Alma Chapter 54
1 And now it came to pass in the commencement of the twenty and ninth year of the judges, that Ammoron sent unto Moroni desiring that he would exchange prisoners.
2 And it came to pass that Moroni felt to rejoice exceedingly at this request, for he desired the provisions which were imparted for the support of the Lamanite prisoners for the support of his own people; and he also desired his own people for the strengthening of his army.
3 Now the Lamanites had taken many women and children, and there was not a woman nor a child among all the prisoners of Moroni, or the prisoners whom Moroni had taken; therefore Moroni resolved upon a stratagem to obtain as many prisoners of the Nephites from the Lamanites as it were possible.
verses 4-14 To say that Moroni was inclined toward being candid and forthright is to understate the fact. He likely would have made a less effective diplomat than military commander. One cannot help but smile at his irrepressible candor. He is writing to Ammoron to negotiate a trade of prisoners, yet he cannot help including his honest feelings about Ammoron: "I would tell you concerning that awful hell that awaits to receive such murderers as thou and thy brother" and "thou art a child of hell." Then, just in case Ammoron did not catch the full flavor of his message: "Behold, I am in my anger." Moroni's forthrightness and integrity would not permit him to fail to express his honest feelings in most every situation.
4 Therefore he wrote an epistle, and sent it by the servant of Ammoron, the same who had brought an epistle to Moroni. Now these are the words which he wrote unto Ammoron, saying:
verse 4 Hugh Nibley wrote:
When the Lamanites finally suggested the exchange of war prisoners that he had been waiting for, Moroni sent them a 'get-tough' letter, deliberately taunting Ammoron . . . and insisting on receiving a Nephite prisoner with his wife and children in exchange for one Lamanite soldier. This three-to-one exchange was actually to the advantage of the Lamanites, who were eager enough to transfer the feeding of noncombatants from themselves to the Nephites, but Moroni wanted to get the best possible bargain by not appearing too eager and so got tough. The result was an exchange of insults between the chiefs with mounting tempers, and in the end the deal fell through. This was not to be the last time that Moroni's hot temper ran away with him (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 7, 315-16).
5 Behold, Ammoron, I have written unto you somewhat concerning this war which ye have waged against my people, or rather which thy brother hath waged against them, and which ye are still determined to carry on after his death.
6 Behold, I would tell you somewhat concerning the justice of God, and the sword of his almighty wrath, which doth hang over you except ye repent and withdraw your armies into your own lands, or the land of your possessions, which is the land of Nephi.
7 Yea, I would tell you these things if ye were capable of hearkening unto them; yea, I would tell you concerning that awful hell that awaits to receive such murderers as thou and thy brother have been, except ye repent and withdraw your murderous purposes, and return with your armies to your own lands.
8 But as ye have once rejected these things, and have fought against the people of the Lord, even so I may expect you will do it again.
9 And now behold, we are prepared to receive you; yea, and except you withdraw your purposes, behold, ye will pull down the wrath of that God whom you have rejected upon you, even to your utter destruction.
verse 9 "now behold, we are prepared to receive you" We are prepared to engage you in battle.
10 But, as the Lord liveth, our armies shall come upon you except ye withdraw, and ye shall soon be visited with death, for we will retain our cities and our lands; yea, and we will maintain our religion and the cause of our God.
verse 10 "as the Lord liveth, our armies shall come upon you except ye withdraw" By now the reader is likely sensitive to those phrases that indicate the taking of an oath. Here Moroni swears an oath to attack the Lamanites lest they agree to exchange prisoners on Moroni's terms and then withdraw from the Nephite lands.
11 But behold, it supposeth me that I talk to you concerning these things in vain; or it supposeth me that thou art a child of hell; therefore I will close my epistle by telling you that I will not exchange prisoners, save it be on conditions that ye will deliver up a man and his wife and his children, for one prisoner; if this be the case that ye will do it, I will exchange.
verse 11 "it supposeth me that I talk to you concerning these things in vain; or it supposeth me that thou art a child of hell" Moroni says, in effect, "I don't believe you are going to grant this request because I believe you a child of hell." Again, we cannot help but chuckle over Moroni's almost brutal candor.
