Alma 51

 

The Lord Confirms the Covenant Way

      Alma 45 -- 3 Nephi 10


 

 

Alma 51:5 King-men:

 

     According to John Tvedtnes, the name Mulek comes from the Hebrew root mlk for "king," and it may be that the "king-men" (Alma 51:5) of the Book of Mormon were, in fact, Mulekites. The text informs us that these were people of "high-birth" (Alma 51:8), "who professed the blood of nobility" (Alma 51:21), and who felt that they should rule -- perhaps because of descent from King Zarahemla or King Zedekiah of Judah . . . It is interesting that the king-men who survived the war "were compelled to hoist the title of liberty upon their towers, and in their cities" (Alma 51:20). If this means that they were settled in specific cities, then they are more likely a tribal group than a political faction. [John A. Tvedtnes, "Book of Mormon Tribal Affiliation and Military Castes," in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., p. 299]

 

Alma 51:5 King-men:

 

     According to Joseph Allen, a part of the Mulekite population of Zarahemla might have somewhat resented Mosiah coming in and assuming kingship. In the book, Forest of Kings it talks about what was happening in the Peten (Guatemala) area during this time period. There is a chapter of this book entitled "The Rise of the Kingmen", which correlates provocatively with the ideas and dates found in this section of the Book of Mormon. There is also a correlation with the building of fortified cities at this time.

 

Alma 51:8 Those Who Were in Favor of Kings Were of High Birth:

 

     The theme of Alma 51 concerns the king-men, who sought to change the Nephite form of government (Alma 51, 60, 62). This would be natural for the people of Zarahemla, who were Mulekites who came to the New World in company with the last surviving son of king Zedekiah of Judah, named Mulek. The Hebrew word melek means "king" and the title "king-men" and "Mulekite" may be identical. In any event, the Book of Mormon record makes it clear that it was because of their "high birth" that they felt they should possess political power (alma 51:8). The king-men were evidently the same people who had supported Amalickiah in his bid to become king. From Alma 46:4, we learn that "they were the greater part of them the lower judges of the land, and they were seeking for power."

     It is intriguing that these facts give rise to the possibility that not only the king-men, but the secret combination among the Nephites had its origin in Jerusalem. In ancient Israel, the lower judges were the elders [or "princes"]. Thus the predecessors to the king-men were probably the "princes" in Jerusalem who convinced king Zedekiah to ignore the words of the prophets, thus contributing to the destruction of the kingdom, just as the Gadianton band nearly led to the destruction of the Nephite nation (Helaman 2:13; 6:38-40; 3 Nephi 9:9). [John A. Tvedtnes, "The Elders at Jerusalem in the Days of Lehi," in The Most Correct Book, pp. 74-75] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 2:1; 2:13]

 

Alma 51:9 Sworn to Drink the Blood of Moroni:

 

     Amalickiah had such an extreme hatred of Moroni, that he had "sworn to drink the blood of Moroni" (Alma 51:9). Does this act have any ancient cultural significance?

 

Alma 51:14 Coming into the Borders of the Land:

 

     In the middle of trying to settle contentions among his people because of the king-men, Moroni "saw that the Lamanites were coming into the borders of the land" (Alma 51:14). This phrase needs some clarification. If we refer back to Alma 50:13, the city of Moroni was "on the south by the line of the possessions of the Lamanites," so apparently the invasion was coming from these southern borders.

     One might wonder, however, just how much of a time period there was between the time general Moroni "saw that the Lamanites were coming into the borders of the land," and the actual counter-attack by Moroni? From the text we find that before going against Amalickiah:

     (1) Moroni sent a petition to Pahoran for Pahoran to obtain the voice of the people to act against the king-men and received permission (Alma 51:15-16);

     (2) Moroni's armies marched forth against and defeated the king-men (Alma 15:17-19; and (3) the Title of Liberty was hoisted upon the towers and in the cities of the king-men (Alma 51:20).

 

     How much time would this take? Days? Weeks? How far apart were Pahoran and Moroni? If they were very close, would there have been a need for a petition?

