Mormon’s Framing of Alma’s Story in the Context of a Vision
I’ve been stuck in the Lehi/Nephi vision lately, not intentionally, I just keep finding things in the vision or other accounts that circle back around to it. I’m not complaining though because I’m having a great deal of fun with all these discoveries.
This latest one has been really fun and there is probably a lot more to discover here. What I noticed was a parallel between the conversion of Alma’s people in Mosiah 18 and the tree of life vision. What makes this more compelling to me is that I think Mormon intentionally used language to not only make this parallel but to inject another message, one concerning the meaning of his name: Mormon.
This chapter details the conversion and growth of Alma’s little group of saints but embedded in the telling of this story are suspiciously similar parallels to the tree of life vision. First, I think it is important to notice that this chapter is framed by the name Mormon which is mentioned 12 times in the chapter. Half of those occurrences happen in a single verse which I think was done to get our attention.
We already know that Mormon is the name of the one abridging this record, but we also learn that “Mormon” is also the name of a:
- Place (vs.4,30)
- King (vs.4)
- Fountain/Waters (vs.5,30)
- Thicket/Forest (vs.5,30)
Now let’s explore the many parallels between the story of Alma’s people and the vision of the tree of life. This is going to be a wild ride…
The iron rod
The first two examples are not necessarily mind-blowing but bear with me because there’s a lot more to come. The iron rod, or the word of God, is represented by his literal words that consist of Abinadi’s teachings which Alma preaches privately among the people. The believers in the word literally travel, perhaps down a path to the place called Mormon to hear more and partake of the fruit (be baptized and receive the Holy Ghost).
“And it came to pass that as many as did believe him did go forth to a place which was called Mormon … And it came to pass that as many as believed him went thither to hear his words.” (Mosiah 18:4,6)
The mists of darkness
In Mosiah 18, we see the people coming out of the mists of darkness they were in previously and arrive at the tree so to speak. So that means we need to back up a little to Mosiah 11 where we find a direct parallel to Nephi’s vision. In both cases, the mists of darkness cause blindness of the eyes and hardness of the heart.
“Now the eyes of the people were blinded; therefore they hardened their hearts against the words of Abinadi” (Mosiah 11:29)
“And the mists of darkness are the temptations of the devil, which blindeth the eyes, and hardeneth the hearts of the children of men” (1 Nephi 12:17)
The fountains and the trees
The key element in the land of Mormon that Alma’s people interact with is the fountain of pure water which is encircled and hidden by the forest of trees. In the tree of life vision, we also see a fountain of living waters and a tree of life.
“And it came to pass that I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was the word of God, which led to the fountain of living waters, or to the tree of life; which waters are a representation of the love of God; and I also beheld that the tree of life was a representation of the love of God.” (1 Nephi 11:25)
A single tree isn’t exactly a forest, but note that the fountain and the tree in Nephi’s vision both represent the same thing: “the love of God.” In the Mosiah account, the fountain and the forest of trees bear the same name, Mormon.
“And now it came to pass that all this was done in Mormon, yea, by the waters of Mormon, in the forest that was near the waters of Mormon; yea, the place of Mormon, the waters of Mormon, the forest of Mormon, how beautiful are they to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer; yea, and how blessed are they, for they shall sing to his praise forever.” (Mosiah 18:30)
Both the tree in Nephi’s vision, along with the place, waters, and forest of Mormon are all said to be beautiful by those that see them.
“I looked and beheld a tree; and it was like unto the tree which my father had seen; and the beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty;” (1 Nephi 11:8)
“…the place of Mormon, the waters of Mormon, the forest of Mormon, how beautiful are they to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer;” (Mosiah 18:30)
There is at least one notable connection between the water and the trees and I think it is the fruit. We’ll get back to the repetition of the name Mormon because it is significant, but first, let’s keep exploring more of these connections.
The fruit of the tree
In Lehi’s version of the vision and the Mosiah account notice the use of the word filled:
“And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy;” (1 Nephi 8:12)
“…they were baptized in the waters of Mormon, and were filled with the grace of God.” (Mosiah 18:16)
In both cases, there is an action performed by people of their own free will. One involves interacting with the tree, (partaking of the fruit) and the other involves interacting with the waters. (baptism) Joy and grace appear to be linked with one another as they are both what fill the people. To strengthen this particular association, Alma the younger links them in closing words of his great sermon to the church at Zarahemla:
“Come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye also may be partakers of the fruit of the tree of life.” (Alma 5:62)
As for grace and joy, here are a few definitions from the Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:
- Grace: “Favorable influence of God; divine influence or the influence of the spirit, in renewing the heart and restraining from sin.”
- Joy: “a delight of the mind, from the consideration of the present or assured approaching possession of a good.”
I believe that both of these words are also related to receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost and being born of God. To be born of God, one will experience his grace and thus be filled with that “exceeding great joy.” This is what it means to partake of the fruit of the tree of life, it means to be born of God. I’ve mentioned this connection before in another recent post with the following verses:
“And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins;” (Mosiah 4:12)
“…my soul was filled with joy […] there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy. […] …that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.” (Alma 36:20-21,24)
“…they were filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory. […] the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire…” (Helaman 5:44-45)
Alma himself is a type of John the Baptist and Alma’s actions mirror what Nephi sees in his vision:
“And after Alma had said these words, both Alma and Helam were buried in the water; and they arose and came forth out of the water rejoicing, being filled with the Spirit.” (Mosiah 18:14)
“I also beheld the prophet who should prepare the way before him. And the Lamb of God went forth and was baptized of him; and after he was baptized, I beheld the heavens open, and the Holy Ghost come down out of heaven and abide upon him in the form of a dove.” (1 Nephi 11:27)
Note the phrase “filled with the Spirit” and the association with the Holy Ghost. On a side note, Helam may be a type of Christ but I’m not totally sure how. The name Helam may mean “stronghold”, or “place of abundance” which fits with the setting of Mormon and perhaps even with the idea of Christ being the “rock” that we build on or the source of abundant blessings but that feels like a stretch.
Another wild tidbit I found was that there is a Biblical place name of Helam חֵילָם and scholars believe the location may be associated with a village called Alma עַלְמָה that still exists today! (source) There is a lot more here but I would need to do tons more research.
The great and spacious building
What about the great and spacious building that is mentioned by Lehi and Nephi? I think that king Noah and his priests are a perfect match. The great and spacious building of the vision had the following characteristics in Lehi and Nephi’s visions:
- it was “great and spacious‘ (1 Nephi 8:26)
- “it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth” (vs.26)
- “it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female” (vs.27)
- “their manner of dress was exceedingly fine” (vs.27)
- “they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers” (vs.27)
- “the large and spacious building … is vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men.” (1 Nephi 12:18)
- “for the praise of the world do they destroy the saints of God” (1 Nephi 13:9)
Mormon records strikingly similar language concerning King Noah and his priests:
- “king Noah built many elegant and spacious buildings; … he also built him a spacious palace” (Mosiah 11:8-9)
- “And the seats which were set apart for the high priests, which were above all the other seats … he built a tower near the temple; yea, a very high tower” (vs.11-12)
- “And all this did he take to support himself, and his wives and his concubines; and also his priests, and their wives and their concubines;” (vs.4)
- “he ornamented them with fine work of wood, and of all manner of precious things, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of brass, and of ziff, and of copper; … all of which was of fine wood and was ornamented with gold and silver and with precious things. … all manner of fine work within the walls of the temple, of fine wood, and of copper, and of brass. … he did ornament with pure gold;” (vs.8-11)
- “the seats which were set apart for the high priests, … that they might rest their bodies and their arms upon while they should speak lying and vain words to his people.” (vs.11)
- “such as were lifted up in the pride of their hearts … because of this great victory they were lifted up in the pride of their hearts” (vs.5,19)
- “the king said that Alma was stirring up the people to rebellion against him; therefore he sent his army to destroy them.” (Mosiah 18:33)
I think that Mormon is intentionally linking the account of these people to the tree of life vision. Personally, I think he understands the doctrine taught in those visions and is using a historical example to demonstrate these teachings in a literal setting. It could be that he is just doing it unconsciously as well but remember what Ammoron said about Mormon when he was only 10 years of age “I perceive that thou art a sober child, and art quick to observe…” (Mormon 1:2) I’m going to give Mormon some credit here.
The flaming fire
One of the elements that only appears in Nephi’s vision is referred to as “the justice of God” which is described as a flaming fire. It is by fire that Abinadi is slain and prophesies that justice will come to Noah by fire as well.
“then ye shall suffer, as I suffer, the pains of death by fire” (Mosiah 17:18)
“the justice of God did also divide the wicked from the righteous; and the brightness thereof was like unto the brightness of a flaming fire” (1 Nephi 15:30)
Unfortunately, this same fire consumes many righteous people who die because of their testimony, but this was also prophesied by Abinadi.
The fountain of filthy water
The fountain of filthy water in Nephi’s vision is associated with battles between his people and the Lamanites. I think there can also be a parallel here between the people of Noah, who were Nephi’s descendants and the invasion of the Lamanites that was foretold.
“the Lamanites are upon us, and they will destroy us; yea, they will destroy my people. … And it came to pass that the Lamanites did pursue them, and did overtake them, and began to slay them.” (Mosiah 19:7,10)
“I looked and beheld the people of my seed gathered together in multitudes against the seed of my brethren; and they were gathered together to battle. And the angel spake unto me, saying: Behold the fountain of filthy water … I beheld, and saw the people of the seed of my brethren that they had overcome my seed” (1 Nephi 12:15-16,20)
In both cases, we see battles and death between the Nephites and Lamanites.
