Alma 11

 

The Lord Redeems His Covenant Children

      Alma 1 -- Alma 44


   

 

Alma 11:2 The Man Was Compelled to Pay That Which He Owed, or Be Stripped, or Be Cast out from among the People:

 

     In Alma 11:2 we find the following point of Nephite law:

           Now if a man owed another, and he would not pay that which he did owe, he was complained of to the judge . . . and thus the man was compelled to pay that which he owed, or be stripped, or be cast out from among the people as a thief and a robber.

 

     According to Brant Gardner, it is easy to understand a judge compelling a man to repay a debt in full, but why were there two very different penalties for the same crime? It is probable that the punishments were different because they were meted out to different social classes. The lower class would receive banishment, and the upper class would be humiliated by stripping (a rather severe blow to their pride and standing in the community).

     This dual system of justice is reflected in punishments delivered by the Aztec judges in a later time period. In the case of the Aztec justice system, the harsher penalty appears to have been applied to the nobility rather than to the commoner.44 [Brant Gardner, "Book of Mormon Commentary," http://www. highfiber. com/~nahualli/ LDStopics/Alma/Alma11.htm, pp. 2-3]

 

Alma 11:3 And the Judge Received for His Wages . . . a Senine of Gold . . . according to the Law:

 

     In Alma 11:3 we are informed that "the judge received for his wages according to his time--a senine of gold for a day . . . and this is according to the law which was given." Hugh Nibley notes that brother John Welch, who teaches at the Brigham Young University Law School, has made a very good study on this text relating to the payment of judges according to the senine. It seems that in the ancient court the judge had to be paid before you were let out of prison. It says here that the judges' pay was one senine a day. Later on it tells us in 3 Nephi 12:26 that you won't come out of prison until you have paid the last senine. They won't let you out until you have paid the judges. The judge is paid if nothing else. That's exactly the system we have in the Book of Mormon. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, p. 316]

 

Alma 11:4 Pieces of Their Gold, and Their Silver, according to Their Value:

 

     Alma 11:4 refers to "different pieces of their gold, and of their silver, according to their value." Diane Wirth notes, however, that the word "coin" does not appear in the Book of Mormon text. Since the monetary categories referred to in the Book of Mormon refer to measures, it is plausible to assume that various amounts were used to measure a number of trade items. Cacao beans, for example, were one of the most prized possessions in Mesoamerica. Their monetary value was calculated according to their number, and--in larger quantities,--by their measure. [Diane E. Wirth, A Challenge to the Critics, p. 48]

     According to a F.A.R.M.S. Staff article, there is no reason to suppose that the Nephites used any sort of coinage, although the Conquistadores found some late examples of tin and copper coins among the Aztecs. To judge from King James Version usage of "money" for Hebrew kesef, "silver" (Isaiah 55:1-2 = 2 Nephi 9:50-1), and interpolated "pieces" of gold, silver, or money, without a Hebrew equivalent (Genesis 33:19, Exodus 37:7, Joshua 24:32, 1 Samuel 2:36, Job 42:11; but see Psalm 68:31), always before coins were either invented or known to the Israelites, the appearance of the same words in the Book of Mormon can likewise be placed directly within a system of simple wieghts and measures (Alma 1:5, 11:4,20) [F.A.R.M.S. Staff, "Weights and Measures in the Time of Mosiah II," F.A.R.M.S., 1983]

 

Alma 11:4 They Did Not Reckon . . . Neither Did They Measure (Nephite Weights and Measures):

 

     In Alma 11:4 we find the following cultural comment:

           "Now these are the names of the different pieces of their gold, and of their silver, according to their value. And the names are given by the Nephites, for they did not reckon after the manner of the Jews who were at Jerusalem; neither did they measure after the manner of the Jews: but they altered their reckoning and their measure, according to the minds and the circumstances of the people . . ."

