Alma 23


 



MDC Contents

 

 

Alma 23:1

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

 

Textual: Mormon continues to discuss the missionary endeavors of the sons of Mosiah, but he now shifts his editorial style from the inserted sermons to a more historical overview. We have seen that he has already begun to abbreviate parts of the sermons where they covered topics he had already included, and we may surmise that the discourses involved in the events described in this section would have covered much of the same ground. Mormon’s intent here is not to provide the doctrine, but to supply an important piece of history. This section is related so that we have the story of the Ant-Lehi-Nephies.

 

Alma 23:2

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

 

Cultural: The over-king, noted in verse one as the “king of the Lamanites,” sends a proclamation allowing the Nephite missionaries free passage and the ability to preach. He does not authorize a new state religion, even though he has been converted. Whatever his religious feelings, this king realized that he was unable to make a sweeping decree that could change the religion of his people. First, he would have understood that the gospel requires that each person make such an important decision for himself. Second, he would have realized that the loose confederation of city-states over which he ruled could not be governed by fiat. Each had its own governmental structure, and while he could influence them, he could not change them.

 

Alma 23:3

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

 

Textual: Note the very last comments in this verse: “that his people might be convinced concerning the wicked traditions of their fathers, and that they might be convinced that they were all brethren, and that they ought not to murder, nor to plunder, nor to steal, nor to commit adultery, nor to commit any manner of wickedness.” It is unquestionable that these are not the words of the king of the Lamanite. Regardless of his conversion and his willingness to have the gospel preached, it is doubtful that he would describe his people in such negative terms. This is Mormon speaking, and Mormon is repeating themes we have seen from him in other editorial comments. Mormon’s association between the Lamanites and such things as murder and plunder were so engrained that he could only see the gospel as changing them from those practices.

 

Alma 23:4

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

Alma 23:5

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

 

Mormon tells us that what was taught was “the records and prophecies.” These are certainly the records of the Nephite gospel, and probably the brass plates as well. Although the Nephite defectors among the Lamanites apparently had some kind of copy of the brass plates, since they held to the brass plate gospel without the continued revelation in the New World, the majority of the Lamaintes tdo not appear to have had the brass plate records. Of course, this makes sense since those records went with Nephi when the brother’s split into two groups.

 

Application: Having the door opened, the sons of Mosiah find success in their missionary endeavors.  Even in places that seem unlikely, there are individuals waiting for the gospel. Among the Lamanites, many of whom may have had the same hatred for the Nephites as the king of the Lamanites demonstrated before Ammon (Alma 20:13), there were still many who were prepared for the message of the Lord. In modern days, we see the same thing with the opening of missionary efforts in countries formerly under communist rule. While the official ideology may have been unfavorable to the preaching of the gospel, it is among the people that success is found, and there have been those in such regimes who have been waiting for the word.

 

Alma 23:6

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

 

The final phrase of this verse is important. Those Lamanites converted by the sons of Mosiah never fell away from the gospel. That is a remarkable statement. It is not a statement that can be made of the efforts of very many missionaries in the history of the world. What was the difference here?

 

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

 

Textual: The phrase “so sure as many as believed, or as many as were brought to the knowledge of the truth” is awkward. The presence of the “or” in the second clause indicates that perhaps the first clause was an error, and indeed it does not make much sense with the general direction of the verse. What cannot be discovered is whether or not this was an error in Mormon’s written text, or in Joseph’s oral dictation. Both are possibilities. It is the type of error that one expects of a dynamic situation where the formulation of the idea and the presentation occur in close proximity. That is, whoever the author might have been, they had conceived of the content of the paragraph, and begun a clause, then realized that the clause required correction. This is quite understandable in oral discourse. It is understandable in written text if the text is being written down as conceived. Since this does occur in Mormon’s historical narration, it is possible that he was writing on the plates without having created a copy beforehand.

 

Alma 23:7

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

 

Application: When this verse suggests that the Lamanites lay down their weapons, we have the immediate picture of arrows, swords, and other weapons which inflict physical wounds. However, there is another way in which we may read this verse, perhaps justified by the phrase that “they did not fight against God any more.” Surely physical weapons would not be part of a fight against God. In what way might we see this verse in light of a war against God?

 

These are their weapons of rebellion, not only their weapons of war. We, too, have our weapons of rebellion against God, and those weapons vary from person to person, and perhaps time to time. One who is secretly disobeying the Word of Wisdom may have that habit as a personal weapon of rebellion. One who dresses in styles inappropriate to the worship of God may have a weapon of rebellion. One who justifies neglect of his family by appeal to the requirements of a profession just might have a weapon of rebellion against God.

