Monday, June 21, 2010

Mount Hanabal in the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis 14

The Prophet Joseph left for the benefit of the Saints not one but two books of Abraham: that taken from a roll of papyrus, a physical, tangible roll of Egyptian hieroglyphs (and like the gold plates, a tangible earnest of the resurrection of the dead), now published as the Book of Abraham, and that of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. Together, these two offerings fill in the picture of Abraham's life with details, stories, and revelations not found in the Holy Bible and reveal the covenant of the Priesthood God made with the fathers.

Among the easily missed details added by Brother Joseph to the ancient story of Abraham is the place name Hanabal, which could refer to one or several of the Mountains of Moab, on the east of the Dead Sea, perhaps Jebel Sihan, with its high ruins and caves. The mountain towers out of nowhere in Joseph Smith Translation Genesis 14:9--a verse not found in the current LDS edition of the Holy Bible = KJV Genesis 14:10:

1 And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of nations;
2 That these made war with Bera king of Sodom, and with Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, and Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela, which is Zoar.
8 And there went out the king of Sodom, and the king of Gomorrah, and the king of Admah, and the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (the same is Zoar;) and they joined battle with them in the vale of Siddim;
9 With Chedorlaomer the king of Elam, and with Tidal king of nations, and Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar; four kings with five.
10 And the vale of Siddim was full of slimepits [JST OT Manuscript 1 has: was filled with slime pits]; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, and fell there; and they that remained fled to the mountain.

To the last verse, the Prophet adds:

and they that remained fled to the mountain[s--crossed out] which is called Hanabal. (Old Testament Manuscript 2, p. 640),


to the Mountain [note the capital letter] which was called [Hanable: crossed out] Hanabal (Old Testament Manuscript 1, p. 125).

Of the two manuscripts, Manuscript 2 is the more telling: Hanabal refers to a particular peak rather than a range (the plural mountains is amended to the singular), and we are told by the ancient Hebrew redactor that people in his day still call the mountain Hanabal. By telling us what the mountain is now called, rather than what it was called, also bespeaks an etiological origin of the name, that is, one fixed from a concrete historical event. The Prophet takes care that the name is correctly spelled: Hanabal not Hanable. The spelling with b rather than v, a softening following the vowel, reflects archaic Hebrew usage; the vocalization of the Masoretic Text, on the other hand, follows post-exilic pronunciation, which would yield Ha-naval.

Any understanding of the meaning of Hanabal, which likely represents either Ha + Nabal (The Nabal) or Har + Nabal (Mount Nabal), builds around the thematic opposition of two homonymous Semitic verbs: the Arabic n-b-l (to be noble, magnanimous, as in nabl; nabil; pl. nibal, nubala: "noble; lofty, exalted, sublime, august; magnificent, splendid, glorious": Wehr's Dictionary of Modern Arabic) and Hebrew n-b-l (the Qal intransitive form of the verb signifies it sank, dropped down--and thus to fade and wear away = Klein, Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language, 422). In Koehler-Baumgartner (p. 589), we find under n-b-l, which divides into the verbal pair navel (wither) and naval (be foolish), and its nominal derivatives the following meanings: wither, be contemptible, despise. Things n-b-l are "wretched things"--a lost and a fallen people--"senseless" and "foolish" both "intellectually and morally," even they who groan under a weight of "heavy sin." Related thematic roots are Arabic and Hebrew n-b-' (Arabic naba'a: "to be high, raised, elevated, protruding, projecting, prominent"; to tell, and even to prophesy = a prophet is a navi), and Hebrew n-p-l (to fall).

Akkadian n-b-l (from the verb abalu) yields the arid or dry land: in a time of war people flee the cities into the nabal, a place without water, the dry and thirsty land. Mount Dry-and-Thirsty. The place Bazu is "a forgotten place of dry land, saline ground [qaqqar tabti], a waterless place." And to think a mere moment ago, before the arrows and the brimstone fell, Lot, in Bethel, stood overlooking quite a different qaqqar or kikar: a watered plain, just like the Garden of Eden (Gen. 13:10). Another Akkadian word, nablu (nab = brilliance, shining splendor), describes flames and fierce lightning, which gods and heroes rain down on their enemies: "I fought with them, I rained fire on them." "Enlil [the prince of the powers of the air] whirls in the midst of the enemies, he keeps the flame(s) [nabla] smoking." Fury transforms flames into ball lightning: "rain down like shooting stars, strike continually like ball lightning" (Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, no. N). The stars in their courses fight Sisera. And fire from heaven will complete the downfall of the Cities of the Plain.

