Alma 16


The Lord Redeems His Covenant Children

      Alma 1 -- Alma 44



Alma 16:2 Lamanites Had Come in upon the Wilderness Side, into the Borders of the Land, Even into the City of Ammonihah:


     In Alma 16 we find an account of an attack on the city of Ammonihah which parallels an account given in Alma 25. In Alma 16:2 it says that "the armies of the Lamanites had come in upon the wilderness side, into the borders of the land, even into the city of Ammonihah, and began to slay the people and destroy the city." One might wonder just why the Lamanites would even think to choose this pathway of attack. Most previous internal geographical Book of Mormon maps have a narrow strip of wilderness completely separating the general land of Nephi on the south from the general land of Zarahemla on the north and extending from the sea east to the sea west (Alma 22:27). Additionally we find that the city of Ammonihah was 3 days north of the land of Melek (Alma 8:6); and the land of Melek was on the west of the local land of Zarahemla (Alma 8:3). This internal arrangement would separate the city of Ammonihah by a minimum of 3-4 days from the Lamanite/Nephite southern border (the narrow strip of wilderness). So why didn't the Lamanites (who apparently just wanted to kill any Nephite for revenge--see Alma 25:1-2), satisfy themselves in a much easier and quicker manner by attacking somewhere along the narrow strip of wilderness border on the south?

      To gain a different perspective, we can refer to the theoretical commentary and illustrations in this volume on Alma 22:27-34 which talks about this narrow strip of wilderness. According to the theory illustrated, the narrow strip of wilderness did not go completely from sea to sea. Near the "borders" of the sea this strip of wilderness went "round about on the north" until it came to the land Bountiful (Alma 22:27). According to Alma 22:27-34, idle Lamanites were spread through the wilderness on the west of the land of Zarahemla in the borders by the seashore (Alma 22:28). Assuming that the land of Bountiful was not heavily controlled or fortified by the Nephites at this time, then the Lamanites could possibly have traveled unhindered northward along the west borders by the seashore (Alma 22:28) until they were able to approach Ammonihah from the wilderness side. [See the commentary and illustrations on Alma 22:27-34]

     Assuming a Mesoamerican setting, this geographical situation is illustrated quite nicely in a similar manner to the above by using the theoretical maps of either Allen, Palmer, or Sorenson. According to these theories, and the Mesoamerican map, one can travel westward along the west coastal plain of Guatemala and southern Mexico with the Pacific Ocean on the south (or the left of the traveler) and a paralleling strip of mountain wilderness on the right of the traveler. The traveler is on the path of the ancient Kings Highway (the path of the present day Pan American Highway) and as it turns northward (or to the traveler's right) to go through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the traveler will find that the strip of mountain wilderness on his right will curve with him. From this highway (or pathway), the ruins of Mirador (city of Ammonihah) can be reached from either a southwestern approach (from the city of Arriaga) or from a western approach (from the city of Tapanatepec), both of which wind through the mountains before reaching the ruins.

     The fact that the Lamanites were said to have come "even to the city" might indicate that certain settled territory of the land of Ammonihah might have been located between the approach of the Lamanites and the city of Ammonihah. From the perspective of an internal model, one has to wonder how the Lamanite army, having marched so far northward into wilderness Nephite country, would know where they were going? And if, by chance, the internal map allows for a coastal corridor, how the Lamanite army knew where to go through the strip of wilderness in order to attack Ammonihah "from the wilderness side" in surprise fashion? One would presume that they had some previous knowledge of both the geography and the culture of Ammonihah.

     In trying to make some sense out of the internal questions above, the reader will notice that not only the leaders of the city of Ammonihah (Alma 16:11), but the Amalekites and Amulonites (Alma 21:4) who incited the Lamanites to initiate the war were associated with the "order of Nehors." If we correlate the geography and culture of this situation with Mesoamerica, and if we assume that the "order of Nehors" had something to do with "getting gain" (through trade), then this Lamanite attack to the northern part of the land of Zarahemla might start to make some sense. After all, the King's Highway has been a major trade route since ancient times. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See Geographical Theory Maps] [For a Lamanite perspective on this war, see the commentary on Alma 25]


Geographical Theory Map: Alma 16:1-3 Lamanites Invade Ammonihah (11th Year)


Alma 16:3 The Land of Noah:


     Alma 16:3 states that "before the Nephites could raise a sufficient army to drive them out of the land, they had destroyed the people who were in the city of Ammonihah, and also some around the borders of Noah, and taken others captive into the wilderness." Thus the Lamanite attack on Ammonihah apparently extended to the borders of the land of Noah, which location would probably be in the same general area as the city of Ammonihah. The Lamanites apparently "had come in upon the wilderness side" (Alma 16:2). Assuming a Chiapas Depression setting, the wilderness was apparently situated so that it ran by on the west of the city of Ammonihah from the south towards the north (Alma 8:3,6). Thus the approach to the city of Ammonihah (ruins of Mirador) could have been made from either the southwest (city of Arriaga) or from the west (city of Tapanatepec), depending on their route through the mountains. Whatever the case, the land of Noah was probably not in the Lamanite's initial path (from the west). The account of Alma's missionary movements from the land of Melek northward to the city of Ammonihah never mentions the land of Noah, thus the land of Noah was probably not on the south of Ammonihah. The more logical options as to the location of the land of Noah are as follows:

     Option #1: The location of the land of Noah might be somewhat north or east of the land of Ammonihah. Alma 16:3 says that the Lamanites had "taken others captive into the wilderness." Thus we see that if the land of Noah was located somewhat north of the land of Ammonihah, the Lamanites might have taken their prisoners initially, then traveled westward back through the wilderness on the west and returned to the land of Nephi along the same coastal route that they came along to begin with. In Mesoamerican terms, if the Lamanites approached from the southwest (city of Arriaga), then the "borders of Noah" could have been located near the route on the west of Mirador (the proposed city of Ammonihah). A full attack (northward) on the land of Noah might have been prohibitive because the Lamanites were in retreat (westward) from the city of Ammonihah (ruins of Mirador) and traveling towards the location of the present day city of Tapanatepec which would lead them back to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and back along the western coastal plain of Mexico before moving upward into the Guatemala highlands near the headwaters of the Grijalva river (Sidon river).

     Option #2: On the other hand, if the land of Noah was located on the east of the city of Ammonihah (ruins of Mirador), then the Lamanites might have hoped to return to their homeland by marching through much of the mountain wilderness on the west of the general land of Zarahemla (Chiapas depression) before finally moving eastward into the headwaters of the Sidon river (Grijalva river).

     Option #3: Another option might have carried the Lamanite army from an eastward location of the land of Noah initially eastward and then southward along a mountain route paralleling the east side of the general land of Zarahemla (Chiapas depression) until they reached the headwaters of the Sidon river (Grijalva river). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See Geographical Theory Maps]


Geographical Theory Map: Alma 16:4 The Lamanites Are Scattered (11th Year)


Alma 16:3 Noah:


     According to the geographical theory of John Sorenson (Chiapas depression = the general land of Zarahemla), the logical candidate to meet the requirements of the land of Noah (Alma 16:3) would be Ocozocoautla, a major archaeological site near the modern community of that name. Like the ruins of Mirador (proposed city of Ammonihah) to its west, the site of Ocozocoautla is near a modern highway, which parallels the ancient route. The settlement has been investigated by the BYU-New World Archaeological Foundation (NWAF). The results show a quite impressive center that was flourishing modestly at about the time the Lamanites attacked. [John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, p. 203]

     According to Joseph Allen, the ruins of Ocozocoautla (Allen's proposed city of Noah) and the town of Ocozocoautla lie about 10 miles east of the city of Cintalapa (near the ruins of Mirador/Ammonihah). Ocozocoautla is also 20 miles west of the ruins and city of Chiapa de Corzo (Allen's proposed site of Sidom). The archaeological site near Ocozocoautla dates to Preclassic time. [Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, p. 385]


Alma 16:3 And Also Some around the Borders of Noah:


     According to Grant Hardy, as we read the Book of Mormon, we must constantly ask, "Why is this story or detail included? What is being left out? Why do the events take this form or sequence?" . . . Alma 16 tells of the destruction of Ammonihah. This chapter offers a striking illustration of God's justice, by which the righteous are saved while the wicked are punished. But something is wrong with this picture. While the innocent bystanders are all rescued, and the wicked Ammonihahites are all destroyed, there is a third group not mentioned at all in Mormon's summary. These are the people "around the borders of Noah" (Alma 16:3), some of whom were also killed in the Lamanite raid. What exactly had happened to them? Why did some die and some escape? We do not know, for they dropped entirely out of Mormons account and were never referred to again.

