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1973 Conference on the Language of the Mormons, May 31, 1973 (Provo: BYU Language

Research Center, 1973), 64-68.


Robert F. Smith

Above the Utah State Capitol, and above Passion Flats, on a knoll on North Mountain,
one can find a rather good-sized, conical monument at the base of which are carved these
several words: Logan Temple, Grant Stake, Milwaukee, and Kolob. No one in Grant
Stake seems to know when or why such a monument was erected, but one thing is certain: It is
a product of Mormon culture. We can say this for several reasons, not the least of which is the
appearance of the neologism Kolob.
My primary purpose in being here today is to briefly review and explicate several such
widely employed Mormon-unique words and to make them a little less mysterious. I have
selected for this review mainly those words from the Mormon Canon which have gained
currency among Mormons. I have not bothered to establish the extent of usage in each case,
though, to judge from Stanley Kimballs recent treatment of Nauvoo1 and its wide ranging
toponomy in the Ensign for April last, such an approach seems worth pursuing in the future.
Secondarily, I shall treat a few words from that vast collection of neologisms which
remain unused by Mormons. In so doing, I shall merely suggest, as has your Academic Vice-
President. Robert K. Thomas,2 that they are not necessarily neologisms, and that hapax
legomena are of tremendous importance in dating, as well as in authenticating ancient
manuscripts. I shall of course have occasion to refer to Prof. Hugh Nibleys early work in
understanding the Mormon onomasticon.
Kolob, which appears variously in LDS hymn books, as the name of a stake, as the title of
a realty and insurance company, as the name of a book publishing venture in California, is by far
one of the most enigmatic of terms. It is the only neologism from the Pearl of Great Price to
have become well known. It appears fourteen times in the Book of Abraham, mainly in chapter
3 and in facsimile 2, and, when defined, it is explained as being near(est), nigh, or next to
the celestial residence.3 Moreover, Kolob-time is celestial-time, the primeval time-reckoning of
Adam before the Fall.4 Janne M. Sjodahl was quite right to have compared Kolob to a well-
known classical Arabic root, qalb, qulb, core, marrow, heart, intelligence,5 and Samuel A. B.
Mercer quite wrong to have castigated him for it.6 The relationship of that root to Arabic qurb,
qorb, muqrib, proximity; near; midst, should have been obvious. I prefer to compare

Stanley B. Kimball, Discovery: Nauvoo Found in Seven States, Ensign, April 1973, pp. 21-23; cf.
Eduard Meyer, Ursprung und geschichte der Mormonen (Halle: M. Niemeyer, 1912), p. 142, n. 2, cited by
H. Nibley, No Maam, Thats Not History (Bookcraft, 1946), p. 19.
A Literary Critic Looks at the Book of Mormon, in T. G. Madsen and C. D. Tate, Jr., eds. To the Glory of
God (Deseret, 1972), p. 155.
See especially Abraham 3:3, 16.
Abraham 5:13, Fac. 2:1.
The Word Kolob, Improvement Era, 16 (April 1913), 621-622.
Joseph Smith as an Interpreter and Translator of Egyptian, Utah Survey, I (September 1913), 21-22.
Kolob with the classical Hebrew divine name Qrb, The-Near-One, which in Psalm 119:151
directly parallels Qdem, the Primeval-One, in verse 152. The Jesuit scholar Mitchell Dahood
has provided this understanding of these and other divine epithets in his translation-
commentary of Psalms for the Anchor Bible.7 We do not, of course, have an example
contemporary with Abraham precisely matching Kolob, but we do know that the Semitic resh
and lamed regularly interchanged,8 that such has been the case for this very root in later Arabic,
and that ancient North East Semitic, or Akkadian qerb, heart (= Assyrian libb = Sumerian
.ME), has the resh which we usually find in the cognate North West Semitic words for near,
among, midst.9 Indeed, the Ugaritic usage of qrb often concerns itself directly with the
dwelling place of El as being the midst of the source of the Two Deeps.10
We may, therefore, posit an early North West Semitic *Qolob or *Qulub which became,
via normal dissimilation, Qrb, just as actual 13th century B.C. Kurkur or Klkl became
classical Hebrew Kalkl (I Kings 5:11),11 the lateral-rolled dental interchange being, as we have
said, well attested throughout the Hamito-Semitic language family.
Probably no other Book of Mormon proper nouns have come to be used as widely in
Mormon culture as Mrmn, lm, Nph, Lh, Dsrt , Mrn, Cumrh, Mnt, and Lmn.
You will note that I have vocalized and stressed these words according to the Pronouncing
Vocabulary appended to the 1920 edition of the Book of Mormon, i.e. the current edition, and
before I go any further perhaps I ought to interject a word about that system of pronunciation.
Professor Ellis Rasmussen and his student, Stanley Larson, have been kind enough to
point out to me that the general rules of pronunciation of the Book of Mormon names were
more or less decided upon at a Book of Mormon Convention held here at BYU May 23rd and
24th (Saturday and Sunday) of 1903. BYU Faculty Minutes show only that President Joseph F.
Smith presided, and that speakers included Benjamin Cluff, Jr. (then President of BYU), B. H.
Roberts, James E. Talmage, Orson F. Whitney, Milton H. Hardy, and an Elder Holmns of Spanish
Fork. It has been suggested by Stanley Larson that since the diaries of James Talmage have
recently been acquired by BYU, one ought to examine them or his notes on that convention and
subsequent application to the Book of Mormon, the 1920 edition of which Talmage had charge.
However the diaries will be in process and unavailable for some time yet. Meanwhile, one can
find the rules summarized in B. H. Roberts New Witnesses for God.12
These rules appear somewhat arbitrary, and in a sense analogous to the anglicized
stress and pronunciation traditional for biblical names (KJV). James Talmage did not even

