And what is the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar? It shows the tentative beginnings of a project to explain certain Egyptian papyrus rolls purchased at Kirtland, Ohio, dates from 1835-36, and appears under the hands of associates of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Little about the content of the Alphabet lends confidence to the idea that these brethren were making any headway in their attempt to read Ancient Egyptian, and, accordingly, the project was closed, the notebook buried away. Thereafter, the brethren were put to school by Brother Joseph, studying Hebrew under the tutelage of a well-known teacher. As Hugh Nibley points out, serious mental labor at a known language would become the new prerequisite for further attempts at inspired translation.
According to Nibley, the notebook reveals yet one more attempt by Oliver Cowdery (and W.W. Phelps and Warren Parrish) to get into the act, that is, the work of inspired translation. And, as was the case with his attempt to translate a portion of the Book of Mormon, Oliver Cowdery failed to translate the papyri. What was it all about? Here was an earthshaking appearance of ancient papyri in Kirtland, a second Book of Mormon. The desire to translate ancient records with the assistance of spiritual insight must have been irresistible. Failure to succeed in the endeavor is thus a noble failure.
By way of contrast, the Book of Abraham, the result of the Prophet Joseph's own wrestle with the papyri, glistens a radiant gem of expression and clarity. The Alphabet remains dark as clay; Abraham speaks with a poetic energy.
Yet the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar may have some light to shed on the mind of the ancients. Consider the following statement, under the heading Beth, on page 23 of that document:
Beth The place appointed of God for the residence of Adam; Adam ondi=Ahman. A
Here are elements of poetic expression borrowed from Scripture, or like unto Scripture. The words resonate with the Revelation of Saint John and Doctrine and Covenants Section 58, a section that describes, and transcends, an observed Sabbath in the delightsome land of Zion. To the little band of saints, sabbath gathering, Jackson County, Missouri (once Eden) was now home. And there also are echoes of the Book of Abraham yet to come: "another place of residence," "happiness," "rest": home.
Adam-ondi-Ahman (Nibley reads "Adam in the Presence of God"), found in early Latter-day Saint writings and attributed to the Prophet Joseph, names the residence of Adam after his expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Spring Hill, overlooking the Grand River near Westport, Missouri, was once the home of Adam, a once and future king (Doctrine and Covenants 116:1). As for Zion, the Prophet Joseph had already published a revelation about the home of Enoch: "And it came to pass in his days, that he built a city that was called the City of Holiness, even ZION" (Moses 7:19). And Zomar? Nothing on heaven or on earth seems to help us with Zomar.
Did the description of the great valley orchard of Zomar also come from the prophetic mind? Or did it come from the minds of his associates, perhaps in consultation with the Prophet? I picture these brethren sitting, speaking, pondering together; then each making his own attempt to pull the threads together. What results is disparity, separation, difference. Ultimately it is the Prophet Joseph alone who enters history as the translator of ancient records. There is no peer.
If it is the Prophet who gives us Adam-ondi-Ahman and Enoch's Zion, then Zomar plausibly also comes from the Prophet. Zomar as Zion thus also appears in the anti-Mormon letters of apostate Ezra Booth. Again, in an imaginative piece by Elder Parley P. Pratt, the expression zo-ma-rah fancifully names the "Pure News" of a longed-for future day--a Deseret News or Zion Times, if you will ("One Hundred Years Hence: 1945," 141, Millennial Star 6:9, 15 Oct. 1845; for these references see Samuel M. Brown, "Joseph (Smith) in Egypt: Babel, Hieroglyphs, and the Pure Language of Eden," Church History 78:1, 2009, 26-65, esp. footnote 114). According to Samuel Brown, "imaginative associations" like those about gardens and Zomar abound in "American hieroglyphic culture" and "both illuminate and extend familiar concepts from antebellum culture"--which explains everything! Yet Zomar, however odd in heaven or earth, "is not all pure nonsense." In fact, it is not nonsense at all--and we shall return to the theme of Joseph in Egypt momentarily.
