Alma 12:12-15, LeGrand Baker, Some code words and “negative confession” in Alma 12

 

 Alma 12:12-14 code words:  (part one) “The Negative Confession”1

12  And Amulek hath spoken plainly concerning death, and being raised from this mortality to a state of immortality, and being brought before the bar of God, to be judged according to our works.

13  Then if our hearts have been hardened, yea, if we have hardened our hearts against the word, insomuch that it has not been found in us, then will our state be awful, for then we shall be condemned.

14  For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence (Alma 12:12-14 ).

The power of Alma’s words came from his and Zeezrom’s understanding of some of the most sobering truths that they had been taught during their Nephite temple drama.2  That connection becomes even more clear to us when we remember that only a short time later, in the same speech, Alma reviewed the entire drama using some of this same language he used here. He said,

30 …God conversed with men, and made known unto them the plan of redemption…and this he made known unto them according to their faith and repentance and their holy works (Alma 12:12-14 ).3

As elsewhere in the Book of Mormon, “faith” is covenant (pistis) just as it is in the New Testament and, in this context, “holy works” are the validating ordinances, just as in many places of the New Testament.4  If in verse 14 “works” means the same as it does in verse 30, then Alma’s words “all our works will condemn us” are about Zeezrom’s violation of the sanctity of his sacred ordinances. If that is so, then a hardened heart is about those qualities of one’s inner Self which initiates evil deeds, rather than being just about the deeds themselves.

In Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord we demonstrated that the psalms were the liturgy of the Nephite temple drama just as they had been the text of the temple service used while Solomon’s Temple was in operation.5 That being so, if one is to know the ancient temple drama as Alma and Zeezrom understood it, one must know the psalms.

Psalm 26 shows the criterion for the final judgment and may have been the one to which Alma was referring when he confronted Zeezrom. It is the one that most vividly expresses the tensions of the juxtaposition between our thoughts and our actions and their impact on our final judgment.

During the temple drama the king was symbolically killed by his enemies. He remained in the underworld for three days while the Savior’s body was in its tomb. Then, in the temple drama, Jehovah himself went down into the underworld and rescued the king from the clutches of death and hell. This was surely one of the most dramatic and one of the most pivotal junctures of the Nephite temple experience.6  Psalm 26 expresses the tensions of that moment.

The psalms contain much of the liturgy of the Israelite temple drama. However, their present arrangement gives us no context for knowing how they fit into the story and they have no stage directions to show how they were performed.7 That being so, it is reasonable that we look to some of the main events of other ancient rites to help understand the intent and use of some of the Israelite psalms. We can do that because the pre-exilic Israelite drama was a version of an even older temple service. Apostate variations of that original can be found all over the ancient world.8 Latter-day Saints understand that in the scriptures we have sufficient evidence that priesthood powers and the temple rites and covenants predated the flood and reached back to the “the reign of Adam.”

26  Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood (Abraham 1:26).

Hugh Nibley has firmly established that “the Egyptian endowment” and the pre-exilic Israelite temple rites were near enough alike that we may assert that they came from the same original source. Therefore, the Egyptian version can help us discover some of the lost contexts, stage directions, and the uses of the psalms in the Israelite drama.

The Egyptians believed that their brief life on this earth was only one phase of their progress through eternity: for the soul lives forever and cannot die.

For that reason, their temple rites showed that an Egyptian’s next juncture in his eternal journey, the final judgment after his mortal death, was one of his most critical crossroads. It would determine his status during in the rest of his eternal existence. At that judgment he must perform all the rites correctly and answer the questions with precision.

The Egyptian Book of the Dead was a funerary text used to provide instruction to one’s soul in the afterlife. It was a guide book that contained reminders of the things one must do and say as he approached his final judgment. After that judgment there were only two options: life with the gods or misery in the underworld. Therefore, his soul needed this crib sheet because if he did not get it right he could not pass through the gate that led to the home of the gods.

Among the instructions given in the Book of the Dead were the words he should say to insure a positive final judgment. They included his Negative Confessions, which were not confessions at all but declarations of his innocence.

Hugh Nibley describes the importance of the Negative Confessions in his The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment.

            The Candidate Is Challenged. This is a form of the famous “Negative Confession” of the Book of the Dead.}a{ The  Challenge at the Gate is a familiar  form and aspect of initiation rites the world over.}b{ Here the candidate  is challenged at seven gates, matching “the seven gates through which the solar bark passes” in the Book of the Dead.}c{9

Drioton holds that the “Negative Confession” bears  the marks of an initiation rite so strongly that it would  seem to be the production of a religious cult ]temple service[ that  flourished along with the Essenes, having “only a brief  and late existence in Egyptian religion.”}d{ Nagel finds that the declarations of the  Negative Confession as found in his “Breathing” text,  Louvre}e{ are “strictly moral,”}f{ and F. de Cenival comes still closer to home in calling attention to the resemblance of the Negative Confession situation  to certain examinations of members conducted by  Egyptian temple associations, which in turn remind him  of the initiation process in the “Manual of Discipline” of  the Dead Sea Scrolls.}g{10

The object of the  dead is here the double one of getting out of the place where he is and passing into a better one; hence the gate  to heaven when it is open is the gate of hell when it is  shut, or, as Hornung notes, the gate marks the transition  between “spheres on this side and on the other side,” and  so corresponds to the horizon between the upper and  lower worlds.}h{ The word for “gate” in our  text denotes not just a barrier but rather a passageway  )Torweg(, “a section of the Underworld, the centerpoint  of which is formed by the gate )sba( of the horizon.”}i{  The gate is the natural place to stop and challenge  anyone. The designation of the official barriers as “the  Gate of the Place of Truth”}j{ indicates the gate as a place of testing, of trial: “I  will not open to you says the door, unless you tell me my  name!”}k{ 11

The common symbolism is brought out in the Zohar: “The Gate of Psalm 24:2 refers to the supernatural grades  )lit. steps( by and through which alone a knowledge of the Almighty is possible to man, and without which a man could not communicate with God.” }l{12

Those concepts were also understood by the Nephites. Jacob reminded his audience about the importance of that gate when, in his sermon at the temple, he reviewed parts of the Nephite drama and urged the people to keep the covenants they made.

41  O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One.  Remember that his paths are righteous.  Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name. 13

42  And whoso knocketh, to him will he open; and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches—yea, they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them (2 Nephi 9:41-42).

Psalm 26 is an excellent example of a Negative Confession, however, Alma did not treat it as a Negative Confession but rather he turned it on its head and used its ideas as an accusation. The psalm is not about what one had done so much as it is about one’s thoughts and attitudes. It is filled with ancient temple connotations and code words. For example: Walk— to “walk in the ways of the Lord” is to keep one’s covenants and honor one’s ordinances. Trust— like pistis (faith) in the New Testament, trust can only be sure when there is a contract or covenant already in place.14

Another is: I shall not slide…My foot standeth in an even place. Having one’s feet firmly established is also about priesthood worthiness, as in this exaltation from Isaiah:

13  Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; for the feet of those who are in the east shall be established;15  and break forth into singing, O mountains; for they shall be smitten no more; for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted (1 Nephi 21:13).

It is similarly expressed in this prayer:

5  Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.

6  I have called upon thee, for thou wilt hear me, O God: incline thine ear unto me, and hear my speech (Psalms 17:5-6).16

We find that idea expressed twice in Psalm 26: “I have walked in mine integrity… therefore I shall not slide,” and “My foot standeth in an even place.”

The psalm begins with the acknowledgment that the candidate is now anticipating he final judgment.

1  Judge me, O Lord; for I have walked in mine integrity: I have trusted also in the Lord; therefore I shall not slide.

2  Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my reins [mind] and my heart.

3  For thy lovingkindness [hesed] is before mine eyes: and I have walked in thy truth.

Those assertions of his worthiness are followed by his Negative Confession:

4  I have not sat with vain persons, neither will I go in with dissemblers.

5  I have hated the congregation of evil doers; and will not sit with the wicked.

Further assertions of his worthiness:

6  I will wash mine hands in innocency: so will I compass17 thine altar, O Lord:

7  That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all thy wondrous works.

8  Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth.

