Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Alma the Younger as Proto-Nehorite

Posted by robf on August 10, 2011

In Alma 1 Nehor comes out of nowhere, causes a big scene with Alma the Younger, and is summarily executed. All in less than 15 verses! While this episode may seem like a flash in the pan, Nehor holds the key for understanding Alma the Younger—including his early rebellion and his entire ministry.

First of all, a closer look at Nehor seems to reveal exactly what Alma the Younger was up to in his rebellious days. Compare the teachings and practice of Nehor in Alma 1 with those of Alma the Younger in Mosiah 27. All of a sudden Alma and Nehor look almost identical.

Here’s Alma:
• Very wicked (Mosiah 27:8)
• Idolatrous (Mosiah 27:8)
• A man of many words, speaking flattery to the people (Mosiah 27:8)
• Led many people “to do after the manner of his iniquities” (Mosiah 27:8)
• Causing much dissension (Mosiah 27:9)
• “Going about to destroy the church of God” (Mosiah 27:10)
• Promoting priestcraft—this may be the missing piece, but it is clear from Mosiah 27:3-5 that the unbelievers, of which Alma is a leader, are going against King Mosiah’s strict command that all should be equal, and work for their support, especially the priests.

Do we have to trot out the rap sheet on Nehor to see how these guys had essentially the same agenda?

Did Alma and Nehor know each other before the trial in Alma 1? Were they co-conspirators, or did Nehor arrive to fill a vacuum created when Alma the Younger and the Sons of Mosiah were “snatched” by the Lord away from their idolatrous path?

If Alma and Nehor had the same agenda, what are we to make of Alma’s later claim to Nehor that “this is the first time that priestcraft has been introduced among this people” (Alma 1:12)?

However we decide to answer that, we need to recognize that this movement is much larger than Alma the Younger or Nehor. In fact, priestcraft is probably the dominant religion or ideology and THE primary social structure set up in opposition to the Church of God established by Alma Sr. Amlici, the first to challenge the political structure of the Nephite judges, is of the same “order” of priestcraft as Nehor. His followers, the Amlicites [Amalekites], are already apparently established in the Land of Nephi when the Sons of Mosiah start preaching there—possibly even before the battle between the Amlicites and the Nephites in fifth year of the judges.

By the tenth year of the judges, the Nehorites have taken over Ammonihah and are continuing their plot to destroy the Church of God. A year later they are destroyed by a separate (rival?) Nehorite faction among the Amlicites and Amulonites from Jerusalem in the Land of Nephi. By the time the Sons of Mosiah come back to Zarahemla with their thousands of Lamanite converts, the Land of Nephi is apparently firmly in control of factions associated with the Nehors.

There is a lot to flesh out in all of this, but suffice it to say for now, that the priestcraft of Nehor, which was apparently also earlier espoused by Alma the Younger is the source of all the problems facing Alma and the church in the first part of the reign of the judges. The Nehorite denial of repentance and emphasis on a creator who saves all his creations without repentance is THE ideology that Alma preaches against and inspires his counter teachings in Zarahemla (Alma 5), Gideon (Alma 7), and Ammonihah (Alma 8-14).

And it is probably even bigger than that. Where did this priestcraft come from initially? Apparently not with the priests of Kings Benjamin and Mosiah—who like those kings would have worked for their own support. Where we first see priests being supported by the people is with the Priests of Noah. Is it any surprise that the Amulonites in positions of power among the Lamanites belong to the order of Nehor (Alma 21:4)?

This leads to questions about the relationship between the order of Nehor and the people of Zarahemla. Is this Nehorite priestcraft really just a resurgence of “Mulekite” state religion? Mulekites are frequently referred to as “strong and mighty” men (cf. Mosiah 7:3). Nehor was also “a man who was large, and was noted for his much strength” (Alma 1:2). Is this (along with the possibly Jaredite origin of his name) a reference to Nehor’s Mulekite origins?

Here’s one way to reconstruct what is going on in this part of the Book of Mormon: Mosiah I comes into the land of Zarahemla and takes over rulership—displacing the original power structures that are in place there, including the priestcraft. Mosiah, Benjamin, and Mosiah II are able to keep this “kingdom” (really probably some form of small chiefdom) together. Mostly. We probably need to take another look at the Zeniff colony, which may have more ties to the “Mulekite” faction of the people than we’ve noticed before (note it is Ammon the royal Mulekite who is sent to find them).

At any rate, things seem to be unraveling as far as the Mosiah’s kingdom is concerned before his sons leave on their mission. While they are around, they are apparently aligning themselves with Mulekite priestcraft and political factions. Since Mosiah, Benjamin, and Mosiah II would likely have married into Mulekite royal lineages to help consolidate their power, the Sons of Mosiah would have been well connected and perhaps seen as rightful heirs to both Mosiah and Zarahemla. Perhaps they declined the throne because they were in a double bind with the Nephite and Mulekite rulership claims.

The kingdom is further splitting up as the population grows and new settlements are established. While the Book of Mormon makes it seem like the people are being blessed as they create new cities, this creates additional political instability and opportunities for priestcraft to arise. Since Mosiah II can’t hold it all together much longer, and his sons are gone, he has to set up a new hierarchical system of judges and hope for the best.

