Evidence #307 | February 7, 2022

Attestation of Lehi

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Scripture Central

Abstract

Even though Lehi is used as a toponym in the Bible, its meaning makes it a seemingly unlikely choice for a personal name, as found in the Book of Mormon. Nonetheless, the Semitic term LḤY occurs frequently as a personal name (or part of a personal name) in inscriptions throughout the ancient Near East.

The first prophet in the Book of Mormon was a man named Lehi, who lived in Jerusalem in the 7th (and early part of the 6th) century BC (1 Nephi 1:4). Later Book of Mormon figures were also named Lehi (see Alma 16:5; Alma 43:35; Helaman 3:21), and the name was applied to geographical locations, both to a specific city and land (Alma 5:15, 25v), as well as to the land southward in general (Helaman 6:10).1

In the Bible, LḤY occurs as a name or name element in two different toponyms—in one case translated as Lehi (Judges 15:9, 14, 17, 19), and in another as Lahai (Genesis 16:14; 24:62; 25:11)—but not as a personal name. In contrast, LḤY occurs frequently as a personal name or part of a personal name in inscriptions and texts throughout the ancient Near East. The largest number of such inscriptions come from South and North Arabian texts distributed throughout a broad geographic range, from Ethiopia and Yemen in the south, to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria in the north.2 Several of these inscriptions are dated to the early first millennium BC, thus attesting to the name during Lehi’s general era.

 

Lehi reading the brass plates. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

For example, an inscription from Marib, Yemen, dated to the Early Sabiac period (ca. 8th–4th centuries BC) mentions a man named LḤY who helped with the construction of a temple structure.3 Two other dedicatory texts which mention a nobleman named LḤY were found a little further to the south.4 In Northern Arabia, LḤYN (Liḥyan) was the name of a kingdom which was established in the 6th century BC, whose capital was located at Dedan, near the al-Ula Oasis in Saudi Arabia.5 Inscriptions from this same region also attest to the use of LḤY in personal names, both on its own and as part of compound names, such as LḤYLH, KRBLḤY, and WHNLḤY.6

Although the name predominantly occurs in Arabian inscriptions, it is not limited to them. An 8th century BC Babylonian text, for example, mentions an individual named Luḫaʾil, which is the cuneiform rendering of the West Semitic LḤY with the common name for God (El) affixed at the end.7 It also occurs as a name element in several 5th century BC Mesopotamian texts found about 100 miles south of Baghdad in present-day Iraq.8

This element has also been attested in names from Northwest Semitic contexts, including at least one example from historically Israelite territory: the name ʾBLḤY is attested in a collection of papyri written in Aramaic, dated to the 4th century BC, and found about 10 miles northwest of Jericho, as part of a collection of predominantly Hebrew names.9 In addition, an ostracon from near the Red Sea, written in an Aramaic script and dated to the 5th century BC, mentions an individual named LḤY,10 and another ostracon from this same area and time-period, but written in a Phoenician cursive script, includes the name ŠLMLḤY.11 A potentially related name, “Luḥi” (LWḤY) occurs in the 5th century BC Aramaic documents from Elephantine.12

Image via jstor.org. 

Two closely related roots—laḫi and laḫwi—which show up in several Northwest Semitic names from the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 2000–1500 BC) may also represent early forms of the name LḤY.13 If true, it would suggest that, despite predominantly being attested in Arabian sources by the first millennium BC, the name actually originates from a Northwest Semitic context.14

Conclusion

Even though Lehi is used as a toponym in the Bible, for many years its use as a personal name in the Book of Mormon seemed unlikely, since the meaning of lḥy in Hebrew is “jaw, jawbone, cheek,” as reflected in Judges 15, and references to body parts are almost nonexistent in Hebrew personal names (and in Semitic personal names more generally).15 An alternative interpretation, suggested by Genesis 16:13–14, is that the name consists of the Hebrew preposition le plus the word for “life,” (ḥay), thus meaning “of/belonging to the Living One,”16 but some have demurred that prepositional phrases are even rarer as personal names.17

Despite these seemingly long odds, LḤY is nonetheless widely attested as a personal name at various times and places throughout the ancient Near East. John A. Tvedtnes once observed, “some Book of Mormon names have defied establishing a meaning” in Hebrew or Semitic languages, but “are now attested from Hebrew inscriptions found in Israel.”18 Tvedtnes thus reasoned, “The attestation of a name in an inscription provides stronger evidence than does a viable ancient Near Eastern … etymology.”19 Although the exact meaning and origins of the name Lehi (LḤY) in the Book of Mormon remains an unsettled and open question, various Semitic sources confirm that it was, in fact, a common personal name throughout the ancient Near East.