     Mormon obviously had some information about them by what he says in Alma 49:15:

           And now, behold, this was wisdom in Moroni [fortifying both Ammonihah and Noah]; for he had supposed that they [the Lamanites] would be frightened at the city Ammonihah; and as the city of Noah had hitherto been the weakest part of the land, therefore they [the Lamanites] would march thither to battle;


     Nevertheless, Mormon chose not to elaborate upon their fate. He edited them out. Why? The answer might be that these people did not fit into the pattern of "the righteous prosper, the wicked suffer." . . .

     It was important to Mormon that his spiritual principles were manifested in actual events -- the Book of Mormon is not a work of abstract theology, and Mormon did not make up stories to illustrate his principles; . . . however, Mormon was willing to simplify or streamline the facts to emphasize transcendent spiritual realities. [Grant R. Hardy, "Mormon as Editor," in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., pp. 15-25]


Alma 16:3-7 The Lamanites Had Taken Captives into the Wilderness:


     There is lack of clarity about the course followed by the Lamanites from the land of Noah (see the preceding commentary on Alma 16:3). Holding prisoners from the Noah area (Alma 16:3), the Lamanites apparently followed a route that took them to a "south wilderness" at a point near the extreme upper Sidon "away up beyond the borders of Manti" (Alma 16:6). Nevertheless the Nephites became aware of their course through Alma's seership. Thus the Nephites probably moved along a more known and less lengthy trail in order to intercept them. Apparently gaining ground on the Lamanites in this way, the Nephites got into advance position above Manti at a crossing point on the upper river (Alma 16:7). There are a few questions we might ask here: First, what was the purpose of taking prisoners in the first place? Second, why did it take the Lamanites so much time in their travels that the problem of their whereabouts was able to be communicated to Alma (apparently residing in the capital city of Zarahemla) and then communicated back to the Nephite army, thus allowing the Nephite army to beat the Lamanites to the "south wilderness" (Alma 16:4-8)? Third, where was the "east wilderness" mentioned in Alma 25:5 and 25:8? Fourth, after being headed by a Nephite army, why did the Lamanites scatter into an "east wilderness" when they were so close to the land of Nephi and their homelands on the south of the head of the Sidon, which was in the narrow strip of wilderness which separated the land of Nephi from the land of Zarahemla (Alma 22:27)? [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See Geographical Theory Maps]


Alma 16:3 They Had . . . Taken Others Captive into the Wilderness:


     According to Brant Gardner, Mesoamerican warfare was extremely prevalent, and had many causes, only some of which were the addition of tributary cities. In this attack on the city of Ammonihah, there is no particular attempt at creating a tributary city, but rather this is a war of annihilation. It is not a complete annihilation, however, as there are captives taken back with the Lamanites. This is not an insignificant point. The capture of prisoners during warfare was becoming extremely important among the Maya during these years (and later). Thus this particular invasion fits one of the Mesoamerican patterns. Hassig has noted that forceful destructions were often part of the need to hold power,59 and the previous defeat at the hands of the Nephites may have been sufficient reason to warrant this type of bloody retaliation.

     That this is a retaliation raid, and not a war of conquest is very clear by the actions of the Lamanites. Not only do they attack and destroy the city of Ammonihah, but they take their captives and immediately begin the return. There is no attempt to gain and hold a territory, nor to set up any type of dependence. Thus the function of war was both retaliation and the collection of prisoners. When those ends were met, the army retreated.

     It is not surprising that the Nephites would want to gain the return of the prisoners, not simply because they were Nephites, but because of the nature of prisoners in the Maya territories at this time. The fate of these prisoners was likely torture and sacrifice, as well as political currency and prestige. The recovery of those people would deny the Lamanites much of the glory of their attack. [Brant Gardner, Book of Mormon Commentary,, pp. 2-3]


Alma 16:5 He That Had Been Appointed Chief Captain over the Armies of the Nephites was Zoram:


     In the days of Alma, a man named Zoram "was appointed" chief captain over the Nephite armies (Alma 16:5). According to John Tvedtnes, one should note that his appointment does not preclude his being part of a hereditary military aristocracy from which such choices were made. His two sons, Lehi and Aha, were also military leaders. In addition, the names of Zoram's sons may have military significance too (see the commentary on Alma 16:5,7) [John A. Tvedtnes, "Book of Mormon Tribal Affiliation and Military Castes," in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., p. 320] [See the commentary on Alma 43:16]


Alma 16:5 Lehi and Ahah:


     In Alma 16:5 it says that Zoram, the chief captain over the armies of the Nephites, "had two sons, Lehi and Aha." According to John Tvedtnes, the names of Zoram's sons, Lehi and Aha, may have military significance. Lehi (also Ramath-Lehi) was the site where the great warrior Samson slew a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass (Judges 15:9-17). And Aha may derive from an Egyptian term meaning "warrior," which is generally rendered "Aha" in the English transliteration of the name of the first Egyptian king. . . . Zoram and his sons may have descended from Zoram, the servant of Laban. Hugh Nibley has cited evidence that Laban was a high-ranking military officer in Jerusalem (see Lehi in the Desert, 97-99). His servant Zoram may also have been a soldier. (This is not precluded by the fact that he was a "servant" of Laban. By the time of Lehi, the Hebrew term for "servant" was most often used in reference to government officials.) [John A. Tvedtnes, "Book of Mormon Tribal Affiliation and Military Castes," in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., pp. 320,325]


Alma 16:5 Aha:


     In Alma 16:5 we find that the chief captain over the Nephite armies was named Zoram, and "he had two sons, Lehi and Aha." According to Hugh Nibley, the name "Aha" in Egyptian means warrior. It was a very common name. The first king of Egypt was called Aha. That was one of his epithets; he was Aha, the warrior. It's always written with a pair of arms, one holding a club and one holding a shield. That's the name Aha, which means "a leader in war." . . . The reader should note that in the Jaredite record we also find the name "Ahah" (Ether 1:9; 11:10). [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, pp. 354-355]


Alma 16:5 Aha:


     According to John A. Tvedtnes and Matthew Roper, in recent years, ancient sites in and around Israel have yielded numerous ancient writings, many of which contain proper names. Although many of the names are known from the Bible and other ancient texts, others were unattested in ancient sources until recently. Included in the latter group are several Semitic names that appear in the Book of Mormon, one of which is the name "Aha" (Alma 16:5).

     Among the finds are 43 bronze arrowheads uncovered in Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon that date from the 11th through the 8th centuries B.C. Each is inscribed with its owner's name in the old Canaanite/Hebrew script. Two arrowheads belonged to men bearing the name 'h' (Hebrew and its closes relatives were written without vowels). The name, which Israeli scholars say was vocalized 'Aha', derives from the word 'ah ("brother"). In the Book of Mormon, Aha is a son of the Nephite military leader Zoram. The name 'ah is hypocoristic, or the first element (usually the name of a deity) of a longer name. [John A. Tvedtnes and Matthew Roper, "FARMS Update," Num. 131, in Insights: A Window on the Ancient World, December 1999, p. 2]


Alma 16:7 The South Wilderness:


     According to Alma 16:7, "Zoram and his sons crossed over the river Sidon, with their armies, and marched away beyond the borders of Manti into the south wilderness, which was on the east side of the river Sidon." Was this "south wilderness" here in Alma 16:6-8 part of the "narrow strip of wilderness" mentioned in Alma 22:27,29 which ran "through the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon," and which separated the general land of Zarahemla (on the south) from the general land of Nephi? If it was, then was this "south wilderness" also the same as the "south wilderness" mentioned in Alma 22:30-31 which wilderness was south of the "land which was called Desolation"? In Alma 22:31 we find that "they [either the Jaredites or the people of Zarahemla] came from there [the land Desolation] up into the south wilderness. Thus . . . the land on the southward was called Bountiful . . ." Because the land Bountiful is not interpreted by most geographical theorists to be in the same location as the narrow strip of wilderness, the reader should note that here we have a possibility for duplication of place names. This should alert the Book of Mormon geography student to the idea that geographical names involving directional terms might be relative locations rather than a proper name. Thus a "west sea" might just be called that name because it was "west" of the writer's reference point. If the writer changed his reference point northward, the "west sea" might become a "south sea" (see Alma 53:8). Additionally, if there were two separate locations referred to as the "south wilderness," and if Mormon made no distinct note of that to the reader, then there might be other duplications of place names. For example, the "land on the northward" mentioned in Alma 22:31 might not be equivalent to the "land which was northward" mentioned in Alma 50:29. And the "east wilderness" mentioned in Alma 25:5 might not be the same "east wilderness" referred to in Alma 50:7. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]


