Mosiah 23


MDC Contents

    Mosiah 23:1
1 Now Alma, having been warned of the Lord that the armies of king Noah would come upon them, and having made it known to his people, therefore they gathered together their flocks, and took of their grain, and departed into the wilderness before the armies of king Noah.

Mormon now returns to the story of Alma that he left in our chapter 18. His concluding statement of that part of Alma's story is:

Mosiah 18:34
34 And it came to pass that Alma and the people of the Lord were apprised of the coming of the king's army; therefore they took their tents and their families and departed into the wilderness.
Mosiah 18:35
35 And they were in number about four hundred and fifty souls.

Textual: An inserted notation about the following chapter precedes this verse. The sentence: "An account of Alma and the people of the Lord, who were driven into the wilderness by the people of King Noah" is probably from the text on the plates, and is a direct structural parallel to the preface before our Mosiah chapter 9 that introduces the record of Zeniff.

Mormon's inclusion of these introductory phrases tells us that he is beginning a major divergence in his current story line. In the case of Zeniff, it also certainly denoted a change in the source material for his text, which is taken from the plates of Zeniff. Here too there is a clear change in source material. He has been giving the story of Zeniff through Limhi, and now proceeds to give us the story of Alma the Elder. While this material certainly had to have some source in Alma's records, this is not a clear designation for the material Mormon includes. In the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, this introduction serves to present chapter 11. That single chapter is now represented by Mosiah 23-27 inclusive. At some point has been added the text that indicates that this introduction covers only our chapters 23 and 24, but that appears to be a misreading of Mormon's intent.

If we presume that chapter breaks are Mormon's own divisions in his text (as they appear to be) then Mormon is considering our current chapters 23-27 as an entire unit. This unit is not simply the story of Alma before he arrived in Zarahemla, but the story of Alma the Elder, including his importance to Zarahemla. Alma the Elder is a pivotal character in the Book of Mormon, notwithstanding he has no "book" named for him (as does his son, Alma).

The two included summaries give us a little more information about the way Mormon was organizing his records. Both the record of Zeniff and the record of Alma the Elder are clearly separate plate traditions from the large plates of Nephi, yet Mormon includes both of those records under the "book" heading from the large plates of Nephi (which is the Book of Mosiah, named for Mosiah 1). Mormon's conceptual pattern appears to be following the overall structural lead of the large plates of Nephi, and filling in important pieces with supplemental records such as those of Zeniff and Alma the Elder. Nevertheless, he considers his story to be that of the Nephites as defined as that political unit that kept the plates of Nephi (large plates).

Mosiah 23:2
2 And the Lord did strengthen them, that the people of king Noah could not overtake them to destroy them.

Alma's account is explicit that the Lord forewarned Alma of Noah's army's approach (Mosiah 18:34; Mosiah 23:1). With such protection from the Lord, it is not surprising that he would also assist in the travel as well, as this verse indicates. The people of Alma, traveling with families and flocks, manage to outdistance a military expedition, or at least move sufficiently rapidly to an area that the army could not find them. This protection in their flight is similar to the protection enjoyed by the Limhites in their flight before the Lamanite army. Alma's group had repented as part of their formation as a separate entity. By the time the Limhites fled Lehi-Nephi, they too had been humbled, and had repented and covenanted with God. Both of these groups found protection in the Lord.

Mosiah 23:3
3 And they fled eight days' journey into the wilderness.
Mosiah 23:4
4 And they came to a land, yea, even a very beautiful and pleasant land, a land of pure water.

The distance they travel is, of course, speculative. Sorenson suggests that they would make no more than 11 miles per day, based on comparative estimates for similar situations (Sorenson, John L. Mormon's Map. FARMS, 2000 p. 56). This gives us approximately 88 miles away from Mormon, which was another three days or 15 to 40 miles away from Lehi-Nephi (Sorenson 2000, p. 56). Since they were fleeing Noah's army, they certainly would not have gone back towards Lehi-Nephi (and therefore Shilom). The route appears to be in the general direction of Zarahemla, as they will go from this new location to Zarahemla without doubling back on their previous travels.

They come to a place that is explicitly a location of "pure water," a phrase we have also seen in Mosiah 18:5 as a descriptor of the waters of Mormon. As noted in the comments on that verse, this may relate to a Mesoamerican conception of the purity of waters from earthly sources (Sorenson, John L. An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. FARMS1985, pp. 176-9. See the comments on Mosiah 18:5 for a further elaboration on this concept).

Textual: The printer's manuscript and 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon both begin this passage with "And it came to pass that they fled…." This was deleted from 1837 to the present (Book of Mormon Critical Text. FARMS 1987. 2:473).

Mosiah 23:5
5 And they pitched their tents, and began to till the ground, and began to build buildings; yea, they were industrious, and did labor exceedingly.

This verse bears superficial similarities to 2 Nephi 5:7 and 11. In those verses Nephi describes in similarly terse words the foundation of his city. Here Alma's record is similarly sparse. His people pitch their tents (as they did in 2 Nephi 5:7) and they begin to till the ground (as in 2 Nephi 5:11).

These people appear to assume that they will stay in this location. While they will eventually reunite with the people of Zarahemla, that is not on their minds at the moment. Now they are attempting to create their own city. When they have accomplished the most important tasks (immediate shelter in the way of tents, and the planting of crops for food) they turn to the task of building buildings. This suggests a desire for permanence. When Nephi's people founded their city, the first mentioned building is a temple (2 Nephi 5:16). We do not know what the first building of Alma's people was, but we might speculate that it was similarly religious, given the very obvious religious foundation of this new colony.

