“So Great Was the Scent Thereof”

Alan C. Miner

In Alma 16:11 it states that "after many days their bodies were heaped up upon the face of the earth . . . And now so great was the scent thereof that the people did not go in to possess the land of Ammonihah for many years. And it was called Desolation of Nehors." Now in view of the fact that a "great . . . scent" would attract vultures, it might be wise for the reader to contemplate the covenant aspect of what happened at Ammonihah.

According to Raymond Treat of the RLDS Church, the concept of covenant-making in the ancient world is emerging as one of the most profound and far-reaching topics in all scripture. . . . In his book, The Miracle of the Scarlet Thread, Richard Booker outlines the steps ancient Hebrews typically followed in making a covenant. They exchanged robes and belts, cut the covenant, raised their right arms and mingled their blood, exchanged names, made a scar, stated the covenant terms, ate a memorial meal and planted a memorial tree. . . .

The Hebrew word for covenant means "to cut or make an incision." The two covenant makers cut an animal down the middle and stood between the halves, their backs to each other. They then walked through the sacrifice, made a figure eight and came back to face each other. The dead animal represented self--dying to self and giving up rights to your own life. The figure eight represented a new beginning with the covenant partner until death. This ritual also reminded the covenant partners that if they broke their covenant, they would become food for vultures as was the animal used in this step. [Raymond C. Treat, "Understanding Our Covenant," in Recent Book of Mormon Developments, Vol. 2, pp. 34-35]

Assuming a Mesoamerican setting, it was an interesting sensation, on tour with Joseph Allen, for one to drop down from the cool, crisp, clean air of the Guatemalan highlands (a proposed location for the land of Nephi) into the heavy, humid, stagnant air of the Chiapas depression (a proposed location for the general land of Zarahemla). One of the first things that catches your eye is the sight of vultures circling high in the air at various spots above the valley floor, which stretches out before you. If the bodies of the people in Ammonihah were heaped up and left to rot in the open sun, the sight of circling vultures and the smell would be apparent to anyone in the valley for many days, and could easily be recognized as a sign or token of desolation. It is interesting to note that here in this Mesoamerican setting, the proposed location of the land of Noah (associated with Ammonihah) are some ruins near a city called Ocozocoautla, which means "place of the vulture." [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

Alma 16:11 So great was the scent thereof ([Illustration]): Vultures are common in Mesoamerica. A vulture's tremendous sense of smell can lead it to carrion miles away. [Scot F. Proctor and Maurine J. Proctor, Light from the Dust, p. 110]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary