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1 Now it came to pass that after the end of Korihor, Alma having received tidings that the Zoramites were perverting the ways of the Lord, and that Zoram, who was their leader, was leading the hearts of the people to bow down to dumb idols, his heart again began to sicken because of the iniquity of the people.
2 For it was the cause of great sorrow to Alma to know of iniquity among his people; therefore his heart was exceedingly sorrowful because of the separation of the Zoramites from the Nephites.
When Orson Pratt divided this chapter for the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon, he clearly made the division because there was a shift from the story of Korihor to the story of the Zoramites. Verse 1 highlights that transition. What the division doesn’t do, however, is retain the close association between Korihor’s death at the hands (or perhaps, more literally, the feet) of the Zoramites (see Alma 30:59).
Korihor’s story is one of a threat to the Nephite religious and political order. The Zoramites are also a threat, but perhaps an even greater one. Mormon notes that the Zoramites have moved away from the Nephite religion by stating that they had begun to “bow down to dumb idols.” That was sufficient for Alma to understand that they were in apostasy, but the real danger was “the separation of the Zoramites from the Nephites.” The nature of this separation, and the danger it posed, are described in the next verses.
3 Now the Zoramites had gathered themselves together in a land which they called Antionum, which was east of the land of Zarahemla, which lay nearly bordering upon the seashore, which was south of the land of Jershon, which also bordered upon the wilderness south, which wilderness was full of the Lamanites.
4 Now the Nephites greatly feared that the Zoramites would enter into a correspondence with the Lamanites, and that it would be the means of great loss on the part of the Nephites.
The real danger of the Zoramite separation from the Nephites had to do with their location, which Mormon makes certain his readers understand in verse 3. Antionum is a buffer zone between the Lamanites in the south wilderness and the interior of Nephite lands, specifically Jershon. Mormon expects his readers to remember that Jershon is where the Ammonites, the former Anti-Nephi-Lehies, have settled. These were people who were given the land for their protection, so that they wouldn’t need to take up arms again. A major line of defense was the land of Antionum, that was located between Jershon and the Lamanites.
With the defection of the Zoramites from the Nephite religion, the fear was that they would also defect from Nephite political influence and turn to the Lamanites. That would mean that there was a major hole in the Nephite defensive positions, and that the next land in line was one that was inhabited by a people who had taken an oath not to fight. It was therefore possible that opening Antionum to the Lamanites would allow a very deep incursion into Nephite territory. This was a very dangerous position.
When verse 4 speaks of the Zoramites entering into a correspondence with the Lamanites, the intent is not to describe an exchange of letters, but rather an alignment of religion and politics. That kind of correspondence would lead to the Zoramites becoming Lamanites, and therefore, enemies to the Nephites.
This story is interesting for its system of naming people. The first person named Zoram in Nephite history was a servant who accompanied Lehi’s family. Although we hear little of his tribe, it is associated with the Nephites. The name had a positive connotation, until now.
The second interesting name is Antionum, which so clearly includes the root antion, an intentional metonym. An antion was a measure of gold (Alma 11:19) and, therefore, a designation of a city that was concerned for personal wealth. Taken together, it would appear that Mormon is using these names to first tell his readers that the Zoramites in Antionum have rejected the Nephite principle of equality and looked to the elevation of wealth. That implication from the name alone will be born out as we read about their practices.
The name Zoram is certainly not intended to be seen in a favorable light. What it might suggest is that these were Nephites who have now apostatized. That certainly fits the religious and political position of Antionum, but the transition of the name itself from basically good to a representation of the opposite of Nephite ideals may be Mormon’s way of reinforcing the lesson that apostate Nephites are the most dangerous of enemies.
5 And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.
6 Therefore he took Ammon, and Aaron, and Omner; and Himni he did leave in the church in Zarahemla; but the former three he took with him, and also Amulek and Zeezrom, who were at Melek; and he also took two of his sons.
7 Now the eldest of his sons he took not with him, and his name was Helaman; but the names of those whom he took with him were Shiblon and Corianton; and these are the names of those who went with him among the Zoramites, to preach unto them the word.
Although Mormon suggests, in verse 5, that Alma preaches because it is the most effective way of changing hearts, it disguises the probability that Alma had no other option. Although the Zoramites were living according to a different religion, it was the voice of their people that supported that religion, and, therefore, was not contrary to Nephite law. There was no legal recourse that could compel the Zoramites to return to religious fealty. The only way to use force was to declare war, which would certainly force the Zoramites into Lamanite hands, which was something Alma hoped to avoid. Therefore, attempting to convert them was the best option.
Alma formed a missionary group that consisted of three of the sons of Mosiah and two of his sons. The three sons of Mosiah were Ammon, Aaron, and Omner. He took his sons Shiblon and Corianton. His oldest son, Helaman, remained in Zarahemla with Himni (one of the sons of Mosiah).
Alma and the three sons of Mosiah were seasoned missionaries. We do not learn much of Shiblon and Corianton at this point, but their experiences in Antionum will arise when Alma blesses his sons (Alma 38–42).
8 Now the Zoramites were dissenters from the Nephites; therefore they had had the word of God preached unto them.
9 But they had fallen into great errors, for they would not observe to keep the commandments of God, and his statutes, according to the law of Moses.
10 Neither would they observe the performances of the church, to continue in prayer and supplication to God daily, that they might not enter into temptation.
11 Yea, in fine, they did pervert the ways of the Lord in very many instances; therefore, for this cause, Alma and his brethren went into the land to preach the word unto them.
Mormon clarifies the religious issues among the Zoramites. The very first is that they had previously had the word of God (the Nephite religion) preached to them. They were not sinning in ignorance, but rather had intentionally left the Nephite religion.
In addition to leaving Nephite theology, they had left the law of Moses. This makes the Zoramite apostasy different from other Nephite apostasies such as Nehorism. Where that apostasy removed the Messiah but retained the law of Moses, the Zoramite apostasy removed both. They were not just apostate, but they were really apostate.
In such a dramatic state of religious separation from the Nephites, it is not surprising that it was assumed that a political separation was imminent. Religion and politics were not completely separable in the ancient world where one might rule only according to God’s will and support. This reiterates the fear expressed in verse 4, that “the Zoramites would enter into a correspondence with the Lamanites.”
12 Now, when they had come into the land, behold, to their astonishment they found that the Zoramites had built synagogues, and that they did gather themselves together on one day of the week, which day they did call the day of the Lord; and they did worship after a manner which Alma and his brethren had never beheld;
13 For they had a place built up in the center of their synagogue, a place for standing, which was high above the head; and the top thereof would only admit one person.
14 Therefore, whosoever desired to worship must go forth and stand upon the top thereof, and stretch forth his hands towards heaven, and cry with a loud voice, saying:
When Alma and his fellow missionaries enter the land, they are not so much surprised that there are synagogues, but rather the way in which they were built. The Zoramite synagogues were designed for a very un-Nephite type of worship. When the Zoramites gathered for worship, their devotions were centered on “a place for standing, which was high above the head; and the top thereof would only admit one person.” This is an important description because it allows us to understand more of what Zoramite worship was about.
Most important was that the prayer might be repetitive, and different people might give it, but only one at a time. One person had to stand above all others and loudly recite the prayer. This practice focuses the attention of the entire congregation on one person at a time, and places them in a very public place where they are the only one to be seen at one time. It is a very literal rejection of Nephite principles that did not exalt one person above another.
15 Holy, holy God; we believe that thou art God, and we believe that thou art holy, and that thou wast a spirit, and that thou art a spirit, and that thou wilt be a spirit forever.
16 Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; and also thou hast made it known unto us that there shall be no Christ.
17 But thou art the same yesterday, today, and forever; and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee; and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of Christ, which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God.
18 And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen.
The Zoramite prayer provides significant information to allow us to reconstruct the nature of both their religion and the way that it intended to contrast itself to Nephite worship. First, they direct the prayer to God. Although it is possible that they worshipped a God other than Jehovah, the Book of Mormon uses God as the designation for Jehovah. Thus, the Zoramites would have thought themselves as still believing in the true God, but perhaps as a reformation of religious practices.
