“The Land of Ishmael”

Alan C. Miner

According to Joseph Allen, we might propose that the land of Ishmael was between the land of Jerusalem (proposed Lake Atitlan area) and the local land of Nephi (ruins of Kaminaljuyu, Guatemala City). Some of the towns between Lake Atitlan and Guatemala City today are Patzun, Patzicia, Chimaltenango, and Antigua. John Sorenson places the land of Ishmael in the Department (comparable to a state) of Chimaltenango (Setting, 225), which includes the communities of Patzicia and Patzun. These towns are located in a picturesque valley where a degree of level crop farming is possible. [Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, p. 367]

Alma 17:19 The land of Ishmael (Illustration): Projection of the Coast and Highlands of Chiapas indicating Modern and Ancient Routes of Communication. Map drawn by topographer Eduardo Martinez E. with the collaboration of Gonzalo Utrilla. [Gareth Lowe, Thomas Lee, and Eduardo Martinez, Izapa: An Introduction to the Ruins and Monuments, N.W.A.F., p. 73]

“The Land of Ishmael the Land Being Called After the Sons of Ishmael”

We are told that the land of Ishmael was called "after the sons of Ishmael, who also became Lamanites" (Alma 17:19). While some of the daughters of Ishmael married Nephi, Sam, and Zoram (1 Nephi 16:7), there is no record of any sons of Ishmael leaving the land of first Inheritance when Nephi fled to the land of Nephi (2 Nephi 5:5-6). The idea that the "sisters" mentioned as accompanying Nephi (2 Nephi 5:5-6) were married to some sons of Ishmael seems doubtful in view of not only the previous rebellion of the sons of Ishmael (see 1 Nephi 7:6), but the wording in Alma 17:19, "the sons of Ishmael, who also became Lamanites." This is significant, because in Jacob 1:13 we find the following:

Now the people which were not Lamanites were Nephites; nevertheless, they were called Nephites, Jacobites, Josephites, Zoramites, Lamanites, Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites.

According to Nephite custom, they called their lands and cities "after the name of him who first possessed them" (Alma 8:7). Thus, because what we are reading in Alma 17:19 comes from Nephite record keepers, the land of Ishmael was apparently first occupied by the sons of Ishmael. Somehow, the sons of Ishmael must have spread outward from the Lamanite land of first inheritance which was located "on the west in the land of Nephi" . . . "bordering along by the seashore" (see Alma 22:28). Nephi, after having fled to the local land of Nephi, states the following: "And it sufficeth me to say that forty years had passed away and we had already had wars and contentions with our brethren." Thus, the spread of the Lamanites (including the sons of Ishmael) somehow encroached on the Nephite interests. From this we might surmise that the land of Ishmael was located somewhere in the general area between the Lamanite land of first inheritance and the local land of Nephi.

After traveling "many days" from the land of Zarahemla (Alma 17:9) and arriving in the "borders of the land of the Lamanites" (Alma 17:13) the sons of Mosiah separated and Ammon entered the land of Ishmael:

"And as Ammon entered the land of Ishmael, the Lamanites took him and bound him, as was their custom to bind all the Nephites who fell into their hands, and carry them before the king; and thus it was left to the pleasure of the king to slay them, or to retain them in captivity, or to cast them out of his land, according to his will and pleasure." (Alma 17:20). (emphasis added)

This might imply a fairly definite boundary with fairly definite political power. It might also imply that the sons of Mosiah could not have traveled an extensive distance into Lamanite territory without encountering trouble (the first time Ammon saw his brethren again they were in prison--Alma 20:2). Thus, the land of Ishmael where Ammon traveled to was probably near to the land of Jerusalem, the land where Aaron and his brethren first traveled toward from the point of separation "in the borders of the land of the Lamanites" (Alma 21:1--Alma 21:1 also says that Jerusalem "was away joining the borders of Mormon." Alma 5:3 says that Alma the elder "began to establish a church in the land which was in the borders of Nephi; yea, the land which was called the land of Mormon).

In later travels, after Aaron and his brethren were freed from prison, and after the king over all the Lamanites had given permission to Ammon that "thou and thy brethren may come unto me, in my kingdom" (Alma 20:27), Aaron was able to reach the local land of Nephi where the king resided. Thus, we can assume that the land of Ishmael was located somewhere between "the borders of the general land of Nephi" (Alma 17:9,13) first reached by the sons of Mosiah in the journey from Zarahemla, and the local land of Nephi where the king "over all the land save it were the land of Ishmael" resided (Alma 22:1).

