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Olavarria

Zarahemla: Revisiting the "Seed of Compassion"

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More than ten years ago, Stephen Ricks and John Tvedtnes presented a case for interpreting the Book of Mormon proper noun Zarahemla as a Hebraic construct meaning "seed of compassion" or "child of grace, pity, or compassion." The authors theorized:

It may be that the Mulekite leader was given that name because his ancestor had been rescued when the other sons of King Zedekiah were slain during the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem. [see Mosiah 25:2.] To subsequent Nephite generations, it may have even suggested the deliverance of their own ancestors from Jerusalem prior to its destruction or the anticipation of Christ's coming.1

A literary analysis of this proposal provides further evidence supporting the legitimacy of this etymological claim. This confirmation derives from what could reflect original Hebrew wordplays in the Book of Mormon consistent with Tvedtnes and Ricks's proposal concerning the prefix zara- and the terminal form -hemla. Reading the Book of Mormon through a Hebraic lens, the name Zarahemla appears linked with attestations of these Hebraic roots.

In their consideration of the name Zarahemla, Tvedtnes and Ricks divided the word into the Hebrew nouns zera? meaning "seed," and ?eml?h denoting "compassion/mercy."2 As a verbal form, the root ?ml signifies "to have compassion," or "to spare."3 This nuance appears reflected in texts such as 1 Samuel 15:9 in the King James Version of the Bible: "But Saul and the people spared (?ml) Agag, and the best of the sheep." Significantly, the Book of Mormon features two occasions in which the place name Zarahemla appears in close proximity with individuals being "spared":

And we returned, those of us that were spared, to the land of Zarahemla, to relate that tale to their wives and their children. (Mosiah 9:2)

And in one place they were heard to cry, saying: O that we had repented before this great and terrible day, and then would our brethren have been spared, and they would not have been burned in that great city Zarahemla. (3 Nephi 8:24)

In terms of analyzing the name Zarahemla, this biblical-like pun provides supporting evidence for the accuracy of interpreting the terminal ending -hemla as the Hebraic nominal form ?eml?h.

If translated into biblical Hebrew, the Book of Mormon would feature a similar wordplay between the Hebrew word zera? and the proper noun Zarahemla. In addition to its specific nuance "seed" reflecting a vegetative connotation, the Hebrew noun zera? denotes human "offspring, or descendants."4 The term descendant occasionally appears in the Book of Mormon in close literary proximity to the proper noun Zarahemla:

Ammon, he being a strong and mighty man, and a descendant of Zarahemla. (Mosiah 7:3)

For I am Ammon, and am a descendant of Zarahemla, and have come up out of the land of Zarahemla. (Mosiah 7:13)

Though these literary proposals create an intriguing reading of the text, the legitimacy of these observations as intentional wordplays reflects the assumption that the reformed Egyptian in the Book of Mormon was a modified Egyptian script used to record an attestation of Hebrew. If correct, these Hebraic puns would provide evidence that Book of Mormon authors incorporated similar writing techniques to those witnessed throughout the Old Testament.

In their own literary efforts, ancient Hebrew authors made frequent use of wordplays on proper names of people and places in a way that parallels the Book of Mormon's presumed Hebraic use of the nouns "spared," "descendants," and "Zarahemla."5 For example, in Hosea 12:3

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Pedro and David,

Nicely done! Some of us envy your facility with biblical languages.

And congratulations, Pedro, on entering the world of scholarly publication. :P

Don

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Woops

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And we returned, those of us that were spared, to the land of Zarahemla, to relate that tale to their wives and their children. (Mosiah 9:2)

And in one place they were heard to cry, saying: O that we had repented before this great and terrible day, and then would our brethren have been spared, and they would not have been burned in that great city Zarahemla. (3 Nephi 8:24)

If translated into biblical Hebrew, the Book of Mormon would feature a similar wordplay between the Hebrew word zera? and the proper noun Zarahemla. In addition to its specific nuance "seed" reflecting a vegetative connotation, the Hebrew noun zera? denotes human "offspring, or descendants."4 The term descendant occasionally appears in the Book of Mormon in close literary proximity to the proper noun Zarahemla:

Ammon, he being a strong and mighty man, and a descendant of Zarahemla. (Mosiah 7:3)

For I am Ammon, and am a descendant of Zarahemla, and have come up out of the land of Zarahemla. (Mosiah 7:13)

Here's an additional thought:

"And it came to pass that Amalickiah fled with a small number of his men, and the remainder were delivered up into the hands of Moroni and were taken back into the land of Zarahemla" (Alma 46:33)

  • Now, maybe it's a stretch that somebody being "delivered up into" the hands of the enemy commander rather than being executed outright as an issue of compassion, but the parallel to Saul's sparing of the enemy king seems too good to ignore.

and another:

"And it came to pass that I thus did send an embassy to the governor of our land, to acquaint him concerning the affairs of our people. And it came to pass that we did wait to receive provisions and strength from the land of Zarahemla." (Alma 58:4)

  • The giving of victuals and reinforcement during time of war seems appropriately compassionate to me. Maybe not.