Mormon’s tribute to the Almas?
This is simply pure speculation but it is an observation that I would like to explore in more depth. I mentioned in a recent article how Alma the younger uses language that appears directly inspired by the tree of life vision in his own teachings. There are many more of these examples which I think demonstrate an affinity that Alma the younger had for this vision. The story of coming out of darkness by holding fast to the word of God and ultimately tasting redemption was something he related to and desired to share with others.
Remember, Mormon is abridging the Nephite records and while he quotes various people from time to time, he is choosing the language that he wants to frame his narrative. What I see here is Mormon intentionally framing Alma the elder’s experience in the context of the tree of life vision. The largest book in Mormon’s abridgment is called Alma after Alma the younger. His story and teachings comprise a large bulk of the history that Mormon chooses to include and I think this goes to show that Mormon is a fan of Alma’s teachings and understands them very well.
I think that Mormon had a sense of Alma the younger’s love for the tree of life vision and when telling the story of his father, framed it in the same vision as a kind of tribute to one of his favorite prophets. Again, that’s just speculation on my part. Further study may show that Mormon was a fan of this vision as well and framed many other narratives in his abridgment within that same context.
King Mormon, the love of God, and eternal life
This is perhaps the most mysterious part of Mosiah 18, this king who was also called Mormon. Who was he? Was he righteous or was he wicked and what happened to him and his people?
In the Mosiah account he is linked to the land, the forest, and the fountain of water, but only in name. Perhaps he was an ancient Jaredite king of an extinct kingdom. The land of Mormon seems to be uninhabited enough that Alma’s people can hide there. Mormon doesn’t appear to be a Hebrew name either and it is similar to some Jaredite names mentioned in Ether, e.g., Moron, Corom, and Morianton.
He isn’t in the main genealogy of Kings so perhaps he broke away during the infighting and wars to establish a kingdom of peace. Knowledge of this king and location existed for many hundred years after Alma. I couldn’t link this king Mormon to anything specific in Lehi or Nephi’s vision, but maybe there is a clue in the numbers.
The name “Mormon” is mentioned 12 times in Mosiah 18. According to Ethelbert W. Bullinger the number 12 in scripture “is a perfect number signifying perfection of government or of governmental perfection. It is found as a multiple in all that has to do with rule.” (Number in Scripture, 253) Could the number 12 be telling us something about king Mormon? If he was a “perfect king” what happened to him and his people? I’m going way out on a limb here but what if this perfect king and his people were translated thus leaving the land uninhabited but still a beautiful and blessed place.
Remember how I demonstrated that the name Mormon is attributed to the forest and the fountain and the tree of life and fountain of living waters have the same meaning? If we link the name Mormon with the meaning of the tree of life and fountain of living waters, then the name Mormon could be synonymous with “the love of God.” I’ve shown how this phrase can be associated with receiving the Holy Ghost and being born of God but we see this phrase mentioned again by Alma the younger and pay attention to what it is associated with:
“…having a hope that ye shall receive eternal life; having the love of God always in your hearts, that ye may be lifted up at the last day and enter into his rest.” (Alma 13:29)
This verse contains elements strikingly familiar to one of the most well-known Biblical verses of all time:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
You can keep going because there are a lot more references that would just be overkill to include here. Connecting the name “Mormon” to receiving the love of God which can be defined as eternal life is just incredible. All of these things just fit together really well, don’t they?
Restoration of the covenant
Now let’s wrap this up because there is a final point that I think is the icing on the cake. Take note that Mormon the abridger is not named after this king, but the land; he even mentions this specifically:
“And behold, I am called Mormon, being called after the land of Mormon, the land in which Alma did establish the church among the people, yea, the first church which was established among them after their transgression.” (3 Nephi 5:12)
I wouldn’t have made the following associations without an article by David Lamb (The Meaning of the Name of Mormon). Lamb points out that Mormon’s name is tied into the idea of the restoration of a covenant:
“A study of the title page of the Book of Mormon tells us its main purpose is to restore a knowledge of the covenants to the house of Israel. This adds weight to the understanding that the name Mormon was always associated with the place of the restoration of the covenant to the Nephites. In fact, the name Mormon became synonymous with the concept of restoring the covenants.”
He further suggests:
“Symbolically, the Book of Mormon bears the name ‘Book of the Restoration of the Covenant.'”
What a fantastic idea and I think that he is on point with this observation. If this is the case, then calling ourselves Mormons is another way of saying, “People of the Restored Covenant.” Maybe Mormon’s repetition of his name in Mosiah 18:30 is a sign to us to take note and unlock treasures hidden for the serious reader. Since the beginning of this blog, I have pointed out the strong tie the Book of Mormon has to God’s promise that he will fulfill his covenants and this information adds a beautiful capstone to that truth.
The wonderfully intricate and interwoven narratives in the Book of Mormon testify of the truth of its origins and the message it has for any who wishes to baptized and numbered among God’s people.