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.


  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

  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.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

“The Dominant Narrative is Not True”: Some Thoughts on Recent Remarks by Richard Bushman

The following is making its rounds on Facebook (from this video): Questioner: In your view do you see room in Mormonism for several narratives of a religious experience or do you think that in order for the Church to remain strong they would have to hold to that dominant narrative?
Richard Bushman: I think that for the Church to remain strong it has to reconstruct its narrative. The dominant narrative is not true; it can’t be sustained. The Church has to absorb all this new information or it will be on very shaky grounds and that's what it is trying to do and it will be a strain for a lot of people, older people especially. But I think it has to change. As I have seen this quote flash across my Facebook news feed and thought about how to make sense of it, I have been reminded of the short essay response questions I would often have on tests or assignments in college or even high school. It would not be uncommon for these questions to be built around a quote from an important schola…

Unpublished Book by John L. Sorenson Now Available Online

Whether critics of the LDS faith know it or not, John L. Sorenson’s work on transoceanic voyaging in pre-Columbian times has garnered considerable respect among at least some non-LDS scholars. His publications on the subject span across six decades, and appear in a variety of peer-reviewed and academic publications, such as El México Antigo, New England Antiquities Research Association Newsletter, Man Across the Sea: Problems of Pre-Columbian Contacts (published by the University of Texas Press), Contact and Exchange in the Ancient World (published by the University of Hawai’i), and Sino-Platonic Papers (published by the University of Pennsylvania).
He has co-published a 2-volume annotated bibliography of the literature on pre-Columbian contacts, which received some positive reviews. He also co-wrote (with a non-Mormon scholar) World Trade and Biological Exchange before 1492, detailing all the biological evidence for transoceanic contact before Columbus. In a letter thanking Sorenso…