Alma 53


The Lord Confirms the Covenant Way

      Alma 45 -- 3 Nephi 10



Alma 53:3 Digging a Ditch Round about the Land, or the City, Bountiful:


     In Alma 53:3 we find that Moroni ordered that the Nephites "should commence laboring in digging a ditch round about the land, or the city, Bountiful." One might wonder if the wording here, "round about the land, or the city" is meant to parallel the two terms "land" and "city" or to distinguish between the terms. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]


Alma 53:4 A Strong Wall of Timbers and Earth, to an Exceeding Height:


     According to Cleon Skousen, in the city of Bountiful first they built a very high breastwork of timbers along what was going to be the inner bank of the ditch. Then, as they dug the ditch the dirt was piled up against this breastwork so that they achieved a moat and high wall of earth at one stroke. The city of Bountiful was completely encircled by this means. This made Bountiful one of the major strongholds of the Nephites from then on. The unique feature of its fortifications was that it not only provided a virtually unassailable moat and wall against any outside attack, but the high breastworks made it equally difficult for a person to escape from the inside. This breastwork was not on the top of the earthen bank as Moroni had done earlier (Alma 50:2-3), but commenced from the ground upward and was "exceeding" high (Alma 53:4). Bountiful was therefore converted into a prison-city and the Lamanite captives were held there behind a wall which they had built with their own hands. [W. Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Vol. 3, p. 3149]


Alma 53:6 The Land of Nephi:


     According to Daniel Ludlow, concerning one of Moroni's exploits against the Lamanites, the historian writes:

     And it came to pass that Moroni had thus gained a victory over one of the greatest of the armies of the Lamanites, and had obtained possession of the city of Mulek, which was one of the strongest holds of the Lamanites in the Land of Nephi. . .(Alma 53:6)


     The reference to the city of Mulek as "one of the strongest holds of the Lamanites in the land of Nephi" is puzzling because the city of Mulek is evidently located in the greater land of Zarahemla (see Alma 51:26). Below are three possible explanations of this puzzle:

     (1) Perhaps this land is being called "the land of Nephi" by the Lamanites because they now possess it as they also possess the land of Nephi in the south;

     (2) The Nephites could have a "land of Nephi" in the north, although such a land has not been mentioned before and it is not mentioned later;

     (3) The phrase "in the land of Nephi" might be used to identify those particular Lamanites mentioned in the verse and to differentiate them from Lamanites living in other parts of the country.

[Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, p. 236]


Alma 53:6 The City of Mulek, Which Was . . . in the Land of Nephi:


     Did Mormon error in stating that "the city of Mulek . . . was . . . in the land of Nephi" (Alma 53:6)? I think the solution to this problem might be found in examining the whole phrase. The reader should note that Mormon is recounting Moroni's success in recapturing the city of Mulek, which had originally been established in the east wilderness (Alma 51:26) and which Amalickiah and the Lamanites had taken possession of during the war when they invaded the land of Zarahemla. Mormon records:

           And it came to pass that Moroni had thus gained a victory over one of the greatest of the armies of the Lamanites, and had obtained possession of the city of Mulek, which was one of the strongest holds of the Lamanites in the land of Nephi; and thus he had also built a stronghold to retain his prisoners. (Alma 53:6)


     What Mormon might be saying is that organized Lamanites from the land of Nephi (as opposed to just any group of "idle Lamanites") had come into the territory of the east wilderness and set up not just any stronghold at the city of Mulek, but "one of the strongest holds [that] the [organized] Lamanites in the land of Nephi" had established in the east wilderness during their campaign of war against the Nephites.

     If this is the case, then perhaps Mormon was not mistaken when he wrote the words in Alma 53:6 that "the city of Mulek . . . was one of the strongest holds of the Lamanites in the land of Nephi." He had given the reader sufficient historical and geographical background in Alma 22:27-29 about the boundaries of the land of Nephi, and had used a very similar circumstance (driving out the Lamanites) and similar wording ("strongholds") just previously in Alma 50:6-11 to describe actions in the same area of the east wilderness. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on Alma 50:8,11]


Geographical Theory Map: Alma 52:26-40 Moroni Retakes the City of Mulek (28th Year)


Geographical Theory Map: Alma 53:2-7 The Lamanite Prisoners Are Marched to Bountiful (28th Year)


Alma 53:7 He [Moroni] Did Employ His Men in . . . Delivering Their Women and Their Children from Famine:


     It is interesting to note that with the threat of conflict still a distinct possibility, Moroni takes time to "employ his men in . . . delivering their women and their children from famine" (Alma 53:7). These actions might imply the planting, cultivating or harvesting of crops.

     According to John Sorenson, with remarkable consistency, the Nephite record reports a pattern of seasonality in Nephite warfare. Since wars in pretechnical societies are usually launched at opportune times of the year, the Nephite pattern of warfare tells us something about the seasons and their calendar. . . . When the seasons for cultivation and warring in Mesoamerica before the time of Columbus are studied, we see that the preparation and cultivation of farmlands and other domestic chores went on from about March through October, which constituted the rainy season. Wars began after the harvest and mainly went on during the hot, dry months, November through February. Of course, camping in the field was sensible at this time, and movement was least hampered by the swollen streams or boggy ground common in the other part of the year. [John L. Sorenson, "The Nephite Calendar," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, pp. 173-174]

     One should also note, however, that in parts of Mesoamerica, the length and timing of the "dry season" and the "wet season" vary substantially. [John L. Sorenson, "Comments on Nephite Chronology," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Fall 1993, p. 209]


Alma 53:8 On Account of Some Intrigue amongst the Nephites:


     What was the "intrigue amongst the Nephites" (Alma 53:8) which is mentioned in the reporting of the 28th year (Alma 52:19; 53:7; 54:1) and which kept Moroni away from the west coast? According to Alma 52:19-20, Moroni was on the east coast with Teancum in the commencement of the 28th year. Apparently, this "intrigue" that Mormon is talking about was the rise of the king-men in the 25th year of the reign of the judges, and is discussed by Mormon in Alma 51:1-22. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See Appendix A--Chronology]


Alma 53:8-22 (Note* Mormon Reviews the History on the West Sea):


     In Alma 53:8-22 Mormon takes time in his narrative of the events on the east coast in the 28th year to relate the circumstances happening on the west coast as a consequence of Ammoron departing out of the land of Zarahemla (on the east coast), gathering a large army as he moved, and marching forth against the Nephites on the borders by the west sea (see Alma 52:12-13). One should be aware that these events on the west sea actually started in the 26th year, however Mormon has been relating events that have happened on borders of the land by the east sea. Thus, Mormon is going back in time. The reader should note that in Alma 56:1 we find that Mormon inserts a more detailed history of this west coast campaign by including a letter that Helaman sent to Moroni. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See Appendix A--Chronology]


Alma 53 8-22: (Illustration) Mormon reviews the war on the west sea south--Helaman has marched with his 2000


Alma 53:8 On the West Sea, South:


     In Alma 53:8 Mormon uses a unique directional-geographical term, "the west sea south." One might wonder why Mormon didn't just use the term "southward" here, or why Mormon doesn't ever use the companion term "west sea north." Should the term be understood as "West Sea south" or "west Sea South"? There is a good probability here that Mormon is pinpointing borders that strategically separate the Nephites from the Lamanites. If Zarahemla's west border went to the sea and occupied quite a few miles of seashore (north to south), then in this verse, Mormon could be trying to pinpoint the southern end of the west sea borders, or in other words, the southwest corner of the general land of Zarahemla. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]


Alma 53:8 That Part of the Land:


     In Alma 53:8 we find that the Lamanites on the west sea south had obtained possession of a number of the Nephite cities in what Mormon refers to as "that part of the land." Presumably, Mormon is here referring to the same area by the west sea that Helaman refers to in Alma 56:1 as "that quarter of the land." According to Alma 56:14, this part of the land might have included the cities of Manti, Zeezrom, Cumeni, Antiparah, and Judea. Because the 2000 stripling warriors came from the land of Melek, that land might have been considered as being in another "part" or "quarter" of the general land of Zarahemla. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]


Alma 53:10 By Ammon and His Brethren, or Rather by the Power and Word of God:


     In talking about the people of Ammon, Mormon says that in the beginning they were Lamanites; "but by Ammon and his brethren, or rather by the power and word of God, they had been converted unto the Lord" (Alma 53:10). According to Hugh Nibley, the writers of the Book of Mormon always specify this way. They sort of demur here. They tell a story at two levels. We are always reminded in the Book of Mormon that the Lord was behind all these things. We talked about the Greek chorus before. Well, a Greek chorus comments on the play and tells us what is really going on. The superficial play is before your eyes, but what is really going on is something deeper than that. . . . So the momentary event is merely a type. . . . The only reason we have any history is that things happen over and over again. We talk about the recurrent events in the Book of Mormon. There are recurrent events all the time. It's these recurrent, typical events that can mean something to us and we can rely on. If it has happened before it will happen again--that's the way we are. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings from the Book of Mormon, Semester 3, p. 161]


Alma 53:17 They [the 2000 stripling warriors] entered into a covenant to fight for the liberty of the Nephites (Illustration) Artist: Ronald Crosby. "Helaman and His Two Thousand Sons" [Church Educational System, Book of Mormon Student Manual Religion 121-122, p. 101]


Alma 53:19 They [the 2000 stripling warriors] took their weapons of war and they would that Helaman should be their leader (Illustration): Two Thousand Young Warriors. [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Gospel Art, #313]


Alma 53:22-23 Helaman Did March . . . and Thus Ended the Twenty and Eighth Year:


     There are two consecutive verses in Alma 53 which create some confusion. In Alma 53:22 Mormon states that "Helaman did march at the head of his two thousand stripling soldiers, to the support of the people in the borders of the land on the south by the west sea." Then in the very next verse Mormon notes, "And thus ended the twenty and eighth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi." This creates a chronological question because in Helaman's epistle describing these same events he says that "in the twenty and sixth year, I, Helaman, did march at the head of these two thousand young men to the city of Judea . . ." (Alma 56:9). One might ask, Did Helaman's stripling warriors march in the 28th year which date is found in Mormon's chronicles of the war (Alma 53:22-23), or did they march in the 26th year as found in Helaman's epistle (Alma 56:9)?

     In order to understand the solution to this problem, we must understand step by step how Mormon chose to record the war campaigns fought between the Nephites and the Lamanites on both the east coast and the west coast. In Alma 51-53 Mormon abridges the action on the east coast up until the 28th year. At this point in his abridgement Mormon takes time to summarize the success of the east coast campaign (Alma 53: 6-7). In addition, as part of Mormon's summary of the war to date, and after summarizing the events on the east coast, Mormon tries to give some perspective to the reader by making a brief statement about what has happened on the west coast during this time. He proceeds in Alma 53:9-21 to briefly explain the situation of the people of Ammon, and how 2000 of their sons came forth to "fight for the liberty of the Nephites." At the end of this explanation Mormon makes this general statement about the accomplishments of Helaman and the 2000 warriors: "And now it came to pass that Helaman did march at the head of his two thousand stripling soldiers, to the support of the people in the borders of the land on the south by the west sea." (Alma 53:22)

     Once Mormon has made this statement in verse 22, knowing that he will later supply the details by including the epistle of Helaman in his abridgment, he considers his summary of the west coast finished and returns again to his abridged story of Moroni (which is taking place on the east coast) with the following statement: "And thus ended the twenty and eighth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi" (Alma 53:23). Thus, Mormon never did specifically date the event of Helaman's march, but rather it was Helaman who placed it "in the twenty and sixth year" (Alma 56:9). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See Appendix A--Chronology]