the BoM becomes a bloodbath.)

11 And the bodies of many thousands are laid low in the earth, while the bodies of many thousands are moldering in heaps upon the face of the earth; yea, and many thousands are mourning for the loss of their kindred, because they have reason to fear, according to the promises of the Lord, that they are consigned to a state of endless wo.

“Laid low” is interesting language–what does that phrase convey?

This verse adds an entirely different note to the mourning that was previously mentioned (above, there was no indication that the mourning was based on the unrighteousness of the deceased).

12 While many thousands of others truly mourn for the loss of their kindred, yet they rejoice and exult in the hope, and even know, according to the promises of the Lord, that they are raised to dwell at the right hand of God, in a state of never-ending happiness.

The contrast between the two groups of mourners is interesting, especially the note here that even those who had lost righteous loved ones “truly” mourned.

13 And thus we see how great the inequality of man is because of sin and transgression, and the power of the devil, which comes by the cunning plans which he hath devised to ensnare the hearts of men.

What does “inequality” mean in this verse? (Might the inequality refer to the two different types of mourning mentioned above?)

Are sin and transgression two different things in this verse, or two different ways of saying the same thing?

How do sin and transgression relate to the power of the devil?

What does the word “ensnare” suggest to you about Satan’s power?

14 And thus we see the great call of diligence of men to labor in the vineyards of the Lord; and thus we see the great reason of sorrow, and also of rejoicing—sorrow because of death and destruction among men, and joy because of the light of Christ unto life.

What does the image of a vineyard suggest to you?  Of laborers?

The first part of this verse is “and thus we see the great call of diligence.”  What does that mean? Is it a reference to Ammon’s call?

There are two parallel parts here:  we see (1) the great call of diligence and (2) the great reason of sorrow.  How do those ideas relate here?

CHAPTER 29
1 O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!

There is no chapter break here in the original BoM.

We’re obviously starting a very different kind of material in this verse.  Why do you think there wasn’t a more specific introduction to this section?  Does the wish to be an angel relate to the great gap described at the end of the last chapter?

What exactly is the “trump of God”?

Is it significant that this verse uses “wish” when “desire” is so much more common in the BoM?

Joseph Fielding Smith:

Then on [Alma’s] reflection he reached the conclusion that he was asking for too much, that perhaps he was sinning in his wish to be like an angel, with a voice of thunder, to reach the ends of the earth; but if Alma were here today, I know he would be very grateful for the facilities and the opportunities that we have to reach the peoples, not only who are assembled but also scattered abroad. Oct 49 GC [It totally cracks me up that he made a statement like this in 1949–if he only knew!]

Bruce R. McConkie:

I have thought, if I could but speak with the voice of seven thunders or send forth the word by ten thousand trumpets, then men would hear the message. But I remember how Alma wished that he might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, as he cried repentance unto every people. (See Alma 29:1.) And I know that the Lord does not work in this way. His word goes forth by the mouths of his servants as they minister and labor in their weakness. That word is then carried into receptive hearts by the still small voice of the Spirit. (See D&C 85:6.) How else than by the power of the Spirit can any of us ever understand spiritual truths? How does one describe an infinite God in finite terms? Apr 82 GC

I think Elder McConkie’s take is interesting–I think we usually focus out interpretation of this section on the idea that this desire was a sin for Alma (because he had been called to a different calling) and not because the desire itself is not how the Lord operates.

LeGrand Richards pointed out in a Apr 59 GC talk that this statement from Alma comes “after hearing the testimonies of his brethren of their experiences in the mission field.”  In that context, perhaps it is possible to see Alma comparing their missionary experiences and concluding that his own wasn’t as glamorous (he didn’t get to go to a foreign land) or successful (I think his numbers were lower) or interesting (no courts full of royalty dropping like flies or arms getting cut off).  In fact, in 27:4, the narrator told us that Ammon and Co. “were treated as though they were angels sent from God.” Perhaps Alma’s big issue is a little jealousy here.  If that is right, it is most interesting that (1) he works through it in almost a psalm-form–there are lots of examples in the OT of people working through this difficult or overwhelming emotions in psalms and (2) this is recorded in the record–it is certainly a ‘warts and all’ moment for Alma.  Grant Hardy suggests that Mormon has edited the accounts of the two missions to emphasize the similarities (note that Ammon & Co.’s 14 years of work feature three main discourses, while Alma’s 2 years also has three speeches).  [Sidenote:  Hardy points out that the third discourse is the longest in both missions, and Alma’s includes the weird tangent about the Nephite monetary system while Ammon’s includes the weird tangent about geography.  Also, the third account from each mission has martyred innocents:  the Ammonihah-ites and the ANLs.  That’s a great insight; we should go back and think about what we should learn from comparing these stories.  I have such a crush on Grant Hardy’s reading skillz it isn’t even funny.]

I thought Pres. Hinckley’s use of this verse was interesting–he quotes this verse and then says:

We have reached a point where we can almost do that. The proceedings of this conference will be carried across the world, and the speakers will be heard and seen by Latter-day Saints on every continent. We have come a very long way in realizing the fulfillment of the vision set forth in the book of Revelation: “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.” What a tremendous occasion this is, my brothers and sisters. It is difficult to comprehend. We speak from this marvelous Conference Center. I know of no other building to compare with it. Oct 02 GC

2 Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth.

Skousen reads “might be no more” here.

If people repent, is sorrow really done away with?  (I’m thinking it is part of a fallen world, no matter what.)  What might Alma have been getting at here, or is it just hyperbole?

(I’m not going to quote them all, but I was somewhat surprised at the number of GC speakers who quote v1-2 approvingly.  One wonders if they were sort of prooftexting, or if they felt that Alma didn’t really sin in this wish, or that maybe Alma sinned but that other people might have the same wish without sinning.)

3 But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.

Is this really a sin, or is he just being modest or something?  Reviewing v1-2, I think most of us would consider those virtuous desires (unless you take the angel part super-literally).

Note that Alma seems to be saying that a desire (even without accompanying action) can be a sin.

Can we compare this verse with Aaron calling Ammon for boasting previously?

LeGrand Richards:

I am sure today in our lives many of us wish that we were something other than we are, thinking likely that their lot is preferable to our own.  . . . I believe that we, as fellow workers in the priesthood, might well take to heart the admonition of Alma and be content with that which God hath allotted us. We might well be assured that we had something to do with our “allotment” in our pre-existent state. This would be an additional reason for us to accept our present condition and make the best of it. It is what we agreed to do. Oct 52 GC

M. Russell Ballard mentioned these verses in the context of goal-setting:

Second, set short-term goals that you can reach. Set goals that are well balanced—not too many nor too few, and not too high nor too low. Write down your attainable goals and work on them according to their importance. Pray for divine guidance in your goal setting.  Apr 87 GC

4 I ought not to harrow up in my desires, the firm decree of a just God, for I know that he granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, I know that he allotteth unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction.

What does it mean to “harrow up” desires?

If God grants stuff to people according to their desires, then why were the desires in v1-2 named a sin in v3?  Is there a way to reconcile these two ideas?

Do people normally desire death?  If not, then what is Alma saying when this verse implies that people desire death?  Is it significant that it is not just death (or life), but “unto death” (or life)?

How can a decree be both “unalterable” and “according to their wills”?

How does the unalterability of the decree mesh with the idea of repentance?

Is it fair to conclude from this verse that all people desire either salvation or destruction?

Is it literally and always true that God gives people what they desire?  If not, what does this statement mean?

