Nathan (vovat) wrote,

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Thursdays with Moroni, Part 5: Alma, Tell Us

Now we come to the book of Alma, which just goes on and on, mostly discussing endless wars between the Nephites and Lamanites in what I guess is supposed to be the first century BC, when the Nephites have judges instead of kings. Early on in the book, the Nephites go to war with a splinter sect called the Amlicites, who marked their foreheads in red, and were eventually eaten by wild beasts in the wilderness of Hermounts. We get a lot of invented geography here, with one passage reading, ""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." And there's something about the northern land being called Desolate and the southern Bountiful, the latter of which is the name of a town in Utah, which was the hometown of that Mormon girl from the second season of American Idol. Characters include a reformed critic named Zeezrom, the Nephite war leader Moroni (who apparently isn't an angel yet), and a King of the Lamanites named Ammoron. I wonder if the common element in those last two names was a not-so-subtle hint about how seriously Joseph Smith was taking his new religion.

We still get a fair amount of bashing of those savage redskins, with Moroni getting them drunk yet again in order to rescue some prisoners, and the statement that they go into battle practically naked. On the other hand, the Lamanites DO have swords and horse-drawn chariots, so they're apparently not all that primitive. They don't have body armor like the Nephites do, though. Wow, all this relatively advanced technology in America over 2000 years ago, and archaeologists have found none of it. Nonetheless, some of the Lamanites are saved during the course of this book, and Alma predicts that they will eventually all come into the true faith. Ammon converts some of them by healing a dying woman, and the King of the Lamanites is nice enough to tell his people not to spit on the missionaries. So does that mean they normally DO spit on people? Alma also predicts, however, that the Nephites will "dwindle in unbelief" and die out.

The book of Alma also introduces a guy who might be the smartest person to appear so far in this book. Korihor, who is described as an Anti-Christ, says that there's no way to know that Christ is coming, and that the people are enslaved by the priests. The remarkably prescient Nephites, however, not only DO know that Jesus is coming, but even call themselves "Christians" before anyone in the Roman Empire does so. So Alma insists that Korihor is possessed by the Devil, and prays to God to strike him dumb, which results in Korihor's repentance.

Although belief in Jesus would have been revolutionary before the guy's actual lifetime, it was old hat by 1830, and so far the Book of Mormon hasn't given us a whole lot of doctrine that's different from mainstream Protestantism, aside from the whole thing about unbelievers getting darker skin. We do get a few tidbits in Alma, however. One is the rather Gnostic idea that the fall of man was necessary for salvation, and if Adam had eaten from the Tree of Life first, he would have lived forever but not been saved. This is one of the ideas that Good Fight Ministries criticizes, by the way. In Smith's words, "Now, how could a man repent, except he should sin? How could he sin, if there was no law? How could there be a law, save there was a punishment?" I don't think this logic really holds up, but then I'm not a Mormon. Also, the death caused by eating the forbidden fruit was only temporal. And at the time of the resurrection of the dead, people's bodies with be made whole, with lost hair and limbs restored. There's another bit of American exceptionalism in the episode where Moroni executes people who don't support a free government (and here I thought an important part of a free country was that you could criticize it if you wanted to); and a mention of our old friend Melchizedek, who is said to have preached repentance to the wicked people of Salem. And there's even a hint of Rastafarian teaching when Alma tells his son Shiblon, "I also knew that thou wast stoned for the word's sake." [1]

Our next book is Helaman, and it looks like Jesus might actually appear in this one. It's about time, Joe!

[1] You'd think there would be enough ridiculous stuff in this book without my having to resort to a cheap pun like that. And really, there is, but I still couldn't resist.
Tags: mormonism
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