Alma 10:1-11, LeGrand Baker, Amulek’s autobiographical testimony
Amulek’s autobiographical testimony asks many more questions than it answers. The first question is “Who was Amulek?”
Another is: “Was Zeezrom and his group trying to overthrow the government at Zarahemla, or was their first intent to overthrow the local ruling class, of which Amulek was a part?”
The answers begin, as Amulek would have it begin, with his genealogy. He was at least a distant cousin of Alma and a member of the royal family, but he lived in an area geographically remote from Zarahemla. (The way I envision that is something like the Duke of York living a long way from London.) My evidence for making that assertion is the phrase, “descendant of Nephi.” The phrase has a very specific meaning for Mormon
The entire Book of Mormon is the story of a single family. There are only two gaps in the single genealogical thread. One is the connection of Alma with the royal family and the other is the connection of Mormon with the line of Nephis that precede and follow the Saviour’s ministry. Mormon closes both of those gaps with the phrase “descendant of Nephi.” Mormon identifies himself this way:
5 I, Mormon, being a descendant of Nephi. . . .I am the son of Mormon, and my father was a descendant of Nephi. (Mormon 1:5, 8:13)
When he introduced Alma for the first time, he did so by establishing Alma’s ultimate right to rule both the church and the state by writing, “Alma, he also being a descendant of Nephi.” (Mosiah 17:2) “Also” is the operative word. It suggests to me that Alma had the same rights to the throne as Noah had—That would mean that Alma was Noah’s younger brother.
Mormon reiterated that when he introduced the book of Third Nephi with a statement of Nephi’s royal ancestry:
1 The book of Nephi the son of Nephi, who was the son of Helaman. And Helaman was the son of Helaman, who was the son of Alma, who was the son of Alma, being a descendant of Nephi who was the son of Lehi, who came out of Jerusalem in the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, the king of Judah. (3 Nephi 1)
It is apparent that his phrase “a descendant of Nephi” did not simply mean that the person could trace his genealogy back to Nephi. That is made clear by his differentiating the “descendants of Nephi” from the “people of Nephi.” Here he clarifies his meaning when he puts the people in four groups: the two royal families and the two groups of commoners:
1 And now king Mosiah caused that all the people should be gathered together.
2 Now there were not so many of the children of Nephi, or so many of those who were descendants of Nephi, as there were of the people of Zarahemla, who was a descendant of Mulek, and those who came with him into the wilderness.
3 And there were not so many of the people of Nephi and of the people of Zarahemla as there were of the Lamanites; yea, they were not half so numerous. (Mosiah 25:1-3)
When Amulek identifies himself as “a descendant of Nephi” and traces his ancestry to Manasseh and Joseph, he is asserting an authority that his listeners could not match (If it were common to everyone there would have been no point in his saying it). For example, virtually everyone who can trace their genealogy back to Europe in the 15 or 1600’s, finds that we are all descended from the royal families. That royal ancestry doesn’t give any of us Americans much status, but those who remain in Europe, who can trace their genealogy through the birthright children to those same royal families still have the titles of nobles and kings. I assume that Amulek is asserting a dignity that everyone recognizes is his right by birth.
The fact that Amulek has to introduce himself does not diminish that argument. We live in a world where pictures, even instantaneous moving pictures, are a common place. So we recognize the faces of the President of the United States, the queen of England, and the Prophet. But in a world where photographs simply did not exist, such recognition by anyone who was not intimate with the leaders would have been impossible. The most usual way the people had of recognizing such people was by their clothing. Kings wore rich clothing with special insignia so they would be recognized as kings.
Judging from the way Mormon uses the phrase “descendant of Nephi,” and from his including it in this abridged version of Amulek’s speech, I would suppose that his intent is to let us understand that Amulek is more powerful than his words suggest. He said simply, “ I am also a man of no small reputation among all those who know me; yea, and behold, I have many kindreds and friends, and I have also acquired much riches by the hand of my industry.”
Is there significance in that? Yes, because he knowingly threw it all away when he said,
9 And the angel said unto me he is a holy man; wherefore I know he is a holy man because it was said by an angel of God.
10 And again, I know that the things whereof he hath testified are true; for behold I say unto you, that as the Lord liveth, even so has he sent his angel to make these things manifest unto me; and this he has done while this Alma hath dwelt at my house.
11 For behold, he hath blessed mine house, he hath blessed me, and my women, and my children, and my father and my kinsfolk; yea, even all my kindred hath he blessed, and the blessing of the Lord hath rested upon us according to the words which he spake.
That doesn’t do much to answer the question about the object of the Zeezrom’s intended coup d’etat, but I suspect it sheds a great deal of light on Mormon’s motive. I suspect the reason Mormon quoted Amulek’s introductory autobiography was to help us know how great was the social and (probably) political cost to Amulek when he defended Alma— and therefore, that Mormon intended us to understand the integrity of Amulek’s testimony.