Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Living Abraham and His Book (Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price)

As touching Abraham and his book, translated through the instrumentality of the Prophet Joseph Smith:

Have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying,

I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living (Matthew 22:31-32).

The living Abraham holds the keys of the Book of Abraham (cf. Doctrine and Covenants 27:5; 110:12). To diminish the Book of Abraham is thus to diminish Abraham, a god who "hath entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne" (Doctrine and Covenants 132:29; 37) and, ultimately, to "diminish the purposes" of the God of Abraham, the God of the living. Neither need we redefine Abraham; his years exceed ours (cf. Elder M. Russell Ballard, 20 August 2013, "Let Us Think Straight").

At a distance, now, of millennia, we strain myopically at Abraham's day, but his own memory continues an unbroken mirror. As we read in the book of memory, that day again swims into mortal ken as places, people, events, and, most importantly, covenants, long since forgotten but, nevertheless, real.

Latter-day Saints have long since (in 1880 and again in 1890) taken upon themselves a covenant to reverence the Book of Abraham as scripture. For the Saints, there is no more need to revisit the genuineness of the writings of Abraham than there is to revisit the reality of the exalted Abraham himself. The Book of Abraham comes to us clothed in purity as a translated record of the living father of the covenant people. Abraham is a living prophet, and the Book of Abraham, a true record of his revelations, covenants, ministry, and teachings.

Indeed, the visions of Adam, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, and Joseph Smith, as attested in unprecedented first-person directness in the Pearl of Great Price, anchor the doctrine of a personal God: "Thus I, Abraham, talked with the Lord, face to face, as one man talketh with another" (Abraham 3:11). We must remove our own shoes on holy ground, and lift our own eyes to God, lest we be found "walking in darkness at noon-day" (Doctrine and Covenants 95:6).

The doctrine is simple: God is God; Abraham is Abraham; covenants are covenants; and scripture is scripture (see Matthew 5:37). And why should Abraham's book prove to be any less iconoclastic than the prophet himself, who, in his day, toppled the learned pretense and wavering consensus of men? The Book of Abraham serves as a compass pointing to true north; we take our bearings by it in both time and eternity and, by this means, avoid the errors inherent in the never-settled, ever-shifting theories of men. Otherwise, Abraham's record, instead of a guiding landmark, becomes just one more instance of "meaningless, decorative masses that have no purpose but to break up the flatness of the horizon" (see President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Walking in Circles," First Presidency Message, Ensign, June 2013).

President Boyd K. Packer teaches us to examine and to weigh the learning of men in the clear morning light of gospel and scriptural truth--not the other way round. As we do so, the truth will shine fair as the sun, clear as the moon, and terrible as an army with banners. Errors in our understanding of history, language, and letters will take flight as we raise high those bright banners to the glory of God. Then lasting intelligence will be ours.


St Paul adds:

"They which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham." Faith is required to receive the powerful doctrines found in the Book of Abraham.

"They which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham"; they are also blessed with the book he left to his faithful posterity.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Shurr Thing: Jaredite King Amgid (Am-gid), a large and mighty man (Book of Mormon: Ether 10: 31)

Book of Ether Chapter 10 yields Jaredite names a-plenty, including the pair Amnigaddah and Amgid:

31 And he begat Heth, and Heth lived in captivity all his days. And Heth begat Aaron, and Aaron dwelt in captivity all his days; and he begat Amnigaddah, and Amnigaddah also dwelt in captivity all his days; and he begat Coriantum, and Coriantum dwelt in captivity all his days; and he begat Com.

32 And it came to pass that Com drew away the half of the kingdom. And he reigned over the half of the kingdom forty and two years; and he went to battle against the king, Amgid, and they fought for the space of many years, during which time Com gained power over Amgid, and obtained power over the remainder of the kingdom.

Amgid serves up a perfect name for a Jaredite king. The Jaredites were forever led, you will recall, by large and mighty men. Ancient Nimrod, the prototype, was a "mighty hunter" (2:1); the Brother of Jared, "a large and mighty man" (7:8); "there arose another mighty man" (11:17)--then another; all being "large and mighty men as to the strength of men" (15:26); even "two millions of mighty men" (15:2). 

Amgid was tough, but Com, who "gained power over Amgid," was even tougher. Com something suggests Proto-Semitic *qm, stand; standing. (Hebrew qwm is a different root, says Professor Stefan Weninger.) The one who stands up fits a king who will one fine day--after a vasty "space of many years"--reunite his fathers' kingdom. And Com, after all, in the fight with Amgid, was the last man standing. 

Amgid, then? The (Proto-)Semitic root *gid signifies tendon or sinew--and Amgid accordingly evinces a Semitic presence in Archaic America. Am-gid is a perfectly good Semitic name, and startlingly apt for a Jaredite king: People of Sinew, that is, tough, muscular people, "large and mighty men." Amnigaddah (am-ngd), in like manner, suggests a people that really stands out.

Notes--and the Valley of Shurr

Stefan Weninger, The Semitic Languages: An International Handbook, 215 (6.1.5): "Tendon, sinew: PS *gid-". Akkadian attests gidu, North West Semitic: Ugaritic, gd; Hebrew, gid; Syriac, gyada. The Arabic, zid, neck, "is related with a meaning shift." 

The suggested reading in The Book of Mormon Onomasticon Project is incorrect: "people of fortune" (gad), has the wrong vowel, matches a later cultural setting, and also likely comes from the root gdd.

8.3.5 "PWS *'amm- is also attested with more general meanings such as 'relatives, clan, people." Is Amgid, then, a Proto West Semitic name? CAD G yields the archaic (Ur III) Personal Name, Gidanu, "probably West Semitic," although the editors avoid a link with Akkadian gidu, sinew. No matter. Whatever Gidanu may signify, the early name yet evokes Jaredite Amgid.

Am-nigaddah, n-g-d, a people who stands out, a distinguished people.

The Valley of Shurr (Ether 14:28): Shurr recalls two roots, to be narrow; belly, navel. Shurr, where Coriantumr's vast army tents may be pictured as a narrow place--the tents spread along a long, narrow valley, rather than clumped in one body out in the open. The army takes a breather in the valley, then quickly gathers to a more secure place, a large nearby hill, called Comnor (read Comron), which signifies Place of Rampart, Rampart Hill. Comron matches Nephite Cumorah (also Rampart). Now safe and snug on Rampart Hill, Coriantumr sounds a trumpet as invitation to battle.

 28 And they pitched their tents in the valley of Corihor; and Coriantumr pitched his tents in [throughout the length of?] the valley of Shurr. Now the valley of Shurr was near the hill Comnor [Comron: so Royal Skousen]; wherefore, Coriantumr [just as quickly as he could] did gather his armies together upon the hill Comnor [Comron], and did sound a trumpet unto the armies of Shiz to invite them forth to battle.
 29 And it came to pass that they came forth, but were driven again; and they came the second time, and they were driven again the second time. And it came to pass that they came again the third time, and the battle became exceedingly sore.

Proto-Semitic *shurr- is attested in Hebrew as Shor. The Valley of Shurr, like the Palestinian hill, Tabor (navel), may also be pictured as a centerplace of the Jaredite world, a navel of the universe--a place of panegyris, tenting, or gathering. Shurr also suggests king. I still like my first guess: the Valley Shurr signifies a Long and Narrow Valley, tucked to one side a long, slanting Rampart Hill. At any rate, Shurr, with its strange double r, reflects linguistic and cultural realities the Prophet Joseph Smith knew nothing about (Weninger, 217, 6.1.4).

Friday, August 9, 2013

What Does Book of Mormon Name "Cumorah" Mean? Cumorah's Redoubt; Cumorah's Olivepress


"I am going to Cumorah" is what the old man, turning down a lift in their wagon, said to Joseph, Oliver, and David.

Hugh Nibley points a road to Cumorah. In a marginal note--just two words--about Mormon's description of Cumorah as "a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains," Nibley writes "spots"; "rock-pits." A few verses down comes another note: "Redoubt; Armaggeddon; Flanders." It is as though Hugh Nibley was scouting the area for Mormon, prior to the final battle. Something about the pockmarked, spotty nature of the landscape: rock-pits, fountains, and the criss-cross of watercourses, made of Cumorah, for Nibley, the perfect redoubt. (See his annotated Book of Mormon, one of many, BYU Ancient Studies Library, Hugh Nibley, BX 8622.1 A1 1963b, copy dated 7/5/78.)

The name Cumorah also describes just such a landscape. After all, the Akkadian root(s) kumara signifies to heap up, to pile, to tally; then, to strike down, annihilate. For Latter-day Saint Assyriologist Paul Y. Hoskisson, it is this verbal root that best describes Cumorah (see CAD K 111; Hoskisson suggests the reading heaps: "What's in a Name: Cumorah," Journal of the Book of Mormon).

Professor Hoskisson also notes in passing an ancient Syrian place name Kamaru and, following Jean-Marie Durand, suggests it represents an Amorite name deriving from the same root as Akkadian kumara. As Michael Astour tells us, Kamaru occurs (up to three times) in ancient Syria--and it persists to this day in the place name Kimar, Syria, just east of the Afrin River (see Michael Astour, "Semites and Hurrians in Northern Transtigris," etc.).

The same place name also appears in special Egyptian hieroglyphics used to write Semitic names and words. A list of place names recorded in the temple of Amarah West in Nubia gives us the Syrian Ginta ku-ma-ra, the Winepress of Kumarah. You cannot get any closer to Cumorah than the "reformed Egyptian," or hierogyphic "group writing," that expresses West Semitic Ginta Kumarah, that is, Gath Kumarah (see James Hoch, Semitic Words in Egyptian Texts of the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period, #425).K. A. Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions II, 217, no. 98).

Professor Astour, taking his cue from the Akkadian dictionary, tells us what the Syrian place name means. The noun kumaru, kuwaru, etc., which signifies generally a construction of earth, specifically refers to a ramp or rampart (buttressing a city or city gate), or a dike. Such an embankment may have agricultural uses, or it may serve for defense, for a redoubt. Consider the following theophoric name: 'Ammukumarra, "'Ammu is a rampart." A like epithet speaks to "Teshub, the lord of the kamaru of the city of Irrite" (Michael Astour, "Semites and Hurrians in Northern Transtigris," Ernest R. Lacheman Festschrift, 26). Note, again, the ending in -a: Ginta Kumara, 'Ammukumarra: that's where the Amorite, or West Semitic surfaces. Book of Mormon Cumorah properly shows the West Semitic, rather than the East Semitic, that is, Akkadian, ending.

Beetling embankments, ramparts, and dikes: all these may serve for defensive earthworks, heaped up by men. Of superior worth would be a place where nature herself, in a riot of fountains and pits, rivers and embankments and escarpments, dikes and ditches--all criss-crossed and confounding--and rocks of all sizes everywhere, builds for man a place of redoubt--like Flanders. The whole makes for a natural beehive of military preparation, and, to be sure, the editors of the CAL (Comprehensive Lexicon of Aramaic) see in the Syriac word for beehive (kwr) a trace of the same Akkadian kmr in its sense of walling (brick wall and so on). (For the ruins of palatial Tell Ain Dara, our Syrian Kumaru towering over the paradisaical Afrin Valley, see

Nature walls off Cumorah and her hill--Mormon has the advantage.


In an earlier essay (published in 201o), I link Cumorah with a rare Hebrew, Aramaic, and, perhaps, Ugaritic verb kmr, which variously expresses darkness, gloom, blackness. Professor Hoch thinks kmr to be a by-form of the verb kmh (Semitic Words in Egyptian Texts). 

What first comes to mind is the Egyptian name for the fertile Nile Valley, Km.t, the black land. Again consider the Syrian place name, Gath Kumara (the winepress or olivepress of Kumara). The names of West Semitic presses and vineyards often bespeak blessing and fertility. The Bible gives us Gath Rimmon (Persimmon Winepress) and Gethsemane, which last evokes the fatness of the olive and the purity and brakhah--the blessed nature--of its oil. Gath Kumara fairly sings of fertile soil, and much calls to mind a like West Semitic root, krm, vineyard (Vineyard Winepress; Orchard Winepress). As Gath Kerem, so Gath Kumara. If kmr is a by-form of kmh, and if both evoke Km.t, could not Gath Kumara at least connote the black, fertile soil? After all, Kumarbi, he of Kumar, is an earthy, chthonic, fertility deity for the ancient Hurrians (in upper Mesopotamia), and his mythology speaks of a descent into the "dark, dark earth."

Michael Astour nevertheless assigns the Syrian place names built on the root kmr to the semantic field of kumaru, to heap up, pile. Kimar, ancient Kumaru, is thus Rampart or Ramp, the place of the Embankment--just east of the Afrin river. Gath Kumara, if the same place, is thus the Winepress of the place Rampart, the (brick) Walled Winepress, or the like. Any other associations with beehives or the black soil (the rich loam piled up about the river banks, etc.), if made at all, would have been secondary.

