This is Part I of a multi-part series, being an invited and inferior guest. There will be at least two parts to this series, and possibly more, though that is up in the air at this point.
I have been pondering a few things over the past couple of days related to several Book of Mormon characters, prominent characters in some of the stories contained therein. I’ve been wondering what it would be like if we could transplant them into our modern day world and church. Take them, and all their experiences, and thrust them into today and see the reaction. Not so much their reaction as ours. Would they be the wellspring of faith they were then, or would we cast them aside because of our traditions and cultural assumptions? It’s a question I feel is worth discussion.
Alma the Younger
The first character that’s been occupying my thoughts is Alma the Younger and, more specifically, his experiences in and around his father establishing a new church after being the only priest in King Noah’s court who both heard and felt the message of Abinadi. This blog’s original six-part series on Abinadi has helped immensely in my thoughts and is worth reading. From part I of that series I borrow the following statement, which is basically where I pick up at:
“Zeniff calls and consecrates, with proper priesthood, twelve high priests and serves as the president of that high priesthood, as evidenced by Noah removing all of his father’s high priests (Mos. 11:5).”
That is the opening salvo of this entry. Alma the Younger and his father present an intriguing idea. Alma the Younger’s father was a member of King Noah’s court, though possibly the youngest member of that court. He was described as being a “young man” (Mosiah 17:2) and was personally selected to serve as a priest over the church in their day, Alma himself apparently “lifted up in the pride of [his] heart”, “idolatrous”, and more than willing to be supported in his “laziness” and “whoredoms” (Mosiah 11:5-6). As this story plays out, it truly becomes a “like father, like son” event, the father and son playing quite similar roles and experiencing quite similar conversions over the span of a few dozen years. Abinadi comes and preaches the words the Lord tells him (Mosiah 11), and then disappears for a space of two full years. After this two year window, he returns. There’s little doubt that Alma, the father, knew of Abinadi and what he was preaching. Being a member of the twelve priests set to watch over the church, he was likely privy to many discussions on what to do with and to this man, prior to his disappearance, who was claiming to speak on an errand from the Lord. Actions like Abinadi’s, which directly undermined the both church’s and the priests authority, simply couldn’t be tolerated and Alma would have been part of those who would be judge, jury and executioner of this “false prophet” among their mainstream church.
Two years later, and under a cloak of disguise, Abinadi returns on command from the Lord to preach to the same people, with the same leaders in place, the same message – that of repentance. It appears (Mosiah 12:9) that the people do not recognize or remember Abinadi, calling him merely “a man.” This time, however, he’s not delivered and is taken before King Noah’s court and his priests. At that point, both the people and priests pander to King Noah, as they hold a “council” (Mosiah 12:17) to determine Abinadi’s fate.
Rather than belabor that part of the story and what happened, Abinadi is brought before the council, questioned, cross-examined and ridiculed. King Noah decides it’s time to slay him, but all of the priests and King Noah are witnesses to a divine intervention where they cannot seize hold of Abinadi and he is protected by God (Mosiah 13:1-3). Alma would obviously have been a witness to this event and one begins to wonder where his thoughts are at, especially if he remembers anything from the previous encounter with Abinadai. Alma was no doubt prepared for this event during the previous two years while Abinadi was away. During that lag in time, he seems to have changed from an “idolatrous” man, to one who “knew concerning the iniquity which Abinadi had testified of” (Mosiah 17:2). Perhaps during that two year window Alma had tried to speak up about some of the things going on, though with likely much difficulty because he was but a “young man” amongst older priests. Perhaps he had spoken on other occasions to King Noah and the priests about the things they were doing – if only because he, as a priest of the church, was thrown out upon having said those words. Alma’s moments of preparation brought him to where he was, and provided him with a jumping off point…
Now we fast forward a few years. Alma’s remnant group broke off from the main church body taking, baptizing and re-baptizing all those who wanted to come (204 souls in total – a very small minority no doubt, see Mosiah 18:16), was forced to hide in the wilderness and move from place to place due to the persecutions at the hands of the remaining priests of King Noah and King Noah himself. The group grows, is described as a “movement” which King Noah both discovered and knew all about (Mosiah 18:32) and reaches a total of 450 members. In the space of a few short days/months, the church more than doubles in size, though still, no doubt, miniscule in comparison to the larger, “mainstream” church. For sake of length, there is a lot that happens between this point and Mosiah 23, where the story of Alma picks up again.
