Alma 31

 

The Lord Redeems His Covenant Children

      Alma 1 -- Alma 44


 

 

Alma 31:3 The Wilderness South, Which Wilderness Was Full of the Lamanites:

 

     According to John Sorenson, it is an interesting commentary on Nephite conceptions of the land that the territory on the south described as "wilderness" (Alma 31:3) should be "full of Lamanites." Clearly the essence of "wilderness" lay not in the absence of inhabitants but in something else, apparently the substantial modifications of the landscape that civilization entails. Probably that southern section had been only lightly populated in earlier times but was now being settled seriously. . . .

     The Zoramite land of Antionum "bordered upon the wilderness south" (Alma 31:3). While the population settled in the south wilderness were called "Lamanites" by the Nephites, there . . . was apparently an ethnic variety as confirmed by not only Alma's observation that "many of them are our brethren" in the land of Antionum (Alma 31:35), but that eventually "the Nephites [in the land of Jershon] were compelled, alone, to withstand against the Lamanites, who were a compound of Laman and Lemuel, and the sons of Ishmael, and all those who had dissented from the Nephites, who were Amalekites and Zoramites, and the descendants of the priests of Noah." (Alma 43:13). Just previous to this, the Lamanites "came into the land of Antionum" [apparently from the south wilderness] (Alma 43:5). [John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, pp. 240-242]

 

Alma 31:3 A Land Which They Called Antionum (Borders):

 

     According to Grant Harris, Alma 31:3 demonstrates clearly that Mormon considered geographical detail an important part of his record. Why else would such detail have been included?

     Let us review the verse: "Now the Zoramites had gathered themselves together in a land which they called Antionum, which was east of the land of Zarahemla, which lay nearly bordering upon the seashore, which was south of the land of Jershon, which also bordered upon the wilderness south, which wilderness was full of the Lamanites." (Alma 31:3)

     It seems that this verse establishes the four borders of the land of Antionum:

     1. The west border: This border "was east of the land of Zarahemla," which probably means the general land of Zarahemla because this verse seems to be establishing definite borders and the borders of the local land of Zarahemla probably did not reach this far.

     2. The east border: This border "lay nearly bordering upon the seashore," but how close to the seashore? What does the word "seashore" mean? Is it the beach by the ocean or does it extend farther inland? and if so, how far? If we assume a Mesoamerican setting and also assume that the term "wilderness" is represented by mountains, then perhaps the term "seashore" has reference to all or a good part of the flatland between the mountain wilderness and the sea. [See the commentary on Alma 22:27]

     3. The north border: This border was "south of the land of Jershon." Apparently now there were three territories on the east of the general land of Zarahemla. On the far north (east) was the land of Bountiful (Alma 27:22), in the middle (east) was the land of Jershon (Alma 27:22, 31:3), and on the south (east) was the land of Antionum.

     4. The south border: This border was "the wilderness south, which wilderness was full of the Lamanites." Was this a distinct wilderness area called the "Wilderness South"? Or was Mormon just designating an area which was south of the land of Antionum? or both? [Grant Harris, personal communication] [See the commentary on Alma 16:7]

 

Alma 31:3 A Land Which They Called Antionum:

 

     John Sorenson asks, Where would the land of Antionum be located [in the Americas]? It was a zone in the east sector where Lamanite influence was expanding into and colliding with the Nephite sphere. . .

     The Book of Mormon student will notice that in the future textual story, Moroni will clear the east wilderness of Nephites and establish a "line" separating the Nephites from the Lamanites. This line will run in a "straight course from the east sea to the west" (Alma 50:8, 11).

     According to Sorenson's geographical model, a line marking the limit of Mayan languages and culture runs through this east central area. This border apparently held at the time of the Spanish conquest, just as it had many centuries earlier in Classic times.133 . . . Taking the Lamanite-Nephite line as the Mayan/non-Mayan boundary near the Seco River, the land of Antionum would seem to fall just beyond [towards the east--Sorenson's "south"], on the Mayan side. Since there was at least one named hill in the land of Antionum (Alma 32:4), it was likely situated at the edge of the foothills rather than on the open, flooded plain nearer the sea. Around Teapa or Pichuacalco, Chiapas, or even as far seaward as near Villahermosa, the setting fits the requirements; archaeological materials of appropriate date are also found in the vicinity. Gareth Lowe puts his "Mixe-Zoque/Maya interaction zone," a cultural boundary across which he sees long-lasting conflict,134 at this precise point. [John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., p. 251] [See the commentary on Alma 50:8]

 

Alma 31:3 Antionum (Illustratrion): John Sorenson's proposed site for Antionum (around Teapa or Pichuacalco, Chiapas, or even as far seaward as near Villahermosa). Archaeological Map of Middle America: Land of the Feathered Serpent. Produced by the Cartographic Division, National Geographic Society, 1972.