     In the preceding chapter (Alma 50), reference is made to Moroni's camp being near the city of Lehi, which was by the borders of the seashore. Pahoran was in the judgment seat (supposedly in the city of Zarahemla). If John Sorenson's Mesoamerican model is followed to some degree, then Amalickiah might have moved along the route of the Usumacinta river in order to reach the Gulf Coast from Kaminaljuyu (the city of Nephi). The mountains which bordered the river might have formed the border between the general land of Zarahemla and the general land of Nephi. The distance between Kaminaljuyu and the Gulf Coast is a substantial distance to travel in one group. The Lamanites would have had to gather additional forces at the border for quite some time before attempting their attack. It should be noted that the king-men had advance warning of the Lamanite attack. Alma 51:13 says that the kingmen "had heard that the Lamanites were coming down to battle against them." [See Geographical Theory Maps]

 

Alma 51:18 The Armies [of Moroni] Did March Forth against [the King-men]:

 

     The king-men seemed to have been concentrated in a particular area (Moroni's army "did march forth against them"--Alma 51:18). Additionally, the king-men were compelled to show the title of liberty "upon their towers, and in their cities" (Alma 51:20). Moroni's army was perhaps located in between the king-men and the advancing Lamanites, otherwise, some of the king-men might have chosen to flee and join the Lamanites (or perhaps some already had done so). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

Alma 51:19 Those of Their Leaders . . . Were Taken and Cast into Prison, for There Was No Time for Their Trials:

 

     Mormon says, concerning the king-men, that "those of their leaders who were not slain in battle were taken and cast into prison, for there was no time for their trials at this period" (Alma 51:19). Six years passed before these prisoners received a trial, at which they were simply sentenced and "executed according to the law" (Alma 62:9). According to John Welch, Moroni's conduct . . . may appear harsh to modern readers, but it was consonant with the martial laws of his day. An ancient passage in 1 Samuel 8:11-17 documents the right of the king to compel military service, a rule that would have been widely observed. As Maimonides more recently explained, the king could "issue a decree that whoever evades [military taxes or conscription] may be punished either by confiscation of property or by death." [John W. Welch, "Law and War in the Book of Mormon," in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., p. 52]

 

Alma 51:20 Upon Their Towers, and in Their Cities:

 

     According to Michael Hobby, who associates the king-men or "those people who professed the blood of nobility" (Alma 51:21) with the Mulekites, the phrases "upon their towers" and "in their cities" (Alma 51:20) is further evidence of Nephite-Mulekite segregation. [Michael M. Hobby, The Mulekite Connection, p. 42]

 

Alma 51:20 Dissenters . . . Yielded to the Standard of Liberty:

 

     According to Richard Rust, warfare is a scriptural metaphor for Christian action. The metaphor is found in the standard of liberty (Alma 51:20), in the prophet's mouth being like a sharp sword (Isaiah 49:2; 1 Nephi 21:2), in the sword of justice (Alma 26:19, 60:29), and in the sword of the Lord's Spirit (D&C 27:18). Lehi challenges his sons to "put on the armor of righteousness" (2 Nephi 1:23), just as the Lord's people are to "take unto [them] the whole armour of God"--including the "shield of faith" and the "helmet of salvation" (Ephesians 6:13-17; D&C 27:15-18). An exemplary Christian leader, King Mosiah "warred a good warfare, walking uprightly before God" (Alma 1:1). [Richard D. Rust, Feasting on the Word, p. 215]

 

Alma 51:21 Thus He Put an End to . . . Those People Who Professed the Blood of Nobility:

 

