BMGD #31: Alma 43-52

August 6, 2012 | 12 comments
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General note:  I had roughly the same reaction to this lesson as I did to the Isaiah chapters:  this is tough stuff and there is no way to do a decent job with it if there are ten chapters to cover in a week’s time.  It feels as if the message of the lesson schedule is:  don’t bother–just skim and move on.  That makes me sad–there’s some interesting stuff here.

CHAPTER 43

1 And now it came to pass that the sons of Alma did go forth among the people, to declare the word unto them. And Alma, also, himself, could not rest, and he also went forth.

Perhaps the record is much abridged here, but it is pretty amazing to think of Corianton returning to missionary service immediately after (even in narrative time, if not in real time) the tongue-lashing he got in the last few chapters.  Of course, this illustrates the power of the atonement and the reality of repentance, doesn’t it?

Which people?  Did they go back to the Zoramites, or what?

The last time we talked about “resting” it was in the context of the rest of the righteous after death.  Is that concept here relevant to Alma’s inability to rest?

2 Now we shall say no more concerning their preaching, except that they preached the word, and the truth, according to the spirit of prophecy and revelation; and they preached after the holy order of God by which they were called.

What’s the purpose of telling us that you are not going to tell us something?  (Actually, I think it continues to make the point that Corianton, despite his very serious sins, really was redeemable.)

In this verse, are “word” and “truth” two different things or two different ways of saying the same thing?

Is word/truth and prophecy/revelation a deliberate pairing of some sort in this verse?

Presumable “preaching after the holy order of God” is different from just preaching, or it wouldn’t have been mentioned here.  What might it mean?

Again, I think these verses are here to illustrate the reality of Corianton’s repentance; this one emphasizes that he was still called to do the work and able again to have the spirit of prophecy and revelation.

Why aren’t you saying any more about their missions?

3 And now I return to an account of the wars between the Nephites and the Lamanites, in the *eighteenth year of the reign of the judges.

And thus begins the war chapters.  I think the standard LDS reading of these is that we are to read them allegorically.  That is, the physical things that they did to protect themselves from physical attack are the models of the spiritual things that we can use to protect ourselves from spiritual attack.  Is this the best way to interpret the war chapters?  How else might we understand them?  Is it fair or unfair to think that if you hire a general to edit your library, you end up with a bunch of war stories–what did you expect?  Are these war stories then evidence of Mormon’s human contribution, or evidence of the Lord’s careful design?  What are the advantages and disadvantages of an allegorical approach to this (or any other) scripture?

Given that our writer and editor easily could have used this space to relate the stories and sermons of these missions, why are they entirely absent?  Why tell these war stories here?

 4 For behold, it came to pass that the Zoramites became Lamanites; therefore, in the commencement of the eighteenth year the people of the Nephites saw that the Lamanites were coming upon them; therefore they made preparations for war; yea, they gathered together their armies in the land of Jershon.

Note that “Lamanite” has gone far beyond a racial/ethnic identity here.  As Brant Gardner says:

We have the very simple statement that the Zoramites became Lamanites. This should put to rest all presumptions that the term Lamanite has anything to do with genetics at this point in the Book of Mormon. The only way that the Zoramites could become Lamanites was to shift their political alliances. Surely the did not move. Surely the did not alter their genetic makeup. What they did was alter an allegiance. Lamanite is clearly a political term here. Citation

It is a sad summation of the missionary labors from earlier in Alma when we hear here that the Zoramites have become Lamanites.

Is it significant that the people (not the leaders [civil or military]) of the Nephites prepared for war?

Remember that Jershon was the land given to the ANLs (now called the people of Ammon).  The deal was that they would provide financial support to a Nephite defense force for their defense, but wouldn’t take up arms themselves.  One wonders how the people of Ammon feel at this moment, as their money is used to prepare others to fight in their stead, but they do not prepare to fight.

So was Jershon given to the ANLs because it was considered very safe (in which case it is significant and sad that it is about to become the battle ground) or because it was more dangerous (in which case, how nice was it of the Nephites to put the undefended ANLs there)?  Gardner points out that the side-swapping by the Zoramites may have changed the safety of Jershon.

Remember Alma 31:4-6:

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. 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.  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.

Oops.  What’s the moral of the story here?

 5 And it came to pass that the Lamanites came with their thousands; and they came into the land of Antionum, which is the land of the Zoramites; and a man by the name of Zerahemnah was their leader.

There seems to be something of a contradiction in that we were just told that the Zoramites became Lamanites but here we are told that the Lamanites entered the land of the Zoramites.  Is this just a convenient way to describe the situation, or does it mean that the Zoramite Lamanitization (I just made that word up!) was not complete?

The way this story is told implies (but doesn’t come right out and say) that the Lamanite war-making is tied to the Zoramites becoming Lamanites.  Is this the case?  If so, why?  And what might we learn from it?

 6 And now, as the Amalekites were of a more wicked and murderous disposition than the Lamanites were, in and of themselves, therefore, Zerahemnah appointed chief captains over the Lamanites, and they were all Amalekites and Zoramites.

There’s nothing like the fervor of a new convert!  Both the Amalekites and the Zoramites are Nephite apostates who have joined the Lamanites.  It is interesting that the Lamanites would trust them with these leadership roles, and perhaps even more telling that these new leaders would not be troubled by a military attack on their kindred.

Once again, we get a picture of the Lamanites as “not so bad.”

“Zerahemnah” sounds an awful lot like “Zarahemla.”  I wonder if that might be significant.

 7 Now this he did that he might preserve their hatred towards the Nephites, that he might bring them into subjection to the accomplishment of his designs.

Why do we get this commentary here?

How much can we trust this account?  (Our writer/editor presumably did not have access to the internal motivations of Lamanite rulers.)  Is this just Nephite PR?

If we are reading allegorically, what do we learn from this?  What are similar situations today?

Who is the “them” being brought into subjection in this verse:  the Nephites or the Amalekite/Zoramite leaders?  Or is the ambiguity intentional?  (Does v8 explain any of this?)

 8 For behold, his designs were to stir up the Lamanites to anger against the Nephites; this he did that he might usurp great power over them, and also that he might gain power over the Nephites by bringing them into bondage.

How might we stir people up to anger today?

In what ways is it easier to gain power over angry people?

So notice that the Lamanites’ anger has two results:  the Lamanites themselves will give up their power to their leaders and the Lamanites will then be motivated to bring the Nephites into bondage.

So is it ever OK to use anger to motivate people, or is that always manipulative?

How is our writer or editor aware of A’s motives?  Is this guesswork or inspiration or Nephite PR?  How seriously should we take it?  Do his motives matter?  Would he have owned up to this motive, or would he have claimed other motives?

 9 And now the design of the Nephites was to support their lands, and their houses, and their wives, and their children, that they might preserve them from the hands of their enemies; and also that they might preserve their rights and their privileges, yea, and also their liberty, that they might worship God according to their desires.

This verse needs to be read along with v8 to contrast the motives of the Lamanite leader with the Nephites.  Note two things:  designs is plural in v8 and singular here.  Is that significant?  Also note that the contrast is between Zerahemnah and the Nephite people, not the Nephite leader (or the Lamanite people).

More contrast on the “designs”:  the Nephites is defensive; Zerahemanh’s is offensive.  (This gets weird if we are reading allegorically:  Is our role as Christians just a defensive one and Satan’s an offensive one?  That doesn’t quite sound right.)  Z’s is about stirring up anger; the Nephites’ is about preserving wealth, family, and rights.

Are “rights” and “privileges” two different things or two ways of saying the same thing in this verse?  What about “liberty”?

Should you read this verse as a statement on the acceptable conditions for entering a war?  (Or is this not universal?)  If you do read it that way, what would you conclude?

 10 For they knew that if they should fall into the hands of the Lamanites, that whosoever should worship God in spirit and in truth, the true and the living God, the Lamanites would destroy.

Not to be difficult, but we just had a bunch of missionaries return from Lamanite missions with life and limb intact, not to mention thousands of converts.  And that was missionaries on Lamanite turf, not just conquered Nephites trying to quietly live their own religion.  So I am wondering why the Nephites came to the conclusion they did in this verse when there is plenty of contrary evidence.  Is it possible that the Nephites were just wrong here?

What does it mean to worship God “in spirit and in truth”?  The only other scriptural reference is John 4:24 (“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him inspirit and in truth.”) and Alma 34:38.  What’s interesting about that reference from John is the context:  at the well, in conversation with a Samaritan woman, Jesus was on hostile turf discussing true worship.

 11 Yea, and they also knew the extreme hatred of the Lamanites towards their brethren, who were the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi, who were called the people of Ammon—and they would not take up arms, yea, they had entered into a covenant and they would not break it—therefore, if they should fall into the hands of the Lamanites they would be destroyed.

I wonder why the “ANL” name is resurrected here.

Why would the Lamanites have been particularly hostile toward the people of Ammon?  Is it because they felt guilty about killing non-resisters?  Is it because they were jealous that they had this cushy set-up in the land of Jershon?  (I don’t know if it actually was cushy, but maybe the Lamanites thought that.)  Some other reason?  I think the verse possibly implies that they hated them because they feared the results of another military encounter with them:  they wouldn’t fight back, and big chunks of the Lamanite army would be converted by their example, as happened the last time.  (That’s kind of funny when you think about it:  “I hate them because if we go to war against them, they won’t fight back and all of my soldiers will convert to their side because of their example!”)

Now, why would they fall into the hands of the Lamanites if the Nephites are getting financed to defend them?  (Maybe this scenario required the defeat of the Nephites.  Or maybe the Lamanites were not aware of the fact that the Nephites would defend the Lamanites.)

12 And the Nephites would not suffer that they should be destroyed; therefore they gave them lands for their inheritance.

Of course, we already know this.  Why is it repeated here?

 13 And the people of Ammon did give unto the Nephites a large portion of their substance to support their armies; and thus the Nephites were compelled, alone, to withstand against the Lamanites, who were a compound of Laman and Lemuel, and the sons of Ishmael, and all those who had dissented from the Nephites, who were Amalekites and Zoramites, and the descendants of the priests of Noah.

There’s a subtext to this verse that sounds to me that the Nephites were unfairly burdened by having to protect the people of Ammon.  Is that the best reading of this verse?

14 Now those descendants were as numerous, nearly, as were the Nephites; and thus the Nephites were obliged to contend with their brethren, even unto bloodshed.

Skousen reads “descendants” as “dissenters,” but it is conjectural.  This reading would radically change the interpretation of the passage here.

I think v13 set us up to believe that the Lamanites would be much, much larger than the Nephites, but this verse pulls the rug out from under that by saying that there were more Nephites.  In the OT, large numbers are usually evidence of being blessed.

Brant Gardner has a different reading:  that “those descendants” refers only to the descendants of the priests of Noah–which means that, overall, the Nephites are way, way fewer in number than the Lamanites.  (If this is correct, then how did the fact of their paltry numbers oblige them to contend?  You’d have thought it would have obliged them to come up with some way to settle differences without contending!)  Ultimately, he points out that this would not have been numerically possible, so maybe we are talking about something other than strict biological descent here.

How does the “thus” work in this verse?  That is, what exactly is it that obliges the Nephites to contend with their brethren?  A wooden reading of the verse would say that the reason in because their were slightly more Nephites than Lamanites, but that doesn’t sound right.

 15 And it came to pass as the armies of the Lamanites had gathered together in the land of Antionum, behold, the armies of the Nephites were prepared to meet them in the land of Jershon.

 16 Now, the leader of the Nephites, or the man who had been appointed to be the chief captain over the Nephites—now the chief captain took the command of all the armies of the Nephites—and his name was Moroni;

Why might we have been introduced to the Lamanite leader a long ways back, but only introduced to the Nephite military leader here?

I think this might be a Freudian slip–Moroni isn’t the leader of the Nephites, but is perhaps initially called one because he has so much power in a time of war.

Who appointed Moroni?  The chief judge?  the voice of the people?  God?  Someone else?

 17 And Moroni took all the command, and the government of their wars. And he was only twenty and five years old when he was appointed chief captain over the armies of the Nephites.

Skousen reads “commander” instead of “captain” here.

Why was it important for us to know his age?  Does it point to his exceptional abilities, or to the desperate state of the Nephites (Isaiah and other OT writers show “children” ruling a sign of disorder, but Moroni is perhaps a little long in the tooth to be considered a child), or something else?

Is it significant that Moroni has no religious background to speak of here?  (That is, we are told his age, but nothing about his testimony, service, church rank, lineage, beliefs, etc.)  (Although see v23 for a hint of this.)

 18 And it came to pass that he met the Lamanites in the borders of Jershon, and his people were armed with swords, and with cimeters, and all manner of weapons of war.

Why are we given a weapons inventory here?

Lots of info on swords and cimeters here.

 19 And when the armies of the Lamanites saw that the people of Nephi, or that Moroni, had prepared his people with breastplates and with arm-shields, yea, and also shields to defend their heads, and also they were dressed with thick clothing—

This verse sets up an equivalence between “the people of Nephi” and “Moroni.”  What might that accomplish?  (Or is it just a typo on unerasable plates?)

Note the disconnect between v18 and v19:  in v18, we find out about their offensive weapons, but those turn out not to be nearly as relevant as their defensive stuff, which we hear about in v19.  So:  Why mention the offensive stuff in v18?  (If you are reading allegorically, what would you conclude from this?)

There’s something weird to me about an army being freaked out not by the opposing army’s offensive weapons, but by their shields.  Why did this happen?  (It isn’t like this is European-style armor, and even that wasn’t perfect.)  In other words, the Lamanites seem like wimps to be completely put off by thick clothes.

 20 Now the army of Zerahemnah was not prepared with any such thing; they had only their swords and their cimeters, their bows and their arrows, their stones and their slings; and they were naked, save it were a skin which was girded about their loins; yea, all were naked, save it were the Zoramites and the Amalekites;

Someone call the modesty police!

Why are the Zoramites and the Amalekites dressed differently?  Is it because of their leadership positions?  Or their Nephite heritage?  Or what?  (Again, note that the Zoramites wanted to become Lamanites but this is our second bit of evidence that the transition was not complete.)

Does this mean that the Z and A people had the same kind of cloth armor that the Nephites had?  If they did, then why was the presence of this cloth armor on the Nephites such a shock to the Lamanites–shouldn’t they have been expecting it?

21 But they were not armed with breastplates, nor shields—therefore, they were exceedingly afraid of the armies of the Nephites because of their armor, notwithstanding their number being so much greater than the Nephites.

So v18 cataloged their offensive weapons, but that isn’t what drew the Lamanites’ attention in v19; there, they focus on the Nephites’ defensive stuff.  And then we find out that the Lamanites don’t have defensive stuff.  Why was this included in the record?  If you read it allegorically, what might you learn from it?  (Again, the message is sort of weird:  Satan doesn’t have defensive stuff and is jealous of yours.  What does that mean?)

Again, “we have way more people,  but they have cloth armor” just doesn’t sound like the kind of thing what would strike terror into an army’s heart.  Can you explain the Lamanite reaction here?

How did the Nephites know the Lamanite thought process here?  Did they just assume it because (1) the Lamanites left and (2) the Lamanites turn up at the next fight with armor?  Is it just a guess?

 22 Behold, now it came to pass that they durst not come against the Nephites in the borders of Jershon; therefore they departed out of the land of Antionum into the wilderness, and took their journey round about in the wilderness, away by the head of the river Sidon, that they might come into the land of Manti and take possession of the land; for they did not suppose that the armies of Moroni would know whither they had gone.

So does the Lamanites’ refusal to fight here mean that the efforts of Z to get everybody good and riled up failed, at least to an extent?  If that’s the case, are we supposed to learn something from that?  Maybe:  anger is no match for a good defense.  If that’s the right lesson to draw, what might that look like applied to real life?

Are they just stupid to think that Moroni’s armies won’t know where they go, or what?

How does our writer know their thinking (that is, that they didn’t think Moroni’s armies would be able to find them), or is this just an educated guess again?

 23 But it came to pass, as soon as they had departed into the wilderness Moroni sent spies into the wilderness to watch their camp; and Moroni, also, knowing of the prophecies of Alma, sent certain men unto him, desiring him that he should inquire of the Lord whither the armies of the Nephites should go to defend themselves against the Lamanites.

Note that “whither” means “in what place” not “whether,” so Moroni’s question isn’t if the Nephites should defend themselves, but where they should go to do so.

Interesting mixture of logic/pragmatism and inspiration in this verse.  What might we learn from that?

The final line is a little weird here:  if you are “going” somewhere, are you still defending yourself,  or at some point does that become an offensive war?

 24 And it came to pass that the word of the Lord came unto Alma, and Alma informed the messengers of Moroni, that the armies of the Lamanites were marching round about in the wilderness, that they might come over into the land of Manti, that they might commence an attack upon the weaker part of the people. And those messengers went and delivered the message unto Moroni.

Is it significant that Moroni couldn’t/didn’t get this revelation himself?  (It certainly seems within his sphere of authority to ask about this one, no?)

Interesting that the revelation doesn’t really tell them anything that the spying wouldn’t have told them.

What do you learn about prophets from v23-24?  Is there anything distasteful about a prophet using his gifts to aid in “the work of death”?

 25 Now Moroni, leaving a part of his army in the land of Jershon, lest by any means a part of the Lamanites should come into that land and take possession of the city, took the remaining part of his army and marched over into the land of Manti.

This is all pretty inside baseball stuff.  Is this just some necessary history background, or are we supposed to be reading allegorically, or what?

Did Alma tell him to do this, or did he decide himself?  Is it logic or inspiration?

This is actually a tough call for Moroni if they are already at a numerical disadvantage . . .

Is Moroni showing a lack of faith in that Alma just told him by revelation that the attack would be in Manti, and here Moroni is covering his bases by leaving some of his army in Jershon?  (Maybe the moral of the story is:  a revelation from a church leader doesn’t give you permission to abandon common sense!)

 26 And he caused that all the people in that quarter of the land should gather themselves together to battle against the Lamanites, to defend their lands and their country, their rights and their liberties; therefore they were prepared against the time of the coming of the Lamanites.

Are “rights” and “liberties” two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?

Are “lands” and “country” two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?

Is there a parallel between lands/country and rights/liberties of some sort?

 27 And it came to pass that Moroni caused that his army should be secreted in the valley which was near the bank of the river Sidon, which was on the west of the river Sidon in the wilderness.

 28 And Moroni placed spies round about, that he might know when the camp of the Lamanites should come.

 29 And now, as Moroni knew the intention of the Lamanites, that it was their intention to destroy their brethren, or to subject them and bring them into bondage that they might establish a kingdom unto themselves over all the land;

How does Moroni know this?  Was it part of the revelation to Alma, or something the spies sussed out, or a good guess, or just Nephite PR?

So which was their intention:  to destroy them, or to bring them into bondage?  (Those aren’t the same thing.  Or are they?)

 30 And he also knowing that it was the only desire of the Nephites to preserve their lands, and their liberty, and their church, therefore he thought it no sin that he should defend them by stratagem; therefore, he found by his spies which course the Lamanites were to take.

Note that this is the second time just in this one chapter that the motives of the Nephites are compared with the motives of the Lamanites.

Webster 1828 stratagem:  “1. An artifice, particularly in war; a plan or scheme for deceiving an enemy. 2. An artifice; a trick by which some advantage is intended to be obtained.”

Is “by stratagem” and using spies the same thing, or two different things?

This is a very interesting verse.  I think it could be read as saying that if your motives are good, then the ends justify the (otherwise unsavory) means.  Is that the best reading of the verse?  Is the principle true?  In what situations might it apply today?

Is the assumption in this verse that, if the Nephites’ motives had been impure, that it would have been a sin to defend them by stratagem?

31 Therefore, he divided his army and brought a part over into the valley, and concealed them on the east, and on the south of the hill Riplah;

 32 And the remainder he concealed in the west valley, on the west of the river Sidon, and so down into the borders of the land Manti.

 33 And thus having placed his army according to his desire, he was prepared to meet them.

Is the word “desire” in this verse significant, given the emphasis in this chapter to the desires of the Nephites and the Lamanites.

 34 And it came to pass that the Lamanites came up on the north of the hill, where a part of the army of Moroni was concealed.

 35 And as the Lamanites had passed the hill Riplah, and came into the valley, and began to cross the river Sidon, the army which was concealed on the south of the hill, which was led by a man whose name was Lehi, and he led his army forth and encircled the Lamanites about on the east in their rear.

 36 And it came to pass that the Lamanites, when they saw the Nephites coming upon them in their rear, turned them about and began to contend with the army of Lehi.

 37 And the work of death commenced on both sides, but it was more dreadful on the part of the Lamanites, for their nakedness was exposed to the heavy blows of the Nephites with their swords and their cimeters, which brought death almost at every stroke.

What effect does the phrase “work of death” have on you?  (My thought:  it would be easy to read the last few verses as an entertaining, suspenseful story, but that phrase punctures your balloon.)

How is it possible that the Lamanites did not learn from previous wars that they needed defensive coverings?

Rereading v36, why were the Lamanites willing to enter into battle now, when the last time they met up with the Nephites, they turned tail and ran?  Because, as we find out in this verse, the Lamanites still lacked the defense materials that would have been needed to protect them from the Nephites.  (See v39 for more on this.)

 38 While on the other hand, there was now and then a man fell among the Nephites, by their swords and the loss of blood, they being shielded from the more vital parts of the body, or the more vital parts of the body being shielded from the strokes of the Lamanites, by their breastplates, and their armshields, and their head-plates; and thus the Nephites did carry on the work of death among the Lamanites.

Skousen reads “wounds” instead of “swords” here.

What should we learn from this?

I’m having a hard time figuring out how the concluding line about just the Nephites carrying out the work of death functions, given the first line of v37, where both sides are carrying out (or, technically, commencing–perhaps that is the issue–both commence, but only the Nephites carry out . . . ) the work of death.

The phrase “thus the Nephites did carry on the work of death” is just . . . ugly.  We’ve been given lots of reasons to see this work as completely justified and moral, but then we get this ugly description of that work.  Why?

Here are the only scriptural references to “the work of death.”

 39 And it came to pass that the Lamanites became frightened, because of the great destruction among them, even until they began to flee towards the river Sidon.

When the Lamanites saw the Nephites’ defenses, they were afraid and left Jershon.  Then, they show up at Sidon, where the Nephites have exactly the same defenses, but this time they battle them, and it is only after they take heavy losses that they become afraid. This doesn’t seem to make sense.  How can you account for the Lamanites’ behavior here?

