As Alma led his civilization in a covenant renewal ceremony, probably in association through the autumn new Year’s festival season, the asked them 50 penetrating inquiries to aid in your introspection and also spiritual self-evaluations (Alma 5).1 In a pair of particularly pointed questions, Alma asked his people, “Have ye got image in her countenances?” (Alma 5:14, emphasis added). Then, inviting them to imagine the referee day (vv. 15–18), Alma asked if, on that day they can “look up, having the image the God engraven upon friend countenances?” (v. 19, emphasis added).

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According to Brant Gardner, “Having the image of God engraven on the countenances that the righteous appears to be unique to Alma.”2 By utilizing the state engraven and image together as he did, Alma might have to be making a deliberate allusion to rituals and practices found in pre-Columbian America. As described by Brant Gardner and Mark Wright, plenty of Mesoamerican societies participated in rituals of divine being impersonation, whereby “a routine specialist, commonly the ruler, puts on an engraved mask or elaborate headdress and transforms himself into the god who mask or headdress is gift worn.”3

According to Cecelia Klein, joining in the Mesoamerican rituals was minimal to the top class. “The right to impersonate a divine being … was not obtainable to everyone; the costumes were indications of rank, office, privilege, and also the appropriate to riches.”4 such rituals were often component of the celebration event of resolved calendar dates, such together the brand-new Year,5 with those of reduced social standing watching the routine performance.


The masks worn by divine being impersonators to be themselves believed to be “intelligent objects in their very own right, embodying the cognitive essence and also powers the the gift they represent.”6 as Gardner and Wright explained, “The masks and headdresses that deity impersonators wore were literally graven.”7 Pre-columbian masks were sculpted or engraved the end of turquoise, jade, greenstone, gold, silver, obsidian, wood, and even person skulls.8 In the available artwork, masks “usually show up worn by rulers, priests, and also leading warriors.”9

Both deity impersonation and the masks worn because that that function were attached to the image of divine being in pre-Columbian times. Follow to Klein, the Aztec term introduce to a god personification literally way “god’s image,”10 and also Gardner and also Wright provided that Maya engravings refer to divine being impersonators having u-b’aah-il, “his holy image.”11 In addition, “the Maya word for mask, koh, means ‘image’ or ‘representative.’”12 comparable rituals and also concepts including masks existed among many pre-Columbian cultures throughout both North and South America.13


Deity mask of Xipe Totec (c 1400-1521, Mexico) from the british Museum. Photo via Wikimedia commons.

In Mesoamerica, these masks and rituals room well documented ago into book of Mormon times. Gardner and Wright explained, “This practice goes earlier to the Formative period (1500 BC–AD 200), as cavern paintings in Oxtotitlan dating to the eighth century BC attest.”14 Klein affirmed that carved masks, “appeared in Mesoamerica beginning in the early on Pre-Classic period, after about 1500 BCE.”15 She more declared, “Mesoamericans have been impersonating their gods since … the middle to Late formative periods,” or in various other words, from about 1000 BC on.16

The Why

“Against that context,” Gardner and Wright concluded, Alma’s questions about receiving and then engraving God’s photo upon one’s countenance “become very nuanced.”17 in ~ this suggest in time, the church in Zarahemla was managing a current influx of brand-new converts (Alma 4:4–5) who probably lugged with lock some cultural baggage from their previous religious beliefs and also practices. Furthermore, the church was dealing with internal apostasy likely affected by the Nephites’ surrounding society (Alma 4:6–14).


As Gardner and also Wright proposed, “Alma may have been to express a ide that he meant his listeners to understand and also attempted to change that understanding into a an ext appropriate gospel context.”18 Alma was speaking at a covenant renewal ceremony wherein some in his audience might have meant him to put on an engraved mask and also assume the “image” the a god. Instead, Alma taught his civilization what the truly way to engrave God’s picture on one’s countenance.

To Alma, receiving God’s photo was akin to gift “spiritually … born the God” and also having a “mighty change of heart” (Alma 5:14). Andrew C. Skinner explained, “to obtain Christ’s image in one’s countenance means to obtain the Savior’s likeness in behavior, to it is in a copy or reflection of the Master’s life,” i m sorry “requires … a change in feelings, attitudes, desires, and also spiritual commitment.”19

Receiving God’s image at some point leads to having actually God’s photo engraved upon one’s countenance. This use of engraven adds rhetorical force to the prestige of obtaining God’s image, especially in light of the efforts by publication of Mormon authors, who “engraved the which is pleasing unto God” onto steel plates (2 Nephi 5:32).20

Alma compared having God’s picture engraved upon oneself to having “a pure heart and also clean hands” (Alma 5:19)—a expression that comes from a temple entry psalm (Psalm 24:4). This psalm was supposed to evaluate a who worthiness to pass through the gates of the temple and also thereby get in into the presence of God.21 Thus, Alma taught the the righteous who enter into God’s existence will have God’s image engraved upon your countenance. In other words, they “shall be choose him” (1 man 3:2; Moroni 7:48).


Achieving this takes much more than simply dressing up in a costume and performing one “impersonation” ritual. Together a pair that LDS scholars placed it, receiving the image of God requires genuinely “imitating and emulating … others that have collection an example in righteousness, especially Jesus Christ.”22 Ultimately, engraving God’s photo onto one’s own countenance is made feasible “through the blood that Christ” (Alma 5:27)—because the Lord has actually “graven thee upon the palms the hands” (Isaiah 49:16; 1 Nephi 21:16).

As Alma taught, this true agree of God’s picture was one opportunity easily accessible to all—not simply the ruler and other social elite. In that way, Alma was continuing the democratizing process begun by King Benjamin and also carried further by Mosiah.23 Today, Alma’s penetrating questions proceed to urge readers to challenge up come genuine and probing self-examination. Such introspection opens up the possibility to repent and also become like Christ—to have actually his picture engraven ~ above one’s countenance—an opportunity open to all that truly seek to emulate the Savior.

Further Reading

Brant A. Gardner and also Mark Alan Wright, “The cultural Context of Nephite Apostasy,” Interpreter: A journal of Mormon Scripture 1 (2012): 25–55.

C. Max Caldwell, “‘A Mighty change of Heart’,” in Alma, The Testimony of the Word, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr., The publication of Mormon Symposium Series, Volume 6 (Provo, UT: spiritual Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1992), 27–42.

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Andrew C. Skinner, “Alma’s ‘Pure Testimony’ (Alma 5–8),” in Book the Mormon, part 1: 1 Nephi to Alma 29, ed. Kent P. Jackson, studies in Scripture, Volume 7 (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1987), 294–306.