Oh, to be an Angel!

Tizian_004Robb Smith puts forward an interesting premise regarding the authorship of Alma 29.

Most of us are most familiar with the opening passages of Alma 29 from hearing it sung:

“O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!”

The chapter summary tells us this chapter is written by “Alma, who desires to cry repentance with angelic zeal—The Lord grants teachers for all nations—Alma glories in the Lord’s work and in the success of Ammon and his brethren. About 76 B.C.”

Yet Robb invites us to consider that this desire to proclaim universal repentance and salvation comes not from Alma, but from Mormon. We know that there was not originally any chapter demarkation between Alma 28 and Alma 29. Thus the words we so often presume are coming from Alma flow immediately after an extended segment that seems to come from Mormon.

I love this reading of Alma 29. And then I run into the verses where the author talks about the success of his brethren, who have been up to the land of Nephi (Alma 29:14-15). This is where my ability to see what Robb sees fails me for a moment.

Even so, there is power in imagining these words coming from Mormon. To read Robb’s entire paper, click on O That I Were an Angel. Let me leave you with a short segment from the paper, where Robb argues how we can see Mormon as the author of even Alma 29:14-15.


Alma 29:14

         But I do not joy in my own success alone, but my joy is more full because of the success of my brethren, who have been up to the land of Nephi.

Without a doubt this verse has contributed the most to our assumption that these words are Alma’s. It sounds so much like him speaking about his friends in the present tense that it has quashed any suggestion otherwise. But, testing that assumption against the new context, it must be admitted that it could also be Mormon referring to the sons of Mosiah, and possibly Alma and Amulek as well,  all of the missionaries from the stories he is reviewing. Would they not be to him like Heber and Orson are to us?  It does sound very much like Alma but, in the new context, it also sounds like Mormon.

Mormon introduced the story of the sons of Mosiah with the same phrase, up to the land of Nephi.  Tvedtnes says of this phrase: “The words are hardly fitting for Mormon, in whose days the land of Nephi probably had only historical meaning.”[ref]Tvedtnes, Voice of an Angel, 320.[/ref] Nonetheless, Mormon uses land of Nephi thirty-nine times abridging his record, and the exact phrase up to the land of Nephi describing the journey between Zarahemla and Nephi nine times.[ref]‘The land of Nephi’ is used 39 times by Mormon. (Words of Mormon 1:13; Mosiah 7:6-7; 19:15, 19, 22, 24; 20:7; 21:21, 26; 23:35-38; 28:1, 5; 29:3; Alma 2:24; 17: Introduction, 8; 22: 28, 32, 34; 27:1; 27:14, 20; 28:8; 29:14; 46:29; 47:1, 20; 49:10, 25; 50:8, 11; 53:6; Helaman 4:12; 5:20. He uses the exact words ‘Up to the land of Nephi’ 9 times to describe the journey between Zarahemla and Nephi. Words of Mormon 1:13; Mosiah 7:6; 28:1, 5; 29:3; 17: Introduction, 8; 29;14; 47:1.[/ref] This is just one instance among many that can be specifically tied to Mormon. Our discussion about Mormon following his source closely could also apply here. This verse, that sounds so much like Alma, cannot tip the balance in his favor weighed against all the other evidence that argues so compellingly for Mormon.

 Alma 29:15-16

         Behold, they have labored exceedingly and have brought forth much fruit; and how great shall be their reward!

        Now, when I think of the success of these, my brethren, my soul is carried away, even to the separation of it from the body, as it were, so great is my joy.

Alma and Amulek and the sons of Mosiah did what Mormon could not. They turned back the tide of wickedness and saved their people from destruction. Similar to the joy we feel in the missionary success of the early apostles to England, Mormon felt great joy when he thought back on the success of his brethren in the stories he had just abridged, especially in contrast to the sorrow he felt for the impending destruction of his people. He is also continuing to refer back to things found in his stories. Here he refers to the joy that overcomes as seen in the story of Ammon and King Lamoni and his wife (Alma 19:13-14) and then again at Ammon’s reunion with Alma (Alma 27:17).

And now the final verse of this chapter.

 Alma 29:17

         And now, may God grant unto these, my brethren, that they may sit down in the kingdom of God; yea, and also all those who are the fruit of their labors, that they may go no more out, but that they may praise him forever.

         And may God grant that it may be done according to my words, even as I have spoken. Amen.

A fitting verse to end this fifteen-chapter literary unit covering the first fifteen years of the reign of the judges. And also a fitting verse to end Mormon’s editorial comments on the stories of Alma and Amulek, and Ammon and his brethren, surely beloved stories to the Nephites. Stories about his own ancestors that he was then called to memorialize in a record that would go to the ends of the earth. Notice the similar sentiment in this closing verse to the one Mormon used to end the specific story of the sons of Mosiah earlier: And now, may the Lord, the Redeemer of all men, bless their souls forever (Alma 28:8). Mormon viewed these men the way we view the Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum and the other brethren that were instruments in the hands of the Lord to lay the foundation of this great latter day work. If we were commanded to record their stories for a distant time and people, we would say the same. Especially if we were a great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandson.[ref]

We don’t know Mormon’s relationship to Ammaron but it seems likely they were related somehow. We do know that at ten years old Mormon began to be learned somewhat after the manner of the learning of my people (Mormon 1:2) and was chosen as the future record keeper. Ammaron became the custodian of all the sacred records when his brother Amos died and, after keeping the record for fifteen years, had just hidden them up unto the Lord. Was he involved in teaching Mormon, a grandson or nephew perhaps, and noticed something special about him? He told Mormon: I perceive that thou art a sober child and art quick to observe (ibid). Schooling from the prophets might have been a family affair, or at least include the children of elite families of which it appears Mormon was. He makes a point to mention that he was a pure descendant of Lehi and Nephi (3 Nephi 5:20; Mormon 1:5; 8:13) and at age sixteen he becomes the leader of the Nephite nation’s armies, a position that likely was bestowed based more on pedigree than on any personal accomplishments up to that point. Mormon also notes that Alma1 was a descendant of Nephi (Mosiah 17:2 and Introduction to 3 Nephi) and since the records were passed down from father to son whenever possible, and always within the same family, why should we doubt that this pattern continued up to and through Mormon to Moroni? Alma, Helaman, Shiblon (brother), Helaman2, Nephi, Nephi2, Nephi3, Amos, Amos2, Ammaron (brother) and finally Mormon.[/ref]


For myself, I will now read Alma 29 as being spoken by both Alma and Mormon, even if I still mostly see only Alma for verses 14-15.

Either way, it is certainly fitting that Mormon’s son, Moroni, would become the angel that we depict as proclaiming the restored gospel with a trump, his message eternally broadcast from atop almost every Mormon temple that has ever been erected. After all, it is in these temples wherein we act upon our hope that both the quick and the dead “should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth…”

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.

16 thoughts on “Oh, to be an Angel!

  1. Remember that Alma ultimately does get his wish. He walks off into the sunset and is never seen again — translated.

    That narrative is so cool that Alma just has to be the author of those verses — even if he isn’t.

  2. @jack, I see your point, however wouldnt it be even better had Mormon wrote this; had it been Mormon instead of alma, he ultimately had his wish/dream come true when the Book of Mormon is publish and sent out to the would. It is a testimony that the lord does fulfill our righteous desires, even if it takes hundreds of years.

  3. @Meg,

    “And then I run into the verses where the author talks about the success of his brethren, who have been up to the land of Nephi”. this is where I was hung up too… however, consider this: Mormon and alma are brothers in the gospel, similar to modern LDS members when we speak about our brothers and sister pioneers who cross the plains to Utah. there is a beauty in the idea (and much to learn) that Mormon saw his ancestors as brothers. The connection he had with them was surreal. I feel this way sometime too, when I’m in the temple doing work for the dead.

  4. The other thing I pointed out to Robb as we were discussing whether to post this is that during the translation process, it seems likely Mormon and Alma were together with whoever was helping get this into English (e.g., Tyndale). So I feel no particular need to exclusively attribute the section to either Alma or Mormon.

  5. Thanks Meg for posting this. For me the beauty of these words being Mormon’s is that their meaning changes in interesting ways. The wish of his heart was to speak forcefully enough that his people would repent. Somehow that wish made him feel guilty, “I do sin in my wish” and “I ought not to harrow up in my desires the firm decree of a just God.” That “firm decree” he felt guilty for “harrowing up” was his peoples destruction. The “harrowing up” was when he “poured out his soul in prayer all the day long for them.”

    He also referred to the record he was making several times: “the things which the lord hath allotted unto me” and “the work to which I have been called” and “that which the Lord hath commanded me” all refer to the Book of Mormon. He gloried in his prophetic calling to create that book, knowing it’s destiny, that it would bring souls to repentance, and to Christ.

    Seeing these words as Mormon’s and realizing that he had success preaching in his day, and that it brought to him a fullness of joy, makes me feel good. Seeing the irony in how his book literally fulfills the wish of his heart, to be a “trump of God” and, like an angel, cry repentance unto every people, makes me smile. I hope everyone who reads the paper smiles with me.

  6. Thanks for posting this. I’ve had a similar “is this Alma, or Mormon?” thought the last few times I’ve reached this section. I appreciate the further digging and insights.

  7. I think these words could very well be Mormon’s, and I like all the insights into Mormon that Robb points out if they are Mormon’s words. But I find I don’t care much if they are Alma’s or Mormon’s, I could imagine any prophet saying them.

