Monday, December 14, 2015

Gidanah or Giddonah (Alma 14:3)--What Might The Name Mean?

"I am Amulek; I am the son of Giddonah, who was the son of Ishmael, who was a descendant of Aminadi"--so Amulek introduces himself to auditors in his own city, Ammonihah.

Giddonah is an odd name--but so are the others. Odder yet: "For some reason the 1830 typesetter altered Gidanah, the spelling in [the Printer's Manuscript of the Book of Mormon] to Giddonah," Royal Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, 3:1774; BYU Book of Mormon Onomasticon.

"I am Amulek; I am the son of Gidanah."

Either way, it's the same name.

Amulek, Ishmael, Aminadi: Aramaic and Hebrew hold the key--but what might Gidanah mean? The Proto-Semitic root *gVdVn (*gadan, or maybe *gidan) signifies "to become rich" (see no. 903 in "Semitic etymology," Arabic attests the same root as jdn (to be prosperous, rich), as in jadan (gift, bounty; F. J. Steingass, English-Arabic Dictionary).

But is Gidanah anywhere attested as a Semitic name? In CAD G we find the archaic (Ur III) personal name, Gidanu, which, we are told, is "probably West Semitic." 

That another well-born Giddonah, a contemporary of the first, sits as high priest in the land of Gideon shows us that the Book of Mormon is on the right track. Gadan or Gidan ultimately springs from the Proto-Semitic root *gid (that which is strong, big; the sinew). As for Gideon, the name signifies to hew wood.

The Book of Mosiah presents Gideon, the king's captain, all full of wrath and boldness: he settled the land that bears his name. Another warrior in the Book of Alma bears the name Gid, which signifies sinew, the source of strength--and of prosperity. The same root, attested throughout Semitic languages, appears in the name of the ancient Jaredite king, Amgid (people of sinew). The Jaredite rulers, you will recall from Ether's book, were all "strong and mighty men." As Alma's contemptuous contemporary Korihor cynically notes in a deft but elusive turn of phrase, which may or may not subtly play on words: "therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength" (Alma 30:17; Professor Jo Ann Hackett has mulled over Gid as sinew: see BYU's Book of Mormon Onomasticon, q.v. "Gid"). 

Giddonah of Gideon, as the high priest at Korihor's trial, is a bulls-eye for the Book of Alma; Amgid fits the archaic Book of Ether; Gidanah derives from the earlier West Semitic form, Gidanu; and the Book of Mormon even gives us the name Gidgiddonah, which has a super-prosperous ring to it (see comments in Skousen, 3:1774). These names and offices and roles all resonate at a cultural plane just above our reach. 

Gidanah (or Giddonah) not only reflects Proto-Semitic *gVdVn, the name also fits what Alma tells us of the family of Amulek: they were rich. A principal trait of the Ammonihahites was the fast grab for easy money--a game of glib lawyers--and Gidan-ah suggests a prosperous land, city, or family. Gidanah signifies her (its) bounty, her gift, or as an abstract noun: a bounty, a rich gift. It's a great baby name. True, better to avoid Gadianton.

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