The Lord Confirms the Covenant Way
Alma 45 -- 3 Nephi 10
[The Record of Helaman, the Son of Alma]
Alma 45 Heading The account of the people of Nephi . . . according to the record of Helaman (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 45:1 They Did Fast Much and Pray Much, and They Did Worship God with Exceeding Great Joy:
Stephen Ricks notes that the only periodic fast prescribed for the Israelites in the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses) occurs on the Day of Atonement, "the tenth day of the seventh month" of the ancient Jewish calendar (the first month of the current Jewish calendar), when the Lord commanded the Israelites to meet together to "afflict [their] souls" (i.e., to fast) and to "offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord" (Leviticus 23:27ff.; see also 16:29, 31; Numbers 29:7-10). There are no references to this festival in the Old Testament outside of the books of Moses, although Isaiah 58:3-7 may refer to abuses of the fast associated with the Day of Atonement.
The observance of the Day of Atonement fast is never explicitly mentioned in the Book of Mormon. However, its observance may be implied in Alma 30:2, where fasting, mourning, and prayer are referred to, and in Alma 45:1, where fasting, rejoicing, and prayer are mentioned as taking place at the beginning of the year (see Alma 44:24), at the time when the Day of Atonement rites were probably observed among the Nephites. This presumption that these two fasts reflect observances associated with the Pentateuch is, I think, strengthened by the observation in Alma 30:3 (following the mention of fasting and associated rites) that "the people did observe to keep the commandments of the Lord; and they were strict in observing the ordinances of God, according to the law of Moses; for they were taught to keep the law of Moses until it should be fulfilled."1 [Stephen D. Ricks, "Fasting in the Book of Mormon and the Bible" in The Book of Mormon: The Keystone Scripture, p. 128] [See the commentary on Helaman 9:10; Mosiah 27:22-23; Alma 17:3, 9]
Alma 45:1 They did fast much and pray much, and they did worship God with exceeding great joy (Illustration): Fasting in the Old Testament. [Stephen D. Ricks, "Fasting in the Book of Mormon and the Bible" in The Book of Mormon: The Keystone Scripture, pp. 134-135]
Alma 45:1 They did fast much and pray much, and they did worship God with exceeding great joy (Illustration): Fasting in the Book of Mormon. [Stephen D. Ricks, "Fasting in the Book of Mormon and the Bible" in The Book of Mormon: The Keystone Scripture, p. 136]
Alma 45:18-19 [Alma] Departed out of the Land of Zarahemla, As If to Go into the Land of Melek . . . and He Was Taken Up by the Spirit:
According to the text of the Book of Mormon:
And when Alma had done this he departed out of the land of Zarahemla, as if to go into the land of Melek. And it came to pass that he was never heard of more; as to his death or burial we know not of.
Behold, this we know, that he was a righteous man; and the saying went abroad in the church that he was taken up by the Spirit, or buried by the hand of the Lord, even as Moses. But behold, the scriptures saith the Lord took Moses unto himself; and we suppose that he has also received Alma in the spirit, unto himself; therefore, for this cause we know nothing concerning his death and burial. (Alma 45:18-19)
It is interesting to note that our present Bible says that Moses "died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day" (Deuteronomy 34:5-6). This is another instance which clearly demonstrates that Joseph Smith was not simply plagiarizing the Bible. Moreover, a purpose of the Book of Mormon is to establish the truth of the Bible.
Bruce R. McConkie says of the text in Deuteronomy: "the Old Testament account that Moses died and was buried by the hand of the Lord in an unknown grave is an error." . . . "It should be remembered that the Nephites had the Brass Plates, and that they were the "scriptures" which gave the account of Moses being taken by way of translation." . . . "Moses and Elijah were translated so that they could come with bodies of flesh and bones to confer keys upon Peter, James, and John on the mount of transfiguration, an event destined to occur prior to the beginning of the resurrection. (Matthew 17:1-6; Teachings, p. 158; Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 2, pp. 107-111). The reason for the translation of Alma has not been revealed. [Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine., pp. 805-806]
We might wonder if Alma's translation happened because of the desires of his heart to be an "angel" (Alma 29:1) and his desire to magnify his priesthood in the same manner as Enoch and Melchizedek (see Alma 12-13), who also had been translated (Joseph Smith Translation, Genesis 14:32-34). [See the commentary on Alma 29:1]
The reader should notice the symbolism of Alma's destination. Alma was going toward "the land of Melek," or in other words, "the land of the king" (in Hebrew melekh = king).
