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Jaredite GN 1. Mountain in Old World, “which they called” SHELEM “because of its exceeding height” (Ether 3:1)


Until possible language affinities for JAREDITE names can be determined, all suggestions for etymologies of JAREDITE names must remain more speculative than substantive. With that caveat, the onomasticon does offer etymologies for some JAREDITE names, especially if it is possible that some JAREDITE names were translated into NEPHITE, or were otherwise related to one or more Semitic languages.

If SHELEM is a translation of the JAREDITE name into NEPHITE, rather than a transcription, then perhaps Semitic languages can be appealed to for the meaning. (In the passage, “which they called the mount Shelem,” the definite article “the” is not expected. Rather, English would prefer “which they called Mount Shelem.” Hebrew does have a construction “in mountain the Gilead,” (Genesis 31:23; see similar constructions in Exodus 24:13, Deuteronomy 1:7, and Joshua 11:17), which the King James Bible translates as “in the mount Gilead.” If the King James translation of Genesis 31:23 masks the Hebrew construction, perhaps the Book of Mormon translation “called the mount Shelem” masks a Hebrew vorlage, “called mountain the Shelem.”)

An intriguing suggestion is to derive SHELEM from Arabic and HEBREW סלם sullām, “ladder, stairway, elevation” (LID, 242). However, both HEBREW and Arabic have /s/ and not /š/ or /ś/, while SHELEM seems to require /š/ or /ś/ (JAT). Another Semitic possibility is Akkadian simmiltu, “ladder,” partly because the issue with the initial sibilant is not as pronounced (cuneiform texts seldom distinguish between Semitic /s/, /ś/ and /š/, especially in initial position), and despite the obvious metastasis compared with the Arabic and HEBREW. The Akkadian word occurs in a context (literary text) that would lend itself to the Book of Mormon context referring to “exceeding height.” The passage is from the Nergal and Ereškigal myth in which the god “Namtar ascended the length (?) of the stairs of heaven,” where simmiltu “ladder” is translated as “stairs.” [1] Other Akkadian texts mention the “ladders” (“ledges”) on high mountain ranges.[2]

The common Semitic root שלם šlm, can mean “peace,” “to pay,” “weal/wealth,” “complete/perfect,” etc. However, none of these various meanings for šlm provide the meaning “exceeding height.”[3]

The HEBREW segholate form שלם šelem, a type of sacrificial offering, often translated “peace offering” in the King James Bible, would seem to match well the Book of Mormon name. But with the exception of Amos 5:22, the form only occurs in the plural in HEBREW.[4] The denotation does not lend itself easily to the descriptive “exceeding height,” unless by synecdoche (offerings were often made in “high places”) the sacrifice itself was seen as “exceeding height.” The word for “burnt offerings” in HEBREW comes from the root meaning to ascend up, עלה. The play on words is explicitly made in Judges 13:20 when the “angel of the Lord ascended” with the flame of the offering.

The root šelem occurs in the PN Shelemiah, with the suffixed theophoric element for JEHOVAH. The meaning however is “Yahweh has replaced.”[5] Other names possibly connected with this root include šlmyhw, a name on seals from Arad, 7th c. BC (IDAM No. 67 9838) and JERUSALEM, 7th–6th c. BC (Israel Mus. No. 71-46.88) (JAT); šelōmōh SOLOMON, ʾab-šālōm, Absalom, ʾabī-sālōm, Abishalom (JAT).[6] But, again the denotation does not seem to lend itself to the descriptive “exceeding height.”

Unlikely is the suggestion that the name is composed of the relative particle še and ʿalem or ʿelam, “upon, over; high; highland; etc.” (RFS). First of all, the proposed form is not attested, and the root meaning “to ascend,” ʿlh, would leave the m unaccounted for (JAT).

Cf. Book of Mormon SHILOM, SALEM, SHEREM

See also Shelem Variants


Deseret Alphabet: 𐐟𐐀𐐢𐐇𐐣 (ʃiːlɛm)


  1. Chicago Assyrian Dictionary S, 274b. The Akkadian is "ēlâ Namtar arkat sisim-me-lat šamām[]" from the Nergal and Ereškigal myth.
  2. Ibid.
  3. For example, it is also unlikely that “exceeding height” can be derived from Semitic šlm, “peace,” meaning “a high place with the idea of safety and hence peace,” as Nibley proposes in The World of the Jaredites. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft Publishing Co., 1952), 243.
  4. For Punic šlm see Dictionary of the North-West Semitic Inscriptions, 1152. For the Ugaritic see Ugaritic Textbook, 19.2424; and from the Alter Orient und altes Testament series (20/6), Manfred Dietrich and Oswald, Loretz, ed., Analytic Ugaritic Bibliography, (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 1996), 886-7.
  5. See Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, eds. The Hebrew & Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 2 vols. Leiden: Brill, 1995.
  6. It is possible that *ASSYRIAN šulmanu, šalamnu, “peace-offering, sacrifice to God” may be related to this root; cf. HEBREW s/lm (RFS)
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