Alma Chapter 50
1 And now it came to pass that Moroni did not stop making preparations for war, or to defend his people against the Lamanites; for he caused that his armies should commence in the commencement of the twentieth year of the reign of the judges, that they should commence in digging up heaps of earth round about all the cities, throughout all the land which was possessed by the Nephites.
verse 1 Hugh Nibley comments:
Peace again brought prosperity (Alma 49:30), but Moroni was not idle. He launched out on an ambitious program of national fortifications, displaying his usual genius in the design and disposal of the strong places (Alma 50:1-6). First of all, it was necessary to remove a dangerous bulge or salient over on the east coast. [A military "salient" is a part of the battle line which bulges toward the enemy.] The area was cleared of Lamanites and settled by local people and colonists from Zarahemla (verses 7, 9). Thus was Moroni able to shorten and straighten his defense line (verse 8) and having determined the best possible course for the line, he proceeded to fortify it along its entire length from the east [sea] . . . to the west sea (verses 9, 11), again employing not a single wall but a defense in depth, including even the founding of new fortified towns at strategically located places "by the borders" (verses 13-15). At the same time he effected a gradual buildup of military power within the country (verse 10), though his principal concern was ever to keep the peace at home, knowing that it had "been their quarrelings, and their contentions . . . and their abominations, which were among themselves, which brought upon them their wars and their destructions" (verse 21) (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 7, 309-10).
2 And upon the top of these ridges of earth he caused that there should be timbers, yea, works of timbers built up to the height of a man, round about the cities.
3 And he caused that upon those works of timbers there should be a frame of pickets built upon the timbers round about; and they were strong and high.
verses 1-3 For a discussion of the nature of these Nephite defensive structures, see the commentary for Alma 49:18.
Pickets are sharpened or pointed stakes used for fortification.
4 And he caused towers to be erected that overlooked those works of pickets, and he caused places of security to be built upon those towers, that the stones and the arrows of the Lamanites could not hurt them.
verse 4 These strategically placed towers provided further protection as well as further offensive punch. See an illustration of these towers in the illustration, Place of Entrance.
5 And they were prepared that they could cast stones from the top thereof, according to their pleasure and their strength, and slay him who should attempt to approach near the walls of the city.
verse 5 To understand the fortification that made the casting of stones an especially effective defense strategy, see Alma 49:18 and its commentary.
6 Thus Moroni did prepare strongholds against the coming of their enemies, round about every city in all the land.
7 And it came to pass that Moroni caused that his armies should go forth into the east wilderness; yea, and they went forth and drove all the Lamanites who were in the east wilderness into their own lands, which were south of the land of Zarahemla.
8 And the land of Nephi did run in a straight course from the east sea to the west.
verse 8 That is, the northern border of the land of Nephi, the Lamanites' land, (and also the southern border of the greater land of Zarahemla) "did run a straight course from the east sea to the west."
Generally it is accepted that straight is the correct modifier when straight modifies the word course and especially when it placed immediately contiguous to course (Reynolds and Skousen, "Strait and Narrow," 32). See the supplemental article, Strait and Straight in the Book of Mormon.
9 And it came to pass that when Moroni had driven all the Lamanites out of the east wilderness, which was north of the lands of their own possessions, he caused that the inhabitants who were in the land of Zarahemla and in the land round about should go forth into the east wilderness, even to the borders by the seashore, and possess the land.
verse 9 As we speak of the "land of Zarahemla," we might be speaking of the entire Nephite land from the southern border to the northern border with the land Desolation. Or we might be referring to the more limited land surrounding the city of Zarahemla. The former may be referred to as the "greater" land of Zarahemla. In this verse, the more limited land is intended.
Moroni organized colonizers from among those in and around the city of Zarahemla to settle and defend the Nephite cities in the east wilderness.
10 And he also placed armies on the south, in the borders of their possessions, and caused them to erect fortifications that they might secure their armies and their people from the hands of their enemies.
verse 10 The phrase "in the borders" means in the areas or territories near the borders. As the reader now well knows, the term borders might also refer to mountains (see the commentary for 1 Nephi 2:5).
