Allima ben Yehuda and the Prophet Galma

The catch-all forum for general topics and debates. Minimal moderation. Rated PG to PG-13.
Post Reply
User avatar
Symmachus
God
Posts: 1520
Joined: Mon Feb 25, 2013 4:32 pm

Allima ben Yehuda and the Prophet Galma

Post by Symmachus »

My fellow Mormondiscussants, I have long been intending to post some thoughts on the putative etymology of the name "Alma" found the Book of Mormon and allegedly corroborated in the Bar Kochba archive. A recent thread touching on this issue suggests to me that this is a good time.

Short version: in no way should FARMSian apologists feel that the Bar Kochba documents establish the existence of a name "Alma." Neither papyrology or linguistics establishes this.

The apologetic case for a connection with the Book of Mormon name Alma works only if 1) Alma is the best reading of the papyrus, and 2) if that reading fits historically—i.e. etymologically—within the development of the Hebrew language. These legs work together to make the argument walk, and without both, it falls. If Alma is not the best reading, then the name does not fit historically; likewise, if the name Alma does not fit historically, then it cannot be the best reading of the papyrus.

Unfortunately for the apologists, Alma is neither the best reading of the papyrus nor does it work etymologically. Consequently, as a piece of evidence for Book of Mormon historicity, the name Alma falls flat on its face.

I now offer a long version below to support my contentions. I do this in part because I don't feel the excellent posts of RT at Faith Promoting Rumor (see here and here) fully explored the linguistic and textual problems with this old apologetic bull's-eye, and also because I think it should be established somewhere out there just how shaky and wrong the apologetic case is—at this point, it is bordering on deception or at least willful ignorance (but in the case of a scholar, that is functionally the same as deception). It is unfortunate that it must be a humble nobody from Parowan to do it, but nevertheless, like John Gee, I have done my homework.

The name in question occurs in a papyrus found among the so-called "Cave of Letters" (PYadin 44) and concerns a land contract involving two men, Teḥinna son of Simeon, and Allima son of Judah. This was during the second Jewish revolt (or third, depending on interpretation) in the 130s, when the regime of Simeon Bar Kosiba/Kochba was in control of large parts of Judea/Palestine. As a marker of either its legitimacy or its pretense to legitimacy, the regime of Bar Kochba was involved in the execution and occasionally enforcement of contracts and disputes: it set the rule of law. That is why this land contract is here.

It was originally published by Yigael Yadin in 1961, very soon after its discovery, in a scholarly periodical (Israel Exploration Journal). This is an archaeological journal that publishes reports on finds and surveys of sites and so on, but it should be emphasized that a text published here is not a definitive edition that has been meticulously edited by papyrologists and epigraphers and so on—it is not a scholarly edition but rather an ad hoc transcription. That is what Yigael Yadin (an archaeologist, not a papyrologist) initially published and what Mormon apologists have depended on. But in fact, if you read almost any scholarly articles that reference this text prior to 2002, you will see it referenced as an "unpublished" text. What is meant here is not that it had never been transcribed and offered to the public—it had in 1961—but that it hadn't been scientifically edited.

The first scholarly edition, though based on Yadin's work, was published only in 2002 as part of a two-volume collection of all the materials in the "Cave of Letters," which includes documents in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Nabatean. The linguistic context is significant here: this was a multi-lingual environment, and while most Jews spoke Aramaic, the regime of Bar Kochba had a strong nativist bent and used Hebrew, which few would have spoken, and the regime even used an archaic form of the Hebrew alphabet on its coins that even fewer could have read: like the use of Chinese characters on the tattoos of European skins, it was as much a symbol of cultural capital as it was a script. Alongside spoken Aramaic (a western dialect), Greek had a commanding cultural and administrative presence in cities and towns throughout Roman Judea (and even some of the administrative documents of the Bar Kochba regime are in Greek), and Nabatean, though an Aramaic language, increasingly felt the pressure of Arabic. This multilingual context will be important for understanding the name Allima ben Yehuda.

The document, in Hebrew, first establishes the parties involved in the contract, and Yadin's transcription of the relevant part of the document is as follows: tḥnh bn šm3wn w’lm’ bn yhwdh šnyhm mhlwḥit šbmḥwz 3gltyn ywšbym b3yn gdy ("Tehinnah son of Simeon and Allima son of Judah, both of them from the Luhit which is in Mahoz Eglatain, who reside in En Gedi...").

As you can see from this transcription, there are no short vowels, although there are markers of long vowels (called "matres lectiones" for the curious) . This isn't usually a problem because anyone who knows Hebrew or Aramaic can deduce the vowels if they have a solid understanding of the grammar of these languages (thus I can tell you that šnyhm was likely pronounced shneyhem; I would be happy to explain how to the skeptical). I can tell you reading this that certain grammatical features also mark it as Late/Mishnaic Hebrew (the first element in šbmḥwz, probably to be vocalized as shebbemachoz). With comparative evidence from other, related languages, there is a lot, in short, that we can say about the vowelling of this unvocalized text.

Personal names are another matter. Two of these we know from Biblical texts are to vocalized as (Shim'on and Yehuda), but Teḥinnah could be Tahna (as I have seen one scholar transcribe it). It is only through comparative evidence in light what we do know of the grammatical structure of the language that scholars have reconstructed this as Tehinnah. In that case, it is because the root is ḥ-n-n, and so we know that 1) there must be a doubled -n-, and we also know from the grammar 1) that last letter that indicates that last syllable must be -ah. From these two facts, and what we know of word formation, we can deduce its form.

But Yadin was not operating at this level, nor was he expected to in making his transcription fresh from the the discovery and the fieldwork in the heady days when there was much competition for publication of material from the Dead Sea because there was much public consumption of it. In that context, Yadin took the name 'lm' and simply put added the vowel "a" for the Hebrew aleph (transcribed as an inverted single comma, '). That is the origin of Alma in the bar Kochba letters.

Other scholars (Roman historians like Werner Eck among them) ran with this transcription in their work, and of course Hugh Nibley jumped on it. As I mentioned, however, references in non-Mormon publications to Yadin's initial publication of the text referred to it as unpublished, which is a significant caveat that highlights the tentative nature of Yadin's text. No Mormon apologist ever did that. Instead of informing their readers, they name-dropped: "None other than Yigael Yadin has read this as the name Alma, thus proving that even a non-Mormon recognizes that the name was authentically Hebrew and implicitly validating this as a piece of evidence in favor of the historicity of the Book of Mormon!" That paraphrase is the general argument that is over and over trotted out.

In fact, the scholarly edition of the text published in 2002 transcribes this name as Allima. Let's return to the transcription of the name: 'lm'. The first thing to notice about it is that it ends in an aleph (transcribed as '), which is different from the Tehinnah. This aleph has been interpreted by some apologists as a Hebrew "hypocoristic" (i.e. indicating a shortened form of the name often used for children, like the -y/ie in Johnny or Charlie or Bobby or Billy or Tommy or Timmy rather than their longer forms). But let that sink in: rather than relying on the most up-to-date scholarly edition of the text, the apologists prefer to rely on the rushed and tentative transcription from nearly sixty years ago. For a scholar to ignore the best evidence in order to maintain a predetermined belief is down-right dishonest. At the very least, operating as if "Alma" were the standard reading of this text is not fair to their readers.

We'll have more on that later because the root they propose that this comes from (3-l-m) could not possibly show up as Alma in Hebrew of the time of Lehi. The main point is that the aleph at the end of a word indicates that this word is an Aramaic word, not a Hebrew one. We can see from this very sentence how the scribe who wrote this document indicates that -ah sound in Hebrew names (Teḥinnah and Yehudah): an -h. He doesn't use an aleph, but aleph is the common form in this period and others for an ending in Aramaic that indicates a certain grammatical state of the noun. In fact, more and more in this period, it is just becoming the normal ending on masculine nouns (feminines have -t before the aleph).

To summarize, this shows that name is Aramaic, not Hebrew. There is, as it turns out, a perfectly good Aramaic word (allima) which means "the strong one," and which is occasionally spelled as 'lm' (see the entry on 'lym/'lm' in Jastrow's dictionary, for references) which is exactly what we find in the document from the Bar Kochba archive. An Aramaic first name for the son of man with a traditional Jewish name (Yehuda) fits the multilingual context of second-century Palestine/Judea perfectly.

At this point, we have to ask why an Aramaic name would show up among a group of exiles from seventh century Judah. Aramaic later became the mother tongue of most of the Jews in Palestine, but that was something that happened after the Babylonian conquest—the Babylon to which most of the deportees were taken was heavily Aramaic-speaking, and the language probably had more currency in the non-elite of the area than Babylonian did—and in the Persian period, when Aramaic was an official language of the region. We know from the Bible itself that as recently as the time as Hezekiah (about a 100 years before Lehi), Judeans couldn't understand Aramaic, since they still spoke Hebrew. If the apologists are correct, we have to believe yet another absurdity: not only did the Lehi and his family speak Aramaic, but they kept the language up sufficiently to have it influence their naming practices...as well as Egyptian, Hebrew, Arabic, and Greek! The kind of multilingualism the apologetic arguments imply simply did not occur with that sort of intensity at the time of Lehi.

There is a problem further with their etymology. If you visit the Book of Mormon onomasticon, you will see an etymology for this name that is purely ridiculous. Even though the Bar Kochba document has an aleph first, it is argued there that it is really an ayin (which I transcribe for convenience here as 3). This is not impossible, since the sound 3 was gradually merged with aleph in some Hebrew and Aramaic dialects (e.g. Babylonian) and that is reflected in the orthography. However, if this is an ayin/3, then the etymology proposed is flatly ridiculous.

The Onomasticon itself provides the evidence. Throughout that entry, you will notice references to Ugaritic (a language that had been extinct for 600 years by the time of Lehi) and to Arabic (which is not attested for a 1,000 years after Lehi), both of which contain a root gh-l-m, which means "young man." In later Hebrew, that gh- became 3, and it is written as an ayin in Biblical Hebrew. The apologetic etymology is that Alma reflects the form 3alm- with the hypocoristic -a. If you have to choose between an out-of-place hypocoristic for a Hebrew name spelled wrongly on the one hand, and a perfectly good Aramaic word in a place were people spoke Aramaic, which do you think is more likely? Me too. Hence, the hypocoristic claim, while cute, is silly.

But the root cannot work. For ayin/3 in Biblical Hebrew actually reflects two sounds, not one: ayin and ghayin. For Arabic and Ugaritic, these sounds are kept distinct in the writing, but not so in Biblical Hebrew, where they are both written as ayin. In Lehi's day, these sounds were still distinct in Hebrew as well (later they merged together as just ayin). We know this because the Greek translation of the Bible transliterates some names spelled with ayin with a gamma (a "g" sound) and others with an alpha (an "a" sound). Greek didn't have a ghayin or an ayin, obviously, so to Greek speakers, words begin with ghayin sounded like gamma, and words with ayin sounded like alpha. That is why, in Biblical Hebrew, the twin city of Sodom is spelled 3amorah with an ayin, but it shows up as Gomorrah in Greek (and eventually English). In Lehi's day, it was probably pronounced as Ghemorah. All of this is to say: 3alma should be, if anything Galma or Ghalma. Of course, perhaps the Nephite language (apparently a mish-mash of Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Greek, Egyptian, and some Uto-Aztecan) had a similar phonological development of gh: it became ayin and then aleph. Perhaps. But that kind of argument is purely circular because its evidence is the thing for which it is intended to be evidence.

In sum: the orthography (spelling) and phonology (sound inventory and sound patterns) of Aramaic perfectly account for the word 'lm' vocalized as Allima. In order to make Alma work, apologists must engage in special pleading. Likewise, the proposed etymology for the name Alma contains within it the seeds of its own ridiculousness.

There is no evidence here for "Alma" as a genuine Hebrew name.
"As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them."

—B. Redd McConkie

User avatar
Doctor CamNC4Me
God
Posts: 21663
Joined: Mon Jun 15, 2009 5:02 am

Re: Allima ben Yehuda and the Prophet Galma

Post by Doctor CamNC4Me »

Man, I'd love to post this on r/latterdaysaints, but I have a feeling it'd disappear pretty quick.

- Doc
In the face of madness, rationality has no power - Xiao Wang, US historiographer, 2287 AD.

Every record...falsified, every book rewritten...every statue...has been renamed or torn down, every date...altered...the process is continuing...minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Ideology is always right.

User avatar
Philo Sofee
God
Posts: 6660
Joined: Wed Jul 04, 2012 3:04 am

Re: Allima ben Yehuda and the Prophet Galma

Post by Philo Sofee »

One by one, using careful linguistic, historical context data, and archaeological logistics and interpretations, the Book of Mormon evidences fade away leaving not a wrack behind...
Dr CamNC4Me
"Dr. Peterson and his Callithumpian cabal of BYU idiots have been marginalized by their own inevitable irrelevancy defending a fraud."

User avatar
Doctor CamNC4Me
God
Posts: 21663
Joined: Mon Jun 15, 2009 5:02 am

Re: Allima ben Yehuda and the Prophet Galma

Post by Doctor CamNC4Me »

Philo Sofee wrote:... leaving not a wrack behind...


What does that even mean?

- Doc
In the face of madness, rationality has no power - Xiao Wang, US historiographer, 2287 AD.

Every record...falsified, every book rewritten...every statue...has been renamed or torn down, every date...altered...the process is continuing...minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Ideology is always right.

