Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet
by Dan Vogel
Alma II Combats Universalism
Early into the dictation of the Book of Mormon, Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith traveled up the Susquehanna River to Colesville to ask for financial and material assistance from Joseph Knight. On this occasion, Smith’s seership failed, for Knight was away on business and Joseph and Oliver had to return home empty handed. It is unknown if Joseph stayed long enough to discuss the contents of the translation with his “Universalist friends or brethren”—other members of the Knight family, for instance.1 If he did, the prophet Abinadi’s confrontation with King Noah’s priests would have been particularly meaningful to them. In fact, Smith’s dictation was about to condemn Universalist doctrine more explicitly and forcefully.
Joseph Knight remembered that shortly after Joseph’s and Oliver’s visit, he went to Harmony with various supplies including “a barrel of mackerel and some lined paper for writing and … some nine or ten bushels of grain and five or six bushels [of] taters [potatoes] and a pound of tea.” Knight said that Smith and Cowdery were not home when he arrived, having gone to look for work. When they returned jobless, they were undoubtedly relieved to find Knight and his supplies. Their friend had brought enough goods to carry them through the end of the project.2
Joseph dictated the Book of Alma around mid-April. Completing what would be the largest single text within the Book of Mormon. Its superscription reads:
The Account of Alma, who was the son of Alma, the first, and Chief Judge over the people of Nephi, and also the High Priest over the Church. An account of the reign of the Judges, and the wars and contentions among the people. And also an account of a war between the Nephites and the Lamanites, according to the record of Alma, the first and chief Judge.
Even though this indicates that the book will deal with political and military activities, Smith’s dictation will focus primarily on Alma’s activities as a reformer, missionary, and defender of the faith.
The book begins with the first year of the reign of the judges, about 91 B.C., when a man named Nehor begins preaching Universalist doctrine. Specifically, he teaches that “all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their hands and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life” (Alma 1:3-4). While wicked King Noah’s priests taught doctrine consistent with Universalism, Nehor is the founder the Nephite Universalist sect often referred to as the “order of Nehor.”3
That the Book of Mormon confronts Universalism was noticed by friend and foe. Ohio newspaperman E. D. Howe expressed this assumption in 1834 when he wrote that “the name of our ancient Universalist is called Nehor.”4 A four-page index published by Mormons, probably in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1835, under the title References to the Book of Mormon listed “Nehor the Universalian” and “Amlici the Universalist.”5 The well-known Disciples of Christ founder, Alexander Campbell, mentioned in 1831 that the Book of Mormon “decides all the great controversies,” including “eternal punishment.”6
Not surprisingly, anyone who believed in universal salvation was sensitive to the Book of Mormon’s condemnation of it. Sylvester Smith noted in 1833 that “the Universalist says it [the Book of Mormon] reproaches his creed.”7 A Unitarian newspaper editor in Montrose, Pennsylvania, in 1832 sarcastically advised anti-Universalists frustrated with the “want of a positive declaration” in the Bible establishing the “doctrine of endless torment” to become “Mormonites” and “acquaint themselves with the Mormon Bible,” from which “they can then quote the language of Nephi, Mosiah, Alma or Mormon—and that is explicit.”8 Prior to his conversion, Eli Gilbert of Connecticut read the Book of Mormon “just after its publication” and noticed that “it bore hard upon my favorite notions of universal salvation.”9 According to Smith family tradition, Joseph’s grandfather Asael Smith, shortly before his death on 1 November 1830, denounced his own belief in Universalism after reading the Book of Mormon.10
In Joseph Smith’s dictation, Nehor wins converts and founds a church and then begins to contend against the established “church of God” headed by Alma II. One day Nehor runs into the orthodox Gideon, who begins to debate him. As Gideon gets the upper hand, Nehor draws his sword and kills him. He is immediately seized by members of Gideon’s church and taken to Alma, the chief judge, who condemns him for priestcraft and murder. Nehor is taken to the top of a hill and hanged, although not before “acknowledg[ing], between the heavens and the earth, that what he had taught to the people was contrary to the word of God; and there he suffered an ignominious death” (1:15).
Nehor’s aggression against Gideon dramatized the anxiety the orthodox in America had regarding Universalists, who they felt were a threat to public safety because they did not fear God’s punishment. In a 1775 attack on John Murray’s Universalist teachings, Andrew Croswell called Universalism the “murdering gospel,” explaining: “How easily can satan persuade a man to gratify his revenge, or avarice, by shedding his brother’s blood, who believes … that all murderers shall have eternal life? The shocking accounts we have heard or read of murders, are nothing for number to what they would have been, if this bloody gospel had been commonly received.”11 The same accusation was made in the Methodist Magazine in 1820: “What security has any man, that he will not be murdered in his bed, by the villain, who believes and declares, there is no future punishment? who laughs at the notion of a devil and a hell, as mere nursery tales, trumped up for the purpose of scaring little children, and keeping them in awe?”12
Public executions of Universalists who had committed murder were exploited as an opportunity to preach against universal restoration. The Gospel Advocate, a Universalist periodical, took occasion in 1825 to respond to this criticism. Citing examples of orthodox executions, the Advocate complained that “nothing was said” concerning their beliefs or that their “faith … [was] the cause of sin.” When a Universalist was executed, the Advocate continued, it was said to be “a fit opportunity to create or strengthen prejudice against Universalism, by assuring the crowd that the unhappy objects before their eyes entertained that faith, and that under its influence, they were impelled to dip their hands in the blood of murder.” The Advocate accused orthodox ministers of having filled execution sermons with distortion and of having given evidence of their own hypocrisy in “encourag[ing] people to deceive and lie, while they stand on the gallows and see their brethren sent into eternity by an ignominious death!”13
The lesson for Universalists in Nehor’s story was clear. Just as Nehor suffered death for breaking the law, he would suffer eternal death for disobeying God’s commandments; and just as he acknowledged his error “between the heavens and the earth,” so too, he would suffer “between death and the resurrection” as Alma would later express (40:11-14). Despite their Universalist beliefs, followers of Nehor had learned respect for human retribution and did not lie, steal, or murder for “fear of the law” (1:17-18; cf. 42:19-20). Thus, the Book of Mormon echoed one Methodist’s argument in 1820 that “every civilized society has wisely provided against such evils … commanding respect to the majesty of its laws, by inflicting the sanctions of punishments: and that if a villain were to [murder,] … he would be hung. So then,” the writer concluded, it is unreasonable that “the law of God [is] devoid of power to enforce obedience! … This surely cannot be consistent with the dictates of either reason or justice, that a man shall pay the forfeit of his life to the violated law, that embraces his existence, as a member of civil society; and yet be a transgressor of that law which is immutable and eternal in its obligations, and escape condemnation.”14
Even Restorationists criticized ultra-Universalists for rejecting God’s punishment. The Christian Herald of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, stated in 1818 that Universalism “leads to licentiousness, and encourages the wicked to live in open rebellion against God. And he who believes it will conclude that faith and repentance, &c. is nothing, and that he need not trouble himself concerning his present or future situation, and may live according to the course of this world, and be happy at last.”15 Echoing Smith’s reasoning, this source declared: “Did you ever know any reformation among any people where they were taught to believe that there was no future punishment?”16
In the Book of Mormon, the Universalist sect thrives despite Nehor’s execution. The group becomes so influential that in about 87 B.C., they attempt to establish one of their own men—Amlici—as king (2:1-2). After “much dispute and wonderful contentions” (v. 5), Amlici is defeated by “the voice of the people” (vv. 4-7). Nevertheless, he and his followers unite with the Lamanites to promote rebellion and civil war. When the Nephites slaughter the Amlicites, Alma himself killing Amlici, Mormon editorializes that “in one year were thousands and tens of thousands of souls sent to the eternal world, that they might reap their rewards according to their works, whether they were good or whether they were bad, to reap eternal happiness or eternal misery, according to the spirit which they listed to obey, whether it be a good spirit or a bad one” (3:26). The exact number slain is 12,532 Amlicites and 6,562 loyal Nephites, for a total of 19,094, which is an inflated if not wholly unrealistic number (2:19).17
In describing the location of this battle, Mormon makes the first references to the book’s internal geography. Without giving a clue as to where in the Americas the events may have occurred, Mormon mentions local details such as that the “Amlicites came upon the hill Amnihu, which was east of the river Sidon, which ran by the land of Zarahemla” (2:15). Subsequent passages reveal that the city Zarahemla is situated on the west side of the Sidon River which empties into the “sea” (2:26-27; 3:3). Without thinking about broad geographic references, Smith may have associated Zarahemla with Susquehanna Depot, just across the Susquehanna River from Harmony, and the hill Amnihu with Oquago Mountain to the north, where he once searched for Spanish treasure.18 He may have associated the Susquehanna Valley, which is situated on the east side of the river, with the valley of Gideon (2:26-27; 6:7) and pictured himself as a resident of the city of Gideon, named after a man who had been persecuted for his anti-Universalism. Thus, Smith would have been at the center of his narrative both geographically and emotionally.