Textual: Both the printer's manuscript and the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon begin this text with "And it come to pass that they pitched…." This was removed beginning in 1837. Another more interesting deletion also occurs in this text. Not removed until 1920 was "began to build buildings &c" (Book of Mormon Critical Text. FARMS 1987. 2:473). The removal of the "&c" does not change the essential meaning of the text, but it is curious that it was there at all. The "&c" indicates that something else was built, but is non-specific. Any guess as to what was represented in the plate text is absolutely conjectural, but it is surprising for Mormon to generalize thus, unless the word being translated had a meaning of "build buildings and other evidences of civilization." Such a hypothetical word might exist, and might be reasonably translated as "build buildings &c."

The other possibility for the presence of "&c" is that Joseph or Oliver tired of writing something out, and simply abbreviated. The use of "&c" is typically for things that should be understood and therefore do not need saying. This second hypothesis would be quite surprising. It is hard to imagine translating so much of Isaiah where the text is identical to the KJV, and then abbreviating text about building a city. It would seem that the first possibility is the more likely. Certainly Mormon might have thought that the essentials of city establishment might warrant the "&c" even if we might wish for more elaboration.

Mosiah 23:6
6 And the people were desirous that Alma should be their king, for he was beloved by his people.
Mosiah 23:7
7 But he said unto them: Behold, it is not expedient that we should have a king; for thus saith the Lord: Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another; therefore I say unto you it is not expedient that ye should have a king.
Mosiah 23:8
8 Nevertheless, if it were possible that ye could always have just men to be your kings it would be well for you to have a king.

Alma also echoes Nephi in his relationship to the governance of his people. Alma's people wanted him to be king, as did Nephi's:

2 Ne. 5:18
18 And it came to pass that they would that I should be their king. But I, Nephi, was desirous that they should have no king; nevertheless, I did for them according to that which was in my power.

While Nephi dissembled, it does appear that he became king, or at least that he was so considered by his people, even if he didn't consider himself king. Thus Alma and Nephi share some of the same circumstances in beginning their colonies. These similarities are superficial, however. We see the difference in the declining of the kingship. For Nephi, it is a question of modesty only. For Alma, it is a much stronger reason. Alma declines not just for personal reasons, but for philosophical reasons.

Alma had experienced first hand an unrighteous king. He developed a dislike of the institution, not simply the person who might serve in it. This is an important distinction, because Alma will be influential in Zarahemla's abandonment of the kingship and implementation of the reign of the judges.

Part of his argument against kings comes from his interpretation of a commandment of the Lord: "for thus saith the Lord: Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another." This is the only place in our scriptures where this particular phrasing occurs, so we cannot tell whether or not Alma is citing precedent from a source lost to us, or setting it with a new revelation. Certainly the argument is an extrapolation. It would appear that the "commandment" was "ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another." The final conclusion; "therefore I say unto you it is not expedient that ye should have a king" appears to be Alma's interpretation of the commandment.

Alma's argument here is interesting. He is dismissing kingship because it can lead to the presumption of personal superiority. In this he certainly has Noah as his model, for Nephi could not be faulted for this, nor could Benjamin (though Alma did not, nor could not, have known Benjamin). It is also possible that Alma took the Lamanite kings as models along with Noah. Certainly Noah exhibited the excesses of personal pride and position. Perhaps Alma was concerned with more than the person in the kingship, but with the potential for society itself to become stratified along economic lines as it had in Lehi-Nephi.

Alma is quick to point out that the problem is not inherent to the position of kingship, since a good man could be a good king (such as Nephi, Mosiah, Benjamin). However, the temptations of the position to stratification were too great, and when a bad man was king, the institution itself could be disastrous (as it had been with Noah).

Textual: The printer's manuscript and the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon begin this text with "And it came to pass that…." This phrase was removed from the 1837 edition to the present (Book of Mormon Critical Text. FARMS 1987. 2:474).

Mosiah 23:9
9 But remember the iniquity of king Noah and his priests; and I myself was caught in a snare, and did many things which were abominable in the sight of the Lord, which caused me sore repentance;
Mosiah 23:10
10 Nevertheless, after much tribulation, the Lord did hear my cries, and did answer my prayers, and has made me an instrument in his hands in bringing so many of you to a knowledge of his truth.
Mosiah 23:11
11 Nevertheless, in this I do not glory, for I am unworthy to glory of myself.

Inserted into Alma's discourse against kings is a brief statement about his own process of conversion. These verses are interesting both for what they say, and for where they are said.

What the verses say is that Alma required repentance. He was not able to simply hear Abinadi, and immediately say "Whoops - I think I'll follow Abinadi now." Alma was not immediately transformed, but endured "sore repentance" (verse 9). What we learn is that after Alma escaped from the palace during Abinadi's trial, he underwent a trial of his own before God. Alma recognized himself as being contrary to God's will, understood the gravity of his actions, and desired change. This is the process of repentance. We do not know what he was required to do, but certainly the effect upon his soul was tremendous. He describes his conversion as a "sore" repentance, requiring "much tribulation." This process, however, did transform Alma, and the disfavor the Lord might have expressed that led to the "sore repentance" and "much tribulation" turned into approval of the converted Alma, in that the Lord allowed Alma to be the instrument in the Lord's hands for teaching these who also hearkened to the message of Abinadi (through Alma).