Alma 16:9 Every Living Soul of the Ammonihahites Was Destroyed:


     In the record of the Lamanite attack on the city of Ammonihah, we find that "every living soul of the Ammonihahites was destroyed" (Alma 16:9). Is this an overstatement? Why would such a destruction take place? According to John Welch, recent research has uncovered several striking affinities between the destruction of Ammonihah and the ancient Israelite law regarding the annihilation of apostate cities. That law is found in Deuteronomy 13:12-16:

           "If thou shalt hear say in one of thy cities, . . . Certain men, the children of Belial, are gone out from among you, and have withdrawn the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which we have not known; then shalt thou enquire, and make search, and ask diligently; and, behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought among you; thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly . . . And thou shalt gather all the spoil of it into the midst of the street thereof, and shalt burn with fire the city, and the spoil thereof every whit . . . : and it shall be an heap for ever."


     While Alma lacked both the desire and the power to have the city of Ammonihah destroyed by a Nephite military force, and certainly no legal decree was ever issued calling for the extermination of the city, Alma carefully recorded and documented the fact that the inhabitants of Ammonihah had satisfied every element of the crime of being an apostate city. When the justice of God destroyed that city, Alma effectively showed in the record that this fate befell them in accordance with divine law. The following is a summary of the elements involved in this Deuteronomic law:

     1. It applied to "certain men [who] are gone out from among you." (see Alma 9:23)

     2. It applied to men who "serve other gods." (see Alma 8:17)

     3. It applied to men who served "Belial" (Satan). (see Alma 8:9)

     4. It required investigation, to "enquire, . . . search . . . ask." (see Alma 8:16)

           Two witnesses were required (see Deut. 17:6). (Alma & Amulek)

     5. It required execution by the "sword."

     6. It required the city to "burn with fire" and "to be a heap for ever." (see Alma 16:9-11)

     7. It stated that the ruins "shall not be built again." (see Alma 16:11, 16:1, 49:1)


     It is interesting to note in regards to the last element of the law that "the people did not go in to possess the land of Ammonihah for many years. . . . And their lands remained desolate" (Alma 16:11). These lands were deemed untouchable for just over seven years, a ritual cleansing period (there are eight years, nine month, and five days between Alma 16:1 (the first invasion of Ammonihah by the Lamanites) and Alma 49:1 (a second attempted invasion by the Lamanites at Ammonihah). Apparently, the prohibition against reinhabitation could expire or be revoked. In a similar fashion, an early Christian synod removed a ban that the island of Cyprus remain unoccupied seven years after its inhabitants had been annihilated.60 [John Welch, "The Destruction of Ammonihah and the Law of Apostate Cities," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, pp. 176-177]


Alma 16:11 So Great Was the Scent Thereof:


     In Alma 16:11 it states that "after many days their bodies were heaped up upon the face of the earth . . . And now so great was the scent thereof that the people did not go in to possess the land of Ammonihah for many years. And it was called Desolation of Nehors." Now in view of the fact that a "great . . . scent" would attract vultures, it might be wise for the reader to contemplate the covenant aspect of what happened at Ammonihah.

     According to Raymond Treat of the RLDS Church, the concept of covenant-making in the ancient world is emerging as one of the most profound and far-reaching topics in all scripture. . . . In his book, The Miracle of the Scarlet Thread, Richard Booker outlines the steps ancient Hebrews typically followed in making a covenant. They exchanged robes and belts, cut the covenant, raised their right arms and mingled their blood, exchanged names, made a scar, stated the covenant terms, ate a memorial meal and planted a memorial tree. . . .

