Alma Chapter 46
Alma 46 Captain Moroni's Title of Liberty
Alma 46:12-13 Captain Moroni's title of liberty: In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children.
Alma 46-51 Amalickiah, a large and strong man, conspires to be king. He is defeated by Captain Moroni and goes over to the land of the Lamanites. By deception and murder, he becomes the king of the Lamanites and marries the Lamanites queen. He swears an oath to drink the blood of Moroni and leads a large Lamanite army against him and his Nephite army. Amalickiah is eventually killed when Teancum steals into his camp and puts a javelin through his heart. Amalickiah is succeeded by his brother Ammoron.
Typically, following a major war, those who are victorious enjoy a period of post-war economic boom. This likely occurred among the Nephites following their victory over Zerahemnah and his Lamanite army. Many of the Nephites prospered and began to enjoy their prosperity. As might be predicted, along with their material wealth came a desire for more and more of the same. Many became proud and lifted up and began to lust after material things. They turned away from the church and away from considerations of the Spirit toward things of the world. Their tendency was to ignore the admonitions of Helaman, the new spiritual head of the nation, who became alarmed as many "grew proud, being lifted up in their hearts, because of their exceedingly great riches" (Alma 45:24). Helaman's unyielding position became a great annoyance to those people whose hearts were set on the things of the new prosperity, and they formed an opposition party. The Nephites thus came to be divided into two socioeconomic classes, an "elite" class, later to be called the "king-men" and a "common" class, which will later come to be known as the "freemen." Each class had its own disparate interests.
The "king-men" included those who were wealthy, those of high birth some of whom desired to become king themselves. They also included those who sought for more influence over the people. These power seekers included the "lower judges of the land." These were "in favor of kings . . . and were supported by those who sought power and authority over [other] people" (Alma 51:8). The label "king-men" will not actually be applied to this group until some six years hence (Alma 51). Initially this group had no semblance of organization. Rather these individuals or small groups of them created "many little dissensions and disturbances . . . among the people" (Alma 45:21). Then appeared Amalickiah (as had Amlici before him-see Alma 2), a dynamic leader who fused these selfish and greedy Nephite factions into a unified political entity. Amalickiah was determined and ruthless and cared little for his followers. He, of course, desired to be king. He would stop at nothing and will even eventually enter into secret negotiations with the king of the Lamanites to overthrow the Nephite government. Initially he could count on the support of those among the Nephites who were of the "king-men" persuasion. Some of these had been made "exceedingly wroth" by "the words of Helaman and his brethren" to the point that they were even "determined to slay them" (Alma 46:1-2). Eventually his support among the Nephites will dwindle, and he will be forced to seek out the Lamanites to assist him in achieving his aspirations.
Those who opposed the king-men will eventually come to be called the "freemen" (Alma 51). These were the Nephites, often to be found outside the wealthy class, who supported their government and opposed any efforts to overthrow it. They supported Moroni in his opposition to the dangerous coalition led by Amalickiah. The specific title "freemen" also will not be used until six years later in Alma 51. The title "freemen" was not simply a political designation. These Nephites also were inclined to accept and honor their sacred eternal covenants.
Perhaps the very essence of the difference between the king-men and the freemen is their view of equality. Mosiah had warned the people: "Behold, it is not expedient that we should have a king, for thus saith the Lord: ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, nor one man think himself above another; therefore I say unto you that it is not expedient for you to have a king" (Mosiah 23:7). Mosiah also had said: "And I am not better than ye yourselves are; for I am also of the dust (Mosiah 2:26). It is clear that captain Moroni also had almost an obsession for equality, and believed that without it there could be no freedom. Brother Hugh Nibley also shares Moroni's passion for the importance of equality. Speaking of this equality, Brother Nibley wrote:
Jacob gives us some rules: "Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you" (Jacob 2:17). It is not the wealth but the inequality that does the damage. Of unequal distribution Jacob says, "Do ye not suppose that such things are abominable unto him who created all flesh? And the one being is as precious in his sight as the other" (Jacob 2:21). Benjamin recognizes the same danger of acquisitiveness: "I . . . have not sought gold nor silver nor any manner of riches of you; neither have I suffered . . . that ye should make slaves of one another. . . . And even I myself, have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you" (Mosiah 2:12-14). "For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being . . . for all riches which we have of every kind?" (Mosiah 4:19). And when Alma organized his church, "they were all equal, and they did all labor. . . . And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had" (Alma 1:26-27). The main theme is obvious: "For thus saith the Lord: Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man think himself above another" (Mosiah 23:7). "I desire that the inequality should be no more in this land . . . but I desire that this land be a land of liberty, and every man enjoy his rights and privileges alike" (Mosiah 29:32). For this reason, Mosiah laid down the kingship in favor of a system of judges, as a more egalitarian order (Mosiah 23:7). But the great obstacle to freedom was not government but money; to maintain their liberty, Alma's people "were all equal, and they did all labor, every man according to his strength" (Alma 1:26). (How could they be equal in wealth, we ask today, if no two of them were equal in strength?) Under the law of Mosiah and the judges, "there was no law against a man's belief; for it was strictly contrary to the commands of God that there should be a law which should bring men on to unequal grounds" (Alma 30:7). "Now if a man desired to serve God, it was his privilege . . . but if he did not believe in him there was no law to punish him" (Alma 30:9) or to put him at a disadvantage, for the idea was that "all men were on equal grounds." So even Alma, the high priest and chief judge of the land, allowed people to go around preaching atheism. The righteous can preserve their liberty only by remembering the words of the patriarch Jacob in all humility, in all humility considering themselves despised and rejected in the manner of the youthful Joseph (Alma 46:24-27) (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 8, 515-17).
One typical model of the king-men described in the text of the Book of Mormon before the label "king-men" is applied is that of the Zoramites (see Alma 31).
1 And it came to pass that as many as would not hearken to the words of Helaman and his brethren were gathered together against their brethren.
verse 1 These were the king-men who resented Helaman's interference with their materialistic lifestyle. Undoubtedly Helaman's preaching pricked their consciences so that they were most uncomfortable in his presence.
2 And now behold, they were exceedingly wroth, insomuch that they were determined to slay them.
verse 2 Among the broader class of "king-men" were those who were inclined toward violence and terrorism. We will learn in the next verse that this militant subgroup was led by Amalickiah. The final "them" in this verse refers, obviously, to the followers of Helaman.
3 Now the leader of those who were wroth against their brethren was a large and a strong man; and his name was Amalickiah.
verse 3 Of all the characters yet to appear in the Book of Mormon, one of the most dangerous yet to appear is Amalickiah. Brother J. M. Sjodahl suggested that Amalickiah may well have been of Mulekite origin:
Mulek is one of the very interesting words in the Book of Mormon. It was the name, or the title, of the young son of Zedekiah, who, with his attendants, as stated in a previous chapter, escaped from the Babylonians, when Nebuchadnezzar had captured Jerusalem, about 599 BC. . . . It was also the name of a city on "the east borders by the sea shore" (Alma 51:26). There was a land called Melek "on the west of the river Sidon" (Alma 8:3), which name is, clearly, but a variant of Mulek. From these words others are formed, such as Muloki (Alma 20:.2), Amulek (Alma 8:21), and Amaleki and Amalickiah (Omni 30, Alma 46:3) (An Introduction to the Study of the Book of Mormon, 138).
Amalickiah's object was obviously to become king, and as we have noted he started out as head of the most violent of the factions of the king-men, organized in anger and "gathered together against their brethren . . . exceedingly wroth . . . determined to slay them" (verses 1-2).
Hugh Nibley described Amalickiah:
This man was really quite a charmer, "a man of many flattering words," who won a great personal following and "led away the hearts of many people" (Alma 46:10). "A large and a strong man" of imposing presence (Alma 46:3); to a powerful and persuasive rhetoric he added the fierce resolve of one who "had sworn to drink the blood of Moroni," his chief opponent (Alma 51:9). Shrewd and calculating, "a man of cunning device" (Alma 46:10), he knew how to preserve himself: "He did not come down himself to battle" (Alma 49:11). Amalickiah was willing to pay any price in blood to gain his objective, for "he did care not for the blood of his people" (Alma 49:10). His plan was skillfully conceived and executed (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 8, 331-32).
Amalickiah had solid support among "those who were in favor of kings . . . those of high birth, and they sought to be kings; and they were supported by those who sought power and authority over the people" (Alma 51:8). His diabolical career, marked by a thirst for glory and power, will follow the pattern one might expect of Satan were he granted the blessing of a mortal probation.
4 And Amalickiah was desirous to be a king; and those people who were wroth were also desirous that he should be their king; and they were the greater part of them the lower judges of the land, and they were seeking for power.
verse 4 "they were the greater part of them the lower judges of the land" By promising high office and power, Amalickiah added to his followers a host of ambitious local officials, "lower judges of the land . . . seeking for power." These were the same lawmen who had plotted against Helaman's father, Alma, when he had been the head of the state, and of whom Alma had said, "The foundation of the destruction of this people is beginning to be laid by the unrighteousness of your lawyers and your judges" (Alma 10:27).
5 And they had been led by the flatteries of Amalickiah, that if they would support him and establish him to be their king that he would make them rulers over the people.
6 Thus they were led away by Amalickiah to dissensions, notwithstanding the preaching of Helaman and his brethren, yea, notwithstanding their exceedingly great care over the church, for they were high priests over the church.
verse 6 "for they were high priests over the church" Helaman was the chief priest or chief high priest. He and his brethren were high priests after the order of Melchizedek.
7 And there were many in the church who believed in the flattering words of Amalickiah, therefore they dissented even from the church; and thus were the affairs of the people of Nephi exceedingly precarious and dangerous, notwithstanding their great victory which they had had over the Lamanites, and their great rejoicings which they had had because of their deliverance by the hand of the Lord.
verse 7 "there were many in the church who believed in the flattering words of Amalickiah" For a discussion of the various forms of the word flatter, see the commentary for 2 Nephi 28:22.
"thus were the affairs of the people of Nephi exceedingly precarious and dangerous, notwithstanding their great victory which they had had over the Lamanites" This movement led by Amalickiah posed a very dangerous threat to a government that had barely succeeded in making a precarious peace with a foreign enemy of vastly superior forces.
As mentioned, this coalition would later be called the "king-men." They were those who "because of their exceedingly great riches" opposed government controls (Alma 45:24), those who considered themselves the aristocracy "who professed the blood of nobility" (Alma 51:21), "the lower judges of the land, . . . seeking for power" (Alma 46:4), and local judges, officials, and other upper crust bound together by family ties as "kindreds," whose boast was that they had "acquired much riches by the hand of [their] industry" (Alma 10:4, 3 Nephi 6:27).
8 Thus we see how quick the children of men do forget the Lord their God, yea, how quick to do iniquity, and to be led away by the evil one.
