Friday, May 13, 2011

Bountiful Zion, Zomar, Zamar, Shamry, Shamrana--and the Kirtland Egyptian Papers

When Hugh Nibley says the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar, with its "many happy guesses," "is not all pure nonsense," he means what he says: it is mostly pure nonsense ("The Meaning of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers," Maxwell Institute, Provo, Utah).

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 fruit garden made to be fruitful, by blessing or promise; great valley or plain, given by promise, fitted with fruit trees and precious flowers, made for the healing of man. Good to the taste, pleasing to the eye; sweet and delightful to the smell; place of happiness, purity, holiness, and rest; even Zomar--Zion. [Note that the r in Zomar overwrites another letter; further traces show a dash written over an illegible word or words, followed by Zion.]

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, 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.

Home.


Copyright 2011 by Val H. Sederholm

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"Weapons of Peace" in Alma 24:19 and in Ancient Egyptian Borrowings from Hebrew

Every reader of the Book of Mormon stumbles upon--and over--the following verse from Alma:

And thus we see that, when these Lamanites were brought to believe and to know the truth, they were firm, and would suffer even unto death rather than commit sin; and thus we see that they buried their weapons of peace, or they buried the weapons of war, for peace (Alma 24:19, italics added).
http://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/alma/24?lang=eng

"Weapons of peace"? The phrase stumps everyone. Then clarity follows: "weapons of peace" means "they buried the weapons of war, for peace." Ah, yes! Weapons of peace are weapons of war now laid to rest, and thus turned to peace.

Many Latter-day Saints doubtless see the corrective, explanatory clause as yet another indicant that the Book of Mormon is a translation from a language lost to memory. The Prophet, according to his wife, Emma, never paused for review or rewriting. Instead he struggled with an unfamiliar idea or idiom, sometimes grasping for words, until he got his "mind satisfied." Then he just moved on, leaving the knotty idiom as a trace of the pitfalls of translation (see Doctrine and Covenants, Section 9). A modern editor, agape at "weapons of peace" and intolerant of first drafts, would suggest: "and thus we see that they buried their weapons of war, for peace."

Grasping for words to express an unfamiliar idiom? Consider the following. Ancient Egyptian borrowed a good deal of vocabulary from Hebrew and adapted that vocabulary as circumstances demanded. The borrowing even included the best known of all Hebrew verbs, sh-l-m (to be at peace, to be whole, etc.). We all know what shalom means.

The Egyptians--had they only known it--did not need to borrow the Semitic root sh-l-m to express notions of peace; for their own language, from the beginning, already knew a word of health and greeting cognate to Hebrew shalom (these two Afroasiatic languages share many a cognate): s-n-b ~ sh-l-m. The Egyptian expression for "Greetings"! "Health and Peace be unto you"! is snb.tj. Yet the Egyptians did indeed borrow "Shalom!" (James E. Hoch, Semitic Words in Egyptian Texts of the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period, #406, sha=ra=ma, as it appears in hieroglyphic "group writing" = *shalama? *shallema? "To Greet; Make Obeisance; Do Homage;" 83-84; #408, sha-ra-ma ~ shalama, "Peace; Greetings," 285-6).

New Kingdom Egyptian uses Hebrew sha=ra=ma (*shalama or *shallema) to express a nuanced idea of peace (Hoch, Semitic Words, #407, 285). For Professor Hoch, the word conveys two related actions: 1) "The word is used of putting away weapons," and 2) "The word is also used more generally with the sense of 'seeking peace.' " He accordingly defines the word as follows: "Vb. 'To Lay Down (Arms); Seek Peace.' " It is the first of these definitions that hits any reader of the Book of Mormon with a shock of recognition.

Consider the following examples of usage for *shalama or *shallema:

"Their bows and their weapons [x'w.w] were laid to rest [sha=ra=ma] in their store-rooms" (P. Harris I 78,11 [Dynasty 20]).

"And their weapons [x'ywere laid to rest [sha=ra=ma]" (P. Boulaq 6, 3 [Dynasty 21]).

"Put down [Sh-r-ma] (your) bows; lay down [sfx: loosen, relax, release] (your) arrows" (Pi'ankhy 12 [Dynasty 25]. (Note how the Egyptian name Pi'ankhy finds its match in Book of Mormon Paanchi, as no less a student than William F. Albright pointed out long ago.)

For the second definition, Hoch gives the following example:

Kupara came to seek peace [jw r sha=ra=ma = Heb. yrd lshalom, "come down to pay respects," II Kings 10:13, cf. Hoch, 284].

