Thursday, February 2, 2023

Mormon Theology Seminar: The Law and the Lord in Alma 34:7


What follows is my 750 word application to this year's Mormon Theology seminar. My job was to provide a creative theological reading of Alma 34:7. It is Amulek beginning his sermon to the Zoramites by saying: 

 My brother has called upon the words of Zenos, that redemption cometh through the Son of God, and also upon the words of Zenock; and also he has appealed unto Moses, to prove that these things are true.

    Alma 34:7 provides an interesting case of using witnesses to establish a precedent under the law. Amulek’s focus on fulfilling the law in his preaching is merely the beginning of a complex argument that adheres to ancient law, explains Christ’s atoning sacrifice, and tries to meld both temporal law and spiritual theology into a case for his listeners to return to Nephite political rule. Finally, this teaching contains important socio-political implications for traces of discontent among Nephite society. 

    The potential for the Zoramites to align with the Lamanites inspired Alma’s mission in the first place (Alma 31:4.) Alma thought that “as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just” (Alma 31:5) his preaching would have the desired effect. But exactly how preaching would serve an explicit end was never detailed. Upon first glance Alma’s belief could be similar to Augustine who hoped that the word might be able to slay war (Alma 31:5).  But the key word in Alma’s intent is that his preaching would convince them to “do [what] was just,” which implies the focus of Alma’s preaching would intersect law and religion. 

    Once Alma and Amulek start preaching to the Zoramites Alma 34 becomes a clever twist on obedience to the law. As Amulek emphasized how Christ’s atoning sacrifice fulfills eternal law, he explained that a key point of temporal law involves sacrifice. “Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for another” and “the law requireth the life of him who hath murdered” (Alma 34:11-12) both suggest a temporal death penalty that is still insufficient. 

    To the contemporary Zoramite listening to this, already suffering from unjust laws (Alma 32:3), could have been seen as a blessed relief from bloody revenge justice they likely saw every day and was common in the ancient world, including ancient Israel and the Book of Mormon. (Ammon was miraculously saved from a revenge killing in Alma 19:21-22.)  The bloody revenge killings demanded by law, and not just animal sacrifice likely undergird the Amulek’s statement that “it is expedient there should be, a stop to the shedding of blood” (Alma 34:13) and likely enhanced the appeal of their message to indigent people that likely had less access to the courts and fewer resources with which to carry out their own self-help justice. 

    And the clinching part of Amulek’s preaching taught that the Son of God’s death is enough to stop the shedding of blood and satisfies humanity’s collective sins. Amulek began by honoring the law of witnesses in Nephite law, discussed the penalty for murders under  Nephite or Zoramite law, and then says that Christ’s atonement is “is the whole meaning of the law” and “intent of the last sacrifice” (Alma 34:14-15.) 

    That key argument is why Alma thought the word could make people do what was just. Their law was designed around the concept of sacrificing blood for blood. Christ was the center of both the temporal law and Nephite religion. Believing that religion would naturally make them more amenable to Nephite law, and presumably less so to Lamanite laws. 

    However, this becomes one more example of how those that weren’t Christians were outside of Nephite cultural and religious power and likely chafed at that idea. Alma 4:16 described how the elders of the church selected the chief judge to replace Alma. Outside of Morianton, (who was quickly subdued because of personal defects), the new lands in Alma 51 went to prominent military and political families and not outsiders. Possible discontent among ethic others can be seen in Ammonihah (where Amulek introduced himself as a Nephite) and the cities destruction was viewed as God’s wrath, and not a failure of the leaders to protect all of its people. And when Nephi was forced to give up the judgement seat, he blamed it on wickedness (Helaman 5:4), when the government seemed relatively lawful when Nephi preached, prophesied of, and was seized over the chief judges death (Helaman 8 and 9). In the case of Alma 34 then, the melding of Nephite law into Christian religion as a tool to regain political power among the Nephite could have further alienated Zoramite elites like Zerahemnah, who made sure to deny Nephite religion while admitting defeat (Alma 44:9). 

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