     The Hebrew word for covenant means "to cut or make an incision." The two covenant makers cut an animal down the middle and stood between the halves, their backs to each other. They then walked through the sacrifice, made a figure eight and came back to face each other. The dead animal represented self--dying to self and giving up rights to your own life. The figure eight represented a new beginning with the covenant partner until death. This ritual also reminded the covenant partners that if they broke their covenant, they would become food for vultures as was the animal used in this step. [Raymond C. Treat, "Understanding Our Covenant," in Recent Book of Mormon Developments, Vol. 2, pp. 34-35]

     Assuming a Mesoamerican setting, it was an interesting sensation, on tour with Joseph Allen, for one to drop down from the cool, crisp, clean air of the Guatemalan highlands (a proposed location for the land of Nephi) into the heavy, humid, stagnant air of the Chiapas depression (a proposed location for the general land of Zarahemla). One of the first things that catches your eye is the sight of vultures circling high in the air at various spots above the valley floor, which stretches out before you. If the bodies of the people in Ammonihah were heaped up and left to rot in the open sun, the sight of circling vultures and the smell would be apparent to anyone in the valley for many days, and could easily be recognized as a sign or token of desolation. It is interesting to note that here in this Mesoamerican setting, the proposed location of the land of Noah (associated with Ammonihah) are some ruins near a city called Ocozocoautla, which means "place of the vulture." [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]


Alma 16:11 So great was the scent thereof (Illustration): Vultures are common in Mesoamerica. A vulture's tremendous sense of smell can lead it to carrion miles away. [Scot F. Proctor and Maurine J. Proctor, Light from the Dust, p. 110]


Alma 16:13 Alma and Amulek Went Forth Preaching . . . in Their Temples:


     The Book of Mormon contains little information about the construction of temples north of the land of Nephi. The only direct reference to the temple in Zarahemla is found in connection with King Benjamin's covenant renewal and coronation speech (see Mosiah 1:18-27). Another reference to a temple in the land of Bountiful is in 3 Nephi 11:1, where the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ appeared to a group of righteous people who had gathered there. Nevertheless, several unnamed temples in the land of Zarahemla are mentioned in Alma 16:13 as places where Alma and Amulek preached repentance. . . .

     John Welch postulates that since King Mosiah probably kept control over the temple in the local land of Zarahemla, and since Alma was granted power to organize and administer seven churches independent of royal supervision (Mosiah 25:19,23; 26:8,12), and since others in the church soon became high priests (see Alma 30:20,21), that apparently they officiated at their own local temples. . . .

     Lamanite temples in the land southward are referred to in Alma 23:2 and 26:29. The cement construction of temples, synagogues, and sanctuaries in the land northward is briefly noted in Helaman 3:9,14. [John W. Welch, "The Temple in the Book of Mormon," in Temples of the Ancient World, pp. 343,348,362-363]


Alma 16:13 In Their Sanctuaries:


     In Alma 16:13 it mentions that Alma and Amulek "went forth preaching repentance to the people in their temples, and in their sanctuaries, and also in their synagogues . . ." Is there a difference in sanctuaries from temples and synagogues? Hugh Nibley says, Yes. A sanctuary isn't a full-scale temple and it's not a meeting place either. It's just a place where holy things might be held, something like a bishop's storehouse. . . . As you know, it is also very typical to have shrines. Do we have shrines in the Church today? What kind of shrines do we have? We have places we visit, like Nauvoo, . . . the Sacred Grove, etc. Those aren't exactly shrines, but they are places that are treasured. They are not particularly magical, and they are not regular meeting places, as temples and churches are. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, p. 358]


Alma 16:13 In Their Synagogues, Which Were Built after the Manner of the Jews:


     According to Hugh Nibley, when the temple in Jerusalem was taken away in the Old World (at the time of Lehi) the authoritative priestly order that went with it also went away. Then the synagogue became the important thing, though they had used it before. When they lost the temple they lost everything. An entirely new order of Judaism was established. Before then their practices were different, their doctrines were different, and everything else was different. . . . A rabbi is not a priest; he has no authority. He is just a learned man who has been chosen by a community. They are very jealous of the temple. The rabbi-controlled synagogues didn't begin until the temple disappeared. . . . What the Book of Mormon student should realize is that the Book of Mormon represents temple-centered Judaism. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 3, p. 42]