The anticipated response to his Negative Confession and his expectation of redemption:

9  Gather not my soul with sinners, nor my life with bloody men:

10  In whose hands is mischief, and their right hand is full of bribes.

11  But as for me, I will walk in mine integrity: redeem me, and be merciful unto me.

12  My foot standeth in an even place: in the congregations will I bless the Lord (Psalms 26:1-12).

We return now to the pre-exilic Israelite drama while Jehovah was in the spirit world before his resurrection. It is similar to the event when the Egyptian rites portray a time, after one is dead, when he must stand at “the  Gate of the Place of Truth.”

During days 4, 5, and 6 of the 8-day Israelite temple drama, while the king remained in the world of the dead, the drama focused on the life and Atonement of the Savior, then on his mission among the dead, and finally on his resurrection.

During those days, while the king waited in the Underworld for Jehovah to rescue him, the people who were outside among the living prayed for the king’s restoration to life. Psalm 20 was a plea that the Lord would save “his anointed [the king]” and an expression of assurance that Jehovah “will hear him [the king] from his [Jehovah’s] holy heaven with the saving strength of his right hand.” The people understood that the king was not yet permanently dead. For, as they prayed for his deliverance, they also prayed that he would find encouragement through their faith. Psalm 20 concludes, “Save, Lord: let the king hear us when we call.” In Psalm 13, from the Underworld, the young king joined the plea:

1 How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me?

2 How long shall I take counsel in my soul,

having sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?

3 Consider and hear me, O Lord my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death;

4 Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him; and those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved.

5 But I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation.

6 I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me (Psalm 13:1-6).

Jehovah did act in the king’s behalf. He asserted his royal prerogatives and descended into the Underworld to save the earthly king. It would have been at this place and time in the Israelite drama that the king approached “the gate of truth, testing, and of trial.” Therefore, this would be when he would have recited his Negative Confession.

By reversing the concepts of the Negative Confession and reminding Zeezrom that he had failed to keep his covenants, Alma focused his argument on the assurance of Zeezrom’s current prospect of an eternal doom. Or, in other words, Alma assures him of damnation because of his arrogance.

It was to reinforce the truth that Zeezrom was bound by his own covenants to keep the assertions of that Negative Confession that Alma reminded him that on the day of our final judgment, “our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us.” Then, almost immediately thereafter in the same speech, Alma gave him a recap of the entire drama:

28  And after God had appointed that these things should come unto man, behold, then he saw that it was expedient that man should know concerning the things whereof he had appointed unto them;

29  Therefore he sent angels to converse with them, who caused men to behold of his glory.

30  And they began from that time forth to call on his name; therefore God conversed with men, and made known unto them the plan of redemption, which had been prepared from the foundation of the world; and this he made known unto them according to their faith and repentance and their holy works.

31  Wherefore, he gave commandments unto men, they having first transgressed the first commandments as to things which were temporal, and becoming as Gods, knowing good from evil, placing themselves in a state to act, or being placed in a state to act according to their wills and pleasures, whether to do evil or to do good—

32  Therefore God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption, that they should not do evil, the penalty thereof being a second death, which was an everlasting death as to things pertaining unto righteousness; for on such the plan of redemption could have no power, for the works of justice could not be destroyed, according to the supreme goodness of God.

33  But God did call on men, in the name of his Son, (this being the plan of redemption which was laid) saying: If ye will repent and harden not your hearts, then will I have mercy upon you, through mine Only Begotten Son;

34  Therefore, whosoever repenteth, and hardeneth not his heart, he shall have claim on mercy through mine Only Begotten Son, unto a remission of his sins; and these shall enter into my rest (Alma 12:28-34).