Merging both lines of reasoning, we can place the land of Ishmael somewhat to the west of the local land of Nephi, and on the general path between the local land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla. We would not expect the sons of Ishmael, who apparently stayed behind when Nephi fled (see reasoning above), to occupy land beyond the site and in the direction of where Nephi fled to from the first landing site. Thus, we might assume, with reasonable textual justification, that the Lamanite land of first inheritance was by the seashore in the northwestern part of the general land of Nephi. Textually, we find this assumption backed up by the lack of mention of any lands "south" of the local land of Nephi. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

“Ammon Went to the Land of Ishmael”

In the Title Page of the Book of Mormon we find that the first proposed purpose of the book is to "show unto the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers . . . that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever." In the book of Mosiah and the book of Alma we find not only the story of the redemption of Alma and the Sons of Mosiah, but their subsequent missionary efforts. The sons of Mosiah (of whom Ammon was the eldest and the leader) went among the Lamanites and converted a number of them. The converted Lamanites eventually took upon themselves the name "Ammon." Thus one might wonder if, according to the design of the Book of Mormon, there is any symbolic covenant significance significance to the story of Ammon.

Some scholars might recognize the name "Amon" as an Egyptian pagan god, but according to Hugh Nibley, "he's not pagan at all."

The Egyptian word Amon means lots and lots of things. The main thing it means is "the unknown one," the one the Egyptians don't know. They call him "the hidden one, the concealed one, the one whose name nobody knows." Of course, that's exactly what the Hebrews said about him. Only the high priest in Israel knew the name of God. He only whispered it once a year when he went behind the veil. Nobody else knew that name. The name of Amon is written in Egyptian with a man concealing himself behind a blind. That is always read as Imn, "the one who is not seen, the one who is invisible, the one we don't know and who is above." In several of our hymns we use the word Amon for the name of God:

What, tho, if the favor of Ahman possessing,

This world's bitter hate you are called to endure?

("The Time is Far spent" Hymnbook, p. 266)

Now according to Louis Midgley,

the name and description of the community (or church) in the Book of Mormon was People of God (Mosiah 25:24; Alma 2:11, 19:14; 4 Nephi 1:40), or Covenant People of the Lord (1 Nephi 14:14; 2 Nephi 30:2; Mormon 8:15,21). Those names, as well as a complex of related language, are linked with the making and renewal of the covenant binding the faithful to God. The covenant was at times renewed through rituals involving the entire community. Those rituals admonished and constituted, as they did with ancient Israel, what the Book of Mormon calls "ways of remembrance" (1 Nephi 2:24). . . . [Such] provide us with prophetic direction and warning by preserving and enlarging our own memory of God's mighty deeds, and of the terms of the covenant that made them (and us) the People of God.

Thus by linking the people of Ammon with the people of God (see Mosiah 25:24; Alma 25:13; 27:27), a symbolic background is established for the many types and shadows of covenant salvation evoked in the story of the redemption of the people of Ammon. In order to understand why Ammon and the people of Ammon were uniquely important to Mormon, it might prove enlightening to the reader to list just briefly a few of the symbolisms associated with their story of redemption. The following is a partial list:

1. Ammon was redeemed of the Lord. (Mosiah 27:8-34)

2. He learned that "all mankind" must be redeemed in order to inherit the kingdom of God. (Mosiah 27:25-27)

3. He began to "publish peace." (Mosiah 27:32-37)

4. He desired to preach repentance to his brethren the Lamanites. (Mosiah 28:1-5)

5. Ammon was apparently the oldest and "chief" among those who desired to preach (Alma 17:18) (symbolic of the Firstborn)

6. Before departing for their missions, Ammon blessed all the servants and administered unto them (Alma 17:18). (Symbolic of foreordination in the Premortal sphere)

7. Ammon went to the land of Ishmael (Ishmael is a biblical person symbolizing those children of the Father born outside the Abrahamic covenant. These were children of the Father "born after the flesh" in "bondage"--see Galatians 6:22-23)

8. Ammon was willing to give his life to fulfill his calling (Alma 17:23). (Symbolic of the Savior)

9. Ammon forsook riches and power in order to serve his king (Alma 17:24-25) (Christ also did the same, but in order to serve The King)

10. After 3 days, as Ammon and the servants of the king (symbolic of God's prophets) were leading their flocks (symbolic of covenant children) to water (symbolic of living water) their flocks were scattered. (Alma 17:27)

11. The servants of the king feared for their lives because of this scattering. (Alma 17:28)

12. Ammon showed forth his power. With the servants he led the flocks back to the place of water (Alma 17:29-32)

13. The wicked men came to scatter the flocks again.(Alma 17:33)

14. Ammon overcame them and cut off their arms (symbolic of their power) (Alma 17:37)

15. The arms were presented to the king as proof of Ammon's actions (Alma 17:39)

16. The servants testified of the power of Ammon (Alma 18:1)

17. Ammon was perceived as having all the attributes of the Great Spirit. (Alma 18:2-4).

18. Ammon was the greatest of all servants to the king (Alma 18:10).

19. Ammon was called "Rabbanah," meaning powerful or great king (Alma 18:13), a title nearly identical to "Rabboni," meaning master, which title was directed by Mary Magdalene to the resurrected Lord (John 20:16).