When they call Jehovah a spirit, modern readers might see that as a rejection of the divine corporeality of God. However, at this time, Jehovah had not yet come to earth, and therefore a description of Jehovah as a spirit was not inappropriate. However, it is also likely that the emphasis came from contact with the Lamanites, who believed in a Great Spirit (as we saw in the mission of the sons of Mosiah among the Lamanites). This may be a sign of some incorporation of Lamanite ideas into their religion, a process known as syncretism, where two different belief systems are combined along lines of similarity, but resulting in something new to both of the two original systems.
Verse 16 confirms that the Zoramites see themselves as separate from the Nephites. The language where they reject the “childishness of their fathers” would appear to replicate Lamanite ideas, further suggesting a syncretism with Lamanite ideas and religion.
The prayer also confirms their rejection of crucial Nephite beliefs in social equality and in the coming Messiah. While both ideas are rejected, the Zoramite method of worship exalts the visual display of wealth or personal power. There was a reason that Mormon used the name Antionum for them (see Alma 11:19 for the definition of an antion).
19 Now it came to pass that after Alma and his brethren and his sons had heard these prayers, they were astonished beyond all measure.
20 For behold, every man did go forth and offer up these same prayers.
21 Now the place was called by them Rameumptom, which, being interpreted, is the holy stand.
22 Now, from this stand they did offer up, every man, the selfsame prayer unto God, thanking their God that they were chosen of him, and that he did not lead them away after the tradition of their brethren, and that their hearts were not stolen away to believe in things to come, which they knew nothing about.
23 Now, after the people had all offered up thanks after this manner, they returned to their homes, never speaking of their God again until they had assembled themselves together again to the holy stand, to offer up thanks after their manner.
Alma, his brethren, and his sons “were astonished beyond all measure,” and with reason. Although Antionum was nominally part of the Nephite political hegemony, it was far separated from what Alma and his companions knew to be the core of Nephite religion and, therefore, politics.
The fact that each person said the same prayer allowed them to declare their solidarity with others who offered the prayer. It was less a devotion to God than devotion to a particular community. There is no way to know if Mormon’s conclusion in verse 23, that the Zoramites spoke no more of God until the next gathering day, was in Alma’s record or not. It could have been, or Mormon could have added it as his own summary of their lack of true devotion to God. Regardless, the Zoramite religious practices were constructed to show a devotion to others of the same believing community, rather than to God, or to specific religious principles.
24 Now when Alma saw this his heart was grieved; for he saw that they were a wicked and a perverse people; yea, he saw that their hearts were set upon gold, and upon silver, and upon all manner of fine goods.
25 Yea, and he also saw that their hearts were lifted up unto great boasting, in their pride.
These verses set up the Alma’s prayer that is recorded in the next verses. The prayer is triggered by seeing that the Zoramites were so completely removed from the foundational tenets of Nephite belief. In keeping with Mormon’s use of Antionum as the name for the city, Alma notes that “their hearts were set upon gold, and upon silver, and upon all manner of fine goods.” This is the first aspect of Nephite apostasy throughout the Book of Mormon, and the Zoramites are far beyond only beginning to set their hearts upon wealth and status. They are “lifted up unto great boasting, in their pride.”
The fact is that they were wealthy. It wasn’t that the wealth was bad, but that they had made the social differences into a religion that emphasized the visible worship of wealth and status. We will learn how that affected those who did not have that wealth in the next chapter.
Although it may or may not have been intentional, it is highly appropriate that the Zoramites be described as being “lifted up unto great boasting,” as their boasting was literally done at the top of a stand that lifted them above the rest of the congregation.
26 And he lifted up his voice to heaven, and cried, saying: O, how long, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that thy servants shall dwell here below in the flesh, to behold such gross wickedness among the children of men?
27 Behold, O God, they cry unto thee, and yet their hearts are swallowed up in their pride. Behold, O God, they cry unto thee with their mouths, while they are puffed up, even to greatness, with the vain things of the world.
28 Behold, O my God, their costly apparel, and their ringlets, and their bracelets, and their ornaments of gold, and all their precious things which they are ornamented with; and behold, their hearts are set upon them, and yet they cry unto thee and say—We thank thee, O God, for we are a chosen people unto thee, while others shall perish.
29 Yea, and they say that thou hast made it known unto them that there shall be no Christ.
30 O Lord God, how long wilt thou suffer that such wickedness and infidelity shall be among this people? O Lord, wilt thou give me strength, that I may bear with mine infirmities. For I am infirm, and such wickedness among this people doth pain my soul.
