Mosiah 17


Out of Bondage through Covenants

      Jarom -- Mosiah



Mosiah 17:2 There Was One among Them Whose Name Was Alma:


     According to Paul Hoskisson, the name "Alma" is used more often in the Book of Mormon than any name except Nephi. It has also received more attention from critics and defenders of the Book of Mormon than any other name. some critics have assumed that Joseph Smith must have got the name "Alma" from a Latin word that means "nourishing" and is used as a name for females in some languages descended form Latin. This false assumption has led these people to claim that no divine record in the Hebrew tradition would apply a Latin feminine name to an obviously masculine Book of Mormon prophet.

     But no well-informed person would make this mistake today, because the name Alma, as Hugh Nibley pointed out years ago (BYU Studies, 14/1,1973:121) appears in an undeniably Semitic language document, one of the letters of Bar Kokhba, a leader in the Holy Land during the Second Jewish Revolt against the Romans around A.D. 130. The name, used in a business document that was written in the form of a letter, is Alma ben Yehudah (Alma, son of Yehudah). The accompanying photograph (see illustration) displays it, at the end of the fourth line (remember that Hebrew writing flows from right to left) spelled 'lm' and at the beginning of the fourth line from the bottom, 'lmh. [Paul Y. Hoskisson, "Alma as a Hebrew Name," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 7/1, November 1998, p. 72]


Mosiah 17:2 There was one among them whose name was Alma (Illustration): A letter of Bar Kokhba (approx. A.D. 130) which displays the name Alma. [Paul Y. Hoskisson, "Alma as a Hebrew Name," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 7/1, November 1998, p. 73]


Mosiah 17:2 Alma . . . Was a Young Man:


      In Mosiah 24:9 we find that "Amulon knew Alma, that he had been one of the king's priests, and it was he who believed the words of Abinadi." In Mosiah 17:2 Alma1 was called a "young man" in the same year that Abinadi was jailed, tried, and burned. Under the Law of Moses and at the time of king David, thirty was the age at which men commenced "the service of the ministry" and "work in the tabernacle of the congregation," (Numbers 4:3, 23, 30, 35, 39, 43, 47; 1 Chronicles 23:3). Thus, we might surmise that very soon after he reached thirty years of age, the "young man" Alma was appointed to be one of king Noah's priests, and within a short time after that, Abinadi first came upon the scene. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See Appendix A]


Mosiah 17:4 He (Alma) Did Write All the Words Which Abinadi Had Spoken:


     According to Robert Matthews, although Alma1 wrote all of Abinadi's words, that does not necessarily mean that Mormon included all of them in the abridged account given to us in the book of Mosiah. There are at least four clues that we do not have a complete transcript of Abinadi's debates with the priests, nor a full account of his teachings. For example, in Mosiah 7:26-28, Limhi speaks of Abinadi's death and explains for what (seven) teachings he was slain (Mosiah 7:27). The teachings of Abinadi that we have cover each of these seven items except numbers three and four. Other clues discussed are found in Mosiah 12:8, Mosiah 12:18-19, and Mormon 1:19. [Robert Matthews, "Abinadi: The Prophet and Martyr," in The Book of Mormon: Mosiah, Salvation Only through Christ, p. 104]


Mosiah 17:4 He (Alma) Fled from before Them:


     In Mosiah 17:4 it is recorded that Alma "fled from before [the guards of Noah]." For Alma1, this event marked the beginning of an extensive sojourn in the wilderness. How long was Alma1 in the wilderness? The answer to this question is dependent upon four factors:

     1) Alma's departure date from Lehi-Nephi was about the year 460* [ *From when Lehi left Jerusalem]

     If Alma1 died at age 82 (Mosiah 29:45) in the year 510, then he was born in the year 428. If we assume that Alma was named a "priest of Noah" at 30 years of age (see Appendix A) and was 32 years old by the time Abinadi was tried, then adding 32 years to his birth year (year 428) gives us 460 as the year when Alma fled from the land of Lehi-Nephi.

     2) Ammon's departure date from the land of Zarahemla was about the year 480.


     Mosiah2 begins to reign in the year 477 (Mosiah 6:4),

     Benjamin lives 3 years and dies (which would make it the year 480) (Mosiah 6:5),

     Mosiah2 has 3 years of peace (the same last 3 years of Benjamin's life--still the year 480) (Mosiah 7:1),

     Mosiah2 sends Ammon at this time to the land of Nephi (Mosiah 7:2) and he wanders 40 days before he arrives (Mosiah 7:4);

     Then: Ammon would have departed the land of Zarahemla in the year 480 and arrived that same year (40 days later) in the land of Lehi-Nephi.

