Abstract: Mormon describes Alma the Younger’s “go[ing] about secretly” to destroy the church that his father, Alma the Elder, had established (Mosiah 27:8–10), this as a narratalogical inversion of that period when Alma the Elder “went about privately” teaching the words of Abinadi and establishing a church “that it might not come to the knowledge of the king” (Mosiah 18:1–6). In Mosiah 27:10, Mormon subtly reworks Alma the Younger’s autobiographical statement preserved in Alma 36:6, adding in the former passage a word rendered “secretly” to create a midrashic or interpretive pun on the name Alma, echoing the meaning of the Semitic root ʿlm, “hide,” “conceal”). Mosiah 27:8–10 contains additional language that evokes the introduction of the name Alma in the Book of Mormon (at first in terms of ʿelem [“young man”] but also in terms of the homonymous root ʿlm) in Mosiah 17:2–4 but also re-invokes allusions in the latter passage to Mosiah 14:1 (Isaiah 53:1).
Alma: The “Young Man” Who Becomes “Hidden”
Latter-day Saint scholars have put together a convincing case that Alma constitutes an example of a Semitic name attested in the Book of Mormon but unattested in the Hebrew Bible.1 Elsewhere I have proposed that Mormon’s narratalogical introduction of the name Alma into the Book of Mormon text in juxtaposition with the description “and he was a young man” (Hebrew ʿelem = “young man”)2 constitutes a [Page 198]deliberate wordplay — or play on meaning — involving the name Alma.3 I have further argued that Mormon’s subsequent statements regarding Alma’s being “hidden” and “concealed” and going about “privately”4 while writing the words of Abinadi and establishing a church constitute an interpretive (or midrashic) paronomasia5 on the name Alma in terms of the Semitic/Hebrew root ʿlm (“conceal,” “hide”)6 possibly employing one of its synonyms.7
However, Mormon’s narrative art goes even further. In this article I will attempt to show that Mormon crafted his description of Alma the Younger’s furtive attempts to destroy his father’s church in Mosiah 27:8– 10 as a narratalogical inversion of his (Mormon’s) earlier description of Alma the Elder’s proselyting and efforts at building and establishing a church in Mosiah 18:1–6, especially the statement, “he went about privately” (Mosiah 18:1).8 In particular, Mormon subtly reworks Alma the Younger’s autobiographical statement, “For I went about with the sons of Mosiah seeking to destroy the Church” (Alma 36:6), into the more vivid biographical description, “for he did go about secretly with the sons of Mosiah seeking to destroy the Church” (Mosiah 27:10). Mormon’s addition of an expression rendered “secretly” constitutes an additional interpretive pun — or paronomasia — on the name Alma, exploiting the latter in terms of the meaning of the Semitic/Hebrew root *ʿlm, to “hide” or “conceal,” probably in terms of one of its synonyms.
Moreover, I will attempt to demonstrate that Mormon’s biographical statements regarding Alma the Younger in Mosiah 27:8–10 recall his narrative introduction of Alma the Elder — and the name Alma — into the Book of Mormon text in Mosiah 17:2–5. In other words, Mosiah 27:8–10 employs additional language that evokes the introduction of the name Alma in the Book of Mormon in Mosiah 17:2–5 but also re-invokes important allusions in Mosiah 17:2–5 to Mosiah 14:1 (Isaiah 53:1).
“For He Did Go About”/“For I Went About”
First, Mormon’s editorial use of Alma’s autobiographical account of his conversion to his son Helaman, which Mormon includes wholesale later as (what is now) Alma 36, in composing what is now Mosiah 27 should be noted:
|And now it came to pass that while he was going about to destroy the church of God, for he did go about secretly with the sons of Mosiah seeking to destroy the church,||For I went about with the sons of Mosiah, seeking to destroy the church of God; but behold, God sent his holy angel to stop us by the way
Mormon quite clearly fashioned his biographical statement about Alma the Younger in Mosiah 27:10 from Alma’s autobiographical statement to his son Helaman in Alma 36:6. In fact, Mosiah’s 27:10 use of language preserved in Alma 36:6 constitutes as transparent an example of textual dependency as one could wish for.
