Alma Chapter 51
In this chapter we will encounter two groups, the "king-men" and the "freemen." We have discussed these previously. Please review that discussion in the introductory commentary for Alma 46 before proceeding.
1 And now it came to pass in the commencement of the twenty and fifth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, they having established peace between the people of Lehi and the people of Morianton concerning their lands, and having commenced the twenty and fifth year in peace;
2 Nevertheless, they did not long maintain an entire peace in the land, for there began to be a contention among the people concerning the chief judge Pahoran; for behold, there were a part of the people who desired that a few particular points of the law should be altered.
verse 2 "there began to be a contention among the people concerning the chief judge Pahoran" This contention, as we will learn, was created by those of the elite class, the "king-men," who have decided it would be in their best interest to change the form of Nephite government, by law, to a monarchy (verses 4-5). They have resolved to make a concerted effort toward this end. The opposition to this dangerous movement was led by the chief judge Pahoran, who "would not alter nor suffer the law to be altered" (verses 2-3). Pahoran was supported in this by a party calling themselves the "freemen" (verse 6). An election will be held with the result that: "the voice of the people came in favor of the freemen" (Alma 51:7).
Hugh Nibley added:
But the royalists had not played all their cards; their agitation had been timed to coincide with a move from the direction of their banished leader Amalickiah, who "had again stirred up the . . . Lamanites . . . and [was] preparing for war with all diligence" (Alma 51:9). Counting on Amalickiah's aid, the beaten party "were glad in their hearts" of his approach, and "refused to take up arms" to resist it, being "wroth with the chief judge, and also with the people of liberty" who had given them a setback (Alma 51:13) (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 7, 311).
3 But behold, Pahoran would not alter nor suffer the law to be altered; therefore, he did not hearken to those who had sent in their voices with their petitions concerning the altering of the law.
4 Therefore, those who were desirous that the law should be altered were angry with him, and desired that he should no longer be chief judge over the land; therefore there arose a warm dispute concerning the matter, but not unto bloodshed.
5 And it came to pass that those who were desirous that Pahoran should be dethroned from the judgment-seat were called king-men, for they were desirous that the law should be altered in a manner to overthrow the free government and to establish a king over the land.
verse 5 The "king-men" apparently regarded themselves as having been disinherited or disenfranchised when Mosiah abolished the kingship. The king-men are not necessarily of Nephite descent. They seem to constitute a distinct population with cultural features and a territory all their own. Perhaps they descended from Jaredite or Mulekite ancestry or from some other indigenous culture. John L. Sorenson wrote of them: "The king-men, inhabited a distinct region, for when Moroni 'commanded that his army should go against those king-men,' they were 'hewn down' and compelled to fly the 'title of liberty' standard 'in their cities' (Alma 51:17-20). This language confirms that they, like the Amlicites, had a base territory of their own and that it was a significant distance from the city of Zarahemla. Again, quite surely, it lay downriver" ("When Lehi's Party Arrived in the Land, Did They Find Others There?" Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, volume 1, number 1, 16-17).
It is interesting that the archaeological records of Mesoamerica state that in the first century BC, a group of elite in Mesoamerica began to rally for control. By AD 200 their influence was much stronger. Years later, during the classic Mayan period, which extended to the tenth century AD, the elite hierarchy ruled totally in Mesoamerica (Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, 276).
6 And those who were desirous that Pahoran should remain chief judge over the land took upon them the name of freemen; and thus was the division among them, for the freemen had sworn or covenanted to maintain their rights and the privileges of their religion by a free government.
verse 6 As opposed to the "king-men" who were the moneyed elite, the "freemen" were the common people who supported the government of the Nephites. The label "freemen" did not designate a political party or organization, rather it simply denoted the body of common citizens supporting Pahoran. They obviously also had a religious conviction in common as they "had sworn or covenanted to maintain their rights and the privileges of their religion by a free government."