FOOTNOTES  FOR PART ONE,  NEGATIVE CONFESSION

     1  I owe a special thanks to my friend and editor Alex Criddle for his assistance with this chapter.

     2  We can be quite sure that Zeezrom was completely conversant with the covenants and rites of the Nephite temple drama. There are two reasons. First, if that were that not so there would have been no point in Alma’s using them as the basis of his arguments. The second is the intensity of Zeezrom’s repentance (Alma 14:6, 15:3-11).

     3A similar idea with the same kind of priesthood connotation is in the beginning of Mormon’s letter to his son Moroni,

2  My beloved son, Moroni, I rejoice exceedingly that your Lord Jesus Christ hath been mindful of you, and hath called you to his ministry, and to his holy work (Moroni 8:2).

     4 James says “faith (pistis) without works is dead.” The ordinances are the validation of the covenant just as a signature is the validation of a contract. A covenant is dead because without the validating ordinances it is not binding on anybody (James 2:17, 20, and 26).

     5 LeGrand L. Baker and Stephen D. Ricks, Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord? The Psalms in Israel’s Temple Worship In the Old Testament and In the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Eborn Books), first edition, 2009, second (paperback) edition, 2011.

The first half of our book uses the psalms to reconstruct much of the ancient Israelite temple drama. The second half shows that every major sermon in the Book of Mormon cites their temple experience. My reference to “the Nephite temple drama” is based on the conclusions of our book.

     6   For a discussion of psalm 22 and Jehovah’s rescuing the king from death see Baker and Ricks, “Act 2, Scene 7: Jehovah Conquers Death and Hell,” Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, first edition, 415-44; second (paperback) edition, 300-23.

     7  Reading them is like reading Hamlet without stage directions, having only the dialog to discover who is speaking and to whom. That is what we did in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord to reconstruct the scenes of the drama. While some are questionable, some impossible, others are surprisingly easy

     8   Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend. Hamlet’s Mill: An Essay on Myth and the Frame of Time (Boston, Gambit, 1969).

     9   Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1975), 217.

NOTE:  Nibley often puts citations in parentheses within his text. This works fine for the book but tends to clutter our short quotes. I have included them in alphabetical rather than numerical order in brackets in the footnotes to lessen that clutter.

{a}  B.D., Ch. 125.

{b} See the  vivid passage in Zohar, Vayera 1036.

{c} B.D., Ch. 144,  and Section II of the Two Ways (Lesko, Two Ways, p. 45).

     10  Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, 219.

{d} Neg. Conf., pp.  559, 563-64.

{e} # 3292.5

{f}  BIFAO, 29:87f.,5

{g} F. de Cenival, REHR, pp. 17f.

     11   Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, 211-12.

{h}  Amduat, II, 4.

{i} Ibid.,  p. 5; cf. Gardiner, JEA, 4:147; K. Sethe, ZA, 67:115-17.

{j} A. Piankoff, An. Serc.,  49:137.

{k} B.D. Ch. 125, in De Buck, Reading Book, p. 121.

     12   Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, 211-12.

{l} Zohar, I; Vayera, 103b.

     13

This reminds one of Nibley’s quote where the god declares, “I  will not open to you says the door, unless you tell me my  name!”  (Bold added, Fn. # k)

     14   Baker and Ricks, “Meaning of ‘Faith’—Pistis,” Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, first edition,  1007-25; second (paperback) edition. 697-710.

Also in my Alma, vol. 2, the chapter called “Alma 32:17-43—The Multiple Meanings of Faith.”

     15  The words in bold have been removed by ancient editors from our Isaiah 49.

     16 Other places are: Psalms 18:32-33 with Habakkuk 3:19; Isaiah 52:7-8; Psalms 17:5-6, 37:31, 56:13, and 66:8-10.

     17  Strong # 5437: “to revolve, surround, or border; used in various applications, literally and figuratively:… be about on every side.”