The textual dependency of Mosiah 27:10 on Alma’s statement to Helaman (Alma 36:6) draws even more attention to Mormon’s deliberate inclusion of terminology rendered “secretly,” which appears to reflect a literary interpretation (or midrash) of the name Alma in terms of the Semitic Hebrew root *ʿlm (see below), a phenomenon detailed in two previous studies.9 Mormon’s addition of the adverbial construction “secretly” (often in biblical Hebrew bassēter [bĕ + sēter, literally, “in secret”]; cf. Hebrew substantivized participles like ʿălumênû10 [“our secret sins”] and neʿlām [“secret thing”])11 represents a deliberate authorial and editorial decision that begs further investigation. Not only does Mosiah 27:10 evidence an intertextual relationship with Alma 36:6, but Mosiah 27:8–10 also evidences a strong intertextual relationship with Mosiah 18:1–6.
“He Did Go About Secretly”/“And [He] Went About Privately”
Mormon’s logic for supplementing Alma the Younger’s autobiographical language (preserved in Alma 36:6) with an expression rendered “secretly” in Mosiah 27:10 becomes apparent in a comparison of Mosiah 27:8–10 with Alma the Elder’s “private” or “hidden” church-building activities in Mosiah 18:1–6.[Page 200]
|Now the sons of Mosiah were numbered among the unbelievers; and also one of the sons of Alma [ʿalmāʾ] was numbered among them, he being called Alma [ʿalmāʾ], after his father; nevertheless, he became a very wicked and an idolatrous man. And he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities. And he became a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God; stealing away the hearts of the people; causing much dissension among the people; giving a chance for the enemy of God to exercise his power over them. And now it came to pass that while he was going about to destroy the church of God, for he did go about secretly [cf. Hebrew bassēter] with the sons of Mosiah seeking to destroy the church, and to lead astray the people of the Lord, contrary to the commandments of God, or even the king —||And now, it came to pass that Alma [ʿalmāʾ], who had fled from the servants of king Noah, repented of his sins and iniquities, and went about privately [cf. Hebrew bassēter] among the people, and began to teach the words of Abinadi — Yea, concerning that which was to come, and also concerning the resurrection of the dead, and the redemption of the people, which was to be brought to pass through the power, and sufferings, and death of Christ, and his resurrection and ascension into heaven. And as many as would hear his word he did teach. And he taught them privately [i.e., in secret, cf. Hebrew bassēter], that it might not come to the knowledge of the king. And many did believe his words. And it came to pass that as many as did believe him did go forth to a place which was called Mormon, having received its name from the king, … Now, there was in Mormon a fountain of pure water, and Alma [ʿalmāʾ] resorted thither, there being near the water a thicket of small trees, where he did hide himself [cf. Hebrew *hitʿallēm, neḥbāʾ] in the daytime from the searches of the king. And it came to pass that as many as believed him went thither to hear his words. (Mosiah 18:1–6)|
In narratalogical terms, Alma the Younger’s “going about secretly” to destroy the church through flattery, “causing much dissension,” leading [Page 201]many to “do after the manner of his iniquities” represents the diametric opposite of his father’s attempts to teach12 and establish a church13 “privately” and while “hidden.” In Mosiah 27:10, as in Mosiah 18:1–6, Mormon’s mention of the furtive nature of Alma the Younger’s activities (“he did go about secretly”) is a midrashic wordplay on Alma in terms of the meaning of the root *ʿlm.
Contributing further to the inversionary or refractory picture of Alma the Younger’s activities against the backdrop of his father’s biography is the fact that both conduct their activities “secretly” in opposition to the king. Alma the Younger sought to “lead astray the people of the Lord, contrary to the commandments of God [and] the king”; namely, righteous King Mosiah (cf. especially Mosiah 27:10). Alma the Elder’s work was done “privately, that it might not come to a knowledge of the king” (Mosiah 18:3)14 — i.e., wicked King Noah.
“Among The Unbelievers”: Alma the Younger’s Initial
Disbelief in Alma the Elder’s Report
Mormon’s biographical statements that introduce Alma the Younger into his narrative also beg a comparison with his earlier introduction of Alma the Elder into his narrative. Mormon introduces the name Alma into his record for the first time in Mosiah 17:2. He does so with an apparent wordplay on Alma in terms of Hebrew ʿelem, “young man,” “stripling”15 and in terms of the root ʿlm and its meaning.
Mormon’s repetition of the name Alma (2x) in Mosiah 27:10 recalls the partial repetition of Alma in Mosiah 17:2 — “Alma” (ʿalmāʾ) juxtaposed with the expression “young man” (Hebrew ʿelem).