9 Yea, and we also see the great wickedness one very wicked man can cause to take place among the children of men.
verse 9 We will learn that the Nephite people were reluctant and sorry to have to take up arms against the Lamanites "because they did not delight in the shedding of blood; . . . [and] they were sorry to be the means of sending so many of their brethren out of this world" (Alma 48:21-23). This was Moroni's attitude as well. Like Alma he insisted on designating the enemy as his "brethren," and he meant it. We will also learn that most of the Lamanites were equally reluctant to go to war against the Nephites (Alma 47:2). Brother Hugh Nibley has thus cautioned us against regarding the Nephite-Lamanite wars as situations of "the good people against the bad people." Instead they are often examples of "the great wickedness one very wicked man can cause" (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 7, 306).
10 Yea, we see that Amalickiah, because he was a man of cunning device and a man of many flattering words, that he led away the hearts of many people to do wickedly; yea, and to seek to destroy the church of God, and to destroy the foundation of liberty which God had granted unto them, or which blessing God had sent upon the face of the land for the righteous' sake.
verse 10 "he was a man of cunning device and a man of many flattering words" See verse 7.
"the foundation of liberty which God had granted unto them, or which blessing God had sent upon the face of the land for the righteous' sake" This refers to the covenant between God and the Nephite peoples: "Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments [my covenants], ye shall prosper in the land. . . . And again it is said that: Inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord" (Alma 9:13). Again, this is the "promise/curse" of the Book of Mormon. See the commentary for 2 Nephi 1:20 and Covenants and Covenant Making in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, chapter 3.
verses 11-22 These following twelve verses contain the memorable account of Moroni and his "title of liberty." Please review the introductory commentary for Alma 43 which emphasizes Moroni's covenant-theology orientation.
When the Nephites are threatened by the Nephite dissenter Amalickiah and his followers, Moroni feels the need to re-commit himself and his fellow Nephites to their most fundamental covenant which has its origins in God's revelation to father Lehi: "Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments [my covenants], ye shall prosper in the land. . . . And again it is said that: Inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord" (Alma 9:13). It is clear that captain Moroni interpreted this covenant promise literally and believed it implicitly. In ancient Israelite thought, the covenant was the very foundation for government.
In a pattern wholly consistent with ancient practice, Moroni ritualized this covenant by tearing his coat and writing upon it-"In memory or our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children" (verse 12). Hugh Nibley has called our attention to similar covenant rituals among ancient peoples ("New Approaches to Book of Mormon Study." The Prophetic Book of Mormon, ed. John W. Welch. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989. 92-95). For example, Moroni's tearing of his coat and demanding of his soldiers an oath of loyalty was typical Near Eastern military practice (deVaux, Ancient Israel, 214- 28).
Moroni then fastened the title of liberty to the end of a pole, dressed in his armor, and prayed mightily to the Lord for renewal of this vital covenant. He said: "Surely God shall not suffer that we, who are despised because we take upon us the name of Christ [enter into this covenant], shall be trodden down and destroyed until we bring it upon us by our own transgressions" (verse 18). Moroni then went out among the Nephites, inviting them to come and renew their covenants. They also rent their garments and cast them at the feet of Moroni to symbolize the fact that if they did not live up to their covenants, "the Lord should rend them even as they had rent their garments" (verse 12). It is obvious that the Nephites did not dichotomize their world into church and state as we do today. For them war was an all-important religious affair. They felt that God's will was often revealed through the ordeal of battle. God could scourge and punish his people by the ravages of war, or he could march at the head of their army and give them the victory.
On a lighter note, it has been suggested that each of us, in the various circumstances and situations of our lives, has to decide whether to "fly our title of liberty" or to "keep our pearls in our pocket." These pearls are, of course, those pearls we do not wish to "cast before swine." In some circumstances we may come to feel that a principle of the gospel needs to be heard by all present. Even though you may not know whether you will be accepted or rejected, you may feel it necessary to "fly your title" and stick up for the gospel principle. Often times others will come to our support in that circumstance. There are people who will support, but they don't dare be the first to raise their title of liberty. At other times you may feel that it is best to not bring up a gospel principle that is being violated, and you may decide to "keep your pearls in your pocket."
11 And now it came to pass that when Moroni, who was the chief commander of the armies of the Nephites, had heard of these dissensions, he was angry with Amalickiah.
verse 11 Apparently Moroni was caught off guard by Amalickiah's evil designs. Perhaps Moroni's own guileless nature was simply slow to accept that any one could be guilty of such a vicious and deceitful plan.
12 And it came to pass that he rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it-In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children-and he fastened it upon the end of a pole.
verse 12 Brother Hugh Nibley added insight to the concept of the title of liberty:
We have in the Title of Liberty episode a clear and independent parallel to ancient Iranian tradition, for Moroni's banner is just like the "Flag of Kawe" . . . the legendary founder of the Magi. . . . To liberate the people there rose up in Isfahan a mighty man, a blacksmith named Kawe, who took the leather apron he wore at his work and placed it on the end of a pole; this became the symbol of liberation and remained for many centuries the national banner of the Persians as well as the sacred emblem of the Magi (Approach to the Book of Mormon, 214-17; see also Nibley, Since Cumorah, 2nd edition [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1988], 242; and Nibley, Prophetic Book of Mormon, 92-95).
