ALMA

From Book of Mormon Onomasticon
Revision as of 00:17, 30 January 2011 by Squidge (talk | contribs) (Created page with "<pre>ALMA Lehite PN & GN 1. High priest, ca. 148 BC (Mosiah 17:2; Alma 5:11) 2. Son of No. 1, high priest and chief judge, ca. 100 BC (Mosiah 27:8; Ether 12:13) 3. V...")

(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to: navigation, search
ALMA

Lehite PN & GN	1. High priest, ca. 148 BC (Mosiah 17:2; Alma 5:11)
			2. Son of No. 1, high priest and chief judge, ca. 100 BC (Mosiah 27:8; Ether 12:13)
			3. Valley named from No. 1, ca. 148 BC (Mosiah 24:20–21)

Alma, as Hugh Nibley pointed out some years ago (BYU Studies 14 [Autumn 1973]: 121), is now attested in an undeniably ancient Semitic context, the letters of
 Bar Kokhba, from the Second Jewish Revolt in Palestine around the year 130 AD. The name, Alma ben Yehudah, appears in a business document at the end of 
the fourth line from the top, ʾlmʾ and at the beginning of the fourth line from the bottom ʾlmh. 

Though the initial consonant of Alma in the Bar Kokhba letter is an aleph, the name probably should be derived from the root with an initial ǵayin, ǵlm, but ʿlm 
in Hebrew, where the two proto-Semitic consonants ǵ and ʿ have fallen together as ʿ in Hebrew. The orthography of Hebrew in the first centuries BC and AD, 
especially Samaritan and Hasmonean Hebrew, also began to reflect the coalescence of the consonants aleph and ayin in the spoken language. The same 
interchange occurs in Phoenician, e.g., both ʾlm and ʿlm mean “eternity” (see DNWSI, II, 859). 

ʿlm occurs twice in the Old Testament, 1 Samuel 17:56 and 20:22, with the meaning “youth” or “lad.” Both occurrences contain a common vowel pattern for nouns
 in Semitic languages (the segholate form). The first occurrence, because of its position in the sentence, supplies the original vowel, the a of the qatl form. Thus, 
ʿlm would have been pronounced ʿalmu in proto-Semitic, exactly what would be required for the Book of Mormon form. (The final -u is the nominative singular 
masculine case ending. Long before the vowel markings were added to the Hebrew consonantal script of the Old Testament such vowels had all but disappeared 
from spoken Hebrew. Even in the earliest Hebrew documents, when case endings theoretically might still have existed in spoken Hebrew, such vowels would not 
have appeared because the consonantal script normally does not represent vowels in the writing, except in a few instances of the representation of long vowels.) 

The final -a of Alma probably represents a hypocoristic ending, that is, the name was shortened in antiquity as a form of endearment. Such hypocoristic endings 
commonly represented the name of a deity in a sharply contracted form, most often by a single final consonant, usually aleph (ℵ) but also with final he (ה), such 
as in the Bar Kokhba letter. If the biblical PN Baasha, bʿšʾ, is an example of such a hypocoristic ending, then perhaps this name is a morphological parallel to Alma.

The significance of the name Alma becomes clear from its use as an epithet in one of the Ugaritic mythological texts of the Late Bronze Age Levant. Ugarit was a 
small city-state that flourished between about 1500 and 1200 BC just north of present-day Latakia on the Syrian coast. The language spoken there was closely 
related to Hebrew and shares with it many precise poetic structures and vocabulary words. In one of the more famous epics from Ugaritic, the hero, named KRT, is 
called ǵlm ʾl, “lad of [the god] El” (KTU 1.14.II.8–9). If the Book of Mormon name can be derived from this epithet, then Alma would probably mean exactly what 
the Ugaritic epithet meant, “lad of God,” a rather appropriate meaning for both Book of Mormon prophets who bear this name, and who is called (?)
�Of course, other etymologies are possible, though less likely. The Arabic root ʿalama / ʿalima, “knowing, erudite; distinguished; chief, chieftain,” etc. (suggested by 
both RFS and JAT), yields plausible meanings. Also, ʾlm means “to bind” or “to be dumb” in Hebrew, and could possibly mean, with hypocoristic aleph ending, “He 
(God) is bound.” However, this root is attested in Hebrew only in two oblique verbal forms, niphal (Isaiah 53:7) and piel, neither of which would allow the spelling 
as it appears in the Book of Mormon. 

Also less likely is a meaning based on the Hebrew ʿlm, “eternity, world.” Nibley mentions that Alma is a popular Arab name meaning “young man, a coat of mail, a 
mountain, or a sign” (ABM 59).

Notes
Notice the ESA PN ʿlm, appearing on no less than seven monuments found in Arabia, four of them Safaitic; the Greek transliterations give the forms ʾolaimou, ʾallam 
and ʾallum (HWN in ABM 239 and especially fn. 28 to Chap. 22). 

I thank John W. Welch of BYU Studies for pointing out to me the second occurrence of Alma in the Bar Kokhba letter, in the fourth line from the bottom. For the 
original publication in English of the Bar Kokhba letter see Yigael Yadin, Bar Kokhba: The Rediscovery of the Legendary Hero of the Second Jewish Revolt Against 
Rome (New York: Random House, 1971), 176–7. 

For the latest transcription of the Ugaritic text consult M. Dietrich, O. Loretz, and J. Sanmartin, The Cuneiform Alphabetic Texts from Ugaritic, Ras Ibn Hani and Other 
Places (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 1995), 1.14.II.8–9. More about Ugarit and the Old Testament can be found in the chapter “Ugarit” in Cyrus H. Gordon, The Ancient 
Near East (Norton: New York, 1965), 93–100. 

For additional information about the interchange of aleph and ayin around the 1st c. AD, see the succinct comments by K. A. Mathews, “The Paleo-Hebrew Leviticus 
Scroll from Qumran,” BA 50:1 (March 1987): 50–51; for the Semitic languages in general, see S. Moscati, et al., An Introduction to the Comparative Grammar of the 
Semitic Languages (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1969), §8.51–58. 

For a listing of examples of -a as a hypocoristic suffix in Israelite personal names see Martin Noth, Die israelitischen Personennamen im Rahmen der 
gemeinsemitischen Namengebung (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1966 [photomechanical copy of the Stuttgart 1928 edition]), 38. For a general discussion of hypocoristica 
with specific reference to West Semitic Amorite names see Herbert B. Huffmon, Amorite Personal Names in the Mari Texts (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1965), 130–1; for 
Ammonite personal names roughly contemporary with Lehi confer Kent P. Jackson, “Ammonite Personal Names in the Context of the West Semitic Onomasticon,” in 
The Word of the Lord Shall Go Forth: Essays in Honor of David Noel Freedman (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1983), 507–521, particularly the lists at the end of the 
article; for hypocoristic West Semitic names from first millennium Mesopotamia see Ran Zadok, On West Semites in Babylonia During the Chaldean and Achaemenian 
Periods: An Onomastic Study (Jerusalem: Wanaarta and Tel-Aviv University, 1977), 148–150, with a note on p. 150 about hypocoristic aleph (ℵ) and he (ה).