LEHI,” in Book of Mormon Onomasticon, ed. Paul Hoskisson (Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies, 2013), online at https://onoma.lib.byu.edu/.

Jeffrey R. Chadwick, “Lehi in the Samaria Papyri and on an Ostracon from the Shore of the Red Sea,” Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 19, no. 1 (2010): 14–21.

Bible

Genesis 16:14

Genesis 24:62

Genesis 25:11

Judges 15:9

Judges 15:14

Judges 15:19

Book of Mormon

1 Nephi 1:4

Alma 5:15

Alma 5:25

Alma 16:5

Alma 43:35

Helaman 3:21

Footnotes
  • 1 For a more comprehensive list of passages referring to persons or lands called Lehi, see “LEHI,” in Book of Mormon Onomasticon, ed. Paul Hoskisson (Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies, 2013), online at https://onoma.lib.byu.edu/.
  • 2 Most of these inscriptions can be seen by searching lḥy in the Corpus of South Arabian Inscriptions (CSAI), online at http://dasi.cnr.it/; and the Online Corpus of the Inscriptions of Ancient North Arabia (OCIANA), online at https://krc.web.ox.ac.uk/article/ociana. Several scholars have drawn attention to this name in Arabian texts as evidence for Lehi in the Book of Mormon. See Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1988), 290–291; Lynn M. Hilton and Hope A. Hilton, Discovering Lehi: New Evidence of Lehi and Nephi in Arabia (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, 1996), 85–86; Robert F. Smith, “Book of Mormon Event Structure: The Ancient Near East,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 5, no. 2 (1996): 147.
  • 3 See RES 4228 in the CSAI database, online at http://dasi.cnr.it/.
  • 4 See Ghul al-Masāğid 2 and Ghul al-Masāğid 3 in the CSAI database, online at http://dasi.cnr.it/.
  • 5 See Jérémie Schiettecatte and Mounir Arbach, “The Political Map of Arabia and the Middle East in the Third Century AD Revealed by a Sabaean Inscription,” Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 27 (2016): 183–184.
  • 6 See María del Carmen Hidalgo-Chacón Díez, Die theophoren Personennamen in den dadanischen Inschriften (PhD diss.; Philipps-Universität Marburg, 2009), 240–241, 269. See also JaL 102 b (LḤYLH), JaL 062 c (KRBLḤY), and JaL 070 a (WHNLḤY); for LḤY as a standalone name, see JSLih 259 and Nasif 1988: 96, all in the OCIANA database, online at https://krc.web.ox.ac.uk/article/ociana.
  • 7 See Ran Zadok, “Arabians in Mesopotamia During the Late-Assyrian, Chaldean, Achaemenian and Hellenisitc Periods Chiefly According to the Cuneiform Sources,” Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 131, no. 1 (1981): 51, 67.
  • 8 Zadok, “Arabians in Mesopotamia,” 74.
  • 9 See Frank Moore Cross, “Personal Names in the Samaria Papyri,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 344 (2006): 76; Douglas M. Gropp, Wadi Daliyeh II: The Samaria Papyri from Wadi Daliyeh, Discoveries in the Judaean Desert XXVIII (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2001), 75–78. Jeffrey R. Chadwick, “Lehi in the Samaria Papyri and on an Ostracon from the Shore of the Red Sea,” Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 19, no. 1 (2010): 18–20, was the first to discuss this as evidence for the name Lehi, emphasizing the frequency of Hebrew names in the Samaria Papyri. Nonetheless, it should be noted that the onomastics of these texts are not strictly Hebrew, and in fact are quite cosmopolitan. See Jan Dušek, “The Importance of the Wadi Daliyah Manuscripts for the History of Samaria and the Samaritans,” Religions 11, no. 63 (2020): 2–5.
  •  10 Nelson Glueck, “Ostraca from Elath,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 80 (1940): 3–7. This was first mentioned as evidence for the name Lehi by Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert/The World of the Jaredites/There Were Jaredites (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1988), 41. On the northwest Semitic context of this text, see Chadwick, “Lehi in the Samaria Papyri,” 16–18.
  • 11 See Joseph Naveh, “The Scripts of Two Ostraca from Elath,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 183 (1966): 27–28; Frank L. Benz, Personal Names in the Phoenician and Punic Inscriptions (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1972), 180, 338. This name was first mentioned as potential evidence for Lehi in Dana M. Pike, “Response to Paul Hoskisson’s ‘Lehi and Sariah’,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9, no. 1 (2000): 35.
