Saturday, August 7, 2010

My servant Gazelem (Egyptian d-s-r, Semitic g-z-r, the name Gazariya, and the Nazirites)

The Book of Alma, in a gem-like passage, poetically affords us the seeric title of Gazelem:

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 (Alma 37: 23-4,

What is the significance of this seeric name, Gazelem?

Ancient Egyptian and Amorite, Afroasiatic cousins, hold the best answer, but Aramaic makes for a good starting place. Daniel 2:27, which is written in Aramaic, speaks of a group of Babylonian diviners known as the gazrin (see "Gazelem" in The Book of Mormon Onomasticon, Maxwell Institute, BYU). Published statements of Hugh Nibley and those found in the Book of Mormon Onomasticon all suggest a look at both the Aramaic evidence and the Hebrew root g-z-r in divining the meaning of Gazelem. (Also compare Cypriotic Maronite Arabic, xazra, "stone".)

The Semitic root g-z or gzr signifies the action of cutting, including the cutting of stones, and, with that in mind, we continue our search for Aramaic antecedents in Jastrow's lexicon (Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature). In one apt entry we find reference to the cut sapphires that make up the foundation stones of the future Temple (to which compare Hugh Nibley's chapter "Jewel of Discernment" in One Eternal Round, and esp. ps. 448-9). Jastrow is a good starting place for a rich yield: Gazelem certainly reflects the Aramaic root that signifies diviner, discerner, cut sapphire, a secluded place or setting (set off from the world).

Now for Egypt. Antonio Loprieno shows the Egyptian word d-s-r (to cut off, set apart, make pure or sacred) to be a cognate of Semitic g-z-r (to cut, separate, decide), La pensee et l'ecriture: Pour une analyse semiotique de la culture egyptienne (Paris, 2001), 15. To make sacred in Egyptian, as in Indo-European languages, is an act of dedication by separation, fencing, or removal.

And can d-s-r be a name? Hugh Nibley, pointing to the Old Kingdom king Djoser, derives Book of Mormon names Zeezrom and Seezoram from Egyptian d-s-r. Indeed Zeezrom and Gazelem, when we drop the archaic mimetic ending (-m), share a similar consonantal root base: z-z-r/g-z-l ~ d-s-r/g-z-r. And, in his study of West Semitic names, Professor Herbert Bardwell Huffmon lists both Gazariya (ga-zr-ri-ya) and Gzry as derivatives of g-z-r (entscheiden, schneiden), Amorite Personal Names in the Mari Texts: A Structural and Lexical Study (Baltimore, Maryland, 1965), 130. Has anyone ever linked the archaic name of Djoser, the builder of Egypt's first Pyramid, the Step Pyramid, with West Semitic Gazariya? I doubt it, but both names come from a common root.

"My servant Gazelem" (as the phrase reads in both Alma and the Doctrine and Covenants, Sections 78; 82; 104 = Gazelam) may thus signify, as title: one cut off, separated, dedicated, or made consecrate. Gazelem is the consecrated servant of the Lord, a type of Nazirite, one set apart or consecrated to discover or reveal secrets (r-z), with piercing gaze, by means of a cut jewel or stone.

I see in the Hebrew verb n-z-r (to set apart, make a Nazirite) a variant or a semantic correlate of g-z-r or d-s-r. Perhaps the first litteral, n, represents the lexicalization of what was originally a niphal passive or reflexive verbal stem; the d or g has perhaps been swallowed up by the second consonant, z. (The verb n-tz-r, to vow, must then likewise derive from, or share a common origin with, g-z-r. For this last root, see The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, vol. 9. For another look at these verbs, see also The Hebrew lexicon gives a like definition of apartness and consecration for nzr, and the symbolic connotations all line up: diadems or crowns of precious cut stones. Ammon, in the Book of Mosiah, calls the gift of seership held by King Mosiah "this high gift."

While Joseph Smith, who was given sight and power to translate the Book of Mormon, is the Gazelem or Choice Seer (as Joseph of old expresses it) of the latter-days, the name applies not to Brother Joseph alone but to seers of all times and places who work by means of the Interpreters, or Urim and Thummim. It is the consecrated priesthood of the latter-days, with authority to use the Urim and Thummim, who, according to the Isaiah pesher for Isaiah 54 (a chapter which the Resurrected Lord enjoined the Nephites to study diligently), make up the number of sapphire foundation stones for the Temple community, a community set apart from the world (Hugh Nibley and Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 448-9, following research by Yigael Yadin). Gazelem thus reveals the assembled society of saints, the panegyris, even the royal priesthood and a peculiar people--the chosen people of the Stone of Israel.

A reference to Gazelem [written Gazelum] appears in the Funeral Sermon for Joseph and Hyrum Smith. William W. Phelps, who delivered the sermon, wrote the document from memory in 1855. For that reason, it is not possible to know how much the written sermon reflects the original.

"Surely, as one of the holy ones commissioned by his father among the royal seventy, when the high council of heaven set them apart [d-s-r] to come down. . . he was the 'last,' and who knows but the 'greatest,' for he declared--we--knew not who he was! I may say, as the last is to be the first and the first last, in eternal rotation, that Joseph Smith, who was Gazelum, in the spirit world, was, and is, and will be in the endless progress of Eternity:--the Prince of Light."

How are we to read that last sentence? The best reading runs as follows: "Joseph Smith (who was Gazelem), in the spirit [i.e., spiritual] world was, and is, and will be in the endless progress of Eternity, the Prince of Light [meaning, the Prince or First among the chosen prophets, who are, after all, the revealers of light and truth]. Another possibility would be to read: "Joseph Smith (who was Gazelem in the spirit world), etc." Though I don't know exactly how Brother Phelps saw things, the second reading doesn't fit the Book of Mormon designation of Gazelem as a mortal man given sight and power to reveal the hidden mysteries of the Lord's economy in earlier ages of the world.

The manuscript copy may be examined in the Church History Library, but I've also looked at the typescript publication of it in Richard Van Wagoner and Steven C. Walker, "The Joseph/Hyrum Smith Funeral Sermon," BYU Studies 23:1 (1983), 3-18 [see esp. page 8]. (Some of the wording of the sermon much recalls a sermon said to have been delivered by Joseph Smith and written by memory by George Laub after the death of the Prophet.) Pace Van Wagoner and Walker, the recovered sermon (recovered from memory) has both pathos and beauty and ought to be read.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.