Alma 30-31 – A Lesson on What Not do Do

Alma 30 describes an interaction between the anti-Christ Korihor with different Christian leaders eventually ending with Alma. Reading this chapter carefully, I found a few unexpected insights.

The chapter begins with the Christian community reckoning with the disastrous wars described in previous chapters. In verse two, Mormon describes the Nephites deep mourning, fasting and prayer as a result of mass death from war. This deep reckoning with the horrors thrust upon them seem to place them into deep humility, righteousness and peace. In verse three, “they were strict in observing the ordinances of God.”

The preceding chapters in Alma were horrifying. Alma’s witness of the mass slaughter of women and children. Ammon’s converts being slaughtered after laying down weapons of war and taking on a covenant of pacifism. The resulting wars and violence that ensued because of the political upheavals that occurred after the religious conversion of Lamanite kings.

Korihor interrupts this two years of peaceful pause by coming into Zarahemla and the surrounding cities to preach against the gospel of Christ.

It’s difficult to miss the common experiences Korihor has with the Nephits and Ammon and Aaron have with the Lamanites just a few chapters earlier. In both cases, these missionaries preach against the dominant positions of the community. In verse 14, Korihor preaches against the “foolish traditions of your fathers.” (Alma 30:14, compare with Alma 17:9, among other references). When Korihor confronts the people, they tie him up and bring him to their leaders, in much the same ways that happened to both Ammon and Aaron. There doesn’t seem much toleration with pluralism in these communities despite that Mormon tries to convince the readers otherwise (see Alma 30:7-11).

One thing to note about Mormon’s interjection about the freedom of speech was this emphasis on justice in verse 11 in that “all men were on equal grounds.” There was a law, there was a punishment, everyone in society was subjected to it. They were all equal.

Back to Korihor. First of all, what was driving him? He did not believe in the prophecies of Christ. The Book of Mormon is unique in that it describes Christ life, ministry, death and atonement in remarkable detail ahead of when he would come. Through the chapters of the Book of Mormon, various prophets describe revelation in terms of angelic visits, visions and dreams about the coming Christ. But what’s at the core of the belief of Christ is atonement. Verse 16, “Ye look forward and say that ye see a remission of your sins.” and Verse 17, “telling them that there could be no atonement made for the sins of men, but every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature;”

Korihor rejects the need for and the possibility of atonement. He rejects the resurrection in verse 18, “telling them that when a man was dead, that was the end thereof.” What seems to be driving Korihor is the reliance on empirical evidence, none of which exists for him in a belief in Christ, see verse 13, “Why do ye look for a Christ? For no man can know of anything which is to come.”, verse 15 “Behold, ye cannot know of things which ye do not see; therefore ye cannot know that there shall be a Christ.”, and verse 28 “offend some unknown being, who they say is God—a being who anever has been seen or known, who bnever was nor ever will be.”

And he suspects the motives of religious leaders is less than good, binding them down to foolish traditions, verse 23 “to usurp power and authority over them, to keep them in ignorance” and in verse 27 “that ye may glut yourselves with the labors of their hands.”

No one knows what to do with him, so he’s passed up the ranks until Alma engages with him. Alma, wearied Alma, who has fought and has been injured in civil wars of mass slaughter among his people. Alma, whose already had to deal with Nehor, killer of Gideon, who was bound with Amulek while women and children burned. And then more war. Alma knew deeply the consequences of bad ideas.

Alma’s responses are interesting. He first shuts down Korihor’s first attack., in verse 32-35, “Thou knowest that we do not glut ourselves upon the labors of this people; for behold I have alabored even from the commencement of the reign of the judges until now, with mine bown hands for my support, notwithstanding my many travels round about the land to declare the word of God unto my people.”

And then the question in verse 35, “And now, believest thou that we deceive this people, that acauses such joy in their hearts?” Of which Korihor simply answers “yea”. But the question answers itself. The entire point of the doctrine of Christ is to “cause such joy in their hearts.” There’s no deception there when the aim is joy.

Then Alma turns the table on Korihor, “what evidence have ye that there is no aGod, or that Christ cometh not?” Korihor has none. And Alma recounts his – the witness of prophet after prophet recorded and passed down from generation to generation. But this is not all, he describes the wonders, mysteries and copmlexities of nature, in verse 44 “The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the bearth, and call things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its dmotion, yea, and also all the eplanets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.”

The confrontation ends in the same way the interactions between Jacob and Sherem ends, Korihor asks for evidence, a sign, and Alma strikes him dumb. I find Alma’s pessimism here disturbing, though given Alma’s life experiences, understandable. What’s interesting is that Korihor loses his ability to speak, he becomes disabled, and vulnerable and utterly reliant on the care and goodwill of society, which goes exactly against the ideas he was touting in verse 17, “therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength;”.

But society ends up being incapable or unwilling to care for him and he’s run over by the Zoramites and that leads to a convenient transition to chapter 31.

I think we can see a distinct change going forward with Alma. Chapter 31 describes Alma’s deep pain, verse 2 “For it was the cause of great sorrow to Alma to know of iniquity among his people; therefore his heart was exceedingly sorrow because of the separation of the Zoramites from the Nephites.”

Worried they would collaborate with the Lamanites and start a war, they decided an intervention was in order, verse 5 “And now, as the apreaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just.”

What they witnessed, shocked and horrified them. Rather than incorporating deep faith and humility in a way that would lead to transformation and care for others, they didn’t think of God on any day but one. On the “day of the Lord”, they would enter their synagogue, stand up on a high pedastal and recite a prayer of thanks that God chose them over everyone else, the elite, those worthy of God’s favor, while all those around them would “cast by thy wrath down to hell.” verse 17.

The Zoromite theology rejected Christ and the atonement believing it to be “handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers” verse 16 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.” verse 22.

But none of this is transformational nor did it have to be. They were born into this elite status, chosen by God, so therefore, “they returned to their homes, anever speaking of their God again.” but rather were caught up in their riches and pride and elitism.

And again Alma’s pain at seeing this, verse 26, “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?” and verse 30 “For I am infirm, and such wickedness among this people doth pain my soul.”

Alma’s love for these people is palpable, verse 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.”

Alma here is different than the one we read about in the early chapters of this book. He’s scarred, torn, tired and desperate to redeem these people.

Finally, how much of Korihor and of the Zoromites do we see among us today? The strict reliance an empirical evidence, the elitism, the unwillingness to live in solidarity and concern for others, the rejection, if not explicitly, of atonement. I think much of this is prevalent today, but within and outside of religious communities