Evidence #422 | September 25, 2023

Alma’s Literary Structure

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Scripture Central


Textual evidence indicates that the book of Alma was intentionally crafted as a sophisticated, four-part literary structure.

As proposed by Joseph Spencer, the book of Alma can be divided into two parallel halves, which can be broken down further into parallel quarters (with the first quarter paralleling the third quarter, and the second quarter paralleling the fourth quarter). The following chart provides an overview of Spencer’s proposed four-part literary structure:1

First Quarter (Alma 1–16)

Third Quarter (Alma 30–44)

Nehor (Alma 1)

Korihor (Alma 30)

The Amlicites (Alma 2–3)

The Zoramites (Alma 31–35)

Alma in Zarahemla (Alma 4–6)

Alma to Helaman (Alma 36–37)

Alma in Gideon (Alma 7)

Alma to Shiblon (Alma 38)

Alma in Ammonihah (Alma 8–15)

Alma to Corianton (Alma 39–42)

Details about War (Alma 16)

Details about War (Alma 43–44)

Second Quarter (Alma 17–29)

Fourth Quarter (45–63)

Alma’s Interrupted Journey (Alma 17)

Alma’s Interrupted Journey (Alma 45)

Ammon’s Mission (Alma 17–20)

Amalickiah’s Dissension (Alma 45–51)

Aaron’s Mission (Alma 21–26)

Ammoron’s Dissension (Alma 52–62)

Aftermath and Cleanup (Alma 27–29)

Aftermath and Cleanup (Alma 63)

The justification for this outline comes from large-scale thematic parallels as well as minute details, such as similar words and phrases at key junctures. The following sections will briefly summarize the various sets of parallel textual units (most of which are covered in much greater detail in Spencer’s article).2

First / Third Quarters

Nehor (Alma 1) / Korihor (Alma 30)3

Both Nehor and Korihor were (1) Nephite dissidents who (2) disrupted Nephite social and religious order, (3) were put on legal trial, (4) were punished for their crimes or sins, and (5) met an untimely demise.

The Amlicites (Alma 2–3) / The Zoramites (Alma 31–35)4

Amlici was a follower of Nehor (Alma 2:1), and the Amlicite-Nephite conflict directly follows the story of Nehor’s dissension. Likewise, the Zoramite rebellion immediately follows after the story of Korihor’s dissension. While the Zoramite religious beliefs weren’t directly aligned with Korihor’s, Mormon closely associated their perverted teachings and thus narratively connects them together.5

Zoram preaching atop the Rameumptom. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

Alma’s Preaching Tour (Alma 4–15) / Alma’s Council to His Sons (Alma 36–42)6

In several ways, Alma’s preaching tour in Zarahemla, Gideon, and Ammonihah mirrors his counsel to his sons Helaman, Shiblon, and Corianton. As summarized by Spencer, “the text provides the parallel stories of three occasions for Alma’s preaching, addressed in turn to (1) a figure of potential responsibility requiring detailed instructions (Zarahemla, Helaman), (2) a faithful figure who appreciates brief adulation (Gideon, Shiblon), and (3) a wayward figure requiring sustained intervention (Ammonihah, Corianton).”7

Details about War (Alma 16 / Alma 43–44)8

The details of the military conflicts found in Alma 16 and Alma 43–44 have several parallels. For instance, in both cases Nephite armies were victorious near the River Sidon.

Second / Fourth Quarters

Alma’s Interrupted Journeys (Alma 17 / Alma 45)9

In Alma 17:1, the story of Alma journeying to Manti is interrupted by his encounter with the sons of Mosiah. This initiates a lengthy flashback sequence spanning from Alma 17–27. Similarly, in Alma 45:18–19 we learn that Alma suddenly disappears while traveling to the land of Melek, after which his son Helaman becomes the main spiritual Nephite leader. In both instances, Alma’s interrupted journey initiates a transition into a new narrative about different characters and challenges.

Ammon’s Mission (Alma 17–20) / Amalickiah’s Dissension (Alma 45–51)10

In several ways, Ammon’s mission to the Lamanites has an inverse relationship with Amalickiah’s dissension. Although Ammon was a Nephite prince and could have been a Nephite king (Mosiah 29:3), he chose to forgo a position of power and instead willingly became a servant of King Lamoni (Alma 17:25). In contrast, Amalickiah sought to make himself a king among the Nephites. When that failed, he used treachery and deceit to usurp power and make himself a king over the Lamanites. Ammon’s mission resulted in many Lamanites converting to the gospel and joining the Nephites. On the other hand, Amalickiah manipulated the Lamanites and drew them into a serious military conflict with the Nephites for his own personal gain.

Ammon standing before King Lamoni. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

Aaron’s Mission (Alma 21–26) / Ammoron’s Dissension (Alma 52–62)11

Just as Ammon’s brother Aaron conducted a separate mission, Amalickiah’s brother Ammoron conducted a separate military offensive against the Nephites. Each figure “broaden[ed] the scope of their respective brother’s efforts, Aaron with an eye to a general Lamanite mission (see Alma 22:27; 23:1–5) and Ammoron in hopes of dividing Nephite forces in a two-front war (see Alma 52:12–14).”12

Aftermath and Cleanup (Alma 27–29 / Alma 63)13

Alma 27–29 records the final outcomes and aftermath of the Nephite missionary efforts, while Alma 63 reports on some of the outcomes and aftermath of the major Nephite-Lamanite wars. Each section involves the migration of peoples (Alma 27:26; Alma 63:) and a very brief summary of a final conflict in which the Lamanites were “driven” and “scattered” (Alma 28:1–3; Alma 63:15).


In some sets of parallels, as in the incidents of Nehor and Korihor, the narrative doubling works to emphasize an important theme or doctrinal point. In other instances, the parallels end up having an inverse or contrastive relationship. This can be seen in the way that Ammon and Aaron’s missions to the Lamanites provides an illuminating foil to Amalickiah and Ammoron’s efforts to subdue the Lamanites for their own gain.

If these proposed textual relationships are valid, they add a notable layer of subtle literary complexity and sophistication to the book of Alma, which would be somewhat startling as coming from Joseph Smith in 1829.14 It should be emphasized, however, that the above summaries can hardly do justice to Spencer’s complete proposal. Those who consult his longer article will find a more detailed and robust set of parallels, which together make a strong case for this intentional, four-part structure.

Joseph M. Spencer, “The Structure of the Book of Alma,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 26, no 1 (2017): 273–283.

Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr., eds., The Book of Mormon: Alma, the Testimony of the Word (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1992), 263–280.

The book of Alma

The book of Alma


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