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1 And it came to pass after he had made an end of speaking unto the people many of them did believe on his words, and began to repent, and to search the scriptures.
2 But the more part of them were desirous that they might destroy Alma and Amulek; for they were angry with Alma, because of the plainness of his words unto Zeezrom; and they also said that Amulek had lied unto them, and had reviled against their law and also against their lawyers and judges.
Alma and Amulek were a powerful pair of preachers. They had had an effect on Zeezrom, and Mormon makes certain that his readers understand that they affected more than just Zeezrom. However, it was also true that they were ineffective in turning the hearts of the majority of the people in Ammonihah. The people’s minds and hearts were unchanged, and they still saw Alma and Amulek as resisting their laws. By laws, they meant their religiously supported way of life. The ancient world did not make clean distinctions between political and religious realms, and laws were supported by the belief that God was the lawgiver. Thus, they believed that their laws were violated, and that their lawyers and judges were contradicted, even though modern readers see the discourses of Alma and Amulek as purely religious.
3 And they were also angry with Alma and Amulek; and because they had testified so plainly against their wickedness, they sought to put them away privily.
4 But it came to pass that they did not; but they took them and bound them with strong cords, and took them before the chief judge of the land.
5 And the people went forth and witnessed against them—testifying that they had reviled against the law, and their lawyers and judges of the land, and also of all the people that were in the land; and also testified that there was but one God, and that he should send his Son among the people, but he should not save them; and many such things did the people testify against Alma and Amulek. Now this was done before the chief judge of the land.
The phrase “sought to put them away privily” is borrowed from Matthew 1:19, where Joseph, thinking of Mary, “was minded to put her away privily.” In Matthew, the phrase indicates Joseph’s desire to keep Mary from public humiliation, which is the exact opposite of what the people of Ammonihah desire. The phrase used in translation does not correctly demonstrate the intent of the people in Ammonihah. For them, they desired to put Alma and Amulek away very publicly.
Therefore, they were bound with strong cords and taken to the chief judge of Ammonihah. This would have been a very public binding, and it was probably better to say that they were paraded before the chief judge of Ammonihah, rather than simply taken. When they are there, the “people” witness against them. This was a very public event.
As Mormon lists the reasons that Alma and Amulek should be judged guilty of contradicting the laws of Ammonihah, they related the important theological difference about the Son of God living among the people, but not saving them. This, of course, was true, and was the very point of Alma and Amulek’s discourses.
6 And it came to pass that Zeezrom was astonished at the words which had been spoken; and he also knew concerning the blindness of the minds, which he had caused among the people by his lying words; and his soul began to be harrowed up under a consciousness of his own guilt; yea, he began to be encircled about by the pains of hell.
7 And it came to pass that he began to cry unto the people, saying: Behold, I am guilty, and these men are spotless before God. And he began to plead for them from that time forth; but they reviled him, saying: Art thou also possessed with the devil? And they spit upon him, and cast him out from among them, and also all those who believed in the words which had been spoken by Alma and Amulek; and they cast them out, and sent men to cast stones at them.
Zeezrom had been one of Alma and Amulek’s accusers in the beginning, but he heard what they said, and began to believe. As one who had opposed the true word of God and then understood that word, Zeezrom “began to be harrowed up under a consciousness of his own guilt.” This was the very same thing which had happened to Alma when he, too, had preached against the word of God and had come to a realization of his guilt. Alma’s experience involved an angel. Zeezrom’s involved two witnesses sent by an angel. The intensity of the experience might have differed, but the conversion was the same. The first stage of conversion was the absolute understanding of where Alma or Zeezrom had taught incorrectly. That overpowering feeling grounded their change of heart.
Zeezrom’s conversion is then contrasted with the persistence of the people in condemning the true word of God. As there were many more of the unbelieving people, they exercised their majority right by expelling Zeezrom and any others who had believed upon Alma and Amulek’s words. The throwing of stones appears to have been to encourage them to leave. We will see these people again in Chapter 15. Others were martyred in a much more gruesome manner.
8 And they brought their wives and children together, and whosoever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God they caused that they should be cast into the fire; and they also brought forth their records which contained the holy scriptures, and cast them into the fire also, that they might be burned and destroyed by fire.