The second aspect of these verses that is interesting is where they are placed in the text. These verses on the repentance of Alma are given not only during the discourse against kingship, but as a part of the discourse against kingship. The repentance was from the Lord, but the need for repentance came from the excesses of kingship. Where Alma has previously denounced kingship for the social stratification, he now attacks the harmful effects of a king who has lost his way with God.

Once again it must be emphasized that ancient kingship was equally religious and political. As the religious leader, king Noah had the responsibility to lead his people to God, and instead he led them away. Alma is not just inserting his story here for sympathy, but rather as another example of the dangers of kingship - the spiritual dangers in addition to the social ones he earlier elaborated upon.

Mosiah 23:12
12 And now I say unto you, ye have been oppressed by king Noah, and have been in bondage to him and his priests, and have been brought into iniquity by them; therefore ye were bound with the bands of iniquity.

Rhetorical: Alma uses his experience as a bridge to the experience of his listeners. Alma was in bondage, and they too were in bondage. They were "oppressed by king Noah." The connection here is entirely spiritual. Remember that for at least some of the time, the people willingly followed Noah (Mosiah 11:7 at least implies that they began to accept Noah's methods; Mosiah 11:17-19 has the people rejoicing after the success in the skirmish with the Lamanites, which would have appeared to give a divine stamp of approval on Noah).

The particular bondage that Alma is concerned with has nothing to do with the tax burden Noah placed on his people (see Mosiah 11:3) but with the burden of iniquity that he placed upon them. Because of the king, they were "brought into iniquity." The evil of the king was spiritual, not political nor economic. In the end, Alma's major argument against kingship is the danger of a king who turns away from God, and leads his people away from God.

Mosiah 23:13
13 And now as ye have been delivered by the power of God out of these bonds; yea, even out of the hands of king Noah and his people, and also from the bonds of iniquity, even so I desire that ye should stand fast in this liberty wherewith ye have been made free, and that ye trust no man to be a king over you.

Rhetorical: Here is Alma's conclusion. The points out that they have been delivered out of these bonds (the "bonds of iniquity" in verse 12) by God. Thus the king led them away from God, and God has led them away from a king. As a final logical argument, Alma is saying to his people that since God lead them away from a king who caused them to stray from God, they should honor this God by staying away from kings. When Alma tells his people "I desire that ye should stand fast in this liberty wherewith ye have been made free…" he is not contrasting kingship as political rule to democracy as political rule. He is rather contrasting the freedom of God to the tyranny of a king who did not follow God.

If Alma's concerns are so clearly religious, why does he focus those concerns on the person of the king rather than the righteousness of the people? Part of the answer lies in the intimate connection between the king as political ruler and as the anointed religious ruler. The king ruled not by election, but by decree which was socially presumed to have come from God. This religious power of the king is where the king has the ability to bring the people into the "bondage of iniquity."

It is also quite probable that while Alma has in mind the recent example of Noah, the people may have known many other "kings" in the land - those who were kings over Lamanite cities. The organization of larger communities would be structured under kings, and that system would carry with it certain social expectations. Indeed, the best explanation for Noah's excesses is that he was mimicking the social style of other kings in the area. Thus for Alma it is not simply the person of the king, but the entire developed social, political, and religious ideology that had become identified with the kings the people knew. His fear was that should they adopt kingship, they would also adopt the trappings of kingship, which could first lead to social stratification (Alma's first reason) and perhaps to the erosion of their religion (Alma's second reason).

Mosiah 23:14
14 And also trust no one to be your teacher nor your minister, except he be a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments.

Further evidence that Alma's ultimate concern about kingship is religious comes in this extrapolation of the principle. In addition to eschewing kingship, the people should not suffer teachers or ministers who were not followers of the Gospel. While the office of king carried with it dangerous connotations, it was the reality of the teaching that was even more dangerous. Therefore Alma counseled his people against allowing teachers who would not teach them correctly. This is the ultimate danger, that they might loose the position before God that they had recently gained, and to which they had committed through their baptism.

Mosiah 23:15
15 Thus did Alma teach his people, that every man should love his neighbor as himself, that there should be no contention among them.

The connector "thus" could be read as connecting this verse to the previous verse, or as an introduction to a separate sentiment. If it stands alone, then he is simply adding another teaching. If it connects to the previous verse, then the teaching that "every man should love his neighbor as himself" should be a summary of the previous text. While it is not clearly a summary of the dangers of godless teachers, it does tie up the argument with another plea for social unity rather than social stratification, which Alma used to begin his discussion. It may be that loving one's neighbor was seen as the antithesis to social stratification, which led to seeing oneself as better or worse than ones neighbor (see verse 7 "Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another").

Mosiah 23:16
16 And now, Alma was their high priest, he being the founder of their church.

When Mormon uses the introduction "And now…" he is typically moving to another subject. Thus the literary unit that discussed the political organization of Alma's people has ended, and Mormon is moving to a new topic. This new topic is the religious organization of the people. What Mormon has left unsaid is what type of government the people did have. He specifically argues against kingship, and we must suppose that he was sufficiently persuasive that the people of Alma did not have a king. What did they have?