Neal A. Maxwell:

Developing greater contentment within certain of our existing constraints and opportunities is one of our challenges. Otherwise we may feel underused, underwhelmed, and underappreciated—while, ironically, within our givens are unused opportunities for service all about us. Neither should we pine away, therefore, for certain things outside God’s givens, such as for the powerful voice of an angel, because there is so much to do within what has been allotted to us. Furthermore, varied as our allotted circumstances may be, we can still keep the commandments of God! Apr 00 GC

Gerald N. Lund:

Alma longs to have the voice of an angel. Then Alma immediately repents of those feelings, and in verse four makes a remarkable statement. He suggests that we have to be careful what we desire, for the Lord grants unto us the desires of our heart. And then came what was to me almost a stunning statement: “Whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction.” God will grant unto us, according to our will, the things which we desire (see Alma 29:1–5). I went home that day—and it’s not that I felt any of my desires were wrong—but in that moment I realized that those desires weremine. That day I began to try to let the Lord know that what I’d like to do is fulfill His desires. Even then, I thought I really meant it, but I came to know that that’s an easy thing to say and a difficult thing to do. Apr 02 GC

Dallin H. Oaks:

The prophet Alma had a great desire to cry repentance to all people, but he came to understand that he should not desire the compelling power this would require because, he concluded, “a just God … granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life” (Alma 29:4). Similarly, in modern revelation the Lord declares that He “will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts” (D&C 137:9). Are we truly prepared to have our Eternal Judge attach this enormous significance to what we really desire?  Apr 11 GC

What’s interesting about Elder Oaks’ statement is that I think he is saying that the sin in Alma’s wish is that he desired a “compelling power”:  he wanted to force people to accept the gospel.  This fits in nicely with the direction this chapter goes in after Alma realizes that he has sinned in his wish.

Neal A. Maxwell:

Thus, within our allotments we see how the saintly display kindness even within barbed-wire circumstances, yet others have barbed attitudes even within opulence. Meanwhile, the discontented continue to build their own pools of self-pity, some Olympic size. We see something else in Alma’s inspired and instructive episode. Alma acknowledges that God has placed individuals in every nation who can preach and teach His word (see Alma 29:8). Thus, if we press too much, too often, and too hard for enlarged personal roles, we could actually shrink the field of action needed by others. Furthermore, our trusting contentment lets the Holy Ghost have precious time in which to do His special work.  Apr 00 GC

5 Yea, and I know that good and evil have come before all men; he that knoweth not good from evil is blameless; but he that knoweth good and evil, to him it is given according to his desires, whether he desireth good or evil, life or death, joy or remorse of conscience.

The original manuscript has an “or” after “before all men.”  That makes quite a difference, since it turns “he that knoweth not good from evil is blameless” into a correction to (or equivalent of) “good and evil have come before all men.”

Is there a contradiction is saying “I know that good and evil come before all men” and then immediately referring to people who do not know good from evil?

How does this verse relate to v4?  How does it relate to Alma’s desire that began the chapter?  (Or, does it relate to the fact that Alma’s desire might overwhelm the desires of other people?)

Notice the parallelism:  good/evil, life/death, joy/remorse.  What can you learn from studying those pairs?

6 Now, seeing that I know these things, why should I desire more than to perform the work to which I have been called?

Is this verse concluding that to desire more is evil, that it leads to destruction?  (If not, how do you understand the “now” at the beginning of this verse?)

What does this verse teach about our desires?

What would being content to that which you have been called look like in your own life?

How might we reconcile D & C 58: 27-29 (“Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward. But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.”) with this passage?

7 Why should I desire that I were an angel, that I could speak unto all the ends of the earth?

Um, didn’t you answer this question at the beginning of the chapter?

8 For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true.

Skousen reads “counsel in his wisdom” here.

Is the “all nations” here hyperbolic (certainly it would have been in Alma’s time)?  Does the “all that he seeth fit” imply that the Lord didn’t want some nations to have the gospel at this point?  If so, why might that have been?

“In their own tongue” makes sense, but what would “in their own nation” mean here?

To what “counseling” is Alma referring to here?  Who does the Lord counsel with?

