The Lord Redeems His Covenant Children
Alma 1 -- Alma 44
Alma 36 Heading The Commandments of Alma to His Son Helaman:
According to Douglas and Robert Clark, if the relative volume of space that Mormon devotes to the various events of Alma's ministry is at all indicative of relative importance, then Alma's instructions to his sons as recorded in chapters 36 through 42 must qualify as the single most important event of his ministry, comprising as they do at least 20 percent of the entire account thereof. (Excluding Alma 17-28, which treat the ministry of the sons of Mosiah and not Alma's ministry; the 16 pages devoted to his sons divided by the remaining 77 pages of Alma's ministry -- excluding the history of his son Helaman = 20%) [E. Douglas Clark and Robert S. Clark, Fathers and Sons in the Book of Mormon, p. 133]
Alma 36 (Book of Mormon Characteristics Established by Chiastic Structure):
In a paper that draws together things which he has said over twenty-five years, John Welch focuses on what chiasmus prove about the Book of Mormon. The following is a summary:
1. Chiasmus provides evidence concerning the orderliness of the text.
2. Chiasmus demonstrates that the text is relatively complex.
3. Chiasmus helps identify textual units within the text.
4. Chiasmus makes the text artistically pleasing.
5. Chiasmus provides evidence of the content and meaning of a passage.
6. Chiasmus provides evidence about characteristics of individual authors:
a. His skill and training.
b. His care and diligence.
c. His attempt at revising and restructuring writings.
d. His intent to center the text on certain key ideas.
7. Chiasmus provides evidence of multiple authorship:
a. Comparative usage (variations from author to author).
b. Diachronological usage (variations over time).
8. Chiasmus provides evidence about Nephite culture and society:
a. Oral transmission (memorization) of scriptural texts.
9. Chiasmus provides evidence about the abridger (paraphrasing versus direct quotations).
10. Chiasmus provides evidence of Israelite origins and a basis for comparative cultural analysis.
11. Chiasmus provides evidence of translation from a Hebrew text.
12. Chiasmus provides evidence of the precise nature of Joseph Smith's work in dictating the text.
John Welch sums up the evidence:
For those who are inclined to think about such matters in terms of statistical probabilities, the multiple findings discussed may be summarized in the form of a series of predictions: for instance, what is the likelihood of chiasms not only accidentally occurring, but also intensifying the orderly character of the text, increasing the intricate depth of the text, significantly enhancing its artistic achievement, precisely fitting natural textual units, systematically clarifying meaning and providing demonstrable keys to textual interpretation, maintaining stylistic consistency within the writings of individual authors, emerging as reworkings of earlier texts, corresponding with other dimensions of authorial intent, appearing principally in quoted original texts as opposed to abridged materials, and working even better in Hebrew than English? The probability that all these and other similar predictions would simultaneously occur becomes remotely small, lending considerable cumulative weight that corroborates the explanation of the book's origins declared by Joseph Smith and claimed by the book itself.
