1 Now these are the words which Amulek preached unto the people who were in the land of Ammonihah, saying:
Textual: Once again Mormon begins with the barest of possible introductions to the text he will insert. This continues to confirm the importance of these texts for Mormon’s understanding of what was important enough that we should read it.
2 I am Amulek; I am the son of Giddonah, who was the son of Ishmael, who was a descendant of Aminadi; and it was the same Aminadi who interpreted the writing which was upon the wall of the temple, which was written by the finger of God.
3 And Aminadi was a descendant of Nephi, who was the son of Lehi, who came out of the land of Jerusalem, who was a descendant of Manasseh, who was the son of Joseph who was sold into Egypt by the hands of his brethren.
Amulek begins his address to the people by reciting his genealogy. He does that to place himself in the “proper” position before the community. As he makes explicit in the following verse, he is “a man of no small reputation.” The opening genealogy is designed to bolster that assertion. Amulek traces his lineage through a known illustrious ancestor (Aminadi) and then to the most illustrious of all, Nephi and Lehi. What we must only assume is that this lineage gave Amulek some position of prominence in the community. The pre-eminence of his lineage may have been one of the things that gave him his particular place in the community.
We hear nothing more about Aminadi in the Book of Mormon. The story of God writing on a wall must have had some importance for the people who were involved, but it is not listed in our text. It is also not clear how far back in time we must go for a link to Aminadi. It is possible that this story falls into the generation prior to the flight to Zarahemla, and that Aminadi was a prophet (assumed because of his role in reading a message from God) during the time the Nephites were in the Land of Nephi. This would place his story in the large plates, rather than the small plates. Since the small plates were kept by Jacob’s line, the deeds of that lineage would not show up on the small plates.
Textual: The story of Aminadi is clearly parallel to Daniel 5:5-17 although there is no language dependency. The theme of someone interpreting writing on the wall that was written by God (implied in the Daniel story) is parallel even if the other details are not. Just as the experience of Alma was similar, but different, from that of Paul, it is probable that there is a context here that is again similar yet different.
4 And behold, I am also a man of no small reputation among all those who know me; yea, and behold, I have many kindreds and friends, and I have also acquired much riches by the hand of my industry.
After reciting his lineage, Amulek notes the more immediate reason that he should be known to the audience. He recites his success in endeavors that are of importance to them. The first is that he has “many kindreds.” In addition to the line of genealogy, the breadth of his kin connections is given. In kin-based societies, the larger the kin base, the more support and potential one has. Amulek lets his audience know that he is from a large kin group, which would make him of some power for that reason alone. On top of that, however, he has become rich through his industry. He does not define riches, and does not say the way his wealth was accumulated (other than that it came “by the hand of … industry.”
5 Nevertheless, after all this, I never have known much of the ways of the Lord, and his mysteries and marvelous power. I said I never had known much of these things; but behold, I mistake, for I have seen much of his mysteries and his marvelous power; yea, even in the preservation of the lives of this people.
Rhetorical: This verse is a challenge to understand. Amulek makes a statement, then directly contradicts it, noting “I mistake.” There are two possible reasons why we have this contradictory information. The first is that he really did make a mistake, a slip of the tongue. The second is that this is an intentional contradiction.
The first option is certainly possible. In oral discourse, it is very easy for a speaker to insert a word that was not intended to be in the sentence. In this case, Amulek’s intention would have been to say “I have known much of the ways of the Lord…” and the “not” slipped in based on his knowledge that he had not always so believed. While this is possible, it is not as likely as the second scenario. The reason for discounting this possibility is that this is a recorded discourse, and Amulek or another redactor (Alma?) had ample opportunity to erase a slip of the tongue. Indeed, the chances of the recording of the oral event being so precise as to capture such a slip of the tongue is also remote. Finally, the sense of Amulek’s argument works better if we assume that he intended to make this contrast.
Amulek is speaking before a group of people who know him, a fact he is counting on and which led to the particular introduction he used. Amulek would also have been known as one who was not a particularly faithful follower of the Nephite religion, as he explains in the next verse. What he is doing here is setting up a contrast that will sharpen the interest of the crowd. His first statement is the one that they expect from their knowledge of him, that is, that he has “never have known much of the ways of the Lord.” When he immediately halts this expected sentence with the abrupt “I mistake,” the audience had to be caught in the unexpected remark, and their attention heightened. What he says is that even though he denied what he saw, the evidence for the ways of the Lord were all around him in the preservation of his people.
This reference to seeing the ways of the Lord around him sets up a very important basis for his discourse. He is telling his audience that just as he could have seen all of the evidence around him, but had not, so too they will be able to see when they have their eyes open to the ways of the Lord. Even more to the point, he saw the hand of God in their preservation. This is a very important point because Amulek is setting up protection under God, and destruction in denial of God. This has been the message from the Lord, that the people will be destroyed if they do not repent. Amulek is not only reiterating the warning, but making sure that they understand that it is not God who brings the destruction, but it is He who has been protecting them from it.
6 Nevertheless, I did harden my heart, for I was called many times and I would not hear; therefore I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know; therefore I went on rebelling against God, in the wickedness of my heart, even until the fourth day of this seventh month, which is in the tenth year of the reign of the judges.
Rhetorical: Amulek returns to the expected after the unexpected. He has disrupted their expectations. He has told them that they knew him, then told them that they did not (because of his unexpected belief). Now he must show how the transformation occurred. He begins by accepting responsibility for his unbelief. Notice that the blame falls squarely on his own shoulders: “I did harden my heart, for I was called many times and I would not hear; therefore I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know…”
The difference between this Amulek and the one that they had known is that now he will hear. He declared that the evidence was all around him, and even that he “was called many times.” Indirectly, he is also telling his audience that they, too, have been called many times, that the evidence is all around them, and that they are the ones who are at fault for their disbelief.
Calendrical: We have already noted that the tenth year of the reign of the judges was around 83 BC. What might we know of the seventh month? The Book of Mormon is not precise in its correlation of its months to ours, but we should not expect that the seventh month of the Nephite Calendar corresponds to the seventh month of the calendar we use. Indeed, Randall Spackman suggests that the 26th year of the judges began with the new moon of February 25 (Spackman, Randall. “Introduction to Book of Mormon Chronology.” FARMS reprint, 1993, p. 30.).
With a Nephite new year falling near the end of February, our understanding of the Nephites months are pushed back two months from the system with which we are familiar. This gives us the seventh month in our September.
Part of the analysis that leads to a concern over the placement of the months is the correlation between the military actions and the rainy seasons in Mesoamerica. Book of Mormon military actions tend to take place in the winter dry months rather in the spring, which is both the wet time and the time for planting. Alma’s missionary journey appears to fall into that same pattern. Even though Alma is traveling alone, and there is no reason to believe that he is tied to the timing of crops, it is quite likely that he timed his journey to coincide with the dry season for one of the same reasons the military did ; ease of travel.
7 As I was journeying to see a very near kindred, behold an angel of the Lord appeared unto me and said: Amulek, return to thine own house, for thou shalt feed a prophet of the Lord; yea, a holy man, who is a chosen man of God; for he has fasted many days because of the sins of this people, and he is an hungered, and thou shalt receive him into thy house and feed him, and he shall bless thee and thy house; and the blessing of the Lord shall rest upon thee and thy house.
Sociological/Translation: Amulek is journeying to see a “very near kindred.” The phrase “very near kindred” is somewhat awkward, and bears the hallmarks of a translation of a term that Joseph might not have known. In a society base on kinship relations, it is most likely that there is a particular term that is being translated, but that it is somehow out of the range of standard English terms. In addition to the standard designations for the immediate family, there are frequently terms that indicate other types of relationships. This putative term would be contrasted to “distant kindred.” It is most probable that the audience had a good idea of the relationship of the two, and that it was outside of the immediate family, as Amulek would then have used the term “father/brother, etc.”
A possible model for the type of lineage term Amulek might have been using comes from the Nahuatl (Aztec) language. Carrasco has studied the Nahuatl kinship terms, and indicates that the system made distinctions between lineal and collateral kin. The term uecapan “distant” is used to mark the collateral kin (Carrasco, Pedro. “Sobre algunos terminus de parentesco en el nahuatl clasico,” In: Estudios de Cultural Nahuatl. 1966, 6:161). This was a flexible indicator that might be attached to many specific terms. It is possible that the language of Amulek had a similar marker that would mark the “distant” relatives as well as the “very near” kin.
It is also interesting that he is “journeying” to visit this person. This suggests the possibility that this “very near kindred” is not in the same city. While it is possible that Amulek was leaving the city and traveling to the “land” surrounding the city, this might not be considered a journey, but rather a more typical travel. Thus the journeying may be significant. From the standpoint of understanding the political relationships of the cities under the Nephite reign of the judges, this would indicate that lineages will not all be settled in the same place, and that perhaps one of the reasons for the political ties between cities is that there are lineage connections to the other cities under the Nephite umbrella.
8 And it came to pass that I obeyed the voice of the angel, and returned towards my house. And as I was going thither I found the man whom the angel said unto me: Thou shalt receive into thy house—and behold it was this same man who has been speaking unto you concerning the things of God.
9 And the angel said unto me he is a holy man; wherefore I know he is a holy man because it was said by an angel of God.
Amulek obeys the voice of the angel, and finds what he was told he would find. It is interesting that there is no indication that Amulek decided to obey the voice of the angel after his visit to his very near kindred. All indications are that he turned in his tracks and returned to meet Alma. Amulek introduces, belatedly, Alma to the crowd as the man to whom he was sent by an angel. It is interesting that this introduction of Alma’s divine appointment comes only after Alma has spoken and been rejected. Perhaps the Lord wanted to give the people of Ammonihah the chance to repent without the greater burden of rejecting a declared and confirmed prophet of God.
10 And again, I know that the things whereof he hath testified are true; for behold I say unto you, that as the Lord liveth, even so has he sent his angel to make these things manifest unto me; and this he has done while this Alma hath dwelt at my house.
Amulek now adds his personal testimony of Alma and Alma’s message. This is now a message attested by two men, one from the outside, and one from the inside.
11 For behold, he hath blessed mine house, he hath blessed me, and my women, and my children, and my father and my kinsfolk; yea, even all my kindred hath he blessed, and the blessing of the Lord hath rested upon us according to the words which he spake.
Anthropological: The blessing of Alma gives us an interesting picture of how Amulek perceives his kinship lines. While the information is not as detailed as we might like, we can still make some inferences. First we have a structural division in the sentence that separates a list of kin from the generic “all my kindred.” In structure, the sentence is progressing from named sets to a generalized set of kindred, with “all my kindred” being the largest and most inclusive category. The conjunction “yea” appears to extend the specifics of the first set of named categories. It is possible, therefore, that the blessing of Alma on the household is direct and immediate for the first set, and indirect for the second extended set, the “all my kindred.”
It is quite possible that this second set, “all my kindred” is not as ill defined as we consider it in a modern society. Among the Aztecs, there were certain penalties that could be applied to all of ones relatives (Las Casas, Bartolome de. Apologetica Historia Sumaria. Ed. Edmundo O’Gorman. Universidad Autonima de Mexico 1967, 2:401). For a penalty to be assessed upon all of ones relatives, there had to be a definition of what “all” meant, and it was either to the fifth or the fourth generation, depending upon the source (see Munoz Camargo, Diego. Historia de Tlaxcala. Mexico, 1947, p. 95 and Calneck, Edward E. “The Sahagun Texts as a Source of Sociological Information.” In: Sixteenth-Century Mexico. Ed. Munro S. Edmonson. University of New Mexico Press, 1974, p. 200). Although the Aztecs are a different language and time, it is probable that the same necessities of defining a maximum kin group would also have dictated Amulek’s concepts of what “all my kindred” might mean.
The first set is more interesting. Once again it is important to pull apart the sentence because there are terms and relationships that are important for kin relationships. The first is “my house.” For kin based societies, this typically as much real as it is symbolic of the family. Kin based societies frequently live in compounds where related family members live. There are excellent materials that allow anthropologists to have a picture of some Aztec households close to the time of the Conquest. For the Aztecs, the “family” was termed “techan tlaca” or “the people of one’s house.” One account from 1580 indicates that houses typically contained six or seven married couples besides unmarried youth (Casteneda, Francisco. “Official Reports on the Towns of Tequizistlan, Tepechpan, Acolman, and San Juan Teotihuaca.” Tr. Zelia Nuttal. Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology. 11:2:55).
The archaeological discovery of living areas that clearly contain multiple buildings lead archaeologists to the conclusion that such an area was a family compound. This is a very common feature of the archaeological sites of the Maya area dating to the time period of the Book of Mormon. A simple example is the site of Salinas La Blanca, which predates the Book of Mormon Nephites, that has examples of two household mounds with multiple thatched houses, one with three houses, and one with four (Flannery, Kent V. “The Early Formative Household Cluster on the Guatemalan Pacific Coast.” In: The Early Mesoamerican Village. Academic Press, 1976, p. 32). It is therefore most probable that Amulek is living in a typical Mesoamerican household compound. Thus when Amulek speaks of Alma blessing his “house” and then lists specific peoples, we are justified in assuming that these are people that are living in the same “house,” which would mean the entire dwelling area, not a single structure.
Amulek gives the following series as the people associated with his “house:” “me, and my women, and my children, and my father and my kinsfolk.” Clearly Amulek is the head of the household, as he places himself at the center. He then lists “my women,” “my children,” “my father,” and “my kinsfolk.” Of these terms, “my children” and “my father” do not appear to give any difficulty, we may be certain that we understand those terms precisely as Amulek intended them. A more difficult term is “my women.” What does Amulek mean by “my women?”
The term “my women” is sometimes used in the Book of Mormon to indicate “wife.” John A. Tvedtnes has suggest that this usage might be related to an underlying Hebrew construction:
A similar linguistic convention exists in several languages, including many in Mesoamerica. Regardless of where the term comes from, it is most likely that in this case, Amulek is specifically speaking of his wives, in the plural. How did Amulek get multiple wives?
Amulek has indicated that he has been converted to the Lord, and that he had been a much more worldly man (see verse 6). One of the aspects of the religion we saw among the people of Noah was multiple wives (Mosiah 11:2). There is much of the order of Nehor that bears remarkable similarity to the religion of the people of Noah. Indeed, most of the set of objectionable religious/political “innovations” that the Nephite prophets condemn fall into a set of traits that are described by the religion of the people of Noah as well as the order of Nehor. These include the desire for kings, the desire for a hierarchical society (some not working with their own hands), costly apparel, and apparently multiple wives. While we don’t hear much about this specifically after Jacob’s sermon (Jacob 2:23-27) it clearly enters the Nephite cultural experience at various points. We saw it clearly for the people of Noah, and we see it here in Ammonihah. It is not a coincidence that a city that has heavily adopted the order of Nehor would have a system allowing multiple wives. That was yet another of the cultural traditions of the world around them, just as the rest of the specifics of the order of Nehor were.
The final term that appears to be connected to Amulek’s “house” is “my kindred.” This term is more difficult to define, and we may only speculate. We know that “my kindred” does not include any of the named relatives, so it cannot mean himself, his wives, or his children, or his father. It is therefore likely that other close family are living with him, which would not be unusual if he were a wealthy man and could provide for him. Perhaps he had a brother or sister and their family living in the compound. We cannot be certain, only suggest that there were others in the compound that were living in the same area, and therefore should have been included as part of the definition of Amulek’s “house.” In the later Aztec examples, these close relatives could include brothers and their families living in the same compound.
12 And now, when Amulek had spoken these words the people began to be astonished, seeing there was more than one witness who testified of the things whereof they were accused, and also of the things which were to come, according to the spirit of prophecy which was in them.
Here is confirmation of the Lord’s purpose in preparing Amulek as Alma’s companion. For the Ammonihahites, having two witnesses apparently validated the message. We may suspect that this was a legal or traditional understanding, as it would not have been spiritual. Had it been the result of the spirit, they could have understood the message as Alma gave it. We are therefore justified in assuming that either as part of law, or of social tradition, truth was established if there were two corroborating witnesses. God gave them exactly what they might need to understand the message. Knowing the Ammonihahites, the Lord placed the gospel in the best possible terms for them to be able to understand. That they eventually chose not to listen cannot be laid at the feet of the Lord.
13 Nevertheless, there were some among them who thought to question them, that by their cunning devices they might catch them in their words, that they might find witness against them, that they might deliver them to their judges that they might be judged according to the law, and that they might be slain or cast into prison, according to the crime which they could make appear or witness against them.
Social: The evidence suggests that there is an emphasis in Ammonihah on the reign of law and the judges. After the people begin to be more ready to accept the message because there are two witnesses to it, the lawyers step in to question Amulek. If they are able to find that Amulek breaches their law, then they will be able to throw them into prison, or kill them.
This situation requires some explanation for modern readers who are more familiar with the legal systems of the United States or Great Britain. In both of those countries, law is relegated to the secular, and religious differences are left to the church. We have a very different situation in Ammonihah. Alma and Amulek are not talking politics, they are talking religion. Nevertheless, they are to be question about the law. In a modern legal system with rigid separation between church and state, this would not be possible.
Ammonihah is not a modern city, however, it is an ancient one, and the very conception of what a “lawyer” might be can be different from what our modern perspective prepares us for when using that word. We cannot be certain precisely what category of functionary is indicated by the term “lawyer” in the Book of Mormon. As we have seen, Joseph Smith selected his vocabulary for the Book of Mormon from the well of the King James Version of the Bible, and that text uses “lawyer” in the New Testament where the better definition might be “scribe.”
In an ancient society where there was no distinct line between politics and religion, the lawyer was someone with a knowledge of the law, which included the religious laws. In the Bible, the lawyers would have been familiar with the Law of Moses. Their decisions would be handed down based on the nature of the offense against their understanding of the Mosaic Law. This is the situation we find in Ammonihah. Alma and Amulek have been speaking about religion. What laws have they broken?
It is obviously not clear that they have broken a law, but since they are speaking dangerous things, such as the destruction of the city, they are to be treated with caution. The lawyers want to examine them on their compatibility with their own religious law. Since this is a city that is predominantly of the order of the Nehors, there will be differences in religious interpretation, and the assumption that the lawyers might trip them up into saying something that would be worthy of confinement or death would be understandable.
14 Now it was those men who sought to destroy them, who were lawyers, who were hired or appointed by the people to administer the law at their times of trials, or at the trials of the crimes of the people before the judges.
15 Now these lawyers were learned in all the arts and cunning of the people; and this was to enable them that they might be skilful in their profession.
Social: These are the educated men. They are “learned in all the arts and cunning of the people.” This definition appears to be quite parallel to the New Testament’s “lawyers” who were the scribes, or the ones with the ability to read and write, and therefore a unique access to the law. It is not an unreasonable speculation to assume that the Ammonihahite lawyers were also some type of scribe, with capabilities not shared by the larger population. It is no great speculation to include the ability to read and write as one of those differences.
The Maya scribe may have held a position that parallels these lawyers in Ammonihah. The recent translation of many of the Maya glyphs has led to tremendous new understandings of Maya history, including the ability to learn more about named individuals. From such inscriptions we learn that the Maya scribe was a member of the elite rank of society. There is one case where a pot-painter (using hieroglyphs as well as pictures) can be identified as a child of the seated ruler of Naranjo (Hammond, Norman. “Inside the Black Box: Defining Maya Polity.” In: Classic Maya Political History. Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 224). As elites with specialized skills, the Maya scribes would have a particular niche in society, analogous to the scribes of later Jerusalem in their knowledge of law through their ability to read and write, but with perhaps an even greater social standing. If the Ammonihahite lawyers have any conceptual parallels with the Maya scribes, it would not be surprising at all that they were the ones to defend the status quo, and that they were of sufficient importance to be allowed to speak.
16 And it came to pass that they began to question Amulek, that thereby they might make him cross his words, or contradict the words which he should speak.
17 Now they knew not that Amulek could know of their designs. But it came to pass as they began to question him, he perceived their thoughts, and he said unto them: O ye wicked and perverse generation, ye lawyers and hypocrites, for ye are laying the foundations of the devil; for ye are laying traps and snares to catch the holy ones of God.
The lawyers begin to question Amulek. They are apparently using their learning to try to catch Amulek in a contradiction. This would allow them to discredit Amulek, and therefore Alma as well. For the lawyers, this was a reasonable process, for they were defending the status quo against two men who were trying to change it. Because there were two men agreeing, this was a serious threat, and is the reason that the lawyers come out only after Amulek begins. When Alma was speaking he was easy to dismiss.
Amulek understands what they are trying to do. We have the phrase “he perceived their thoughts.” We do not know if that perception came because of his familiarity with them and their tactics, or whether or the Spirit whispered them to Amulek. In either case, he does recognize what they are trying to do. What he does is to call them on the tactic, and to do so publicly. This not only answers the lawyers, but it also answers the public that is gathered with them. By attacking the tactic of the lawyers, Amulek notifies all of the people that there is more going on than a simple case of the lawyers defending the integrity of the city. The public might be very willing to accept the lawyers as their defenders, but when the lawyers are classed as associated with the devil (they lay foundations for him) then the people might think twice about accepting implicitly what the lawyers are saying.
18 Ye are laying plans to pervert the ways of the righteous, and to bring down the wrath of God upon your heads, even to the utter destruction of this people.
Amulek uses this opportunity to repeat the message from the Lord. The city of Ammonihah faces destruction. Amulek lays the cause for this destruction at the feet of the lawyers, and the system that they represent.
19 Yea, well did Mosiah say, who was our last king, when he was about to deliver up the kingdom, having no one to confer it upon, causing that this people should be governed by their own voices—yea, well did he say that if the time should come that the voice of this people should choose iniquity, that is, if the time should come that this people should fall into transgression, they would be ripe for destruction.
Alma cites Mosiah. The reference is clear, but it is also clear that he is giving a paraphrase rather than a precise quotation: Mosiah 29:27 “And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land.”
Amulek has now strengthened his accusation against the lawyers. He correctly assumes that the lawyers represent the “voice of the people.” Once again, we must remember that the functioning of the “voice of the people” was quite different from a “one man, one vote” type of democracy. It was most likely an opinion rendered by clan heads, and in the case of Ammonihah, the elite would have had a greater voice than the commoners. The lawyers, as representatives of the elite range of society would be directly responsible for the way the voice of the people dictated law. In Ammonihah, it was the order of Nehor, and the lawyers were certainly beneficiaries as well as proponents. Amulek is quite correct in laying the blame for Ammonihah’s destruction at the feet of the lawyers, and by extension the other elite who had supported the order of Nehor.
20 And now I say unto you that well doth the Lord judge of your iniquities; well doth he cry unto this people, by the voice of his angels: Repent ye, repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
21 Yea, well doth he cry, by the voice of his angels that: I will come down among my people, with equity and justice in my hands.
Amulek is emphasizing the justice of the Lord’s warning of a coming destruction. He has used the authority of Mosiah to show that destruction will come with the people have chosen wickedly, and not he emphasizes that they have done just that. This warning of destruction is completely just, and comes from their own actions.
22 Yea, and I say unto you that if it were not for the prayers of the righteous, who are now in the land, that ye would even now be visited with utter destruction; yet it would not be by flood, as were the people in the days of Noah, but it would be by famine, and by pestilence, and the sword.
Social: Amulek proclaims that the destruction has been held in abeyance by the prayers of the righteous. This tells us that the climate in Ammonihah is no more homogenous than it was in Zarahemla. There are representatives of both the order of Nehor and the Nephite religion in Ammonihah, just as there were in Zarahemla. The difference is that in Ammonihah the order of Nehor has gained the larger numbers, where they were still a minority in Zarahemla.
When Amulek describes what will happen to them, he notes that a destruction is coming. He first notes that it will not be a flood, as in the days of Noah. Book of Mormon history gives us two Noahs, the one saved from water the other burned by fire. Amulek expects that his audience will quickly know which Noah is meant. Amulek references the earlier Noah for a particular reason. There is no reason for the Ammonihahites to know what wouldn’t destroy them. Amulek never mentions a volcano, nor a meteorite, nor a major fire. There are any number of modes of destruction that will not be inflicted upon Ammonihah. Why then does he mention the flood and Noah specifically?
Amulek is making sure that Ammonihah understands that this destruction comes from the Lord. If they understand his reference to Noah at all, they will understand that the Lord was behind the destruction. The inference is that just as the Lord was behind the destruction by water, he will be behind their destruction, even though the method will be different.
What will that method be? Amulek gives and interesting combination of elements. He suggests that the destruction will be “by famine, and by pestilence, and the sword.” These are sets of circumstances that go together. The destruction by the sword frequently leads directly to the famine and the pestilence. When an enemy destroys a town, it can lead to multiple consequences. Certainly the reduction of able-bodied men is one of them. Either through the direct destruction of the crops (whether or intentional or unintentional) or the lack of men to plant, famine is visited upon the survivors of the destruction. Pestilence is disease, and that typically followed many ancient wars as the improper disposal of the bodies of dead would contaminate ground water or provide a breading ground for diseases that would be transmitted by insects. Amulek is predicting a particular set of destructive circumstances that typically are found together.
23 But it is by the prayers of the righteous that ye are spared; now therefore, if ye will cast out the righteous from among you then will not the Lord stay his hand; but in his fierce anger he will come out against you; then ye shall be smitten by famine, and by pestilence, and by the sword; and the time is soon at hand except ye repent.
Rhetorical: Amulek nicely creates a strong argument. The destruction comes because of the voices of the people, such as the lawyers. However, there are righteous among them that are not represented by the voice of the people. These righteous have held back the destruction. Thus the destruction could be eliminated forever if all would repent and become righteous, thereby increasing the number of people praying to hold back the destruction, and tipping the voice of the people towards righteousness, which would therefore eliminate the destruction that Mosiah said would come when the voice of the people chose evil. It is a rather complete argument.
24 And now it came to pass that the people were more angry with Amulek, and they cried out, saying: This man doth revile against our laws which are just, and our wise lawyers whom we have selected.
Clearly there weren’t very many of the righteous among this crowd. When Amulek is able to turn the focus upon the sins of the lawyers, the people are even more angry. This crowd that was almost ready to believe with the second witness (verse 12) is now angrier than ever. What changed?
The people have to have accepted the lawyers as legitimate representatives of their way of believing. If we borrow the way this might have worked from the Maya example, the lawyers would be among the elite and would be seen to govern by some nearly divine right. Thus Amulek’s suggestion that they were on the side of the devil might appear almost as blasphemy to them.
25 But Amulek stretched forth his hand, and cried the mightier unto them, saying: O ye wicked and perverse generation, why hath Satan got such great hold upon your hearts? Why will ye yield yourselves unto him that he may have power over you, to blind your eyes, that ye will not understand the words which are spoken, according to their truth?
