Alma 20


MDC Contents



Alma 20:1

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


Cultural: When Lamoni is converted, he immediately thinks of reporting to his father. However, this is not simply filial respect, but a political obligation. Lamoni’s father is also a king, and the land of Nephi is firmly in the hands of Lamanites. However, as we may remember, the particular “flavor” of Lamanites in the land of Nephi are those who are descended from the Nephites who changed their political alliances and drove Mosiah I out of the city of Nephi to Zarahemla. Although that occasion is now over 100 years old, it would still be remembered that the Nephites from Zarahemla would be particular enemies of the people in Nephi. With no greater preparation that the arrival in the land of Nephi with Lamoni, it would not be surprising that Ammon’s life would be in danger. Other events were required to prepare for the preaching in the land of Nephi.


Alma 20:2

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

Alma 20:3

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


Even though the idea of preaching to a major Lamanite king, particularly one in the land of Nephi, would have been a very attractive proposition to Ammon, the Lord knew that there were other important tasks. The Lord directs Ammons efforts to the recovery of his brethren in Middoni.


Aaron is the brother of Ammon, but Muloki and Ammah are simply fellow travelers (the sons of Mosiah are Ammon, Aaron, Omner, and Himni, see Mosiah 27:34). We have no indication of why Ammon chose to travel alone, while Aaron took two companions with him.


Alma 20:4

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


When Lamoni says to Ammon “I know, in the strength of the Lord thou canst do all things,” he is telling Ammon that he knows that Ammon can succeed in freeing his brethren without Lamoni’s help. Nevertheless, Lamoni wants to help Ammon. His new found joy in the gospel has changed his previously culture-bound perspective of these particular Nephites, and he wants to be helpful to him.


Political: Lamoni expects that he will be useful in the endeavor to free Ammon’s companions because the king of the land of Middoni “is a friend.” It is very important to understand that we are not likely to be speaking here of friends in the modern sense of the word. They may certainly be friendly, but these are two kings, and rule over different cities. In the Mesoamerican context where we are placing the events of the Book of Mormon, such a “friend” is an ally. City states in Mesoamerica were frequently at war with other cities. Alliances were forged and broken. Among the allied kings, however, there were frequently visits having strong political overtones (see Linda Schele and Peter Matthews. “Royal Visits and other Intersite Relationships.” Classic Maya Political History. Cambridge University Press, 1991). Thus when Lamoni declares Antiomno as a friend, he is more probably indicating that this is an ally with whom there are some mutual expectations. The arrival of the king from one city in another was an occasion that in later years would be sufficiently significant to commission a record in stone. This is no casual meeting of friends who went bowling together every Tuesday. This was a formal exchange of state. It is in this very formal setting that we must understand the nature of the “flattery” that Lamoni suggested that he use to free Ammon’s brethren. This is very much a political negotiation, and one that was to be handled with some delicacy, as Lamoni would be asking a king to reverse a decision to imprison the Nephites.


Alma 20:5

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

Alma 20:6

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


Once again we have the anomalous horses and chariots. In this context it may certainly be read that they were intended to be used as conveyances, but there is still another possibility. We have these two verses as direct conclusions to the question that was asked as to how Ammon knew that his brethren were in prison. In verse 5 we have the simple answer that God told him. Verse 6 immediately notes that Lamoni causes that the horses and chariots be made ready.


In the most typical reading, we would supposes that when the king gets his answer that he makes ready to leave. However, this does not entirely explain the text  before us. First, this text appears to be part of the original source text rather than Mormon’s extrapolation. If we are seeing a copied original text, then we may consider that the connections between events were sufficiently meaningful to have been written in a particular way. In this case, we know that King Lamoni has already declared himself ready to accompany Ammon. If we see this as no more than a matter of conveyance, then we have a question and answer with little relevance tossed into an otherwise natural sequence. The entire question about how Ammon knew, and the answer, would have no response from the king, except to continue to do what he was going to do already. This diminishes the power of the question, and the impact of the answer. If we see horses and chariots as only conveyances, then the response of the King to this important question would be the equivalent of “oh, OK, let’s go then.” That is hardly the answer that one would expect of a man who has just had such an overpowering experience with Ammon’s God.


If we remember that a candidate for “horses and chariots” is a ritual conveyance carrying symbols of deity, then we have a very different, and much more appropriate response from King Lamoni. When he learns the source of the knowledge, he readies a special conveyance with high ritual significance, one that would be appropriate not only for a visiting king, but one on a mission from God. In this reading, the king actually would be changing his response to more appropriately fit the response he had just received from Ammon. This is much more in character with the king that virtually ignoring the response.