 

     Joseph Allen tells the following story of an incident on one of his tours to Guatemala:

           Dean Williams, an attorney, and a member of the tour group . . . asked, "Joe, have they ever found any coins in Mesoamerica?" I answered, "Not really. They've found a few copper items, but not coins with which we are familiar." Dean . . . read about the money system during Alma's time, then said, "That's not talking about coins; it's talking about weights and measures." I said, "You're right. I know now what that's talking about. When we get to Lake Atitlan in a few days, we'll buy a couple of things they use for weighing purposes." When we arrived at Lake Atitlan, some of the group bought sets of the weights that the natives still use today to weigh their produce on a balance scale.

 

     According to Joseph Allen, the native Mesoamericans traded with cocoa beans, quetzal feathers, and copper figures, and they used a weight-and-measure system that appears to predate the Spanish Conquest, and is still utilized today. The weights that the Guatemala Indians use today consist of cups nestled inside one another much like the measuring cups we use in our American kitchens. A small solid cap fits inside the smallest cup. [Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, p. 175]

     In a paper by Thomas Howells, these weights were accurately measured and found that "the three smaller cups and the weight inside the smallest cup were equal to the fourth cup. The weight set is ingeniously designed. It is compact and seems to provide every combination of weights from 1/2 ounce to 16 ounces with the smallest number of pieces. There was a "16" stamped on the outside of the case and the small plug was marked "1/2". Presumably the system was meant to measure avoidupois ounces. It appears that the intention was for the plug and cups to equal 8 ounces and the case and lid to equal 8 ounces." [Thomas F. Howells, "Nephite Weight and Volume," unpublished]

     Note* The important idea that the reader should grasp here is that, although the proportions are not quite exactly the same as the Nephite system, the Guatemala Indians were using a weights and measure system, a custom that had its origins long before the advent of avoidupois ounces. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

Alma 11:4 They Did Not Reckon . . . Neither Did They Measure (Nephite Weights and Measures) [Illustration]: Relative Values: The following is a representation of the relative values of the Nephite weights and measures:

 

     Senum of Silver or Senine of Gold      1 measure                  Leah            1/8

     Amnor of Silver or Seon of Gold      2 measures            Shiblum            1/4

     Ezrom of Silver or Shum of Gold      4 measures            Shiblon            1/2

     Onti of Silver or Limnah of Gold      7 measures            Antion of gold      1 1/2

 

Alma 11:4 (Weights and Measures) [Illustration]: These weights and measurements from Guatemala may tie in with both the gold and silver measurements described in Alma chapter 11. Sister Carolyn Lee purchased the weights and measures represented above, while in Guatemala on tour. The uniqueness of these weights and measures are that unlike many which are purchased in the highlands of Guatemala, these have eight units instead of four or five. Carolyn proposes that the seven units may tie in with both the gold and the silver measurements as described in Alma chapter 11. [Jace Willard, "editor's note," in The Book of Mormon Archaeological Digest, Vol. I, Issue IV, 1998, p. 13]

 

Alma 11:4 They Did Not Reckon . . . Neither Did They Measure (Nephite Weights and Measures):

 

     According to John Sorenson, the system reported in the book of Alma followed Israelite practice before the Babylonian Exile in that the money units employed were weight units of metal rather than standardized coins. Minted coins apparently came into use in Palestine only after Lehi left there. Certainly the "money" units given in Alma 11 were proportionate weights. The inappropriate term "coinage" in the chapter heading is an error due to nineteenth century editing, not a part of the original text. Research has also shown recently that relating measures of grain to values of precious metal, in the manner of Alma 11:4-19, was an Egyptian practice. Whether there was Mesoamerican weighed money we cannot say. Most recently a burial containing 12,000 pieces of metal "money" (though not coins as such) was found in Ecuador, for the first time confirming that some ancient South Americans had the idea of accumulating a fortune in more or less standard units of metal wealth. Such a startling find in Mesoamerica could change our present limited ideas. [John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., p. 233]

 

Alma 11:4 They Altered Their Reckoning and Their Measure:

 

     Hugh Nibley cites an article by Richard Smith who is a chemistry professor at Harvard. He analyzed this money system of the Nephites and came up with surprising things. It tells us here in Alma 11:4 that "they altered their reckoning and their measure, according to the minds and the circumstances of the people." . . . Since the new constitution [of Mosiah] this is what they had done; they had adjusted the money. They had a system which ran in sevens instead of fives and tens; or sixes and twelves, as the English system does; or the decimal system as we use it. The Nephite system ran in sevens, and Richard Smith pointed out it was the best possible system that could be devised. It used the least coins [or measures] for any necessary transaction. . . . It's an almost perfect system which Joseph Smith devised for his Nephites here [laughter]. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, p. 316]

 

Alma 11:4 They Did Not Reckon . . . Neither Did They Measure (Nephie Weights and Measures):

 

     According to an article in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies edited by John Sorenson, some cultural commentary is made relative to Alma 11:

     Alma's experience with the antagonist Zeezrom in the city of Ammonihah as reported in Alma 11 describes a system of standard weights and volumes in use among the Nephites in their commerce. We would expect that in Mesoamerica, quite certainly the area where the history of the Nephites was played out, there might be evidence of standards. Such would include measures of volume for grains plus weights of precious metals of values equivalent to the amounts of grain.

     When the Spanish invaders arrived, they reported that in the markets everything was sold by volume. For example, the Aztecs used a wooden box, called quauhchiaquihuitl, to measure corn and other dry goods; this box was divided until the smallest unit was a twelfth part of the whole. Graded sizes of jars served to measure liquid. They also had special cups to measure out gold tribute payments to the Spanish in units roughly equivalent to our ounces. Maya groups in southern Mesoamerica also relied primarily on volume measures (for example, the "armload" and "fistful")45 From the area around Kaminaljuyu on the outskirts of Guatemala City (the "land of Nephi" to some) archaeologists have, in fact found bowls manufactured to a standard pattern and of gradually reducing sizes; these may represent socially established measures of volume belonging to the time period--the first and second centuries B.C.--when the Lamanites are reported by the Book of Mormon to be living in Nephi.46

     Further, there is all but conclusive evidence that weights were not used anywhere in Mesoamerica at the time of the Spanish conquest, nor were scales known.47 The archaeological and ethnological literature has credited Andean peoples and other South Americans with the possession of scales.48 Fragmentary information hints at the possibility--no more--that scales were known at some points in Mesoamerica in an earlier era even though they apparently were not continued in use for Spanish eyewitnesses to observe. 49 (Many other cultural ideas and objects are known to have been lost since ancient times.)50

     It has been suggested by some Latter-day Saints that sets of small metal objects used currently in weighing goods for sale in Guatemalan marketplaces are descended culturally from a system of weighing assumed to have been used in pre-Spanish, and indeed in Book of Mormon times.51 Objective evidence for this claim is lacking. Indeed, historically the use of scales and weights in Guatemala appears to have been brought in by Europeans perhaps no more than 90 years ago.52 All the materials and terminology involved in these devices are of Spanish origin.

     Yet the studies of Mesoamerican standards for measurement that have been done so far have been extremely limited. The topic deserves in-depth research whereupon greater clarity may be attained. [John L. Sorenson, "Did the Ancient Peoples of Mesoamerica Use a System of Weights and Scales in Measuring Goods & Their Values?" in John L. Sorenson ed. Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 8, Num. 2, 1999, p. 47]

 

Alma 11:5 Now the Reckoning [of the Law of Moses] Is Thus:

 

     According to John Welch, in order for ancient economies to work effectively, kings spelled out the value of various commodities and established exchange ratios, especially between consumable goods and precious metals.

     For example, several parallels exist between the ancient Babylonian Laws of Eshnunna, instituted during the reign of Dadusha in the early eighteenth century B.C., and King Mosiah's system of weights and measures found in Alma 11:13-19.

