BMGD #27: Alma 30-31

July 9, 2012 | no comments
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CHAPTER 30

1 Behold, now it came to pass that after the people of Ammon were established in the land of Jershon, yea, and also after the Lamanites were driven out of the land, and their dead were buried by the people of the land—

I presume this means that the Nephites buried the Lamanite dead.  (V2 does imply that it was the Lamanite dead referred to in this verse.) Why might they do that and why might it be mentioned in our record?

“The people of the land” is an odd phrase–what does it mean and why was it used?  (Crazy speculation alert:  Is it a reference to people who were there before Lehi?  It sounds like the kind of phrase you would use to describe native inhabitants.)

 2 Now their dead were not numbered because of the greatness of their numbers; neither were the dead of the Nephites numbered—but it came to pass after they had buried their dead, and also after the days of fasting, and mourning, and prayer, (and it was in the sixteenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi) there began to be continual peace throughout all the land.

How is it possible that it was too much work to number them but it wasn’t too much work to bury them? Joe Spencer suggests this might be “an infinite loss.”

Why mention the fasting, mourning, and prayer?  (Should we fast as a part of mourning?)

The dead are not numbered but the years are; why?

What does the word “continual” mean in this verse?  (It obviously doesn’t mean peace that lasts forever, but it does mean something other than just “peace.”  Brant Gardner points out that, in Mosiah 19:29, we have “continual peace” that lasts [only] two years.)

 3 Yea, and the people did observe to keep the commandments of the Lord; and they were strict in observing the ordinances of God, according to the law of Moses; for they were taught to keep the law of Moses until it should be fulfilled.

 4 And thus the people did have no disturbance in all the sixteenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.

Does the “thus” in this verse mean that the people had peace precisely because they were keeping the law of Moses (v3)?  If so, what does that teach us about warfare in the BoM?  What does it teach us about warfare today?  Is it significant that the word “disturbance” (as opposed to “war” or whatever) is used here?

 5 And it came to pass that in the commencement of the seventeenth year of the reign of the judges, there was continual peace.

The record would make perfect sense without this verse, so why is it here?

 6 But it came to pass in the *latter end of the seventeenth year, there came a man into the land of Zarahemla, and he was Anti-Christ, for he began to preach unto the people against the prophecies which had been spoken by the prophets, concerning the coming of Christ.

It seems that one of the main things that we would want to know about Korihor is how he was created, by which I mean:  Where did these teachings come from to interrupt their peace?  We’ll find out at the very end of the story what motivated Korihor, but we don’t find that out here.  How would this story have been different if this verse told us that Korihor had been visited by Satan?  What effect does it have on the reader not to get that information until the end of the story?

Note how much attention has been given to years up to this point in the chapter (15th, 16th, 17th of the reign of the judges).  Why?

If you’ll remember from the previous lesson, everyone was eager to explain how “Anti-Nephi-Lehi” didn’t actually mean “anti.”  Of course, no one tries too hard here to explain that Korihor wasn’t actually Anti-Christ.

You know, it seems that if you were living in Z at this moment, whether Christ would come might be an angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin sort of question.  It seems like an abstract, future thing that wouldn’t impact people’s lives; you can easily imagine the average man on the streets of Z telling you that that’s a great question for the theologians to argue about, but he has to feed his family.  But it is the focus of Korihor’s (by which I mean Satan’s) message to the people, because (dis)belief in Christ’s coming is (or at least:  should be) the foundation of people’s beliefs and actions.  It is the complete opposite of an academic question.

 7 Now there was no law against a man’s belief; for it was strictly contrary to the commands of God that there should be a law which should bring men on to unequal grounds.

Why would a law against a person’s belief bring people onto unequal ground?  What exactly does “unequal ground” mean?  Why is it a problem for the law to bring people onto unequal ground if some of them have false beliefs?

Where does the idea that it is contrary to the commands of God to bring men onto unequal ground come from?  (The cynic would quickly point out that God seems to have no problem placing people on unequal ground.)

In the next chapter, we’ll get a birds-eye view of Zoramite worship, which happens on literally unequal ground.  Is that relevant here?

 8 For thus saith the scripture: Choose ye this day, whom ye will serve.

Nate Oman writes here about how this is the only time in the BoM we get a scriptural reason for a law and he draws out some very interesting implications.

How does this verse relate to v7?  By which I mean:  How does “choose ye this day . . .” explain why we shouldn’t have laws that bring people onto unequal ground?

Irony alert:  the apparent justification for their law allowing divergent beliefs comes from a text that only certain people would have believed in.

 9 Now if a man desired to serve God, it was his privilege; or rather, if he believed in God it was his privilege to serve him; but if he did not believe in him there was no law to punish him.

Usually in the BoM, “or rather” means “I messed up but there is no way to erase these dang plates.”  Is that the case here?  If so, how does “if he believed in God” correct “desired to serve God”?  What is the relationship between the words “desired” and “believed”?

The idea of an ancient society that didn’t use the law to punish non-believers is fairly amazing, especially given the fact that we were just reminded that these folks followed the law of Moses, which was not necessarily heralded for its commitment to religious tolerance.

 10 But if he murdered he was punished unto death; and if he robbed he was also punished; and if he stole he was also punished; and if he committed adultery he was also punished; yea, for all this wickedness they were punished.

What do we learn about Nephite culture from the fact that murder, robbery, stealing (note:  these are mentioned as two separate things), and adultery are mentioned as four examples of crimes that they punished?

Our society punishes the first three, but not adultery . . .

 11 For there was a law that men should be judged according to their crimes. Nevertheless, there was no law against a man’s belief; therefore, a man was punished only for the crimes which he had done; therefore all men were on equal grounds.

V7, v9, and this verse are rather redundant.  What is accomplished through this repetition?  Not only that, but all of v7-11 is covered by the aside in v12.  So:  Why do we get this digression into Nephite freedom of thought?  And not only is it redundant, but it makes you think that the direction the story is going in is:  “we had to allow Korihor to preach because of our laws.”  But what actually happens is the guy gets bound and dragged (drug?  I can never remember that) in front of a variety of civil and religious leaders (which, uncomfortably, reminds us of Jesus’ trials–is part of being “anti-Christ” having one’s life be a pale and confusing imitation of His life?), in seeming violation of the law . . . a law that we never would have known about (after all, it is not exactly typical of the ancient world) had we not just gotten a multi-verse digression about it.  What is going on here?

Brant Gardner suggests that the reason for this digression about their law is precisely because Mormon would have thought the idea of religious freedom would have been unusual to his audience.

Generally, the law of Moses punished actions and not beliefs.  That would change with the Sermon on the Mount, when not just the adultery but the lust that leads to it is seen as a sin.  This makes it look as if mapping the law of Moses onto civil law is fairly easy, but mapping onto Christian law (for want of a better term) is much more difficult.

 12 And this Anti-Christ, whose name was Korihor, (and the law could have no hold upon him) began to preach unto the people that there should be no Christ. And after this manner did he preach, saying:

Note that apparently Nephite law not only protected belief, but speech.  Again, this is most unusual in an ancient context.  Not only that, but it makes our digression about beliefs (v7-11) seem even weirder, since the issue with Korihor isn’t his beliefs, but his preaching.  Also, it forces us to re-examine v10:  certain behaviors (robbery, adultery) were specifically mentioned there as being illegal (“crimes”), but apparently “preaching false doctrine” does not fit into this category.  Why?  What should we learn from this?

This verse picks up the narrative thread from v6, with v7-11 being a digression about Nephite law.  However, we don’t get Korihor’s name until this verse.  The primary identification that we got for him was not his name, but that he is Anti-Christ.  What effect does this have on the reader?

