Saturday, May 31, 2014

Zenephi (in Ze-Mormon 9:16)

My father once asked about the Book of Mormon name Zenephi. I was stumped. Later it hit me. Following a common Egyptian name pattern, z3 (son) + Divine Name or Attribute or Quality, Ze + Nephi yields Son of Nephi

The name might also designate a Nephite Prince, or any Nephite for that matter. The first Nephite kings all took the name of the first king and protector, and thus were known as the Second Nephi, the Third Nephi, and so on. Son of Nephi could thus designate the heir to the throne--the Son of Nephi, whether the son of Nephi III or Nephi V. (Find fifteen packed pages of z3- and z3.t- names in Hermann Ranke's classic Die Aegyptischen Personennamen, I: 280-295; Zenephi appears on p. 282, no. 17.) 

Ranke even gives us a Zenephi, Zenebi, or Zanibi (Son of My Lord), but the sole Zenephi attested in the Book of Mormon holds the stage of history in a single, startling verse, a verse that shouts Libya, Syria, and the Congo, a verse that whispers a portent to the whole world: Bataans everywhere.

And again, my son, there are many widows and their daughters who remain in Sherrizah; and that part of the provisions which the Lamanites did not carry away, behold, the army of Zenephi has carried away, and left them to wander whithersoever they can for food; and many old women do faint by the way and die (Mormon 9:16).

So don't be surprised when it happens here.

When I first encountered Brigham Young University's online Book of Mormon Onomasticon Project, I promptly turned to Zenephi:

"Possibly EGYPTIAN z3-nfy, “son of NEPHI/the chief,” from z3 (=sa) + nfy (q.v.) (RFS)."

When I finally had the chance to ask Bob Smith (RFS) about the derivation, he had forgotten about it and, in fact, had lit on a different origin for the element ze-. Later, to my amusement, the following surfaced:

"Val Sederholm suggests EGYPTIAN Z3-Nfy 'Son of Nephi' (RFS)."

A wee correction is in order. Nephi, or Nep-Hi (or Nb.i-Hi), should reflect not Nfy (sea captain), but the common Egyptian pattern for a Neb.i name, my Lord is (this particular) god. Such a reading, along with other possibilities for Nephi that follow the spelling rather than our fanciful pronunciation(s), all come from the writings of Hugh Nibley, a close student of Ranke's collection of Egyptian names. Again: Ranke (I:282, no. 17) yields the very name: z3-Nb or z3-Nb.(j?). (The feminine form z
3.t-Nb also appears.) The spelling of Nephi is the key. Derivations from roots such as nfy or nfr fail to convince: Nephi is neither good nor beautiful (nfr, *nafir, to be complete, finished, and thus beautiful, and, just maybe, good). The final /r/ often slips away--and that's the argument given for reading Nephi in light of nefer--but the lexicon surely gives us many instances of its lingering power. One survival of nfr, with the final /r/ firmly in place, appears in the still current name Onofrio (Osiris Wennefer, Wnn-nefer, Osiris Everlastingly Integral and Beautiful), as in the tasty D'onofrio ice cream.

It is really Hugh Nibley who first derived Zenephi from Z3-Nb-H', even if he never bothered to jot down volume, page, and number--no. 17--which is hardly necessary to do, if you've memorized the entire volume. Brother Nibley had on hand many copies of the Book of Mormon, and in one of these (now in the Hugh Nibley Ancient Studies Library at Brigham Young University), he marked each Book of Mormon name, as listed in an appendix, with its appropriate letter: H for Hebrew, A for Arabic, E for Egyptian, and so on. (Don't forget the M for Mitanni names.) It's a small treasure.

Racing down to Zenephi, I found:

Zenephi E

How could it be otherwise? As Hugh Nibley well knew, there is no more common pattern in Egyptian naming than the aforementioned z3 or z3.t + Divine or Royal Name 
or Quality, Son or Daughter of So-and-So, or the One who Belongs to Such-and-Such a Divinity, or Who is in firm possession of Such-and-Such a Quality or Grace, e.g., Zat-Mafk3t, Daughter of Greenstone (i.e., as Precious as Malachite), Zat-Neferet, a Daughter of Outstanding Perfection, a true Beauty. The hero Sinuhe, as we usually transcribe the Egyptian Z3-Nht, is Son of the Sycamore, meaning Hathor as the goddess in the Sycamore tree, the nurturing mother, the ever-flowing waters of life. Sinuhe might as well be spelled Zenuhe or Zanuhe. 

