There are 10 thoughts on “Labor Diligently to Write: The Ancient Making of a Modern Scripture — Chapters 4 & 5”.

  1. Thank you for making this excellent resource available! It’s been wonderful to listen to audio versions in preparation for next year’s Book of Mormon study.

    While I find your discussion on metonymic naming very valuable, I think there is relevant information that you neglect when you claim that Mormon changed names in order to impose metonymy on the text.

    In the case of Alma’s sons, their names are attested to in the narrative before Alma’s counsel to them. When Alma goes up to teach the Zoramites, he “…took Ammon, and Aaron, and Omner; and Himni he did leave in the church in Zarahemla; but the former three he took with him, and also Amulek and Zeezrom, who were at Melek; and he also took two of his sons. Now the eldest of his sons he took not with him, and his name was Helaman; but the names of those whom he took with him were Shiblon and Corianton; and these are the names of those who went with him among the Zoramites, to preach unto them the word.” (Alma 31:6-7)

    This is in the chapter (by Mormon’s count) before the metonymic naming is used, which would at the very least require that Mormon had planned this out in advance. He would have had to encounter the later material (Alma’s counsel to his sons), seen the opportunity to impose metonymy, and then plan to replace the names in the earlier material (Alma & Co’s mission to the Zoramites). Of course that’s not impossible, but it does seem to be at odds with your portrayal of Mormon’s method of choosing which material to add or redact as he proceeds through the annals.

    He would also have to remember that same change as he proceeds through future chapters – all three sons are mentioned as sets in chapters 49 and 63. What’s more, the text very explicitly says that Helaman and Shiblon were record keepers:

    “11 Therefore it became expedient for Shiblon to confer those sacred things, before his death, upon the son of Helaman, who was called Helaman, being called after the name of his father.

    12 Now behold, all those engravings which were in the possession of Helaman were written and sent forth among the children of men throughout all the land, save it were those parts which had been commanded by Alma should not go forth.

    13 Nevertheless, these things were to be kept sacred, and handed down from one generation to another; therefore, in this year, they had been conferred upon Helaman, before the death of Shiblon.

    14 And it came to pass also in this year that there were some dissenters who had gone forth unto the Lamanites; and they were stirred up again to anger against the Nephites.

    15 And also in this same year they came down with a numerous army to war against the people of Moronihah, or against the army of Moronihah, in the which they were beaten and driven back again to their own lands, suffering great loss.

    16 And thus ended the thirty and ninth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.

    17 And thus ended the account of Alma, and Helaman his son, and also Shiblon, who was his son.”

    It seems to me that Mormon wouldn’t change the name of record keepers considering his interest in providing an accurate accounting of the provenance of the records.

    Lastly, the name Helaman in particular seems very appropriate for Alma’s firstborn. When Alma was chastened by the angel, he was admonished to, “Go, and remember the captivity of thy fathers in the land of Helam, and in the land of Nephi.” I do not think it is a coincidence that Helaman has a very similar first name, nor that it was to this son that Alma chose to recite his angelic visitation or the counsel to remember the captivity of his fathers. By choosing the name Helaman for his eldest son, Alma was ensuring he would never forget the land of his father’s captivity.

    I agree, Brent, that there is clear metonymic naming going on, but I think it’s far more likely that Mormon is drawing out story elements that fit the name rather than finding a name that fits the story elements. It would be related to the onomastic word play – like what we see with the names Alma, Abish, or Jershon – but using it to draw out a theme instead of merely for a pun.

    I believe this is a better explanatory framework the metonymic names in Ammonihah. According to your view, Mormon added a lengthy explanation of weights and measures (when it would have been sufficient to simply explain that Onti’s are worth several weeks wages) and then plays games with the names. However, if he wanted to impose metonymic names on Zeezrom and Antionah, he could have found other names that would have worked with the narrative as it stood without need for the lengthy aside. I think it’s far more likely that Mormon was aware of the metonymic potential in their names and decided to include the entire explanation of weights and measures to let his audience in the on the “joke”.

    Best Regards,

    • Emerson,

      You suggest that in order to use metonymy for Alma’s sons, he would have to have read and selected material in advance. I think that is correct. There is at least one place that I remember where he clearly had done that (referenced something from Alma the Elder’s record before it was introduced). So, yes, forthought was required, and there is evidence that he did plan those things. It is possible that Mormon took advantage of meanings, but there are so many of them that it seems beyond coincidence. In the case of Alma’s sons, we have to have parents create names that just so happen to describe their lives. Maybe, but unlikely. When we remember that using names in this way is also seen in the Bible, it is less surprising to see an ancient writer telling a story for a particular purpose highlighting that purpose through the use of personal names. As with the Bible, the message is more important that historical verisimilitude.