9 And it came to pass that they took Alma and Amulek, and carried them forth to the place of martyrdom, that they might witness the destruction of those who were consumed by fire.
10 And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames.
11 But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.
This incident poses extremely important questions, one which has been asked multiple times. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why doesn’t a merciful God prevent terrible atrocities? Amulek asks if they cannot “stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames?” He doesn’t ask whether it was possible, but rather. why they do not do what Amulek believes sincerely they could do.
Alma’s answer is not really satisfying for a modern reader. Nevertheless, it contains the elements of the answer to all such questions. The first, and unstated reason is the imperative of agency. The Lord can, and does, interfere in some actions of humankind, but not in all. Mortals cannot know His reasons for when He chooses to intervene, but it is certain that agency is the overriding principle.
The second part of the answer is that earthly injustices are temporal, and not eternal. While human injustice may often result in the death of innocents, in the eternal perspective, “the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory.” Those who perpetrate such actions also receive the eternal justice for their actions. Alma tells Amulek that from God’s perspective, all will be made just, even when our current perspective sees things as terribly unjust.
12 Now Amulek said unto Alma: Behold, perhaps they will burn us also.
13 And Alma said: Be it according to the will of the Lord. But, behold, our work is not finished; therefore they burn us not.
14 Now it came to pass that when the bodies of those who had been cast into the fire were consumed, and also the records which were cast in with them, the chief judge of the land came and stood before Alma and Amulek, as they were bound; and he smote them with his hand upon their cheeks, and said unto them: After what ye have seen, will ye preach again unto this people, that they shall be cast into a lake of fire and brimstone?
15 Behold, ye see that ye had not power to save those who had been cast into the fire; neither has God saved them because they were of thy faith. And the judge smote them again upon their cheeks, and asked: What say ye for yourselves?
16 Now this judge was after the order and faith of Nehor, who slew Gideon.
Having watched the suffering of those who believed on their words, Amulek honestly wonders if they would be next. Alma, however, understands that their work is not finished. That did not mean that they would have it easy, however.
The chief judge of the land of Ammonihah expects that Alma and Amulek would be subdued, if not scared, by witnessing the destruction of so many people. Therefore, he can ask: “after what ye have seen, will ye preach again unto this people, that they shall be cast into a lake of fire and brimstone?” His question suggests that the particular form in which the righteous were killed was designed to mock Alma’s prophecy of fire and brimstone for the wicked.
Note that the concepts of what a judge might do according to the law is different for Ammonihah than what we would expect. The judge himself mocks Alma and Amulek in both words and by physical intimidation. Mormon reminds his readers that this judge, and by extension, all of Ammonihah, was part of the “order and faith of Nehor.” In case his readers have forgotten, Mormon makes certain that we remember that Nehor slew Gideon, and, therefore, we should not see this order and faith favorably.
17 And it came to pass that Alma and Amulek answered him nothing; and he smote them again, and delivered them to the officers to be cast into prison.
18 And when they had been cast into prison three days, there came many lawyers, and judges, and priests, and teachers, who were of the profession of Nehor; and they came in unto the prison to see them, and they questioned them about many words; but they answered them nothing.
19 And it came to pass that the judge stood before them, and said: Why do ye not answer the words of this people? Know ye not that I have power to deliver you up unto the flames? And he commanded them to speak; but they answered nothing.
In verse 18 we finally see the fulfillment of the reference in the header to Alma Chapter 9 that Alma and Amulek would be cast into prison. Soon we will see the fulfillment of the miraculous delivery. In the meantime, Mormon continues to describe the conditions of their confinement.
Alma and Amulek are questioned and physically beaten and thrown into prison. When they are brought out, it is to face the lawyers and teachers. These were the political and religious leaders of Ammonihah, and it was they who taught and enforced the law as understood through the Order of the Nehors. Although they are questioned, they say nothing. That description is repeated in verse 18 and 19, indicating that regardless of the questioning, they firmly declined to say anything.
We saw in the trials of Nehor and Amalikiah that there were confessions given prior to execution. Although the text appears to indicate that they were voluntary, it is possible that these intimidation methods were intended to elicit confessions from Alma and Amulek through less than voluntary means. Thus, their remaining silence prevented the lawyers from even twisting their words into a confession that might allow the lawyers to convict them and sentence them to death.