We need a homing device to find rest in Zomar--and such a device is indeed forthcoming in languages with which Joseph Smith could not be expected to have had any familiarity.
Consider the following entry in Professor Frauke Grondahl's study of ancient Canaanite names found in the seaside texts of Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit), along with further evidence from Herbert Bardwell Huffmon, Lamia R. Shehadah, and Wolf Leslau:
tsmr [ts-m-r] "fructbar sein" [to be fruitful] (Amorite, Syriac, Arabic)
(Semitic tzadei [tz or ts] often appears in transliteration as a z: Zomar ~ Tzomar.)
Frauke Grondahl, Die Personennamen der Texte aus Ugarit (Rome, 1967), 199
shmr *tsmr, "bear fruit" (Arabic, Old South Arabic)
Herbert Bardwell Huffmon, Amorite Personal Names in the Mari Texts: A Structural and Lexical Study (Baltimore, Maryland, 1965), 267
Proto Semitic s[#1]mr, "bear fruit," "fruit," Arabic tsamr "fruit," Ugaritic tsmr "be fruitful"
Lamia R. Shehadeh, "Some Observations on the Sibilants in the Second Millennium BC," in Working with No Data: Semitic and Egyptian Studies (D. M. Golomb, Susan T. Hollis, eds, 1987), 236
Ethiopic samra, flourish, be fruitful, abound in fruit, grow abundantly; Arabic tamara, bear fruit,
South Arabic, tmr, produce crops
Wolf Leslau, Comparative Dictionary of Ge'ez (Classical Ethiopic), 503.
How about Akkadian? Zamar (fruit), we are told, is the Neo-Assyrian form of Akkadian azamru
Chaim Cohen, Joseph Maran, Melissa Vetters, "An Ivory Rod with a Cuneiform Inscription," Archaeologischer Anzeiger 2010/2, 1-22 (see note 47)
We may further descry the root ts-m-r in the Egyptian lexicon (cf. Woerterbuch V 300.10, 307.1, 308.2-3). The word tm or tm3 describes a sacred tree, while tm3.t becomes an Egyptian synonym for mother (probably, the fruitful one), especially divine mothers like Hathor, the goddess often depicted as a cow. (The final literal in tm3, an aleph, was originally pronounced /R/ and thus corresponds to Semitic /r/.)
What the word means becomes clear from a text describing the transgressions, or taboo violations of the mischievous Seth (Book of the Overthrow of Seth and his Gang, pLouvre 3129 C35-6, in Urk IV, ed. Siegfried Schott = Jan Assmann, The Mind of Egypt: History and Meaning in the Time of the Pharaohs, New York, 1996, 392):
He has let the milk of Sekhat-Hor dry away,
he has thrown down the htmt cow, the mother of god.
He has cut off supply on the lake of the Tm trees,
he let the lake of the htmt cow dry up.
The name of the cow, the htm.t, or provider cow, unlocks the meaning of the verse: milk, mother, supply, lake, all bespeak Egypt's bounty (Woerterbuch III, c.v. htm.t; the word plays on Tm). Supply (or nourishment) here translates the Egyptian shb.w; for instance, a shb.t is a great melon loaded with seeds. The lakes of the Tm trees and of the htm.t cow therefore represent the source of all nourishment for Egypt, nourishment that begins with the food and drink offerings to the gods and the souls of the dead (Woerterbuch IV, 438: shb.t).
The image of the fruitful tree appears elsewhere in the same text (Assmann, Mind of Egypt, 391):
He has neared Saft el-Henna, he has entered the walled quarter,
he has down sacrilege to the holy Nebes tree
--when it greens, the earth greens--
He has neared that sacred chamber of Iusas
with the acacia, which contains death and life.
