Alma 20


The Lord Redeems His Covenant Children

      Alma 1 -- Alma 44



Alma 20:2,7 The Land of Middoni:


     According to Joseph Allen, if we assume a Mesoamerican setting, and that Jerusalem and Ani Anti were cities located near Lake Atitlan (the proposed area for the waters of Mormon and the borders of Mormon), then as one travels towards Guatemala city and Kaminaljuyu (the proposed city of Nephi) he must travel through the valley of Chimaltenango (proposed land of Ishmael). As you travel onward you reach a junction (according to Alma 20:8 the routes between the lands of Ishmael, Nephi, & Middoni might intersect--king Lamoni and his father crossed paths) which if you choose to take the right fork, drops downward to the ancient capital of Antigua, which is a good candidate for "the land of Middoni" (Alma 20:2,7). Antigua was the capital of Guatemala after the Spanish Conquest. Earthquakes caused the capital to be moved to present-day Guatemala City. Antigua is down in elevation from the Chimaltenango area. Middoni was down in elevation from the Ishmael area ("Come [Ammon], I [Lamoni] will go with thee down to the land of Middoni"--Alma 20:7). [Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, p. 368]


Alma 20:2,7,8 Up . . . Down . . . Over (Elevation as a Key):


     In Alma 20:2,7,8, we find the modifying terms "up," "down," and "over." Assuming a Mesoamerican setting and that the modifiers up, down, and over can be used as keys of elevation, perhaps we might gain some additional perspective in correlating the geography of the travels of the sons of Mosiah. Let us review the verses and how they fit into the geographical theories of Allen, Palmer, and Sorenson:


     Alma 20:2: "Thou [Ammon, who is in the land of Ishmael] shalt not go up to the land of Nephi."

     Assumption: The land of Ishmael might be lower than the local land of Nephi.

     The land of Ishmael (Chimaltenango area) = Elev. 2131 m.

     The land of Nephi (Kaminaljuyu) = Elev. 1499 m.


     There seems to be a contradiction. However, there might be a number of explanations. First, John Sorenson states: "Just possibly 'up' was, in this one case, in deference to the political eminence of the king's capital rather than elevation." Second, the reader should note that in mountainous terrain (which is what we have in Guatemala, although mountain valley "B" might be generally lower than mountain valley "A", one might still have to go significantly up from valley "A" and cross over a significantly tall intervening hill in order to get to valley "B".


     Alma 20:7: "And he [King Lamoni] said unto Ammon [both being in the land of Ishmael]: Come I will go with thee down to the land of Middoni."

     Assumption: The land of Ishmael might be higher than the land of Middoni.

     The land of Ishmael (Chimaltenango area) = Elev. 2131 m.

     The land of Middoni (Antigua) = Elev. 1530 m.


     The assumption seems to be validated.


     Alma 20:8: "as Ammon and Lamoni were journeying thither [from the land of Ishmael to the land of Middoni] they met the father of Lamoni [coming from the local land of Nephi] who was king over all the land"

     Assumption: The routes between the lands of Ishmael, Nephi, & Middoni might intersect


     The Lamanite king coming from the local land of Nephi to the land of Ishmael encountered Lamoni and Ammon while they were in route to the land of Middoni. Thus the route out of the land of Ishmael might have led to both the land of Nephi and the land of Middoni until reaching a possible fork in the road where travelers had to choose one destination or another. Since Ammon had come originally to the land of Ishmael from the land of Zarahemla, which was probably located somewhat northerly, and he hadn't yet reached the local land of Nephi (the king's home), then the king's home in the land of Nephi might have been somewhat southward from Ishmael, and thus the land of Middoni might have branched off from a somewhat northerly-southerly pathway. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See illustration] [See also the commentary on "elevation as a key" given in Alma 21:11,12; 22:3]


Alma 20:2 - 18 Geographacal Theory Map Ammon & Lamoni go Down to the Land of Midoni


Geographical theory map: Alma 20: 2-28 (Illustration) Ammon and Lamoni go down to the land of Middoni


Alma 20:2,7,8 Up . . . Down . . . Over (Elevation As a Key) (Illustration): A graph showing the difference in elevation between the proposed land of Ishmael (Chimaltenango, Guatemala), the proposed land of Middoni (Antigua, Guatemala), and the proposed land of Nephi (ruins of Kaminaljuyu, Guatemala City).


Alma 20:2 Muloki:


     The name "Muloki" (Alma 20:2) is possibly a derivative of the name "Mulek." In the RLDS version of the Book of Mormon (patterned after the Printers Manuscript), the spelling for Mulek is often "Mulok." [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]


Alma 20:4 The King . . . Is a Friend unto Me:


     After being directed by the Lord, Ammon tells king Lamoni that he is going to Middoni to deliver his brethren from prison. King Lamoni then offers to go with Ammon, saying: "the king of the land of Middoni, whose name is Antiomno, is a friend unto me; therefore I go . . . that I may flatter the king" (Alma 20:4).