20 And it came to pass that they departed and went their ways, but came again on the morrow; and the judge also smote them again on their cheeks. And many came forth also, and smote them, saying: Will ye stand again and judge this people, and condemn our law? If ye have such great power why do ye not deliver yourselves?
21 And many such things did they say unto them, gnashing their teeth upon them, and spitting upon them, and saying: How shall we look when we are damned?
22 And many such things, yea, all manner of such things did they say unto them; and thus they did mock them for many days. And they did withhold food from them that they might hunger, and water that they might thirst; and they also did take from them their clothes that they were naked; and thus they were bound with strong cords, and confined in prison.
The physical intimidation intensified. Alma and Amulek were starved and stripped naked and continued to be bound. All of these actions were not unusual in Maya culture. A painted pot has been discovered that shows captives before a ruler, and they are stripped and bound, with some indication that they may have been beaten. In Palenque, Mexico, one of the murals showed men with fingers outstretched in what was thought to have been a graceful gesture, until cleaning the mural uncovered that their fingernails had been removed and blood dripped from the fingers. The use of such draconian measures against captives resonates with the poor treatment of Alma and Amulek. Very similar actions were taken against the sons of Mosiah in the Lamanite city of Middoni, as we will see in Alma 20:30.
23 And it came to pass after they had thus suffered for many days, (and 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) that the chief judge over the land of Ammonihah and many of their teachers and their lawyers went in unto the prison where Alma and Amulek were bound with cords.
24 And the chief judge stood before them, and smote them again, and said unto them: If ye have the power of God deliver yourselves from these bands, and then we will believe that the Lord will destroy this people according to your words.
25 And it came to pass that they all went forth and smote them, saying the same words, even until the last; and when the last had spoken unto them the power of God was upon Alma and Amulek, and they rose and stood upon their feet.
On yet another occasion, the chief judge over the land of Ammonihah entered the prison to continue the persecution of Alma and Amulek. This time, he asks “if ye have the power of God deliver yourselves from these bands, and then we will believe.” It was probably the wrong thing to say.
After accepting the abuse for an indeterminate time, Alma and Amulek finally respond. They rise to their feet because “the power of God was upon Alma and Amulek.”
Mormon neatly sets up the final condemnation of Ammonihah. They will get their sign. They will not repent. Their destruction is sure. It will not be seen until Alma Chapter 16, but it is surely coming.
26 And Alma cried, saying: How long shall we suffer these great afflictions, O Lord? O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto deliverance. And they broke the cords with which they were bound; and when the people saw this, they began to flee, for the fear of destruction had come upon them.
27 And it came to pass that so great was their fear that they fell to the earth, and did not obtain the outer door of the prison; and the earth shook mightily, and the walls of the prison were rent in twain, so that they fell to the earth; and the chief judge, and the lawyers, and priests, and teachers, who smote upon Alma and Amulek, were slain by the fall thereof.
28 And Alma and Amulek came forth out of the prison, and they were not hurt; for the Lord had granted unto them power, according to their faith which was in Christ. And they straightway came forth out of the prison; and they were loosed from their bands; and the prison had fallen to the earth, and every soul within the walls thereof, save it were Alma and Amulek, was slain; and they straightway came forth into the city.
29 Now the people having heard a great noise came running together by multitudes to know the cause of it; and when they saw Alma and Amulek coming forth out of the prison, and the walls thereof had fallen to the earth, they were struck with great fear, and fled from the presence of Alma and Amulek even as a goat fleeth with her young from two lions; and thus they did flee from the presence of Alma and Amulek.
The power of God was indeed upon them, and was manifest in a way that not only saved Alma and Amulek, but signaled that God was behind their deliverance. God is God over heaven and earth, and therefore earth responds to his commands. Assuming that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerican, it occurred in a land quite familiar with earthquakes. It was not simply that there was an earthquake, but that it came apparently upon command, and broke down the building in such a way that Alma and Amulek could escape unscathed.
The combination of Alma’s prayer, the earthquake, and the ability of Alma and Amulek to walk out of the prison created fear in those who were nearby, and they fled, further allowing Alma and Amulek to make their escape.
This is not the end of a chapter in the 1830 edition. The story continues immediately in the next chapter.
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