12 And behold, if ye do not this, I will come against you with my armies; yea, even I will arm my women and my children, and I will come against you, and I will follow you even into your own land, which is the land of our first inheritance; yea, and it shall be blood for blood, yea, life for life; and I will give you battle even until you are destroyed from off the face of the earth.
verse 12 "the land of our first inheritance" This phrase seems to refer to the land of Nephi which the Nephites began to occupy within a few years of Lehi's arrival in the promised land. The more specific term "the place of our fathers' first inheritance" (see Alma 22:28) refers to a west coastal area of the land of Nephi where father Lehi and his family initially settled in about 589 BC. The concept of a "land of . . . first inheritance" was firmly established among ancient Israelite peoples. Hugh Nibley explained, referring to this same custom among Book of Mormon peoples:
No matter where a group or family move to . . . the first land allotted to them is always regarded as "the land of their inheritance," thus Alma 22:28; Alma 54:12-13; Ether 7:16; Mormon 2:27-28; 1 Nephi 13:15; Alma 35:9; Alma 35:14; Alma 43:12; Jacob 3:4; Alma 62:42; Mormon 3:17. This is a powerful argument for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon both because the existence of such a system is largely the discovery of modern research and because it is set forth in the Book of Mormon very distinctly and yet quite casually (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 6, 100).
13 Behold, I am in my anger, and also my people; ye have sought to murder us, and we have only sought to defend ourselves. But behold, if ye seek to destroy us more we will seek to destroy you; yea, and we will seek our land, the land of our first inheritance.
verse 13 Again, "the land of our first inheritance" refers to the land of Nephi. Moroni threatens not only to drive the Lamanites out of Nephite territory but also to pursue them into their own lands and drive them out of those lands as well. He is obviously very angry!
Hugh Nibley has referred to Moroni as "high-spirited and short-tempered" and has even referred to this letter to Ammoron, written in anger, as "ill-advised." Dr. Nibley, obviously a great admirer of Moroni, is then quick to point out Moroni's many character strengths:
High-spirited and short-tempered he certainly was, as his ill-advised letters to Pahoran (Alma 60:1-36) and Ammoron (Alma 54:11-13) amply attest. But his magnanimous nature as a lover of peace and fair play always prevailed. He always calls the enemy his brothers, with whom he is loath to contend. You cannot ask for a less warlike spirit than that of an army who "were compelled reluctantly to contend with their brethren, the Lamanites," who waged war "for the space of many years, . . . notwithstanding their much reluctance"; who were "sorry to take up arms against the Lamanites, because they did not delight in the shedding of blood; yea . . . they were sorry to be the means of sending so many of their brethren out of this world" (Alma 48:21-23). In battle Moroni always calls an end to the fighting and proposes a settlement the moment the enemy shows signs of weakening (Alma 43:54; Alma 44:1; Alma 44:20); and though surprise and deception are the essence of strategy, he refused to take advantage of an enemy who was too drunk to fight-that would be an "injustice" (Alma 55:19). He even made special excuses for sending spies behind enemy lines (Alma 43:27-30). With never a thought of punishing a beaten foe, Moroni sought no reprisals even after the gravest provocations. He was satisfied to take his defeated adversaries at their word and trust them to return to their homes or settle among the Nephites as they chose (Alma 44:6; Alma 44:11; Alma 44:19-20), even granting them Nephite lands for their rehabilitation (Alma 62:16-17). His attitude is well expressed in an exchange of letters with his friend Pahoran, who writes: "We would not shed the blood of the Lamanites if they would stay in their own land. We would not shed the blood of our [Nephite] brethren if they would not rise up in rebellion and take the sword against us. We would subject ourselves to the yoke of bondage if it were requisite with the justice of God"-which, indeed, in the Book of Mormon story it sometimes was (Alma 61:10-13). "We do not desire to be men of blood," says Moroni on the battlefield; "ye are in our hands, yet we do not desire to slay you. . . . We have not come . . . that we might shed your blood for power" (Alma 44:1-2) (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 8, 353-54).
14 Now I close my epistle. I am Moroni; I am a leader of the people of the Nephites.
verse 14 "I am a leader of the people of the Nephites" Apparently one criterion by which the peoples of the Book of Mormon are categorized is who rules over them. Those who lived in the land of Zarahemla were not all pure descendants of Nephi. We know that they included at least some Zoramites, Lamanites (the people of Ammon), and Mulekites. Thus we read this peculiar phrase "the people of the Nephites."
verses 15-24 Don't try to read and understand Ammoron's rejoinder without first reviewing the concept of the tradition of hatred which the Lamanites held against the Nephites (see the commentaries for Jacob 3:3-9 and 2 Nephi 1:28-29).
15 Now it came to pass that Ammoron, when he had received this epistle, was angry; and he wrote another epistle unto Moroni, and these are the words which he wrote, saying:
16 I am Ammoron, the king of the Lamanites; I am the brother of Amalickiah whom ye have murdered. Behold, I will avenge his blood upon you, yea, and I will come upon you with my armies for I fear not your threatenings.
17 For behold, your fathers did wrong their brethren, insomuch that they did rob them of their right to the government when it rightly belonged unto them.
verse 17 "For behold, your fathers did wrong their brethren" Please recall that Ammoron and his brother Amalickiah were not Lamanites by blood. Rather they were Nephite dissenters. Thus, he accuses Moroni, "your fathers did wrong their brethren" (italics added). He doesn't include himself with the Lamanites. Please review also the Hebrew tradition of primogeniture in the commentary for 1 Nephi 16:37.
"rightly belonged unto them" One point of some interest but little importance is that in the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon this phrase was, "rightfully belonged unto them." As Oliver Cowdery copied the original manuscript to create the "printer's manuscript," he changed "rightfully" to "rightly."
18 And now behold, if ye will lay down your arms, and subject yourselves to be governed by those to whom the government doth rightly belong, then will I cause that my people shall lay down their weapons and shall be at war no more.
19 Behold, ye have breathed out many threatenings against me and my people; but behold, we fear not your threatenings.
20 Nevertheless, I will grant to exchange prisoners according to your request, gladly, that I may preserve my food for my men of war; and we will wage a war which shall be eternal, either to the subjecting the Nephites to our authority or to their eternal extinction.
21 And as concerning that God whom ye say we have rejected, behold, we know not such a being; neither do ye; but if it so be that there is such a being, we know not but that he hath made us as well as you.
verse 21 "but if it so be that there is such a being, we know not but that he hath made us as well as you" Ammoron intends to say, "if there is such a being, then he is our God as well as your God, and he will judge which of us is in the wrong."
22 And if it so be that there is a devil and a hell, behold will he not send you there to dwell with my brother whom ye have murdered, whom ye have hinted that he hath gone to such a place? But behold these things matter not.
23 I am Ammoron, and a descendant of Zoram, whom your fathers pressed and brought out of Jerusalem.
verse 23 Here the word pressed means forced against his will.
24 And behold now, I am a bold Lamanite; behold, this war hath been waged to avenge their wrongs, and to maintain and to obtain their rights to the government; and I close my epistle to Moroni.
verse 24 "behold, this war hath been waged to avenge their wrongs" The antecedent for "their" is "us" in the verse 21, referring to the Lamanite people. He intends to say, "this war hath been waged to avenge the wrongs which you have perpetrated against us, the Lamanites."
verses 23-24 As is well known, when the words of the Book of Mormon were translated "by the gift and power of God," there was no punctuation at all in the early manuscripts, and that is the way the translated text was delivered to E.B. Grandin's print shop. Typesetter John Gilbert reported that when he sat down to prepare the text for publication, "every chapter . . . was one solid paragraph, without a punctuation mark, from beginning to end" (Royal Skousen, "John Gilbert's 1892 Account of the 1830 Printing of the Book of Mormon" in The Disciple as Witness: Essays on Latter-day Saint History and Doctrine in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson, ed. Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, and Andrew H. Hedges, 402). So he added punctuation and paragraphing as he went along. He did a good job, especially for someone reading the book for the first time, but there are a few sentences that could have been punctuated in more than one way, with slightly different results. The punctuation of the Book of Mormon does not enjoy the same revealed status as the words themselves. Hence from time to time there are some verses in which it may be worth considering alternate punctuation.
Verse 24 is just such an example. The word behold is a common interjection in the Book of Mormon that means something like "pay attention to what follows," and behold now may simply be an intensification of that idea (as in Helaman 7:29). But what if we were to shift the comma after now back one word? These two verses would then read: "I am Ammoron, and a descendant of Zoram, whom your fathers pressed and brought out of Jerusalem. And behold, now I am a bold Lamanite . . ." This emendation may be preferable because Ammoron's point is that once he was a Zoramite (allied with the Nephites) but now he is a Lamanite. In fact, he is now the king of the Lamanites (so the word behold may even be taken in the unusual sense of "look at me!"). This reading makes sense in the context of the passage as well: Ammoron is closing a belligerent letter to Moroni with a strong rejection of Nephite culture and everything associated with it. Another fact supports this suggested alternate punctuation. The original manuscript has a slightly different wording here: "And behold I am now a bold Lamanite . . ."