About 83 B.C., Alma gives up his judgment seat to Nephihah, a leading elder of the church, and becomes a missionary traveling throughout Nephite lands preaching religious and social reform (4:15-20). Among Alma’s concerns are inequalities and contentions within the church, the pride of its wealthy members, expensive apparel, and uncharitable attitudes toward the poor (vv. 6-15). Alma begins his mission in the capital city of Zarahemla where he calls the church to repentance in true revivalistic fashion.
Much like Jonathan Edwards and the preachers of the First Great Awakening, and to some extent those of the Second Great Awakening, Alma reminds this second generation of faithful church members of their parents’ spiritual conversion near the waters of Mormon in response to his father’s preaching. “Behold, [God] changed their hearts,” Alma declares.
Yea, he [God] awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God. Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word; yea, they were encircled about by the bands of death, and the chains of hell, and an everlasting destruction did await them. … Were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled them about, were they loosed? I say unto you, Yea, they were loosed, and their souls did expand, and they did sing redeeming love. And I say unto you that they are saved. (5:7, 9)
In Joseph’s day, this was the language of preachers, as well as that of Methodist exhorters, such as Joseph had been. As early as 1887, the Reverend M. T. Lamb had noted that non-biblical phrases such as “souls did expand” and “sing redeeming love” were “modern camp-meeting expressions.”19 Alma’s sermon draws loosely on a favorite revivalistic passage, Ephesians 5:14—“Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” Note the metaphorical imagery of awakening from sleep, rising from the dead, and moving from darkness into the light in both Ephesians and Alma’s sermon. Notice also how this same New Testament passage influenced Charles Wesley’s 1772 sermon:
By sleep is signified the natural state of man; that deep sleep of the soul, … wherein every man comes into the world, and continues till the voice of God awakes him. … The state of nature is a state of utter darkness; … The poor unawakened sinner … sees no necessity for the one thing needful, even that inward universal change, that “birth from above.” … Wherefore, “awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead.” God calleth thee now by my mouth; … Awake, awake! Stand up this moment, lest thou “drink at the Lord’s hand the cup of his fury.” … The night is far spent, the morning is at hand, when thou art to be brought forth to execution. And in these dreadful circumstances, … thou art fast asleep in the devil’s arms, on the brink of the pit, in the jaws of everlasting destruction! … Awake, thou everlasting spirit, out of thy dream of worldly happiness! … Hast thou recovered the image of God, even righteousness and true holiness? Hast thou put off the old man, and put on the new? Art thou clothed upon with Christ? … Now, “awake, thou that sleepest” in spiritual death, that thou sleep not in death eternal! Feel thy lost estate, and “arise from the dead.” … If thou even now “awakest, and arisest from the dead,” he hath bound himself to “give thee light.” … For Christ shall reveal himself in thee: and he is the true Light. God is light, and will give himself to every awakened sinner that waiteth for him. …20
In another passage, where the revivalism is unmistakable, Alma sounds like Charles Wesley when he asks his audience:
Have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body?” (5:14-15)
In calling his audience to repentance, Alma does so with terminology which is especially pertinent to Universalists. He asks if the righteous and wicked can co-mingle in heaven, then declares: “I say unto you, Nay; except ye make our Creator a liar from the beginning” (5:22-25). The rhetoric implies that God will punish sinners. Alma goes on to remind his audience that Christ “will come to redeem his people from their sins” (v. 27; emphasis added), which recalls Abinadi’s words in Mosiah 15:12 and the anti-Universalist play on Matthew 1:21.21
Having laid the foundation for repentance, Alma pleads in words not unfamiliar to the nineteenth-century revivalist: “Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ?” (5:27). Alma mentions pride and envy as specific sins that would exclude a person from heaven, but in light of his Harmony persecutions, Joseph Smith must have received some gratification when Alma further declares: “Is there one among you that doth make a mock of his brother, or that heapeth upon him persecutions? Wo unto such an one, for he is not prepared, and the time is at hand that he must repent or he cannot be saved!” (vv. 30-31). Smith seems to rail at his persecutors through the voice of Alma: “O ye workers of iniquity; ye that are puffed up in the vain things of the world, ye that have professed to have known the ways of righteousness nevertheless have gone astray” (v. 37). Using a mixture of New Testament passages and nineteenth-century revivalisms, Alma calls his audience to repentance (vv. 32-42).
In declaring the authority by which he preaches, Alma’s words reflect Smith’s own religious experience: “Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me” (5:46). Through Alma, Smith states the self-evident nature of his mission: “For I say unto you that whatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil” (v. 40). In other words, despite the fact that Smith was unbaptized and unordained and, one might add, despite the fact that the Book of Mormon narrative was not a literal history from an authentic artifact, it was God’s work because it fulfilled righteous purposes.22
Alma relates a series of revelations he has received that are obviously influenced by John the Baptist’s preaching in the New Testament. “Thus saith the Spirit,” Alma begins:
Repent, all ye ends of the earth, for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand; yea, the Son of God cometh in his glory, in his might, majesty, power, and dominion. …
Behold, the ax is laid at the root of the tree; therefore every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be hewn down and cast into the fire, yea, a fire which cannot be consumed, even an unquenchable fire. (Alma 5:50-52)
Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees; therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. (Matt. 3:10)
Of course, Smith was not troubled by such obvious borrowing because the similarity in wording was due to a similarity in inspiration, both prophets having been inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Alma chastizes his audience by drawing attention to pride and “costly apparel” (5:53), a favorite topic for Puritan ministers, who frequently cited such things as signs of spiritual decline and the cause of calamity. In his 1676 Earnest Exhortation to the Inhabitants of New-England, Increase Mather remarked: “And how have the Blessings of God been abused to nourish pride? There hath been no small provocation before the Lord in that thing, yea as to Pride in respect of Apparel.”23 Embarrassment over the display of wealth persisted into Joseph Smith’s day. In a review of the Book of Mormon in 1834, Unitarian Jason Whitman noted that “in some minds, there is a prejudice against fine clothing, or even against decent apparel, as indicating pride in the wearer. Those, who are under the influence of this prejudice, find something in the Book of Mormon to suit their taste.”24 Although the Bible condemns adornment and recommends simple dress (e.g., 1 Pet. 3:3-4; 1 Tim. 2:9-10), the term “costly apparel” is not used in the King James Version. The term appears frequently in sermons. The Methodist Doctrines and Discipline denounced “superfluity of apparel” and instructed a yearly reading of John Wesley’s sermon “On Dress,” which makes several references to “costly apparel.”25 In this well-known speech, Wesley declared that “wearing gay or costly apparel naturally tends to breed and to increase vanity” and that those who frivolously spend their money on “costly apparel” rob the poor.26
Alma expands on this idea of the rich robbing from the poor: “Yea, will ye persist in supposing that ye are better one than another; yea, will ye persist in the persecution of your brethren, … and … in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them?” (5:54). The fact that Alma narrowly defines persecution in terms of the church members ignoring the poor rather than as violence against believers at the hand of unbelievers, for instance, indicates that the most common form of persecution Smith received was probably from the Harmony Methodists, demonstrated by his near eviction by his father-in-law and his need to call on friends outside Harmony for help. Smith, through Alma, charges that such hypocrites “shall be hewn down and cast into the fire except they speedily repent” (v. 56; cf. Matt. 3:10). Alma closes his sermon in a typically revivalistic fashion by calling on his audience to repent and leave the materialistic world behind (vv. 57, 60).