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Great post, Pedro. I've often thought that there might be a combined meaning here referring not only to the Mulekites but also to the tower story from Jaredite remnants. Here's how I put it elsewhere:

In this light, the name Zarahemla itself is worth considering. Most likely based on the Hebrew z

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Here's an additional thought:

"And it came to pass that Amalickiah fled with a small number of his men, and the remainder were delivered up into the hands of Moroni and were taken back into the land of Zarahemla" (Alma 46:33)

  • Now, maybe it's a stretch that somebody being "delivered up into" the hands of the enemy commander rather than being executed outright as an issue of compassion, but the parallel to Saul's sparing of the enemy king seems too good to ignore.

and another:

"And it came to pass that I thus did send an embassy to the governor of our land, to acquaint him concerning the affairs of our people. And it came to pass that we did wait to receive provisions and strength from the land of Zarahemla." (Alma 58:4)

  • The giving of victuals and reinforcement during time of war seems appropriately compassionate to me. Maybe not.

Check the Hebrew words for the ones you underlined.

Watson's book shows how this punning takes place.

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Great post, Pedro. I've often thought that there might be a combined meaning here referring not only to the Mulekites but also to the tower story from Jaredite remnants. Here's how I put it elsewhere:

In this light, the name Zarahemla itself is worth considering. Most likely based on the Hebrew z

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Though these literary proposals create an intriguing reading of the text, the legitimacy of these observations as intentional wordplays reflects the assumption that the reformed Egyptian in the Book of Mormon was a modified Egyptian script used to record an attestation of Hebrew. If correct, these Hebraic puns would provide evidence that Book of Mormon authors incorporated similar writing techniques to those witnessed throughout the Old Testament.

In their own literary efforts, ancient Hebrew authors made frequent use of wordplays on proper names of people and places in a way that parallels the Book of Mormon's presumed Hebraic use of the nouns "spared," "descendants," and "Zarahemla."

Studies have shown that in the process of producing the Book of Mormon, Nephite writers imitated and were influenced by biblical techniques. Assuming that the underlying text from which the Nephite record was translated derived from some form of Hebrew, the literary relationship between "spared," "descendants," and "Zarahemla" witnessed throughout the Book of Mormon supports the etymology offered by Ricks and Tvedtnes for the meaning of this important Nephite name. In addition, interpreting Zarahemla as the place name "seed of compassion" provides evidence that Book of Mormon authors possessed an impressive familiarity with the literary styles and techniques witnessed throughout the Old Testament.

By Pedro Olavarria

Independent Researcher

and David E. Bokovoy

PhD candidate, Hebrew Bible

Brilliant observations overall on the wordplay!!

One might also note that this type of name in the OT also refers to an heir to the throne of David (Governor Zerubbabel I Chron 3:19, Ezra 3:2, Matt 1:12-13 = Babylonian Zer-babili). Sources and further discussion are available in the forthcoming results of the Book of Mormon Onomasticon Project from the Maxwell Institute.

As to how Egyptian may be employed on the plates, the Nephite scribes clearly used Hebraic wordplay here and elsewhere. It is unclear, however, whether this entailed the use of Hebrew language in Egyptian script. Bear in mind that Hebrew-Semitic hemla was loaned to Egyptian by Dynasty 20 as ha-ma-nra "have compassion, be merciful." My opinion is that the scribes employed Egyptian language and script, with use of Semitic loanwords as needed -- perhaps resulting in something like, well "reformed Egyptian." I argue my case for this in my forthcoming "Egyptianisms in the Book of Mormon,"

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Brilliant observations overall on the wordplay!!

One might also note that this type of name in the OT also refers to an heir to the throne of David (Governor Zerubbabel I Chron 3:19, Ezra 3:2, Matt 1:12-13 = Babylonian Zer-babili). Sources and further discussion are available in the forthcoming results of the Book of Mormon Onomasticon Project from the Maxwell Institute.

As to how Egyptian may be employed on the plates, the Nephite scribes clearly used Hebraic wordplay here and elsewhere. It is unclear, however, whether this entailed the use of Hebrew language in Egyptian script. Bear in mind that Hebrew-Semitic hemla was loaned to Egyptian by Dynasty 20 as ha-ma-nra "have compassion, be merciful." My opinion is that the scribes employed Egyptian language and script, with use of Semitic loanwords as needed -- perhaps resulting in something like, well "reformed Egyptian." I argue my case for this in my forthcoming "Egyptianisms in the Book of Mormon,"

I can't wait:) From an apologetics perspective Egyptianisms would be more useful IMHO.

Here is an Egpytianism that I remember reading about on the FARMS website but I don't have to time too look it up.

1Nephi 15:23-24

23)And they said unto me: What meaneth the rod of iron which our father saw, that led to the tree?

24)And I said unto them that it was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would bhold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction.

In Egyptian mdw ntr is "god's words" and is translated in English as hieroglyphics.

In Egyptian mdw is also "staff".

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