 40 And they were pursued by Lehi and his men; and they were driven by Lehi into the waters of Sidon, and they crossed the waters of Sidon. And Lehi retained his armies upon the bank of the river Sidon that they should not cross.

 41 And it came to pass that Moroni and his army met the Lamanites in the valley, on the other side of the river Sidon, and began to fall upon them and to slay them.

 42 And the Lamanites did flee again before them, towards the land of Manti; and they were met again by the armies of Moroni.

 43 Now in this case the Lamanites did fight exceedingly; yea, never had the Lamanites been known to fight with such exceedingly great strength and courage, no, not even from the beginning.

This feels like an awfully positive way to describe your enemy in battle . . . Is this supposed to strike the reader as a positive statement?

 44 And they were inspired by the Zoramites and the Amalekites, who were their chief captains and leaders, and by Zerahemnah, who was their chief captain, or their chief leader and commander; yea, they did fight like dragons, and many of the Nephites were slain by their hands, yea, for they did smite in two many of their head-plates, and they did pierce many of their breastplates, and they did smite off many of their arms; and thus the Lamanites did smite in their fierce anger.

What accounts for the switch from fearful Lamanites done in by Nephite defenses to dragon-like Lamanites who can crush those defenses and what are we supposed to learn from this?

Are we supposed to draw any “moral of the story” type conclusions from the losses that the Nephites suffer here?

How exactly did the Zoramites and Amalekites inspire them?  This verse doesn’t tell us.  We might import the idea of hatred toward Nephites from earlier in the chapter.  I think a crucial and often overlooked theme in the BoM is that the Lamanites are never the real problem.  The real problem is always the Nephites’ own unrighteousness, especially when it gets to the point of resulting in dissenting groups.  If you agree with this reading, I think the theme for us today is that the outsider is never the real problem.  We’re always our own worst enemy.

So would it be wrong to draw the conclusion that, good as the Nephite defensive measures were, they could be overpowered by serious anger?

General thought:  Alma told us that the Zoramites didn’t believe his words when they saw Corianton’s behavior.  This chapter began with Corianton returning to missionary work, but then the narrator says explicitly that he isn’t going to tell us that story–he’s going to tell us about wars.  And it is reasonable to conclude that the Zoramite attitude here is at least in some small part the result of Corianton’s sin.

45 Nevertheless, the Nephites were inspired by a better cause, for they were not fighting for monarchy nor power but they were fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church.

Skousen reads “rights of worship” instead of “rites of worship” here.

Again, we get a contrast in motives for the two groups–the third time in this chapter.

Is it fair to conclude that our success will depend on our motive?

 46 And they were doing that which they felt was the duty which they owed to their God; for the Lord had said unto them, and also unto their fathers, that: Inasmuch as ye are not guilty of the first offense, neither the second, ye shall not suffer yourselves to be slain by the hands of your enemies.

This reference to duty is most interesting to contrast with the ANL decision not to fight.  (See also the next verse.)

Does the phrase “what they felt” mean “. . . but it wasn’t”?  If not, then why use that phrase?  Is there a purpose to the distance that it creates?

Is this a general principle of warfare?  Is it applicable to other situations besides warfare?  How does it mesh with “turning the other cheek” and “seventy times seven”?

What was the first and second offense against the Nephites?  (Does the need for a 1st and 2nd offense explain the detailed description of the war in this chapter?)  Would the ANLs have been allowed/obligated to fight had there been a 3rd offense?

Does the inclusion of this verse imply that the writer/editor thought that we would find this battle morally dubious, and that we’d need this re-assurance that it was OK with the Lord to act here?

Brant Gardner:

Unfortunately, we do not have the source for this citation. It is not in our current Book of Mormon, no is it in other revealed scriptures. One would suspect that this is information communicated to Lehi, as at that early time the question of how they should relate to potential enemies would have been an extremely important question. Citation

What effect does it have on the reader to hear a scripture reference that s/he hasn’t heard elsewhere?  (My thought:  it reminds us what a partial record we have.  Here’s an idea big enough to motivate warfare–the very work of death–and it isn’t even in our record.  Perhaps that is also a hint about what is important for our day, and this counsel wasn’t it.  It isn’t included as counsel for us, necessarily, but was important to them.

47 And again, the Lord has said that: Ye shall defend your families even unto bloodshed. Therefore for this cause were the Nephites contending with the Lamanites, to defend themselves, and their families, and their lands, their country, and their rights, and their religion.

Note the slight disconnect between the description (given four times so far) of what the Nephties were fighting for (land, etc.) and the Lord’s statement here, which mentions only families, not lands, rights, etc.

Again, this is a very different picture than the counsel of the Jesus of the NT.  What accounts for the difference?

This is another statement of the Lord that we don’t have another attestation of.

So, we’ve got two other-wise unknown statements from the Lord that set out the circumstances under which it is OK to go to war.  Why are these statements here and not elsewhere?  Care to speculate as to the circumstances under which they were originally given?  Is it significant that it is the people–not Moroni, not the civil governor–who uses these rationales for warfare?

Note that these two scriptural rationales for war are given in the heat of a fierce battle.  (And not, as we might have expected, at the point when the Nephites were considering going to war.  The specific context is the anger of the Lamanites.)  Why does this happen here?  (I think the next verse explains a little that Moroni uses their prior conviction of the rightness of their cause to re-instill courage in them when they panic.)

Boyd K. Packer:

I mention another plain and precious insight that did not come with the first reading in the Book of Mormon. When I was 18 years old, I was inducted into the military. While I had no reason to wonder about it before, I became very concerned if it was right for me to go to war. In time, I found my answer in the Book of Mormon: [He quotes Alma 43:45–47]. Knowing this, I could serve willingly and with honor. Apr 05 GC

 48 And it came to pass that when the men of Moroni saw the fierceness and the anger of the Lamanites, they were about to shrink and flee from them. And Moroni, perceiving their intent, sent forth and inspired their hearts with these thoughts—yea, the thoughts of their lands, their liberty, yea, their freedom from bondage.

Are you surprised that Moroni’s men are about to wimp out, especially after the last few verses about their duties?

Note that Moroni doesn’t threaten them with a court martial, but instead inspires them by reminding them what they are fighting for.  Also, he addresses the spiritual justification for warfare and what they are fighting for, not something pragmatic or traditionally motivational.  This incident will take on added significance later, when Moroni, on more than one occasion, actually kills people (lots of them) who refuse to fight.  But those situations appear to be political objections, not fear, so it is interesting how sympathetic Moroni is here to people who are afraid. He certainly doesn’t react the way that I think most of us would (by being disgusted by those who are fearful and tolerant of those who are politically opposed to fighting).

I’m again curious at the disconnect between what the Lord said they could fight for (=families) and what the Nephites (in this case, Moroni specifically) says he is fighting for:  he doesn’t mention family at all, but instead land and liberty.

Was Moroni’s ability to perceive their intent a spiritual gift?  (Or was it totally obvious, given that they were shrinking and fleeing?)  I think this is the tip of a really big question, since so many events in the war chapters hinge on the issue of what motivated people to do what they did.

What do you learn about how to motivate people from this verse?

 49 And it came to pass that they turned upon the Lamanites, and they cried with one voice unto the Lord their God, for their liberty and their freedom from bondage.

Before, we’ve suspected that speaking with “one voice” was not spontaneous but some kind of ritualized speech.  That might be the case here.

Is “liberty” and “freedom from bondage” the same thing or two different things in this verse?

Perhaps one reason why these war chapters were included was so we would reflect on the horrors of “bondage.”  In what situations are people kept in bondage today?  (And I’m not talking about bondage to sin here, people.)  How can we help them?

 50 And they began to stand against the Lamanites with power; and in that selfsame hour that they cried unto the Lord for their freedom, the Lamanites began to flee before them; and they fled even to the waters of Sidon.

What is the source of their power here?

I think this verse clearly pictures the idea that their calling on the Lord changed the tide of the battle.  Compare that with the last (almost-) battle, when it was their defensive preparations that were crucial.  What do you learn from comparing the two?

 51 Now, the Lamanites were more numerous, yea, by more than double the number of the Nephites; nevertheless, they were driven insomuch that they were gathered together in one body in the valley, upon the bank by the river Sidon.

Again, it doesn’t seem possible, given what we learned earlier in the chapter, that there could be 2x as many Lamanites as Nephites overall, so I presume this refers just to the subset fighting in this particular area.

This is the third reference to numbers–the first was sort of ambiguous, the second indicated a slight advantage, and this one a substantial advantage.  Were these references deliberately crafted to gradually dole out information?  If so, what might have been the purpose of this?

 52 Therefore the armies of Moroni encircled them about, yea, even on both sides of the river, for behold, on the east were the men of Lehi.

 53 Therefore when Zerahemnah saw the men of Lehi on the east of the river Sidon, and the armies of Moroni on the west of the river Sidon, that they were encircled about by the Nephites, they were struck with terror.

 54 Now Moroni, when he saw their terror, commanded his men that they should stop shedding their blood.

Note that this is the second time in rapid succession that Moroni observes someone’s emotional state and then reacts.  (The last time when his own people were scared to death and he gave them a pep talk.)  How do these two incidents compare?  What do these incidents tell us about Moroni?  (My thought:  he comes off as far more Oprah-esque than GI Joe what with all of this observing and responding to emotions.)

What does this tell us about Moroni?  What does this tell us about the rules of warfare?

What do you make of this verse?  Is there a moral lesson here?

CHAPTER 44

1 And it came to pass that they did stop and withdrew a pace from them. And Moroni said unto Zerahemnah: Behold, Zerahemnah, that we do not desire to be men of blood. Ye know that ye are in our hands, yet we do not desire to slay you.

Does “a pace” mean “one step” or something else?

So even after withdrawing “a pace,” they are still in close enough quarters that their leaders can speak directly to each other.  (Unless this is an abridged account of messengers running back and forth, although I think v12 suggests otherwise.)

At first I thought that Moroni’s first sentence to Z. was not a complete sentence, but then I realize that the “behold” wasn’t doing its usual work but rather the sentence says something like “look, Z, and you’ll see that we do not desire . . .”  So did Moroni think that their pausing and stepping back should have provided Z with evidence that they didn’t want to be “men of blood?”  If so, is it fair to say that they are, to a limited extent, modeling the ANLs here?  (And, with the next sentence, perhaps modeling Ammon at the waters of Sebus?)

This is the only scriptural use of “men of blood” in the scriptures.

Moroni’s statement of his motives (that is, that he doesn’t want to slay them) becomes more poignant when we remember that in the upcoming chapters, he will slay lots and lots of his own people.

2 Behold, we have not come out to battle against you that we might shed your blood for power; neither do we desire to bring any one to the yoke of bondage. But this is the very cause for which ye have come against us; yea, and ye are angry with us because of our religion.

And here’s the 4th discussion of motives for battle.  I think that if there is one inescapable theme in this section, it is the issue of motives for warfare.

Do you think Z would have agreed with Moroni that they (=the Lamanites) were fighting for power and to bring the Nephites into bondage and because their religion ticked them off?  In other words, is Moroni’s assessment of the Lamanites’ desires controversial?

Why would Moroni tell Z what his (=Z’s) motives are?  Doesn’t Z already know?

There’s a sense in which Moroni’s statement is patently untrue:  of course they are shedding their blood for power–they want power over their own lives, they do not want to be in bondage.  We can probably give Moroni the benefit of the doubt in that he means here “power over you,” although he doesn’t actually say that.

3 But now, ye behold that the Lord is with us; and ye behold that he has delivered you into our hands. And now I would that ye should understand that this is done unto us because of our religion and our faith in Christ. And now ye see that ye cannot destroy this our faith.

 

What do you make of the idea that (1) the Lord can be “with” someone in battle and (2) it should be obvious (“behold”) when the Lord is with someone in battle?  (Because, frankly, these sound like deeply dangerous, crusade-provoking ideas if you ask me.)

Is it reasonable for Moroni to think that these enemies will recognize the Lord’s hand in the Nephite victory?  In other words, does he say this to persuade, or for some other reason?  If the latter, what is the reason?

Interesting that Moroni says that the Lord delivered the Lamanites into his hands; if you read the last chapter, it appeared to be a combo of revelation and strategy.

How would faith in Christ lead to military victory?

What’s the backstory behind Moroni’s comment about destroying their faith?  By which I mean:  was that the Lamanites’ motive?  Or Moroni’s fear?  Or what?

4 Now ye see that this is the true faith of God; yea, ye see that God will support, and keep, and preserve us, so long as we are faithful unto him, and unto our faith, and our religion; and never will the Lord suffer that we shall be destroyed except we should fall into transgression and deny our faith.

At this point, I’m kind of cracking up over the idea that the Nephites have paused the battle and taken a step back so that Moroni could deliver the first discussion to Z.  I know that in the ANE, there is a tradition of writing the speech that should have been given into the history books (as opposed to the speech that was actually given), and I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that Moroni’s remarks to Z. may just possibly have been ever-so-slightly edited before being included in the record.

Is Moroni here teaching that you won’t lose a battle if God is on your side?  Is this a true principle?

Are “faith” and “religion” two different things or two ways of saying the same thing in this verse?

So “never will the Lord suffer . . . deny our faith” is not a universal principle when we think back to what happened to the ANLs, unless we redefine “destroyed.”  How do you mesh these two stories?

5 And now, Zerahemnah, I command you, in the name of that all-powerful God, who has strengthened our arms that we have gained power over you, by our faith, by our religion, and by our rites of worship, and by our church, and by the sacred support which we owe to our wives and our children, by that liberty which binds us to our lands and our country; yea, and also by the maintenance of the sacred word of God, to which we owe all our happiness; and by all that is most dear unto us—

Once again, Skousen reads “rights of worship” here.

Is faith, religion, and rites of worship three things or three ways of saying the same thing?

What do you make of “the sacred support which we owe to our wives and our children”?  There aren’t a lot of references to women in the BoM–why this one?  What does it tell us about women and their roles?

Interesting to frame liberty as something that binds us instead of something that frees us.

6 Yea, and this is not all; I command you by all the desires which ye have for life, that ye deliver up your weapons of war unto us, and we will seek not your blood, but we will spare your lives, if ye will go your way and come not again to war against us.

 

V5-6 are a long list of things by which Moroni commands them, beginning with the name of God and ending with the Lamanites’ own desires.  What do you make of this list?  I think the one item that most conspicuously doesn’t fit is the Lamanites’ desires for life.  Why was this included?  How did Moroni know about it, when all evidence was to the contrary?  (The only evidence that wasn’t to the contrary, such as it was, was at the initial encounter when the Lamanites were scared of the Nephites’ defenses.)

There’s something interesting about Moroni setting the terms as handing over weapons of war, some possible connection to the ANLs burying their own weapons . . .

Do you perceive this peace settlement as something that Moroni comes up with, or the result of inspiration?  Is their room to question Moroni’s wisdom in offering it?  (In other words, is he running the risk that they will re-arm and fight another day?  Is that an acceptable risk?)

7 And now, if ye do not this, behold, ye are in our hands, and I will command my men that they shall fall upon you, and inflict the wounds of death in your bodies, that ye may become extinct; and then we will see who shall have power over this people; yea, we will see who shall be brought into bondage.

Why “extinct”?

What do you make of Moroni’s reference to power and bondage here, after specifically eschewing that as a motive above?

“Wounds of death” strikes me as uncharacteristically poetic–why is it used here?  (This is its only use in the scriptures.)

 

8 And now it came to pass that when Zerahemnah had heard these sayings he came forth and delivered up his sword and his cimeter, and his bow into the hands of Moroni, and said unto him: Behold, here are our weapons of war; we will deliver them up unto you, but we will not suffer ourselves to take an oath unto you, which we know that we shall break, and also our children; but take our weapons of war, and suffer that we may depart into the wilderness; otherwise we will retain our swords, and we will perish or conquer.

Skousen reads “make an oath” instead of “take an oath” here.

So does Z get points for having enough integrity not to enter into an oath he knows he won’t keep?

I suspect that “and also our children” is a link to the ANL/army of Helaman story . . .

I’m wondering how seriously to take Z’s refusal to make the oath, as opposed to this just being a negotiation, like a car sale.

Note that Moroni has said nothing about an oath, although I suppose it is implied at the end of v6, where the assumption is that they are agreeing not to come against them again.

 

9 Behold, we are not of your faith; we do not believe that it is God that has delivered us into your hands; but we believe that it is your cunning that has preserved you from our swords. Behold, it is your breastplates and your shields that have preserved you.

So this is a really interesting verse because it is so . . . reasonable.  After all, it is clear that their “cunning,” in terms of the strategy they used in the last chapter, which was called a “stratagem,” was definitely a part of their success.  And, clearly, the Nephite defensive stuff was also a part of their success.  He’s actually correct in his identification of 2 of the 3 factors in their success identified in the last chapter.  (Or maybe you’d want to add “motives for fighting” to the list of factors, in which case he is still batting .500.)  The only thing he missed was the part where Moroni got counsel from Alma, but remember that Alma’s inspiration only reiterated what they were already going to do!  So Z. comes off as one of the most rational, reasonable opponents of truth in all of scripture.

. . . which raises the larger question of how we know if/when God is on the side of someone in battle, when there are physical reasons (=superior strategy and defenses) for their success.

Clearly, Z is in a terrible position to be bargaining with Moroni, and he’s already asked for Moroni to change the (pretty decent, I have to say) terms that he has offered.  It seems crazy for Z. to say what he does in this verse–certainly he must realize that it isn’t going to help his case with Moroni to dispute his theology.  So, why does Z say this?

Why was this verse included in the record?  (Giving “equal time” to the opposition is generally note one of the goals of the scriptural record!)

Go back and re-read v3.  Moroni has presented as obvious some ideas that Z. disputes.  What do you conclude from this?  (Does Moroni just look out-of-touch?)

10 And now when Zerahemnah had made an end of speaking these words, Moroni returned the sword and the weapons of war, which he had received, unto Zerahemnah, saying: Behold, we will end the conflict.

(This verse is ambiguous, but the next one clears it up . . .)

What work is “and now when Z had made an end . . . words” doing, because isn’t that verbiage taken for granted every time we switch speakers?

Jim F.:  “Why does Moroni give back the weapons of the Lamanites, knowing that they are going to use them to kill his people?”  (Seriously, given all the ink that has been spilled about the importance of defending their freedom and families, why does Moroni do something here that makes that task much more difficult than it needed to be?)

11 Now I cannot recall the words which I have spoken, therefore as the Lord liveth, ye shall not depart except ye depart with an oath that ye will not return again against us to war. Now as ye are in our hands we will spill your blood upon the ground, or ye shall submit to the conditions which I have proposed.

Skousen reads “retain” instead of “recall” here, but that doesn’t make sense (grammatically) to me. . .

recall = take back (not remember!)

Why can’t he recall his words?  Isn’t this a negotiation?  And what’s the point of giving someone the option of making an oath that he just told you he wouldn’t keep?  (“You can’t leave time out until you tell your brother that you are sorry you hit him.” — We all know the value of an apology made under those circumstances.)  Is the point that Moroni didn’t set the terms of the surrender, so he can’t change them?  But it seems that we could save a lot of lives if Moroni accepted Z’s surrender terms–so what wasn’t this done?

Note that, the first time Moroni spoke to Z, he made a command by God’s name, his faith, etc., etc., but this time he uses “as the Lord liveth” and that alone.  Is this significant?

 

12 And now when Moroni had said these words, Zerahemnah retained his sword, and he was angry with Moroni, and he rushed forward that he might slay Moroni; but as he raised his sword, behold, one of Moroni’s soldiers smote it even to the earth, and it broke by the hilt; and he also smote Zerahemnah that he took off his scalp and it fell to the earth. And Zerahemnah withdrew from before them into the midst of his soldiers.

Why is Z angry with Moroni here?  Is his anger justified?  (You can kind of see his point–all he did was refuse to enter into an oath that he knew wouldn’t be kept . . .)  Why was this reference to his anger included in the record?

Is it significant that the sword broke “by the hilt”?  (What is the “by” doing there?)

Is Z. hiding at the end?

Again, note the seemingly unnecessary “and now when Moroni had said these words” here.  (My suspicion is that we are reading a very ritualized surrender negotiation, and that phrase was, for some reason, an important part of that.)

Is the breaking by the hilt symbolically significant in some way?  What about the scalp falling to the earth?

Is the withdrawing meant to convey cowardice, or what?

13 And it came to pass that the soldier who stood by, who smote off the scalp of Zerahemnah, took up the scalp from off the ground by the hair, and laid it upon the point of his sword, and stretched it forth unto them, saying unto them with a loud voice:

 

At this point, it feels odd that this soldier is not named and, also, perhaps, that he doesn’t turn the floor (if not the scalp itself) over to Moroni.

Does this scene seem a little too glorying-in-warfare for the usual BoM routine?

14 Even as this scalp has fallen to the earth, which is the scalp of your chief, so shall ye fall to the earth except ye will deliver up your weapons of war and depart with a covenant of peace.

Is it significant that the “oath” is here called a “covenant”?

Can covenants ever be properly forced by the point of the sword?

Interesting article reading this as a “simile curse.”

Is there any relationship between this story and the one where Jesus heals the soldier’s ear when they came to arrest him?

At this point, this definitely feels like a speech that Moroni, not some anonymous regular soldier, should be giving.  But that isn’t what we have here.  Why?

Is there anything other than coincidence linking the fate of the warriors to the fate of the scalp?  (By which I mean, is there more to the symbolism than the fate?)

15 Now there were many, when they heard these words and saw the scalp which was upon the sword, that were struck with fear; and many came forth and threw down their weapons of war at the feet of Moroni, and entered into a covenant of peace. And as many as entered into a covenant they suffered to depart into the wilderness.

Again, I’m not convinced that fear and force are the best motives for entering into a covenant, and my suspicion is magnified by the fact that Z said they wouldn’t keep the covenant anyway.  At this point, I’m enormously sympathetic to Z, actually, and not just because he got scalped, but because I think there’s something praiseworthy in his unwillingness to put his people under a covenant that he doesn’t think they will keep.

Why do they become fearful here?  (By which I mean, shouldn’t they already have been fearful–things have not been looking too good for them.)

Brant Gardner:

The reason for this change of heart is likely centered in the significance of the scalp. In Maya artistic representations of captivity the hair of the head is becomes symbolic of capture, with many of the captives being grabbed by the hair on the top of their heads. The scalping is also indicative of capture. Thus what the Lamanites may have been seeing was a symbol of the surrender of their captain, and therefore their army. They would have seen the lifting of the scalp as an indication that Zerahemnah was a captive. Once the leader was captive, the entire army could be considered captive as well. Citation

16 Now it came to pass that Zerahemnah was exceedingly wroth, and he did stir up the remainder of his soldiers to anger, to contend more powerfully against the Nephites.