Then, once the story resumes, in a strange twist of fate, Alma and his followers get persecuted by a man named Amulon, who was the leader of King Noah’s priests who had fled into the wilderness, seduced the Lamanites and now found themselves, once again, in power over Alma’s remnant group (Mosiah 24:8). Interestingly enough, it appears that Amulon was the priest who either replaced Alma when his spot was vacated, or another spot shortly thereafter. Mosiah 24:8-9 reads:
9 For Amulon knew Alma, that he had been aone of the king’s priests, and that it was he that believed the words of Abinadi and was driven out before the king, and therefore he was wroth with him; for he was subject to king Laman, yet he exercised authority over them, and put btasks upon them, and put ctask-masters over them.
Verse 9, by itself is especially enlightening in this context. Amulon knew Alma, knew that Alma was that priest who “believed the words of Abinadi” and the priest who was driven out from “before the king”, though it’s important to point out that there’s no reference to them knowing each other as priests. Verse 8 seems to indicate the likely seeds of the eventual tension between Alma and his son, Alma the Younger. It seems that Alma the Younger was singled out and persecuted by Amulon’s children, singled out for being Alma’s son, the son of that priest who ruined the perfect, flourishing society of King Noah. It was Alma who brought the great problems onto the people – not knowing who else to blame and already having killed Abinadi – and so it begins with Alma the Younger. It is at this point or sometime near this point that I believe that Alma the Younger begins to instructed and taught about what his father did, though with a decidedly negative twist. It is at this point no doubt that Alma the Younger begins to hear of the “true, mainstream church” from a different perspective, one which was likely apologetic to both King Noah, his priests and their deeds. The seeds of doubt are planted in a young Alma’s mind, seeds which sprout in apparently fertile ground.
It is also at this point that the people of Alma are forbidden from any sort of prayer, except those which cannot be seen (from the heart) – Amulon exercising his authority over them. It is also likely that this is the point when Alma the Younger is being persecuted, a point when he is most vulnerable (being young and forbidden from praying). Alma the Younger also grew up in a period of unbelief generally, not just because of the prayer issue though that certainly played a dominant role in the time period. There were some, likely contemporaries of Alma the Younger, who were present for King Benjamin’s discourse, but too young, at the time, to understand and now old enough to choose not follow the traditions of their fathers. (Mosiah 26:1-4). These unbelievers were gifted with some of the same gifts Alma the Younger possessed, namely flattery and the ability to flatter (Mosiah 26:6). These unbelievers did “deceive many” because of their flattering words.
The link we see here, is that later these are the very same descriptions used to describe Alma the Younger as he sought to destroy the church. Alma, the father, apparently “did not know concerning [these unbelievers]” (Mosiah 26:9), but nevertheless petitioned both King Mosiah and the Lord to find out what to do with them, not wanting to “do wrong in the sight of God” (Mosiah 26:13). He receives a miraculous answer which includes his calling and election, as well as a revelation to do nothing to the unbelievers other than “blot” out the names of these unbelievers from the records of the church (Mosiah 26:15-32), a purging of the records of the church if you will.
We don’t read it here in chapter 26, but what I find even more enlightening and thought provoking about this purging of the records of the church is that it almost certainly included the purging of the records of four of the sons of Mosiah, as well as at least one of the sons of Alma, Alma the Younger. Alma most certainly didn’t want to do wrong “in the sight of the Lord” with respect to his immediate family any more than he did the general populous, though he was undoubtedly more afflicted by what he’d eventually do to his son. Mosiah 27:8 describes the sons of Mosiah and Alma the Younger as being “numbered among the unbelievers”, numbered among the “idolatrous” and among those who deceived members of the church using “flattery”, numbered among the “unbelievers” because their names had been removed from the Church’s records and rolls. In this same revelation, Alma learns of his calling and election and assurance of eternal life. The dichotomy is striking. On the one hand, Alma the elder is assured of eternal life, while on the other he’s expressly told to excommunicate and blot out the names of the unbelievers, his son being one of them. This blotting out has definite application to the possibility of eternal life for those unbelievers. Having their names “blotted” out was no doubt painful for Alma, he having risked his life, occupation and all means for providing his family to establish the very church his son was now not only kicked out of, but also seeking to destroy.