While we really do not know, we may speculate that Alma's influence over the people was tremendous, he being their introduction to the gospel and the unifying influence over the creation of the people. While Alma may have been disinclined to claim kingship, he would still be the de facto ruler. In this verse we specifically find him as the high priest, which would probably indicate a religio-political position (remembering that the priests of Noah also held combined religious/political posts). Thus Alma continues to be the leader, but not as a king.

What difference is there for Alma in one man ruling the people as a high priest, or one man ruling as a king? The difference is in the connection to the gospel. Remember that Alma's greatest argument against a king was the tendency of kingship to lead people away form God. As a high priest, Alma is aligned with God, and affirms that the principles of the gospel will inform public life. Once again we have underlined the nature of Alma's objection to kingship. It is not the concentration of all power in one man, because it is very likely that Alma holds that same power as the high priest in what is most likely a theocracy. Rather than the locus of power, it is the righteousness of power that makes the difference for Alma.

Mosiah 23:17
17 And it came to pass that none received authority to preach or to teach except it were by him from God. Therefore he consecrated all their priests and all their teachers; and none were consecrated except they were just men.

In the modern reading of this verse we have the affirmation of priesthood power by the authority of God. While this is a true principle, it is not all of what was happening in Alma's community. In addition to the priesthood authority from God, these verses show how Alma organized his community to support righteousness rather than the potential unrighteousness of a kingship. Alma is a just man, and appoints in his "theocracy" other just men to be the teachers and priests. These men (we may easily presume them to be men given the cultural bias towards males that appears to have been part of Nephite culture) were appointed by Alma, not elected by the people. In this case, there is no democratic election process. We have righteous men appointed by righteous men.

Mosiah 23:18
18 Therefore they did watch over their people, and did nourish them with things pertaining to righteousness.

It is too easy to see the priests and teachers of Alma's people in the same light as we do our modern priesthood offices. When the verse notes that the "did watch over their people…" we can easily see in that phrase the home teaching (and visiting teaching) programs of the modern church. While this would be correct for the modern church, for Alma's people this is much more literal. These priests and teachers were the government, and as the ruling organization, were very literally watching over the people. There is no indication of any other type of political organization, and so all aspects of community life are being directed by the body of men who are considered first religious and only secondarily political.

Mosiah 23:19
19 And it came to pass that they began to prosper exceedingly in the land; and they called the land Helam.

We recall here that Helam is the name of the first man baptized by Alma in the waters of Mormon (Mosiah 18:12-13). That the land should be named Helam suggests that Helam was a man of some importance in Lehi-Nephi, and brought with him that status to the people of Alma, despite the leveling of economic rank that occurred with Alma's people. This further suggests that much of his prominence was based on personal qualities that would continue to be apparent even after social trappings of the culture of Lehi-Nephi were stripped away. It is probable that the same reasons that led Alma to choose Helam as the first were those that led the land to be named after him. While we might expect that the land might be named for Alma, it was not. This may be related to Alma's abhorrence of even the suggestion of kingship. Since it was typical to name the land for the political leader (land of Nephi, land of Zarahmela, land of Mormon are explicit examples) Alma may have declined to have the land named for him lest there be attached assumptions of his "kingship" even if undeclared.

Textual: The printer's manuscript has Helaman here which was corrected prior to the first printed edition to Helam. See the analysis which follows Mosiah 18:12 for details.

Mosiah 23:20
20 And it came to pass that they did multiply and prosper exceedingly in the land of Helam; and they built a city, which they called the city of Helam.

Historical: This verse makes it appear that Alma and his people were in Helam for some time. The were there long enough to build a city, and long enough to both "multiply and prosper exceedingly." There is no way to know how long a time this was, but it strongly suggests that the time between the death of Abinadi and the death of Noah may have been at least a year, and perhaps more. Additionally, there could have been a year or two pass from the time of the Lamanite victory over the Limhites to their decision to flee. Since all of these events occur in Helam prior to the flight of Limhi's people, sufficient time has to have passed for the building, multiplying, and prospering to have taken place. One would expect that this is a minimum of two years in Helam, though it could easily have been more. Unfortunately, the text does not give us enough to go on.

Textual: The printer's manuscript has Helaman here which was corrected prior to the first printed edition to Helam. See the analysis which follows Mosiah 18:12 for details.

Mosiah 23:21
21 Nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith.
Mosiah 23:22
22 Nevertheless-whosoever putteth his trust in him the same shall be lifted up at the last day. Yea, and thus it was with this people.
Mosiah 23:23
23 For behold, I will show unto you that they were brought into bondage, and none could deliver them but the Lord their God, yea, even the God of Abraham and Isaac and of Jacob.
Mosiah 23:24
24 And it came to pass that he did deliver them, and he did show forth his mighty power unto them, and great were their rejoicings.

Verses 21-24 are a small sermonette by Mormon. Of course he knows the history of this people, and he knows that he will include it. These verses not only foreshadow the coming text, but also tell us why Mormon thinks this story is important. To properly understand Mormon's point, we must realize that the "nevertheless" of verse 22 is meant to be a direct contrast to the "multiply and prosper exceedingly" of verse 21. Mormon has set up a righteous people, doing righteous things, and as we prefer to expect, this righteous people prospered. What Mormon is telling us is that even righteousness is no guarantee of an easy life. Even our previous prosperous state is not a protection form chastening and a trial of our faith.

His ultimate message is not in the reversal of fortune, however. The ultimate message is the deliverance. Mormon's message, as he summarizes it here, is that while event he righteous will have trials and tribulations, they will eventually be justified and delivered through their righteousness.