Are “just” and “true” two ways of saying the same thing or two different things?

Very interesting reflections on how the Lord’s word goes to all nations here by Grant Hardy.

9 I know that which the Lord hath commanded me, and I glory in it. I do not glory of myself, but I glory in that which the Lord hath commanded me; yea, and this is my glory, that perhaps I may be an instrument in the hands of God to bring some soul to repentance; and this is my joy.

Is this related to Ammon’s boasting in himself versus boasting in God in the last chapter?  (Are glorying and boasting the same thing?)

It does seem that focusing on being an instrument in the hands of God would mitigate desiring things that you haven’t been given.

How is the idea expressed here (“that perhaps I may be an instrument”) that different from the wishful sin from v1-2?

Jim F. suggests that we might consider this verse in light of Moses 1:39 (“For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”)

Neal A. Maxwell:

In just a few words, a major insight came to the conscientious and the converted through Alma: “For I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me” (Alma 29:3). However, just prior, Alma urgently desired to be the “trump of God” so that he might “shake the earth” (Alma 29:1). But not because of ego; in fact, Alma wanted to declare repentance and the plan of redemption to all mankind so that there might be no more human sorrow (see Alma 29:2). Yet Alma’s contentment rested on the reality that God finally allots to us according to our wills (see Alma 29:4). What could be more fair? Thus becoming content with his calling, Alma then meekly hoped to be an instrument to help save some soul (see Alma 29:9). A significant spiritual journey is thus reflected in but nine soliloquy-like verses. The same contentment awaits us if our own desires can be worked through and aligned. Apr 00 GC

10 And behold, when I see many of my brethren truly penitent, and coming to the Lord their God, then is my soul filled with joy; then do I remember what the Lord has done for me, yea, even that he hath heard my prayer; yea, then do I remember his merciful arm which he extended towards me.

Note how he ties the repentance of other people to his own joy, and his own awareness that God listens to him.

11 Yea, and I also remember the captivity of my fathers; for I surely do know that the Lord did deliver them out of bondage, and by this did establish his church; yea, the Lord God, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, did deliver them out of bondage.

Skousen reads “by them” instead of “by this.”

Is he remembering the captivity because of something that happened in v10, or are we on to a new topic now?

Presumably, the “captivity” is that of his own father (Alma the Elder), and not Lehi (which would be pretty metaphorical) or the Exodus.

Why is a lengthy title for the Lord God used here?  What effect should it have on the reader?

12 Yea, I have always remembered the captivity of my fathers; and that same God who delivered them out of the hands of the Egyptians did deliver them out of bondage.

Interesting how he ties the recent bondage experience to the ancient one.

13 Yea, and that same God did establish his church among them; yea, and that same God hath called me by a holy calling, to preach the word unto this people, and hath given me much success, in the which my joy is full.

Why is tying many acts of God together a key theme in this section?

Why use “holy” to modify “calling”?

14 But I do not joy in my own success alone, but my joy is more full because of the success of my brethren, who have been up to the land of Nephi.

Note Alma’s attitude toward other people’s success here.  In what situations might we want to model that?

I think this verse supports the hypothesis that Alma’s sinful wish was a little bit of discontent related to Ammon’s hyper-successful mission.

15 Behold, they have labored exceedingly, and have brought forth much fruit; and how great shall be their reward!

Again, I ask, how does this verse sound to those who serve in low-baptizing missions?  (Which, I think, might actually include Alma himself.  We don’t ever get numbers for him, the way we do for the sons of Mosiah, but I suspect he converted fewer people.)

16 Now, when I think of the success of these my brethren my soul is carried away, even to the separation of it from the body, as it were, so great is my joy.

OK, I think the separation of body and soul isn’t literal (hence the “as it were”), but one wonders why he uses that image.  Also, one wonders why joy would cause soul and body to separate, even metaphorically.  Also, is this what happened to all of the people who keeled over in Lamoni’s court?

