Sunday, September 21, 2014

Alma 33: Dead Prophets Society

After a nice heavy chapter of deep metaphorical discussion, this one is basically filler.  Except that, instead of tossing in some Isaiah to pad his word count, here Joseph Smith makes up two brand new ancient prophets to refer to.

They Won't Understand Without the Poetry
Alma wants to explain to the poor Zoramites that they can still worship God even though the snobby Zoramites have banned them from their synagogues.  To illustrate his point, he quotes a "prophet of old" named Zenos.  The quote is basically to the effect of, "God always heard my prayers and has been merciful to me because of the Atonement."  Except that it takes eight verses.

You see, the nuance of Zenos's sermons were important for Alma to relate.  Not only did God hear Zenos's prayer when he was in the wilderness, but he also heard Zenos's prayer when he was in his field, in his house, in his closet, in the midst of congregations, and when he had been cast out and despised by his enemies.  Sure, you could argue that the passage is poetic, but I think the point is made quite effectively in the first example.  Any modern reader would have understood perfectly without some poor Nephite schmuck slaving over a slab of metal to scratch in all the poetic repetitions.

Two Witnesses:  Infinitely More Credible Than One
Alma has already quoted one prophet that nobody (except for maybe his original audience) has ever heard of.  But he's about to outdo himself by doing the same thing a second time:
For it is not written that Zenos alone spake of these things, but Zenock also spake of these things
Holy crap!  You mean Zenos wasn't the only prophet who ever taught about the Son of God?!  Hold onto your seats, ladies and gentlemen, because it's going to blow you away when I reveal the other guy you've never heard ofsame name, I just changed the soft S at the end to a hard C.  Everybody still with me?  Okay, it's safe to breathe now.

Finally, in verse 19, Alma provides an example useful for the period in history for which this record was inspired (meaning the present day):  Moses.  We all know that guy, so we can actually go look up what he taught when Alma references him.  But the rest of this stuff was pretty useless.

The Healing Serpent as a Sloppy Type of Christ
Alma also discusses the story from the Book of Numbers of the bronze serpent erected by Moses.  A simple glance upward at it would heal any victim of a fatal snake bite.  Alma says that there were many who refused to believe the statue could heal them and died because they wouldn't look at it.  He then compares this to Christ, claiming that the solution is so simplelook to Christ and live.

This is a terrible comparison.

Take your average Israelite who's been bitten by a snake.  He knows he's been bitten and understands that there is a problem and is familiar with the concept of physical death.  In his throes of dying agony, he'll probably think, "Hey, I should probably look at that snake.  I don't want to die so I'll try anything."

Take your average non-Christian.  Assuming Alma's religion is the correct one, this guy has no idea that he's in any danger because he hasn't seen the prospect of Hell slither up to him and sink its fangs into his ankle.  He's not familiar with the concept of spiritual death and he has no idea that there's a problem.  If he lives to a ripe old age and begins to worry on his death bed, he might think, "Hey, I should probably give this religion thing a chance.  I don't know what will happen to me when I die so I'll try anything."

Is that really the attitude Alma expects people to have?  I thought he wanted strong, passionate, constantly nurtured faith. His argument seems to consist of "accepting Christ is so easy, you'd be an idiot not to do it."  Except that it's really not that easy.  Looking at the serpent provides an instantaneous and permanent relief from a lethal ailment.  Looking to Christ (at least in Mormonism) requires a constant belief, dedicated church service, plenty of "good works," numerous ordinances, and enduring to the end.  It's not as simple as a quick glance at the prophet's sculpture.

Buuuuut I guess if you're trying to convince people to join your silly religion, you'll probably want to make things sound as simple as possible.


  1. As I read the chapter before reading your post, this is what stood out to me:

    10 Yea, and thou hast also heard me when I have been cast out and have been despised by mine enemies; yea, thou didst hear my cries, and wast angry with mine enemies, and thou didst visit them in thine anger with speedy destruction.
    11 And thou didst hear me because of mine afflictions and my sincerity; and it is because of thy Son that thou hast been thus merciful unto me, therefore I will cry unto thee in all mine afflictions, for in thee is my joy; for thou hast turned thy judgments away from me, because of thy Son. (Book of Mormon, Alma, Alma 33)

    Am I wrong is restating it this way? "If you pray to god, he will hear your cries, destroy your enemies and you will have joy."

    It didn't work so well for the saints as they were being driven from city to city, did it? It also didn't work so well for Joseph when he was in prison. D&C Section 122 comes to mind. He prayed to god to destroy his enemies, and this was the answer he got:

    7 And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.
    8 The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he? (Doctrine and Covenants, Doctrine and Covenants, D&C 122)

    I guess the saints finally decided that if they wanted their enemies destroyed, and the blood of the prophets avenged, they would have to take things into their own hands after prayerful consideration and debate. Thus, the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

    1. Good catch! It's interesting that God would move mountains for this Zenock dude but let Joseph, the guy who's supposedly more important than everybody but Jesus, sit there and rot in jail.

    2. You've been a good teacher. After reading your work, I've developed the ability to see things differently with a much more open view. Keep up the good work!