     Note* It is interesting that whether it was in the Old World or the New World, we see the same apostate movement toward intellectual-based, Holy Ghost-free, Christ-free Judaism. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]


Alma 16:13 In Their Temples, . . . and in Their Synagogues, Which Were Built after the Manner of the Jews:


     In Alma 16:13 it states that "Alma and Amulek went forth preaching repentance to the people in their temples, and in their sanctuaries, and also in their synagogues, which were built after the manner of the Jews." According to an article by John Welch, synagogues are mentioned several times in the Book of Mormon. Places of worship were called synagogues during the time of Nephi and Jacob (see 2 Nephi 26:26). Several centuries later, they were still being built by the Nephites "after the manner of the Jews" and were used along with temples and other sanctuaries as places of preaching (Alma 16:13). Later, unusual forms of synagogue worship developed. The Amalekites and Amulonites built synagogues "after the order of the Nehors" in the city of Jerusalem joining the borders of Mormon (Alma 21:4), where Ammon preached. The Zoramites also built synagogues in Antionum (see Alma 31:12), which contained rameumptoms upon which the elect were allowed to pray.

     Some points should be noted and explored here. First is the diversity evident in Book of Mormon synagogues. The institution was not rigid. There were synagogues after the manner of the Jews, after the manner of the Nehors, and in Antionum after a manner that amazed Alma and his companions. Similarly, ancient Israelite communal worship appears to have begun as a flexible practice and was known in several developmental stages. It is noteworthy that these very early convocations were for the purposes of prayer and worship, which also seems to be the dominant function of the early synagogues in the Book of Mormon. Nephi expressly calls his synagogues "houses of worship." It is a matter of much scholarly debate when and how the synagogue as known to later Judaism actually developed. The Book of Mormon, of course, lends credence to the idea that synagogues, at least as places of worship, were known to Israel before the departure of Lehi from Jerusalem (although no specific statement makes that claim). [John W. Welch, "Synagogues in the Book of Mormon," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, p. 193] [See the commentary on 2 Nephi 26:26; Alma 21:4-5, 31:12] [See the commentary on Mosiah 6:3]


Alma 16:13 In Their Synagogues, Which Were Built after the Manner of the Jews:


     According to Cleon Skousen, the mention of "synagogue" (Alma 16:13) in the Book of Mormon is significant. The Nephite scriptures mention this word twenty-six times. For many years Bible scholars have quarreled over the antiquity of the synagogue. Some claimed it went back at least as far as Moses, but the majority felt it had its origin with Ezra (who compiled the Old Testament) around 450 B.C. (see Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, under "synagogue"). The Book of Mormon clearly demonstrates that the synagogue was an established institution among the Jews when Lehi departed from their midst in 600 B.C. This would antedate Ezra by 150 years. The word, "synagogue" has its origin in a Hebrew term meaning "place of assembly," "place of prayer," or "place of worship." It was here that the people came on the Sabbath day to pray, hear the scriptures read, and worship the Lord. The synagogue was used as a day-school during the week to teach the youth the commandments of God and the history of the people. It was a place for adult study as well and contained the local library of scriptural texts. It was the place where the leaders met the people in general assembly to instruct them. It was a town hall type of meeting place as well, and even political meetings or community planning meetings were held there. Such was the synagogue "built after the manner of the Jews." [W. Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Vol. 2, pp. 2325-2326]

     Note* What part did the Holy Ghost play in Mulekite synagogue worship? The receiving of the Gift of the Holy Ghost is a duty of the Melchizedek priesthood. Although the Israelites after Moses practiced baptism, the apostasy of the Israelites caused the Melchizedek priesthood to be taken away from all the people except for the prophets. If the Jews rejected the prophets, did the Holy Ghost play a big part in their synagogue worship? It is interesting to note that the mention of the word "synagogue" in the Book of Mormon is primarily found in a dissident "Jewish" (either Mulekite controlled or Zoramite controlled) setting. Does this imply a manner of worship lacking in the Holy Ghost? If inspiration and instruction can not be received and confirmed by the Gift of the Holy Ghost, is emphasis placed more heavily on oral tradition and written text? [Richard K. Miner, personal communication] [See the commentary on Mosiah 6:3]