 

A weapon of rebellion can be anything that we use in our lives to combat the transformation the spirit is pushing us toward. We may know precisely what the Spirit wants us to do to improve our spirituality, and we fend off that understanding with our favorite weapon of rebellion. When we, like the Lamanites, come to see clearly the offer of the peace of the Lord compared with the life we are currently accepting, we become willing to accept that peace by laying down our personal weapons of rebellion, our personal ways of resisting the transformation that the Spirit is urging upon us.

 

Alma 23:8

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

Alma 23:9

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

Alma 23:10

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

Alma 23:11

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

Alma 23:12

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

Alma 23:13

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

 

Cultural: These cities would comprise the territory under the rule of the king of the Lamanites. Since the sons of Mosiah had protection to preach in these places, we may assume that they went where their protection allowed, and that the successes indicate cities that were under the control of the king of the Lamanites. Notice that we have specifically mentioned Middoni and Ishmael. We already know that each of those cities had their own king. We may readily infer that the rest of the named cities also had their own king. Thus Lamoni’s father controlled not only the city of Nephi at the center, but also seven others (including the city housing the Amalekites and Amulonites in the next verse.

 

Textual: We must take care in the way these verses are read. It would be simple to suppose that all of the residents of these cities were converted to the gospel. That cannot be the case. First, it is probable that the phrase that leads off most verses, “and also of the people…” refers to the conversion of some of the people of each city. Simple experience tells us that it would be unusual in the extreme for every single resident in these cities to covert.

 

Secondly, the events that will be described in the next few chapters do not read as through they could possibly refer to the combined inhabitants of six cities. Though Mormon never tells us that the converted Lamanites migrate to a single location, all of the subsequent events imply that single location, and later a population small enough that they might be given a single land, and by implication a single city, when they join the Nephites.

 

At this point, we should therefore understand that only some of these people were converted, and that they left their native cities to form a new community which Mormon did not describe.

 

Alma 23:14

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

Alma 23:15

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

 

Mormon ends his catalogue of the locations where the missionaries had success by noting in particular the one city in which they had very limited success. That city was Jerusalem, the city of the Amulonites and the Amalekites who were apostate Nephites whom we met in Alma 21.

 

Alma 23:16

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

Alma 23:17

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

 

Cultural: The naming of something in the ancient world was very important. There are aspects of naming that are difficult for modern readers to understand because we use the name only as a label. The ancient world frequently used it as a definition. Names were who a person was. In many societies there is a name for the child as they are growing up, but they take on a new name when they become adults and are more sure of who they are. In the New World Book of Mormon we have already seen this naming phenomenon in king Benjamin’s address to his people. He urged a new name upon them as well. This new name for the Lamanite believers served a couple of functions. It separated them from both their past culture, and apparently their past political affiliations. It also united them even more tightly under the gospel, emphasizing their new similarity over the differences of cities from which they had come.

 

The name they selected reads strangely to our ears because of our understanding of “anti-“ as “against.” We have that understanding because of the particular language heritage of English, which would not have affected the Book of Mormon. In the Book of Mormon the provenance of “anti” would be very different, and therefore have a different meaning, even though it is identical to a form we use.

 

A suggestion apparently made by Hugh Nibley is that “anti” is related to a Semitic and Indo-European root that is related to “facing” as one might face a mirror, and thus might mean that they “mirrored” the teachings of Nephi and Lehi (Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon. Deseret Book 1976, p. 209-10). While interesting, this etymology does not quite ring true in the Book of Mormon. In Alma 21:11 we find a village named Ani-Anti. That construction does not bear sufficient resemblance to Nibley’s suggestion to suggest that his understanding would be correct.

 

One of the aspects of the name that is possibly important is the Nephi-Lehi part of the name. Note that this is not the acceptance of the political label of Nephite. It very specifically includes Lehi in the formulation. It is possible that this has a somewhat genealogical intent, that is, to retain the connection of lineage through Lehi, but to adopt into the Nephi branch of that lineage. Another speculation might be that this body of people relocated to the village of Ani-Anti, and named themselves for that location. The problem with any of these speculations is that they are pure speculation. The answer is that we don’t know what the name meant.

 

Alma 23:18

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

 

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

 

Textual: There is no chapter break at this point in the 1830 edition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Brant Gardner. Copyright 2001