13 And he fastened on his head-plate, and his breastplate, and his shields, and girded on his armor about his loins; and he took the pole, which had on the end thereof his rent coat, (and he called it the title of liberty) and he bowed himself to the earth, and he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren, so long as there should a band of Christians remain to possess the land-
verse 13 "he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren" Conceptually, liberty is identical to freedom. Both must be clearly differentiated from the concept of agency (see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 13, Agency and Freedom).
14 For thus were all the true believers of Christ, who belonged to the church of God, called by those who did not belong to the church.
verse 14 The antecedent for this verse is the word "Christians" in the previous verse. As we have mentioned previously, the word Christ (and hence Christian) is of Greek origin-from the Greek Christos. There obviously was no Greek language or influence found on the Book of Mormon plates. The word therefore came from Joseph Smith's culture. Joseph obviously, in his translation, came to a title for Christ and a title for his followers. The best words he had in his vocabulary for these titles were "Christ" and "Christian." It is interesting that the term "Christian," or whatever term the Book of Mormon peoples used, was used as a label of derision in Moroni's day by those who did not belong the church. And yet, Mormon acknowledges that it was also a label accepted gladly by those who were in fact true believers, those who had taken upon themselves the name of Christ (verse 15).
15 And those who did belong to the church were faithful; yea, all those who were true believers in Christ took upon them, gladly, the name of Christ, or Christians as they were called, because of their belief in Christ who should come.
verse 15 "those who were true believers in Christ took upon them, gladly, the name of Christ" In the Book of Mormon the making of covenants is usually connected with "taking the name of Christ" upon one's self. This making of covenants includes the idea of "renaming" or being taken by adoption. In this case one takes upon one's self the name of Christ and is adopted into his family, one becomes a son or daughter of Christ.
Anti-Mormons have pointed to this verse as a contradiction between the Book of Mormon and the New Testament. They point out that Acts 11:26 teaches that "the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch." It is likely that Joseph Smith, in the process of translation perceived a title for the believers and used a term familiar to him. Additionally, Luke, in Acts, may well have referred to his own dispensation-this was the first time in his day that the term Christian was used. Certainly in those other dispensations who knew of and believed in Christ could have been called after his name. One scholar, actually an Evangelical, Craig L. Blomberg has pointed out an analogous situation in the book of Exodus (3:15) in which God seemingly reveals his name, "the LORD," ("Yahweh" or "Jehovah") for the first time to Moses, even though this term has frequently appeared already in Genesis. Blomberg argues that the earlier references are merely a "retrojection" of the title from Moses's day into narratives of earlier times, since it was clearly the same God in each case.
16 And therefore, at this time, Moroni prayed that the cause of the Christians, and the freedom of the land might be favored.
17 And it came to pass that when he had poured out his soul to God, he named all the land which was south of the land Desolation, yea, and in fine, all the land, both on the north and on the south-A chosen land, and the land of liberty.
verse 17 The expression "in fine" means in conclusion or in summary.
"he named all the land, both on the north and on the south-A chosen land" In this verse it is difficult to know exactly which land is being named what. Hugh Nibley has suggested that Moroni's intent here was, as was the custom in ancient Israel before a battle, to bless his own land and curse the land of his enemy. It seems that Dr. Nibley felt that by placing a comma between "land" and "Desolation" one might interpret this verse as meaning that Moroni called the enemy lands in the south "Desolation" and all the other lands "a chosen land" (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 7, 243).
An alternate interpretation would be that he regarded all the land south of the ancient Jaredite land of Desolation, held either by the Nephites (in the north) or by the Lamanites (in the south), as a covenant and blessed land.
18 And he said: Surely God shall not suffer that we, who are despised because we take upon us the name of Christ, shall be trodden down and destroyed, until we bring it upon us by our own transgressions.
verse 18 "we, who are despised" Moroni here reminds his people to recognize their position as the meek and humble of the world-"we, who are despised." Moroni regarded as the enemy the rich and well-born, the king-men whose "pride and nobility" Moroni boldly denounces (Alma 51:18).
19 And when Moroni had said these words, he went forth among the people, waving the rent part of his garment in the air, that all might see the writing which he had written upon the rent part, and crying with a loud voice, saying:
verse 19 "waving the rent part of his garment in the air" Brother John A. Tvedtnes provided interesting insight on this verse:
It should first of all be pointed out that the author will contend, on the basis of the evidence to be given, that the Book of Mormon, in its English form as provided by Joseph Smith, is in many respects a nearly literal translation. Thus, many of the expressions found therein do not properly belong to the English language, but rather to the language from which the book was translated. Indeed, in most cases thus far investigated, Book of Mormon expressions which are ungrammatical in English are perfect Hebrews grammar. (In view of the fact that Joseph Smith did not know Hebrew in those early years, this is good evidence for the authenticity of the translation.) For example, in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, we read that "when Moroni had said these words, he went forth among the people, waving the rent [note that it did not say "rent part" as does our current edition] of his garment in the air." When the word "rent" is used as a noun in English, it may refer to a hole caused by rending, but not, to my knowledge, to a portion of rent cloth; the unlikely usage of "rent" in English as a noun no doubt contributed to the fact that, in subsequent editions of the Book of Mormon, it was changed to read "rent part" (Alma 46:19). But the Hebrews would, in this instance, use but one word, qera', "rent," coming from qara', for nouns, in Hebrew, are derived from roots-as are Hebrew verbs-by the addition of certain vowel patterns that distinguish them from other parts of speech (BYU Studies, volume 11, 50).