Following his sermon, Alma ordains priests and elders by the laying on of hands (6:1; cf. 4:7, 16). The appearance of the office of elder, not previously seen in Alma I’s wilderness church (Mosiah 18), is perhaps associated with the need for spiritual reformation, charismatic leadership, and the power to excommunicate. Smith later associates these responsibilities with the apostleship (Moro. 3:1) or eldership (Doctrine and Covenants 20; hereafter D&C). Meanwhile, Alma baptizes new members and excommunicates the unrepentant, then like a Methodist circuit rider sets off for the city of Gideon (6:1-8).
In moving to the next phase of Alma’s mission, Mormon announces: The words of Alma which he delivered to the people in Gideon, according to his own record. Although the inhabitants of Gideon are members of the church in good standing (7:22, 26), Alma’s sermon nevertheless dwells on repentance and reformation. Saying what John the Baptist would proclaim more than a century later, Alma declares:
Repent ye, and prepare the way of the Lord, and walk in his paths, which are straight; for behold, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and the Son of God cometh upon the face of the earth. (Alma 7:9)
Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. …Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. (Matt. 3:2-3; fc. Isa. 40:3)
Significantly, Alma twice alludes to John the Baptist, which may have been intentional to the extent that Smith saw himself and his work as preparing the way for Jesus’ second advent.27
Alma then prophesies that “the time is not far distant that the Redeemer liveth and cometh among his people” (7:7). At this point, Alma makes a qualification that hints at what will become the centerpiece in the Book of Mormon—the visit of the resurrected Jesus to America: “Behold, I do not say that he will come among us at the time of his dwelling in his mortal tabernacle; for behold, the Spirit hath not said unto me that this should be the case” (v. 8). While Alma excludes a mortal ministry of Jesus in the New World, he opens the door for a post-resurrection ministry.
Despite his incomplete vision of God’s plans for the New World, Alma sees Jesus’ Palestinian ministry with a clarity unknown to Old Testament prophets. The Redeemer, Alma declares,
shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem28 which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God [cf. Luke 1:27, 32, 35]. And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; … nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance. (Alma 7:10, 11, 12, 13)
Although speaking to the righteous members of the church, Alma again adopts a revivalistic style of preaching, calling them to repentance and baptism. Like Campbellites, Alma equates baptism with regeneration, inviting his audience to “come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins” (7:14). Using New Testament language, he declares: “If ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven” (v. 14; cf. John 3:3-5). In crying repentance and baptism to members of the church, Alma further introduces the subject of rebaptism, which is significant because, whereas various Christian denominations generally recognized one another’s baptisms as valid, Smith would shortly require his converts to be rebaptized. Consequently, the Reverend Diedrich Willers of Fayette, New York, would express surprise in reporting that “some members of the Lutheran and the Reformed, the Presbyterian, and the Baptist congregations have given this book [of Mormon] their approval, have let themselves be immersed by them, and have formed themselves into their own sect.”29 Smith may have been paving the way for the rebaptism of his parents, siblings (Hyrum, Sophronia, and Samuel), wife, and other acquaintances who had been baptized members of other churches. In any case, after blessing the church at Gideon, Alma returns home to Zarahemla to rest.
The next year, which is about 82 B.C., Alma turns his attention to the land of Melek, situated on the borders of the wilderness on the west, where he baptizes many (8:3-5). Then he travels north for three days to the city of Ammonihah and encounters resistance from Universalists,30 causing him to move on to the city of Aaron (vv. 6-13). But while traveling towards Aaron, Alma becomes “weighed down with sorrow, wading through much tribulation and anguish of soul, because of the wickedness of the people who were in the city of Ammonihah” (v. 14). Suddenly, an angel appears and commands him to return to Ammonihah to call its inhabitants to repentance (vv. 14-17). This may reflect Smith’s hesitation to call his own Universalist father and friends to repentance, and he appears to have adapted the story he told his family in 1823 about the angel sending him back to his father, who was working in the field. The reference to Ammonihah being a three-day journey from Zarahemla resembles the distance from Harmony to Palmyra. Yet, there is reason to believe that Smith also had Colesville, the home of his Universalist friend, Joseph Knight Sr., in mind.
Upon entering Ammonihah, Alma meets Amulek, a man of wealth and reputation who takes Alma home to feed him and ultimately to become his missionary companion (8:18-32). Amulek resembles the well-to-do Joseph Knight from whom Smith had already received financial assistance.31 Smith may have expected to see his friend become an ally who would convert the Universalists of Colesville, especially other members of the Knight family.32
Prefacing Alma’s first-person account of his Ammonihan ministry, Mormon includes the following: The words of Alma, and also the words of Amulek, which were declared unto the people who were in the land of Ammonihah. And also they are cast into prison, and delivered by the miraculous power of God which was in them, according to the record of Alma (Alma 9-14). In calling the Ammonihans to repentance, Alma warns them of God’s displeasure and prophesies their “utter destruction” if they remain unrepentant. Alma repeats the Lord’s promise to Lehi: “Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper in the land. And … inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord” (9:13). Paraphrasing Jesus’ words in the New Testament concerning the cities that rejected his gospel (“It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city” [Matt. 10:15]), Alma declares that “it shall be more tolerable for [the Lamanites] in the day of judgment than for you, if ye remain in your sins,” for Lamanites were thought to sin in ignorance whereas Ammonihans knowingly rebelled against God (vv. 15-30). Alma then repeats his warning, which applied equally well to Jacksonian America: “If ye persist in your wickedness, your days shall not be prolonged in the land, for the Lamanites shall be sent upon you; and if ye repent not they shall come in a time when you know not, and ye shall be visited with utter destruction; and it shall be according to the fierce anger of the Lord. … And not many days hence the Son of God shall come in his glory” (vv. 18, 26; emphasis added). The last phrase, which makes little sense in the Nephite setting, was Smith’s way of helping latter-day readers apply Alma’s prediction to their own situation.