All these trees and lakes make up Egypt's sacred gardens, small moments of paradise enclosed like memories behind the walls of temple estates. In Egyptian, by the way, estate is pr, a word that answers to Hebrew bayit and so recalls the heading Beth in the description of the fruitful paradise in the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar. These Egyptian gardens, with their waters and trees of life, constitute the ceremonial centers "that keep the universe in motion": "when it greens, the earth greens" (Assmann, Mind of Egypt, 392; cf. Alma 32; an interpretation of these temple and tomb gardens may be found in Jan Assmann, Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt (Ithaca, New York, 2005), tr. by David Lorton of Tod und Jenseits im Alten Aegypten, Chapter 9.2b, "Visiting the Garden," 221ff).
Again, some of that greening also appears along the Levantine coastline. From the list of Semitic names coming under the heading of ts-m-r, we learn that Tsmry is also a Ugaritic place name (UT 19.2701). In West Semitic the name would have been pronounced something like Tsamra [the vowels appear in the writing of the associated name, Tsmrn, in cuneiform as sha-am-ra-na; in Akkadian the tzadei (-tz/ts) is often realized as a shin (-sh)]. Tsamra signifies the Fruitful Land, a land called Bountiful "because of its much fruit and also wild honey" (see 1 Nephi 17, verses 5 and 6), or "A garden made to be fruitful. . . fitted with fruit trees. . . good to the taste. . . place of happiness. . . and rest; even Zomar." And even Cumorah: Tsamar or Zomar conceptually matches Kumara or Kumar, the Black Land, as in the rich Cornucopia of Egypt (Kumat). In Syria we find the Gath Kumara, the fruitful Wine Press of Cumorah. We recall Book of Mormon geography here: Bountiful and Cumorah respectively make up the fruitful southern and northern bookends of the Land Northward.
Professor Huffmon further informs us that the name *Amm (i)-yitstamar (a Gt imperfect verbal stem: 'mtstmr = Ammu will be fruitful) is not only attested at Mari but also "borne by two kings of Ugarit," Herbert Bardwell Huffmon, Amorite Personal Names in the Mari Texts: A Structural and Lexical Study (Baltimore, Maryland, 1965), 81-2; cf. the Ugaritic personal name, 'iltstmr [My god will be fruitful], 81 n.135. Cyrus Gordon translates 'Ammistamar as "'Amm has been fruitful in bestowing the son who bears this personal name,'" R. Hetzron, ed., The Semitic Languages, C. Gordon, "Amorite and Eblaite," 104. Lamia R. Shehadeh adds more names from Ugarit: bn-tsmr (son of fruitfulness) and blessed Shamrana (little fruitful one), "Some Observations on the Sibilants in the Second Millennium BC," 236. The people of Mari and Ugarit were of the children of Canaan, among whom, although not noted by Professor Huffmon, are to be found the Zemarites (Genesis 10:18; 1 Chronicles 1:16). The ruins of their city, Simyra, is known to this day under name of Sumra, "at the western base of Lebanon" (Gesenius, Hebrew Lexicon). The Egyptians spelled the name Dmrm (Helck, Beziehungen, 241 = Baumgarter, Stamm III). Sumra (also a personal name in Arabic) connotes a Bountiful ruined, a lost Zion, even "ZION IS FLED" (see Moses 7:69; chapter 7 also recounts the transformation of the vale of Shum into a wasteland: Shum something recalls Sumra).
Does the root ts-m-r appear in Biblical Hebrew? Not according to Professor Grondahl--but how about the Zemarites "of the families of Canaan"? A like root, D-m-r/z-m-r, does appear in Hebrew and other Semitic languages and, according to the lexicon, signifies protection or strength, though its use in the Bible is limited to personal names and to the poetic line about God being "my strength and (my) song" (Exodus 15:2, Song of the Sea; Isaiah, Psalms), and to some words from Jacob to his sons about taking a gift to the Egyptian vizier "from the strength of the earth" (miz-zimrat ha-aretz, Genesis 43:11). It is a gift for Joseph--a most appropriate gift, as we shall see.
