|Lehite GN||1.||Land and hill, also known as RAMAH (q.v.), located in a land of many waters (Mormon 6:2 (x2), 4 (x2), 5, 6 (x2), 11; 8:2)|
The hill CUMORAH is where MORMON buried all of the plates except the abridgement that he gave to his son, MORONI (Mormon 6:6). ETHER’s record states that the hill where MORMON buried the plates was named RAMAH (Ether 15:11).
It is possible that the different spellings of CUMORAH in the printer’s manuscript (Camorah once, Cumorah six times, and Comorah twice) could represent minor phonetic shifts in English pronunciation. However, the studies below will assume the various spellings are only scribal variants and not actual phonetic variants.
It may be that the root meaning of CUMORAH is related to the JAREDITE GN COMNOR/COMRON, with the former representing a grammatically feminine ending, while the latter, COMRON, may represent the form of a masculine place name. Of note is that both are GNs for a hill; and CUMORAH’s alternate name, RAMAH, also means “height; hill.”
As distant as it may seem, an East Semitic lexeme may provide an appropriate etymology for CUMORAH. The Akkadian verb kamāru in the G-stem means “to heap up, to layer” including corpses, and in the N-stem it is applied to ruin mounds and piled up corpses. Notice that Ether 11:6 states that JAREDITE prophets prophesied that “their bones should become as heaps of earth upon the face of the land except they should repent of their wickedness,” an apt description of the destruction of both the JAREDITES and the NEPHITES at the hill CUMORAH.
With metathesis, the Akkadian noun karmu, from the same root, means “ruin, ruin heap” and Akkadian karmūtu, “state of ruin.” The vocable karmūtu is an abstract noun and may be analogous to CUMORAH, a grammatical feminine which can be used as an abstract. Lending support to this suggestion is the likely HEBREW cognate kmr that occurs in words having to do with heat, ripening, fermentation; darkness, gloom; net, snare; and heap up (JH).
CUMORAH may be the English equivalent of the abstract noun for kĕmōrāh, based on the HEBREW noun pattern peʿullāh, from the HEBREW verbal noun kōmer (parallel to the HEBREW kehunnah, "priesthood," from the HEBREW noun kōhēn, "priest." One may also compare the HEBREW kōmer with kumirtu, "priestess," the feminine of West Semitic kumru, "priest," found on an ASSYRIAN tablet from the time of Asshurbanipal, now in the British Museum [ANET 301:1]). Even though the general sense of the HEBREW kōmer is "idolatrous priest" with reference to non-ISRAELITES priests, Ricks and Tvedtnes note that kōmer could also refer to non-Levitical priests, ISRAELITE or otherwise (cf. 2 Kings 23:5; Hosea 10:5; Zephaniah 1:4), observing that "since LEHI's party did not include descendants of LEVI, they probably used kōmer wherever the Book of Mormon speaks of priests." There were only three vowels available for expressing the first two letters of the word "Cumorah" in English: cu-, ca-, and co- (all of the other possible combinations (ce-, ci-, cy-) would have produced an initial /s/ sound). Since English tends to have penultimate stress (i.e., stress on the syllable before the end of the word), and since English tends to generate a "shwa" (/u/) sound in open, unstressed syllables, an open and unstressed "co-," "cu-," or "ca-" sound would have been pronounced with a "shwa" sound, thus "Cuh-MORE-uh." Even if the early Latter-day Saints tended to pronounce the first two letters as "cyu," still it was the original scribal realization that is significant, not its later pronunciation. The fact that the Hebrew consonant "r" cannot be doubled also helps to explain the presence of a singe "r" in this form. The principle of "compensatory lengthening" in HEBREW also explains the "o" sound in CUMORAH.
Another possibility is that CUMORAH a late NEPHITE rendering of GOMORRAH (JH). Some may object that LEHI and his family, when they left JERUSALEM, would not have known the form GOMORRAH with initial g or c. GOMORRAH, however, in the Masoretic Text is spelled with an ayin, namelyʿmrh, in the HEBREW Old Testament, which does not seem to allow for an initial c for this word. However, at the time LEHI left JERUSALEM, the pronunciation of the name in HEBREW was with a ġayin /ġ/, as is demonstrated by the transliteration into the Greek LXX form gomorra. (It is from this Greek form that the King James Bible drives its spelling, GOMORRAH.) In addition, when Semitic ġayin is represented in EGYPTIAN texts of the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period, it can be represented by /q/ or /g/. The /c/ of CUMORAH would then be a voiceless representation in “reformed Egyptian” script used by MORMON. The slight difference in vowels between CUMORAH and GOMORRAH present no additional problems. Thus, as far as the initial consonant is concerned, CUMORAH could be a late NEPHITE form of GOMORRAH.