In light of the persecution Smith would receive in Colesville during the summer of 1830,33 it is not improbable that Alma’s difficulties in Ammonihah reflect the early rumblings of such a conflict. In a letter dated 28 August 1830, Smith calls Colesville the “seat of Satan” and, like Alma, predicts destruction:
Were it not for the prayers of you few [believers], the Almighty would have thundered down his wrath upon the inhabitants of that place, but be not faint, the day of your deliverance is not far distant for the judgements of the Lord are already abroad in the earth and the cold hand of death will soon pass through your neighborhood, and sweep away some of your most bitter enemies, for you need not suppose that God will be mocked at, and his commandments be trampled under their feet in such a manner as your enemies do, without visiting them in his wrath when they are fully ripe.34
Because Alma speaks hard words against them, the Ammonihans become “wroth” with him and attempt to seize and throw him into prison, but somehow God prevents them (9:31-33). While Smith was not prosecuted in Colesville until July 1830, Alma’s near arrest may reflect the early threats Smith received from his Colesville enemies. At the same time, the close proximity of the two towns may have linked Colesville with South Bainbridge in Smith’s mind, allowing him to draw on his 1826 arrest and trial experience, as Robert Anderson has suggested.35
Amulek steps forward to defend Alma and begins by delineating his own genealogy back to Lehi, “who was a descendant of Manasseh, who was the son of Joseph who was sold into Egypt by the hands of his brethren” (10:3). Among Amulek’s ancestors was Aminadi, who like Daniel in the Old Testament “interpreted the writing upon the wall of the temple, which was written by the finger of God” (v. 2; Dan. 5).36 In giving his genealogy, Amulek conjures two images that would have been of interest to Joseph Smith: the Old Testament patriarch Joseph, an inspired dreamer and interpreter of dreams, and the prophet Daniel, who was not only an inspired dreamer and interpreter, but like Smith interpreted strange writing.
Amulek recounts how he rebelled against God and an angel appeared to him on 4 July and told him to invite Alma into his home. This became a blessing to him and to his kindred (10:5-11). Of course, the Fourth of July is significant; what is not remembered today is that the clergy used to deliver lengthy sermons on that day to remind Americans of their place in God’s plan, call them to reform, and warn them of God’s providences upon the wicked.37
Amulek declares that Alma is a holy man, for the angel told him so (10:10). While Joseph Knight had taken Smith in and fed him, there is no evidence that he received spiritual manifestations on the order of Amulek’s. This may have been anticipated or perhaps it was further literary licence. For whatever reason, Knight would continue to be Smith’s most strenuous supporter in Colesville.
The Ammonihans are astonished that one of their own, especially someone of Amulek’s prominence, supports Alma. The city’s lawyers question Amulek to entrap him in his own words. Smith’s disagreeable experience with the court in South Bainbridge in 1826 may drive the Book of Mormon description of these lawyers as “learned in all the arts and cunning of the people” (10:15). Seemingly reproving his South Bainbridge prosecutors, Smith has Amulek declare: “O ye wicked and perverse generation, ye lawyers and hypocrites, for ye are laying the foundation of the devil; for ye are laying traps and snares to catch the holy ones of God. Ye are laying plans to pervert the ways of the righteous, and to bring down the wrath of God upon your heads, even to the utter destruction of this people” (vv. 17-18).
Amulek’s words anger the people, who charge him with contempt for the law and its administrators (10:24, 28-29). Amulek responds that he speaks, not against the law, but against unrighteous lawyers (vv. 25-27) and reminds them that Mosiah predicted their destruction should they ever elect unrighteous leaders (v. 19; Mosiah 29:27). Here is a subtle warning to Americans who voted for Masonic candidates such as Andrew Jackson.38
Zeezrom is a leading lawyer and the foremost defender of Unitarian-Universalism. He offers Amulek money to deny the existence of God. “O thou child of hell,” Amulek responds, “why tempt ye me? Knowest thou that the righteous yieldeth to no such temptations?” (11:23). Zeezrom attempts to trap Amulek in a debate about the nature of the godhead (vv. 26-45). “Thou sayest there is a true and living God? … Is there more than one God?” he asks. “No,” says Amulek. Zeezrom expects this answer, for no matter the theological position—trinitarian, unitarian, binitarian, modalism—all claim to be monotheistic. He presses Amulek: “How knowest thou these things?” “An angel hath made them known unto me,” Amulek responds. There were few in the nineteenth century who could claim direct revelation for their theology; most cited their interpretation of Bible passages. Amulek’s answer negated any excursion into the usual scriptural proof-texting.
Zeezrom then attempts to find contradiction in Amulek’s one-God position by asking: “Who is he that shall come? Is it the Son of God?” “Yea,” Amulek says. Without needing to point out the inherent contradiction in this, Zeezrom instead asks a question relating to universal salvation: “Shall [the Son of God] save his people in their sins?” As we have seen with Abinadi and Alma II, this alludes to the popular Universalist proof-text in Matthew 1:21.39 Amulek answers: “I say unto you he shall not, for it is impossible for him to deny his word.”
Zeezrom addresses the people: “See that ye remember these things; for he said there is but one God; yet he saith that the Son of God shall come, but he shall not save his people—as though he had authority to command God.” But Amulek counters: “Behold thou hast lied, for thou sayest that I spake as though I had authority to command God because I said he shall not save his people in their sins. And I say unto you again that he cannot save them in their sins; for I cannot deny his word, and he hath said that no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore, how can ye be saved, except ye inherit the kingdom of heaven? Therefore, ye cannot be saved in your sins” (11:36; emphasis added; cf. 21:7; Hel. 5:10). Amulek’s proof-text about the wicked not being saved “in their sins” is clearly Matthew 1:21, but his source for the “unclean thing” not entering heaven is unknown.40
Zeezrom decides to leave the topic of salvation in favor of the nature of the godhead. In attempting to exploit an apparent contradiction between Amulek’s declared belief in one God and his subsequent statement about the Son of God, Zeezrom asks: “Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father?” Unitarians not only insisted that the Father and the Son were two distinct persons but that the Son was not divine, thereby avoiding the charge of bitheism.
Amulek’s answer was a flat rejection of Unitarianism, but it was not typically trinitarian either: “Yea, he [the Son] is the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them are; he is the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” Like King Benjamin and Abinadi, Amulek was a modalist.