Before going forward, a philological, if not musical, note is in order. First, the expression "my strength and (my) song" is now understood as "my strength and my protection" (with 'zz and zmr as indissoluble yoke pair, see James E. Hoch, Semitic Words in Egyptian Texts of the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period, #582; Frank Moore Cross and David Noel Freedman, "The Song of Miriam," JNES 14 (1955), 243). Because I also see a cognate in Egyptian Tm3-' (strong of arm), I take the primary meaning of the root z-m-r to be strength, with protection as a derivative (cf. Koehler, Baumgarter Lexicon of Hebrew I). Another Egyptian expression, Tm3-r3 (strong of mouth), calls up the idea of singer or musician, and, here, I see a play on words with a homonymous Semitic root. An unrelated root, zmr, does mean song, and that's what led to the translators' confusion (and the Egyptian word play). And I can easily imagine the translator of yore confusing zmr and zmr: It's the sort of mischief that happens all the time and which also, as it happens, generates moments of poetry unknown to the ancient writer--"my strength and my song." I'm sorry to see the expression go, no matter how powerful the combination of Uz and Zimri, those mythical bookends of the created world (see Ezekiel).
But what has that happy confusion to do with Zomar? Lexicographers render Jacob's "strength of the earth" as "best produce of the land" (Koehler, Baumgartner, Lexicon of Hebrew and Aramaic). Might the nominal reading of the archaic root z-m-r as strength in Genesis 43:11 represent yet another error in translation? or, perchance, a play on words? (The ancient translators of the Hebrew Bible into Greek do render: apo ton karpon tes ges, "from the fruit of the ground.") Either way the translation stands: the strength of the earth produces the best fruits of the land.
Consider the entire verse from Genesis:
And their father Israel said unto them, If it must be so now, do this; take of the best fruits of the land in your vessels, and carry down the man a present, a little balm, and a little honey, spices, and myrrh, nuts, and almonds.
Even in times of famine, Israel dwells in a land of blessing and promise, strength and song:
A little balm, a little honey,
spices and myrrh,
nuts and almonds.
The richly wrapped present ironically conveys a token of recognition and memory from a distant homeland and can be likened to the sweet smell lingering on the remnant of Joseph's coat. It is the lingering scent of Zion. (The book to read on the symbolism linking al-Thalabi, Lives of the Prophets, and Alma 46:24 is Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon; cf. also Professor Erik Hornung's comments on the perfumed radiance that suffuses the divine in his Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many).
And he came near, and kissed him: and he smelled the smell of his raiment, and blessed him, and said, See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the Lord hath blessed (Genesis 27:27).
The children of Joseph found their own Tsmry in their various lands of promise:
And Abijah stood up upon mount Zemaraim, which is in mount Ephraim, and said, Hear me, thou Jeroboam, and all Israel (2 Chronicles 13:4; cf. Joshua 18:22, in Benjamin).
And [after the horrors of the Rub' al-Khali] we did come to the land which we called Bountiful, because of its much fruit and also wild honey (1 Nephi 17:5 and also verse 6, in which the expression "Bountiful, because of its much fruit" is meaningfully repeated).
Both Ephraim and Zemaraim in 2 Chronicles 13:4 connote a place doubly fruitful (the -aim-ending as the morpheme of duality). In Genesis 41:52 we read: "And the name of the second called he Ephraim: for God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction." Thus for King Abijah (My Father is Jehovah) to stand "up upon mount Zemaraim, which is in mount Ephraim," and to preach the Davidic covenant of peace, is to redouble fruitfulness.
But I venture into midrash. . . After all, the Brown-Driver Briggs Lexicon (like Gesenius) defines Zemaraim as "double fleece of wool," by association with a synonymous root, ts-m-r, "to be shaggy," or woolly (perhaps "to be luxiurant, abounding in fleece?"; for this woolly root, see also A. Murtonen, Hebrew in Its West Semitic Setting, 362: CMR "wool"; note also CMR II, Aramaic "to heat up"; Akkadian cemer, "be swollen," a root which easily falls under the semantic sphere of CMR = ts-m-r, "to be fruitful" or "to produce fruit"). Still, doesn't the doubly fruitful make more sense than the doubly woolly?
The gift of Joseph overflows in the promise of Ephraim, Joseph's fruitful son:
"And take double money in your hand. . . and arise, go again unto the man" (Genesis 43:12-13).