Cf. Pss. 69:19; 74:12; 75:2; 119:140, 142, 144; 145:18; Prov. 8:22-23 (CBQ, 30:512-521); Psalms, Anchor
Bible 16, 17, 17A (Doubleday, 1965-70), ad loc., citing Quranic Qarb, Aqrab, in Y. Moubarac, Le Muson,
68 (1955), 340; cf. also Is. 55:6; Ps. 82:1.
S. Moscati, et al., An Introduction to the Comparative Grammar of the Semitic Languages (Wiesbaden:
Harrassowitz, 1964), 8.26, e.g. Akkadian raqraqqu, laqlaqqu.
Cf. also Akkadian qerbum, to draw near; qirbu, qrib, inside; note the absence of the dental in the
cognate Egyptian qb, interior, middle; intestine.
UT 51:IV:21-24; cf. 2 Aqht:VI:46-51; it is in close proximity to Ugaritic qr (= Korash?), abode, throne;
cf. M. H. Pope. El in the Ugaritic Texts, Vetus Testamentum, Supplement, II (Leiden: Brill, 1955), pp. 61-
W. F. Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan (Doubleday, 1968), pp. 251-252, and n. 131.
(Deseret, 1909), vol. II, pp. xiii-iv.
follow them in every case. Desert, for example, Talmage stressed (accented) on the final
syllable, while Roberts placed it on the first syllable, i.e. Dseret. One would like to know how
Joseph Smith and the early members of the Church pronounced these words, or whether,
indeed, Joseph knew how they should be pronounced.13
It has been my experience, and the experience of some others, that familiarity with
biblical Hebrew in its standard Masoretic (8th and 9th century A.D.) stress and vocalization
causes one to approach Book of Mormon words with views on pronunciation quite different
from those promulgated by Roberts and Talmage. We can, of course, be fairly confident of the
pre-Masoretic consonantal text, which helps [65] us to see that Zedekiah was really called
something like dk-Yhw, that Jeremiah was Yrm-Yhw, that Isaiah was Y-Yhw, that Jacob was
Yqb, that Sidon was yd(w)n, that Ishmael was Ym-l, that Jared was Yrd, that Jehovah was
possibly Yhwh (as the Book of Abraham hints with its Jah-oh-eh in Fac. 21),14 etc. However, it is
not at all certain just where the stress should be in classical Hebrew words, and analogy from
the mostly ultimate (and penultimate) stresses in Masoretic (MT) and modern Hebrew may
only mislead us.15 The situation with regard to vocalization is even more chaotic what with
divergent Palestinian, Babylonian, and the dominant Tiberian systems,16 not to mention the
Northern (Israelite), Southern (Judahite), and other Hebrew dialects, or the unsystematic
introduction of the so-called vowel-letters (matres lectionis).17 All this merely points up the
need for having recourse to comparative Semitics, and, for the Book of Mormon, to Egyptian,
Coptic, and Greek as well. Dogmatism will get us nowhere.
Lh is a case in point. While the word is not uniquely Mormon, being attested in the
MT as le (LXX lexei, Judges 15:9, 15-7, etc.), jaw-bone, cheek,18 it does receive uncommon
emphasis by Mormons. Joseph probably rendered it following as he regularly did, the
precedent of the KJV. Yet, elsewhere in the OT, the same consonants (ly) are vocalized as
lai,Belonging-to-the-Living-One (God) (Genesis 16:14).19 Both forms are used as proper
names. For one, the stress is penultimate; for the other, ultimate. The vocalization and
meanings are likewise thoroughly different. I bring this to your attention simply because we
have another Book of Mormon name, probably of Egyptian origin, with practically the same

