The Lord Redeems His Covenant Children
Alma 1 -- Alma 44
Alma 15:1 They Departed [from Ammonihah] and Came out . . . into the Land of Sidom:
No definite direction or location is given from the land of Ammonihah to the land of Sidom. So why was the land of Sidom apparently a good gathering place for "all" the believers that "came out" from the land of Ammonihah (Alma 15:1). We might assume the areas to be relatively close to one another. Sidom was clearly the choice of destination for the converts from Ammonihah because there were no converts mentioned that went to the city of Noah, which was apparently nearby (Alma 16:3, 49:12), or to the city of Aaron. However, besides location and direction, one additional factor in the selection of Sidom by these converts would have had to have been religious tolerance. Perhaps the people of Noah and Aaron might have been closer, but antagonistic towards the gospel and therefore were avoided because of the persecutions that they might have inflicted upon the converts.
According to John Clark, the relative position of Sidom can be deduced by the following reasoning:
1.When Alma and Amulek left Ammonihah, "they departed and came out even into the land of
Sidom" where they found all the people who had fled Ammonihah (Alma 15:1). Thus:
a. Ammonihah and Sidom were probably near to one another.
b. Sidom was large enough and had enough resources to absorb the influx of the Ammonihah
c. The trip from Ammonihah to Sidom may have required travel "up-and-over," an upland area,
hence the phrase "came out."
d. The route to Sidom might have deviated from the route to Aaron.
2. The fact that Alma baptized many in the land of Sidom (Alma 15:12-14) suggests that:
a. It is quite likely that Sidom was on a river.
b. Given Alma's travels to this point (Zarahemla-Melek-Ammonihah-Sidom), Sidom would have
been somewhat northward of the city of Zarahemla.
[John A. Clark, "A Key for Evaluation of Nephite Geographies, in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol 1., 1989, pp. 47-48] [See Geographical Theory Maps]
Alma 15:1 They Departed [from Ammonihah] and Came out . . . into the Land of Sidom:
According to the geographical theory of Joseph Allen (the Chiapas Depression = part of the general land of Zarahemla), the city of Chiapa de Corzo is a strong candidate for the city/land of Sidom where the ostracized saints fled. Sidon is a Hebrew word which apparently means white or limestone. The old Tzetzsal indian name for the area is Zoctan, which means white lime. The modern city and archaeological zone of Chiapa de Corzo nestled along the Grijalva River manifests an abundance of limestone. The city of Chiapa de Corzo is located about 10 miles east of the city of Tuxtla Gutierrez. It is approximately 30 miles northwest of the inundated archaeological site of Santa Rosa (local land of Zarahemla). The Grijalva River flows past the city and then turns north through the Sumidero Canyon. On tour, one can board motor boats and travel the river as it runs through sheer canyon walls which shoot upwards to over 4,000 feet from the level of the water. The archaeological site of Chiapa de Corzo, which dates to the Preclassic Book of Mormon time period, was excavated by the New World Archaeological Foundation in the 1960's. The oldest Maya long count that has been discovered to this date was discovered here. It dates to December 9, 36 B.C. [Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, p. 385]
According to John Sorenson (who's theory also includes the Chiapas Depression as the general land of Zarahemla), during the ancient periods Chiapa de Corzo was the largest city in Chiapas, with many dependent towns and villages in its nearby network. It would have qualified as part of the "most capital" parts of the entire river basin (see Helaman 1:27). As a focal point for trade and the ceremonial center for the entire lower part of the central depression, it would also be the logical place to which refugees from Ammonihah like Alma and Amulek would gravitate (Alma 15:1). Chiapa de Corzo was almost surely occupied, since at least 1,000 B.C., by speakers of some version of the Zoque language. True Nephites, the actual descendants of Nephi would have been unusual at either place. (Note that one of Amulek's first statements to Alma upon his entrance into the city of Ammonihah was, "I am a Nephite" (Alma 8:20).
