Alma 17


The Lord Redeems His Covenant Children

      Alma 1 -- Alma 44



Alma 17 Heading An account of the sons of Mosiah (Nephite Record Keepers) [Illustration]: Nephite Record Keepers. Adapted from [Church Educational System, Book of Mormon Student Manual: Religion 121 and 122, 1989, p. 155]


Alma 17--23 (Typification of Christ):


     According to Camille Fronk, in his writings of Christ, Nephi taught that "all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him" (2 Nephi 11:4). According to Alma, "all things" include ordinances [covenants], the law of Moses (Alma 25:15), and individuals ordained to teach God's commandments to the human family (Alma 13:1-2). In other words, everything that God has created has been designed to help us understand, appreciate, and recognize the Son of God and his atonement. (Moses 6:63)

     Typification of Christ [and the covenant way] is rich and abundant in chapters 17-23 of Alma. The following are types and shadows represented by the mission of the sons of Mosiah:

     1. Among the first instructions they received through the Holy Spirit was to "show forth good examples unto them in me" (Alma 17:11), an invitation to reflect the attributes of the Savior.

     2. From the time of their request to serve a mission, the four sons of Mosiah began to typify the mission of Jesus Christ. (Mosiah 29:1-3) They were Christlike when they sacrificed their right as heirs to the Nephite throne in order to teach the gospel to a hardened and idolatrous people. (Alma 17:6,14) Christ gave up a position of power to come down to a fallen world where he would suffer many afflictions to bring us salvation. (John 1:1-5; Isaiah 53:3-5)

     3. As a shepherd, Ammon taught the other servants to gather the scattered sheep, himself leading the way. (John 10:110; 1 Nephi 22:25; D&C 33:6)

     4. Ammon reflected divine power. To Lamoni and his servants Ammon appeared to be as righteous (Alma 18:17) and as omniscient (Alma 18:18) as the Great Spirit.61

     5. Ammon was obedient to the king's commandments above all. Lamoni exclaimed: "Surely there has not been any servant among all my servants that has been so faithful as this man" (Alma 18:10). None but Jesus Christ, however, has remembered all the Father's "commandments to execute them" (Alma 18:10).

     6. Lamoni's courtiers addressed Ammon as "Rabbanah" (Alma 18:13), meaning powerful or great king. The title is nearly identical to "Rabboni" meaning master, which was uttered by Mary Magdalene to the resurrected Lord. (See John 20:16)

     7. Lamoni was a descendant of the sons of Ishmael. The name Ishmael has relevance both in Old Testament history and Book of Mormon history to those who chose not to follow the covenant people of the Lord. Yet they felt justified in their position because of the tradition of their fathers.

     Lamoni had always been taught through Lamanite tradition, that anything he did was right. (Alma 18:5)62 Yet as soon as he believed he might soon stand before the Great Spirit, he experienced immediate feelings of guilt for having killed some of his servants. . . . While no one had taught Lamoni the seriousness of such a wrong-doing, his "conscience" was obviously still alert and corresponding to Ammon's Christlike example.

     8. Ammon taught Lamoni the gospel from the scriptures, specifically explaining the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement. (Alma 18:38-39) Bruce R. McConkie called these "the three pillars of eternity" and the "greatest events that have ever occurred in all eternity."

     9. Once Lamoni understood his position before the Lord, his comatose state typified the death of the natural man in preparation for being born again as a man of Christ. Spiritual rebirth begins when one correctly identifies the Redeemer and the need for his mercy.

     10. While Lamoni's body took on the appearance of death for three days, his spirit was very much alive and actively learning. Parallel ordeals of the same length of time are found throughout scripture. A few years earlier, Alma the Younger was unable to speak or move during the three days of his spiritual awakening. (Mosiah 27:18-25) Paul received his sight after being blind three days, and he was born again. (Acts 9:8-9) Christ used Jonah's three-days' experience in the belly of a great fish to teach His death and resurrection to the Pharisees. (Matthew 12:40) Each of these incidents points to the death and resurrection of the Messiah, whose body was in the tomb for three days while his spirit was in the spirit world. But one major difference separates the Savior from those who typify him--the sinless Christ was the Teacher during his three-days' experience, whereas Lamoni, Alma, and Paul were students, being taught the principles of salvation and experiencing the pains of repentance. Christ's three days were not painful nor were they days of darkness, because he is "the light [that] shineth in the darkness," the very light of the world. (John 1:5; 8:12)

     11. The queen's reaction to Ammon, can be compared to the incident when Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. Martha, Lazarus' sister, did not have the faith to understand what Jesus was teaching when he told her, "Thy brother shall rise again" (John 11:23). Not until she saw her brother walk out of the tomb did she realize that he was not referring to rising after the resurrection. Lamoni's wife, on the other hand, established her beliefs after hearing only the testimony of Ammon and her servants. When Ammon told her that her husband would arise the next day, she responded, "I believe that it shall be according as thou hath said" (Alma 19:9). It is not surprising that Ammon blessed her for her great faith. (Alma 19:10)63

     12. When Lamoni's entire household had fallen into an unconscious state, a servant named Abish, converted to the Lord many years before as a result of a vision of her father (Alma 19:16), helped as witness for Ammon. [See the commentary. Abish = hidden]

     13. When the brother of one who had scattered the flocks tried to kill Ammon, he fell dead. To those who were present it was proof that Ammon could not be killed. (Alma 19:22) . . . Even the king over all the Lamanites could not kill Ammon (Alma 20:21). This marked at least the fourth time Ammon's life could have been taken. The reader should note that Ammon was promised by his father, King Mosiah, that he would be delivered "out of the hands of the Lamanites" (Mosiah 28:7).

     14. One recognizes that the temptations placed before Ammon were the same as those that would later be offered to Christ in a more enticing manner. Ammon was presented gifts that would satisfy the carnal appetite. As Lamoni offered Ammon his daughter in marriage and a life of ease (Alma 17:24), so Satan made his tempting offer of turning stones to bread to the fasting Christ. (Matthew 4:2-4) Ammon could have ruled among the Lamanites, taking advantage of their ignorance when they thought him to be God. (Alma 18:21) Similarly, Christ was presented with the chance to use his power to gain instant popularity and worldly glory. (Matthew 4:5-7) Finally, just as the king of the Lamanites promised Ammon worldly riches (Alma 20:23), so did Satan offer the wealth of all the earth if Christ would worship him. (Matthew 4:8-10) Like the Savior, Ammon did not give in to these worldly pleasures. Both the Savior and Ammon had greater mission to accomplish.

     15. The name of the city in which Aaron went to carried the same name as the city of those who rejected Christ during his mortal ministry--Jerusalem. (Alma 21:1-3)

     16. When Aaron taught the residents of Jerusalem about the atonement of Christ from the scriptures, they became angry, mocked him, and refused to listen to him. They left him with no alternative but to leave their synagogues. Similarly, many people were angry at Jesus' testimony and thrust him out of their synagogue and city. (Luke 4:28-29)

     17. A comparison of what the king of all the Lamanites was willing to sacrifice as he progressed in his gospel knowledge is an interesting study of the value of truth. The king was willing to sacrifice half of his kingdom to secure his physical life in the face of Ammon's power. (Alma 20:23) However, when Aaron told him about eternal life, the king was willing to relinquish all of his kingdom and all his possessions to obtain it (Alma 22:15). By contrast, when Jesus asked the rich, young ruler to sell all he owned and give it to the needy, he would not answer as the king of the Lamanites had responded. (Luke 18:18-30)


[Camille Fronk, "Show Forth Good Examples in Me," in Studies in Scripture: Book of Mormon, Part 1, pp. 321-332]

     Note* The reader should be aware of the following additional types of Christ and the covenant way:

     1. Mosiah means "Savior" and so the sons of Mosiah might represent exactly that.

     2. Ammon learned that the flocks of the king were being scattered and the servants responsible for keeping them together were being put to death.

     3. Ammon is another name for God.

     4. Ammon defended the flocks of the king by cutting off the arms of those who attempted to scatter them. Symbolically, the arm is a symbol of power. Thus Ammon demonstrated superior power over the forces of evil.

     5. Ammon's actions allowed the flocks to drink from the lifegiving waters of Sebus.

     6. Ammon opened the scriptures and taught Lamoni "everything from the beginning"??????. When Christ appeared to the people of the American continent, he taught them the scriptures as "one".

     7. Aaron was the name of the man who administered the covenant ordinances to the children of Israel. That priesthood authority was given his name, the Aaronic Priesthood. That authority was passed down to his sons. By the time of Jesus, this priesthood authority had been corrupted. When rightfully administered by John the Baptist, he was put into prison.

     8. When Lamoni's entire household had fallen into an unconscious state, a servant named Abish, converted to the Lord many years before as a result of a vision of her father (Alma 19;16), helped as witness for Ammon. The name of Abish is associated with something being hidden (to the world).

     9. Having been converted, the king made a proclamation that the gospel would be preached in all his land. This reminds one that according to Christ's words concerning the promised land, "no kings" . . . "shall raise up unto the Gentiles [or covenant seed]" (2 Nephi 10:11). Or in other words, the Lord's work and covenant promises are more powerful than kings. In fact, "the kings of the Gentiles [or covenant seed] shall be nursing fathers unto them" (2 Nephi 10:9).

     10. When asked by Lamoni if he were God, Ammon flatly declared, "I am not" (Alma 18:19). When Christ was asked the same question he responded in the affirmative (Matthew 16:15-20; John 18:33-37)

     11. Ammon went down to the land of Middoni to free his brethren from prison. Christ went to the Spirit World to free his brethren from prison.

[Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

     Note* There is also symbolism in the story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies (the people of Ammon). See the commentary on Alma 17:19. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]


Alma 17:1 [Alma] Met with the Sons of Mosiah (Chronology):


     It should be noted that the missionary travels of Alma (Alma 4:18 ---> Alma 17:1) and the missionary travels of the sons of Mosiah (Alma 17:5 ----> Alma 27:16) occupy the same time period. In Alma 17:4 it says "they had been teaching to word of God for the space of fourteen years." Both Alma and the sons of Mosiah recorded their missionary journeys separately and these records were later put into the book of Alma. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See Appendix A]


Alma 17:1 [Alma] Met with the Sons of Mosiah (Meeting Place):


     When Alma "met with the sons of Mosiah," he "was journeying from the land of Gideon southward, away to the land of Manti" (Alma 17:1). Alma was presumably going from Gideon to Manti on a regular route or path (nothing is said otherwise). If we refer back to the Amlicite war (Alma 2:1-20) when the spies went from the valley of Gideon to the land of Minon, they encountered Lamanites who had come down from the land of Nephi, possibly on this same regular route. Later, Lamanites attacked again, possibly by the same route as the first attacks had been made (Alma 3:20). This route would have led upward (beyond the proposed location of the land of Minon) to the headwaters of the Sidon river, which headwaters were located in the narrow strip of wilderness which separated the general land of Zarahemla from the general land of Nephi (Alma 22:27). Presumably, the sons of Mosiah had been coming down into the general land of Zarahemla along this route. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See Geographical Theory Maps]


Alma 17:1 Journeying from the Land of Gideon Southward, Away to the Land of Manti:


     According to geographical theory of John Sorenson, when we examine Mesoamerican geography from Santa Rosa, Chiapas (proposed city of Zarahemla) towards the highlands of Guatemala (the general land of Nephi), . . . movement upstream near the Grijalva river (Sidon) has always been limited by difficult terrain, particularly the presence of streams flowing into the Grijalva, which have cut ravines difficult to traverse. Bluffs near the river and small hills on the valley floor further complicate the route. By far the most common way around these obstacles has been to climb up and travel through the Chiapas highlands. Travelers move faster along those smooth, cooler valleys, where the Inter-American Highway now runs. . . . as did the colonial Spanish "camino real." If the land of Manti is near the headwaters of the river Sidon (Grijalva), then in traveling from Santa Rosa (the local land of Zarahemla) towards the headwaters (near the land of Manti) this just described Inter-American Highway might have been the general route of the Nephites. If the Anti-Nephi-Lehies followed this same route (only coming down from the Guatemala highlands--the general land of Nephi--instead of going up), it might explain how they possibly bypassed the local land of Zarahemla (no mention of it is made) in going "down into the land of Jershon" (Alma 27:26). [John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., p. 166] [See the commentary on Alma 27:26]


Geographical Theory Map: Alma 17:1 Alma Meets the Sons of Mosiah (14th Year)


Alma 17:3, 9 They Had Given Themselves to Much Prayer, and Fasting:


     According to Stephen Ricks, fasting as an act preparatory to seeking the gifts of the Spirit can be seen in the account of the sons of Mosiah, who had given themselves "to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God" (Alma 17:3). In Alma 17:9 we find that as they journeyed many days in the wilderness on their way to the Lamanites that "they fasted much and prayed much that the Lord would grant unto them a potion of his Spirit to go with them, and abide with them, that they might be an instrument in the hands of God." (see also Alma 5:46, 8:26) In the Old Testament, in a slightly different vein, we find that Moses fasted on the mountain for forty days when receiving the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9), Saul fasted before visiting the witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28:20), and Ahab and Jezebel proclaimed a public fast in anticipation of the trial of Naboth (1 Kings 21:9, 12). [Stephen D. Ricks, "Fasting in the Book of Mormon and the Bible" in The Book of Mormon: The Keystone Scripture, p. 130] [For a listing and description of all references to fasting in both the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon, see the commentary illustrations for Alma 45:1; see also the commentary on Mosiah 27:22; Helaman 9:10]


Alma 17:3, 6 When They Taught They Taught with Power . . . Having Refused the Kingdom Which Their Father Was Desirous to Confer upon Them:


     According to Richard Rust, Mormon used the principle of repetition in order to give the narrative focus and reinforce teachings. For example, the missionary endeavor of the sons of Mosiah, found in a single chapter in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon (Alma 17 through 20 in the current edition), is one of the most interesting stories in the Book of Mormon. By looking at this narrative as a single story, one discovers that its center is the kingdom of God in contrast with the kingdom of man, the power of God in contrast with that of man. It shows the ideal power of the missionary. Mormon's headnote underlines this theme: The sons of Mosiah reject their "rights to the kingdom" (an earthly kingdom with its accompanying power) "for the word of God" and go up to the land of Nephi "to preach to the Lamanites." There they experience "sufferings and deliverance." This acceptance of God's power and denial of earthly glory is emphasized in the first paragraph of the 1830 edition. The sons of Mosiah, we are told, "taught with power and authority, even as with the power and authority of God, . . . having refused the kingdom which their father was desirous to confer upon them" (cf. Alma 17:3, 6). From this point on, the word power becomes a repeated drum beat throughout the narrative.

     The story that follows gains dramatic intensity by a greater movement into dialogue and monologue, with the emphatic word being power. (See Alma 17:29, 36; 18:3, 13, 20-22, 33-35; 19:17, 24.) By foregoing earthly power, Ammon shows forth God's power and thus opens up the most significant missionary harvest in the Book of Mormon. The editor's (Mormon's) heavily repeated use of the word translated as power drives home that point. [Richard D. Rust, "Recurrence in Book of Mormon Narratives," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 3, Num. 1 (Spring 1994), pp. 47-50]


Alma 17:7 Bows . . . That They Might Provide Food for Themselves:


     When the sons of Mosiah made their missionary journey up to the Lamanites in the land of Nephi, they "took their swords, and their spears, and their bows, and their arrows, and their slings; and this they did that they might provide food for themselves while in the wilderness" (Alma 17:7). According to an article by William Hamblin, simple processes existed in Mesoamerica for making inexpensive, less efficient bows that were still useful for some forms of hunting. The Lacandon Maya Indians of southeastern Mexico follow one such method: "The Lacandon man cuts a long square piece from a felled tree and then smooths it into an elliptical shape by scraping it across a machete. . . . [He] gradually works the wood into a rough bow 1.65 meters long. . . . After shaping the wood in this fashion, he heats the bow over an open fire for up to half an hour. This step hardens the bow. . . . [The] Lacandon [then] polishes it with a large whetstone. . . . until the wood surface is completely smooth and regular. . . . The entire process . . . takes approximately three days." [William J. Hamblin, "The Bow and Arrow in the Book of Mormon," in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., pp. 377-378]


Alma 17:7 Spears:


     As the sons of Mosiah departed to the land of Nephi, they took along their swords, and their spears, . . . that they might provide food for themselves while in the wilderness" (Alma 17:7). According to an article by William Hamblin, in Mesoamerica they had what they called an atlatl, which was a curved notched stick into which a javelin (spear) was laid. This stick allowed an individual to throw the javelin with increased force and range. The weapon was unknown in the Middle East in Nephi's time, and neither Egyptian nor Hebrew has a term for such a weapon. . . . As for the development of terminology for new weapons, it was not at all uncommon for weapons that were new to a given culture to be called by the name of an older, more familiar weapon. For our purposes, the best example occurs with the terms used by the Spanish Conquistadors to describe Aztec weapons with which they were unfamiliar. The "Anonymous Conqueror" described atlatls as "spears which they throw with crossbows." [William J. Hamblin, "The Bow and Arrow in the Book of Mormon," in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., p. 389]


Alma 17:8 They Departed . . . to Go up to the Land of Nephi:


     Alma 17:8 states that the sons of Mosiah "departed . . . to go up to the land of Nephi." The reader should note that the term "go" (as opposed to the term "came") might imply that the author's reference point was the local land of Zarahemla. (see also Mosiah 28:9). The Book of Mormon geography student should always be aware of the possibilities for whatever reference point the writer is using. The reader should also note that the land of Nephi (Lamanite territory) was generally "up" from the land of Zarahemla. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]


Alma 17:8 They departed into the wilderness . . . to go up to the land of Nephi (Illustration): From the extreme southerly limit of the Central Depression (or Zarahemla area) the great strip of mountainous wilderness looms; beyond it lay the highland zone of southern Guatemala--the likely land of Nephi. [John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America, p. 196]


Alma 17:9,13 They Journeyed Many Days in the Wilderness . . . to the Borders of the Lamanites:


     The departure of the sons of Mosiah from the land of Zarahemla is not only chronicled in Alma 17:6, but is also recorded in Mosiah 28:9. Their departure is recorded as happening sometime near the first year of the reign of the judges in Mosiah 29:44; however, Alma 17:6 mentions that they had "taken leave of their father, Mosiah, in the first year of the judges. Mosiah2, the father of these sons and the one who gave them permission to go, apparently ruled from the local land of Zarahemla, so their journey probably began there.

     In Alma 17:9 it says that the sons of Mosiah "journeyed many days in the wilderness" apparently before they reached the "borders of the land of the Lamanites" (Alma 17:13). Alma 22:27 seems to imply that this wilderness they traveled in was the narrow strip of wilderness which divided the land of the Lamanites from the land of Zarahemla. If so, then the "many days" of travel would have to change our perspective of the phrase "narrow strip of wilderness." Perhaps the "narrow strip" was not so narrow.