Note that this is verse contains our third reference to the idea that Korihor is Anti-Christ (“Anti-Christ,” “there should be no Christ”) before we get his teachings.  When we get them, we see that material about a coming Messiah is a part, but only a small part, of his teachings–at least on the surface.  Why do you think Mormon chose to summarize Korihor’s teachings this way?

 13 O ye that are bound down under a foolish and a vain hope, why do ye yoke yourselves with such foolish things? Why do ye look for a Christ? For no man can know of anything which is to come.

Addressing your audience as people bound by a crazy hope is no way to win friends and influence people.  Why does Korihor start off this way?

How can we determine if our hopes are foolish?

How might we be tempted to think that our hope in Christ is vain?  In what kinds of situations might this happen today?

Notice the use of “bound” and “yoke.”  What is Korihor trying to suggest about belief here?  In what ways do we see the same message today?

It seems to me that this is a big old logic fail:  if no one can know of that which is to come, then how can Korihor know that Christ won’t come?  (Or is he just an agnostic?)

I think “Why do ye look for a Christ?” is actually a very good question for us to consider.

14 Behold, these things which ye call prophecies, which ye say are handed down by holy prophets, behold, they are foolish traditions of your fathers.

How can we determine what is a (foolish) tradition and what is a prophecy?

 15 How do ye know of their surety? Behold, ye cannot know of things which ye do not see; therefore ye cannot know that there shall be a Christ.

Korihor suggests that you can’t know something unless you see it.  How do we see that same argument made today?

We might call Korihor’s position here one of strict empiricism.  Now, there is no doubt that empiricism has its upside (you are reading this on one of the fruits of the scientific revolution!), but how do you determine its limits?

I think “How do ye know of their [=prophecies] surety?” is an excellent question for us to consider.

 16 Ye look forward and say that ye see a remission of your sins. But behold, it is the effect of a frenzied mind; and this derangement of your minds comes because of the traditions of your fathers, which lead you away into a belief of things which are not so.

This is the only use of “frenzied” in the scriptures.

Webster 1828 frenzy:  “Madness; distraction; rage; or any violent agitation of the mind approaching to distraction.”

Is Korihor thinking of what we would call mental illness when he says “frenzied mind”?

How can you be sure that your beliefs are not those of a deranged mind?

Is it true that the Nephites saw a remission of sins as something that would happen in the future, or did they see it as something that happened now (‘now’ being that moment when a Nephite–or Lamanite!–repented)?  When Alma describes his experience in Alma 36, I don’t see that as looking to a future remission of sins, but rather his experience of a remission of sins in that moment.  So I think Korihor is twisting their belief here, implying that remission of sins is one of those things in the future that they can’t know instead of a thing that happens in the present that they can, like Alma, experience.

 17 And many more such things did he say unto them, telling them that there could be no atonement made for the sins of men, but every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime.

V13-17 contain Korihor’s ideas.  Why were they included in the record?  Why are some presented as direct speech and some as a summary?

I realize this verse is just a summary, but the idea that whatever a person does is not a crime seems to come out of nowhere.  (Or does it?)  (How) does it relate to the rest of the verse?

Is it true that everyone fares in this life according to how they manage things?  (This seems like another way of describing what we often call “the law of the harvest.”)

Is it true that everyone prospers according to his genius and conquers according to his strength?

Is this social darwinism?  Is it relativism?

Is Korihor in anarchist?

We’ve already encountered the word “crime” in this chapter–in the discussion of Nephite law barring labeling anyone’s beliefs as a crime.  (How) is that relevant here?

Why did Korihor think that there would be no atonement?  (Obviously, you wouldn’t need one if nothing were a sin, but that doesn’t seem to be what Korihor says–he says that there “couldn’t” be an atonement.)

Crazy speculation alert:  I wonder if the digression on Nephite religious freedom was not, as it is usually read, an explanation for why they allowed Korihor to preach (note that they did not, in fact, allow him to, but hauled him in front of one authority after another) but rather those laws are presented as the background to Korihor’s thinking, with two possibilities:  (1) the laws were a bad idea in the first place, and Korihor’s preaching is the logical extension of those ideas or (2) the laws were OK, but Korihor shows the inappropriate extension/application of the principles behind the laws.

18 And thus he did preach unto them, leading away the hearts of many, causing them to lift up their heads in their wickedness, yea, leading away many women, and also men, to commit whoredoms—telling them that when a man was dead, that was the end thereof.

“Leading” is an important word here:  the people may have felt that they were “unbound” and “unyoked,” but they had just swapped out one leader for another.

“Lift up their heads in their wickedness” is an interesting phrase–it sounds to me as if they were already in wickedness, but following Korihor created a narrative that allowed them to be proud of their wickedness instead of hiding it.

Why are women mentioned first?  Is it because they were disproportionately drawn to Korihor’s teachings?  If so, why might this have been?

Note that this chapter began with references to the Nephites mourning their dead, but Korihor teaches that “when a man was dead, that was the end thereof.”  Does this make Korihor’s message particularly compelling–or uncompelling–to the audience?  Thinking again on the feminist angle, might the Nephite women have found particular comfort (how?  why?) in the idea that the dead were truly gone?

If we interpret “whoredoms” as sexual sins, what is it about Korihor’s preaching that has led specifically to sexual sins, as opposed to other types of sin?

The point seems to be that the people would commit whoredoms if they didn’t think that there would be a post-life consequence for it.  I think this implies that the people who followed Korihor did not understand that there are instant consequences for immorality.

 19 Now this man went over to the land of Jershon also, to preach these things among the people of Ammon, who were once the people of the Lamanites.

Is it significant that he is not called “Korihor” in this verse?

We already know where the people of Ammon came from, so why is the information re-iterated here?  (Did Korihor perhaps think they would be easy targets because of their Lamanite past?  Given the response that they have to them in v20–which our narrator highlights by pointing out that they were “more wise” than the Nephites–this may be an effort to show that the people of Ammon are not spiritually inferior to the Nephites.)

 20 But behold they were more wise than many of the Nephites; for they took him, and bound him, and carried him before Ammon, who was a high priest over that people.

Why were the people of Ammon less susceptible to Korihor’s teachings?  (Our narrator, or editor, says it is because they were “more wise,” but what exactly does this mean?)

Why did the people of Ammon arrest Korihor?  We just got this huge lecture on how a person’s belief was not a crime and v12 very specifically said that the law could not restrain him.  This is even more puzzling because they take K to the high priest, not the chief judge.  It seems, by the standards of this chapter, that this arrest is very clearly illegal.  And yet at the beginning of this verse they are described as wise.  What is going on here?

Brant Gardner’s explanation for my questions above:

While Korihor had the right to preach, the people Gideon and Korihor had the right not to listen. It is quite probable that there was no law against the removal of a person from their midst. The legal difference is that there was no punishment for Korihor’s beliefs, but there was an apparently legal ability of the people to remove an unwanted influence from their community. Even though we in the modern world have neither the legal option nor the unified communal will to bind up our unsavory influences, we nevertheless individually have the ability to symbolically bind and remove them. As did the peoples of Jershon and Gideon, we may bind and remove such influences from our families, and from our hearts. Citation

 21 And it came to pass that he caused that he should be carried out of the land. And he came over into the land of Gideon, and began to preach unto them also; and here he did not have much success, for he was taken and bound and carried before the high priest, and also the chief judge over the land.

Again, why is it OK for Ammon to banish him, when their law wasn’t able to touch him?

 22 And it came to pass that the high priest said unto him: Why do ye go about perverting the ways of the Lord? Why do ye teach this people that there shall be no Christ, to interrupt their rejoicings? Why do ye speak against all the prophecies of the holy prophets?