7 And it came to pass that this matter of their contention was settled by the voice of the people. And it came to pass that the voice of the people came in favor of the freemen, and Pahoran retained the judgment-seat, which caused much rejoicing among the brethren of Pahoran and also many of the people of liberty, who also put the king-men to silence, that they durst not oppose but were obliged to maintain the cause of freedom.
verse 7 "Pahoran retained the judgment-seat, which caused much rejoicing among the brethren of Pahoran and also many of the people of liberty" An interesting error was made in the transcription of this phrase which caused a subtle change in its meaning. The original manuscript stated that Pahoran's victory "caused much rejoicing among the brethren of Pahoran and also among the people of liberty." When Oliver was copying this phrase from the original manuscript onto the printer's manuscript, he made an error. Instead of writing the word among he wrote the word many. Thus the printer's manuscript then read: "which caused much rejoicing among the brethren of Pahoran and also many the people of liberty." When the printer tried to read this, he saw that it wasn't good English; and so he wrote in pencil right above many the word of, so that when he set the type he put in: "which caused much rejoicing among the brethren of Pahoran and also many of the people of liberty." Thus the phrase as it now reads implies that not all of the people of liberty rejoiced at the retention of Pahoran. This was not the intent of the phrase in the original manuscript (Royal Skousen, "The Critical Text of the Book of Mormon," a FARMS reprint).
8 Now those who were in favor of kings were those of high birth, and they sought to be kings; and they were supported by those who sought power and authority over the people.
9 But behold, this was a critical time for such contentions to be among the people of Nephi; for behold, Amalickiah had again stirred up the hearts of the people of the Lamanites against the people of the Nephites, and he was gathering together soldiers from all parts of his land, and arming them, and preparing for war with all diligence; for he had sworn to drink the blood of Moroni.
10 But behold, we shall see that his promise which he made was rash; nevertheless, he did prepare himself and his armies to come to battle against the Nephites.
verse 10 "that his promise" Critical evaluation of the original Book of Mormon text has revealed that this phrase is a case of accidentally dropping one of two adjacent t's, which changed "that this promise" in the original manuscript to "that his promise" in the printer's manuscript. All the printed editions have followed the error.
11 Now his armies were not so great as they had hitherto been, because of the many thousands who had been slain by the hand of the Nephites; but notwithstanding their great loss, Amalickiah had gathered together a wonderfully great army, insomuch that he feared not to come down to the land of Zarahemla.
verse 11 "Amalickiah had gathered together a wonderfully great army" As this phrase implies, the armies of the Lamanites were impressively large in numbers (see also Alma 2:24; Alma 2:28; Alma 49:6; Helaman 1:19). John L. Sorenson had observed: "Such a large population is even more difficult to account for by natural increase of the original Laman-Lemuel faction [to a greater degree] than in the case of Nephi's group, for the eventual Lamanite absolute numbers are disproportionately high. None of this demographic picture makes sense unless 'others' had become part of the Lamanite economy and polity" (John L. Sorenson, "When Lehi's Party Arrived in the Land, Did They Find Others There?" Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 28).
12 Yea, even Amalickiah did himself come down, at the head of the Lamanites. And it was in the twenty and fifth year of the reign of the judges; and it was at the same time that they had begun to settle the affairs of their contentions concerning the chief judge, Pahoran.
13 And it came to pass that when the men who were called king-men had heard that the Lamanites were coming down to battle against them, they were glad in their hearts; and they refused to take up arms, for they were so wroth with the chief judge, and also with the people of liberty, that they would not take up arms to defend their country.
14 And it came to pass that when Moroni saw this, and also saw that the Lamanites were coming into the borders of the land, he was exceedingly wroth because of the stubbornness of those people whom he had labored with so much diligence to preserve; yea, he was exceedingly wroth; his soul was filled with anger against them.
verse 14 Moroni is incensed by this elitist dissension in time of national crisis, and he will seek and obtain "power to compel those dissenters to defend their country or to put them to death. For it was his first care to put an end to such contentions and dissensions among the people; for behold, this had been hitherto a cause of all their destruction" (Alma 51:15-16).
We learn an interesting lesson from Moroni. It is obvious that he was long suffering and not easily provoked. He only resorted to slaying dissenters when the dissenters had undertaken to do something that immediately and seriously threatened the lives and liberties of the righteous innocent who would not agree with the dissenters. For example, he had not used military force against Amalickiah until Amalickiah had departed with his followers for the land of Nephi, where he intended to (and later did) strengthen the armies of the Lamanites and stir them up to attack the Nephites (Alma 46:30-31). Likewise, Moroni had not used force against Morianton until he attempted to lead his dissenting people to another land which, under the circumstances of the time, would have "serious consequences among the people of Nephi, yea which . . . would lead to the overthrow of their liberty" (Alma 50:32). Again, as stated in this verse, Moroni did not use military force against the king-men until "the Lamanites were coming into the borders of the land" (see Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, "Dissent: Perspectives from the Book of Mormon," 63).
15 And it came to pass that he sent a petition, with the voice of the people, unto the governor of the land, desiring that he should read it, and give him (Moroni) power to compel those dissenters to defend their country or to put them to death.
verse 15 "desiring that he should read it" One point of some interest but little importance is that the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon rendered this phrase as, "desiring that he should heed it."
16 For it was his first care to put an end to such contentions and dissensions among the people; for behold, this had been hitherto a cause of all their destruction. And it came to pass that it was granted according to the voice of the people.
verse 16 Indeed dissention "had been hitherto" and would yet be "a cause of all their destruction." Lynn D. Wardle has commented upon the phenomenon of dissent in the Book of Mormon:
Every reference to dissent portrays it as a problem, an evil condition, and a harbinger of even greater problems and evils. For example, [the younger] Alma was "a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God" because he "[caused] much dissension among the people" (Mosiah 27:9); the dissenters who joined the Lamanites "cause[d] much sorrow unto those Nephites who did remain in the land" (3 Nephi 1:28); dissent and intrigue caused the loss of Nephite land and cities (Alma 53:8); iniquity and dissensions caused the Nephites to be "placed in the most dangerous of circumstances" (Alma 53:9; Alma 46:7). Frequently, the Book of Mormon notes that dissension directly led to war. Often it was the dissenters from the Nephites who "stirred up to anger" the Lamanites against the Nephites and caused them to "[commence] a war with their brethren" (Helaman 4:4; Helaman 4:11:24; see also Alma 46-47). The Gadianton robbers existed because of, and their success depended upon, "dissenters that went forth unto them" (Helaman 11:25; 3 Nephi 2:18; 3 Nephi 7:12). It is no wonder that Mormon declared that contention among the Nephites was "a cause of all their destruction" ("Dissent: Perspectives from the Book of Mormon" in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 55).
17 And it came to pass that Moroni commanded that his army should go against those king-men, to pull down their pride and their nobility and level them with the earth, or they should take up arms and support the cause of liberty.
18 And it came to pass that the armies did march forth against them; and they did pull down their pride and their nobility, insomuch that as they did lift their weapons of war to fight against the men of Moroni they were hewn down and leveled to the earth.
verse 18 These supporters of Amalickiah have been portrayed as pacifists, and it has been suggested by some that Moroni was a bit too harsh in dealing with them. Hugh Nibley has pointed out:
The fiction has been diligently cultivated that Moroni on this occasion put all the pacifists to death. Those put to death were not those who had refused to take up arms to defend their country, but those who had taken up arms to attack it and who were on their way to join the enemy across the border, glad in their hearts when they heard that the Lamanites were coming down to battle against their country; they were dissenters to the enemy. Pacifists? They were all members of Amalickiah's army, armed to their teeth on their way to join the enemy when Moroni caught them. Armed violence, not pacifism, had been their program from the beginning. We can sum up the issue by referring to Alma 51:17: "And it came to pass that Moroni commanded that his army should go against those king-men, to pull down their pride and their nobility and level them with the earth, or they should take up arms and support the cause of liberty." It was a coalition of the important people, the persons who lifted the sword to fight against Moroni; it was a pitched battle, not an execution. If you had arms in your hands and were fighting, then if you didn't lay them down, if you didn't surrender (as in any war), you had to suffer the consequences. "Insomuch that as they did lift their weapons of war to fight against the men of Moroni they were hewn down. . . . And those of their leaders who were not slain in battle were taken and cast into prison" (Alma 51:18-19) (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 9, 98).