     One might also ask, What made the "borders of the land of the Lamanites" a recognizable place? Were these the borders of the land of Nephi near where the land of Mormon was said to have been located (Mosiah 18:4, Alma 5:3)? We might assume as much in a general way, as it hadn't been too many years since Alma1 had been there. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on Alma 22:27] [See Appendix A--Chronology] [See Geographical Theory Maps]


Alma 17:13 They Separated Themselves and Departed One from Another:


     Where was the place that the sons of Mosiah "separated themselves and departed one from another" (Alma 17:13)? According to John Sorenson, from this place of separation, Ammon went to the land of Ishmael, and Aaron headed for the city of Jerusalem, while others in the group next showed up at a place called Ani-Anti. None of these spots had been mentioned in earlier discussions of the land. The junction where the brothers parted might have been an ancient meeting point of paths from different directions. [John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., p. 221]

     According to Joseph Allen, assuming a Mesoamerican setting, that Santa Rosa, Chiapas, Mexico was the location of the local land of Zarahemla, and that Kaminaljuyu (Guatemala City, Guatemala) was the location of the local land of Nephi; then there are two possibilities as to where the sons of Mosiah separated themselves upon arriving in the borders of the land of Nephi: (1) Cuatro Caminos ("four roads" or "four routes") which is just outside of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, and (2) Los Encuentros ("where two roads meet"). At the present time, we favor #2 (Los Encuentros). From this meeting place, one path leads down to Lake Atitlan (the proposed site of Jerusalem), another leads towards Kaminaljuyu (which path supposedly passed through the land of Ishmael on the way), and another path leads back towards Chiapas, Mexico (the land of Zarahemla from which the sons of Mosiah had come). [Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, p. 365]


Alma 17:13 In the borders of the land of the Lamanites . . . they . . . departed one from another (Illustration): Possible area where the sons of Mosiah separated to go forth among the Lamanites to preach the gospel. [Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, p. 367].


Alma 17:14 Precious Stones:


     Alma 17:14 says that the hearts of the Lamanites "were set upon riches, or upon gold and silver, and precious stones; yet they sought to obtain these things by murdering and plundering [the Nephites]." According to Hunter and Ferguson, the Mesoamerican historian Ixtlilxochitl and the Book of Mormon both comment on the use of precious stones, one mentions their use by the Tultecs or "Bountiful people" and the other by people who occupied the land Bountiful [the Nephites]. Ixtlilxochitl's comment is brief and to the point: "The Tultecas . . . carved precious stones . . . " The expression generally used in the Book of Mormon in referring to gems is "precious things." It is interesting that the term "gem" appears in neither the Book of Mormon nor in the Old Testament. Fr. Bernardino de Sahagun makes the following interesting statement concerning the pre-Conquest lapidaries of Mexico:

           They said that to [their] gods was attributed the art of carving precious stone, including . . . black stone earrings and crystal earrings and amber earrings, and other white earrings; to these they also attributed the carving of beads and bracelets, and strings that they wore around their wrists, and all carving of stones and chalchihuites, and the boring and polishing of all stones. (Sahagun, Libro 8, Capitulo 17)


     Thus, it is evident that the carving of precious stones and making use of them was continued from the Nephite period down to the coming of the Spaniards. In fact, that the lapidary art was fully developed as early as the Zarahemla/Bountiful occupation (200 B.C.--A.D. 350) of the Book of Mormon period has been confirmed by archaeology. A carved and polished jade pendant, the famous Leyden plate, bears a hieroglyphic date which, correlated with our calendar, falls at A.D. 320. [Milton R. Hunter and Thomas S. Ferguson, Ancient American and the Book of Mormon, pp. 283-284]


Alma 17:19 The Land of Ishmael, the Land Being Called after the Sons of Ishmael:


     We are told that the land of Ishmael was called "after the sons of Ishmael, who also became Lamanites" (Alma 17:19). While some of the daughters of Ishmael married Nephi, Sam, and Zoram (1 Nephi 16:7), there is no record of any sons of Ishmael leaving the land of first Inheritance when Nephi fled to the land of Nephi (2 Nephi 5:5-6). The idea that the "sisters" mentioned as accompanying Nephi (2 Nephi 5:5-6) were married to some sons of Ishmael seems doubtful in view of not only the previous rebellion of the sons of Ishmael (see 1 Nephi 7:6), but the wording in Alma 17:19, "the sons of Ishmael, who also became Lamanites." This is significant, because in Jacob 1:13 we find the following:

           Now the people which were not Lamanites were Nephites; nevertheless, they were called Nephites, Jacobites, Josephites, Zoramites, Lamanites, Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites.


     According to Nephite custom, they called their lands and cities "after the name of him who first possessed them" (Alma 8:7). Thus, because what we are reading in Alma 17:19 comes from Nephite record keepers, the land of Ishmael was apparently first occupied by the sons of Ishmael. Somehow, the sons of Ishmael must have spread outward from the Lamanite land of first inheritance which was located "on the west in the land of Nephi" . . . "bordering along by the seashore" (see Alma 22:28). Nephi, after having fled to the local land of Nephi, states the following: "And it sufficeth me to say that forty years had passed away and we had already had wars and contentions with our brethren." Thus, the spread of the Lamanites (including the sons of Ishmael) somehow encroached on the Nephite interests. From this we might surmise that the land of Ishmael was located somewhere in the general area between the Lamanite land of first inheritance and the local land of Nephi.

     After traveling "many days" from the land of Zarahemla (Alma 17:9) and arriving in the "borders of the land of the Lamanites" (Alma 17:13) the sons of Mosiah separated and Ammon entered the land of Ishmael:

           "And as Ammon entered the land of Ishmael, the Lamanites took him and bound him, as was their custom to bind all the Nephites who fell into their hands, and carry them before the king; and thus it was left to the pleasure of the king to slay them, or to retain them in captivity, or to cast them out of his land, according to his will and pleasure." (Alma 17:20). (emphasis added)


     This might imply a fairly definite boundary with fairly definite political power. It might also imply that the sons of Mosiah could not have traveled an extensive distance into Lamanite territory without encountering trouble (the first time Ammon saw his brethren again they were in prison--Alma 20:2). Thus, the land of Ishmael where Ammon traveled to was probably near to the land of Jerusalem, the land where Aaron and his brethren first traveled toward from the point of separation "in the borders of the land of the Lamanites" (Alma 21:1--Alma 21:1 also says that Jerusalem "was away joining the borders of Mormon." Alma 5:3 says that Alma the elder "began to establish a church in the land which was in the borders of Nephi; yea, the land which was called the land of Mormon).

