As Alma led his world in a covenant renewal ceremony, possibly in association with the autumn New Year’s festival seakid, he asked them 50 penetrating concerns to aid in their introspection and spiritual self-evaluations (Alma 5).1 In a pair of specifically pointed inquiries, Alma asked his world, “Have ye got image in your countenances?” (Alma 5:14, focus added). Then, inviting them to imagine the judgment day (vv. 15–18), Alma asked if, on that day they could “look up, having actually the image of God engraven upon you countenances?” (v. 19, focus added).

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According to Brant Gardner, “Having the image of God engraven on the countenances of the righteous appears to be distinctive to Alma.”2 By using the terms engraven and also picture together as he did, Alma might have actually been making a delibeprice allusion to rituals and practices discovered in pre-Columbian America. As defined by Brant Gardner and also Mark Wideal, many type of Mesoamerideserve to societies participated in rituals of deity impersocountry, wright here “a routine specialist, commonly the ruler, puts on an engraved mask or sophisticated headdress and transforms himself into the god whose mask or hedeal with is being worn.”3

According to Cecelia Klein, participation in the Mesoamerican rituals was limited to the top course. “The best to impersonate a divine being … was not available to everyone; the costumes were indicators of rank, office, privilege, and the best to wide range.”4 Such rituals were frequently part of the celebration of addressed calendar dates, such as the New Year,5 through those of reduced social standing watching the ritual performance.


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The masks worn by deity impersonators were themselves believed to be “intelligent objects in their own best, embodying the cognitive essence and powers of the being they represent.”6 As Gardner and Wideal described, “The masks and headdresses that deity impersonators wore were literally graven.”7 Pre-columbian masks were sculpted or engraved out of turquoise, jade, greenrock, gold, silver, obsidian, hardwood, and also also humale skulls.8 In the easily accessible artwork, masks “commonly appear worn by rulers, clergymans, and leading warriors.”9

Both deity impersocountry and the masks worn for that function were linked to the image of deity in pre-Columbian times. According to Klein, the Aztec term referring to a god impersonator literally indicates “god’s image,”10 and Gardner and also Wappropriate detailed that Maya inscriptions refer to deity impersonators having u-b’aah-il, “his holy photo.”11 In enhancement, “the Maya word for mask, koh, means ‘image’ or ‘representative.’”12 Comparable rituals and also ideas entailing masks existed among many type of pre-Columbian cultures throughout both North and also South America.13


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Deity mask of Xipe Totec (c 1400-1521, Mexico) from the British Museum. Image through Wikimedia commons.


In Mesoamerica, these masks and also rituals are well recorded earlier right into Publication of Mormon times. Gardner and also Wappropriate described, “This practice goes back to the Formative period (1500 BC–ADVERTISEMENT 200), as cave paints in Oxtotitlan dating to the eighth century BC attest.”14 Klein affirmed that carved masks, “showed up in Mesoamerica start in the Early Pre-Classic duration, after about 1500 BCE.”15 She better declared, “Mesoamericans have been impersonating their gods given that … the Center to Late Formative periods,” or in various other words, from around 1000 BC on.16

The Why

“Against that conmessage,” Gardner and also Wideal concluded, Alma’s questions around receiving and then engraving God’s picture upon one’s countenance “come to be highly nuanced.”17 At this point in time, the church in Zarahemla was managing a recent influx of new converts (Alma 4:4–5) who more than likely brought through them some cultural baggage from their previous religious ideas and also practices. Additionally, the church was dealing with interior apostasy most likely affected by the Nephites’ neighboring culture (Alma 4:6–14).


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As Gardner and Wbest proposed, “Alma may have been referencing a principle that he intended his listeners to understand also and also attempted to transition that expertise into a much more appropriate gospel conmessage.”18 Alma was speaking at a covenant rejuvenation ceremony where some in his audience can have expected him to put on an engraved mask and assume the “image” of a god. Instead, Alma taught his world what it truly indicates to engrave God’s image on one’s countenance.

To Alma, receiving God’s picture was akin to being “spiritually … born of God” and having a “mighty change of heart” (Alma 5:14). Anattracted C. Skinner described, “to obtain Christ’s image in one’s countenance means to acquire the Savior’s likeness in behavior, to be a copy or reflection of the Master’s life,” which “needs … a change in feelings, perspectives, desires, and spiritual commitment.”19

Receiving God’s photo inevitably leads to having God’s image engraved upon one’s countenance. This usage of engraven adds rhetorical force to the prestige of gaining God’s image, particularly in light of the efforts by Book of Mormon authors, who “engraved that which is pleasing unto God” onto steel plates (2 Nephi 5:32).20

Alma compared having actually God’s image engraved upon oneself to having “a pure heart and clean hands” (Alma 5:19)—a phrase that comes from a holy place entry psalm (Psalm 24:4). This psalm was meant to assess a person’s worthiness to pass via the gateways of the holy place and also thereby enter into the presence of God.21 Hence, Alma taught that the righteous that enter into God’s existence will certainly have actually God’s image engraved upon their countenance. In other words, they “shall be prefer him” (1 John 3:2; Moroni 7:48).


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Achieving this takes even more than simply dressing up in a costume and also perdeveloping an “impersonation” ritual. As a pair of LDS scholars put it, receiving the picture of God entails genuinely “imitating and emulating … others who have set an example in righteousness, particularly Jesus Christ.”22 Eventually, engraving God’s photo onto one’s own countenance is made possible “with the blood of Christ” (Alma 5:27)—bereason the Lord has actually “graven thee upon the palms of hands” (Isaiah 49:16; 1 Nephi 21:16).

As Alma taught, this true reception of God’s photo was an chance obtainable to all—not simply the ruler and also other social elite. In that method, Alma was proceeding the democratizing process begun by King Benjamin and lugged additionally by Mosiah.23 Today, Alma’s penetrating questions proceed to urge readers to confront approximately actual and probing self-examination. Such introspection opens up up the chance to repent and end up being choose Christ—to have his photo engraven upon one’s countenance—an opportunity open up to all that truly look for to emulate the Savior.


Further Reading

Brant A. Gardner and also Mark Alan Wappropriate, “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. Nyguy and also Charles D. Tate Jr., The Book of Mormon Symposium Series, Volume 6 (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1992), 27–42.

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Anattracted C. Skinner, “Alma’s ‘Pure Testimony’ (Alma 5–8),” in Book of Mormon, Part 1: 1 Nephi to Alma 29, ed. Kent P. Jackchild, Studies in Scripture, Volume 7 (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1987), 294–306.