Jim F.:  “What is Alma talking about here? If we were traditional Christians who believe that the body is an impediment to spiritual experience rather than something necessary for becoming like our Father, this verse would be easy to explain. How do we explain it as LDS?”

17 And now may God grant unto these, my brethren, that they may sit down in the kingdom of God; yea, and also all those who are the fruit of their labors that they may go no more out, but that they may praise him forever. And may God grant that it may be done according to my words, even as I have spoken. Amen.

Is this a sinful wish?  If not, what makes it different from v1-2?

General thoughts:

(1) On more than one occasion, we thought we knew a story because we had heard it from Alma’s perspective, but we get a completely different take on it when we hear it from Ammon’s perspective.  (I’m thinking specifically of the end of Ammonihah and the circumstances of the Ammon/Alma reunion.)  I think there is a message here about the inability of one side of the story to ever be the entire story.

(2) Marion G. Romney:

In the twenty-third and twenty-fourth chapters of Alma we have a dramatic account of the power of the gospel changing almost a whole nation from a bloodthirsty, indolent, warlike people into industrious, peace-loving people. Of these people the record says that thousands were brought to a knowledge of the Lord, and that as many as were brought to a knowledge of the truth never did fall away (Alma 23:5-6),

For they became a righteous people; they did lay down the weapons of their rebellion, that they did not fight against God any more, neither against any of their brethren (Alma 23:7).

And:

. . . there was not one soul among all the people who had been converted unto the Lord that would take up arms against their brethren; . . . they would not even make any preparations for war (Alma 24:6).

On the contrary, they gave thanks unto God that he had given them a portion of his spirit to soften their hearts.

That is the great message I want to leave here. It is the softening of the hearts that this gospel does to the people who receive it.

The record continues:

. . . and this they did, vouching and covenanting with God, that rather than shed the blood of their brethren they would give up their own lives; and rather than take away from a brother they would give unto him; and rather than spend their days in idleness they would labor abundantly with their hands (Alma 24:18).

And:

. . . they buried the weapons of war, for peace (Alma 24:19).

Now this remarkable transformation wrought in the hearts of these thousands of people was done in a very short period of time under the influence and power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It would do the same thing today for all the peoples of the earth if they would but receive it, for in very deed it is, as Paul said, “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16), not only spiritually, but also temporally and politically and in every other way. Oct 48 GC

(3) In an Apr 54 GC talk, Pres. Kimball addressed discrimination against Native Americans by some LDS.  The entire talk is fascinating; this part is relevant to this section of the BoM:

O ye, who hiss and spurn, despise and scoff, who condemn and reject, and who in your haughty pride place yourselves above and superior to these Nephite-Lamanites: I pray you to not despise them until you are able to equal their faraway folk who had such faith and fortitude and strength—until you have that faith to burn at the stake with the Prophet Abinadi. It is possible that the prophet’s children may be among us. Some of them could be now called Lagunas or Shoshones.

I beg of you, do not disparage the Lamanite-Nephites unless you too, have the devoutness and strength to abandon public office to do missionary work among a despised people and this without compensation, as did the four sons of Mosiah; until you too can walk away from the ease and luxury and the emoluments and power of kingship to hunger and thirst, to be persecuted, imprisoned, and beaten for fourteen years of proselyting endeavor as did their people, Ammon and his brothers, and as did the great Nephi who gave up the judgeship to proselyte. Some of their descendants also could be among us. Their seed could be called Samoans or Maoris.

I ask you: Do not scoff and ignore these Nephite-Lamanites unless you can equal their forebears in greatness and until you can kneel with those thousands of Ammonite Saints in the sand on the field of battle while they sang songs of praise as their very lives were being snuffed out by their enemies. Could you look heavenward, smiling and singing, while the bloodthirsty demons slashed your body with sword and scimitar? Perhaps the children of the Ammonites are with us. They could be called Zunis or Hopis.

We might think twice about making such direct links between BoM people groups and groups today, but the larger message remains the same as that to which a prophet testified:  in the BoM, members of the despised ethnic groups became the most valiant, and we might not be surprised to see the same thing today.

(4) On the glory/boasting issue, Dieter F. Uchtdorf writes:

I also remember one interesting side effect of President Benson’s influential talk. For a while it almost became taboo among Church members to say that they were “proud” of their children or their country or that they took “pride” in their work. The very word prideseemed to become an outcast in our vocabulary.

In the scriptures we find plenty of examples of good and righteous people who rejoice in righteousness and at the same time glory in the goodness of God. Our Heavenly Father Himself introduced His Beloved Son with the words “in whom I am well pleased.”

Alma gloried in the thought that he might “be an instrument in the hands of God.” The Apostle Paul gloried in the faithfulness of members of the Church. The great missionary Ammon gloried in the success he and his brothers had experienced as missionaries.

I believe there is a difference between being proud of certain things and being prideful. I am proud of many things. I am proud of my wife. I am proud of our children and grandchildren.

I am proud of the youth of the Church, and I rejoice in their goodness. I am proud of you, my dear and faithful brethren. I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with you as a bearer of the holy priesthood of God. Oct 10 GC

(5) The BoM features several different righteous responses to military conflict:

–Active defense (Moroni vs. Lamanites, see Alma43:45-46)

–Enduring captivity and finding nonviolent resolution (Limhi’s people, see Mosiah 20:22)

–Migration to avoid conflict (Nephi and co., see 2 Nephi 5:2?10)

–Nonviolent resistence (ANL, see Alma 24:6?30)

–Economic support of combatants (ANL, see Alma 27:24)

–preaching to and conversion of insurgents (Lamanites to Gadianton robbers, see Helaman 6:37)

(Note:  I am pretty sure that I got that list from somewhere else, but I don’t have a citation.  I’d love to give the author[s] proper credit if anyone knows where that list came from.)

 

10 Responses to BMGD #26 Alma 23-29

  1. EmiG on July 4, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    Nothing really to add, but I wanted to say thank you for all your work on these posts, Julie. I teach Gospel Doctrine in my ward and the questions you pose often lead me to really engage with the text in a way I haven’t before, and consequently help those in my class to do the same. Thank you!

  2. Kevin Barney on July 9, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    I wanted to flesh out a little bit more my speculation on the meaning of Anti-Neph-Lehies. I think to get anywhere with this it’s going to take some speculation, including one or more leaps of intuition. I’m going to examine the expression as if it were Hebrew.

    Now in Hebrew, when you just pile words up together like that without any sort of connectives, that is what we call a construct chain. The relationship between the words is the relationship in English we characterize by “of.” Thus, Anti of Nephi [and] of Lehi.

    If that leap of intuition happens to be correct, it tells us some things about the Anti. First, it has to be a noun, not a preposition. Second, it has to be a plural. And third, it has to be in the construct state of the noun.

    My suggestion is that Anti might be an evolved form of Anshe, meaning literally “men of,” although we would translate it gender inclusively: “people of.”

    The word for man is ‘ish.
    The plural, men, is ‘anashim
    The plural construct, men of, is ‘anshe [there is a y at the end, tserey yod]

    To me the -i in Anti could be a reflection of the final yod in the male plural construct. So the real linguistic difference is the medial sh in classical Hebrew versus the t in the BoM; IE Anshe v. Anti.

    I pointed out that there has undoubtedly been linguistic evolution. We are now more than 500 years removed from Jerusalem. Moroni expressly states that such evolution has occurred (in his words, “reformed”).

    I gave an example of an s and t linguisitic shift I was familiar with from ancient Greek, the word for “sea,” which in Ionic is thalassa but in Attic is thalatta. So I got curious whether such linguistic shifts between sibilants and dentals like this might be attested in Hebrew.

    It occurred to me that the easiest way to check this out would be to look at Aramaic, a sister-Semitic language to Hebrew. And I quickly found that Aramaic often has dentals in lieu of the sibilants of Hebrew.

    So, for example, the Hebrew word for “three” is shalosh. That same word in Aramaic is tlath. It’s the same word, only Aramaic replaces each sh with a t.

    Similarly, the Hebrew word for ox is shor, while the Aramaic equivalent is tor. Same linguistic shift between sh and t.

    Therefore, I don’t think I’m reaching too far to suggest that Anti could = Anshe.

    Note that when the ANLs come to Zarahemla they are give a new name: the People of Ammon. “People of X” is an extremely common naming formation in the BoM; do a search some time. It’s possible that in People of Ammon they simply changed the referent names in the formation from Nephi-Lehi to Ammon.

    (I also note that Anshe is common in modern synagogutge names, like a majore synagogue we have here in Chicago, Anshe Emet, Peoplee of Truth.)

    So yes, it remains a total speculation. But I think it hangs together pretty well, all things considered. So my proposal is that it means The People of Nephi and of Lehi (of Nephi in an ideological/spiritual sense, and of Lehi in a genealogial sense).

  3. Ben S on July 9, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    Kevin, I was just going to point out that shift. Semitic had a *th* sound that merged with *sh* in Hebrew and *t* in Aramaic. Arabic retains it, so we have
    Arb thala:tha (“three”)
    Heb. shalosh (a: > o: the so-called Canaanite Shift)
    Arm. tlat (unaccented short vowel is reduced)

    You’re positing a sh>th shift which isn’t impossible. Similarly, after the merger of the distinctive *th* consonant in Hebrew, the *th* sound reemerged as an allophone of *t*. Single t following a vowel was pronounced *th*, otherwise it was pronounced *t*.

  4. Julie M. Smith on July 9, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    Kevin and Ben,

    What I find really interesting about that bit of speculation is this: what would be the motive to switching from “people of Nephi-Lehi” to “people of Ammon”?

    (And as much as I stand in awe of the detective work, I think I am with Sam Brown on this one–Occam’s Razor and all that.)

  5. Julie M. Smith on July 9, 2012 at 11:46 pm

    Another question raised by the “people of Nephi and of Lehi” reading is: What does that say about the translation process? Why would Joseph Smith have transliterated instead of translated there?

  6. Kevin Barney on July 10, 2012 at 6:51 am

    Maybe the moniker People of Nephi became confusing and awkward once they were no longer physically among Lamanites but among actual, you know, Nephites.

    On the translation question, why did Joseph normally transliterate names, but occasionally transliterate them, such as with Bountiful or Desolation? No clue.

    (To be clear, I’m pursuing my little theory for fun, I’m not wedded to it and agree Sam’s idea is intriguing. I just have a hard time with Ammon signing off on such a negative, past-looking name that would not honor their repentance and change of heart.)

  7. Kevin Barney on July 10, 2012 at 6:52 am

    Er, that second transliterate obviously should be translate…

  8. Julie M. Smith on July 10, 2012 at 11:25 am

    Kevin, that’s a good point re Ammon signing off.

    Another thing I wondered: why “Nephi-Lehi”? Isn’t it kind of a given that if you are the people of Nephi, you are also the people of Lehi? (This is an issue regardless of the meaning of “anti.”)

  9. Jonathan Green on July 10, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    Julie, it’s a given if you accept the Nephite narrative of descent from Lehi, but I think we can imagine situations where that narrative was disputed. A lot of the contention between Nephites and Lamanites seems to involve old injustices over who offended whom as the true bearer of Lehi’s legacy. It might be worth comparing the different traditions regarding Esau.

  10. meagan on July 17, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    Julie,
    Just wanted to say thank you for all your hard work. As with the EmiG, the first comment, I teach GD and find your insights incredibly helpful and thought provoking. It’s so great to expand the conversation in class and your questions have helped do that. Thank you for all the time/effort and willingness to share!