Alma 12, LeGrand Baker, the apostasy of the people of Ammonihah
Alma and Amulek’s confrontation with the Zeezrom and the people of Ammonihah present some interesting and perplexing questions for us. We know the Ammonihahites have apostatized, but we are not told the extent or the nature of their apostasy. The reason for the perplexity is that when the prophets challenge them, they use some of the most sacred and profound teachings of the temple drama of the Feast of Tabernacles to do it.
That asks, “How is it, that they knew so much about the most sacred rites of the Law of Moses, and yet were caught up in such abject corruption that they were willing to kill innocent people just to prove that Alma and Amulek didn’t have the power to stop them.” I don’t know the answer, but it may be instructive to take a look at the evolutionary pattern of apostasy, to see that their apostasy was not unique, because the pattern of apostasy is almost always the same. Whenever anyone or any group of people leave the church, they always think their situation is justified because it is remarkable. In fact its justification is not at all remarkable, and the steps of their apostasy are very predictable. It begins with a challenge to priesthood authority. Its script may vary, but not much. It will read something like, “They do not understand as well as I do,” or “ They did something that I know was wrong.” That challenge to priesthood authority almost always an even deeper underlying cause: It is easier to criticize others than to repent of one’s own shortcomings—or else, simply: Repentance is not as attractive as sin. In the Book of Mormon, Korihor’s teachings are an excellent example. He preached,
16 Ye look forward and say that ye see a remission of your sins. But behold, it is the effect of a frenzied mind; and this derangement of your minds comes because of the traditions of your fathers, which lead you away into a belief of things which are not so.
17 And many more such things did he say unto them, telling them that there could be no atonement made for the sins of men, but every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime. (Alma 30:16-17)
Or apostasy may stem from a political or economic challenge to priesthood authority. A biblical example is Jeroboam, who split the kingdom of Israel after Solomon died. (1 Kings 12) To insure that his people did not return to Jerusalem to worship, Jeroboam built his own alternative sanctuaries, established the worship of golden calves, and “And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah, and he offered upon the altar.” (v 32) Since it was on the 15th of the month—the same as the Feast of Tabernacles—it is reasonable to suppose he changed the temple drama enough to satisfy his own purposes.
It appears that apostate leaders who are found in the Book of Mormon had done essentially the same thing as Jeroboam. For example, since Abinadi’s recorded words are mostly about becoming an adopted child of God, it is reasonable to suppose that in the orchestrated apostasy sponsored by King Noah, the king and his priests had also retained the forms of at least the coronation scene and its promise of sonship in the temple drama. The next steps in an apostasy, after the challenge to priesthood authority, the first thing to go is a correct understanding of the atonement, then the Godhead, then the covenant meaning of the ordinances, and then other doctrines as they become inconvenient. The last things to go are the forms of the ordinances. The reason the meaning of the atonement is first, is because a correct belief in the atonement imposes the need to repent. The correct doctrine is that salvation requires repentance, and that the atonement enables one’s repentance and makes it effectual. The false doctrine that most frequently replaces it is that salvation is free, or else that it requires something less burdensome than repentance. For some, it is simply receiving the sacraments or other ordinances. For others it is having a one-time “saving experience.”
For others it is the notion that if we “do our best” somehow the Saviour will “make up the difference.” Whatever it is, it is something less invasive than repentance. Throughout history, people have shown that they are willing to pay a great deal of money to a preacher who can convincingly teach them that they need not change their lives very much in order to be saved. The following sequence is a close approximation of what happens next. Along with the change in the responsibilities imposed by the atonement and repentance, comes the question of salvation—if it is easy to come by, then what makes it worthwhile? Without the ennobling powers of repentance, salvation must be defined as something less than godhood. So it becomes a state of eternal bliss and happiness with no responsibility—some variety of Nirvana.
With that notion, the understanding of the eternal relationship between Heavenly Father and his children simply dissolves into an undefinable eternal bliss. Now, the nature of the Godhead must also be changed in order to accommodate that new undefinable relationship. Such changes are most apparent when one observes the apostasy of the post-exilic Jews, and the similar apostasy of the Christians after the death of the apostles. The Israelites of the First Temple period worshiped Elohim, the Father of the gods; and Jehovah, the God of Creation and the covenant God of Israel. The also acknowledged (but did not worship) a Heavenly Council of gods. After the Babylonian conquest, the post-exilic Jews abandoned Elohim, rejected the Council, and worshiped an unembodied, undefinable “One God” whom they called Jehovah.
About 800 years later, the Christians did essentially the same sort of thing. They redefined the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and combined them into an unembodied, undefinable “One God.” Notwithstanding the severity of the apostasy, there is almost always a desire to maintain the form of legitimacy in the changed religion, and that is most easily accomplished by keeping reasonably true to the form of the ordinances and the rituals—by continuing to do things the way they had always been done. Therefore, to some degree or other, the form of the ceremonies remain intact. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the royal coronation ceremonies. The ritualistic washing, clothing, anointing, crowning, and giving a new name, are as ancient as Egypt and Babylon. They are also as recent as the coronations of present Pope and the reigning English queen.
Again, the reason is obvious: legitimacy requires continuity. In each generation, the next king must be crowned the same way as the last king. Otherwise, eyebrows will rise and legitimacy questioned. So the form of the ritual has remained essentially the same from generation to generation for the last 5000 years. Apparently this is the situation among the people of Ammonihah. They had preserved enough of the festival drama that when Amulek spoke to them, he was able to help them relate to his words by referring to the religious festivals that they preserved. The crescendo of the ancient temple drama was when the people entered the temple in the presence of God, showing that the king (and symbolically, all the people) had been proven worthy to be coronated king and priest in his own kingdom in this world. The Book of Mormon authors sum up that entire concept with he word ‘redeem,” which means to enter the presence of God. That concept is the one Alma used to convince Zeezrom that he must repent.