John A. Tvedtnes and Matthew Roper
In recent years, ancient sites in and around Israel have yielded numerous ancient writings, many of which contain proper names. Although many of the names are known from the Bible and other ancient texts, others were unattested in ancient sources until recently. Included in the latter group are several Semitic names that appear in the Book of Mormon. Three of them are discussed here.
Among the finds are 43 bronze arrowheads uncovered in Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon that date from the 11th through the 8th centuries B.C. Each is inscribed with its owner's name in the old Canaanite/Hebrew script. Two arrowheads belonged to men bearing the name <Ý< (Hebrew and its closest relatives were written without vowels). The name, which Israeli scholars say was vocalized <AÝa<, derives from the word <aÝ ("brother"). In the Book of Mormon, Aha is a son of the Nephite military leader Zoram (Alma 16:5). The name <aÝ< is hypocoristic, or the first element (usually the name of a deity) of a longer name.
This discovery of ancient inscribed metal arrowheads further diffuses a criticism of the Book of Mormonthat the mention of steel therein is anachronistic. Dr. R. Thomas Chase of the Smithsonian Institution examined one of the arrowheads under high magnification and determined that "the inscription had been incised with a steel engraving tool," a finding that "has significance for the state of metallurgy in the Levant at the beginning of the first millennium B.C.e."1
The Book of Mormon mentions both a city and a man named Josh (3 Nephi 9:10; Mormon 6:14). While critics claim that this name is merely the American diminutive form of Joshua, many ancient bullae (seal impressions) and ostraca (inscribed pottery fragments) indicate otherwise. These artifacts, which date to around 600 B.C. (the time of Lehi), bear the name Y<¡ (¡ is the sh sound in English), which Hugh Nibley has suggested was identical to Josh.
The English j was the sound y and, in the King James Version of the Bible (KJV), represents the Hebrew y in names like Joshua, Jeremiah, and Jacob (Hebrew has no j sound). Now that Israeli scholars are suggesting that Y<¡ is hypocoristic for the biblical name Yô<¡iyåh(û) KJV Josiahit seems more likely that Y<¡ should be vocalized Yô<¡, which corresponds to the English name Josh.
The Book of Mormon name Josh may have been part of the cultural baggage that Lehi's group carried to the New World. Perhaps the name even figured in the brass plates or in Nephi's large plates. We do know that the prophet Jeremiah, a contemporary of Lehi (1 Nephi 5:13; 7:14), began his prophetic mission in the days of King Josiah (Jeremiah 1:2; 27:1). Also, on two bullae Y<¡ is termed "son of <l¡m>, the Hebrew name Elishama in the KJV. One of the men of this name lived in the time of Jeremiah (2 Kings 25:25; Jeremiah 36:12, 2021; 40:1). This evidence shows that the Semitic versions of Josiah and Josh were in use in Jerusalem during Lehi's time.
A Hebrew ostracon written near the end of the seventh century or the beginning of the sixth century B.C. contains the name Yrm, which may have been vocalized like the name Jarom in the Book of Mormon. The name is hypocoristic for yirmªyåh(û), Jeremiah, which means "Yah [Jehovah] exalts."
These and other finds from sites in the Holy Land help place the Book of Mormon in its ancient Israelite setting.