Along with eternal punishment and Jesus’ divine status, Unitarian-Universalists discarded the concept of the Atonement, infinite or otherwise.41 Amulek moves from a discussion of Jesus’ divinity to a declaration that the Son of God will “come into the world to redeem his people; and shall take upon him the transgressions of those who believe on his name; and these are they who shall have eternal life, and salvation cometh to none else” (11:40). To those who base their belief in universal salvation on the promise of Acts 3:21 and a “restitution of all things,” Amulek declares that temporal salvation has universal application through Jesus’ resurrection, while spiritual salvation is granted only to the righteous (vv. 41-45). Using a blend of New Testament passages, Amulek applies the term “restoration” to the resurrection:
Now, this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous [Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11]; and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost [Luke 21:18]; … I say unto you that this mortal is raised to an immortal body [1 Cor. 15:53-54], that is from death, even from the first death unto life [Rev. 20:6, 14], that they can die no more; their spirits uniting with their bodies, never to be divided; thus the whole becoming spiritual and immortal, that they can no more see corruption [Acts 2:27, 31; 13:35, 36, 37; 1 Cor. 15:42, 50]. (Alma 11:42, 43-44, 45; emphasis added)42
Amulek’s reference to the “first death” alludes to the “second death” of Revelation 20 in which the writer sees in vision “the dead, small and great, stand before God; … and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. … And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. … This is the second death” (Rev. 20:12, 15, 14).43 Amulek three times refers to the dead standing before God to be judged by their works (11:41, 43, 44), supporting the above interpretation. Shortly, Alma amplifies Amulek’s teachings to make explicit reference to the “second death.” Not surprisingly, Revelation 20, especially its reference to the “second death,” was part of the anti-Universalist rhetoric of Smith’s day.44
The people are astonished at Amulek’s words, and Zeezrom himself begins to tremble (11:46). Of course, only in fiction does it happen that someone is so thoroughly confounded that he suddenly cracks and changes his position. In real life, nothing in Amulek’s sermon was even surprising. Hosea Ballou and other Universalists had long since responded to the second death argument, explaining that it was only symbolic.45
Next Alma “unfold[s] the scriptures beyond that which Amulek had done” (12:1). He explains that after mankind is judged according to their works, “then cometh a death, even a second death, which is a spiritual death; then is a time that whosoever dieth in his sins, as to a temporal death, shall also die a spiritual death” (v. 16). This was not a new teaching. Both King Benjamin and the prophet Abinadi had condemned those who died in their sins (Mosiah 2:33; 15:26; see also v. 38). As previously discussed, the phrase “dieth in his sins” comes from John 8:21, a proof-text used by anti-Universalists in Smith’s day.46 Those who die in their sins, Alma declares, suffer the “second death” and “their torments shall be as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever; and then is the time that they shall be chained down to an everlasting destruction” (12:17; cf. Mosiah 3:27; Alma 14:14; 2 Ne. 9:16, 19, 26; Jacob 3:11; 6:10; 2 Ne. 28:23). Like the second death argument, Alma’s description of punishment comes from the book of Revelation. Those who take part in spiritual Babylon, Revelation states, “shall be tormented with fire and brimstone … and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast” (Rev. 14:10-11; see also 19:20; 20:10, 14, 15; 21:8). Such passages were employed by anti-Universalist Reverend Bradstreet as evidence that the torment of the wicked is eternal.47
Alma alludes to another anti-Universalist proof-text when he declares that God’s decree is that “whosoever repenteth, and hardeneth not his heart, he shall have claim on mercy through mine Only Begotten Son, unto a remission of his sins; and these shall enter into my rest. And whosoever will harden his heart and will do iniquity, behold, I swear in my wrath that he shall not enter into my rest” (vv. 34-35). While Alma does not identify his text, it is a Christian interpretation of Psalm 95:7-11 inspired by Hebrews 3:7-11:
Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith), Today if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway[s] err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest. (Heb. 3:7-11; cf. Ps. 95:7-11)
In his 1776 criticism of Universalist preachers, John Cleaveland alluded to this passage when he said, “God’s soul has no pleasure in them, and he will swear in his wrath that they shall not enter into the rest which remains for the people of God, as he swore unbelieving Israel should not enter into the promised land of Canaan.”48
While apologists have attempted to establish that Alma’s proof-text was Psalm 95, not Hebrews 3,49 a more serious anachronism occurs because Alma declares: “If ye will harden your hearts ye shall not enter into the rest of the Lord; therefore your iniquity provoketh him that he sendeth down his wrath upon you as in the first provocation, … to the everlasting destruction of your souls” (12:36; emphasis added). David P. Wright has pointed out the literary dependence here on the King James Version since the author of Hebrews and the 1611 translators relied on a mistranslation of Psalm 95 in the Greek Septuagint (ca. 150 B.C.). In the original Hebrew of Psalm 95, the words “provocation” and “temptation,” which both Alma and the author of Hebrews manipulate, are place names and would be more accurately rendered: “Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah, as on the day of Massah.”50 Alma’s dependence on Hebrews is even clearer when he connects God’s rest with the Melchizedek priesthood. Alma has previously been described as holding the “high priesthood of the holy order of God” (Alma 4:20; see also 5:49, 54; 6:1, 8; 7:22), but for the first time, the Book of Mormon connects this priesthood with Jesus and Melchizedek, the latter a contemporary of Abraham who is mentioned in Genesis 14, rather than with Aaron. Neither the Nephites nor Joseph Smith could legally claim Levitical priesthood.51 To resolve this difficulty, Smith draws on Hebrews 7.52
The author of Hebrews explains that Jesus is the “Apostle and High Priest of our profession” (Heb. 3:1), whose priesthood is superior to that of the Levitical and Aaronic priests, arguing that while Jesus was not from the priestly tribe of Levi, he was nevertheless a priest “after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 7:1-4, 11-14). As proof of this assertion, the writer of Hebrews repeatedly quotes Psalm 110:4—“The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek” (5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:17, 21; cf. Alma 13:9, 14). Originally intended as a statement about Israelite rulers who were seen as kingly priests, Psalm 110 had taken on messianic meaning by New Testament times (e.g., Matt. 22:41-46). Hebrews does not assert that Jesus held the same priesthood as Melchizedek but that he held a priesthood that was similar to the ancient king-priest’s: one that was neither lineal nor responsible for administering the law of Moses. Taking advantage of a lack of biographical data in Genesis 14, the writer of Hebrews argues that Melchizedek, as a type of Christ, was “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; [and] abideth a priest continually” (7:3). Unlike Levitical priests, Melchizedek and Jesus were said to be immortal and therefore not in need of successors; hence, their priesthoods were superior to that of the Levites.
Alma’s dependence on Hebrews 7 is not a matter of plagiarism but one of interpretive and conceptual borrowing.53 Indeed, both Alma and Hebrews stand alone in linking Jesus with Melchizedek’s priesthood. Moreover, rather than simply using Hebrews as a proof-text, Smith was able to build on and expand it in a way that presupposes the innovative rhetoric of Hebrews. Hebrews associates Jesus with Melchizedek’s priesthood, but Alma expands this to include an entire order of priests, a transparent expansion of Hebrews. This procedure foreshadows Smith’s subsequent revision of the Bible where he would revise both Genesis 14 and Hebrews 7 to conform to Alma 13.
Another interesting difference appears where Hebrews calls Jesus a priest “after the order of Melchizedek” (7:11, 17, 21) and Alma calls Melchizedek a priest “after the order of the Son” (13:9, 14). This reversal resolved a troubling aspect of Hebrews that placed Melchizedek in a position that was superior to Jesus. Alma explains that this priesthood became associated with Melchizedek because of his prominence, that “there were many before [Melchizedek], and also there were many afterwards, but none were greater; therefore, of him they have more particularly made mention” (v. 19). Thus, Alma’s discussion not only conceptually derives from Hebrews, it attempts to resolve a perceived problem with the text. It is not surprising that Smith’s later revision of Hebrews, shown here in the left column (with the passage from the Bible in the right column), would address the same issue:
For this Melchizedek was ordained a priest after the order of the Son of God, which order was without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life. And all those who are ordained unto this priesthood are made like unto the Son of God, abiding a priest continually. (Joseph Smith Translation, Heb. 7:3)
For this Melchizedek [was] … Without father,
without mother, without descent,
having neither beginning of days, nor end of life: …
but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually. (Heb. 7:1,3)
Smith’s biblical revision would also harmonize Hebrews with Alma by introducing other priests besides Jesus, a concept that destroys the analogy Hebrews makes between a parentless Melchizedek and the immortal Jesus. In Hebrews, Melchizedek is “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life” (7:3). In Alma (and in Smith’s biblical revision), that description is applied to Jesus and his priesthood: “This high priesthood being after the order of his Son, which order was from the foundation of the world; or in other words, being without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to eternity” (13:7; cf. vv. 8-9). At the same time, Alma removes centuries of speculation about Melchizedek’s lack of parentage by stating that the king of Salem “did reign under his father” (13:18). Obviously, Alma plays off a text that Smith did not fully appreciate or understand.