User avatar
moksha
God
Posts: 22509
Joined: Fri Oct 27, 2006 2:42 pm

Re: Allima ben Yehuda and the Prophet Galma

Post by moksha »

Wonder if Mormons in the year 2962 might find that the name Zaphod Beeblebrox, from the 21st century Book of Bednar, had its roots in the 23rd century holodeck game, Pokérim 6?

Why bother with tangential proofs when we can simply look for more direct correlations like Moroni on the Comoros Islands, as well as the Vernal Holley maps.
Cry Heaven and let loose the Penguins of Peace

User avatar
Symmachus
God
Posts: 1520
Joined: Mon Feb 25, 2013 4:32 pm

Re: Allima ben Yehuda and the Prophet Galma

Post by Symmachus »

moksha wrote:Why bother with tangential proofs when we can simply look for more direct correlations like Moroni on the Comoros Islands, as well as the Vernal Holley maps.

There are actually genuine questions about the origins, meaning, and interpretive implications of some Book of Mormon names, but they are certainly not to be found in the Near East except as mediated through the Bible and other texts available to Joseph Smith. The idea that the state archives of the Neo-Assyrian empire or some obscure papyri entombed in a desert cave for 1,800 years can tell us much, while materials very near to Joseph Smith's hand cannot, is to me risible and absurd.

I guess I am just sick and tired of seeing this particular claim held up as some kind of "bull's-eye." The simple fact is that Yadin's tentative text has been superseded, but even if apologists are unaware or don't care (no surprise), it deserves wider currency among those who discuss these sorts of issues.
"As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them."

—B. Redd McConkie

I have a question
God
Posts: 9749
Joined: Fri Feb 13, 2015 2:01 am

Re: Allima ben Yehuda and the Prophet Galma

Post by I have a question »

This is one of those threads/posts that should be in the Mormon Discussions repository, to be referred to every time someone like Peterson tries to call “Bulls Eye” on the name Alma.
“When we are confronted with evidence that challenges our deeply held beliefs we are more likely to reframe the evidence than we are to alter our beliefs. We simply invent new reasons, new justifications, new explanations. Sometimes we ignore the evidence altogether.” (Mathew Syed 'Black Box Thinking')

User avatar
Gadianton
Hermit
Posts: 9949
Joined: Fri Jul 06, 2007 11:12 pm

Re: Allima ben Yehuda and the Prophet Galma

Post by Gadianton »

Nice. In a church of what is it, 15 million on the books?, where it all comes down to this one miraculous document, it's not so surprising over the last 60 years that twenty or so out of the 15 million have both learned to speak ancient languages and dedicate that skill to pure exercises in confirmation bias. It's the ultimate coup, because not many people have the time or talent to learn Greek or Hebrew. Anything on ancient history, especially if it includes translating ancient languages, has extreme potential to be a "hope you don't see it" variety of argument where believers and critics alike just aren't equipped to properly evaluate the arguments. Nibley and a few others, quite simply could get away with murder.

Neither Nibley, nor any of the Mopologists that I am familiar with, are/were actual philologists, and Nibley admitted he wasn't here and there, but philology was his bread and butter mysticism. That's what made the TBMs eyes google, where he'd go into the history of the root of this or that Book of Mormon word to prove that it's ancient. Who could keep up with the great Nibley?

Somehow, out of the much smaller pool of apostates, some guy out there just happened to become a real philologist, and doesn't mind taking a look at what the Mopologists have done and comment on it, and it's what? Like being struck by lightning twice or something? Just an improbable event that happened, and so if the ruse wasn't already up over the lack of interest mainstream scholars have taken in the work of Mopologetics, it's really up now.

This thread OP is an internet post that is not equaled by any publication from the Interpreter, nor any publication from FARMS. Nor am I sure that any living Mopologist is qualified to respond to Symmachus (by the criteria the Mopologists have set in terms of professional expertise) And I'm sure that just pisses everyone off over at Sic et Non.

I think this deserves to be repeated:

Symm wrote:Other scholars (Roman historians like Werner Eck among them) ran with this transcription in their work, and of course Hugh Nibley jumped on it. As I mentioned, however, references in non-Mormon publications to Yadin's initial publication of the text referred to it as unpublished, which is a significant caveat that highlights the tentative nature of Yadin's text. No Mormon apologist ever did that. Instead of informing their readers, they name-dropped: "None other than Yigael Yadin has read this as the name Alma


and

Symm wrote:In fact, the scholarly edition of the text published in 2002 transcribes this name as Allima


How would you ever know? I mean, they could have lied through their teeth for another 50 years probably and who would run this stuff down?
Lou Midgley 08/20/2020: "...meat wad," and "cockroach" are pithy descriptions of human beings used by gemli? They were not fashioned by Professor Peterson.