 

Alma 31:3 Antionum:

 

     Gordon Thomasson notes that the name "antion" first appears in Alma 11:19 referring to the largest Nephite weights and units of measure of gold. According to Thomasson, what is intriguing is that this name appears in later chapters of the text of Alma as part of other names. It first appears in Alma 12:20 referring to a chief ruler of Ammonihah, one "Antionah," a big man in status and self-esteem. Later the name "antion" appears as part of the name of "Antionum" (Alma 31:3), the pride-in-wealth city of the Zoramites.

     With respect to the name Antionum, Thomasson hypothesizes that in order to facilitate editorial condensation of the Nephite records, Mormon used a process of metonymic naming wherein he substituted symbolically or historically "loaded" names for the actual personal names of given individuals. Metonymy or metonymic naming involves "naming by association," a metaphoric process of linking two concepts or persons together in such a way as to tell us more about the latter by means of what we already know about the former. Thus the name for the largest unit of gold was linked to the pride-in-wealth city of Antionum. [Gordon C. Thomasson, "What's in a Name? Book of Mormon Language, Names, and [Metonymic] Naming," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Volume 3, Number 1 (Spring 1994), pp. 8, 10, 16] [See the commentary on Alma 31:3, 31:7]

 

Geographical Theory Map: Alma 31:3 The Zoramites Had Gathered to Antionum (17th Year)

 

Alma 31:4 The Nephites Greatly Feared That the Zoramites Would Enter into a Correspondence with the Lamanites:

 

     In Alma 31:4 it says that "the Nephites greatly feared that the Zoramites would enter into a correspondence with the Lamanites." What exactly was this "correspondence" and why did the Nephites fear it? As the reader will see in Alma 43:4, this correspondence amounted to a political alliance in which "the Zoramites became Lamanites." This immediately led to a Lamanite invasion. This same phrasing, ("a correspondence with") was used in Alma 23:18 to describe what happened between the Anti-Nephi-Lehies and the Nephites which angered the Amalekites, Amulonites, and the Lamanites to the point that they forced the Anti-Nephi-Lehies to flee to the land of Zarahemla. [See the commentary on Alma 23:18; 43:4]

 

Alma 31:5 The Preaching of the Word . . . Had Had More Powerful Effect . . . Than the Sword:

 

     [See the commentary on Alma 24:19]

 

Alma 31:7 Helaman:

 

     In Alma 31:7 we find that the eldest of Alma's sons was named "Helaman." According to Hugh Nibley, that's a very interesting thing since they have changed the Egyptian r's to l's in so many cases in the last few years. Helaman is simply the well-known Egyptian word Hr Imn, the "countenance of Amon." [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, p. 431]

 

Alma 31:7 Corianton (Coreanton)?:

 

     In 1999, the Zarahemla Research Foundation (RLDS) finished an exhaustive review of all known manuscripts and editions of the Book of Mormon in order to restore the text "to its purity." The result was the Restored Covenant Edition of the Book of Mormon. One of their "restorations" involves the proper name "Corianton" (Alma 31:6), which they have changed to read "Coreanton." [Zarahemla Research Foundation, "Selected Concordance" in The Book of Mormon: Restored Covenant Edition, p. 878]

     Note* This must be considered tentative subject to the verification of Royal Skousen, director of the Book of Mormon manuscript project, who will not comment at this time relative to such changes. [Personal communication, 11/22/1999]

 

Alma 31:7 Shiblon and Corianton:

 

