BoM Gospel Doctrine Lesson 23: Alma 8-12

My picture, from the Kidron Valley.
My picture, from the Kidron Valley.

Once again, the lesson and chapter divisions cut across the 1830/original chapter divisions, breaking up logical units. In particular, today’s chapter 12 extended into chapter 13:9,where it terminates appropriately with an “amen.” Then a new section began in 13:10-15:19. It is after 13:10 that Alma transitions into speaking about Melchizedek and high priests, which I shall take up next week. (Teaser: I think Alma’s invocation of high priests is a direct response to the objection that the tree of life is blocked by cherubim and a flaming sword.)

8- Alma returns home to Zarahemla, rests, and goes to Melek, west. Then heheads north to Ammonihah. He has a poor reception, leaves, meets angel, who says, “go back.” Meets Amulek and spends “many days” with him before going out to the people, along with Amulek.

9- Alma’s preaching at Ammonihah

10- Amulek’s preaching, and response of the “lawyers.” What’s a lawyer?

11- Explanation of judges and law, then money bit in v. 3-19. Zeezrom debate with Alma.

12- Words of Alma to Zeezrom. Antionah, a “chief ruler” (a judge? official? Term exists only here and Alm 35:8. Here “a chief ruler,” there “the chief ruler”) responds with citation of Genesis.

These chapters are part of a larger unit. Grant Hardy explains,

Alma 16 [relates] the destruction of the wicked city of Ammonihah, [and] comes at the conclusion of Alma’s preaching in Alma 4–16, which I refer to in my Reader’s Edition as the “Nephite Reformation.” The eight chapters immediately preceding (Alma 8–15) formed a subunit that told the story of Alma2 and Amulek’s mission to Ammonihah and described how, despite limited success, they were eventually rejected and thrown into prison. Then, in an act of terrible brutality, the people of Ammonihah drove Alma’s male converts from the city and burned to death their defenseless wives and children. In time Alma and Amulek were miraculously delivered from prison by an earthquake (our scrupulous narrator notes that it was “on the twelfth day, in the tenth month, in the tenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi”; Alma 14:23), and they made their way to the city of Sidom, where they found the now familyless refugees. Alma and Amulek converted many in Sidom and organized a church there before returning to Zarahemla at the end of the year.


Two interesting notes about Alma 11 and money, both relating to cultural awareness.

First, in 1981, summary headings were added to each chapter. These headings were written entirely by Elder McConkie based on his understanding of the passage.

 QUESTION: Who is responsible for the little informational headings preceding each chapter in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price?

Robert J. Matthews: I would be glad to tell you who did that… I think it would be no breach of etiquette or of confidentiality if I were to say with pleasure that Elder Bruce R. McConkie produced those headings.”-“The JST: Retrospect and Prospect- A Panel” in The Joseph Smith Translation (online here), ed. Monte Nyman and Charles D. Tate, Jr. (BYU Religious Studies Center, 1985): 300-301.

Some of these headings have since been revised, corrected, or updated, and Alma 11 is one of these. It used to read, “Nephite coinage set forth.” The actual scriptural text, however, says nothing about coins, metal or otherwise. Rather, it was Elder McConkie’s cultural assumption that the monetary system was one of coinage, and he read that into the text. (Edit to add: As it turns out, according to Gardner’s commentary, there were prior LDS traditions characterizing this chapter as “coinage.”) Today it simply says “The Nephite monetary system is set forth.” (The online scriptures say this, and your printed version might, depending on when it was printed.) Elder McConkie and others had read ancient scripture through modern, Western eyes, and unknowingly distorted it in the process. This is a relatively minor and harmless example, but it’s something we (and General Authorities) do, virtually all the time, both in general and, say, with the creation accounts of Genesis.

Now, E. McConkie himself was the first one to disavow any kind of revelation, perfection, or inerrancy in the things added to the scriptures in 1981. He listed

“the Joseph Smith Translation items, the chapter headings, Topical Guide, Bible Dictionary, footnotes, the Gazeteer, and the maps [,] None of these are perfect; they do not of themselves determine doctrine; there have been and undoubtedly now are mistakes in them. Cross-references, for instance, do not establish and never were intended to prove that parallel passages so much as pertain to the same subject. They are aids and helps only.” – Elder McConkie, “The Bible- A Sealed Book” in Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, 290.

Secondly, on Alma 11 and cultural awareness. Most often in the Bible, the prophets, scribes, and editors were writing for their contemporaries, for people who shared their cultural knowledge. Consequently, lots of things “go without saying.” We today, who no longer share that knowledge, are either confused by what we don’t know in a passage  or worse, we unconsciously fill in the gap with modern assumptions, leaving us unaware that there’s even a gap there.

Mormon takes the time, effort, and space on the plates to explain a judge’s salary and monetary equivalents. Why? Zeezrom offer’s Alma a bribe of 6 ontis. 6 ontis= 42 senums of silver = 42 days of pay for a judge  (Alm 11:3), which is presumably a lot of money. But you don’t know that unless you understand the Nephite system. By explaining the system, Mormon demonstrates his editorial awareness of a cultural knowledge gap between the text and the reader. After all, if he didn’t explain that, modern readers would say, “6 ontis… is that like, 10 bucks? 100? A little or a lot?”

By giving us that information, Mormon allows us to put ourselves in shoes sandals of those living and writing the scriptures, which is what we ought to be doing, says Elder Widtsoe.

To read the Bible [and other scripture] fairly, it must be read as President Brigham Young suggested: ‘Do you read the scriptures, my brethren and sisters, as though you were writing them a thousand, two thousand, or five thousand years ago? Do you read them as though you stood in the place of the men who wrote them?’ (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 197-8). This is our guide. The scriptures must be read intelligently.”- Evidences and Reconciliations

 

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