See E. C. Briggs, The Saints Herald, 31 (1884), 396 ff., reporting Emma Smiths and David Whitmers
claim that when Joseph could not pronounce a word he spelled it a letter at a timediscussed by H.
Nibley, Lehi in the Desert and the World of the Jaredites (Bookcraft, 1952), p. 32.
See Robert C. Webb (=John E. Homans), Truth Seeking: Its Symptoms and After Effects,
Improvement Era, 16 (1913), 1085-1087.
S. Moscati, op. cit., 10.8, p. 68 citing E. Brnno, Studien ber hebrische Morphologie und
Vakalismus (Leipzig, 1943).
Moscati, op. cit., 8.78 ff.; E. J. Revell, Studies in the Palestinian Vocalization of Hebrew, in J.
Wevers and D. Redford, Essays on the Ancient Semitic World (Univ. of Toronto, 1970), pp. 51-100.
S. Morag, MA: A Study of Certain Features of Old Hebrew Dialects, Eretz Israel, 5 (1958), pp. 138-
144 (Hebrew, with English summary on p. 92*); D. N. Freedman and F. M. Cross, Jr., Early Hebrew
Orthography (New Haven, 1952).
Cf. Akk. la; Arab. lay; J. Wevers, op. cit., p. 108.
E. A. Speiser, Genesis, Anchor Bible 1 (Doubleday, 1964), pp. 118-119, on Beer-Lahai-roi; cf. H.
Cazelles in Ugaritica, VI (Paris, 1969), 33-35; Coptic Peton, The Living (One), in The Gospel According
to Thomas, Logion 37 (Codex II Labib, 88:1).
meaning as our lai: Paanchi, which Prof. H. Nibley has seen as P-n(y), The-Living-One
(variant Pw-n), a late Egyptian name famous in Lehis day as the name of several pre-Meroitic
Nubian kings who ruled Egypt during the 7th and 8th centuries B.C.20 Not only is this name
transliterated into Hebrew as Pana (var. Paena; Gen. 41:45), part of the name of Joseph-
who-was-sold-into-Egypt, the tribal ancestor of Lehi, but another Nubian king of the same
period has a name suspiciously like Lehis son Lmn: Anlaman or Yenalaman (c. 623-593
B.C.).21 Strangely enough, Book of Mormon Paanchis brothers and father all bear names using
what appears to be the masculine Egyptian definite article p. Comparisons like these are one
means by which to define Book of Mormon names.
Another means is statistical analysis. Such might help us out of the quagmire of
mutually contradictory speculation on the etymology of the name and title, Nph. Rather than
review the proposals here, whether to the effect that Nephi is a form of Hebrew nb, neb-,
prophet, one-called-of-God,22 or a late variant on the name of the Egyptian corn-god P-Npr
(Npy), I prefer to develop an alternative suggested first by Prof. H. Nibley.23
Nephi is most likely the late Egyptian nfy (Classical nfw), captain, skipper, chief;
sailor (cf. Coptic nef, neef, neeb, sailor). Seeing something other than -f- in our -ph- fails to
take cognizance of several points: 1) the complete absence of single -f- in the Book of Mormon
name-list, and 2) no -b- in that same list can be shown to represent -f- or -ph-. There are ten
separate names in the Book of Mormon using -ph-, sixteen having -p-. This gives us a total of
twenty-six to work with (see Appendix).24 Eleven of these are definitely attested in the OT (As
we have noted, we might also list Paanchi). In every one of these eleven or twelve parallels,
including the four words certainly originating in Egyptian, there is but one Hebrew grapheme
used to represent the -p- and the -f-, both voiceless and interchangeable. It is difficult to see
why Joseph Smith would have departed from traditional practice to give us a -ph- in Nephi for
anything other than the traditional labiodental fricative -f-. Of the twenty-six examples, only
one, Riplah, might have -p- as a variant for -b- (both bilabial plosives). The literary evidence
merely compounds our suspicions; for, not only does Nephi build and captain his ship under
divine guidance, but he is constantly referred to as a ruler (I Ne. 2:22, 3:29, 16:37-38, 18:10, II
Ne. 5:19, Jac. 1:9), as well as king (I Ne. 16:38, II Ne. 5:18), his name becoming, in fact, a title
accorded each successive king (Jac. 1:11), and the chief city of the land of Nephi being called
after him (Alma 47:20). Nor should we miss the opportunities for paronomasia, when, as
skipper, he along can successfully guide the ship (I Ne. 18:22; cf. I Ne. 18:12, II Ne. 1:24),
and when he is bound and the ship is driven helpless before the wind (Eg. nf, nfw, wind; nfw,

