"An understanding of the Book of Mormon can really help lock into place an individual's faith in Jesus Christ," said Elder James E. Faust of the Council of the Twelve in his October 1983 general conference address.
"It is important to know what the Book of Mormon is not. It is not primarily a history, although much of what it contains is historical."Elder Faust said the Book of Mormon also is not a geography. He referred to an 1890 quote by George Q. Cannon, then first counselor in the First Presidency, who wrote in the January 1890 Juvenile Instructor:
" `The Book of Mormon is not a geographical primer. It was not written to teach geographical truths. What is told us of the situation of the various lands or cities of the ancient Jaredites, Nephites and Lamanites is usually simply an incidental remark connected with the doctrinal or historical portions of the work; and almost invariably only extends to a statement of the relative position of some land or city to contiguous or surrounding places, and nowhere gives us the exact situation or boundaries so that it can be definitely located without fear of error.' "
In the forward to Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Philip C. Reynolds wrote:
"The writers of the sacred record gave little space and did not make much of an effort to describe, in so many words, the physical features of the regions, wherein took place, the events they recorded. It is not a record of borders and boundary lines, of rivers and highways, of areas of population and industry but as will be repeatedly shown, the Book of Mormon is a book of doctrine.
"In the book of Alma many find what they consider to be the key to Book of Mormon geography. (Alma 22:27-34.) That passage was written to furnish important information concerning the missionary travels of the elders and priests and also to indicate the vast territory over which the Nephites and the Lamanites had spread, as far as knowledge of countries, rivers, and cities can be conveyed without drawings or maps. . . .
"It is folly to associate oneself with any peculiar notion and say of some particular ruin,
This is Zarahemla' orThere is the land of Bountiful.' Such ventures in thought are merely guesses, and such speculation leads to confusion. . . . [IfT the time comes, or that it is expedient for the saints to have this information, it will come to them through the regularly established source, the prophet, seer, and revelator, the Presiding High Priest of the Church and no one else."
A system of judges
In about 91 B.C., there "commenced the reign of the judges throughout all the land of Zarahemla, among all the people who were called the Nephites; and Alma [the son of AlmaT was the first and chief judge." (Mosiah 29:44.)
Until Alma became chief judge, the Nephites had been ruled by kings ever since the people had looked upon Nephi, the son of Lehi, as their king. (2 Ne. 6:2.) With some exceptions, such as Noah, the Nephite kings were righteous men.
In A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, Daniel H. Ludlow wrote: "Among the principles of government contained in the Book of Mormon is that a monarchy is a good system of government if the people can be assured they will always have good and righteous kings. (Mosiah 23:8.) However, the weakness of a monarchy is that `ye cannot dethrone an iniquitous king save it be through much contention, and the shedding of much blood.' " (Mosiah 19:21.)
Because the people could not be assured of always having righteous kings, Mosiah proposed that a system of judges, as was established in the Old World, be implemented. The judges were chosen "by the voice of the people." (Mosiah 29:25.)
Alma was motivated by love for Lord, desire to be obedient
In the early days of his full-time ministry, Alma went to the land of Melek, where he taught with great success, baptizing many. (Alma 8:5.) He then went to Ammonihah where he preached without success.
"Satan had gained a great stronghold among the people of the city [of Ammonihah]," said Elder Robert E. Harbertson of the Seventy in his October 1984 general conference address.
"Despite the prayers and labors of Alma, the people of Ammonihah hardened their hearts and would not believe anything he taught them. They even reviled him, spit upon him, and cast him out of their city."
After Alma left Ammonihah, an angel of the Lord told him to return and preach to the people again and tell them the Lord would destroy them if they did not repent.
"I wonder what his [Alma'sT feelings were at that moment, knowing and feeling so strongly the experience he had just endured with these people," said Elder Harbertson. "He had been reviled, and physically thrown out of the city, and I'm sure his life had been threatened. And now he was being told to return once again to these people.
"Alma's reaction to this command is most interesting. The scriptures say this: `Now it came to pass that after Alma had received his message from the angel of the Lord he returned speedily to the land of Ammonihah.' (Alma 8:18.)
"Isn't that interesting. . . ? It says `He returned speedily.' Maybe his earlier experience with the angel [see Mosiah 27:11-24T caused him not to tarry or question, but to react immediately. But I believe he was motivated by love for the Lord and his desire to be obedient."