  2. Nehor also is a metonymic name, as it means “of Horus” or “belonging to Horus.” The relationship of attributes of Horus to the Principal Bird Deity is discussed in the book Evidence of the Nehor Religion in Mesoamerica ( My take on the roots of the Nehor religion is not that it came from the religion practiced by Noah and his priests, but that Noah and his priests had combined the Nephite religion with the local indigenous religion. Eventually all the Nephite religion was purged from Noah priests where Amulon and his priests no longer taught about God, the Law of Moses, or the teachings of Abinadi (Mosiah 24:1-5). The Nehor religion predates the Nephite religion, so those that practiced it did not necessarily have to have any Nephite beliefs. It is pretty clear the people of Ammonihah had no shreds of Nephite religious belief as they didn’t pretend to have any link or affiliation to Alma’s church and the burned the Nephite scriptures without compunction. Since the land of Nehor is also a Jaredite land, blaming this on the Jaredites also makes sense as you say.

  3. The discovery of these patterns and the intentional editing together of disparate documents demonstrates once again that a great deal of editorial work went into the text, work that clearly could not have been done by Joseph Smith in the few weeks he had to dictate the text to his scribes.

  4. I’m intrigued by your statement here: “Just as Zeezrom and Antionah referred to real people who probably were not known by those names” without further explanation–I’m assuming because of the monetary roots to their names that connect with their story?
    I can think of other same named father-sons in the account, such as Pahoran and his son Pahoran, and most notably Mormon (“and my father’s name was Mormon”–which makes it seem like a pattern of their culture). Interesting that Alma the Younger was not the oldest son of Alma the Elder, since he was born when A1 was probably about fifty and is called “one of the sons of Alma.” And with Captain Moroni and his son Moronihah, there does seem to be a pattern of carrying down similar names.
    Thanks for all of your valuable insights, I love these installments!

    • Anita,

      The cases of Zeezrom and Antionah are the strongest because they so easily show the use of metonomy. The names of rulers/prophets being doubled is very unusual. It is possible to suggest that it is a pattern in the culture, but anthropological evidence suggests that it would be very unusual. When there are other reasons that can be seen that provide meaning to the pattern above the simple process of naming, then the chances are higher that there is a literary reason behind the names.
      Pahoran’s father was Nephihah. I don’t know where to place Mormon father of Mormon. Since metonymic naming is used so often in Mormon’s writing, and since the anthropology argues against any common naming of father and son, I would suspect that there is more than just naming going on there, but I don’t see an obvious reason (other than tying himself into that list of names–it does pick up after the Amos/Amos that is otherwise interrupted with the singular Ammaron).

      • Yes Pahoran1 was the son of Nephihah, but he himself named one of his sons Pahoran (Helaman 1:3) contemporary with the Alma-Alma, Helaman-Helaman pattern, which makes it seem more cultural and less symbolic to me. (And we laugh in our family about Mrs. Pahoran liking all of her kids names to start with P!)

        • Right. I missed that when I looked–obviously too quickly. And the fact that I had to look tells you that I certainly hadn’t remembered!

  5. Wonderful analysis, Brant. Thanks for all of your work on this.

    You wrote:

    “And now there was no more contention in all the land of Zarahemla, among all the people who belonged to king Benjamin, so that king Benjamin had continual peace all the remainder of his days.” Although we do have a “now” at the beginning, the conditions that surround Mormon’s chapters that begin with “now,” but not “and it came to pass” do not apply here. It is not a continuation of an event, but a summary of information.

    I disagree. The chapter begins with “now” precisely because it *is* the continuation of an event and not a summary of information. To be specific, it continues the narrative from the ending of the original 2nd chapter of Mosiah.

    The beginning of the original 2nd chapter was part of the lost 116 pages. The *ending* of the original 2nd chapter is currently (and incorrectly) appended to the Words of Mormon as verses 12-18. And, of course, the original 3rd chapter is what is now published as Mosiah chapter 1.

    You’ve already responded to the paper that Kent Minson and I published on this subject. Interested readers can download it here:

    Your review of our paper is here:

    Readers should be sure to consider my comments that follow the review.

    Your overall conclusion here is that chapters beginning with “now” continue a previous narrative. This is actually another indication that our view about Words of Mormon verses 12-18 is correct.

    Thanks for listening.

    • Also, the fact that what is now Mosiah chapter 1 begins with “now” is further evidence that your analysis of Mormon’s editorial method is correct.

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