     Note* The first edition (1830) of the Book of Mormon has Ammon saying that "Benjamin" could translate the 24 gold plates (p. 200). This name was changed to "Mosiah" (Mosiah 21:28, 8:13-14) in later editions; however, the change brings up a chronological point. When Ammon left Zarahemla, was king Benjamin (although not necessarily the reigning king) still alive? Did Benjamin die before Ammon's return so that only Mosiah2 was there to welcome them (see Mosiah 24:25)? We know that by at least 30 years after Ammon's statement concerning the power of either Benjamin or Mosiah to translate ancient records, Mosiah2 had acquired those same powers because he translated the 24 gold plates (see Mosiah 28:11). It is possible that in order to avoid confusion for the reader, Joseph Smith made a change. That change, for whatever reason, has altered just slightly the perceived chronology of Ammon's departure. Nevertheless, according to the chronological timetable expressed thusfar (and in Appendix A), Ammon could have actually departed Zarahemla some weeks or months before Benjamin's death and satisfied either the term "Benjamin" or the term "Mosiah".

        3) The arrival of Ammon, and Limhi in the land of Zarahemla was about the year 480.

     Although nothing is said about the length of time that Ammon was with Limhi's group before their escape to Zarahemla, we will assume that it wasn't more than a few weeks. Mormon records that immediately after Ammon made his report to king Limhi, he and the king "began to consult with the people how they should deliver themselves out of bondage; and even they did cause that all the people should gather themselves together" (Mosiah 22:1). It wouldn't have taken long to develop a plan, but the preparations for the escape and rapid emigration would require a few days to a few weeks because whole families would be traveling with their flocks and herds (Mosiah 22:8). Travel time was termed "many days" (Mosiah 22:13); however, it would have been at the most not much more than 40 days because they were not only in flight but they apparently knew their way. Thus it probably took no longer than 3-6 months for Ammon's complete round-trip to Lehi-Nephi and back.

     4) The arrival of Alma1 in the land of Zarahemla was about the year 481.

     The Lamanite army pursued Limhi's group into the wilderness, but after two days they found themselves lost (Mosiah 22:16). Eventually the Lamanite army found the priests of Amulon and together they went "in search of the land of Nephi" (Mosiah 23:35) and encountered Alma in the land of Helam (23:25, 35). The land of Helam was a little over 8 days away from city of Lehi-Nephi. Mormon mentions that part of the Lamanites not only went back to that area (actually Shemlon) but returned with their wives and children (Mosiah 24:38). Enough time would pass that (1) the Lamanites would take possession of the lands of Amulon and Helam (Mosiah 24:2), (2) the language of Nephi would be taught among the Lamanites by the priests of Amulon (Mosiah 24:4), (3) the Lamanites would increase in riches and begin to trade one with another (Mosiah 24:7), and (4) Amulon would persecute the people of Alma (Mosiah 24:8). After this period, Alma's group escaped and took 13 days to reach the land of Zarahemla (Mosiah 24:20,25).

     We can estimate that a number of months passed between the arrival of Ammon and Limhi in the land of Zarahemla and the arrival of Alma's group. However, this interval was probably not overly long; otherwise Mosiah2 would not have gathered his people together upon Alma's arrival to read both sets of records (Mosiah 25:5-6).

     Therefore, even though the scriptures tend to mesh the arrival time of Alma1 and Ammon and Limhi in the land of Zarahemla, it is possible that Alma could have arrived in the land of Zarahemla 6 months to 1 year later than Limhi (in the year 481). If Alma left Lehi-Nephi in the year 460 and arrived in the land of Zarahemla no later than the year 481, then Alma spent at least 21 years (460-481) in the wilderness [estimated minimum].

     To figure an estimated maximum amount of time that Alma might have been at the waters of Mormon and in the land of Helam, we consider the following possibilities:

     1. If Alma was a "young man" of 30 instead of 32 when he fled, we can add 2 years.

     2. If Benjamin's last 3 years (Mosiah 6:5) were not the 3 years of peace of Mosiah2 (Mosiah 7:1), we can add 3 years.

     3. If Ammon's trip takes much longer (1.5 years and not 6 months), we add 1 year.

     4. If the Lamanite occupation of Helam was for a longer time (1.5 years and not 6 months), we can add 1 year.

     Thus, an estimated maximum time for Alma in the wilderness is 21 + 2 + 3 + 1 + 1, or 28 years.