Book of Mormon ze- for z3- is right on the money. While it doesn't necessarily follow that every name starting with ze- in the Book of Mormon fits the same pattern, Zenephi could hardly reflect anything else. Consider, too, the following patterned sequencing of names: "The Book of Nephi, the Son of Nephi, who was the Son of Helaman": Nephi ntj (or Heb. asher) Zenephi ntj Zehelaman."

While there are many such sons, and sons of sons. . . z z z. . . the narrative yields but two names of women: Sariah and Abish. (Isabel labels but does not name.) Mother Sariah may be understood as either princess or prince of Jehovah; Abish, my father is a man. Both names now appear in Ancient Near Eastern sources; Abisha, in hieroglyphs, names a Semitic chieftain, clothed in a magnificent particolored robe, bartering goods in Egypt (see the Book of Mormon Onomasticon for references). The Lehites cloaked all women in the aura of royalty, their gracious names not for display. (The women of Mulek and of Jared walk in the same mystique.) Could we know of others, I would be surprised if there were not a princess or two bearing the name of Zet- or Zatnephi (Daughter of Nephi: cf. z3.t-nb(j?), Ranke, I:290.1), Abinephi (Nephi is my father), or Abilehi. Ranke (
I:286.7,8) not only gives us the Egyptian princess Zat-Omni (z3.t-imny), we even have Second Zat-Omni (z3.t-imny snw.t, I:286.9; cf. Second Nephi). Zatammon (Ranke I:286.6), Zatmanti (I:289.8), Zatjarom, Zatmoroni, Zatmormon. 

I know Zat Moroni girl.

Updated, February 2019, to add references and examples from Ranke, as a help to the young reader. The enhanced discussion of the name Nephi also serves, it is hoped, to dispel the quite impossible idea that the name derives from the Egyptian word nfr or that either it or nefer, signifies good, much less goodly. Think Nefertiti. She wasn't good and she wasn't nice--she was Nefertiti; she was the perfection of beauty. 

Proud of Itself is the City: Ammonihah, Tenochtitlan, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City

A Nahuatl song, glorifying war as the very fulfillment of the American dream, captures the smugness of a great people in an impregnable city:

Proud of itself
is the city of Mexico-Tenochtitlan.
Here no one fears to die in war.
This is our glory.
This is Your command,
oh giver of Life!
Have this in mind, oh princes,
do not forget it.
Who could conquer Tenochtitlan?
Who could shake the foundation of heaven?

With our arrows,
with our shields,
the city exists,
Mexico-Tenochtitlan remains.
Cantares Mexicanos, fol. 19 v.-20 r, in Miguel Leon-Portilla, Pre-Columbian Literatures of Mexico, 87.

"Songs proclaiming the glory and power of the Aztecs frequently reach an almost mystical exaltation," 86. It is a voice singing eerily from the dust--a voice of warning from the ancient peoples of America to the usurpers of their proud place.

Such boasting is a leitmotif in the Book of Mormon. This great city Jerusalem, or that great city Zarahemla, or this great city Ammonihah united stand as impregnable as heaven and earth to all contest human or divine. The theme of impregnability goes hand-in-hand with the book's insistence on destruction. As Hugh Nibley would tell his classes, that associated theme sounds its trumpet blast in the very first chapter of Nephi (verse 4): "The great city Jerusalem must be destroyed!" For a sense of how destruction goes on to weave its pattern throughout the entire book, he advised us to consult the concordance--and to be prepared for a shock. 

It is Civilization versus God and repentance. Civilization, the state of the great City, must fall in her unrepentant pride (see Revelation 18). The idea reaches a fever pitch in Helaman 13:12-14: "Yea, wo unto this great city of Zarahemla. . . yea, wo unto this great city. . . this great city. . .this great city. . . yea, wo be unto this great city." It is the Echo of History.

The elites of mighty Ammonihah slap Alma with their stolid refrain, "Who is God, that sendeth no more authority than one man [or one General Authority or one Church] among this people," and ream him out with their cant about their own particular little city and their own particularly novel, lovely, rational ideology being as lasting as earth itself:

Who art thou? And for that matter: Who is God?

"Who art thou? Suppose ye that we shall believe the testimony of one man, although he should preach unto us that the earth should pass away?