Improvement Era, 51 (April 1948), 202-204 = (Nov 1970), 118-119; Lehi in the Desert and the World of
the Jaredites, pp. 24-25, 29; W. F. Albright, Vocalization of the Egyptian Syllabic Orthography (New
Haven, 1934), VII.A.; A. S. Yahuda, The Language of the Pentateuch in its Relation to Egyptian (Oxford,
1933), I, pp. 33-35; cf. M. Gilula in Vetus Testamentum, 17 (1967), 114.
His throne-name was Ankhere; see Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 9 (1923), 66, 70, 75; Book of
Mormon Lamoni may simply be the nisbe form of Laman.
Suggested privately by Prof. John L. Sorenson, citing W. F. Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan,
pp. 208-209.
Nibley, Lehi in the Desert and the World of the Jaredites, p. 29, citing Spiegelberg, Jnl. of Eg. Arch.,
12:35; on both items: Nfy, and P-Npr (Npy).
Ziff and Zeniff must be treated separately.
nfy, nfi, blow; breathe; fan), only his prayers can bring safety (I Ne. 18:8-10, 12, 21-22; cf. II
Ne. 1:25, 27).
Prof. Nibley has already dealt adequately with Deseret and Manti,25 seeing in each an
Egyptian origin. Just two weeks ago I found him in his office doing a review for BYU Studies of
Yigael Yadins book Bar Kokhba,26 page 177 of which reproduces a land-lease papyrus from
Naal Hever Cave of the Letters containing the Aramaic name Alm, The-Strong-One.
There it is spelled with first and final alef. I have thought all along that the best proposal was
one closely cognate with Book of Abraham Gnolaum (where Joseph followed Seixas method of
transliteration for Hebrew lm), and meaning young-man; etrnal.27 I once lived on the
corner of lm and Ball streets in Jerusalem, and it was my understanding that in that
case, lm, beginning with ayin, referred to the cemetery or Bt-lmn at the end of the
street, i.e. where one went to his eternal rest. The name is more Aramaic than Hebrew, but
Aramaic had become the lingua franca of the ancient Near East even before Lehi and his
cogeners left Jerusalem,28 and some latitude must be allowed for this as well as the Ancient
South Arabic forms with which the party had eight years to become familiar.
They might thus have transmitted to the New World the name for the then very
important product of South Arabia, myrrh (Hebrew mor, Arabic morron).29 Moroni may thus
be a nisbe-form meaning myrrh-like, though there are several other possibilities equally
attractive, and the existence of Jaredite Moron causes us considerable uncertainty. So, I merely
propose this one.
Mormon is certainly an interesting word to treat. At first glance, one might see it as
Egyptian *mr-mn, truly-beloved, but J. M. Sjodahl would have it as a combination of the
English word more and the claimed Egyptian word mon, good > more-mon, [66] more-
good.30 This is based, of course, on Joseph Smiths own comments published in the Times and
Seasons, 4 (14 May 1843), 194. The Egyptian word nearest to good in the form given, might
be Coptic (m)mon, (m)man, truly, verily, indeed. There are other possibilities, including the
6th century B.C. Hebrew priestly name Mermt found on sherds in the Temple of Arad.31
Joseph is supposed to have invented many such words, but there are usually several
plausible etymologies available just waiting to be systematically examined. Telestial, for
example, appearing mainly in D&C sections 76 and 88, is usually seen as a Mormon invention by
prestigious unabridged dictionaries.32 Yet, there is no reason why it might not have been the
same origin as a word like telestich. We have available to us the perfectly good Greek word,

