The Scalp of Your Head: Polysemy in Alma 44:14–18

Title

The Scalp of Your Head: Polysemy in Alma 44:14–18

Publication Type

Journal Article

Year of Publication

2016

Authors

Journal

Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship

Pagination

39-45

Volume

20

Terms of use

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Bibliographic Citation

Bowen, Matthew L. "The Scalp of Your Head: Polysemy in Alma 44:14–18" In Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, Vol. 20. 2016:39-45.

Abstract

The fear that Moroni’s soldier’s speech (Alma 44:14) aroused in the Lamanite soldiers and the intensity of Zerahemnah’s subsequently redoubled anger are best explained by the polysemy (i.e., multiple meanings within a lexeme’s range of meaning) of a single word translated “chief” in Alma 44:14 and “heads” in Alma 44:18. As editor of a sacred history, Mormon was interested in showing the fulfilment of prophecy when such fulfilment occurred. Mormon’s description of the Lamanites “fall[ing] exceedingly fast” because of the exposure of the Lamanites’ “bare heads” to the Nephites’ swords and their being “smitten” in Alma 44:18 — just as “the scalp of their chief” was smitten and thus fell (Alma 44:12–14) — pointedly demonstrates the fulfilment of the soldier’s prophecy. In particular, the phrase “bare heads” constitutes a polysemic wordplay on “chief,” since words translated “head” can alternatively be translated “chief,” as in Alma 44:14. A similar wordplay on “top” and “leader” in 3 Nephi 4:28–29, probably again represented by a single word, also partly explains the force of the simile curse described there.

Apostasy
Zerahemnah
Captain Moroni
Scalp

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