20 Behold, whosoever will maintain this title upon the land, let them come forth in the strength of the Lord, and enter into a covenant that they will maintain their rights, and their religion, that the Lord God may bless them.
verse 20 "whosoever will maintain this title upon the land" Alternately we may phrase this, "whosoever will enter into the covenant this flag symbolizes."
21 And it came to pass that when Moroni had proclaimed these words, behold, the people came running together with their armor girded about their loins, rending their garments in token, or as a covenant, that they would not forsake the Lord their God; or, in other words, if they should transgress the commandments of God, or fall into transgression, and be ashamed to take upon them the name of Christ, the Lord should rend them even as they had rent their garments.
verse 21 "the Lord should rend them even as they had rent their garments" If these people forsake this covenant and forsake the Lord, they will be subject to a curse. Note that the curse is given here in the so-called "simile curse" form (for a discussion of the simile curse, see the commentary for Mosiah 12:2-12). The curse is repeated in the same simile curse form in the following verse.
As we read these verses, we might tend to see this as merely a moment of great national feeling and patriotism among the Nephites. There is more here than mere patriotism. As Moroni rallies his forces, it is not to some partisan political cause but to the cause of their covenants with God. These Nephites were evidencing their feelings for the covenants they had made with the Lord. They felt deeply the necessity of keeping these covenants in order to be preserved in the land.
22 Now this was the covenant which they made, and they cast their garments at the feet of Moroni, saying: We covenant with our God, that we shall be destroyed, even as our brethren in the land northward, if we shall fall into transgression; yea, he may cast us at the feet of our enemies, even as we have cast our garments at thy feet to be trodden under foot, if we shall fall into transgression.
verse 22 "covenant with our God that we shall be destroyed, even as our brethren in the land northward, if we shall fall into transgression" Soldiers ran to Moroni and cast their rent garments at his feet as a sign that they had entered into the covenant-that if they should "fall into transgression," God might "cast us at the feet of our enemies, even as we have cast our garments at thy feet to be trodden under foot."
It is clear that these Nephites regarded this impending war with Amalickiah and the Lamanites as a "holy war." They believed that wars occurred under divine direction; that wars were fought with the approval and help of God; and their wars often ended with offerings of thanks to God. The Nephites perspective of war accurately represented that of ancient Israel which centered its ideology of war on God himself. A perusal of the Old Testament makes this clear. Stephen D. Ricks wrote:
The Lord himself is described as a "warrior" and "the Lord strong and mighty . . . in battle" (Psalm 24:8). . . . The wars that Israel fought were "the Lord's battles" (1 Samuel 18:17); indeed, among the lost books of ancient Israel is "the Book of the Wars of the Lord" (Numbers 21:14). The enemies of Israel were the enemies of the Lord (see Judges 5:31; 1 Samuel 30:26), who assists Israel in battle (see Joshua 10:11; Joshua 24:12; 1 Samuel 17:45). The Lord was consulted (see Judges 20:18; Judges 20:28; 1 Samuel 14:37) and sacrifice was offered (see 1 Samuel 7:9; 1 Samuel 13:9; 1 Samuel 13:12) before hostilities were initiated. When Israel went to war, its army was called "the people of the Lord" (Judges 5:11), "the people of God" (Judges 20:2), or "the armies of the living God" (1 Samuel 17:26).
Combatants in the Israelite armies were expected to be ritually clean at the time they went out to battle. . . .
God insisted on strict observance of his commands when Israel was going to war. The consequences for violations could be devastating. They could suffer defeat in battle that could only be rectified by the punishment of the wrongdoer (see Joshua 7) ("Holy War: The Sacral Ideology of War in the Book of Mormon and in the Ancient Near East," Warfare in the Book of Mormon, edited by Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin, 103-17).
The "brethren" referred to here are obviously the Jaredites. Why would these Nephites refer to the Jaredites as their "brethren." Perhaps there were people living among them who were descendants of the Jaredites (see the commentary for Ether 15:32). It is interesting that Anthon W. Ivins, who later became a counselor in the First Presidency of the Church, speculated that Coriantumr, the final Jaredite king, survived among the people of Zarahemla long enough to sire descendants ("Are the Jaredites an Extinct People?" Improvement Era 6 [November 1902]: 43-44). Perhaps captain Moroni himself was one of those descendants. In Hebrew the name Moroni means "one from Moron," which was the Jaredite capital. Since it is simplistic to claim that Coriantumr was literally the last living person of the Jaredite nation, we might also add that others of Jaredite descent might have found there way among the Nephites.
"he may cast us at the feet of our enemies, even as we have cast our garments at thy feet to be trodden under foot, if we shall fall into transgression" Hugh Nibley wrote: "treading on one's garments while making a covenant" follows a "forgotten but peculiar old Jewish rite" ("Freemen and King-men in the Book of Mormon." The Prophetic Book of Mormon. Editor John W. Welch [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989] 328-79).
verses 23-24 Captain Moroni desired to re-covenant his people to keep the commandments. As covenants are often made in association with ritual and symbolism, Moroni chose to tear his coat as a symbol of the covenant. He then invited his people to tear their coats in like manner. This tearing of his coat was intended to symbolize that if he and his people did not keep their covenants to obey the Lord's commands, their coats would be torn by their brethren the Lamanites, and they would be trodden under foot and be imprisoned. Now, where did Moroni get the idea to tear his coat and to use it as the symbol of the covenant? Was it his own idea? Was there a scriptural precedent? Read on!
