The Lord Redeems His Covenant Children
Alma 1 -- Alma 44
Alma 27:5 Let Us Go down to the Land of Zarahemla:
Ammon led the Anti-Nephi-Lehies out of the land of Nephi "down to the land of Zarahemla" (Alma 27:5). According to Brant Gardner, while not a typical occurrence, the migration of an entire people from one territory to another is not uncommon in Mesoamerica. The Mexica have their traditions of a migration into Central Mexico,116 as do the Quiche and Cakchiquel of highland Guatemala.117 [Brant Gardner, Book of Mormon Commentary, http://www.highfiber.com/~nahualli/LDStopics/Alma/Alma27.htm, p. 2]
Alma 27:8 We Will Be Their Slaves:
According to Brant Gardner, the offer of enslavement ("we will be their slaves"--Alma 27:8) tells us a few things that should be noted. The first is that while slavery is expressly not a part of Nephite culture (see Mosiah 2:13), it is nevertheless a prevalent cultural option. Not only does the King of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies suggest becoming a slave, but it previous times so did Limhi (Mosiah 7:15). The suggestion of voluntary slavery is made by two different Kings who were in the land of Nephi at the time of their suggestion. While Limhi was of Nephite heritage, he also was of the second generation of the people of Zeniff to grow up in the land of Nephi. This strongly suggests that the practice of slavery was common in Lamanite lands, particularly in the land of Nephi. Slavery was a known practice in Mesoamerica.118 [Brant Gardner, Book of Mormon Commentary, http://www.highfiber.com/~nahualli/LDStopics/Alma/Alma27.htm, p. 3]
Alma 27:14 Departed out of the Land, and Came into the Wilderness Which Divided the Land of Nephi from the Land of Zarahemla:
If the Anti-Nephi-Lehi's were living in the land of Ishmael, which was in the general land of Nephi, then we might say that the narrow strip of wilderness (which divided the general land of Zarahemla from the general land of Nephi - Alma 22:27) was what Ammon and his Lamanites "came into" (Alma 27:14). This wilderness apparently reached to the borders of the land of Zarahemla (Manti). Apparently, at least part of this wilderness was also called the "south wilderness," referred to in Alma 16:7. The route of Ammon from the land of Ishmael somehow allowed them to bypass the Amalekites and stirred-up Lamanites. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on Alma 16:7]
Alma 27:14 [The Anti-Nephi-Lehies] . . . Came into the Wilderness . . . Came over near the Borders of the Land [of Zarahemla]:
According to Alma 27:14, the wilderness which Ammon's group "came into" was probably mountainous because they also "came over." This wilderness seems to be some distance in width because the people of Ammon first "came into" the wilderness and then "came over" while still in the wilderness.
Alma 27:15 I and My Brethren Will Go Forth:
According to Angela Crowell, in Biblical Hebrew, when the compound subject consists of different persons, the first person (the person speaking) precedes any others.119 In proper English usage, the order is reversed: the speaker always comes last. We say, "My father and I" instead of "I and my father," as in Hebrew. This phenomenon in Hebrew is a literal translation, i.e., "I" is written in Hebrew before "and my father." A good example of this is found in Alma 27:15, "And it came to pass that Ammon said unto them: Behold, I and my brethren will go forth into the land of Zarahemla . . ." [Angela M. Crowell, Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon," in Recent Book of Mormon Developments, Vol. 2, p. 6]
Alma 27:16 Ammon . . . Met Alma, over in the Place of Which Has Been Spoken:
Alma 27:16 states that "as Ammon was going forth into the land [of Zarahemla], that he and his brethren met Alma, over in the place of which has been spoken." The reference here is to Alma 17. If Alma was not far from the valley of Gideon "journeying from the land of Gideon southwhard, away to the land of Manti," (Alma 17:1), then this phrase might be read such: From their camp on the borders of the wilderness, Ammon and his brethren met Alma (over the mountains from where their camp was) and (in a valley near Gideon). The route of descent of Ammon and his brethren into the land of Zarahemla might have been a regular canyon route from Manti. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
Alma 27:20 Back to the Land of Zarahemla:
Alma 27:20 says that "Alma conducted his brethren back to the land of Zarahemla; even to his own house." Apparently the phrase "land of Zarahemla" refers to the local land of Zarahemla and not the general land of Zarahemla because Alma met Ammon and his brethren near the land of Gideon, which was well within the general land of Zarahemla according to the description given in Alma 22:27-34. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
Alma 27:21 The Chief Judge Sent a Proclamation throughout All the Land:
According to Alma 27:21, "the chief judge sent a proclamation throughout all the land, desiring the voice of the people concerning the admitting their brethren, who were the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi." If we assume that the phrase "all the land" means the general land of Zarahemla, then according to John Sorenson, to have reached the entire population, given them a chance to decide whether or not they approved of having Ammon's group settle among them, and then get the word back to the chief judge who had to fill in all the details could have taken weeks. It is hard to know exactly how much time it really took to get "the voice of the people," but it was probably expedited as much as possible, especially when in the verses following this incident say that the Lamanites soon followed after Ammon's group into the wilderness with a warlike mentality (Alma 28:1). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
Alma 27:22 We Will Give Up the Land of Jershon, Which Is on the East by the Sea, Which Joins the Land Bountiful, Which Is on the South of the Land Bountiful:
The "land of Jershon" (Alma 27:22) is said to be on the east "by the sea," but it is hard to tell just exactly how close it was to the seashore or beach that Jershon extended. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] According to John Sorenson, the land of Jershon was the one Nephite center on the east that the Lamanites never even threatened, so it must have been well inland. The area around the archaeological site of San Miguel, Tabasco, would fit the geographical requirements for Jershon. [John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., p. 248] [See the commentary on Alma 27:26]
Alma 27:22 Jershon (Illustration): John Sorenson's site for Jershon (San Miguel, Tabasco). Archaeological Map of Middle America: Land of the Feathered Serpent. Produced by the Cartographic Division , National Geographic Society, 1972.
Alma 27:22 Jershon Is the Land Which We Will Give unto Our Brethren for an Inheritance:
According to Paul Hoskisson, if a Semitic Vorlage is posited for the Book of Mormon, then the Semitic propensity to play with names should be evident in it, and it is. For instance, in the book of Alma the people of Ammon are given a land called Jershon. The etymology of this toponym can be traced to a Hebrew root meaning "to inherit." Alma 27:22 states that "this land Jershon [which by its name connotes "inheritance"] is the land which we will give unto our brethren for an inheritance." This is an excellent example of wordplay in the Book of Mormon and also makes a statement about the Nephite action of giving the land to the converted Lamanites. [Paul Y. Hoskisson, "An Introduction to the Relevance of and a Methodology for a Study of the Proper Names of the Book of Mormon," in By Study and Also by Faith, Vol. 2, F.A.R.M.S., pp. 129-130]
Alma 27:23 We Will Set Our Armies between the Land Jershon and the Land Nephi:
According to Alma 27:23, the Nephites make a promise to the Anti-Nephi-Lehies that "we will set our armies between the land Jershon and the land Nephi, that we may protect our brethren in the land Jerhson." This statement implies a relatively short distance between the two lands. But just how far was it from the borders of southern Jershon to the land of Nephi? Notice should be taken of the fact that Mormon seems to dwell on these relationships in the chapters which follow. In the subsequent chapters we will see that at least the land of Antionum was positioned in between the Nephite controlled area and the Lamanite controlled areas: "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) . The reader should note that while Alma 31:3 mentions a southern border of the land of Antionum as being occupied by "Lamanites," Alma 27:23 specifically implies that the Nephite armies were located between the southern border of the land of Jershon and "the land Nephi." This not only implies that the Nephite armies occupied the land of Antionum (at the time of Alma 27:23), but that the general land of Nephi stretched to near the southern border of the land of Jershon. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
Alma 27:24 We Will Guard Them from Their Enemies:
When the Anti-Nephi-Lehies applied to the Nephites in Zarahemla for refuge, the voice of the people replied, "we will guard them from their enemies with our armies, on condition that they will give us a portion of their substance to assist us that we may maintain our armies" (Alma 27:24). It might be wise for the reader to contemplate the covenant aspect of the Nephite/Anti-Nephi-Lehi agreement laid out here in Alma 27:20-27. According to Raymond Treat of the RLDS Church, the concept of covenant-making in the ancient world is emerging as one of the most profound and far-reaching topics in all scripture. . . . In his book, The Miracle of the Scarlet Thread, Richard Booker outlines the steps ancient Hebrews typically followed in making a covenant. They exchanged robes and belts, cut the covenant, raised their right arms and mingled their blood, exchanged names, made a scar, stated the covenant terms, ate a memorial meal and planted a memorial tree. . . .
