From Book of Mormon Onomasticon
Revision as of 16:10, 7 April 2011 by Jlg66 (talk | contribs)
Jump to navigationJump to search
Lehite GN 1. Sea, most likely off the Arabian coast, meaning “many waters” (1 Nephi 17:5)

IRREANTUM is one of the few Book of Mormon names that is defined with a textual gloss in the Book of Mormon. This gloss signals that its meaning was not readily discernible to readers of the plates and was not in their language. A number of different etymologies have been proposed. (The etymologies are more complex than usual, and so are numbered for convenience but are listed, as usual, from most preferred to least preferred.)


IRREANTUM may be composed of four elements: a prosthetic aleph, the root rwy, the nominalizing affix -an, and the root tmm. Together, these four elements would yield the literal meaning, “abundant watering of completeness.” This meaning is an acceptable match with the translation given in 1 Nephi 17:5, “many waters.”[1]

The root rwy is common to the West Semitic languages and has the general meaning “thorough watering, to water plentifully.”[2] That IRREANTUM has a doubled /r/ does not present any problems. None of the West Semitic languages originally indicated in the orthography the doubling of consonants. (Akkadian, the East Semitic language group, did indicate on occasion the doubling of a consonant.) Not until more than a thousand years after the time of Lehi were diacritical marks introduced into written Hebrew and Arabic that indicated the doubling of a consonant. However, the pronunciation of the doubled consonants in Lehi’s day is certain, both on the basis of comparative Semitics and because the doubling Semitic languages is phonemic.

The /i/ that precedes the doubled /r/ is also easily explained as either a prosthetic aleph added to the name to break up a consonant cluster,[3] or as the aleph of the South Semitic definite article 'il. When the article is pronounced together with the noun that follows it, the/l/ assimilates to the following consonant, doubling it.[4] Supporting this interpretation of the first two elements of IRREANTUM is the existence of a pre-Islamic city/village name ʾrwy,[5] exactly what might be expected from the combination of a prosthetic aleph or an assimilated definite article and the root rwy. The first part of IRREANTUM would then be ’rrȇ-<*’rrey-<*rwey-.

The element -ān is a common affix (a particle appended to a word) used in all the Semitic languages, including ancient South Semitic. It occurs Aespecially in abstracts,[6] meaning abstract nouns, similar to the use of the affix "-ship" in the English word "kingship." An abstraction from "watering" seems to fit the requirement here that IRREANTUM have something to do with "water."[7]

The final element, tmm, could well be the common West Semitic root meaning “complete, whole; innocent, perfect; etc. Both the noun form and the infinitive form in Hebrew are tōm, which reverts to its earliest form, tūm, when it is not stressed. Together with the first part of IRREANTUM, the name would mean, somewhat literally, “abundant watering of completeness,” or “fully abundant waters.” That Irrean and tum are separate words would also explain why the /n/ does not assimilate to the following /t/, which always happens within a word of Hebrew origin, but not when the /n/ ends one word and the /t/ begins another.

It is possible that the Akkadian city name URUa-ri-ia-an-ta in north-west Syria[8] could be etymologically related to IRREANTUM. (PYH)

Several Egyptian etymologies have been proposed.


One of these etymologies is composed of several Egyptian elements: *itrw-ʿ3-n-tm. Robert F. Smith proposed that the irre- element might be related to Egyptian itrw which, though etymologically spelled with a t is known to have lost it in pronunciation by the Late Bronze Age being borrowed into Hebrew as ye'or and surviving in Coptic as eioor (Sahidic dialect), ioore (Akhmimic dialect), ior (Bohairic dialect), and iaar or iaal (Fayyumic dialect).[9] It also occurs as part of the Akkadian term niaru "papyrus"[10] (from Egyptian n3-itrw "the things of the river"). The term means a "watercourse, river or canal."[11] The second element ʿ3 is the Egyptian word for "great"[12] surviving into Coptic as o (Sahidic and Bohairic dialects), ou (Sahidic dialect), au (Sahidic dialect), or a (Fayyumic dialect).[13] The n is the genitive marker.[14] The tm element means "perfect, complete."[15] Together the elements would mean "great watercourse of all." (JG)


Hugh W. Nibley privately suggested as possible sources iiry-ʿnḏtyw-mw.

