Evidence #207 | June 17, 2021

Korihor’s Trial

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Scripture Central


The trial of Korihor features a realistic blending of legal issues that are consistent with the text’s claimed ancient origins and its developed internal history.

Korihor and His Teachings

Near the end of the 17th year of the reign of the judges, a man named Korihor came into the land of Zarahemla and began to preach against the prophecies of Christ (Alma 30:6). The narrator explains at length in vv. 7–11 that there was no law against one’s religious beliefs, but only later in the chapter does it become apparent that this was a key issue involved in Koriho’rs trial, demonstrating the narrator’s foreknowledge of what is about to be presented. After this, readers are informed more specifically about the claims made by Korihor and the accusations that he leveled against the Church, as summarized below:

  • Hope in Christ is foolish. (v. 13)
  • No man can know of anything which is to come. (v. 13)
  • Prophecies of Christ are foolish traditions. (v. 14)
  • Foreknowledge of Christ is impossible. (v. 15)
  • Belief in the redemption of Christ is the product of a deranged and frenzied mind. (v. 16)
  • There can be no atonement made for the sins. (v. 17)
  • Everyone fares in this life according to respective human capacities. (v. 17)
  • Whatsoever a man does is no crime. (v. 17)
  • There is no life after death. (v. 18)
Korihor preaching unto the people. Image via "All Things Denote There Is a God," online at churchofjesuschrist.org. 

Korihor Is Apprehended

Although Korihor’s message was viewed favorably by many Nephites, he met resistance when preaching among the people of Ammon who dwelled in the land of Jershon. They apprehended him and took him before the high priest (Ammon himself), who banished Korihor from the region (Alma 30:20–21). Korihor next preached in the city of Gideon, where he was again apprehended, and this time taken before the high priest and chief judge (v. 21). Interestingly, in both of these instances, Korihor was taken, bound, and carried—a consistent formula found in other legal situations in the Book of Mormon.1

Korihor Makes His Case

Upon being questioned about his intentions, Korihor brought forward numerous complaints against Christ’s church and its leaders. He accused them of priestcraft, of perpetuating foolish traditions, of limiting the people’s freedom and rights, of pretending to revelations, and of teaching people to believe in a God that doesn’t exist (Alma 30:23–28). Korihor’s speech was clearly in violation of Exodus 22:28: “Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.” The high priest and chief judge apparently knew this, for they “saw that he would revile even against God” (Alma 30:29).

Ammon banishes Korihor from Jershon. Image via "All Things Denote There Is a God," online at churchofjesuschrist.org. 

Korihor Is Taken to Zarahemla for Judgment

Yet instead of reaching a judgement, “they delivered him up into the hands of the officers, and sent him to the land of Zarahemla, that he might be brought before Alma, and the chief judge who was governor over all the land” (Alma 30:29). The rare mention of “officers” in this passage is consistent with the purpose of this civic position outlined in the law of Mosiah, which describes officers apprehending individuals and bringing them before a judge (Alma 11:2). According to Welch,

One may assume that their functions, in addition to their title, were somewhat similar to the “officers” (shoterim) of the Deuteronomic courts: “Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates” (Deuteronomy 16:18), although little is known about those officers.2

As for why jurisdiction over this case was avoided by lower courts, it appears there was some uncertainty as to how far Mosiah’s reforms granted clemency for speech acts that violated Mosaic law. In other words, were violations of Exodus 22:28 to be civilly prosecuted under the new system or not?3 Following biblical precedent,4 this difficult case was brought before a higher court for judgment.

Alma Questions Korihor

When presenting his case before Alma and the chief judge, Korihor “did go on in the same manner as he did in the land of Gideon; yea, he went on to blaspheme. And he did rise up in great swelling words before Alma, and did revile against the priests and teachers” (Alma 30:30–31).5 Korihor further claimed that Alma and other church leaders were perpetuating their “silly” religious traditions “for the sake of glutting on the labors of the people” (v. 31).

Alma responded by first drawing upon personal experience to prove that neither he nor the other priests of the church received monetary compensation for their labors in the church (Alma 30:32–34). He then asserted that Korihor himself knew this to be true: “why sayest thou that we preach unto this people to get gain, when thou, of thyself, knowest that we receive no gain?” (v. 35; emphasis added).

After repudiating Korihor’s word on this issue, Alma pressed Korihor on whether he really thought the priests were deceiving the people and if Korihor really didn’t believe in God (Alma 30:35–38). Then, once again, Alma personally testified in opposition to Korihor: “For behold, I say unto you, I know there is a God, and also that Christ shall come” (v. 39). Apparently sensitive to the need for multiple witnesses in a legal setting, Alma also marshalled other witnesses to his defense, saying that both he and Korihor had “all things as a testimony” that Alma’s words were true (v. 41; cf. v. 44), while Korihor had no “evidence … save it be your word only” (v. 40). “In this way,” noted Welch, “Alma was able to expose an objectively provable defect in Korihor’s case.”6

Alma questions Korihor. Image via "All Things Denote There Is a God," online at churchofjesuschrist.org. 

Just as Korihor knew that Alma and other leaders were not glutting themselves on the labors of the people, Alma claimed that Korihor was also lying about not believing in God: “I know that thou believest, but thou art possessed with a lying spirit” (Alma 30:42). This point is clearly important. At the beginning of the chapter, the narrator emphasized that the law couldn’t punish people for their beliefs, but only for their crimes (vv. 7–11). For Korihor’s teachings to be a crime under the law, it would need to be proven that he didn’t actually believe what he taught, as established in the case of Nehor (Alma 1:17). Thus, Alma’s questioning seems intelligently crafted to reveal Korihor’s duplicity.

Alma’s questions can also be seen as fulfilling the need for “diligent inquisition” as stipulated in Deuteronomy 19:17–18.7 Throughout their recorded discourse, Alma asked Korihor twelve questions in total, which may be significant considering that twelve was a symbol of judgment and justice in ancient Israel.8 While five of Alma’s questions were rhetorical, the remaining seven seem intended to evoke a response.9 As noted by Welch,

Later Jewish jurists required that, in order to refute the testimony of a false witness, the challenged position had to be tested by seven inquiries, a requirement that the Talmud implied from the text of Deuteronomy. The refuting witnesses were to pose questions to the accused false witness such as, “How can you assert that you have seen the accused commit this act . . . when at that very time you were with us at such-and-such a place?” Alma asked Korihor similarly phrased questions.10

Korihor Demands a Sign

It appears Korihor didn’t have any way to verify his claims. Unlike Alma, he didn’t draw upon personal experience, cite other witnesses, or provide any sort of corroborating evidence. By bringing forth unsubstantiated accusations, it is as if he had legally painted himself into a corner. So he opted for the same tactic that Sherem had used many years earlier (Jacob 7:13).11 He tried to shift the burden back onto Alma by requesting a sign: “If thou wilt show me a sign, that I may be convinced that there is a God, yea, show unto me that he hath power, and then will I be convinced of the truth of thy words” (Alma 30:43). As Welch described it, this was “an extraordinary step, a last resort, and a sort of voluntary request for an ordeal.”12

Alma’s Warnings

Throughout their discussion, Alma gave Korihor several opportunities to deny or affirm important claims or requests. For instance, after Korihor denied the existence of God (Alma 30:38), Alma asked, “Will ye deny again that there is a God, and also deny the Christ? (v. 39; emphasis added). Similarly, after Korihor requested a sign, Alma warned Korihor of the many witnesses that stood against him and then asked: “will ye deny against all these witnesses?” (v. 45). Korihor reaffirmed his request for a sign (v. 45), but Alma wasn’t through with issuing warnings. He told Korihor about the specific consequence that would follow: “therefore if thou shalt deny again, behold God shall smite thee, that thou shalt become dumb, that thou shalt never open thy mouth any more” (v. 47; emphasis added).  

To give warning was “one of the traditional legal duties of a priest in Israel,” as seen in passages such as 2 Chronicles 19:10 and Ezekiel 3:17–19.13 According to Welch,

Such warnings were essential so that the wicked could not use ignorance of the law as a defense. By the time of the Mishnah, the necessity of warning was so firmly embedded in Jewish law that it was “incumbent upon the prosecution to show that the accused was, immediately before the commission of the offense, expressly warned by two competent witnesses that it would be unlawful for him to commit it, and that if he committed it he would be liable to that specific penalty provided for it by law.” One school of rabbis even taught that a good judge should ask a prosecuting witness, among other things, “Did ye warn him? Did he accept your warning?”14

Korihor Is Cursed with Speechlessness

Ancient Greek binding spell (4th century BC). Such spells show that curses were typically associated with legal settings in the ancient world. Image via Wikimedia Commons. 