Lehi in the Desert and the World of the Jaredites, pp. 29, 188-189.
(N.Y.: Random House, 1971).
Cf. Arab. olam, alima; Daniel 2:20, 4:31, 7:27; Is. 7:14, as the feminine form (= II Ne. 17:14).
A. Hurvirtz, The Chronological Significance of Aramaisms in Biblical Hebrew, Israel Exploration
Journal, 18 (1968), 234-240.
See Gus Van Beek, Rise and Fall of Arabia Felix, in Scientific American, 221 (December 1969), 36-46;
Frankincense and Myrrh, Biblical Archaeologist, 23 (September 1960), 69-95.
Meaning of the Word Mormon, Improvement Era, 30 (March 1927), 433-434.
Mrmwt; Y. Aharoni, The Israelite Sanctuary at Arad, in D. N. Freedman and J. C. Greenfield, eds.,
New Directions in Biblical Archaeology (Doubleday, 1969), p. 32, and fig. 53 (mistaken for fig. 54).
E.g. Websters Third New International Dictionary (G. & C. Merriam, 1966).
tlos, end (Matt. 24:6, I Cor. 15:24),33 telin, to finish, complete, and tleos, complete,
perfect. Its use in John 19:30 to translate the triumphant shout of Jesus, tetlestai, It is
completed! is significant. For the Telestial glory is the final glory and the last resurrection (cf.
D&C 76:85).
One critic dubbed Book of Abraham Shaumau as an invented singular for the dualis
tantum Shaumahyeem,34 as if to say that Abraham spoke classical Hebrew! Actually Dahood
discerned just such an archaic singular in Psalm 68:5, *mw (MT em),35 and A. van Selms
has similarly distinguished a Hebrew form amm, height, as in Ugaritic tm and mm.36 The
Assyro-Babylonian contemporary with Abraham does of course have plenty of such forms.
One final example comes from a Mulekite and possibly, therefore, Jaredite
provenance.37 It is shm, the cereal-name listed along with corn (maize), wheat, barley, and
ns (Mosiah 9:9), had at a Mulekite enclave in Lamanite territory. Sheum is a precise match
for Akkadian eum, barley (Old Assyrian wheat), the most popular ancient Mesopotamian
cereal-name.38 Clearly, Joseph did not translate the word simply because it was used in the
book of Mosiah to refer to a plant unknown to him. It is quite surprising that this rather
obvious word has not received greater attention.
I hope that the printed version of this brief review containing my citations will prove
satisfactory to those who may have found a point here or there too hastily gone over or
tendentious in nature. If all this seems irrelevant, I cannot but insist that such is a necessary
part of empirical research into the sources of Mormon language.

Cf. Qumran Hebrew gemar ha-qe.
L. Zucker in Dialogue, III:2 (Summer 1968), 48, 51.
M. Dahood, op. cit., I, ad loc., and II, p. 135; cf. Classical Arabic sama, heaven, sky.
UT 68:4, noted by van Selms in Ugarit-Forschungen, II (1970), 264.
B. H. Roberts strongly supported the survival of significant Jaredite remnants in his New Witnesses for
God, III (Deseret, 1909), pp. 137-138; cf. H. Nibley, Lehi in the Desert and the World of the Jaredites, pp.
Derived from Sumerian E; H. Lewy, on Some Old Assyrian Cereal Names, Journal of the American
Oriental Society, 76 (1956), 201-202; A. Deimel, umerisches Lexikon, Lautwerte (Rome, 1930), 367:14;
cf. Hittite e.