Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Monday, September 20, 2010

New Evidence for the Authenticity of Lehi as an Ancient Semitic Male Name

Contrary to what one would expect if Joseph Smith were just making up the Book of Mormon, a surprisingly large number of the names introduced in the Book of Mormon have tantalizing evidence in favor of their plausibility as ancient names with Semitic roots. Some of the most interesting finds involve names that critics have attacked as blunders, such as the clumsy "mistake" of using the female Latin name Alma for an ancient man's name. Thanks to 20th-century archaeological finds, we now know that Alma was an ancient Jewish name for a man (more info is on my Book of Mormon Evidences page).

Today I'd like to point to the new evidence for the plausibility of Lehi as an ancient man's name in the Near East. Before discussing this any further, let me waive off the usual howls by pointing out that in showing evidence for the plausibility or authenticity of one tiny element in the Book of Mormon, I am not claiming that the Book of Mormon has been proved to be absolutely true. I am simply suggesting that one argument for rejecting the Book of Mormon might have been weakened.

The argument in this case involves the name Lehi, which does occur in the Bible but only as a placename, not as the name of a person. The Book of Mormon begins with a prophet named Lehi in 600 B.C., who ends up leading his family (including his son, Nephi, the record keeper introduced in the first verse) to the New World via an entirely plausible route through the Arabian Peninsula. Critics have suggested that Lehi is not known as a person's name and that Joseph Smith made a mistake in treating it as such.

Evidence for Lehi as an ancient male name is presented by Jeffrey R. Chadwick in his article, "Lehi in the Samaria Papyri and on an Ostracon from the Shore of the Red Sea," Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture, vol. 19, vo. 1, pp. 14-21, 2010. It's a good read. I'll just share the conclusion:
That the lḥy element of Ablehi was written in Aramaic script of the Persian period, just like the name lḥy on Ostracon 2071, and that the two inscribed names even look very much alike, also seems significant. If, indeed, it is quite plausible that the lḥy element of Ablehi is actually a Hebrew name (in a Samaritan context, north of Judea), then the plausibility of lḥy on Ostracon 2071 being a Hebrew name (in an Edomite context, south of Judea) is enhanced.

It is also an interesting coincidence that similar evidence for Lehi's wife's name has turned up in a papyrus document, written in Persian period Aramaic, in the era following the sixth century BC. The female Jewish/Hebrew name Sariah appears in an Aramaic papyrus from the fifth century BC (albeit partially restored by the original publisher). The document is known as C-22 (or Cowley-22), and was found at Elephantine in upper Egypt around the year 1900. The appearance of the name Sariah was first published as a possible example of the Book of Mormon female name Sariah by myself in 1993 [see "Sariah in the Elephantine Papyri"]. The female name Sariah does not appear in the Bible, just as the male name Lehi does not. Yet both appear in the Book of Mormon. That we can now identify both the Jewish/Hebrew names Sariah in the Elephantine Papyri and Lehi in the Samaria Papyri and on Ostracon 2071 represents two significant steps forward....
Again, I'm not saying this is any reason to join the Church. But I will venture my humble opinion that alleged problems with ancient names like Lehi, Sariah, and Alma are NOT good reasons to leave the Church or reject the Book of Mormon. There are plenty of other good reasons to choose from, if that's your goal, but my hope is that people will give the Book of Mormon a chance and actually read and study that majestic text before rejecting it out of hand based on what they've heard from the critics. It's a book that has changed my life and made it so much richer. I hope you'll experience the power of this Christ-centered book in your life, too.


NM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alma said...


Ten years ago a non-LDS scholar writing on the B-Hebrew listserve wrote what thought was a fascinating opinion while discussing theophoric names:

That isn't how names go imo, I don't know any names in the jussive. As for Sarah, I would guess that the theophoic is missing, as every name in the ane had a theophoric. It is probably
sariah, YHWH, or Yah, rules.
(emphasis mine.)


Alma said...

PS: It can be found at:

Georgia said...

Guessing a few names won't make me believe anything and you correctly agree with that.

Whats more important... I don't want to go through my whole life defending JS and all his crazy beliefs and terrible actions that he took.

As a mormon we (or should I say I used to) have to defend JS and some crazy stuff.

Jesus is true, JS is not the man we are taught and at a minimum some mormon beliefs are false. I'm willing to defend that.

I must have had blinders on not to see all these issues and falsehoods years ago.

I will come back and check you out in a few months Jeff.

Jeff Lindsay: said...

Do we have to actually defend the things that we can't make sense of, like much of the Old Testament and a variety of modern things as well? I have to accept the reality of human error and human confusion (often on my part) for anything involving mortals. That means I have to just scratch my head or even be upset about somethings that I can't figure out without having to abandon what we can know and what does make sense.

Georgia, forgive me if I'm completely misinterpreting your message as I read between the lines--so hard when it's just text without face-to-face context. But when I step back and wonder why you're responding this way, it almost sounds to me like you haven't completely settled into or found comfort with your current position--which is good, IMHO. In the unlikely event that I'm right in taking that angle, I'd say don't give up and keep pondering. I'd also like to ask what are your thoughts about the most significant crazy thing from Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon? Any room in your mind that it might have value? Any experiences with it that challenge the easy assumption that it's all made up? Could it be real? Or absolutely delusional?

openminded said...

Hi. I'm unlearned with Hebrew. What's the significance behind what the scholar said?

As for the name game, I think it's a more convincing plausibility than most. But on the flip side, there were a few names (ex: for animals) that could throw a reader off (curelom and cumom). I haven't read anything on a Semitic background for those words, but I wonder if it's fair to hold the same expectations for those words as we do for the names (and if not, why not).

Stan said...

These are real scholarly works that should be worthy publication. As I understand it, there is very little published in secular journals on BofM historicity. It is true that this is no proof of the BofM, but aren't scholarly journals intended to add to our body of knowledge, no matter how small each contribution may be? Are the papers coming out of the Maxwell institute not being published? Why? The Book of Mormon has to be the most important book both to our faith and to the secular study of the Americas. I'm stumped as to why the little we can illustrate as evidence is not published outside of our own institutions.

K. Ray Johnson said...

I have a few uncles with weird names. Who would believe that "Erin" is an authentic name for a 20th Century Maricopa County Male? It's like somebody just made that name up! I figure names aren't an exact science.

Mary Torruella Arrús said...

As an inactive member who is beginning to get her groove on, I must say: Yes, somethings may have peculiar names in BoM. Does it detract or hinder in the delivery of its multiple and powerful accounts of the way the peoples in the book evolved? For me, no. Does it bear witness to eternal truths? For me, yes. Does it enrich the lives of those who study it? For me, most definitely. Even when in my inactive period, living a life mirred in sin, there were many times I sought refuge in its pages. Did Christ present himself to the American hemisphere and tarry with its inhabitants and taught them the fullness of the Gospel? Of course!
Have I ever had to defend myself, my beliefs? Oh yeah, 35+ years of it and still going. Have people tried to present negative aspects of the prophet Joseph Smith? Uffff, in droves. I refuse to entertain.

My testimony is predicated by and sustained by the revelation of the Holy Spirit.

So, keep on trying to scratch grooves on the record vynil so the song won't sound purty...

You over there, me, over here, praying. For you, for all of us.