The Lord Redeems His Covenant Children
Alma 1 -- Alma 44
Alma 44:5 I Command You, in the Name of That All-Powerful God:
Moroni is attempting to have Zerahemnah declare a peace and to swear to leave the Nephites alone. If Moroni can convince the Lamanites that God has been behind their victory, then they might assume that any future attacks would have the same result. Moroni is very formal in that declaration, and lists a number of things that become "witnesses" to his promise of safe conduct for Zerahemnah's men should they surrender. Moroni begins by commanding "in the name of that all powerful God" (Alma 44:5). The use of his Lord's name in an oath points to a direct covenant relationship with the God who has won the battle. After this covenant declaration, Moroni lists the other witnesses: "by our faith, by our religion, and by our rites of worship, and by our church . . ." While it would appear that Moroni is swearing by different things, these are all intended to be the same, with slight differences.
This is a well known literary technique among Mesoamerican peoples, where the same thing would be repeated with slight alterations. We need not attempt to find a difference between their faith and religion, because Mormon intends these to be parallel equivalencies, but with sight differences for a cumulative effect.
The reason Moroni had invoked God was to indicate that the outcome would be the same in any future engagement, so the Lamanites might as well swear not to fight. [Brant Gardner, Book of Mormon Commentary, http://www.highfiber.com/~nahualli/LDStopics/Alma/Alma44.htm, pp. 2-3]
Alma 44:5 By the Maintenance of the [Sacred] Word, to Which We Owe All Our Happiness:
According to Thomas Valletta, it is noteworthy that sometimes the term "word" was used synonymously with "covenant" (e.g. Numbers 30:2; Deuteronomy 33:9; 1 Chronicles 16:15; Psalms 105:8). This may be a result of the binding nature of the revealed word of God (compare Exodus 13:16; Deuteronomy 11:18). In our own dispensation, the Lord has revealed: "For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation" (D&C 82:3). Phrases such as "keeping the commandments" (Alma 48:15), and "maintenance of the sacred word of God" (Alma 44:5), are the scriptural equivalent of living the covenants of the Lord (Alma 46:21). [Thomas R. Valletta, "The Captain and the Covenant," in The Book of Mormon: Alma, The Testimony of the Word, p. 227]
Alma 44:5 By the Sacred Word of God, to Which We Owe All Our Happiness:
According to John Fowles, Captain Moroni taught that they owed all of their happiness to the "maintenance of the sacred word of God" (Alma 44:5). It appears that words such as covenant, law, word, or oath were used almost synonymously in the Old Testament. G.E. Mendenhall has posited:
In view of the fact that the term for "covenant" is quite rare in the earliest sections of the Old Testament, the tradition of the covenant with Yahweh must have been designated by other words than [berit]. It seems quite likely that the oldest designation of the Decalogue as . . . "the ten words" . . . rests on this early tradition, since covenants were regarded and called the "words" of the suzerain. The theological usage of the "word" of God may therefore be very closely bound up in its very origin with the covenant, though, of course, much expanded in scope with the passage of time. (716)
Even the name "Deuteronomy," which means "second law," comes from the Greek Septuagint which is actually a mistranslation of the earlier Hebrew term debarim or words. Therefore, the book of Deuteronomy is in reality the book of the "Words of the Covenant" (Grant 143). [John L. Fowles, "The Decline of the Nephites: Rejection of the Covenant and Word of God," in The Book of Mormon: Helaman through 3 Nephi 8, According to Thy Word, pp. 82-83]
Alma 44:5 I Command You by All That Is Most Dear to Us:
In his words to Zerahemna to avert further bloodshed, Moroni declares:
And now Zerahemnah, I command you, in the name of that all-powerful God . . . by the sacred support which we owe to our wives and our children, by that liberty which binds us to our lands and our country; yea, and also by the maintenance of the sacred word of God, to which we owe all our happiness; and by all that is most dear unto us . . . by all the desires which ye have for life, that ye deliver up your weapons of war unto us, and we will seek not your blood. (Alma 44:5-6)
Dean Garret notes that a modern-day general, Omar N. Bradley, once warned: "We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. . . . Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living."161
President Dwight D. Eisenhower observed: "Every gun made, every warship launched, every rocked fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. . . . This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."162 [H. Dean Garrett, "Inspired by a Better Cause," in Studies in Scripture: Book of Mormon, Part 2, p. 78]
Alma 44:6 Deliver Up Your Weapons of War unto Us, and We Will Seek Not Your Blood:
Karl von Clausewitz's great work Vom Kriege, or On War, has been the Bible of the military for 150 years. According to Hugh Nibley, the Book of Mormon reads as if it were written by a diligent student of this work. One of the principal maxims of this work says the following: "the disarming of the enemy--this object of war in the abstract, [is the] final means of attaining the political object."