  8. I have gone back and re-read this section now many times with different authors in mind. Alma isn’t mentioned as the speaker for some time and if you can read it without the chapter breaks and headings, it seems logically to be Mormon. The narration continues from 27 to 28 to 29 without any introduction of Alma as speaker. Mormon seems to ALWAYS introduce who is speaking. Thanks Robb for sharing your thoughts on this.

  9. Maridyn, I think you got it backwards. Mormon always makes it clear when HE is speaking. Mormon never declares himself to be speaking (or to stop speaking) in chapters 27 through 29. Moroni follows that example and clearly delineates who is speaking when Moroni takes over starting in Mormon chapter 8, and throughout Ether and Moroni.

    For Ammon’s story to be included in Alma’s book, Ammon must have turned over his journal to Alma, or given a report to Alma to let Alma know what went on during their mission. So Alma is the first “editor” here, when he wrote the Book of Alma. Alma did not have first hand knowledge of Ammon/Aaron/Omner/Himni’s mission. Mormon is a second level (ie, higher level) editor, redacting and condensing Alma’s record.

    So just because chapter 29 and parts of chapter 28 sounds like “editorial comment”, it does not mean Mormon was speaking in his own voice. It appears to me that Alma made plenty of editorial comment himself.

    So no, I don’t buy Robb Smith’s thesis. But mainly, I don’t buy it because Mormon never ponts out that he _is_ speaking.

  10. @ Bookslinger.

    Great comment. You hit on a fundamental question. Who’s voice is the default editorial voice in the abridged parts of the Book of Mormon? And related, is the story of the son’s of Mosiah abridged or included complete? The introduction to Alma 17 that starts the story of the sons of Mosiah does say “according to the record of Alma”. To be in Alma’s editorial voice however would require the whole thing (17-29) be an embedded document included by Mormon, which seems unlikely since in it Alma is referred to in the 3rd person (17:1-2; 27:16-25). So, is it abridged and in Mormon’s editorial voice? Chapters 27-29 were originally all one chapter and if Alma is saying the ‘angelic words’ when does Mormon switch to quoting him? I think Maridyn’s point was that everywhere else in Mormon’s abridged material he clearly labels his quotations and embedded documents. Part of what I tried to establish in the essay is that in the abridged portion of the BoM we should see Mormon as the default editorial voice since he is abridging the material, unless he specifically clarifies otherwise. Alma was the original narrator here and he probably did add editorial comments and Mormon probably included many of them in his abridgment, maybe some even word for word depending on how closely he followed his source materiel. What did you think of the examples and arguments in the essay about this topic? (p.4-6) How can we tell what was original and what was copied unless Mormon tells us? Everywhere else in his abridged material he tells us when he is quoting someone. The question should be: Why do we think these words are Alma’s (the only unlabeled quotation in the book of Mormon) instead of Mormon’s? The answer is because we have disqualified him as their author for some very good reasons. The essay tries to show that those reasons don’t hold up under close examination and also tries to establish a new context that shows the ‘angelic words’ do fit Mormon very well therefore allowing him to remain their default author. They not only fit him, but as his words they have additional relevance and significance.

  11. Robb, I think you’re over-analyzing it. IMO, Mormon abridged an abridgement. Alma originally wrote “The Book of Alma” on the Large Plates, and in that writing had to decide what to include and what to leave out. Mormon abridged the (Large Plates)-Book of Alma into what we have as the Book of Alma on Mormon’s plates.

    I think it’s also fair to assume Mosiah II, Alma, Helman, Nephi the third, et al, kept notes between Large-Plate engraving sessions, and perhaps even wrote a draft on less expensive perishable material.

    I think It’s fair to point out who the speaker or commenter is, but only
    where it’s clear that Mormon explicitly points it out.

    I hold the whole thing to be divinely inspired, and the good-guy actors to be divinely guided in the events that were documented. So these things may be academic. But I am looking forward to attending firesides by Ammon, Alma, Mormon, Moroni, and the rest, so these will be great questions to ask them!

    The Lord promised that all hidden things in the history of mankind will be revealed. i assume that includes the 116 pages, the 2/3rds sealed protion of the BoM, and the entire set of Large Plates. And even the records of the other tribes/groups that were led away, that are mentioned in the BoM.

    I want to know what Nephi’s wife’s name was. Were there other inhabitants of the Americas when Lehi/Muleki arrived that were purposely not mentioned in the BoM? Did Ammon marry Lamoni’s daughter? What was Lamoni’s dad’s name? Where were/are the Large plates hidden? Where exactly was Nephite geography? How do the Olmecs and the ancient Mound Builders relate to BoM peoples? What have the 3 Nephites been up to since 421 AD? What have they done since 1830?

  12. Robb

    I have read this portion of the BOM in the 1830 edition and it flows rather seamlessly and causes me to support your hypothesis that it is indeed Mormon speaking. With modern day division into chapters and with the added headings, it has caused us to accept at face value that this is Alma. In the end, it does’t change the message or the truthfulness of the book, but it does shine an interesting light on this well known part of the BOM.

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