Semitic languages modify the verbal root with prefixes, by doubling of letters, and so on, to express passive, factitive, causative, and reflexive meaning. Such modifications of the root are known as morphological verbal stems. D-stems are so called because they double the middle consonant of the triliteral root; D-stems sometimes carry causative meaning, sometimes they are factitive, i.e., they turn nouns into verbs. Several Semitic languages show variations on the verbal root sh-l-m in order to express the making of peace or even the laying down of arms. The H-stem of sh-l-m (the causative stem with prefixed -h) in Biblical Hebrew signifies "to make peace"; in Talmudic Aramaic the causative A-stem signifies "to make peace; surrender"; the D-stem in Syriac yields "to surrender; make peace"; the D-stem in Old South Arabic, "to sue for peace"; in Ethiopic (D-stem?), "to make peace"; and, finally, the D-stem in Arabic, which specifically refers to weapons: "to lay down (arms); surrender" (examples all from Hoch, 285, see also 284.)

Egyptian employs no such morphological verbal stems (though some traces of reflexive N-stems do persist), nevertheless, as Hoch says,*shalama (peace), when adopted (and adapted) into that language, was used not only as a noun but also as a verb: "to greet, make obeisance, do homage, to lay down (arms), to seek peace." What a word!

And it is only because such a borrowed and subsequently "frozen" nominal form can also find expression as a verb, something peculiar to Egyptian among the Afro-Asiatic languages (although recalling in function the Semitic factitive stem), that we can imagine a noun phrase weapons of peace. Alma's phrase isperhaps, a literal rendering into English of an appositive genitival construction along the lines of Egyptian x'.w.w shalama. Weapons in Egyptian is x'.w.w/x'y; peace is now shalama, and thus we have: "weapons in respect of peace"; "in a state of peace" (really a verbal expression); or, literally enough, though awkwardly, "weapons of peace" or "peaceful weapons."

"Peace Weapons"? "Peaceful Weapons?" No wonder the Prophet Joseph Smith struggled with the phrase. Yet because shalama also does the work of a verb, x'w.w shalama can be read "weapons laid down in an act of submission or peace," or "weapons put into a state of peace"--what we would call "deactivated." (Indeed anthropology has much to say about the ceremonial stilling of the arms of war.)

We are searching ever for the specific and the peculiar. The specific lexical nuance found in the peculiar Egyptian usage of borrowed Hebrew sh-l-m resonates with Alma's odd phrase, "weapons of peace."

And their weapons were laid to rest (jw n3y.w x'y sha=ra=ma).
Or: And their weapons of peace/And their weapons in respect of, or in reference to, peace/in a state of peace/at peace.

And thus we see that they buried their weapons of peace, or they buried the weapons of war, for peace (Alma 24:19).






Notes




"Mind satisfied": a phrase the Prophet used to describe the intellectual and spiritual calm following his intense quest for spiritual truth and his First Vision of the Father and the Son in Spring 1820. The Prophet worked hard to get his mind satisfied. Such work comprehends years of thought, reading, and observation, so well as the quickening moments of revelation in which the passage of time has but little to do with the celerity of the enlightened mind.


1849 All editions of the Book of Mormon prior to 1849 read:
"And thus we see that they buried the weapons of peace, or they buried the weapons of war for peace."
(Royal Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants in the Book of Mormon, Part Four, 2113-14).


Engraving Error? Daniel H. Ludlow, in A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, 210 (Deseret Book, 1977), puts forward the idea of an error in engraving for Alma 24:19. "Peace" was engraved on the gold plates by mistake; Mormon then corrected his error--would he have struck out the error first?--by writing, "what I meant to say was "war." Logic works against the idea. Should the Prophet have encountered like errors in engraving--and there were such--why would he not have simply translated what the ancient prophet intended to write all along? In translation, mind meets mind. He wasn't trying to put out a "critical edition" of the Words of Mormon or a Mormon Plates Project.

"A precisely determined text?" "Joseph Smith was literally reading off an already composed English-language text" (Interview, Royal Skousen, "Times and Seasons" Web page, 13 October 2004).

According to Professor Royal Skousen, the translation came simple gifts, as if dictation, errors and all. (Errors? What a gift!) The idea of an automatically given translation--a translation that perforce reflects even original scribal error--does not fit the Prophet's own record about how things happened. Doctrine and Covenants Section 9 shows how the Lord wished Oliver Cowdery to attempt translation from the gold plates, an attempt requiring thought and struggle, trial and error. The many errors in the Prophet's English, as found in the manuscripts and printed editions, should make it clear that inspired translation never comes automatically. (What revelation does? Even Nephi had to choose to look, and how intently, says Elder David A. Bednar, when the angel said "Look!") The Book of Mormon translation evinces many a Jacob's wrestle.

Such a "transcription theory" (so Professor Richard Bushman calls it) does not come from evidence left by Joseph Smith himself. "Transcription theory" derives from the all-too-clear accounts given by Joseph's eager friends: Joseph Knight, Harris, Cowdery, Whitmer. Of these, only Cowdery attempted translation himself; and failed to bitterness (Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith, 71-3). The accounts are therefore hearsay. Similarly, contemporary accounts of the Prophet dictating revelations or seeing visions somehow also miss the inner quickenings of the spirit, that is, of the mind. Joseph did write in 1832: "The Lord had prepared spectacles for to read the book" (Bushman, 72). The verb gives it away--reading is an action of the mind, not the eyes. The spectacles serve for light or eyes, the mind does the work. Brother Cowdery remembered: "These were days never to be forgotten. To sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom!" (Bushman, 73). Dictated? No. "Dictated by the inspiration of heaven"--the inner workings of the mind. Oliver, as would-be translator, faces divine rebuke: "You have not understood"; "You must study it out in your mind." If not even Oliver had understood, what then shall we say of Martin or of David?

