Monday, January 31, 2011

Anah, Aminadi, and the Mysterious Yemim (but not the Yeti)

The Book of Mormon works "unto the convincing" of all mankind "that the records of the prophets and of the apostles of the Lamb are true" (1 Nephi 13: 39). "These last records," says the prophecy, "shall establish the truth of the first" (v. 40): "Proving to the world that the Holy Scriptures are true" (Doctrine and Covenants 20:11).

And is it not the case that the convincing power of the Book of Mormon often establishes even the minutiae of the Bible? Are the stories of the Bible true? or the fables of men? The Book of Mormon overcomes all obstacles to belief, learned or foolish, with a convincing power that is often quite subtly worked into the texture of the book. As we turn pages, the convincing thread then works its weave into the human heart. At other times the convincing power strikes like a lightning bolt.

Among the tiny but bright threads of witness that together bind and establish the truth of the Holy Scriptures, consider the following words of Amulek about one electrifying filament in his family line (Alma 13):

I am Amulek; I am the son of Giddonah, who was the son of Ishmael, who was a descendant of Aminadi; and it was that same Aminadi who interpreted the writing which was upon the wall of the temple, which was written by the finger of God.

And Aminadi was a descendant of Nephi, who was the son of Lehi, who came out of the land of Jerusalem, who was a descendant of Manasseh, who was the son of Joseph who was sold into Egypt by the hands of his brethren.

The names Aminadi (Am-i-nadi) and Abinadi (Ab-i-nadi) call out for interpretation. Hugh Nibley reads -nadi as the verb of vowing: My father (ab) has vowed; My people (am) have vowed (Teachings of the Book of Mormon, 2:304). Another guess: "A Rival (Equal, Peer) is my Clan," a good name for the typical boastful desert clan (see Arabic nadid/andad and perhaps also the root nd/nt/anti found in both Indo-European and Afroasiatic languages: My Father's Family is a Peer--to be reckoned with).

A child can interpret: the story of the American Aminadi, who also interpreted an ominous writing on a wall, "which was written by the finger of God," perforce returns us to the story of Daniel and King Belshazzar with new eyes--a nursery tale no longer. It takes but a verse, even a parenthetical aside within a single verse, for the Book of Mormon to convincingly sweep aside generations of learned exposition on the fictional character of the Book of Daniel, its supposed origins, its date of composition, and so on. It so happens the schoolmen know but little about it. We now have Aminadi to reckon with, and if the episode of Aminadi stands rock solid, so that of Daniel. But why should the Book of Mormon thus ungently rock our bedrock belief in higher criticism? The answer is clear: the Lord simply will not allow his words to stand unproven. He does not write messages to man in vain.

We've heard it since childhood:

Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.

Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein.

Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them.

They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.

In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.

The king summons Daniel:

And I have heard of thee, that thou canst make interpretations, and dissolve doubts: now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom.

And Daniel duly interprets the writing on the wall:

And this is the writing that was written, Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin.

This is the interpretation of the thing: Mene; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.

Tekel; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.

Peres; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.

We've heard tell since childhood, and the tale, after all, is true--think of that! Americans love to sing about how "The things that you're liable to read in the Bible ain't necessarily so," and yet the convincing power of the Book of Mormon has its perfect work in the heart: That Bible is liable to be so anyhow.

Nor is the reference to Daniel's interpretation the end of the convincing work. The very form of the aside about Aminadi proves to the world that the Holy Scriptures are true even where the old tribal genealogies are intoned, thus pouring greening water onto the very driest garden, and darkest corner, of Scripture.

Consider the following place in the genealogy of the sons of Esau (Genesis 36:24-5):

And these are the children of Zibeon; both Ajah, and Anah: this was that Anah that found the mules in the wilderness, as he fed the asses of Zibeon his father.

And the children of Anah were these; Dishon, and Aholibamah the daughter of Anah.

Aholibamah the daughter of Anah? Dry or just odd? With a spirited hope let's explore this curious genealogical aside, ponder its rhetorical function, and mine its unspoken riches:

"and Anah: this was that Anah that found the mules in the wilderness, as he fed the asses of Zibeon his father"

"of Aminadi; and it was the same Aminadi who interpreted the writing which was upon the wall of the temple, which was written by the finger of God."

