My Servant Gazelam

“My Servant Gazelam”[1]

John A. Tvedtnes

Joseph Smith MormonIn earlier editions of the Doctrine and Covenants (before 1981), the code-word Gazelam was used to denote the prophet Joseph Smith (D&C 78:9; 82:11; 104:26, 43). He is apparently the “servant Gazelem” to whom Alma 37:23-25 refers:

“And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people who serve me, that I may discover unto them the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works, their works of darkness, and their wickedness and abominations. And now, my son, these interpreters were prepared that the word of God might be fulfilled, which he spake, saying: I will bring forth out of darkness unto light all their secret works and their abominations; and except they repent I will destroy them from off the face of the earth; and I will bring to light all their secrets and abominations, unto every nation that shall hereafter possess the land.”

According to D&C 17:1, Joseph Smith received the same urim and thummim given to the brother of Jared on the mount. The Alma passage implies that the “interpreters,” which some have termed urim and thummim, shone in the dark. The idea is confirmed by David Whitmer, who wrote that, in order to use the seer stone, which operated like the interpreters, Joseph Smith would place it in a hat, evidently to exclude the light in the room. Then, “in the darkness the spiritual light would shine.”[2] A similar description is given of the urim and thummim mounted in the breastplate of the Israelite high priest, and through which he consulted the Lord (Exodus 28:30; 39:6-7; Leviticus 8:8; Numbers 27:21; Deuteronomy 33:8; 1 Samuel 28:6; Ezra 2:63; Nehemiah 7:65).[3]

The etymology of the word Gazelem is uncertain, but should be compared with gāzrīn, a term used in reference to diviners in Daniel 2:27; 4:4; 5:7, 11. The verbal form of the same root is used in reference to the stone “cut” without hands in Daniel 2:34, while another related noun is a heavenly “decree” in Daniel 4:17, 24 (MT 4:14, 21); cf. Job 22:28. The noun form appears again in Lamentations 4:7, where we read of the “polishing” of sapphires. There is an Old Akkadian name Gu-zu-LUM, but since its meaning is unknown, we cannot know if there is a relationship.[4] On the surface, Gazelem resembles the word gazelle, which is Arabic in origin and hence from the same Semitic language family as Hebrew.

One of the Nag Hammadi texts, Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles (VI,1) 2:10-29 has the apostle describing how he encountered Christ in disguise as “a man . . . wearing a cloth bound around his waist, and a gold belt girded [it]. Also a napkin was tied over [his] chest, extending over his shoulders and covering his head and his hands.  I was staring at the man because he was beautiful in his form and stature. There were four parts of his body that I saw: the sole of his feet and a part of his chest and the palms of his hands and his visage. These things I was able to see.  A book cover like (those of) my books was in his left hand. A staff of styrax wood was in his hands.”[5] It is interesting that the shape of the Savior’s clothing allowed Peter to see the same body parts that Joseph Smith saw when the angel Moroni appeared to tell him about another, the Book of Mormon (Joseph Smith History 1:31). This individual initially told Peter that his name was “Lithargoel . . . the interpretation of which is, the light, gazelle-like stone” (5:15-18)[6]-which may have reference to the interpreters (urim and thummim) by which ancient documents can be translated. Ultimately, the man removed the covering on his head and revealed himself to be Jesus himsef (9:1-19). He then gave the apostles sacred relics, an unguent box and a pouch or bag containing medicine with which they were to heal the people of the city (9:20-22; 10:31-11:1).

The earliest mention of the interpreters in the Book of Mormon is found in Ammon’s reference to King Mosiah2: “Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer” (Mosiah 8:13).

Continuing his description, Ammon said, that “a seer can know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known” (Mosiah 8:17). The concept of bringing hidden things into the light closely parallels what Alma said about Gazelem, cited above.

In view of the Arabic term for gazelle and the mention of a “gazelle-stone” in one of the Nag Hammadi texts, one is tempted to suggest that the word was known in ancient Hebrew, though it is unattested in the Bible. Its tie to books in that text and in the Book of Mormon, along with its connection with stones, is intriguing and calls for further research.

[1] This article was written and approved as a FARMS Update in 2005 but never published.

[2] David Whitmer, An Address to all Believers in Christ (1887), 12.

[3] An Assyrian text speaks of the high priest of Bel being asked to make stones on the king’s breast shine. Fossey, La Magie Assyrienne (Paris, 1902), 301, and Rawlinson, Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia 4:18, No. 3, cited in George Frederick Kunz, The Curious Lore of Precious Stones (Philadelphia and London: J. B. Lippincott, 1913), 230. For a discussion of this and related matters, see Appendix 2 (“Glowing Stones in Ancient and Medieval Lore”) in John A. Tvedtnes, The Book of Mormon and Other Hidden Books: Out of Darkness Unto Light (Provo: FARMS, 2000), 195-225.

[4] I. J. Gelb, Glossary of Old Akkadian (University Of Chicago Press, 1973), 121.

[5] James M. Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Library  (2nd ed., San Francisco: Harper, 1990), 290-91. According to Revelation 1:13, Jesus wears a golden belt in the heavenly temple.

[6] Ibid., 291.