Of the six women mentioned by name in the Book of Mormon, Isabel is the only one that appears to be an unrepentant sinner. She is a Zoramite harlot. These are not the Zoramites, decendance of Zoram from 1 Nephi (4: 35-38), but are the Zoramites that followed Zoram, a diciple of Korihor – an anti-Christ (Alma 30: 58-59).
In the 39th chapter of Alma, Alma the Younger gives counsel to his son, Corianton, who was sent to the land of Siron to preach the Gospel to Zoramites. The land of Siron was on the boarder of the land near the Lamanites. The Zoramites rejected the idea that Christ would come at all (Alma 31: 29), they rejected the Law of Moses (Alma 31: 9-10), and apparently worshiped idols (Alma 31: 1). Rather than lead the Zoramites back to the Gospel, he fell in with Isabel the harlot and left his duties to pay to spend time with her.
Thou didst do that which was grievous unto me; for thou didst forsake the ministry, and did go over into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel. Yea, she did steal away the hearts of many; but this was no excuse for thee, my son. Thou shouldst have tended to the ministry wherewith thou wast entrusted.” – Alma the Younger to Corianton (Alma 39: 3-4)
We know that prostitution itself is not a sin, as women with no husband or father to care for them had no other recourse for employment back then (Genesis 38: 12-26). The sin of adultery is, in the Law of Moses, a man sleeping with a woman that is already married (Leviticus 20: 10), or one that does not then become his wife, unless he pays for the service with two exceptions. The woman being prostituted may not do so for YHWH or any other gods (Deuteronomy 23: 17), keeping the priest and the priesthood pure; and fathers are not to prostitute their daughters (Leviticus 19: 29). For a woman then, this would mean to be married and sleep with a man that is not her husband once married and not at all if there is a man that can provide for her. Basically, prostitution should be a woman’s last choice and she would be prostituting herself, not in the employ of a man (as that man should be providing for her so she doesn’t have to sell her body).
In addition, Jana Riess pointed out the following to me, after she read this article (upon my request),
Just because she is called a “harlot” one time by one man does not mean that she was in fact a professional prostitute. It may mean instead that an angry and concerned father chose an insulting label in order to warn his son away from a woman he deemed inappropriate. In Ezekiel, “harlot” is used to describe religious infidelity (albeit in sexual terms), for example. It’s hard with the Book of Mormon because we only have the English translation. In Hebrew there were a couple of words that could be translated as “harlot” — one actually meaning a ritual prostitute, and one meaning more like ‘a strange and dangerous foreigner.'”
And, she makes and excellent point, one that I have raised myself in the past about the comparison in the scriptures of leaving the faith and adultery. Thus, Isabel may not be “married” to anyone, but seen by Alma as a harlot simply for leading his son, Corianton, away from the church.
With these two observations as references, we can determine that either Isabel may have been single and her father, a priest, may have been prostituting her; or she could have been married and her husband was selling her. If either was the case, one of these or someone else, or even she on her own, might have been selling her body for the/an unknown god of the Zoramites. (The Book of Mormon never names their god/gods.) If the Zoramites were influenced by the Aztecs at all, she could have been “married” to Xochipilli, working in a temple for this or a similar god, selling hallucinogenic drugs as well as sex. We simply do not know. Or, the other possibility could be that she was simply causing Corianton to doubt the Gospel.
Regardless, what is the most interesting about this verse is Alma’s reaction:
Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost?” – Alma the Younger to Corianton (Alma 39: 5)
What then is the the thing that is “abominable above all sins,” other than murder or “denying the Holy Ghost?”
Many say that this sin is adultery, sex before marriage, sleeping with a prostitute, or all of these and more – but basically, sexual sin in general. While this does seem logical, it misses the pronoun’s intent: “these things.” That is plural. Sleeping with a prostitute is singular, as would be being lead astray by a pretty girl. If he was having sex with her, then the act he preformed is a sin. We should not forget that. However, the “whoredomes” talked about in the scriptures are, most of the time, referring to the marriage between Christ and the Church. It could very well be that the major sins were not the one sin of having sex with a prostitute, but rather;
- forsaking the ministry (Alma 39: 3-4)
- loving sex, and maybe even drugs (or simply spending time), with Isabel more than God (Alma 39: 3)
- committing acts that lead others way from the Gospel (Alma 39: 11)
Remember, Corianton sought after Isabel, he was seeking her out! She became as an idol to him. This would be just like someone leaving their mission to obtain alcohol to become drunk. Even though the Word of Wisdom is a temporal law, not really a commandment from God, the love of alcohol and drunkenness could lead a missionary to forsake the ministry, love the intoxication more than God and thus be committing acts that would lead others away from the Gospel. Thus, any sin could be used in this example.
And, if Isabel was in fact just a girl that was leading Corianton away from the church, this was still as serious because whatever their relationship, it was causing Isabel’s neighbors to reject the Gospel.
Some readers may point out that verse four mentions Isabel stealing “away the hearts of many,” and verse nine asks Corianton to stop going after the lusts of his eyes, and verse eleven Alma asks him to stop going after “those wicked harlots.” Harlots is plural, this would be more than Isabel and does seem to talk about sexual sin.
However, Jude, verses six through eight talks about the angels that followed the Devil, making it appear as if they had been practicing vial/perverse sexual acts. Here, Jude is making the point that these angels left their first love, the Lord. Obviously they were not committing perverse sexual acts. And, this making the point that adultery it likely not that “great sin” Alma was referring to, and “harlots” may have just meant women not of the failth, a group Isabel was clearly a part of.
With these things in mind, suddenly we get a better understanding as to why what Corianton did was the third greatest sin. One cannot repent from denying the Holy Ghost, the greatest sin. While one can repent of murder, the person that died lost all chances of growth in this life – thus taking away life then becomes the second greatest sin, according to Alma. What then is the third greatest sin? Leading others away from Christ.
Let me say that again.
Leading people away from God rather than helping them towards God is assisting in their damnation, thus this is the third greatest sin.
Think about this. Each of these three sins makes repentance harder, from impossible to, by example, encouraging others not to repent at all. And who knows more about leading people astray than Alma the Younger (Mosiah 27)?
Even if the sins Alma is referring to here -worst case scenario – are sex and drugs, thus two sins, it would not mean that sex and drugs are equal to murder. The chapter, as a whole, still has the same theme – what he did lead people away from Christ, rather than towards him. Thus the great sin still appears to be based around his abandoning the ministry more than the particular sins he chose to engage in. This leads to the conclusion as to the nature of this third greatest sin.
The most important thing we can do in this life, after coming to Christ, is to bring others to Christ. Anything we do that leads people way from Christ is a form of idolatry as we have left our first love (God) for something else that is more important to us. When that thing leads others from Christ, God mourns. Salvation and exaltation are his only goals, and as his followers and disciples, they should be ours as well.
Author’s note: This article was edited after an email correspondence with blogger Jana Reiss.
Image: Statue of Xochipilli (From the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City) By gripso_banana_prune Antony Stanley CC BY-SA 2.0