     In later travels, after Aaron and his brethren were freed from prison, and after the king over all the Lamanites had given permission to Ammon that "thou and thy brethren may come unto me, in my kingdom" (Alma 20:27), Aaron was able to reach the local land of Nephi where the king resided. Thus, we can assume that the land of Ishmael was located somewhere between "the borders of the general land of Nephi" (Alma 17:9,13) first reached by the sons of Mosiah in the journey from Zarahemla, and the local land of Nephi where the king "over all the land save it were the land of Ishmael" resided (Alma 22:1).

     Merging both lines of reasoning, we can place the land of Ishmael somewhat to the west of the local land of Nephi, and on the general path between the local land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla. We would not expect the sons of Ishmael, who apparently stayed behind when Nephi fled (see reasoning above), to occupy land beyond the site and in the direction of where Nephi fled to from the first landing site. Thus, we might assume, with reasonable textual justification, that the Lamanite land of first inheritance was by the seashore in the northwestern part of the general land of Nephi. Textually, we find this assumption backed up by the lack of mention of any lands "south" of the local land of Nephi. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]


Alma 17:19 The Land of Ishmael:


     According to Joseph Allen, we might propose that the land of Ishmael was between the land of Jerusalem (proposed Lake Atitlan area) and the local land of Nephi (ruins of Kaminaljuyu, Guatemala City). Some of the towns between Lake Atitlan and Guatemala City today are Patzun, Patzicia, Chimaltenango, and Antigua. John Sorenson places the land of Ishmael in the Department (comparable to a state) of Chimaltenango (Setting, 225), which includes the communities of Patzicia and Patzun. These towns are located in a picturesque valley where a degree of level crop farming is possible. [Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, p. 367]


Alma 17:19 The land of Ishmael (Illustration): Projection of the Coast and Highlands of Chiapas indicating Modern and Ancient Routes of Communication. Map drawn by topographer Eduardo Martinez E. with the collaboration of Gonzalo Utrilla. [Gareth Lowe, Thomas Lee, and Eduardo Martinez, Izapa: An Introduction to the Ruins and Monuments, N.W.A.F., p. 73]


Alma 17:19 Ammon Went to the Land of Ishmael (Symbolism):


     In the Title Page of the Book of Mormon we find that the first proposed purpose of the book is to "show unto the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers . . . that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever." In the book of Mosiah and the book of Alma we find not only the story of the redemption of Alma and the Sons of Mosiah, but their subsequent missionary efforts. The sons of Mosiah (of whom Ammon was the eldest and the leader) went among the Lamanites and converted a number of them. The converted Lamanites eventually took upon themselves the name "Ammon." Thus one might wonder if, according to the design of the Book of Mormon, there is any symbolic covenant significance significance to the story of Ammon.

     Some scholars might recognize the name "Amon" as an Egyptian pagan god, but according to Hugh Nibley, "he's not pagan at all."

           The Egyptian word Amon means lots and lots of things. The main thing it means is "the unknown one," the one the Egyptians don't know. They call him "the hidden one, the concealed one, the one whose name nobody knows." Of course, that's exactly what the Hebrews said about him. Only the high priest in Israel knew the name of God. He only whispered it once a year when he went behind the veil. Nobody else knew that name. The name of Amon is written in Egyptian with a man concealing himself behind a blind. That is always read as Imn, "the one who is not seen, the one who is invisible, the one we don't know and who is above." In several of our hymns we use the word Amon for the name of God:

           What, tho, if the favor of Ahman possessing,

           This world's bitter hate you are called to endure?

           ("The Time is Far spent" Hymnbook, p. 266) 64


     Now according to Louis Midgley,

           the name and description of the community (or church) in the Book of Mormon was People of God (Mosiah 25:24; Alma 2:11, 19:14; 4 Nephi 1:40), or Covenant People of the Lord (1 Nephi 14:14; 2 Nephi 30:2; Mormon 8:15,21). Those names, as well as a complex of related language, are linked with the making and renewal of the covenant binding the faithful to God. The covenant was at times renewed through rituals involving the entire community. Those rituals admonished and constituted, as they did with ancient Israel, what the Book of Mormon calls "ways of remembrance" (1 Nephi 2:24). . . . [Such] provide us with prophetic direction and warning by preserving and enlarging our own memory of God's mighty deeds, and of the terms of the covenant that made them (and us) the People of God.65


     Thus by linking the people of Ammon with the people of God (see Mosiah 25:24; Alma 25:13; 27:27), a symbolic background is established for the many types and shadows of covenant salvation evoked in the story of the redemption of the people of Ammon. In order to understand why Ammon and the people of Ammon were uniquely important to Mormon, it might prove enlightening to the reader to list just briefly a few of the symbolisms associated with their story of redemption. The following is a partial list:66

     1. Ammon was redeemed of the Lord. (Mosiah 27:8-34)

     2. He learned that "all mankind" must be redeemed in order to inherit the kingdom of God. (Mosiah 27:25-27)

     3. He began to "publish peace." (Mosiah 27:32-37)

     4. He desired to preach repentance to his brethren the Lamanites. (Mosiah 28:1-5)

     5. Ammon was apparently the oldest and "chief" among those who desired to preach (Alma 17:18) (symbolic of the Firstborn)

     6. Before departing for their missions, Ammon blessed all the servants and administered unto them (Alma 17:18). (Symbolic of foreordination in the Premortal sphere)

     7. Ammon went to the land of Ishmael (Ishmael is a biblical person symbolizing those children of the Father born outside the Abrahamic covenant. These were children of the Father "born after the flesh" in "bondage"--see Galatians 6:22-23)

     8. Ammon was willing to give his life to fulfill his calling (Alma 17:23). (Symbolic of the Savior)

     9. Ammon forsook riches and power in order to serve his king (Alma 17:24-25) (Christ also did the same, but in order to serve The King)

     10. After 3 days, as Ammon and the servants of the king (symbolic of God's prophets) were leading their flocks (symbolic of covenant children) to water (symbolic of living water) their flocks were scattered. (Alma 17:27)

     11. The servants of the king feared for their lives because of this scattering. (Alma 17:28)      

     12. Ammon showed forth his power. With the servants he led the flocks back to the place of water (Alma 17:29-32)

     13. The wicked men came to scatter the flocks again.(Alma 17:33)

     14. Ammon overcame them and cut off their arms (symbolic of their power) (Alma 17:37)

     15. The arms were presented to the king as proof of Ammon's actions (Alma 17:39)

     16. The servants testified of the power of Ammon (Alma 18:1)

     17. Ammon was perceived as having all the attributes of the Great Spirit. (Alma 18:2-4).

     18. Ammon was the greatest of all servants to the king (Alma 18:10).

     19. Ammon was called "Rabbanah," meaning powerful or great king (Alma 18:13), a title nearly identical to "Rabboni," meaning master, which title was directed by Mary Magdalene to the resurrected Lord (John 20:16).