Alexander Militarev links Egyptian km, kmm, Km.t with a West Semitic root for darkness, gloom, blackness ('km), but, here, we find ourselves in by-paths: is the "original" root km? or 'km? or kmr? Or is kmr also a by-form of 'km, and therefore to be linked etymologically with Egyptian km and Km.t? Here is a language confounded and contorted into by-forms and shades of meaning. As early as the 19th century, scholars linked, though weakly, km with some of these same Semitic forms; later scholars proposed a "distant," even Nostratic(!) connection. Hoch has it right: the root has taken on affixes (an -r extension), owing perhaps to dialect or confusion with another verb. Between speakers of Akkadian, or East Semitic, and West Semitic, Babel must have ever been at work. Kmr, km, 'km: these likely do not all derive from the same root, but no matter--babel language has thrown them together. The semantic field--and the symbolic--has overlapped since the earliest times.

We cannot know just what came to the ordinary Nephite's mind, when he heard the name Cumorah, but some mind linked name and nature's fortress. We have only a fragment of the Hebrew spoken by the ancients: Biblical Hebrew, much of it poetic, classical, does not yield enough material to provide answers to questions about Semitic roots like kmr.

Yet Mormon tells us what the place Cumorah was like, and does so in terms suggestive of the West Semitic name Kumaru. Mormon may also have perceived a link between the kum of Cumorah and that of Km.t (Kumat or Kamat). Ramps and mounds are heaped-up of piles of black earth. And the Nile Valley, after each inundation, runs all a-dot with little black mounds, each awaiting the touch of life. Black earth spells germination, a semiotically rich theme belonging to the common Afro-Semitic "encyclopaedia." Kmr signifies black heaps of fertile soil, so well as ramparts, dikes, and ruined mounds. .

While Professor Astour explains the place name Kumaru in light of Akkadian kumaru (to throw down and thus heap up, etc.), the Sumerian lexeme answering to kumaru yields GUR-GUR, which refers to the tallying up of a sum: you heap up, and then you total the gain. So why not associate Hurrian Kumaru with the high-yield Kumat, or Black Land? "Every spring," explains Professor Ronald J. Leprohon, "the Nile flood would subside and what first emerged from the water were triangular-shaped islands of rich black earth. These little mounds represented the promise of new life, which led to the notion that all creation must have begun exactly the same way" ("Egyptian Religious Texts," Egyptology Today (ed) R. H. Wilkinson, 231). Such ideas need not be exclusively Egyptian, and Kumarbi's center place may thus be another Black Land, another place of beginning where life stirs into being. Similar little mounds do indeed appear in the Mesopotamian record, but here the theme is not "the promise of new life," but annihilation: "as if the flood had devastated them, I [Sargon] piled up (his cities) into ruin mounds [u-kam-mi]" (CAD K 114).

The Sumerian lexicon also yields KUM (to be, become hot, heat). The word likely is a Semitic loan-word; it's a shared word anyhow. How to bridge the gap between Egyptian Kuma and Sumerian KUM, between black and hot? Lamentations 5:10 speaks of faces "hot like an oven" (nikmaru), and some have translated the word as scorched, blackened. Hot as an oven; black as an oven, it is all the same. Blackness absorbs heat. Afroasiatic Km, together with its by-forms kmr and 'km, signifies heat. Heat, gloom, sadness, darkness, blackness all come together in an original root, kum. For Job, a very trying day, a day in which everything piles on, is a kamirirey yom--not just kmr but kmr-r. Any relation to Akkadian kumaru? Who can say?

It is easy to see how semantic and symbolic fields begin to overlap. In West Semitic one of the meanings of kmr and 'km has to do with the heat necessary for the germination of plant life in the dark earth. Which brings us back to the greatest Hurrian god, Kumarbi, he of Kmr, the chthonic rampart god. A blade of wheat is his symbol. Does Syrian Kumaru signify rampart? or black earth? or both?

Cumorah, with its many waters, rivers, and fountains, calls up a Spring's fertility, a black land like Kuma. Is such a link sound linguistically? I would call it semiotically sound, part of a shared connotative encyclopaedia, though somewhere on the other side of denotation and dictionary. Closer to dictionary and the denotative would be Cumorah the Redoubt, the Rampart Land, "serving," as Shakespeare would have it, "in the office of a wall." In other words, Cumorah denotes a Rampart, a stronghold, "this fortress built by Nature for herself"; it may also connote a land rich in promise.


Is a New York Cumorah a rampart too far?

The search for Cumorah will be facilitated so well by the meaning of the name as by Mormon's description of that land. And until those who seek Cumorah identify a place that better matches the linguistic and narrative evidence, a study of New York antiquities can still serve up surprises. 

