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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Alma ben Yehuda

Much of the Book of Mormon details the life and ministry of a certain man named Alma and his son, also named Alma. These two men of God performed great works for Christ in serving others and spreading the word of God to both Nephites and Lamanites. Their lives are recorded in the books of Mosiah and Alma in the Book of Mormon.

Critics of the Book of Mormon have long proclaimed that Alma as a male name is a blunder for Joseph Smith and evidence against Book of Mormon historicity. The standard argument runs that the word Alma is not a male Semitic name, but a feminine Latin word and, even worse, a feminine Hebrew word meaning a betrothed virgin. How stupid could Joseph Smith have been, they ask, since everybody knows that Alma is not a male name.

For example, the late "Dr." Walter Martin, a longtime critic of Mormonism, wrote:

"Alma is supposed to be a prophet of God and of Jewish ancestry in the Book of Mormon. In Hebrew Alma means a betrothed virgin maiden-hardly a fitting name for a man." (The Maze of Mormonism (Santa Ana, California: Vision House, 1978), 327.)

Similarly, John L. Smith, another vocal critic of Mormonism, wrote:

"So Mormons who name their sons Alma have actually named them 'lass' or 'virgin' or a young woman. Interesting!" ("A Mormon Name" Utah Evangel 31/8 (August 1984): 4.)

However, unfortunately for Messers. Smith and Martin, the name Alma is attested in ancient documents that were not available to Joseph Smith as a male name.

Matt Roper, a researcher at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute, explains:

"In the 1960s Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin discovered a land deed near the Dead Sea dating to the early second century A.D. and rendered the name of a Jew mentioned therein as "Alma ben Yehuda" showing for the first time in modern history that the name Alma was an authentic Hebrew male name. Additional research in Ebla, in what is modern Syria, has also turned up this name showing that it goes back to nearly 2200 B.C." (See here: http://www.fairlds.org/FAIR_Conferences/
2001_Boomerang_Hits_and_the_Book_of_Mormon.html
)

Another Latter-day Saint scholar, Terrence L. Szink, has shown further evidence that the name Alma is a perfectly good male name based on the Bar Kokhba letters, documents not discovered until the 20th century. Szink explains:

"The occurrences of ’lm’ and ’lmh in the Bar Kokhba letters, which chronologically follow Lehi's departure, and al6-ma at Ebla, which chronologically precede it, work together to provide fairly strong evidence that the personal name Alma could have been part of the cultural baggage that Lehi and his family took with them from Israel to the New World."

Szink then concludes:

"Certainly the critics' claim that Joseph Smith borrowed Alma from a Latin-based source is no longer the only possible explanation." (See here: http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=jbms&id=189)

In other words, the name Alma as a personal male name is attested anciently and is not a blunder for Joseph Smith. It is further evidence for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and the claims of Joseph Smith the Seer.