Alma Chapter 16
Alma 16 (compare Alma 25:2-3) The city of Ammonihah is destroyed by a Lamanite invasion.
1 And it came to pass in the eleventh year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, on the fifth day of the second month, there having been much peace in the land of Zarahemla, there having been no wars nor contentions for a certain number of years, even until the fifth day of the second month in the eleventh year, there was a cry of war heard throughout the land.
verse 1 "the fifth day of the second month in the eleventh year, there was a cry of war heard throughout the land" There are several instances in the Book of Mormon, especially in the books of Mosiah, Alma, and Helaman, in which reference is made to wars being fought on specific dates. John L. Sorenson, in his article "Seasons of War, Seasons of Peace" (Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, 249-55) has suggested that these dates are not likely randomly distributed throughout the year. Rather, there were likely certain seasons when wars were fought and other times of the year when they were not. The wars seemed to be fought in a consistent and predictable seasonal pattern. Several reasons are proposed to account for this pattern:
1. Wars in "pre-technical" societies are usually launched at convenient and opportune times of the year.
2. The Nephite and Lamanite societies were largely agrarian. The soldiers were part-time warriors but full-time farmers. The armies were made up almost totally of the equivalent of today's "reservists." They were not available for war during the planting, cultivating, and harvest seasons. They had to labor in order to provide food for their families and for their armies (Alma 53:7). It follows then that war went on after the farm work was done and before the next planting season.
3. The Book of Mormon story likely took place in tropical Central America. The rainy season occurred at the same time as the North American summer and fall. These months were favorable for growing crops, but the rain made the land impassable. Hence, it would not have been possible to move soldiers and fight wars and live in field camps during these months. The months October through April were warmer and especially drier.
2 For behold, the armies of the Lamanites had come in upon the wilderness side, into the borders of the land, even into the city of Ammonihah, and began to slay the people and destroy the city.
verse 2 We will later learn that this attack on the Nephites in the city of Ammonihah was precipitated by events in the land of Nephi. As a result of the preaching of the sons of Mosiah and the group that went with them up to the land of Nephi, a large group of Lamanites had been converted. Those converts had also entered into a covenant not to take up arms against their fellow Lamanites. These "Anti-Nephi-Lehies" were attacked by the non-convert Lamanites and 1,005 of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies were killed as they prostrated themselves before their fellow Lamanites and refused to defend themselves. In their frustration and anger over having been, as they termed it, "manipulated" by the Nephite missionaries and "tricked" into killing their own brethren, the furious Lamanites decided to attack the Nephites in the land of Zarahemla.
Dr. John L. Sorenson has suggested a compelling model as to why the Lamanites "happened" to fall upon the city of Ammonihah. As one traveled from the land of Nephi to Zarahemla, according to Dr. Sorenson, there were at least two major routes (see the Hypothetical Map of Book of Mormon Lands). A traveler could pass northward through the mountainous wilderness past the head waters of the River Sidon through the land of Manti, down the river through the land of Gideon to Zarahemla. Or, one could descend westward to the pacific coastal plain and travel near the shore to the wilderness, west of Zarahemla. Following this latter route, entry into Zarahemla through the mountainous wilderness could only be made through a mountain pass. Dr. Sorenson postulates that Ammonihah might have been situated in the direct path of a Lamanite army entering Zarahemla by this latter route. Thus, those in Ammonihah caught the full brunt of the Lamanites' vengeful anger.
3 And now it came to pass, before the Nephites could raise a sufficient army to drive them out of the land, they had destroyed the people who were in the city of Ammonihah, and also some around the borders of Noah, and taken others captive into the wilderness.
verse 3 "before the Nephites could raise a sufficient army to drive them out of the land, they had destroyed the people who were in the city of Ammonihah, and also some around the borders of Noah" One interesting feature of the Nephite armies is that, for the most part, they seem to have been formed from a militia mobilized from the general population and were not part of a standing army. "The bulk of the armed forces was probably drawn from the lower classes and was organized in ranks with fathers and brothers in similar units (see Mosiah 10:9). The captains likely were individuals with some special privileges. The chief captain over all the Nephite armies seems usually to have been of the tribe of Nephi. The militia was organized in response to a levy or request from the central government (see Alma 60:1-2)" (A. Brent Merrill, "Nephite Captains and Armies" in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, edited by Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin, 271-72).
4 Now it came to pass that the Nephites were desirous to obtain those who had been carried away captive into the wilderness.
