“He Fell Unto the Earth As If He Were Dead”

Brant Gardner

The Book of Mormon frequently uses the concepts of falling down as though dead as the indication of the powerful influence of the spirit. While these experiences certainly took place as recorded, it is still important to understand that this particular understanding of the effect of the spirit was particularly familiar to Joseph Smith from his experience with the revivalist movement in upstate New York. In addition to this particular form, much of the language that is in the Book of Mormon concerning the conversion process contains echoes if not outright repetitions of conversion terminologies with which Joseph was familiar. An interesting comparison of these descriptions of conversion from the revivalist movement and the Book of Mormon may be found in the chapter on conversion stories in Mark Thomas' Digging in Cumorah. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999, pp. 123-147). Of note for the experience of King Lamoni is the following:

Another common manifestation of those under conviction is the falling exercise, or falling "under the power of God." Evangelicals used war imagery (the enemies of God slain in battle) or the image of subjects prostrate before their king. Speaking of the preaching in 1821 in Eden, New York, David Marks stated that "the solemnities of the eternal world were unveiled, and the arrows of the King sharp in the hearts of his enemies. Eleven were wounded, bowed before the Lord.

The falling exercise itself took several forms. Sometimes those who fell simply lost the use of their limbs but were still conscious and would "cry for mercy." At other times they apparently stopped breathing and were described "as if they were dead," or "as if they were dying." When they revived, they sometimes reported hearing and comprehending everything going on around them. At other times they saw visions of heaven or hell. Although they literally fell, this state also symbolized the death of the natural man. Revivalist George Baxter says that the falling exercise was also experienced by those "under the influence of comfortable feelings." In other words, the falling exercise could be a manifestation of joy as well as conviction." (Thomas, 1999, p. 131-132)

The experiences of the various Book of Mormon converts would have been easily understood by those who first read the book, and the language employed made understanding the spiritual nature of what was happening very clear to Joseph's contemporaries. However, we should not presume that these were artificial explanations any more than we should deny the reality of the spiritual experience of those who fell down in Joseph's day. In the case of King Lamoni and Alma the Younger, the falling down is similar, but clearly the period of time is rather extended. As has been noted, it is extended in a very Mesoamerican way, with the two days and two nights adding to four periods. In Mesoamerica the number four is just as quickly a reminder of symbolic meaning as it seven or twelve in the Old Testament.

Textual: There is no chapter break in the 1830 edition.

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon