Saturday, April 23, 2016

"That Great City Jacobugath": King Jacob's "Wine Vat-and-Press" (3 Nephi 7 and 9)

When a would-be Book of Mormon king sought to found a rival nation in the Land Northward, the first official act of his reign, after being granted the heritage name Jacob, was to plant a new capital bearing the name Jacobugath or Jacob Ugath = Jacob-wa-Gath, Jacob-and-Wine Press, Jacob-cum-Wine Press. Joseph R. and Norrene V. Solonimer first suggested the reading "Jacob with winepress" in I Know Thee by Name: Hebrew Roots of Lehi-ite Non-Biblical Names in the Book of Mormon (1995), though 19th century Latter-day Saint readers were already correctly commenting on the meaning of Gath. The online Book of Mormon Onomasticon also concurs with Jacob-and-Gath, but prankingly calls Gath a place name of "unknown meaning." Gath as Wine Press is, of course, a common and widespread place name in the Ancient Near East. (The spelling Jacob Ugath appears in the Printer's Manuscript, see Book of Mormon Onomasticon.) 

But there's more.

Because yeqeb/v also signifies Wine Press (or Wine Vat) in Hebrew, Yacov wa gath makes for a very nice play on words. Indeed, the peculiar wording in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon: "king of Jacob" suggests "king of the Wine Vat," or "Wine Vat King" (3 Nephi 9:9). The people of the Wine Trough King are described as being the most wicked of any people on the earth: it's a place of revelry, a Merrymount in the ancient Land Northward. Compare the biblical place names: yikvei ha-melek, the Wine Vats of the King (Zechariah 14:10), or "the winepress of Zeeb" (Judges 7:25). Yeqev properly names the wine vat; gath, the press--and thus we have the yeqev-wa-gath: Jacob-u-gath. Since yeqev refers to the lower excavated trough for the wine, we are also permitted to see a likeness in the foundation, by excavation, of a great city (cf. the Egyptian verb, grg). 

The action of planting both city and vine ceremonially marks the foundation of a new reign, as duly noted in the unusual wording of the 1830 edition, which speaks of "the people of the king of Jacob," that is, the people of the New Jacob in remembrance of the Ancestral Jacob (3 Nephi 9:9). They "did gather themselves together, and did place at their head a man whom they did call Jacob; And they did call him their king" (3 Nephi 7:9-10). His people were thus, properly--and by ancient ancestry--the People of Jacob. Such a designation voids the endless strife over -ites: Nephite, Zoramite, Mulekite, and heralds an all-encompassing and all-accepting New Kingdom built on the eldest common heritage. A century earlier, Nephite King Noah, who inaugurated a system vastly different from that of his soldierly and upright father Zeniff, likewise planted vineyards and dug presses (Mosiah 11; 22:10).

Cursing promptly follows the plantation: "That great city Jacobugath, which was inhabited by the people of the king of Jacob have I caused to be burned with fire," a fate which nicely matches the eschatological doom of the vineyard in Jacob's Allegory of the Olive Tree. The destruction of Jacobugath in the Meridian of Time also fully portends the burning of the wicked at the end of the world. 

Jeremy Daniel Smoak's UCLA dissertation (2007), "Building Houses and Planting Vineyards: The Early Inner-Biblical Discourse on an Ancient Israelite Wartime Curse"--and note the curse--has much to add to our discussion of viticulture as Realia. The elite, even royal, nature of vines and wines may be found in both Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. For instance: "Vineyards and wine played an important role in different king's articulation of their power and prestige in Assyrian propaganda." Scenes decorating Sennacherib's palace thus "are particularly rich in their use of vineyards" (see pages 40-41). The royal theme again appears in Ecclesiastes 2:4-7, which describes nothing less than the establishment of a prestige business center, a world capital; indeed a "blessing" of "long life, agricultural fertility, and progeny"--the theme of planting and building and permanence--may have formed part of a public ceremony in the dedication of buildings (50ff.). 

The boasting of Ecclesiastes echoes King Noah's viticulture and lavish building spree: "I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits: I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth fruit." But Nephi's cursory, and easily passed over, remarks on Jacobugath and King (of) Jacob are no less telling. And Smoak's insistence on the powerful thematic combination of "houses, vineyards, and wives" in the Bible and beyond powerfully recalls Mosiah 11:13-15, though the building really begins in verse 8: "And it came to pass that he caused many buildings to be built in the land Shilom; and he caused a great tower to be built on the hill north of the land Shilom. . . and he spent his time in riotous living with his wives and his concubines [and] he planted vineyards round about in the land; and he built wine-presses, and made wine in abundance." Here is not just a retelling of the Bible, of Ahab or of the Preacher's vanities, the compressed literary wonder which is Mosiah's Noah narrative is a stand alone.

And does viticulture belong to Ancient America? "North America has the widest variety of wild grapes in the world, with around 20 native species that are found nowhere else in the world (Schott Sheu, "Grapes," citing C.T. Kennedy, "Grapes," The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, Oxford University Press, 2003). The fine wine-making potential of these native American grapes is now well-known. "The Opata of northern Mexico made a red wine of native grapes; grapes were known in the Gulf Coast area and also among the Maya of Yucatan," John L. Sorenson, Mormon's Codex, 107, with sources given. Alejandro C. Martinez Muriel even "found seeds of Vitis vinifera, the wine grape known in Europe," in a Late Pre-Classic site "beside the Grijalva River in Chiapas," ibid., 107-108. Ancient Mexico was simply lousy with grapes. 

In the words of the inimitable Evan S. Connell: Vinland. Vinland.


Grapes and Wine in the New World:

Scott Sheu:

For the delicious wine-making potential of some of the North American species, see:


Joseph R. and Norrene V. Solonimer, I Know Thee by Name: Hebrew Roots of Lehi-ite Non-Biblical Names in the Book of Mormon (1995), has several thoughtful etymologies. For a pretentious and dismissive targeting of the book, which does have its faults, see John Tvedtnes, "What's in a Name? A Look at the Book of Mormon Onomasticon," FARMS Review of Books 8/2, 1996, 34-42. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.