Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Who Was Zoram and is There Meaning to His Name?

Taking the name Zoram—a servant of Laban in the city of Jerusalem who Nephi befriended—has received very little attention from scholars. We know he was one of those who left Jerusalem and joined Lehi’s family, becoming the head of one of seven family groups of the scriptural record. The name “Zoram” became the basis for the clan or tribal name “Zoramites” borne by his descendants, as well as the name associated with several infamous characters in the scriptural record.
    While little has been written about him in books and papers regarding Lehi’s family, what has been written is mostly by Mesoamericanists, and far too often, by professors or others in the linguistic field who often make inaccurate claims. Such was a recent article as to why the word Zoram is found in the Mayan context of the seven tribes that began in Guatemala. In that article, it was claimed that Zoram was identified with a symbol found in Guatemala, known as monument 21, and carved on a flint knife. Hunter and Ferguson claim that a flint knife on the monument connected to the seven heads of the seven tribes, suggesting that the Hebrew word for flint was “zoram” (Thomas Stuart Ferguson and Milton R. Hunter, Ancient America and the Book of Mormon, Kolob Book Co., Oakland CA, 1950
    As a result, most Mesoamerican scholars echo this claim about the name Zoram.
    However, the actual word for flint in Hebrew is challamish חַלָּמִישׁ (klal-law-meesh’), which means “flint” or “flinty” and is so translated as flint, usually “rock of flint” or “my face like flint” or “flinty rock” in five passages in the Old Testament: Deuteronomy (8:15; 32:13), Job (28:9), Psalm (114:8) and Isaiah (50:7).
    On the other hand, zoram does not mean “flint,” but is the Hebrew word צוּר tṣûr, from tsuwr, meaning "rock, sharp rock, or cliff face” (Exodus 17:6; 33:21,22; Numbers 23:9; Deuteronomy 32:4,15,18,30,31,37). Tsuwr more properly means a cliff or sharp rock; generally, a rock or boulder; figuratively, a refuge. Also means edge as in precipitous, mighty one, sharp, stone, strength and strong.
    While it does not represent “flint,” it is used twice in the Old Testament with flint, ie., “water out of the rock of flint” (Deuteronomy 8:15); and “oil out of the flinty rock” (Deuteronomy 32:13). This word is connected to לָה sela “rock” which is found throughout the Old Testament, meaning a large solid rock, boulder, and is often used figuratively from which other sources emerge (water, honey).
Flint only occurs where there was once an ocean, consequently none will be found in the northeast because of this but the southeast and the Midwest has plenty
The word tsur is also connected with זוּר  zur, meaning “to press down and out,” crush, squeezed, etc., as in Judges 6:38; Job 39:15; Isaiah 1:6). In addition, though less definitive, the vocable tsûr also appears in several biblical personal names, such as Zur ṣûr "Rock" (Numbers 25:15), Zuriel, ṣûrî-ʾēl "El (God) is my rock" (Numbers 3:35). Thus zoram means “the Rock is the divine kinsman, that is, the “Rock of the people,” and “Their Rock.”
    Matthew L. Bowen states that the Book of Mormon names Zeram and Zoram could both plausibly denote “the one who is high/exalted” or “He of the Exalted One.” Understood as theophoric names, “Zeram” and “Zoram” would have reference to deity — i.e., “[Yahweh is] the one who is exalted” or “He [i.e., the one so named is] of the Exalted One.” In the context of Zoram’s liberation from having been the “servant [i.e., slave] of Laban” to become a “free man” (1 Nephi 4:33), perhaps his name came to connote “the one lifted up” out of bondage (Bowen “See That Ye Are Not Lifted Up”: The Name Zoram and Its Paronomastic Pejoration,” The Interpreter Foundation, 2016).
    Flint, by the way, was a well-known stone, a sedimentary cryptocrystalline form of the mineral quartz, making it extremely hard, causing sparks or fire when struck. It was very abundant in and about Palestine, and was abundant in all the plains and valleys of the wilderness of the forty years' wanderings. According to some scholars, the claim is that Tsur and cela are used more often than challamish for great rocks and cliffs, however, the word cela (chela, selah) does not mean that, but though there are differences of opinion since the original meaning has been lost, the word “selah” (celah) is actually from the primary Hebrew root word [calah] which means 'to hang,' and by implication to measure (weigh). This is readily understood because in Biblical history, money, food and other valuables were 'weighed' by hanging or suspending them on a type of balance (the equivalent of our measuring scale) to determine their value. We find an example of this word [calah] as it is literally translated “valued,” in the book of Job 28:15-16), indicating that which is measured. The word that is translated “valued” is the exact same Hebrew word (calah), and it quite obviously means "measured against." In this context, God is telling us that wisdom "cannot be measured against the gold of Ophir, with the precious onyx, or the sapphire." Here the translation “valued” is to illustrate the measuring of something for an exchange. i.e. wisdom cannot be measured with the gold of Ophir. It is beyond that value. Three verses later (vs19), we see this very same illustration again.
An ancient lithic knife carved from flint rock