What kinds of things do you think Z said to his people to get them angry at this point?

Why is Z angry here?  (Wouldn’t you have expected him to be defeated, or desperate, or something, but not angry?)

17 And now Moroni was angry, because of the stubbornness of the Lamanites; therefore he commanded his people that they should fall upon them and slay them. And it came to pass that they began to slay them; yea, and the Lamanites did contend with their swords and their might.

Very interesting that Moroni gets angry here.  Is his anger OK?  (Is anger ever OK?)  Does the fact that a reason is given for his anger (“because of the stubbornness of the Lamanites”) tell us anything about whether his anger (or anyone else’s anger) is justified?  (I’d like to read this verse to mean that it is OK for me to get angry with my kids if they are stubborn, and I’ll even be gracious by not actually slaying them but maybe just yelling a bit.)

So let’s just get this straight:  some people are being killed by Moroni because they refused to enter a covenant, a covenant that they wouldn’t fight any more.  (In the immortal words of Nelson Muntz, “I hope the irony isn’t lost on you.”)

Usually, I think we would assume that any incident that begins with anger and ends with people getting killed is a “what not to do.”  Is that the case in this verse?

18 But behold, their naked skins and their bare heads were exposed to the sharp swords of the Nephites; yea, behold they were pierced and smitten, yea, and did fall exceedingly fast before the swords of the Nephites; and they began to be swept down, even as the soldier of Moroni had prophesied.

This verse almost seems to confirm Z’s interpretation of events:  the Nephites win the battle not because God is on their side but because they have better physical defenses.  Perhaps that explains the last line, which tells us what the soldier “prophesied.”  But that’s kind of interesting, because I would never have read v14 as a prophecy; I’d have read it as trash talk before a battle, or just a natural consequence.  I think this chapter is doing some very subtle and profound commentary on how we know when/if some event is God-driven or “natural.”

It is doubly weird that we never got this soldier’s name, given that we are to understand his words as a prophecy.

19 Now Zerahemnah, when he saw that they were all about to be destroyed, cried mightily unto Moroni, promising that he would covenant and also his people with them, if they would spare the remainder of their lives, that they never would come to war again against them.

So does this turn of events lead you to believe that Z. thought Moroni wouldn’t follow through?  Or what?  In other words:  Why does Z. change his mind here?

20 And it came to pass that Moroni caused that the work of death should cease again among the people. And he took the weapons of war from the Lamanites; and after they had entered into a covenant with him of peace they were suffered to depart into the wilderness.

I like the picture in this chapter of Moroni not leading a bloodthirsty rage machine but rather a tightly-controlled response.

Again, describing the proceedings as a “work of death” is very moving.

It is pretty amazing to think that he’d just allow them to walk away.  Given that Z just told him a few verses ago that they wouldn’t actually keep any such covenant, I wonder if it was foolish.

 

21 Now the number of their dead was not numbered because of the greatness of the number; yea, the number of their dead was exceedingly great, both on the Nephites and on the Lamanites.

This way of phrasing the losses makes them sound infinite, at least rhetorically.

But take a look at the next verse:  if you are going to (and are able to) bury the dead (even just at sea), it is neither impossible nor that difficult to keep a count.  That leads me to suspect that this verse is not meant to be read strictly literally.

Are you surprised to read about the greatness of the Nephite losses in this verse?  Doesn’t that undercut Moroni’s point to Z. that the Lord was on the side of the Nephites?

22 And it came to pass that they did cast their dead into the waters of Sidon, and they have gone forth and are buried in the depths of the sea.

Why is this verse in the record?  Is there something symbolic here?  Something about burying in the water and not on land?

Compare Alma 3:1-3.

23 And the armies of the Nephites, or of Moroni, returned and came to their houses and their lands.

Why is this verse here?  Is the point just that this wasn’t a standing army (which might make their victory appear even more impressive)?

24 And thus *ended the eighteenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi. And thus ended the record of Alma, which was written upon the plates of Nephi.

Thinking generally about Alma 44-45:  why are these “war chapters” here?  Are we supposed to read them allegorically?  If so, what do you learn?  Are they included as a bit of Nephite history because they are necessary to understand future events?  Or are we supposed to learn something from these events themselves?  One of the main themes here is motive/desire; what do these chapters have to say about that?  Another theme is “how do you know if the Lord is on your side?”  How would you answer that question based on this chapter?

So who is writing in the next chapter?  Why aren’t we told specifically?  (Presumably it is Helaman.)

General thought:  Why don’t the books of the BoM line up with who is doing the writing of that book?

Why do you think these war chapters were the last thing Alma included in his record, particularly since he wasn’t involved in these events and was, in fact, serving a mission when this happened? (We don’t even know what Alma’s source is for these events, but we can presume that he leveraged his contact with Moroni, which we know he had, for information.)

 

CHAPTER 45

1 Behold, now it came to pass that the people of Nephi were exceedingly rejoiced, because the Lord had again delivered them out of the hands of their enemies; therefore they gave thanks unto the Lord their God; yea, and they did fast much and pray much, and they did worship God with exceedingly great joy.

Again, it is interesting that both Z. and the narrator make decent cases that their victory had a large physical component, but the Nephites choose to focus on the divine-intervention component here.

What exactly is worship?  (Maybe that’s a stupid question, but if someone told you to paint a picture [like, a literal one] of the Nephites worshipping, what would they be doing in that picture?  Sacrificing animals?)

I’m curious about the joy, given that we just learned that so many Nephites died that they couldn’t number them.

So Alma is no longer writing.  We probably have here a narrative bridge from Mormon and then presumably the next writer is Helaman. Brant Gardner suggests that the reason this is still part of the book of Alma and not the book of Helaman is because the books are named after “dynasties” and not for the individual writer who was actually writing.  If this is the case, it certainly is an interesting data point when we think about authorship of the Bible:  it clears the way for LDS to look at, say, the letters of Paul or the books attributed to Moses and think of the writers of those texts as not Paul or Moses but part of their “dynasty.”

2 And it came to pass in the nineteenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, that Alma came unto his son Helaman and said unto him: Believest thou the words which I spake unto thee concerning those records which have been kept?

Is this an odd question to ask an RM?  (Ditto v4 and v6.)  Did Alma really wonder if Helaman believed these things, or is this just pro forma, or what?

3 And Helaman said unto him: Yea, I believe.

4 And Alma said again: Believest thou in Jesus Christ, who shall come?

5 And he said: Yea, I believe all the words which thou hast spoken.

Is he equivocating here, just a little?  Is he saying that he doesn’t have his own faith/knowledge, but it willing to rely on his dad’s?  Compare not just Alma’s question with Helaman’s answer, but also compare Helaman’s answer in v3 with his answer here, where there seems to be more of a reliance on Alma than Helaman’s own belief.  (And I’m not just attacking Helaman here–I’d say that it  might be appropriate and perhaps even expected for him to have a stronger testimony of the plates–which he could touch and had worked with–than of Jesus Christ, who he had to believe in solely on faith in future events.  I’d see a difference in Helaman’s answer as evidence of integrity and as evidence of a pattern for us to follow in measuring and growing in belief.)

Brant Gardner:

Here as in other places we have discussed, the appearance of Jesus Christ as a designator is misleading, and is the result of Joseph’s understanding rather than the understanding that would have been on the plates. Citation

I’m not entirely sure that I agree with Gardner–we can’t know for certain precisely what had been revealed to Alma (or whoever).  It is possible that Alma did not have a proper name here and is speaking more generally.

6 And Alma said unto him again: Will ye keep my commandments?

I think “my” (as opposed to “the Lord’s”) is a little off here–why might Alma have phrased it this way?

Note that Alma asks two questions about belief first, and then one about actions.  Is this significant?  What might we learn from it?

7 And he said: Yea, I will keep thy commandments with all my heart.

So why do you think this little “worthiness interview” was included in the record?  How does it relate to the material that comes right after it?  Was there something about Helaman’s background that was giving Alma pause?  Why were these particular questions chosen?  What do these particular questions tell you about Alma?  About living the gospel?

In the Bible, heart usually means “mind.”

8 Then Alma said unto him: Blessed art thou; and the Lord shall prosper thee in this land.

Is this blessing the result of Helaman’s answers to the questions above?

9 But behold, I have somewhat to prophesy unto thee; but what I prophesy unto thee ye shall not make known; yea, what I prophesy unto thee shall not be made known, even until the prophecy is fulfilled; therefore write the words which I shall say.

“But” normally indicates a disjunction–is that the case here?  If so, what’s the disconnect?  (You start reading this verse and you almost expect the inverse of a blessing; that is to say, a curse.  Is it?)

Does “somewhat more to prophesy” mean that he had already been prophesying?  (I suppose “shall prosper you in the land” is a prophecy.)

Note the intricate effect v9 has on the reader:  the phrase “shall not make it known” sets the reader up as an “insider” because the reader will learn this thing–whatever it is.  Then, the verse continues, the prophecy will be made known after it is fulfilled.  But if you are reading this, then the prophecy is being made known, which means that it has been fulfilled.  At this point, your only two choices as a reader are to concede that the prophecy has been fulfilled or to decide that you have an unreliable speaker here.  It forces a choice on the reader.

What is the point of telling Helaman a prophecy that he isn’t allowed to make known?

Note that the set-up here requires Helaman (or whoever is alive and in charge of the record when this prophecy is fulfilled) to take on the role of determining that it has in fact been fulfilled and then acting accordingly (which is to say, at that point the prophecy can be made known).

Why do you think Alma had Helaman write this instead of writing it himself?  (Is the answer to that question related to the “worthiness interview” above?)

10 And these are the words: Behold, I perceive that this very people, the Nephites, according to the spirit of revelation which is in me, in four hundred years from the time that Jesus Christ shall manifest himself unto them, shall dwindle in unbelief.

What function does “and these are the words” have?  Does it mean that the words that follows are not Alma’s, and that some other person (who?) is the “I” and “me” in the rest of the verse?

Does “perceive” mean something other than “it has been revealed to me”?  (Does the later use of the phrase “according to the spirit of revelation which is in me” explain what perceive means?  If so, why was “perceive” used first?)

The time frame as part of a prophecy is most unusual–why do you think it was included here?  Is the number symbolic?  (In the Bible, at least, 4 is usually a symbol for the earth.  Usually, though, numbers in the Bible have a symbolic meaning and so I almost wonder if Helaman would not have necessarily thought that 400 years was supposed to be interpreted literally.)

What does the word “dwindle” suggest to you about belief and unbelief?

Note that Helaman has just been told that he will prosper, and then immediately he is told that his people will dwindle in unbelief.  How do you think he reconciled these two ideas?

Given all of the build-up in Nephite culture regarding the importance of the coming of the Messiah, do you think Helaman might have been a little shocked to find out that his people would be no more 400 years later?  I wonder if the tremendous buzz kill of this revelation explains (1) why he wasn’t supposed to tell anyone about it and (2) why he had a PPI before learning it–Alma wanted to be sure that his testimony was strong enough to take the shock!  It also sets up an interesting dynamic in Nephite culture, where the keeper of the plates has and will have a much darker outlook on society’s chances for success over the long-term than the average Joe Nephite.  I wonder what effects that had.

Kind of makes one wonder what modern prophets know that they are not telling us. . .

Brant Gardner:

One can only imagine how Mormon must have felt when he read and copied this fatalistic prophecy, as he was living the fulfillment of it. Mormon would have known that his efforts were in vain, and that he was foretold to fail. What courage it would have taken for him to carry on his task with the knowledge of eventual failure so surely before him. Citation

It isn’t clear to me to what extent various NT writers knew that an apostasy was coming, but they might have been in a similar situation.  What kind of missionary would you have been had you known that the country you were serving in would have been completely destroyed in the space of a few generations?

 

11 Yea, and then shall they see wars and pestilences, yea, famines and bloodshed, even until the people of Nephi shall become extinct—

Does this verse imply that all of the bad things here are the outgrowth of unbelief?  (See also v12.)  Does it imply that these things are always the outgrowth of unbelief?

Do you read v10-11 to suggest that the existence of the Nephites relies on their belief?

12 Yea, and this because they shall dwindle in unbelief and fall into the works of darkness, and lasciviousness, and all manner of iniquities; yea, I say unto you, that because they shall sin against so great light and knowledge, yea, I say unto you, that from that day, even the fourth generation shall not all pass away before this great iniquity shall come.

I’m curious about the relationship between “dwindle” and “fall” in this verse–what are they doing?  What is the lesson that we should learn from them?

What work is “I say unto you” doing in this verse–noting that it is included twice.

Are “fourth generation” and “four hundred years” the same thing?  (Usually a generation is much less than a hundred years!)  Are these rounded or symbolic figures?

Why does it take so long (four generations, dwindling) for this to happen, when we’ve seen really sudden apostasies in the BoM?

Thinking about v10-12, why does Alma receive this prophecy?  What effect should it have had on Helaman?  What effect should it have on us?

13 And when that great day cometh, behold, the time very soon cometh that those who are now, or the seed of those who are now numbered among the people of Nephi, shall no more be numbered among the people of Nephi.

Are you surprised by the use of “great” here?

What is “the great day”?  Does he think the apostasy in general, or maybe the end of the Nephites in general, will happen in one day?  Or is day more metaphorical?  Or has he switched (without clearly signaling it) to talk about Jesus’ coming?

What do you make of “four hundred years” and “very soon”?  Can these be reconciled?

 

14 But whosoever remaineth, and is not destroyed in that great and dreadful day, shall be numbered among the Lamanites, and shall become like unto them, all, save it be a few who shall be called the disciples of the Lord; and them shall the Lamanites pursue even until they shall become extinct. And now, because of iniquity, this prophecy shall be fulfilled.

(I don’t think you can interpret this verse until you figure out what the “day” is in v13.)

This verse provides some interesting nuances and clarifications of the picture of extinction we got above.

Note that there are no more Nephites and that the people who we would normally call Nephites are going to be called “the disciples of the Lord.”  On the one hand, it would have been terrifyingly sad for Alma and Helaman to think about the end of their people.  On the other hand, this feels like a big build-up for nothing: “Oh, there’s still going to be righteous people–you just aren’t going to call them Nephites anymore . . . well thanks for just about giving me a heart attack over nothing, Dad.  Don’t be such a drama king next time!”)  On the third hand, even those “disciples of the Lord” will become extinct as well.  That becomes a glaring footnote to all this business about how if you keep the commandments, the Lord will prosper you in the land.  How might we reconcile those two ideas?

Is this a conditional prophecy or a guaranteed one?  (The implications here are pretty big.  If it is not conditional, then it doesn’t really appear that the people in this generation have any choice except for apostasy.  If it is conditional, then, well, it doesn’t really seem to be phrased that way, particularly with the specific time frame given.  In other words, might not the third or the fifth generation apostatize even if the fourth doesn’t?)

15 And now it came to pass that after Alma had said these things to Helaman, he blessed him, and also his other sons; and he also blessed the earth for the righteous’ sake.

Why would Alma bless Helaman at this point (note that he did this before this prophecy was given)?  Is this blessing different from the previous blessing?  Do you read the prophecy differently knowing that it is surrounded by blessings?

Also, why was it important for Helaman to know this prophecy?

The other sons sure come off as an afterthought here . . .

What are we to learn from (1) the idea of the earth being blessed and (2) the idea of the earth being blessed for the righteous’ sake?  Is it significant that it is “earth” and not the (more common to the BoM) “land”?

16 And he said: Thus saith the Lord God—Cursed shall be the land, yea, this land, unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, unto destruction, which do wickedly, when they are fully ripe; and as I have said so shall it be; for this is the cursing and the blessing of God upon the land, for the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.

Note the “thus saith”–this was not used to introduce the prophecy above.  Is this significant?

What does “when they are fully ripe” mean?

Why is the blessing given in general terms in v15 but the cursing in more specific terms in this verse?

I find it interesting that a blessing and a curse can co-exist.

Given that all people sin but that the land can still be blessed if they aren’t “fully ripe,” how does “for the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” work here?

17 And now, when Alma had said these words he blessed the church, yea, all those who should stand fast in the faith from that time henceforth.

I think this verse defines “church” and I like how it does it!

18 And when Alma had done this he departed out of the land of Zarahemla, as if to go into the land of Melek. And it came to pass that he was never heard of more; as to his death or burial we know not of.

Is it significant that he (pretended to) go into the land of Melek?

Who is the “we” in this verse?  (Presumably Helaman and his brothers?)

Why are the death and burial mentioned separately?

19 Behold, this we know, that he was a righteous man; and the saying went abroad in the church that he was taken up by the Spirit, or buried by the hand of the Lord, even as Moses. But behold, the scriptures saith the Lord took Moses unto himself; and we suppose that he has also received Alma in the spirit, unto himself; therefore, for this cause we know nothing concerning his death and burial.

Skousen reads “scripture” instead of “scriptures” here.

So this mysterious non-death sort of makes Alma into a Moses figure, and this verse makes that connection explicit.  What can we learn from comparing them?

Why do you think Alma’s life had this (non)ending?

Are we meant to think that Alma didn’t die?  (That sure would require us to read all that preaching to Corianton about the resurrection in a different light, no?)  Or that his end was just simply unknown to his sons?   What do you think happened here?

To me, “the saying went abroad in the church” sounds like Mormon folklore.  This impression is strengthened by the fact that the “saying” includes the idea that Alma was buried by the hand of the Lord like Moses, but our writer tells us that the scriptures say something else:  Moses was not buried by the hand of the Lord but taken up.  I think the best way to read this is that our writer is recording some church folklore and then debunking it by saying that they suppose (but don’t know for sure) that the Lord took Alma up and that the saying in the Church that the Lord buried Alma is therefore wrong.  One wonders why they would recite folklore to debunk it here.  Should we learn anything from that?  Also, does it teach us anything useful about the Nephites to know that they thought the Lord might have buried Alma?  What might it tell us about them?

What does it mean to be taken up by the Spirit?  What would it mean to be buried by the Lord?

I find dealing with ambiguity to be very painful.  What do you learn from this verse about how to manage the unknown?

Here’s Deuteronomy 34:5-6:

So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD. And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.

How do you reconcile what Deut says about Moses’ end with what this verse in Alma says about it?

Brant Gardner:

The Masoretic text that is behind our current Old Testament preserves the “he buried him,” which appears to be the version behind Nephite scriptures. There was a different reading in the Septuagint and in the Dead Sea Scrolls, however, that read: “they buried him.” This variant makes to appear that Moses death was of a more normal nature (Martin Abegg, Jr. Peter Flint, and Eugene Ulrich. The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible. Harper Collins, 1999, p. 195).  Citation

So in the middle of the war chapters, we have a war-free story that involves a PPI of Helaman, some blessings and curses from Alma, and the “end” of Alma.  Do you read this material differently knowing that it is surrounded by the war chapters?  Why do you think this chunk of civilian life was included when so much other material (mission stories, other events in the church, other sermons, etc.) were not included but the war stories were included?

20 And now it came to pass in the *commencement of the nineteenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, that Helaman went forth among the people to declare the word unto them.

Again, we need to wonder why this second of the BoM does not have stories of Helaman’s ministry, but instead has war stories.  We know from verses like this one that there are other stories that could have been told.

21 For behold, because of their wars with the Lamanites and the many little dissensions and disturbances which had been among the people, it became expedient that the word of God should be declared among them, yea, and that a regulation should be made throughout the church.

The cynic says:  Is this verse suggesting that there are circumstances under which it is not necessary or expedient to declare the word of God?

The topic of the church requiring a “regulation” or a retrenchment or a restoration or a reformation is an interesting one.  If I had more time, I’d look at this idea throughout the BoM:  Under what kinds of circumstances was this needed?  How often?  How was it done?  What were the results?  What can we learn from this about the church today?

22 Therefore, Helaman and his brethren went forth to establish the church again in all the land, yea, in every city throughout all the land which was possessed by the people of Nephi. And it came to pass that they did appoint priests and teachers throughout all the land, over all the churches.

Does this verse point to errors on Alma’s part?  (It seems sort of striking that, pretty much as soon as Alma dies, his sons re-regulate everything.)

23 And now it came to pass that after Helaman and his brethren had appointed priests and teachers over the churches that there arose a dissension among them, and they would not give heed to the words of Helaman and his brethren;

Does v24 explain what caused the dissension, or is it explaining the effects of the dissension?

24 But they grew proud, being lifted up in their hearts, because of their exceedingly great riches; therefore they grew rich in their own eyes, and would not give heed to their words, to walk uprightly before God.

Is it possible to be rich without being prideful?

What would the word “rich” have meant to our writer here?

The logic of this verse suggests that their pride causes them to become rich “in their own eyes.”  What does this mean and how might this happen today?

Who would not listen to whose words?  (I think the point is that they wouldn’t listen to Helaman and their brothers, but that isn’t exactly what it says.)  See 46:1 for more on this idea.

Why does being wealthy make it hard to “hear” the prophets?

 

CHAPTER 46

1 And it came to pass that as many as would not hearken to the words of Helaman and his brethren were gathered together against their brethren.

2 And now behold, they were exceedingly wroth, insomuch that they were determined to slay them.

Where does the anger come from?  Note that we last saw the anger/desire to kill combo in the Lamanite warriors.  What are we to learn from this?  What makes us angry today?  How do we address those things?  Is anger always a problem?  I find it noteworthy that we see anger here as a huge problem, but we also get multiple references to Moroni’s anger.  In fact, anger seems to be, for good or ill, pretty much the defining emotion of Nephite life at this point.  I think it is fair to say that it used to be joy/rejoicing.  What happened?

3 Now the leader of those who were wroth against their brethren was a large and a strong man; and his name was Amalickiah.

Why are we told that A was a big guy?

So we have a huge schism here, but not a lot of details about what caused it.  (Especially if we read the wealth as a result and not a cause.)  I wish we had that info–if we are to use the BoM as a guide to our own lives, it helps a lot to know what was the initial factor in what is shaping up to be a big ol’ train wreck.  But we don’t get that.  Why?  Might there be a productive reason for that?  (To some extent, v4 will answer some of this, except I don’t think these are the “public answers.”)

4 And Amalickiah was desirous to be a king; and those people who were wroth were also desirous that he should be their king; and they were the greater part of them the lower judges of the land, and they were seeking for power.