The fact that GOMORRAH has a doubled r and CUMORAH only a single r is also a non issue. In HEBREW the r is not orthographically represented as doubled, i.e., it does not contain a dagesh forte. However, compensatory lengthening in some words indicates that the r is virtually doubled. Thus, when transcribed into Greek, the r was doubled. In LEHI’s day, HEBREW orthography would not have indicated a doubled r. Thus, the fact that CUMORAH, if it is to be derived from GOMORRAH, has only one r speaks for a HEBREW origin rather than being derived through Greek, English, etc.
CUMORAH as a late NEPHITE rendering of GOMORRAH is especially attractive because GOMORRAH came to symbolize in the Old Testament a desolate, God-destroyed place. It would be an appropriate name for the hill that the NEPHITE search party discovered when they were looking for ZARAHEMLA, but found instead “a land which had been peopled and which had been destroyed.
As has been pointed, HEBREW ʾôr means “light, flame, fire” and is used as “revelation” in Num. 27:21, 1 Sam. 28:6, Isa. 2:5, 49:6, 51:4, and Prov. 6:23. For the feminine form ʾôrah, which means “light” or “brightness,” see Est. 8:16, Ps. 139:12 (RFS) and Isaiah 26:19, though two of these three are not singular. Coupled with HEBREW qûm, “to rise (up),” the meaning “Arise, o light” or “Light arises” is a very tempting etymology, given the significance of the Hill CUMORAH in LDS scripture and thought.
However, this interpretation is not without its difficulties. ʾôrah would require the feminine imperative qûmî, not the masculine form qûm. For example, Isa. 60:1, qûmî ʾôrî, contains the feminine command forms, “arise, shine.” The masculine forms would be qûm and ʾôr. The only possible way to have qûm and ʾôrāh as verbs would be to make ʾôrah an energic, which is unlikely.
Suffice it to say, to see in CUMORAH a combination of “arise” and “light” is plausible only if one speculates that at the close of one thousand years of development of NEPHITE HEBREW, it did not behave any more like a Semitic language, while at the same time, it hung onto obscure Semitic forms such as an energic.
It has also been proposed that HEBREW CUMORAH may be derived from the HEBREW kūm-ʾōrāh, “mound of light/revelation.” Cf. MORONI’s words “And whoso shall bring it to light” (Moro. 8:14-15) and “it shall be brought out of darkness unto light. . .and it shall shine forth out of darkness” (Mor. 8:16) (RFS). Because the lexeme kūm does not appear in HEBREW at all, this etymology would have to be derived from the lexeme qûm that means “to raise up, erect; to stand up, to rise.” The feminine noun form qûmâ means “height.”
EGYPTIAN Arabic kom, komat, “heap, pile, mound, tell” (cf. Kom Ombo in Upper EGYPT), possibly related to HEBREW qûm, “to rise, stand, exist, live, remain, endure, persevere, come forth, be confirmed” (RFS), is interesting.
There are names from ancient EGYPT which resemble CUMORAH: (1) EGYPTIAN km-wr, “great black,” is the name of three different locations in ancient EGYPT, including the Great Bitter Lake near modern Ismailiyah (RFS). (2) EGYPTIAN k3mrw is a GN of a place in Asia.
See also Cumorah / Camorah / Comorah Variant
Deseret Alphabet: 𐐗𐐆𐐅𐐣𐐄𐐡𐐂 (kɪuːmoʊrɑː)
- See the Variant Page for the occurrences.
- See Royal Skousen, ATV 6:3636-3638, for a discussion of the various spellings of this name.
- HALOT sub. רמה.
- AHw 430-1 and CAD K, 112-4.
- CAD K, 218-9.
- See JAT in NPSEHA 149.1 [June 1982].
- “The Hebrew Origin of Some Book of Mormon Place Names,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 6/2 (1997) 255-257.
- P. 257.
- 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.” 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.”
- See James E. Hoch, Semitic Words in Egyptian Texts of the New Kindgom and Third Intermediate Period (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 412-13, 431. I thank my colleague John Gee for this reference.
- Mosiah 21:26. 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).
- 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.] RFS attributes this idea to Eldon and Welby Ricks and lists Job 25:3; Mark 5:4; Isa. 2:5; 49:6; 51:4; Prov. 6:23; Ps. 139:12; Est. 8:16. Cf. Isa. 60:1, qûmî ‘ôrî, “Arise, shine”.
- 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.
- HALOT sub. קום and קומה.
- Rainer Hannig, Die Sprache der Pharaonen: Großes Handwörterbuch (Mainz: von Zabern, 1995), 1395.