LM 11/23/2018: one can explain away the soul of human beings...as...a Meat Unit, to use Professor Peterson's clever derogatory description of gemli's ideology.

Lemmie
God
Posts: 10590
Joined: Sun Apr 05, 2015 1:25 pm

Re: Allima ben Yehuda and the Prophet Galma

Post by Lemmie »

I'm bumping this 2018 thread to highlight Symmachus' excellent research. The OP begins thus:

My fellow Mormondiscussants, I have long been intending to post some thoughts on the putative etymology of the name "Alma" found the Book of Mormon and allegedly corroborated in the Bar Kochba archive. A recent thread touching on this issue suggests to me that this is a good time.

Short version: in no way should FARMSian apologists feel that the Bar Kochba documents establish the existence of a name "Alma." Neither papyrology or linguistics establishes this.

The apologetic case for a connection with the Book of Mormon name Alma works only if 1) Alma is the best reading of the papyrus, and 2) if that reading fits historically—i.e. etymologically—within the development of the Hebrew language. These legs work together to make the argument walk, and without both, it falls. If Alma is not the best reading, then the name does not fit historically; likewise, if the name Alma does not fit historically, then it cannot be the best reading of the papyrus.

Unfortunately for the apologists, Alma is neither the best reading of the papyrus nor does it work etymologically. Consequently, as a piece of evidence for Book of Mormon historicity, the name Alma falls flat on its face..

The OP then gives the long version of this assessment, with full analysis. It's a fascinating read.

Symmachus also explains how the mopologetic reference linked in the following quote is inaccurate:
There is a problem further with their etymology. If you visit the Book of Mormon onomasticon, you will see an etymology for this name that is purely ridiculous...

This topic was brought to mind by the errors, thoroughly refuted by Symmachus a year ago, which were once again posted in a recent SeN entry:

DP wrote:So, in numerous public presentations and perhaps elsewhere, I countered with evidence that Alma is, in fact, a demonstrably ancient Semitic masculine personal name.  (For a summary of the current state of the ancient evidence, see the entry on Alma on the website of the Book of Mormon Onomasticon Project.)

In the public presentations in which I very briefly commented on Alma, I regularly indicated that the evidence overwhelmingly shows that having the name affixed to two masculine figures isn’t the mistake, let alone the obvious and fatal howler, that anti-Mormon polemicists liked to ridicule.  And I stand by that.

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeters ... and-i.html

It's obvious how assiduously SeN staff writers peruse this board for personal mentions. Maybe they could also pass along some facts to improve upon the out-of-date apologetics being offered.

User avatar
Shulem
Son of Perdition
Posts: 12073
Joined: Thu Jun 30, 2011 7:48 pm

Re: Allima ben Yehuda and the Prophet Galma

Post by Shulem »

Alma and the apologists are getting a spanking at the new board:

Top 10 Falsifiable FAIRMORMON Claims

Yep, Joseph Smith was even buddies with an Alma. There were Almas to be had and found in Mormon circles. Smith happened to like the name so he included it in his novel that he wrote about cowboys Nephites) and Indians (Lamanites).

User avatar
Philo Sofee
God
Posts: 6660
Joined: Wed Jul 04, 2012 3:04 am

Re: Allima ben Yehuda and the Prophet Galma

Post by Philo Sofee »

I have a question wrote:
Wed Aug 29, 2018 7:54 am
This is one of those threads/posts that should be in the Mormon Discussions repository, to be referred to every time someone like Peterson tries to call “Bulls Eye” on the name Alma.
He dishonestly presents this about twice a year, every year. He KNOWS he is giving false information at this point, but for the sake of the Holy Melchzedek priesthood totin brethren, he MUST continue the lie in order share the "truth." The truth is, actually - to quote the most heinous piece of stupidity God ever created - "a hoax." Dan Peterson deserves no more respect than Donald "I can say anything I want and idiots will believe me, no matter how stupid or wrong it is!" Trump.
Dr CamNC4Me
"Dr. Peterson and his Callithumpian cabal of BYU idiots have been marginalized by their own inevitable irrelevancy defending a fraud."

User avatar
Shulem
Son of Perdition
Posts: 12073
Joined: Thu Jun 30, 2011 7:48 pm

Re: Allima ben Yehuda and the Prophet Galma

Post by Shulem »

I agree, Peterson is a liar and he knows it. He lives the lies and is paid to do just that.

I wouldn't trust that slob any further than I could throw him.

Post Reply