Jim F. asks:  

How are we to read this question in verse 22: “Why do ye teach this people that there shall be no Christ, to interrupt their rejoicings?” Is the final phrase a hypothetical answer to Giddonah’s question: “Why do you teach this people that there shall be no Christ? So that you can interrupt their rejoicings?” Or is he asking “Why do you teach this people that there will be no Christ, a Christ who will interrupt their rejoicings?” Or is he asking “Why are you trying to interrupt the people’s rejoicings by preaching that there will be no Christ?” Are there other possibilities?  Citation

Why is he asking these questions?  Is there any possible response from Korihor that would make him say, “Oh, OK, then, carry on!”  If not, what’s going on here and what should we learn from it?

Note that the high priest here explains that their belief in Christ causes them to rejoice, while Korihor thinks it causes them to be bound down.

 23 Now the high priest’s name was Giddonah. And Korihor said unto him: Because I do not teach the foolish traditions of your fathers, and because I do not teach this people to bind themselves down under the foolish ordinances and performances which are laid down by ancient priests, to usurp power and authority over them, to keep them in ignorance, that they may not lift up their heads, but be brought down according to thy words.

It is a little odd to not get the HP’s name until after he has spoken.  Why might that have happened here?

Note that Gid has given Korihor an opening big enough to drive a truck through, not to mention a forum to continue preaching.  Was this wise?  Was it necessary?

How would you respond to the idea that ordinances and performances (what exactly are performances in this context, anyway?) require people to give power to a priest?  Or that they keep people in ignorance?

Brant Gardner suggests that Korihor is an anti-missionary–going into the Nephite lands to convince them of (possibly) the Lamanite worldview.  Would it be useful to compare his mission with Alma’s and the sons of Mosiah’s?

 24 Ye say that this people is a free people. Behold, I say they are in bondage. Ye say that those ancient prophecies are true. Behold, I say that ye do not know that they are true.

 25 Ye say that this people is a guilty and a fallen people, because of the transgression of a parent. Behold, I say that a child is not guilty because of its parents.

Is there a significant difference between Korihor’s position here and the second Article of Faith (“We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.”)?

Why “a parent” here when Korihor usually says “fathers”?

 26 And ye also say that Christ shall come. But behold, I say that ye do not know that there shall be a Christ. And ye say also that he shall be slain for the sins of the world—

Note that Korihor seems to know the Nephite religion fairly well.

Maybe I am over-reading the dash at the end of the verse, but it feels like there should be better parallelism here with a second “but behold, I say . . .” statement.  Is this a deliberate rupture of parallelism to make a point?

Note that these antitheses (also in v24-25) are reminiscent of the antitheses in the Sermon on the Mount.  Again, I think we can see Korihor as a pale, inaccurate imitation of the real Christ.

 27 And thus ye lead away this people after the foolish traditions of your fathers, and according to your own desires; and ye keep them down, even as it were in bondage, that ye may glut yourselves with the labors of their hands, that they durst not look up with boldness, and that they durst not enjoy their rights and privileges.

What does this verse imply about the limits of “rights and privileges”?

Henry J. Eyring:

Korihor was arguing, as men and women have falsely argued from the beginning of time, that to take counsel from the servants of God is to surrender God-given rights of independence. But the argument is false because it misrepresents reality. When we reject the counsel which comes from God, we do not choose to be independent of outside influence. We choose another influence. We reject the protection of a perfectly loving, all-powerful, all-knowing Father in Heaven, whose whole purpose, as that of His Beloved Son, is to give us eternal life, to give us all that He has, and to bring us home again in families to the arms of His love. In rejecting His counsel, we choose the influence of another power, whose purpose is to make us miserable and whose motive is hatred. We have moral agency as a gift of God. Rather than the right to choose to be free of influence, it is the inalienable right to submit ourselves to whichever of those powers we choose. Apr 97 GC

28 Yea, they durst not make use of that which is their own lest they should offend their priests, who do yoke them according to their desires, and have brought them to believe, by their traditions and their dreams and their whims and their visions and their pretended mysteries, that they should, if they did not do according to their words, offend some unknown being, who they say is God—a being who never has been seen or known, who never was nor ever will be.

Jim F.:  “Korihor says that the people dare “not make use of that which is their own” for fear of the priests. Something has to have been happening that Korihor could interpret in that way. To what might he be referring?”

Expanding on Jim’s idea:  note that Korihor doesn’t say that the priests have been stealing or demanding or whatever, he says that the people have chosen not to use their own stuff.  Sort of like self-censorship.  I wonder if there was a dynamic in Nephite culture where people were excessively self-abnegating because they thought it was what the priests wanted, and if Korihor is manipulating that bad cultural tic.  (And again I am wondering if there is something about all of this that would have been particularly attractive to the women.)

 29 Now when the high priest and the chief judge saw the hardness of his heart, yea, when they saw that he would revile even against God, they would not make any reply to his words; but they caused that he should be bound; and they delivered him up into the hands of the officers, and sent him to the land of Zarahemla, that he might be brought before Alma, and the chief judge who was governor over all the land.

What do you make of their decision not to reply to Korihor?  In what situations might we want to do the same?  (Note that, when Alma converses with Korihor, Alma does reply to him (see v32).  Why will that situation be different?)

 30 And it came to pass that when he was brought before Alma and the chief judge, he did go on in the same manner as he did in the land of Gideon; yea, he went on to blaspheme.

What precisely is blasphemous about what he said? (Or: What does what he said teach us about the definition of ‘blasphemous’?) Or does it mean that in addition to what he said before, he also blasphemed?

31 And he did rise up in great swelling words before Alma, and did revile against the priests and teachers, accusing them of leading away the people after the silly traditions of their fathers, for the sake of glutting on the labors of the people.

Skousen reads “glutting in” here.

Given that Korihor is in front of Alma and the chief judge, why are the “great swelling words” (I love that phrase!) aimed only at Alma?

32 Now Alma said unto him: Thou knowest that we do not glut ourselves upon the labors of this people; for behold I have labored even from the commencement of the reign of the judges until now, with mine own hands for my support, notwithstanding my many travels round about the land to declare the word of God unto my people.

This is interesting, because we never got a story where Alma stopped his missionary work to harvest crops for a few weeks to earn money or whatever.   But apparently, he did just that.

How does Alma know what Korihor does or does not know?

33 And notwithstanding the many labors which I have performed in the church, I have never received so much as even one senine for my labor; neither has any of my brethren, save it were in the judgment-seat; and then we have received only according to law for our time.

Again, the idea of leaders gaining compensation for church service is a repeated them in the BoM.  Why was this issue so critical for them?  Is it important to us?  Where are the boundaries? (CES employees, etc.)

34 And now, if we do not receive anything for our labors in the church, what doth it profit us to labor in the church save it were to declare the truth, that we may have rejoicings in the joy of our brethren?

For all of the discussions in the BoM about priests earning their own money, this verse is probably the best explanation as to why that needs to be the case:  it makes their motive for preaching unsullied.

What can you learn from Alma’s response to Korihor, thinking of both form and content?  (My thought:  note how Alma calmly and rationally dismisses the allegation, and then turns the tables to a thought-provoking question that just might have the potential to initiate a process of thought and then repentance in someone contemplating it.)

If “everyone knows” that the priests aren’t glutting themselves, then why would Korihor have preached this?  (In other words, wouldn’t people have just rolled their eyes at the crazy guy if this accusation was completely implausible?)

35 Then why sayest thou that we preach unto this people to get gain, when thou, of thyself, knowest that we receive no gain? And now, believest thou that we deceive this people, that causes such joy in their hearts?