As for tsur being used for flint knives, as suggested by scholars regarding flint knives in Exodus 4:25, "Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off the foreskin of her son," and in Joshua 5:2, "Yahweh said unto Joshua, “Make thee knives of flint, and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time."
    However, in the King James Version of the Bible, the word flint is not used for a knife, but the Hebrew word used has the actual meaning of: “a sharp stone.”
    Thus Exodus 4:25 correctly reads: "Then Zipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son," and in Joshua 5:2, "Yahweh said unto Joshua, “Make thee sharp knives and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time." There is no mention of the word “flint” in these statements in the scriptural record, and cannot be used to interpret the Hebrew word used.
    The point of this is not to say what kind of rock was used to fashion the knives, but that the Hebrew word used in the scriptural record does not translate to “flint.”
    Of course, implements of flint were used by the ancient Egyptians, and numerous flint chippings with occasional flint implements are found associated with the remains of early man in Syria and Palestine. Flint and the allied mineral, chert, are found in great abundance in the limestone rocks of Syria, Palestine and Egypt. But the words used in the Hebrew do not translate to “flint,” but to “stone.”
    While it is claimed that zoram also means “The one who is exalted,” and “(The deity) has flooded forth.” It is most closely related in a name to Aminadab in the Book of Mormon. It should be noted that of the numerous words and meanings associated with zoram, the word “flint” is not one of them—the only source for this definition is from a Mormon writer who claims the word “zoram” is inscribed on a flint knife having seven heads representing seven clans (Warren P. Aston and Michaela Knoth Aston,In the Footsteps of Lehi: New Evidence for Lehi's Journey across Arabia to Bountiful,” FARMS, Provo UT, 1991),   
    From this, scholars claim that the glyph on the knife the Aston’s claim means “zoram” is connected with the symbol of a bat. Diane E. Wirth, of the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum at BYU, has stated: “Ixtlilxochitl, a Mayan Chichimec king, claimed he was born in the Cave of a Bat. The Cakchiquel were also descended from the tribe of the bat; it was their tribal totem. The symbol is said to have been the tribal emblem in Chiapas from ages past.” Consequently, we need to keep in mind that this assumption or claim is not justified by connecting zoram to the word flint.
    The fact of the matter is that we know next to nothing about Zoram, other than he was Laban’s servant, evidently in charge of Laban’s treasury (1 Nephi 4:20). He was an honorable man as shown by his acceptance of receiving Nephi’s pledge (1 Nephi 4:34-35,37). He was a true friend of Nephi (2 Nephi  1:30), and highly thought of by Lehi who said “Wherefore, because thou hast been faithful thy seed shall be blessed with [Nephi’s] seed…Wherefore, if ye shall keep the commandments of the Lord, the Lord hath consecrated this land for the security of thy seed with the seed of my son” (2 Nephi 1:31-32).
 Laban's servant, Zoram, handingover the brass plates to Nephi

At first Zoram is known only as someone else’s, “the servant of Laban,” but after taking an oath which grants him his status as a free man, he is referred to by his own name, “Zoram.” In the narrative, it is possible to conclude in this use of his name as if he became Zoram upon taking the oath, like receiving a new name.
    Zoram left Jerusalem suddenly, with Nephi and his brothers, withno mention of his returning to his abode to obtain his belongings, clothes—of course, as a servant or slave, he may not have had much, if anything, of value that to which he was interested. It is also interesting that throughout the journey to the Land of Promise, Zoram is not noted as having murmured about anything or shown any disagreement to what was going on. In fact, he acted like the rock his name might well imply
    Despite the fact that Zoram’s later generations turned to evil ways, Zoram himself kept the faith and was both a strong friend of Nephi and follower of God.


  1. The Meso-America theorists have a history of stretching the facts to fit their pet location for the BOM. I remember quite well Stela No. 5 in Mexico years ago where the theorists concocted the story of Nephi and Lehi from what they called the tree of life portrayed on the Stela. I remember I was quite excited about this amazing find. Then later is was entirely debunked. Turned out to be quite embarrassing to the so-called Church archaeologists.

    Makes one wonder when they are going to get it right and start looking in South America where there is overwhelming evidence for the Nephite civilization. Perhaps they never will get it.

  2. I've spent time looking for more obscure ruins in Peru lately, and frankly, there's no end to them. They're everywhere, no doubt from Nephite times to the hundreds of years afterword.

    "And thus it did come to pass that the people of Nephi began to prosper again in the land, and began to build up their waste places, and began to multiply and spread, even until they did cover the whole face of the land, both on the northward and on the southward, from the sea west to the sea east."

    My Peruvian neighbor told me that you can hardly hike into the hills without realizing that you're standing on the foundations of some ancient city. It's everywhere.