Hebrew Names in the Book of Mormon
Thanks mostly to the Bible, Hebrew names or variants thereof are known through much of the world. Some of the names found in English Bibles also show up in the Book of Mormon, some Hebrew names found in the Book of Mormon are not in the Bible.
A rare peculiarity of Semitic names is the use of the nisbe (gentillic) forms, of which the Book of Mormon, like the Bible, has just a few: Moroni (“Moronite,”) from the place-name Moron; Lamoni (“Lamanite”), from Laman, son of Lehi; and Muloki (“Mulekite,” from an ancestral Mulek, said to be a son of the Jewish king Zedekiah who escaped death at the hands of the Babylonians).
Some Book of Mormon place-names have good Hebrew etymologies. The city Zarahemla, for example, seems to be Hebrew הלמח־ערז, “seed of compassion.” The hill Cumorah is probably Hebrew הרומכ (*kəmōrāh), “priesthood,” an abstract noun based on the word רמוכ (kômer), “[non–Levite] priest.” Elderly Ishmael, died at a site called Nahom, evidently in southern Arabia. The name derives from Hebrew םחנ, “to comfort,” or םהנ, “to moan,” both suitable for a burial site. It is noteworthy that the text says that “the daughters of Ishmael did mourn exceedingly” (1 Nephi 16:35). Significantly, the name has been noted in northern Yemen, on two altar inscriptions from ca. 600 BCE (the time of Lehi). Other examples of Book of Mormon names with valid Hebrew etymologies have been discussed in the literature, including those with the suffix –ōn or the familial prefixes ab- or am-.
Some nonbiblical Book of Mormon names are now attested in ancient Jewish texts, seals, and bullae. For example, The name of the prophet Alma is known from one of the Bar Kochba documents, where we read of one הדוהי ןב אמלא. It is also known from the place-name אמלע in Eretz Israel, visited by half a dozen medieval European rabbis. Alma is also attested as a masculine personal name at Ebla.
Book of Mormon Aha corresponds to אחא, a hypocoristic form of (ו)היחא. Known from several Hebrew inscriptions, it is but one of a number of attested hypocoristic Hebrew names with a suffixed aleph. Another is אשבא, on a pre-exilic seal housed in the Hecht Museum in Haifa, which seems to be the same as the Semitic name ’bš’ known from a wall relief in the tomb of Khnum-hotep III at Beni Hasan, Egypt, and dating to the nineteenth century BCE. It corresponds to the Book of Mormon name Abish.
Another hypocoristic form is םרי, known from several Hebrew inscriptions. This shortened form of והימרי can be compared to the Book of Mormon name Jarom.
One Book of Mormon scribe was named Chemish, comparable to שמכ, the name of a man or woman on a seal in the Israel Museum. The vocalization of the Book of Mormon name corresponds both with that in Jeremiah 48:7 (ketiv; the King James Bible that Joseph Smith read has Chemosh) and in the Ebla tablets (cf. also Carchemish).
John A. Tvedtnes
Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship
Brigham Young University (ret.)
Warren P. Aston, “Newly Found Altars from Nahom,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10/2 (2001): 56-61.
Brown, S. Kent, “‘The Place That Was Called Nahom’: New Light from Ancient Yemen,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/1 (1999):66-68.
Chadwick, Jeffrey R., The Names Lehi & Sariah—Language and Meaning” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9/1 (2000):32-34.
Geilman, David K., “5/6Hev 44 Bar Kokhba,” Ancient Scrolls from the Dead Sea, ed. in M. Gerald Bradford, 39. Provo: FARMS, 1997.
Goff, Alan, “Mourning, Consolation, and Repentance at Nahom,” Rediscovering the Book of Mormon: Insights You May Have Missed Before, ed. John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne, 92-99. Salt Lake City: Deseret and the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991.
Hoskisson, Paul Y., “An Introduction to the Relevance of and a Methodology for a Study of the Proper Names of the Book of Mormon,” By Study and Also by Faith, ed. John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks, eds., 2:126-135. Salt Lake City: Deseret and FARMS, 1990.
_____, “Lehi and Sariah,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9/1 (2000):30-31.
_____, “Response to the Comments,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9/1 (2000):38-39.
_____, “Alma as a Hebrew Name,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 7/1 (1998):72-73.
Nibley Hugh W., review of Yadin, Zigael. Bar-Kochba, in BYU Studies 14 (Autumn 1973), 120.
_____, The Prophetic Book of Mormon. 2nd ed., 282, 310. Salt Lake City: Deseret and FARMS, 1989.
Pike, Dana M., “Response to Paul Hoskisson’s ‘Lehi & Sariah,'” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9/1 (2000):35-36.
Ricks, Stephen D., and John A. Tvedtnes, “The Hebrew Origin of Some Book of Mormon Place-Names,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 6/2 (Fall 1997),255-259; republished as “The Hebrew Origin of Three Book of Mormon Place-Names,” Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon ed. John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne, 88-92. Provo: FARMS, 1999.
Szink, Terrence L., “Further Evidence of a Semitic Alma,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 81 (1999):70.
Thomasson, Gordon C., “What’s in a Name? Book of Mormon Language, Names, and [Metonymic] Naming,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 3/1 (Spring 1994):1-27.
Tvedtnes, John A., “A Phonemic Analysis of Nephite and Jaredite Proper Names,” Newsletter and Proceedings of the Society for Early Historic Archaeology No. 141 (December 1977), 1-8.
_____, “What’s in a Name? A Look at the Book of Mormon Onomasticon,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 8/2 (1996):34-42.
_____ and Matthew Roper, “Further Evidence for Book of Mormon Names,” Insights: An Ancient Window 19/12 (December 1999), 2.
_____, John Gee, and Matthew Roper, “Book of Mormon Names Attested in Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9/1 (2000), 38-51.
_____, “Lehi and Sariah Comments,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9/1 (2000), 35-36.
_____, “Hebrew Names in the Book of Mormon,” 13th annual World Congress of Jewish Studies, Jerusalem, August 2001, posted on FAIR web site, 2002.
Welch, John W., “What Was a ‘Mosiah’?” in Welch, Reexploring the Book of Mormon, ed. Welch. Salt Lake City: Deseret and FARMS, 1992.