19 And it came to pass that there were four thousand of those dissenters who were hewn down by the sword; and those of their leaders who were not slain in battle were taken and cast into prison, for there was no time for their trials at this period.
verse 19 It is certain that Moroni understood the limitations of using force against these king-men followers of Amalickiah. It is for this reason that he used force only as a last resort. He knew that coercion and force would never convert their consciences. By force he could stop the dissenters from doing irreparable damage to the Nephite people, but he knew the sword would never lead to repentance and conversion. These are matters of conscience. Because the conscience virtually always revolts when force is applied, force is ineffective in reclaiming dissenters.
"those of their leaders who were not slain in battle were taken and cast into prison, for there was no time for their trials at this period" Obviously, there were periods when martial law was imposed in the Nephite society.
20 And the remainder of those dissenters, rather than be smitten down to the earth by the sword, yielded to the standard of liberty, and were compelled to hoist the title of liberty upon their towers, and in their cities, and to take up arms in defense of their country.
verse 20 "upon their towers" See the commentary on "towers" in Omni 1:22.
21 And thus Moroni put an end to those king-men, that there were not any known by the appellation of king-men; and thus he put an end to the stubbornness and the pride of those people who professed the blood of nobility; but they were brought down to humble themselves like unto their brethren, and to fight valiantly for their freedom from bondage.
verse 21 We may note here that those followers of Amalickiah who surrendered rather than be killed, were dealt with mercifully by Moroni. They were not executed for treason. They were only required henceforth to "fight valiantly for their freedom from bondage."
22 Behold, it came to pass that while Moroni was thus breaking down the wars and contentions among his own people, and subjecting them to peace and civilization, and making regulations to prepare for war against the Lamanites, behold, the Lamanites had come into the land of Moroni, which was in the borders by the seashore.
23 And it came to pass that the Nephites were not sufficiently strong in the city of Moroni; therefore Amalickiah did drive them, slaying many. And it came to pass that Amalickiah took possession of the city, yea, possession of all their fortifications.
24 And those who fled out of the city of Moroni came to the city of Nephihah; and also the people of the city of Lehi gathered themselves together, and made preparations and were ready to receive the Lamanites to battle.
25 But it came to pass that Amalickiah would not suffer the Lamanites to go against the city of Nephihah to battle, but kept them down by the seashore, leaving men in every city to maintain and defend it.
26 And thus he went on, taking possession of many cities, the city of Nephihah, and the city of Lehi, and the city of Morianton, and the city of Omner, and the city of Gid, and the city of Mulek, all of which were on the east borders by the seashore.
verse 26 "the city of Nephihah" It is likely that the mentioning of Nephihah in this verse as one of the conquered cities is an error. The previous verse suggests that Amalickiah flanked Nephihah because of its heavy fortifications. Also we know that Nephihah was captured much later (see Alma 58:61). It would seem most likely that this error was made by the editor Mormon rather than by the primary author.
27 And thus had the Lamanites obtained, by the cunning of Amalickiah, so many cities, by their numberless hosts, all of which were strongly fortified after the manner of the fortifications of Moroni; all of which afforded strongholds for the Lamanites.
28 And it came to pass that they marched to the borders of the land Bountiful, driving the Nephites before them and slaying many.
verse 28 Hugh Nibley has contributed a colorful description of this "blitzkrieg" campaign of Amalickiah's:
Amalickiah . . . was leading his greatest army yet into the weakest parts of the land and sweeping all before him. Bypassing the strongest places, he flanked the Nephites along the coast in a lightning move that knocked out the weaker fortified places one after another and sent the occupants fleeing like sheep from one collapsing fortification to the next as he "went on, taking possession of many cities" (Alma 51:26-28). It was a well-executed operation that spread panic and converted many of Moroni's strong places into Lamanite bases (Alma 51:27). Then the inevitable happened. The Lamanites in their forward rush having overextended themselves met an unpleasant rebuff when their spearhead was blunted by a flanking blow of the wily Teancum, who after bringing their advance guard to a halt continued to harass the army with his highly trained and highly mobile troops (Alma 51:31). Then on a two-man night patrol such as able and enterprising generals sometimes fancy, Teancum himself slipped into Amalickiah's tent and killed him in his sleep, after which he hurried back to his own headquarters and alerted his forces to an expected enemy attack at dawn (Alma 51:33-36) (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 7, 312-13).
