Evidence #171 | March 22, 2021

Trumpet and Jubilee

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Scripture Central

Abstract

Several lines of evidence suggest that Alma’s discourse in Alma 29 was given in the context of an ancient jubilee celebration.

In Alma 29, Alma the Younger begins a discourse with the following statement: “O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!” (Alma 29:1; emphasis added).

Alma made this statement in the 16th year of the reign of the judges,1 which also happened to be the 49th year since King Benjamin’s powerful oration at the coronation of his son Mosiah.2 Some scholars believe that King Benjamin’s speech involved a jubilee celebration because of its numerous correlations to the jubilee text of Leviticus 25.3 If so, then Alma’s discourse, delivered 49 years later, would have occurred during the next jubilee occasion. Alma’s use of trumpet imagery, as well as other themes and details found in Alma 29, would be significant in such a context.

Mosiah's coronation. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

As explained by Christopher Wright, “The year of jubilee came at the end of the cycle of 7 Sabbatical Years,” which themselves occurred every seventh year.4 Thus in the 49th year,5 on the Day of Atonement, the “trumpet of the jubilee” would have again been sounded, “throughout all [the] land” (Leviticus 25:9), heralding in the next jubilee. The Hebrew word yobel (rendered in English as jubilee) literally means trumpet.6 In the land of Israel, the trumpets would probably have been rams horns,7 but other kinds of horns could have been used,8 and some scholars have argued that loud shouting could also suffice.9 Alma’s expressed desire to “speak with the trump of God” and “with a voice of thunder” (Alma 29:1–2) thus seems “especially appropriate in this second identifiable jubilee season in Nephite history.”10

Among its many ideal attributes and desired results, the jubilee was particularly characterized by sabbatical rest and joy. It was to be, above all, a time of great joy and jubilation. And indeed, joy saturates the text of Alma 29, where it appears exactly seven times,11 the archetypal sabbatical number.12 Other themes of the jubilee found in Alma 29 include the counting of blessings, remembering the past, repenting, rejoicing in freedom and deliverance, letting the world rest, and peace.13

Attribution Unknown

Right after the conclusion of Alma’s meditation in Alma 29, the record indicates that in the 16th year there began to be “continual peace throughout all the land” (Alma 30:2), and then in the next year there was “continual peace” (v. 5) throughout most of the 17th year of the reign of judges (being the 50th year from King Benjamin’s speech).

It should be remembered that Alma stepped down from the judgment-seat and began his missionary activities in the 42nd year (or the 6th sabbatical year) since Benjamin’s speech. It is therefore possible to view Alma’s speech in Alma 29 as both marking the end of his seven-year ministry while also ushering in the next jubilee.14

Conclusion

The tone, imagery, and themes of Alma’s discourse in Alma 29 all fit the context of a jubilee occasion. The way that many of these same features show up in Benjamin’s speech—given 49 years earlier—provides further evidence of a Sabbatical and Jubilee cycle in the Book of Mormon text. Readers may understandably question whether Joseph Smith had the biblical knowledge and literary subtlety to implement so many jubilee themes into Alma’s discourse.15 In contrast, these textual features are more easily explained as having been produced by an ancient high priest named Alma, who would have had the literary training, cultural knowledge, and inspiring occasion to create them.

John W. Welch, “Alma 23–29,” in John W. Welch Notes (Springville, UT, Book of Mormon Central, 2020), 652–654.

John W. Welch and J. Gregory Welch, “Benjamin's Themes Related to Sabbatical and Jubilee Years” in Charting the Book of Mormon: Visual Aids for Personal Study and Teaching (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999), chart 91.

Terrence L. Szink and John W. Welch, “King Benjamin’s Speech in the Context of Ancient Israelite Festivals,” in King Benjamin’s Speech: “That Ye May Learn Wisdom,” ed. John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998), 193–199.

Alma 29

Alma 29

  • 1 Alma 28 records the ending of the 15th year (v. 7–10), which means that the 16th year was most likely already in progress when the words found in Alma 29 were produced.
  • 2 Mosiah reigned for 33 years (Mosiah 29:46). These 33 years, when added with the 16 years of the reign of the judges, make a total of 49 years since King Benjamin’s address.
  • 3 Terrence L. Szink and John W. Welch, “King Benjamin’s Speech in the Context of Ancient Israelite Festivals,” in King Benjamin’s Speech: “That Ye May Learn Wisdom,” ed. John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998), 193–199.
  • 4 Christopher J. H. Wright, “Jubilee, Year of,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman, 6 vols. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992), 3:1025.
  • 5 There is some ambiguity as to whether the jubilee was the 49th year (the seventh sabbatical year) or the 50th. Wright, “Jubilee, Year of,” 1025, explains, “Leviticus 25:8–10 specifies it as the 50th year, though some scholars believe it may have been actually the 49th—i.e., the 7th Sabbatical Year.” Szink and Welch, “King Benjamin’s Speech,” 222 n.162 reasoned, “The inclusive mode of sometimes counting the last year as the first of the next jubilee cycle accounts for the frequent confusion between 49- and 50-year jubilee counts.”
  • 6 As in Exodus 19:13Joshua 6:6, 8 (used together with shofar). “Jubilee (yobel) is so called because its opening was announced by the sound of the trumpet (yobel).” Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1965), 175–177.
  • 7 See Wright, “Jubilee, Year of,” 1025: “yôbēl or qeren hayyôbēl, ‘the horn of the ram’ or šôperôt hayyôbelîm, ‘trumpets of rams’ are expressions used for trumpets (e.g., Exod 19:13Josh 6:4–8, 13).”
  • 8 There would seem to have been no reason why other types of horns, or perhaps even conch shells, could not have been used. Horns of antelope, ibex, oryx, and other goat species have also been used. See Jeremy Montagu, The Shofar: Its History and Use (New York, NY: Rowman and Littlefield, 2015), passim. Sirach 50:16, in the Apocrypha, even describes the use of “trumpets of hammered metal” (NRSV), illustrating that trumpets need not be made from the horns of an animal. Trumpets were also used in Mesoamerican rituals, where they were commonly made from the conch shell, though they were also sometimes “made of wood, clay, or gourd.” Anna Stacy, “Of the Same Stuff as Gods: Musical Instruments among the Classic Maya,” Colligate Journal of Anthropology 2 (May 2014). Jorge Perez de Lara, The Cultures of Ancient Mexico: Photographs from the Natural Museum of Anthropology, images 115148150151152153154 show conch trumpets from Mexico dated to the Late Preclassic/Early Classic period. The Kimball Art Museum has a conch trumpet from the Central Lowland Maya area dated to AD 250–400, online at http://www.mesoweb.com/lords/power04.html. Conch trumpets can also be seen in Classic Maya vases, such as K3247 and K4336, online at research.mayavase.com. See also, John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America: Visualizing Book of Mormon Life (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998), 178–179.
  • 9 According to David J. Larsen, “Angels Among Us: The Use of Old Testament Passages as Inspiration for Temple Themes in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” Studies in the Bible and Antiquity 5 (2013): 101, “In the biblical texts, the teru’ah is a shout or a trumpet blast, usually given in the context of a temple ritual on a festival day, such as the Feast of Trumpets or the Day of Atonement.” Larsen also notes that yom teruah means “day of shouting/trumpet blasts.” David J. Larsen, “From Dust to Exalted Crown: Royal and Temple Themes Common to the Psalms and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Temple Insights: Proceedings of the Interpreter Matthew B. Brown Memorial Conference—“The Temple on Mount Zion,” 22 September 2012, ed. William J. Hamblin and David Rolph Seely (Salt Lake and Orem, UT: Eborn Books and Interpreter Foundation, 2014), 151. This nuance may be reflected in Alma’s words, where he equates the “trump of God” with “a voice to shake the earth,” even “the voice of thunder” (Alma 29:1–2).
  • 10 Szink and Welch, “King Benjamin’s Speech,” 198–199.
  • 11 See Alma 29:9, 10, 13, 14 (2x), 16. See also John W. Welch, “Alma 23–29,” in John W. Welch Notes (Springville, UT, Book of Mormon Central, 2020), 653, 658–661.
  • 12 See Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: Lehi’s Seven Tribes,” September 19, 2020, online at evidencecentral.org; Corbin Volluz, “A Study in Seven: Numerology in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies Quarterly 53 no. 2 (2014): 57–83.
  • 13 For a chart featuring the themes of the jubilee year, see John W. Welch and J. Gregory Welch, “Benjamin’s Themes Related to Sabbatical and Jubilee Years,” in Charting the Book of Mormon: Visual Aids for Personal Study and Teaching (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999), chart 91.
  • 14 This was pointed out in Szink and Welch, “King Benjamin’s Speech,” 198.
  • 15 See Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: Joseph Smith’s Education,” September 19, 2020, online at evidencecentral.org; See Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: Joseph Smith Compared with Contemporary Authors,” November 11, 2020, online at evidencecentral.org. 
Culture
Festivals and Holidays
Trumpet and Jubilee
Book of Mormon

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