Alma pronounces a judgment upon Nehor. That judgment has two important parts that we should understand.
The first is that it is a judgment based upon law. Alma very specifically renders judgment “according to the law which has been given us by Mosiah.” Thus, as we have suggested, law had become elevated to a principle against which such judgments can be made.
Of course this does not surprise a modern audience that is accustomed to the rule of law. In fact, one might wonder why it is worth mention at all. The principal interest is not so much that Alma rules according to law, but that religious meaning backs the law.
In verse 13 we note that the very first reason given is not the law, but the vengeance of blood. This concept of the efficacy of blood upon the people is one of the concepts that has been passed down from the “fathers.” We see this concept in many of the earlier writers in the Book of Mormon:
2 Ne. 9:44
44 O, my beloved brethren, remember my words. Behold, I take off my garments, and I shake them before you; I pray the God of my salvation that he view me with his all-searching eye; wherefore, ye shall know at the last day, when all men shall be judged of their works, that the God of Israel did witness that I shook your iniquities from my soul, and that I stand with brightness before him, and am rid of your blood.
2 Ne. 26:3
3 And after the Messiah shall come there shall be signs given unto my people of his birth, and also of his death and resurrection; and great and terrible shall that day be unto the wicked, for they shall perish; and they perish because they cast out the prophets, and the saints, and stone them, and slay them; wherefore the cry of the blood of the saints shall ascend up to God from the ground against them.
27 Therefore, as I said unto you that I had served you, walking with a clear conscience before God, even so I at this time have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together, that I might be found blameless, and that your blood should not come upon me, when I shall stand to be judged of God of the things whereof he hath commanded me concerning you.
28 I say unto you that I have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together that I might rid my garments of your blood, at this period of time when I am about to go down to my grave, that I might go down in peace, and my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God.
10 Mosiah 17:10
10 Yea, and I will suffer even until death, and I will not recall my words, and they shall stand as a testimony against you. And if ye slay me ye will shed innocent blood, and this shall also stand as a testimony against you at the last day.
For each of these men, blood has a meaning and a voice that is quite different from a scientific view.
This is a religious concept, and it apparently lies behind the particulars of the law given by Mosiah. For our understanding of the reign of the judges, it is important to understand that while there is a weakening of the strength of the bond between politics and religion, it is not severed entirely. Indeed, it would have been conceptually impossible to sever the link entirely, as religion defined the way of the world.
In this particular case, the efficacy and power of blood defined certain responsibilities concerning blood, that is, there must be a payment for one to spill innocent blood.
Historical: The concept of the vitality and voice of blood is part of the Old Testament as well as the Book of Mormon. When Cain killed Abel, the Lord remarks to Cain:
10 And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.
The beginnings of the conception of the Book of Mormon can certainly be laid to the Jewish background of the Lehites. However, it must certainly have been reinforced by the conception of blood extant all around them in Mesoamerican cultures. Even more than the Biblical notion of the vitality and voice of blood, Mesoamerica elevated the fluid to a powerfully vital substance.
“The Blood of the title refers directly to several aspects of Maya life and to Maya beliefs about their world and their kings. Blood was the mortar of ancient Maya ritual life. The Maya let blood on every important occasion in the life of the individual and in the life of the community. It was the substance offered by kings and other nobility to seal ceremonial events.
Even more important, the purpose of art was to document the bloodlines of Classic Maya kings. Kingship normally passed from father to son: descent and bloodlines dominated the determination of legitimate rule. For this reason, records of parents and ancestors transferring power to their children consume a large part of Maya pictorial imagery and writing. After the birth of an heir, the king performed a blood sacrifice, drawing his own substance as an offering to his ancestors. Human sacrifice, offered to sanctify the installation of a king in office, was in some cases recorded as a vital part of accession imagery.
Among the most common events recorded on Maya monuments are war and capture. Although Maya warfare fulfilled several needs, the primary ritual role was to provide the state sacrificial victims, whose blood was then drawn and offered to the gods. At death, Maya kings were placed in richly furnished tombs that often displayed the imagery of the watery Underworld, their walls painted the color of blood or in blood symbols. In the Maya view, none of these behaviors was bizarre or exotic but necessary to sustain the world.” (Schele, Linda, and Mary Ellen Miller. The Blood of Kings. George Braziller, Inc. 1986, pp. 14-15).
In addition to this general cultural significance of blood, there is another interesting parallel to this Book of Mormon usage. Note that the blood is speaking from the ground. Notice now this reference to modern Maya belief:
“The Zinacanteco Maya also believe that the blood talks; in this context, however, it is the blood of the patient. A skilled shaman diagnoses soul sickness by taking the patient’s pulse at the wrist and elbow. Sometimes patients have lost a piece of their soul (ch’ulel), or their animal spirit companion is wandering lost outside the ancestral corral underneath the mountain.
Even Evon Vogt, the great ethnographer of the Zinacanteco Maya, is not sure exactly what is speaking to the shaman through the blood, but he has observed that ch’ulel, the “inner soul or spirit” of an individual, abides in that blood, and perhaps it is that soul that speaks.” (Freidel, David, Linda Schele, and Joy Parker. Maya Cosmos: Three Thousand Years on the Shaman’s Path. William Morrow and Company, Inc. 1995, pp. 201-2).
This combination of the Mesoamerican conception and the inherited ideas lend texture to the understanding behind Alma’s ruling. The law existed, but Alma’s first reason was not the law simple, but rather this powerful concept that lay underneath the declared law.