Moreover, Mosiah 17:2 preserves the datum that Alma the Elder was a descendant of Nephi (“he also being a descendant of Nephi”). As has been noted in a previous study,16 this verse is textually dependent on Nephi’s autobiographical statements in 1 Nephi 1:1 and 1 Nephi 2:15. And, as noted above, Mormon intended Mosiah 27:8–10 to refract information given in Mosiah 17:2–4. Thus, Mormon’s introductory biographical statement regarding Alma the Younger in Mosiah 27:8 that Alma the Younger “became a very wicked and idolatrous man. And he was a man of many words,” may invert two earlier autobiographical introductory statements from Nephi’s small plates:[Page 202]
Biographical Introductions (Mormon, editor)
|I, Nephi [Egyptian nfr =good],
having been born of goodly parents,
therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father [cf. Hebrew ʾābî] …
yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God … ” (1 Nephi 1:1)
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young [i.e., he was an ʿelem], nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father [cf. Hebrew ʾābî] (1 Nephi 2:16)
I, Enos [ʾĕnôš = “man”], knowing my father that he was a just man [Hebrew ʾîš/ʾĕnôš] — for he taught me in his language … (Enos 1:1)
But there was one among them whose name was Alma (ʿalmāʾ),
Now the sons of Mosiah were numbered among the unbelievers; and also one of the sons of Alma was numbered among them, he being called Alma, after his father; nevertheless, he became a very wicked and an idolatrous man [cf. Hebrew ʾîš].
|Now the sons of Mosiah were numbered among the unbelievers; and also one of the sons of Alma (ʿalmāʾ) was numbered among them, he being called Alma (ʿalmāʾ) after his father [ʾābîw] nevertheless, he became a very wicked and an idolatrous man. And he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities. And he became a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God; stealing away the hearts of the people; causing much dissension among the people; giving a chance for the enemy of God to exercise his power over them. And now it came to pass that while he was going about to destroy the church of God, for he did go about secretly [cf. Hebrew bassēter] with the sons of Mosiah seeking to destroy the church, and to lead astray the people of the Lord, contrary to the commandments of God, or even the king —||But there was one among them whose name was Alma (ʿalmāʾ), he also being a descendant of Nephi. And he was a young man [Hebrew ʿelem] and he believed the words which Abinadi had spoken, for he knew concerning the iniquity which Abinadi had testified against them; therefore he began to plead with the king that he would not be angry with Abinadi, but suffer that he might depart in peace. But the king was more wroth, and caused that Alma should be cast out from among them, and sent his servants after him that they might slay him. But he fled from before them and hid himself [cf. Hebrew *wayyitʿallēm,18 wayyissātēr or *wayyēḥābēʾ] that they found him not. And he being concealed [cf. Hebrew neʿlam or *ʿullam]19 for many days did write all the words which Abinadi had spoken.|
Alma the Elder began as a “young man” and “one among” King Noah’s priests but later “believed the words which Abinadi had spoken.” These details recall the autobiography of his “goodly” ancestor Nephi, who albeit “young,” nevertheless “believed all of the words which had been spoken by [his] father.” On the other hand, Mormon describes Alma the Younger as “one of the sons of Alma … numbered among [the unbelievers], he being called Alma,” refracting the description of his father as a “one among” King Noah’s wicked priests and a “young man [who] believed the words which Abinadi had spoken.”
[Page 204]If Alma the Elder had honored his descent from Nephi, his “good” ancestor,” by “believing” the words of Abinadi (perhaps, “my father has shown himself generous” or “my father is willing”) just as Nephi “believed” the words of his father (Lehi), Alma the Younger, as an “unbeliever,” “became a very wicked and an idolatrous man … and a man of many words.” As such, he represents an inversion of Nephi, Enos, and his own father Alma, who became worthy of their given names, because they “believed” or had “faith” in the “words” that they had been taught (1 Nephi 2:16; Enos 1:3–8; Mosiah 17:2).