11 And thus he cut off all the strongholds of the Lamanites in the east wilderness, yea, and also on the west, fortifying the line between the Nephites and the Lamanites, between the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi, from the west sea, running by the head of the river Sidon-the Nephites possessing all the land northward, yea, even all the land which was northward of the land Bountiful, according to their pleasure.
verse 11 "the line between the Nephites and the Lamanites, between the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi" This is the wilderness that ran east and west and divided the lands of Nephi on the south from the greater land of Zarahemla on the north. It ran from the sea east to the sea west. See the Hypothetical Map of the Book of Mormon Lands. See also Alma 22:27 and Alma 27:14.
"even all the land which was northward of the land Bountiful" Since the land Bountiful is located at the northernmost extremity of the Nephite land, this phrase might have more clearly stated "even all the land which was northward to the land Bountiful."
12 Thus Moroni, with his armies, which did increase daily because of the assurance of protection which his works did bring forth unto them, did seek to cut off the strength and the power of the Lamanites from off the lands of their possessions, that they should have no power upon the lands of their possession.
verse 12 "his armies, which did increase daily because of the assurance of protection which his works did bring forth unto them" We will learn that the security and positive morale of Moroni's soldiers was found, not so much in their ability to defeat their enemies, but in the faith that they would be "delivered at all times" if they kept "the commandments of the Lord" (verse 22). Moroni's "works" were works of righteousness.
13 And it came to pass that the Nephites began the foundation of a city, and they called the name of the city Moroni; and it was by the east sea; and it was on the south by the line of the possessions of the Lamanites.
verse 13 Moroni seems to fit into the category of city which Hugh Nibley refers to as "sudden cities." He points out that both Jaredite and Nephite cities did not necessarily have to evolve over a long time. Rather they were built all at one time: "A city would be planned and built all at one time, like a house. Cities were not the product of a slow gradual accretion from hamlet to village to town to city to metropolis . . . but, if we believe the Book of Mormon, they were built up all at once. Thus we read that 'the Nephites began the foundation of a city, and they called the name of the city Moroni . . . and they also began a foundation for a city between the city of Moroni and the city of Aaron . . . and they called the name of the city, or the land, Nephihah' (Alma 50:13-14)." Brother Nibley also points to the fact that throughout much of the world's history this is often the way cities have come into being (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, chapter 29, 411).
14 And they also began a foundation for a city between the city of Moroni and the city of Aaron, joining the borders of Aaron and Moroni; and they called the name of the city, or the land, Nephihah.
15 And they also began in that same year to build many cities on the north, one in a particular manner which they called Lehi, which was in the north by the borders of the seashore.
16 And thus ended the twentieth year.
17 And in these prosperous circumstances were the people of Nephi in the commencement of the twenty and first year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.
18 And they did prosper exceedingly, and they became exceedingly rich; yea, and they did multiply and wax strong in the land.
verses 19-23 These following verses contain an editorial summary by Mormon in which he emphasizes the necessity of understanding the concept and process of making sacred covenants. It is abundantly clear that he wants us to maintain this vital perspective as we study these "captain Moroni chapters" or "war chapters" (Alma 43-62) in the Book of Mormon.
19 And thus we see how merciful and just are all the dealings of the Lord, to the fulfilling of all his words unto the children of men; yea, we can behold that his words are verified, even at this time, which he spake unto Lehi, saying:
verse 19 "And thus we see" This phrase seems to identify this verse's editorial comment as having been written by Mormon. Grant R. Hardy and Robert E. Parsons commented on identifying the authorship of certain verses within the Book of Mormon. They observed:
Some passages can definitely be ascribed to Mormon: the abridgment of his contributions to the large plates (Mormon 1-7), his sermon and letters recorded by Moroni (Moroni 7-9), and the explanatory comments that he inserted into his narrative. In some of these interpolations he identifies himself (Words of Mormon; 3 Nephi 5:8-26; 3 Nephi 26:6-12; 3 Nephi 28:24; 4 Nephi 1:23), but it seems likely that the frequent 'thus we see' comments are also Mormon's attempting to stress matters of particular spiritual importance to his readers (see also Alma 24:19; Alma 24:27; Alma 50:19-23; Helaman 3:27-30; Helaman 12:1-2) (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, volume 1, "Book of Mormon Plates and Records").
20 Blessed art thou and thy children; and they shall be blessed, inasmuch as they shall keep my commandments they shall prosper in the land. But remember, inasmuch as they will not keep my commandments they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord.
verse 20 Here again is a restatement of the so-called "promise/curse" of the Book of Mormon.
21 And we see that these promises have been verified to the people of Nephi; for it has been their quarrelings and their contentions, yea, their murderings, and their plunderings, their idolatry, their whoredoms, and their abominations, which were among themselves, which brought upon them their wars and their destructions.
verse 21 Mormon lists the causes of wars and destructions among the Nephites. Actually all are a form of pride or idolatry. See the discussion of idolatry in the commentary for Omni 1:20.
22 And those who were faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord were delivered at all times, whilst thousands of their wicked brethren have been consigned to bondage, or to perish by the sword, or to dwindle in unbelief, and mingle with the Lamanites.
23 But behold there never was a happier time among the people of Nephi, since the days of Nephi, than in the days of Moroni, yea, even at this time, in the twenty and first year of the reign of the judges.
verses 22-23 Can a people maintain their righteousness and happiness even in an atmosphere of war and rumors of war? Apparently so!
24 And it came to pass that the twenty and second year of the reign of the judges also ended in peace; yea, and also the twenty and third year.
25 And it came to pass that in the commencement of the twenty and fourth year of the reign of the judges, there would also have been peace among the people of Nephi had it not been for a contention which took place among them concerning the land of Lehi, and the land of Morianton, which joined upon the borders of Lehi; both of which were on the borders by the seashore.
26 For behold, the people who possessed the land of Morianton did claim a part of the land of Lehi; therefore there began to be a warm contention between them, insomuch that the people of Morianton took up arms against their brethren, and they were determined by the sword to slay them.
27 But behold, the people who possessed the land of Lehi fled to the camp of Moroni, and appealed unto him for assistance; for behold they were not in the wrong.
28 And it came to pass that when the people of Morianton, who were led by a man whose name was Morianton, found that the people of Lehi had fled to the camp of Moroni, they were exceedingly fearful lest the army of Moroni should come upon them and destroy them.
29 Therefore, Morianton put it into their hearts that they should flee to the land which was northward, which was covered with large bodies of water, and take possession of the land which was northward.
verse 29 "they should flee to the land which was northward" Morianton sought to leave the Nephite land and settle north of the land Bountiful in the lands previously inhabited by the Jaredites.
30 And behold, they would have carried this plan into effect, (which would have been a cause to have been lamented) but behold, Morianton being a man of much passion, therefore he was angry with one of his maid servants, and he fell upon her and beat her much.
verse 30 "which would have been a cause to have been lamented" Why would the departure and resettling of the people of Morianton have been "a cause to have been lamented"? See the commentary for verse 32.
31 And it came to pass that she fled, and came over to the camp of Moroni, and told Moroni all things concerning the matter, and also concerning their intentions to flee into the land northward.
32 Now behold, the people who were in the land Bountiful, or rather Moroni, feared that they would hearken to the words of Morianton and unite with his people, and thus he would obtain possession of those parts of the land, which would lay a foundation for serious consequences among the people of Nephi, yea, which consequences would lead to the overthrow of their liberty.
