Evidence #52 | September 19, 2020

Alma’s Conversion

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Scripture Central

Abstract

The similarities and dissimilarities in the three accounts of Alma’s conversion are consistent with their having been written by a single individual, but in different settings and at different stages of his life.

Alma's Conversion Stories

Alma recounts his conversion story three different times in the Book of Mormon (see Mosiah 27:8–37; Alma 36:4–26; 38:6–8). The accounts vary in length and were given in different settings and for different purposes. It should not be surprising, therefore, that each one contains unique details not found in the others. Yet, at the same time, the three versions share many consistent words, phrases, and details. The differences and consistencies in these accounts work together as evidence that they were produced by the same individual in different contexts and stages of his life. 

Alma the Younger surrounded by this family and priests. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org.

Understandable Differences

According to John W. Welch, “there is more emphasis in Mosiah 27:18 and 32 on the involvement of the four sons of Mosiah in the appearance of the angel than in Alma 36; this is understandable since King Mosiah is the one reporting the events in Mosiah 27, whereas Alma is speaking in Alma 36 and 38.”1 Moreover, whereas Alma’s account in Mosiah 27 “bears the literary characteristics of a spontaneous utterance,”2 the versions in Alma 36 and 38 “show signs of thoughtful reflection, of years of thinking about his momentous conversion.”3

Welch noted,

Alma’s accounts have evolved structurally as well. The abrupt antithetical parallelisms in Mosiah 27:29–30 (“I was X, but now I am Y,” repeated four times) have been rearranged into one masterfully crafted chiastic composition in Alma 36:1–30. … Alma 38 is equally interesting. It presents essentially the first half of the chiasm found in Alma 36, up to the climactic turning point, before shifting into hortatory speech admonishing his second son. Having given the doubled version to his eldest son, Helaman, in Alma 36, Alma evidently felt no need to give the fully repeated structure to Shiblon in Alma 38.4

Alma the Younger speaks to his son Shiblon in the land of Zarahemla. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org.

Consistent Details

Concerning consistencies in the text, Welch explained,

… it is impressive that the specific details in the accounts remain accurately consistent. For example, all five of those present fell to the earth before the angel, but only Alma was told to “arise” (Mosiah 27:12–13; Alma 36:7–8) and to “remember the captivity of thy fathers” (Mosiah 27:16; Alma 36:2, 28–29), precisely the same in both accounts.

Even what superficially appears to be a difference is not. Alma 36:16 states that Alma was racked for three days and three nights. Mosiah 27:23, however, says the priests fasted for two days and two nights. This is because, under Nephite practice, the fast would not have begun until the morning of the next day after the decision to fast (Helaman 9:10).5

Shared Word, Phrases, and Ideas

Finally, the number of shared words and phrases in the three accounts is significant. While much of the language is the same, it is often rearranged in complex ways. For example, the details about the earth shaking under the feet of the sons of Mosiah were not simply copied and pasted into later accounts; rather, they seem to have been taken from different portions of the first account and integrated into the later accounts in new and creative ways. At the same time, sometimes language is shared between the later accounts but can’t found in the early one. To help readers visualize these complex relationships, a sample of textual similarities is color coded in the following chart:

Mosiah 27Alma 36Alma 38

“which caused the earth to shake upon which they stood” (v. 11)

“which shook the earth” (v. 18)

shake the earth and cause it to tremble” (v. 18)
 

“the whole earth did tremble beneath our feet” (v. 7)“and it shook the whole earth” (v. 7)

As Welch concluded, “It is apparent that these three accounts all originated from the same man. … The repetitions show that a single person was the author of all three and suggest that Alma had told his story many times and had grown accustomed to using these characteristic words and phrases.”6 For a comprehensive comparison of similar words and phrases, see the Appendix.

Conclusion

In his concluding statements on this topic, Welch observed,

Despite the fact that Mosiah 27 is separated from the accounts in Alma 36 and 38 by the many words, events, sermons, conflicts and distractions reported in the intervening one hundred pages of printed text, these three accounts still profoundly bear the unmistakable imprints of a single distinctive person, who throughout his adult lifetime had lived with, thought about, matured through, and insightfully taught by means of his powerful and beautiful conversion story.7

Book of Mormon Central, “Why Are there Multiple Accounts of Joseph Smith’s and Alma’s Visions? (Alma 36:6–7),” KnoWhy 264 (January 20, 2017).

John W. Welch and J. Gregory Welch, Charting the Book of Mormon: Visual Aids for Personal Study and Teaching (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999), charts 106 and 107.

John A. Tvedtnes, “The Voice of an Angel,” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1997), 311–321.

S. Kent Brown, “Alma’s Conversion: Reminiscences in His Sermons,” in The Book of Mormon: Alma, The Testimony of the Word, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate, Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1993), 141–156.