“Traveling Round About … Publishing”:
Reversal and Reparation
Following his encounter with and correction by the “angel of the Lord,”20 Alma’s life takes an entirely different trajectory. Mormon uses language that emphasizes the nature of Alma and the sons of Mosiah’s repentance as a complete reversal of his previous activities:
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. (Mosiah 27:32)
Mormon here emphasizes that whereas Alma previously “did go about secretly [cf. Hebrew bassēter] with the sons of Mosiah seeking to destroy the Church” (Mosiah 27:10), he now “travel[ed] about throughout all the land” with the sons of Mosiah (“those who were with Alma”) “publishing” — i.e., publicly causing the people to hear (cf. mašmîaʿ, Isaiah 52:7) — his firsthand experiences. Thus, Alma the Younger’s “go[ing] about secretly” — i.e., “insidiously” and “craftily” (cf. the “dissemblers” [naʿălāmîm] of Psalm 26:4) — becomes a very public form of repentance.21 Apart from those who were with him at the time the angel appeared to him, the “unbelievers” who had been Alma’s friends and supporters at this point turn against him.
As if to drive the point home, Mormon repeats much of the foregoing data regarding Alma’s great reversal and repentance:
And they traveled throughout all the land of Zarahemla, and among all the people who were under the reign of king Mosiah, zealously striving to repair all the injuries which they had done to the church, confessing all their sins, and [Page 205]publishing all the things which they had seen, and explaining the prophecies and the scriptures to all who desired to hear them. (Mosiah 27:35)
Since Alma the Younger had done harm to the church established by his father, by “going about secretly … to destroy [it],” his repentance involved, in proportion, “traveling round about through all the land … publishing” including “travel[ing] throughout all the land of Zarahemla,” again “publishing all the things which they had seen.”
The strategy of Mormon’s repetition of a verb rendered “publish” (Mosiah 27:32, 35; Hebrew mašmîaʿ < hišmîaʿ “cause to hear” < šāmaʿ, “hear”) becomes evident in subsequent verses
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. And how blessed are they! For they did publish peace; they did publish good tidings of good; and they did declare unto the people that the Lord reigneth. (Mosiah 27:36–37)
Mormon here, of course, paraphrases Isaiah 52:7, linking Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah with Isaiah’s “proclaimer of peace,” and thus to Abinadi, and Alma the Elder from the previous narratives.22 Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah had been “numbered among the unbelievers.” Now they, like Alma the Elder, had become those “to whom” or “upon whom” (ʿal-mî) the Lord had revealed his arm (Isaiah 53:1; Mosiah 14:1; 17:2):
And behold, when I see many of my brethren truly penitent, and coming to the Lord their God, then is my soul filled with joy; then do I remember what the Lord has done for me, yea, even that he hath heard my prayer; yea, then do I remember his merciful arm which he extended towards me. (Alma 29:10)
The Lord’s previously hidden arm of mercy23 — hidden, at least from Alma the Younger’s perspective — is now revealed to him and upon him, just as it was revealed “to” and “upon” his father (cf. Mosiah 14:1; 15:31; 16:12). Moreover, the “power” or “hand” of the Lord is now revealed in a new way to Alma the Elder, his father (Mosiah 27:21–23). Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah will now go forth in the Lord’s power, as “instruments in the hands of God” (Mosiah 27:36) to bring thousands of people to a knowledge of their Redeemer.24 As divine “instruments” or “weapons,” they will, ironically, help thousands of Lamanites “lay down the weapons of their rebellion” (Alma 23:7; see also Helaman 5:51; Mormon 7:4).
[Page 206]Finally, we might mention here that Mormon’s use of the phrase “zealously striving to repair” may evidence an additional point of textual dependency. Alma the Younger, in a final exhortation to his son Corianton, who evidently experienced some of the same struggles as his father and his grandfather before him, enjoined him to “turn to the Lord with all your mind, might, and strength; that ye lead away the hearts of no more to do wickedly; but rather return unto them, and acknowledge your faults and repair25 that wrong which ye have done” (Alma 39:13). Alma the Younger here declares the precise manner of his own repentance. Thus, Mormon seems to have crafted his statement in Mosiah 27:35, especially the statements “zealously striving to repair all the injuries which they had done to the church” and “confessing all their sins,” on the basis of this verse.26
Conclusion: Every Word Counts
Alma the Younger repeatedly admonishes his sons Helaman and Corianton to “learn wisdom” and to take counsel in their “youth [cf. Hebrew ʿălûmîm27]”: (“O my son Helaman, behold, thou art in thy youth” [Alma 36:3]; “O, remember, my son, and learn wisdom in thy youth; yea, learn in thy youth to keep the commandments of God” [Alma 37:35]; “behold, thou art in thy youth, and ye stand in need to be nourished by your brothers” [Alma 39:10]). Nor is it by chance that Alma praises his son Shiblon for having “commenced in your youth to look to the Lord your God” (Alma 38:2). Alma the Younger, like his father Alma the Elder, had made decisions as “young men” (cf. ʿelem) in their “youth” to learn wisdom, rather than continue on a course toward destruction.