Skousen reads “people and that causeth” here.

I read Alma as making the argument that they aren’t deceiving the people, because they are causing such joy.  This strikes me as a potentially very troublesome argument:  surely deceptive preachers could lead to great joy in their audiences, because being relieved of commandments to follow is quite fun!  Do you see something that prevents Alma’s argument from falling into that trap?

36 And Korihor answered him, Yea.

This is a weird little exchange:  Did Alma think that Korihor would say “no”?  V35-36 definitely looks like a rhetorical loss for Alma.

37 And then Alma said unto him: Believest thou that there is a God?

38 And he answered, Nay.

Again, this exchange (v37-38) looks like a rhetorical loss for Alma.  Why did he ask this question?  (Perhaps v39 answers this question.)

39 Now Alma said unto him: Will ye deny again that there is a God, and also deny the Christ? For behold, I say unto you, I know there is a God, and also that Christ shall come.

Skousen reads “if ye deny” here.

40 And now what evidence have ye that there is no God, or that Christ cometh not? I say unto you that ye have none, save it be your word only.

Would it be correct to read Alma here as suggesting that faith is based on a preponderance of the evidence?  Why or why not?

Reading v35-40, you get the impression that Alma asks a question and gets a petulant answer and then drops the matter in v35-36, then asks another question, another petulant answer (v37-38), but this time doesn’t drop it (v39-42).  Why does Alma react differently to the v38 than he did to v36?

Isn’t Alma putting Korihor in an unfair position by asking him for evidence of absence, which is impossible to provide?

Now Alma doesn’t actually let Korihor get a word in here, but presumably Korihor would have said something like, “my evidence is that an angel came and told me that.”  It is interesting to speculate what direction the conversation might have taken had K said that, since to be technical, Korihor does have “evidence” (sorry Alma) in addition to his own word.

41 But, behold, I have all things as a testimony that these things are true; and ye also have all things as a testimony unto you that they are true; and will ye deny them? Believest thou that these things are true?

What does the phrase “all things” mean in this verse?

42 Behold, I know that thou believest, but thou art possessed with a lying spirit, and ye have put off the Spirit of God that it may have no place in you; but the devil has power over you, and he doth carry you about, working devices that he may destroy the children of God.

Is Alma waxing poetic, or is Korihor really a victim of demonic possession here?

“Put off” makes the Spirit sound like clothes, or a mantle, or something similar than can be put on or put off.  What does this language suggest to you about the Spirit?

I’m thinking about the contrast between “possessed with” and “put off” and, later in the verse, that the Spirit has a place “in” you but the devil “over” you.

Is it fair to read Alma as saying that Korihor (1) put off the Spirit and (2) still believes?  Is it possible for that to happen?

43 And now Korihor said unto Alma: If thou wilt show me a sign, that I may be convinced that there is a God, yea, show unto me that he hath power, and then will I be convinced of the truth of thy words.

Do you read this as a genuine offer on Korihor’s part, or as a challenge meant to show up Alma?

How does this verse relate to v42?

From Laman and Lemuel on, we learn in the BoM that signs are not sufficient to convert people. Yet Alma points out that we are given lots of signs (and there will be other signs for the BoM people, at Christ’s coming).  What is the message on signs?  How might we seek signs today?  (What’s the difference between “sign seeking” and me praying for God to let me know that he exists?)

44 But Alma said unto him: Thou hast had signs enough; will ye tempt your God? Will ye say, Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.

Are the “signs” that Korihor has had the same as the “all things” that testify?  Thinking more generally about this section, what is the relationship between “signs” and “things that testify”?

What does it mean in this context to tempt God?

I think Alma’s second question in this verse implies that “signs” and “testimony” are the same thing.  Is that so?

Unless you read this as a very loose translation by Joseph Smith, the Nephites appear to have known that the planets and the earth were in motion.

How do planetary motions witness to a creator?

General thought on the issue of signs:  Is the problem not asking for signs per se, but for asking for more signs than have already been given?

45 And yet do ye go about, leading away the hearts of this people, testifying unto them there is no God? And yet will ye deny against all these witnesses? And he said: Yea, I will deny, except ye shall show me a sign.

46 And now it came to pass that Alma said unto him: Behold, I am grieved because of the hardness of your heart, yea, that ye will still resist the spirit of the truth, that thy soul may be destroyed.

Is grief the response that you would have expected here?  What might we learn from this?

47 But behold, it is better that thy soul should be lost than that thou shouldst be the means of bringing many souls down to destruction, by thy lying and by thy flattering words; therefore if thou shalt deny again, behold God shall smite thee, that thou shalt become dumb, that thou shalt never open thy mouth any more, that thou shalt not deceive this people any more.

Irony:  here’s that sign he asked for!

The first line is reminiscent of the justification for Laban’s death (and for Jesus’ death in the NT).  What might we conclude from that?  How does this mesh with the teachings earlier in the chapter about the Nephite law not punishing anyone for their belief?

Alma phrases this verse as if there were a choice at hand:  Korihor’s soul or many souls.  In what sense is that a choice here?  (It almost sounds as if Alma thinks that this curse/sign will make Korihor lose his soul, but if Korihor wasn’t made mute, Korihor might possibly have had a chance at repentance, but it wasn’t worth the risk that K would continue to preach false stuff and lead other people astray.  Is that the right way to read this?)

In what ways would Korihor’s words have been “flattering”?

Alma is giving him a third chance to deny here; how might that be significant?  (In other words, do you have to deny your testimony three times for it to really count?)

48 Now Korihor said unto him: I do not deny the existence of a God, but I do not believe that there is a God; and I say also, that ye do not know that there is a God; and except ye show me a sign, I will not believe.

This is clearly a shift of position for K.

49 Now Alma said unto him: This will I give unto thee for a sign, that thou shalt be struck dumb, according to my words; and I say, that in the name of God, ye shall be struck dumb, that ye shall no more have utterance.

Interesting thoughts on the curse of speechlessness here.

Note that in v47, Alma said, “if you deny again, you’ll be struck dumb.”  K’s response in v48 was “I do not deny.”  And, in this verse, K is struck dumb.  This seems to violate the terms of Alma’s deal–what happened here?

50 Now when Alma had said these words, Korihor was struck dumb, that he could not have utterance, according to the words of Alma.

51 And now when the chief judge saw this, he put forth his hand and wrote unto Korihor, saying: Art thou convinced of the power of God? In whom did ye desire that Alma should show forth his sign? Would ye that he should afflict others, to show unto thee a sign? Behold, he has showed unto you a sign; and now will ye dispute more?

Why does the chief judge write to Korihor–the judge wasn’t struck dumb!  (I’ve seen suggestions that K was struck deaf as well, but in v55, Alma speaks to K.)

The “inflict others” thing strikes me as a little off–surely we could think of all sorts of signs that would have afflicted neither K nor someone else.  (I’m kind of partial to thunder.  Talking animals would work, too.)

Why does the spotlight shift from Alma to the chief judge here?

52 And Korihor put forth his hand and wrote, saying: I know that I am dumb, for I cannot speak; and I know that nothing save it were the power of God could bring this upon me; yea, and I always knew that there was a God.

Joe Spencer points out that the only time Korihor uses the word “know” is when he is writing, not speaking.  Given that Korihor (presumably) used to make his living speaking, and his curse is the inability to speak, I suspect that spoken versus written communication is an important theme in this chapter.

53 But behold, the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, and said unto me: Go and reclaim this people, for they have all gone astray after an unknown God. And he said unto me: There is no God; yea, and he taught me that which I should say. And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I taught them, even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed that they were true; and for this cause I withstood the truth, even until I have brought this great curse upon me.