E. G. Squire's study of the native antiquities of New York, whether Huron or a bit older, comes chock full of details about how Native Americans constructed earthworks and dug ditches in tandem with the natural defenses found in springs, spits, pits, bays, fissures in the limestone, etc. Squire's descriptions astonish. The natural defenses are already sufficiently strong to require but little in the way of the works of men: some ditches for palisades, earthen gates and ramparts--these last, large but not spectacular--and so forth. All such partake of the ephemeral; earth remains. 

Even for the reader who situates Cumorah in Mexico (and as Hugh Nibley reminds us, Anahuac does signify waters), Squire's study will prove indispensable in setting forth the proper Cumorah terrain (Ephraim G. Squire, Antiquities of New York, 1853). Western New York, anyway you slice it, has always been good Cumorah land. Nibley ever argued that a New York setting for Cumorah was not a bridge too far; he also saw the merit in a Mesoamerican or Peruvian setting, provided Cumorah's hill remained a hill, and not some ridiculous mountain. Now we also see Cumorah in Syria. 

And Syria today sees Cumorah.


Curiosity about Zarahemla, the land of Nephi, and the narrow neck of land comes with the reading. Hugh Nibley once answered a direct question about the location of the city of Zarahemla with some specific indications. I don't know which startled me more: that I would ask so directly or that such specificity would be immediately forthcoming. On the other hand, I heard Brother Nibley say on more than one occasion, "I wouldn't touch Book of Mormon geography with a forty-foot pole." (I still admire John Sorenson's latest book: Mormon's Codex.)

An overmuch concern with Book of Mormon geography, beyond noting the internal consistency of geographic reference within the book, lies outside intelligent endeavor. To go on from overmuch concern to determined argument becomes the mark of the huckster or the fanatic. The damage to spiritual and social refinement, thus accrued, may prove inestimable.


"I am going to Cumorah": Joseph F. Smith, Orson Pratt, Interview with David Whitmer, 1878 Millennial Star

Paul Y. Hoskisson, "What's in a Name: Cumorah," The Journal of the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon Onomasticon Project (BYU, Neal A. Maxwell Institute), q.v. "Cumorah"

Michael Astour, Journal of Near Eastern Studies

Monday, August 5, 2013

Joseph Smith and Hannibal: Mount Hanabal in Joseph Smith Translation Genesis 14:10

The Prophet Joseph Smith left for the benefit of the Saints not one but two books of Abraham. The first appears in the added words, phrases, sentences, and even paragraphs of the New Translation of Genesis. The second came to light from a roll of papyrus, written in hieratic script and purporting, in its title, to be The Book of Abraham, Written by His Own Hand upon Papyrus. Like the gold plates of the Book of Mormon, the record on papyrus, scribal copy though it be, becomes a tangible earnest of the resurrection of the dead. Together, these two offerings yield startling details, stories, and revelations not found in the Holy Bible and set forth the covenant of the priesthood God made with the fathers.

Among the many easily missed details Brother Joseph added to the ancient story of Abraham is the place name Hanabal, a name which could refer to one or several of the Mountains of Moab--perhaps Jebel Shihan, with its high ruins and caves. A stele depicting a form of Ba'al wearing Egyptian accoutrements was found just to the west of Shihan. Another candidate is Bemot Ba'al, the High Place of Ba'al, to which "Balak took Balaam" (Numbers 22:41). The mountain towers out of nowhere in Joseph Smith Translation Genesis 14:9--a verse not found in the footnotes of the current LDS edition of the Holy Bible.

The story begins with KJV Genesis 14:10:

1 And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of nations;

2 That these made war with Bera king of Sodom, and with Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, and Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela, which is Zoar.

8 And there went out the king of Sodom, and the king of Gomorrah, and the king of Admah, and the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (the same is Zoar;) and they joined battle with them in the vale of Siddim;

9 With Chedorlaomer the king of Elam, and with Tidal king of nations, and Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar; four kings with five.

10 And the vale of Siddim was full of slimepits [JST OT Manuscript 1 has: was filled with slime pits]; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, and fell there; and they that remained fled to the mountain.

To the last verse, the Prophet adds:

and they that remained fled to the mountains [with the s crossed out] which is called Hanabal. (Old Testament Manuscript 2, p. 640),


to the Mountain [note the capital letter] which was called [Hanable: crossed out] Hanabal (Old Testament Manuscript 1, p. 125).

In an earlier essay, posted on 21 June 2010, I suggested deriving the name from the root n-b-l. Ha-nabal (even Har-nabal) could signify either The Lofty, the Elevated, or Mount Lofty, Mount Eminent, and so forth. I no longer subscribe to that view.

The name of Mount Hanabal clearly combines the root h-n-n (to be gracious, graced) and the epithet Ba'al (master, husband). The author of Genesis 14, after all, had a "predilection for composite place names," and the like (Michael C. Astour, "Hazazon-Tamar", Anchor Bible Dictionary, III, 86). Though I did, in my first try, briefly compare Hanabal to the name of the Carthaginian general Hannibal, the name of another odd mountain known to the patriarchs, Lubar (in Jubilees and the Genesis Apocryphon), threw me off track. Lubar, nevertheless, has its own fascinating etymology. . .

Hanabal signifies Ba'al is gracious, or Ba'al graces, even as the Hebrew name Hananiah signifies Jehovah is gracious. The Old Testament does twice attest Ba'al-Hanan (the Akkadian Ba'al ha-nu-nu), Ba'al has shown mercy: Ba'al Hanan names a king of Edom (Genesis 36:38; see Ernst Axel Knauf, "Baal-Hanan," Anchor Bible Dictionary I 551-2). A list of personal names from Ebla yields Hanna-Il, "God (Il or El) is gracious" (#792). Also from Ebla: Har-Ba'al, Harra-Ba'al, Ba'al is a Mountain (see Cybernetica Mesopotamica: Ebla PNs).

Ba'al is a Mountain also reminds me of Mount Lubar. Might not Lubar derive from Ilu-Ba'al, a combination of the two divine names Ilu and Ba'al? If so, Lubar could then be read as Ba'al is (my) God. Lubar is leading me off track again. . . Delitzsch derives Lubar from the Alborz Mountains of Persia (The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906, "Noah"). The derivation doesn't go far enough. In the Encyclopaedia Iranica entry for "Alborz," we read that the Hara berezaiti in Avestan texts (later shortened to Harborz) names a vast cosmic mountain or mountain range stretching from horizon to horizon; the connection with the Persian range dates to later times. Lubar is a kind of cosmic mountain for Noah and his sons. Can Lubar really derive from Hara berezaiti? It can.

When looking for derivations, we mustn't expect exact matches. Shouldn't we demand of Joseph Smith the spelling Hananabal in place of Hanabal? Consider Hannibal and Hamilcar of Carthage: here we find West Semitic names in Latin texts and Latin forms. Today we might justifiably spell Hannibal in a variety of ways: Hananibal, Hananibal, Hananabal, Hannabal, even Anibal (as in Spanish). Joseph Smith's Hanabal (or even the odd Hanable) sufficiently signals Hannabal or, just so well, Hananabal. Joseph Smith gives us only one n, it is truebut the consonant is long. (Semitic languages have long consonants.)

How have students understood the name Hannibal? Hannibal may signify "Ba'al has been gracious (in providing me with a son")--that's Hamilcar speaking; others read "Ba'al is gracious." John Huehnergard, "Semitic Roots," in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th edition, suggests Hann-i-bal, "my grace is Baal." 

Why the name of a mountain? One has only to consider the home of Ba'al Hadad on Mount Zaphon, just north of Latakia. Zaphon was Ba'al Hadad's Olympus, but, for the Canaanites, other mountain tops also reflected that central home. Hadad's thunder reverberated from peak to peak. And then there's the name from Ebla: Har(ra)-Ba'al.

Balak, king of Moab, takes the prophet Balaam to Bemot Ba'al, the High Place of Ba'al: "And it came to pass on the morrow, that Balak took Balaam, and brought him up into the high places of Ba'al, that thence he might see the utmost part of the people" (Numbers 22:41). Standing upon that High Place of Ba'al, Balaam asks Balak to build seven altars in preparation for the cursing of Israel. The pair then travel to Peor to build yet another seven high altars (Numbers 23). The Bible attests a particular worship of Ba'al at Peor, in the name of Ba'al Peor (the Ba'al of Peor). Bemot Ba'al and Peor, though attested after the Patriarchal Age, give good Biblical evidence for such a mountain in Moab as Hanabal.

We return to the stele found "in the vicinity of Jebel Shihan [Mount Shihan]," another candidate for our Hanabal: "The Rujm al-'Abd figure with its downward-thrusting spear, cap with streamer, and accompanying lion fits iconographic features used to identify the Canaanite god Ba'al, especially when fused with Seth as the slayer of Apophis the serpent in Egyptian art" (Bruce Edward Routledge, Moab in the Iron Age: Hegemony, Polity, Archaeology, 180). Again: "Some scholars have speculatively identified this figure as the god Kemosh, a suggestion that cannot be completely discounted, as local deities were frequently represented as the hypostasis of Ba'al as storm god" (180; illustration of stele on page 179). The Rujm al-'Abd figure, which blends Egyptian and Canaanite iconography in violent aspect (and note the lion!), might as well be called Facsimile 4 of the Book of Abraham. 

And any reader familiar with the hill at the head of the plain of Olishem, the place of Elkenah's sacrifical altar in Abraham 1, will wish to visit the hilltop stele of Ramesses the Great, which overlooks an obscure Syrian village. The stele shows the pharaoh offering a figurine of Ma'at to a divinity sporting a bizarrely horned Osirian Atef Crown. An accompanying legend yields: Ilu (El) k-n-a Zaphon, which both Giveon and de Moor read as El qny Zaphon (El Creator of Zaphon). While the transliteration and meaning of the sequence k-n-a is disputed, it does recall "the god of Elkenah" in the Book of Abraham. Or what to make of the many bronze figurines of El, accoutred in "the manner of the Egyptians" and in the pose of a smiting god? So accoutred, the priest of Elkenah, who was also priest of Pharaoh, sought to slay Abraham upon the altar (Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions II, 263.)

Because people are constantly casting aspersions on the Prophet's Book of Abraham, Latter-day Saints might consider a standard response. One response would be to invite all to see in the Joseph Smith Translation yet another restored Book of Abraham. Criticize Abraham's works and watch how, like his seed, they multiply. More scripture from father Abraham is forthcoming. 

Nephi has another response: "But behold, there are many that harden their hearts against the Holy Spirit, that it hath no place in them; wherefore, they cast many things away which are written and esteem them as things of naught" (2 Nephi 33:2). Cast out the pearl of great price, then where will you be? 

Learned posturing borders on imposture:

"Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:

I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see" (Revelation 3: 17-18). 

None of us sees very well in the mortal state--and we must walk by faith--still, what evidence we do have for the divine Book of Abraham shows that it deserves a second look. 

Because the scriptures revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith give us many a mountain and hill heretofore unknown: Shelem, Hanabal, Potiphar, Cumorah, etc., we should take that second look from a lofty perspective. From a cosmic vantage point, we may see all heights and depths.

Yet before we consider Joseph Smith as linguist (or as student of early Canaanite religion), let's taste of his prophetic irony:

10 And the vale of Siddim was full of slimepits [JST OT Manuscript 1 has: was filled with slime pits]; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, and fell there; and they that remained fled to the mountain,

which is called Hanabal (Old Testament Manuscript 2, p. 640),

which is, being interpreted, Ba'al is gracious. 

Some final words

Abraham holds the keys of the Book of Abraham. To diminish the Book of Abraham is thus also to diminish Abraham, a god, who "hath entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne" (Doctrine and Covenants 132), and, ultimately, to challenge and to diminish the purposes of the God of Abraham, the God of the living. Neither need we redefine Abraham; his years exceed ours.

Latter-day Saints have long ago (1880 and 1890) taken upon themselves, by obligation, a covenantal promise to reverence the Book of Abraham as scripture. For the Saints, there is no more need to revisit the genuineness of the writings of Abraham than there is to revisit the reality of the exalted Abraham himself. The Book of Abraham comes to us clothed in purity as a translated record of the living father of the covenant people. Abraham is a living prophet, and the Book of Abraham, a true record of his revelations, covenants, ministry, and teachings. 

The doctrine is simple: God is God; Abraham is Abraham; covenants are covenants, and scripture is scripture. The Book of Abraham serves as a compass pointing to true north; we take our bearings by it in both time and eternity and, by this means, avoid the errors inherent in the never-settled, ever-shifting theories of men. 

As President Boyd K. Packer teaches, we are to examine and scrutinize, yes, critique, the learning of men from the perspective of gospel and scriptural truth--not the other way round. As we do so, the truth will shine fair as the sun, clear as the moon, and terrible as an army with banners. Errors in our understanding of history, language, and letters will take flight as we raise high those bright banners to the glory of God. Then intelligence will be ours.


