Noah and Alma

Sorry, no, not that Alma; his son.

As Grant Hardy has pointed out, Mormon likes to tell stories that parallel each other. Often, those parallels seem meant to starkly contrast good and evil; the parallels between King Benjamin and King Noah immediately spring to mind. Other times, they seem to illustrate the consequences of different behaviors. Compare, for example, the escape of Limhi’s people from the Lamanites with the escape of Alma Sr.’s people. 

And sometimes, I’m at a loss. For example, in the parallels between King Noah and Alma the Younger. Essentially, in Mormon’s telling, they are the same person.

Don’t believe me? Compare the description of King Noah in Mosiah 11:2, 7, with the description of Alma the Younger in Mosiah 27:8. King Noah “caused his people to commit sin”; in doing so, he led them to “become idolatrous.” He seems to have succeeded because he “did speak flattering things unto” his people.

As for Alma the Younger? He was a “wicked and idolatrous man.” He “did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities.”

So both Noah and Alma the Younger[fn1] are associated with idolatry, with sin/iniquity, and with flattery.[fn2]

Alma famously repents, while Noah, though on the brink, doesn’t.

Alma’s repentance, though, was notably preceded by an earth-shaking angelic visitation and a vision of himself in Hell. In fact, as Alma admits, he wasn’t redeemed as the result of his own worthiness.

The point? In Mormon’s telling, there seems to be a thin line between true and false prophet, the crossing of which isn’t entirely volitional. That is, while Noah and Alma both had the ability to choose, Alma got an angel and, Laman and Lemuel’s experience to the contrary, that seems to have made an important difference.

Ultimately, then, what do we take from Mormon’s similar framing of Alma the Younger and King Noah? At the least, I hope, we’re forced to confront our own spiritual position humbly; while it takes personal effort and commitment to be active and believing members of the Church, it also takes grace, whether it be the grace of having been born into a faithful family, the grace of having felt the Spirit at the right moment, or the grace of having an angel—rather than a prophet—tell us we’re doing the wrong thing. And, I think, we’re forced to confront the fact that those who don’t join us in our beliefs may not be stubborn or iconoclastic, but rather have not (yet, at least) received the same.

[fn1] It may also be worth pointing out that both Noah and Alma departed from the ways of their righteous fathers.

[fn2] Flattery actually appears to be a sine qua non of Book of Mormon dissenters: by the time we get to the book of Helaman, Paanchi, in his attempt to wrest the kingdom from his brother, also flatters his (potential) followers.

Comments

  1. I don’t know if I’d say there is only a thin line between a true and a false prophet. Maybe you could reframe that to be “eventually become a prophet” but even then there are a lot of choices that get made between being a false and true prophet. And that leads me to how I would frame it. The difference between a true and false prophet is not a thin line but that one prophet chooses to follow God and the other chooses to follow the devil.

    The similarities you point out in principle (certainly not detail as both were drastically different in circumstance in my view) while following the devil are very noteworthy.

  2. Dq, I don’t mean to say there’s a thin line between false and true prophet ex post. Rather, ex ante, there are inflection points, often out of our control, that can make a huge difference between where we end up.

  3. Interesting thoughts. On a side note, and hopefully without derailing on-topic comments, I’m trying to identify 2 or 3 of the best NT commentaries that you folks here at BCC like to refer to when doing the above kinds of analysis. I know I’ve seen posts and/or comments giving recommendations but my searches aren’t producing any fruit. Any recommendations would be much appreciated.

  4. J. Stapley says:

    Sam this is really excellent. I hadn’t seen this parallel before and it is quite striking.

  5. Amen, Sam.

    “There but for the grace of God go I,” has broader application than we tend to realize or acknowledge.

  6. Thanks, J. and Ray.

  7. larryco_ says:

    I think the parallels between Alma the Younger and Paul are much more striking than with King Noah. Besides, King Noah was a big, fat, chunky guy like the tyrants in DeMille movies. Don’t you look at the pictures…oh, yeah, they don’t have the pics in the BOM any more.

  8. larryco_, I definitely agree that the similarities between the moment of conversion of Alma and Paul is striking. But that similarity doesn’t illuminate Mormon’s goals in including the stories, especially because, while Alma has the miraculous angelic conversion, Noah walks up to conversion (albeit without an angel) and then steps back.

    Like I said in the OP, Mormon uses virtually identical language to describe what Noah and Alma did and how they did it: they both used flattery to cause others to commit sin or iniquity, and both are associated with idolotrousness. And yet one gets an angel, the other doesn’t. Why would Mormon start two stories with such radically different endings so similarly? I don’t know, but I think it’s worth exploring; one reason may be to suggest a level of grace that comes with salvation. Or it may be to suggest that decision points have drastic personal and societal repercussions. Or it may be something else entirely.