Returning, if only briefly, to the description of Alma the Younger, we do know is that he was an “idolatrous” man (Mosiah 27:8), a definition that very easily could be interpreted as a man very taken by materialism (both Hugh Nibley’s and Avraham Gileadi’s interpretations of Idolatry fits here), as he was an “unbeliever”, this seems the most likely application of the word. Hugh Nibley’s definition of idolatry was not that “things” were gods in the sense they were literally worshiped, but rather in the sense that their manufacture, promotion and sale provided the people with a living an d a means of sustenance.
As Avraham Gileadi put it:
“Economic factors determined social behavior – the law of supply. Manufacturing the works of men’s hands yielded income but constituted idolatry, because what so many people worked at, oriented their lives to, was ultimately unproductive. … It enslaved to a false idea not merely those directly involved with it but also those who produced foodstuffs and raw materials. The latter labored to provide for all the rest. … In short, the works of men’s hands on which people set their hearts, on which they spend Natural and human resources, are by definition “idols” (Isa. 2:8, Jer. 10:1-5). As the prophets describe them, these are idols that people invent, design, sketch, carve, forge, molten, cast, weld, plate, fit, hammer, rivet, and mass produce. Manufactured, promoted, and sold for gold and silver (Isa. 44:9; 46:6),the idols are the fruits of technology of well-nigh magical dimensions (Isa. 47:10, 12). They follow trends and engage the whole of society (Isa. 44:11,47:13). Depending on the kinds of idols, people both carry them about and set them in place in their homes (Isa. 45:20; 46:7). The entire production of idols, however, is erroneous and vain (Jer. 51:17-18). It causes people to become like the idols themselves, sightless and mindless of things spiritual, unaware and insensible to impending disaster (Isa. 42:17-20; 44:9, 45:16). It constitutes a “wine” that Makes people drunk and made the wine of Babylon (Jer. 51:7 and Rev. 18:3).” (Last Days Types and Shadows).
King Noah, during his reign, established a very materialistic society and church…preferring the works of their hands (temples, buildings, etc) over the works of the spirit (probably because they couldn’t feel or recognize the spirit). Soon after taking his position at the head of the church, he instituted a flat tax of one-fifth of everything (a likely combination of tithing to the church and taxes to the government (10% for each)). The reason for instituting this “flat tax” was to create a superficial feeling of growth amongst the people, to create a superficial feeling of righteousness. The taxes and tithing funded the growth and expansion from both a spiritual (renovation of the temple) and secular (palaces, buildings, etc).
He then, with the help of the yes-men priests he selected, including Alma, set about to complete a work of construction and building which may have been unrivaled in Nephite history up to that point. Mosiah 11:6-15 discusses the work that was completed, namely elegant and spacious buildings, ornamentations of all kinds, a spacious palace, a renovation of the temple, new seats for the high priests, a new pulpit, new towers to look out for danger, as well as vineyards and winepresses. In short, a mass stimulus plan was passed, thanks to the new flat tithing tax, which funded the building of a society. Truly they were a “prosperous” people – an immense period of building, progress and growth – and they took their prosperity to be a direct indication of their righteousness (Mosiah 12:15). This prosperity, no doubt, created a feeling of “all is well in Zion” and a feeling, no doubt, that people like Amulon and the other “idolatrous” unbelievers were trying to recreate the best they could. Amulon then passed that belief down to his children and followers.
Under these circumstances it’s very likely, almost certain, that Alma the Younger knew of the “prosperity”, the growth, the construction, the work, the lifestyle that was happened in and around King Noah’s people even though he was likely born in the wilderness, and it’s likely he too yearned for that lifestyle after finding the sons of Mosiah.
Thus, amidst a convergence of events, Alma the Younger seeks to destroy the church his father was inspired to establish, a church which he was excommunicated and blotted out from. He may have viewed his father’s church as “apostate”, given that it was a remnant of the mainstream church and likely persecuted the members of the church based on this information and he may have even meant well, and he may have been upset given the ease with which the other people lived (riches, etc). We read he, along with the sons of Mosiah, caused much “dissension” (Mosiah 27:9) as they went about secretly teaching the members of the church what they believed, and it isn’t too much of a stretch to suggest that the dissension may well have come from one comparing the two churches and explaining why the one was wrong and the other right. If Alma the Younger believed they were all wrong, I see no reason for him going about secretly to members houses. There is a plethora of examples of people who believe nothing and who are more than willing to stand up on their soap box and claim that there’s no Messiah, no God, no church to which one must go.