     20. Ammon's only desire was to serve the king.

     21. Ammon knew the thoughts of a man's heart. (Alma 18:18)

     22. Ammon had been called to teach the true nature of a just God (Alma 18:26-34)

     23. Ammon was a man created after the image of God and called by His spirit (Alma 18:34)      

     24. Ammon taught the gospel from the scriptures, specifically the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement (Alma 18:36-39)

     25. Once the king (or symbolic representative of the people) understood and believed, he fell into a comatose state (symbolic of the death of the natural man). (Alma 18:40-43)

     26. He was in this state of death until the third day, (symbolic of Christ's death) however during this time his spirit was being taught by the Redeemer (symbolic of Christ's mission to the Spirit World) (Alma 19:1-13);

     27. When he arose he was a new man, spiritually reborn (symbolic of the covenant of baptism).

     28. Wicked men tried to slay Ammon but he could not be slain according to the promises of the Lord (Alma 19:22-23)

     29. The king said that were Ammon to be slain, innocent blood would be shed (Alma 20:19)

     30. Ammon had power even over the king of all the Lamanites (symbolic of Satan). He smote his arm that he could not use it (Alma 20:20)

     31. Ammon requested and was granted his wish that his brethren be released from prison (Alma 20:24) (symbolizing the power to free men from a spiritual prison).

     32. Ammon returned to the land of his inheritance (Alma 21:18)

     33. Ammon taught the people all things pertaining to righteousness (Alma 21:23)

     34. As the people of the king were converted, they buried their weapons of war in covenant (symbolic of baptism)--they became new people. (Alma 23:7)

     35 The people gave their lives completely to this covenant. Even though they covenanted to not take someone's life, they triumphed over many of their enemies in battle (Alma 23-26)

     36. Although they endured sufferings, the Lord would not allow this people to be totally destroyed. (Alma 27:1-14)

     37. They were told to depart from their homeland in order to go to a new land of inheritance. They were given the land of Jershon, which literally means "a land of inheritance," or in Book of Mormon terms "a land of promise." (Alma 27:15-26)

     38. They took upon themselves the name of "the people of Ammon," which means "the people of God" (Ammon = God) by which they were distinguished "ever after." (Alma 27:26)

     39. There they kept their covenants perfectly (Alma 27:27) and were protected from destruction. (Alma 28:1-3)

     40. When once again in the face of ultimate destruction, they refused to break their covenant they were led to the land of Melek which literally means "the land of the king" (in Hebrew Melekh = king). (Alma 35:13)

     41. In Melek they prospered and raised up a righteous posterity. This people of Ammon ("people of God" or covenant people) had children who also lived by the covenant. (Alma 56:3-9)

     42 When ultimate danger threatened for the third time, the righteous posterity rose up to preserve the lives of their covenant progenitors. (Alma 56-59)

     43. The commander of the Nephites (Moroni) had established a covenant of peace. (Alma 44:14-15)

     44. Those who fought against the covenant people ("king-men" --who wanted to establish a false king) and who refused the covenant of peace suffered death. (Alma 44:14)

     45 Not one life of the young people of Ammon was lost. (Alma 56-59)

     46. Mormon also recorded that as far as he knew, the people of Ammon never did fall away. (Alma 23:5-7; 27:26-30)


     In about 46 B.C., when contention arose among the Nephite nation, Mormon notes that the people of Ammon departed out of the land into the land northward (Helaman 3:3-5, 11-15). Although Mormon never states specifically just where the people of Ammon settled in the land northward, he did not attempt to correlate the subsequent wickedness in the land northward with the people of Ammon. Mormon makes no specific mention of them in his description of the rejection of Nephi's preaching in that land at around 23 B.C. (see Helaman 7:1-6). This would have been only about 40 years from the miraculous battles of the sons of Helaman and it is highly doubtful that the people of Ammon would have ever rejected Nephi if Mormon specifically states that "they never did fall away." Such a drastic turnabout would not have escaped Mormon's record.

     Over two hundred years after the Lord's visit, Mormon records that the people began to dwindle into unbelief and wickedness. For the next two hundred years the Nephite nation continued their downward spiral into total wickedness until they were totally destroyed. (4 Nephi 1:24 - Mormon 8:2). But what about the people of Ammon? Could the people of Ammon have been a viable community during the lifetime of Mormon, distant both geographically and spiritually from the total moral decay of a nation which led ultimately to the wars of extermination? [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on Alma 17:23] [See Volume 6, Appendix A, "The Chronological Setting for Moroni 7"]


Geographical theory map: Alma 17:19 (Illustration) Ammon goes to the Land of Ishmael


Geographical Theory Map: Alma 17:6-19 Sons of Mosiah Go up to Nephi / Ammon Goes to Ishmael (1st Year)


Alma 17:20 As Ammon Entered the Land of Ishmael, the Lamanites Took Him:


     [See the commentary on Alma 17:19]


Alma 17:23 I Desire to Dwell among This People For a Time:


     When asked if it were his desire to dwell in the land among the Lamanites, Ammon replied, "Yea, I desire to dwell among this people for a time; yea, and perhaps until the day I die" (Alma 17:23). Readers of the scriptures might see a similarity in this response to that of Moses at the tent of Jethro when it says, "And Moses was content to dwell with the man" (Exodus 2:23). Readers might also find a similarity with both Ammon and Moses protecting the flocks from those who might scatter them from their place of water (Exodus 2:16-17; Alma 17:26-34), or with both Ammon and Moses being offered the hand of a daughter in marriage (Exodus 2:21; Alma 17:24). Yet far from being alarmed by such similarities in scriptural stories, the Book of Mormon reader should expect as much.