     1. Standard Phrasing: For example, the Babylonian laws have "One kor of barley is (priced) at one shekel of silver." This resembles the phrase "A senum of silver was equal to a senine of gold, and either for a measure of barley" (Alma 11:7)

     2. Primary Exchange Ratios Between Barley and Silver: The primary conversion in Babylonia was between barley and silver. Thus, precious metal and grain measures were convertible into each other. The law of Mosiah featured the same conversion capability: "a senum of silver . . . for a measure of barley" (Alma 11:7).

     3. Other Commodities Converted into Silver or Barley: In Babylonia, the basic commodity valuation system allowed traders to deal in a variety of commodities, all convertible into silver or barley. Similarly, Mosiah's system allowed traders to expand from silver, gold, or barley into "a measure of every kind of grain" (see Alma 11:7).

     4. Instituted by Kings: Both economic systems were instituted by kings for similar reasons. The Laws of Eshnunna began with a royal superscription that probably proclaimed this standardization as instrumental in establishing justice, eliminating enmity, and protecting the weak. Likewise, King Mosiah enacted his laws expressly to establish peace and equality in the land (see Mosiah 29:39,40).

     5. A Standard for Wages and Legal Matters: The ideal, practical motivation behind the Laws of Eshnunna seems to have been to . . . standardize values on daily wages and the computation of various damages and penalties. Similarly we find that "it was in the law of Mosiah that every man who was a judge of the law . . . should receive wages, . . . "a senine of gold for a day, or a senum of silver" (Alma 11:1,3).

 

     It is interesting that in enacting his law, King Mosiah "did not reckon after the manner of the Jews who were at Jerusalem" (Alma 11:4), but he apparently still utilized a system that drew on elements known in the ancient Near East. Such similarities between the Laws of Eshnunna (discovered and translated in the mid-twentieth century) and Mosiah's economic system show yet another way in which the Book of Mormon presents a truly complex civilization with roots in ancient society. [John W. Welch, "The Laws of Eshnunna and Nephite Economics," in FARMS Update, No. 121, in Insights, December 1998, p. 2]

 

Alma 11:5 Now the Reckoning Is Thus:

 

     In Alma 11 we find the "reckoning" of the Nephite "monetary" system, or weights and measures. John and Gregory Welch note that Egyptian hieroglyphs offer a parallel to King Mosiah's monetary system. The grain measure in ancient Egypt was represented by the eye of Horus. Each part of the eye represented a fraction of the grain measure. There were six parts. The smallest measure was 1/64, represented by the tear duct; the next was 2/64 represented by the eyelash; and so on. The sum of all the parts equaled 63/64, which was considered the full measure. Mosiah's weights and measures were similarly exponential, with the largest equaling "the value of . . . all" (Alma 11:10) of the main lesser amounts. Although the Nephite system is not exactly the same as the Egyptian, the similarities corroborate the report that the Nephite kings studied "the language of the Egyptians" (Mosiah 1:4) and drew on their Old World backgrounds well after their arrival in the New World.53 [John W. Welch and J. Gregory Welch, Charting the Book of Mormon: Visual Aids for Personal Study and Teaching, F.A.R.M.S., commentary for Chart 113]

 

Alma 11:5 Now the reckoning is thus (Illustration): Chart: Egyptian Hieroglyphs for Grain Measurement. [John W. Welch and J. Gregory Welch, Charting the Book of Mormon: Visual Aids for Personal Study and Teaching, F.A.R.M.S., commentary for Chart 113]

 

Alma 11:5 A Limnah:

 

     According to Diane Wirth, the term Limnah (Alma 11:5), a gold standard, has not an Egyptian, but a Hebrew meaning of "to count or weigh." (Brown, Driver, and Briggs, "A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament"). These terms appear to be quite fitting since we know that the Nephites used a combination of Egyptian and Hebrew in the language they referred to as "reformed Egyptian." [Diane E. Wirth, A Challenge to the Critics, pp. 47-48]