This is very interesting:  the devil appeared to him as an angel.  What would you say to a cynic who suggested that Joseph Smith was similarly visited by the devil appearing as a divine being?

What is “the carnal mind”?  Why would Korihor’s teachings be pleasing to the carnal mind?

Does “I taught them . . . insomuch that I verily believed that they were true” imply that he didn’t believe them at first? If he didn’t, why did he teach them?

Is it significant that Korihor uses the word “curse” instead of “sign” here?

Chauncey Riddle:

Korihor’s life teaches us that having the truths of the gospel and being a covenant servant of Christ are in nowise guarantees of salvation. We are also reminded that the most powerful opposition to the work of the Savior on this earth comes from those who know the truth and seek to destroy others. Citation

54 Now when he had said this, he besought that Alma should pray unto God, that the curse might be taken from him.

(Presumably the “said” is an error–he was writing; he can’t speak.)

55 But Alma said unto him: If this curse should be taken from thee thou wouldst again lead away the hearts of this people; therefore, it shall be unto thee even as the Lord will.

Why would this be true?  Is it not possible for Korihor to genuinely repent of this sin?  Alma, of all people, should understand the power that a significant divine manifestation can have on someone to change their life.

56 And it came to pass that the curse was not taken off of Korihor; but he was cast out, and went about from house to house begging for his food.

Does this verse imply that Korihor had previously earned his living by speaking?  (One presumes that, had he been a farmer, he could have easily returned to that occupation in his mute state.)

Is there any relationship between the begging for food here and the fasting-as-part-of-mourning in the beginning of this chapter?  (Note that the entire Korihor story is bound by these troubling-absence-of-food motifs.)

57 Now the knowledge of what had happened unto Korihor was immediately published throughout all the land; yea, the proclamation was sent forth by the chief judge to all the people in the land, declaring unto those who had believed in the words of Korihor that they must speedily repent, lest the same judgments would come unto them.

Interesting contrast between K’s inability to speak but the knowledge of him being “published throughout all the land.”

58 And it came to pass that they were all convinced of the wickedness of Korihor; therefore they were all converted again unto the Lord; and this put an end to the iniquity after the manner of Korihor. And Korihor did go about from house to house, begging food for his support.

Earlier, Korihor had accused Alma of not working for his support and Alma responded that he did in fact work.  (How) does that exchange relate to the idea here that Korihor had to beg for his support?

Something is bothering me about the speed of their repentance. (Or is it just the abbreviated account?) And what function does the repetition of the mention of begging for food serve?

Interesting that these people were given a “sign” (K’s speechlessness) and they repented.

We already know K was begging–why repeat it?  (It does form an inclusio around v57.)

The only reference to begging in the BoM outside of this story is in King Ben’s speech, where a link is made between literal beggars and spiritual beggars.  In this story, K was a “spiritual beggar” before Alma, who turned him down.  He’s a literal beggar, and we do not know how successful he is at that.  Are these linked in other ways?

59 And it came to pass that as he went forth among the people, yea, among a people who had separated themselves from the Nephites and called themselves Zoramites, being led by a man whose name was Zoram—and as he went forth amongst them, behold, he was run upon and trodden down, even until he was dead.

Is this an accident?  Part of his punishment?

Are these people called Zoramites because they are the descendants of Zoram (Laban’s servant, who followed Nephi), or because their leader just happens to be named Zoram?  Is there any significance to the name here?

Did K deliberately choose the Zoramites (and, if so, why) or did he just end up there?

Given that we are about to find out in the next chapter that the Zoramites are really, really naughty, how should we read their killing (presumably deliberate?  I don’t know) of Korihor here?  Is the killing part of their wickedness?  Are they unwittingly furthering the Lord’s will?  Was it a righteous act?

60 And thus we see the end of him who perverteth the ways of the Lord; and thus we see that the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell.

Wait a minute:  v52-54 look a lot like confession and repentance to me.  Why doesn’t the Korihor story have a happier ending, like Zeezrom?  Why doesn’t there appear to have been any room for Korihor to repent and move on?  Can we determine what was missing (or present) that means that this was not genuine repentance?

Ironically, Korihor’s statement about how when a man was dead, that was the end appears to have come true in his own life in a certain way, as I think the language of v59-60 supports this link.

CHAPTER 31

1 Now it came to pass that after the end of Korihor, Alma having received tidings that the Zoramites were perverting the ways of the Lord, and that Zoram, who was their leader, was leading the hearts of the people to bow down to dumb idols, his heart again began to sicken because of the iniquity of the people.

There was originally no chapter break here.

So the end of Korihor is narratively intertwined with the rise of the Zoramites, and not just because of the fact of the place of Korihor’s death, but because this verse re-links the two (esp. since there was no chapter break).  Why?  What is the connection?  Perhaps Korihor thought he would receive sanctuary among the Zoramites, but they killed him.  Note that his beliefs (at least, Korihor’s pre-confession beliefs) were quite different from the Zoramites.  So what’s the link?  (This may be pushing slender evidence way too far, but I wonder if Alma was unaware of the Zoramite apostasy until Korihor went there and died.)  Joe Spencer points out that the “dumb” idols might link to the “dumb” Korihor:  “The appearance of the word “dumb” here is significant because it is so obviously an echo of the curse that had only just before come upon Korihor: even as the Zoramites kill Korihor through a collective act of violence, they bow down to worship his image.”  Citation

Note that the report of the Zoramite apostasy in this verse is focused on bowing down to dumb idols, but we are going to get quite a view of Zoramite religion in this chapter, and there’s nothing about idol worship in it.  What’s going on here?

Sherrie Mills Johnson writes:

Amulek’s claim that the word had been taught to the Zoramites “bountifully” may indicate that they were still in Zarahemla or its environs during the time of the extensive missionary labors that took place there in the seventh year of the reign of the judges (ca. 85 BC). During that time 3,500 people joined the church (see Alma 4:5). But in the following year “there began to be great contentions among the people of the church; yea, there were envyings, and strife, and malice, and persecutions, and pride, even to exceed the pride of those who did not belong to the church of God. . . . And the wickedness of the church was a great stumbling-block to those who did not belong to the church; and thus the church began to fail in its progress” (Alma 4:9—10). Mormon goes on to explain that Alma saw “great inequality among the people” in the land of Zarahemla (Alma 4:12), a troubling setback that prompted him to give up the judgment seat and devote himself entirely to preaching. As we will see, this inequality is the most likely cause of the Zoramite dissension. If so, the oppressed Zoramites probably would have left Zarahemla in the eighth or ninth year of the reign of the judges, when inequality and discrimination became significant problems. Citation

If this is true, it is interesting because the Zoramite apostasy seems to be marked by a form of equality (everyone gets his turn on the Ram., all saying the same words; this is, of course, a false equality since they won’t let the poor in the synagogues, but we won’t know that until the next chapter).

I think this verse is making a link between the hearts of the Zoramites and Alma’s heart:  What’s the link?  (Remember that in the Bible, at least, heart usually means ‘mind.’)

Alma seems to have a very visceral response to the sins of others.  (V2 expands on this theme.) Is this something we should emulate?  Why or why not?

What human needs to idols fulfill?  How should we be addressing those needs?

2 For it was the cause of great sorrow to Alma to know of iniquity among his people; therefore his heart was exceedingly sorrowful because of the separation of the Zoramites from the Nephites.

Is sorrow our response to apostasy?  Should it be?  How would we treat people who have chosen to disaffiliate with the church if we were like Alma?