John W. Welch, “Three Accounts of Alma’s Conversion,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon: A Decade of New Research, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 150–153. 

See Appendix

See Appendix

Consistent Details in Alma’s Three Conversion Accounts

Topic

Mosiah 27

Alma 36

Alma 38

Alma’s Sins and Iniquities

“therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities” (Mosiah 27:8)

 

“I have repented of my sins” (v. 24)

“Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities” (v. 13)

 

“so great had been my iniquities” (v. 14)

 

“I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins” (v. 17)

 

“I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.” (v. 19)

 

 

“never, until I did cry out unto the Lord Jesus Christ for mercy, did I receive a remission of my sins” (v. 8)

Going About to Destroy the Church

“he was going about to destroy the church of God, for he did go about secretly with the sons of Mosiah seeking to destroy the church” (v. 10)

 

“they were going about rebelling against God” (v. 11)

“For I went about with the sons of Mosiah, seeking to destroy the church of God” (v. 6)

 

Rebellion Against God

“they were going about rebelling against God” (v. 11)

“I had rebelled against my God” (v. 13)

 

Alma Didn’t Keep God’s Commandments

“for he did go about … to lead astray the people of the Lord, contrary to the commandments of God” (v. 10)

“I had not kept his holy commandments” (v. 13)

 

God Sent His Angel

angel of the Lord” (v. 11)

 

“I am sent from God” (v. 15)

God sent his holy angel” (v. 6)

“the Lord in his great mercy sent his angel” (v. 7)

Voice of Thunder

he spake as it were with a voice of thunder” (v. 11)

 

his voice was as thunder” (v. 18)

he spake unto us, as it were the voice of thunder” (v. 7)

he spake with me, and his voice was as thunder” (v. 7)

The Earth Shook

“which caused the earth to shake upon which they stood” (v. 11)

 

“which shook the earth” (v. 18)

 

shake the earth and cause it to tremble” (v. 18)

“the whole earth did tremble beneath our feet” (v. 7)

“and it shook the whole earth” (v. 7)

Great Astonishment and Amazement

“And so great was their astonishment” (v. 12)

 

“for great was their astonishment” (v. 18)

 

“the astonishment of Alma was so great that he became dumb” (19)

 

 

 

“I was struck with such great fear and amazement” (v. 11)

 

They Fell to the Earth

“they fell to the earth” (v. 12)

“and we all fell to the earth” (v. 7)

 

Instruction to Arise and Stand

“Nevertheless he cried again, saying: Alma, arise and stand forth” (v. 13)

“But behold, the voice said unto me: Arise. And I arose and stood up.” (v. 8)

 

Seek Not to Destroy the Church

seek to destroy the church no more” (v. 13)

seek no more to destroy the church of God” (9)

 

Remember the Captivity and Deliverance of Thy Fathers

“Go, and remember the captivity of thy fathers in the land of Helam, and in the land of Nephi; and remember how great things he has done for them; for they were in bondage, and he has delivered them." (v. 16)

“I would that ye should do as I have done, in remembering the captivity of our fathers; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them” (v. 2)

 

“he has delivered them out of bondage and captivity” (v. 28)

 

“Yea, and he has also brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem; and … delivered them out of bondage and captivity (v. 29)

“I would that ye should remember, that as much as ye shall put your trust in God even so much ye shall be delivered” (v. 5)

Put Trust in God

 

“for I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported” (v.3)

 

“yea, and I do put my trust in him, and he will still deliver me.” (v. 27)

“I would that ye should remember, that as much as ye shall put your trust in God even so much ye shall be delivered” (v. 5)

Lifted Up at the Last Day

 

“for I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God … shall be lifted up at the last day.” (v. 3)

“I would that ye should remember, that as much as ye shall put your trust in God … ye shall be lifted up at the last day.” (v. 5)

Know Not of Myself

 

And I would not that ye think that I know of myself—not of the temporal but of the spiritual, not of the carnal mind but of God.” (v. 4)

“Now, my son, I would not that ye should think that I know these things of myself, but it is the Spirit of God which is in me which maketh these things known unto me” (v. 6)

If Thou Wilt of Thyself

“and this even if thou wilt of thyself be cast off” (v. 16)

If thou wilt of thyself be destroyed” (v. 9)

 

If thou wilt be destroyed of thyself” (v. 11)

 

Alma Fell Again to the Earth

“And now Alma … fell again to the earth” (v. 18)

“And it came to pass that I fell to the earth”  (v. 10)

 

“I fell to the earth” (v. 11)

 

Three Days and Three Nights

 

“it was for the space of three days and three nights” (v. 10)

 

“And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul” (v. 16)