Professor Skousen also considers the Book of Mormon's presumed use of a pre-Elizabethan, or early modern English idiom as evidence for a dictated gifts translation. That is to say, Joseph Smith received the translation word-for-word in an early modern English idiom that does not match his own New England dialect. The Prophet could not have learned archaic English in 19th century New England--not even from the Bible--he says. But Puritan speech-ways might well have included many an odd, old word or phrase of which we cannot possibly be aware. And, as Skousen himself observes, some of the archaic English words in the Book of Mormon do show up somewhere in either the King James Version or the Puritan's own Geneva Bible. Early modern English in the Book of Mormon is well-spotted--all words merit study. Yet a sprinkling of archaisms contests but beggarly for a supplied translation--in pre-packaged 16th century English no less! The Prophet, as readers note, used his own folksy native idiom to translate--and he was also a determined Bible reader--but the Urim and Thummim also charged his mind with hidden knowledge. Whole Bibles were at the disposal of the Prophet's mind, not to mention the entire intellectual encyclopaedia of Nephite language and culture. Nothing could be hid.

The language of the Book of Mormon is a compound of Joseph Smith's dialect, the language of English scripture, the idiom of the Nephites, and things unguessed at. But let us be clear: the Book of Mormon was not written in Biblical Hebrew, whatever that fragment of ancient Hebrew termed Biblical Hebrew really might be anyhow. And must we resort to the game of emendation to fill up the lists of archaisms? or for any other reason? Better to take a second look at words as they stand.

Whole dictionaries have been compiled showing oddities of vocabulary in Bible translation; it should then not surprise us to find an odd word, here and there, in the Book of Mormon. It is a far different matter to evoke an early modern English "voice" that dictates, word-for-word, the English translation of the Book of Mormon to a passive translator. There was no such "voice"; if the prophetic mind can reach into eternity, it can grapple with English, it can wrestle with Nephite.

"I can see anything," says Joseph of the Urim and Thummim (so Joseph Knight reports, Bushman, 60). And, when working with these Interpreters, the Prophetic mind--whether it's Joseph we speak of now, or Alma, or Moroni--certainly grasped something of Calvinism, something of Bunyan, something of Jewish commentary, something of idiom and difficulties and questionings of centuries. The Book of Mormon something shows that trace of struggle and grasp and understanding. The ancient American prophets, who saw our day, somehow knew just what to compile and what to leave out--they knew the questions of Christendom.  And both author and translator very much wish to address all Christendom, all Jewry, even all the world. The purpose of both author and translator, attacking questions and working with evidence of every kind, is "to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations" (Title page of the Book of Mormon).

Joseph Smith had indeed learned much about Lehite culture since Moroni's first visit in 1823. We know this because his mother tells us how Joseph would talk for hours about the dress, travel, animal husbandry, cities, buildings, arts of war, and religious observances of that people--"in every particular" and "as though he had spent his life with them" (Lucy's Book, chapter 3, ed., Lavina F. Andersen). (We glimpse the returned missionary tumbling off "An easy morning's ride" and regaling the wrapt family with "the mail from Tunis, probably.") And what possible reason could there be to learn so much about Nephite (or even Mulekite and Jaredite) folkways, if not as a help in translation? The Prophet himself never spoke of these things, or of how he came to know of them, on record. He deemed the Book of Mormon sufficient to speak for him. (Do you see how Oliver Cowdery, by contrast--no matter his yearnings to translate--would have labored at some disadvantage?)

Only Joseph could have done the work. (see Hugh Nibley, "Exemplary Manhood"). Even at a later date, Cowdery was only promised by God to "assist" in translating other ancient records.

The Prophet did not necessarily study the language or the reformed Egyptian script of the Book of Mormon, nor did he need to render its Isaian passages or the Savior's Sermon to the Nephites with the help of a Bible opened on the table. (He did later study Hebrew, German, Greek--and even the hieroglyphs.) When working as a Seer, an encyclopaedic understanding might flow into him; it then remained to him how he might marshal his thoughts and frame conclusions--his translations. How can it be explained? How did he translate so as to retain both ancient idiom and individual style--and, at once, convey a sacred message in simple Biblical idiom? And how could all happen with such speed--a world of message poured into a sliver of moment? It is a miracle. (Forget theory.) The seeric translator somehow works outside of time--for "this is revelation," as President Boyd K. Packer says. No wonder Hugh Nibley claimed the Prophet's use of Urim and Thummim--and we have no idea how such an instrument works with the mind--called for far more intellectual horsepower than the use of dictionary and grammar (see Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment).