Alma Chapter 2
Alma 2 Amlici conspires to be king. He is defeated in an election; brings an army against the Nephites and joins with the army of the Lamanites. The Nephites defeat Amlici's army and the Lamanites army, and Amlici is slain by Alma.
1 And it came to pass in the commencement of the fifth year of their reign there began to be a contention among the people; for a certain man, being called Amlici, he being a very cunning man, yea, a wise man as to the wisdom of the world, he being after the order of the man that slew Gideon by the sword, who was executed according to the law-
verse 1 "in the commencement of the fifth year" There is reason to believe that the Nephite year began in the month we call April (3 Nephi 8:5).
Here we are introduced to another threat to the Nephite reign of judges in the form of Amlici, a follower of Nehor. This was a crucial time for the Alma and his fledging government. Amlici likely had Mulekite roots (see the commentary for Mosiah 25:2). Dr. John L. Sorenson has observed that the Mulekites probably "constituted a numerous population with their own history and cultural features whom the intruding Nephite elite ruled only with difficulty. The Amlicites may have been broadly categorized together with 'the people of Zarahemla,' [the Mulekites] although residing at a distance from the city of Zarahemla and so never headed by the chief (Zarahemla) whom the senior Mosiah encountered and coopted when he led the Nephites from the land of Nephi to the land of Zarahemla. The Amlicites . . . seem not to have traced any connection with Mulek but set themselves apart only under their current leader's name, Amlici. Perhaps they were a local group or set of groups derived in part from Jaredite ancestry or perhaps from ancestors other than Mulek who arrived with his party" ("When Lehi's Party Arrived in the Land, Did they Find Others There?" Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 1/1, 12).
An interesting task, as you study this segment of the Book of Mormon, is to try to draw correlations between the ministry of Alma the Younger and the simultaneous ministry of the sons of Mosiah among the Lamanites. Alma chapter 1 begins the account of the fourteen-year ministry of the younger Alma (Alma 1-16) which occurred simultaneously with the fourteen-year ministry of the sons of Mosiah among the Lamanites (Alma 17-26). Traditionally, it has been difficult to tie these two ministries together. The only concrete touchstone between the two has been the Lamanites' marching to destroy Ammonihah in the 11th year of judges as told by Alma in Alma 16:2-9 and its twin narrative in Alma 25:2-3. One of the perplexing questions has been why there is not a correlation in the sons of Mosiah account (Alma 17-26) with the large movements of Lamanite armies led by the Nephite dissenter Amlici, and involving a Lamanite king (see verses 32-33), here in the fifth year of the reign of judges (the fifth year of both ministries). At this same time, we will learn that Ammon (Alma 18-19) and Aaron (Alma 22) had been dealing with Lamanite kings in the land of Nephi, but the account of the sons of Mosiah mentions nothing of this threatening alliance with the Amlicites. This problem has now been solved through the careful study of the Book of Mormon text by J. Christopher Conkling and others. Brother Conkling has suggested that the Amlici and his adherents the Amlicites, whose exploits we enounter here in this chapter are the same as the Amalekites whom we will encounter in Alma 21-24 (see especially the Alma 21:2-5; Alma 22:7; Alma 24:28-29). The description by Ammon and Aaron of the Amalekites in these verses correlates with Alma's description of the Amlicites in the fifth year of the reign of judges. For a discussion of the reasons why the Amlicites are very likely identical with the Amalekites, see the commentary for Alma 21:2.
Note the long sentences used by Alma (or Mormon) that contain multiple parenthetical expressions. Verses 1 and 2 combine to form one complex sentence. We will learn more about this technique of writing in the commentary for Alma 3:1.
2 Now this Amlici had, by his cunning, drawn away much people after him; even so much that they began to be very powerful; and they began to endeavor to establish Amlici to be king over the people.
verse 2 Among his own people, perhaps largely concentrated in a separate area outside the city of Zarahemla, Amlici was apparently regarded essentially as king. This is perhaps the first instance in the Book of Mormon where we encounter a particular political entity among the Nephites, the "king-men." For a discussion of the "king-men" see the introductory comments for Alma 46.
3 Now this was alarming to the people of the church, and also to all those who had not been drawn away after the persuasions of Amlici; for they knew that according to their law that such things must be established by the voice of the people.
verse 3 This rebellious faction of people led by Amlici posed a real threat to the Nephite system of judges and free elections. Those who accepted the latter recognized this threat and were alarmed by it. Only a majority vote could change the form of government and re-establish a king among the people. Amlici posed the threat of being able to persuade a majority of the people to vote for him.
4 Therefore, if it were possible that Amlici should gain the voice of the people, he, being a wicked man, would deprive them of their rights and privileges of the church; for it was his intent to destroy the church of God.
5 And it came to pass that the people assembled themselves together throughout all the land, every man according to his mind, whether it were for or against Amlici, in separate bodies, having much dispute and wonderful contentions one with another.
verse 5 This verse describes the excited controversy that existed because of this vital issue. We might interpret the word "wonderful" as amazing, exciting, astonishing, astounding, or remarkable.
6 And thus they did assemble themselves together to cast in their voices concerning the matter; and they were laid before the judges.
verse 6 "they were laid before the judges" The people cast their votes, and the judges tallied them.
7 And it came to pass that the voice of the people came against Amlici, that he was not made king over the people.
verse 7 Amlici lost the election. It is notable that even though the new Nephite government was fighting for its very existence, it refrained from contravening the law. "The principle of observing and honoring law duly instituted by the people seems to be an earmark of those who would follow God" (Mae Blanch in Studies in Scripture, Volume Seven, 1 Nephi to Alma 29, 288).
This verse provides evidence that at this point in time, the majority of the Nephites were righteous. What is that evidence? The fact that the "voice of the people" made the correct decision.
8 Now this did cause much joy in the hearts of those who were against him; but Amlici did stir up those who were in his favor to anger against those who were not in his favor.
verse 8 What is Amlici's response to his defeat? We will learn in the following verses that he will consolidate his people, be consecrated as their king, arm them, and incite them to come against the Nephites in open civil war.
9 And it came to pass that they gathered themselves together, and did consecrate Amlici to be their king.
10 Now when Amlici was made king over them he commanded them that they should take up arms against their brethren; and this he did that he might subject them to him.
11 Now the people of Amlici were distinguished by the name of Amlici, being called Amlicites; and the remainder were called Nephites, or the people of God.
12 Therefore the people of the Nephites were aware of the intent of the Amlicites, and therefore they did prepare to meet them; yea, they did arm themselves with swords, and with cimeters, and with bows, and with arrows, and with stones, and with slings, and with all manner of weapons of war, of every kind.
verse 12 "the people of the Nephites" (italics added) This is the first usage of this phrase in the Book of Mormon text. It will be found seventeen additional times. Some have seen in the expression evidence of a complex social structure among the Nephites. The expression suggests that there existed a social stratum called "the Nephites" while another category was "people" who were "of," that is, subordinate to, the "Nephites," even though they all existed under the same central government (John L. Sorenson, "When Lehi's Party Arrived in the Land, Did They Find Others There?" Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1/1, 12).
From the standpoint of the Nephites, this was clearly a "righteous war." That is they were fighting in self defense, and the Lord was with them. However this fact did not prevent them from experiencing the devastation and loss of war. We will learn that thousands of the Nephites, including men, women, and children, will be slain in battle. Also they will suffer devastating losses of flocks and herds and fields of grain.
13 And thus they were prepared to meet the Amlicites at the time of their coming. And there were appointed captains, and higher captains, and chief captains, according to their numbers.
14 And it came to pass that Amlici did arm his men with all manner of weapons of war of every kind; and he also appointed rulers and leaders over his people, to lead them to war against their brethren.
15 And it came to pass that the Amlicites came upon the hill Amnihu, which was east of the river Sidon, which ran by the land of Zarahemla, and there they began to make war with the Nephites.
verse 15 "the river Sidon, which ran by the land of Zarahemla" The phrase "land of Zarahemla" likely has reference to either the city of Zarahemla or perhaps to the local land of Zarahemla which immediately surrounds the city. The river Sidon apparently ran on the east of the city of Zarahemla. If reference to the greater land of Zarahemla were intended, then it might be more appropriate to say "the river Sidon, which ran through the land of Zarahemla."
While it is not possible to know the precise setting for incidents in the Book of Mormon story, it is helpful for a student of the book to have a geographic model in mind as he attempts to follow the specific happenings. Picture, if you will, the River Sidon running, as the Nephites reckoned directions, from south to north through the land of Zarahemla. The river runs within a broad river basin several miles across. This basin is bordered on the west by a range of mountains. In and beyond these mountains is the wilderness called Hermounts. On the east the river basin is bordered by a lower, less rugged range of hills or mountains. Within the basin, the city of Zarahemla is located on the west bank of the river. Across the river to the east is a gradual incline sloping upward toward the bordering hills. This slope is know as the hill Amnihu. Beyond the bordering hills to the east is a valley, the valley of Gideon. Up river from the city of Zarahemla, and beyond the river basin is the land of Minon, a smaller land within the greater land of Zarahemla. From Minon there are two ways to reach the city of Zarahemla. One could travel to the east of the hills bordering the Sidon basin to the valley of Gideon and then enter the basin across the river from the city of Zarahemla. Or, one may travel directly down the west bank of the River Sidon to the city of Zarahemla. See the illustration, Geography of Hill Amnihu.
16 Now Alma, being the chief judge and the governor of the people of Nephi, therefore he went up with his people, yea, with his captains, and chief captains, yea, at the head of his armies, against the Amlicites to battle.
17 And they began to slay the Amlicites upon the hill east of Sidon. And the Amlicites did contend with the Nephites with great strength, insomuch that many of the Nephites did fall before the Amlicites.
18 Nevertheless the Lord did strengthen the hand of the Nephites, that they slew the Amlicites with great slaughter, that they began to flee before them.
19 And it came to pass that the Nephites did pursue the Amlicites all that day, and did slay them with much slaughter, insomuch that there were slain of the Amlicites twelve thousand five hundred thirty and two souls; and there were slain of the Nephites six thousand five hundred sixty and two souls.
20 And it came to pass that when Alma could pursue the Amlicites no longer he caused that his people should pitch their tents in the valley of Gideon, the valley being called after that Gideon who was slain by the hand of Nehor with the sword; and in this valley the Nephites did pitch their tents for the night.
verse 20 One of the minor points made in criticism of the Book of Mormon is the claim that there is no evidence of a tent-making or tent-using tradition in Mesoamerica. Actually Mesoamerican literature makes it clear that tents were in regular use by Aztec armies at the time of the Spanish conquest. The Spanish called them "tiendas." These might have been constructed of straw, grass, or some type of cloth (John L. Sorenson, FARMS Update in Insights [May 1994], 2).
21 And Alma sent spies to follow the remnant of the Amlicites, that he might know of their plans and their plots, whereby he might guard himself against them, that he might preserve his people from being destroyed.
22 Now those whom he had sent out to watch the camp of the Amlicites were called Zeram, and Amnor, and Manti, and Limher; these were they who went out with their men to watch the camp of the Amlicites.
23 And it came to pass that on the morrow they returned into the camp of the Nephites in great haste, being greatly astonished, and struck with much fear, saying:
24 Behold, we followed the camp of the Amlicites, and to our great astonishment, in the land of Minon, above the land of Zarahemla, in the course of the land of Nephi, we saw a numerous host of the Lamanites; and behold, the Amlicites have joined them;
25 And they are upon our brethren in that land; and they are fleeing before them with their flocks, and their wives, and their children, towards our city; and except we make haste they obtain possession of our city, and our fathers, and our wives, and our children be slain.
26 And it came to pass that the people of Nephi took their tents, and departed out of the valley of Gideon towards their city, which was the city of Zarahemla.
27 And behold, as they were crossing the river Sidon, the Lamanites and the Amlicites, being as numerous almost, as it were, as the sands of the sea, came upon them to destroy them.
verse 27 "the Lamanites and the Amlicites, being as numerous almost, as it were, as the sands of the sea" This verse is obvious hyperbole and simply indicates that a relatively large body of soldiers is involved.
28 Nevertheless, the Nephites being strengthened by the hand of the Lord, having prayed mightily to him that he would deliver them out of the hands of their enemies, therefore the Lord did hear their cries, and did strengthen them, and the Lamanites and the Amlicites did fall before them.
verse 28 This must have been a most dramatic moment. Observing the onslaught of an almost innumerable fighting force coming against them, the Nephites must have been overwhelmed with the feeling that they had little chance for victory. Yet they summoned the courage to pray "mightily" to the Lord for help.
29 And it came to pass that Alma fought with Amlici with the sword, face to face; and they did contend mightily, one with another.
30 And it came to pass that Alma, being a man of God, being exercised with much faith, cried, saying: O Lord, have mercy and spare my life, that I may be an instrument in thy hands to save and preserve this people.
verse 30 Here is another exceedingly dramatic moment. Even Alma who was about to contend with the leader of the opposing force in hand to hand combat experienced some element of self doubt. It may well have been that Amlici was younger and stronger than Alma. Alma likely sensed that the outcome of this individual battle might determine the outcome of the larger battle. He was moved to cry out to the Lord, "O Lord, have mercy and spare my life, that I may be an instrument in thy hands to save and preserve this people."
31 Now when Alma had said these words he contended again with Amlici; and he was strengthened, insomuch that he slew Amlici with the sword.
32 And he also contended with the king of the Lamanites; but the king of the Lamanites fled back from before Alma and sent his guards to contend with Alma.
33 But Alma, with his guards, contended with the guards of the king of the Lamanites until he slew and drove them back.
34 And thus he cleared the ground, or rather the bank, which was on the west of the river Sidon, throwing the bodies of the Lamanites who had been slain into the waters of Sidon, that thereby his people might have room to cross and contend with the Lamanites and the Amlicites on the west side of the river Sidon.
35 And it came to pass that when they had all crossed the river Sidon that the Lamanites and the Amlicites began to flee before them, notwithstanding they were so numerous that they could not be numbered.
36 And they fled before the Nephites towards the wilderness which was west and north, away beyond the borders of the land; and the Nephites did pursue them with their might, and did slay them.
37 Yea, they were met on every hand, and slain and driven, until they were scattered on the west, and on the north, until they had reached the wilderness, which was called Hermounts; and it was that part of the wilderness which was infested by wild and ravenous beasts.
verse 37 "the wilderness, which was called Hermounts" This wilderness called Hermounts was a country of wild beasts. It is interesting to note that in Egyptian Hermonthis is the God of wild places (Hugh Nibley, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, "Book of Mormon Near Eastern Background"). Brother Nibley wrote:
We have always thought that the oddest and most disturbing name in the Book of Mormon was Hermounts, since there is nothing either Classical or Oriental about it. So we avoided it, until . . . a student from Saudi Arabia asked point blank what the funny word was. Well, what does the Book of Mormon say it is? Hermounts in the Book of Mormon is the wild country of the borderlands, the hunting grounds, "that part of the wilderness which was infested by wild and ravenous beasts." The equivalent of such a district in Egypt is Hermonthis, the land of Month, the Egyptian Pan-the god of wild places and things. Hermounts and Hermonthis are close enough to satisfy the most exacting philologist (Since Cumorah, 169; see also Nibley, Prophetic Book of Mormon, 246-47, 281).
See also the supplemental article, Names in the Book of Mormon.
"wild and ravenous beasts" Your author has previously defended the view that Central America is the most likely setting for the Book of Mormon story. It is interesting to learn that the jaguar, a carnivorous member of the cat family, is endemic to the jungles of that region.
38 And it came to pass that many died in the wilderness of their wounds, and were devoured by those beasts and also the vultures of the air; and their bones have been found, and have been heaped up on the earth.