In giving Melchizedek’s history, Smith’s reliance is on Hebrews rather than Genesis 14:
And it was this same Melchizedek to whom Abraham paid tithes; yea, even our father Abraham paid tithes of one-tenth part of all he possessed. (Alma 13:15)
For this Melchizedek … To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all. (Heb. 7:1,2)
Smith’s procedure is similar to that of ancient pseudepigraphists who, in the words of one scholar, “created something new, an imaginary Sacred Past, the way it should have been.”54 For instance, Smith takes Melchizedek’s title “King of Salem, which is, King of peace” in Hebrews 7:2 (without parallel in Genesis 14) and expands it into a historical event. Drawing on a source other than Genesis, Alma explains:
Now this Melchizedek was a king over the land of Salem; and his people had waxed strong in iniquity and abomination; yea, they had all gone astray; they were full of all manner of wickedness; but Melchizedek having exercised mighty faith, and received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God, did preach repentance unto his people. And behold, they did repent; and Melchizedek did establish peace in the land in his days; therefore he was called the prince of peace, for he was the king of Salem. (Alma 13:17-18)
This passage became the basis for Smith’s 1831 revision of Genesis 14. In referring to Melchizedek as a “prince of peace” instead of the “King of peace,” there is an allusion to Isaiah 9:6, which is usually interpreted by Christians as a messianic prophecy fulfilled in Jesus. In so doing, Smith tightens the connection between Jesus and Melchizedek, a connection made only in Hebrews.
Another title that Smith creatively applies to Melchizedek is that of “high priest” (13:14, 18). Neither Genesis 14 nor Hebrews 7 refers to Melchizedek as a “high priest” because this designation was unnecessary until Aaron and his successors were appointed to preside over the Levite priests. Instead, Melchizedek is called simply a “priest” (Gen. 14:18; Heb. 7:1). The close association of Melchizedek, priest of Salem, and Jesus, high priest of the new covenant—an association that occurs exclusively in Hebrews—influenced Smith’s dictation of Alma 13.
Alma continues by explaining the origin of Melchizedek’s priesthood, revealing that soon after the Fall “the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people” (13:1). As opposed to the earthly priesthood of the Levites, Melchizedek’s priesthood was therefore spiritual and the result of charismatic experience rather than physical ordination. These ancient priests had not inherited their authority by lineage; rather, like Jesus, they were foreordained by God. Alma states: “And this is the manner after which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works” (13:3).55 To those who questioned Smith’s authority to preach or baptize, he could point to Jesus and Melchizedek as examples of priests who were preordained to office. This also explained how non-Levitical priests could arise among the Nephites.
The high priesthood, in Alma’s conception of it, is connected to sanctification and the power to enter into God’s presence, which is another link to Hebrews (3:7-11): “There were many who were ordained and became high priests of God … after this holy order, and were sanctified, and their garments were washed white through the blood of the Lamb. … and there were many, exceeding great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God” (13:10-12). This comes close to Smith’s later teaching about the keys of “translation” residing with the high priesthood, “translation” referring to a change from mortality to an immortal state without dying. Smith would soon dictate a passage that would ponder whether Alma was “taken up by the Spirit, or buried by the hand of the Lord, even as Moses” (Alma 45:18-19; cf. 3 Ne. 1:2; 2:9). Also about this time (April 1829), Smith and Cowdery would disagree regarding the meaning of a New Testament passage about the apostle John living until Jesus returned (John 21:20-24).56 When Smith asked God about this, a revelation declared that John had indeed been translated and was ministering on earth until Jesus’ return (D&C 7).57 It is likely that Smith’s and Cowdery’s disagreement was triggered by Alma’s disappearance in the Book of Mormon text.
The subject of translation—escaping death—does not end with Alma, for the next month Smith dictates the story of three of twelve Nephite disciples who become translated beings (3 Ne. 28). While revising the Bible in December 1830, Smith would reveal that the biblical Enoch and his entire city were taken into heaven and translated (Moses 7). Early the next year, Smith would expand Genesis to include a statement that Melchizedek “was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch. It being after the order of the Son of God. … And it was delivered unto men by the calling of [God’s] own voice, according to his own will, unto as many as believed on his name. … And men having this faith, coming up unto this order of God, were translated and taken up into heaven. … And [Melchizedek’s] people wrought righteousness, and obtained heaven, and sought for the city of Enoch which God had before taken, separating it from the earth, having reserved it unto the latter days, or the end of the world.”58
While both Genesis 14 and Psalms 95 pre-date Alma, the likelihood that Alma and the author of Hebrews would quote these two unrelated passages in such a similar manner would seem to be remote. For the author of Hebrews, the association of Jesus with Melchizedek’s priesthood was purely rhetorical—a literary device—whereas Alma’s order of high priests was an elaboration that is unfounded in the Hebrew Bible.
The concluding portion of Alma’s sermon seems more applicable to Smith’s time as a prelude to Jesus’ “coming in glory” rather than to Alma’s time: “For behold, angels are declaring it unto many at this time in our land; and this is for the purpose of preparing the hearts of the children of men to receive his word at the time of his coming in his glory” (13:24-26). Alma’s next words are expressed with such feeling that one cannot help but think of Smith’s relationship with his father: “And now, my brethren, I wish from the inmost part of my heart, yea, with great anxiety even unto pain, that ye would hearken unto my words, and cast off your sins, and not procrastinate the day of your repentance” (v. 28). These words may provide a glimpse into the intensity of Smith’s feelings regarding his mission.
Alma and Amulek are arrested and taken before the chief judge of Ammonihah, where witnesses accuse them of having lied to the people. Zeezrom, under the pain of guilt, tries to defend them but is cast out of the city. Then Alma and Amulek are taken to “the place of martyrdom” where they witness the burning at the stake of those who had believed their words as well as the burning of scriptures. Striking Alma and Amulek, the chief judge declares: “After what ye have seen, will ye preach again unto this people that they shall be cast into a lake of fire and brimstone?” (14:14). Mormon interjects that “this judge was after the order and faith of Nehor, who slew Gideon” (v. 16). In other words, he too was a Universalist. Like Jesus, the two missionaries remain silent, whereupon the chief judge sends them to prison to be beaten and humiliated. After three days, “there came many lawyers, and judges, and priests, and teachers, who were of the profession of Nehor,” mockingly asking: “How shall we look when we are damned?” Alma and Amulek “answered them nothing” (vv.18, 21).
After some three months of imprisonment, the chief judge and his official entourage again visit Alma and Amulek. They take turns beating and mocking the missionaries until the power of God falls upon Alma and Amulek, who rise to their feet and call upon God to deliver them from their enemies. Instantly, the ropes binding them fall to the ground. Their frightened tormentors attempt to escape, but an earthquake topples the prison walls and kills everyone except Alma and Amulek. The people of Ammonihah see the two men emerge from the ruins; startled, the people flee “even as a goat fleeth with her young from two lions” (14:29).
This miraculous story draws from Peter’s escape from prison in Acts 12 and Paul and Silas’s escape in Acts 16,59 but there is a possible autobiographical meaning for Joseph Smith as well. Robert Anderson has suggested a “compensating fantasy” here that builds on Smith’s arrest and trial in South Bainbridge in March 1826.60 True, Smith may have found inspiration in his previous legal troubles, but the central theme could well reflect his ongoing connection to Colesville where he had a significant entanglement with Universalists. Maybe in Smith’s mind, the neighboring townships of South Bainbridge and Colesville were connected.
The mission to the people of Ammonihah completed, the city having rejected the missionaries’ preaching because “they were of the profession of Nehor, and did not believe in the repentance of their sins” (15:15), Alma’s prediction becomes reality when the Lamanites destroy the city (16:2-3, 9). Consistent with the many Indian burial mounds in the Great Lakes Region, the dead bodies of the Ammonihans “were heaped up upon the face of the earth, and they were covered with a shallow covering” (v. 11). Thereafter, the vacant city of Ammonihah was called the “Desolation of Nehors” (v. 11).
Leaving the city, Alma and Amulek journey to Sidom where Zeezrom “lay sick … with a burning fever, which was caused by the great tribulations of his mind on account of his wickedness,” and his sins “did harrow up his mind until it did become exceeding sore, having no deliverance; therefore he began to be scorched with a burning heat” (15:3). Alma heals Zeezrom on the condition that he renounce his Unitarian-Universalist beliefs and accept “the redemption of Christ” (15:8). Alma baptizes Zeezrom “unto the Lord” (v. 12), and Zeezrom becomes a preacher. Alma establishes the church in Sidom and “consecrates priests and teachers in the land, to baptize unto the Lord whosoever were desirous to be baptized” (v. 13). This is interesting because it is the first mention of a high priest delegating his authority to baptize. Radiating from Sidom, the region experiences revivals and mass conversions (vv. 14-15).
On this note Alma concludes his mission and returns home to Zarahemla, accompanied by Amulek, who has forsaken his wealth to become a preacher (15:18). In Zarahemla, Alma’s prophetic gift is used to divine the location of the Lamanite armies in the “south wilderness, which was on the east side of the river Sidon.” The Lamanites are driven from the Nephite lands (16:4-11). Thereafter, the Nephites enjoy a three-year period of peace from about 81 to 78 B.C. and welcome Alma’s and Amulek’s preaching (vv. 12-21). Among other things, the two tell what “must shortly come; yea, holding forth the coming of the Son of God, his sufferings and death, and also the resurrection of the dead. … [And] that he would appear unto them after his resurrection; and this the people did hear with great joy and gladness” (16:20). This is the first clear reference to Jesus appearing to the Nephites, which would become the central event of the Book of Mormon, and the first confirmation that it would be the resurrected Jesus who would come. The possibility that Jesus would visit the Americas “at the time of his dwelling in his mortal tabernacle” (7:8) had been mentioned and left undecided. Perhaps, after some contemplation, Smith concluded that it would be more likely that the post-mortal Jesus would appear. At this point, Mormon interrupts his narrative of Alma’s missionary activities to give an account of the ministry of the four sons of Mosiah to the Lamanites.
1. The quote is from Emily M. Austin, Mormonism: or, Life Among the Mormons (Madison, WI: M. J. Cantwell, 1882), 32 (cf. Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents, 5 vols. [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996-2003], 4:166; hereafter EMD). Austin reported that Newel was a “staunch Universalist, and his father, Joseph Knight, was also of the same belief” (p. 30 [EMD 4:165]). Newel said that his father was “a believer in the Universalian doctrine” ([Newel Knight], “Newel Knight Journal,” in Scraps of Biography: Tenth Book of the Faith-Promoting Series [Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1883], 47 [EMD 4:46]); and Joseph Smith reported that “Mr Knights and his family were Universalists” (Joseph Smith, Manuscript History of the Church, Book A-1, 39, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, UT [EMD 1:101]).
3. On Universalism among Noah’s priests, see chapter 12 of this volume. On Nehor’s Universalism, see Dan Vogel, “Anti-Universalist Rhetoric in the Book of Mormon,”in Brent Lee Metcalfe, ed., New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993), 30-34. While apologists initially resisted my comparisons between the Book of Mormon and anti-Universalist rhetoric (e.g., Martin S. Tanner, “Is There Anti-Universalist Rhetoric in the Book of Mormon?” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6 : 418-33), Stephen Clarke more recently concluded that “Joseph [Smith] was able to draw phrases and ideas from the Universalism debate, and weave them seamlessly into the Book of Mormon narrative” (Stephen Clarke, “‘Do Ye Suppose that Mercy Can Rob Justice?’: The Universalism Debate and Book of Mormon Soteriology,” in Archive of Restoration Culture: Summer Fellows’ Papers, 1997-1999 [Provo, UT: Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History, 2000], 160).
10. According to one of Asael’s daughters-in-law, he declared on his deathbed “his full and firm belief in the everlasting gospel and also regretted that he was not baptized when Joseph his son was there and acknowledged that the doctrine of universalism which he had so long advocated, was not true” (M. Wilfred Poulson, ed., “Copy of an Old Notebook,” typescript at Brigham Young University, 40-41, in Richard L. Anderson, Joseph Smith’s New England Heritage: Influences of Grandfathers Solomon Mack and Asael Smith, 2nd ed. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, UT: BYU Press, 2003], 288, n. 218). George A. Smith wrote that his grandfather accepted Mormonism, though he “had been for many years a universalist and exceedingly set in his way” (G. A. Smith, “Memoirs,” holograph, 2, in Anderson, 148).
14. Methodist Magazine, Oct. 1820, 378-79. Stephen Clarke concedes that the foregoing “allegorizing interpretation of the Nehor episode finds considerable support in nineteenth-century anti-Universalist sources” and that “some nineteenth-century readers … would have understood the story of Nehor as a cautionary tale, warning them of the danger in believing the doctrine of universal salvation” (Clarke, “‘Do Ye Suppose that Mercy Can Rob Justice?’” 158).
17. John L. Sorenson estimates that the number of warriors in the combined armies would have been at least twice the number slain, meaning that there would have been “at least 40,000 warriors … involved.” Applying a ratio of five non-combatants to every warrior, he calculates that the total Nephite-Mulekite population would have been “200,000 or more” (John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co.; Provo, UT: FARMS, 1985], 193). John C. Kunich counters that these numbers “would require an average annual growth rate of 1.3 percent sustained over the span of five centuries” at a time when the growth rate for the rest of the world was .04 (John C. Kunich, “Multiply Exceedingly: Book of Mormon Population Sizes,” in Metcalfe, New Approaches to the Book of Mormon, 250-51). Uncertain whether Nephite battle casualties were 50 or 10 percent, James E. Smith estimates the total Nephite population at the time to be “between 300,000 and 1.5 million people,” much higher than Sorenson’s estimate (“Nephi’s Descendants? Historical Demography and the Book of Mormon,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6 : 290). Smith’s lowest estimate requires “an average annual growth rate of about 1.25 percent,” which he acknowledges is “improbably high” (291). Yet, he still argues that the Nephites may have had a higher birth rate and life expectancy than the rest of the world, which they somehow maintained for three centuries despite frequent wars (291).
18. Robert D. Anderson associates Zarahemla with Palmyra but names the Susquehanna as the Sidon River, then attempts to resolve the geographic discrepancy by suggesting that Smith had in mind the proposed “Chenango Canal” that would have connected the Susquehanna with the Erie Canal (see Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999], 142-43). I believe that Smith probably had in mind a number of shifting geographic models: (1) Zarahemla=Palmyra, Sidon=Erie Canal, Nephi=Manchester/Canandaigua; (2) Zarahemla=Palmyra, Sidon=Erie Canal, Nephi=Harmony; (3) Zarahemla=Susquehanna Depot, Sidon=Susquehanna, Cumorah=Manchester.
