1 Now it came to pass that when those Lamanites who had gone to war against the Nephites had found, after their many struggles to destroy them, that it was in vain to seek their destruction, they returned again to the land of Nephi.
This verse has reference to the Lamanites who had attacked the city of Ammonihah. It is a slightly different perspective of the battle than we have from Alma 16:8 where the Nephite victory appears more decisive. In this verse it is made to appear that the Lamanites retreat more than that they are defeated. Both verses are likely accurate, in that the retreat followed the clear defeat. Alma 16:8 indicates that the captives that were taken from Ammonihah were re-taken. With the loss of the captives, the reason for the attack was nullified, and the Lamanites had no more reason to engage in a battle that they were losing.
Alma 16:12 indicates that there was peace for three years, and then another confrontation in the fourteenth year of the judges. This battle is the one that will be discussed in Alma 28 and end in the fifteenth year of the judges (see Alma 28:9). This correspondence between the subsequent battles firmly places this reference at the time of the retreat from Ammonihah.
The other possibility would be that it refers to the battle against the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, but since the Lamanites are returning to the land of Nephi, and the battle against the Anti-Nephi-Lehies took place in the city of Nephi, it cannot reasonably be assigned to that event.
2 And it came to pass that the Amalekites, because of their loss, were exceedingly angry. And when they saw that they could not seek revenge from the Nephites, they began to stir up the people in anger against their brethren, the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi; therefore they began again to destroy them.
3 Now this people again refused to take their arms, and they suffered themselves to be slain according to the desires of their enemies.
The return of the Lamanites from the destruction of Ammonihah directly leads to another confrontation with the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi. Remembering the Mesoamerican context behind these particular battles we can surmise the reason that the Lamanites reasserted their assault on the Anti-Nephi-Lehies. The key is the revelation in Alma 16:8 that they had lost the captives they had taken from Ammonihah. As we noted, those captives were essential for the seating of the new king, and their absence once again left the unfulfilled need according to the Mesoamerican cult of war in that area. With the loss of the captives, and the continuing need for those captives, it is no surprise that they once again attempt to provide the captives by attacking the more local foe, the Anti-Nephi-Lehies. Once again, however, their need is foiled by the lack of resistance. Just as they were unable to take battle captives form the first encounter, they are unable to do so at this time.
We are not told of the ultimate way in which the Lamanites resolved their problem, and this battle forces the relocation of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies out of the land of Nephi, and therefore out of harm’s way. This refocuses our story on lands far from the land of Nephi, so the ultimate resolution of the seating of the King is not told us.
4 Now when Ammon and his brethren saw this work of destruction among those whom they so dearly beloved, and among those who had so dearly beloved them—for they were treated as though they were angels sent from God to save them from everlasting destruction—therefore, when Ammon and his brethren saw this great work of destruction, they were moved with compassion, and they said unto the king:
5 Let us gather together this people of the Lord, and let us go down to the land of Zarahemla to our brethren the Nephites, and flee out of the hands of our enemies, that we be not destroyed.
Ammon and his brethren realize that the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi will be in constant danger if they stay in the land of Nephi, so they propose that the entire people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi relocate to the land of Zarahemla. While not a typical occurrence, the migration of an entire people from one territory to another is not uncommon in Mesoamerica. The Mexica have their traditions of a migration into Central Mexico (Michael E. Smith, The Aztecs. Blackwell, Cambridge, 1996, pp. 38-41) as do the Quiche and Cakchiquel of highland Guatemala (see Popol Vuh. Tr. Dennis Tedlock. Simon and Schuster, New York, 1985, p. 183 and Annals of the Cakchiquels and Title of the Lords of Totonicapan. Tr. Dionision Jose Chonay and Delia Goetz. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1974, pp. 43 and 169-171.)
6 But the king said unto them: Behold, the Nephites will destroy us, because of the many murders and sins we have committed against them.
Note carefully the response that Anti-Nephi-Lehi, the King, gives to Ammon. He is concerned that they will not be accepted among the people of Zarahemla because of the “many murders and sins we have committed against them.” The “sins against them” we may surmise have something to do with the battles, but what of the murders? These are the same murders that made their repentance so difficult, and the greatest likelihood is that they are to be seen as part of the religiously sanctioned and encouraged human sacrifices that would have been performed among the Lamanites. Even though the actual number of men in the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi who might have participated in raids or battles with the people Zarahemla would have been significantly smaller than the entire population of the group, nevertheless the King presumes that the entire people would fall under the same condemnation. As participants in the culture of human sacrifice to which some of the Nephites must have fallen, this fear would make some sense. The King would rightly be concerned that the Nephites would accept a people who had used captured Nephites as human sacrifices to pagan gods.