  • 12 See Bezalel Porten and Jerome A. Lund, Aramaic Documents from Egypt: A Key-Word-in-Context Concordance (Winona Lake, IN: Eisdenbrauns, 2002), 366, referencing document B2.8. Full translations of this document are available in A. Cowley, ed. and trans., Aramaic Papyri of the First Century BC (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923), 41–43; Bezalel Porten, The Elephantine Papyri in English: Three Millennia of Cross-Cultural Continuity and Change (New York, NY: E.J. Brill, 1996), 188–190. Bezalel Porten and Ada Yardeni, Textbook of Aramaic Documents from Ancient Egypt, 4 vols. (Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 1986–1999), 2:38–39. This name was also mentioned by Chadwick, “Lehi in the Samaria Papyri,” 19. Note that while there are Jews at Elephantine (including a Jewish woman mentioned in this same document), not all the persons named in the Elephantine corpus are Jewish, and the names come from a variety of linguistic backgrounds. According to Porten, Elephantine Papyri in English, 188, the witnesses in this document (of which Luḥi is one) are all non-Jewish, and the names of Luḥi and his father are both identified as Akkadian (p. 190n27). On the cultural variety in the onomastics at Elephantine, see Esko Silijanen, “Judeans of Egypt in the Persian Period (539–332 BCE) in Light of the Aramaic Documents” (PhD. diss.; University of Helsinki, 2017), 139–158.
  • 13 For the most comprehensive listing of these names, see Ignace J. Gelb, Computer-Aided Analysis of Amorite (Chicago, IL: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 1980), 616–617, nos. 4215–4226 (Laḫwi), nos. 4257–4263 (Laḫi). See also Hebrert Bardwell Huffmon, “Amorite Personal Names in the Mari Texts: A Structural and Lexical Study” (PhD diss.; University of Michigan, 1963), 31, 61, 236, 272. Huffmon seems to consider these variant forms of the same root (pp. 85–88, 95–98), but recently Mary E. Buck, The Amorite Dynasty of Ugarit: Historical Implications of Linguistic and Archaeological Parallels (Boston, MA: Brill, 2020), 305–306, 327 proposes separate etymologies for the two name elements based on different (but similar) roots. If Buck is correct, then the Laḫi would still be an early form of LḤY. Previously, Chadwick, “Lehi in the Samaria Papyri,” 20 mentioned one example of the name element Laḫwi as possibly being related to the name Lehi.
  • 14 The so-called “Amorite” names are generally considered to be Northwest Semitic. See Michael P. Streck, “Amorite,” in The Semitic Languages: An International Handbook, ed. Stefan Weninger (Boston, MA: De Gruyter Mouton, 2011), 452–459. Alexander Andrason and Juan-Pablo Vita, “Amorite: A Northwest Semitic Language?,” Journal of Semitic Studies 63, no. 1 (2018): 19–58 have recently challenged this standard point of view. Buck, Amorite Dynasty of Ugarit, 185–255 grants there may be some merit to their critique, but looks at a specific subset of Amorite which she calls “Western Amorite,” and demonstrates that it clearly fits within the Northwest Semitic family, and both Laḫi and Laḫwi names are attested in the Western Amorite corpus (see n. 13).
  • 15 See Paul Y. Hoskisson, “Lehi and Sariah,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9, no. 1 (2000): 31, although Hoskisson does note an example of “cheek” being used in a Neo-Babylonian name.
  • 16 Hoskisson, “Lehi and Sariah,” 31.
  • 17 See John A. Tvedtnes, “Lehi and Sariah Comments,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9, no. 1 (2000): 37. Contrary to Tvedtnes’s claim that such names “are even more rare” than names with body parts, a prefixed l-, as either the preposition “to, for, belonging to,” or as an emphatic (“verily”) or optative (“may”) is a common element in many Semitic names, and the name LḤY is generally interpreted as just such name throughout ancient Near Eastern onomastics. See Zadok, “Arabians in Mesopotamia,” 51n74; Díez, Die theophoren Personennamen, 241; Gelb, Computer-Aided Analysis, 23–24; Huffmon, “Amorite Personal Names,” 271–272. For additional examples of names that begin with the preposition l-, see Kerry Hull and Lincoln Blumell, “Assessing the Roles of Women in New Syrian Funerary Reliefs in Japanese Collections,” in Material Culture and Women’s Religious Experience in Antiquity: An Interdisciplinary Symposium, ed. Mark D. Ellison, Catherine Gines Taylor, and Carolyn Osiek (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2021), 156.
  • 18 Tvedtnes, “Lehi and Sariah Comments,” 37.
  • 19 Tvedtnes, “Lehi and Sariah Comments,” 37.
Linguistics
Attested Names
Attestation of Lehi
Book of Mormon

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