The phrase "came out . . . into the land of Sidom" might imply first that the land of Ammonihah was in a valley. Secondly, coming "into" (rather than merely "to") Sidom may hint that it was also in a depression. That would be logical if the name Sidom relates to Sidon (referring to the Phoenician port). [John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, p. 201]
Alma 15:1-18 (Theory Map) Alma & Amulek Depart to Sidom and Then to Zarahemla
Alma 15:1 They departed [from Ammonihah] and came out . . . into the land of Sidom (Illustration): Ammonihah (Mirador); Noah (Ocozocoautla); Aaron (San Isidro); Sidom (Chiapa de Corzo): Projection of the Coast and Highlands of Chiapas indicating Modern and Ancient Routes of Communication. [Gareth Lowe, Thomas Lee, and Eduardo Martinez, Izapa: An Introduction to the Ruins and Monuments, N.W.A.F., p. 73]
Alma 15:6 Believest Thou in the Power of Christ unto Salvation?:
Zeezrom desires to be healed. However, from the words of Alma, we understand that there is more than the body to be healed, a fact doubtless well understood by Zeezrom. The most important question is whether or not Zeezrom believes in Christ. Not only believes in Christ, but believes in the "power of Christ unto Salvation" (Alma 15:6).
According to Brant Gardner, this is important because it requires a complete restructuring of Zeezrom's beliefs. To believe in the power of Christ unto salvation requires that Zeezrom first see Christ as the Atoning Messiah, a concept the Nehorites deny. He must secondly see that there are sins which will require this Atonement, another doctrine denied by the Nehorites. Thus Alma is asking if Zeezrom has been completely converted. [Brant Gardner, Book of Mormon Commentary, http://www.highfiber.com/~nahualli/ LDStopics/Alma/Alma15.htm, pp. 2-3]
Alma 15:14 Many . . . Did Flock in from All the Region Round about Sidom:
The fact that "many . . . did flock in from all the region round about Sidom" (Alma 15:14) might suggest that the land of Sidom, much like the land of Melek was the hub of a number of villages. What is not answered here is why with all the people flocking in, persecution did not follow. There might have been quite a cultural separation between the land of Ammonihah and the land of Sidom in addition to the miles that separated the two areas. There also might have been some natural geographical barrier.
Alma 15:16 [Amulek] Being Rejected by . . . His Father and His Kindred:
In Alma 10:11 we find that Amulek, in relating the ministerings of an angel to him regarding Alma, declares: "For behold, he hath blessed mine house, he hath blessed me, and my women, and my children, and my father and my kinsfolk; yea, even all my kindred hath he blessed, and the blessing of the Lord hath rested upon us according to the words which he spake." Yet we find that at the end of their preachings that,
it came to pass that Alma and Amulek, Amulek, having forsaken all his gold, and silver, and his precious things, which were in the land of Ammonihah, for the word of God, he being rejected by those who were once his friends and also by his father and his kindred, . . . therefore, [Alma] took Amulek and came over to the land of Zarahemla, and took him to his own house, and did administer unto him in his tribulations, and strengthened him in the Lord. (Alma 15:16, 18)
According to Larry Dahl, Amulek's decision apparently involved much more than a preaching mission. It was also a rejection of his former life. It was, in fact, a double rejection, a reciprocal rejection--"Amulek having forsaken all his gold, and silver, and his precious things, which were in the land of Ammonihah, for the word of God, he being rejected by those who were once his friends and also by his father and his kindred." (Alma 15:16) Was he rejected by his wife and children as well as by his friends and his father? . . . Alma 10:11 indicates that "women" and "children" were part of his "house.". . . After leaving Ammonihah and preaching at Sidom, Amulek went with Alma to Zarahemla. "Alma . . . took him to his own house, and did administer unto him in his tribulations, and strengthened him in the Lord" (Alma 15:18). There is no mention of any family being with him. If indeed the "kindred" who rejected him included his own wife and children, it is no wonder he was suffering "tribulations" and needed the strengthening influence of a loving friend. . . .
Nothing more is said about Amulek's activities. However, he is quoted later by Helaman (Helaman 5:10) and Aminadab (Helaman 5:41), and he is referred to by Moroni as one who had faith sufficient to cause prison walls to tumble (Ether 12:13). We are left to wonder how and with whom he spent his later years. [Larry E. Dahl, "The Plan of Redemption," in Studies in Scripture: Book of Mormon, Part 1, pp. 313-314, 320]
Alma 15:17 At Sidom:
No "city of Sidom" is mentioned; however, the phrase "at Sidom" (Alma 15:17) might indicate a specific place such as a city.