My usual question:  how did our writer know what A’s motivation was?  Did he really know?  Or is this just a presumption?

Does this verse imply that there wasn’t so much a religious issue as a power conflict?

Once again, I’m going to question the wisdom of Mosiah’s legal reforms, this time based on the detail we get here that the “lower judges” wanted more power.

So it appears that the “higher judges” don’t join in because they already have a good chunk of power.  In which case, they aren’t moral angels, they just already have their fingers in the pie.

How many lower judges did they have?  By which I mean:  does this verse really picture A. has having that much support at this point?

Presumably there have already been lower judges who didn’t have a whole lot of power and they haven’t previously rebelled, so we need to look for some trigger that makes it happen now.  What is that trigger?  Does the text tell you?

5 And they had been led by the flatteries of Amalickiah, that if they would support him and establish him to be their king that he would make them rulers over the people.

What is flattery?  How does it work?  How might we be guilty of using it or being used by it today?

Would these lower judges actually have had more power under A., or is this a lie that they are believing?

 

6 Thus they were led away by Amalickiah to dissensions, notwithstanding the preaching of Helaman and his brethren, yea, notwithstanding their exceedingly great care over the church, for they were high priests over the church.

This verse goes to great lengths to absolve Helaman from fault in this matter.  Why do you think our writer (presumably Helaman himself!) thought that was necessary?

Note how careful the text is to point out that the dissensions are not genuine political disagreements, but a cover for a naked power grab.

In 45:20-21, we were introduced to the idea that Helaman saw dissension and thought the solution was spiritual.  Does this verse imply that Helaman was wrong about that assessment?

7 And there were many in the church who believed in the flattering words of Amalickiah, therefore they dissented even from the church; and thus were the affairs of the people of Nephi exceedingly precarious and dangerous, notwithstanding their great victory which they had had over the Lamanites, and their great rejoicings which they had had because of their deliverance by the hand of the Lord.

What’s the moral of this verse?  (Does v8 tell us?)

Note the separation made in the text between the role of the lower judges in the dissension and the role of the people in the church.  What might we learn from that?

We are given a solid reason for the lower judges to follow A.:  they believe that they will get more power under him.  However, we aren’t told why the average church member found A.’s case compelling.  What do you think the reason would have been (which is to say:  what exactly was the flattery and how did that work?) and why aren’t we told specifically what happened here?

In what ways might members of the church today be flattered into dissension?

The end of this verse seems to be making the point that no foreign policy success could compensate for failure in internal affairs.  Why would that have been an important idea?  What is the moral of the story for us, particularly if we are reading allegorically?

8 Thus we see how quick the children of men do forget the Lord their God, yea, how quick to do iniquity, and to be led away by the evil one.

Is this “thus we see” an editor’s commentary?

Again, how does this mesh with the idea that it will take four generations (or 400 years) after Christ for a falling away to happen.

Note that the last verse framed the problem as flattery but this verse frames it as forgetting the Lord.  How do those two ideas relate?

Note that Satan’s role in all of this isn’t mentioned until now . . .

This makes me think of the famous Milgram experiment.

We don’t always get a “thus we see” statement, and I think we’d often like one to explain a tough story to us.  Here, I think the moral is fairly clear, but we get the statement anyway.  What is going on here?

9 Yea, and we also see the great wickedness one very wicked man can cause to take place among the children of men.

I’m curious about this verse, because another way of reading the previous section is that it wasn’t just one man:  the A. movement would have gone exactly nowhere without the support of the power-hungry lower judges and church members susceptible to flattery.  (So, at least, I see the necessity of the “thus we see” statement in that this moral would not necessarily have been obvious to all readers.  Or, you know, to me.  In that, it contrasts greatly with the previous verse’s “thus we see” statement.)

Is the purpose of this verse to shield the lower judges and the flattered church members from guilt?  Should they be absolved?

10 Yea, we see that Amalickiah, because he was a man of cunning device and a man of many flattering words, that he led away the hearts of many people to do wickedly; yea, and to seek to destroy the church of God, and to destroy the foundation of liberty which God had granted unto them, or which blessing God had sent upon the face of the land for the righteous’ sake.

Skousen reads “devices” instead of “device” here.

The last time that we saw the word “cunning,” it was Z. accusing Moroni of using it to win.  Is that relevant here?

Now, did A “seek to destroy the church,” or was he just seeking to be king?  (Or, are those shown to be the same thing?)  Or was that not his personal goal, but just a by-product of his getting people to follow him?  In other words, what’s the message on the interplay of personal and political goals here?  How is it possible that having a king is incompatible with having a church, when King Ben did a decent job?

The structure of this verse puts “the church of God” and “the foundation of liberty” into a parallel relationship, since they sought to destroy both.  What should we conclude from this?

What exactly does “cunning device” mean?  That idea seems new–we already knew about the flattering words, but this is the first we hear of this.  What should we learn from it?

 

11 And now it came to pass that when Moroni, who was the chief commander of the armies of the Nephites, had heard of these dissensions, he was angry with Amalickiah.

Again, what do we learn about the appropriate role of anger here?  (Note that the last time we saw Moroni, he was angry as well.  We’re developing a pattern here.)

12 And it came to pass that he rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it—In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children—and he fastened it upon the end of a pole.

We all love this story, but it is worth remembering that this is an act of anger.  How should that shape your interpretation of this event?

In the OT, rending your garments is usually a sign of mourning.  Is that the meaning here?

Is it odd that he mentions God and religion as two separate things?

You know, usually when women are listed with children (or, worse, wealth markers like houses and animals), I get grumpy.  But that isn’t the context here–he doesn’t mention any wealth indicators.  Is there a message about the value or role of women in this verse?  If so, what is it?

Can we learn anything from comparing this item-on-pole to the brazen serpent?

Brant Gardner points out that the banner serves as a method of “super-communication” with the people.  How does this contrast with A.’s flattery?

Does this verse imply universal Nephite literacy (which would have been unparalleled in the ancient world)?

There aren’t a lot of similar stories in the Bible–the closest I can come up with is maybe Rahab’s red thread, or Jesus writing in the dirt instead of condemning the woman taken in adultery.  Are there any Bible or BoM stories that can be profitably compared to this one?

13 And he fastened on his head-plate, and his breastplate, and his shields, and girded on his armor about his loins; and he took the pole, which had on the end thereof his rent coat, (and he called it the title of liberty) and he bowed himself to the earth, and he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren, so long as there should a band of Christians remain to possess the land—

Why does he call it the title of liberty?

In this verse, he prepares physically for battle and then prays.  What should you learn from this? (I find it particularly interesting that he prays for liberty, which is, given the title, what the banner is ultimately about.)

Who is the intended audience of the message on the title of liberty banner?

14 For thus were all the true believers of Christ, who belonged to the church of God, called by those who did not belong to the church.

What do you make of the word “Christian” here?  (And in v15.) Do you think a term like that was known to Moroni and/or our writer and/or our editor, or do you think it is Joseph Smith’s imprint?

Does “Christian” imply that the people who are following A are no longer Christians?

There seems to be quite the history of a label created by “antis” being adopted by the people themselves (everything from “Christian” in the NT, to Obamacare and queer in modern times).  Why does this happen?  What might we learn from it?

15 And those who did belong to the church were faithful; yea, all those who were true believers in Christ took upon them, gladly, the name of Christ, or Christians as they were called, because of their belief in Christ who should come.

Why the digression on the definition of Christians here?

16 And therefore, at this time, Moroni prayed that the cause of the Christians, and the freedom of the land might be favored.

Is Moroni seeking to “change God’s mind” here?  Is there any risk that the cause of the Christians and/or freedom might not be favored by God?  (These don’t seem like reasonable questions, but I guess I am trying to figure out why Moroni felt the need to pray about this.)

17 And it came to pass that when he had poured out his soul to God, he named all the land which was south of the land Desolation, yea, and in fine, all the land, both on the north and on the south—A chosen land, and the land of liberty.

Skousen reads “gave all the land” instead of “named all the land” here.  That’s a big difference, but I’m not entirely sure what it means.

 

What’s going on in this verse–is he giving this land a name (“a chosen land”), calling it by its name, just pointing out to God specifically the land he wants protected (as if God might not know!), or what?  Is this phrase an interjection from the writer/editor?

Is there any link between naming the land and being named Christians?

18 And he said: Surely God shall not suffer that we, who are despised because we take upon us the name of Christ, shall be trodden down and destroyed, until we bring it upon us by our own transgressions.

Er, why would he think that “surely” God would not permit this?  Hasn’t he read the Abinadi story?  The martyrs burned to death?  The ANLs?  Was this not supposed to be interpreted as an eternal principle?

 

Who is Moroni talking to here–himself?  God?  The narrator?

19 And when Moroni had said these words, he went forth among the people, waving the rent part of his garment in the air, that all might see the writing which he had written upon the rent part, and crying with a loud voice, saying:

Is it significant that this is his garment and not some random fabric?

Does this verse assume mass literacy?

Is this a little bit of prophetic theater, like happens with OT prophets some time, or what?

20 Behold, whosoever will maintain this title upon the land, let them come forth in the strength of the Lord, and enter into a covenant that they will maintain their rights, and their religion, that the Lord God may bless them.

The last covenant we saw also involved Moroni, but it was the one the Lamanites were required to enter or die.  How does this one differ?  How is it the same?

Why is the covenant being administered by the military leader and not Helaman here?  (I almost wonder if Helaman is an Isaac type figure.  In Genesis, Isaac comes off as a “placeholder” who doesn’t do anything much in his own story.  Similarly, we get some indications of Helaman’s limitations through his interactions with Alma, and then what should be “his” story here is actually Moroni’s story.  Maybe the war chapters have more to do with the silence surrounding Helaman than the noise surrounding Moroni.)

Was Helaman’s church reforms a flop if this was needed?

 

21 And it came to pass that when Moroni had proclaimed these words, behold, the people came running together with their armor girded about their loins, rending their garments in token, or as a covenant, that they would not forsake the Lord their God; or, in other words, if they should transgress the commandments of God, or fall into transgression, and be ashamed to take upon them the name of Christ, the Lord should rend them even as they had rent their garments.

Is this picture meant to be the inverse of the “flattery” that A was using above to get people to rally around his (metaphorical) flag?

Can you actually gird armor?  (I don’t think so, but I think this armor is more like thick fabric, so maybe.)

What do you make of rending fabric as a sign of the covenant?  Is it symbolic?  (I suppose the end of the verse explains that fairly clearly.)

Note the idea that they will commit a symbolic act with the meaning of “if I don’t keep my covenant, this is what the Lord will do to me.”

Any relation to Joseph’s rent coat (see v23!) or to Jesus’ rent robe here?  (Any other ripped clothing in scripture that might be relevant?)

Is this symbolic act related to the last symbolic act, the scalping?

I like “running” in this verse–it reminds me of Abish.

The tearing of the clothing is the symbol of the covenant here.  In the OT, covenants are “cut” as an animal is cut.  Is that related?

Doesn’t everyone transgress the commandments?  (Where’s Christ’s role in this?  Why isn’t it articulated?)

22 Now this was the covenant which they made, and they cast their garments at the feet of Moroni, saying: We covenant with our God, that we shall be destroyed, even as our brethren in the land northward, if we shall fall into transgression; yea, he may cast us at the feet of our enemies, even as we have cast our garments at thy feet to be trodden under foot, if we shall fall into transgression.

Is there any indication that God has given the terms and symbols of this covenant, or did Moroni generate these?

It’s a little weird that they are doing what they don’t want the Lord to do (rending garments, rending them) and putting Moroni into the role of the enemy (casting garments at his feet, as at the feet of the enemy).

Do you find “I want really, really bad stuff to happen to me if I sin” a weird covenant to make?

23 Moroni said unto them: Behold, we are a remnant of the seed of Jacob; yea, we are a remnant of the seed of Joseph, whose coat was rent by his brethren into many pieces; yea, and now behold, let us remember to keep the commandments of God, or our garments shall be rent by our brethren, and we be cast into prison, or be sold, or be slain.

So here Moroni makes the link to Joseph explicit, but how does the symbolism overlap?  (That is, Joseph’s coat was rent by his brothers and used to deceive their father.  The symbolism here is, obviously, rather different.)  Moroni does say that their garments will be rent by their brethren (presumably meaning by the Lamanites, in battle), and then they’d be cast into prison/sold/slain as was done (or:  planned to be done) to Joseph.  But, again, matching up the symbolism is very difficult since they are rending their own garments.

24 Yea, let us preserve our liberty as a remnant of Joseph; yea, let us remember the words of Jacob, before his death, for behold, he saw that a part of the remnant of the coat of Joseph was preserved and had not decayed. And he said—Even as this remnant of garment of my son hath been preserved, so shall a remnant of the seed of my son be preserved by the hand of God, and be taken unto himself, while the remainder of the seed of Joseph shall perish, even as the remnant of his garment.

What do you make of the undecayed coat?  Is it symbolic?  How is it relevant to this story?

The source of this story is not known.  (It isn’t in our canon.  There are some Jewish legends related to it, but those are pretty late.)

Is it safe to conclude from this that Joseph ended up in prison because of sin?  If not, doesn’t the parallelism break down here?

 

25 Now behold, this giveth my soul sorrow; nevertheless, my soul hath joy in my son, because of that part of his seed which shall be taken unto God.

26 Now behold, this was the language of Jacob.

27 And now who knoweth but what the remnant of the seed of Joseph, which shall perish as his garment, are those who have dissented from us? Yea, and even it shall be ourselves if we do not stand fast in the faith of Christ.

Why the “who knoweth”?  Is he being coy here?  Does he genuinely not know?

Note how carefully he doesn’t privilege his own position, but rather privileges the righteous here.

Brant Gardner points out that both the Christians and the dissenters are of “the same cloth” so to speak.  I like the idea of the cloth simultaneously pointing to their unity and (through the tearing) their separation.

Is there any relation to the Jesus’ cloak ripped by his tormentors?

28 And now it came to pass that when Moroni had said these words he went forth, and also sent forth in all the parts of the land where there were dissensions, and gathered together all the people who were desirous to maintain their liberty, to stand against Amalickiah and those who had dissented, who were called Amalickiahites.

29 And it came to pass that when Amalickiah saw that the people of Moroni were more numerous than the Amalickiahites—and he also saw that his people were doubtful concerning the justice of the cause in which they had undertaken—therefore, fearing that he should not gain the point, he took those of his people who would and departed into the land of Nephi.

Can you determine what made A’s followers become doubtful that their cause was just?  (And shouldn’t they have known that from the beginning, anyway?)  Is it just the numbers that sway them?

What do you learn from A. here?

What was it about Moroni’s acts and/or words that overcame A.’s flattery?

Why would anyone follow A.?  How could he become king of Zarahemla from the land of Nephi?

Is moving to the land of Nephi symbolic of becoming Lamanites?

I realize it is a historical accident, but it is also deeply weird and perhaps telling that “the land of Nephi” is Lamanite land.

30 Now Moroni thought it was not expedient that the Lamanites should have any more strength; therefore he thought to cut off the people of Amalickiah, or to take them and bring them back, and put Amalickiah to death; yea, for he knew that he would stir up the Lamanites to anger against them, and cause them to come to battle against them; and this he knew that Amalickiah would do that he might obtain his purposes.

“Not expedient . . . strength” might be the understatement of the year.

So are we bothered by the fact that, apparently, Moroni would kill you before allowing you to emigrate?  (OK, I know it is because of the stirring-up-the-Lamanites angle, but still.) How does this mesh with the whole liberty thing?

Is this a pre-emptive strike?  If so, how does that mesh with all of that “neither the first nor second offense” business?

How does Moroni know all of this?  Educated guess?  Inspiration?

What has A. done that is worthy of death?

It seems deeply weird to us that they have a high degree of religious tolerance for non-believers, but such a low level of tolerance for those proposing other political systems.

 

31 Therefore Moroni thought it was expedient that he should take his armies, who had gathered themselves together, and armed themselves, and entered into a covenant to keep the peace—and it came to pass that he took his army and marched out with his tents into the wilderness, to cut off the course of Amalickiah in the wilderness.

So how does this action mesh with the idea from a few chapters ago about not going to war unless there had already been two offenses?

Do you just love the irony that the reason he is entering into this war is to keep the terms of the “covenant to keep the peace”?

Why mention the tents?  Are they symbolic?  Is there a link to all of the references to tents in the Lehi story?

Is the wilderness symbolic?  (It sure seems to be in the Bible.)

32 And it came to pass that he did according to his desires, and marched forth into the wilderness, and headed the armies of Amalickiah.

What work is this verse doing?

33 And it came to pass that Amalickiah fled with a small number of his men, and the remainder were delivered up into the hands of Moroni and were taken back into the land of Zarahemla.

34 Now, Moroni being a man who was appointed by the chief judges and the voice of the people, therefore he had power according to his will with the armies of the Nephites, to establish and to exercise authority over them.

Skousen reads “he had power to do according to his will” here.

We’ve talked about this before, but how does an appointment by (1) the chief judges AND (2) the voice of the people work?

Why are we finding out now how Moroni was appointed?

Does this picture of Moroni undercut the image of Nephite political freedom?

This seems to be a very careful justification of Moroni’s rights here, but note that it also only applies to the Nephite army, and not A.’s people.

35 And it came to pass that whomsoever of the Amalickiahites that would not enter into a covenant to support the cause of freedom, that they might maintain a free government, he caused to be put to death; and there were but few who denied the covenant of freedom.

This sounds very similar to what Moroni did with the Lamanites recently.  What can we learn from comparing them?  (My thought is that there is no distance between the Nephites and the Lamanites–they both get the same terms:  agree to the covenant or die.  One difference, though, is the Lamanites just had to agree not to fight the Nephites but the Nephites have to agree to pro-actively support the cause.)

How does this covenant compare with the title-of-liberty one from earlier in the chapter.

I think the conclusion a cynic might draw from this chapter is:  enter into the covenant, or be hunted down and threatened with death until you do.  How might you respond to the cynic?

Note how carefully our author phrases it so that we don’t dwell on the image of Moroni killing Nephites who refuse to enter into a covenant to promote liberty.  Howard Zinn would have a field day with this!

Is this a picture of mercy since he could have killed all of them but allowed them to, if they chose, enter into a covenant that would protect them?  Would it be going way too far to suggest that, in offering a covenant that would save them from a death they deserved, Moroni is acting as a Christ figure here?

36 And it came to pass also, that he caused the title of liberty to be hoisted upon every tower which was in all the land, which was possessed by the Nephites; and thus Moroni planted the standard of liberty among the Nephites.

Note the unnarrated presumption that multiple copies of the title of liberty have been made.

Could we make a useful comparison to King Ben’s tower here?

 

37 And they began to have peace again in the land; and thus they did maintain peace in the land until nearly the *end of the nineteenth year of the reign of the judges.

38 And Helaman and the high priests did also maintain order in the church; yea, even for the space of four years did they have much peace and rejoicing in the church.

Why focus on Moroni instead of Helaman?

39 And it came to pass that there were many who died, firmly believing that their souls were redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ; thus they went out of the world rejoicing.

40 And there were some who died with fevers, which at some seasons of the year were very frequent in the land—but not so much so with fevers, because of the excellent qualities of the many plants and roots which God had prepared to remove the cause of diseases, to which men were subject by the nature of the climate—

Skousen finds really good textual support (original, printer’s ms., 1830) for “diseases which was subsequent to man” here, although I have no idea what that might mean . . .

This is a very un-BoM-like verse.  What is it doing here?  What should we learn from it?

41 But there were many who died with old age; and those who died in the faith of Christ are happy in him, as we must needs suppose.

Is the point of the last few verses to contrast with those who died following A.?  In other words, the comparison of a good death (which might be from disease or old age) with those who die because they followed an evil man?

CHAPTER 47

1 Now we will return in our record to Amalickiah and those who had fled with him into the wilderness; for, behold, he had taken those who went with him, and went up in the land of Nephi among the Lamanites, and did stir up the Lamanites to anger against the people of Nephi, insomuch that the king of the Lamanites sent a proclamation throughout all his land, among all his people, that they should gather themselves together again to go to battle against the Nephites.

Note the explicit signalling that we are turning to another thread of the story.

So, does this outcome change how you view Moroni’s killing of those who wouldn’t enter into a covenant in the last chapter, since the purpose of his doing so (=to stop them from getting the Lamanites mad at them and going to war against them) ended up happening anyway?  Or, does it further justify the killings because they would have been a part of this battle force?

What do you learn about anger from this verse?

Why break into the story of A. with a few verses at the end of the last chapter about the natural deaths of Nephites?  Do you read those verses differently given the bracketing?

2 And it came to pass that when the proclamation had gone forth among them they were exceedingly afraid; yea, they feared to displease the king, and they also feared to go to battle against the Nephites lest they should lose their lives. And it came to pass that they would not, or the more part of them would not, obey the commandments of the king.

Skousen reads “commandment” (singular) here.

How do they go from anger to fear so quickly?  If they were angry, shouldn’t they have been happy about this?  And what did they think was going to happen as a result of their anger, if not war against the Nephites? (Is the point that anger is an emotion that quickly spins out of your control?)

Given that this verse tells us that they feared two things (the king and the Nephites), can you determine how they decided to offend the king instead of the Nephites?  And why is that what they chose?

Compare the motivation here with those people motivated by the title of liberty.  What do you learn?

 

3 And now it came to pass that the king was wroth because of their disobedience; therefore he gave Amalickiah the command of that part of his army which was obedient unto his commands, and commanded him that he should go forth and compel them to arms.

So we had Nephite-turncoat anger, and then fear, and now the king is angry.  It almost reads like a feedback cycle.

The only way this verse makes sense to me is if the “they” who have to be compelled refers to the people mentioned above who did not want to obey the king.  In other words, the king has sent A to use to obedient troops to compel the disobedient ones to fight the Lamanites.

So this will end up being a very bad decision on the part of this king . . . is the message not to be too trusting of newcomers?

Note that there is no mention of the Lamanite king killing dissenters, unlike Moroni.

How would any Nephite have known this, especially the part about their motives?

4 Now behold, this was the desire of Amalickiah; for he being a very subtle man to do evil therefore he laid the plan in his heart to dethrone the king of the Lamanites.

How does subtlety play into this?  Does it mean that some part of the above was orchestrated by A? (Which part–the anger?  The fear? The disobedience?)

Once again, we have a situation where people’s emotions are being manipulated in order to arouse them to anger and to fear, not because there is really anything to by angry or fearful about, but in order to advance someone’s desire for power.  Good thing this doesn’t happen today!