And these “flatterers” likely would have had a compelling case…especially if there were statements and writings at the time (and there probably were) saying that the authority remained with King Noah and/or the priests after Zeniff passed it on to King Noah and after King Noah died, and to reject that authority was to reject the word of God. I can see the persuasiveness in that argument, we see it today, and it’s certainly a type and shadow of today. Alma the Younger was probably very much attracted to the tradition and history of the “mainstream” church of his day, yearning for the materialism, success and ease and freedom from the persecution he felt as a child. He, in that respect, was a mirror image of his father sitting among the priests of King Noah.
The only reason he was converted was due to a vision, a miraculous divine intervention, an intervention that mirrors his father’s “about face” as he sat watching and listening to Abinadi. Both of them were spending their lives as idolatrous, lazy and participating in all sorts of wickedness, only to change due to a miraculous intervention in their lives, witnesses to intense and divine pivot points. It was probably quite the experience for Alma the Younger, just as it was for his father. His whole world and belief system tipped upside down. The angel of the Lord told him that the church he was trying to destroy was His church (perhaps because Alma the Younger very much thought that it was an apostate form of the “true” church, thus worthy of destruction) (Mosiah 27:13).
Then, after Alma the Younger was dumbfounded, on question comes to mind, that of why would his father bring his son before the body of the remnant church in an effort to show them the power of God? Perhaps, just perhaps, it was to show the remnant (who may have been wavering because of the persecution they were receiving) that their prayers were answered and that they were on the track God wanted them to be on, they weren’t just some “apostate” branch which had wrongfully broken off from the mainstream church. Mosiah 27:33 speaks of how, after the vision and after their change of hearts, Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah went about preaching to the unbelievers – the very people they spent their time with prior to their conversion – and how their preaching and miraculous conversion “confirm[ed] their [the remnants] faith” and brought “much consolation” to the new church. It appears that this fledgling church was experiencing a significant identity crisis.
The verses immediately before and after verse 33 read as follows:
32 And now it came to pass that Alma began from this time forward to teach the people, and those who were with Alma at the time the angel appeared unto them, traveling round about through all the land, publishing to all the people the things which they had heard and seen, and preaching the word of God in much tribulation, being greatly persecuted by those who were unbelievers, being smitten by many of them.
33 But notwithstanding all this, they did impart much consolation to the church, confirming their faith, and exhorting them with long-suffering and much travail to keep the commandments of God.
34 And four of them were the asons of Mosiah; and their names were Ammon, and Aaron, and Omner, and Himni; these were the names of the sons of Mosiah.
35 And they traveled throughout all the land of Zarahemla, and among all the apeople who were under the reign of king Mosiah, bzealously striving to repair all the injuries which they had done to the church, cconfessing all their sins, and publishing all the things which they had seen, and explaining the prophecies and the scriptures to all who desired to hear them.
36 And thus they were instruments in the hands of God in bringing many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, to the knowledge of their Redeemer.
It is interesting to note, in this particular light, that these four sons of Mosiah and Alma the Younger went about “zealously striving to repair all the injuries which they had done to the church” (Mosiah 27:35), striving to teach the same “unbelievers” who they themselves were building up and supporting only a few days/weeks prior. Is it plausible that they were striving to repair injuries associated within the context of a fallen, worldly church (whose members were numbered among the “unbelievers” the scriptures mention, and as Abinadi testified, see Mosiah 11-16) versus a remnant branch, they having ridiculed the remnant branch prior to their conversion? Now, those who had heard these men ridicule the remnants, were now hearing a new story that they had a miraculous change of heart, a conversion. That would be a tough sell for even the softest of unbelievers.
This ended up being a lot longer than I imagined, so I apologize, but each verse led to more thoughts and more insights into (a) how Alma the Younger came to persecute his father’s remnant branch, (b) the similarities between Alma the Younger and his father, and (c) the incredible depth of this story as it teaches lessons for our day.
So, in conclusion, how would Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah be viewed in our Church today? Would they be “forgiven” by men who witnessed their attacks on the church, among both the believers and unbelievers? Would they be allowed to re-enter the church and hold callings? Would they be allowed to even stand up at the pulpit and preach of their conversion? Or, because of their “visibility” within the church and the destruction they had caused, would they be ridiculed, mocked and ostracized? Clearly the people of that time were relieved and welcomed the conversion, undoubtedly giving thanks for their preaching to the “unbelievers”, but would we as a church today grant the same forgiveness and grace? Would their priesthood leaders be as willing to forgive, let alone believe their account of an angel appearing to them?