The similarity in formula bespeaks more than Kulturkreis (one cultural circle) for the Edomites and Ammonihahites; such specificity in formula goes down to the details, down to the nitty-gritty, however removed in time, place, circumstance, or language the one from the other. The Aminadi aside, in the genealogical forecast, makes for a touch of authenticity. And the original purpose of such a formula (or formulaic aside), becomes clear. The ancient genealogies were not mere lists of names; they represent, with pregnant pauses for rhetorical heightening, a repository of history and a treasury of lore, a drum roll echoing throughout all time. Bedtime stories around the camp of Edom. Such formulae of remembrance are as peculiar and specific to the oral culture of the Semitic peoples as is the use of simile in Homer. And indeed such momentous asides in the chant of forefathers also appear in Homer. . . Kulturkreis throws a wide net.

For us, the significance of the formulation in Alma 10 lies in the deceptively subtle, yet peculiar, particular, and specific manner in which it shows that the Holy Scriptures are true. By such small and simple turns of phrase, a mere throw-away line or two, the last records, the Book of Mormon, establish the truth of the first.

There's still a bit more to mull over.

Both the form of expression and the specific words in the Hebrew are curious:

hu Anah, asher matzah et-hayyemim bamidbar bir'oto et-haxamorim litziv'on aviv

He Anah, that person who discovered the Yemim [Ymm] in the desert, while pasturing the asses for Zibeon, his father.

And what is, or are, the Yemim? The Authorized Version (preposterously) interprets the Yemim as a plural: "mules"; others see the word as a rare expression for "hot springs," with Yemim as anagram of meyim, "waters." Or did Anah perhaps find a "sea in the wilderness" (Proto-Semitic *ymm)? (Note that the Book of Mormon does not prove that the Authorized Version is infallible, rather that the Holy Scriptures are true.)

Alas! Scholarship so often ultimately amounts to no discovery at all: we can feed asses in the desert all we want; still, generation after hungry generation, we will never know what is a Yemim. But isn't that the point? Why sing of Anah at all, if he only found water or mules or such? His discovery of generational import, to be anything at all, must knock us off our feet--be as startling, say, as nightingales or words divinely written on a temple wall. News like that hits the generational hearer with something like a shock. It's genealogy with a shine.

Ramesses the Great himself was one day " 'wandering over the desert of Iunu, to the south of the House of Ra, north of the House of the Ennead, by [the shrine of] Hathor, lady of the Red Mountain.' There he found a striking purple vein of quartzite, perfect for quarrying." With joy, Pharaoh ordered that a statue of himself be hewn from the quartzite and placed "in the main temple of the king's new city at Piramesse," the very place Exodus 1:11 gives as the scene of Hebrew labor:

And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses.

"According to the inscription, Ramesses went on to find a series of other fine veins of quartzite at Iunu and in the Beautiful Mountain of Elephantine, on the southern border of Egypt with Nubia." Of furthur note in the annals of ancient discovery "is a fossil inscribed in hieroglyphs with this line: 'found on the south of the quarry of Soped by the god's father Tjanefer' " (Stephen Quirke, The Cult of Ra: Sun-Worship in Ancient Egypt, 76-77).

Lucky Tjanefer!

So what of the Edomite Yemim? Animal? vegetable? or mineral? I like the idea of a precious stone, a fossil, or even a rich deposit of clayey soil (Egyptian ym). . . To be sure, the Yemim represents something so unutterably odd (and old), so very archaic, so like the Coelacanth in its surfacing, that lucky little Anah did not expect--not in a million years--to see it that day. The point is that Anah found.

Lehi, the dreamer, adrift in the dark waste, stumbled upon "a tree whose fruit was desirable to make one happy" (1 Nephi 8). Both fruit tree and the expression desirable to make one happy answer to a sole Egyptian root: ym', later y'm (Woerterbuch I, 78-79: jm3/j3m). Lehi thus also found his Yam or Yemim!--and the entire Book of Mormon becomes one long genealogical aside attesting to that fact. And, here, I recall how the Semitic verbal root ymm suggests for Professor William Albright the Arabic verb ymm, "to strive for," as if on a quest. Do we spot an Arthurian questing beast? (William F. Albright, "Egyptian Empire," 238, cited in Herbert Bardwell Huffmon, Amorite Personal Names in the Mari Texts: A Structural and Lexical Study (Baltimore, Maryland), 211).

The final -m of Ymm yields a clue: it's a matter of mimation, that is, the archaic nominative Semitic case ending of singular nouns in an -m. (The final -m is usually understood as the morpheme of the plural: Yemims) So what we have is a Yem or Yam or Yim. Hmm. . . yum-yum. Hugh Nibley fairly sings the workings of mimation in The World of the Jaredites; and with the Jaredites in mind, I can't help but recall those curious mimation-laden beasts of the Book of Ether: the curelom and the cumom. Like the Yemim--and don't think for a moment it's a Yeti--we have no idea what is the curelom, much less the cumom.

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