This introduction to a particular part of the story of Alma gives us some insight into the editorial mind of Mormon. Why does he chose to tell certain stories, and clearly leave out other information, particularly information historians might be interested in? Mormon has a didactic purpose in mind for his selection criteria. He is not writing history, he is citing history as examples of the interaction of people and the Lord. We are not to learn in Mormon's text a few historical facts, but rather transcendent eternal principles.

As with many ancient peoples, Mormon sees in history the key to the future (for an interesting discussion of this principle in Judaism, see Taylor, Joan E. The Immerser: John the Baptist within Second Temple Judaism. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997, pp. 225-7). By understanding the moral lessons of history, we can understand our future interactions with our God, that same God who has ruled in history.

Mosiah 23:25
25 For behold, it came to pass that while they were in the land of Helam, yea, in the city of Helam, while tilling the land round about, behold an army of the Lamanites was in the borders of the land.
Mosiah 23:26
26 Now it came to pass that the brethren of Alma fled from their fields, and gathered themselves together in the city of Helam; and they were much frightened because of the appearance of the Lamanites.

Having introduced the story by defining the moral that will be highlighted, Mormon now turns to the story itself. This story is now told from the perspective of Alma's people, and further indicates that Mormon was in possession of a record created by Alma or under Alma's direction.

Social: Verses 25 and 26 continue to display an accurate picture of the conceptual Mesoamerican village. In verse 25 we see the important distinction between the land of Helam and the city of Helam. The "land" would be the land area attached to the central city location. It is therefore appropriate while they are in the "land of Helam" they were tilling the "land." This is precisely the reason for the attached areas, they are the farming land that is beholding to, and supports, the central "city" location. Because these people are out in the lands, they are in a position to notice a Lamanite army in "the borders of the land." When they see the threat of the army, they leave the fields and repair to the city, which would have the more defensible positions, as well as perhaps be the seat of any possible organized resistance.

This description of the discovery of the Lamanite armies contrasts with the discovery of the armies of the Lamanites when they approached Lehi-Nephi while Gideon and Noah were on the tower. In that episode, the tower allowed Noah to see the Lamanites gathering, and the alarm was sounded from the city, not from the "borders of the land." Similarly, Limhi is able to see the armies amassing from this same tower.

On the other hand, there appears to be no such centralized indication of the approach of the Lamanite army. Indeed, the army appears to come upon those tilling their fields fairly suddenly, though not without sufficient visual distance that the people were unable to flee, or to take the time to consult with Alma about their course of action. These facts lead us to some presumptions about the land of Helam and the city of Helam. First, the tilled agricultural area were not a long distance away from the city, as the people were able to flee there within a reasonable length of time. Second, the visual field allowed those in the fields to see the Lamanites while the army was yet a way off, perhaps even hours away. This tells us that the distance between the tilled land and the "borders" was relatively open. Since Helam is in an area of mountains and valleys, Helam would be in a valley that was large enough that it would allow for an hour or two from a pass into the valley to the tilled lands. The picture of Helam in a fertile valley also fits well with the description of Helam as a land of "pure water" which may suggest a lake, and inevitably a river or copious stream. These, of course, are to logically in some type of depression, and a valley is the most likely.

Our last speculation has to do with the size of the city. Calling Helam a "city" is probably stretching the technical definition. Not too long before Helam is founded we are told that there are four hundred and fifty members of Alma's church/people. It is hard to fit more than a few short years in between Alma's departure to the waters of Mormon and this discovery by the Lamanite army. This suggests that there could not have been a significant population explosion resulting from natural increase. As with the original Nephites, it is possible that Alma's people incorporated other groups, but once again the record is painfully silent on this point.

In any case, even with the building of buildings, it would appear that they have not yet built a large "tower," or Mesoamerican style pyramid. If they had such an edifice, it was not very large. Had they a large one, they could have been similarly forewarned of the Lamanite approach by someone on the tower (assuming that someone would have been posted there for this purpose - since Alma's group had fled the Lamanites, one would expect some wariness and watchfulness on their part). If they did not have the tall tower, it could point to the paucity of manpower (and time) required to build it.

Our final indication that this remains a fairly small population is that they fear the Lamanite army, and as we will see, do not even appear to consider armed resistance as an option. We do not know the size of the Lamanite army, but as a army that was chasing a fleeing people, it would necessarily stretch out its supply lines, and it would be difficult to march with a tremendously large army. This would be more likely to be a smaller force that was able to travel quickly rather than the massed armies that would be possible closer to Shemlon.

Translation: Verse 25 contains a peculiar construction:

Mosiah 23:25 "For behold, it came to pass that while they were in the land of Helam, yea, in the city of Helam, while tilling the land round about…."

We have a very odd grammatical construction that has people in the "land of Helam" and the "city of Helam" at apparently the same time. That the people were "tilling the land round about…" places them most certainly in the "land of Helam" rather than in the heart of the city. It is easy for us to pull the meanings apart, and note that the "land of Helam" is subject to the sovereign authority of the "city of Helam." This unusual designation is somewhat awkward in English, but may have been more readily intelligible to one who understood the conventions of politics in the New World. They were not in the physical city of Helam, but rather in the land dominated by the polity in the city of Helam.

Textual: The printer's manuscript has Helaman here which was corrected prior to the first printed edition to Helam. See the analysis which follows Mosiah 18:12 for details.

Mosiah 23:27
27 But Alma went forth and stood among them, and exhorted them that they should not be frightened, but that they should remember the Lord their God and he would deliver them.
Mosiah 23:28
28 Therefore they hushed their fears, and began to cry unto the Lord that he would soften the hearts of the Lamanites, that they would spare them, and their wives, and their children.
Mosiah 23:29
29 And it came to pass that the Lord did soften the hearts of the Lamanites. And Alma and his brethren went forth and delivered themselves up into their hands; and the Lamanites took possession of the land of Helam.

Alma specifically tells the people that if they place their trust in God that God would deliver them. This will eventually be true in two different ways. The first is explicit in verse 29. The Almaites are "delivered" because the Lamanites spare their lives. While they will be under tribute-bondage, just as the Limhites were, they are nevertheless alive.

The second "deliverance" will come later when Alma and his people will escape from Helam and travel to Zarahemla. At that point there is a complete deliverance from the Lamanites. This is the message of the story. As indicated in verses 21-24, the Lord will allow the patience of his people to be tried, but will eventually "deliver" them. For Mormon, this domination by the Lamanites is not a denial of the righteousness of the people, but a trial of that righteousness. There is no indication on Alma's part that this comes as a punishment for the sins of the people. There is no prophetic text decrying the state of Almaite society and admonishing a return to God. These are people who have already made the commitment to follow God, and from all we are able to know of them, they are faithful to that covenant.

In spite of faithfulness, not as a result of sin, Alma's people have their faith "tried." There is no guarantee that following the gospel will shield us from all problems. Indeed, God at times allows us to be tried by the adversities of life. The key is how we respond to those trials. What we are promised is the same as the promise to the people of Alma, eventual deliverance.

Literary: Mormon turns a parallel phrase here as he emphasizes the position of Alma's people before the Lamanites:

….[they] began to cry unto the Lord that he would soften the hearts of the Lamanites, that they would spare them, and their wives, and their children.
Mosiah 23:29
29 And it came to pass that the Lord did soften the hearts of the Lamanites.

In verse 28 they cry unto the lord to "soften the hearts of the Lamanites." In the next verse the Lord answers their cries: "the Lord did soften the hearts of the Lamanites." This repetition of the substance of the prayer ties the request to the granting of the request. They ask God for a certain type of assistance, and the repetition of the phrase marks the direct affirmative response to that cry for assistance.

Mosiah 23:30
30 Now the armies of the Lamanites, which had followed after the people of king Limhi, had been lost in the wilderness for many days.

Geography: This is a new story, telling the story of the contact between the Lamanites and Almaites from a different perspective, that of the Lamanite army. This is the very army that has been following Limhi's people. We learn that they were "lost in the wilderness for many days." This confirms both the presence of the strip of wilderness between the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla, but confirms the difficulty of finding a way though that wilderness to Zarahemla. There is certainly no clear trail, no well-traveled trade route, between the two locations. This is a wilderness sufficiently difficult to traverse that Limhi's group could be lost in it and miss Zarahemla, the Lamanite army could lose the trail of a large number of people fleeing with animals and goods, and they could "stumble" onto a settlement in a mountain valley that they apparently did not know was there, and certainly did not know had been inhabited for a year or more.

Textual: Mormon uses the word "now" as a verbal marker to begin a new subject, a process we have seen in several other occasions. We cannot be certain which records Mormon is using to relate this story, but the best guess would be that this information was made known to Alma's people, and came to be recorded with Alma's official record which Mormon clearly has before him.

Mosiah 23:31
31 And behold, they had found those priests of king Noah, in a place which they called Amulon; and they had begun to possess the land of Amulon and had begun to till the ground.
Mosiah 23:32
32 Now the name of the leader of those priests was Amulon.

Social: We have the Amulonites in a place called Amulon, in a land called Amulon, with a leader called Amulon. We see once again the naming pattern of the Book of Mormon communities. The ruler gives his name to the city, and to the dependent lands. This highlights the people of Alma as an unusual case, or perhaps one where we are simply not given all of the information. While Alma appears to be the de facto leader, the city and land are nevertheless Helam, clearly named for Helam, who was first baptized, and give the designation "one of the first" which we have interpreted as a social position rather than a reference to his baptismal order.

According to the general rule, Helam should be the political leader, and perhaps he was. Nevertheless, it is to Alma that the people come when there is a question. Whatever organizational scheme Alma used to create order among his people, he gave up the prestigious right of "first" to Helam, and allowed the land and city to be named for Helam. Indeed, it would be more technically correct to refer to these people as "Helamites" that the concocted "Almaites" that I have used. Nevertheless, I will continue the Almaite designation, as it will more clearly denote these people to modern readers.

Geography: The Lamanite army had pursued the Limhites for 2 days before they gave up (Mosiah 22:16). This time for their travel, their finding of Amulon and his people, and the subsequent discovery of Alma's people can tell us more of the general geography of the land involved in these episodes.

First, we must understand the relative travel speeds of the various groups we are talking about. As indicated, Sorenson suggests that for a people traveling as Alma's and Limhi's group did a reasonable estimate of distance would be 22 miles per day. The Lamanite army should have been able to travel faster than this, since they did not have women, children, and animals to contend with.