In order to fully understand this, it must first be explained that the biblical Hebrew phrase for “Many Waters” is mayîm rabbîm (Psalms 32:6, 69:2-3,14-15, 93:4, Job 27:20, Isaiah 17:12-13, Jeremiah 51:13, Ezekiel 19:10, 31:5,7, 32:13; ǁ”rivers” Song of Songs 8:7), which has a very significant meaning as the “Deep” (tĕhôm) source of rivers, seas, springs, etc. (cf. 1 Nephi 14:11 [ǁRevelation 17:1 hudatōn pollōn in a quotation from LXX Jeremiah 51:13, referring to the waters of Babylon], Psalm 18:16 [2 Samuel 22:17], Jeremiah 51:55, Ezekiel 31:15, 43:2, Revelation 1:15, 14:2, 19:6; “seas”ǁ”rivers” Psalm 98:7-8). The Indian Ocean area referred to in 1 Nephi 17:5 is elsewhere described variously as Aramaic yamma’ śimmoqa’ “the Red Sea” (including the Persian Gulf; cf. Hebrew smq “red”) = the Erythrean Sea/ erythran . . . Thalassan, as noted by Joseph Fitzmyer in his translation-commentary on The Genesis Apocryphon of Qumran Cave I[16] at 1QapGn 21:17-18 (cf. ymʼ rbʼ “Great Sea” at 16:12). This is also familiar from LXX Greek erythra thalassa = Masoretic Hebrew yam sûp “Sea of Reeds.”[17] Since Lehi and Nephi clearly knew Egyptian language (1 Nephi 1:2), perhaps Hebrew “Many Waters” would have immediately brought to mind Egyptian mw ʿЗw “Great Waters,”[18] or a likely precursor of Bohairic Coptic Fiyom Nhah “The Endless Sea (Red Sea)”[19] (cf. Fayyum, and Exodus 23:31, Deuteronomy 1:1). The Hebrew word for “many” rabbîm might likewise have brought to mind the numerical usage of that same Hebrew root in rĕbābâ “myriad, ten-thousand,” (as in Genesis 24:60, Judges 20:10, Son of Songs 5:10), which in turn might also have conjured up the Egyptian numerical equivalent, tbʽ “finger; ten-thousand,” or possibly ʽnt(y) “fingernail; ten-thousand, many” – to judge from Siegfried Schott’s transliteration of duplicate lines of a mythological Egyptian text as (1) rЗ ʽnty mw (Papyrus Louvre 3129, J, 57), and (2) rЗ n(n)tЗ///wm(w) dšr (British Museum 10252, 11, 33), as “mouth of many waters” (ʽanty-Wassers), and “mouth of the Red Sea.”[20]

Since cosmic “Many Waters” (mayîm rabbîm = tĕhôm “Great Deep”) is the source of all rivers, seas, and lakes, another tack uses Egyptian itrw, ir(w) “Nile, river” (Coptic ior, iaar, eiero, etc.; Akkadian[21] maruya-ru-ʽu-ú = Eg. itrw-ʽЗ “Great-River”[22] = Hebrew Yĕʼōr “Nile”(Genesis 41:1-3, Exodus 2:3,5, 4:9),[23] which H. Nibley long ago suggested may be part of the direct source of IRREANTUM.[24] Is this related to Late Egyptian irt “water”?[25] (RFS)

The phrase was interpreted by Siegfried Schott as the “mouth of ʿnḏty-waters,[26] with the dual of ʿnt, “finger, ten thousand” (perhaps to be associated with the dual or plural of ḏbʿ),[27] which might be taken as the philological equivalent of the Hebrew rb, rbb, “myriad, ten thousand,” the highest number in Hebrew for which there is a word (RFS, “Egyptianisms”).[28] This interpretation, however, does not work because the word is not written with a finger (Sign D50 and D51)[29], but rather with an official on a standard (variant of N74).[30] (JG) The text, an execration ritual, appears in two fourth century B.C. manuscripts, one in the Louvre and the other in the British Museum. The British Museum manuscript contains a translation of this Middle Egyptian text into Late Egyptian. Nibley saw the Late Egyptian phrase iiry-ʿndtyw-mw as a possible source for Irreantum, and even wrote it in the margin of the copy of the text that he used. The sign that Nibley read as mw (N35a),[31] is in fact the water determinative and not a pronounced element. Robert F. Smith, however, points out that the water sign might represent Egyptian group-writing and may represent -um.[32] Group writing, however, is not otherwise used in the two papyri, nor expected in an Egyptian place name. The context of the papyrus, moreover, argues against such an interpretation. The passage itself reads (with the phrase in italics): "O lord of the slaughter that is beside the water of Busiris, who is over the water of the ocean, who extends the life of the chief of the palace, who lives and causes others to live, come that you may protect me from death today, and the terror and the coming of darkness because I am he who binds on heads and establishes necks, and who gives breath to the weary of heart."[33] The phrase in question is a translation of Middle Egyptian r-gs ʿndtyw. So neither the writing nor the context support this proposed etymology.(JG)


