Saturday, June 26, 2010

Alma and Helam as a Name-pair

Hugh Nibley gives us a beautiful definition of the Book of Mormon name Helam, the stuff on which dreams are made: "It's the word in all Semitic languages for dream. It means 'to be healthy, to recuperate, to restore, a revive a place, to prosper.' A better name you couldn't give to a new settlement than prosperity, or restoration, or health, or revival, or suitability, or happy land. Helam was good name, a name of good omen," Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, 154.

We find more about the place name Helam on page 334 of J. Simons magisterial Geographical and Topographical Texts of the Old Testament, where Helam and Alma make up a name-pair.

According to Simons, the place name Helam (2 Samuel 10 16-7) is "possibly identical with Alema ['lmah = with an ayin]" of 1 Maccabees 5: 26, 35. "The name," Simon continues, "is now known also from an Egyptian text (BASOR no. 83, 1941, p. 33)," a fact likely to perk up a Mormon ear.

In the Book of Mormon friends Alma and Helam lead the Waters of Mormon community, the new Church. Alma baptizes Helam at the Waters of Mormon before baptizing anyone else, and, on their journey to Zarahemla, the first stopping-place, a desert oasis, is called Alma; the second, a beautiful resting-place where they consider putting down roots, Helam.

So it is that not only the ancient Transjordan but Ancient America also knows the name pair Alma and Helam. As Hugh Nibley says of Laman and Lemuel, Alma and Helam likewise "form a genuine 'pair of pendant names,' such as ancient Semites of the desert were wont to give their two eldest sons," An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 283.


Notes:
Another candidate for our Alma--the same name, really--comes from the Dead Sea Scrolls: Alma, the son of Judah, written with aleph rather than ayin: see Hugh Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, 99. Hugh Nibley also discusses the Alma with ayin, a name "popular among the Arabs": An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 76. Nothing Hugh Nibley wrote ever seems to go out of date--but the same holds true with much of solid historiography. We're not talking about the latest i-phone here. History lasts. It doesn't progress, improve, or evolve. The best simply endures.

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