The next important point is that each of these groups would have been heading some variation of north, away from Shemlon. Only the Lamanites would have wanted to be close to their homeland and stronghold. Thus we have multiple groups heading in the same general direction, away from Shemlon, and all three groups being in a reasonably close geographic area without any knowledge of each other (save the wandering Lamanites who find both the Amulonites and the Almaites.

To complicate things, we have the Almaites fleeing 8 days from the waters of Mormon (Mosiah 23:3), but the Lamanites had only followed after Limhi two days before turning back. How does all of this fit together?

First, we need to remember that they are all traveling in mountainous areas that are described as "wilderness." The wilderness is sufficiently dense that the tracks of a large number of people traveling with animals and their earthly possessions could be "lost." While we cannot be certain how this happened, the thick undergrowth of the area, and perhaps an afternoon or evening rain might be part of the explanation.

The rest of the explanation would appear to have to do with multiple valley systems. Once the Lamanites missed a critical pass in the mountains, they would have been unable to pick up the trail because the trail was in a different pass/valley system. While the Lamanites would have been going in a mostly northerly direction, they must have become confused with the unfamiliar territory and passes. Thus they decided to turn back.

This turning back is the next critical piece of information, for we really need to understand the degree to which the Lamanites might be reasonably lost. The modern women reading this might suppose that they simply wouldn't stop and ask for directions. The modern man might easily understand getting turned around in a new area. What we should certainly understand, however, is that these people lived close to the land, and would not have the problem of some modern Americans in remembering in which directions the sun rises and sets. To put it plainly, while we may understand the Lamanites getting lost, we cannot imagine them directionally lost. They would still know north, south, east, and west. Now the question is, with such a directional founding, how did they get so lost as to find the Amulonites and Almaites?

Once again we must appeal to the logic of the situation. The Lamanites had been heading in a northerly direction, and made the decision to turn back. We may be certain that the only guaranteed direction in which they did not travel was north. However, in a series of mountains, valleys, and passes, they might have been required to travel east of west for some amount of time in order to find passage back south. It would be on these trips into the easterly or westerly directions that they would have come upon the Amulonites and Almaites.

How is it that the Lamanites have gone only two days north of Lehi-Nephi, and Alma's people had traveled perhaps at most a couple of days to the waters of Mormon, and then eight days to Helam? The answer must lie in the more western/eastern travel of Alma's people. They simply never traveled the most direct northerly route that Limhi took. With the waters of Mormon in the more westerly parts of the land, and Helam east of the most direct line of travel to Zarahemla, we have sufficient explanation for the differences in timing. The mountainous nature of the area, with multiple valley systems, also provides precisely the geographic configuration to explain such wanderings and separations in a relatively small area. Indeed, the topographical maps for the proposed area for Book of Mormon lands shows precisely such multiple east-west valleys among mountain ranges in this area north of the proposed waters of Mormon (see the map 9 in Sorenson, John L. An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. FARMS 1985, p. 181).

Mosiah 23:33
33 And it came to pass that Amulon did plead with the Lamanites; and he also sent forth their wives, who were the daughters of the Lamanites, to plead with their brethren, that they should not destroy their husbands.

Amulon has their wives plead for them. We have seen this tactic before in the story of the people of Noah who fled before the Lamanites. When the men who refused to abandon their wives and children turned to face the Lamanite army, they also had the women plead for them (Mosiah 19:13). While it is true that the Amulonite women were the "daughters of the Lamanites" it is probable that we are seeing in this action a fairly standard mode of negotiating surrender.

In the current case, it might have been the Lamanite heritage of the women that could have been helpful, but we must remember that it would be a tremendous coincidence if any of the immediate family of these women were in the current Lamanite army. We might expect that the tremendous coincidence of such an occurrence would have warranted a comment that brothers found lost sisters, or cousins found cousins.

We do not get that, only that the women stood forth to plead for their now-husbands.

As a final note to this incident, we note that the women were willing to plead for their husbands. We must remember that these are women who had been forcibly kidnapped. Why would they plead for the priests of Noah? Why wouldn't they condemn them and have the Lamanites kill them instantly?

Once again, we do not know. We may suppose that some time had passed, and either they women had grown to care for the husbands, or perhaps there was sufficient time that they had children, and that the family bond had been created. Since the priests of Noah were well educated, it is not inconceivable that they were quite convincing in their descriptions of the reasons why the women would want to stay with them, rather than run away in the night.

Mosiah 23:34
34 And the Lamanites had compassion on Amulon and his brethren, and did not destroy them, because of their wives.

As with the incident in Lehi-Nephi alluded to above, the pleas of the women are effective. In Mosiah 19:14 the ostensible reason is the beauty of the women. Here the ostensible reason is that the women were really Lamanites. In both cases, however, the essentials are the same. Women plead to surrender, and it is accepted. The acceptance of the plea of the women in both circumstances binds the males, and the relationship is a formal subordinate position. Apparently, outbreak of bellicose action is not anticipated in either incident. These features of the two parallel situations further suggest that the pleading by women is a formal mode of subjecting one group to another.

Mosiah 23:35
35 And Amulon and his brethren did join the Lamanites, and they were traveling in the wilderness in search of the land of Nephi when they discovered the land of Helam, which was possessed by Alma and his brethren.

From Alma's standpoint, this was the worst possible situation. Certainly the priests of Noah could no longer be accounted as his friends, and there are certainly no enemies as intense as those who were once comrades in the same cause.

Geography: The traveling from the location where the Amulonites were found to the land of Helam had to be on one of the more west-east travels of the Lamanites. Once again the Lamanites would not have gone north, and had they headed directly south, they surely would have missed Helam. Thus they would have been in one of the detours through passes that by happenstance led them to the valley in which Helam had been erected.

Mosiah 23:36
36 And it came to pass that the Lamanites promised unto Alma and his brethren, that if they would show them the way which led to the land of Nephi that they would grant unto them their lives and their liberty.
Mosiah 23:37
37 But after Alma had shown them the way that led to the land of Nephi the Lamanites would not keep their promise; but they set guards round about the land of Helam, over Alma and his brethren.

Modern Western man had no trouble with these verses. The ancient world would have a much more difficult time. At the heart of the verses is a promise made and a promise broken. For Western man, this causes no alarm, and is rather to be expected since the promise was not affirmed by a phalanx of lawyers. However, in the ancient world, the promise should have had more value. Had there been only ephemeral value in a promise, Alma would not have believed it in the first place. Had honor been of so little value, Alma would have sent this Lamanite army in the wrong direction, for spite.

None of these things occurred. What happened is that Mormon describes a promise made and a promise broken.

Perhaps Mormon misunderstood some of the transaction between the leader of the Lamanite army and Alma "and his brethren" (one of whom would surely have been Helam). Perhaps Joseph Smith mistook the complexity of the situation, and translated this as a promise broken, when the actual "promise" might have been quite different. Note that what is promised is "liberty." While we have our own ideas of what that means, the Mesoamerican definition may have been different than what we imagine. Limhi's people maintained their city, their ability to trade, but were nevertheless required to pay tribute. The Almaites are allowed to live, and perhaps that is a possible definition of "liberty." In the context of the following verses, it would appear that the Lamanites were setting up a tribute-paying dependent, just as they had done with Lehi-Nephi. What the Lamanites do is set up guards around the city, just as they had done with Lehi-Nephi. This suggests that this was a fairly parallel occurrence, a fairly standard practice for a people that had been subjugated.

The translation of the verses appears to describe treachery, and perhaps there was some misunderstanding on the part of Alma's people, but the nature of the Lamanite actions suggests that they were merely following a standard protocol for a "conquered" people.

Mosiah 23:38
38 And the remainder of them went to the land of Nephi; and a part of them returned to the land of Helam, and also brought with them the wives and the children of the guards who had been left in the land.

Social: What is described here is a resident garrison in a captured city. This is a process not unfamiliar to later Mesoamerican city-kingdoms. The captors bring in the families and live among those in the captured city. In this way, there is a presence reminding the captured city of their obligations to their conqueror. As one might imagine, while the garrison would include fighting men, the presence of families also makes them more vulnerable, and regardless of the numbers brought in, they would not outnumber the people in the tribute-city. Thus this is a political move that still relies upon conventions of honor rather than display of force. It is very possible that Alma's people could have overwhelmed this "guard" by sheer numbers. Doing so, however, would bring upon them the greater wrath of the Lamanite army, who knew now where to find them more quickly. This is a garrison of deterrence, not domination.

Mosiah 23:39
39 And the king of the Lamanites had granted unto Amulon that he should be a king and a ruler over his people, who were in the land of Helam; nevertheless he should have no power to do anything contrary to the will of the king of the Lamanites.

We can easily imagine that the appointment of Amulon as king over Alma's people would be the worst possible thing for them. The real question is why it was an acceptable proposition for the Lamanite army. Why do they post a man as king over a subject people when that man had stolen away the daughters of the Lamanites, and had only recently been united with them?

One possibility is language. It is possible that there was a language difference between the Nephites and the Lamanites, and that Amulon, as a man of Nephite descent, would have a better grasp of the native language. This possibility, however, does not appear to be strong in the reconstruction of events as we have proposed them in this commentary. Assuming the departure of Mosiah and his people still left many Nephites in the city of Nephi, and that any language change was precipitated by the integration with the larger-numbered Mulekites in Zarahemla, the return of Limhi to this are would have brought back into contact people who already spoke the same language; the remnant Nephites who had become Lamanites and the returning Nephites-Limhites (who return in a short enough time that they certainly had not lost their native tongue).

A more likely scenario is much more complicated. The logical reason from Amulon as the king would be his knowledge of those people, and previous position of power over them. This would create a more ready transfer of allegiance since it was an attitude that once was present in the people. They had previously seen Amulon as a leader, where any Lamanite would have been not only "foreign" but an enemy. This advantage might have been outweighed if Amulon's allegiance to the Lamanites would have been in question.

The reason that there was no hesitance concerning the Amulonite allegiance probably deals with two aspects of the ancient culture. The first is the strength of the oath, which we have seen operative in numerous examples in the Book of Mormon. The second is the bond of kinship. Even though the daughters of the Lamanites had been stolen, tey were still Lamanites, and the marriages were in place. By this time the Lamanite women had accepted their husbands, and therefore these marriages created kinship ties with the Lamanites. Kinship bonds are particularly important in the ancient world, and we are justified in presuming that they would be effective here as well. Once the oath was taken, the combination of the fealty oath and the kinship tie through their wives would have made the Amulonites into "Lamanites." They had elected to be part of that political and cultural system, and therefore could be trusted to operate in the best interests of the Lamanites.

Textual: There is no chapter break at this point in the 1830 edition.
      by Brant Gardner. Copyright 2000