     In Alma 31:7 we find that one of the sons of Alma was named "Shiblon" (Alma 31:7). It has been suggested by Benjamin Urrutia, a graduate student in anthropology at the State University of New York, Albany, that two Jaredite names in particular, those of Shiblon and Coriantumr, have a bearing on Old World symbolism: "The element shibl means "lion cub" in Arabic. It thus parallels corian, an obvious cognate to Hebrew gurion "lion cub." Corianton should mean something like "the Lion Cub is Guardian." [Benjamin Urrutia, "Shiblon, Coriantumr, and the Jade Jaguars," Newsletter and Proceedings of the S.E.H.A., No. 150, Aug. (1982)]

     Thus it is interesting, in view of the parallelism between the roots "shibl" and "corian," that Alma should have two sons named "Shiblon" and "Corianton" (Alma 31:7).

     According to Diane Wirth, "Lion cub" would appear to be unusual for a man's name except in Mesoamerica. The lion is constantly encountered in the artistic works of the Mesoamerica, especially the Olmec, in the form of a Jaguar -- the nearest New World equivalent to the lion. [Diane E. Wirth, A Challenge to the Critics, p. 107]

 

Alma 31:7 The Eldest of [Alma's] Sons He Took Not . . . His Name Was Helaman; But . . . Shiblon and Corianton . . . Went with Him:

 

     In Alma 31:7-8 we find that in Alma's missionary journey to preach among the dissident Zoramites, he took with him younger sons Shiblon and Corianton, but not his eldest son Helaman. With respect to the names of Alma's sons, Gordon Thomasson hypothesizes that in order to facilitate editorial condensation of the Nephite records, Mormon used a process of metonymic naming wherein he substituted symbolically or historically "loaded" names for the actual personal names of given individuals.

     Metonymy or metonymic naming involves "naming by association," a metaphoric process of linking two concepts or persons together in such a way as to tell us more about the latter by means of what we already know about the former. (pp. 8, 10). The names Shiblon and Corianton are Jaredite names, and as Dr. Hugh Nibley and Benjamin Urrutia have pointed out, Jaredite names tend to appear in the Nephite record at those times when severe problems arise in Nephite society. Thus the question can be posed, If Alma the younger's apostasy took place some time after his marriage, could this explain why he gave Jaredite names to his younger sons Shiblon and Corianton? In contrast, Alma named his first son Helaman, apparently after his father's first convert. So again, Are the names of Alma's younger sons (Shiblon and Corianton) a reflection of his rebellion at the time? Or were these names put in the abridgment after-the-fact by Mormon as a reflection of the kind of life Alma the younger was leading and brought his younger sons into before he repented? [Gordon C. Thomasson, "What's in a Name? Book of Mormon Language, Names, and [Metonymic] Naming," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Volume 3, Number 1 (Spring 1994), pp. 8, 10, 14]

 

Alma 31:9 [The Zoramites] Would Not Observe to Keep the . . . Statutes, according to the Law of Moses:

 

     In Alma 31:9, Mormon notes that the Zoramites "had fallen into great errors" with the first of these being the rejection of the law of Moses. Brant Gardner notes that this is a serious problem for the Nephite people because it indicates a greater degree of apostasy than they have seen in most of the groups that have departed from the standard Nephite religion. The Nehors apparently retained much of the Law of Moses, but rejected Christ. This is the basic form of apostasy that was seen among the people of Noah, and more recently in Ammonihah. The Zoramites have gone further, however, and rejected the law of Moses. Not only did they abandon the law of Moses, but they abandoned other performances that blended the law of Moses into the law of Christ. [Brant Gardner, Book of Mormon Commentary, http://www.highfiber.com/ ~nahualli/LDStopics/Alma/Alma31.htm, pp. 7-8]

 

Alma 31:12 The Zoramites Had Built Synagogues, and . . . They Did Gather Themselves Together on One Day of the Week:

 

     According to an article by John Welch, an interesting point should be noted and explored here which deals with the word synagogue, which is of Greek origin. It is the term used in the Septuagint to translate several Hebrew words, including camp, assembly, community, and congregation. The Hebrew roots involved here should be explored to cast light on the underlying practices of ancient Israel. Of course, we do not know what Hebrew or other word the Nephites or Zoramites used in naming their places of worship. Note, however, that the English word synagogue is made from two parts: the Greek prefix syn, which means together, and the verb ago, which means to gather or to bring together. Interestingly, in Alma 31:12 the phrase "gather themselves together" appears in immediate literal conjection with the term "synagogue:" the Zoramites had built synagogues, and . . . they did gather themselves together." [John W. Welch, "Synagogues in the Book of Mormon," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., pp. 194-195] [See the commentary on 2 Nephi 26:26; Alma 16:13; 21:4-5]

 

Alma 31:12 The Zoramites Had Built Synagogues:

 

     Brant Gardner notes that "the Zoramites had built synagogues" (Alma 31:12), yet we have just been told that they do not follow the law of Moses. This suggests that their places of worship had to be designed for a different function, and a different religion. They could not have been Jewish synagogues, not only because of time and distance from the Old World, but because they did not follow the religion that we attach to the concept of a synagogue. Clearly, this term is being used more generically. Since the Greek origin of the term is a place for meeting together, we may suppose that whatever term was on the plates also conveyed the meaning of a religious meeting place, and it is in that context and meaning that we have synagogues among the Zoramites. [Brant Gardner, Book of Mormon Commentary, http://www.highfiber.com/ ~nahualli/LDStopics/Alma/Alma31.htm, p. 8]

 

Alma 31:14 Whoever Desired to Worship Must . . . Stretch Forth His Hands towards Heaven:

 

     It says in Alma 31:14 that "whosoever [of the Zoramites] desired to worship must go forth and stand upon the top [of the Rameumptom] thereof, and stretch forth his hands towards heaven, and cry with a loud voice . . ." According to Hugh Nibley, the act of stretching forth their hands to heaven is the hallel gesture, which you find anciently everywhere. It gave us the Hebrew letter h. It's the little hallelujah mannequin here [brother Nibley draws it on the board]. You see it on jars, vases, rocks, glyphs, etc. They would do that. It's the usual gesture, the hallel or hallelujah. Hallel means "to greet the new moon' and various things like that. They would recite this prayer. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, p. 432]

 

Alma 31:18 We Thank Thee, O God, That We Are a Chosen and a Holy People:

 

     In their missionary journeys, Alma and his brethren come upon the Zoramites, who had established themselves as the chosen people of God. As part of their worship services, they cried with a loud voice, saying: "And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people." (Alma 31:18) Although the context of their worship was covenant oriented, the problem with the Zoramites was that they were worshipping "dumb idols" (see Alma 31:1) and had taken honor upon themselves.

     All true "chosen" and "holy" people are the result of covenants made with the only true God. Moreover, as we find in Deuteronomy 28:8-9, it is the Lord that does the choosing and it is always conditional on obedience to his commandments: "The Lord . . . shall bless thee in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee. The Lord shall establish thee an holy people unto himself, as he hath sworn unto thee, if thou shalt keep the commandments of the Lord thy God, and walk in his ways."

     According to Blair Van Dyke, the word holy is a translation from the Hebrew qodhesh, which means sacred, undefiled, and set apart.135 We see the significance of this in Deuteronomy when Moses says:

           The Lord hath avouched thee this day to be his peculiar people, as he hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all his commandments; and to make thee high above all nations which he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honour; and that thou mayest be an holy people unto the Lord thy God, as he hath spoken (Deuteronomy 26:18-19).

 

     Interestingly, the word peculiar is a translation from the Hebrew word segullah and means personal property rather than something unusual or unique.136 As used in the Old Testament, segullah generally suggests the image of covenant Israelites being the personal treasure of Jehovah, bought by him. They are like priceless jewels that are carefully guarded and cared for in a special fashion.137 [Blair G. Van Dyke, "Profiles of a Covenant People," in Covenants Prophecies and Hymns of the Old Testament, p. 39]

 

Alma 31:21 Rameumptom . . . the Holy Stand:

 

     According to Daniel Ludlow, the name of the holy stand of the apostate Zoramites, upon which they stood when they offered their weekly prayer, was the "Rameumptom." Although this name may look strange in English, it has appropriate Semitic roots which are recognizable to students of the Semitic languages. The preface "ram" is frequently used to indicate a high place. For example, later in the Book of Mormon we read about the hill Ramah (Ether 15:11). Also in modern Israel are the towns of Rammallah (located in the tops of the Judean hills just north of Jerusalem) and Rameem (which literally means "the heights" and is located on the top of the hills near the Lebanese border). [Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, p. 213]