verse 32 Both the people who were in the land Bountiful and Captain Moroni feared that the people in the lands north of Bountiful would enter into an agreement which would prove unfavorable to the Nephites. They felt this agreement might even "lay a foundation for serious consequences among the people of Nephi, yea, which consequences would lead to the overthrow of their liberty." Why were Morianton and his people not allowed the freedom to leave Nephite lands? Why did there seem to be restrictive emigration laws which limited their travel? It seems likely that Moroni feared that Morianton would add to his supporters among the people north of Bountiful and thereby "lay a foundation for serious consequences." Bountiful was a most important Nephite military base of that day. It was the northernmost and most important fortification of the northern border of Nephite territory during the days of Moroni. Its purpose was to restrict access to the land northward and to keep the Nephites from getting boxed in by the Lamanites or other enemies to the north (Alma 22:29; Alma 22:33; Alma 50:32-34; Alma 51:28-32; Alma 52:9; Helaman 1:23; Helaman 1:28; Helaman 4:6-7). Moroni feared that Morianton would enter into a political or military agreement with the people in the far north which would be potentially harmful to the Nephites.
33 Therefore Moroni sent an army, with their camp, to head the people of Morianton, to stop their flight into the land northward.
verse 33 To "head" is to intercept.
34 And it came to pass that they did not head them until they had come to the borders of the land Desolation; and there they did head them, by the narrow pass which led by the sea into the land northward, yea, by the sea, on the west and on the east.
verse 34 "narrow pass" Just exactly what is this "narrow pass" referred to here and elsewhere in the Book of Mormon (Alma 52:9, Mormon 2:29, and Mormon 3:5)? It is apparent from these verses of scripture, that the pass is not the same as the narrow neck of land itself. Rather the pass is some kind of specific feature of and within the neck itself. It is clear that parties passed near the city of Bountiful to gain access to this pass from the eastern seashore area. Here a Nephite army led by Teancum intercepted Morianton's fleeing group just as both groups arrived at a very specific point: "the narrow pass which led by the sea into the land northward, yea, by the sea, on the west and on the east." John L. Sorenson has provided a compelling solution to this puzzle. He suggests that the answer lies in a careful study of the specific geographic details of the isthmus of Tehuantepec (see the map, Book of Mormon Lands, a Proposed Setting and the supplemental article Book of Mormon Geography). Dr. Sorenson observes: "An irregular sandstone and gravel formation appears as a ridge averaging a couple of miles wide and rising 150 to 200 feet above the surrounding country running west from the lower Coatzacoalcos River." This formation provides the only reliable year-round route from the east coast area of the land Bountiful "northward" into the land Desolation or to what is now Veracruz.
A great deal of land on either side of this ridge is flooded periodically, as much as twelve feet in the rainy season. At times during that season this ridge pass would indeed lead "by the sea, on the west and on the east" for the water in the flooded basins would be on both sides of the ridge and would have barred travel as effectively as the sea with which the flood waters were continuous. Even in the dry season, the lower terrain is choked with thorny brush, laced with lagoons, and rendered impractical as a customary route. This formation runs from near Minatitlan, the modern city on the Coatzacoalcos, west about twenty miles to the city of Acayucan (An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, 43).
35 And it came to pass that the army which was sent by Moroni, which was led by a man whose name was Teancum, did meet the people of Morianton; and so stubborn were the people of Morianton, (being inspired by his wickedness and his flattering words) that a battle commenced between them, in the which Teancum did slay Morianton and defeat his army, and took them prisoners, and returned to the camp of Moroni. And thus ended the twenty and fourth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.
verse 35 We will become quite well acquainted with this exceptionally brave Nephite captain, Teancum, in the ensuing chapters. It is perhaps no coincidence that his name is similar to a Quiche Mayan hero, captain Tecum, who fought against the Spanish intruders in AD 1524 (A. Brent Merrill, "Nephite Captains and Armies" in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, edited by Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin, 267). Tecum lived in Guatemala, probably near the site of the Book of Mormon City of Nephi.
36 And thus were the people of Morianton brought back. And upon their covenanting to keep the peace they were restored to the land of Morianton, and a union took place between them and the people of Lehi; and they were also restored to their lands.
verse 36 Here, the phrase "people of Lehi" refers to the Nephites in the land of Nephi with whom they had previously contended.
37 And it came to pass that in the same year that the people of Nephi had peace restored unto them, that Nephihah, the second chief judge, died, having filled the judgment-seat with perfect uprightness before God.
