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THE NAME “SARIAH” – FROM “BLUNDER” TO “BULL’S EYE”

The name “Sariah” presents a particularly interesting case for the Book of Mormon’s historical authenticity. In that volume, it is the name of a Hebrew woman living in Jerusalem around 600 BC who departs with her husband and children into the wilderness to seek a new home, in a distant “promised land” (see 1 Nephi 2:5).


In 1830, this name could have easily been viewed as case-in-point evidence that Joseph Smith was just making the whole Book of Mormon up, creating inauthentic “Hebrew sounding” names by cherry picking name elements from the Bible. At the time, the potential Hebrew equivalent (śryh) was known in the Bible as a Hebrew male name translated as “Seraiah,” not “Sariah.”[1]  To make matters worse, a female name ending in the divine element –iah (-yah or –yahu) was unconventional, because as Hugh Nibley explains, “in female names the yahu element usually comes first.”[2] In essence, everything about this name seemed be to wrong.


All of this began changed with the discovery of the Elephantine papyri at the beginning of the twentieth century. As Jeffrey R. Chadwick explains, “in a significant historical parallel to the Book of Mormon, the Hebrew name Sariah, spelled (śryh), has been identified in a reconstructed form as the name of a Jewish woman living at Elephantine in Upper Egypt during the fifth century BC.”[3]

The papyri reads (at line 4 of papyrus 22): śry[h br]t hwśʿ br hrmn (Saryah barat Hosheaª bar arman), which Chadwick translates as “Sariah daughter of Hoshea son of arman.”[4] This establishes śryh as a female Hebrew name nearly contemporaneous with the Book of Mormon account. Chadwick also explains that in light of archaeological findings, more recent scholarship has favored translating śryh as Sariah (Saryah) rather than the KJV style Seraiah (Serayah).[5]

In addition to the female name Saryah, the Elphantine papyri also contain at least one other female name (Mibtahyah) wherein the divine element comes last, rather than first, thus further vindicating the generally unconventional formulation.[6]

Conclusion

In summary, the name “Sariah” appeared to be wrong on all accounts in the year 1830. It was (a) only known as a male name, (b) spelled incorrectly, and (c) an unconventional formulation for a Hebrew female name. Now, it has been corroborated on all accounts. It is (a) an authenticated female name, (b) spelled correctly, with (c) further vindication of its formulation as an authentic Hebrew feminine form by additional names. While some may wish to write this off as mere coincidence because it is only one of many names, I find the fact that this was a threefold “blunder” now turned into a  “bull’s eye” trifecta makes this much harder to dismiss than that. The fact that the two Sariah’s shared what could be called “parallel lives” serves only to further lend credence to the Book of Mormon account.[7]
All told, the name “Sariah” as found in the Book of Mormon now serves as powerful evidence of book’s ancient authenticity.


[3] Chadwick, “Sariah in the Elephantine Papyri,” pg. 6
[4] Chadwick, “Sariah in the Elephantine Papyri,” pg. 7
[5] See Chadwick, “Sariah in the Elephantine Papyri,” pg. 7-8.
[6] See Nibley, “Two Shots in the Dark,” pg. 110
[7]See  Chadwick, “Sariah in the Elephantine Papyri,” pg. 8-9

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