|Lehite GN||1.||Land and hill, also known as Ramah (q.v.), located in a land of many waters (Mormon 6:2; 8:2)|
Cumorah could be a verbal noun from the Hebrew root whence comes kōmer, “priest,” hence kemōrāh, “priesthood.” (See JAT in NPSEHA 149.1 [June 1982]) (Cf. kumirtu, “priestess,” the feminine of West Semitic kumru, “priest,” on an Assyrian tablet from the time of Asshurbanipal, now in the British Museum [ANET 301:1]). This view has recently been defended by Ricks and Tvedtnes, who point to the Hebrew noun pattern peʿullāh.23 The only difficulty with this explanation lodged in the past is that this word for “priest” is used in the OT in reference to pagan priesthood, while the word kōhen designates priests of the order of Aaron (JAT). That is why Hackett, in also proposing this etymology, translates it as “idolatry,” with the feminine ending making it an abstract noun (JH). Ricks and Tvedtnes point out that while it is true that kōhen is used for priests of the tribe of Levi, kōmer was used for non-Levitical priests, Israelite and otherwise, basing this on 2 Kings 23:5, Hosea 10:5, and Zephaniah 1:4. They then conclude, “Since Lehi’s party did not include descendants of Levi, they probably used kōmer wherever the Book of Mormon speaks of priests.” This makes sense.
It is also possible that Cumorah is a corruption of Gomorrah (JH). Though the first letter of the name in Hebrew is spelled with an ʿayin (ע), “ʿ,” the original pronunciation of the name is with a ǵayin “ǵ,” as is demonstrated by the transliteration into the Greek LXX form gammora*, from which the KJV derives its reading. Gomorrah came to designate in the Old Testament a desolate, God-destroyed place, which would be an appropriate name for the Hill Cumorah when it was first discovered by the Nephite search party sent out from Nephi to try and find Zarahemla.
As has been pointed out by others, Hebrew ʾôr means “light, flame, fire” and is used as “revelation” in Numbers 27:21, 1 Samuel 28:6, Isaiah 2:5; 49:6, 51:4, and Proverbs 6:23. For feminine form see Psalms 139:12 and Est. 8:16 (RFS). Coupled with Hebrew qūm, “to rise (up),” the meaning “Arise, o light” or “Light has arisen” is a very tempting etymology, given the significance of the Hill Cumorah in LDS scripture and thought. For an example of such an interpretation see David A. Palmer’s In Search of Cumorah (Bountiful, UT: Horizon Publishers, 1981), p. 21; and Robert F. Smith, “Oracles & Talismans, Forgery & Pansophia: Joseph Smith, Jr., as a Renaissance Magus,” Typescript draft, August 1987, p. 52, n. 6. [Copy in the author’s possession.].
However, this interpretation is not without its difficulties. The normal form of the word “light” in Hebrew is simply ʾōr, without any ending. The “-ah” would have to be explained as either an energic ending on an imperative verbal form, or as a feminine ending on a noun. This would yield such literal meanings as, “Arise, Shine!” or “Arise, o (feminine) light.” The biblical passage most like Cumorah is Isaiah 60:1, qūmī ʾōrī, containing the feminine command form, “arise, shine.” But “cum orah” cannot be feminine. To read both “Cum” and “orah” as masculine imperatives requires that “orah” be an energic and “cum” not be an energic, which is unlikely though possible. Suffice it to say, to see in Cumorah a combination of “arise” and “light” is plausible.
Also possible is Hebrew kūm-ʾōrāh, “mound of light/revelation.” (RFS, “Oracles & Talismans, Forgery & Pansophia: Joseph Smith, Jr., as a Renaissance Magus,” Typescript draft, August 1987, p. 52, n. 6. [Copy in the author’s possession.]) Cf. Moroni’s words “And whoso shall bring it to light” (Moroni 8:14–15) and “it shall be brought out of darkness unto light. . . and it shall shine forth out of darkness” (Moroni 8:16) (RFS).
The root Hebrew kmr occurs in words having to do with heat, ripening, fermentation; darkness, gloom; net, snare (JH).
Egyptian Arabic kom, komat, “heap, pile, mound, tell” (cf. Kom Ombo in Upper Egypt). Hebrew kūm, “to heap up, raise, establish, confirm, be established,” closely related to qūm, “to rise, stand, exist, live, remain, endure, persevere, come forth, be confirmed” (RFS).
There are names from ancient Egypt which resemble Cumorah: Egyptian kmwr3, name of the Great Bitter Lake near modern Ismailiyah (RFS); Egyptian kmwr, “great black,” a region of the 4th and 5th nomes of Egypt, of a town near Memphis, of a sanctuary in the Fayyum, of a canal between Thebes and Kift, and even a name for the Red Sea; the name km.t, “black,” or kmt3, “black land,” was applied to Lower Egypt, the Delta region rich in black volcanic soil brought down by the Nile River during its annual flooding (RFS); Egyptian kmwrm3, name of the great canal joining the Nile and the Red Sea (RFS).
Cf. Book of Mormon COM, et al.
See also Cumorah / Camorah / Comorah Variant
- P. 257.
- The Ugaritic alphabet, which in extant copies predates the Phoenician script (or alphabet) and which also obviously preserves an older and more complete tradition than the Phoenician script, contains separate and original characters for the phonemes “ʿ” and “ǵ.” In the Phoenician script, the “ǵ” was never represented as a separate phoneme, but rather fell together with the character ע which represented the “ʿ.” Thus, at the time the alphabet was adopted to write Hebrew, there was only one character, ע, to represent two originally different phonemes, “ʿ” and “ǵ.” Because spoken Arabic still differentiated between the “ʿ” and “ǵ” when it borrowed a later version of the Phoenician script, the borrowers had to invent a new character to represent the “ǵ.” They simply took the character for “ʿ,” ع, and added a diacritical mark, , to represent “ǵ.” That the tradition, though probably not the pronunciation, of “ǵ” in Hebrew was preserved into the Hellenistic period is proven by the Greek transcriptions in the LXX of Gomorrah and by examples such as the Hebrew ʿzh with the LXX gaza and the KJV “Gaza.” If the Book of Mormon GN Cumorah does represent an altered version of Gomorrah, it would demonstrate that the tradition of ע representing an alveolar voiced fricative and not just an alveolar plosive was alive and well in Lehi’s day.
- See Mosiah 21:26, “They did find a land which had been peopled; yea, a land which was covered with dry bones; yea, a land which had been peopled and which had been destroyed.” See also Mosiah 8:8. That this was the land of Cumorah, see Alma 22:29-31 and Ether 15:11. Even later on, when the Nephites began to settle the far northern lands, they described the land as “desolate,” despite the “large bodies of water and many rivers” (Helaman 3:3-6).
- RFS attributes this idea to Eldon and Welby Ricks and lists Job 25:3; Mark 5:4; Isaiah 2:5; 49:6; 51:4; Proverbs 6:23; Psalms 139:12; Esther 8:16. Cf. Isaiah 60:1, qûmî ‘ôrî, “Arise, shine!”