More on the Name ALMA
John A. Tvedtnes
Studies published in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies have noted that the personal name Alma is attested from one of the Bar Kochba documents as well as in documents from ancient Ebla.[i] We should now note that the name is also known as that of a place in ancient Palestine.
Several medieval rabbis visited the town of Alma, which they indicated was still inhabited by Jews, though the country was under Arab domination. The site is mentioned in the writings of Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, who visited in AD 1163; Rabbi Samuel ben Samson, who visited in 1210 in company with Rabbi Jonathan the priest; Rabbi Jacob, who spent the years 1238-44 in the Holy Land; Isaac Chelo, who visited in 1334; and Rabbi Judah, who visited in 1522. From archaeological evidence, the town was occupied during biblical and talmudic times and several prominent rabbis of the first century AD are buried there, including Eleazar ben Azariah, who served as president of the Sanhedrin. Excavations on the site have uncovered a synagogue of the third century, rock-hewn tombs, and various brief Hebrew inscriptions carved in stone. The ancient site is comprised within the modern Israeli moshav Almah, in the far north of Israel, north of the city of Safed, and near the Lebanese border.
While the modern moshav is spelled ayin-lamed-mem-heh, like the Hebrew word for “young woman,” the name of the ancient town has a different spelling, ayin-lamed-mem-aleph, which we should compare with the spelling aleph-lamed-mem-aleph for the name found in the Bar Kochba text. The fact that the letters ayin and aleph, which are pronounced alike in modern Hebrew, were already frequently confused in the Dead Sea Scrolls a century before the Bar Kochba document was written, would explain the difference in the initial consonant used.
The crusaders called the town Alme. The last point is important, since the crusaders followed the pronunciation they heard and modified it only to fit French (or sometimes Syriac, the official language of the Latin [i.e., Roman Catholic] Kingdom of Jerusalem). If the village name is the same as that of the Book of Mormon prophet, Yadin’s reconstruction would be correct. The Arabs, from whom the crusaders got most Holy Land names, merely took over the old Hebrew site-names, except when they had a bad meaning in Arabic. (Arabic and Hebrew being related languages, this was simple and logical).
[i] Paul Y. Hoskisson, “What’s in a Name? Alma,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 7/1 (1998); Terrence L. Szink, “Further Evidence of a Semitic Alma,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/1 (1999); Szink, “The Personal Name ‘Alma’ at Ebla,” Religious Educator 1, no. 1 (2000): 53–56.