7 And Ammon said: I will go and inquire of the Lord, and if he say unto us, go down unto our brethren, will ye go?
Ammon does not dismiss the king’s fears, not attempt to personally make assurances. Since this is essentially a religious matter, he will place the question before the Lord, and allow the Lord to provide the answer.
8 And the king said unto him: Yea, if the Lord saith unto us go, we will go down unto our brethren, and we will be their slaves until we repair unto them the many murders and sins which we have committed against them.
King Anti-Nephi Lehi agrees that they will go if the Lord so directs them, but he is still concerned with their possible standing with the Nephites. He, and his people, are so forcefully conscious of the nature of their sin that they are creating a distance between themselves and the Nephites. He suggests that his people will go, but that they will become slaves of the Nephites until such time as the debt to the Nephites is recognized as being paid.
This offer of enslavement tells us a few things that should be noted. The first is that while slavery is expressly not a part of Nephite culture (see Mosiah 2:13), it is nevertheless a prevalent cultural option. Not only does the King of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies suggest becoming a slave, but so does Limhi (Mosiah 7:15). The suggestion of voluntary slavery is made by two different Kings who are in the land of Nephi at the time of their suggestion. While Limhi is of Nephite heritage, he is the second generation of the people of Zeniff to grow up in the land of Nephi. This strongly suggests that the practice of slavery was common in Lamanite lands, particularly in the land of Nephi. Slavery was a known practice in Mesoamerica. [Sylvanus G. Morley. The Ancient Maya. Stanford University Press, 1956, p. 159, Michael D. Coe. The Maya. Thames and Hudson, 1999, p. 189]
9 But Ammon said unto him: It is against the law of our brethren, which was established by my father, that there should be any slaves among them; therefore let us go down and rely upon the mercies of our brethren.
10 But the king said unto him: Inquire of the Lord, and if he saith unto us go, we will go; otherwise we will perish in the land.
Ammon knows that slavery is not an option in his land, and so notes. What is interesting in these two verses is the conjunction “but” at the beginning of verse 10. Why this “but?”
Ammon suggests that even though the voluntary slavery is not an option, that they should nevertheless go and rely on the mercies of the Zarahemalites. It is to this last suggestion that the King adds his “but.” Rather than go to rely on the mercies of men, the King reminds Ammon to go to the Lord. The King will rely upon the mercies of the Lord, not the mercies of men.
11 And it came to pass that Ammon went and inquired of the Lord, and the Lord said unto him:
12 Get this people out of this land, that they perish not; for Satan has great hold on the hearts of the Amalekites, who do stir up the Lamanites to anger against their brethren to slay them; therefore get thee out of this land; and blessed are this people in this generation, for I will preserve them.
13 And now it came to pass that Ammon went and told the king all the words which the Lord had said unto him.
Ammon inquires of the Lord and receives the word that the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehie should leave. Notice that the Lord says nothing specific about their acceptance among the Nephites. While the King’s eyes were focused on the possible problems ahead, those questions were not directly answered. All the king is told is that the Lord said “go,” and “I will preserve them.”
14 And they gathered together all their people, yea, all the people of the Lord, and did gather together all their flocks and herds, and departed out of the land, and came into the wilderness which divided the land of Nephi from the land of Zarahemla, and came over near the borders of the land.
When the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi arrive in the borders of the land of Zarahemla they stop and wait. The Lord had told them to come, but had not promised anything about the reception they would receive. They are therefore cautions and wait for a more formal welcome.
Geographic: The “coming over” suggests that the people crossed an elevation in order enter the land of Zarahemla. The topology of the land is consistent in the movement from the land of Nephi to Zarahemla, and the presence of the river Sidon flowing to the sea is even more suggestive that the land of Zarahemla is at a higher elevation, and that the headwaters of the Sidon must begin somewhere in this mountain range that these people cross over.
15 And it came to pass that Ammon said unto them: Behold, I and my brethren will go forth into the land of Zarahemla, and ye shall remain here until we return; and we will try the hearts of our brethren, whether they will that ye shall come into their land.
16 And it came to pass that as Ammon was going forth into the land, that he and his brethren met Alma, over in the place of which has been spoken; and behold, this was a joyful meeting.
This meeting is briefly described as part of Mormon’s introduction to the story of the mission of the sons of Mosiah in Alma 17:1. This flashback is not returning to “normal time” and Mormon is picking up the story where he introduced it, with the meeting of Alma and the sons of Mosiah, a meeting that was purely by chance in any world except that guided by the Lord. Of this meeting, Mormon notes:
Alma 17:1.And now it came to pass that as Alma was journeying from the land of Gideon southward, away to the land of Manti, behold, to his astonishment, he met with the sons of Mosiah journeying towards the land of Zarahemla.
Alma meets his friends while he is on the road. This explains why he is the first to meet them, and why they will have to specifically go to the chief judge, as noted in verse 20 below. It also tells us that the entry point of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies into the land of Zarahemla is somewhere in a line from Gideon to Manti.
The small phrase at the end of verse 16, “this was a joyful meeting” must be one of the greater understatements of scripture. The sons of Mosiah have been away from their homeland for a significant length of time. During that time there has been no communication with their homeland, and their journey into an area that was clearly hostile to Nephites must have been understood as extremely dangerous. Therefore there would have been great joy just to have them return, but to have them return with such success would have been even greater.
17 Now the joy of Ammon was so great even that he was full; yea, he was swallowed up in the joy of his God, even to the exhausting of his strength; and he fell again to the earth.
We see again the theme of enervation in the presence of the strength of the Spirit. We have seen this in Alma the Elder’s experience, again in the experience of Lamoni and his household, and again in Lamoni’s father and his household. In the New Testament we have the same theme with Paul, and in modern days we have Joseph Smith’s own experience.
18 Now was not this exceeding joy? Behold, this is joy which none receiveth save it be the truly penitent and humble seeker of happiness.
This is a joy that transcends happiness, that transcends earthy bounds of joy. For more information on this type of joy, see the comments following 2 Nephi 2:25.
19 Now the joy of Alma in meeting his brethren was truly great, and also the joy of Aaron, of Omner, and Himni; but behold their joy was not that to exceed their strength.
We are not given any explanation of the different physical effect of this joy on the various participants in this reunion. Only Ammon is so overcome that his strength fails him. This should not suggest that the others were less spiritual, for among them was Alma the Younger, a rather spiritual man in his own right. We should understand that the Spirit will effect different people in different ways at different times. It is important that we are in tune with the Spirit, not that we manifest that “in-tuneness” in any particular way.
20 And now it came to pass that Alma conducted his brethren back to the land of Zarahemla; even to his own house. And they went and told the chief judge all the things that had happened unto them in the land of Nephi, among their brethren, the Lamanites.
Since the meeting between Alma and the sons of Mosiah has occurred on the road, they must continue to journey to Zarahemla. The logical destination is the chief judge, for that will be the person who can make the decision to allow the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi entrance into the land.
21 And it came to pass that the chief judge sent a proclamation throughout all the land, desiring the voice of the people concerning the admitting their brethren, who were the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi.
The chief judge does not make this kind of a decision by fiat. He consults the people through the mechanism of the voice of the people. We are not told entirely how this mechanism worked in this case, but it is most likely that the proclamation contained a suggest to which the people would react.
22 And it came to pass that the voice of the people came, saying: Behold, we will give up the land of Jershon, which is on the east by the sea, which joins the land Bountiful, which is on the south of the land Bountiful; and this land Jershon is the land which we will give unto our brethren for an inheritance.
The decision is not only to allow the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi in to the land, but to give them a land of their own. It is this decision as much as anything else that demonstrates that there must have been such a suggestion in the proclamation. Whatever process the voice of the people was, anything dealing with so many people could not have come to this clear a decision without some guidance. Even were it obvious that the Anti-Nephi-Lehies should be granted a land, the particular land to be granted would have been the subject of wide difference of opinion.
23 And behold, we will set our armies between the land Jershon and the land Nephi, that we may protect our brethren in the land Jershon; and this we do for our brethren, on account of their fear to take up arms against their brethren lest they should commit sin; and this their great fear came because of their sore repentance which they had, on account of their many murders and their awful wickedness.
The stated reason for allowing the Anti-Nephi-Lehies a specific land of their own is that they may be protected. It may have been the unstated purpose that should these repentant Lamanites ever decide to choose their old ways, the people of Zarahemla might also be protected by the same forces providing the protective buffer for the Anti-Nephi-Lehies.
The proclamation somehow communicated the essentials of the Anti-Nephi-Lehite conversion, for the declaration includes the information that the Anti-Nephi-Lehies choose not to arm themselves. This clearly leads to the offer of protection, but may have also played some part in the willingness to accept converted Lamanites among the Nephites. Given the history of tensions between these two peoples, it must have been comforting that these Lamanites that were coming into their land were unarmed. That they were now believers was good, that they were unarmed may have been even better.