29 But it came to pass that they were met by Teancum, who had slain Morianton and had headed his people in his flight.
verse 29 "who had slain Morianton and had headed his people in his flight" Again, the verb to "head" means to head-off or to intercept.
30 And it came to pass that he headed Amalickiah also, as he was marching forth with his numerous army that he might take possession of the land Bountiful, and also the land northward.
verse 30 Again we are reminded of the vital strategic importance of the city of Bountiful. It was the northernmost and most important fortification of the northern border of Nephite territory during the days of Moroni. Bountiful defended the "narrow pass" that led to the land northward (see the discussion of the "narrow pass" in the commentary for Alma 50:34). Bountiful's military purpose was to restrict access to the land northward and to keep the Nephites from getting boxed in by the Lamanites or other enemies on 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; 4:6-7). At this time Moroni feared that Amalickiah would enter into a political or military agreement with the people in the far north which would be potentially harmful to the Nephites.
31 But behold he met with a disappointment by being repulsed by Teancum and his men, for they were great warriors; for every man of Teancum did exceed the Lamanites in their strength and in their skill of war, insomuch that they did gain advantage over the Lamanites.
32 And it came to pass that they did harass them, insomuch that they did slay them even until it was dark. And it came to pass that Teancum and his men did pitch their tents in the borders of the land Bountiful; and Amalickiah did pitch his tents in the borders on the beach by the seashore, and after this manner were they driven.
33 And it came to pass that when the night had come, Teancum and his servant stole forth and went out by night, and went into the camp of Amalickiah; and behold, sleep had overpowered them because of their much fatigue, which was caused by the labors and heat of the day.
34 And it came to pass that Teancum stole privily into the tent of the king, and put a javelin to his heart; and he did cause the death of the king immediately that he did not awake his servants.
verse 34 "Privily" means secretly or privately.
There is no indication in the text as to how the Lamanite camp was laid out. Possibly the commander's tent was placed somewhere near the center of the camp, in a manner similar to those of ancient Israel. If this were the case, then Teancum's killing of Amalickiah is even a more significant act than it first appears. Teancum was obviously a man of great courage, with a strong and independent spirit (A. Brent Merrill, "Nephite Captains and Armies" in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, edited by Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin, 274).
35 And he returned again privily to his own camp, and behold, his men were asleep, and he awoke them and told them all the things that he had done.
36 And he caused that his armies should stand in readiness, lest the Lamanites had awakened and should come upon them.
37 And thus endeth the twenty and fifth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi; and thus endeth the days of Amalickiah.
verse 37 Teancum will now strengthen his own positions by digging in and awaiting reinforcements from Moroni (Alma 52:6-7). We will learn, however, that Moroni was pinned down on the west coast and could offer little assistance. Hugh Nibley added:
The Nephites with their inferior numbers were being forced to fight that kind of a war that all commanders dread-a war on two fronts. Ammoron, the brother and successor of Amalickiah, made the most of this advantage to himself and sent a strong diversionary force to occupy Moroni and if possible split the Nephite forces even more, while harassing them everywhere and keeping them off-balance by sallies and infiltrations from the numerous former Nephite strong places now held by the Lamanites (Alma 52:11-13) (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 7, 313).
It is of interest to note that Teancum killed Amalickiah on the last day of the year (see also Alma 52:1). Note in verse 33 that the Lamanite soldiers were especially fatigued from their fighting and march in the "heat of the day." Could this be a mistake? Would the days be hot near the last day of the year? Did the Nephite calendar correspond with ours today? Would this time of year correspond to the Nephite winter? Then why would the days have been hot? It is likely that the Book of Mormon story took place in tropical Mesoamerica, and thus these days might well have been hot. If Joseph Smith had simply made up the "golden Bible" on the basis of his own experience and the locality where he lived, as some critics believe, then the killing of Amalickiah by Teancum should have occurred during western New York's windy, icy winter. And Joseph might have described this event as occurring in cold winter.
It is also worth noting that throughout Mesoamerica "omens were regularly . . . tied to events of the last, or first, day. . . . To awaken on the first day of a new year to find their leader dead would have been far more unnerving to [this] omen-conscious [people] than we moderns may appreciate" (John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, 275).