As we examine the language that revolves around the name “Alma” and the stories of Alma the Elder and his son Alma the Younger, it seems clear that Mormon was aware of the name’s potential meanings — real and paronomastic — and exploited them for literary effect. This awareness shaped his inclusion and stitching together of events. The direct dependency of Mosiah 27:10 on what became Alma 36:6, and the deliberate refraction of Mosiah 18:1–6 in Mosiah 27:8–10 — especially in the phrases “went about privately”/“he did go about secretly” suggests that Mormon was not a novice storyteller or a clumsy editor-historian. Mormon’s skills as a historian and editor most certainly included the ability to write a cogent, compelling narrative of marked literary sophistication.
As the intertextual evidence within the Book of Mormon itself continues to be examined, this evidence may have some bearing on the “tight control” versus “loose control” debate regarding the book’s [Page 207]translation.28 A plausible translation model needs to account for the narratological and intertextual complexity of the book. I believe we can say with certainty that every word counts in the translation text of the Book of Mormon and that Mormon and Moroni included no idle words or phrases in its vorlage. Thus, one important task of future Book of Mormon scholars and exegetes will be to unpack the richness of meaning in each word and phrase.
8. Cf. Latin privatus as “withdrawn from public life” (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/private). In Webster’s 1828 dictionary, one meaning of “private” is “Sequestered from company or observation; secret; secluded; as a private cell; a private room or apartment; private prayer” (http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/private). The Oxford English Dictionary cites several examples of early modern English instances in which “private” is used in the sense of “kept or removed from public view or knowledge; secret; concealed (obs.).” For example:1472–3 Rolls of Parl> VI. 29/2 After that dyvers of the Lordes and Knyghtes of the Shires were departed, by mervelous pryvat labour a Bille signed by the Kyng was brought to the seid Commens.
1533 J. Bellenden tr. Livy History Rome (1901) I. 225/12 The faderis, movit to hie displeseris be thir persand wourdis, held.mony private consultatiouns.
1594 Shakespeare Henry VI, Part 2 ii. ii. 60 In this priuate place, be we the first to honor him with birthright to the Crown.
1615 R. Brathwait Strappado 120 Which he suspecting, lay in priuate wait, To catch the knaue.
1669 R. Mountagu in Buccleuch MSS (Hist. MSS Comm.) (1899) I. 441 She desired.to send it over in my name, because that way it would be privater. “private, adj.1, adv., and n.”. OED Online. June 2017. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/151601?rskey=L3FXQw&result=1 (accessed September 13, 2017). [Page 209]The OED also gives some examples of the early modern English use of the adverb “privately” in the sense of “in private; without the participation, presence, or awareness of the public; in a retired or quiet manner; secretly, confidentially; (also) furtively (obs.)”:
c1425 Bk. Found. St. Bartholomew’s (1923) 15 (MED) With prikkyng enuye, many preuatly, many also opynly, aȝenste the seruant of God cesid nat to gruge.
?a1475 (?a1425) tr. R. Higden Polychron. (Harl. 2261) (1872) IV. 47 (MED) This wikkede and vnhappy man Alexander did sle the secunde broþer to hym and causede the thridde to lyve priuately [a1387 J. Trevisa tr. priveliche; L. private] by the space of v yere.
1548 N. Udall et al. tr. Erasmus Paraphr. Newe Test. I. Luke iii. f. 35 He had priuatelye had testimonie geuen him of Aungels, of Elizabeth, of Simeon, of Anna, of ye Magians.
1580 in D. Masson Reg. Privy Council Scotl. (1880) 1st Ser. III. 281 Gif he depairtit privatlie from this.place.
1617 F. Moryson Itinerary i. 210 All falling on our knees,praying euery man priuately and silently to himselfe.
1651 T. Hobbes Leviathan iii. xlii. 277 If thy Brother offend thee, tell it him privately. “privately, adv.” OED Online. June 2017. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/151611?redirectedFrom=privately (accessed September 13, 2017).