The revealed text

The revealed text
The light of revelation at the Whitmer farm where Joseph and Oliver worked upstairs to finish translating the Book of Mormon

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Lesson 22: Have Ye Received His Image in Your Countenances?

This lesson covers chapters 5-7 of Alma. Alma "began to deliver the word of God unto the people, first in the land of Zarahemla, and from thence throughout all the land." (Alma 5:1).

The scriptures don't say that he started in the city of Zarahemla, but we infer he did because verse 2 relates what he taught the people there. In Chapters 6-7, Alma crosses the river to teach in in Gideon. The text implies this city/land was at some distance from Zarahemla because Alma could not visit when he was serving at the judgment-seat. The people of Gideon had different issues from those living in the city of Zarahemla. Generally they were more faithful in Gideon, which I infer means they were not as divided over issues of wealth. 

In 5:27, Alma asks the people if they have been sufficiently humble. Next he asks "are ye stripped of pride?" Then, in verse 29, "Behold, I say, is there one among you who is not stripped of envy?" Later, in verse 54-55, Alma focuses on the "wearing of costly apparel" and "supposing that yea are better one than another," "turning your backs on the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them."

These questions suggest the people in the city of Zarahemla considered themselves wealthy. A look at the Iowa location of Zarahemla might help explain why the people there would have been wealthy.

First, if (as I think) the Mulekites sailed up the Mississippi River, they would have had to stop at the Des Moines rapids, which are just south of the Nauvoo area.

 When we look at the river bed, we see that these rapids near Keokuk, Iowa, are the first place where the shallows make passage of a large ship impossible. It makes sense that the Mulekites would have disembarked here and "dwelt there from that time forth." At this point of the Mississippi River, you can cross on foot much of the year. It would make an excellent trading area.  

When Joseph Smith purchased the land for Nauvoo, he actually purchased far more land across the river in Iowa, as this map from the Joseph Smith papers shows.

If this area--designated in the 1800s as the "half-breed trace"--was the location of the ancient city of Zarahemla, the location could explain why the people were wealthy and why they had problems with pride, etc. (Of course, every human society has problems of pride, envy, etc. However, Alma focuses particularly on this when he's in the city of Zarahemla.)

People ask if there is archaeological evidence for a city in this area. There is archaeological evidence of settlements along the river, north and south of this site, that date to Book of Mormon times, but nothing that can be identified as the city of Zarahemla, per se. 

The city of Zarahemla and its inhabitants were burned (3 Nephi 8:8). Later, the city was built again (4 Nephi 1:8) but the city is not mentioned afterward. It could have been destroyed again, of course. The river could have flooded the city, deposited sand over it, or any number of other possibilities. For now, I note that it's a location that seems to fit the text nicely.

Another consideration is that D&C 125 hints at this site as the location of ancient Zarahemla.


Another interesting aspect of Alma 5 is the mention of sheep, shepherds, and wolves. There must have been sheep in the city of Zarahemla. We've already stipulated that, because the Nephites "strictly" observed the Law of Moses, but Alma emphasizes the point is repeated here.

v. 37: ye that have professed to have known the ways of righteousness nevertheless have gone astray, as sheep having no shepherd
v. 38: ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd.
v. 39: And now if ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd, of what fold are ye?
v. 59: For what shepherd is there among you having many sheep doth not watch over them, that the wolves enter not and devour his flock? 
v. 60: if you will hearken unto his voice he will bring you into his fold, and ye are his sheep; and he commandeth you that ye suffer no ravenous wolf to enter among you, that ye may not be destroyed.

These metaphors would be ineffective if the people living in Zarahemla did not have sheep. In verse 59, Alma abandons the metaphorical use and speaks directly to actual shepherds. 

Some species of sheep that are indigenous to North America have survived to the present day, including the Bighorn and Dall. Anciently, their populations were in the millions. Although confined mainly to the western US, Canada, and northern Mexico.