Now they understood not the words which they spake; for they knew not that the earth should pass away.

And they said also: We will not believe thy words if thou shouldst prophesy that this great city should be destroyed in one day.

Now they knew not that God could do such marvelous works."
(Alma 9:2-5).

That part about "one day" sums up the degree to which man will tempt God.

In due time--or ten chapters' space--"the people of Ammonihah were destroyed; yea, every living soul of the Ammonihahites was destroyed, and also their great city, which they said God could not destroy, because of its greatness.

But behold, in one day it was left desolate; and the carcasses were mangled by dogs and wild beasts of the wilderness" (Alma 19:9-10).

That last detail shows one everlasting irony: ever that great city stood, even at her peak, at the borders of man and beast--in reach of the wild.

"Nothing beside remains," though its infamy persists:

"And it was called Desolation of Nehors; for they were of the profession of Nehor, who were slain; and their lands remained desolate" (Alma 19: 11).

Perhaps the great lesson about civilization in the Book of Mormon is the utter unawareness of the inevitable fall--the great lesson of never learning the lesson at all, despite all the learned "profession."

For, but a few years later, we hear the Nephite boast sounded again:

Why do you suffer this man to revile against us?
For behold he doth condemn all this people, even unto destruction;
yea, and also that these our great cities shall be taken from us, that we shall have no place in them.

And now we know that this is impossible, for behold, we are powerful, and our cities great, therefore our enemies can have no power over us (Helaman 8:5-6).

One sentence, surcharged with irony, should haunt the memory of every reader of the Book of Mormon:

"And now we know that this is impossible."

It does not take the Lord long to respond.

The Lord acknowledges the great city, even while mocking her wearying pretense:

"Yea, wo unto this great city of Zarahemla. . . yea, wo unto this great city. . . this great city. . . this great city. . . yea, wo be unto this great city" (Helaman 13).

Behold, that great city Zarahemla have I burned with fire . . .

And behold, that great city Moroni have I caused to be sunk in the depths of the sea. . .

And behold, that great city Moronihah have I covered with earth.
(3 Nephi 9: 3-5)

Where is mercy? comes the plea. My question is Where is Moronihah? Have you never, in the quiet of a big-city library, contemplated the whereabouts of Alexandria's bookshelf?

There can be no greater irony in the modern history of the Americas than the refrain:

Who could conquer Tenochtitlan?
Who could shake the foundation of heaven?

Speaking of the Great Cities of world civilization, the living Prophet, Thomas S. Monson, concludes:

"In the end, more than they wanted freedom, they wanted security and a comfortable life; and they lost all--comfort and security and freedom."

"Must we learn such costly lessons over and over again? Times change, but truth persists. When we fail to profit from the experiences of the past, we are doomed to repeat them with all their heartache, suffering, and anguish. Haven't we the wisdom to obey Him who knows the beginning from the end?" ("The World Needs Pioneers Today," Ensign, July 2013). "Doomed?" Doomed.

We remember, too, how the people of that great city Ammonihah, the Nephite answer to Bunyan's Vanity Fair and the Revelator's Babylon, longed to undermine the freedoms of lesser, more complacent cities, cities of the ancient, Pre-Columbian American dream:

"They do study at this time that they may destroy the liberty of thy people" (Alma 8:17).

That line of study suddenly becomes the most popular major of every stripe of partisan in Syria, Russia, Egypt, Washington DC, or Venezuela today. But complacency undoes the studious proud and the lazy ignorant alike.

Caught up in their studious dream, lost in their agenda, assured of their power, "in one day," from blue sky to "in Mexico night is falling," the moment of repentance passed. When the sun set, it was not "Like a shield that descends"--"eagles" and "jaguars" to the contrary.

(See additional verses of the triumphant song, Pre-Columbian Literatures of Mexico, 86).

The site of the lost city, Mexico-Tenochtitlan, nearly the world's greatest city its its time, now also hosts earth's largest city. Together with all other great cities of the world, that Great City Mexico, or that Great City America, again attests, re-born, the struggle between God and Civilization, between the intricacies of ideology and agenda and the simplicities of repentance.


Elder L. Tom Perry, "Obedience through Our Faithfulness," April 2014, General Conference: "While some very intelligent and insightful people might believe our more complex time demands ever more complex solutions, I am far from convinced they are right. Rather, I am of the frame of mind that today's complexity demands greater simplicity."