20. Ammon's only desire was to serve the king.

21. Ammon knew the thoughts of a man's heart. (Alma 18:18)

22. Ammon had been called to teach the true nature of a just God (Alma 18:26-34)

23. Ammon was a man created after the image of God and called by His spirit (Alma 18:34)

24. Ammon taught the gospel from the scriptures, specifically the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement (Alma 18:36-39)

25. Once the king (or symbolic representative of the people) understood and believed, he fell into a comatose state (symbolic of the death of the natural man). (Alma 18:40-43)

26. He was in this state of death until the third day, (symbolic of Christ's death) however during this time his spirit was being taught by the Redeemer (symbolic of Christ's mission to the Spirit World) (Alma 19:1-13);

27. When he arose he was a new man, spiritually reborn (symbolic of the covenant of baptism).

28. Wicked men tried to slay Ammon but he could not be slain according to the promises of the Lord (Alma 19:22-23)

29. The king said that were Ammon to be slain, innocent blood would be shed (Alma 20:19)

30. Ammon had power even over the king of all the Lamanites (symbolic of Satan). He smote his arm that he could not use it (Alma 20:20)

31. Ammon requested and was granted his wish that his brethren be released from prison (Alma 20:24) (symbolizing the power to free men from a spiritual prison).

32. Ammon returned to the land of his inheritance (Alma 21:18)

33. Ammon taught the people all things pertaining to righteousness (Alma 21:23)

34. As the people of the king were converted, they buried their weapons of war in covenant (symbolic of baptism)--they became new people. (Alma 23:7)

35 The people gave their lives completely to this covenant. Even though they covenanted to not take someone's life, they triumphed over many of their enemies in battle (Alma 23-26)

36. Although they endured sufferings, the Lord would not allow this people to be totally destroyed. (Alma 27:1-14)

37. They were told to depart from their homeland in order to go to a new land of inheritance. They were given the land of Jershon, which literally means "a land of inheritance," or in Book of Mormon terms "a land of promise." (Alma 27:15-26)

38. They took upon themselves the name of "the people of Ammon," which means "the people of God" (Ammon = God) by which they were distinguished "ever after." (Alma 27:26)

39. There they kept their covenants perfectly (Alma 27:27) and were protected from destruction. (Alma 28:1-3)

40. When once again in the face of ultimate destruction, they refused to break their covenant they were led to the land of Melek which literally means "the land of the king" (in Hebrew Melekh = king). (Alma 35:13)

41. In Melek they prospered and raised up a righteous posterity. This people of Ammon ("people of God" or covenant people) had children who also lived by the covenant. (Alma 56:3-9)

42 When ultimate danger threatened for the third time, the righteous posterity rose up to preserve the lives of their covenant progenitors. (Alma 56-59)

43. The commander of the Nephites (Moroni) had established a covenant of peace. (Alma 44:14-15)

44. Those who fought against the covenant people ("king-men" --who wanted to establish a false king) and who refused the covenant of peace suffered death. (Alma 44:14)

45 Not one life of the young people of Ammon was lost. (Alma 56-59)

46. Mormon also recorded that as far as he knew, the people of Ammon never did fall away. (Alma 23:5-7; 27:26-30)

In about 46 B.C., when contention arose among the Nephite nation, Mormon notes that the people of Ammon departed out of the land into the land northward (Helaman 3:3-5, 11-15). Although Mormon never states specifically just where the people of Ammon settled in the land northward, he did not attempt to correlate the subsequent wickedness in the land northward with the people of Ammon. Mormon makes no specific mention of them in his description of the rejection of Nephi's preaching in that land at around 23 B.C. (see Helaman 7:1-6). This would have been only about 40 years from the miraculous battles of the sons of Helaman and it is highly doubtful that the people of Ammon would have ever rejected Nephi if Mormon specifically states that "they never did fall away." Such a drastic turnabout would not have escaped Mormon's record.

Over two hundred years after the Lord's visit, Mormon records that the people began to dwindle into unbelief and wickedness. For the next two hundred years the Nephite nation continued their downward spiral into total wickedness until they were totally destroyed. (4 Nephi 1:24 - Mormon 8:2). But what about the people of Ammon? Could the people of Ammon have been a viable community during the lifetime of Mormon, distant both geographically and spiritually from the total moral decay of a nation which led ultimately to the wars of extermination? [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on Alma 17:23] [See Volume 6, Appendix A, "The Chronological Setting for Moroni 7"]

Geographical theory map: Alma 17:19 ([Illustration]) Ammon goes to the Land of Ishmael

Geographical Theory Map: Alma 17:6-19 [Sons of Mosiah] Go up to Nephi / Ammon Goes to Ishmael (1st Year)

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