Wolves are indigenous to North America and were ubiquitous throughout North America before the Europeans arrived. They were part of Native American Indian legends and mythology. Their devastating impact on domesticated animals led to federal government programs to eradicate wolves from grazing areas. See this article.

Because Alma discussed wolves in this sense, I think it's possible that whatever domesticated sheep the Nephites had--whether related to the other indigenous North American species or species Lehi brought with him--were killed off after the destruction of the Nephite society. The situation could be similar to that of horses, where recent research has shown the traditional explanation for horses--that the Spanish brought them all--is not consistent with the actual records. See excellent article on horses:

Friday, June 10, 2016

Lesson 21: Alma-Did Judge Righteous Judgments

This lesson covers Mosiah 29-Alma 4. These chapters address the question of what system of government is most likely to preserve peace and righteousness, a topic covered well in the lesson manual.

Alma 2 discusses Amlici's attempted insurrection. Alma leads the Nephite armies across the River Sidon to battle against Amlici and his army (the Amlicites). Although Alma's men prevail, the Amlicites who survive flee southward. Alma's spies follow them until they see the Amlicites join with a Lamanite army. Then the spies hurry back to camp, alert Alma, and a battle ensues.

You may be surprised to know that Alma 2 has generated a tremendous amount of discussion about Book of Mormon geography. The question is whether the Amlicites--and Alma's spies after them--crossed the River Sidon. Many people think they did, although the text doesn't say so. I disagree: I think the Amlicites and the spies stayed on the eastern side of Sidon.

The text frames the battle as part of a race to the city of Zarahemla: "except we make haste they obtain possession of our city, and our fathers, and our wives, and our children be slain." (Alma 2:25)

Verse 27 describes how the battle took place:

27 And behold, as they were crossing the river Sidon, the Lamanites and the Amlicites, being as numerous almost, as it were, as the sands of the sea, came upon them to destroy them.

I think this verse means Alma and his men were crossing the river from east to west, and the Lamanites came upon them from behind. Others think this verse means the Lamanites were already on the western bank. I've had numerous discussions on this point, and I think both interpretations are plausible, depending on what assumptions you make.

I adopted the first one because it makes more sense to me conceptually, and because the text specifies that Alma crossed the river initially to attack the Amlicites, and then crossed it again to defend Zarahemla, but it never mentions anyone else crossing the river.

In a way, this is geography minutia. You can read the debates online. For me,the point of this account is how much effort Alma exerted to protect and save the liberty of his people.

Still, here's how I envision the battle taking place:

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Lesson 20: My Soul Is Pained No More

This chapter covers Mosiah 25-27. In Chapter 25, king Mosiah causes the people to gather together. I find this interesting because I infer the people came in from throughout the land of Zarahemla; this was not only a gathering of the residents of the city of Zarahemla.

Alma relates the story of the people of Limhi. Then Limhi and all his people desired baptism. The text doesn't say where this took places except "into the water," but I infer the people were baptized in the river, much as the early LDS were baptized in the Mississippi River.

I also think it's interesting that Mosiah 25:23 says "there were seven churches in the land of Zarahemla." We can't tell if a "church" in this sense was like a stake or a ward, but here is the description:

20 Now this was done because there were so many people that they could not all be governed by one teacher; neither could they all hear the word of God in one assembly;
 21 Therefore they did assemble themselves together in different bodies, being called churches; every church having their priests and their teachers, and every priest preaching the word according as it was delivered to him by the mouth of Alma.

This leads me to conclude that the term "church" refers to a "congregation" or "assembly." A congregation would be more like a ward than a stake, IMO. This means the population of Zarahemla may not have been as great as is sometimes proposed. True, there were nonbelievers as well, and for all we know, there were many more nonbelievers than believers. I mention this to suggest that maybe these Nephite cities were not all that large--at least not as large as we often think.

This reminds me of small branches of the Church I've visited throughout the world. No matter how small the congregation, the principles of the Gospel apply equally.

"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Matthew 18:20.