 

Alma 11:6 A Senum:

 

     According to Diane Wirth, if we take the word senum, referred to in Alma 11:3, we come up with an Egyptian word with a Nephite ending. Nephite endings to words were no doubt a grammatical device to change Egyptian words to their language. Sen in Egyptian means "one-half" or "doubling." Jesclard noted "This would also tend to fit into the Nephite method, because a senum is doubled each time to make the next highest amount." [Diane E. Wirth, A Challenge to the Critics, p. 47]

 

Alma 11:13 An Onti Was As Great As Them All:

 

     According to Diane Wirth, Alma 11:13 refers to "an onti," which is an Egyptian word meaning "small amount" or "short of an amount." [Diane E. Wirth, A Challenge to the Critics, p. 47]

     Although Alma 11:13 states that "an onti was as great as them all," the idea that might be grasped is that the word "onti" was associated with value.

 

Alma 11:15 Therefore, a Shiblon for Half a Measure of Barley:

 

     The reader should note that in Alma 11:15 that things were measured in terms of "barley." According to Hugh Nibley, this is very interesting because the first Babylonian and the first Egyptian money were always the amount of silver necessary to buy a measure of barley. It was always barley. It wasn't emer wheat or the other grains they had. And it's very interesting that barley doesn't grow wild in Egypt as emer wheat and other things do. But barley was it. It was the word for money and it was what they used. . . . This reference to barley is very striking because nobody knew about this custom in Joseph Smith's day. It wasn't discovered until the 1850s. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, p. 317]

 

Alma 11:16 A Shiblum [Shilum]:

 

     According to Diane Wirth, an interesting observation has been made by John Welch. In Alma 11:16 we come across a unit of measurement called shiblum. Checking an original fragment and the Printer's Manuscript of the Book of Mormon, it was found that the word was actually shilum, not shiblum. Shilum just happens to be a Hebrew word meaning "payment, reward, or retribution." [Diane E. Wirth, A Challenge to the Critics, p. 48]

 

Alma 11:22 All These (Six Onties of Silver) Will I Give Thee If Thou Wilt Deny the Existence of a Supreme Being:

 

     One might ask, Why did Mormon take up space on his abridgment to show the Nephite money scale? Do we find the answer in Alma 11:22? In other words, did Mormon only show the money scale in order to help the reader appreciate the enormity of Zeezrom's bribe? ("All these will I give thee if thou wilt deny the existence of a supreme being") Or is the answer tied to a number of things. One possible insight is that in the scriptures, certain numbers are symbolic. The bribe of six onties was equal to 42 Senums, or 42 days pay for a judge. The number 42 is a product of 6 X 7. The number "6" is symbolic of Satan. The number "7" is symbolic the perfection, or the combination of "4" man + "3" God. However, Satan can imitate the ways of God: "And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy" (see Revelation 13:1). Thus we might ask, Is the amount of Zeezrom's bribe an allusion to Satan?

     Zeezrom's big issue was the need for this "Son of God" to "save the people in their sins" (Alma 11:34). Apparently, according to Zeezrom's philosophy, salvation was a given (Nehor doctrine--see Alma 1:4). Beyond that, the object of life "was to get gain; and they got gain according to their employ" (Alma 10:31). Mormon notes that "the foundation of the destruction of this people is beginning to be laid by the unrighteousness of your lawyers and your judges" (Alma 10:27). Amulek's response was a discourse on the role of the Son of God (The Eternal Judge)--"all shall rise from the dead and stand before God, and be judged according to their works" (Alma 11:41).

     Thus, if the issue has to do with judgment, why does Amulek speak on resurrection? Unlike an unjust society where men get gain according to their unrighteous works, the resurrection will be perfectly just--"everything shall be restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body, and shall be brought and be arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God, to be judged according to their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil" (Alma 11:44). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

Alma 11:24 Lucre:

 

     While the meaning of the word "lucre" is riches or money, there is a connotation of worldliness. Titus 1:10-11 says the following: "For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision; Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake."

