BOOK OF MORMON LESSON LESSON 32: ALMA 53-63
“They Did Obey…Every Word of Command With Exactness”
Note: This lesson is 11 chapters long. I simply ran out of time and only made it to chapter 60.
Prisoners and Fortifications (East): Alma 53:1-7
53:6 Mulek was in the land of the Nephites (along with the other cities of the eastern coast; see Alma 51:22-27) rather than on the southern land of Nephi, making this the only geopgraphical inconsistency in the text (Grant Hardy, The Book of Mormon, A Reader’s Edition, pg. 404, foot-noe 6a)
Helaman2‘s Two Thousand Stipling Soldiers (West): Alma 53:8-23
53:8 Nothing more is know of these intrigues and dissensions.
53:10 This editorial summary recounts events from two years earlier (see: Alma 23:4-18; 27:26; 53:23; 56:9).
53:10 The people of Ammon3 were settled initially at Jerson (Alma 27:22), and then relocated to Melek (Alma 35:13) in the land of Zarahemla. See also Alma 47:29.
- “a youth,” late 14c., possibly from strip (n.) “long, narrow piece,” on the notion of “one who is slender as a strip, whose figure is not yet filled out.”
55:22 This story continues in Alma 56:9
Moroni1‘s Letter of Exchanging Prisoners (East): Alma 54:1-14
54:3 compare with 54:11 I wonder why Moroni1 would think that Ammoron would agree to exchange three people for one. Does it have to do with the fact that the Lamanites would take children and women as prisoners while the Nephites would not?
Ammoron’s Reply (East): Alma 54:15-23
54:15 compare with 54:14 Ammoron’s letter opens with “I am Ammoron, the king…” while Moroni1 ends his letter with “…I am a leader…” It seems that Ammoron is possibly reminding Moroni1 that Moroni is just a general while he (Ammoron) is a king.
54:17 “…your fathers did wrong their brethren…” There are two possibilities for this statement:
- The Amalickiahites had adopted the Lamanite story of Laman and Lemuel being cheated by their brothers Nephi, Jacob, and Sam
- Amalickiah and Ammaron were not of Nephite blood, but were of Mulekite blood. Remember that Mosiah1 (a Nephite) became king over the people of Zarahemla (Mulekites). See Omni 1:12. Could the Amalickiahite rebellion (and maybe the Kings-men rebellion – “…[they] were those of high birth…”) been over the fact that the native people of Zarahemla were trying to dethrone their foreign rulers? This could also explain why Ammoron says in Alma 54:18 “…and subject yourselves to be governed by those to whom the government doth rightly belong…”. Perhaps the lower judgeship came through a patrilineal blood-line (seeAlma 46:4)
The problem with the latter explanation is that Ammoron calls himself “a descendant of Zoram” not of Mulek (Alma 54:23). But could Ammoron’s Zoram genealogy been fictitious thus providing (in his mind) some type of legitimacy to his claims?
The City of Gid Retaken, along with Nephite Prisoners (East): Alma 55:1-27
55:3 “…sue for peace…”
verb (used without object)
- to institute legal proceedings, or bring suit: She threatened to sue.
- to make petition or appeal: to sue for peace.
- to court a woman.
54:4 If the Amalakiahites were of Nephite blood and were fighting along side the Lamanites, why was it necessary for Moroni1 to find a Lamanite to infiltrate the opposing army? What is Mormon not telling us?
54:8-10 Mesoamerican alcohol
Pulque is a viscous, milk-colored, alcoholic beverage produced by fermenting the sap obtained by the maguey plant. Until the 19th and 20th century, it was probably the most widespread alcoholic beverage in Mexico.
In ancient Mesoamerica pulque was a beverage restricted to certain group of people and to certain occasions. The consumption of pulque was linked to feasting and ritual ceremonies, and many Mesoamerican cultures produced a rich iconography illustrating the production and consumption of this beverage. The Aztec called this beverage ixtac octli which means white liquor. The name pulque is probably a corruption of the term octli poliuhqui, or over-fermented or spoiled liquor.
The fermentation starts in the plant itself, since the microorganisms occurring naturally in the maguey plant start the process of transforming the sugar into alcohol. The fermented sap was traditionally collected using dried bottle gourds, and it was then poured into large ceramic jars where the seeds of the plant were added to accelerate the fermentation process.
Among the Aztecs/Mexica, pulque was a highly desired item, obtained through tribute. Many codices refer to the importance of this drink for nobility and priests, and its role in Aztec economy.
In ancient Mesoamerica, pulque was consumed during feasting or ritual ceremonies and was also offered to the gods. Its consumption was strictly regulated. Ritual drunkenness was allowed only by priests and warriors, and commoners were permitted to drink it only during certain occasions. Elderly and occasionally pregnant woman were allowed to drink it. In the Quetzalcoatl myth, the god is tricked into drinking pulque and his drunkenness caused him to be banished and exiled from his land.
Pulque is depicted in Mesoamerican iconography as white foam emerging from small, rounded pots and vessels. A small stick, similar to a straw, is often depicted within the drinking pot, probably representing a stirring instrument used to produce the foam.
Images of pulque-making are recorded in many codices, murals and even rock carvings, such as the ball court at El Tajin. One of the most famous representations of the pulque drinking ceremony is at the pyramid of Cholula, in Central Mexico.
The Mural of the Drinkers
The origin of pulque is narrated in many myths, most of them linked to the goddess of maguey, Mayahuel. Other deities directly related to pulque were the got Mixcoatl and the Centzon Totochtin (the 400 rabbits), sons of Mayahuel associated with the pulque’s effects. (http://archaeology.about.com/od/foodsoftheancientpast/a/Pulque.htm)
….honey from the Stingless bee named Xunan-Cab (Apis Melipona) (The natural polinizator of the vanilla orchid). The Mayans Apicultures raised them in special hives made out of logs, gourds, clay pots, and other simple containers. Honey from these bees has lower sugar content than honey from the European honeybee, but the Melipona honey is considered better tasting. The Maya so honored honey and honey wine, they had festivals dedicated to the god of honey, Ah Mucan Cab. Chocolate was also mixed with a variety of flowers, and sometimes it was thickened with (ul) or atol, a corn gruel, and peanut butter. There were numerous variations, including a red variety made by adding annatto dye (achiote) (http://www.authenticmaya.com/maya_agriculture.htm)
55:17 “…yea, even to their women, and all those of their children…” 54:12 “…I will arm ny women and my children…”
55:18 “…he would not fall upon the Lamanites and destroy them in their drunkenness.” compare with 1 Nephi 4:7, 10 “…for he was drunken with wine…I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban…”
More Nephite Precautions and Preparations (East): Alma 55:28-35
55:30 “And many times did they attempt to administer of their wine to the Nephites…” How did the Lamanites do this? Did some of the Amalickiahites dress up like Nephites (assuming they looked like Nephites) and try the same trick the Nephites had done earlier? Mormon isn’t telling us something here.
55:31 “…the nephites were not slow to remember the Lord their God…” What does this have to do with whether they drank the Lamanite wine or not?
55:35 This narrative is continued in Alma 59:5, though the Lamanite attack on Nephihah prevents Moroni1 from carrying out his plan to recapture Morianton.
Helaman2‘s Letter to Moroni1: Alma 56:1-58:41
Helaman2‘s and His Two Thousand Join Antipus (West): Alma 56:1-19
56:6 “And now ye also know concerning the covenant which their father’s made…” I have wondered at times about this idea of making a covenant with God that is not required by all to make. If such a covenant is made and then broken, is this viewed by God as sin?
Helaman1 Describes a Battle with the Lamanites from Antiparah (West): Alma 56:20-57
56:20 “And thus ended the twenty and sixth year…” compare with Alma 56:1; 58:38 “…in the commencement of the thirtieth year…the twenty and ninth year, in the latter end…” From these three verses we see that just over three years had passed between the time that Helaman1 fortified Antipus’ army and the epistle Helaman wrote to Moroni. Alma 53:23 “…and thus ended the twenty and eighth year…” compare this Alma 56:1 & 58:38. It was over one year from the time that Helaman organized his strippling warriors to the time they first saw combat.
56:21 “…for we were not desirous to make an attack upon them…” Is this teaching that one should not do a “pre-emptive strike”?