     According to Brant Gardner, here in Alma 20 we have another somewhat unusual set of circumstances for which there is a clear Mesoamerican precedent. It is very important to understand that we are not likely speaking here of true friends in the modern sense of the word. They may certainly be friendly, but these are two kings, and rule over different cities. In the Mesoamerican context where we are placing the events of the Book of Mormon, such a "friend" is an ally. City-states in Mesoamerica were frequently at war with other cities. Alliances were forged and broken. Among the allied kings, however, there were frequently formal visits to allied cities that had strong political overtones.87

     Thus when Lamoni declares Antiomno as a friend, he is more probably indicating that this is an ally with whom there are some mutual expectations. The travel of a king from one city to another city was an occasion that in later years would be sufficiently significant to commission a record in stone. This is no casual meeting of friends who went bowling together every Tuesday. This was a formal exchange of state. It is in this very formal setting that we must understand the nature of the "flattery" that Lamoni suggested that he use to free Ammon's brethren. This is very much a political negotiation, and one that was to be handled with some delicacy, as Lamoni would be asking a king to reverse a decision to imprison the Nephites. [Brant Gardner, "A Social History of the Early Nephites," delivered at the FAIR Conference, August 17, 2001, pp. 10-11]


Alma 20:8 They Met the Father of Lamoni, Who Was King over All the Land:


     Some might wonder how to reconcile the following:

1. Lamoni was king over the land of Ishmael (Alma 17:20); and

2. The land of Ishmael was where Lamoni had his "inheritance" (Alma 21:18); but

3. The land of Ishmael was "called after the sons of Ishmael, who also became Lamanites" (Alma 17:19); &

4. It was the custom of the people of Nephi [and their record keepers?] to call their lands, and their cities,

     and their villages, yea, even all their small villages, after the name of him who first possessed them

     (Alma 8:7)


     This might imply that Lamoni was a descendant of Ishmael; however:

5. The "father of Lamoni was "king over all the land" (Alma 20:8); and

6. The father of Lamoni had made a feast unto my "sons" (Alma 20:9).

7. King "Laman" is the last Lamanite king mentioned as being "king over all these lands" (Mosiah 24:2-3);


8. He "was called after the name of his father" (Mosiah 24:3).

9. We might presume that the Lamanites have always been ruled by the descendants of Laman (see 2 Nephi



     This might imply that Lamoni was a descendant of Laman as were all the vassal kings; however:

10. The king of the land of Middoni, Antiomno, was just "a friend" to King Lamoni (Alma 20:4).


     Thus: Was Lamoni a descendant of Ishmael or of Laman? And what was the relationship of Lamanite vassal kings?


     According to Avraham Gileadi, we might obtain some insight into this situation by understanding the ancient Near Eastern suzerain (lord)--vassal (servant) covenant relationship. In the covenant of grant, when a vassal or servant king demonstrates exceeding loyalty to a suzerain or overlord king, the latter may bestow on him the unconditional right of an enduring dynasty to rule over a city-state of the suzerain's empire. [a "land of inheritance"]88 . . . These vassal kings are from among the peoples over whom they rule. That is, they are not commonly related to the suzerain by blood. Nevertheless, there is an establishment of a father-son relationship between the suzerain and the vassal, by a formula declaring the suzerain's adoption of the vassal. This creates a legal basis for the suzerain's bestowal of an enduring dynasty on the vassal; in the treaty language, the vassal is thus known both as "son" of the suzerain and as his "servant."89

     The suzerain holds a feast or feasts annually (Alma 18:9; 20:9) at which his vassals renew their covenant with him. (Compare the Old Testament feasts of King Solomon as suzerain--1 Kings 8:65, and of King Ahasuerus the Persian as suzerain with Ether 1:1-3). That custom explains Lamoni's awkward encounter with his "father." The suzerain, who is king over all the land, seeks out Lamoni and immediately questions him about why he didn't attend the feast (Alma 20:8-9). Such an act signified a vassal's rebellion against the suzerain. It is doubtful the king is Lamoni's familial father, for apparently Lamoni is an Ishmaelite (see Alma 17:21). Moreover, the father king is old (Alma 20:24); and only some forty years earlier a King Laman, son of Laman, was king over all the land (Mosiah 24:2-3). [Avraham Gileadi, The Last Days: Types and Shadows from the Bible and the Book of Mormon, pp. 181, 215]


Alma 20:8 The Father of Lamoni, Who Was King over All the Land:


     It is worthy of note that the unique Mesoamerican political systems provide understanding of events in the Book of Mormon. One place where there is a clear consonance with Mesoamerican politics, and an equally clear dissonance with Joseph Smith's worldview, is found in the account of Ammon's missionary efforts among the Lamanites. In Alma 20 we have the converted king Lamoni accompanying Ammon on a visit to the king of the land of Middoni. On the way they meet Lamoni's father "who was king over all the land" (Alma 20:8). This situation is clearly foreign to the western European concept of kings. Kings might rule over lords, but we do not expect a king over kings. This concept is so engrained in our Western thinking that the title of King of Kings is immediately applied to Christ and to none other. Nevertheless, we have precisely this situation in Mesoamerica, most powerfully attested with the translation of the glyphs that outline the political over-lordship of such places as Tikal and Calakmul and many others. [Brant Gardner, "A Social History of the Early Nephites," delivered at the FAIR Conference, August 17, 2001, p. 10]


Alma 20:9 Why Did Ye Not Come to the Feast on That Great Day When I Made a Feast unto My Sons, and unto My People?:


     According to Brant Gardner, the nature of Mesoamerican inter-site visits by kings gives a cultural explanation to Lamoni's father's visit to Lamoni. We are told that he comes because Lamoni did not attend a designated feast in the over-king's city (see Alma 20:9). Without a cultural context in which to see this event, we simply have an irritated father coming to chastise a son. In the context of the important political balance associated with Mesoamerican inter-site visits, we have the over-king investigating a possible defection from his coalition. [Brant Gardner, "A Social History of the Early Nephites," delivered at the FAIR Conference, August 17, 2001, p. 11]

     Gardner notes that in later Classic Maya sites, there is glyphic evidence of a tradition of intersite visits of royalty, and particularly of the subordinate rulers to their overlords.90 [Brant Gardner, Book of Mormon Commentary,, pp. 4-5]


Alma 20:20 He Stretched Forth His Hand to Slay Ammon:


     According to Brant Gardner, the attempt to slay Ammon by the father of Lamoni, who was the over-king (see Alma 20:20) appears to be an oddity. This event should not happen in the canons of Western thought. First of all it is unthinkable for a king to travel without an army to do his fighting for him. We do not know whether or not such an army was with Lamoni's father, but they certainly do not enter into this conflict. Secondly we have a man clearly old enough to have an enthroned son, and he seems to have no hesitation in attempting to wage hand-to-hand combat with a strong youthful Ammon who quickly has the king begging for his life. What is going on?

     It is in the Mesoamerican canons of conflict that we find our most reasonable context for this event. In Mesoamerica, great emphasis was placed on the personal performance of the ruler in warfare, an emphasis sufficiently great that there are records of relatively aged kings presenting their captives.91 In a system which expects military prowess of its kings, and which exalts the captives of the kings in stone as did the Classic Maya cities, this personal confrontation has a comfortable home. [Brant Gardner, "A Social History of the Early Nephites," delivered at the FAIR Conference, August 17, 2001, p. 11]

     Gardner notes that an extreme example of an aged king engaged in warfare is found in the story of Itzamnaj B'alam II of Yaxchilan who is listed as taking a war captive when he was in his eighties.92 The authors do suggest that he was only the figurehead and that the actual fighting might have been done by his vassals, but that is a supposition just as his individual participation is a supposition. [Brant Gardner, Book of Mormon Commentary,, p. 7]


Alma 20:23 Even to Half of the Kingdom:


     After losing a fight with Ammon, the father of Lamoni who was king over all the land of Nephi, "fearing he should lose his life, said; If thou [Ammon] wilt spare me I will grant unto thee whatsoever thou wilt ask, even to half of the kingdom" (Alma 20:23). Hugh Nibley asks, Why this old formula "half the kingdom?" Well, you know the game of chess. In English we call it chess, but that's just the first word shah which means "the king." The game is shah mat, as they call it in other languages everywhere, whether it's Russian, German, French, or anything else. Shah mat means "the king is dead," and the whole thing in chess is to checkmate the king. Checkmate means "the king is dead." Mat in all Semitic languages means "dead." When he is checkmated, he may have a whole board full of pieces, but he is beaten if he is checkmated. It doesn't make any difference how many kings, queens, and bishops he has, he has lost. And it's the same thing here; it's to beat the king. If the king has lost then he must lose all. Then his kingdom and his whole army go over to the other side, and they belong to the other king. But to save his life he may compromise. He may not give away his kingdom because he has been anointed and appointed to it as a sacred office. He must keep it. But he must save his life, so he'll have to give you the kingdom. How does he do it? He splits it exactly in half--the halving the kingdom. He gives you half, and he keeps half. He spares his life, he keeps his office, and he gives you legitimate claim to your half. This settles everything. This is the idea of the half. How can the king possibly share it? Well, he can share it only if he halves it. There is a lot of Egyptian lore connected with this--the halving of the kingdom, the red and the white kingdom, and all this sort of thing. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, p. 394]


Alma 20:29 They Were Naked, and Their Skins Were Worn Exceedingly Because of Being Bound:


     According to Brant Gardner, the description of having prisoners "naked, and their skins "worn exceedingly because of being bound with strong cords" and suffering "all kinds of afflictions (Alma 20:29) matches quite well with the information gleaned about captives from Maya stelae and glyphs. Captives are typically shown naked, and torture and mistreatment were also quite typical depictions of a captive. Thus this particular description of the condition of Ammon's captive brethren rings very true in the Mesoamerican context. [Brant Gardner, Book of Mormon Commentary, Alma/Alma20.htm, p. 10]


Alma 20:29 Their skins were worn exceedingly because of being bound with strong cords (Illustration): Scenes showing bound prisoners are plentiful in Mesoamerican art. Some were clearly war prisoners, but others were criminals detained for trial. [John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America, p. 116]