Evidence #69 | September 19, 2020

Flashbacks (Alma 17–27)

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Scripture Central

Abstract

Chapters 17–22 in the book of Alma contain two flashback sequences, one embedded within the other. These flashbacks demonstrate one aspect of the Book of Mormon’s narrative complexity.

When Alma meets up with the sons of Mosiah in Alma 17:1, the narrative suddenly transitions into flashback sequences that last for the next 10 chapters (Alma 17–27). Chapters 17–20 report on Ammon’s mission to the Lamanites, and then Alma 21:1–14 contains an embedded flashback (a flashback within a flashback) discussing the missionary efforts of Aaron and those with him. After this, the combined missionary efforts of the sons of Mosiah are discussed until Alma 27:16, where the story of their reunion with Alma picks up from where it had left off in Alma 17.

These flashback sequences are carefully developed, well transitioned, and serve a meaningful literary purpose, allowing readers to learn lessons from stories that occurred during the same time period but in different locations. For instance, the embedded flashback in Alma 21:1–14 contrasts the missionary success of Ammon with the initial rejection and afflictions suffered by Aaron and his brethren, who happened “to have fallen into the hands of a more hardened and a more stiffnecked people” (). From these contrasting stories, readers might learn that the righteousness of missionaries does not necessarily determine how well they will be received. It also becomes apparent that the Lord often has a way of eventually turning seeming failure into remarkable success.1

Ammon, son of Mosiah, prays with his brethren as they prepare to preach to the Lamanites. Image and description via ChurchofJesusChrist.org. 

More generally, the combined flashback sequences in Alma 17–27 helpfully contrast the conversion of humble Lamanites taught by the sons of Mosiah with the rebellion of hard-hearted Nephites taught by Alma and Amulek in previous chapters (Alma 8–14). Together, these contrasting narratives illustrate an important moral lesson that Mormon gave towards the end of the flashback sequence:

And thus we can plainly discern, that after a people have been once enlightened by the Spirit of God, and have had great knowledge of things pertaining to righteousness, and then have fallen away into sin and transgression, they become more hardened, and thus their state becomes worse than though they had never known these things. (Alma 24:30)

Only two verses after making this statement, Mormon reported that Ammonihah—a city filled with wicked Nephites—was destroyed by Lamanites (Alma 25:2). Interestingly, this retelling gives a different perspective than the first report of the city’s destruction given in Alma 16. Literary scholar Grant Hardy has explained,

So in Alma 8–16 and 17–25, we find two separate narrative strands that both culminate in the destruction of Ammonihah, but the explanations given in each version are different. One is spiritual (due to God’s justice) and one political (due to Lamanite aggressions in the aftermath of Anti-Nephi-Lehi conversions). Nevertheless, both seem equally valid; apparently God’s will is sometimes manifest through ordinary historical means, and Mormon, as a historian as well as a moral guide, is interested in promoting both perspectives.2

Hardy concluded, “The fact that these parallel narratives and flashbacks, with their interlocking story lines and causes, are so deftly negotiated says something about Mormon’s abilities as an editor/narrator.”

Book of Mormon Central, “Why Did Mormon Include Flashbacks in His Narrative? (Alma 21:13),” KnoWhy 129 (June 24, 2016).

Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010), 104–105; 118–119.

Alma 17–27

Alma 17–27

Footnotes
  •  See Mosiah 28:7; Alma 17:11; 26:27–37.
  •  Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010), 118; see also pp. 104–105, 119.
  •  Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon, 119.
Complexity
Narratives
Flashbacks (Alma 17-27)
Book of Mormon

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