     Alan Goff notes that Robert Alter recently pointed to "the paramount importance of intrabiblical allusion for ancient Hebrew writers."67 In other words, a primary characteristic of biblical narrative is extensive allusion, connecting it to other biblical narratives. When the Bible "borrows" from other stories within its corpus, such a practice increases our appreciation for the text. One of these type-scenes, according to Alter, is called "a betrothal type-scene." Alter notes the betrothal type-scene structure: (1) it takes place in a foreign land (2) the exile meets a nubile maiden, (3) water is drawn, (4) the maiden rushes to announce arrival, and (5) the man is invited to a meal and marriage negotiations.68 Moses' betrothal at the well is the simplest and most explicit of these Pentateuchal type-scenes (Exodus 2). The betrothal type-scene occurs three times in the Pentateuch (Genesis 24, Genesis 29, and Exodus 2), but also shows up in later biblical narrative.69 Ruth, Boaz, David, and Saul are all involved in betrothal type-scenes.

     According to Goff, once we become prepared for the allusive quality of biblical narrative, we are ready to examine the allusive quality of Book of Mormon narrative. Paralleling the elements of the "betrothal-type scene, Ammon (1) goes to a foreign land to preach. He is bound and taken before the king who asks his intentions. Ammon answers: "I desire to dwell among this people for a time; yea, and perhaps until the day I die" (Alma 17:23). Pleased with this response, (5) Lamoni offers betrothal (2) to one of his nubile daughters: "he would that Ammon should take one of his daughters to wife" (Alma 17:24). Ammon declines and becomes a shepherd instead. Absent a well, there is (3) a watering hole for the sheep (Alma 17:26) where the flocks are scattered by thieves. As Moses challenges the rogue shepherds at the well, Ammon defends the flock.

     Goff also notes that the Ammon story is a "narrative analogy" for the David story and is clearly intended as such in the text--you are supposed to see the connection. As David uses both sling and sword in the Goliath story, Ammon uses a sling to kill six thieves and a sword to disarm others. But only the leader he kills with the sword. The servants carry the severed arms back to Lamoni, as testimony of Ammon's mighty deed Alma 17:39). Yet unlike David, who takes up sling and sword in order to become king over the people, Ammon preaches to the Lamanites. And once converted, they totally shed their weapons of war. [Alan Goff, "Reduction and Enlargement: Harold Bloom's Mormons" in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., Vol. 5, 1993, pp. 100-105] [See the commentary on Alma 17:19] [See the commentary on 2 Nephi 3:15 for a linking of the two Messiahs: one from the tribe if Judah (Messiah ben David), and the other from the tribe of Joseph (Messiah ben Joseph)]


Alma 17:24 He Would That Ammon Should Take One of His Daughters to Wife:


     Ammon has come among a foreign and hostile people armed with a weapon. Ammon is taken as a bound captive to the king of the land of Ishmael. Yet, as noted by Brant Gardner, facing prison, torture, and possibly death, Ammon says that he wants to live with the Lamanites, and the king says, in effect, "Oh, what a good idea. While you are at it, do you want to marry my daughter?" Doesn't something seem rather wrong about this?

     In order to give some reason to these circumstances, let us return to the problem as King Lamoni would have seen it. He has the son of the Nephite king of Zarahemla who has voluntarily come among his enemies. So this man, while presented as a captive, is not a captive of war, but has come willingly. Thus there is little political and religious significance in his death or captive-torture. This man has professed that he wants to live among the Lamanites, but it is possible that he could want to do so to be a spy. Thus there is a problem facing the king. He could kill him, but achieve very little, or he could let him live, but worry about what he might do in the future. What the king decides to do is allow him to live, but morally and legally bind him to the Lamanites by marriage. This is no simple marriage, but one into the royal family. Thus the king will allow Ammon to live, but will place him in a position where his social position signifies a change to the Lamanites, and where the king might be able to keep an eye on him.

     Ammon counters with a similar proposal, but one without changing his religious, royal, or political allegiance. He asks to be a servant. So what first appears to be silly is really consistent with the text. [Brant Gardner, Book of Mormon Commentary, Alma17.htm, pp. 14-15]


Alma 17:24 Ammon Should Take One of His Daughters to Wife:


     [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 7:1]


Alma 17:26 Water[s] of Sebus:


     According to Alma 17:26, "all the Lamanites drive their flocks" . . . "to the place of water, which was called the water of Sebus." We are not told exactly what is meant by the phrase "water of Sebus," but one should notice that the word "water" is singular here as opposed to the plural "waters of Sebus" (see Alma 17:34; 18:7). Whether this "water(s) of Sebus" originated from a well, or a pond, or a spring, or some other type of water hole is unclear, but access was apparently limited in this particular instance. One should notice that it says "all the Lamanites drive their flocks hither, that they may have water" (Alma 17:26). The tense of the verb "drive" is present tense and not past tense. Thus, Mormon might be describing a Lamanite custom which might then mean that the term "water of Sebus" refers to a type of watering used all over Lamanite territory rather than one specific watering place. The location of this particular watering process was perhaps within a few miles of the king's dwelling (see Alma 17:39). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]


Alma 17:26 Water[s] of Sebus:


     Clate Mask has put forth the idea that perhaps we should regard the term "waters of Sebus" in the same manner that we regard the "waters of Sidon" (Alma 2:34; 3:3; 4:4; 43:40,50; 44:22). If we do, then the term "waters of Sebus" might refer to a collection of tributaries that flow into a river named Sebus. [Clate Mask, personal communication]

     If the thinking of Clate Mask is correct, then the map of Ben Olsen which illustrates the drainage patterns in southern Mexico and Guatemala might be very informative (see illustration). Furthermore, if according to the model of Richard Hauck, the action involving the waters of Sebus took place in the Motagua valley, then the waters of Sebus might correlate with the Motagua river system, which flows eastward towards Lake Izabal and the Caribbean Sea.


Alma 17:26 Water[s] of Sebus (Illustration): Ups and Downs -- Mexico and Central America. [Ben L. Olsen, Some Earthly Treasures of the Book of Mormon, Map 7., Unpublished]


Alma 17:28 The King Will Slay Us, As He Has Our Brethren:


     All the Lamanites would drive their flocks to a particular watering place (Alma 17:26). And when they got there, "a certain number of Lamanites, who had been with their flocks to water, stood and scattered the . . . [king's] flocks." Apparently this had been done many times. After the flocks of the king had been scattered, the servants lamented, "now the king will slay us, as he has our brethren" (Alma 17:28) and they began to weep. Hugh Nibley wonders, Is everybody crazy here? What insanity is this, the king kills his own servants for losing a contest that had been acted out before? In fact, we are told in Alma 18:7 that "it was the practice of these Lamanites to stand by the waters of Sebus to scatter the flocks of the people," keeping what they could for themselves, "it being a practice of plunder among them." It looks like it was a regular custom. So it was no secret to anyone; this was not an ambush but something to be expected. But the king's own flocks? How could they get away with that? Didn't he have enough men to protect them if this happened regularly? Well, for one thing the Lamanites played the game for sport; it was more than meat that they were after, for "they delighted in the destruction of their brethren; and for this cause they stood to scatter the flocks of the king" (Alma 17:35) They thought it was great sport. . . . This becomes apparent when a few days later, the very men "who had stood at the waters of Sebus and scattered the flocks" (Alma 19:21) mingled freely and openly with the crowd of people [Lamanites] gathered at the palace. They were the ones that scattered the king's flocks and got the king's followers executed by law, according to the game. . . . They were there to get revenge on Ammon right at the king's palace. The brother of the head man (whom Ammon had killed with his sword) drew his own sword on the spot (he had a sword, too, you see) and made at Ammon (Alma 19:22). He attacked Ammon and was going to finish him off on the spot. So the men had swords but only used clubs in their scattering of the flocks. Isn't that odd, and isn't it odd that those same wicked Lamanites not only walked around right in front of the king's palace where everybody recognized them, but nobody did anything about it? They were perfectly free to come and go. And no one held it against the winning team that they had stolen their flocks back (nothing wrong with that), but the losers were only angry with Ammon because he had thrown rocks at them and used his sword against men bearing only ceremonial clubs.

     Why ceremonial? All this reminds us of those many ritual, ceremonial games in which the loser also lost his life, beginning with an Aztec duel in which one of the contestants was tethered by the ankle and bore only a wooden mace, while his heavily armored opponent wielded a weapon with sharp obsidian edges. . . . But the closest are those known to many of us here, namely the bloody fun of the famous basketball games played in the great ballcourts of the ceremonial complexes of Mesoamerica. Anyone who has been there has visited the big basketball courts there. In these games either the captain of the losing team or the whole team lost their heads. Everybody didn't get killed. One or two people did--sometimes the team and sometimes just the captain. But somebody got bumped off. You might say, "Why did they do those things?" Well, it's better than the way we do it when we go out and clean out everybody--civilians and everybody else. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, pp. 368-371]


Alma 17:34 He [Ammon] went forth and stood to contend with those who stood by the waters of Sebus (Illustration): Ammon Defends the Flocks of King Lamoni. [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Gospel Art, #310]


Alma 17:37 He Smote Off Their Arms with His Sword:


     A number of recent studies by Latter-day Saint scholars have suggested that the pre-Columbian Mesoamerican weapon known as the macuahuitl or macana fits the criteria for the Book of Mormon New World "sword."70 Critics maintain that the term "sword" in the Book of Mormon must refer to a weapon similar to a metal cavalry broadsword (much like we see in the movies of the civil war and the old west). They base their assumptions on certain terms or phrases mentioned in the text. One of these phrases is found in Alma 17:37, "he [Ammon] smote off their arms with his sword."

     According to Matthew Roper, critics cannot understand how Ammon could cut off the arms of his Lamanite enemies at the waters of Sebus, or how the Nephite soldier could cut off a part of Zarahemnah's scalp (Alma 44:12) with one defensive blow, if they were using a macuahuitl which they imply was just a club. Those familiar with Mesoamerican warfare and historical descriptions of this weapon would not view this as a problem. Those Spaniards who encountered Mexican "swords" in battle were deeply impressed by their deadly cutting power and razorlike sharpness.71 Here are a few statements that adequately illustrate this point:

     These swords cut naked men as if they were steel.72


     Their swords, which were as long as broadswords, were made of flint which cut worse than a knife, and the blades were so set that one could neither break them nor pull them out.73


     They slashed at his mare, cutting her head at the neck so that it only hung by the skin.74


     They killed the mare with a single sword-stroke.75


     There were shields large and small, and a sort of broadsword, and two-handed swords set with flint blades that cut much better than our swords.76

[Matthew Roper, "On Cynics and Swords," in FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 9/1 1997, pp. 148-154]


Alma 17:39 They . . . Went in unto the King, Bearing the Arms Which Had Been Smitten Off by the Sword of Ammon . . . for a Testimony of the Things Which They Had Done:


     According to an article by John Lundquist and John Welch, the practice of cutting off the arms or other body parts of enemies, specifically as a testimony of the conquest of victims, is attested in the ancient Near East. On the extreme left of band 4 on the decorated Gates of Shalmaneser III (858-824 B.C.), Assyrian troops are shown cutting off the heads, feet, and hands of vanquished enemies. "In other reliefs, the artists of the Assyrian kings depict the military scribes recording the number of enemy dead in accordance with the number of severed heads, hands and feet which Assyrian soldiers hold up before them." This practice seems related to that of the servants of king Lamoni, who took the arms that had been cut off by Ammon into the king as "a testimony" of what Ammon had done (Alma 17:39). The reasons for this phenomenon were based on a need to obtain an accurate count of the dead, and the need to reward the soldiers involved. Ammon, of course, had no interest in receiving compensation for his loyal service to king Lamoni, but the fact that the evidence was presented to the king, which could have entitled him to payment, heightens all the more the fact that Ammon sought no recognition or reward. [John M. Lundquist and John W. Welch, "Ammon and Cutting Off the Arms of Enemies," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, p. 180]


Alma 17:39 They . . . went in unto the king, bearing the arms which had been smitten off by the sword of Ammon . . . for a testimony of the things which they had done (Illustration): Ancient Near Eastern warriors often cut off the hands or other body parts of their victims and presented them to their commander as a witness of those they had killed in battle. Figure A shows soldiers at the time of Ramses II cutting off the hands of their victims, and Figure B shows hands being piled up at the feet of Ramses III. Line drawings by Michael Lyon. [John M. Lundquist and John W. Welch, "Ammon and Cutting Off the Arms of Enemies," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, p. 182]


Alma 17:39 They . . . Went in unto the King, Bearing the Arms Which Had Been Smitten Off:


     In Alma 17:39, the Lamanite king's servants carried the severed arms to the king as trophies of the encounter. According to Glenn Scott, this was a common custom in ancient America.77 [Glenn A. Scott, Voices from the Dust, p. 147]