“Give us Strength According to Our Faith…in Christ”
Alma2 Explains the Ordination of Priests: Alma 13:1-12
13:1 “..cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave…” Why is Alma2 mixing up the future with the past?
13:2 “those priests were ordained…in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption.” How does that manner in which people are ordained to the priesthood (as explained in vs. 3) tell us anything about the “manner to look forward to his Son for redemption”?
13:4,5 Unlike Calvinism, Mormonism does not have a strong doctrine of pre-destination. Pre-destination truly has some logical problems. Doesn’t it abrogate agency? In these passages, it almost seems as if Alma realizes this logical problem. vs. 3, 4 states, “..being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God…[speaking of those with no priesthood] while, if it had not been for this they might have had a great privilege as their brethren.” While vs. 5-7 says, “Or in fine, in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren; thus this holy calling being prepared from the foundation of the world for such as would not harden their hearts…the Only Begotten Son, who was prepared…which order was from the foundation of the world…”
The idea that Alma preaches in vs 4,5 can, and has, led to some horrible interpolations: Those born in countries other than the U.S. were “less righteous” in the pre-existence; those of African descent were “less righteous” in the pre-existence. It seems that Alma recognizes the problems with his teaching and so he tweaks it a bit in vs. 5-7. It is not the ordination to the priesthood that was determined in the pre-existence, but rather the Atonement and the Priesthood themselves that were prepared in a past eternity. It is their “exceeding faith and repentance” (vs10) that allows them to hold priesthood. Furthermore, isn’t teaching that a man was pre-ordained to have priesthood in the pre-existence somewhat degrading to women? Too bad the LDS church didn’t see the problem with the interpolation of pre-existence righteousness with priesthood until the late 1970’s.
One other point, why would Alma think that preaching on priesthood answers Antionah’s questions about the resurrection and the Garden of Eden as found in Alma12:20,21? It appears that from Alma 12:22-13:30, that Alma is answering Antionah’s questions. The answer to that might be found in Alma changing his approach to his doctrine on priesthood. If one having priesthood was determined by one’s “righteousness” in the pre-existence, wouldn’t the Ammonihahite’s situation be due to how they behaved in the pre-existence? Thus, if their present unrighteous state was “pre-determined” by God, why would Alma even be preaching to them? If one’s lack of priesthood is due to one’s unrighteousness in this life, then preach on Alma!!
Alma2 Cites the Example of Melchizedek: Alma 13:13-20
Lehi (and by extension Nephi) were clearly not orthodox Jews in several significant ways. For instance, as early as 1831, Alexander Campbell pointed out the implausibility of the non-Levite Lehi performing sacrifices (1 Nephi 2:7, 5:9, 7:22). Mormons regarded this as a serious enough criticism that they responded in the official church newspaper. Today Latter-day Saints justify Lehi’s sacrifices by making a distinction between the Aaronic (or Levitical) Priesthood and the Melchizedek Priesthood, although this distinction is foreign to the Book of Mormon itself. Melchizedek is mentioned only in Alma 13:14-18 and the term “Melchizedek Priesthood” never appears anywhere. (See Alexander Campbell, “Delusions,” Millennial Harbinger 2, 2 (February 1831); Oliver Cowdery, “Delusion,” Messenger and Advocate 1, 6 (March 1835): 90-91; Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake, City: Bookcraft, 1987), 1:31; David R. Seely, “Lehi Altar and Sacrifice in the Wilderness,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10, 1 (2001): 62-69)
13:16 If indeed tithing is an ordinance as Alma teaches here, how is it a “type of his order”? How does it cause us to “look forward to him for a remission of [our] sins”? It seems that vs 16 belongs between vs.12 and 13.
The story of Melchizedek is an important one for this reason: As LDS members, we tend to emphasize the exclusivity and particularism of our religion. We are one of the few Christian religions that doesn’t accept baptism from another Christian tradition as legitimate; even Catholics will accept another denomination’s baptism (unless they are Mormon!). Yet Melchizedek was not of the covenant/Abrahamic lineage. This speaks not to exclusivism/particularism but more to universalism/pluralism. We find this even more explicitly in 2 Nephi 29:11, 12 “For I command all men…that they shall write the words which I speak unto them for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world….and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it…” We have both exclusivism and universalism in our scripture and it is a true paradox. Should this bother us? No! Joseph Smith in 1844 asserted that “by proving contraries, truth is made manifest” (1, citing History of the Church 6:428).
13:20 “..if ye will wrest them…”
1. to twist or turn; pull, jerk, or force by a violent twist.
2. to take away by force: to wrest a knife from a child.