23 Moroni said unto them: Behold, we are a remnant of the seed of Jacob; yea, we are a remnant of the seed of Joseph, whose coat was rent by his brethren into many pieces; yea, and now behold, let us remember to keep the commandments of God, or our garments shall be rent by our brethren, and we be cast into prison, or be sold, or be slain.
verse 23 We are about to learn the essential reason why Moroni chose the symbolism of a torn coat as he attempted to re-covenant his people.
"Joseph, whose coat was rent by his brethren into many pieces" We learn that ancient Joseph's coat of many colors was torn into many pieces by his resentful brothers. Is that true? Was Joseph's coat torn by his brothers? If you check the biblical account of the story of Joseph and his "coat of many colors" (Genesis 37), there are a few things that were "rent" but Joseph's coat was not one of them. The Genesis account says nothing about Joseph's coat being torn into many pieces. Perhaps the account of this story on the plates of brass was different in its detail, for apparently Joseph's coat was torn into pieces. Dr. John A. Tvedtnes wrote:
Aside from Alma 46:23, the only document I know of that clearly indicates that the brothers tore Joseph's garment is the thirteenth-century collection of earlier Jewish stories known as the Book of Jasher: "And they hastened and took Joseph's coat and tore it, and they killed a kid of the goats and dipped the coat into the blood of the kid, and then trampled it in the dust, and they sent the coat to their father Jacob" (Jasher 43:13) (Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, ed. Parry, Peterson, Welch, 236-37).
One cannot fail to note the parallel with Moroni's soldiers, who cast their garments down "to be trodden under foot" (verse 22).
Could Joseph Smith have known that the coat of ancient Joseph had been torn into pieces by his brothers? He obviously could not have known from the Bible; and since the Book of Jasher could not have come to Joseph Smith's attention until it was published in English in 1840, he could not have known from that source either. It is obvious, however, that this medieval Jewish document shares an ancient tradition also found in the Book of Mormon.
Moroni, here, uses Joseph's torn coat as a powerful symbol. In addition to representing the possible destruction of each individual, were they to become disobedient, it represented also the separation and scattering of the house of Joseph. Moroni is attempting to save his people from the eternal effects of their sins by encouraging them to covenant to obey the commandments. The rending of his coat (Alma 46:12) and the making it the "Title of Liberty" was in similitude of Joseph's brothers' unknowingly rending Joseph's coat. The coat became a symbol of the rending or scattering of the seed of Joseph.
The story of the ancient prophet Joseph was historical proof that jealousy and contention could lead to bondage, but that faithfulness to covenants with God leads to preservation and liberty. Anciently, Joseph was a symbol of freedom and liberty.
"let us remember to keep the commandments of God, or our garments shall be rent by our brethren, and we be cast into prison, or be sold, or be slain" It is clear that a curse is implied in this phrase. Those who failed to keep the commandments would be cast into prison, sold, or slain. This is an example of the "prophetic symbolic curse," other examples of which are found in the Bible and elsewhere in the Book of Mormon (see Isaiah 20:2-4; Ezekiel 5:1-17; 3 Nephi 4:28-29; Alma 44:12-14).
There is also a certain spirit or attitude in which Moroni was asking the Nephites to commit themselves to defense of their Nephite lands. They were asked to recognize their position as the meek and humble of the world in contrast to the rich and proud, the "king-men" whom Moroni denounces. They are invited to march under the tattered and torn garment of Moroni which represented the torn garment of ancient Joseph who was the outcast child who was stripped and beaten and sold into bondage in Egypt.
24 Yea, let us preserve our liberty as a remnant of Joseph; yea, let us remember the words of Jacob, before his death, for behold, he saw that a part of the remnant of the coat of Joseph was preserved and had not decayed. And he said-Even as this remnant of garment of my son hath been preserved, so shall a remnant of the seed of my son be preserved by the hand of God, and be taken unto himself, while the remainder of the seed of Joseph shall perish, even as the remnant of his garment.
verse 24 In this verse, Moroni continues the comparison with ancient Joseph by mentioning an interesting prophecy made by Jacob. Apparently, some time before his death, Jacob was shown a preserved remnant of the coat which he had previously given to his son Joseph. Jacob used that occasion to prophesy about the descendants of his son Joseph. Some would be preserved by the hand of God, and some would perish. Where might Joseph Smith have learned of this prophecy? Is it recorded in the Bible? It is not! All we have in the Bible is the account of Joseph's brothers bringing Joseph's coat soaked in goat's blood to Jacob. Jacob concluded that his son had been killed by an "evil beast" (Genesis 37:31-35). It is, however, fascinating to learn that in ancient apocryphal literature, there are stories about preserved remnants of Joseph's coat being shown to Jacob as proof that he was yet alive. Brother Hugh Nibley provides such an example:
The Nephite prophet Moroni tells a story, which he says was common property of his people, concerning the death of the patriarch Jacob (Alma 46:24-25). I have never come across this story except in Tha'labi-who in Joseph Smith's America had access to Tha'labi? Tha'labi, a Persian in the tenth century AD, went about collecting old stories of the prophets from his Jewish neighbors. The story in barest outline is that when the garment of Joseph was brought to Jacob on his deathbed, he rejoiced because part of it was sound and whole, signifying that some of his descendants would always remain true; but he wept because another part of the garment was befouled and rotted away, signifying that part of his descendants that would fall away. The same story is told with the same interpretation in Tha'labi and in the book of Alma, in the latter significantly as a popular folk-tale. The presence of such a story among the Hebrews has been indicated in a recent study by a Jewish scholar, but could Joseph Smith wait until 1953 to read about it? (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 8, 249).