     It might be interesting to note that according to the proposed chronology in Appendix A, Alma1 spent two years at the waters of Mormon and nineteen years in the land of Helam. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]


Mosiah 17:4 From Before:


     [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 4:28]


Mosiah 17:6 And after Three Days:


     The ancient Israelite festival of Shavuot (Pentecost) appears to have been a three-day event (see Exodus 19:11), which may explain why Abinadi's trial was postponed for "three days" (Mosiah 17:6). [See the commentary on Mosiah 12:33; 2:1]


Mosiah 17:9, 20 Abinadi was bound, scourged, and suffered "death by fire (Illustration): "Abinadi: Because He Would Not Deny the Commandments of God." Artist: Kenneth A. Corbett, 1990. Now Abinadi said unto King Noah, "I will not recall the words which I have spoken unto you concerning this people, for they are true." And after testifying of the Lord Jesus Christ and crying repentance, Abinadi was bound, scourged, and suffered "death by fire, yea, having been put to death because he would not deny the commandments of God, having sealed the truth of his words by his death" (Mosiah 17:9, 20). [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Ensign, January 2000, Inside front cover]


Mosiah 17:12 But the Priests Lifted Up Their Voices against [Abinadi]:


     According to Hugh Nibley, there is a very interesting thing which went on with king Noah during the trial of Abinadi. King Noah was worried, and he wanted to do the right thing here. He was afraid because he knew darn well that Abinadi was right, and "was about to release him, for he feared his word" (Mosiah 17:11). But notice what happened. The "priests lifted up their voices against [Abinadi]" (Mosiah 17:12), they wouldn't let him out of their trap. The very same thing happened with Pilate. Remember? Pilate wanted to put the responsibility of Jesus onto the Jewish officials, and they got their revenge. Notice that Pilate had this dialogue with the Jews, and they were each trying to outwit the other. Who had the last word? Each one tried to stick the other with the responsibility for the crucifixion, the death of Christ. And so Pilate said, "He is the king of the Jews." And they said, "He said he was King of the Jews." "No," said Pilate, "he is the King of the Jews." Well, the Jews have their revenge on Pilate. They said, "All right, we have no other king but Caesar." Well, what a thing for the Jews to say because after all, they were speaking to Pilate, and Pilate was serving Caesar. In other words, they were making a traitor out of Pilate. See, if Jesus was recognized as King of the Jews, then he would be a Rex amicalis [a friendly king without threat or aspiration to the Roman throne]. He would not be in rebellion against Caesar. But the Jews said, "We are loyal only to Caesar. We do not acknowledge him as king. We acknowledge only Caesar as our king." Where did that leave Pontius Pilate? He was Caesar's representative there, and this ruined his career. He ended up in disgrace. It left him [a Roman magistrate over the Jews] to say he recognized Jesus as king of the Jews, but they [the Jews] recognized only Caesar. Here we [the Jews] are wanting to support Caesar, and you [Pilate] want us to support Jesus? What are you doing? Taking us away from Caesar and having us support Jesus? We think this guy Jesus is a fraud. And notice, it was only the high priests and the elders who insisted on it; they kept shouting that. So that put Pilate on the spot. He had to give in, and they went ahead and did the deed. And the same thing happened here with the priests of Noah. Notice, the king wanted to give up. He recognized Abinadi, but the priests wouldn't let him do it: "the priests lifted up their voices against him . . . saying: He has reviled the king" (Mosiah 17:12). They were putting it on the king to make him responsible. They were forcing him to put Abinadi to death, to defend the kingly office and keep his royal dignity. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, pp. 107-108]


Mosiah 17:13 Scourged His Skin with Faggots:


     According to Robert Matthews, the scripture does not say he was "burned at the stake," it says he "suffered death by fire" (Mosiah 17:20). Three words in the foregoing scripture should be noted. The first is that they bound him. . . . The second is that they scourged him. To scourge means to whip, flail, or beat. The third term is faggots: A faggot is a bundle of sticks or twigs, used for fuel. This passage seems to say that Abinadi's tormentors took burning torches and poked him with these, burning his skin until he died. . . . They actively, eagerly, and physically caused his death; they were not merely passive, interested bystanders watching a bonfire. I can imagine them dancing and cavorting about Abinadi, and hear them shouting, exulting, and gloating over what they were doing. And during it all, Abinadi was pronouncing prophecies of God's vengeance upon them. [Robert Matthews, "Abinadi: The Prophet and Martyr," The Book of Mormon: Mosiah, Salvation Only through Christ, pp. 102-103]


Mosiah 17:13 They took him and bound him, and scourged his skin with faggots, yea, even unto death (Illustration): Abinadi at the Stake. King Noah and his wicked priests burn Abinadi at the stake because he will not take back the words that he has spoken. Artist: Ronald K. Crosby. [Thomas R. Valletta ed., The Book of Mormon for Latter-day Saint Families, 1999, p. 230]


Mosiah 17:13 They took him and bound him (Illustration): This unusual method of confinement among the Maya could recall the situation of Abinadi, the Book of Mormon prophet who was slain by burning. Perhaps he was restrained like this when "they took him and bound him, and scourged his skin with faggots" (Mosiah 17:13). [John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America, p. 116]