 

Alma 11:28-29 Is There More Than One God? And He [Amulek] Answered, No:

 

     According to McConkie and Millet, the question by Zeezrom, "Is there more than one God?" and Amulek's answer, "No," should be taken in context of the entire question and answer session going on between Zeezrom and Amulek. Zeezrom, in his eagerness to trap Amulek in his own words, asks whether there is more than one God. Amulek answers that there is not. Amulek is, of course, speaking entirely of the Savior, of the Lord Jehovah; he is not making reference to our Father in Heaven or to the Godhead. That same Jehovah had spoken anciently to Isaiah: "I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no savior" (Isaiah 43:11).

     Zeezrom then asks whether it is the Son of God who will come as the Messiah, to which Amulek answers simply, "Yea." From the crafty lawyer's perspective at this point it would appear that Amulek is contradicting himself. But in fact the Nephite missionary is delivering a profound truth: Jesus Christ is both God and Son of God. Is there only one God? Yes, there is only one God who shall come to take away the sins of the world and ransom fallen men and women from the temporal and spiritual death brought into the world by the fall of Adam. That God is also the Son of God, the Son of Man, meaning the Son of the Man of Holiness (see Moses 6:57). [Joseph F. McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. III, pp. 75-76]

 

Alma 11:38 Is the Son of God the Very Eternal Father?:

 

     In Alma 11:38 Zeezrom asked Amulek, "Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father?" According to Hugh Nibley this is the crux of the Christological controversy--how can he be the Son and the Father again? . . . Well, Jesus Christ by his work made the Resurrection possible--the literal bringing forth of the flesh. Not flesh and blood, but of the flesh to live eternally after the Resurrection. The one that makes that possible is your real father. He is the father who makes the Resurrection possible. We are not resurrected just as spirits or ghosts; we are resurrected with a real body. In that case he is truly the father, but not of our spirits. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, p. 319]

 

Alma 11:43 Both Limb and Joint Shall Be Restored to Its Proper Frame:

 

     In Alma 11:43 it says that in the resurrection, "the spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame, even as we now are at this time. . ." According to Hugh Nibley, the mention of "both limb and joint" is a striking thing, because in the last issue of Zeitschrift fur agyptische Sprache, the basic clearinghouse of Egyptological stuff, there's a long article by Emma Brunner-Traut on this subject. This both limb and joint is an Egyptian expression. It's an interesting thing that the Jews, the Arabs, and the Egyptians had no word for body. They just think of the body as a collection of members. . . . you are just an assemblage of arms, legs, joints and other members. They always refer to it that way. They would never use the expression "resurrection of the body." They would say, "the resurrection of the body with its members added, and the joints that have to go with the members." It's a peculiar thing because you don't find that in the Bible. . . . That's what Alma says here, "both limb and joint," as if they didn't belong to the body. Well, the Egyptians, the Hebrews, and the Greeks before Homer didn't have a word for body. Homer had no word for body; he used guia, which means members. . . It's a very interesting thing that the ancients didn't think of the body as one particular unit. Surprising isn't it? They divided it up. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, pp. 320-321]

 

Alma 11:44 This Restoration Should Come to All, Both . . . Both . . . Both:

 

     According to Donald Parry, Anaphora (Greek meaning "to repeat") is defined as an identical word or set of words which begin two or more consecutive clauses. Anaphoric clauses abound in the scriptures. . . . For instance, in Alma 11:44, the word "both" introduces four successive thoughts, which in turn join together to define and elucidate the meaning of the first line, "Now, this restoration shall come to all."

           Now, this restoration shall come to all,

     both old and young,

     both bond and free,

     both male and female,

     both the wicked and the righteous

[Donald W. Parry, The Book of Mormon Text Reformatted according to Parallelistic Patterns, F.A.R.M.S., p. xxxvi].