Hugh W. Nibley also points out that “one of the more common Egyptian names for the Red Sea was Iaru...[which] is not Egyptian...[and whose] meaning is unknown,”[34] and that “antum” from iny-t and ʿnjt both describe large bodies of water. Also note that “many waters” is a typical Egyptian designation, e.g., Fayyum (< Egyptian 'p3 ym' "the sea") (SC, 195.). The term i3rw, however, is an Egyptian term for "reed".[35] It usually appears in the phrase "Field of Reeds" which is a designation for a region of the sky south of the ecliptic.[36]


Hugh W. Nibley also privately suggested as possible sources r3-n(n)-t3[]wm-dšr. (RFS) This may mean something like “mouth of the Red Sea.” No reference has been given nor has the toponym been located. (JG)


  1. The fact that Nephi provides a translation of the transliterated name may indicate that some or all of the name may not have been completely transparent to native Hebrew speakers.
  2. The root rwy appears in Hebrew and other North-west Semitic languages. For example, Hebrew has rwh, which has the following meanings in its various verbal forms: Qal, to drink one’s fill, to be refreshed; Piel, to give to drink abundantly, water thoroughly; and Hifʿil, to water thoroughly. (See Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, CD-ROM version [Leiden: Brill], under rwh.) In Ugaritic, the root occurs also in a personal name, bn rwy, but the meaning of the name is uncertain. (See Frauke Gröndahl, Die Personennamen der Texte aus Ugarit, Studia Pohl 1 [Rome: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1967], 312.) In South Semitic languages, the area where the land of Bountiful is located, the root also appears. For example, in inscriptional Qatabanian, the root rwy means "irrigation system" (Stephen D. Ricks, Lexicon of Inscriptional Qatabanian [Roma: Editrice Pontifico Istituto Biblico], 153). In Sabaic, yhrwy[n] means to "provide with irrigation," while rwym is a well, or watering place. (See Joan Copeland Biella, Dictionary of Old South Arabic: Sabean Dialect. Harvard Semitic Studies 25 [Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1982], 482.) Finally, in modern Arabic, the root rwy is associated with water for drinking and irrigation. See Edward William Lane, An Arabic-English Lexicon, 8 parts (Beirut, Lebanon: Librairie du Liban, 1980), 3:1194B1195.
  3. Other instances of prosthetic aleph in Hebrew include ʾeṣbaʿ ʾarbaʿ, and ʾezrôaʿ. Spanish also prefixes a prosthetic vowel before the initial /st/ consonant cluster, e.g., Estefan instead of Stefan.
  4. As I will later point out, there seem to be reasons to believe that this name given to this place name may have been influenced by South Arabian, where it is located.
  5. G. Lankester Harding, An Index and Concordance of Pre-Islamic Arabian Names and Inscriptions (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1971), 38. (I have not yet been able to find the location of the town based on the information provided, partly because the BYU library does not have the relevant sources.) In addition, there are family, clan, and/or tribe names in pre-Islamic inscriptions, such as rwyn and rwym, containing the root rwy, which in the Arabic form rawiy means "abundant, well watered" (see Harding, 291). I thank my friend and colleague, Brian Hauglid, for drawing my attention to this entry in Lankester Harding.
  6. Sabatino Moscati and others, An Introduction to the Comparative Grammar of the Semitic Languages (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1969), 82, '12.21.
  7. Some people may argue that the element as rendered here, cannot be a Hebrew form of the affix. Due to the so-called Canaanite shift in Hebrew, where other Semitic languages have an (accented) long /ā/, Hebrew and a few other North-west Semitic languages have a long /ō/. Thus, this common Semitic affix, -ān, became -ōn in Hebrew. There are however examples of -ān remaining -ān in Hebrew, e.g., šulhān, "table," and qorbān, "offering" or "sacrifice." See Moscati, 82, '12.21. However, since the first part of IRREANTUM is attested as a place name in Arabia, and since IRREANTUM is most likely located on the southern coast of Arabia, it should not be surprising to find the regular South Semitic form of this affix and not the usual Hebrew form -ōn.
  8. Michael .C. Astour, “The Partition of the Confederacy of Mukiš-Nuhašše-Nii by Šuppiluliuma,” Orientalia 38 [1969] 410.
  9. W. E. Crum, A Coptic Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1939), 82.
  10. CAD N2:200-201.
  11. Adolf Erman and Hermann Grapow, Wörterbuch der aegyptischen Sprache (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1926), 1:146; R. O. Faulkner, A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian (Oxford: Griffith Institute, 1962), 33; W. E. Crum, A Coptic Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1939), 82.
