Alma 24:5 Textual Variants

Royal Skousen
now when Ammon and his brethren and all those which had come up with them saw the preparations of the Lamanites to destroy their brethren they came forth to the land of [Medeon >+ Midian 0|Midion >+ Midian 1| Midian ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRST] and there Ammon met all his brethren and from thence they came to the land of Ishmael that they might hold a council with Lamoni and also with his brother Anti-Nephi-Lehi

Heather Hardy (personal communication, 5 January 2006) has suggested that the reference here to “the land of Midian” is an error for “the land of Middoni”. Elsewhere in this part of the book of Alma, from Alma 20:2 through Alma 23:10, there are 15 references to “the land of Middoni” but no other references to “the land of Midian”. There are also two references to Middoni alone (Alma 20:3 and Alma 22:3), apparently with the meaning ‘the land of Middoni’. Moreover, there are five passages that simultaneously refer to “the land of Middoni” and “the land of Ishmael”:

The last passage lists the lands and cities where Ammon and his brethren converted the Lamanites: namely, the land of Ishmael (where Ammon was the missionary) and the land of Middoni (where Aaron and the others were the missionaries). The city of Nephi was where the chief king of the Lamanites ruled from; and as explained in Mosiah 11:12, the lands of Shilom and Shemlon were near the city of Nephi. The list in Alma 23 also includes two other cities where the Lamanites were converted (namely, Lemuel and Shimnilom), which are not otherwise mentioned in the text.

Here in Alma 24:5, the reference (in the current text) is to “the land of Midian” and “the land of Ishmael”. Lamoni ruled over the land of Ishmael, and Ammon was the only missionary that went there; the others had been laboring in the land of Middoni. After initial difficulties in the land of Middoni, these other missionaries met with success there and elsewhere (as implied in Alma 21:12–17). So it makes perfectly good sense for Ammon to later meet all his brethren in the land of Middoni and from there go together to the land of Ishmael to discuss with Lamoni (the king over the land of Ishmael) and with Anti-Nephi-Lehi (the chief king who ruled from the land of Nephi) the increasing difficulty with the unconverted Lamanites.

In the original manuscript, this name was initially spelled as Medeon. One possibility is that the original text actually read Midian, but that Joseph Smith pronounced it with stress on the second syllable, as /mßdiªßn/, which Oliver Cowdery wrote down in 𝓞 as Medeon. Later, the three vowels were all corrected, giving Midian, the biblical name. If Joseph spelled out the name for Oliver, then we can be quite sure that the original text read Midian. However, the three vowels were corrected using distinctly heavier ink flow, which is unusual since Book of Mormon names, if they are corrected when they first appear in the text, are immediately corrected without any change in the level of ink flow. For some reason, the correction of Medeon to Midian was done later.

Another possibility here in Alma 24:5 is that Joseph Smith misread the name Middoni as if it read Middion (with the i moved forward). Note that Middion could be pronounced, depending on the placement of the stress, as either /mßdiªßn/ or /mıªdißn/. The first leads to the spelling Medeon, the second to Midian. In the printer’s manuscript, the name was initially spelled as Midion. The o vowel in 𝓟 suggests that when Oliver Cowdery first copied the name into 𝓟, the original manuscript may have still read as Medeon. Later, Midion was corrected in 𝓟 to Midian; the change of the o vowel to a was done with somewhat heavier ink flow. Perhaps the vowels in Medeon (the original spelling in 𝓞) were corrected at the same time the vowel in Midion was corrected in 𝓟; that is, when Oliver copied the name from 𝓞 into 𝓟 (in the fall of 1829), he did not recognize Medeon, the reading in 𝓞, and decided that it was an error for Midian, but spelling it initially in 𝓟 as Midion and then correcting both 𝓞 and 𝓟 to read Midian.

In a subsequent communication (12 May 2006), Hardy proposed a reason for why Oliver Cowdery might have replaced the unrecognizable Medeon with the biblical name Midian: namely, Oliver’s familiarity with the Bible. Earlier in Alma 21:2, when he could not figure out the name spelled as Amelicite in 𝓞, Oliver apparently decided to replace it with the biblical name Amalekite, not the correct Amlicite (found considerably earlier in Alma 2–3). Here at the beginning of Alma 24, just before writing Midion in 𝓟 (and then correcting it to Midian), Oliver twice more made this substitution of the biblical Amalekite for the Book of Mormon Amlicite (which is extant in 𝓞 for the first occurrence of the name in Alma 24:1 and is there spelled as Amelicite ):

Similarly, one could argue that when Oliver came to Alma 24:5, he made the same kind of replacement of an unrecognizable Book of Mormon name, Medeon, with a recognizable biblical name, Midian. Interestingly, the biblical names Amalekites and Midianites actually occur together in the book of Judges:

Also the book of Genesis, in its description of Joseph being sold into slavery, refers to the same people as either Midianites or Ishmaelites (spelled as Ishmeelites in the King James text):

(For another example, see Judges 8:22–26.) Thus another factor that may have allowed Middoni to be replaced by Midian is the fact that there are five passages in Alma 20–23 (listed above) that refer to “the land of Ishmael” along with “the land of Middoni”. But probably the most signifi- cant factor in causing this substitution would have been more general: namely, Oliver Cowdery’s familiarity with the biblical name Midian. In any event, the two biblical name replacements— of Amalekite for Amelicite (beginning in Alma 21 as an error in 𝓞 for Amlicite) and Midian for Medeon (here in Alma 24:5)—imply a strong familiarity with the Bible on the part of Oliver.

Summary: Accept in Alma 24:5 the emendation of Midian to Middoni; all other geographical references to the land of Middoni argue that this unique reference in the Book of Mormon to “the land of Midian” is an error due to Oliver Cowdery’s familiarity with biblical names, just like his earlier decision in Alma 21 to interpret Amelicite in 𝓞 as the biblical name Amalekite (rather than the correct Amlicite).

Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, Part. 4