Alma Chapter 21
An account of the preaching of Aaron, and Muloki, and their brethren, to the Lamanites. Comprising chapters 21 to 26 inclusive.
We have read the account of Ammon's missionary experience to this point in the story. We now return to the point where the brothers separated from one another at the beginning of their mission, and we will follow Aaron as he goes forth to preach.
1 Now when Ammon and his brethren separated themselves in the borders of the land of the Lamanites, behold Aaron took his journey towards the land which was called by the Lamanites, Jerusalem, calling it after the land of their fathers' nativity; and it was away joining the borders of Mormon.
verse 1 "Jerusalem . . . was away joining the borders of [the land of] Mormon" For speculation as to the relationship of the various Lamanite lands, see the Hypothetical Map of Book of Mormon Lands. See also the article, Notes on the Hypothetical Map of Book of Mormon Lands.
2 Now the Lamanites and the Amalekites and the people of Amulon had built a great city, which was called Jerusalem.
verse 2 "the Amalekites and the people of Amulon" In a compelling article ("Alma's Enemies-The Case of the Lamanites, Amlicites, and Mysterious Amalekites," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, volume 14, number 1, 2005, 108-117), J. Christopher Conkling has proposed and defended the idea that the Amalekites are not, in fact a new group. Rather, they are the same as the Amlicites (Alma 2-3). This observation is based on two types of evidences we will describe here. First, there exist heretofore little-noticed features of the text that suggest these groups are the same. Second, there are spelling variations in the original handwritten manuscripts written by Oliver Cowdery which suggests that beginning in Alma 21, the spelling of the name of this group changed from its original Amlicites.
The book of Alma begins with Nehor (Alma 1) and quickly moves to a major Nephite threat by the Nephite apostate Amlici, a devotee of Nehor. Amlici and his army are defeated, Amlici is killed, and this Amlicite army seems to disappear (Alma 2), but Alma spends the entire next chapter (Alma 3) telling about the threat and mark of the Amlicites, after their disappearance. This seems to be a lot of detail about a past threat. Alma 3 reads more like a warning and an introduction to a problem than a comment about a problem no longer present. Then 18 chapters later, here in this particular verse, Aaron runs into another group of apostate Nephite troublemakers, the Amalekites. As Alma mentions this group in this verse, he throws their name into the narrative almost casually as if the reader were already fully aware of who they are. Upon reading this verse for the first time, most readers are probably unaware that they have met yet another new group, one with no given origin. At first this casual introduction of a new group called Amalekites might not bother us since the Book of Mormon often takes a shotgun approach to its abbreviated historical record, where names are noted without introduction, including the crucial name Mormon itself (see Mosiah 18:4). However, there are no instances in the Book of Mormon text where a group is introduced without explanation or introduction-the Amalekites are the only exception.
Chronologically, the Amlicites and Amalekites fit together perfectly; they never overlap. Alma tells of his problems with a large group of obstinate Nephite dissenters called Amlicites, who are after the order of Nehor and allied with the Lamanites. We will read further of Aaron and Ammon, who are in the Lamanite lands at the same time period, telling of their problems with another formidable Lamanite ally after the order of Nehor, a people whose name-Amalekites-is spelled much like the name Amlicites. They both pursue the same kinds of goals during the same time period, and they cause the same problems. Both groups are Nephite dissenters. One group is introduced as if it will have ongoing importance. The other is first mentioned as though its identity has already been established. To be sure, the text reads more clearly if these groups are one and the same. John L. Sorenson recognized this strong similarity some years ago and speculated that "it is possible that they [Amalekites] constituted the Amlicite remnant . . . their new name possibly arising by 'lamanitization' of the original" ("Peoples of the Book of Mormon," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow et al., 194).
Dr. Royal Skousen, editor of the long-term Book of Mormon critical text project has also suggested that these two groups are the same. He has noted spellings in the original manuscripts which are intermediate between Amlicite and Amalekite such as Amalicite, Amaleckite, Amelekite, Amalickite, and Amelickite. Dr. Skousen commented that the spelling of this name is rather loose and that many of the common letters, especially the c and the k are interchanged freely. Overall, there is little support of the idea that the Amlicites and Amalekites were two separate groups.
What are the implications of this idea that the Amlicites and Amalekites are the same group? First, we can now see that Alma's warnings in Alma 3 were concerning a threat and problem that Alma felt he was going to have to deal with for the rest of his life. Theoretically Alma could have begun his record with the travels of the sons of Mosiah, but he apparently felt the need to introduce the major conflict faced by both the missionaries sent to the Nephites (Alma and Amulek) and those sent to the Lamanites (the sons of Mosiah) before the record could adequately explain the trials of any group. The great battles during Alma's reign were against Lamanite armies allied with or led by Nephite apostates such as the Amlicites. Alma 43:6 will state "As the Amalekites [Amlicites] were of a more wicked and murderous disposition than the Lamanites were, in and of themselves, therefore, [the dissenter] Zerahemnah appointed chief captains over the Lamanites, and they were all Amalekites [Amlicites] and Zoramites." And Alma 43:13 ties all these groups together in the final battles before Alma's departure: "Thus the Nephites were compelled, alone, to withstand against the Lamanites, who were a compound of Laman and Lemuel, and the sons of Ishmael, and all those who had dissented from the Nephites, who were Amalekites [Amlicites] and Zoramites, and the descendants of the priests of Noah [Amulonites]." Further, when we read of the atrocities encountered by the missionary sons of Mosiah among the Lamanites-including the slaughter of the 1,005 Anti-Nephi-Lehies (see Alma 24:21-22)-perhaps we will be more likely to notice that Alma's mention of the true villains is in line with the book's structure: "The greatest number of those of the Lamanites who slew so many of their brethren were Amalekites [Amlicites] and Amulonites, the greatest number of whom were after the order of the Nehors." And among the converts to the truth "were none who were Amalekites [Amlicites] or Amulonites, or who were of the order of Nehor, but they were actual descendants of Laman and Lemuel" (Alma 24:28-29).
"Jerusalem" This wicked city of Jerusalem will be among those cities destroyed at the time of Christ's crucifixion. The text will explain that Jerusalem and cities like it were destroyed "to hide their wickedness and abominations from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints shall not come up any more unto me against them" (3 Nephi 9:7).
There is a subtle problem suggested by this verse when it is correlated with other verses in the Book of Mormon. Verse 1 of this chapter (Alma 21) suggests that the very first place Aaron traveled to do missionary work was to the city of Jerusalem. We would therefore assume that he traveled there during the first year of the reign of judges, which was the same year he and his brothers departed Zarahemla on their mission to the Land of Nephi. Aaron traveled to Jerusalem, a city which we are told in this verse, had been built in part by Amalekites (actually Amlicites). Yet we do not encounter Nehor (the spiritual father of Amlici and the Amlicites) until the first year of the reign of judges (Alma 1), and we do not encounter Amlici and the Amlicites until the fifth year of the reign of judges (Alma 2). How could the Amlicites have helped build the city of Jerusalem to which Aaron traveled during the first year of the reign of judges, if the Amlicites did not begin as a group until the fifth year of the reign of judges? There seem to be two possible answers, both of which may well be applicable:
1. The record tells of many activities of the missionaries before Aaron reached Jerusalem and never says that he arrived there in the very first year (see Alma 17:6-18). Perhaps he arrived there several years after the beginning of his mission to the Land of Nephi. After all, only a very few incidents are recorded from a mission lasting fourteen years.