Perhaps the primary derivation of the name Hanabal (which, again, likely represents the article ha- plus the root n-b-l or even a shortened form of the word har, or mountain, plus n-b-l) best corresponds to the Arabic root n-b-l: Mount Noble, Mount Lofty, the Splendid, the August. Mighty Mount Nebo derives from the root n-b-': Mount Prominent, or even ultimately from n-b-l. The Enochic literature (Nibley, 30), speaks of a Mount Nebus near Salem, clearly an echo from Nebo; yet we are told this is the very place where Melchizedek met Abraham after the latter rescued Lot from the battling kings of Genesis 14. Curious is an unknown mountain from Jubilees: Lubar (= l/n -b-r/l(?). On the peak of Lubar, the ark rests; at her foot, Noah's sons first build cities (Jubilees 5:28; 6:1; 7:14-17; 10:15, in Charlesworth, OT Pseudepigrapha, vol.1; Genesis Apocryphon). As near to the mark is the Mountain of Gabla or Gebal, the Horite homeland, mentioned in the Targumic readings of Genesis 14:6, just four verses shy of our Hanabal. In the Targum Mount Gabla (g-b-l "border" or "mountain") replaces Mount Seir of Edom. So we now have n-b-', l-b-r or l-b-l, and g-b-l, an entire constellation of like mountain words or names featured in the accounts of Noah, Shem, and Abraham.

A perfect vocalic match for Hanabal appears in the Benjaminite town of Neballat (Neh. 11:34). In Arabic the place is Beit Nabala (the last two vowels are both long). The meaning of Neballat or Beit Nabala might accordingly be Noble City (one thinks of Jerusalem "beautiful for situation"; or Capernaum, the "exalted," the "city upon a hill"). If the hill is also a tell, or ruin, Neballat then also bespeaks the withering root of Hebrew n-b-l, an eroded wreck. Neballat also recalls the Arabic word for a paved or tiled floor (balats), which might really have been a prominent feature of the place and which also suggests the idea of steps upward from the tar pits into Mount Nabal's protective heights.

In another stab at Hanabal, the vowels don't match: The name of the Carthaginian general is Hanni-bal, (Baal favors him (with a son): hn/hnn: to favor, grace, pity), a name comparable to the Hebrew Hanniel (see Dictionary of the Bible by Sir William Smith, 1872). We likewise resist positing an unknown nominal form h-n-b-l (as bizarre as the Psalmic word for frost: hanamal).

On the other hand, Mount Nabal, following the Hebrew understanding of the same root nbl, might signify Mount Weathered, Mount Withered, Mount Anything-but-August-and-Splendid. In other words, the exact opposite of what the Arabic root conveys. But could both readings work together to give us a true picture of Hanabal?

A secondary, etiological derivation, which plays on the Hebrew root, might exist for Hanabal, one rooted in the storyline with its account of the downfall of the kings in the desperate Vale of Siddim (how ironic for the Targum to translate Siddim as Orchards), where the warriors sink into tar pits (like our own La Brea) and wither into oblivion. The survivors, roundly beaten, flee into a weathered and eroded hill that hangs above the bottomless pits. When we say that names are etiological in origin or function, we refer to such linguistic association (including word play) centering on a historical event. Such etiological derivation in no wise affects the validity of the primary, linguistic derivation from an verbal root, upon which it plays, or elaborates.

The article ha- ("the") with the triliteral root n-b-l may thus signify (The) Mount Ruin, Withered Top. (I'm thinking of Tolkien here: Orodruin, Weathertop.) There are all kinds of suggestive hints that evoke the Hebrew notion of a Mount Nabal. A quick Internet glimpse of the Mountains of Moab arrests the soul: extinct Tannur, Jebel Shihan ( And on the west of the Dead Sea we spot: "The cap rock and the pillars of salt that have fallen from the mountain top" (WysInfo Docuwebs: Life from the Dead Sea: Geological Structure). Or perhaps the mountain resembled a jar. Jar in Hebrew also derives from n-b-l, or perhaps it ultimately derives from another root as per Arabic b-l-ts, (ballats), a jar, being that which, like a eons-contorted mountain, is "wrung forcibly," pinched into shape. Sunk, withered, and geologically wrung out to dry: that is Jebel Usdum, Mount Sodom.

