Book of Alma

by Cheryl Brown

The book of Alma is the longest book in the Book of Mormon. It was abridged by Mormon, principally from the records of three men, Alma 2 (chaps. 1-16, 27-44), Ammon (chaps. 17-26), and Alma's son Helaman 1 (chaps. 45-62), and concludes with remarks by Mormon (chap. 63). Its broad theme is that the preaching of the word of God in pure testimony is mightier than politics or the sword in establishing peace, justice, equality, and goodness (Alma 4:19; 31:5). The book demonstrates this theme through repeated examples of individuals who were converted to faith in the anticipated Savior, Jesus Christ, and examples of people who were given victory by God over their wicked and ambitious enemies.

The book of Alma covers thirty-nine years (91-52 B.C.). The first fourteen years are covered by two concurrent accounts—one encompassing the teachings and activities of Alma2, who resigned his judgeship in order to engage in missionary work in the land of Zarahemla (chaps. 1-16), and the other containing the words and deeds of the sons of King Mosiah2 and their companions as they made considerable personal sacrifice in their efforts to preach the gospel among the Lamanites (chaps. 17-26).

The first section begins with the trial of Nehor before the chief judge Alma; Nehor was convicted and executed for the crime of enforcing priestcraft with the sword (chap. 1). Alma then fought a civil war against Nehor's followers and prevailed (chaps. 2-4), but he soon relinquished the judgeship to devote full time to the ministry. He preached powerful sermons at the cities of Zarahemla (chaps. 5-6), Gideon (chap. 7), and Melek (chap. 8), and went to the wicked city of Ammonihah, where he was cast out, but ordered by an angel to return. In Ammonihah the second time, he met and was assisted by Amulek, who was instructed by an angel to find Alma (chap. 8). Although they were opposed by a skilled lawyer named Zeezrom, eventually they converted many, including Zeezrom. However, their male converts were expelled from the city, and Alma and Amulek were imprisoned and forced to watch the wives and children of their converts being burned to death. Eventually, Alma and Amulek were delivered when an earthquake destroyed the prison and killed their captors (chaps. 9-14). Shortly thereafter, this apostate city was annihilated by invading Lamanites (chap. 16).

During the same fourteen years, the sons of Mosiah and their companions were in the land southward. Ammon went to the land of Ishmael, and through his service to, and love of, King Lamoni, he converted the king and many of his people (chaps. 17-19), whom he taught to live the Law of Moses in anticipation of the coming of Christ (Alma 25:15). Ammon and Lamoni then went to the land of Middoni to free his fellow missionaries from prison. En route they were confronted by Lamoni's father, the king of all the Lamanites, who took to the sword. Ammon withstood his blows, gained control over the king, and made him promise freedom for his brothers and autonomy for Lamoni and his people (chap. 20). Once Ammon's brother, Aaron, and his companions were free, they went to Lamoni's father, and taught and converted him, his household, and many of his people. These converted Lamanites, concerned about the return of prior blood guilt, made an oath never to shed blood again (chap. 23). Other Lamanites and dissident Nephites attacked these converts and killed 1,005, who would not defend themselves because of that oath. Many of the attacking Lamanites (but not the Nephite dissenters) felt remorse for their actions and laid down their arms and also became converted (chaps. 24-25). Eventually, Ammon led these converts, called Anti-Nephi-Lehies, to Nephite territory, where they settled in the land of Jershon (chap. 27). The Lamanites who were left behind become angry at the Nephites and then attacked and destroyed Ammonihah (Alma 25:1-2; described more fully in Alma 16:1-11).

After these developments, Korihor, an anti-Christ and advocate of blasphemous doctrines, confronted Alma as high priest in the court of the chief judge, where he asked for a sign from God, was struck dumb, and died shortly thereafter (chap. 30). Next, Alma led a delegation to preach to the Zoramites, a group that had defected from the Nephites. Many poverty-stricken Zoramites were reconverted and cast out by the other Zoramites. The unconverted promptly allied with the Lamanites, attacked the Nephites, and were defeated (chaps. 31-35, 43-44).

The chapters focusing on Alma also contain his blessings and instructions to his three sons (chaps. 36-42) and an account of his disappearance (being taken to heaven; chap. 45). The book of Alma ends with the detailed accounts by Helaman1 of further wars between the Nephites and Lamanites (chaps. 43-62; see Book of Mormon, History of Warfare in). The final chapter (chap. 63) notes the deaths of Pahoran, Moroni, Helaman, and his brother Shiblon, marking the end of this era of righteous Nephite control of Zarahemla. It also tells of Hagoth, a shipbuilder who transported people to the north, but he was never heard from again after a second departure.

The book of Alma covers a critical period in Nephite history, the opening years of the Nephite judgeship (see Book of Mormon, Government and Legal History in). The survival of this popularly based form of government was threatened several times in the course of the book, starting when Nehor's follower Amlici sought to become king. It was threatened again when the Zoramites (described above) defected. Further trouble arose when Amlickiah, a Zoramite, persuaded many of the lower judges to support him as king. A general named Moroni rallied the Nephite troops by raising a banner that he called the Title of Liberty; it proclaimed the need to remember and defend their God, their religion, their freedom, their peace, their wives, and their children. Amalickiah and a few of his men fled to the Lamanites, where he, through treachery and murder, established himself as king and led the Lamanites in a prolonged war against the Nephites. Amalickiah was killed after seven years of war, but the wars continued under his brother Ammoron for six more years. Those years became particularly perilous for the Nephites when "kingmen" arose in Zarahemla and expelled the Nephite government from the capital (discussed in CWHN 8:328-79). Moroni was forced to leave the battlefront to regain control of the capital before he could turn his full attention to defeating the Lamanites. In each case, the Nephites ultimately prevailed and gave thanks and praise to God.

In the book of Alma, the delineation of the Nephite and Lamanite nations along ancestral lines becomes blurred. Several groups of Nephites—Amlicites (chaps. 2-3), Zoramites (chaps. 31-35, 43), Amalickiahites (chaps. 46-62), and kingmen (chaps. 51, 61)—rejected Nephite religious principles and joined the Lamanites in an attempt to overthrow the Nephite government. Several groups of Lamanites—Anti-Nephi-Lehies (chaps. 17-27), converts from the army that marched against the Anti-Nephi-Lehies (chap. 25), and some Lamanite soldiers captured by Moroni (chap. 62)—embraced the gospel and Nephite way of life and went to live among the Nephites. By the end of the book, these populations are distinguished more by ideology than by lineage. Those who desired government by the "voice of the people" and embraced the teachings of the gospel are numbered among the Nephites, while those who opposed them are called Lamanites.

Many important religious teachings are found in the book of Alma. Alma 5 is a speech given by Alma calling the people of the city of Zarahemla to repent and teaching all followers of Christ to judge the state of their former spiritual rebirth and present well-being. Alma 7, delivered to the righteous city of Gideon, teaches believers to make the Atonement of Christ a reality in their lives. Chapters 12 and 13 elucidate the mysteries of redemption, resurrection, and the priesthood after the order of the Son of God. Alma 32 and 3 3 are a sermon given by Alma to the Zoramite poor, explaining the correct manner of prayer, the relationship between humility and faith in Jesus Christ, and the process of increasing faith. Alma 34 is Amulek's talk on the need for the "infinite and eternal sacrifice" made by the Son of God. In it Amulek also teaches the people how to pray and tells them how to live so that their prayers will not be vain.

Alma teaches his sons trust in God by telling of his personal conversion (chap. 36). He also gives instructions about the keeping of sacred records and explains how God's purposes are accomplished through small means (chap. 37). He teaches the evil of sexual sin (chap. 39), the nature of resurrection and restoration (chaps. 40-41), the purpose and consequences of the Fall of Adam, including spiritual and temporal death), and the relationship between justice and mercy (see chap. 42).

The war chapters include instances of, and statements about, justifiable reasons for war (chap. 48), along with the example of the protective power of faith exercised by the young warriors who fought under Helaman, none of whom died in battle, for they believed their mothers' teachings that "God would deliver them" (Alma 56:47-48).

Overall, the book of Alma teaches through vivid, detailed narratives how personal ambition can lead to apostasy and war, and shows how the Lord gathers his people through the preaching of the gospel of Christ and delivers them in righteousness against aggression.

(See Basic Beliefs home page; Book of Mormon home page)

Bibliography

For essays on Alma the Younger, Ammon, King Lamoni, Ammonihah, Korihor's sophistry, Amlici, several dissenters, Captain Moroni, the Nephite chief judges, and other figures in the book of Alma, see Jeffrey R. Holland, The Book of Mormon: It Begins with a Family, pp. 79-170. Salt Lake City, 1983.