2. It seems likely that the problems with both Nehor and Amlici may have been ongoing for several years by the first year of the reign of judges. It seems unlikely that Amlici could rise to prominence with almost half the population's support, undertake a lively national election, receive an illegitimate coronation, raise a large army, move major parts of the Nephite population, form alliances with the Lamanites, and manage three major battles all in one year (see Alma 2:2-3:25). Even modern dictators with advanced transportation and mass communications have not accomplished all that in a single year. It seems likely that the slow building up of a power base and the forging of foreign alliances may have been going on for years before.
I have received the following personal communication from Dr. John L. Sorenson regarding the modern-day geographic correlates between the city of Jersalem and today's Lake Atitlan (the likely correlate of the "waters of Mormon"):
About 35 miles west of Guatemala City lies Lake Atitlan, at about 5100 feet elevation. Its position in relation to other Book of Mormon centers, its size, its scenic beauty, and associated traditions have led to a degree of consensus among serious students of the Book of Mormon that it can be identified as the "waters of Mormon" (Mosiah 8:4-8; Mosiah 8:30; Alma 5:3; Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, 1985, 176-77, 223-25).
In the last few years this correlation has been strengthened in the light of new information. Benitez and Samayoa (2000) first reported ruins of stone buildings at an underwater site they dubbed "Samabaj." The remains were some 17 meters beneath the surface near the south shore. Subsequently, further ruins in the same area of the lake, some at a deeper level, were found. With support from the [Leon] Reinhard Foundation, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography has now (spring, 2007) completed a high-resolution map of the entire lakebed using advanced technology. A series of submerged village ruins can be seen arranged around a major portion of the lake at multiple levels. Several pyramids and at least three stelae [stone pillars or monuments] have also been located.
The suggestion has been made that volcanic intrusions beneath the lake have at times forced the bed, and thus the water, to rise with catastrophic suddenness. Ceramics recovered by divers suggest that these ruins date in part to the Late Preclassic period (probably around the time of Christ-personal communications to Dr. Sorenson from J. E. Clark, L. Reinhart, and T. Rollins). The position of the ruins means of course that the lake level was once much lower than any level known in modern times, and that ecological circumstances in the Lake Atitlan basin were drastically different at that time.
A Book of Mormon correlation to this phenomenon is reported in Alma 21:1-2 and 3 Nephi 9:7. Around 90 BC a "great city" named Jerusalem was built by Lamanites and dissident Nephites not far from the city of Nephi. An aquatic feature adjacent to this Jerusalem was apparently part of the body of water called at a different point on its shore the "waters of Mormon" (Mosiah 18:30; Alma 21:1). Around AD 30, during the catastrophic destruction that took place among the Lehites at the time of the death of Jesus Christ in Palestine, this city of Jerusalem was suddenly overwhelmed by "waters . . . [that came] up in the stead" of the city (3 Nephi 9:7). The geographical correlation that I follow (and have done for the past 35 years, long before any subsurface ruins had been discovered) places the Book of Mormon city of Jerusalem on the southwest shore of these "waters of Mormon," within a few miles of "Samabaj."
The agreement between the flooding of Book of Mormon Jerusalem and the rise of the waters of Lake Atitlan over the Lake Atitlan ruins is striking. There is no evidence of any comparable submergence phenomenon elsewhere in Mesoamerica. This correspondence is thus not simply a minor parallel between text and archaeology but actually is support for the overall geographical correlation that places the land of Nephi in highland southern Guatemala.
3 Now the Lamanites of themselves were sufficiently hardened, but the Amalekites and the Amulonites were still harder; therefore they did cause the Lamanites that they should harden their hearts, that they should wax strong in wickedness and their abominations.
verse 3 "the Amalekites and the Amulonites were still harder" These Nephite dissenters seem to be unable to contain their hatred for the believing Nephites and for the truth, both of which they had betrayed.
