SHEUM

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SHEUM

Lehite noun		Plantfood, ca. 200 BC (Mosiah 9:9)

The fact that the Prophet Joseph Smith did not translate this name but rather transliterated it, means that he did not have access to an English word for this food. 
Therefore, in looking for an identification, the suggestions must be narrowed to an indigenous American food for which the Prophet would not have known the 
English translation. This obviously excludes any foods already attested in the translation, such as barley and wheat, etc., and foods the Prophet would have been 
familiar with, such as corn, rye, oats, garlic, onion, *sorghum, *millet, lentils, *pulse, peas, beans, perhaps even *emmer wheat, etc. Amaranth has been suggested 
(JLS).

The Lehite word Sheum though may be a Semitic word used for a New World plant. Therefore, looking for a Semitic root, even if the meaning of the root does not 
match the parameters outlined above, is appropriate.

It has been suggested that “X” might be derived from Sumerian še by way of East Semitic Akkadian, and thus Assyrian and Babylonian, še’um. Aside from the 
problem mentioned above (the Prophet would have had a word for barley and/or grain and thus would not have rendered the words on the plates with a 
transliteration), this suggestion is highly doubtful. There is no question that še meant grain and/or barley in Sumerian. However, East Semitic already had a word, 
uţţatu, which meant grain and barley and wheat, as well as pine nut. (The West Semitic cognate was hţt in Ugaritic, hţh in Hebrew, and ﺔﻄﻨﺣ (?) in Arabic.) The first 
question to be asked would be, why would East Semitic borrow a Sumerian word when it already had one? Well, East Semitic did borrow the word without question.

But the second question to be asked would be, did the borrowing of ŠE into Akkadian as še’um and hence into Assyrian and Babylonian, make the transition into 
Hebrew? This part is dubious. Either še’um came into West Semitic (Hebrew is a West Semitic language) in the Bronze Age or in the Iron Age. If it were during the 
Bronze Age (was there Hebrew in the Bronze Age?), then it would be difficult to explain why še’um would have been adapted/adopted with an m.  
Mimation is never used with plural endings in East Semitic (Akkadian, Assyrian, and Babylonian), while in North-west Semitic (Hebrew, Aramaic, Ugaritic, 
Phoenician, Ammonite, Moabite, Punic, etc.) –m and –n are normally used with the plural. In other words, if a North-west Semite is smart enough to borrow an East 
Semitic word, complete with case ending, would not the borrower have known that in borrowing the singular še’um, the West Semitic form with case ending would 
be še’u? And if še’um were borrowed so early, complete with case ending, with (as some would like to see in the Book of Mormon) or without mimation into West 
Semitic, why would North-west Semitic not have dropped the case ending when it dropped all other case endings sometime early in the Iron Age, probably late Iron 
Age I? And if the case endings were dropped, would not mimation on a singular noun be dropped all the more readily? The only examples in which case endings 
have been preserved in Hebrew are in bound forms like mtwšlḥ. 

On the other hand, if še’um had been borrowed into Hebrew in the Iron Age (when there was no need because Hebrew already had a word for barley and grain, sʿrh, 
the same as in Aramaic and also had a word for wheat), it would still be difficult to explain the preservation of the case ending and the mimation. By 
Neo-Assyrian times (when Israelites first came into sustained contact with East Semitic), case endings and mimation (for the singular only!), if used at all in Assyrian 
and Babylonian, were used only sporadically and often incorrectly. In addition, the neglect of case endings and mimation in Iron Age East Semitic written sources 
reflected an ever earlier neglect in the spoken language. By the time the written form of NA and NB had been somewhat standardized, the spoken language would 
have been leveled even more. In addition, most NA and NB occurrences of še’um are written logographically, ŠE, or syllabically in the oblique cases, še’am and še’im. 
(Perhaps R. Borger was referring to these late representations when he wrote, “Stat še finden sich auch die Pseudo-Logogramme še-um, še-im und še-am [ohne 
Rucksicht auf Kasus]. See his Mesopotamisches Zeichenlexikon, 374.) Therefore, any attempt to derive Book of Mormon “Sheum” by an appeal to either written NA/NB 
or even more so from spoken NA/NB must fail.

To sum up, neither an early borrowing nor a late borrowing can explain why Book of Mormon “Sheum” could have come through Hebrew with Iron Age Israelites to
the Americas. Perhaps this could be explained as a Jaredite origin for the word. That seems more defensible than an Iron Age origin. But even that suggestion had its 
problems. Were the Jaredites from the area of the two rivers? It is not certain that the Jaredites came from Mesopotamia. Nibley may be right, that the Tower of 
Babel of Genesis must have been somewhere other than Mesopotamia, just as T. Jacobsen thought the flood epic could not have originated in Mesopotamia. Therefore 
can we be sure the Jaredites had contact with Akkadian? (It would have had to have been Akkadian and not Sumerian; otherwise, the –um could not 
be accounted for.)

In 1905, Muss & Arnolt suggested a comparison with Hebrew seʾāh, a grain measure. If the etymology is correct, then this food name, like Book of Mormon Neas, may 
be a Jaredite borrowing (RFS).

Knowing the preceding, the following unlikely suggestions have nevertheless been made: Egyptian šm, “herbage” (Coptic sim, “grass, fodder, herbs”); Egyptian š3w, 
“coriander;” Egyptian swt (zwt), “wheat;” (This might be a loan word from Sumerian into Egyptian as the sound shifts match-JG) Hebrew šūm, Akkadian šūmu, Sumerian s u m, Arabic ūm, Aramaic tūmâʾ, “garlic.”