56:28 10,000 men – 2,000 stripling warriors – 2,000 men from Zarahemla = 6.000 men under Antipus’ leadership.
56:44, 48 Did these young warriors really say this in unison, or is Helaman doing some editing here?
56:52 The letter from Helaman to Moroni appears to have ended in the previous verse as Helaman is being referred to in the third person.
56:54 The letter appears to resume in this verse.
56:54 “And it came to pass that we,the people of Nephi, the people of Antipus, and I with my two thousand…” Are there three different groups here? Or is it “And it came to pass that we, the people of Nephi ( which included the people of Antipus, and I with my two thousand)…?
Helaman2 Retakes Antiparah (West): Alma 57:1-5
57:1, 2 If Helaman is now the record keeper, why are the primary documents (the epistles between Ammoron and Helaman) not included in the text, while the epistles between Moroni and Ammoron are? Furthermore, Ammon seems to have a better idea of the complexity of the war than does General Moroni, since he (King Ammoron) writes epistles to both Helaman and Moroni; while Moroni hears of the battles in the west (supposedly) only through Helaman. It appears that King Ammoron is a better administrator of war. It should be noted however, that 2 years separate Ammoron/Moroni’s epistles and Ammoron/Helaman’s epistles (Alma 54:1; 56:20) This would give Ammoron time to move from the battles in the east (where Moroni is) to the battles in the west (where Helaman and Antipus are).
57:4 Why does Helaman refer to the Lamanite invaders as “the people of Antiparah” when they are not?
Helaman2 Retakes Cumeni but loses Prisoners (West): Alma 57:6-23
57:6 This is the year that Ammoron sends his epistle to Moroni requesting a prisoner exchange (see Alma 54:1)
56:10 “And we, instead of being Lamanites, were Nephites; therefore, we did take them and their provisions.” Huh? So did Helaman’s army disguise themselves as Lamanite warriors and then overtake the Lamanites that were supplying the provisions to the city of Cumeni? If was so easy to disguise a Nephite as a Lamanite, why did Moroni need Laman to infiltrate the city of Gid (Alma55:4,5). Furthermore, it begs the question of how different the actual skin color was between the “white and delightsome” Nephites and the “dark and loathsome” Lamanites. It could be argued that the stripling warriors were the only ones that disguised themselves, being descendants of Lamanites converted by Ammon. Anyways, something is missing here.
57:17 We find out what happened to the prisoners later in verses 28-26
Helaman2 Describes a Miraculous Preservation and Lost Prisoners (West): Alma 57:24-36
57:25-28 ” …there were two hundred, out of my two thousand and sixty, who had fainted because of the loss of blood…there was not one soul of them who did perish; yea, and neither was there one soul among them who had not received many wounds…while there was a thousand of our brethren who were slain…and had buried our dead…” This is theologcially problematic. So, it was a miracle that the 2,600 Ammonite warriors were not killed, but some were severely wounded, and that it was only the other Nephite warriors that had been killed? Is it really a miracle to be maimed, but have your life spared? It seems to be a numbers game for Helaman. “We were blessed because more of them died than us,” is what he seems to be saying. Now, we would expect such a rhetorical device to be used by General Moroni, but not by Helaman – the keeper of the Nephite record and presumably the Nephite prophet.
The record seems to show that Helaman was somewhat thrown into the battle when the Ammonite sons wanted to help in the war effort, in contrast to Moroni who is a “career” warrior. It appears that there is a heavy interprative hand of Helaman and he is presenting some bad theology. It is normally through Mormon’s editing, that historical events are presented as having theological implications. Here instead we find Mormon using a primary document to do the teaching.
What is the problem with Helaman’s theological interpretation of the events? He is attempting to apply theological meaning to others’ sufferings. It is his attempt at dealing with theodicy. To paraphrase the late Christopher Hitchens, “Why when a baby falls out of a window and survives do we call it a miracle, but when a child falls off of a counter and dies, we call it God’s will?” It is through theodicy that theists attempt to answer the question of evil and suffering, while preserving God’s omnipotence and goodness. Earlier in Alma 14:10,11 we find Alma2 dealing with the issue of theodicy, but in an even more deplorable way than Helaman does. The French philosopher and Talmudic commentator, Emmanuel Levinas, points out the problem of using theodicy to explain someone else’s suffering when he wrote, ”The justification of the neighbour’s pain is certainly the source of all immorality…. I can view suffering as meaninful in me, but I have to see it as useless in others ” (Emmanuel Levinas, Useless Suffering). Theodicy might help me get through dificult things. It might help me see structure, some meaning in what’s happening to me, but I cannot impute that meaning of suffering on another person (Mormon Matters podcast, 120, The Problem of Evil, part 2, 56:01 -click here to listen to a 3-part podcast examining the problem of evil) .
On the other hand, instead of trying to justify why bad things happen, Alma (the elder) teaches a superior theology when it comes to human suffering: ” Mourn with those that mourn…” (Alma 18:9). In Moses 7:28, 29 we read, “God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept…” Today as I reflected on these scriptures, it caused me to examine myself.
A few years ago the father of a family I home teach found his baby daughter not breathing. Attempts were made, but ultimately unsuccessfully, to revive her. The mother asked that I speak at her funeral. Looking back, and thinking of the Mormon God that weeps, I would have given a different talk. I would have centered my thoughts around mourning with the family.
Why do bad things happen to good people? To quote a General Conference talk given by Elder James E. Faust: “Dr. Arthur Wentworth Hewitt suggested some reasons why the good suffer as well as the wicked: “First: I don’t know.” (November 2004 Ensign)
57:28 Was Gid an Ammonite? It depends on how “our men” is interpreted (see Alma 57:16)
Helaman2 Receives Inadequate Support (West): Alma 58:1-12
58:9 “…the cause of these our embarrassments…”
embarrassment (ɪmˈbærəsmənt) — noun
1. the state of being embarrassed
2. something that embarrasses
3. a financial predicament
4. an excessive amount; superfluity
58:9 “…we wer grieved and also filled with fear, lest by any means the judgments of God should come upon our land…” Why would make Helaman fear such a thing?
58:11 “…and did grant unto us great faith…” My brother and I have been discussing all week whether or not faith is a gift.
Helaman2 Retakes Manti (West): Alma 58:13-31
58:17 Is Helaman now in charge of all the western army since Antipus was wounded/killed (Alma 56:51)?
58:23 Sounds like the City of Manti sits between the wilderness and Zarahemla.
58: 25, 26 City of Manti, Land of Manti. Are they two different things?
58:29 These Lamanites flee the western front to join their comrades at the eastern front. We see them again in Alma 59:6
Helaman2 Describes Their Precarious Situation (West): Alma 58:32-41
58:38 “Behold this is the twenty and ninth year, in the latter end…” Moroni receives the letter “in the commencement of the thirthieth year…”
Moroni1‘s Reaction to Helaman2‘s Letter (East): Alma 59:1-4
59:4 For a list of the Nephite cities taken by the Lamaites see Alma 51:23-27
The Nephites Lose Nephihah (East): Alma 59:5-13
59:5 This narrative is continued from Alma 55:33-34
59:11 Again we see a Nephite leader (the first is Helaman in Alma 58:9) thinking that the losses in battle are due towickednesss. Is there any indication to justify such a concern? Moroni nor Mormon as editor provide any prior reason for such a conclusion.
Moroni1‘s Letter to Pahoran1: Alma 60:1-36
60:1 the first letter was written in Alma 59:3
60:2 Is it the wickedness of the leaders in the City of Zarahemla and not of his warriors to which Captain Moroni is referring? Alma 59:33 seems to point to that idea.
60:12 Mormon interprets things here quite differently than Helaman did. He provides two possibilities: 1) His warriors were wicked. 2) The ambivalence of the government.
60:13 In this verse he does a theodicy.
60:14-16 Finally we see who Moroni thinks is the cause of God’s retribution for wicked deeds.
60:18 Woops. Moroni takes a huge leap there.
60:23 Reference is uncertain
60:31 Here Moroni no longer thinks that the suffering of his warriors is possibly do to the government, but implicitly states it is.
60:34 Perhaps this refers to Alma 46:20-23