Once he is gone and the rightful heirs are gone, all the stops are pulled out. Nehor is on the scene promoting the rival order of things. Amlici and the disempowered Mulekite factions make a bid for power. Breakaway Nehorite judges in Ammonihah plot the downfall of Zarahemla, as do the Nehorite Amlicites [Amalekites] and Amulonites in Jerusalem. It’s a topic for another time, but the Zoramites are also aligned with these other factions.

This is the context in which Alma is preaching and the Sons of Mosiah are trying to save souls in the Land of Nephi. Nehor wasn’t just a one-off, and he may not even be the biggest fish in the priestcraft pond. But the opposition between the Church of God and the Order of Nehors—most likely contrasted initially with the conquest of Zarahemla by Mosiah, and even more pronounced after the return of Alma and the People of Limhi—is the key social conflict informing all of Alma’s ministry and the teachings of the Nephite church during the early reign of the judges. Nehor’s arrival isn’t a flash in the pan, but merely another important episode in an ongoing spiritual and religious war. Alma’s exertions to preach repentance and the atonement of Christ are part of his ongoing “zealously striving to repair all the injuries which [he] had done to the church” when he himself was among the foremost expounders of priestcraft (Mosiah 27:35).

8 Responses to “Alma the Younger as Proto-Nehorite”

  1. Justin said

    Nice post with some well thought out ideas. I’ve always been interested in the Order of Nehor and how they caused so much contention amongst the Nephites for a number of years. You brought up some good points on how Alma the Younger could’ve very well been part of this group before his conversion.
    Not to self promote, but I wrote a similar post on my blog ‘Mormon Angst’ a few months ago, but yours is more fleshed out. http://mormonangst.wordpress.com/2011/01/27/kings-and-the-book-of-mormon/

  2. robf said

    Thanks for sharing your link, Justin. There is a lot more to say about all this, but agree that the People of Zarahemla/Mulekites are playing a big part that we haven’t paid much attention to in the past. BTW, I subscribe to the theory that they may NOT have actually been descended from Mulek, but that Zarahemla or his family may have made that up as part of a claim about their right to rule after being taught the language and history of Mosiah.

    Interesting to look at what the Sons of Mosiah might have been up to with all this. If they could claim rights to rule by virtue of joint royal Nephite and Mulekite lineage, they may well have been able to keep a unified kingdom together but under a Mulekite rulership model. They seem to have been going about promoting a Mulekite/King Noah version of kingship behind the back of their father, with their favorite aspiring high priest Alma Jr. backing them up with his own proto-Nehorite rhetoric. If the angel hadn’t intervened, it is probable that that Aaron would have become the king and disbanded the Church of God and installed Alma as the high priest over the royal cult. The angel broke up this cabal, and the rightful rulers departed, but the damage was already done and priestcraft and Mulekite claims to the throne were not to be put back in the bag.

  3. Mike B said

    Fantastic.

  4. Rameumptom said

    Good post. I taught this earlier this week in the adult BoM class I teach. We discussed a lot about priestcraft, which is enforcing one’s evil teachings on others. This is why Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, according to Harold Bloom, the people tried to force themselves onto Lot’s visitors, even if it meant killing them. Alma never went so far as to use deadly force to push his beliefs on others, and so this would have been the first true attempt of priestcraft among the Nephites.

    Also, when Alma discusses his conversion with others, including his sons, he admits to murdering many souls. So he spiritually places himself in the same condition that Nehor was – with the only difference being that Nehor physically murdered a person. Had he not been converted, Alma may have later killed for his beliefs, and been exactly like Nehor.

  5. This is my first visit to this forum; looking forward to more articles, and hoping to post a few of my own on the Sabbath Year events, in Helaman and Alma…the strict adherence to the Law of Moses, in comparison with the Law of Mosiah, and the blessings promised, being poured out on the people, according to the Mosaic Covenant, every seven years…
    This discussion about priestly ambitions of Alma the Younger, and the use of flattery to gain popularity and lead away those who would select the next high priest, was a powerful influence on the minds of future kings and priests, who had be recognized by their father, and in the case of high priest, by the God of Israel, confirming that choice in the eyes of the people. How does one prepare to become THE High Priest?? Much easier to become a king by the use of flattery. So young Alma helps bring the people to support the sons of Mosiah, with or without their fathers’ blessings…they in turn, elect the next high priest. Worked for Noah.

  6. joespencer said

    Rob,

    Many apologies that I’ve only had time to get to this now (I won’t bother to describe the past few weeks for you!).

    Let me say first: Brilliant! This is phenomenal work. It leaves me with a whole series of questions, comments, and ideas that I want to organize before I say too much of anything, though.

  7. robf said

    As I continue to ponder this, I’m wondering about the Nehorite dissenters and their “idolatry or idleness” (Alma 1:32). The term “or” here prehaps somehow equates idolatry and idleness? What is the connection between idolatry and idleness? Is this connected to the religious practices of the priests and teachers in Nehorite priestcraft? Is the idleness a reflection of their not working with their own hands for their support? Is that connected to idolatry by these priests officiating in,and receiving payment for, rituals involving the supplication of idols? This is form of priestcraft is common in many areas of Mesoamerica today–see for instance the cofradias (religious brotherhoods) in Santiago Atitlan.

  8. joespencer said

    Rob, this is something Robert C. and I have discussed on a few occasions. I don’t know that I have any particular answers, but I think Robert has some good ideas….

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