38 Nevertheless, he had refused Alma to take possession of those records and those things which were esteemed by Alma and his fathers to be most sacred; therefore Alma had conferred them upon his son, Helaman.
verse 38 Alma previously had turned over the office of chief judge to Nephihah so Alma could concentrate on his priestly duties (Alma 4:11-18). In this verse, for the first time, we learn an interesting detail of Alma's selection of Nephihah to be chief judge. We learn that Alma attempted to pass on the regalia of his office, including the sword of Laban, to Nephihah, possibly as a way of reinforcing Nephihah's civil authority and uniting the people behind him. Nephihah had refused to accept these objects, and consequently Alma later gave them to his son, Helaman. With the sword of Laban in his possession, Helaman reestablished the church, served as high priest, and became the great military commander who led the two thousand stripling warriors (Alma 45:22; Alma 46:6; Alma 53:18-22; Alma 53:56). Thereafter, the priestly regalia were passed on and kept continuously by the religious leaders. It is apparent that the man who had possession of the sword of Laban was looked upon by the people as having authority.
39 Behold, it came to pass that the son of Nephihah was appointed to fill the judgment-seat, in the stead of his father; yea, he was appointed chief judge and governor over the people, with an oath and sacred ordinance to judge righteously, and to keep the peace and the freedom of the people, and to grant unto them their sacred privileges to worship the Lord their God, yea, to support and maintain the cause of God all his days, and to bring the wicked to justice according to their crime.
verse 39 It has been pointed out that the Nephite government, while a fair and righteous government, was not a democracy or anything like unto it.
The chief judge much more resembled a king than an American president. Once elected, he never again submitted himself to the people. After being proclaimed chief judge by the voice of the people, Alma enjoyed life tenure. When he chose to resign because of internal difficulties he selected his own successor (see Alma 4:16). . . . In the next succession, the judgeship passed to the chief judge's son and thence "by right" to the successive sons of the Judges (see Alma 50:39; Helaman 1:13).
Looking at the Book of Mormon as a whole, it seems clear that most of the principles traditionally associated with the American Constitution are slighted or disregarded altogether. All of the constitutional checks and balances are missing. When Judges were instituted, Mosiah provided that a greater judge could remove lesser judges. Also a certain number of lesser judges were empowered to try venal [open to bribery or other corruption] higher judges, but the book records no instance of impeachment. It was apparently not a routine working principle. All other limitations on government are missing. There was no written constitution defining ruler's powers. The people could not remove the chief judge at the polls, for he stood for election only once. There were not three branches of government to check one another, for a single office encompassed all government powers. The chief judge was judge, executive, and legislator rolled into one, just as the earlier kings had been (see Mosiah 29:13). In war time he raised men, armed them, and collected provisions (see Alma 46:34; Alma 60:1-9). He was called interchangeably chief judge and governor (see Alma 2:16; Alma 50:39; Alma 60:1; and 3 Nephi 3:1). He was also lawmaker. There is no ordinary legislature in the Book of Mormon. Alma gave Nephihah the "power to enact laws according to the laws which had been given" (Alma 4:16). Any major constitutional changes, such as a return to formal kingship, so far as the record speaks, was the prerogative of the chief judge (see Alma 2:2-7; Alma 51:1-7) (Richard L. Bushman, BYU Studies, volume 17, number 1, 14, 16).
40 Now behold, his name was Pahoran. And Pahoran did fill the seat of his father, and did commence his reign in the end of the twenty and fourth year, over the people of Nephi.
verse 40 The time of transition from one leader to another is a logical time for the opposition to rise up and oppose the new leader-wanting instead a different leader or an alternate form of government. We will learn that in this case the opposition, the "king-men," do indeed rise up in opposition.
An interesting side note-Pahoran's name probably should be spelled Parhoron. In the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon, the first four occurrences of this name were spelled Parhoron (see also Alma 52:2-3). There is good evidence to suggest that as Joseph came to unfamiliar proper names in his translating of the Book of Mormon, he spelled them out for the scribe (see The Process of Translating the Book of Mormon in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, Appendix A).