Skip to main content

Names and Meaning, Part 2: Zoram Revisited

Image by James Fullmer
Nearly three years ago, I wrote a blog post about the Book of Mormon Onomasticon project, and it became a pretty popular post, even being featured on Real Clear Religion. In that post, I used the name Zoram as a case study on how the meaning of names can shed light on the text. The etymology I used there was Ṣûrām or *Ṣûrʿām, “their rock” or “rock of the people” and suggested that the narrative in 1 Nephi 4 lends itself to a wordplay with Zoram.

At the time, I noted that Zoram is first introduced into the narrative simply as the “servant of Laban” (1 Nephi 4:20, 31, 33), and that it’s not until taking an oath wherein he is promised his freedom that he is called by his name (1 Nephi 4:35). At the time, I suggested this could be a deliberate literary device intended to suggest that with the oath he became Zoram, a “rock,” steadfast and true to his oath.


While this reading is certainly interesting, Matt Bowen has just suggested an alternative etymology which fits this narrative even better. He suggests that it is a –rām (high/exalted/lifted up) name with the demonstrative zô, hence Zôrām, would mean something like “one who is lifted up/exalted.” The implications this has for 1 Nephi 4 are explained by Bowen as follows:

In the context of Zoram’s liberation from having been the “servant [i.e., slave] of Laban” to become a “free man” (1 Nephi 4:33), perhaps his name came to connote “the one lifted up” out of bondage.
With this meaning of Zoram in mind, it indeed seems significant that Zoram’s name is not used until after his oath with Nephi. At first just a lowly servant—or possibly even a slave—through the oath he became Zoram, the one who was lifted up out of bondage and into freedom.

Bowen’s etymology has the advantage over the previous etymology in that it works very well with other narratives in the Book of Mormon involving “Zoram” and other similar names, which is the focus of Bowen’s paper.

This is just a small example of the many ways the study of Book of Mormon names illuminates the narratives in the text. Book of Mormon names continue to be a fruitful avenue of exploration, and Bowen has prodigiously (two papers just this week!) been plumbing the depths of possibilities not only with Book of Mormon etymologies, but with literary wordplays on the names found throughout the texts.


While these are often speculative, and they may not all pan out, the very fact that so many can be plausibly proposed is strongly suggestive of the Hebraic origins of the Book of Mormon. If you disagree, you are welcome to make up a whole bunch of names and stories and then see if any of the names can reasonably mean anything in Hebrew or Egyptian, and if so, you can then check to see if those meanings happen to pun on the details of your randomly made up stories in any meaningful way. Good luck.

Comments

  1. Neal,

    I think you know how much name and word etymology fascinates me! Guess what I'm going to print out now that my printer is working again!

    Don Neighbors

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh, if only we could accept the idea that the entire Book of Mormon is nothing more than the product of the Illuminati (who spent decades working on this) instead of Joseph, we can move on with our lives. Of course I have NO evidence of this in the slightest, but surely this is more plausible than the consistent story we get from the series of people who helped Joseph translate the plates.

    ...or something.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The 15 “Best Books” to Read BEFORE Having a Faith Crisis

Elder M. Russell Ballard recently stressed that it is important for Gospel educators to be well-informed on controversial topics, not only by studying the scriptures and Church materials, but also by reading “the best LDS scholarship available.” I personally think it is imperative in today’s world for every Latter-day Saint—not just Gospel educators—to make an effort to be informed on both controversial issues as well as knowing reliable faith-building information as well.
(Given that Elder Ballard’s CES address was published to general Church membership in the Ensign, I think it’s safe to say that Church leadership also feels this way.)
An important step in the process of getting informed is reading the 11 Gospel Topic essays and getting familiar with their contents. But what’s next? How can a person learn more about these and other topics? What are the “best books” (D&C 88:118) or “the best LDS scholarship available”?
Here are 15 suggestions.
1. Michael R. Ash, Shaken Faith S…

Responding to the New Video on Nahom as Archaeological Evidence for the Book of Mormon

Many of my (few) readers have probably already seen the new video by Book of Mormon Central on Nahom as archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon, starring my good friend (and co-author on a related paper) Stephen Smoot. If you haven’t, check it out:


As usual, comments sections wherever this video is shared have been flooded by Internet ex-Mormons insisting this not evidence for the Book of Mormon. I’ve actually had a few productive conversations with some reasonable people who don’t think Nahom is, by itself, compelling evidence—and I can understand that. But the insistence that Nahom is not evidence at all is just, frankly, absurd. So I’ll just go ahead and preempt about 90% of future responses to this post by responding to the most common arguments against Nahom/NHM now:
1. The Book of Mormon is false, therefore there can be no evidence, therefore this is not evidence. First, this is circular reasoning. It assumes the conclusion (Book of Mormon is false) which the evidence pre…

New Paper on Isaiah in the Book of Mormon

Joseph M. Spencer, an adjunct professor at the BYU religion department, recently published a paper in the non-LDS peer review journal Relegere: Studies in Religion and Reception, titled, “Isaiah 52 in the Book of Mormon: Note’s on Isaiah’s Reception History.” Spencer is a young scholar who is doing exciting stuff on the Book of Mormon from a theological perspective.
The paper is described as follows in the abstract: Despite increasing recognition of the importance of Mormonism to American religion, little attention has been given to the novel uses of Isaiah in foundational Mormon texts. This paper crosses two lines of inquiry: the study of American religion, with an eye to the role played in it by Mormonism, and the study of Isaiah’s reception history. It looks at the use of Isa 52:7–10 in the Book of Mormon, arguing that the volume exhibits four irreducibly distinct approaches to the interpretation of Isaiah, the interrelations among which are explicitly meant to speak to nineteent…