3. to get by effort: to wrest a living from the soil.
Wrest does not mean to just lay aside. Alma seems to indicate that his preaching is so strong (and Mormon seems to agree otherwise, why would he have quoted Alma verbatim?) that you would have to forcibly extricate yourself from his arguments.
Alma finishes his answer to Antionah’s questions.
Prepare for the Coming of the Lord: Alma 13:21-31
13:25 Critics who believe that Joseph Smith was making the Book of Mormon up as he went along have pointed out discrepancies between material attributed to the Small and Large Plates as we find here in Alma 13:25. Alma is apparently ignorant of Nephi’s very specific prophecies about Jesus’ visit to the Nephites and the timing of his birth. Latter-day Saints, naturally, have been eager to demonstrate just the opposite. Of particular interest is John Welch’s observation that Alma 36:22 – “Yea, methought I saw, even as our father Lehi saw, God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising God” – is an attributed quotation that replicated twenty-one words from 1 Nephi 1:8 exactly, which means that Joseph Smith dictated the later citation before the original source of the quotation. (John W. Welch, “Textual Consistency, ” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 21-23)
13:26 This happens in Helaman 16:14
13:31 Grant Hardy calls this editorial interruption an “omission”.
Alma2 and Amulek before the Chief Judge: Alma 14:1-7
14:1 “…go search the scriptures…” What scriptures? Might they have contained King Benjamin’s written speech? See Mosiah 2:8 “…therefore he caused that his words which he spake should be written and sent forth…”
14:4 “…before the chief judge of the land.” This is not the Chief Judge that took Alma’s place. It appears that the other city-states around Zarahemla had some independence from the assumably larger city of Zarahemla.
Believers are Cast Out; Their Wives and Children are Killed: Alma 14:7-13
14:7 “…and they cast them out, and sent men to cast stones at them.” The people of Ammonihah are warned against this in Alma 10:23. Was it just the men that were stoned? We see in the following verses that it was only the women and children that were burned.
14:8 “Whenever books are burned, men also in the end are burned.” – Heinrich Heine
14:10-11 There are two possible connections between the Exodus and the tragedy of Ammonihah – the citizens there ask the dangerous question, “Who is God, that…” (Alma 9:6), and there is some mention of a prophet stretching forth his hand (though in Alma 14:10-11, they pointedly refrain from doing so) – yet the story overall is not reminiscent of Moses. Both of these elements also occur in the Abinadi story (Mosiah 11:27; 12:2)
14:11 Does anyone else have a problem with Alma’s answer to Amulek? Why does Amulek concede and not stretch his hand if Alma won’t? Why are Alma, Amulek, the women, and children not given the opportunity to deny their beliefs? The horrible martyrdom of the women is made even more horrendous when compared to how well the Lamanites treat and the soft spot they have for women: 1 Nephi 18:19; Jacob 3:5-7; Alma 23:33
Alma2 and Amulek in Prison: Alma 14:14-22
14:14 “…fire and brimstone…” Alma uses this metaphor in Alma 12:27
14:16 “..after the order and faith of Nehor…” Apparently, Nehor’s followers continued to preach his doctrines after his death. (Alma 1:2-16)
Alma2 and Amulek Delivered: Alma 14:23-15:2
14:25 “How long shall we suffer…” Why does Mormon quote Amulek’s lament over the suffering of the women and children, but Alma is quoted only when lamenting his[Alma’s] and Amulek’s sufferings? Why does Mormon quote Alma asking for his own deliverance but not that of the women and children? What would be Mormon’s purpose in editing this pericope this way?
The final chapter in the story of Ammonihah is related in Alma 16:1-12; 25:1-2
Zeezrom is Healed: Alma 15:3-12
15:6 “…Believest thou in the power of Christ unto salvation? And he answered and said “Yeah, I believe..” Compare this with Zeezrom’s previous statements in Alma 11:21-37 (shall he save his people in their sins?) Zeezrom’s doctrine had been that of choice without consequence. True free agency is not merely the freedom to make a choice, but it is the acceptance of the consequences that follow. If I were to tell my daughter that if she finished her homework, we would go out for ice cream, and she did finish her homework, but then I told her she would get no ice cream – she would complain. She would complain because that is unfair. In fact, I would be denying her free agency, because I would be denying her the consequence that is rightly hers. If she didn’t finish her homework, but I still gave her ice cream, she wouldn’t complain, but I would still be denying her true free agency. She is getting the consequence without making the choice that leads to that consequence. In fact, this is what the “war in heaven” was about.