5 Therefore, he that had been appointed chief captain over the armies of the Nephites, (and his name was Zoram, and he had two sons, Lehi and Aha)-now Zoram and his two sons, knowing that Alma was high priest over the church, and having heard that he had the spirit of prophecy, therefore they went unto him and desired of him to know whither the Lord would that they should go into the wilderness in search of their brethren, who had been taken captive by the Lamanites.
verse 5 "and his name was Zoram" There are three Zorams in the Book of Mormon. One was the servant of Laban who departed Jerusalem into the wilderness with the family of Lehi. Do not confuse the Zoram in this verse with the Nephite apostate who will later found the sect known as the Zoramites (see Alma 30:59; Alma 30:31). The Zoram in this verse is a noble Nephite chief captain.
"And he had two sons, Lehi and Aha" It is interesting to note that the name Aha is Egyptian for "warrior" (Hugh Nibley, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, volume 1, "Book of Mormon Near Eastern Background"). See also the supplemental article, Names in the Book of Mormon.
6 And it came to pass that Alma inquired of the Lord concerning the matter. And Alma returned and said unto them: Behold, the Lamanites will cross the river Sidon in the south wilderness, away up beyond the borders of the land of Manti. And behold there shall ye meet them, on the east of the river Sidon, and there the Lord will deliver unto thee thy brethren who have been taken captive by the Lamanites.
verse 6 It has been suggested that perhaps Alma used the Nephite interpreters, the Urim and Thummim, in his inquiring of the Lord. We know that he possessed the interpreters (see Mosiah 28:20; Alma 37:24).
7 And it came to pass that Zoram and his sons crossed over the river Sidon, with their armies, and marched away beyond the borders of Manti into the south wilderness, which was on the east side of the river Sidon.
8 And they came upon the armies of the Lamanites, and the Lamanites were scattered and driven into the wilderness; and they took their brethren who had been taken captive by the Lamanites, and there was not one soul of them had been lost that were taken captive. And they were brought by their brethren to possess their own lands.
9 And thus ended the eleventh year of the judges, the Lamanites having been driven out of the land, and the people of Ammonihah were destroyed; yea, every living soul of the Ammonihahites was destroyed, and also their great city, which they said God could not destroy, because of its greatness.
verse 9 "Every living soul of the Ammonihahites was destroyed" An interesting correlation has been drawn between the destruction of the city of Ammonihah and an ancient Israelite law which pronounced the fate of apostate cities (Reexploring the Book of Mormon, 176-79). This law is found in Deuteronomy 13:12-16 and essentially it states: If, in a city inhabited by people of the house of Israel, certain apostate Israelites under the influence of Satan lead the people of the city astray, then you must investigate this tragic happening. If the fact is confirmed, then you must utterly destroy the city with swords and with fire. Also, the city shall not be built up again.
It is likely Alma knew about this ancient tenet of the law of Moses. While he did not have the power or perhaps the desire to decree the destruction of Ammonihah by a righteous Nephite army, he was careful to include in his record the factors that qualified Ammonihah for destruction, and he documented the fact of its destruction. He also justified the destruction as being according to divine law. Consider the following:
1. This law pertained to apostates-"certain men [who] are gone out from among you" (Deuteronomy 13:13). Alma made it clear that those members of the order of the Nehors were apostate Nephites: "If this people, who have received so many blessings from the hand of the Lord, should transgress contrary to the light and knowledge which they do have . . . it would be far more tolerable for the Lamanites than for them" (Alma 9:23).
2. Alma made it clear that Ammonihah's learned leaders, the followers of Nehor, had intended to lead their people away from the Lord (Alma 8:17).
3. Alma also placed the ultimate blame on Satan and his influence over the people of Ammonihah (Alma 8:9).
4. The law required a thorough investigation of the situation. Alma and Amulek accomplished this requirement. After once being rejected, Alma was commanded to return to warn the city that they would be destroyed if they did not repent (Alma 8:16). Then, acting as two witnesses (see Deuteronomy 17:6), Alma and Amulek were forced to watch the horrible burning of the innocent wives and children of the believers (Alma 14:9). Painful as this experience was, it did serve to seal the fate of the wicked city (Alma 14:11).
5. The prescribed mode of execution was the sword. The Lamanites did "slay the people and destroy the city" (Alma 16:2) presumably by the sword.
