Evidence #50 | September 19, 2020

Bands and Chains

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Scripture Central


The phrases “bands of death” and “chains of hell” can’t be found in the English translation of the King James Bible, and yet they show up in the Bible’s underlying Hebrew and in the Book of Mormon, often in similar contexts and in some cases jointly.

Some phrases in the Book of Mormon have parallels with the underlying Hebrew of the Old Testament, and yet don’t show up in the English translation of the King James Bible. The phrases “bands of death” and “chains of hell” are two notable examples of this phenomenon.

Bands of Death

In the Book of Mormon, the phrase “bands of death” was first uttered by Abinadi when he stood trial before King Noah and his priests. He used the phrase five different times,1 and in every case he emphasized that these bands would be broken by Jesus Christ. The phrase seems to have been picked up by Alma the Younger, who used it on a number of occasions in contexts that are similar to Abinadi’s usage.2

Abidani before King Noah, by Andrew Bosley. Image via churchofjesuschirst.org.

While this exact phrase never appears in the King James Version of the Bible,3 a phrase in the Hebrew of the Old Testament—heveli-mot—can appropriately be translated as “bands of death” (as in the Darby Bible Translation).4 This phrase appears in Psalms 18:4 and 116:3, where it is translated variously as “cords of death” (Psalm 18:4; NIV, ESV, NASB, ISV, ASV, ERV, WEB), “ropes of death” (NLT, HCSB), or “snares of death” (Psalm 116:3; ESV), although in both passages the KJV renders it as “sorrows of death.”

In the Bible, the word hevel is often used in contexts of resurrection, redemption, water/floods, childbirth, and baptism.5 These same themes sometimes surround the use of “bands of death” (heveli-mot) in the Book of Mormon. For example, speaking of the Son of God, Abinadi stated:

Yea, even so he shall be led, crucified, and slain, the flesh becoming subject even unto death [baptism theme],6 the will of the Son being swallowed up [water/flood theme]7 in the will of the Father. And thus God breaketh the bands of death [heveli-mot], having gained the victory over death; giving the Son power to make intercession for the children of men—Having ascended into heaven [resurrection theme], having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed [redemption theme] them, and satisfied the demands of justice. (Mosiah 15:7–9; emphasis added)

Alma the Younger baptizing believers. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org.

Chains of Hell

As noted previously, Alma also made frequent use of the phrase “bands of death.” Yet a development occurs in Alma 5. Each time “bands of death” is used in this chapter, it is directly followed by the phrase “chains of hell.”8 This is noteworthy because Psalm 18:5, one of the few biblical passages which uses the Hebrew phrase heveli-mot (“bands of death”),9 uses another phrase in conjunction with it: heveli-sh'ol (“bands/cords of sheol/hell”). Similar phrasing for this concept can also be found in other Old Testament passages, such as Psalm 107:10–14.

Complex Intertextual Connections

Together, the abovementioned psalms speak of the afflicted crying in distress unto the Lord for deliverance from being compassed about by bands, chains, darkness, death, floods, and hell and then being delivered by God’s light and mercy. Interestingly, when Alma’s statements in Alma 5 are combined with very similar statements in accounts of his conversion in Mosiah 27 and Alma 36, the same cluster of concepts clearly emerge (color coded for easier identification):10

Psalm 18

Psalms 107

Psalm 116

Alma 5

Mosiah 27

          Alma 36    

4 The sorrows [or bands] of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid.

5 The sorrows [or bands] of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me.

6 In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears.

28 For thou wilt light my candle: the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness.

10 Such as sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction [or suffering] and iron [or chains]

13 Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses.

14 He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and brake their bands in sunder.

3 The sorrows [or bands] of death compassed me, and the pains [or bands] of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.

4 Then called I upon the name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul.

5 Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful.

6 Yea, and have you sufficiently retained in remembrance his mercy and long-suffering towards them?

7 Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word; yea, they were encircled about by the bands of death, and the chains of hell

9 And again I ask, were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled them about, were they loosed? I say unto you, Yea, they were loosed

28 Nevertheless, after wading through much tribulation, repenting nigh unto death ….

29 My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God.


18 … I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.

20 And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!


Abinadi’s use of the phrase “bands of death” (heveli-mot) and Alma’s use of this phrase in conjunction with “chains of hell” (heveli-sh’ol) suggest that whoever authored the Book of Mormon was likely aware of certain nuances of biblical Hebrew. Neither phrase shows up in the English translation of the King James Bible, and yet both can be detected in its underlying Hebrew. The presumption that Alma was intentionally drawing from these passages becomes  even more convincing when one considers the cluster of related concepts between them and Alma’s conversion accounts.

Importantly, only when Alma’s related expressions about this topic are all brought together do we see how they comprehensively interact with relevant passages in Psalms. Abindi’s use of “bands of death” in biblically appropriate contexts is also not without merit. Together, their uses of these phrases offer an excellent example of how Book of Mormon authors often quoted or alluded to bibilical passages in complex and sophisticated ways.

Book of Mormon Central, “Why Did Alma Add ‘Chains of Hell’ to Abinadi’s Phrase ‘Bands of Death’? (Alma 5:9),” KnoWhy 111 (May 31, 2016).

Book of Mormon Central, “Why Does Abinadi Use the Phrase ‘the Bands of Death’? (Mosiah 15:8),” KnoWhy 93 (May 5, 2016).

2 Nephi 28:22–23Mosiah 15:7–9, 20, 23Mosiah 16:7Alma 4:14Alma 5:7–10Alma 7:12Alma 11:41Alma 12:11Alma 13:13Alma 22:14Alma 26:14Mormon 9:13

2 Nephi 28:22–23

Mosiah 15:7–9, 20, 23

Mosiah 16:7

Alma 4:14

Alma 5:7–10

Alma 7:12

Alma 11:41

Alma 12:11

Alma 13:13

Alma 22:14

Alma 26:14

Mormon 9:13

Intertextuality (External)
Bands and Chains
Book of Mormon

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