 

 

5 And now he had got the command of those parts of the Lamanites who were in favor of the king; and he sought to gain favor of those who were not obedient; therefore he went forward to the place which was called Onidah, for thither had all the Lamanites fled; for they discovered the army coming, and, supposing that they were coming to destroy them, therefore they fled to Onidah, to the place of arms.

This is an interesting situation because the king wants him to compel the people who won’t obey the king but A wants to gain the favor of those who won’t obey the king.  (V8 spells this out.)

This gets a little Three Stooges here with the Lamanite people fleeing from a Nephite army that isn’t really a Nephite army but is on their side . . .

Alma 32:4 also refers to Onidah.

6 And they had appointed a man to be a king and a leader over them, being fixed in their minds with a determined resolution that they would not be subjected to go against the Nephites.

I presume the “they” here isn’t the mistaken Lamanites, but the Nephites who wouldn’t follow the Lamanite king who A is supposed to subdue.

Oh, sure, now you won’t fight against the Nephites!

Again, how could the writer have known this?

7 And it came to pass that they had gathered themselves together upon the top of the mount which was called Antipas, in preparation to battle.

8 Now it was not Amalickiah’s intention to give them battle according to the commandments of the king; but behold, it was his intention to gain favor with the armies of the Lamanites, that he might place himself at their head and dethrone the king and take possession of the kingdom.

Brant Gardner points out that this little preview of coming events completely destroys the dramatic tension of the story and helps us understand that that isn’t what we are reading for.

9 And behold, it came to pass that he caused his army to pitch their tents in the valley which was near the mount Antipas.

Symbolic tents again?

10 And it came to pass that when it was night he sent a secret embassy into the mount Antipas, desiring that the leader of those who were upon the mount, whose name was Lehonti, that he should come down to the foot of the mount, for he desired to speak with him.

We get a lot of detail here–why?

11 And it came to pass that when Lehonti received the message he durst not go down to the foot of the mount. And it came to pass that Amalickiah sent again the second time, desiring him to come down. And it came to pass that Lehonti would not; and he sent again the third time.

12 And it came to pass that when Amalickiah found that he could not get Lehonti to come down off from the mount, he went up into the mount, nearly to Lehonti’s camp; and he sent again the fourth time his message unto Lehonti, desiring that he would come down, and that he would bring his guards with him.

13 And it came to pass that when Lehonti had come down with his guards to Amalickiah, that Amalickiah desired him to come down with his army in the night-time, and surround those men in their camps over whom the king had given him command, and that he would deliver them up into Lehonti’s hands, if he would make him (Amalickiah) a second leader over the whole army.

Skousen reads “the second leader” instead of “a second leader” here.

What changed Lehonti’s mind?  Should we be reading this allegorically?

14 And it came to pass that Lehonti came down with his men and surrounded the men of Amalickiah, so that before they awoke at the dawn of day they were surrounded by the armies of Lehonti.

Why do we have this story?  Is it mostly to reveal A’s self-serving treachery?

15 And it came to pass that when they saw that they were surrounded, they plead with Amalickiah that he would suffer them to fall in with their brethren, that they might not be destroyed. Now this was the very thing which Amalickiah desired.

16 And it came to pass that he delivered his men, contrary to the commands of the king. Now this was the thing that Amalickiah desired, that he might accomplish his designs in dethroning the king.

17 Now it was the custom among the Lamanites, if their chief leader was killed, to appoint the second leader to be their chief leader.

This sounds as if our author or editor thought that we might not already know this–perhaps it wasn’t a Nephite custom because of the whole “voice of the people” thing?  Maybe that’s the point of this whole story–that because the Lamanites lacked the “voice of the people,” weaselly second-in-commanders could poison the leader and take over.

 

18 And it came to pass that Amalickiah caused that one of his servants should administer poison by degrees to Lehonti, that he died.

Robert D. Hales:

In the Book of Mormon, we read about Lehonti and his men camped upon a mount. The traitorous Amalickiah urged Lehonti to “come down” and meet him in the valley. But when Lehonti left the high ground, he was poisoned “by degrees” until he died, and his army fell into Amalickiah’s hands (see Alma 47). By arguments and accusations, some people bait us to leave the high ground. The high ground is where the light is. It’s where we see the first light of morning and the last light in the evening. It is the safe ground. It is true and where knowledge is. Sometimes others want us to come down off the high ground and join them in a theological scrum in the mud. These few contentious individuals are set on picking religious fights, online or in person. We are always better staying on the higher ground of mutual respect and love. Oct 08 GC

Elaine S. Dalton:

Lehonti in the Book of Mormon was well positioned on the top of a mountain. He and those he led were “fixed in their minds with a determined resolution” that they would not come down from the mount. It only took the deceitful Amalickiah four tries, each one more bold than the previous, to get Lehonti to “come down off from the mount.”And then having embraced Amalickiah’s false promises, Lehonti was “poison[ed] by degrees”until he died. Not just poisoned, but “by degrees.” Could it be that this may be happening today? Could it be that first we tolerate, then accept, and eventually embrace the vice that surrounds us? Could it be that we have been deceived by false role models and persuasive media messages that cause us to forget our divine identity? Are we too being poisoned by degrees? What could be more deceptive than to entice the youth of this noble generation to do nothing or to be busy ever-texting but never coming to a knowledge of the truths contained in a book that was written for you and your day by prophets of God—the Book of Mormon? What could be more deceptive than to entice women, young and old, you and me, to be so involved in ourselves, our looks, our clothes, our body shape and size that we lose sight of our divine identity and our ability to change the world through our virtuous influence? What could be more deceptive than to entice men—young and old, holding the holy priesthood of God—to view seductive pornography and thus focus on flesh instead of faith, to be consumers of vice rather than guardians of virtue?  Oct 08 GC

19 Now, when Lehonti was dead, the Lamanites appointed Amalickiah to be their leader and their chief commander.

Who exactly are “the Lamanites” who are doing this appointing?  (Because the way it is worded, it kind of sounds like “the voice of the people!”)

Is this story told just to show A.’s cunning?  Or should it be read allegorically?  Or what?

20 And it came to pass that Amalickiah marched with his armies (for he had gained his desires) to the land of Nephi, to the city of Nephi, which was the chief city.

21 And the king came out to meet him with his guards, for he supposed that Amalickiah had fulfilled his commands, and that Amalickiah had gathered together so great an army to go against the Nephites to battle.

22 But behold, as the king came out to meet him Amalickiah caused that his servants should go forth to meet the king. And they went and bowed themselves before the king, as if to reverence him because of his greatness.

23 And it came to pass that the king put forth his hand to raise them, as was the custom with the Lamanites, as a token of peace, which custom they had taken from the Nephites.

Another Lamanite custom here . . . is this just story-telling, or are we supposed to be drawing some sort of conclusion from this?  Interesting that here we are told that the custom was taken from the Nephites.  How might they have learned of this custom?  Why would they have adopted it?  How could they have adopted a Nephite custom against the background of all of their anti-Nephite rhetoric?

Should the phrase “token of peace” arouse our sympathy for the Lamanites?

A general question from the cynic:  Should we be seeing the Lord’s hand in A.’s successes?  If not, then how do we know when success reflects the Lord’s approval and help?

24 And it came to pass that when he had raised the first from the ground, behold he stabbed the king to the heart; and he fell to the earth.

So, ah, was this adoption of a Nephite custom a really bad idea, inasmuch as it gave the first person raised a chance to kill the king unobserved?

25 Now the servants of the king fled; and the servants of Amalickiah raised a cry, saying:

Why do they flee?  (V29 says the servants were “frightened again,” probably implying that they were frightened here, probably that the murder would be pinned on them.) Could A. have anticipated this?

26 Behold, the servants of the king have stabbed him to the heart, and he has fallen and they have fled; behold, come and see.

27 And it came to pass that Amalickiah commanded that his armies should march forth and see what had happened to the king; and when they had come to the spot, and found the king lying in his gore, Amalickiah pretended to be wroth, and said: Whosoever loved the king, let him go forth, and pursue his servants that they may be slain.

Thinking about A. “pretending to be wroth,” there is an awful lot about emotional states (anger, fear, etc.) in these chapters.  All negative, of course–not joy, the other common emotion in the BoM.  This is, I think, the only pretended emotion we get.  How might this be significant?

General question:  What motive would the servants have had for killing the king?

 

28 And it came to pass that all they who loved the king, when they heard these words, came forth and pursued after the servants of the king.

29 Now when the servants of the king saw an army pursuing after them, they were frightened again, and fled into the wilderness, and came over into the land of Zarahemla and joined the people of Ammon.

Would it be useful to consider how these servants compare to the people of Ammon?

Is ending up in Jershon accident or design?  Is it significant in some way?

30 And the army which pursued after them returned, having pursued after them in vain; and thus Amalickiah, by his fraud, gained the hearts of the people.

Note that A doesn’t just get power, but gets “the hearts” of the people–they like him.

General question:  It seems to be that the story of A’s rise to power could have been told in maybe 4 verses, but instead it gets 30.  Why?  Is this supposed to be read as a case study of how people scheme to get power?  Is it just included because of the (pretty high, to be honest) entertainment value?

31 And it came to pass on the morrow he entered the city Nephi with his armies, and took possession of the city.

32 And now it came to pass that the queen, when she had heard that the king was slain—for Amalickiah had sent an embassy to the queen informing her that the king had been slain by his servants, that he had pursued them with his army, but it was in vain, and they had made their escape—

33 Therefore, when the queen had received this message she sent unto Amalickiah, desiring him that he would spare the people of the city; and she also desired him that he should come in unto her; and she also desired him that he should bring witnesses with him to testify concerning the death of the king.

Why would the queen ask for the city to be spared?  Shouldn’t it be a given that A is on her side?  Or does she suspect that there’s something fishy about the whole thing?  (I think her request for some witnesses hints at this.)

There are very few women in the BoM.  There are even fewer cases where women show any sort of power, initiative, perception, etc.  This is one of them.  Not coincidentally, she’s a Lamanite–there’s an almost perfect line between Nephite women (not mentioned) and Lamanite women (rarely mentioned, much better roles).  Why might this have been?  What should we learn from it?

Why isn’t this queen named?

34 And it came to pass that Amalickiah took the same servant that slew the king, and all them who were with him, and went in unto the queen, unto the place where she sat; and they all testified unto her that the king was slain by his own servants; and they said also: They have fled; does not this testify against them? And thus they satisfied the queen concerning the death of the king.

Does this suggest that the queen was unperceptive?  Is the point that she tried or that she failed?

Does this verse point to the futility of trying to determine the truth in a situation like this?  (It is rather depressing.)

35 And it came to pass that Amalickiah sought the favor of the queen, and took her unto him to wife; and thus by his fraud, and by the assistance of his cunning servants, he obtained the kingdom; yea, he was acknowledged king throughout all the land, among all the people of the Lamanites, who were composed of the Lamanites and the Lemuelites and the Ishmaelites, and all the dissenters of the Nephites, from the reign of Nephi down to the present time.

Why do you think the story of the queen was included at such length (we could have just gotten one sentence saying, basically, the queen was convinced by A’s story, and so she married him)?

We should know, by this point, who the Lamanites are.  Why do you think we get this summary here?

36 Now these dissenters, having the same instruction and the same information of the Nephites, yea, having been instructed in the same knowledge of the Lord, nevertheless, it is strange to relate, not long after their dissensions they became more hardened and impenitent, and more wild, wicked and ferocious than the Lamanites—drinking in with the traditions of the Lamanites; giving way to indolence, and all manner of lasciviousness; yea, entirely forgetting the Lord their God.

“It is strange to relate” is one of the very few asides from the writer/editor to the reader of the BoM.  It tells us about the author/editor’s perception of events (that is, this is not what he expected).

What does “drinking in” suggest to you about traditions?

Is the point of this verse that the more light you have, the faster you fall?  (If this is a true principle, why did the writer find it strange to relate?)  If this is true, wouldn’t it be safer not to learn so much about the gospel?

Is the point that apostates are worse than non-members?  Is there a principle here that we are supposed to be acting on?

This verse has the feel of “the moral of the story.”  Is that the best way to read it?  Or, is the point of this chapter the rise of A as the king of the Lamanites and this is just a tacked-on “and another thing I found interesting”?

Aren’t the Lamanites victims of A. here?  I’d like to write a novel someday focused on the Lamanite complaint that they bear the brunt of Nephite dissent–they are constantly getting dragged into wars by Nephite dissidents, etc.  Maybe when the Lamanites complain about the “false traditions of the fathers,” that’s what they are talking about!

 

CHAPTER 48

1 And now it came to pass that, as soon as Amalickiah had obtained the kingdom he began to inspire the hearts of the Lamanites against the people of Nephi; yea, he did appoint men to speak unto the Lamanites from their towers, against the Nephites.

The use of “inspire” is interesting here because we think of that as a very positive term.

Why “from their towers”?  Are they anti-king-Benjamins, rhetorically if not literally?

Once again, we see the undercutting of the idea of legitimate disagreements–it’s just a power grab.

A general thought:  the Lamanites are never the problem.  The Nephites are always their own problem.

2 And thus he did inspire their hearts against the Nephites, insomuch that in the *latter end of the nineteenth year of the reign of the judges, he having accomplished his designs thus far, yea, having been made king over the Lamanites, he sought also to reign over all the land, yea, and all the people who were in the land, the Nephites as well as the Lamanites.

3 Therefore he had accomplished his design, for he had hardened the hearts of the Lamanites and blinded their minds, and stirred them up to anger, insomuch that he had gathered together a numerous host to go to battle against the Nephites.

Note that we went from inspiring their hearts to hardening their hearts–is this significant?

What does the image of a blinded mind suggest to you?

What does the metaphor of “stirring” suggest to you about anger?

The implication here is that they have no real reason to go to battle against the Nephites, but have just been manipulated into it by A.  Do you think this is strictly accurate, or is there an element of Nephite PR to this?  If it is strictly accurate, what should we learn from it?

4 For he was determined, because of the greatness of the number of his people, to overpower the Nephites and to bring them into bondage.

What’s his motive in bringing the Nephites into bondage?  (Seriously, keeping people in bondage is a lot of work–what with them always trying to escape–and only useful if you can convince them to labor for you.)  Revenge?  Economic gain?  Ego?  Something else?

5 And thus he did appoint chief captains of the Zoramites, they being the most acquainted with the strength of the Nephites, and their places of resort, and the weakest parts of their cities; therefore he appointed them to be chief captains over his armies.

(Why were the Zoramites most familiar with the Nephites–geography?  Or the recent missions?  Or something else?)

 

6 And it came to pass that they took their camp, and moved forth toward the land of Zarahemla in the wilderness.

7 Now it came to pass that while Amalickiah had thus been obtaining power by fraud and deceit, Moroni, on the other hand, had been preparing the minds of the people to be faithful unto the Lord their God.

A nice little parallel here, as the means of A are contrasted with the means of Moroni.  But note previously that we learned that Moroni wasn’t opposed to using deceitful means–stratagems–if it was necessary for a righteous end.  So I’m not convinced this is as clear-cut as we might like to believe. And, as the next verse will tell us, Moroni didn’t prepare for war just spiritually, he also did all of the physical stuff.

Can you deduce any modern applications from the contrast between A. and Moroni?  My thought:  if a politician (or media, etc.) makes you feel fearful and angry, run in the opposite direction.

 

8 Yea, he had been strengthening the armies of the Nephites, and erecting small forts, or places of resort; throwing up banks of earth round about to enclose his armies, and also building walls of stone to encircle them about, round about their cities and the borders of their lands; yea, all round about the land.

Skousen reads “encircle” instead of “enclose” here.

 

9 And in their weakest fortifications he did place the greater number of men; and thus he did fortify and strengthen the land which was possessed by the Nephites.

Should we read v8-9 as literal history, as an allegorical guide, or what?

10 And thus he was preparing to support their liberty, their lands, their wives, and their children, and their peace, and that they might live unto the Lord their God, and that they might maintain that which was called by their enemies the cause of Christians.

Once again:  we know that A wants to bring them into bondage (Or, do we?  How did our writer have access to A’s motivations, exactly?)  and this is why Moroni prepares his people for war.  But, in the very recent past, the Lamanites permitted Nephite missionaries (and lots of Lamanites were converted).  So I see one of two options here:  (1) the Lamanites are much meaner under A than they were under previous kings or (2) the Lamanites are not really that much of a threat to the Nephites.  Are there other ways to read this?

This is interesting, because in early Christian history, it is the enemies of the Christians who first use the word “Christian.”

11 And Moroni was a strong and a mighty man; he was a man of a perfect understanding; yea, a man that did not delight in bloodshed; a man whose soul did joy in the liberty and the freedom of his country, and his brethren from bondage and slavery;

Why was Moroni’s strength worth mentioning?  Is this a physical description or a spiritual one?

What does “perfect understanding” mean?  Is it really possible for a mortal to have perfect understanding?  How does that perfect understanding mesh with the frequent references to his anger?

Why did the author feel that it was necessary for us to know that Moroni didn’t delight in bloodshed?  (Were there rumors of this, perhaps?)

 

 

12 Yea, a man whose heart did swell with thanksgiving to his God, for the many privileges and blessings which he bestowed upon his people; a man who did labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of his people.

Is the swelling heart related to Alma’s swelling seed from Alma 32?

Nice that Moroni would be able to focus on the privileges and blessings at a time of impending warfare.

13 Yea, and he was a man who was firm in the faith of Christ, and he had sworn with an oath to defend his people, his rights, and his country, and his religion, even to the loss of his blood.

Is the title of liberty the oath, or is it something else?

14 Now the Nephites were taught to defend themselves against their enemies, even to the shedding of blood if it were necessary; yea, and they were also taught never to give an offense, yea, and never to raise the sword except it were against an enemy, except it were to preserve their lives.

Is this the same as the requirement in the previous chapter to not respond to the first or the second offense?

This verse doesn’t apply to the people of Ammon, does it?  (I’m wondering if that much-disputed “ANL” title as anything to do with the fact that they don’t follow this bit about being prepared to defend themselves.)

Did the Nephites always follow this rule?

15 And this was their faith, that by so doing God would prosper them in the land, or in other words, if they were faithful in keeping the commandments of God that he would prosper them in the land; yea, warn them to flee, or to prepare for war, according to their danger;

Interesting that this verse points out that the righteous response is not always the same–sometimes it is fleeing, sometimes it is preparing for war.

Note that God’s protection doesn’t mean that they will be spared the need to fight their own (literal) battles.

Does this verse imply that all military loss is due to lack of faith?

Is v14-15 a universal rule of Christian warfare?  Compare D & C 98:32-37.  Are these rules the same?  Different?

16 And also, that God would make it known unto them whither they should go to defend themselves against their enemies, and by so doing, the Lord would deliver them; and this was the faith of Moroni, and his heart did glory in it; not in the shedding of blood but in doing good, in preserving his people, yea, in keeping the commandments of God, yea, and resisting iniquity.

Does the Lord always deliver the righteous from (physical enemies), or was this promise unique to this historical moment for some reason?

Are you at all concerned that Moroni’s faith is so very focused on war, or is that appropriate to his station in life?

Are you at all bothered by calling warfare “doing good,” even in the very limited circumstances described in this passage?  (Or do all of those “in” phrases after “doing good” define what doing good means here, and it isn’t going to war?  Althought, that’s the thrust of “preserving his people,” isn’t it?)

How do you reconcile this portrait of Moroni’s faith with Jesus’ “turn the other cheek” message of the New Testament?

Why do we get a justification for warfare snuck into the middle of praise of Moroni?  Does the sandwiching affect how you interpret the meat (the justification for war) or the bread (the praise of Moroni)?  What effect does it have on the reader?  (I think our writer/editor realizes that this praise of Moroni will be tough for the audience to swallow because of his association with militarism, and that’s why this justification is here.  It is nice to realize that we are not entirely off base if this issue is a concern to us.)

 

 

17 Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.

This passage is one of most praise-filled descriptions of any person in the entire canon.  (Seriously, our author has been going on for multiple verses about how awesome Moroni is.  I can’t think of any other passage quite like it.) Why was it included?  (My skeptical side wonders if there were people who didn’t like Moroni for one reason or another, and this was a little bit of character rehabilitation.)  (It is also interesting that we have already had several references to Moroni’s anger, not something hinted at in this verse.)

You can understand why this particular verse might make a pacifist cringe.  Even if Moroni was doing exactly what he needed to be doing, this level of praise–particularly combined with the idea that all people should be like Moroni–doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for the MLKs and Gahndis in the crowd, or acknowledgement of the appropriateness of more peaceful approaches to conflict resolution.

Does this discussion of the devil’s power relate to the previous chapter’s focus on A’s rise to power?

Given this verse, I think we need to closely re-examine the description of Moroni.  What exactly was he doing that limited Satan’s power?  How can we do the same thing today?

Does this verse point to universal principles behind Moroni’s actions?

The reference to Ammon seems a little small in the midst of the lavish praise.  What’s going on here?

18 Behold, he was a man like unto Ammon, the son of Mosiah, yea, and even the other sons of Mosiah, yea, and also Alma and his sons, for they were all men of God.

Given the praise just given to Moroni, does it seem odd to compare him to other recent mortals here?  What effect is this verse supposed to have on the reader?

(Obligatory reminder re the lack of women in the BoM.)

Did Mormon write this praise?  Helaman?  Do you read it differently depending on who its author it?

19 Now behold, Helaman and his brethren were no less serviceable unto the people than was Moroni; for they did preach the word of God, and they did baptize unto repentance all men whosoever would hearken unto their words.

Skousen reads “not less” instead of “no less” here?

It seems a little odd that we have to be reminded that the missionaries were just as useful as the military guy.  Not only that, but the rhetoric in this verse reminds me of the odd way-too-reassuring way that the Church talks about women now.

It is shocking that we’d need to be reassured that the Lord has just as much use for missionaries as for generals.

20 And thus they went forth, and the people did humble themselves because of their words, insomuch that they were highly favored of the Lord, and thus they were free from wars and contentions among themselves, yea, even for the space of four years.

Does this verse introduce some tension re the mission of Helaman et al versus Moroni?

Note the peace as a result of faithfulness.  Is this always true?  Is war always the result of unrighteousness, on one side or on both?  (In this case, it looks like four years of internal peace–but with problems with the Lamanites.)  Compare verse 21.

21 But, as I have said, in the latter end of the nineteenth year, yea, notwithstanding their peace amongst themselves, they were compelled reluctantly to contend with their brethren, the Lamanites.

Skousen removes the “yea” from this verse.

