Alma Chapter 63
1 And it came to pass in the commencement of the thirty and sixth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, that Shiblon took possession of those sacred things which had been delivered unto Helaman by Alma.
verse 1 "Shiblon took possession of those sacred things which had been delivered unto Helaman by Alma" Shiblon the son of the younger Alma and the brother of Helaman. Shiblon's brother Helaman, of course, had just died. The "sacred things" include the plates, the breastplate, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim, and the director or Liahona.
Shiblon's record will only last through verse 11 of this chapter. Then possession of the records will be assumed by Helaman, the son of Helaman.
2 And he was a just man, and he did walk uprightly before God; and he did observe to do good continually, to keep the commandments of the Lord his God; and also did his brother.
verse 2 "and also did his brother" It is not clear whether this has reference to Shiblon's brother Helaman or to his other brother Corianton. The latter had taken his father Alma's counsel to heart. He had repented and had returned to the ministry (Alma 42:31).
3 And it came to pass that Moroni died also. And thus ended the thirty and sixth year of the reign of the judges.
verse 3 Moroni died at a surprisingly young age. We know that he had been twenty-five years old in 74 BC (Alma 43:17), and he died in 55 BC-at an age of about forty-four years!
4 And it came to pass that in the thirty and seventh year of the reign of the judges, there was a large company of men, even to the amount of five thousand and four hundred men, with their wives and their children, departed out of the land of Zarahemla into the land which was northward.
verse 4 "the land which was northward" The Book of Mormon text often speaks of a mysterious land. It may be referred to, as it is in this verse, as the "land which was northward" or simply the "land northward" (Alma 63:5-8; Alma 63:10; Helaman 3:3-4; Helaman 3:7; Helaman 3:10-11). In another place it is referred to as the "northernmost part of the land" (3 Nephi 7:12). It is possible that this land is in the same location as the "great city of Jacobugath" (3 Nephi 9:9). Joseph L. Allen (Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, 97-107) suggests that this mysterious land might be the ancient city of Teotihuacan, built in the valley of Mexico, near where Mexico City lies today. The ancient culture which inhabited this city had its beginnings about 150 BC and fell about AD 750. The circumstantial evidence that Teotihuacan might have played a role in the Book of Mormon includes the fact that between 55 BC to AD 29, the Book of Mormon mentions several migrations into this land where large bodies of water were found (see also Alma 63:7-8; Helaman 3:3-4; Helaman 3:12; 3 Nephi 7:12).
According to Dr. John L. Sorenson: "In former times the floor of the Valley of Mexico was occupied by a set of lakes that were greater in combined size than anything else in central Mexico. It was this lake system that allowed the Aztecs to facilitate movement of goods needed to support their great city" (An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, 266-67).
This is same time period when, according to archaeologists, Teotihuacan was experiencing a high growth rate. Also the valley of Mexico contained many lakes, in fact Mexico City is built on a dry lake bed. The Book of Mormon speaks of the people in the land northward building houses out of cement because timber was scarce in the land (Helaman 3:7; Helaman 3:10-11). The archaeological site of Teotihuacan contains many buildings made of cement, and timber is indeed scarce in the valley of Mexico.
5 And it came to pass that Hagoth, he being an exceedingly curious man, therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship, on the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land Desolation, and launched it forth into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward.
verse 5 "Hagoth" For commentary on the Hebrew derivation of the name Hagoth, see the supplemental article, Names in the Book of Mormon.
"curious" The word curious in this verse means desirous to discover what is unknown; inquisitive.
6 And behold, there were many of the Nephites who did enter therein and did sail forth with much provisions, and also many women and children; and they took their course northward. And thus ended the thirty and seventh year.
verses 5-6 These verses contain the only mention in the Book of Mormon of shipbuilding and exploring by sea in the Nephites' promised land. It so happens that on the west-sea side (Pacific) of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which qualifies by many criteria as the narrow neck of land, there are a pair of large, placid lagoons, over thirty miles long. They could have provided a sheltered place not only to construct Hagoth's ships but also to master their use. In the mountains overlooking the lagoons, the Spaniards long afterward located timber that they found ideal for their own shipbuilding purposes. Also, it is generally agreed by Mesoamericanists that over a period of many centuries large seagoing rafts (de facto "ships") from Ecuador actually came up the Pacific coast to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and beyond on trading expeditions (see Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, 268-69; Robert C. West, "Aboriginal Sea Navigation between Middle and South America," American Anthropologist 63 : 133-35). No other spot north of Panama fits the Hagoth story as well as the Pacific coast "by the narrow neck of land."
7 And in the thirty and eighth year, this man built other ships. And the first ship did also return, and many more people did enter into it; and they also took much provisions, and set out again to the land northward.
8 And it came to pass that they were never heard of more. And we suppose that they were drowned in the depths of the sea. And it came to pass that one other ship also did sail forth; and whither she did go we know not.
verse 8 So what became of Hagoth and the people on his ship? And what about those on the other ship? Obviously from this verse the Nephites supposed that they were lost at sea. But were they?
In the Church since its early days there has been considerable interest in the idea that these people sailed into the south Pacific and settled in the Hawaiian Islands or on the other Polynesian Islands or even in New Zealand. Joseph Smith was never known to have taught this idea, and apparently it originated with Elder George Q. Cannon, who is said to have received "a knowledge directly from the Lord" (Britsch, R. Lanier, Unto the Islands of the Sea: A History of the Latter-day Saints in the Pacific, 97-98).
It should be noted that the Church has never taken an official position on the connection between Hagoth and the Polynesians, but we have access to many statements by members of the Twelve and by presidents of the Church in direct support of this relationship. These have been summarized by Robert E. Parsons in his article "Hagoth and the Polynesians" in The Book of Mormon: Alma, the Testimony of the Word, 249-62. Following is a partial list of citations of those who have made statements about this possible relationship.
Elder Mark E. Petersen in general conference (CR [April 1962] 111-15); Elder Hugh B. Brown in his prayer during the laying of the cornerstone of the New Zealand temple (Cummings, David W., Mighty Missionary of the Pacific, 63); President David O. McKay in his dedicatory prayer at the New Zealand temple (Church News, 10 may 1958, 2, 6); Elder Gordon B. Hinckley ("Temple in the Pacific" Improvement Era [July 1958] 61:509); President Spencer W. Kimball in quoting former President Joseph F. Smith ("Official Report of the Samoa Area Conference Held in Pago Pago and Apia, Samoa," February 1976, 15); and President Brigham Young (Barber, Ian G. "Mormonism Among the Tangata Whenua," a paper delivered at the annual Mormon History Association Conference, Hawaii, June 1990, 12).
9 And it came to pass that in this year there were many people who went forth into the land northward. And thus ended the thirty and eighth year.
10 And it came to pass in the thirty and ninth year of the reign of the judges, Shiblon died also, and Corianton had gone forth to the land northward in a ship, to carry forth provisions unto the people who had gone forth into that land.
11 Therefore it became expedient for Shiblon to confer those sacred things, before his death, upon the son of Helaman, who was called Helaman, being called after the name of his father.
verse 11 Helaman, son of Helaman, was the record keeper and chief judge in the land of Zarahemla for the fourteen years prior to his death in 39 BC. Little is known of his personal affairs. He was given charge of Nephite historical records by his uncle, Shiblon, in 53 BC, and the book of Helaman in the Book of Mormon takes its name from him ("Helaman 3," Encyclopedia of Mormonism, volume 2). Besides the plates, Helaman was of course also given charge of the other "sacred things" including the breastplate, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim, and the director or Liahona.
12 Now behold, all those engravings which were in the possession of Helaman were written and sent forth among the children of men throughout all the land, save it were those parts which had been commanded by Alma should not go forth.
verse 12 Copies of the scriptures were distributed widely. It was common practice to distribute copies of the scriptures among all the Nephites (see also Jacob 7:23; and Alma 14:1) who were continually encouraged by their leaders to read them. For example King Benjamin encouraged his sons to search the scriptures diligently (Mosiah 1:7), and Alma counseled the poor Zoramites to "search the scriptures" (Alma 33:2).
"save it were those parts which had been commanded by Alma should not go forth" The reader will recall that previously the younger Alma commanded his son Helaman to "retain" or keep secret the specific mechanisms of the secret combinations of the Jaredites-the oaths, covenants, and agreements. This, of course, was to prevent them from being disseminated among the Nephite people. These forbidden secret writings were undoubtedly found on the twenty-four plates found by the people of Limhi in the days of King Mosiah. These plates contained the record of the Jaredites which will be translated by the prophet Moroni and become the book of Ether.
13 Nevertheless, these things were to be kept sacred, and handed down from one generation to another; therefore, in this year, they had been conferred upon Helaman, before the death of Shiblon.
14 And it came to pass also in this year that there were some dissenters who had gone forth unto the Lamanites; and they were stirred up again to anger against the Nephites.
15 And also in this same year they came down with a numerous army to war against the people of Moronihah, or against the army of Moronihah, in the which they were beaten and driven back again to their own lands, suffering great loss.
16 And thus ended the thirty and ninth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.
17 And thus ended the account of Alma, and Helaman his son, and also Shiblon, who was his son.