The reader should also note that in view of the concepts preached by Alma (the fulness of the priesthood of Enoch and Melchizedek), chapter 45 should have more fittingly ended after these verses describing the translation of Alma. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
Alma 45:18 He Was Taken Up by the Spirit, or Buried by the Hand of the Lord, Even as Moses:
John Tvedtnes notes that the account of Alma's departure in the Book of Mormon is much closer to the account of Moses' departure given in Josephus (see Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews IV, 8, 48) than to the account in Deuteronomy, in that the Josephus account refers to the translation of Moses. [John Tvedtnes, Book Review in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 4 1992, p. 224]
Alma 45:18 He Was Taken Up by the Spirit, or Buried by the Hand of the Lord, Even As Moses:
Matthew Brown notes that Deuteronomy 34:5-6 states that Moses died in the land of Moab "according to the word of the Lord. And [the Lord] buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor: but no man knoweth of his sepulcher unto this day." The Joseph Smith Translation changes verse 6 to read: "For the Lord took him unto his fathers, in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor; therefore no man knoweth of his sepulcher unto this day." The ancient historian Josephus (Ant. 4.8.48) says that "as [Moses] was going to embrace Eleazar and Joshua, and was still discoursing with them, a cloud stood over him on the sudden, and he disappeared in a certain valley, although he wrote in the holy books that he died, which was done out of fear, lest they should venture to say that, because of his extraordinary virtue, he went to God." [Matthew B. Brown, All Things Restored: Confirming the Authenticity of LDS Beliefs, p. 173]
Alma 45:22 (Historical Note--Change of Scribes):
While the majority of the surviving Original Manuscript is in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery, the handwriting of two other scribes occurs on a few pages in the First Nephi portion. One of these additional scribes may be Reuben Hale. In addition, twenty-eight words in Alma 45 (first part) have been tentatively identified as Joseph Smith's handwriting (Skousen 1991:5) [Shirley R. Heater, "History of the Manuscripts of the Book of Mormon," in Recent Book of Mormon Developments, Vol. 2, p. 70]
According to Royal Skousen, in Alma 45:22 of the Original Manuscript, Oliver Cowdery suddenly stops acting as scribe and Joseph Smith himself takes over the scribe's task for twenty-eight words:
yea in every citty throughout all the land which was possessed by the people of Nephi and it came to pass that they did appoint priests and teachers
These twenty-eight words in Joseph Smith's hand are written very carefully. And except for one spelling variant (citty), all the extant words are spelled according to standard orthography.
One possible explanation for this momentary switch in scribes is that it represents Oliver Cowdery's unsuccessful attempt to translate. It even suggests that Oliver, like Peter the apostle walking on the water, succeeded at first. For instance, verse 5 of section 9 in the Doctrine and Covenants implies an initial success on Oliver's part:
And, behold, it is because that you did not continue as you commenced, when you began to translate, that I have taken away this privilege from you.
Nonetheless, there is, in my opinion, some difficulty with the suggestion that these twenty-eight words in Alma 45 represent Oliver Cowdery translating. One problem is that the switch to Joseph Smith's hand occurs in the middle of the narrative, in fact, in the middle of a sentence (although at a point of semiclosure). One would think that Oliver Cowdery's attempt to translate would have come at a more suitable break in the narrative.
My explanation for this scribal switch is that there was a sudden need for the scribe to break off and Joseph Smith had to get down what he was currently viewing in the interpreters, so he wrote it down himself. The reason Joseph would have had to do this is possibly explained by Emma Smith's claim in her 1879 interview with her son Joseph Smith III that his father, Joseph Smith Jr., started dictation sessions without prompting:
I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, your father would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible. (Joseph Smith III, "Last Testimony of Sister Emma," 290)
This ability to continue without prompting suggests that before ending a dictation session or going on to the next portion of text, Joseph Smith would have to finish getting copied down all of what he was viewing; otherwise the uncopied part would be lost. In other words, Joseph had to deal with what was in front of him and could not quit until what he was seeing was transcribed.
Joseph's careful handwriting for these twenty-eight words as well as his accurate spelling for several difficult words (throughout, possessed, appoint) suggests that he might have been visually copying and not listening to someone else dictating the text . . . if this explanation is right, then Joseph Smith was viewing at least these twenty-eight words . . . and this is evidence in the Original Manuscript for the minimal amount of text Joseph Smith had access to as he was dictating. [Royal Skousen, "Translating the Book of Mormon, Evidence from the Original Manuscript," in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited, pp. 71-75]