3 Now the Zoramites had gathered themselves together in a land which they called Antionum, which was east of the land of Zarahemla, which lay nearly bordering upon the seashore, which was south of the land of Jershon, which also bordered upon the wilderness south, which wilderness was full of the Lamanites.

Why do we get a geography lesson here?

Brant Gardner:

The idea that they had “gathered” suggests that they were in various locations and became converts to Zoram’s interpretation of religion. Seen in this light, Zoram is another Nehor, Zeezrom, and Korihor. Zoram has succeeded in teaching, where Korihor did not. Citation

Sherrie Mills Johnson:

The meaning of the name Antionum is not known, but given the focus that the Zoramite culture placed on wealth and materialism, it is interesting to note that when the Nephite system of exchange was standardized at the beginning of the reign of the judges, one of the gold measures was called an antion (equivalent to three shiblons of silver or to one and one-half measures of grain; see Alma 11:15, 19). While we do not know if there is a direct relationship between the words antion and Antionum, the prospect is intriguing. Citation

4 Now the Nephites greatly feared that the Zoramites would enter into a correspondence with the Lamanites, and that it would be the means of great loss on the part of the Nephites.

Forgive me for going all Howard Zinn on you, but I’m pretty sure he’d say that Alma wasn’t mostly concerned about their sins but about the potential for a troubling political alliance between the Zoramites and the Lamanites.  While I don’t believe that, I do find it odd that we’d get a verse like this that practically invites us to question the purity of Alma’s motives–why is this verse here?   (How) does this relate to the two-verse exploration of Alma’s heartache over their sin?  Is it significant that this verse says that it was the Nephites (and not specifically Alma) who was concerned about the potential alliance?

From the FEAST wiki:  “Here the Nephites “feared that the Zoramites would enter into correspondence with the Lamanites.” Why would this be a bad thing? In chapter 31 we read about the Zoramite rich separating themselves from the poor. It seems that implicitly the Nephites are doing the right thing in remaining separate from the Lamanites but the Zoramite rich are doing the wrong thing by separating themselves from the Zoramite poor. When is separation a good thing and when is it a bad thing?”

Note that the poor Zoramites who repent are kicked out and end up in Jershon.  This ticks the other Zoramites off so much that they join up with the Lamanites for war against the Nephites/Zoramites (see Alma 35:13).  So the very thing that they were trying to avoid ends up happening.  (Neal A. Maxwell said that God had a good sense of irony.)

5 And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.

Skousen reads “had had a greater tendency” here.  That’s interesting–it makes it appear to be the result of experience as opposed to a more global statement.

Thinking back to the ANLs refusing to take up their swords:  I think this verse (softly) supports the generally pacifist (as opposed to the “the ANL were a special case”) reading of the BoM.

I think we might read some tension between “the Nephites” who, in v4, appear to want to approach this as a geopolitical problem, and Alma, in this verse, who wants to approach it as a “hearts and minds” problem.  In what situations might we want to model Alma’s attitude?  (Note that this is also a major theme in Isaiah:  the political power structure in his day always wants to make foreign alliances to ensure their safety; Isaiah wants them to keep their covenants to ensure their safety.)

Thinking more about the “more powerful effect” of the word than the sword:  I like this story from Carlfred Broderick about the importance of agency.  The reason the word is more powerful than the sword is that the word works with the agency of the individual and the sword works against it.

You’ve probably heard the famous line from President Packer:  “True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.”  I didn’t realize that he said that immediately after reading this verse.  (Apr 04 GC)

Elder Holland quoted this verse and then said:

When crises come in our lives—and they will—the philosophies of men interlaced with a few scriptures and poems just won’t do. Are we really nurturing our youth and our new members in a way that will sustain them when the stresses of life appear? Or are we giving them a kind of theological Twinkie—spiritually empty calories? President John Taylor once called such teaching “fried froth,” the kind of thing you could eat all day and yet finish feeling totally unsatisfied. Apr 98 GC

6 Therefore he took Ammon, and Aaron, and Omner; and Himni he did leave in the church in Zarahemla; but the former three he took with him, and also Amulek and Zeezrom, who were at Melek; and he also took two of his sons.

This verse reminds me of the kind of stuff we get in Acts and the Epistles re missions and assignments.  Can a useful comparison be made?  (Is there any significant to this idea of Alma and Ammon teaming up here?)

7 Now the eldest of his sons he took not with him, and his name was Helaman; but the names of those whom he took with him were Shiblon and Corianton; and these are the names of those who went with him among the Zoramites, to preach unto them the word.

8 Now the Zoramites were dissenters from the Nephites; therefore they had had the word of God preached unto them.

Skousen reads only one “had” here.

9 But they had fallen into great errors, for they would not observe to keep the commandments of God, and his statutes, according to the law of Moses.

Note that their problem began not with belief issues, but with behaviors.  What might we conclude from this?

I’m curious about the word “fallen” in this verse–usually, a fall is an accident.  Is that the connotation here?  Or, is it a reference to the fall [of Adam and Eve]?

Note that refusing to keep the commandments led to “great errors.”  What does “errors” mean in this verse, and what kind of errors might one fall into as a result of not keeping the commandments?  (You’d think that not keeping the commandments would be the error, but I think this verse is saying something else.)

10 Neither would they observe the performances of the church, to continue in prayer and supplication to God daily, that they might not enter into temptation.

This verse, when read with v9, implies a differences between commandments/statutes and “the performances of the church.”  (I think this verse defines those performances as prayer and supplication, but I am not sure:  it could also be read as saying that the performances of the church–whatever they are–help people to continue in prayer.  It seems weird to define “prayer” as “the performances of the church.”)  What’s the difference?

How do prayer and supplication lead to avoiding temptation?

What exactly is “supplication” in this verse–is it the same as prayer, or something different?

Why is the emphasis in this verse on avoiding temptation?  What temptations did the Zoramites fall in to, and how would prayer have helped them avoid these temptations?

11 Yea, in fine, they did pervert the ways of the Lord in very many instances; therefore, for this cause, Alma and his brethren went into the land to preach the word unto them.

in fine = finally

Webster 1828 pervert:

1. To turn from truth, propriety, or from its proper purpose; to distort from its true use or end; as, to pervert reason by misdirecting it; to pervert the laws by misinterpreting and misapplying them; to pervert justice; to pervert the meaning of an author; to pervert nature; to pervert truth.

2. To turn from the right; to corrupt.

V8-11 feel very redundant from the beginning of the chapter; I wonder if this is a seam from the combination of more than one source.  Another option:  we could read the descriptions of the Zoramites as bracketing the description of Alma and Co.  If we do that, what would we conclude?

12 Now, when they had come into the land, behold, to their astonishment they found that the Zoramites had built synagogues, and that they did gather themselves together on one day of the week, which day they did call the day of the Lord; and they did worship after a manner which Alma and his brethren had never beheld;

Note that they still had a religious desire and practice.

Why were they astonished that they had built synagogues?  (Or is the astonishment related to the mode of worship in the synagogues and not the synagogues themselves?)

I think “which they did call . . .” implies that the day that they meant wasn’t really “the day of the Lord.”

What do you learn from this verse about innovation in worship?

13 For they had a place built up in the center of their synagogue, a place for standing, which was high above the head; and the top thereof would only admit one person.

Skousen reads “a place of standing” here.

Are we to read this as just a factual description, or is it symbolic of their worship?  If it is symbolic, what does it symbolize?  (There seems to be an odd tension between making the speaker/teacher “higher” than everyone else, and letting everyone take on that role.)  How might we be tempted to do something similar today?

Try to put yourself in the mind of a Zoramite:  Why do you think they built their synagogues this way?  Imagine a podium where the speaker is high above your head:  unless the hall were vast and you were in the back, you would need to crane your neck to see the speaker.