Alma 15:17 [They] Began . . . to Worship God before the Altar:
Alma and Amulek established the church at Sidom, and as it says in Alma 15:17, the believers "began to assemble themselves together at their sanctuaries to worship God before the altar . . . " According to Hugh Nibley, in the law of Moses the altar is not necessary for sacrifice, but it is necessary. It's very interesting. Exodus 30, for example, tells us that the primary purpose of that altar isn't for sacrifice. But, as we use it in the temple, it is a centering for activities. In the temple an altar is where you bring things and receive things. It is a table; a table is where you share things--a table to which you bring things and from which you take things. It's around the table, and that's what an altar is. They "began to assemble themselves together at their sanctuaries to worship God before the altar, watching and praying continually, that they might be delivered from Satan, and from death, and from destruction." [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, pp. 353-354]
Alma 15:17 [They] Began to Assemble . . . before the Altar . . . That They Might Be Delivered:
According to David Bokovoy, in ancient Israel a person accused of committing a serious offense could flee to an altar to avoid immediate death. The Old Testament refers to this tradition in the so-called Covenant Code of Exodus (see Exodus 21:12-14). 1 Kings 1:50-51, 2:2 relate that Solomon's enemies Adonijah and Joab fled to the tabernacle and "caught hold on the horns of the altar" in hopes of deliverance, albeit with different results.
This information proves significant for an understanding of altars in Nephite society. One of the four references to altars in the Book of Mormon establishes a direct correlation between that record and the Old Testament. Alma 15:17 notes that after Alma established the church at Sidom, the people
"began to humble themselves before God, and began to assemble themselves together at their sanctuaries to worship God before the altar, watching and praying continually, that they might be delivered from Satan, and from death, and from destruction."
This verse invokes Israelite custom by identifying the altar as a location of deliverance, a subtlety that provides further evidence that the Book of Mormon clearly reflects the traditions of antiquity. [David Bokovoy, "A Place of Deliverance: Altars in the Hebrew Bible and Book of Mormon," in FARMS Update, No 143, Vol. 21, 2001, in Insights, Vol. 21, 2001, p. 2]
Alma 15:17 Before the Altar:
According to John Sorenson, the Mesoamerican use of an altar together with a stela apparently originated on the Pacific coast of Guatemala. [John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, p. 236]
Alma 15:18 [Alma and Amulek] Came over to the Land of Zarahemla:
In Alma 15:18 it says that "he [Alma] took Amulek and came over to the land of Zarahemla, and took him to his own house . . ." The phrase "came over" might indicate that Alma and Amulek had to come over something in order to reach Zarahemla. Previously we have assumed elevation, so they might have had to cross an elevated mountain ridge or range. On the other hand, "come over" might refer to a body of water such as the Sidon river. We might wonder why no mention is made of following along the river Sidon? A Chiapas Depression setting gives some perspective. According to the geographical theory of John Sorenson (Chiapas Depression = general land of Zarahemla), the standard sensible route from Sidom/Chiapa de Corzo would indeed have been "over" via the highlands, east of rather than along the river. The higher route provided smoother traveling and was much cooler. Movement alongside the river would have been interrupted by bluffs and ravines or would have passed through difficult Angostura canyon. Besides, the hot climate at the bottom of the confined valley would cause discomfort. Once more the modern highway, seeking out the easier route, parallels the ancient way up through the highlands. Alma and Amulek would have ascended from Chiapa de Corzo to the 7,000 foot level, around the present day city of San Cristobal de Las Casas, an area that archaeological investigation shows was settled only lightly if at all in their time. They would press on through the Teopisca Valley before dropping down to the river just downstream from Zarahemla. [John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, p. 206] [See illustration]
Note* In interesting note is that in the Chiapas Depression setting that has been followed so far, by the time Alma reached the land of Sidom, or the present day city of Chiapa de Corzo, he would have almost completed a missionary circuit around the central depression of Chiapas. The only apparent thing left was his final journey home. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]