So I think this verse  (and the next several) emphasizes a theme in this passage, which is the very reluctant nature of Moroni’s entering into warfare.

22 Yea, and in fine, their wars never did cease for the space of many years with the Lamanites, notwithstanding their much reluctance.

23 Now, they were sorry to take up arms against the Lamanites, because they did not delight in the shedding of blood; yea, and this was not all—they were sorry to be the means of sending so many of their brethren out of this world into an eternal world, unprepared to meet their God.

Would it ever be right to refuse to kill because it ends someone’s chance to repent?

24 Nevertheless, they could not suffer to lay down their lives, that their wives and their children should be massacred by the barbarous cruelty of those who were once their brethren, yea, and had dissented from their church, and had left them and had gone to destroy them by joining the Lamanites.

Again, how do you read this verse in light of the ANLs refusal to defend themselves?

This verse locates their motives entirely in the protection of their wives and children, but this isn’t true of the title of liberty or other statements.  Is there a gap here?  Why is the family angle mentioned to the exclusion of all other motivations in this verse?

Did joining the Lamanites automatically lead to their desire/plan to destroy the Nephites?

Note the conflicting emotions and the difficulty that the Nephites have here.  They don’t come off as militaristic, war-loving, jingoistic, etc.

25 Yea, they could not bear that their brethren should rejoice over the blood of the Nephites, so long as there were any who should keep the commandments of God, for the promise of the Lord was, if they should keep his commandments they should prosper in the land.

CHAPTER 49

1 And now it came to pass in the *eleventh month of the nineteenth year, on the tenth day of the month, the armies of the Lamanites were seen approaching towards the land of Ammonihah.

Why was it important to include the date here?

2 And behold, the city had been rebuilt, and Moroni had stationed an army by the borders of the city, and they had cast up dirt round about to shield them from the arrows and the stones of the Lamanites; for behold, they fought with stones and with arrows.

Should you be reading historically or allegorically here?

The last line makes me think that the writer was surprised (or thought that we would be surprised) that they were fighting with stones and arrows.  Was this unusual for some reason?  If not, then why the repetition and the “behold”?

3 Behold, I said that the city of Ammonihah had been rebuilt. I say unto you, yea, that it was in part rebuilt; and because the Lamanites had destroyed it once because of the iniquity of the people, they supposed that it would again become an easy prey for them.

What do you make of the unusual “I” in this verse (repeated, nonetheless)?

The Lamanites think that past experience predicts future results.  That isn’t true in this case.  Of course, part of the BoM message is that we should trust that past experience with God (as recorded in the scriptures) does predict future results.  How do we know when this principle holds true?

4 But behold, how great was their disappointment; for behold, the Nephites had dug up a ridge of earth round about them, which was so high that the Lamanites could not cast their stones and their arrows at them that they might take effect, neither could they come upon them save it was by their place of entrance.

Should this be read allegorically?  If so, what should we learn from it?

In the last engagement, body protection foiled the Lamanites.  This time, it is city defenses.  What might we learn from this?

5 Now at this time the chief captains of the Lamanites were astonished exceedingly, because of the wisdom of the Nephites in preparing their places of security.

Skousen reads “repairing” instead of “preparing” here.

What do you make of the shift from disappointment (v4) to astonishment (this verse)?

The word “wisdom” is jumping out at me–does that mean human wisdom or inspiration?  (And, honestly, was it really that big of a deal–obviously, if a city got conquered once, it needs better defenses, and the defenses they used were pretty obvious ones, no?)

Is “places of security” just a sort of awkward phrasing, or a term of art, or what?

6 Now the leaders of the Lamanites had supposed, because of the greatness of their numbers, yea, they supposed that they should be privileged to come upon them as they had hitherto done; yea, and they had also prepared themselves with shields, and with breastplates; and they had also prepared themselves with garments of skins, yea, very thick garments to cover their nakedness.

Now, the last time there was a battle, that Lamanites outnumbered them but still got their trash kicked.  So why did they assume their numbers would be decisive this time?  (Is the point of this that we should be reading allegorically and concluding that Satan is pretty stupid in his plans?)

I think the “they” who used the shields is the Lamanites (although this isn’t entirely clear), and so it is interesting to see them learning tricks from the Nephites here–if we are reading allegorically, what might we do with that idea?

“Garments of skins” and “nakedness” reminds us of the aftermath of the Fall.  Is that association relevant here?  What might we learn from it?  If we read allegorically, what do we conclude?

Should we be reading allegorically here?

Brant Gardner points out that the Lamanites might have kept their oath not to fight, but they sure squealed about the armor!

7 And being thus prepared they supposed that they should easily overpower and subject their brethren to the yoke of bondage, or slay and massacre them according to their pleasure.

8 But behold, to their uttermost astonishment, they were prepared for them, in a manner which never had been known among the children of Lehi. Now they were prepared for the Lamanites, to battle after the manner of the instructions of Moroni.

I’m kind of surprised at the Lamanites’ astonishment–is this just the Nephite PR machine talking here?

I think this verse implies that the Nephites are innovating here.  What did they do?  Why did they innovate?  Is the very fact of their innovation why we are hearing this story?  Does it have something to do with the sheer awesomeness that is Moroni?

Note that the Lamanites have also innovated (at least, for them, if not “among the children of Lehi”) by using the kind of defense armor that the Nephites have been using.

9 And it came to pass that the Lamanites, or the Amalickiahites, were exceedingly astonished at their manner of preparation for war.

A. hasn’t been gone from Nephite lands that long–how is it that they didn’t know this?

 

10 Now, if king Amalickiah had come down out of the land of Nephi, at the head of his army, perhaps he would have caused the Lamanites to have attacked the Nephites at the city of Ammonihah; for behold, he did care not for the blood of his people.

11 But behold, Amalickiah did not come down himself to battle. And behold, his chief captains durst not attack the Nephites at the city of Ammonihah, for Moroni had altered the management of affairs among the Nephites, insomuch that the Lamanites were disappointed in their places of retreat and they could not come upon them.

What specifically did Moroni change?  (The idea of him as an innovator is an interesting one–we usually think of the military as a deeply conservative institution in many ways, so this really would round out his character.)

12 Therefore they retreated into the wilderness, and took their camp and marched towards the land of Noah, supposing that to be the next best place for them to come against the Nephites.

This is the second time that the Lamanites didn’t attack because they were scared by Nephite innovation and they go somewhere else to attack because they think their odds will be better.  Is this pattern significant?  What should we learn from it?

13 For they knew not that Moroni had fortified, or had built forts of security, for every city in all the land round about; therefore, they marched forward to the land of Noah with a firm determination; yea, their chief captains came forward and took an oath that they would destroy the people of that city.

How does this compare to the oath associated with the title of liberty?

14 But behold, to their astonishment, the city of Noah, which had hitherto been a weak place, had now, by the means of Moroni, become strong, yea, even to exceed the strength of the city Ammonihah.

If we want to extend the imagery of Moroni as a Christ figure, in this verse we could see him strengthening the body of saints.

15 And now, behold, this was wisdom in Moroni; for he had supposed that they would be frightened at the city Ammonihah; and as the city of Noah had hitherto been the weakest part of the land, therefore they would march thither to battle; and thus it was according to his desires.

Is this inspiration or logic?

16 And behold, Moroni had appointed Lehi to be chief captain over the men of that city; and it was that same Lehi who fought with the Lamanites in the valley on the east of the river Sidon.

17 And now behold it came to pass, that when the Lamanites had found that Lehi commanded the city they were again disappointed, for they feared Lehi exceedingly; nevertheless their chief captains had sworn with an oath to attack the city; therefore, they brought up their armies.

18 Now behold, the Lamanites could not get into their forts of security by any other way save by the entrance, because of the highness of the bank which had been thrown up, and the depth of the ditch which had been dug round about, save it were by the entrance.

19 And thus were the Nephites prepared to destroy all such as should attempt to climb up to enter the fort by any other way, by casting over stones and arrows at them.

20 Thus they were prepared, yea, a body of their strongest men, with their swords and their slings, to smite down all who should attempt to come into their place of security by the place of entrance; and thus were they prepared to defend themselves against the Lamanites.

21 And it came to pass that the captains of the Lamanites brought up their armies before the place of entrance, and began to contend with the Nephites, to get into their place of security; but behold, they were driven back from time to time, insomuch that they were slain with an immense slaughter.

22 Now when they found that they could not obtain power over the Nephites by the pass, they began to dig down their banks of earth that they might obtain a pass to their armies, that they might have an equal chance to fight; but behold, in these attempts they were swept off by the stones and arrows which were thrown at them; and instead of filling up their ditches by pulling down the banks of earth, they were filled up in a measure with their dead and wounded bodies.

Why was this included? Is it a natural consequence or poetic justice or what?

23 Thus the Nephites had all power over their enemies; and thus the Lamanites did attempt to destroy the Nephites until their chief captains were all slain; yea, and more than a thousand of the Lamanites were slain; while, on the other hand, there was not a single soul of the Nephites which was slain.

24 There were about fifty who were wounded, who had been exposed to the arrows of the Lamanites through the pass, but they were shielded by their shields, and their breastplates, and their head-plates, insomuch that their wounds were upon their legs, many of which were very severe.

25 And it came to pass, that when the Lamanites saw that their chief captains were all slain they fled into the wilderness. And it came to pass that they returned to the land of Nephi, to inform their king, Amalickiah, who was a Nephite by birth, concerning their great loss.

We already know that A was a Nephite by birth, so what is accomplished by mentioning it here?

Is there an implicit criticism (see also v10-11) of A. for not leading his people into battle?

26 And it came to pass that he was exceedingly angry with his people, because he had not obtained his desire over the Nephites; he had not subjected them to the yoke of bondage.

A. has been uniformly successful up to this point.  Why does he fail here?

27 Yea, he was exceedingly wroth, and he did curse God, and also Moroni, swearing with an oath that he would drink his blood; and this because Moroni had kept the commandments of God in preparing for the safety of his people.

28 And it came to pass, that on the other hand, the people of Nephi did thank the Lord their God, because of his matchless power in delivering them from the hands of their enemies.

Skousen reads “miraculous” instead of “matchless” here.

I find it so interesting that we hear about the very pragmatic things (better defenses, strategy, etc.) that they did to win this conflict, but then they give the Lord the victory.  I often wonder what should be chalked up to coincidence and what to God–maybe I should just give God credit for everything.)  The word “miraculous” would emphasize that idea even more.

 

29 And thus ended the nineteenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.

30 Yea, and there was continual peace among them, and exceedingly great prosperity in the church because of their heed and diligence which they gave unto the word of God, which was declared unto them by Helaman, and Shiblon, and Corianton, and Ammon and his brethren, yea, and by all those who had been ordained by the holy order of God, being baptized unto repentance, and sent forth to preach among the people.

It is pretty amazing to see Corianton in full fellowship–even in a leadership capacity–after what he went through.  It is a reminder of the power of the atonement and that repentance is real.

What does “prosperity” mean?

General thought:  Why is this chapter here?  Is it meant to be read allegorically, as how we can protect ourselves against Satan’s attacks?  (If we read that way, what do we learn?)  Or is an allegorical reading illegitimate?

Is it just history that someone thought was interesting?  Are there themes that emerge?  What should we take from this chapter?

 

CHAPTER 50

1 And now it came to pass that Moroni did not stop making preparations for war, or to defend his people against the Lamanites; for he caused that his armies should commence in the *commencement of the twentieth year of the reign of the judges, that they should commence in digging up heaps of earth round about all the cities, throughout all the land which was possessed by the Nephites.

Skousen reads “defend themselves” instead of “defend his people” here.

Can you make a case that preparing for war in a time of peace might actually cause a war?  (What would Lamanite spies have thought had they seen this?)

Does this mean that the fortifications in the last chapter were in beta and get rolled out here since they worked so well?

2 And upon the top of these ridges of earth he caused that there should be timbers, yea, works of timbers built up to the height of a man, round about the cities.

3 And he caused that upon those works of timbers there should be a frame of pickets built upon the timbers round about; and they were strong and high.

4 And he caused towers to be erected that overlooked those works of pickets, and he caused places of security to be built upon those towers, that the stones and the arrows of the Lamanites could not hurt them.

5 And they were prepared that they could cast stones from the top thereof, according to their pleasure and their strength, and slay him who should attempt to approach near the walls of the city.

Thinking about v2-5, is this (1) historical detail, (2) allegory, (3) relevant in some other way, or (4) eye candy for the elementary-school aged boys who are reading?

6 Thus Moroni did prepare strongholds against the coming of their enemies, round about every city in all the land.

7 And it came to pass that Moroni caused that his armies should go forth into the east wilderness; yea, and they went forth and drove all the Lamanites who were in the east wilderness into their own lands, which were south of the land of Zarahemla.

8 And the land of Nephi did run in a straight course from the east sea to the west.

9 And it came to pass that when Moroni had driven all the Lamanites out of the east wilderness, which was north of the lands of their own possessions, he caused that the inhabitants who were in the land of Zarahemla and in the land round about should go forth into the east wilderness, even to the borders by the seashore, and possess the land.

10 And he also placed armies on the south, in the borders of their possessions, and caused them to erect fortifications that they might secure their armies and their people from the hands of their enemies.

11 And thus he cut off all the strongholds of the Lamanites in the east wilderness, yea, and also on the west, fortifying the line between the Nephites and the Lamanites, between the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi, from the west sea, running by the head of the river Sidon—the Nephites possessing all the land northward, yea, even all the land which was northward of the land Bountiful, according to their pleasure.

12 Thus Moroni, with his armies, which did increase daily because of the assurance of protection which his works did bring forth unto them, did seek to cut off the strength and the power of the Lamanites from off the lands of their possessions, that they should have no power upon the lands of their possession.

Does this mean that the armies increased in number daily?  (Or increased in confidence or something?)

Should we be creeped out that people are joining up not because they were inspired by the title of liberty but by the improved odds?

Note the voluntary nature of joining the army here–compare to the instances of “be drafted or die” . . .

 

13 And it came to pass that the Nephites began the foundation of a city, and they called the name of the city Moroni; and it was by the east sea; and it was on the south by the line of the possessions of the Lamanites.

14 And they also began a foundation for a city between the city of Moroni and the city of Aaron, joining the borders of Aaron and Moroni; and they called the name of the city, or the land, Nephihah.

A note on naming cities and lands here.

15 And they also began in that same year to build many cities on the north, one in a particular manner which they called Lehi, which was in the north by the borders of the seashore.

16 And thus ended the twentieth year.

17 And in these prosperous circumstances were the people of Nephi in the *commencement of the twenty and first year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.

The next verse will help us understand the meaning of “prosperous” in this verse.

18 And they did prosper exceedingly, and they became exceedingly rich; yea, and they did multiply and wax strong in the land.

So does this mean that all of those new defense projects and infrastructure led to an improved economic outlook?  Who knew the BoM was Keynesian!
19 And thus we see how merciful and just are all the dealings of the Lord, to the fulfilling of all his words unto the children of men; yea, we can behold that his words are verified, even at this time, which he spake unto Lehi, saying:

How can dealings be described as “merciful” and “just” at the same time?  Wouldn’t it be one or the other?

Are riches evidence of blessings?

 

20 Blessed art thou and thy children; and they shall be blessed, inasmuch as they shall keep my commandments they shall prosper in the land. But remember, inasmuch as they will not keep my commandments they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord.

Who is the “thou” here?

Note the parallel between the presence of the Lord and the land.

Compare to 2 Nephi 1:9 and 2 Nephi 4:4.

21 And we see that these promises have been verified to the people of Nephi; for it has been their quarrelings and their contentions, yea, their murderings, and their plunderings, their idolatry, their whoredoms, and their abominations, which were among themselves, which brought upon them their wars and their destructions.

Note “among themselves”:  the Lamanites are not the problem.  This ties to the anger issue:  any time you are angry with “them” for your problems, you are missing the point.  (What, then, to make of Moroni’s anger?)

Are all wars punishment for bad decisions?

22 And those who were faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord were delivered at all times, whilst thousands of their wicked brethren have been consigned to bondage, or to perish by the sword, or to dwindle in unbelief, and mingle with the Lamanites.

Was Abinadi faithful in keeping the commandments?  Was he delivered?  (One way to deal with the disconnect here is to use the interpretive technique usually used with the proverbs, which it to insert the phrase “all other things being equal” after the verse.  In other words, you aren’t guaranteeing  a good outcome–you are just saying that it is more likely if you do what you are supposed to be doing.)

What does “mingling with the Lamanites” mean here?  (Keeping in mind that we wouldn’t want to lump people like Ammon–who volunteered to possibly live with the Lamanites for the rest of his life and serve them–in this company.)

23 But behold there never was a happier time among the people of Nephi, since the days of Nephi, than in the days of Moroni, yea, even at this time, in the twenty and first year of the reign of the judges.

Is happiness the goal?

If the time of Nephi and the time of Moroni are peaks of happiness, then what happened in those times that made them happier than other times?

Do you think Nephi would have agreed that his time was a happy time?  (Hint:  no.)  I think we need to become far more comfortable with the idea of revisionist history, hyperbole, and plain ol’ nostalgic misreadings in scripture than we have been.

24 And it came to pass that the twenty and second year of the reign of the judges also ended in peace; yea, and also the twenty and third year.

25 And it came to pass that in the *commencement of the twenty and fourth year of the reign of the judges, there would also have been peace among the people of Nephi had it not been for a contention which took place among them concerning the land of Lehi, and the land of Morianton, which joined upon the borders of Lehi; both of which were on the borders by the seashore.

Does this verse cause you to re-interpret the happiness in v23?

26 For behold, the people who possessed the land of Morianton did claim a part of the land of Lehi; therefore there began to be a warm contention between them, insomuch that the people of Morianton took up arms against their brethren, and they were determined by the sword to slay them.

There aren’t a whole lot of “civil” conflicts in the BoM (although Zeniff and Co. would be one example), and even fewer conflicts about land possession.  Is it as easy to allegorize these?

27 But behold, the people who possessed the land of Lehi fled to the camp of Moroni, and appealed unto him for assistance; for behold they were not in the wrong.

This verse makes us realize how exceedingly rare explicit commentary as the “right” or “wrong” in an argument is.  (For example, when we get to the king-men, that entire issue is predicated on a dispute over a point of law that is never fully articulated.  And, with all the battles with the Lamanites, we presume that the Nephites are in the right, we are even often given the superior motives for which they were fighting, but we are not normally told flat-out that they were right or wrong.)  Why was this done here?

28 And it came to pass that when the people of Morianton, who were led by a man whose name was Morianton, found that the people of Lehi had fled to the camp of Moroni, they were exceedingly fearful lest the army of Moroni should come upon them and destroy them.

Does this mean that they acknowledge that their cause was not just?  Or do they worry about Moroni’s military might?  Or what?  Or perhaps their fear of being destroyed was completely unreasonably?

29 Therefore, Morianton put it into their hearts that they should flee to the land which was northward, which was covered with large bodies of water, and take possession of the land which was northward.

Is this supposed to be ironic, that in a fight over land they end up leaving?

 

30 And behold, they would have carried this plan into effect, (which would have been a cause to have been lamented) but behold, Morianton being a man of much passion, therefore he was angry with one of his maid servants, and he fell upon her and beat her much.

Why would it have been so bad if they had left?  (This is the second time we get the notion that Moroni won’t let people emigrate.)  Wouldn’t it have, in effect, solved the dispute over the land, and without bloodshed?  How is it different from the initial Nephite-Lamanite split, where Nephi and Company just leave?

Does “being a man of much passion” excuse or justify or rationalize his violence?  Is it meant to contrast with Moroni who, we are told repeatedly, hated having to use violence but also was, apparently, frequently angry?

What do we learn about domestic violence from this incident?

 

31 And it came to pass that she fled, and came over to the camp of Moroni, and told Moroni all things concerning the matter, and also concerning their intentions to flee into the land northward.

So here’s one of the very rare stories involving a woman in the BoM.  This one gets virtually no attention, perhaps because the woman isn’t named and there is almost always the assumption made that if someone isn’t given a name, it is because they are not important.  (But it is worth re-examining this assumption–think about the brother of Jared, for example.)  She’s also odd because she’s a Nephite woman, and virtually every story (er, not that that’s a lot . . .) of BoM involves Lamanite women (the women in Nephi’s family being the notable exception).

This is a pretty brave woman–she’s positioned as a servant, so her social standing is very low.  (We can presume that she did not choose to join Morianton’s group, but would have had no choice in the matter.)  Then she’s a victim of violence, of a type that she would likely have no legal recourse against.  Escaping was incredibly brave, given the likely repercussions if she were to be caught, and the likelihood that she would in fact be caught trying to escape from a militarized group as a lone, defenseless, untrained, victimized woman.  And on top of that, she actually rats out Morianton to Moroni, something she didn’t have to do!

What is “the matter” that she tells Moroni about?  (I think the natural assumption would be that it is their flight plans, but given the way that those plans are described in the rest of the verse, I think “the matter” has to be something else–but what?)

We learned in v30 that if Morianton had managed to pull off his plan, it would have been lamentable.  The only reason he can’t do that is because of this brave woman.  We learn in v32 that Morianton’s success may well have led to “the overthrow of [the Nephites’ liberty],” making this servant into a national hero.

This story did not need to be told–we could have had the larger story with a note simply stating that “Moroni became aware of Morianton’s plans and then . . .” and that would have sufficed to tell the story.  So why do you think this abused serving woman’s story was included in the record?

Brant Gardner points out that we frequently have stories in the BoM, particularly the war chapters, where people have information that we can’t quite figure out how they have, and we’re never told.  But for some reason, we are told here.

How does this woman compare to the spies that Moroni is always sending out?

Brant Gardner also suggests that this incident is shown to illustrate the depravity of Morianton’s character.  That would assume general agreement as to the idea that beating your female servants is bad.  So I suppose that is a feminist victory, of a sort.

32 Now behold, the people who were in the land Bountiful, or rather Moroni, feared that they would hearken to the words of Morianton and unite with his people, and thus he would obtain possession of those parts of the land, which would lay a foundation for serious consequences among the people of Nephi, yea, which consequences would lead to the overthrow of their liberty.

Given that this verse presents a counter-factual that won’t now happen, it seems perhaps extraneous.  However, it does serve to play up the importance of what the female servant did.

Is this just pure speculation?  It seems a little . . . overwrought.  And, are we concerned about the implications of a Nephite policy of not permitting disaffected people to leave?

33 Therefore Moroni sent an army, with their camp, to head the people of Morianton, to stop their flight into the land northward.