  12. Erman and Grapow, Wörterbuch der aegyptischen Sprache, 1:161-62; Faulkner, 'Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian', 37.
  13. Crum, Coptic Dictionary, 253.
  14. Erman and Grapow, Wörterbuch der aegyptischen Sprache, 2:196-97.
  15. Erman and Grapow, Wörterbuch der aegyptischen Sprache, 5:303-4.
  16. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Genesis Apocryphon of Qumran Cave I: A Commentary (Rome 1966 /2nd ed., 1971), citing Josephus, Antiquities, I,1,3 §39; Herodotus 1:180, 2:11,158, 4:42; Pliny, Natural History 6:28; Jubilees 8:21, 9:2, 1 Enoch 32:2, 77:7-9; 4QEnc frag 2:20; Berossus; and Xenophon.
  17. Cf. J. T. Milik, Revue biblique, 65 (1958), 71, also cited in Fitzmyer, The Genesis Apocryphon of Qumran Cave I: A Commentary, .
  18. A. Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, 3rd ed. (Oxford, 1957), 199, n. 21, citing ZÄS, 59 (1924), 47* (plate VIII,22), and Papyrus Boulaq xviii,4 – all vis à vis 1 Nephi 17:17; cf. Crum Coptic Dictionary 742a.
  19. H. Nibley, Lehi in the Desert (Deseret 1952) 89-90 = Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, V:78, citing W. Spiegelberg, Koptisches Handwörterbuch, 204,258. Nibley also suggests a comparison of Coptic irnahte “great, many” + yum “sea,” also on the same pages of LID; Nibley, Since Cumorah, 1st ed., 195 = 2nd ed., 171; W. Westendorf, KHw, 2nd ed., 49, 324, citing Towers, JNES, 18:150-153, pЗ ym n šy-iЗrw.
  20. Schott, Urkunden mythologischen Inhalts (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1929):128-129. H. Nibley found this source over 40 years ago, and sent copies of it with a letter of explanation to Robert F. Smith, Sept 25, 1968.
  21. Of interest also is Akkadian jarru, ia-ar-ru, “pond, pool” (CAD 7:326, “I and J”). Note the double -rr-.
  22. H. Ranke, Keilschriftliches Material zur altägyptischen Vokalisation (Berlin, 1910), 29.
  23. Erman & Grapow, Wb I:146,10ff.; Crum, Coptic Dictionary 82; Erman ZDMG 46:108; Lambdin JAOS 73:151, all cited in Y. Muchiki, Egyptian Proper Names and Loanwords in North-West Semitic, SBL Dissertation Series 173 (Atlanta: SBL, 1999), 247-248.
  24. Nibley, Since Cumorah (Deseret 1967), lesson 6 end (p. 196) = Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, VII:171-172, citing M. Copisarow, VT, 12 (1962), 1-13; Iaru “Red Sea” in J. Towers, JNES, 18 (1959), 150-153; E. Zyhlarz, “Die Namen des roten Meeres im Spätägyptischen,” Archiv für ägyptische Archaeologie, 1 (1938):111-116.
  25. Pianchi 102, in Erman & Grapow, Wb I,106,3.
  26. Siegfried Schott, Urkunden mythologischen Inhalts (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1929), 67.
  27. Alan H. Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957), 456.
  28. Higher numbers must be expressed by combinations of lesser numbers. It is interesting to note that in the Nephite sections of the Book of Mormon, the highest numbers expressed are in thousands. Only in the Jaredite section does the number “million” appear.
  29. Alan H. Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957), 456.
  30. The sign is not in Alan H. Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, 492, nor is it in Petra Vomberg and Orell Witthuhn, Hieroglyphenschlüssel (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2008), 244-45. It may be found in Christian Leitz, Quellentexte zur ägyptischen Religion I: Die Tempelinschriften der greichisch-römischen Zeit (Münster: LIT Verlag, 2004), 167 and in Rainer Hannig, Großes Handwörterbuch Ägyptisch-Deutsch (2800-950 v. Chr.) (Mainz am Rhein: Philipp von Zabern, 1995), 1151, 1321. It is the sign for the ninth Lower Egyptian nome.
  31. Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, 490; Vomberg and Witthuhn, Hieroglyphenschlüssel, 240.
  32. James E. Hoch, Semitic Words in Egyptian Texts of the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period, §§52 (pp. 52-53), 304 (p. 221); Table 8, and page 508 (mu3).
  33. Siegfried Schott, Urkunden mythologischen Inhalts (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1929), 67; translation in Paul Y. Hoskisson, with Brian Hauglid and John Gee, “Irreantum,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 11,1 (2002): 92-93.
  34. Hugh W. Nibley, Since Cumorah (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1969), 196 = Hugh W. Nibley, Since Cumorah, 2nd ed., Collected Works of Hugh Nibley 6 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1988), 171-72, citing J. R. Towers, "The Red Sea," JNES 18 (1959): 150-53.
  35. R. O. Faulkner, Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian, 9.
  36. Rolf Krauss, Astronomische Konzepte und Jenseitsvorstellungen in den Pyramidentexten (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 1997).


Paul Y. Hoskisson, with Brian Hauglid and John Gee, “Irreantum,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 11,1 (2002): 90-93.