Amulek now extends the influence of Satan from the lawyers to the people in general. Clearly their reaction has placed them firmly with the lawyers, and therefore the admonitions against the lawyers also apply to them.
This process is not limited to the ancient world. There are any number of people who have grown up with particular ways of believing and thinking that they are unable to change. Their world has been built upon a certain understanding of how things work, and when someone suggests that the world might work in a different way, they become angry. The anger is an expression of the danger of the new idea to their current world view. The greater the threat, the greater the anger.
26 For behold, have I testified against your law? Ye do not understand; ye say that I have spoken against your law; but I have not, but I have spoken in favor of your law, to your condemnation.
Amulek creates a literary contrast that hinges upon the concept of law. He suggests that while they are accusing him of speaking against their law, Amulek suggests that he has spoken with their law against them. It is a nice turn of the phrase, a very nice verbal argument. Is it true? What has Amulek said against their law, or “with” their law?
Amulek spoke against their law when he spoke against the lawyers. Those men were charged with the preservation of that law and should be considered as quintessential representatives of that law. Thus when he spoke against the lawyers, Amulek had spoken against the law.
Where did he speak “with” the law against them? Amulek referred to Mosiah the king and his declaration. This is where he used “law” to condemn them. Even though Mosiah’s comment does not appear to a modern audience to be a “law,” it certainly was in the ancient conception of the law. Thus Amulek spoke against the law when he spoke against the lawyers, and he used their law against them with his reference to Mosiah. For Amulek, however, he did not speak against Mosiah’s law, which should govern all cities pertaining to the Zarahemla hegemony. He considers the law of Ammonihah different from that of Mosiah, and that of Mosiah as of higher import.
27 And now behold, I say unto you, that the foundation of the destruction of this people is beginning to be laid by the unrighteousness of your lawyers and your judges.
Amulek does now speak rather clearly against the law by speaking against the lawyers and the judges. He specifically lays the blame for the coming destruction at the feet of the lawyers and judges. Once again, it would be these people who were the greatest advocates of the order of Nehor, as they were the greatest beneficiaries of that social/religious order. Amulek is absolutely correct to lay the blame at their feet.
28 And now it came to pass that when Amulek had spoken these words the people cried out against him, saying: Now we know that this man is a child of the devil, for he hath lied unto us; for he hath spoken against our law. And now he says that he has not spoken against it.
29 And again, he has reviled against our lawyers, and our judges.
30 And it came to pass that the lawyers put it into their hearts that they should remember these things against him.
Amulek’s insistence upon blaming the lawyers is like throwing gasoline on a fire. The people were already stirred up against him, and he has just emphasized the very issue with which they were angry in the first place.
Textual: The editorial insertions tell us that Mormon (or the original redactor) is giving a condensed version of what happened.
31 And there was one among them whose name was Zeezrom. Now he was the foremost to accuse Amulek and Alma, he being one of the most expert among them, having much business to do among the people.
32 Now the object of these lawyers was to get gain; and they got gain according to their employ.
Social: Zeezrom is “foremost” among the lawyers. Clearly there are more than one lawyer, and among them Zeezrom is prominent. The text says that he is prominent because he has “much business to do among the people.” Unfortunately, we do not know what this means. We should be wary of assuming that “business” means commercial transactions. It is more likely representative of interaction. Zeezrom would be prominent because he would be known more to the people due to his greater interaction with them.
Textual: There is no break in the 1830 edition. The exchange with Zeezrom was apparently seen as an essential part of the inserted discourse, and it is intended to be read as a whole.Verse 32 should not have been the splitting point between chapters. Perhaps it might be better to split the chapters at verse 31, but verse 32 is the introduction to a complete section that ends in our chapter 11. When this verse is read, it should be read in conjunction with verses 1-21, as all of these verses from 10:31 through 11:20 lead up to the event of verse 21 in chapter 11.
by Brant Gardner. Copyright 2001