34 And it came to pass that they did not head them until they had come to the borders of the land Desolation; and there they did head them, by the narrow pass which led by the sea into the land northward, yea, by the sea, on the west and on the east.

35 And it came to pass that the army which was sent by Moroni, which was led by a man whose name was Teancum, did meet the people of Morianton; and so stubborn were the people of Morianton, (being inspired by his wickedness and his flattering words) that a battle commenced between them, in the which Teancum did slay Morianton and defeat his army, and took them prisoners, and returned to the camp of Moroni. And thus ended the twenty and fourth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.

What does this verse teach you about stubbornness?  Is that ever a virtue?

Is it fair to describe the people of Morinaton as stubborn if they were willing to leave an area, given that the source of the dispute was over a land claim?  (I think you could make the case that that made them flexible.)

36 And thus were the people of Morianton brought back. And upon their covenanting to keep the peace they were restored to the land of Morianton, and a union took place between them and the people of Lehi; and they were also restored to their lands.

 

Why do you think the story of Morianton and his people was included in the record?  Is it best read allegorically (perhaps as a story of the rebellion that we all enter into, and need to be rescued from, and the punishments that accompany that), or as an incident in Nephite history–with or without a moral component?

In the stories that surround this one, there are people who refuse, after their defeat, to accept the covenant of peace and they are killed.  That appears not to be the case here.  Can you discern why this case is different?  Does that difference explain why this story was included in the record?  (If that is true, then why don’t we get more info about why this story ends so much more happily than the others?)

 

37 And it came to pass that in the same year that the people of Nephi had peace restored unto them, that Nephihah, the second chief judge, died, having filled the judgment-seat with perfect uprightness before God.

What do you think the word “perfect” means in this verse?

 

38 Nevertheless, he had refused Alma to take possession of those records and those things which were esteemed by Alma and his fathers to be most sacred; therefore Alma had conferred them upon his son, Helaman.

The phrasing here makes me a little unclear on what exactly Nephihah (didn’t) do–is it that Alma wanted Nephihah to take possession of the record keeping, but Nephihah refused?  I think that is the best way to read this (ambiguous) verse, but it is quite a bombshell–after all these years of separate religious and civil tracks, why would Alma have wanted to rejoin them?  And why would Alma have wanted to bypass his own sons as record-keepers for Nephihah?  (OK, maybe Corianton we can understand, but Shiblon and Helaman?)  And why are we hearing about this now, when we already learned that Helaman took the record?  And why did the chapter about Helaman getting the record (Alma 37) not reference any of this and also made it sound like it was the Lord’s will for Helaman to take the record?  And, how can Nephihah be described as perfectly upright (quite a compliment!) in the previous verse, but then refuse when the leader of the church asks him to keep the sacred record?  That seems like a glaring disconnect, especially the way that this verse reminds us that these things were considered “most sacred,” and yet here is Nephihah refusing them!  Also, the final line makes Helaman sound like a total also-ran, Plan B kind of guy.  Ouch.

This event must have happened on or before the 18th year, because that’s when Helaman gets the plates.  This is the 24th year, so this tidbid is clearly not presented in chronological order, but perhaps in the kinds of re-cap of significant events we get when an important leader dies.  That raises two interesting thoughts:  (1) What does this say about Nephihah that one of the main events of his time in office is refusing the plates and (2) What other events are narrated out of chronological order in the BoM?

39 Behold, it came to pass that the son of Nephihah was appointed to fill the judgment-seat, in the stead of his father; yea, he was appointed chief judge and governor over the people, with an oath and sacred ordinance to judge righteously, and to keep the peace and the freedom of the people, and to grant unto them their sacred privileges to worship the Lord their God, yea, to support and maintain the cause of God all his days, and to bring the wicked to justice according to their crime.

So is “governor” a new office or what?

What happens when keeping the peace and keeping the freedom are mutually exclusive?

40 Now behold, his name was Pahoran. And Pahoran did fill the seat of his father, and did commence his reign in the end of the twenty and fourth year, over the people of Nephi.

Skousen reads “Parhoron” here instead of “Pahoran.”

It feels a little odd not to get Pahoran’s name until after

CHAPTER 51

1 And now it came to pass in the *commencement of the twenty and fifth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, they having established peace between the people of Lehi and the people of Morianton concerning their lands, and having commenced the twenty and fifth year in peace;

2 Nevertheless, they did not long maintain an entire peace in the land, for there began to be a contention among the people concerning the chief judge Pahoran; for behold, there were a part of the people who desired that a few particular points of the law should be altered.

I think we’ve been trained to zero in on the point where the peace is breached, to identify the cause and work not to repeat the same mistakes, but what exactly is the mistake here that we would not want to repeat?

3 But behold, Pahoran would not alter nor suffer the law to be altered; therefore, he did not hearken to those who had sent in their voices with their petitions concerning the altering of the law.

So is our narrator painting Pahoran as the bad guy here?  Should he have given in to the desires of the “part” of the people who wanted the law changed?

So there’s a bit of irony here that all hell is about to break loose because of the “king-men” and their threat to Nephite liberty, but we have a ruler who, to all appearances, is a hereditary ruler, and is refusing to respond to the voice of the people.

4 Therefore, those who were desirous that the law should be altered were angry with him, and desired that he should no longer be chief judge over the land; therefore there arose a warm dispute concerning the matter, but not unto bloodshed.

I find it ironic that we aren’t told what precise change in the law the people wanted, or why Pahoran didn’t want that change in the law.

So . . . were these people right or wrong?  (Perhaps a more important question is:  Why are we not told?  It is hard to interpret the story without knowing whether these people are rabble-rousers from the beginning, or whether a reasonable social movement was hijacked by power-hungry king-men, or what.)

What to make of their anger?  On the one hand, Moroni gets angry a lot and no one blames him. On the other hand . . .

5 And it came to pass that those who were desirous that Pahoran should be dethroned from the judgment-seat were called king-men, for they were desirous that the law should be altered in a manner to overthrow the free government and to establish a king over the land.

So . . . does this mean that the original people who wanted the law changed were king-men, or just those who, at this point, want to oust Pahoran?  In other words, was the initial desire to change the law a desire to have a king (and, if so, why were we not told that before), or is the desire to have a king a result of the unwillingness of Pahoran to listen to their (reasonable) request for a (completely unrelated) change to the law?

If a judge who is supposed to be responsive to the will of the people wouldn’t change the law, then why would these king-men think that a king, who has less accountability, would be more responsive to them?  The idea that this problem has led to a desire for a king seems very counter-intuitive–what’s going on here?  (V8 gives us another motive for the king-men, which, I think completely changes the tenor of the story.)

There are parties in the OT who want a king as well.  There, the stated reason is that they want to be like the other nations.  What motivates the desire for a king?  How do people manifest this desire today?

6 And those who were desirous that Pahoran should remain chief judge over the land took upon them the name of freemen; and thus was the division among them, for the freemen had sworn or covenanted to maintain their rights and the privileges of their religion by a free government.

Irony:  those who want Pahoran are called freemen, despite the fact that Pahoran was not responsive to the desires of the people to be free.  Is this story dripping with irony, or is it just me?

7 And it came to pass that this matter of their contention was settled by the voice of the people. And it came to pass that the voice of the people came in favor of the freemen, and Pahoran retained the judgment-seat, which caused much rejoicing among the brethren of Pahoran and also many of the people of liberty, who also put the king-men to silence, that they durst not oppose but were obliged to maintain the cause of freedom.

Skousen reads “among the people of liberty” here.

Does it strike you as odd that people who wanted a king would let the matter be settled by the voice of the people?

8 Now those who were in favor of kings were those of high birth, and they sought to be kings; and they were supported by those who sought power and authority over the people.

Why are we given this motive after-the-fact?  As I said above, I think knowing this just turns the story on its head:  we were deeply confuzzled above as to why people thought a king would be more responsive to the needs of the people than a judge; here we find out that they didn’t think any such thing (apparently) but rather were using a pre-existing conflict to advance their own desire for power.  One message that I am getting from the war chapters on this read-through is the focus on people advancing their own political stars by hijacking another narrative.  The BoM critique of political power (who wants it, who gets it, how it is gotten, how it is used) is devastating.

Notice the critique of the motives of those who were of “high birth” here.  The narrative is asking us to be suspicious of these people (and their counterparts today?).  What exactly would have constituted being of “high birth” in this society, that hasn’t had kings for awhile and had righteous kings?

9 But behold, this was a critical time for such contentions to be among the people of Nephi; for behold, Amalickiah had again stirred up the hearts of the people of the Lamanites against the people of the Nephites, and he was gathering together soldiers from all parts of his land, and arming them, and preparing for war with all diligence; for he had sworn to drink the blood of Moroni.

This isn’t the only time we hear about drinking Moroni’s blood.  Is this a symbolic act, similar perhaps to the scalping and the title of liberty?

Note again that the Lamanites are never the problem:  the Nephites are always their own problem.

Brant Gardner points out that A. is the “quintessential Kingman.”  The ease with which the kingmen and A.’s forces might align must surely not be lost on Moroni.

10 But behold, we shall see that his promise which he made was rash; nevertheless, he did prepare himself and his armies to come to battle against the Nephites.

“We shall see” is an interesting thing:  we don’t often get foreshadowing (blunt as it is) like this, we don’t get the teaming of writer and reader, etc.

Once again, our writer (or editor) works hard to destroy any potential suspense in the story.  The point the writer is making:  You are not here to be entertained and I am not writing this to entertain you.  Also, I want to tell you precisely how to interpret events–even before they happen.

11 Now his armies were not so great as they had hitherto been, because of the many thousands who had been slain by the hand of the Nephites; but notwithstanding their great loss, Amalickiah had gathered together a wonderfully great army, insomuch that he feared not to come down to the land of Zarahemla.

12 Yea, even Amalickiah did himself come down, at the head of the Lamanites. And it was in the twenty and fifth year of the reign of the judges; and it was at the same time that they had begun to settle the affairs of their contentions concerning the chief judge, Pahoran.

Maybe it is an accident of translation or something, but the end of this verse makes me think that the problem was Pahoran, not the kingmen per se.  That is:  I think the end of this verse lends support to the idea that the king-men arose as a response to the poor job Pahoran did in responding to the (perhaps legitimate) desires of the people.

13 And it came to pass that when the men who were called king-men had heard that the Lamanites were coming down to battle against them, they were glad in their hearts; and they refused to take up arms, for they were so wroth with the chief judge, and also with the people of liberty, that they would not take up arms to defend their country.

I thought in v7 the king-men had been rehabilitated?

This seems a pretty extreme position for the king-men to take–why do they do this?

14 And it came to pass that when Moroni saw this, and also saw that the Lamanites were coming into the borders of the land, he was exceedingly wroth because of the stubbornness of those people whom he had labored with so much diligence to preserve; yea, he was exceedingly wroth; his soul was filled with anger against them.

Once again (I think this is #3), we have a reference to Moroni’s anger.  And not only that, but these verse itself repeats three times the extent of Moroni’s anger.  I think it is fair to say that in some ways it is presented as his defining emotional characteristic.  I’m not saying this to trash him but to praise him, because his measured use of violence even in the face of his anger is quite extraordinary.

15 And it came to pass that he sent a petition, with the voice of the people, unto the governor of the land, desiring that he should read it, and give him (Moroni) power to compel those dissenters to defend their country or to put them to death.

Skousen reads “heed it” instead of “read it” here.  This is a HUGE difference–it sounds much less like asking permission in a formal sense than announcing one’s intentions.  He would be asking the governor to obey the petition (that, presumably, reflected the will of Moroni and the voice of the people).

Presumably this governor is Pahoran, although he is not named.  That’s a little awkward, because he isn’t exactly neutral in the entire affair . . .

Did Moroni not already have this power?  He has been in a similar situation before and did indeed put his own people to death (see Alma 46:35).  (Maybe, again, the point is Moroni’s restraint in getting specific permission before doing this.)

Does “with the voice of the people” mean (1) that the voice of the people agreed with what Moroni was asking or (2) that, if the voice of the people were to agree with what he was asking, then he wanted the authority?  Or perhaps something else?

Is this “petitioning” the same mechanism that the people at the beginning of the chapter used to try to get the law changed?  If so, is that significant or ironic?

Are we OK with the idea of the death penalty for people who refuse the draft?

There has been at least some level of “voluntariness” to Moroni’s army before this, because we know it attracted more people as it became more successful.  So why do these people have to participate.

From a purely logistical standpoint, why would Moroni want people in his army who were actively hostile to his cause?  It would be like herding cats for him to get anything done!

16 For it was his first care to put an end to such contentions and dissensions among the people; for behold, this had been hitherto a cause of all their destruction. And it came to pass that it was granted according to the voice of the people.

Do you think ending the lives of people who refused to be drafted was likely to result in putting “an end to such contentions and dissensions”?  (This sounds like the thinking of a lot of nations that we would not want to compare to Moroni, such as the Syrians.  Ouch.)

Notice how this verse pins the blame for their destruction not on the Lamanites but on internal dissension.

We don’t know precisely how the voice of the people actually worked (although it seems simplistic to think that it was a simple vote)

17 And it came to pass that Moroni commanded that his army should go against those king-men, to pull down their pride and their nobility and level them with the earth, or they should take up arms and support the cause of liberty.

Why does this verse delve into the emotional/spiritual state of the dissenters?  It makes it sound as if Moroni is going to force a conversion by the sword . . .

How is the refusal of the king-men different than the refusal of the ANLs to fight?

18 And it came to pass that the armies did march forth against them; and they did pull down their pride and their nobility, insomuch that as they did lift their weapons of war to fight against the men of Moroni they were hewn down and leveled to the earth.

Nice parallel of the pride/nobility being pulled down and they themselves being hewn down/leveled. Both v17 and v18 have a lot of language that links up metaphorical and literal heights/depths. I think we are being nudged by the word choice to see their deaths as the natural consequence of their pride.

19 And it came to pass that there were four thousand of those dissenters who were hewn down by the sword; and those of their leaders who were not slain in battle were taken and cast into prison, for there was no time for their trials at this period.

Holy cow–I don’t know what you were thinking, but I’m thinking maybe a few dozen people max, but here we find out that Moroni just killed 4,000 of his own people (which is roughly equal to the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq over the last decade, except Moroni didn’t do this over a decade and I’m guessing he didn’t have a population of 310M people to start with, either).  Just in case you couldn’t tell, I’m having a hard time figuring out how it could have been OK for Moroni to kill 4K draft dodgers.  ( I should probably call them conscientious objectors, not draft dodgers).  (Thought experiment:  tomorrow you read an article saying President ___ of ____ allows his military leader to kill 4K of his own citizens who refused to serve in the military because they had previously sought a different government that would be more responsive to the desires of the people than the current leader.  Your response?)  I think the author/editor anticipated my squirminess here, what with having Moroni seek permission from the chief judge, and with the reference to the approval of the voice of the people here.  Nonetheless, this is a fairly shocking event, I think, for a man of whom we were just told, “Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.”   And, as I tried to argue with the story of Nephi beheading Laban, it isn’t even so much the story itself that is troubling, but the fact that it was included in the record when it would have been super-easy to leave on the cutting room floor.  (Really, there is no gaping hole in the narrative flow if this story had been left out.)  So . . . why was this story here?  What should we learn from it?  (This article explores Moroni’s two main instances of killing dissenters; I think it does a great job sketching out the situation, but it doesn’t really engage the problematical nature of the situation.)

The bit about going to prison without trials is interesting.  First, if they were entitled to trials, then why was it OK to kill the others without trial, especially since they were underlings?  Second, we don’t hear a lot about prisons used by the righteous (note that the law of Moses has no role for prisons), so why does that happen here?

Brant Gardner:

The number four thousand is a suspicious number. Any time the number four appears in a Mesoamerican context that is not a calendar, it should be immediate suspicious as an invented number that is important for its symbolic content more than as a count. The number four was the number of completion in Mesoamerican cultures, and 4,000 deaths could easily be seen as a ‘complete’ destruction of the dissidents (see also the article on Counts and Estimates in the Book of Mormon). Citation

20 And the remainder of those dissenters, rather than be smitten down to the earth by the sword, yielded to the standard of liberty, and were compelled to hoist the title of liberty upon their towers, and in their cities, and to take up arms in defence of their country.

Is the juxtaposition of “liberty” and “compelled” in this sentence making your head explode, too, or is it just me?

 

21 And thus Moroni put an end to those king-men, that there were not any known by the appellation of king-men; and thus he put an end to the stubbornness and the pride of those people who professed the blood of nobility; but they were brought down to humble themselves like unto their brethren, and to fight valiantly for their freedom from bondage.

This verse strikes me as a little squirrely in that it doesn’t actually say that the king-men cease to exist (or, rather, it kind of says that but then backtracks–just like I did here!) to say that they weren’t known by that name anymore.  It almost sounds as if Moroni has won the battle but not the war . . .

Er, he put an end to the pride of the nobility by . . . killing (most of) the nobility.  Even I am not enough of a leftist to be completely down with that.

I find the word “valiantly” interesting here–you might not have expected people who had been forced to fight (after watching their comrades killed) to fight valiantly.

Interesting juxtaposition here of being humble and fighting for freedom .  ..

I think this verse is trying to encourage us to read the previous incident in terms of Moroni being the instrument of humbling a prideful people.  Does that strike you as a legitimate explanation for the troubling events in this story?  (Does it demand an allegorical reading?  Does it justify anyone who kills 4K prideful people, as long as their governor and the voice of the people agreed with them?)

Just in case you couldn’t tell, I’m stewing about this.  Remember that the genesis of the “king-men” is that they wanted to replace their governor with a king because the governor wasn’t responsive to the desire of the people to change the law.  They are unsuccessful in changing the government, and seem to give up the effort, but they are unwilling to fight for this government.  So . . . Moroni kills 4K of them in the name of liberty.  Huh.  (I get the idea that they would have been a threat to Nephite security had they joined up with the Lamanites, and they were likely to do just that, but that makes this, at best, a preemptive war, and that seems to go against the direction of the Lord to give neither the first nor second offense, let alone pre-empt, unless my math is off here.)

22 Behold, it came to pass that while Moroni was thus breaking down the wars and contentions among his own people, and subjecting them to peace and civilization, and making regulations to prepare for war against the Lamanites, behold, the Lamanites had come into the land of Moroni, which was in the borders by the seashore.

I’m chortling with laughter over “subjecting them to peace and civilization”–it sounds like he’s forcing them to eat dessert.  (And, indeed, he did force them at the point of the sword to support this government, so it really isn’t funny; it is maybe a little too telling.)

How would you respond to the cynic who says:  the Lamanite attack here is evidence that the Lord did not approve of Moroni’s actions and is using the Lamanites to scourge them, just as he used foreign countries to chasten Israel for its sins in the OT, and that this theory is bolstered by the next verse, which shows the Nephites getting their butts kicked?

 

23 And it came to pass that the Nephites were not sufficiently strong in the city of Moroni; therefore Amalickiah did drive them, slaying many. And it came to pass that Amalickiah took possession of the city, yea, possession of all their fortifications.

Are we supposed to view this lack of strength as the result of a failing on the part of the Nephites?  (After all, we’ve had several chapters full of reminders of the idea that the Lord would defend them if they were righteous.)  It couldn’t possibly be because Moroni just killed thousands of conscientiousness objectors, could it?  (And, as the next several verses will show, this isn’t one little victory, but multiple cities . . .)

24 And those who fled out of the city of Moroni came to the city of Nephihah; and also the people of the city of Lehi gathered themselves together, and made preparations and were ready to receive the Lamanites to battle.

25 But it came to pass that Amalickiah would not suffer the Lamanites to go against the city of Nephihah to battle, but kept them down by the seashore, leaving men in every city to maintain and defend it.

26 And thus he went on, taking possession of many cities, the city of Nephihah, and the city of Lehi, and the city of Morianton, and the city of Omner, and the city of Gid, and the city of Mulek, all of which were on the east borders by the seashore.

Skousen reads (conjecturally) “Moroni” instead of “Nephihah” here.

27 And thus had the Lamanites obtained, by the cunning of Amalickiah, so many cities, by their numberless hosts, all of which were strongly fortified after the manner of the fortifications of Moroni; all of which afforded strongholds for the Lamanites.

Note that the credit for the victory is assigned to A’s planning, not to the lack of the Lord’s protection.

28 And it came to pass that they marched to the borders of the land Bountiful, driving the Nephites before them and slaying many.

29 But it came to pass that they were met by Teancum, who had slain Morianton and had headed his people in his flight.

Note that T. is going to take the (narrative, at least) role of Nephite leader in this story.  Is it significant that Moroni is MIA?

30 And it came to pass that he headed Amalickiah also, as he was marching forth with his numerous army that he might take possession of the land Bountiful, and also the land northward.

31 But behold he met with a disappointment by being repulsed by Teancum and his men, for they were great warriors; for every man of Teancum did exceed the Lamanites in their strength and in their skill of war, insomuch that they did gain advantage over the Lamanites.

Again, why is credit given to human causes and not to the Lord here?

32 And it came to pass that they did harass them, insomuch that they did slay them even until it was dark. And it came to pass that Teancum and his men did pitch their tents in the borders of the land Bountiful; and Amalickiah did pitch his tents in the borders on the beach by the seashore, and after this manner were they driven.

33 And it came to pass that when the night had come, Teancum and his servant stole forth and went out by night, and went into the camp of Amalickiah; and behold, sleep had overpowered them because of their much fatigue, which was caused by the labors and heat of the day.

34 And it came to pass that Teancum stole privily into the tent of the king, and put a javelin to his heart; and he did cause the death of the king immediately that he did not awake his servants.

What might we learn from comparing this story to Judges 4-5, where Jael puts a javelin through the heart of a king who is sleeping in his tent?  (My subversive thought:  a clear theme in the Judges is that these foreign oppressors aren’t random dudes, but specifically sent by the Lord to chastise Israel when Israel doesn’t behave.  The echoes between the stories would suggest that the string of Lamanite successes in this chapter is a punishment of the Nephites.)

What do you learn about A. from the manner of his death?

Was this a “stratagem”?  Why is there no discussion of the morality of its use, given the numerous times when potentially morally dubious actions are carefully justified in the war chapters?

35 And he returned again privily to his own camp, and behold, his men were asleep, and he awoke them and told them all the things that he had done.

36 And he caused that his armies should stand in readiness, lest the Lamanites had awakened and should come upon them.

37 And thus endeth the twenty and fifth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi; and thus endeth the days of Amalickiah.

