Evidence #338 | May 9, 2022

Attestation of Sam

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Scripture Central


Lehi had a son named Sam. Although this name doesn’t show up in the Bible, it is attested in ancient Near Eastern inscriptions.

Sam was the name of one of Nephi’s older brothers in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 2:5). This non-biblical name was viewed by some early commentators as being both modern and American, and therefore as evidence that the Book of Mormon was a product of nineteenth-century fiction.1 Discoveries made after the publication of the Book of Mormon, however, show that Sam was indeed an authentic ancient Near Eastern name.

An Attested Name

Hugh Nibley, in his important 1952 work Lehi in the Deseret, noted that Sam was an Egyptian name and that the throne name of an Egyptian Pharaoh of the Eleventh Dynasty was Sam-Tawi (“uniter of the two lands”).2

Photograph of a detail of the throne of Sesostris I showing the gods Horus and Seth performing the ritual of the meeting of the Two Lands (Sema-tawy). Image and caption via Wikimedia Commons. 

More recently, the name Sam written in paleo-Hebrew (the early form of Hebrew used in Lehi’s day) was discovered on a stamp seal from Jerusalem dating to the seventh century BC.3 Ancient Hebrew characters such as those found on the inscription make no distinction between two types of s sounds—(s) and (sh). The form of Sam in the Book of Mormon, assuming it follows early Israelite orthography, could therefore be a viable spelling no matter how it was anciently pronounced (whether as Sam or Shem).4

Sam standing guard by the Nephite camp.

On the other hand, as seen in Judges 12:6, northern Israelites who were from the central hill country of Ephraim and Benjamin in the Transjordan would likely have pronounced the name as Sam rather than Shem. Thus, if the spelling of Sam in the Book of Mormon is indicative of how it was anciently pronounced (i.e., if the spelling is sensitive to later Hebrew conventions or to appropriate English pronunciation), it may point to Lehi’s ancestry in the northern kingdom and in western Transjordan near the Ephraimite border, rather than in eastern Manasseh.5 Either way, a viable option presents itself if the name indeed derives from Hebrew.


The name Sam, which was once seen as evidence against the Book of Mormon, is now known to be an authentic ancient Near Eastern name. Particularly relevant is its status as an attested Hebrew name. Not only has the paleo-Hebrew form of the name been found in Jerusalem, but it dates to the time of Lehi, validating the appropriateness of Lehi giving this name to one of his sons.6

Sam,” Book of Mormon Onomasticon, last updated September 27, 2020, online at onom.lib.byu.edu.

John A. Tvedtnes, John Gee, Matthew Roper, “Book of Mormon Names Attested in Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9, no. 1 (2000): 40–51, 78–79.

Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, The World of the Jaredites, There Were Jaredites (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1988), 20–21.

BibleJudges 12:6Book of Mormon1 Nephi 2:51 Nephi 2:172 Nephi 4:112 Nephi 5:6Alma 3:6


Judges 12:6

Book of Mormon

1 Nephi 2:5

1 Nephi 2:17

2 Nephi 4:11

2 Nephi 5:6

Alma 3:6

  • 1 In a pamphlet published in 1838 Origen Bacheler wrote, “one of his [Nephi’s] brothers was a real Yankee—Sam! Well done, Prophet Smith; you can’t get rid of your Jonathanisms. Sam Indeed! Fie, Joseph, how you forget yourself. Can’t you forge better than this?” He further claimed that the name Sam was merely a fictitious half-name that was “rather out of place … in ancient writings.” Origen Bacheler, Mormonism Exposed Internally and Externally (New York, NY: By the Author, 1838), 11, 14.
  • 2 Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, The World of the Jaredites, There Were Jaredites (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1988), 20–21; Herbert E. Winlock, “The Eleventh Egyptian Dynasty,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 2 (1942): 266.
  • 3 Nahman Avigad, Corpus of West Semitic Stamp Seals (Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1997), 69.
  • 4 See also Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, 42: “While Sam is a perfectly good Egyptian name, it is also the normal Arabic form of Shem, the son of Noah.”
  • 5 Don Bradley has summarized historical evidence from Joseph Smith and his associates pointing to the Manassehite and Ephraimite ancestry of the respective family who was a mixture of both tribes through intermarriage. See Don Bradley, The Lost 116 Pages: Reconstructing the Book of Mormon’s Missing Stories (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2019), 157–163.
  • 6 As stated in John A. Tvedtnes and Matthew Roper, “One Small Step,” FARMS Review 15, no. 1 (2003): 177, “It is not just a question of how Joseph Smith might have fabricated a few names, but how he could have known that these names would, long after his death, be attested and dated to an appropriate time period consistent with the claims of the Book of Mormon.”
Attested Names
Attestation of Sam
Book of Mormon

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