Geographic: In Sorenson’s geography, the land of Jershon lies deep in Nephite territory close to the coast on the far side of the narrow neck. As he traces the path of these immigrants, he notes: “The Anti-Nephi-Lehis, or people of Ammon, as they now came to be called, were given a land of their own, Jershon. Informed of that, they moved through Gideon (Comitan Valley), along the upland route, and down to their new home near the east sea without ever seeing Zarahemla itself. (John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1985], 231.)
When the converted Lamanites—the Anti-Nephi-Lehis—arrived in the land of Zarahemla, they were sent to the land of Jershon as part of a plan by the government to guard against a possible Lamanite invasion. Jershon was in a region of crucial weakness in the Nephite defenses; the east lowlands needed garrisoning, and the Anti-Nephi-Lehis would serve the purpose. While these former Lamanites had become pacifists, they could at least provide logistical support for the Nephite armies in the zone. (John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1985], 239.)
24 And now behold, this will we do unto our brethren, that they may inherit the land Jershon; and we will guard them from their enemies with our armies, on condition that they will give us a portion of their substance to assist us that we may maintain our armies.
The promise of protection is not free. The people of Zarahemla extract a tribute from the Anti-Nephi-Lehies. A portion of their substance will be given to Zarahemla for the maintenance of the army that will provide protection. Jershon is being set up as a dependant state on the greater polity of Zarahemla.
25 Now, it came to pass that when Ammon had heard this, he returned to the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi, and also Alma with him, into the wilderness, where they had pitched their tents, and made known unto them all these things. And Alma also related unto them his conversion, with Ammon and Aaron, and his brethren.
Alma travels with his friends to give the good news to the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi. When they meet they not only pass on the good news, but we hear that Alma relates his conversion story to them. Why does he do this?
Alma can feel a kinship to these people who have undergone such a great transformation. While his own transformation was perhaps not quite the distance that these people had had to come, nevertheless he was pulled from a position of fighting against the church to one of leading it. In that similarity there would have been a great sharing of spirit.
26 And it came to pass that it did cause great joy among them. And they went down into the land of Jershon, and took possession of the land of Jershon; and they were called by the Nephites the people of Ammon; therefore they were distinguished by that name ever after.
Political: The Lamanites who converted to the gospel left behind their city affiliations and their polity designations and adopted a new identity. They became the Anti-Nephi-Lehies. That new name signified their change in status. Now they have been renamed again. This time it is the people of Zarahemla who name them, and name them the people of Ammon. By doing this the process of accepting them is completed. They are symbolically transformed from former Lamanites into current Nephites through the auspices of Ammon.
A transformation of the leadership of this people was required in Zarahemla for they brought with them a king, and there were no kings among the Nephites at this time. Therefore Anti-Nephi-Lehi would not have been king any longer. We do not know what his position might have been, but undoubtedly he was a judge over his people. Ammon’s position is known. He became the high priest for the people of Ammon (Alma 30:20).
27 And they were among the people of Nephi, and also numbered among the people who were of the church of God. And they were also distinguished for their zeal towards God, and also towards men; for they were perfectly honest and upright in all things; and they were firm in the faith of Christ, even unto the end.
Social: Mormon tells us that there were two important social markers for this people. The first is that they were among the people of Nephi. At this point in time that designation serves as a political definition. They are now Nephites, not Lamanites. The second designation points out the religious division inside of the people of Nephi. These were people of the church of God, rather than a different option. We know that there are at least two available options among the people of Nephi, the church of God and the order of Nehor. There may have been others, but those are the two largest factions. When Mormon describes the assimilation of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies-now-people of Ammon, he categorizes them into the two salient mental categories required of the people in the land of Zarahemla, politics and religion.
28 And they did look upon shedding the blood of their brethren with the greatest abhorrence; and they never could be prevailed upon to take up arms against their brethren; and they never did look upon death with any degree of terror, for their hope and views of Christ and the resurrection; therefore, death was swallowed up to them by the victory of Christ over it.
29 Therefore, they would suffer death in the most aggravating and distressing manner which could be inflicted by their brethren, before they would take the sword or cimeter to smite them.
30 And thus they were a zealous and beloved people, a highly favored people of the Lord.
Mormon concludes the story of this people with the essential summary of their faith. It was so strong that not even threat of death could shake it. Verse 28 shows that this is Mormon’s summary, for it requires a more distant time perspective in that he notes that “they never could be prevailed upon to take up arms against their brethren; and they never did look upon death with any degree of terror….”
Again we must be reminded that this particular trait of not taking up arms was limited to a single generation. Their youngest children will take up arms, and there is no indication in the rest of the Book of Mormon of a people who must be defended because of this type of oath.
Textual: There is no chapter break here in the 1830 edition.
by Brant Gardner. Copyright 2001