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Alma 12:12-15, LeGrand Baker, Some code words in Alma 12

Alma 12:12-15
12 And Amulek hath spoken plainly concerning death, and being raised from this mortality to a state of immortality, and being brought before the bar of God, to be judged according to our works.
13 Then if our hearts have been hardened, yea, if we have hardened our hearts against the word, insomuch that it has not been found in us, then will our state be awful, for then we shall be condemned.
14 For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence.
15 But this cannot be; we must come forth and stand before him in his glory, and in his power, and in his might, majesty, and dominion, and acknowledge to our everlasting shame that all his judgments are just; that he is just in all his works, and that he is merciful unto the children of men, and that he has all power to save every man that believeth on his name and bringeth forth fruit meet for repentance.

By this time the exchange we are reading has become a very private—and a very personal—conversation between Zeezrom and Alma. Everyone who is standing about can hear the words, but not not everyone can hear their intent.

Alma has just explained to Zeezrom that the “mysteries” are sacred, and must be discussed with great care, and then only when it is appropriate to do so. That caution also teaches us that what we are about to read is sacred. Alma continued:

12  And Amulek hath spoken plainly concerning death, and being raised from this mortality to a state of immortality, [Amulek had just explained that everyone will be resurrected] and being brought before the bar of God, to be judged

That judgement, we have learned, will occur after the resurrection. Which suggests that the final judgement is more of a conformation of a self-established reality, than it is something like passing out the final test scores and grades.

according to our works.

Works” is an important word in this context. It is used here the same way James uses it in the New Testament when he says “faith without works is dead.” Faith is pistis (the visible evidences or tokens of the covenants, just as Paul said it is). “Works,” for James, meant the ordinances. (That is why Luther wanted to remove James from the New Testament. The Catholics had a monopoly on the ordinances, and Luther didn’t like the idea that they were necessary.) Latter on in our chapter, Alma will clarify his meaning by calling them “holy works,” and pointing out that they are an important teaching tool that God uses to instruct us about how to come into his presence.

13  Then if our hearts have been hardened,

The heart is the cosmic center of a human being. It is the seat of one’s emotions and one’s intellect. In the verses immediately preceding these, Alma has defined a hardened heart as one that chooses not to know and understand the “mysteries.”

13b  yea, if we have hardened our hearts against the word, insomuch that it has not been found in us, then will our state be awful, for then we shall be condemned.

Alma has also just defined “the chains of hell” as the condition of one who has chosen to not know the mysteries.

14   For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us;

While it is possible that this is simply a generic observation, it is more likely, given the context of what Alma is talking about, that the words, works, and thoughts are specific, and relate to one’s willingness or unwillingness to understand and fully participate in the “mysteries.”

and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence.

This entire discussion, from Alma’s point of view, has been and will continue to be is about preparing oneself to come into the presence of God (see my note on the meaning of redeem of a couple weeks ago). Alma assures/warns Zeezrom that ultimately he will be brought into the presence of the Saviour to be judged—that is not the issue. The issue is whether that redemption will be a joyful or a fearful experience. Alma has just said it might be really scary.

15   But this cannot be; we must come forth and stand before him in his glory, and in his power, and in his might, majesty, and dominion, and acknowledge to our everlasting shame that all his judgments are just; that he is just in all his works, and that he is merciful unto the children of men,

While the Saviour’s atonement and his mercy enables us to repent and become clean

(holy and without spot), in the final judgement, it is not mercy that will save us. We are saved by the laws of justice. Mercy —here and now— enables us to repent and become clean, and if we become clean, then justice enables us to enter— and remain—in the presence of God. But if we do not avail ourselves of the blessings of mercy in this life, and do not become clean, then justice insists we must ultimately reside someplace where God is not. Mercy cannot bring the unclean into the Celestial Kingdom, because mercy cannot rob justice. The last part of the sentence tells it all:

and that he has all power to save every man that believeth on his name and bringeth forth fruit meet [appropriate] for repentance.

Even the Saviour’s power to save is qualified. Alma does not say “and that he has all power to save every man”—and stop there. Rather he adds two qualifications that one must have in order to enable the saving powers of the atonement: “[1] that believeth on his name and [2] bringeth forth fruit meet [appropriate] for repentance.

Alma’s message is one that is repeated so often in the scriptures: God’s purpose is to save his children, but he will not insist they be saved, and he will not bring them kicking and screaming into heaven.

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