The Late New Kingdom Wilbour Papyrus (Ramesses V) sheds light on settlement toponyms in the Ancient Near Eastern Kulturkreis, a Kulturkreis that encompasses the Book of Mormon as well.
"About 416 settlement names are given [in the Wilbour Papyrus]. . .The nature of the place names is very much like that of modern Egypt. Some are 'proper' names, but a large number are compounds in which the first element is descriptive. In modern Egypt the commonest are Kom (mound), Bet (house), Ezbet (originally a settlement for a landowner's peasants), Naga (properly an originally Arab Bedouin settlement), Zawiyet (a hamlet), and Deir (a Coptic Christian monastery)" (Barry Kemp, Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization, 311-312).
As for the New Kingdom scene: "Wilbour gives us Iat (mound), At (house), Wehit (hamlet), Bekhen (an official's villa), and Sega (tower). Altogether there are 141 of these places, subdivided as follows: 51 mounds, 37 houses, 29 hamlets, 17 villas, and 7 towers," Ibid., 312.
Again: " 'Houses' tend to be more numerous in zones where there were fewer larger towns, whilst 'villas' and 'towers' cluster in zones marked by larger towns [to protect them? store their provisions?]," 312. Further (312): "The place names just discussed have as their second element a personal name, 'The villa of so-and-so' "--a feature also noted for the Nephites in Alma 8:7--though with the Nephites, it was a primary element:
Now it was the custom of the people of Nephi, to call their lands, and their cities, and their villages, yea, even all their small villages, after the name of him who first possessed them; and thus it was with the land of Ammonihah.
How well do the various types of Book of Mormon toponyms match those of Egypt's New Kingdom or the broader Ancient Near East?
The Book of Mormon gives evidence for many a mound or hill, many of which bear names. Are any of these places of settlement--a Iat? The nature of Egyptian topography and consequent settlement patterns would little resemble the Book of Mormon lands. The Sons of Mosiah, we are told, taught the Lamanites in their houses and streets, and "upon their hills" (Alma 26:29), but their hills likely held no permanent residences. Ammon and his party of explorers tented on a hill boasting one of Noah's royal towers (Mosiah 7:5: 11:13). The same hill had indeed once served as "a resort for the children of Nephi at the time they fled out of the land," which again points to tents rather than houses (11:13).
The absence of another type of mound, the ruin mound (Eg. Iat, Heb. tel, Arabic tall, English tell)--a common Ancient Near Eastern toponym--at first holds forth against the Book of Mormon! But why would the Nephites, pioneers of a new civilization, call the fresh places they founded and settled tells or mounds? The tell belongs to the archaic milieu, and like Jericho, eldest of all, the Ancient Near East is a layer cake built upon millennia of settlement.
Even so, the Nephites did renew ruined cities: Zeniff renews the ancestral capital of Nephi-Lehi; after the great earthquake, "the Nephites "did build [1830 edition, fill] cities again where there had been cities burned" (4 Ne v.7).
Whether they themselves used the toponym or not, the Nephites did know what a tell consisted of. Far to the north of Nephite lands, archaic Americans had "cast up mighty heaps of earth" (Ether 10:23); after "great destruction, "their bones [became] as heaps of earth upon the face of the land" (11:6). When the Nephites first explored the far North, they found a land "covered with ruins of buildings [tells] of every kind" (Mosiah 8:8). The Nephites were, thereafter, quick learners. After the Nephite city, Ammonihah, was utterly destroyed in a dramatic raid: "their dead bodies were heaped up upon the face of the earth, and they were covered with a shallow covering. . . and it was called Desolation of Nehors" (Alma 16:11). Ammonihah was also later rebuilt, essentially a new city built on the previous destruction level.
We should not pass lightly over any cultural data the Book of Mormon may provide. Consider again 4 Nephi 7: after the great earthquake and fires, "the Nephites did build [1830 edition "fill"] cities again where there had been cities burned." Filling in a city on a burn site would be tell-making par excellence--but so would be building "cities again." We recall the earthquake layers at Hazor. To fill a city evokes the Ancient Near Eastern cultural pattern! Yet thanks to Professor Royal Skousen's wonderful detective work with both the original manuscripts and printed editions of the Book of Mormon, we learn that "The printer's manuscript has build rather than the 1830 edition's fill," Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, 6.3563. Either verb works; besides Zarahemla likely had several previous layers, both Mulekite and Nephite.
How about the toponym house, which does not appear--at least not to the casual reader--in Nephite America. Father Lehi "left his house, and the land of his inheritance" (1 Nephi 2:4), his Beit Lehi. We read that the house (if indeed the same "house") was "his own house at Jerusalem" (1 Ne 1:7). Yet to get to Lehi's house from Laban's house at Jerusalem, the sons of Lehi had to "go down to the land of our father's inheritance" 1 Ne 3:16, 22), and then go "up again to the house of Laban." So we do clearly have a sort of "Beit Lehi" (cf. 1 Ne 7:4, "the house of Ishmael").
Alma tells us that the palace-estate of the Ismaelite-Lamanite kings was known as "the king and his house," an authentic touch recalling the Egyptian pr (house) as palace complex (Alma 19:19). We do find a further hint of the "house" among the Lamanite commoners: thus Ammon and his brothers went from "house to house and village to village," which may signify a different thing entirely from "their houses" and "their streets" in which they were taught. (That is, one type of "house" might represent a toponym, the other, a residence.)
Why is house absent among the Nephites? The Nephites lived in "cities," "villages," and "small villages" and, in their Late Period, in "towns and villages," rather than on retired estates or little pockets of houses. Yet in those times in which the Nephites spread abroad in newly opened northern lands, desolate lands without timber, "they did build houses of cement" against the time new timber should suffice "to build their houses, yea, their cities, and their temples, and their synagogues, and their sanctuaries" (Helaman 3:7, 9). The statement suggests Beit as place name, though Helaman gives no examples.
The Wilbour Papyrus yields many a merry hamlet or village (and everybody knows Egypt also had its great cities). As just mentioned, the Nephites spoke of "cities," "villages," and "small villages" (Alma 8:7); or as they are listed centuries later: "towns, and villages, and cities" (Mormon 5:5). Nephites loved city life. They crushed together (cf. 3 Ne 4), packed in "from one city to another" in an urban chain stretching from north to south (Helaman 5:14-16)--from Brigham City to Payson. The Egyptians, although boasting fewer cities (were the Nephites so insecure in a new world, that nearly every named toponym had to be a city?) likewise packed themselves in up along the Nile, as did Sumerians and Babylonians down the Euphrates.
We turn last to tower as toponym: Tower of So-and-So makes up a place name in New Kingdom Egypt as well as Ancient Israel. While the Book of Mormon is lousy with towers: watchtowers, fortress towers, ensign towers, garden towers, propaganda towers, and temple towers dot the land, but the heavily edited Book of Mormon omits the possible toponyms.
And, then, in the next to the last chapter of the last book in the Book of Mormon (Moroni 9:7), we learn from an unedited letter, hurriedly added at the last minute, that the Nephites employed tower + Personal Name as toponym:
Behold, the Lamanites have many prisoners, which they took from the tower of Sherrizah [or Tower Sherrizah; Tower of Sherrizah]; and there were men, women, and children. And the husbands and fathers of those women and children they have slain; and they feed the women upon the flesh of their husbands, and the children upon the flesh of their fathers; and no water, save a little, do they give unto them (9:7). . . And again, my son, there are many widows and their daughters, who remain in Sherrizah; and that part of the provisions which the Lamanites did not carry away, behold, the army of Zenephi has carried away, and left them to wander whithersoever they can for food; and many old women do faint by the way and die (9:16). And the army which is with me is weak, and the armies of the Lamanites are betwixt Sherrizah and me (9:17).
The Tower of Refuge (cf. Arabic sharada) has become the Tower of Terror, of the Raid (Arabic, gaza). Sherrizah: the very name suggests Terror to the English ear. "Sherrizah" shout the headlines of every daily.
For the tower toponym there serve two Semitic words of widespread use, including Egypt, Phoenicia, Anatolia, and everywhere else: migdol (place of great size, tower; Mary Magdalene came from such a tower city in Galilee) and segor (enclosed placed, tower, castle, fortress).
Magdala, borrowed from Hebrew, names Egyptian towers down to Coptic times. Professor James Hoch observes: "In Medinet Habu 42 the word occurs in a caption over the depiction of a tower with high doors, upper-storey window, and crenellated parapet with narrow crenals and rounded merlons. The caption reads: Mgdr n R'mssw Hq3-Iwn 'Magdal of Ramses, Ruler of On,'" Semitic Words in Egyptian Texts of the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period, #224. Some places in the Ancient Near East were simply called Tower or Tower City, or even Twin Towers (#224). For Tower + Personal or Place Name, the Bible has both the following long-established names (echte Ortsnamen): Migdol-El, Migdol-Gad, Migdol Eder, and Migdol-Shechem, and also the newer "given names" (benannte Tuerme): Migdol Penuel, Migdol David, etc. (Koehler-Baumgartner Lexicon). A migdol is often associated with a city, be its name what it may: Gideon "beat down the tower of Penuel and slew the men of the city" (Judges 8:17); "But there was a strong tower within the city [Thebez], and thither fled all" (Judges 9:51). Was the tower also called Thebez?
Now for Sigara, defined by Professor Hoch as Secured Building 'Fort' or 'Magazine'; 'Gate(?)'. How telling for the Book of Mormon is the following observation (Semitic Words in Egyptian Texts, #385; and cf #555, sikara = Tower Gate): "The word [sigara] occurs in a model letter from a captain concerning runaway slaves." Could anything be closer to the letter of Captain Mormon, with its streams of Tower of Sherrizah refugees? "The captain says," continues Hoch, "that he reached the sgr n Tkw 'sgr of Tjeku,' presumably a military installation. The word has been identified with BH sgor 'enclosure," and usually translated 'fortress,' or sim[ilar]." Interestingly: "The word occurs in the context of military or other stations including a migdal and a xtm," #385. The several words clearly are interchangeable, although various types of towers do appear.
The widespread use of the word sigara goes all the way back to Sumer; it is a Sumerian loan word (SI.GAR or KAK.SI.GAR = bolt of a sigar) into Semitic (Hoch, #385) and signifies "bolt" or "bar" of a gate, even--by synecdoche--sometimes "gate" or "tower gate" (Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, Shin, Part 2, cv sigaru).
In the Book of Mormon (where some form of magdal was likely used, since segor doesn't occur in place names in the Hebrew Bible), we find all the varieties of towers these several terms describe, including tower as toponym. Alma further notes many forts and strongholds, which all fit into the picture.
Let's list two examples:
1) the two towers built by King Noah (Mosiah 40: 12-13: "a very high tower, even so high. . .") near the temple, and "a great tower [that he caused] to be built on the hill north of the land Shilom, which had been a resort [place of refuge; fort, Zuflucht, i.e., not Disneyworld] for the children of Nephi, at the time they fled out of the land." Here are two magdala(s) like that of Ramesses: the Magdala of Ramesses, Ruler of Heliopolis (the centerplace) matching the Magdala of Noah, Ruler of Lehi-Nephi. Magdala of Ramesses need not be a toponym, although it could be, being descriptive of the builder, e.g., the tower built by David, Penuel, or whoever.