[The reader should note that part of the covenant ritual involved exchanging belts.] The symbolism of this act is lost to our modern culture because our belts serve a different purpose. The ancient belts were weapons belts. Therefore, the message of giving one's belt was--"all the power I have I now give to you. If necessary, I will defend you to the death."
[Another part of the covenant ritual involved exchanging robes.] A man's robe was symbolic of all his material possessions. Therefore, by giving his robe, he was pledging everything he had to his covenant brother. [Raymond C. Treat, "Understanding Our Covenant," in Recent Book of Mormon Developments, Vol. 2, pp. 34-35]
Alma 27:24 We Will Guard Them from Their Enemies with Our Armies, on Condition That They Will Give Us a Portion of Their Substance to Assist Us That We May Maintain Our Armies:
According to an article by John Welch, the only Book of Mormon group given an exemption from military service was the famous people of Ammon. In repenting of their previous shedding of blood, they had sworn an oath that they would never again take up arms (see Alma 24:11-13). After they arrived in the land of Zarahemla, they were granted an extraordinary exemption from active military duty if they would help to sustain the Nephite armies with provisions (see Alma 27:23-24). Surprisingly, the grant of this exceptional privilege was consistent with ancient Israelite law.
Normally one duty of ancient peoples was to take up arms in defense of their tribe or nation. Saul called "all Israel" to take up arms against the Ammonites and the Amalekites (see 1 Samuel 11:1-11; 15:4). Threats and curses were pronounced upon anyone who would not join in the battle. Once, Saul sent messengers to marshall the troops; he symbolically cut a yoke of oxen into pieces in view of the people and proclaimed, "Whosoever cometh not forth after Saul and after Samuel, so shall it be done unto his oxen" (1 Samuel 11:7).
Why, then, were the able-bodied Ammonites granted exemption? There may be several reasons.
1. The absolute duty to go to war applied only in fighting against an enemy. (Deuteronomy 20:1-2) This was interpreted in the Talmud as not applying in a conflict against other Israelites: "'Against your enemies' but not against your brethren, not Judah against Simeon nor Simeon against Benjamin." (The Talmud was a text later than the departure of Lehi from Jerusalem, but it often reflected older material. It was not translated into English until after the Book of Mormon was in print.) A similar feeling may be reflected in the Ammonite reluctance to "take up arms against their brethren" (Alma 24:6,18; 27:23)
2. The laws of Deuteronomy afforded humanitarian exemptions for those who were "fearful or fainthearted" (Deuteronomy 20:5-9; 24:5). Since everyone going into battle was likely "fearful and fainthearted," the Talmud explains, this "alludes to one who is afraid because of the transgressions he had committed." Certainly the Nephites would have recognized the profound fears of the Ammonites.
3. The men who remained at home, however, continued to support the war behind the lines. The Talmud holds that those who are exempted from actual fighting are exempted from those particular duties, but not from serving in the rear: 'They must furnish water and food and repair the roads.'"