 

Alma 31:21 Rameumptom . . . the Holy Stand:

 

     In Alma 31:21 it says that the name of the Zoramite holy stand was "Rameumptom." We don't know what it was, but it was called a "Rameumptom." According to Hugh Nibley, this is very interesting because the word ram in all Semitic languages means high, whether it's Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Babylonian, or anything else. So it's a high place. But Kb means curved or curling, like a serpent, winding 'round and 'round. So it could have been a winding stairway that went up to the top of the tower, winding up and winding down. But one person at a time would go up. The name is interesting; it suggests winding. You would think that they would be straight, following the usual pattern. But remember, this was long before the classical period. . . . There's a temple, on the outskirts of Mexico City on the south side, with a stairway going up and just the stand for one man at the top. There are lots of pictures from the conquistadors, etc. The usual thing for the temple was to go up on four sides. . . . It's the stairways of the temples that dominate, as you know, in Central American architecture. At the top there is a stand, which is sometimes a very small place. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, pp. 431-432] [See the commentary on Ether 15:11]

     Note* If the meaning of Rameumptom is related to "curling like a serpent," then could the worship of the Zoramites have been related to serpent worship? In other words, did they look beyond the simpleness of the way as exemplified by Moses' raising of the brass serpent in the wilderness? [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

Alma 31:21 Now the place was called by them Rameumptom (Illustration): "Now the place was called by them Rameumptom . . . from this stand they did offer up, every man, the selfsame prayer unto God." [W. Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Vol. 3, p. 3015]

 

Alma 31:21 Now the place was called by them Rameumptom (Illustration): The Rameumptom. The Zoramites prayed one at a time on a high stand that they called a Rameumptom. Artist: Del Parson. [Thomas R. Valletta ed., The Book of Mormon for Latter-day Saint Families, 1999, p. 357]

 

Alma 31:28 Their costly apparel (Illustration): This figurine in what is called the Jaina style illustrates what an upper-class Maya woman could have looked like wearing "costly apparel" (Alma 31:28 applies the phrase to the Zoramites. . .) [John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America, p. 90]

 

Alma 31:28 Their ringlets, and their bracelets, and their ornaments of gold (Illustration): (a) The deep green of jadeite stone was one of the most revered colors. It recalled still waters, the crucial maize plant, and all life-giving vegetation. No wonder beads of the material were put into the mouth of the dead at burial, in token of hoped-for rebirth (this was also done in China). These Olmec-style ear ornaments (inserted through holes in the lobes) date long before 500 B.C., but the popularity of jadeite continued right up to the Spanish Conquest. (b) Tomb 7 at Monte Alban in the state of Oaxaca yielded a large stock of superb jewelry. This masterpiece of a necklace of shell and blue stone dates to the Mixtec period, after A.D. 900. [John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America, p. 95]

 

Alma 31:28 Their ringlets, and their bracelets, and their ornaments of gold (Illustration): (a) Metals were used primarily for decoration, not for practical objects. A favorite form was the copper or tumbaga (copper-gold alloy) bell like this one. Cast by the lost-wax method, it contained a tinkling stone inside, so that dancing or just walking produced musical accompaniment. Known bells are nearly all dated after A.D. 800, but earlier monuments picture them being worn. (Almost identical bells were made and worn in the Mediterranean area.) (b) Other lovely materials were also used to decorate earlobes, like the gold and the varicolored stones in these Maya items (after A.D. 800) [John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America, p. 96]

 

Alma 31:36 He Clapped His Hands upon All Them:

 

     In Alma 31:26 it says that "when Alma had said these words, that he clapped his hands upon all them who were with him. And behold, as he clapped his hands upon them, they were filled with he Holy Spirit." According to Hugh Nibley the word "clapped" is an interesting word here, isn't it? To clap means to put your hands firmly on something. The Old English word is clippyon and it is related to grab, grope, and gripe, [German] kleben. They mean to grab firmly . . . The old Anglo-Saxon use "to clap" his hands on his head doesn't mean he applauded this way. He put his hands firmly on their heads when he set them apart is what happened. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, p. 435]