Do you really believe that 1/3 of the hosts of heaven signed up for “forced salvation”? That is just bad, simplistic theology. We need to get the theology right.
Doesn’t it make more sense that what Satan was offering was a consequence without making the choice that would lead to that consequence? By so doing, we would not have true agency. It is the latter that Zeezrom preached; getting the ice cream without making the choice that leads to that consequence. Salvation without needing to make the right choice. In so doing we deny the free-agency and the necessity of a savior.
Success in Sidon: Alma 15:13-19
15:15 “…for they were of the profession of Nehor…” Nehor preached the same thing that Zeezrom had, “And he also testified unto the people that all mankind should be saved at the last day…” Alma 1:4 It is once again teaching salvation (the consequence) without making the right choice that would leave to the desired consequence. By so doing, one is in actuality being denied true free agency.
15:17 “..seeing a great check…the people were checked as to the pride of their hearts…” I thought this was an odd use of the word check so I decided to look it up.
1. to stop or arrest the motion of suddenly or forcibly: He checked the horse at the edge of the cliff.
2. to restrain; hold in restraint or control: They built a high wall to check the tides.
3. to cause a reduction, as in rate or intensity; diminish: The new measures checked the rapidity with which the epidemic was spreading.
4. to investigate or verify as to correctness: She checked the copy against the original.
5. to make an inquiry into, search through, etc.: We checked the files, but the letter was missing.
Which definition is being used in Alma 15:17?
Ammonihah is Destroyed and Captives Rescued: Alma 16:1-12
16:2 For an account of the sins of Ammonihah see Alma 8:6-15:2. For another report of their destruction see Alma 25:1-2.
16:4-8 Prophecies are often integral to the stories themselves that Mormon is telling: the destruction of major cities is always preceded by recent prophetic warnings, prophets occasionally foretell the movements of enemy troops (Alma 43:23-24; 3 Nephi 3:19-21). If the chronology forms the backbone of Mormon’s history, prophecy is the ligament that holds it together. It should be noted that Mormon has a vested interest in liking prophecies and and their realizations; the Book of Mormon presents an extended argument from fulfilled prophecy. That is, readers are assured that if all of these predictions have come to pass as foretold, so too will those that are as yet unfulfilled, including many that concern their own lives at the time when the Book of Mormon would be published, as well as the final judgment day; perhaps surprisingly, Jesus’ Second Coming and the Millennium are almost never mentioned in Mormon’s writings.
Regarding Alma 16 and Mormon as an editor, Grant Hardy makes the following observations:
“Non-LDS readers may find it useful to compare Mormon’s presence in the text with that of another famous character, Cide Hamete Benengeli, the purported author of Don Quixote. In the ninth chapter of Cervantes’ novel, just after the episode with the windmill, readers are informed that the rest of the book is a translation of a history of Quixote written in Arabic by Benengeli, which Cervantes claims to have discovered in the Alcana market at Toledo. Cervantes takes great delight in the conceit and mentions Benengeli several dozen times over the course of parts I and II, sometimes praising him, but also blaming him for various inconsistencies and incongruities in the narrative. For example, at the beginning of Part II, chapter 10, we read:
“When the author of this great history [Benengeli] came to recount what is recounted in this chapter, he says he would have preferred to passover it in silence, fearful it would not be given credence, for the madness of Don Quixote here reached the limits and boundaries of the greatest madnesses that can be imagined, and even passed two crossbow shots beyond them. But finally, despite this fear and trepidation, he wrote down the mad acts just as Don Quixote performed them, not adding or subtracting an atom of truth from the history and not concerning himself about the accusations that he was a liar, which might be made against him; and he was right, because truth may be stretched thin and not break, and it always floats on the surface of the lie, like oil on water.” (Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, trans. Edith Grossman (New York: HarperCollin, 2003),513)
Yet Cervantes’ references to “the original author” are sporadic and in the end we do not have enough information to form a coherent picture of Benengeli as a writer. He never gets a chance to explain his life and motivations directly; instead we know him mostly through Cervantes’ criticisms (in a way Joseph Smith never comments on Mormon). The Book of Mormon may not be as much fun to read as Don Quixote, but at least in this one respect, it is more thoroughly composed. However readers may conceptualize Mormon, part of the interest of the book is observing the way he interacts with and shapes his material.