4 And it came to pass that Aaron came to the city of Jerusalem, and first began to preach to the Amalekites. And he began to preach to them in their synagogues, for they had built synagogues after the order of the Nehors; for many of the Amalekites and the Amulonites were after the order of the Nehors.
verse 4 "synagogues after the order of the Nehors" It is interesting that the Amalekites and Amulonites and the Lamanites among whom they lived had not rejected religion. They had their own religion, by means of which they promulgated their apostate doctrines.
5 Therefore, as Aaron entered into one of their synagogues to preach unto the people, and as he was speaking unto them, behold there arose an Amalekite and began to contend with him, saying: What is that thou hast testified? Hast thou seen an angel? Why do not angels appear unto us? Behold are not this people as good as thy people?
6 Thou also sayest, except we repent we shall perish. How knowest thou the thought and intent of our hearts? How knowest thou that we have cause to repent? How knowest thou that we are not a righteous people? Behold, we have built sanctuaries, and we do assemble ourselves together to worship God. We do believe that God will save all men.
verse 6 "We do believe that God will save all men." This is the same philosophy that was taught by Satan in the pre-existence (Moses 4:1) and by the Nephite apostate Nehor (Alma 1:4). One might well wonder why they thought it was necessary to build synagogues and sanctuaries and assemble themselves to worship if all men would be saved without any effort. Why bother? Isn't it fascinating to observe that apostates tend to maintain the "form of godliness"?
Note the Amalekite's (Amlicite's) questions in verses 5 and 6. Is it not true even today that false religious groups maintain an ostensibly open-minded and ecumenical attitude. Yet, this same accommodating and considerate attitude is often not extended to the messengers of the true gospel.
7 Now Aaron said unto him: Believest thou that the Son of God shall come to redeem mankind from their sins?
8 And the man said unto him: We do not believe that thou knowest any such thing. We do not believe in these foolish traditions. We do not believe that thou knowest of things to come, neither do we believe that thy fathers and also that our fathers did know concerning the things which they spake, of that which is to come.
verse 8 Those who do not possess the Spirit of God inevitably deny the reality of prophecy and revelation. Even many who professionally function as Bible scholars today do not acknowledge the possibility of biblical prophets' being able to accurately foretell events in the future. A related phenomenon is often seen wherein false religions insist on a closed canon and deny that ongoing revelation is a possibility.
9 Now Aaron began to open the scriptures unto them concerning the coming of Christ, and also concerning the resurrection of the dead, and that there could be no redemption for mankind save it were through the death and sufferings of Christ, and the atonement of his blood.
10 And it came to pass as he began to expound these things unto them they were angry with him, and began to mock him; and they would not hear the words which he spake.
11 Therefore, when he saw that they would not hear his words, he departed out of their synagogue, and came over to a village which was called Ani-Anti, and there he found Muloki preaching the word unto them; and also Ammah and his brethren. And they contended with many about the word.
verse 11 "there he found Muloki . . . and also Ammah and his brethren" Other than the four sons of Mosiah (Ammon, Aaron, Omner, and Himni), Muloki, and Ammah, the names of the others in the missionary company, if indeed there were any others, are not given in the text. As mentioned previously, we also are not given to know exactly how many there were. This verse implies that Ammah might have had some type of special relationship or association with others of the group.
12 And it came to pass that they saw that the people would harden their hearts, therefore they departed and came over into the land of Middoni. And they did preach the word unto many, and few believed on the words which they taught.
13 Nevertheless, Aaron and a certain number of his brethren were taken and cast into prison, and the remainder of them fled out of the land of Middoni unto the regions round about.
14 And those who were cast into prison suffered many things, and they were delivered by the hand of Lamoni and Ammon, and they were fed and clothed.
15 And they went forth again to declare the word, and thus they were delivered for the first time out of prison; and thus they had suffered.
16 And they went forth whithersoever they were led by the Spirit of the Lord, preaching the word of God in every synagogue of the Amalekites, or in every assembly of the Lamanites where they could be admitted.