2) the Tower of (Personal Name) Sherrizah mentioned in Mormon's letter toponymically matches those dotting the Wilbour Papyrus and elsewhere. Again, these refer especially to military installations, and Sherrizah is so described. It was a target of the Lamanite army, being a place of provisions sacked by both Lamanite and Nephite(!) armies, as well as a city having a moderate to large (refugee?) population. Mormon explains that the military objective in raiding Tower Sherrizah was to plunder its store of provisions. And to get all its store, Sherrizah has, in fact, to be sacked twice. Here we have a sigara or sogar, even though it is likely rendered as Magdala Sherrizah (Migdol Sherrizah).
We must be detectives. Evidence for the Book of Mormon, says Hugh Nibley, ought to be both peculiar and specific to the ancient linguistic usage and to the cultural milieu of the Ancient Near East. So, with that in mind, we return to Professor Skousen's analysis of the Book of Mormon text to round things off:
"In the printer's manuscript, Oliver Cowdery initially wrote 'the tower Sherrizah.' Later, probably while proofing against the original manuscript," opines Skousen, "he supralinearly inserted the preposition of." Again: "Sherrizah is apparently the name of a place (probably a city, but also possibly a land--or perhaps both, a characteristic of Nephite naming [after founder's personal names]," 6.3939.
"In other words, Mormon is referring here in verse 7 to the tower in the city or land of Sherrizah rather than to a tower named Sherrizah. The of helps facilitate this reading," 6.3939. The logic is flawless; the grammatical reading inerrant; the conclusion out of step with the Ancient Near Eastern evidence.
The conclusion? "Sherrizah is not the name of the tower, but the place where it is located," 6.3939. That may be true, we find "tower and city" together, etc., but also note the peculiar and specific way in which the "Tower Sherrizah" or "Tower of Sherrizah" matches the Ancient Near Eastern evidence, including both the Wilbour Papyrus and the military missive about the Tower of (with genitive morpheme, nj) the Tjenu (note how Egyptian both uses the genitive marker and omits it at will--just as in the Book of Mormon toponyms).
Now if we only could figure out what Sherrizah means--what a puzzler! The name occurs only in Mormon 9, a good thousand years after Lehi left Jerusalem. The match with Semitic roots need not be perfect, given the expected linguistic shifts, only approximate. Let's try a couple out, while trying (just for fun) to match meaning with the content of Mormon 9.
A first guess leads us to the Moabite Personal Name Sh'rjh = *Sha're-ha (Ihre Tore = Her Gates), a good name for a fortress (Koehler-Baumgartner Lexicon cv sh'r, gates). Ugaritic has an "unknown mythological character," named shrgzz, which could possibly mean "Prince of heroes or warriors" (A Dictionary of the Ugaritic Language, Del Olmo Lete and Sanmartin, vol 1). Shrgzz matches our Sherrizah rather well. Still searching, we turn to another loan word from Semitic into Egyptian: s=-r-ta. Professor Hoch, though with hesitation, transcribes the word as tsallatu; I might further suggest shallatu. The word seems to refer to prisoners of war. Now that fits the context of Mormon 9. Even better is a consideration of the r's and z's in Sherrizah as the object of metathesis, a turn of events that yields Shezirrah, an outcome most reminiscent of sigara/SI.GAR/sogar, and the like: The Tower of a Military Installation.
Sherrizah also much recalls a Samaritan place name, Tsaridda (Heb Tseredah), the home of Jeroboam I (Koehler-Baumgartner, III, 1983). Here's a best try: Hebrew has a root sh-r-r, which speaks to soundness, integrity, health, and thus impregnability, or even opposition or enmity (cf. ts-r-r). Sharar is the father of a Davidic hero. For this root, we have the nominal form *sherirut, which the Koehler-Baumgartner lexicon renders as Wahrheit, Verhaertung, Verstocktheit (as in hardness of heart), and the like. But note an Aramaic (Syriac) form: sharriruta (Festigkeit): Ein Feste Burg ist unser Gott. Sharriruta makes a perfect bull's-eye for Sherrizah.