     According to Michael Hobby, while the conclusive language of this statement might suggest that the Mulekite problem involving the king-men was ended with the suppression of this revolt ("he put an end to . . . those people"--Alma 51:21), only eleven years later, the dissenting Mulekites (king-men) gained control of the capitol city itself (Alma 61:3,8), ousting Pahoran, the Chief Judge. . . . It must be remembered that the capitol city, Zarahemla, was almost certainly a city with a Mulekite majority. When the Lamanites invaded the country, that majority viewed them as allies, not as an invading enemy. The seizure of the capitol was simply an insurrection which betrays their conviction that the country was about to fall into the hands of the Lamanites, which would result in the restoration of kings. [Michael M. Hobby, The Mulekite Connection, pp. 42-43] [See the commentary on Alma 62:9]

 

Alma 51:24 Fled . . . and Came to the City of Nephihah:

 

     When Amalickiah invaded and attacked the city of Moroni, the people "fled" and "came to the city of Nephihah" (Alma 51:24). Apparently, the city of Nephihah was more secure. Maybe Moroni's army was closer to Nephihah. Perhaps the city of Nephihah was nearer to the city of Moroni than the city of Moroni was to the city of Lehi. Perhaps the city of Nephihah was somewhat out of the invasion path.

 

Alma 51:25 Amalickiah Would Not Suffer the Lamanites to Go against the City of Nephihah . . . Thus He Went On, Taking Possession of Many Cities, the City of Nephihah:

 

     Why did Mormon first record that the Lamanites were not allowed to attack the city of Nephihah but "kept down by the seashore," and then in the very next verse list the city of Nephihah among those cities that the Lamanites took possession of? Opinions vary:

     (1) According to Cleon Skousen, Amalickiah's objective was to capture all the frontier defenses first and then move in on the heartland. Consequently, he pushed his huge army up the eastern seaboard, taking city after city. Each of these cities is important in Nephite history. As Mormon commenced listing the cities as they fell, he made a slight error. It is one of the amazingly few technical errors in the entire Book of Mormon. He meant to say that the first city to fall was Moroni, having just explained in verse 24 that Amalickiah had kept his army down along the seashore. But he wrote down "Nephihah," the inland city to which the survivors from Moroni had fled. He then went on the list the other cities along the eastern coast. We know this was a technical mistake because in Alma 59:5 we learn that Nephihah had not been conquered by the Lamanites but had become a city of refuge for the Nephites who had escaped from several of the seacoast cities. [W. Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Vol. 3, p. 3139]

     (2) According to Alan Miner, this verse might not be an error after all. Rather, this verse might have something to do with the term "land" and the term "city," and the way people were conquered. In the mind of the Book of Mormon writers, sometimes this difference in terms was very slight; however, sometimes that slight difference has created a wide gap in our cultural understanding.

     In Mosiah 23:25-26, Mormon describes a scene in which the Lamanites stumbled onto Alma and his followers. Alma and his followers initially had fled from the Land of Mormon and settled in a land called Helam. Mormon describes the situation:

           For behold, it came to pass that while they were in the land of Helam, yea, in the city of Helam, while tilling the land round about, behold an army of the Lamanites was in the borders of the land. Now it came to pass that the brethren of Alma fled from their fields, and gathered themselves together in the city of Helam; and they were much frightened because of the appearance of the Lamanites. (Alma 23:25-26)

 

     It appears that Mormon is having trouble with his choice of the words "land" and "city," but before we stop to explain, let us go on to the next verses. While recording the establishment of Nephihah in the east wilderness, Mormon said the following:

           And they also began a foundation for a city between the city of Moroni and the city of Aaron, joining the borders of Aaron and Moroni; and they called the name of the city or the land, Nephihah. (Alma 5:14)

 

     Once again Mormon seems to be having trouble deciding which term to use, "city" or "land," but let's move on to one final set of verses. In these verses, Helaman makes the following report of the taking of Nephite territory by the Lamanites:

           And now these are the cities of which the Lamanites have obtained possession by the shedding of the blood of so many of our valiant men: The land of Manti, or the city of Manti, and the city of Zeezrom, and the city of Cumeni, and the city of Antiparah. (Alma 56:13-14)

 

     This time the writer is Helaman, but he seems to have trouble just like Mormon. He starts out by intending to name cities and the first thing he does is insert the term "land" into his description.

     It becomes apparent that in all three instances that have just been cited, in locations as diverse as Helam, Nephihah and Manti, the writers seem to have confusion in describing the distinction between a "land" and a "city." Do we consider these verses as recording errors in which the writer quickly corrects himself? Perhaps not. John Sorenson says the following:

           The Mesoamerican settlement unit that logically fits what the Book of Mormon calls a "land" (centered on a single city) consisted of that area inhabited by all the people who gathered to a central temple center for worship, trade and civil administration. In the lowland Maya country we know that a journey of one day to or from the center was the usual radius of a local land, and the scale was probably much the same elsewhere. (Setting, p. 159)

 

     Thus we see that the city of Nephihah probably consisted of a fortified city center surrounded by lands on which the people lived, somewhat like our own pioneer communities among the Indians. When attacked, much like Helam, the people of Nephihah gathered to the fortified center for protection. However, because Nephihah was originally established for military defense and it had the role of "joining the borders of Aaron and Moroni" (see Alma 50:14), the expanse of territory officially under it's control might have been substantially more than normal (see Alma 51:23).

     We find a similar situation in the Bible. In the Old Testament book of Judges, we find an account of the armies of Israel, led by Joshua, conquering the kingdoms which inhabited the Promised Land. The account reads as follows:

           And these are the kings of the country which Joshua and the children of Israel smote on this side Jordan on the west, from Baal-gad in the valley of Lebanon even unto the mount Halak, that goeth up to Seir; which Joshua gave unto the tribes of Israel for a possession according to their divisions; In the mountains, and in the valleys, and in the plains, and in the springs, and in the wilderness, and in the south country; the Hittites, the Amorites, and the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites: The king of Jericho, one; . . . the king of Megiddo, one. (Joshua 12:7-21)

 

     This account seems to imply that Joshua conquered the city of Megiddo, yet just a little while later after this account we find that the inhabitants of Megiddo could not be driven out:

           And Manasseh had in Issachar and in Asher Beth-shean and her towns, and Ibleam and her towns, and the inhabitants of Dor and her towns, and the inhabitants of Endor and her towns, . . . and the inhabitants of Megiddo and her towns, . . . Yet the children of Manasseh could not drive out the inhabitants of those cities; but the Canaanites would dwell in that land. Yet it came to pass, when the children of Israel were waxen strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute; but did not utterly drive them out.

 

     Thus the idea that the Lamanites could have captured the land of Nephihah (the outlying fortified areas), cut off the people in the fortified city center, and thus taken "possession" (without actually occupying the city center) seems to be an idea that becomes a bit more plausible. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on Alma 59:5]

 

Alma 51:26 ALL of Which Were on the East Borders by the Seashore:

 

     In the 25th year the Lamanites apparently made a clean sweep of cities, "all of which were on the east borders by the seashore" (Alma 51:26). This initial Lamanite invasion was in the 25th year and is described in Alma 51:22-26. If the listing of cities invaded is in the correct chronological order from southward to northward, then we have the following:

     North

     Mulek

     Gid

     Omner

     Morianton

     Lehi

     Nephihah

     Moroni

     South

 

     Again, that sweep was apparently from the city of Moroni on the south to the city of Mulek on the north, with all the people apparently fleeing northward from the invading armies.

     However, in Alma 59:5 we will learn that maybe all of the Nephites weren't swept northward because the people of Nephihah "were gathered together from the city of Moroni and the city of Lehi and the city of Morianton" and "were attacked by the Lamanites." Apparently, the people from the cities of Moroni, Lehi and Morianton had fled to be with the people of Nephihah at the time that their cities were initially attacked by the Lamanites.

     From the listing above of cities, "all of which were on the east borders by the seashore," one might naturally understand why the people of the city of Moroni would want to flee (apparently northward) to the city of Nephihah. But why would the people from the cities of Lehi and Morianton want to flee (apparently southward) to Nephihah? The simple answer is that they wouldn't unless the city of Nephihah was not located on the coast. But if the city of Nephihah was not located on the coast, then where was it located?

     Using simple logic, Nephihah's location would perhaps be not only near, but somewhat equally convenient to the areas of Moroni, Morianton, and Lehi; otherwise, why would they gather to Nephihah and not to another city. By locating Nephihah somewhat inland of the cities of Moroni, Lehi, and Morianton, we would satisfy all the criteria we have just discussed. Thus when Alma 51:26 says that "all of the cities" were "on the east borders by the seashore," I think we have to view the statement as being made from the perspective of the people in the local land of Zarahemla who were expanding their control into the east wilderness.

     In Alma 50:14, it says that Nephihah was between the city of Moroni and the city of Aaron. The city of Aaron is conspicuously absent from the list of cities above which were ALL "on the east borders by the seashore" (Alma 51:26). The only other place in the Book of Mormon where we read about a city called Aaron is in relation to Alma's missionary journey in the land of Zarahemla. Alma left the city of Ammonihah and was going toward the city of Aaron (Alma 8:13-14). These places were all inland of the east coast; therefore, we have one more reason to place Nephihah in an inland position.

     Now let us try to answer the question as to why the Lamanites hesitated to attack Nephihah. The possible answers that have been covered are:

     (1) that it was inland (not on Amalickiah's desired coastal route);

     (2) that it had been physically fortified; and

     (3) the city center was heavily populated with fleeing Nephites from Moroni, Lehi, and Morianton.

     All of these reasons are sound; in fact, the reader will notice in the account of the 31st year (Alma 62:18-26), that when the Nephites were trying to recapture the city of Nephihah, it was difficult for the Nephites to entice the Lamanites to come out of their fortified city and fight on the plains. Therefore, they used a stratagem of scaling the walls by night, which allowed them to take the city. In view of this difficulty, perhaps Amalickiah's primary strategy was to cut off critical supply lines from the coast, because it says "he kept [his Lamanite armies] down by the seashore, leaving men in every city to maintain and defend it. And thus (in that manner) he went on, taking possession of many cities," (Alma 51:25-26). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

Alma 51:26 The City of Nephihah . . . Lehi . . . Morianton . . .Omner . . . Gid . . . Mulek:

 

     If the order of mention of cities in Alma 51:26 represents their location in going northward, then their order was Moroni, Nephihah, Lehi, Morianton, Omner, Gid, and Mulek. However, in Helaman 5:14-16 we have an account of the missionary journeys of Lehi and Nephi. Apparently they start in the city of Bountiful and go southward, yet there, the order of cities is Bountiful, Gid, (Omner is omitted), Mulek. Perhaps Omner had an insignificant population, but why is Gid listed before Mulek? One possibility would be if the city of Gid was inland from Mulek. Although Alma 51:26 says that all the cities were "on the east borders by the seashore," this could be a relative statement from the perspective of the local land of Zarahemla. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

Alma 51:28 Borders of the Land Bountiful:

 

     The Lamanites marched to "the borders of the land Bountiful" (Alma 51:28). Does the phrase "borders of the land Bountiful" mean the general land of Bountiful or the local land of Bountiful? Whatever the case, apparently no cities intervened between the city of Mulek and these borders.

 

Alma 51:29 They Were Met by Teancum:

 

     Apparently, at the borders of the land Bountiful, the Lamanites "were met by Teancum" (Alma 51:29). But where did Teancum come from? It is hard to tell. By the wording, it seems that Teancum was already at the borders of Bountiful as he "met" the Lamanites. In Alma 52:10, we will find that chief captain Moroni sends word to Teancum desiring that he maintain that "quarter" of the land. It is possible that Teancum could have been the head military person over this northeastern quarter of the land, and thus had his army stationed there. If the "quarter" of military responsibility for chief captain Moroni was originally down by the land of Moroni, then it would seem logical for Teancum to be the one to "meet" Amalickiah at the borders of Bountiful. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on Alma 52:10]

 

Alma 51:30 Possession of the Land Bountiful, and Also the Land Northward:

 

     It is apparent that Amalickiah considered Bountiful the last step before conquering "the land northward" (Alma 51:30). One might wonder why no mention is made of the "land Desolation." That term seems to be the counterpart for "land Bountiful" in Alma 22:29-34. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

Alma 51:32 Amalickiah did pitch his tents in the borders on the beach by the seashore (Illustration): When Amalickiah's Lamanite invaders "marched to the borders of the land Bountiful" (Alma 51:28) and camped "on the beach by the seashore" (Alma 51;32), the scene would have been like this. [John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America, p. 210]

 

Alma 51:33 Fatigue, Which Was Caused by the Labors and Heat of the Day:

 

     According to John Sorenson, it is interesting to note that Teancum slew Amalickiah on the Nephite/Lamanite new year's eve, the night before "the first morning of the first month" (Alma 52:1). Amalickiah was sleeping deeply from fatigue "caused by the labors and heat of the day" (Alma 51:33). In the culture of Joseph Smith's New England, of course, New Year's Eve would have been icy. [John L. Sorenson, "The Nephite Calendar," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, pp. 173-174] [See the commentary on Alma 52:1]

 

Alma 51:34 Teancum Stole Privily into the Tent of the King:

 

     How would Teancum know which tent to steal into? According to Cleon Skousen, no doubt this tent [of the king] would have been readily identified because field troops must always know where their commander is located so they can rally around him in case of a surprise attack; therefore commanders in the field nearly always hoisted a prominent banner near their headquarters. [W. Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Vol. 3, p. 3140]

 

Alma 51:34 [Teancum] put a javelin to [Amalickiah's] heart (Illustration): In the darkness of the night, Teancum stole into the tent of Amalickiah and put a javelin through his heart. [W. Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Vol. 3, p. 3141]

 

Alma 52:1 On the First Morning of the First Month:

 

     According to an article by Robert Smith and Stephen Ricks, anciently a year not only did not begin when we today assume it should, but the beginning of the year had special importance. The Babylonian and Phoenician New Year was on the first day of the first month, but in the spring in Babylon and in the fall in Phoenicia! In ancient Israel and Judah, the New Year could come with either the beginning or ending of harvest season -- near either the vernal or autumnal equinox, i.e., Passover/ Unleavened Bread for Israel, and Trumpets/ Atonement/ Tabernacles for Judah, respectively. This undoubtedly accounts in part for the odd fact that, for Jews, New Year's Day comes on 1 Tishri, the first day of the seventh Jewish month (in the fall)!

     In the ancient Old World, the New Year celebration was viewed as the birthday of the world. It was a day of coronation of divine and earthly kings, a day of victory over chaos, a day of renewal of covenant and the reenactment of the king's enthronement, and a day of temple dedication and record keeping. There is good evidence that King Benjamin's address in Mosiah 1-6 was delivered on just such a great feast day. As for the Lamanite soldiers serving their new Zoramite king Amalickiah, certain events may show the symbolic importance of this New Year celebration. Imagine the confusion caused when the Lamanites awoke on New Year's Day to find that king Amalickiah had been murdered on New Year's Eve (see Alma 51:34-52:1). Note too the parallel timing of Teancum's killing of Amalickiah's brother Ammoron in Alma 62:36-39. This was the day when the king should have ceremonially conquered death and been reenthroned! [Robert F. Smith and Stephen D. Ricks, "New Year's Celebrations," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, pp. 209-210]

 

Geographical Theory Map: Alma 51:1-24 Amalickiah Invades the Land of Moroni (25th Year)

 

Geographical Theory Map: Alma 51:1-24 Amalickiah Invades the Land of Moroni (25th Year) Sorenson

 

Alma 51:25-27 Amalickiah Takes Many Cities (25th Year)

 

Alma 51:28--52:5 Teancum Meets Amalickiah (25th Year)

 

Alma 51:28--52:5 Theory Map Teancum Meets Amalickiah (25th Year) Sorenson