In the Book of Mormon, Moroni often requires the enemy to lay down their arms and lets them go home. There are no reprisals or anything similar (see Alma 44:6,15,20; 52:37). The test comes when they lay down their arms--then they know your will has dominated over theirs. So Clausewitz says, the "disarming of the enemy--this [is the] object of war." Moroni was satisfied when the enemy laid down their arms. Likewise in the French and Indian Wars, and in the Mexican Wars, and in the last war when the German and Japanese laid down their arms, the war was over. [Hugh Nibley, "Warfare in the Book of Mormon," in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, p. 129] See the commentary on Alma 43:17]
Alma 44:10 Moroni Returned the Sword and the Weapons of . . . Zerahemnah, Saying: Behold, We Will End the Conflict:
In his work On War, Clausewitz writes: In pursuing the aim of war, "there is only one means: combat. . . . All the effects manifested in [war] have their origin in combat." Moroni, in combat, returns the sword to Zerahemnah. Zerahemnah didn't want to discuss terms anymore. Moroni invited him to take his sword back and continue fighting. That's all we can do--it's the only solution. Unless you choose to make a covenant of peace, you'll just have to go on fighting. Military combat is the only effective way--the pursuance of only one means. "All the effects manifested in [war] have their origin in combat." As Moroni hands Zerahemnah his sword back, he says, "We will end the conflict"--if you don't want to discuss it, there's nothing else to do (cf. Alma 44:10-11). Then the only reason, says Clausewitz, for "suspension of military action [is] . . . to await a more favorable moment for action." When Zerahemnah puts up his sword, he is merely waiting for a more favorable time to strike back. He tells Moroni quite frankly to hand him back his sword and then adds, "We will not suffer ourselves to take an oath unto you, which we know that we will break" (Alma 44:8-10). When he got his sword back, he immediately made a mad lunge for Moroni, only to have the top of his head cut off (see Alma 44:12). You suspend your action to wait for more action. [Hugh Nibley, "Warfare in the Book of Mormon," in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, pp. 134-135]
Alma 44:11 I Cannot Recall the Words Which I Have Spoken:
According to Brant Gardner, when Moroni says he "cannot recall the words which I have spoken" (Alma 44:11), he is not using the term recall to mean "remember" but rather to mean "take back." So why can't Moroni change his mind? Why can't he take back his words? Certainly accepting the surrender will save lives, why not accept it? The reason is because Moroni had made a covenant oath in the name of his all-powerful God. Moroni could not take the words back because he had invoked the name of his covenant Lord in the declaration of his offer. Only his Lord could change what had been said. [Brant Gardner, Book of Mormon Commentary, http://www.highfiber.com/~nahualli/LDStopics/Alma/Alma44.htm, p. 4]
Alma 44:11 Ye Shall Not Depart Except Ye Depart with an Oath:
As part of the terms of surrender, Moroni tells the forces of Zerahemnah that "ye shall not depart except ye depart with an oath" (Alma 44:11). According to Thomas Valletta, the term "oath" appears twelve times in the Captain Moroni chapters, while it doesn't appear at all elsewhere in the book of Alma. The closest match is in the book of Mosiah, where it appears nine times. Clearly, realizing Moroni's fundamental grounding in and adherence to covenants is necessary to understand him. Indeed, his words and his actions can only be understood in the light of ancient covenant theology. [Thomas R. Valletta, "The Captain and the Covenant," in The Book of Mormon: Alma, The Testimony of the Word, p. 230]
Alma 44:11 Except Ye Depart with an Oath . . . We Will Spill Your Blood upon the Ground:
As part of the terms of surrender, Moroni declares to the army of Zerahemnah that "except ye depart with an oath . . . we will spill your blood upon the ground" (Alma 44:11). According to Thomas Valletta, the texts of both Old Testament covenants and covenant renewals and Ancient Near Eastern treaties support the notion of the serious binding nature of covenants. . . .
