ZIFF

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Lehite noun 1. Mentioned ca. 160 BC in a list of materials that were taxed by King NOAH of the city of NEPHI (Mosiah 11:3, 8).

Etymology

Given that ZIFF is mentioned twice in the Book of Mormon, once in the middle of a list of metals that were taxed, “a fifth part of their gold and of their silver, and a fifth part of their ziff, and of their copper, and of their brass and their iron” (Mosiah 11:3), and the second time in a list “of all manner of precious things, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of brass, and of ziff, and of copper,” it is likely that ZIFF is a precious or semiprecious metal.

The fact that this Lehite word is not translated but rather transliterated, probably indicates that Joseph Smith did not have an English word for it. Two metals that are natively found in the Americas with which the Prophet might not have been acquainted are platinum and the gold alloy tumbaga.[1]

The biblical GN Ziph in Joshua 15:24 and the PNs in 1 Chronicles 4:16 and 2:42 (King James Bible has Ziph for both the GN and the PN name; the masoretic text has zîp for both)[2] would seem to offer the closest analog to Book of Mormon ZIFF. However, no etymology is given for either the GN or the PN.

If ZIFF were shiny, like many metals, it would be tempting to equate ZIFF with the HEBREW vocable ziw, “glow, complexion.”[3] It is possible that this is the source of the HEBREW month name Zif (King James Bible 1 Kings 6:1 for the HEBREW ziw), meaning, the month of blooming. It is probably related to Akkadian zīmu, “appearance, luster, glow.” As tempting as this suggestion might be, it is not without its difficulties. Book of Mormon clearly ends in a consonant, /f/, and none of the Semitic cognates of HEBREW ziw end in a consonant, except possibly Punic zyb. Furthermore, none of the translations of the 1 Kings 6:1 transliterate the HEBREW ziv with a final /f/ or a /p/, until the Matthew Bible, Zif, the Geneva Bible, Zif, and then the King James.[4]

Less likely is that Book of Mormon ZIFF may be something other than a metal, in which case we should consider the possibility of HEBREW zepet, “pitch, bitumen, asphalt” (Exodus 2:3; Isaiah 34:9), which appears also in Samaritan (zefet) (Rosenthal, Aramaic Handbook II/2, 4) and in Arabic as dift. Cf. EGYPTIAN sft, name of one of the seven oils, Demotic syf/sfy, resin of coniferous trees, and Coptic sife, “tar” (JAT).

Variants

Deseret Alphabet: 𐐞𐐆𐐙 (zɪf)

Notes


  1. RFS favors tumbaga due to the Arabic association with “redden;” tumbaga is particularly beautiful and has a definite redness because of its high copper content. ZIFF probably does not refer to zinc because Joseph Smith would have been familiar with this word.
  2. Also on a jar handle from Ramat Rahel (IDAM No. 62–40) (JAT).
  3. HALOT sub זו. This would seem to be the intent of the following two suggestions: “brightness”, “metallic brightness” (Reynolds, Dictionary of the Book of Mormon, p. 360); “ziph, zeph = “metal,” (Reynolds, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, VII, p. 373; and Reynolds, The Story of the Book of Mormon, 5th ed., p.293).
  4. The Septuagint does not contain this verse. The Vulgate and Wycliffe both have Zio.
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