20. Charles Wesley, “Awake, Thou that Sleepest, Preached on Sunday, April 4, 1742, before the University of Oxford, by the Rev. Charles Wesley, M.A. Student of Christ-Church,” in The Works of John Wesley, ed. Thomas Jackson, 14 vols. (London: Wesleyan Methodist Book Room, 1829-31), Sermon 3.
27. See Doctrine and Covenants 33:10; 35:4; 45:9 (hereafter D&C). Smith’s 1831 revision of Matthew 17:11-14 has Jesus saying that the messenger preparing the way before him was fulfilled not only in John the Baptist but “also [in] another who should come and restore all things.” See Davis Bitton, Images of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Aspen Books, 1996), 73-75.
28. The fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and not Jerusalem has generated some criticism, although Alma’s use of “at” and “land” instead of the expected “in” and “city” has been cited as evidence that Smith meant a general region rather than a particular city. Thus, Sidney B. Sperry explained that “when Alma speaks of the Son of God being born at Jerusalem, he does so because Bethlehem was adjacent to and under the control of that city” (Book of Mormon Compendium [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1968], 332). It would be difficult to imagine that Smith’s impressive knowledge of the Bible would have failed him in this instance.
30. Later it is said that “the people that were in the land of Ammonihah … were of the profession of Nehor” and that “many lawyers, and judges, and priests, and teachers … were of the profession of Nehor” (Alma 14:16, 18; 15:15). As mentioned in chapter 13 of this volume, the followers of Nehor were Universalists.
31. While I focus on Smith’s relationship with Universalists in Colesville, Robert Anderson sees elements that seem to reflect Smith’s 1826 trial in South Bainbridge. Hence, Anderson associates Amulek with Josiah Stowell; Zeezrom, the lawyer who questions Alma and Amulek, is Justice Albert Neely; and Ammonihah is South Bainbridge (Anderson, Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith, 142-43). Amulek may be a composite representing both Stowell and Knight.
32. Knight recalled: “My wife and family [were] all against me about helping him” (“Manuscript of the History of Joseph Smith,” 5 [EMD 4:19]). Not until after the translation was complete did other members of the Knight family become converted.
37. See, e.g., Charles Pelham Curtis, An Oration Delivered on the Fourth of July, 1823, in Commemoration of American Independence … (Boston, 1823). Palmyra’s observance included both a sermon and an oration (see the Palmyra Register, 7 July 1818; Palmyra Herald, 10 July 1822). For an analysis of the Fourth of July in a literary context, see Paul Goetsch and Gerd Hurm, The Fourth of July: Political Oratory and Literary Reactions, 1776-1876 (Tubingen: G. Narr, 1992).
40. Perhaps it is a variation on Revelation 22:11, which states that following the resurrection, “he which is filthy, let him be filthy still” and the declaration in 1 Corinthians 15:50 that resurrected bodies differ from mortal bodies since “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.” A clue may be found in Alma’s declaration to the people of Gideon that God “doth not dwell in unholy temples; neither can filthiness or anything which is unclean be received into the kingdom of God; therefore I say unto you the time shall come, yea, and it shall be at the last day, that he who is filthy shall remain in his filthiness.” Later, Alma tells one of his sons that the wicked will suffer the “second death” (Rev. 20:14), “for they die as to things pertaining to things of righteousness; for they are unclean, and no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of God” (Alma 40:26). In any case, this unknown source is cited again in the Book of Mormon (see Hel. 8:25; 3 Ne. 27:19; 1 Ne. 10:21; 15:34).
42. In subsequent chapters, Alma explains to his Universalist son Corianton “the restoration of which has been spoken by the mouths of the prophets” (Alma 40:24; cf. Acts 3:19-21), which he says pertains to the resurrection, not to salvation (see chapter 16 of this volume).
44. See, e.g., Samuel Hopkins, An Inquiry concerning the Future State of Those Who Die in Their Sins (Newport, RI, 1783), 23, 46; see also Vogel, “Anti-Universalist Rhetoric in the Book of Mormon,” 41-42.
45. As I explain elsewhere (Vogel, “Anti-Universalist Rhetoric in the Book of Mormon,” 41-42), Universalists believed that the orthodox argument was inconsistent. Ballou, for example, argued that the orthodox interpreted “spiritual death” at judgment to be never-ending while interpreting the “spiritual death” of Adam to be temporary. Ballou said that “in respect to spiritual death, I believe it was all that was meant by the word, ‘in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.’ But, if eternal death was intended, there was no recovery for man” (Hosea Ballou, A Treatise on the Atonement [Randolph, VT, 1805], 56; see also Universalist Magazine, 31 July 1819, 28). Another Universalist response to the “second death” was to allegorize it, contending that “the first death is the apostasy of the Jewish church,” while the “second [death] … is the apostasy of the Christian church” (Gospel Visitant, Mar. 1812, 211, 218; see also Elhanan Winchester, A Course of Lectures on the Prophecies That Remain to Be Fulfilled, 2 vols. [Norwich, CT, 1794], 2:129-60; Universalist Magazine, 25 Dec. 1819, 102-103; 13 May 1820, 183).
47. Stephen I. Bradstreet, A Sermon on Future Punishment (Cleveland, OH, 1824). However, the Universalist who reviewed Bradstreet’s work referred to Revelation 20:13, 14 and argued that “it must be remembered that Mr. B[radstreet]’s hell in which … all the wicked will be tormented eternally, was also cast into this same lake of fire. … It must also be borne in mind that before this hell of Mr. B[radstreet]’s was cast into the lake of fire it delivered up all the dead that were in it” (Gospel Advocate, 6 Aug. 1824, 236-37). The reviewer responded to Revelation 14:11, that the wicked “have no rest, day nor night,” by arguing: “Now, did Mr. B[radstreet] ever find any account of day and night in a future state of existence? … Mr. B[radstreet] quotes those words and yet does not see that they confine the meaning of the passages to this state of existence, where day and night are found” (ibid., 237; see also Ballou, Treatise on Atonement, 135-36; Hopkins, Inquiry concerning the Future State, 20, 46-47; and Universalist Magazine, 13 May 1820, 183).
54. Robert M. Price, “Joseph Smith: Inspired Author of the Book of Mormon,” in Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe, eds., American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 324.
55. At this point, Smith does not yet have a clearly defined belief in a pre-mortal existence. Alma does not intend to promote the idea that God ordained pre-mortal spirits, only that God foresaw the righteous acts of the faithful done in mortality and in that sense they were “called and prepared from the foundation of the world” (see Blake T. Ostler, “The Idea of Preexistence in Mormon Thought,” in Gary James Bergera, ed., Line upon Line: Essays on Mormon Doctrine [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989], 128; and Wright, “‘In Plain Terms that We May Understand,’” 189).
57. According to this revelation, Jesus granted John’s request to continue to “bring souls” unto Christ, saying: “Thou shalt tarry till I come in glory” (D&C 7). This indicates that Smith had not yet developed an idea of a complete apostasy of priesthood authority. Rather, he assumed there were still true believers residing within a corrupt church similar to the Puritan idea of a visible, corrupt church and scattered saints belonging to an invisible church. Additional wording was added to the revelation in 1835 to emphasize authority in a lineal priesthood residing in a presidency: “I will make thee [Peter] to minister for him [John] and for thy brother James; and unto you three I will give this power and the keys of this ministry until I come” (D&C 7:7).
58. Genesis 14:27-28, 29, 32, 34-35, cited in Inspired Version: The Holy Scriptures (Independence, MO: Herald Publishing House, 1944). For a discussion of Smith’s teachings on translated beings, see Dan Vogel, Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1988), 195-98.