Thus, the exemption granted to the Ammonites was logical, religiously motivated, and consistent with the spirit of ancient Israelite law. [John W. Welch, "Exemption From Military Duty," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., pp. 189-191]
Alma 27:25 The People of Anti-Nephi-Lehi:
It is significant that "the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi" (Alma 27:25) are never referred to by this name again after they settle with the Nephites, but by the name "the people of Ammon" (Alma 27:26). If Anti-Nephi-Lehi was originally king Lamoni's brother, the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi probably depended on him as a patron or mediator for their existence and security while in the land of Nephi. Once these people entered the land of Zarahemla, they needed another patron or mediator, and Ammon was apparently that person. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
Alma 27:26 And They Went down into the Land of Jershon:
The land of Jershon was apparently "down" in elevation from the position of Ammon's group in the wilderness between Nephi and Zarahemla because "they went down into the land of Jershon" (Alma 27:26). According to Alma 27:22, the land of Jershon was on the south and joining the land of Bountiful, and was on the east by the sea. The land of Jershon was also apparently on the north of the land of Antionum (Alma 31:3). The people of Ammon most probably chose a route that traveled past Manti, Minon, Gideon, and the local land of Zarahemla before continuing towards the east sea. When the people of Ammon arrived at Jershon, it might have been sparsely populated with a few Nephites and a few "idle" Lamanites who had spread to the east of the land of Zarahemla (see Alma 22:28); however, within a short time the Nephites had set their armies between the land of Jershon and the land of Nephi in order to protect the people of Ammon (Alma 27:23). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See Geographical Theory Maps] [See the commentary on Alma 27:22]
Alma 27:26 [The Anti-Nephi-Lehies] Were Called . . . the People of Ammon:
When the Anti-Nephi-Lehies applied to the Nephites in Zarahemla for refuge, the voice of the people came back in favor of the agreement. Alma 27:26 states that the Anti-Nephi-Lehies "went down into the land of Jershon, and took possession of the land of Jershon; and they were called by the Nephites the people of Ammon; therefore they were distinguished by that name ever after." It might be wise for the reader to contemplate the covenant aspect of the Nephite/Anti-Nephi-Lehi agreement laid out it Alma 27:20-27.
Raymond Treat notes that part of the ancient Hebrew covenant ritual involved exchanging names or taking a new name. Each covenant participant would take the other person's last name and add it to his own. God and Abram exchanged names. God's name in Hebrew is YHWH. So God took an "H" from his name and gave it to Abram, changing his name to Abraham. Abraham's wife Sarai was also given an "H" which changed her name to Sarah. Abraham gave his name to God. That is why he is called the God of Abraham. [Raymond C. Treat, "Understanding Our Covenant," in Recent Book of Mormon Developments, Vol. 2, pp. 34-35]
Note*If we understand that the name Ammon is another name for God, then the phrasing in Alma 27:27 becomes interesting. There it says that "they [the Anti-Nephi-Lehies] were among the people of Nephi, and also numbered among the people who were of the church of God. Another name for the church of God was the people of God (Mosiah 25:24) Another name for the people of Ammon [the Anti-Nephi-Lehies] was the people of God (see Alma 25:13). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on Alma 27:24]
Alma 27:26 They Were Called by the Nephites, the People of Ammon:
In Alma 27:26 we find that when the Anti-Nephi-Lehies entered Nephite territory and settled in the land of Jershon, "they were called by the Nephites, the people of Ammon." Some might wonder, How could Ammon and the people of Ammon be named after the Egyptian Amon, isn't that a pagan god? According to Hugh Nibley, he's not pagan at all. In several of our hymns we use the word Amon for the name of God:
What, tho, if the favor of Ahman possessing,
This world's bitter hate you are called to endure?
("The Time is Far spent" Hymnbook, p. 266)
The Egyptian word Amon means lots and lots of things. The main thing it means is "the unknown one," the one the Egyptians don't know. They call him "the hidden one, the concealed one, the one whose name nobody knows." Of course, that's exactly what the Hebrews said about him. Only the high priest in Israel knew the name of God. He only whispered it once a year when he went behind the veil. Nobody else knew that name. The name of Amon is written in Egyptian with a man concealing himself behind a blind. That is always read as Imn, "the one who is not seen, the one who is invisible, the one we don't know and who is above." [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, pp. 432-433]
Alma 27:26 They Were Distinguished by That Name ["The People of Ammon"] Ever After:
According to John Tvedtnes, among the Nephites, we find that there were clear-cut tribal distinctions. For example, though the Anti-Nephi-Lehies (people of Ammon) were converted to the Nephite religion and came to live with the Nephites, yet they were not left to intermingle with the rest of the people. Rather, they were given a special territory named Jershon (and later Melek). That they remained separate from the main Nephite body is indicated by the statement that they continued to be called by the name of their mentor, Ammon, "ever after" (Alma 27:26-27). [John A. Tvedtnes, "Book of Mormon Tribal Affiliation and Military Castes," in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., p. 303]
Geographical Theory Map: Alma 27:14-26 Ammon & Converts Depart Toward Zarahemla--Ammon Meets Alma (14th Year)
People of Ammon Go to Jershon (14th Year)
Alma 27:31 Geographical Theory Map The Landing and Migration of the People of Zarahemla