General thought on ch51:  I find it shocking how much the Lord is absent from this chapter.  No one asks his opinion on the wisdom of killing 4K conscientious objectors and no one gives him credit/blame for any of the military victories in this chapter. (Perhaps the stabbing-the-king-in-his-tent-motif adds to this:  remember that in Judges, that same event is following by a chapter-long praise song to the Lord celebrating the victory.  Here:  cue the crickets.) I’m also still smarting at the idea that it was OK for Moroni to kill all of those refuseniks.  I’m sure most of you will think that I’m taking this way too far, but I think this chapter may be a “what not to do” chapter.  I don’t think we need to assume that Moroni (+ Pahoran’s permission + the voice of the people) made the best decision here, and I think it is legitimate to wonder whether the military failures that come immediately after the mass killing are the Lord’s judgment on the killings.

CHAPTER 52

1 And now, it came to pass in the *twenty and sixth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, behold, when the Lamanites awoke on the first morning of the first month, behold, they found Amalickiah was dead in his own tent; and they also saw that Teancum was ready to give them battle on that day.

Happy New Year!  Your king is dead!  (Seriously:  why the time reference here?)

 

2 And now, when the Lamanites saw this they were affrighted; and they abandoned their design in marching into the land northward, and retreated with all their army into the city of Mulek, and sought protection in their fortifications.

3 And it came to pass that the brother of Amalickiah was appointed king over the people; and his name was Ammoron; thus king Ammoron, the brother of king Amalickiah, was appointed to reign in his stead.

Sigh.  No grade-school aged boy can say “Ammoron” without giggling.

4 And it came to pass that he did command that his people should maintain those cities, which they had taken by the shedding of blood; for they had not taken any cities save they had lost much blood.

We’re given a motive here and it is sort of a weird one:  they aren’t fighting for money or power or whatever, but to justify the cost of previous battles.  How does this shape your opinion of Ammoron?

5 And now, Teancum saw that the Lamanites were determined to maintain those cities which they had taken, and those parts of the land which they had obtained possession of; and also seeing the enormity of their number, Teancum thought it was not expedient that he should attempt to attack them in their forts.

Keeping in mind that “their forts” are “Nephite forts” that they have taken over . . . they are using the Nephite defenses against them.  If you were reading allegorically, how would you understand this?

6 But he kept his men round about, as if making preparations for war; yea, and truly he was preparing to defend himself against them, by casting up walls round about and preparing places of resort.

I know no one is persuaded by my critique of Moroni in the previous chapter, but I think it is interesting that, after the mass killing, Moroni is off the stage and the focus shifts instantly to Teancum.  (Until the next verse, of course . . .)

7 And it came to pass that he kept thus preparing for war until Moroni had sent a large number of men to strengthen his army.

8 And Moroni also sent orders unto him that he should retain all the prisoners who fell into his hands; for as the Lamanites had taken many prisoners, that he should retain all the prisoners of the Lamanites as a ransom for those whom the Lamanites had taken.

I wonder if this prisoner-saving plan (which sounds like an innovation at this point) has any relation to the mass killing in the last chapter.  (In other words, I wonder if Moroni is developing a slightly different attitude toward the best policy for dissenters . . .)

9 And he also sent orders unto him that he should fortify the land Bountiful, and secure the narrow pass which led into the land northward, lest the Lamanites should obtain that point and should have power to harass them on every side.

 

10 And Moroni also sent unto him, desiring him that he would be faithful in maintaining that quarter of the land, and that he would seek every opportunity to scourge the Lamanites in that quarter, as much as was in his power, that perhaps he might take again by stratagem or some other way those cities which had been taken out of their hands; and that he also would fortify and strengthen the cities round about, which had not fallen into the hands of the Lamanites.

11 And he also said unto him, I would come unto you, but behold, the Lamanites are upon us in the borders of the land by the west sea; and behold, I go against them, therefore I cannot come unto you.

Is it fair to say that Moroni is overwhelmed at this point?  If we are reading military success as a metric of obedience, then what does that tell us?

12 Now, the king (Ammoron) had departed out of the land of Zarahemla, and had made known unto the queen concerning the death of his brother, and had gathered together a large number of men, and had marched forth against the Nephites on the borders by the west sea.

Why is the queen mentioned here?  This really seems to stand out at not fitting the narrative, but I am not sure what the point it.  (This is, presumably, the same queen who launched the investigation into her husband’s death, wasn’t able to determine the truth because people lied, and then ended up marrying A.)

13 And thus he was endeavoring to harass the Nephites, and to draw away a part of their forces to that part of the land, while he had commanded those whom he had left to possess the cities which he had taken, that they should also harass the Nephites on the borders by the east sea, and should take possession of their lands as much as it was in their power, according to the power of their armies.

14 And thus were the Nephites in those dangerous circumstances in the ending of the twenty and sixth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.

Again, is the dismal state of the Nephites the result of disobedience to the Lord?

15 But behold, it came to pass in the *twenty and seventh year of the reign of the judges, that Teancum, by the command of Moroni—who had established armies to protect the south and the west borders of the land, and had begun his march towards the land Bountiful, that he might assist Teancum with his men in retaking the cities which they had lost—

16 And it came to pass that Teancum had received orders to make an attack upon the city of Mulek, and retake it if it were possible.

17 And it came to pass that Teancum made preparations to make an attack upon the city of Mulek, and march forth with his army against the Lamanites; but he saw that it was impossible that he could overpower them while they were in their fortifications; therefore he abandoned his designs and returned again to the city Bountiful, to wait for the coming of Moroni, that he might receive strength to his army.

18 And it came to pass that Moroni did arrive with his army at the land of Bountiful, in the latter end of the twenty and seventh year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.

19 And in the *commencement of the twenty and eighth year, Moroni and Teancum and many of the chief captains held a council of war—what they should do to cause the Lamanites to come out against them to battle; or that they might by some means flatter them out of their strongholds, that they might gain advantage over them and take again the city of Mulek.

This “council of war” appears to be an innovation–why does it happen?  Is it an indication that things aren’t going well for the Nephites?  Where is the Lord in all this?  Why haven’t they asked Helaman (or whoever) for guidance as to what to do?

“Flatter” is an interesting word–is it ever OK to use flattery?  Does the fact that this council is considering it tell us something about them?  Would it just be another “stratagem”?

20 And it came to pass they sent embassies to the army of the Lamanites, which protected the city of Mulek, to their leader, whose name was Jacob, desiring him that he would come out with his armies to meet them upon the plains between the two cities. But behold, Jacob, who was a Zoramite, would not come out with his army to meet them upon the plains.

Is this an invitation to negotiate or an invitation to battle?  Either way, why does Moroni think that Jacob would accept this offer, which is clearly to the Nephite’s advantage?

21 And it came to pass that Moroni, having no hopes of meeting them upon fair grounds, therefore, he resolved upon a plan that he might decoy the Lamanites out of their strongholds.

How is this going to be similar to or different from the Lehonti story?

22 Therefore he caused that Teancum should take a small number of men and march down near the seashore; and Moroni and his army, by night, marched in the wilderness, on the west of the city Mulek; and thus, on the morrow, when the guards of the Lamanites had discovered Teancum, they ran and told it unto Jacob, their leader.

23 And it came to pass that the armies of the Lamanites did march forth against Teancum, supposing by their numbers to overpower Teancum because of the smallness of his numbers. And as Teancum saw the armies of the Lamanites coming out against him he began to retreat down by the seashore, northward.

24 And it came to pass that when the Lamanites saw that he began to flee, they took courage and pursued them with vigor. And while Teancum was thus leading away the Lamanites who were pursuing them in vain, behold, Moroni commanded that a part of his army who were with him should march forth into the city, and take possession of it.

25 And thus they did, and slew all those who had been left to protect the city, yea, all those who would not yield up their weapons of war.

26 And thus Moroni had obtained possession of the city Mulek with a part of his army, while he marched with the remainder to meet the Lamanites when they should return from the pursuit of Teancum.

27 And it came to pass that the Lamanites did pursue Teancum until they came near the city Bountiful, and then they were met by Lehi and a small army, which had been left to protect the city Bountiful.

28 And now behold, when the chief captains of the Lamanites had beheld Lehi with his army coming against them, they fled in much confusion, lest perhaps they should not obtain the city Mulek before Lehi should overtake them; for they were wearied because of their march, and the men of Lehi were fresh.

29 Now the Lamanites did not know that Moroni had been in their rear with his army; and all they feared was Lehi and his men.

30 Now Lehi was not desirous to overtake them till they should meet Moroni and his army.

31 And it came to pass that before the Lamanites had retreated far they were surrounded by the Nephites, by the men of Moroni on one hand, and the men of Lehi on the other, all of whom were fresh and full of strength; but the Lamanites were wearied because of their long march.

32 And Moroni commanded his men that they should fall upon them until they had given up their weapons of war.

The goal is military defeat, not death.  Moroni is, once again, controlled, not a rage machine.

33 And it came to pass that Jacob, being their leader, being also a Zoramite, and having an unconquerable spirit, he led the Lamanites forth to battle with exceeding fury against Moroni.

What’s up with the unconquerable spirit?  Doesn’t that sound like a good thing?  Is this a point about apostates?  If so, what is the point?

34 Moroni being in their course of march, therefore Jacob was determined to slay them and cut his way through to the city of Mulek. But behold, Moroni and his men were more powerful; therefore they did not give way before the Lamanites.

35 And it came to pass that they fought on both hands with exceeding fury; and there were many slain on both sides; yea, and Moroni was wounded and Jacob was killed.

36 And Lehi pressed upon their rear with such fury with his strong men, that the Lamanites in the rear delivered up their weapons of war; and the remainder of them, being much confused, knew not whither to go or to strike.

37 Now Moroni seeing their confusion, he said unto them: If ye will bring forth your weapons of war and deliver them up, behold we will forbear shedding your blood.

Previously, Moroni required an oath guaranteeing future people and specifically refused the deal that he offers here.  What do you learn from this difference?

38 And it came to pass that when the Lamanites had heard these words, their chief captains, all those who were not slain, came forth and threw down their weapons of war at the feet of Moroni, and also commanded their men that they should do the same.

39 But behold, there were many that would not; and those who would not deliver up their swords were taken and bound, and their weapons of war were taken from them, and they were compelled to march with their brethren forth into the land Bountiful.

I find it most interesting that these guys were not killed, as Moroni has done before to his own people on two occasions.  Has Moroni changed his mind about the best way to handle these situations?

40 And now the number of prisoners who were taken exceeded more than the number of those who had been slain, yea, more than those who had been slain on both sides.

I think it would be quite easy to read this verse as a commentary on the change in Moroni’s strategy, given the numbers.

General thoughts:

(1) Thinking about the war chapters. Here’s a link to a post I wrote about how to read the war chapters, but I’m not sure I agree with myself anymore.  Kristine’s comment #13 is really interesting.  As you consider why these “war chapters” are in the BoM, consider 1 Nephi 6:6:  “Wherefore, I shall give commandment unto my seed, that they shall not occupy these plates with things which are not of worth unto the children of men.”  I also wonder:  we frequently forget that the BoM is the record of a people who don’t make it, it is a “what not to do” type of book.  So should we be trying to reconcile everything that happens in the war chapters with our sense of justice and righteousness, or should we be saying, “look at them mess up!”  On the other hand, we have this incredible praise of Moroni, who is in charge of the (military, at least) show, smack dab in the middle of the thing.  So it is not easy to write him off as a failure. One of my favorite answers to the “why are there war chapters” question is that they are the literary equivalent of “enduring to the end,” as we await the coming of Jesus in the narrative, we have to slog through dull, seemingly pointless text as we personally re-enact the waiting, watching, wondering process. Another take on the war chapters:

If we today feel that Mormon’s inclusion of lengthy military accounts is somehow not in keeping with the sacred and religious purpose of the Book of Mormon, then we must remind ourselves that he, unlike most modern historians, had a peculiarly theological or religious concept of history according to which war was not a purely secular phenomenon but an instrument of divine purpose. In his view, war was not to be explained merely in terms of political, economic, or racial causes and effects, but was rooted in moral, spiritual, and social problems and unrighteousness. Citation:  (RDouglas Phillips in Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin, eds., Warfare in the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1990], 25.) Italics added.

Another take on it:

Why does the Book of Mormon, especially the book of Alma, contain so many accounts of war, and what use are they for us? An initial response to this is that what we sometimes call the “war chapters” have much less to do with war than with deliverance from war or with destruction. Indeed, if we think of the Book of Mormon as containing military history, it is the strangest military history ever written: The largest battle in the first 570 years is covered in a couple of sentences, while conflicts in which no Nephites lost their lives are given pages (see, for example, the sentence-length account in Helaman 4:5 of the Lamanites obtaining possession of all the Nephite lands up to the land Bountiful; see also Alma 62:38, which dismisses a great battle in one sentence).  Citation:  (Richard Dilworth Rust in Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin, eds., Warfare in the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1990], 29.)

Another thought on the war chapters:  Is the point to model how and when and why Christians should engage in warfare?  Or should the chapters be read allegorically, as a pattern for the battle against evil?  (I find this reading common among LDS, but pretty difficult to sustain if you stop cherry-picking and try to consistently read allegorically.)  Another thought:  the tales of war surround the coming of Christ.  Perhaps this is a riff on the “what not to do” theme in the BoM, but is the point that they allowed their squabbles to be the focus of their attention, instead of the coming of Christ?  (But then, don’t our writers and editors contribute to that by recounting these stories instead of, say, Alma and sons’ missionary journeys?)

(2) You can read the entire book Warfare in the Book of Mormon free online.

(3) I was struck by the numerous references to Moroni’s anger in this section.  What are we to make of that?  Do these scriptures justify anger?  Do they show how to deal with it?  What is the lesson for us?

(4) As you certainly realized if you read the notes, I am troubled by Moroni’s decision to kill conscientious objectors (on more than one occasion and, once, numbering 4ooo people). Whoever wrote on the FEAST wiki (link here, scroll down) floated the idea that Moroni is presented as a model of living a terrestrial law (because if everyone were like him, Satan would be bound, which is a condition of the terrestrial kingdom) and that he doesn’t reflect the higher law (as represented in D&C 98).  I like any idea that grapples with this situation, and this is certainly innovative, but I don’t think the average reader is going to come away from the praise given to Moroni thinking, hey this guy is doing a great job living a terrestrial law, so I shouldn’t model myself after him!  Here’s what Grant Hardy has to say on the related issue of the praise of Moroni:

 At Alma 48:11-18, Mormon interrupts his narrative to insert a highly unusual, resounding endorsement of Captain Moroni’s spiritual stature.  It is a good thing he does so, because otherwise readers might get the wrong idea from the narratives that follow.  Moroni is stubborn and hot-tempered, he is never depicted as praying for assistance or relying solely upon God and–justified though it may be–he ends up with a lot of blood on his hands.  Mormon’s comment helps us read Moroni’s story in a particular way, and it is remarkable what lengths he goes to in order to ensure that.  The culmination of Mormon’s praise is the assertion [he quotes 48:17].  This is as strong a statement as Mormon can possibly make; the only other instances of “verily, verily I say unto you” in the Book of Mormon are spoken by the resurrected Jesus himself.”  Citation

 

So what I like about that is that it positions the Great Praise as a sensible response to the violence and not a blithe ignoring of the violence.  It does raise more questions, in that we are left to wonder why Mormon wants us to read Moroni as such an awesome guy when he gets mad a lot and kills dissenters.  And, if we wanted us to read Moroni that way, shouldn’t he have spent more time justifying killing the dissenters and less time generically praising Moroni?  (Although, to be fair, he does make the point that Moroni got specific permission from the governor and the voice of the people for what he did, so it is hard to think of what else he could have done to soften the blow, other than just omit the entire story.  Hey, how come he didn’t just omit the entire story?)

I think the best resolution that I can get is to look at it this way:  after the killing of the 4K, Moroni’s army suffers significant military losses.  These battle tide turns when Moroni begins taking people prisoner instead of forcing them to choose between fighting for him/making an oath stating that they would never fight against him or death.  I think it is possible to read these chapters as showing Moroni changing his mind about the best way to handle dissent.  This puts the praise of Moroni in a very different light.  (It also helps, maybe, if we take the 4K number as symbolic, as Gardner does.)  (But compare Alma 62:9, where the situation basically repeats itself.)

(5) Interesting article by Orson Scott Card here.  Key quote:  “In fact, there is no record of the Lamanites ever going to war against the Nephites during this period except when they were either incited or led—or both—by Nephite dissenters!”  Whether you are reading allegorically or morally, that is a big deal.

(6) A talk from President Hinckley about war and peace.  And one from President Kimball.

(7) A personal note:  this is the first time I’ve ever tried to read the war chapters closely.  I was surprised at how rewarding it was–how many interesting moral and ethic issues arose.

12 Responses to BMGD #31: Alma 43-52

  1. Cameron Nielsen on August 6, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    I think in addition to spiritual allegory, the war chapters are as flexible as all other portions of the scriptures. In particular, I have found over the last few years that they contain lots of wording the spirit can use for specific direction, talking of retreating, movement in directions, decisions to pursue or retreat, etc. I am dead serious when I say that the Spirit has given me specific counsel using these positional/locational/binary descriptions that are basically responsible for where my family lives right now and my current (and past) job.

  2. Julie M. Smith on August 6, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    Cameron, that’s fascinating. I’d never considered that; thank you for sharing it with us.

  3. Swisster on August 7, 2012 at 8:27 am

    This is wonderful. Thank you. I haven’t read every word yet, but I love all the questions and the detail of the close reading. Question about Captain Moroni: Since he lived before Christ, did he and his contemporaries in war live more by Old Testament “values”? So any praise for him has to acknowledge the OT tendency toward vengeance…? But then, the abridger Mormon lived after Christ and should add some perspective that was not available in earlier times. Then again, the abridger is a military general himself. I don’t know! Sometimes I treat the whole BOM as a Christian text, but sometimes it’s convenient to think about how most of it is pre-Christian. Help, anyone?

  4. Snyderman on August 7, 2012 at 9:56 am

    I’ll admit I haven’t (and probably never will) read the whole thing, but a couple points I’d like to contribute:

    1) Regarding the redemption of Corianton, he would appear to be included in the Alma 48:18-19 passage. Verse 18 says “Alma and his sons” and verse 19 says “Helaman and his brethren.” Now, as far as we know, Alma had three sons: Helaman, Shiblon, and Corianton. “Alma and his sons” could mean only Helaman and Shiblon, but the plural “brethren” in verse 19 would have to include Corianton unless there were other son(s) we don’t know about, which is certainly possible but I find it unlikely. (Not only that, but the sons of Helaman–Ammon, etc.–are described in Mosiah 28:4 as “the very vilest of sinners.”)

    2) I have to admit that I am largely a pacifist and have always kind of had an issue with the description of Captain Moroni in Alma 48. Not because it’s not true or deserved, but because I feel like we teach the young men in the Church to idolize him; and I fear this idolization leads men (young AND old) to look for conflicts that aren’t there in order to be able to emulate him. I wish more emphasis was given the verses immediately following his description (verses 18-19) as I think they make for the better lesson.

  5. Julie M. Smith on August 9, 2012 at 10:35 am

    Missed some notes:

    Alma 46:36-37: Grant Hardy points out that if you follow the chronology, it is already the 19th year, so this peace is only lasting . . . a few months.

    Hardy also points out that the comparison of Moroni with Ammon was unusual, given that Ammon was pretty much the opposite of Moroni in his relationship with the Lamanites. “If they are all ‘men of God,’ it must be because God has rather eclectic tastes; he seems to honor very different types of people.”

  6. Adam Greenwood on August 9, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    Re Captain Moroni’s virtues, this might be one area where our standard rubric of likening the scriptures unto ourselves and looking to extract moral lessons is a bad idea.

    The obvious reason Mormon liked Captain Moroni so much is the man was an epic hero and military genius who successfully brought his nation through decades of attacks by an powerful evil enemy in the face of civil war, internal dissension, and wholly inadequate state structures. Sometimes the facts become legend because the facts are legendary.

    We are uncomfortable with this because we want to think that Satan’s attacks and our resistance to it is an internal moral matter. But in the worldview we can perceive in the Book of Mormon, the Amalekite/Lamanite attacks and the Nephite internal troubles *were* Satan’s attacks.

    If we do want to put Captain Moroni into the private virtue mold, we could say that he’s a George Washington figure in that he had immense military power but never used it for personal gain or aggrandizement or to take over from the ‘civilian’ power. I am inclined to think that’s the case. But to be honest, the text doesn’t give much indication of that and in the contemporary cultural and political context its possible Captain Moroni simply couldn’t have seized power if he wanted to. Maybe he was the wrong caste or his men were all fanatics for the judgeship or something. But that really doesn’t detract from Moroni’s real world accomplishment.

    Think of Captain Moroni as Lincoln. We celebrate him for his personal virtues, but if you come to examine them closely, you don’t exactly find them to be non-existent, you just discover that they aren’t really the point.

  7. Julie M. Smith on August 9, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    Thanks, Adam, I like that.

  8. Adam Greenwood on August 10, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    You are welcome, and, as always, thanks for this series.

    Re your comment #5, I see Hardy’s point, and am edified by the conclusion he draws from it. At the same time, Ammon and Captain Moroni aren’t all that dissimular. They both are big risk-takers and fairly violent. We shouldn’t forget that Ammon’s big missionary break was killing a bunch of people and having their hacked-off arms used as trophies. Modernize that a little to get a real taste for how different it is. “Yeah, there was this village where we couldn’t proselyte at all and we could only do service. But my companion and I found out that this gang was, like, harassing the people and beating them up and stuff, so–it was so epic–we grabbed these guns and went to their camp and told them to leave everybody alone but they started to shoot at us so we killed them all and cut off their heads to bring back to show everyone and the people came out and were crying and it was amazing, the Spirit was so strong.”

    And yet this was the same guy whose converts were the extreme Lehite examples of pacifism. The Book of Mormon is a surprising book.

  9. Julie M. Smith on August 10, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    LOL! Adam, that was brilliant. The message about war and peace is complicated and fascinating.

  10. Nadine Pinkerton on August 12, 2012 at 11:34 am

    Hello Julie M. Smith! Glad to find you and see that you are still turning out wonderful work.
    ~ Nadine from Davis

  11. Julie M. Smith on August 12, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    Nadine! Good to hear from you! Hope your family is doing well.

  12. Mark N. on March 19, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    For lack of a better place to put this, it might be worth revisiting http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2004/11/modern-gadiantons/ now that we’re at the 10th anniversary of the war in Iraq.