17 And it came to pass that the Lord began to bless them, insomuch that they brought many to the knowledge of the truth; yea, they did convince many of their sins, and of the traditions of their fathers, which were not correct.
verse 17 "the traditions of their fathers, which were not correct" See the commentary for Alma 20:13. Any Lamanite accepting the truth at that time would have to disavow these firmly held "traditions of their fathers." It is therefore obvious that he ran the risk of rejection and persecution from both family and friends.
For the remainder of this chapter we will return to the account of Ammon. More about Aaron and his brethren later.
18 And it came to pass that Ammon and Lamoni returned from the land of Middoni to the land of Ishmael, which was the land of their inheritance.
verse 18 Why would the land of Ishmael be referred to as "the land of their inheritance," referring to both Ammon and Lamoni? See the commentary for Alma 17:19. We know that the land of Ishmael had been originally established by the sons of Ishmael, and doubtless Lamoni was a descendant of those sons of Ishmael. Ammon was a son of King Mosiah. Ammon's great grandfather was Benjamin's father, Mosiah (sometimes referred to as Mosiah I). This is the Mosiah who, as king over the Nephites in the land of Nephi, first led the Nephites out of the land of Nephi to the land of Zarahemla (see Omni 1:12). We might be inclined to assume that this elder Mosiah was a descendant of Nephi, though we don't really have sufficient information about the early kings of the Nephites in the land of Nephi to make that conclusion. It seems unlikely that the senior Mosiah was a literal descendant of the sons of Ishmael. Thus, we may conclude that the land of Ishmael was at least the literal land of Lamoni's inheritance and very possibly the literal land of Ammon's inheritance.
19 And king Lamoni would not suffer that Ammon should serve him, or be his servant.
verse 19 It is apparent that the Lamanite people in the land of Ishmael had come to respect Ammon even more that they did their own king, Lamoni (see Alma 18:13). It is instructive to observe Lamoni's reaction to this reverence given to his friend Ammon. Was he jealous? Did he seem to resent Ammon's popularity? After all, he could have demanded that Ammon become his servant. Compare the account of King Saul's jealousy when David became more beloved of the people than he (1 Samuel 18:14-16; 1 Samuel 18:28-29). Here is a profound concept: Those who are truly converted to Christ and his gospel are disinclined to feel envy and jealousy for others of God's children. They are not threatened by another's talents and abilities. They are only interested in seeing the kingdom go forth and benefit by the talents and gifts of all who are willing to consecrate their strengths and abilities. They are also interested in the spiritual and temporal welfare of each of the other members of the kingdom to the exclusion of their own welfare. They strive to live the two "greatest commandments"-to love their God and their fellow men. They lose their desire for worldly recognition and reward. As they do so, they are often viewed as being "more than a man" (Alma 18:2) to those whom they love and serve.
20 But he caused that there should be synagogues built in the land of Ishmael; and he caused that his people, or the people who were under his reign, should assemble themselves together.
21 And he did rejoice over them, and he did teach them many things. And he did also declare unto them that they were a people who were under him, and that they were a free people, that they were free from the oppressions of the king, his father; for that his father had granted unto him that he might reign over the people who were in the land of Ishmael, and in all the land round about.
verse 21 "they were free from the oppressions of the king, his father" Prior to the encounter on the road to Middoni, apparently Lamoni ruled his people in the land of Ishmael under governance his father. As a result of Ammon's sparing the life of the king, Lamoni was given sovereign authority over his people by his father (see Alma 20:26).
22 And he also declared unto them that they might have the liberty of worshiping the Lord their God according to their desires, in whatsoever place they were in, if it were in the land which was under the reign of king Lamoni.
verse 22 Obviously Lamoni allowed complete freedom of religious expression to all under his direct rule.
23 And Ammon did preach unto the people of king Lamoni; and it came to pass that he did teach them all things concerning things pertaining to righteousness. And he did exhort them daily, with all diligence; and they gave heed unto his word, and they were zealous for keeping the commandments of God.