Alma’s prayer has two parts. These five verses are the first part of the prayer, where Alma describes to God the visible and audible sins of the Zoramites. The description of their sins is bracketed by Alma asking how long the Lord will suffer such wickedness to continue. We see that phrase in verse 26 and then later in verse 30.
In between, Alma reiterates the major problem that he sees with Zoramite worship: they are prideful, as manifest in their costly apparel. As in other uses of “costly apparel” in the Book of Mormon, it is a sign of apostasy. The problem is not so much the wealth that allows it, but rather that the costly apparel signals a visual distinction between those who have and those who have not, and that visual distinction leads to the presumption of a real distinction, where pride dictates that those who can have the costly apparel are therefore better than those who do not.
Of course, the Zoramite rejection of the coming Messiah is an important concern, and, therefore, Alma mentions it specifically in verse 29.
31 O Lord, my heart is exceedingly sorrowful; wilt thou comfort my soul in Christ. O Lord, wilt thou grant unto me that I may have strength, that I may suffer with patience these afflictions which shall come upon me, because of the iniquity of this people.
32 O Lord, wilt thou comfort my soul, and give unto me success, and also my fellow laborers who are with me—yea, Ammon, and Aaron, and Omner, and also Amulek and Zeezrom, and also my two sons—yea, even all these wilt thou comfort, O Lord. Yea, wilt thou comfort their souls in Christ.
33 Wilt thou grant unto them that they may have strength, that they may bear their afflictions which shall come upon them because of the iniquities of this people.
34 O Lord, wilt thou grant unto us that we may have success in bringing them again unto thee in Christ.
35 Behold, O Lord, their souls are precious, and many of them are our brethren; therefore, give unto us, O Lord, power and wisdom that we may bring these, our brethren, again unto thee.
The second part of the prayer is Alma’s desire to do something about the Zoramite apostasy. Therefore, he begins with his motivation, which is that “my heart is exceedingly sorrowful.” He is seeing a people who have left the true way, and, therefore, he sorrows that they have lost their way. What he desires is comfort to his soul, but a comfort that comes from being successful in teaching and turning their hearts back to the true way of Jehovah, and, of course, to the true understanding of the necessity of the atoning Messiah.
Verse 35 indicates not only that Zoramite souls are precious, but also that “many of them are our brethren.” In the original manuscript, the phrase is “many of them are our near brethren.” That is an interesting distinction. It removes the concern for the Zoramites as being simply generic brethren, and suggests that there might be many among them who were even relatives. The idea that there were “near brethren” among the Zoramites makes Alma’s concern even more understandable.
36 Now it came to pass that when Alma had said these words, that he clapped his hands upon all them who were with him. And behold, as he clapped his hands upon them, they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
37 And after that they did separate themselves one from another, taking no thought for themselves what they should eat, or what they should drink, or what they should put on.
38 And the Lord provided for them that they should hunger not, neither should they thirst; yea, and he also gave them strength, that they should suffer no manner of afflictions, save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ. Now this was according to the prayer of Alma; and this because he prayed in faith.
One modern commentator on the Book of Mormon reads verse 36 as simply Alma placing his hands on his brethren. That they were filled with the Spirit seems to fit that modern context and fits our understanding of “laying on of hands.” However, it doesn’t really explain why the word clapped was used rather than placed.
There is no answer to that. A possibility is the fact that the process of clapping generates a movement of air. Also, both the Hebrew and Greek words, that are translated to spirit, had the meaning of “wind.” As a representation of something that was real, and yet not seen, wind and spirit were appropriate terms. If that meaning is behind the action of clapping, then there is a symbolic act that the clapping generated the “spirit”, that was then infused into his companions. That is not to suggest that clapping was necessary, but only that it was an appropriate symbol.
When they have the spirit, they become missionaries, “taking no thought for themselves what they should eat, or what they should drink, or what they should put on.” That phrase intentionally echoes Luke 12:22 where the Lord says to the disciples: “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on.” That phrase is also seen in Matthew 6:25 and 6:31, and it represents the context for the disciples that is more appropriate for this occasion at the beginning of their missionary effort.
There is no chapter break at this point in the 1830 edition.
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