6. Finally, the law stated that the destroyed city "shall not be built again" (Deuteronomy 13:16). As for Ammonihah: "The people did not go in to possess the land of Ammonihah for many years" (Alma 16:11). Apparently this prohibition against re-establishing the city did expire after a ritual cleansing period of seven years, and people did eventually move back to the city (Alma 49:1-2). Indeed, the destruction of the city of Ammonihah seems to be a remarkable example of God's wrath and judgment.
This verse and the preceding one probably show evidence of Mormon's editing style (see the commentary for Mosiah 25:15-16). Mormon's editorial tendency is to consistently emphasize the fact that the righteous prosper and the wicked suffer. It would seem that he is inclined to edit his stories so that this message is not lost. In verses 8 and 9 he concludes the story of Ammonihah by saying that every person in that city was slain, and every innocent bystander taken captive by the Lamanites was rescued. Note how, in these two verses, he fails to mention those other innocent bystanders, mentioned in verse 3, who were killed "around the borders of Noah." Mormon's tendency is to emphasize the moral message and "clean up" the historical facts so as not to interfere with the precision of his message. Mormon will later explain the defeat around the city of Noah as being due to military weakness (Alma 49:15).
These observations are pointed out, not in the spirit of criticism, but only for the interest of the reader. Mormon's moral message in this case, as they are throughout the Book of Mormon, is profoundly true. There can be no question that an act of God destroyed the Ammonihahites in retribution for their arrogance, brutality, and rejection of his prophets.
Our lives are often complicated jumbles of good and bad, fortune and failure. We have a tendency to attempt to make sense of them or to explain them. Perhaps a word of caution is appropriate about being overly simplistic. The prophet Mormon's tendency is to always emphasize that those who follow God are blessed, while those who reject him suffer. In day-to-day reality, there does, however, seem to be some degree of "mortal arbitrariness" in our successes and failures even though we may strive to be obedient believers.
10 But behold, in one day it was left desolate; and the carcases were mangled by dogs and wild beasts of the wilderness.
verse 10 Alma had predicted a Lamanite attack on Ammonihah (Alma 9:18).
It may be noted that today the acceptable spelling of "carcases" is carcasses, though carcases is also acknowledged in today's dictionaries.
11 Nevertheless, after many days their dead bodies were heaped up upon the face of the earth, and they were covered with a shallow covering. And now so great was the scent thereof that the people did not go in to possess the land of Ammonihah for many years. And it was called Desolation of Nehors; for they were of the profession of Nehor, who were slain; and their lands remained desolate.
verse 11 "it was called Desolation of Nehors" This name was given because so many of its inhabitants had been adherents to the false doctrines of Nehor.
For a discussion the "profession of Nehor" see the commentary for Alma 8:8.
12 And the Lamanites did not come again to war against the Nephites until the fourteenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi. And thus for three years did the people of Nephi have continual peace in all the land.
verse 12 A three-year period of peace, from the eleventh to the fourteenth years of the reign of judges, will end when a large Lamanite army attacks the land of Zarahemla. As with the Lamanite attack on Ammonihah, this attack early in the fifteenth year of the reign of judges will also be precipitated by events occurring in the land of Nephi (see Alma 28). Those Lamanites converted as a result of the efforts of the sons of Mosiah, the Anti-Nephi-Lehies or people of Ammon, will leave the land of Nephi to settle in the land of Zarahemla. They will be pursued by a Lamanite army who will attack Zarahemla (see the Narrative Historical Summary of the book of Alma 23 through 46).
13 And Alma and Amulek went forth preaching repentance to the people in their temples, and in their sanctuaries, and also in their synagogues, which were built after the manner of the Jews.
verse 13 "Preaching repentance" means preaching the principles of the gospel.
"temples . . . sanctuaries . . . synagogues" These are the Nephite places of worship.
We know of three temples in the Book of Mormon lands: (1) The temple in the city of Nephi was originally built under the direction of Nephi himself "after the manner of the temple of Solomon save it were not built of so many precious things" (2 Nephi 5:16). Jacob preached his well-known sermons recorded in Jacob 2 and 3 in this new temple. This temple would later be restored by Zeniff and would serve the "Zeniffites" through the reigns of kings Noah and Limhi. (2) The temple in the city of Zarahemla is first referred to at the time King Benjamin was planning his speech from the tower (Mosiah 1:18) and was probably built during the reign of Mosiah, the father of Benjamin. (3) The temple in the land Bountiful is best known, of course, as the place where the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ will appear to the Nephites.
The "sanctuary" seems to have been a smaller version of the temple such as the one referred to in the city of Sidom (Alma 15:17). These likely contained an altar for the offering of sacrifices. We are told nothing further about these sanctuaries, but perhaps some speculation would not be harmful. When the Elder Alma returned to Zarahemla with his covenant group, he was given authority by the king to "establish churches throughout all the land of Zarahemla" (Mosiah 25:19). These "churches" or congregations met independently of one another. They likely did not have easy access to the temple in the city of Zarahemla. It might well have been that satellite temples or "sanctuaries" were established to give these outlying congregations the opportunity to enjoy the blessings of the temple under direction of ordained "priests."
The word "synagogue" means "gather together." The synagogues in the Book of Mormon were likely simply the places where the Nephites came together to be instructed in the gospel by their ordained "teachers." See the commentary on the Book of Mormon's use of the word synagogue or synagogues in the commentary for 2 Nephi 26:26 and Jacob 7:27.
14 And as many as would hear their words, unto them they did impart the word of God, without any respect of persons, continually.
verse 14 "without any respect of persons" Apparently all who would listen were invited into the congregations of the Nephites without regard to their ethnic background or social standing. Keep in mind the considerable ethnic mix found among the "Nephites" of Zarahemla. For a discussion of this topic, see the commentary for Alma 10:3.
15 And thus did Alma and Amulek go forth, and also many more who had been chosen for the work, to preach the word throughout all the land. And the establishment of the church became general throughout the land, in all the region round about, among all the people of the Nephites.
16 And there was no inequality among them; the Lord did pour out his Spirit on all the face of the land to prepare the minds of the children of men, or to prepare their hearts to receive the word which should be taught among them at the time of his coming-
verse 16 "there was no inequality among them" The Nephite saints during this period had apparently achieved a state of social and economic equality which we do not have even today. Perhaps in some ways they were spiritually more sophisticated than are we!
"the Lord did pour out his Spirit on all the face of the land" Obviously the period just prior to the Lord's mortal sojourn was a time of special spiritual endowment for people on the earth. The Spirit literally poured out his influence upon those who were prepared to respond. The period in which we now live is another time of special spiritual endowment as the earth is being prepared for his second coming (D&C 133:16-17).
17 That they might not be hardened against the word, that they might not be unbelieving, and go on to destruction, but that they might receive the word with joy, and as a branch be grafted into the true vine, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord their God.
verse 17 "as a branch be grafted into the true vine" Christ is the vine. Men are the branches. If a man is grafted onto the true vine or accepts Christ and his gospel, then he brings forth much fruit. If the "branch" does not accept the Savior, then he withers and is cast into the fire (John 15:1; John 15:5).
"that they might enter into the rest of the Lord their God" For a discussion of the concept of the "rest of the Lord," see the commentary for 2 Nephi 21:10. See also "The Rest of the Lord" in chapter 17, Justification and Sanctification in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1. See also a discussion of the closely related gift of hope in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine: see "Two Little-Appreciated Gifts of the Spirit" in volume 1, chapter 10, Deliberate Faith and Revealed Faith. See also "The Fruits of Faith" in volume 1, chapter 11, Other Notes on Faith.
18 Now those priests who did go forth among the people did preach against all lyings, and deceivings, and envyings, and strifes, and malice, and revilings, and stealing, robbing, plundering, murdering, committing adultery, and all manner of lasciviousness, crying that these things ought not so to be-
verse 18 If we can master things of the flesh, then the fruits or blessings of the Spirit will be ours. These include the flow of pure intelligence from God to man, godliness, and charity.
Note again the distinction between "stealing" and "robbing" (plundering). See the commentary for Mosiah 13:22.
19 Holding forth things which must shortly come; yea, holding forth the coming of the Son of God, his sufferings and death, and also the resurrection of the dead.
verse 19 "Holding forth" here means "prophesying or preaching of."
20 And many of the people did inquire concerning the place where the Son of God should come; and they were taught that he would appear unto them after his resurrection; and this the people did hear with great joy and gladness.
verse 20 "he would appear unto them after his resurrection" The year is about 78 BC. It would be more than one hundred years before the Savior's appearance to the Nephites. It would be the descendants of these Nephites rather than these Nephites themselves who would actually witness the Savior's visit.
21 And now after the church had been established throughout all the land-having got the victory over the devil, and the word of God being preached in its purity in all the land, and the Lord pouring out his blessings upon the people-thus ended the fourteenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.