Given that the verbal root n-b-l signifies "to fall down, faint, lose strength" (so Gesenius), or to wither and fall, fall to ruin, wear out (so Koehler and Baumgartner), and thus also to folly and stupidity, the name works a bitter and terribly apt word play: "[they foolishly] fled, and [foolishly] fell [n-p-l] there: right into the tar pits; and they that remained fled to the mountain [or to the range: herah nasu]. In place of herah [har + directional -ah, "to the mountain or to the range"], the Samaritan Pentateuch significantly has the variant h-h-r-h, "to the mountain, to that particular mountain or range," all of which gives notice that something is off, something missing in the Received Text. We look for more: "To the mountain, or range," says the Prophet: "which was called Ha-nabal." Ha-nabal then becomes not only a place of ascent and escape but the place of falling--and the place of folly (nevalah)--the place of the rout--the place of the corpse (navlah).

Mankind flees upward, trudgingly, under a withering sun--and the gravity of heavy sin. Lightning seems to dance on the blushing peak; in the gulf below, the pits spew and bubble. The sophisticated city-dweller is left an eternal Nabutum (Akkadian: Fugitive) The name Ha-Nabal spells doom: the Fall of Kings. All is folly, vanity, and disgrace.

Nabal the glorious meets Nabal the Sunken, and the height of the mountain (Jebel Shihan rises over three thousand feet) only accentuates the depth of the fall in coincidentia oppositorum, the meeting of opposites: both tar pits and the Dead Sea seem bottomless. As Hamlet would say: "Oh what a falling-off was there!" A still greater fall awaits the Cities of the Plain!

Mount Nabal and Mount Lebanon (Lebanon being the Brilliant, White Mountain, even the Holy Temple) remarkably coincide in a sobering anagram (n-b-l ~ l-b-n): on the one side, curse; on the other, blessing (cf. Braude, The Midrash on Psalms, 1:148, 484). In like manner rise the mirroring mountains of curse and blessing, Ebal and Gerizim--"on the other side Jordan" (Deuteronomy 11:29-30). Choices must be made. Lot, from the giddy ladder of Bethel (the House of God), envisions a watered Eden below--but that is "no lasting city"; it is only "when a man comes up to the top of Mount Nebo, [that] he sees in the Sea of Tiberias a whirlpool, sieve-like, which is Miriam's Well," the very well of living waters first discovered by Abraham and promised his posterity (Midrash on Psalms, 1:341; Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, 3: 50-4). From Holy Bethel Lot sights not Eden, but Nabal. Abraham, climbing to higher ground, "rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad"; Moses glimpsed Galilee; Nephi, on the "exceedingly high mountain," saw Mary's well and its tree of life (John 8:56; 1 Nephi 11).

Here is irony indeed: and the more withering the more understated, in true Hebrew fashion.

Building on the ironic paronomasia in JST Genesis 14, we move to Job 14: 18 and discover "the mountain that lies prostrate" (har-nofel yibol), as some ranges seem to do, a phrase that also plays on the roots n-p-l and n-b-l. N-p-l is the primary root of falling in Hebrew, and really just amounts to n-b-l anyhow. Klein relates n-b-l (and note the reflexive n- prefix built onto all the various (n)-b-l roots) to the verbs b-l-h, b-l-l (the fall of the tower all over again), and n-p-l, verbs of fading, failing, falling, and confusion: Babel meets Sodom, and all is lost--witheringly so (Etymological Dictionary, 422). The generations of men fall like leaves, intones great Homer (cf. Jeremiah 8). Enoch on Mount Simeon, "high and lifted up"--and suspended in time--saw one generation pass after another (Moses 7).

The verse in Job speaks to a familiar, though archaic, name for weathered peaks or maybe even our own Hanabal. And here is a hint that our Ha-nabal might derive from Har-Nabal. A linguistic shift from Har-Nabal to Ha-Nabal is altogether likely, the final r dropping before the n, as perforce occurs in Arabic. Or perchance the scribal ear simply missed and misconstrued Brother Joseph's New England /r/: Ha[r]nabal, just as we find in the initial scribal mistakes for the following Book of Abraham names: Koash for Korash; Elkenah, not scribal Elkenner.

Job reads:

18 And surely the mountain falling cometh to nought, and the rock is removed out of his place.
19 The waters wear the stones: thou washest away the things which grow out of the dust of the earth; and thou destroyest the hope of man,

and certainly the hope of man meets destruction in Genesis 14.

Yet the translation, "the mountain falling cometh to nought (yibol)," but poorly renders the Hebrew, where we find the bound construction har-nofel, not har nofel. Thus--if we want to get picky--not any abstract mountain falls, but that abstraction which is called 'Mount Nofel'). Har-nofel distantly reflects a place name, or, more likely, it was a common designation for eroded peaks.

Again, "cometh to nought" amounts to a flawed attempt to read the verbal root n-b-l as an organic metaphor of withering. What we should read is "will sink down" or "erode": "Indeed [ulay] 'Mount Implodes' erodes to dust."

And, according to the Shoher Tov, this verse from Job does have to do with Abraham and the kingdom of Sodom. Reading Job "in the light of what Scripture says elsewhere": "The mountain falling crumbleth away refers to Sodom and its sister cities; And the rock is removed out of his place refers to Abraham, for he is the rock" (see Isaiah 51:1-2: Shoher Tov on Psalm 53: W. G. Braude, The Midrash on Psalms, 1: 486-7).

A midrashic reading of Scripture reflects literary intertextuality; yet, given the antique pulpit origin of such Psalmic homilies, the waves of midrash may also cast up historical and thematic pearls. That the rock should recall Abraham is no surprise (Isaiah 51:1-2), but neither can we read the mountain falling crumbleth without Jebel Usdum (Mount Sodom) looming before our eyes as the concrete example of all fallen kingdoms. Besides, that Psalm 53 should reveal Abraham should come as no surprise to Latter-day Saints in light of what the same psalm (which pairs with Psalm 14) says and conveys about the world of Joseph Smith at the time of his First Vision (see Braude, xvi).

Boasted History, as discipline, actually takes second seat to Midrash as interpreter of events. Students of Biblical geography remain hopelessly confused about the location of the Jordan-Pentapolis (of Genesis 14), giving us both a northern and a southern "hypothesis." The Cities of the Plain have vanished, together with their captains and kings. But one thing is certain: Latter-day Saints find the Biblical record of Abraham to be a faithful record of historical events (see Hugh Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, 171ff). Ancient Hanabal, wherever it is, comes to us both new and concrete, and the meaning of the name proposed here fits both a Semitic rootage descriptive of Nebos and noble heights and the literary themes of the etiological narrative.

The Prophet in his translations, like the faithful scribe, brings forth things both old and new. How beautiful are his feet upon the mountains, the feet that announce a gospel dispensation in which old things come to light anew.

How beautiful the mountain which is called Hanabal.

Notes: Based on notes taken from my 2001-2002 notebook. I haven't found anything else on Hanabal in books or articles about the Joseph Smith Translation.

The text, transcribed according to scholarly standards, is found in Joseph Smith's New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts, Scott Faulring, Kent Jackson, Robert Matthews (eds). The introduction to the volume and the explanations of the various manuscripts of the JST are invaluable. See also the invaluable talk, "The Doctrinal Restoration," given by Elder Bruce R. McConkie in The Joseph Smith Translation, a collection of talks edited by Monte S. Nyman and Robert S. Millet.

Other useful editions of the JST include Joseph Smith's "New Translation" of the Bible (Independence, Missouri, 1970), which I studied as a young child and of which I'm fond, and The Bible Corrected by Joseph Smith, Kenneth and Lyndell Lutes (eds), which shows the changes with more clarity. Neither is a perfect edition and both perpetuate errors. Other editions are available, given that Latter-day Saints never tire of publishing the same things over and again.

Gabla: the so-called "high mountains of Gabla" that spring up in verse 6 of the Targumic account of this story: Targum Pseudo-Jonathan: Genesis, tr. Michael Maher: 56 n. 19, a place name found elsewhere in the Targumic record and also known to Josephus as being in Edom." See also Targum Neofiti 1: Genesis, M. McNamara, 91 n. 9.

Vocalization of the stops b,g,d,k,p,t in archaic Hebrew: Speiser, Genesis, Anchor Bible Commentary.

The Samaritan Pentateuch: Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (2nd ed): O. Eisfeldt (ed), Genesis.

Debate over the etymological tie between Heb. navel and naval: is summarized in the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, IX, in which also find discussion on the "notable cluster of catchwords," n-p-l, k-sh-l, and n-b-l (fall, stumble, wither) found in Jeremiah 8, versus 12 and thirteen.

Arabic verbal roots: Hans Wehr, A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, J. Milton Cowan (ed).

Geography of the Pentapolis: J. Simons, The Geographical and Topographical Texts of the Old Testament, 222-229; Neballat: Simons, p. 390.

Of Jebel Shihan: it "overlooks the Wadi al-Mujib (the Arnon) and the Dead Sea. It rises to 965 meters above sea level, and its summit is occupied by ruins and caves [a place of refuge]," Online Article: "The Karak District in the Madaba Map," by Fawzi Zayadine, part of the study, Jordan: the Madaba Mosaic Map, on the Franciscan Cyberspot.

Akkadian roots with nab-: nabu: to shine, be brilliant as in the personal names Shamash-Ne-bi-' or Ne-bi = Shamash-Nebi, a name that recalls Nephi or Ne-ph-i.

Joseph Smith Translation Psalms 14: There is a fine and useful article by Joseph F. McConkie.

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