A close reading of the Book of Mormon shows a sophisticated restraint in its narrative approach, namely an absence of descriptions of events, conversations, and actions outside of the observation and knowledge of its claimed authors, contributors, and participants. Consider all the things that are not included in the Book of Mormon narrative and yet have a direct bearing on that narrative:
- Any statements or actions by Laban outside of the presence of Nephi1 or his brethren.
- Any descriptions of events at Jerusalem after Lehi and his family depart.
- Any private conversations or actions between Laman and Lemuel outside of the presence of Nephi1 and/or Lehi.
- Any description of events, conversations, or actions among the Lamanites during those periods of separation and tension (with a major exception that is the topic of this post).
- Any description of events, conversations, or actions among “Gadianton’s robbers and murderers”, except for some details at its founding, at which time it had been infiltrated by one of Helaman2‘s servants (Helaman 2).
And so on.
Contrast this with various stories in the Old Testament, where we are given details outside of the scope of any reasonable narrator. A good example is the whole story of Balak and Balaam in the book of Exodus (unless one presumes Balaam was somehow interviewed about these events or wrote down a separate manuscript that came into the hands of the Israelites). There are similar out-of-view events and details in Judges, Samuel/Kings, Esther, and Daniel. One can argue that these are natural attempts to fill in narrative gaps or offer obvious explanations, but that makes the restraint in the Book of Mormon all the more remarkable.
However, as alluded to above, there is one apparent major exception: the detailed story of Amalakiah, which is covered in Alma 46 through 52.
As explained in Alma 46, Amalakiah is a powerful Nephite figure who seeks to be made king by force over the Nephites, replacing the system of judges established by Mosiah2 roughly 20 years earlier. Moroni1, military leader of the Nephites, rallies the Nephites who oppose this change. Moroni1‘s forces significantly outnumber Amalakiah’s forces; Amalakiah and his followers seek to flee to the land of Nephi to join up with the Lamanites; Moroni1 heads them off, but Amalakiah and “a small number of his men” escape to Lamanite territory, while the remainder of his followers are forced to either acknowledge the current government or be put to death (“and there were but few who denied the covenant of freedom”).
At this point, following standard Book of Mormon narration, we would expect to hear no more about Amalakiah except and unless he were to return to battle against the Lamanites. Compare, for example, the story of Zarahemna found in Alma 44, who after his defeat at the hands of Moroni1 swears an oath not to come to battle against the Nephites again, returns to the land of Nephi, and is never heard of after that.
But that’s not what happens. Instead, over the next few chapters, starting in Alma 47, we get a detailed inside look of how Amalakiah cleverly and ruthlessly works his way into being king over all the Lamanites. it really is a remarkable and very credible tale of sophisticated political intrigue; one seeking a naturalistic explanation for the Book of Mormon has to account how a 23-year-old farm boy with little education would think up such an approach, one that would likely earn a nod of appreciation from Greek playwrights and Roman historians, if not Machiavelli himself.
However, that is not the point. The point is that this detailed account is taking place outside of the on-going Nephite narrative context. Not only are the events taking place in the land of Nephi — at a time of hostilities with no major Nephite individuals present –but they are very intimate and secret details of Amalakiah’s intents and actions.
This appears to be a very deliberate insertion by Mormon, rather than necessarily part of the record being kept at this point by Helaman1 (see header to Alma 45). Note the introduction we get in Alma 47:1:
Now we will return in our record to Amalickiah and those who had fled with him into the wilderness….
The editorial “we” and reference to “our record” is used here and a few other places (3 Nephi 8:1, Moroni 9:33) as a indicator of either Mormon or Moroni2 speaking as editor. This suggests a narrative break from the events surrounding Amalakiah’s rebellion described in Alma 46. Furthermore, it appears that Mormon is deliberately setting up a contrast between Amalakiah’s duplicity, intrigue and murder in gaining the Lamanite kingship and Moroni1‘s personal righteousness and desire for freedom, since he follows the story of Amalakiah’s ascent immediately with the account of Moroni1‘s preparation for defense and his (Mormon’s) famous paean to Moroni1 , after whom he (Mormon) would name his own son (cf. Alma 48:16-18).
So, where did Mormon get these closely-held details? I suspect the answer is right there in Mormon’s introduction to this story: “those who fled with him in the wilderness”. These were also Nephites or, at least, of the land of Zarahemla (my personal suspicion, as some Book of Mormon scholars have speculated, is that Amalakiah and the “kingmen” followers were likely of the majority Mulekite population, unhappy at minority Nephite domination of government and religion; in any case, they were almost certainly not Lamanites).
Those who followed Amalakiah would have to be his most trusted confidants, since they are a group of Nephites deep in the heart of Lamanite territory. Furthermore, it makes the most sense that he would draw from this group the “servants” he uses to do his most dangerous and potentially damning work — first, poisoning Lehonti, the Lamanite army leader to whom Amalakiah had “surrendered”, and then slaying the Lamanite king and blaming it on the king’s own servants.
Now fast forward five or six years. Amalakiah, perhaps frustrated by the failures of his Lamanite military leaders (cf. Alma 49) and encouraged by the internal dissensions among the Nephites (cf. Alma 50), comes down in person at the head of the Lamanite armies, conquering a series of cities along the east sea (Alma 51). However, he presses his luck a bit too far, is stopped by Teancum (who is guarding Bountiful), and then is assassinated by Teancum at night, in his own tent, on the night before the first day of the new year (Alma 51:32-37). That account includes this statement: “he [Teancum] did cause the death of the king [Amalakiah] immediately that he did not awake his servants.” (v. 34)
Amalakiah’s servants are there with the Lamanite army. That army (led now by “Jacob, a Zoramite”) flees back to the city of Mulek and takes refuge there. They are subsequently lured out, engaged in battle, and defeated; those who are not killed in battle are taken captive and are put to work at hard labor, fortifying Bountiful and possibly other cities along the eastern seaboard, as well as building their own prison compound.
Among those captives are almost certainly some number of Amalakiah’s servants or close confidants, who would have detailed knowledge of Amalakiah’s actions since fleeing the land of Zarahemla. It is both credible and likely that one or more of those men would be willing to give Teancum or even Moroni1 the inside details about how Amalakiah had become king over all the Lamanites, likely in exchange for easier living conditions or possibly even a pardon and being sent back into Nephite society, much as many captured Lamanites were later granted to go live with the people of Ammon (cf. Alma 62:15-17). Furthermore, it is credible and likely that Moroni1 would want to know how Amalakiah had become king of the Lamanites, particularly since his brother Ammoron had become king after his death and sought to continue the conflict and hold onto currently occupied Nephite cities (cf. Alma 52:2-4).
So, as it turns out, the exception is not an exception at all, and the Book of Mormon retains its narrative consistency. While the record does not spell out exactly how the Nephites got the inside details of Amalakiah’s rise to power, it does provide the information to deduce how, why, and when they did so. Furthermore, Mormon himself introduces the narrative, suggesting that he may well have found it in a source outside of the Alma2/Helaman1 record itself, interleaving its events with that record to explain how this series of wars — which would stretch on for a full decade and cause tremendous destruction and upheaval — came to pass.