“I was three days and three nights in the most bitter pain” (v. 38)

Loss of Speech

“he became dumb, that he could not open his mouth” (v. 19)

I could not open my mouth” (v. 10)

 

Could Not Move Hands/Limbs

“he became weak, even that he could not move his hands” (v. 19)

neither had I the use of my limbs” (v. 10)

 

Limbs Received Strength

“the limbs of Alma received their strength” (v. 23)

“my limbs did receive their strength again” (v. 23)

 

Alma Stood and Addressed the People

“he stood up and began to speak unto them” (v. 23)

“I stood upon my feet, and did manifest unto the people (v. 23)

 

Born of God/Spirit

“behold I am born of the Spirit” (v. 24)

 

“I am born of God” (v. 28)

 

 

“I had been born of God” (v. 23)

“for if I had not been born of God I should not have known these things” (v. 6)

Others Are/Must Be Born of God

“Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God” (v. 25)

“that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost” (v. 24)

 

“behold, many have been born of God” (v. 26)

 

Carnal vs. Divine Nature

“changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness” (v. 25)

“I know of myself—not of the temporal but of the spiritual, not of the carnal mind but of God” (v. 4)

 

Cut/Cast Off

“unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God … [and] must be cast off; and this I know, because I was like to be cast off” (26–27)

“inasmuch as ye will not keep the commandments of God ye shall be cut off from his presence” (v. 30)

“inasmuch as ye will not keep the commandments of God ye shall be cut off from his presence” (v. 1)

Cry unto Jesus for Mercy

O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me” (v. 28)

“I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me,” (v. 18)

“never, until I did cry out unto the Lord Jesus Christ for mercy, did I receive a remission of my sins” (v. 8)

Everlasting Burning/Punishment/Chains

“then shall they confess, who live without God in the world, that the judgment of an everlasting punishment is just upon them” (v. 27)

“the Lord in mercy hath seen fit to snatch me out of an everlasting burning” (v. 28)

“and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death” (18)

 

Alma Repents and Escapes Death

“Nevertheless, after wading through much tribulation, repenting nigh unto death” (v. 28)

“I cried … have mercy on me, who … am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death” (v. 18)

 

“God has delivered me from prison, and from bonds, and from death” (v. 27)

 

 

 

Gall of Bitterness and Pain

“My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness” (v. 29)

“O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness” (v. 18)

 

“there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains." (v. 21)

“I was three days and three nights in the most bitter pain” (v. 8)

Marvelous Light

“but now I behold the marvelous light of God” (v. 29)

“what marvelous light I did behold” (v. 20)

Behold, he is the life and the light of the world” (V. 9)

Soul Racked with Eternal Torment

“My soul was racked with eternal torment” (v. 29)

“Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell” (v. 13)

 

“for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul. And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment” (vv. 16–17)

 

 

 

Pains of the Soul

“my soul is pained no more” (v. 29)

“for which I was tormented with the pains of hell” (v. 13)

 

“was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul” (v. 16)

 

“I could remember my pains no more” (v. 19)

“I was three days and three nights in the most bitter pain and anguish of soul” (v. 8)

Fear in God’s Presence or View

“and they shall quake, and tremble, and shrink beneath the glance of his all-searching eye” (v. 31)

“the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror” (v. 14)

 

Stand to Be Judged

“Yea, even at the last day, when all men shall stand to be judged of him, then shall they confess that he is God” (v. 31)

“Oh, thought I, … that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds.” (v. 15)

 

From This Time Forward

“And now it came to pass that Alma began from this time forward to teach the people” (v. 32)

“Yea, and from that time even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance” (v. 24)

 

Others Learn/See What Alma Saw

“Alma began from this time forward to teach the people, … publishing to all the people the things which they had heard and seen, and preaching the word of God” (v. 32)

“For because of the word which he has imparted unto me, behold, many have … seen eye to eye as I have seen” (v. 26)

 

Tribulation, Trials, Troubles, Afflictions

“preaching the word of God in much tribulation, being greatly persecuted by those who were unbelievers, being smitten by many of them (v. 32)

“And I have been supported under trials and troubles of every kind, yea, and in all manner of afflictions” (v. 27)

“ ye shall be delivered out of your trials, and your troubles, and your afflictions” (v. 5)

Others Come to Know What Alma Knows

“for [Alma’s father] has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth” (v. 14)

 

“And thus they were instruments in the hands of God in bringing many to the knowledge of the truth” (v. 36)

“but God has, by the mouth of his holy angel, made these things known unto me” (v. 5)

 

“therefore they do know of these things of which I have spoken, as I do know; and the knowledge which I have is of God” (v. 26)

 

 

Complexity
Intertextuality (Internal)
Alma's Conversion
Book of Mormon

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