  9. Wonderful post. I love your Noah-Alma2 parallel. But shouldn’t the Noah-Alma1 parallel also be considered? Noah refuses the same prophet’s words that Alma1 accepts. But Alma1’s acceptance and repentance entails not just salvation for himself, but later heavenly assistance for Alma2. The actions of the parent blesses his/her progeny. Noah’s decision was to not just reject, but attempt to physically destroy God’s messengers (Noah really has blood on his hands, Alma1 and Alma2 do not.). So the actions of the parent can also bring troubles to the next generation… think Limhi… but luckily Ammon (the ultimate home teacher/missionary) gives Limhi a hand up as well.

  10. Old Geezer says:

    Wonderful post. I love your Noah-Alma2 parallel. But shouldn’t the Noah-Alma1 parallel also be considered? Noah refuses the same prophet’s words that Alma1 accepts. But Alma1′s acceptance and repentance entails not just salvation for himself, but later heavenly assistance for Alma2. The actions of the parent blesses his/her progeny. Noah’s decision was to not just reject, but attempt to physically destroy God’s messengers (Noah really has blood on his hands, Alma1 and Alma2 do not.). So the actions of the parent can also bring troubles to the next generation… think Limhi… but luckily Ammon (the ultimate home teacher/missionary) gives Limhi a hand up as well.

  11. I’ve wondered at times if Alma 2’s rebellion may have been precipitated, at least in part, by Alma 1s poor example during his days as a priest in Noah’s Court. Let’s do some back-of-the-napkin math based on the dates in the Book of Mormon study helps, Chapter 17 of Mosiah (when Alma 1 begins to believe Abinadi’s words) occurs around 148 BC. In Chapter 29, Alma 1 dies at the age of 82 around 92 BC. That makes Alma 1 about 56 when Abinadi shows up. At that age, I think it’s safe to assume Alma has already started having children with Mrs. Alma.

    Given Alma 2’s being named after his father, I think it very probably he’s the first born. I don’t know at what age Nephites began marriage and childbearing. Let’s put it at 20 to keep the math simple, though it was probably quite a bit earlier. That would mean Alma 2 is in his mid thirties when Alma 1 becomes converted and repents. Alma 2 hands the plates off to Helaman in 73 BC (Alma 45), 20 years after his father dies, which also supports an older-Alma 2 model.

    This potentially puts Alma 2 in parallel with Laman (following Father Lehi into the wilderness, though not converted to his prophetic mission). Given Alma 2’s midlife conversion, it’s also quite possible that Corianton was old enough to process his father’s rebellion and conversion, which brings a certain poignancy to Alma 39-42.

  12. I like the comparison with King Noah. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering about Alma jr vs Sherem in Jacob 7. Surely Alma and his dad had conversations like the one Sherem had with Jacob. Is Alma just lucky that he didn’t ask for a sign? Lucky that his dad was there to pray for him?
    Alma jr is my favorite prophet to quote when talking about the atonement because he seems to understand the complete absurdity of grace and realizes that if he can be saved then anyone can be saved.

  13. Toria, I like your phrase “the complete absurdity of grace.” Thanks.

  14. Steve Smith says:

    “And, I think, we’re forced to confront the fact that those who don’t join us in our beliefs may not be stubborn or iconoclastic, but rather have not (yet, at least) received the same.”

    Indeed.

    However, how are we supposed to conceptualize the term “prophet?” Is this someone whose words forecast or predict future events? Is this someone whose philosophies lead humans to an optimal state of well-being? How are supposed to know if a “prophet” is a “false prophet?” Are they proven false because the things they say don’t correspond with reality, or when their predictions fall flat, or when their philosophies, when followed, don’t render a demonstrable state of well-being in society? Suppose Person A’s philosophies do render a certain degree of well-being in society. What if Person B comes along and develops a philosophy that generates a greater well-being than Person A? Would Person B turn Person A into a “false prophet?” Could it be said that Person A and Person B are both prophets, but that the latter was a superior prophet?

  15. Steve Smith,

    I’m not sure what you mean by an “optimal state of well-being,” but I suggest that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” All prophets (both great and small) do is point a direction. If that is the case, false prophets don’t point at a real Savior, or they don’t delineate a proper approach to the Savior.

  16. I’d never considered a parallel between Noah and Alma the Younger. I have often wondered why some people get angels and others don’t. I guess we’ll never know (in this life, anyway), but remembering your point about grace is helpful.

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