Isn’t it obvious that a place for a speaker should only permit one person at a time?  Why was this worthy of mention?  Was it unusual?  Did the Nephites have more than one speaker at a time?

How does the Zoramite speaking place differ from how King Benjamin spoke to his people?

14 Therefore, whosoever desired to worship must go forth and stand upon the top thereof, and stretch forth his hands towards heaven, and cry with a loud voice, saying:

It this a critique of public/showy religion?  How might we be tempted to do the same thing today?

Is the stretching forth of the hands symbolic?  If so, what would it have symbolized to the Zoramites?  What might it symbolize to Alma or to us?

What of the loud voice:  Was that just technically necessary for the audience to hear?  Was it symbolic?  Was it bad?

15 Holy, holy God; we believe that thou art God, and we believe that thou art holy, and that thou wast a spirit, and that thou art a spirit, and that thou wilt be a spirit forever.

Is there anything wrong theologically with what they are saying here?  (I think we usually read “spirit” to mean “does not have a body,” but I am not sure if that is warranted.)

What do you think the Zoramites meant by God being “a spirit” and why was this so central to their worship?

I think the problem with Zoramite worship is that it wants to limit God:  the creedal statement in this verse wants to trap God in a box of knowable dimensions.

16 Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; and also thou hast made it known unto us that there shall be no Christ.

Let’s talk about “separated us from our brethren.”  In what ways is it correct for us to believe that God has separated us from other people?  In what ways is it incorrect?  (Note that until we get to the line about Christ, I think a Nephite could make this confession–perhaps not as a key element of a worship service, but as a statement of fact.)

How do we know if God has separated us from our brethren or we have separated ourselves from our brethren?  Are there any situations where we should separate ourselves from our brethren?

Note their lack of teachable-ness; note their unwillingness to be open to new ideas (pretty much the definition of hard-hearted).

Has God elected anyone to be holy children?

Note that they label the beliefs of others as “childish.”  I think this is a sin that LDS are sometimes guilty of committing.  “If there are any good principles, any moral philosophy that we have not yet attained to, we are desirous to learn them . . . (science, philosophy, government, etc.) . . .  If there are any religious ideas, any theological truths, any principles pertaining to God, that we have not learned, we ask mankind, and we pray to God, our Heavenly Father, to enlighten our minds that we may comprehend.”  John Taylor, TPC, page 216-7.

The idea about there not being a Christ feels like a throw-away line, a little off-the-cuff addition on the end.

Thinking about Zoramite society:  What functions were served by having everyone stand up and recite this same prayer every week?  What needs would it have filled for them?  Do we have any similar practices today?

17 But thou art the same yesterday, today, and forever; and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee; and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of Christ, which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God.

Is God the same yesterday, today, and forever?

Are people elected to be saved?  (Are other people elected not to be saved?)

I know that no LDS believes outright that some people are pre-condemned, but we reflect that belief if we choose not to share the gospel with someone because we know they would never join the church.

18 And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen.

19 Now it came to pass that after Alma and his brethren and his sons had heard these prayers, they were astonished beyond all measure.

I love this verse.  I can just picture the expressions on their face.  More seriously, they appear to have known that the Zoramites were off the rails before they undertook this mission, so why are they so astonished here?  I think the answer must be something about the type of their apostasy as opposed to the fact of their apostasy, which they already knew, which means it wouldn’t have been astonishing.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that they were astonished at the fact that they were saying so many true things, wrapped into so false a context.  Perhaps also:  the oddness of their manner of worship.  (We get lots of other anti-Christs in the BoM, but they are, as we have them recorded, all talk and no worship, so this story is unique in giving us a view of false worship.)

20 For behold, every man did go forth and offer up these same prayers.

Does this verse condemn set prayers, or this particular set prayer?

Part of their sin was a lack of individualism and originality–a commitment to group-think and conformity.

I think v19-20 imply that the astonishment was related to the fact that everyone was offering exactly the same prayer.  Is that the best reading of what is happening here?

We have no idea what Nephite worship looked like, except that it was grounded in the law of Moses.  To that extent, it would have consisted of people bringing animals to the temple to slaughter.  It is entirely possible that no Nephite layman every offered a public prayer.  (Of course they could have done that, but there is nothing in either the law of Moses or in the BoM that would make this a requirement.)  Reading the Zoramite practice against that background, what do you conclude?  (My point:  we tend to read Zoramite worship as a testimony meeting gone horribly shallow.  But that wasn’t their context.  In their context, I think the most conspicuous aspect of their worship is the lack of animal sacrifice [and the implies message about Christ from that lack] and, possibly, the idea that every member of the community should speak to the entire community.  Also, the visual focal point for law of Moses worship would have been, I think, the animal on the alter; for the Zoramites, it is the [expensively-dressed] person who speaks.)

21 Now the place was called by them Rameumptom, which, being interpreted, is the holy stand.

Why was this verse included in the record?

It is odd to name a place in the middle of the story; why was that done here?

22 Now, from this stand they did offer up, every man, the selfsame prayer unto God, thanking their God that they were chosen of him, and that he did not lead them away after the tradition of their brethren, and that their hearts were not stolen away to believe in things to come, which they knew nothing about.

Skousen reads “had not led” instead of “did not lead” here.

I don’t think this verse adds any new information–what is it doing?

Because everyone offers the same prayer, the only variation in the whole worship service is the clothing and ornamentation of the speaker.  I think this would have led to even more emphasis on the clothing, as a visual diversion.

23 Now, after the people had all offered up thanks after this manner, they returned to their homes, never speaking of their God again until they had assembled themselves together again to the holy stand, to offer up thanks after their manner.

Skousen reads “when the people” here.

What does the example of the Zoramites teach us about (how not to express) gratitude?

So they limited their religiosity to when/where other people could see it.

We learned in v1 that their leader “was leading the hearts of the people to bow down to dumb idols.”  How do you reconcile that statement with the picture of the Zoramites praying on Sunday and then not doing anything else religious all week, as presented in this verse?

Good exercise:  read v12-23, looking for yourself and your beliefs and your habits.  (Nephi never says to liken the scriptures unto other people!)

Absent our modern LDS context, I think you could read the critique of Zoramite worship as a critique of all public prayer and/or public worship.

24 Now when Alma saw this his heart was grieved; for he saw that they were a wicked and a perverse people; yea, he saw that their hearts were set upon gold, and upon silver, and upon all manner of fine goods.

Alma was astonished at their worship but grieved at their lack of week-day religion.  What do you make of these two different reactions?

There is nothing specific in the prayer about riches; does Alma have other evidence, or is there something subtle in the prayer that links it to a focus on riches?

Brant Gardner:

When a person stands upon the Rameumptom he might be better heard because of the height, but we should not forget that the person is also seen. The nature of the Rameumptom is also that a single person at a time might stand there. This gives unique visual presence to the person on the stand. Since all of the people who are on the stand are in the same place, and repeat the same words, the differences between them can become more apparent, especially since these differences are represented in the clothing that they wore. Citation

25 Yea, and he also saw that their hearts were lifted up unto great boasting, in their pride.

26 And he lifted up his voice to heaven, and cried, saying: O, how long, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that thy servants shall dwell here below in the flesh, to behold such gross wickedness among the children of men?

Is their a relationship between the Zoramites’ hearts (v25, lifted up to boasting and pride) and Alma’s heart (this verse, lifted up to heaven)?

Is Alma whining here?  A literal reading of this verse is something along the lines of “How long do I have to live and see this yuckiness?”  It seems rather self-centered to me (“They are offending me!”) instead of focused on the Zoramites (“Those poor, deluded people!”).  Why does Alma have this reaction?