"Sacrifices accompanied the oath in connection with a covenant," according to M.H. Pope, which may be the origin of the Hebrew idiom "to cut a covenant with" someone. He explains:
In the sacrifices of the covenant the animals were cut in two, and one or both parties passed between the pieces (Genesis 15:10, 17). In Jeremiah 34:18 those who break the covenant with the Lord are told that they will be made like the calf which they cut in two and passed between its parts. This suggest that the oath which bound the parties to a covenant may have stipulated in the conditional curse that the violator should be treated like the sacrificial animal. (Pope, The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, 3:576)
This imagery illuminates the divine warnings of an impending sword to come down upon a covenant-breaking Israel. For example, in Leviticus 26:25, we read: "And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall avenge the quarrel of my covenant: and when ye are gathered together within your cities, I will send the pestilence among you; and ye shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy" (compare Deuteronomy 32:41; Jeremiah 46:10). Metaphorically and historically, a covenant-breaking Israel (like the men of Zerahemnah), faced the terrible prospect of a punishing sword. [Thomas R. Valletta, "The Captain and the Covenant," in The Book of Mormon: Alma, The Testimony of the Word, pp. 226-227,230]
Note* Does the phrase "cut off" from the presence of the Lord imply that a previous covenant has been broken? [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
Alma 44:12 [The Sword] Broke by the Hilt:
A number of recent studies by Latter-day Saint scholars have suggested that the pre-Columbian Mesoamerican weapon known as the macuahuitl or macana fits the criteria for the Book of Mormon New World "sword."163 Critics maintain that the term "sword" in the Book of Mormon must refer to a weapon similar to a metal cavalry broadsword (much like we see in the movies of the civil war and the old west). They base their assumptions on certain terms or phrases mentioned in the text. One of those references is found in Alma 44:12-13, where in Mormon's description of Zerahemnah's unsuccessful attempt to kill Moroni the term "hilt" is used.
According to Matthew Roper, the critics first of all ignore Hamblin's discussion of this issue: "Structurally, the macuahuitl does have a hilt. The lower portion of the weapon lacks obsidian blades so it can be held, which thus functionally distinguishes the handle or hilt from the blade." Concerning this passage Hamblin notes, "If a macuahuitl were to be broken when struck by another weapon, one expected place for such breakage would be where the obsidian blades did not protect the wood of the shaft, leaving the wood directly exposed to the blades of the other sword." (Hamblin and Merrill, "Swords in the Book of Mormon," in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, pp. 341-342) According to Gomara, "The swords could cut cleanly through a lance or the neck of a horse, and even penetrate or nick iron, which seems impossible."164 This seems to have been what occurred to Zerahemnah's sword.
In any case, Mesoamerican swords definitely had "hilts." According to one conquistador, the Mexicans "have swords that are like broadswords, but their hilts are not quite so long and are three fingers wide."165 According to the Spanish historian Solis, Montezuma possessed "Two-handed Swords, and others of extraordinary Wood with flint Edges, and most curious and costly Handles."166 [Matthew Roper, "On Cynics and Swords," in FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 9/1 1997, pp. 148-156]
Alma 44:12 He Took Off His Scalp (Scalping):
According to Daniel Ludlow, the question might be raised as to whether or not the "scalping" of the Lamanite leader, Zerahemnah (Alma 44:12-14--"he took off his scalp") might have led to the scalping tradition of the American Indian. However, recent evidence would seem to indicate the American Indian did not have a scalping tradition until after the coming of the white man . . . that is, until the 17th century A.D. Apparently it was the white man who started the scalping custom, when some of the early colonists offered money for the scalps or hair of dead Indians. In order to get even with the evil white men who killed Indians just for their scalps (in much the same way as they would kill a buffalo for its hide), the Indians started to kill and scalp the whites in return. [Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, p. 232]
Alma 44:12 He Took off His Scalp:
Brant Gardner notes that while the idea of scalping typically invokes visions of the Indian wars of the American northeast, the idea of scalping was not foreign to the Mesoamerican scene. While there is not as much information available on the practice, there is nevertheless evidence that scalping was a part of Maya warfare.167 [Brant Gardner, Book of Mormon Commentary, http://www.highfiber.com/~nahualli/ LDStopics/Alma/Alma44.htm, p. 4]
Alma 44:12 He Took off His Scalp:
According to T.J. O'Brien, in an unexpected reversal, some bizarre Indian practices abhorred by the Spaniards and usually thought of as unique to natives of this land are also found in ancient Israel: scalping, eating of sacrificial victims, "Holy Wars," and displaying the heads of sacrificial enemies.168 Other practices, surprisingly found in both Biblical and Indian cultures, were bows and arrows (1 Chronicles 12:2) and smoke signals.169 Both also employed the more pleasant social customs of washing the feet of strangers and anointing them with oil. [T.J. O'Brien, Fair Gods and Feathered Serpents, p. 198]
Alma 44:13 [He] Laid It upon the Point of His Sword:
A number of recent studies by Latter-day Saint scholars have suggested that the pre-Columbian Mesoamerican weapon known as the macuahuitl or macana fits the criteria for the Book of Mormon New World "sword."170 Critics maintain that the term "sword" in the Book of Mormon must refer to a weapon similar to a metal cavalry broadsword (much like we see in the movies of the civil war and the old west). They base their assumptions on certain terms or phrases mentioned in the text. One of those references is found in Alma 44:12-13, where in Mormon's description of Zerahemnah's unsuccessful attempt to kill Moroni the term "point" is used ("[he] laid it upon the point of his sword").
According to Matthew Roper, while the soldier's weapon in this case definitely has a "point," yet it may be significant that the scalp is apparently not spitted as one might expect, but picked up and "laid" on the point of the soldier's sword. A second passage in Alma 57:33 may suggest that the Nephites had pointed swords; however, the full passage may suggest another possibility:
And it came to pass because of their rebellion we did cause that our swords should come upon them. And it came to pass that they did in a body run upon our swords, in the which, the greater number of them were slain; and the remainder of them broke through and fled from us.
Even if we assume that some of these prisoners were impaled on the end of the Nephite swords, those weapons would not necessarily have to be pointed, since the top edge may have been sharpened without coming to a point.
Be that as it may, some pre-Columbian "swords" were clearly pointed, as several Mesoamerican codices clearly show. According to Hassig, "Drawings indicate rectangular, ovoid, and pointed designs."171 The Mendoza Codex, for example, shows Aztec and Tlaxcalan warriors with pointed, wood-bladed swords.172 A large leaf-shaped blade with a short handle is brandished by a warrior at the top center left of the battle." This weapon is clearly pointed.173
Clearly, Book of Mormon references to pointed swords can be easily explained in terms of the macuahuitl. [Matthew Roper, "On Cynics and Swords," in FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 9/1 1997, pp. 148-156]
Alma 44:14 Even As This Scalp Has Fallen . . . So Shall Ye Fall to the Earth Except Ye Will Deliver Up Your Weapons of War and Depart with a Covenant of Peace:
According to an article by Donald Parry, prophetic symbolic curses are well attested in the Bible. The people of the Book of Mormon demonstrated this Old World tradition of performing symbolic actions that revealed a prophetic curse. For example, according to the Bible, Isaiah was instructed by the Lord to remove his garment and shoes and walk "naked [like a slave, without an upper garment] and barefoot" among the people. Isaiah's action was to be a sign, for as Isaiah walked like a slave, even so would the Egyptians become slaves to the Assyrians (Isaiah 20:2-4) An example of this symbolic action is found in the Book of Mormon in the episode of the scalping of Zerahemnah. After Moroni's soldier scalped Zerahemnah, the warmongering leader of the Lamanites, the soldier displayed the scalp on the point of his sword and stated with a loud voice, "Even as this scalp has fallen to the earth . . . so shall ye fall to the earth except ye will deliver up your weapons of war and depart with a covenant of peace" (Alma 44:12-14). The symbolic action was so effective that immediately the followers of Zerahemnah who were present when he was scalped "were struck with fear" and "threw down their weapons of war," promising to live in peace (Alma 44:15). [Donald W. Parry, "Symbolic Action as Prophetic Curse," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, pp. 206-208] [See also Mark J. Morrise, "Simile Curses in the Ancient Near East, Old Testament, and Book of Mormon," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Spring 1993, pp. 124-138]
Alma 44:15 When They . . . Saw the Scalp Which Was upon the Sword [They] Were Struck with Fear:
Many of the Lamanites surrendered their weapons and entered into a covenant of peace" for when they heard the words of Moroni "and saw the scalp which was upon the sword, [they] were struck with fear" (Alma 44:15). According to Brant Gardner, the reason for this is likely centered in the significance of the scalp. In Maya artistic representations of captivity the hair of the head becomes symbolic of capture, with many of the captives being grabbed by the hair on the top of their heads. The scalping is also indicative of capture. Thus what the Lamanites may have been seeing was a symbol of the surrender of their captain and therefore their army. They would have seen the lifting of the scalp as an indication that Zerahemnah was a captive. Once the leader was captive, the entire army could be considered captive as well. [Brant Gardner, Book of Mormon Commentary, http://www.highfiber.com/~nahualli/LDStopics/Alma/Alma44.htm, p. 6]
Alma 44:15 They saw the scalp which was upon the sword (Illustration): Many Lamanites, when they saw the scalp which was upon the sword, were struck with fear. [W. Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Vol. 3, p. 3094]
Alma 44:20 After They Had Entered into a Covenant with Him of Peace They Were Suffered to Depart into the Wilderness.
In an act of surrender, the Lamanites entered into a covenant of peace and were allowed "to depart into the wilderness" (Alma 44:20) even though Moroni had no certainty that they would ever keep such a promise. But that is not the message of Mormon's account or the purpose of Moroni's actions. What Mormon and Moroni are demonstrating that the "all-powerful God" is in control. It is not the Nephites in and of themselves that have controlled the battle or received a covenant promise from the Lamanites, rather it is God (acting to save his covenant people). As we have seen, it is not up to Moroni to "recall" the oaths that have been sworn to, it belongs to the covenant Lord to oversee the fate of those that have made those covenants. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
Alma 44:22 They have gone forth [from the waters of Sidon] and are buried in the depths of the sea (Illustration): Ups and Downs -- Mexico and Central America. Major river drainage directions. [Ben L. Olsen, Some Earthly Treasures of the Book of Mormon, Map 7., Unpublished]