Evidence #142 | January 25, 2021

Attestation of Shilum

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Scripture Central

Abstract

The name shilum, which appears in the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon, is an attested Hebrew word and appears appropriately in the text in a monetary context.

Shiblum in the Book of Mormon

In an account of the ministry of Alma and Amulek, Mormon provides the names of various pieces of money according to their measures and values during the reign of the judges. One of these is called a shiblum in current editions of the Book of Mormon. “And a shiblum is half of a shiblon. And a leah is half of a shiblum” (Alma 11:16–17; emphasis added).

Set of brass weghts from modern Guatemala used for measuring and bartering. Image via bominspection.blogspot.com

Shilum in the Earliest Book of Mormon Manuscripts

The earliest manuscripts of the Book of Mormon, however, show that the name shiblum was originally spelled as shilum. Royal Skousen explains,

For both occurrences of the monetary unit shilum, the original manuscript is extant. For the first occurrence of shilum, Oliver Cowdery (the scribe here in O) initially wrote shiblum, which he first corrected to shillum and then finally to shilum. Here Joseph Smith probably spelled out the word since Oliver could not have known whether shilum had one or two l’s. (For this first occurrence of the word, Oliver first overwrote his initial b with an l; then crossed out that correcting l, leaving only one l in shilum.) When Oliver wrote the name the second time in O, he wrote shilum without any error.1

Later, when a scribe copied this name into the Printer’s Manuscript, he also correctly spelled it as shilum. It was only when the Book of Mormon was being prepared for printing in 1830 that the typesetter mistakenly set the word as shiblum (rather than shilum), an error which has persisted in subsequent editions of the text.2 This was likely caused, as Skousen notes, “by the phonetically similar monetary unit shiblon which is mentioned twice in the immediately preceding verse as well as once between the two occurrences of shilum in verses 16 and 17.”3

Correct spelling of "shilum" in the Printer's Manuscript. Image via josephsmithpapers.org. 

Shilum as an Attested Hebrew Word

Awareness of this name’s original spelling is significant because shilum happens to also be an authentic Hebrew word meaning “reward, payment, compensation.”4 It is found in Micah 7:3 where it refers to a bribe or “payoff” for wicked judges.5 It appears as slm in Northwest Semitic, meaning “to be paid, repaid”6 and is related to the Akkadian words šullumu “to repay” and tašlimtu “payment.”7

Conclusion

The name shilum is significant because it shows how careful textual analysis can help clarify—and in some important instances correct—various printed editions of the Book of Mormon. In this case, the correction renders an otherwise unattested word (Shiblum) into a form (shilum) that is attested in ancient Hebrew.8 Even more significant is the fact that the meaning of this Hebrew word appropriately matches its usage in the Book of Mormon—both contexts having to do with money or payment. This type of corroboration, where a Book of Mormon word matches both the form and meaning of an ancient Hebrew term, offers strong linguistic evidence for the text’s claimed Israelite origins.  

Royal Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, Part Three: Mosiah 17 – Alma 20 (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2006), 1810.

Shiblum,” Book of Mormon Onomasticon, last updated September 13, 2020, online at onoma.lib.byu.edu

Alma 11:16Alma 11:17

Alma 11:16

Alma 11:17

  • 1 Royal Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, Part Three: Mosiah 17 – Alma 20 (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2006), 1810.
  • 2 Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants in the Book of Mormon, 1810.
  • 3 Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants in the Book of Mormon, 1810.
  • 4 Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, eds., The Hebrew & Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 4:1511.
  • 5 Francis I. Anderson and David Noel Freedman, Micah: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible Series (New York, NY: Doubleday, 2000), 569, 571.
  • 6 Jacob Hofttijzer, Dictionary of North-west Semitic Inscriptions (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 2:1145.
  • 7 Hayim Tawil, Akkadian Lexical Companion for Biblical Hebrew (Brooklyn, NY: KTAV Publishing House, 2009), 400.
  • 8 According to the entry for “Shiblum” in the Book of Mormon Onomasticon, “While the derivation of shiblum from ancient HEBREW is somewhat problematical, shilum is not.” Book of Mormon Onomasticon, “Shiblum,” last updated September 13, 2020, online at onoma.lib.byu.edu.
Linguistics
Attested Names
Shilum
Book of Mormon

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