Mormon studies, Book of Mormon, sophism, philosophy
From the beginning, Lehite culture was richly oral and often divided over the question of authority (see Alma 1–2, 8–14, 30). On one side of the conflict stood the prophets, and on the other side stood “popular” opportunistic figures, wise in their own eyes, who resemble in a general way classical sophists (Alma 1:3; see 2 Ne. 9:28). The classical sophists, some of whom were philosophic pretenders, sought to subvert on occasion the moral authority and epistemological methods of the actual philosophers. In contrast, the Nephite “sophists” (an encompassing term for our purposes that describes a certain kind of proud, intellectual antagonist in the Book of Mormon), many of whom during one period were after the order of Nehor, “[bore] down against the church” for “riches and honor” (Alma 1:3, 16). Cleverly, they channeled the prophets in word and deed even as they challenged their authority and repurposed their teachings (see 1:3–4), “stir[ring] up the people to riotings, and all manner of . . . wickedness” for success and money (11:20). These Nehors (teachers, priests, politicians, lawyers, and judges, for instance) often used the prophets’ words against them, ironically portraying them as pretenders and liars, and vice versa (see 1 Ne. 16:38; Mosiah 12:12; Alma 10:28; 11:25, 36; 12:1–4; 30:28). In the book of Helaman, Nephi, son of Helaman, following Alma’s earlier example, valiantly defends his authority just years before the Lord’s coming by calling upon “many prophets” and “many evidences” (Hel. 8:19, 24; see 8:11–24). Thus, Nephi situates his prophetic witness, likening himself to such persons as Abraham and Moses. The multiplication of witnesses does not add to the “power and authority of God” he possesses (see Alma 17:3), however much the association may appease those who require such evidence. Similarly, Alma’s power and authority to preach is not merely inherited but is a gift of God following many days of fasting and praying (5:46). It is that quest and forthcoming special witness of Christ by “the spirit of prophecy” that allows Alma to preach with the spirit of power in his own generation (see 5:47). The method of comparison Nephi employs for the sake of his audience was not uncommon among the prophets, nor is defending one’s authority against sophistic pretenders unique to the Book of Mormon.
Stenson, Matthew Scott
"Answering for His Order: Alma's Clash with the Nehors,"
BYU Studies Quarterly: Vol. 55
, Article 7.
Available at: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/byusq/vol55/iss2/7