After Korihor doubled down on his request for a sign, Alma declared, “I say, that in the name of God, ye shall be struck dumb, that ye shall no more have utterance” (Alma 30:49). Korihor was then cursed with speechlessness (v. 50). Such curses, given in a legal setting, are well-attested in the ancient world, particularly in the Mediterranean.15 Welch concluded that “the speechlessness of Korihor … was precisely the kind of sign or restraint that people in the ancient world expected a god to manifest in a judicial setting, especially in the face of false accusations …. In such cases, resorting to curses or appealing to supernatural intervention was perfectly acceptable and perhaps even expected.”16

Korihor’s Confession

After being cursed, Korihor confessed in writing that he was convinced of God’s power, that he had been deceived of the devil, and that he had knowingly lied to the people about God not existing, just as Alma had accused him of doing (Alma 30:52–53). “Facilitating and obtaining a confession of guilt was so important that later Jewish law even required judges to assist the convict in making his confession.”17 Korihor’s words, formally recorded in his own hand, must have been crucial to the public record (v. 57).18 His statements may even have functioned somewhat similarly to confession stelae known in the ancient world.19

Talionic Justice

The Death of Korihor, by Minerva Teichert

Although Korihor petitioned for his curse to be removed, Alma refused, claiming that if Korihor were free to speak he would “again lead away the hearts of this people” (Alma 30:55). Instead, Korihor was “cast out, and went about from house to house begging for his food” (v. 56). Korihor eventually went among the Zoramites where he “was run upon and trodden down, even until he was dead” (v. 59). These outcomes— (1) being cursed with speechlessness, (2) begging for food, and (3) being trodden down—are noteworthy, for each one corresponds specifically to Korihor’s own misconduct, in accordance with the ancient principle of talionic justice.20

Korihor had used his power of speech to lead people away from Christ, and then was cursed with speechlessness. He had falsely accused Alma and other church leaders of “glutting” themselves upon the labors of the poor, and then was reduced himself to begging for food. And after falsely accusing others of bringing the people down into bondage and of passing down oppressive religious traditions (Alma 30:13, , 23, 27) while he himself was leading the people down into spiritual destruction (v. 47), Korihor ended up being trodden down by the wicked Zoramites. The irony of Korihor’s downfall wasn’t lost on Mormon, who immediately remarked: “and thus we see that the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell” (v. 60).12


Korihor’s fate proved that even though the civil law allowed for a diversity of beliefs, God would still hold people accountable for their beliefs and actions. The trial’s outcome reinforced that lying about one’s beliefs was still against the law (Korihor was eventually punished civilly by being “cast out” from among the people). And this legal case ultimately “put an end to the iniquity after the manner of Korihor” (Alma 30:58). This monumental trial—with its miraculous and sobering outcome—must have been a crucial and defining moment in Nephite history, and therefore worthy of inclusion in Mormon’s abridgment.

As far as its credibility goes, the details of the case frequently adhere to legalities found in the Torah, in later Jewish traditions, and in the broader landscape of ancient Near Eastern cultures. But they also build upon, and ultimately clarify, the precedents established by King Mosiah, especially the boundaries of free speech which were in tension with Mosaic law. Thus, a realistic blending of legal issues comes into play during this trial, consistent with the text’s claimed ancient origins and its developed internal history.

John W. Welch, The Legal Cases in the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: BYU Press, 2008), 273–300.

BibleExodus 18:22Exodus 22:28Leviticus 24:11Deuteronomy 16:18Deuteronomy 19:17–182 Chronicles 19:10Ezekiel 3:17–19Book of MormonAlma 30:6–60


Exodus 18:22

Exodus 22:28

Leviticus 24:11

Deuteronomy 16:18

Deuteronomy 19:17–18

2 Chronicles 19:10

Ezekiel 3:17–19

Book of Mormon

Alma 30:6–60

Book of Mormon

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