I’m finally back to work on Alma and Amulek! (I’ve been sick for a while.)
In Alma 8:20, Amulek tells Alma, “I am a Nephite, and I know that thou art a holy prophet of God…”
Why does he need to mention that he is a Nephite? It could be to distinguish him from the people of Zarahemla, who of course were mixed with the Nephites by now. Perhaps he means literally of Nephi (he is a literal descendant, we learn later) as opposed to Jacob, Joseph, Zoram, etc.
This phrase “I am a Nephite” seemed worth a search. I searched for just “a Nephite” and only came up with 6 other results. It can refer to a Nephite where you would expect a Lamanite (so Nephite = not Lamanite), or the phrase “a day’s journey for a Nephite.” One case, in Helaman, refers to a man who was a Nephite by birth “who had once belonged to the church of God but had dissented from them.”
Only in this last case does “a Nephite” seem to have a connection to the church. Granted, elsewhere there will be groups of people who decide to call those of the church “Nephites” and those not friendly to the church Lamanites, but does not seem to be at all the situation in these 7 verses using “a Nephite.”
Perhaps this announcement “I am a Nephite” meant he had a connection to the church, but this seems unlikely. The whole city, it seems, should or did have a connection to the church, which is why Alma was going there to strengthen the members. They reject Alma and the church not because they are of another descent, but because they simply don’t want to have anything to do with “Alma’s” church.
So, what other options are presenting themselves? The rest of the verse may help:
“20 And the man said unto him: I am a Nephite, and I know that thou art a holy prophet of God, for thou art the man whom an angel said in a vision: Thou shalt receive. Therefore, go with me into my house and I will impart unto thee of my food; and I know that thou wilt be a blessing unto me and my house.”
The feeling of Amulek’s words suggest to me that he felt a Nephite could recognize a holy prophet.
“I am a Nephite, and we have a spiritual power to recognize prophets.”
Or, “We are Nephites and we can receive revelation.”
Or, “I am a Nephite, and as Nephites we have a history of receiving prophets.”
In any case “I am a Nephite” and “I know thou are a holy prophet of God” seem to be set up with each other. There is a sense in which he distinguishes being “a prophet” from being “a Nephite”:
“I am a Nephite. You are a holy prophet.”
Or, “I am only a Nephite, but you are a holy prophet.”
Or, “You, as a prophet, are outside lineage questions and are simply sent from God.”
A beginning of a thoughtful engagement, anyway.
Two other thoughts:
1, interesting that though Amulek is indeed a Nephite by birth, his name is A-Mulek
2, Alma was told people in the city were studying to destroy the liberty of the people… could his announcement of being a Nephite be a sign that he was not studying to destroy the government?