27 Behold, O God, they cry unto thee, and yet their hearts are swallowed up in their pride. Behold, O God, they cry unto thee with their mouths, while they are puffed up, even to greatness, with the vain things of the world.

28 Behold, O my God, their costly apparel, and their ringlets, and their bracelets, and their ornaments of gold, and all their precious things which they are ornamented with; and behold, their hearts are set upon them, and yet they cry unto thee and say—We thank thee, O God, for we are a chosen people unto thee, while others shall perish.

 

So, clearly, God is already aware of the points that Alma is making here.  Why does Alma say all of this?

The narrator didn’t tell us any of this–is it weird to get this info from Alma and not the narrator?  What purpose might this serve?

I’m curious about the juxtaposition of their worship style and their focus on wealth:  (how) are these related?

How much gold can you wear without it being a sin?  (The correct answer to this question is:  As much as I do, but no more.)

How would you respond to a cynic who said that our practice of dressing up to go to the temple conflicts with the spirit of this verse?

Note how their focus on their stuff leads to their prayer, and the prayer is related to the stuff.  Compare v37, where we again have a prayer and a (lack of) focus on stuff.

29 Yea, and they say that thou hast made it known unto them that there shall be no Christ.

30 O Lord God, how long wilt thou suffer that such wickedness and infidelity shall be among this people? O Lord, wilt thou give me strength, that I may bear with mine infirmities. For I am infirm, and such wickedness among this people doth pain my soul.

Again, what do you make of the fact that Alma is making this about him?

31 O Lord, my heart is exceedingly sorrowful; wilt thou comfort my soul in Christ. O Lord, wilt thou grant unto me that I may have strength, that I may suffer with patience these afflictions which shall come upon me, because of the iniquity of this people.

32 O Lord, wilt thou comfort my soul, and give unto me success, and also my fellow laborers who are with me—yea, Ammon, and Aaron, and Omner, and also Amulek and Zeezrom and also my two sons—yea, even all these wilt thou comfort, O Lord. Yea, wilt thou comfort their souls in Christ.

33 Wilt thou grant unto them that they may have strength, that they may bear their afflictions which shall come upon them because of the iniquities of this people.

34 O Lord, wilt thou grant unto us that we may have success in bringing them again unto thee in Christ.

35 Behold, O Lord, their souls are precious, and many of them are our brethren; therefore, give unto us, O Lord, power and wisdom that we may bring these, our brethren, again unto thee.

Skousen reads “our near brethren” here.  That is very interesting–it makes it sounds as if *all* of the Zoramites are their brethren, but perhaps some are actually close family members?

Note that what we have in this chapter is a Zoramite prayer and an Alma prayer:  How do they compare?

36 Now it came to pass that when Alma had said these words, that he clapped his hands upon all them who were with him. And behold, as he clapped his hands upon them, they were filled with the Holy Spirit.

So the clapping of hands appears to be a ritual or ordinance or something–what is going on here?

37 And after that they did separate themselves one from another, taking no thought for themselves what they should eat, or what they should drink, or what they should put on.

The separating is reminiscent of the beginning of Ammon and Co.’s mission among the Lamanites.  Is there a connection?

Why the language borrowed from the NT at the end of this verse?  (One thought:  it shows a contrast to the priorities of the Zoramites.)

Note the “ornament amnesia” (Thank you for that phrase, Adam Miller) here, in contrast to the focus on bling by the Zoramites.

38 And the Lord provided for them that they should hunger not, neither should they thirst; yea, and he also gave them strength, that they should suffer no manner of afflictions, save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ. Now this was according to the prayer of Alma; and this because he prayed in faith.

“Why is non-endurance a denial of the Lord? Because giving up is a denial of the Lord’s loving capacity to see us through ‘all these things’! Giving up suggests that God is less than He really is…So much of life’s curriculum consists of efforts by the Lord to get and keep our attention. Ironically, the stimuli He uses are often that which is seen by us as something to endure. Sometimes what we are being asked to endure is His ‘help’ – help to draw us away from the cares of the world; help to draw us away from self-centeredness; attention-getting help with the still, small voice has been ignored by us; help in the shaping of our souls; and help to keep the promises we made so long ago to Him and to ourselves…Whether the afflictions are self-induced, as most of them are, or whether they are of the divine-tutorial type, it matters not. Either way, the Lord can help us so that our afflictions, said Alma, can be ‘swallowed up in the joy of Christ’. Thus, afflictions are endured and are overcome by joy. The sour notes are lost amid a symphony of salvational sounds. Our afflictions, brothers and sisters, may not be extinguished. Instead, they can be dwarfed and swallowed up in the joy of Christ. This is how we overcome most of the time – not the elimination of affliction, but the placing of these in that larger context.” (Neal A. Maxwell, BYU Fireside, 1984)  Citation

General:

(1) What are the differences between the Zoramite worship service and fast and testimony meeting?  (Seriously.)

(2) A great little meditation on the role of language, knowledge, power, and structures in the Korihor account here.

(3) There is a sense in which ch31 paints a false picture of the Zoramites in that it is focused largely on their religious worship, when we know that the Zoramites themselves paid very little heed to religious matters.

(4) I may be over-reading Sherrie Mills Johnson here, but she seems to be suggesting that the root of the Zoramites’ separation from the Nephites can be found in the mis-treatment that the Nephites had dished out to the Zoramites because the Zoramites were not descendants of Lehi.  If this is the case, then one of the lessons of the Zoramites is the spiritual dangers we pose to others when we make having the proper heritage a litmus test.  (I have heard faithful LDS say “she’s a lifer, not a convert” as an example of someone’s righteousness.  That ain’t OK.)

(5) Jim’s notes here point out how unfortunate the chapter division in the BoM and the lesson division for Sunday School are.

(6) Joe Spencer, on the contrast between the two prayers in chapter 31:

The Rameumptom prayer constantly employs the verb “to believe,” while Alma’s prayer never uses it. Second, the Rameumptom prayer is explicitly a prayer of gratitude (it never petitions), while Alma’s prayer is explicitly a prayer of petition (it never thanks). . . . The five creedal statements here are all, as are most statements in most creeds, statements about transcendent facts: whereas Alma simply talks in his prayer about what he has seen immediately before him, the Zoramites make claims about things that have not—indeed cannot have—experienced personally. Moreover, the creedal prayer lays a heavy emphasis on the communal or collective, while Alma’s prayer has a manifest focus on the (I hate this word) individual—or let me say: on the subject.  . . . Second difference: Why, in this text, is petition associated with faith, while gratitude is associated with faithlessness? I immediately think of Derrida here: thanks or gratitude cancels a gift by economizing it, by subsuming it within a calculus or by making it a kind of wage. Might it be that in order to be gifted, in order to be a given-to, it is necessary not to raise a prayer of thanks, but rather always to be asking for something? Indeed, might the very position of gratitude not be always dangerously close to self-satisfaction, to being at ease in Zion? This difference between the two prayers—one that entirely caught me by surprise—radically reworks the meaning of faith.  (Citation)

(7) The root of Korihor’s (self-) deception is that he is confused by an “angelic” visitation.  This is a tricky issue, perhaps, for Alma, whose own conversion was caused by a (real) angelic visitation. What can you glean from Alma’s responses to Korihor that addresses this situation?  Are Alma’s responses different after he knows the source of Korihor’s errors?

(8) This chart might be helpful in thinking about what Korihor teaches.

(9) Brant Gardner points out here that virtually all of the records that we have from Alma are focused on the theme of apostasy and conversion, which is not surprising given that that is the main narrative of Alma’s own life story.

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