Evidence #259 | October 25, 2021

Allusions to Exodus 17

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Scripture Central


Several Nephite military accounts seem to contain textual allusions to the Israelites’ battle with the Amalekites found in the book of Exodus.

Israel and Amalek

After the children of Israel fled from Egypt and crossed the Red Sea, a group known as the Amalekites (led by a man named Amalek) unexpectedly attacked their camp on their pilgrimage to worship God at Sinai. Moses, in response to this aggression, directed Joshua to go out and fight them, while Moses went to the top of a hill holding the rod of God in his hand.

“And it came to pass that when Moses held up his hand that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.” Moses, however, was tired and could not always keep his hands up, so Aaron and Hur “took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun” (Exodus 17:8–12), allowing Joshua and the men of Israel to prevail in the battle. Several military accounts in the Book of Mormon seem to allude to this biblical story. 

Joshua fighting Amalek, from the Phillip Medhurst Collection of Bible illustrations. Image via Wikimedia Commons. 

Amlicites in the Book of Mormon

The current edition of the Book of Mormon refers to a group of people known as the Amalekites.1 The earliest reference to this group in the extant Original Manuscript is in Alma 24:1, where it reads Amelicites. Based on the spelling found here and in the Printer’s Manuscript (Amlikites), Royal Skousen, concluded that the original spelling was Amlicites and that the people in question were actually the followers of Amlici the Nehor rebel in Alma 2:1, a conclusion that makes sense in light of the group’s connection with the order of Nehor.2 Skousen argues, however, that the c in the names Amlici and Amlicites was actually pronounced with a k sound.3 This leaves us with a name that in Hebrew was phonetically very similar to the Amalekites in the Bible.

Attacking the Weak

According to Deuteronomy, the Amalekite attack was particularly heinous in that they “smote the hindmost of [Israel] even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary; and [they] feared not God” (Deuteronomy 25:18).4 Like the Amalekites in the Bible, the Amlicites in Alma’s narrative led massacres of Lamanite converts in the land of Nephi. In these attacks, the Amlicites and their supporters killed thousands of the new converts, who refused to take up arms against their attackers (Alma 24:20–23; 27:2–3). When these refugees migrated to the land of Jershon for safety, Amlicite- and Zoramite-led enemies unsuccessfully tried to repeat those earlier atrocities. Thwarted by Nephite armies, they went over to the land of Manti “that they might commence an attack upon the weaker part of the people” (Alma 43:24).

Amlici, by James Fullmer. 

The Lord is with Us

In Exodus, Amalek’s attack occurred after Israel murmured for water and chided the Lord. In response, Moses asked, “Is the Lord among us, or not?” (Exodus 17:7). In the Book of Mormon, Moroni pointedly observed to his cornered enemies, “But now, ye behold that the Lord is with us” (Alma 44:3), a phrase that evokes the Exodus deliverance from Amalek. Like the biblical Amalekites, the Amlicite- and Zoramite-led army did not “fear God” but attributed all the success of Moroni’s forces to their superior armor and cunning (Alma 44:9; cf. Deuteronomy 25:18). Years later, the faithful sons of the Lamanite converts reassured their commander Helaman “Behold, our God is with us” (Alma 56:46).


In the Exodus account, the Amalekites attacked Israel when they were camped at Rephadim (Exodus 17:1), a word whose root (rpd) means “support, help, carry.”5 In his speech to the enemy commander Zarahemnah, Moroni emphasized that the Nephites’ victory over their enemies was evidence of the Lord’s help: “Ye see that God will support …” the Nephites (Alma 44:4). He also spoke of “the sacred support which we owe to our wives and our children” (Alma 44:5).

Furthermore, Mormon wrote concerning the stripling warriors, “And now behold, as they never had hitherto been a disadvantage to the Nephites, they became now at this period of time also a great support” (Alma 53:22). Helaman similarly explained, “And those sons of the people of Ammon, of whom I have so highly spoken, are with me in the city of Manti; and the Lord has supported them, yea, and kept them from falling by the sword, insomuch that even one soul has not been slain” (Alma 58:39).

Sons of Helaman, by Joseph Brickey. 

Strengthening the Arms

In both Exodus and the book of Alma, when the battle was in doubt, the Lord, through his representative, encouraged His people and inspired them until they achieved victory (Exodus 17:11–12; Alma 43:48–49). Aaron and Hur held up the arms of Moses, causing Israel to prevail. When the Nephites were frightened by the ferocity of the enemy attack, “Moroni perceiving their intent, sent forth and inspired their hearts …. and they cried with one voice unto the Lord their God, for their liberty and their freedom from bondage. And they began to stand against the Lamanites with power” (Alma 43:48, 50). In an apparent allusion to Moses’ actions during the biblical event, Captain Moroni credits “God, who has strengthened our arms” (Alma 44:5), just as Aaron and Hur had done with Moses.


The Exodus passage says of Moses, whose hands were upheld by Aaron and Hur, that “his hands were steady” (Exodus 17:12), rendered from the Hebrew ʾĕmn, a word which most often refers to the moral quality of “faithfulness.”6 To emphasize to their inveterate enemies that it was the Lord and not their own Nephite wisdom and weaponry which had delivered them, Moroni observed, “Ye see that God will support, and keep and preserve us, so long as we are faithful unto him, and unto our faith, and our religion; and never will the Lord suffer that we shall be destroyed except we should fall into transgression and deny our faith” (Alma 44:4).

In a separate instance of possible allusion, Helaman wrote to Moroni: “And as the remainder of our army were about to give way before the Lamanites, behold, those two thousand and sixty were firm and undaunted. Yea, and they did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness; yea, and even according to their faith it was done unto them” (Alma 57:20–21).

Threatened with Extinction

When Israel prevailed in battle under Joshua, the Lord told Israel to remember what the Amalekites had done and that the Lord would “have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Exodus 17:16). Israel was commanded to eventually “blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven” (Deuteronomy 25:19). The biblical Amalek can be seen as a type of the enemies of God’s people. Similarly, Moroni threatened his Amlicite-led enemies with extinction if they did not surrender their murderous and unjust purpose (Alma 44:7).


These intertextual allusions to the biblical attack by the Amalekites suggest that the narrator of the account in Alma was not only familiar with the event from Exodus, but in some cases also understood the underlying Hebrew in that narrative. Such connections make sense in light of the Hebrew background and Israelite heritage of the prophets in the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith, however, did not begin his study of Hebrew until 1835, five years after the Book of Mormon was published.7

Book of Mormon Central, “How Were the Amlicites and Amalekites Related? (Alma 2:11),” KnoWhy 109 (May 27, 2016).

Matthew Roper, “Moses, Captain Moroni, and the Amalekites,” Insights: An Ancient Window 32, no. 4 (2012), 1, 8.

Benjamin McMurty, “The Amlicites and Amalekites: Are They the Same People?” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 25 (2017): 269–281.

Christopher J. Conkling, “Alma’s Enemies: The Case of the Lamanites, Amlicites, and Mysterious Amalekites,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14, no. 1 (2005): 108–117, 130–132.

Bible Exodus 17:1Exodus 17:7Exodus 17:8–12Exodus 17:16Deuteronomy 25:18Deuteronomy 25:19Book of MormonAlma 21:2–4Alma 21:16Alma 22:7Alma 23:14Alma 24:1Alma 24:20–23Alma 24:28Alma 24:29Alma 27:2–3Alma 27:12Alma 43:3Alma 43:6Alma 43:13Alma 43:20Alma 43:24Alma 43:44Alma 43:48–49Alma 43:50Alma 44:3Alma 44:4Alma 44:5Alma 44:7Alma 44:9Alma 56:46


Exodus 17:1

Exodus 17:7

Exodus 17:8–12

Exodus 17:16

Deuteronomy 25:18

Deuteronomy 25:19

Book of Mormon

Alma 21:2–4

Alma 21:16

Alma 22:7

Alma 23:14

Alma 24:1

Alma 24:20–23

Alma 24:28

Alma 24:29

Alma 27:2–3

Alma 27:12

Alma 43:3

Alma 43:6

Alma 43:13

Alma 43:20

Alma 43:24

Alma 43:44

Alma 43:48–49

Alma 43:50

Alma 44:3

Alma 44:4

Alma 44:5

Alma 44:7

Alma 44:9

Alma 56:46

  • 1 See Alma 21:2–4, 16; 22:7; 23:14; 24:1, 28–29; 27:2, 12; 43:6, 13, 20, 44.
  • 2 Royal Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon. Part Three: Mosiah 17–Alma 20 (Provo, UT: FARMS, Brigham Young University, 2006), 1605–1609. See also J. Christopher Conkling, “Alma’s Enemies: The Case of the Lamanites, Amlicites, and Mysterious Amalekites,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14, no. 1 (2005): 108–117, 130–132. For a different explanation for this name, see Benjamin McMurty, “The Amlicites and Amalekites: Are They the Same People?” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 25 (2017): 269–281. The connection with the Exodus narrative would be valid under either interpretation of the text, since a close phonetic similarity would work nearly as well as a strict orthographic match.
  • 3 Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants, 1605–1606. The k in biblical name Amalek is the Hebrew qōph. When translated into English, it can be rendered with either a k or a c depending on the preference of the translator. Hence, some English translations such as Wycliff and the Douy Bible render the name Amalec.
  • 4 In the ancient Near East, attacking worshippers on a pilgrimage was a particularly heinous crime. See Benno Jacob, The Second Book of the Bible: Exodus (Hoboken, NY: KTAV, 1999), 489–490.
  • 5 William H. C. Propp, Exodus 1–18: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1999), 604.
  • 6 Nahum Sarna observes that Exodus 17:12 is the only passage in the Hebrew Bible in which ʾĕmn is used in a physical sense. Usually it refers to moral quality, such as faithfulness. Nahum Sarna, Exodus: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation (Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society, 1991), 96.
  • 7 See Matthew J. Grey, “‘The Word of the Lord in the Original’: Joseph Smith’s Study of Hebrew in Kirtland,” in Approaching Antiquity: Joseph Smith and the Ancient World, ed. Lincoln H. Blumell, Matthew J. Grey, and Andrew H. Hedges (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2015), 250.
Intertextuality (External)
Allusions to Exodus 17
Book of Mormon

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