So a broad overview of Mormon’s editorial techniques may be helpful, but only as as preliminary step to the careful reading of individual passages, where we can see how Mormon actually handles his competing objectives. Alma 16 provides a convenient example. This chapter, relating the destruction of the wicked city of Ammonihah, comes at the conclusion of Alma’s preaching. The eight chapters immediately preceding formed a subunit that told the story of Alma and Amulek’s mission to Ammonihah and described how, despite limited success, they were eventually rejected and thrown into prison. Then, in an act of terrible brutality, the people of Ammonihah drove Alma’s male converts from the city and burned to death their defenseless wives and children. In time Alma and Amulek were miraculously delivered from the prison by an earthquake, and they made their way to the city of Sidom, where they found the now familyless refugees.
At this point, Mormon wants to make the moral of his story absolutely clear. His editorial summary emphasizes, in nonstandard grammar, that “there was not one soul of them had been lost that were taken captive,” while “the people of Ammonihah were destroyed; yea, every living soul of the Ammonihahites were destroyed… and the carcasses were mangled by dogs…” (Alma 16:8-10). The alternatives are clearly distinguished, and the good things that happen are truly wondrous, while the bad things are terrible indeed. In this way, our editor offers a striking illustration of God’s justice, by which the righteous are saved while the wicked are punished.
But something is wrong with this picture. The innocent bystanders are all rescued, and the wicked Ammonihahites are all destroyed, but there is a third group not mentioned at all in Mormon’s summary. These are the people “around the border of Noah” who were also killed in the Lamanite raid. What exactly had happened to them? Why did they die, in contrast to their neighbors who were taken captive and then safely returned? We do not know, for they have dropped entirely out of Mormon’s history and are never referred to again. Mormon obviously had some information about them – after all, he noted them in his initial account – but he chose not to elaborate upon their fate. Why? It seems that these inhabitants of the borderlands did not fit into the pattern of “the righteous prosper, the wicked suffer”; they complicated the moral message of his history. Nevertheless, it is significant that Mormon’s urge for historical accuracy compelled him to mention them in the first place. The Book of Mormon is not exclusively dedicated to illustrating moral principles, though Mormon often simplifies or streamlines the facts to emphasize what he saw as transcendent spiritual realities.
Alma 16 also provides an intriguing example of multiple lines of causation, where we can see Mormon thinking through historical incidents both spiritually and politically. Alma 16:1 is remarkable for Mormon’s insistence that this Lamanite raid was absolutely unexpected and unprovoked: “there having been much peace in the land of Zarahemla, there having been no wars nor contentions for a certain number of years.” Given the juxtaposition of this event with the gross wickedness of the people of Ammonihah in the preceding chapters, the meaning is clear: an act of God destroyed the Ammonihahites in retribution for their arrogance, brutality, and rejection of his prophets.
Generally Mormon is a practitioner of narrative theology; that is, he relies on stories to convince readers of the power of God, the consequences of sin, the reality of prophecy, and so forth. He certainly has a hand in fashioning his narratives for didactic and aesthetic purposes, but he cannot distort the history too much since the cogency of his argument depends on the accuracy of his facts: we should believe certain things because they are demonstrated by actual events of the past. This appeal to history is keenly felt by Latter-day Saints today who believe that reading the Book of Mormon as myth or fiction would seriously compromise its authority and power to persuade.” (Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide,pg.. 114-119)
16:9 This destruction fulfills Alma2‘s prophecies in Alma 9:12, 18, 24; 10:23. This editorial interruption is what Grant Hardy calls “notices of fulfilled prophecies.” In retrospect, Mormon suggest that the crowd had challenged not just Alma but God himself, and though Alma never quite said, “a single day will do it for you,” his warnings were quite pointed. (see Alma 9:18) Mormon’s summary, which picks up a key phrase from the crowd at Ammonihah, alerts readers to the fact that everything that happened was a fulfillment of prophecy. Clearly, Ammonihah’s destruction, as described in Alma 16 , was a wondrous work of God manifesting his divine power and justice. God himself had sent the Lamanites upon them.
The Nephite Reformation is Completed: Alma 16:13-21
If you think about it, Alma does not have much success. The church he had established in Zarahemla had apostatized and needed a reformation. His preaching in large part failed in Ammonihah. He did have some success in Gideon and Melek.
16:20 Mormon reports that other prophets at the time “..taught that he [Christ] would appear unto them after his resurrection…” Some have seen in this disjunction evidence that Joseph Smith was inventing the story as he went along, with [3rd]Nephi’s predictions being so much clearer because his words were dictated after Third Nephi had already been written. In any case, there was not a strong expectation of Christ’s coming to the New World on anyone’s part, even after the time of Alma. (see Brent Lee Metcalfe, “The Priority of Mosiah: A Prelude to Book of Mormon Exegesis,” in New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology, ed. Brent Lee Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1993), 417-418)
This ends Alma’s Nephite reformation which is recorded in Alma 4:6-16:21