Mosiah 17:13 They took him and bound him, and scourged his skin with faggots, year, even unto death (Illustration): Abinadi Seals His Testimony. Artist: Ronald K. Crosby [Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Ensign, March 1996, inside front cover] [See also The Ensign, April 1992, p. 31]


Mosiah 17:13 They . . . Scourged His Skin with Faggots:


     In Mosiah 17:13 we find that "they took him [Abinadi] and bound him, and scourged his skin with faggots, yea, even unto death." According to Brant Gardner, the antiquated terms scourge and faggot may be unfamiliar to many modern readers, however in Joseph Smith's day the verb scourge meant "to whip severely" or "to punish with severity," and the noun fagot denoted a bundle of sticks used for firewood.160

     Punishment by scourging was known in the ancient Near East of Lehi's day. A wooden rod was the usual instrument of punishment in ancient Egypt161 and remains so in some modern Arab countries even today. The Romans used whips as well as wooden rods to scourge malefactors (note that Jesus was scourged by "Gentiles"--see Matthew 20:19; Luke 18:33). The scourging of Abinadi was similar to the Old World practice with the use of faggots possibly being an exception.

     There is a direct parallel between Abinadi's scourging and a form of punishment common in the much later Aztec culture of Mexico. In 1541 the Codex Mendoza was produced in Mexico City in order to make a record of Aztec daily life. This richly illustrated ethnographic record contains a painting that depicts two men beating a youth (see illustration). The caption of the painting is tlequahuital, which means "firebrand." The translated annotation next tot he painting reads in part, "The two telpuchtlato, who are masters who govern youths, punished a youth who had been living with a woman by beating him with burning firebrands."162 In Book of Mormon language, we could say they "scourged" him with "faggots."

     Referring to this same painting, the editors of a modern edition of the codex note, "Cudgels almost identical to these . . . appear in three illustrations of the Florentine Codex where they are used to punish an adulterer, a careless musician, and a merchant who had misused a woman." (see illustration). The Florentine Codex is the most complete version of Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagun's General History of the Things of New Spain, a 16th-century record of Aztec culture written in Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs) with parallel Spanish text. [Brant Gardner, "Scourging with Faggots," FARMS Update in Insights, No. 148, vol. 21, 2001, pp. 3-4]


Mosiah 17:13 They . . . scourged his skin with faggots (Illustration): Fig. 1. Aztec artist's depiction of a youthful miscreant being scourged with what are described as "burning firebrands." Courtesy of Bodeleian Library. [Brant Gardner, "Scourging with Faggots," FARMS Update in Insights, No. 148, vol. 21, 2001, p. 3]


Mosiah 17:13 They . . . scourged his skin with faggots (Illustration): Fig 2. In Aztec society a common form of punishment was to beat malefactors with sticks or cudgels. Illustrations from the Florentine Codex, from top: punishment of an immoral merchant, judgment and execution of an adulterer, and a noblewoman who corrects and punishes. [Brant Gardner, "Scourging with Faggots," FARMS Update in Insights, No. 148, vol. 21, 2001, p. 4]


Mosiah 17:15 Thy Seed Shall Cause That Many Shall Suffer Even the Pains of Death by Fire:


     In the story of Abinadi, he is condemned by the priests of Noah, and he is in the process of being burned to death when he utters a prophetic curse, a part of which is not only strange, but doesn't find its fulfillment in the Book of Mormon story until another 93 pages have been written. Abinadi's curse against the priests of Noah and the people of Noah is found in Mosiah 17:15-18 and the odd part reads as follows:

     15. "Behold, even as ye have done unto me, so shall it come to pass that thy seed shall cause that many shall suffer even the pains of death by fire; and this because they believe in the salvation of the Lord their God."


     Why would a dying prophet curse those who were putting him to death (the priests of Noah) that their seed would put many others to death in the same manner? The answer perhaps lies in the subject matter of Abinadi's speech before King Noah. He spoke about Christ, and about the Atonement. Abinadi testified to Noah's priests that in slaying him, they were shedding innocent blood, a crime that is not redeemable either by the Law of Moses or by the Atonement of Christ. According to McConkie and Millet, to "shed innocent blood" (Mosiah 17:10) is to murder, to take the life of one who is innocent and underserving of death. It is a "sin unto death" (1 John 5:16-17), a crime against humanity, a heinous offense to heaven for which there is no forgiveness. [Joseph F. McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. II, p. 251]

     Note* What greater curse could anyone put on the posterity of another person, than that his seed would remain outside not only the Law of Moses, but outside the great atoning sacrifice of the Son of God!      The fulfillment of Abinadi's curse is not mentioned until Alma 25:1-12 [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on Alma 25:1-12]