Another reading logically considers the Arabic word ts-m-r or ts-b-r (tsumr), which signifies "the upper part or the high point of an object" ("der obere Teil od. die Spitze einer Sache," W. Baumgartner, J.J. Stamm, Hebraische und Aramaisches Lexicon zum Alten Testament, III (Leiden, 1983), 970); although the Hebrew lexicographers rather modify the definition of the word found in Lane's Arabic lexicon, which, in its turn, reads: "The side of a thing: or a side rising above the rest of a thing: or its upper part, or top: or its edge. . . the m is said to be substituted for n" (Lane 1727). Baumgarter and Stamm accordingly render Zemaraim as "double peak" and tsemeret ha-'aroz in Ezekiel 17:3, 22 (see also 31:3, 10) as "the highest branch of the cedar," which last is the traditional reading, after all.
I'm not convinced. Lane's lexicon begins its treatment of the root ts-m-r by saying it expresses something niggardly, tenacious, reserved. This is so because ts-m-r denotes something that has collected into a low place, specifically the resting-place of waters in a valley--a collecting pool, no less. From there, we get the connotations of foul or sour smells (from the stagnant pool) and of tenaciousness or stinginess, as well as the idea of a day of still wind or the time or action of sunset. All this sour downward gravity has little in common with twin peaks. The collecting pools of stinginess hardly reflect Zion. It's clear that tsumr (or tsubr), which refers to things like the edges or uppermost parts of a cup, does not provide the best reading for Zemaraim. The Arabic root thamara (noun thamar: fruit, fruits; result, fruitage; yield, profit, benefit, gain) better answers to our Zemaraim (Wehr, Cowan, Arabic-English Dictionary).
Given the fruitful significance of the Semitic root ts-m-r, and its semantic correspondence to the name Ephraim (as understood by the Hebrews), the ancient writer was certainly aware of the connotations of standing "up upon mount Zemaraim, which is in mount Ephraim." As for the "highest branch of the cedar," is it not the highest branch, after all, that is the most productive, the most bountiful? Ezekiel's eagle, in its work of plucking and transplanting branches, brings about the fruit of Zion: "In the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it: and it shall bring forth boughs, and bear fruit" (17:23). Then all shall know that the God of Enoch, the Rock of Zion, has "made the dry tree to flourish" (17:24).
Ezra Booth, in his keenly biting, detail-laden anti-Mormon letters to the Ohio Star, gives us the idea. On the day of the consecration of the temple site of the New Jerusalem in Independence, Jackson County, Missouri, the brethren transplanted a tree (a very silly thing for them to do, says Booth) and laid a cornerstone ("Mormonism, No. VI," Ohio Star, Ravenna, Ohio, 17 Nov. 1831, in Matthew R. Roper (ed), 19th-Century Publications about the Book of Mormon, BYU, 2010):
"A shrub oak, about ten inches in diameter at the butt, the best that could be obtained near at hand, was prostrated, trimmed, and cut-off at a suitable length; and twelve men answering to the twelve Apostles, by the means of handspikes conveyed it to the place. . . The stone being placed, one end of the shrub oak stick was laid upon it; and thus was laid down the first stone and stick, which are to form an essential part of the splendid City of Zion."
As for the curious: "They will be able to ascertain the spot, by the means of a sappling [sic], distinguished from others by the bark being taken off on the north and on the east side. On the south side of the sappling will be found the letter, T, which stands for Temple; and on the east side ZOM for Zomar; which Smith says is the original word for Zion. Near the foot of the sappling, they will find a small stone, covered over with bushes, which were cut for that purpose. This is the corner-stone for the Temple."
All this fuss seemed absurd to Booth, who, blind to the purposes of the symbolic, commented on the money lost by the Brethren to travel expenses: "more than one thousand dollars in cash."
But in a coming day "the dry tree" will flourish.
Good to the taste, pleasing to the eye, sweet and delightful to the smell.
Made for the healing of man.
From the bounty of the earth.
Copyright 2011 by Val H. Sederholm