Alma 20:7

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

Alma 20:8

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


As Ammon and Lamoni are traveling, they meet Lamoni’s father. This is the same father that Lamoni was  going to take Ammon to see, and of whom the Lord suggested that he would seek Ammon’s life. We have the very interesting situation where the Lord told Ammon not to go Lamoni’s father, but that is the very man they meet while on their way to the other mission given them by the Lord. In this case, we must assume that the Lord knew very well that they would meet Lamoni’s father on the road. As we will see, the intent to kill will still be there, but meeting the king on the road has probably placed Ammon in a different situation where he will be able to act in ways where he would have been constrained had he been before the king in his palace. For instance, it will be clear as this story continues that Ammon is armed, and that makes a great difference in the ending of this tale. Has Ammon appeared before the king in his court, it is unlikely that he would have been allowed (as a Nephite) to enter the presence of the king armed.


Alma 20:9

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

Alma 20:10

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

Alma 20:11

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

Alma 20:12

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


Lamoni’s father has an inherited prejudice about the Nephites. He calls Ammon one of the “children of a liar.” This hatred of the Nephites should be understood in the context of the ritualized perception of the Lamanites by the Nephites that we saw in Enos (Enos 1:20, and commentary) and Mormon.


Cultural: The feast is first mentioned in Alma 18:9.


Alma 18:9

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


Certainly Lamoni had some very good reasons for missing the feast, but this is not all there is to the story. There is insufficient information in this exchange to be certain, but it appears from the angry reaction of Lamoni’s father that the missed feast was a serious breach of etiquette. In later Classic Maya sites, there is glyphic evidence of a tradition if intersite visits of royalty, and particularly of the subordinate rulers to their overlords (see Linda Schele and Peter Matthews. “Royal Visits and other Intersite Relationships.” Classic Maya Political History. Cambridge University Press, 1991).


The summons to a feast may have been one such intersite visit that required the presence of the subordinate kings at the site of their overlord. In the type of political alliance that is evidenced among the Maya, these interchanges of visits could cement a relationship, or, in the breach, lead to war. Thus it might be seen as a significant declaration of independence if a subordinate king refused to come to the overlord’s feast. This may have been the very reason that Lamoni’s father was on the road toward the land of Ishmael. He may have wanted to determine the nature of the relationship of the two kingdoms.


Alma 20:13

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


The vehemence of this response might surprise a modern reader accustomed to assuming that the Nephites were good guys, and clearly in the right. For the many Lamanites, this was not the case. Their traditions had taught them to hate. Upon just a little reflection, we may understand that hatred between peoples has too long been a facet of our human nature. Many have hated on no better basis that this Lamanites assumptions about the Nephite motives.


The particular reasoning here is that the Nephites are a threat to Lamanite property. From what we know of the Nephite record, there is no justification for this assumption. However, from the Lamanite record, the theft of the birthright from Laman creates the tradition of the Nephites desiring and obtaining that which rightfully belonged to Lamanites.


Alma 20:14

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


From a modern context, this is a fairly simple situation. Lamoni’s father commands Lamoni to slay Ammon and not go to Middoni. To read this as only the request of an angry man is to miss much of the political consequences of this occasion. The father of Lamoni is not just a father, he is a king, and a king in a superior position. This is not a moral choice, but a political choice that is being requested of Lamoni. Lamoni is being asked to declare his allegiance, either to his overlord and father, or to this Nephite. Refusal would be tantamount to breaking ties with his father and all of his father’s allies. Breaking such ties would create a situation where Lamoni was now in an antagonistic relationship with locations that has been friendly, and he would be giving up those political and economic connections without having replaced them. In an ancient society, this could be critical.


By refusing, Lamoni would be cutting his people off from economic and social benefits of the various allies in their current connections. In addition, he would be giving up a shared defensive strength to become an enemy to those people. He would be doing this as a single city, with no new alliance to replace the strength of the one he would be giving up. Lamoni had everything to lose, and virtually nothing to gain in the eyes of the world by refusing this demand of his father and overlord.


Alma 20:15

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


In spite of the incredible consequences, Lamoni refuses his father’s command. Lamoni’s experience with the Lord has been so powerful that he cannot deny it, and cannot harm those he knows to be prophets of God. This is a man who only days earlier did not even know the Nephite God.


Alma 20:16

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

Alma 20:17

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

Alma 20:18

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


Before the crisis escalates to physical violence, there is an attempt to diffuse the situation with reason. Ammon pleads with Lamoni’s father to forbear. It is interesting that the argument that Ammon uses says nothing about Lamoni, but only about the harm done to Lamoni’s father. Indeed, this is the great harm of murder. The person who dies may answer for his own sins before God, and have the chance to repent on the other side. However, the person who has lost control to the point where they are willing and able to murder has undergone a transformation of soul that is eternally damaging. It is this eternal damage that Ammon can foresee, and against which he warns the king.


Alma 20:19

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


Textual: We do not know who recorded this interchange, but certainly we suspect that Ammon recorded it, and would clearly have recorded it after the fact. Such records of events that are recorded after the fact have tenuous connections to the actual facts, and particularly to conversations, but this particular account has the ring of accuracy to it. Lamoni’s father’s response is a turn of a phrase in Ammon’s plea. In verse 18 Ammon is suggesting that Lamoni is an innocent man. The over-king responds that he knows that his son is innocent, and that it is Ammon’s fault that he has been corrupted. This turn of the phrase, with the literate continuation of the socially ingrained hatred is suggestive that this exchange made such an impression on Ammon that he remembered it with reasonable accuracy. Even though the over-king was hateful and murderous, he nevertheless was able to turn Ammon’s words, and that must have had enough of an impression on Ammon that he remembered them long enough to write them for us.


Alma 20:20

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

Alma 20:21

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


This personal combat between the over-king and Ammon is perplexing on the surface. First, it was a fight that was destined to be settled in Ammon’s favor even had he not been strengthened by the Lord. In verse 24 we see the over-king called “old,” and Ammon was certainly in his prime. Secondly, how is it that the over-king would be allowed to enter into armed combat with another man without the protection of those who must have traveled with him?


The answer must be found in the ethic of individual combat that is that hallmark of Mesoamerican warfare. Such personal conflicts were the essence of the warrior’s art, and it would not be surprising to find a king, even an aged one, participating in battle. An extreme example of an aged king engaged in warfare is found in the story of Itzamnaj B’alam II of Yaxchilan who is listed as taking a war captive when he was in his eighties (Martin and Grube, Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens. 2000, p. 124. Note that the authors do suggest that he was only the figurehead and the actual fighting might have been done by his vassals. However, that is a supposition just as his individual participation is a supposition).


If we see the conflict between Ammon and Lamoni’s father as a ritual individual battle in the Mesoamerican tradition, then we can better understand how the two were able to fight without any assistance or interference from others who were there.


Alma 20:22

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

Alma 20:23

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


Textual: The result of this episode is perhaps clouded by the modern language in which it is couched. The response of the king is made to appear as a plea for his life. The reality when seen against the backdrop of a Mesoamerican culture is slightly different. The vanquishing of a king led to the toppling of that king’s political power base. When Lamoni offers Ammon half of his kingdom, this is perhaps a ploy to give Ammon less than is his right. Ammon could easily have the entire kingdom. This is no small thing, as this is the over-king over multiple cities. What Ammon is being offered at the least is control over certain cities, and the tribute pertaining to the over-king of those cities.


Ammon is not interested in power or wealth, and so his only request is to accomplish the task which he had begun when the over-king was met on the road.


Alma 20:24

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

Alma 20:25

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


No doubt the king was happy to retain his life, for that was typically forfeit in a Mesoamerican encounter, even when there was no death in combat. Captive kings were kept as prizes and were eventually sacrificed. Lamoni was escaping with more than his life, he was escaping with his political power intact. That such a turn of events should follow his defeat in battle was a complete reversal of his expectations.


Alma 20:26

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


Lamoni’s father displays a great generosity here. Not only does he fulfill Ammon’s modest request, but he also extends his generosity to his son. Because his son was with Ammon, and was tacitly supporting Ammon in the conflict with Lamoni’s father, Lamoni was in rebellion against his father. Had Ammon been defeated, Lamoni’s life was surely forfeit, just as his father had declared. In his concession, however, Lamoni’s father relinquishes his right of rule over Lamoni, making Lamoni and independent. This may have been a simple recognition of a political necessity, as Lamoni had demonstrated a lack of loyalty. Nevertheless, it was not requested, and was yet granted. It behooves us to impute generous motives to the old king.


Alma 20:27

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


Textual: We have two pieces to this verse. Once is a part of the conversation, and the other is an insight into the mind of the old over-king. We may fairly safely continue to ascribe the quotation to some record of Ammon, but the interjected information about the over-king’s state of mind feels more like one of Mormon’s interpretations. The reasons given may have made sense to Mormon since Mormon was certainly impressed by Ammon and his words. However, the old king may or may not have had these motives, and it is quite unlikely that he explained himself to a Nephite.


Alma 20:28

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


While the old over-king indicated he relinquished Ammon’s companions, nevertheless Ammon and Lamoni must take the journey to the land of Middoni, and must still find “favor in the eyes of the king of the land.” This is an accurate depiction of the interrelationships of kings among the Maya. The over-king would have had some influence, but the final say was still the reserve of the local king. 


Alma 20:29

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


Cultural: The description we have of the prisoners matches quite well with the information gleaned about captives from Maya stelae and glyphs. Captives are typically shown naked, and we have already discussed the fact that torture and mistreatment were quite typical depictions of a captive. Thus this particular description, with “all kinds of afflictions” rings very true in the Mesoamerican context.


Alma 20:30

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


Textual: This is Mormon’s quick description of the history of Aaron, Muloki, and Ammah. As is typical of Mormon’s editorial process, when there is no sermon to be cited, the history is presented in a terse fashion to provide the barest historical skeleton on which to hang his next cited sermon.


This is the end of a chapter in the 1830 edition.








by Brant Gardner. Copyright 2001