John A. Tvedtnes has added another account which contributes to the tradition that Joseph's torn coat was preserved:
The preservation of Joseph's garment is noted in the Zenahu La-Yosef, an Ethiopic manuscript from the Dabra Bizon monastery, in which Benjamin, eating with the Egyptian official he did not yet know to be his brother Joseph, told him of his lost brother and of his father Jacob's mourning: "He looks at his [Joseph's] garment stained in his blood. He puts it in front of him, and soaks it every day with the tears of his eyes." According to a Muslim tradition reported by as-Kisa'i, Jacob, before sending his sons to Egypt for the second time, gave "Joseph's shirt to Benjamin to wear, the one that had been brought to him spattered with blood" (Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, ed. Parry, Peterson, and Welch, 237).
Here the preservation of the rent garment of ancient Joseph seems to have symbolized the covenants of God to preserve a posterity unto Jacob and Joseph. While those descendants of Joseph who reject the covenants through apostasy and dissension shall perish, God will preserve a remnant of the seed of Joseph. In verse 27 Moroni suggests that it might well be that the remnant of the seed of Joseph which shall perish are those who have dissented from the Nephites. We will learn, however, from the Book of Mormon, that by the time of the ultimate scattering of the Book of Mormon peoples in about AD 385, there will be no clear blood lineage distinction between Nephites and Lamanites.
Moroni's torn garment, then, just as the torn coat of Joseph, represented the covenants of God to preserve his people based on their obedience.
The word remnant is used often in the Bible and Book of Mormon. Remnant means a small part or fragment. The word in scripture is most often used to refer to a small part of the house of Israel. It seems feasible that its use in this context originated in the legend of Jacob's being shown, just prior to his death, a remnant of Joseph's coat that had been preserved.
25 Now behold, this giveth my soul sorrow; nevertheless, my soul hath joy in my son, because of that part of his seed which shall be taken unto God.
26 Now behold, this was the language of Jacob.
27 And now who knoweth but what the remnant of the seed of Joseph, which shall perish as his garment, are those who have dissented from us? Yea, and even it shall be ourselves if we do not stand fast in the faith of Christ.
verse 27 Mormon might well have inserted between the two sentences in this verse: "And, in case you're inclined to be smug . . .." He might also have added the important lesson that righteousness does not consist in only being identified with this or that nation, group, or church. The people are not to be considered righteous simply by virtue of being Nephites and not Lamanites.
Moroni viewed dissidents as covenant-breakers whose lack of trust in God and lack of concern for the community of the saints put the whole people in jeopardy. It is obvious that the chronicler Mormon agreed with him. They both saw dissention as the root cause of Nephite problems (see Alma 51:16). This view is not difficult to understand since literally every enemy the Nephites engaged in the "war chapters" of Alma (chapters 43-62) were Nephite dissenters who had joined militarily with the Lamanites. It is obvious that Mormon wants us to learn the wickedness and dangers of dissention and dissenters, and of covenant-breaking and covenant-breakers.
28 And now it came to pass that when Moroni had said these words he went forth, and also sent forth in all the parts of the land where there were dissensions, and gathered together all the people who were desirous to maintain their liberty, to stand against Amalickiah and those who had dissented, who were called Amalickiahites.
29 And it came to pass that when Amalickiah saw that the people of Moroni were more numerous than the Amalickiahites-and he also saw that his people were doubtful concerning the justice of the cause in which they had undertaken-therefore, fearing that he should not gain the point, he took those of his people who would and departed into the land of Nephi.
verse 29 Seeing that he had insufficient support among the Nephites, Amalickiah shows his true colors and leads away his most devoted followers to the land of the Lamanites to seek additional man-power support there.
30 Now Moroni thought it was not expedient that the Lamanites should have any more strength; therefore he thought to cut off the people of Amalickiah, or to take them and bring them back, and put Amalickiah to death; yea, for he knew that he would stir up the Lamanites to anger against them, and cause them to come to battle against them; and this he knew that Amalickiah would do that he might obtain his purposes.
31 Therefore Moroni thought it was expedient that he should take his armies, who had gathered themselves together, and armed themselves, and entered into a covenant to keep the peace-and it came to pass that he took his army and marched out with his tents into the wilderness, to cut off the course of Amalickiah in the wilderness.
32 And it came to pass that he did according to his desires, and marched forth into the wilderness, and headed the armies of Amalickiah.
verse 32 "and headed the armies of Amalickiah" The verb "head" here means to head off or to intercept.
33 And it came to pass that Amalickiah fled with a small number of his men, and the remainder were delivered up into the hands of Moroni and were taken back into the land of Zarahemla.
34 Now, Moroni being a man who was appointed by the chief judges and the voice of the people, therefore he had power according to his will with the armies of the Nephites, to establish and to exercise authority over them.
35 And it came to pass that whomsoever of the Amalickiahites that would not enter into a covenant to support the cause of freedom, that they might maintain a free government, he caused to be put to death; and there were but few who denied the covenant of freedom.
verse 35 Please don't miss the subtle humor in this verse! Is there humor in the Book of Mormon? Brother Steven C. Walker has observed:
Perhaps the most unappreciated aspect of Book of Mormon concentration is its humor. That lack of appreciation probably testifies to the effectiveness of the humor, since its essence is understatement, a laconic refusal to push the punch line. I suspect that the tongue-in-cheek British laugh more than we Americans in reading the Book of Mormon. The high seriousness of its context can easily distract those used to more explicit humor from the smile on the face of the writer of such a statement as "Whomsoever of the Amalickiahites that would not enter into a covenant to support the cause of freedom . . . he caused to be put to death; and there were but few who denied the covenant of freedom" (Alma 46:35), or "Neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites" (4 Nephi 17), or "For if their wine would poison a Lamanite it would also poison a Nephite" (Alma 55:32) (BYU Studies, volume 20, Number 2, 202).
Some have been upset by Moroni's treatment of these dissenters. The Book of Mormon actually teaches a careful regard for the rights of dissenters to think and believe what they want to and a respect for their rights of conscience. Thus, "the law could have no power on any man for his belief" (Alma 1:17; Alma 1:30:9). However, for their illegal actions dissenters could indeed be punished (Words of Mormon 1:15-16; Alma 1:16-18; Alma 30:10-11). Moroni clearly endured a great deal of affliction without reacting coercively, and apparently without insisting on strict or speedy enforcement of the laws, precisely because he respected the rights of conscience of the dissenters. It has been said that Zion cannot be built by force. Many things (indeed, most important things) cannot be accomplished by compulsion. Moroni consistently used as little coercion as the circumstances required, asserting military force only as a last resort, and repeatedly allowing dissenters who had taken arms in rebellion to "escape" strict justice (Alma 46:35; Alma 50:36; Alma 51:20-21). Perhaps he believed that punishment and force could not convert their consciences. Repentance and conversion are matters of conscience. Because the conscience usually revolts when force is applied, force should be avoided whenever possible if the goal is to reclaim the dissenters, as it always should be (Lynn D. Wardle, "Dissent: Perspectives from the Book of Mormon" in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 65).
Brother Hugh Nibley has drawn an analogy between Moroni's campaigns and those of Simon Bar Kochba. Bar Kochba was the leader of the Jews in Palestine during their insurrection against the Romans in AD 132-35. He raised a large army among the Jews and was initially successful in defeating the Romans. Eventually his army was defeated and he was killed in AD 135. Brother Nibley says:
Bar Kochba's war, like Moroni's, was a holy war, a "Messianic war." In the struggle for liberation, Bar Kochba found his hands full dealing with all kinds of people and problems. For one thing, he found that "some of the wealthier citizens" of a city were "evaders of national duties." Specifically, they were "disregarding the mobilization orders of Bar Kochba," who became exceedingly angry and issued dire threats against them, including even the death penalty. Compare this with Moroni in a like situation: "And it came to pass that whomsoever of the Amalickiahites that would not enter into a covenant to support the cause of freedom, . . . he caused to be put to death; and there were but few who denied the covenant of freedom" (Alma 46:35). Bar Kochba had to deal with just such characters, and he did it in the same way. To the "brothers" (for so he calls them, as Moroni does all to whom he writes) in the city of En-Gedi, he personally wrote a letter in Hebrew that survives to this day: "To Masabala and to Yehonathan bar Be'ayan, peace. In comfort you sit, eat and drink from the prosperity of the House of Israel, and care nothing for your brothers." Moroni wrote a letter from the field: "To Pahoran, in the city of Zarahemla . . . and also to all those who have been chosen by this people to govern and manage the affairs of this war" (Alma 60:1). "Can you think to sit upon your thrones [today he might have used a more slang term] in a state of thoughtless stupor, while your enemies are spreading the work of death around you? Yea, while they are murdering thousands of your brethren?" (Alma 60:7). To such people Moroni issues a dire threat: "And I will come unto you, and . . . behold I will stir up insurrections among you, even until those who have desires to usurp power and authority shall become extinct" (Alma 60:27). If this sounds shockingly severe, the provocation was as terrible: Moroni, like Bar Kochba, was holding on by the skin of his teeth. . . . But if the secret of Moroni's success was his essential gentleness-he always called a halt to the fighting the instant the enemy, whom he called his "brethren," showed the least inclination to parley-it has often been said that Bar Kochba's undoing was the lack of such a redeeming quality. "His brutality, according to some sources, was manifested in the way he killed the revered Rabbi Eleazar of Modi'in, . . . whom Bar Kochba suspected of betraying the secrets of Bethar [a city under attack] to the Romans. This cruel act, according to the same sources, caused Bar Kochba's death, and the fall of Bethar" (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 8, 282-84).
36 And it came to pass also, that he caused the title of liberty to be hoisted upon every tower which was in all the land, which was possessed by the Nephites; and thus Moroni planted the standard of liberty among the Nephites.
37 And they began to have peace again in the land; and thus they did maintain peace in the land until nearly the end of the nineteenth year of the reign of the judges.
38 And Helaman and the high priests did also maintain order in the church; yea, even for the space of four years did they have much peace and rejoicing in the church.
39 And it came to pass that there were many who died, firmly believing that their souls were redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ; thus they went out of the world rejoicing.
40 And there were some who died with fevers, which at some seasons of the year were very frequent in the land-but not so much so with fevers, because of the excellent qualities of the many plants and roots which God had prepared to remove the cause of diseases, to which men were subject by the nature of the climate-
verse 40 "because of the excellent qualities of the many plants and roots which God had prepared to remove the cause of diseases" One of the 16th-century Spanish historians who wrote in Mesoamerica, in describing the "Tultecas," a culture which some feel are the Nephites, said of them, "They invented the art of medicine . . .. They were the wise men who discovered, who knew of, medicine; who originated the medical art" (Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, 149-50).
41 But there were many who died with old age; and those who died in the faith of Christ are happy in him, as we must needs suppose.