[John W. Welch, "What Does Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon Prove?" in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited , F.A.R.M.S., pp. 200-224]
Alma 36 (Alma's Conversion Account) [Illustration]: Chart: "Three Accounts of Alma's Conversion." Alma's conversion is documented in three places in the Book of Mormon. This chart compares the rhetorical situation of each of these accounts. [John W. & J. Gregory Welch, Charting the Book of Mormon: Visual Aids for Personal Study and Teaching, F.A.R.M.S., Chart #106]
Alma 36 (Alma Conversion Account) [Illustration]: Chart: "Shared Words in the Three Accounts of Alma's Conversion." The three accounts of Alma's conversion recorded in the Book of Mormon contain many shared or similar phrases, leading us to believe that Alma had repeated his story often and in a distinctive manner. [John W. & J. Gregory Welch, Charting the Book of Mormon: Visual Aids for Personal Study and Teaching, F.A.R.M.S., Chart #107]
Alma 36-42 [About 73 B.C]:
According to Cleon Skousen, it should be observed that the chronology for Alma's instructions to his sons is given at the bottom of the page in the Book of Mormon text as 73 B.C. This was apparently done on the assumption that Alma gave these instructions the following year just before his translation. This may have been the case, but Mormon placed these words of Alma in the record as though they occurred in 74 B.C. right after the mission to the Zoramites. This writer does not find sufficient evidence to justify the change made by modern chroniclers. In fact, Alma gave a subsequent charge to Helaman just before his translation which would further support the belief that these present chapters dealing with Alma's instructions to his sons occurred before the great war with the Zoramites and Lamanites or in 74 B.C. just as it appears in Mormon's record. This would change the chronology given for chapters 36-42 back to 74 B.C. where it belongs and remove a lot of confusion. [W. Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Vol. 3, p. 3037] [See Appendix A]
Alma 36:2 None Could Deliver Them Except It Was the God of Abraham:
Alma prefaces his remarks to his son Helaman with the following:
I swear unto you, that inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land. I would that ye should do as I have done, in remembering the captivity of our fathers; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them except it was the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he surely did deliver them in their afflictions. (Alma 36:1-2)
In a covenant context, Alma's reference to "the captivity of our fathers" and "bondage" could refer to a number of fathers and circumstances. Obviously, the captivity of the children of Israel in Egypt might be implied (see Alma 36:28), but so also might Alma be referring to his father Alma's captivity in Helam (see Alma 36:29). Going even further back to father Lehi and Nephi, the first book of Nephi is a testament to their covenant deliverance not only from the captivity and bondage associated with the fall of Jerusalem, but their deliverance from Laban, desert travel, starvation, Laman & Lemuel, sea travel, etc. It is interesting that in the beginning of his narrative, Nephi notes that he made a covenant with the Lord in which the Lord promised him that "inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise" (1 Nephi 2:20). This is the same promise that Alma gave to his son Helaman. It is also interesting to note that Alma specifically designates "the God of Abraham" and then "the God of Isaac" and then "the God of Jacob." This tends to imply that each Patriarch went through his own covenant process of refinement with the Lord. Alma confirms this covenant process by noting at the end of his discourse to Helaman that, "ye ought to know as I do know, that inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land; and ye ought to know also, that inasmuch as ye will not keep the commandments of God ye shall be cut off from his presence. Now this is according to his word." (Alma 36:30).
In other words, Alma's words to his son Helaman should be read in a covenant context, and thus Helaman's life hereafter should be viewed in a covenant context. With this in mind it is interesting to note that in a future part of the text, Alma's son Helaman will become the "father" of 2000 stripling warriors, the "seed" of those who remained faithful to their covenants at the threat of death. Through the power of the Lord, Helaman and his "sons" will deliver the Nephite nation from the "afflictions" and "bondage" (see Alma 53:8-22; Alma 56-58), preserving the way that the Nephite nation might "prosper in the land.". [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
Alma 36:6 God sent his holy angel to stop us by the way (Illustration): Angel Appears to Alma and the Sons of Mosiah. "God sent his holy angel to stop us by the way." Artist: Clark Kelley Price. [Thomas R. Valletta ed., The Book of Mormon for Latter-day Saint Families, 1999, p. 372]
Alma 36:9 If Thou Wilt of Thyself Be Destroyed, Seek No More to Destroy the Church of God:
When the angel appeared to Alma and talked to him, he used a peculiar Semitic expression: "If thou wilt of thyself be destroyed, seek no more to destroy the church of God" (Alma 36:9). According to Hugh Nibley, this is the Semitic threat or warning to a child. Doesn't the angel mean [to say] "If you don't want to be destroyed, seek no more to destroy the church of God"? No, in the Semitic language you have to say it this way, because he repeats the very same thing. In Hebrew you say to a child, "Don't do that if you want to get spanked." That's the way you say it. We would say, "Do that and you'll get spanked," but they say, "Don't do that if you want to get spanked.' It sounds contradictory to us, but that is the normal way. That's how you have to put it. That's the way it is put here, and it catches you right off. It's a very proper Semitic warning here. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, p. 455]
Alma 36:10 For the Space of Three Days and Three Nights:
According to Daniel Ludlow, some readers of the Book of Mormon have claimed there is a discrepancy in the accounts of the conversion of Alma as recorded in Mosiah 27:23 and Alma 36:10. It is true that the Mosiah account mentions "two days and two nights" and the account in Alma says "three days and three nights" but there is no apparent discrepancy because they are not referring to exactly the same thing. In the account in the book of Mosiah the time element clearly refers to the period of fasting by the priests; no exact length of time is indicated for Alma's unconscious state. Note the major details of the account: After Alma was confronted by an angel and realized the enormity of his sins, he fell to the earth almost as if dead. Then he was carried to his father in this helpless condition. The father of Alma then called in the priests of the church and "after they had fasted and prayed for the space of two days and two nights, the limbs of Alma received their strength, and he stood up." (Mosiah 27:22-23) In the account in the book of Alma, however, the term "three days and three nights" clearly refers to the total time Alma could not open his mouth nor use his limbs. (Alma 36:10) [Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, pp. 217-218]
Alma 36:11 Things . . . Which Were Heard by My Brethren, But I Did Not Hear Them:
According to Hugh Nibley there's a linguistic contradiction in Alma 36:11, "And the angel spake more things unto me, which were heard by my brethren, but I did not hear them." Well, why is the angel talking to Alma and Alma didn't hear him? The others heard him. Again, this is a common thing. Alma is going to find out about it anyway. . . . Teachers and first sergeants do this often. They bawl out some "airhead" that they know will pay no attention to them whatever, but it goes for the rest of the platoon. Everybody knows it's for them, and it's the same thing here. Alma is going to get a real working over here, but the rest of them have to have their share of it, and this is what they get. This is what is given to them here, the part he doesn't hear. But he is going to get the full treatment presently. So it is for their benefit because the others were doing it along with him. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, p. 455]
Alma 36:21 There Could Be Nothing So Exquisite and Sweet As Was My Joy:
According to an article by Donald Parry, the writers of ancient scripture often contrasted one idea in one line or stanza with an opposite or anti-thetical idea in a parallel line or stanza. Alma 36:21 illustrates this principle, where Alma speaks to his son Helaman:
Yea, I say unto you, my son, that
there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains.
Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand,
there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet, as was my joy.
[Donald W. Parry, "Antithetical Parallelism in the Book of Mormon," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., p. 168]
Alma 36:22 Methought I Saw, Even As Our Father Lehi Saw, . . . :
According to John Welch, a remarkable thing about Alma 36:22 is the fact that Lehi's words are not just summarized, but are precisely quoted:
"Yea, methought I saw . . . God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising their God . . ." (Alma 36:22).
". . . he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God" (1 Nephi 1:8).
These twenty-one words are a verbatim quote of 1 Nephi 1:8. Such exactness cannot be explained by thinking that Joseph turned to 1 Nephi and copied the words of Lehi from what Oliver Cowdery had already recorded from Joseph's dictation, for 1 Nephi may not yet even have been translated at the time when Joseph and Oliver were translating Alma 36. Evidently, Alma was very meticulous in quoting Lehi's words from the small plates of Nephi when he composed Alma 36, and Joseph Smith's dictated translation preserved that exactitude. [John W. Welch, "A Masterpiece: Alma 36," in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., p. 126] [See the Tvedtnes commentary on Alma 13:25]
Alma 36:22 Methought I saw, even as our father Lehi saw . . . (Illustration): Alma's Quotation of Lehi. [John W. Welch and J. Gregory Welch, Charting the Book of Mormon: Visual Aids for Personal Study and Teaching, F.A.R.M.S., Chart 103]
Alma 36:22 Methought I Saw, Even As Our Father Lehi Saw, . . .:
It has been noted that Alma 36:22 parallels almost verbatim the account of Lehi's vision in 1 Nephi 1:8. However, according to John Tvedtnes, Alma may have been quoting from the large plates of Nephi. To me, it is inconceivable that Lehi's vision would not have been recorded on the large plates, which were prepared by Nephi long before the small plates. It was, after all, the primal vision for Lehi. And since Nephi wrote both accounts, we should not wonder that the account reads the same--or nearly so--on both sets of plates. Had the 116 pages lost by Martin Harris survived, we would know whether the quote was copied into Mormon's abridgment of the large plates. [John Tvedtnes, "Review" of Brent Lee Metcalfe, ed., New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 6, Num. 1, p. 43]