1) The text of JST Genesis 14, transcribed according to accepted standards, appears in Joseph Smith's New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts, Scott Faulring, Kent Jackson, Robert Matthews (eds). The introduction to the volume, with its explanations of the various manuscripts of the JST, are invaluable. I further recommend "The Doctrinal Restoration," the transcript of a talk delivered by Elder Bruce R. McConkie, The Joseph Smith Translation, Monte S. Nyman and Robert S. Millet (eds).

Other useful editions of the JST include Joseph Smith's "New Translation" of the Bible (Independence, Missouri, 1970), which I studied as a young child and of which I'm fond, and The Bible Corrected by Joseph Smith, Kenneth and Lyndell Lutes (eds), which shows the changes with more clarity. Neither is a perfect edition, and both perpetuate errors. Other editions are available, given that Latter-day Saints never tire of publishing the same things over and again.

2) Geography of the Pentapolis: J. Simons, The Geographical and Topographical Texts of the Old Testament, 222-229; Neballat: Simons, p. 390. 

Of Jebel Shihan: it "overlooks the Wadi al-Mujib (the Arnon) and the Dead Sea. It rises to 965 meters above sea level, and its summit is occupied by ruins and caves [a place of refuge]," Online Article: "The Karak District in the Madaba Map," by Fawzi Zayadine, part of the study, Jordan: the Madaba Mosaic Map, on the Franciscan Cyberspot. Ba'al's Mount Zaphon itself is not so very much higher: ca. 1500 meters.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Omer, King; Emer, Witness (The Book of Ether Testifies of Jesus Christ)

Chapters eight and nine of the Book of Ether yield, in a sweep of narrative and admonitory commentary, the "exceedingly many days" of Omer, the son of Shule, "which were full of sorrow." Here we see the dancing "daughter of Jared"; we see enamored Akish, who turned, with the turn of a foot, from close friendship for Omer, to found a secret association in "the house of Jared" in order to kill Omer and take away his kingdom.

Like Lehi, Omer dreamed a dream "that he should depart out of the land" and "traveled many days" with his family. "He pitched his tent" in "a place which was called Ablom, by the seashore." (And, perhaps, "by" New York City.) There he lived, in exile, until civil war engulfed the kingdom of Akish, "Wherefore, Omer was restored again." He lived long enough to beget an heir, Emer. After anointing Emer "to be king to reign in his stead," Omer "saw peace in the land for two years, and he died." Emer "did prosper exceedingly" and "saw peace"; "yea, and he even saw the Son of Righteousness, and did rejoice and glory in his day; and he died in peace."

What does Omer signify? According to a glossary of Semitic roots, prepared by John Huehnergard for the 5th edition of the American Heritage Dictionary, the Central Semitic verbal root 'mr [ayin-mem-resh] signifies "to live, dwell, build." As a noun, *'umr is Life. Professor Huehnergard goes on to say that Israelite King Omri (my life) bears a shortened form of the name Omriyah (Jehovah [is] my life = Hebrew *'omer ~ *'umr, life). Here we recall the Arab caliph, Omar. (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., "Semitic Roots": "Proto-Semitic Language and Culture; Semitic Roots.")

Life begets Life, and that new Life lives to see The Light and the Life of the world.

That Omer and Emer bear ancient Semitic names, which trace back to early Proto-Semitic rootage, attests to the truth of the Book of Mormon. But the Book of Mormon, through its many testimonies, all the more importantly attests to the reality of the Son of Righteousness, even Jesus Christ! It is that second attestation--the manner in which the Book connects the reader to Christ--that brings testimony not only unto, but into the heart.

Emer, who shall live ("he shall live" - with "e" as third person verbal prefix), both lives and prospers as he builds upon his father's heritage. And, unique among kings and captains of the earth, he lives to see the Son of God. Emer thus becomes a witness of Him who shall live "in his day," and who shall live forevermore.

The root that underlies Emer, ayin-mem-resh, also invokes--at least to the modern reader--aleph-mem-resh ("to see, know, make known, say"). The anointed King who "shall live," shall also see, know, and make known. Perhaps Emer signifies sight, after all. Huehnergard also gives the Proto-Semitic verb for anoint, that is, the same ancient root known to Ether. M-sh-h likewise names Christ, the Messiah.

Ether, after bearing testimony of the glory and rejoicing--and the longed-for peace--quietly moves on. Yet even in the quick passing of a single, light-bearing verse, with Abraham as co-witness, who also, in his day, saw His day, we receive in the Holy Ghost Another Testament of Jesus Christ.