Evidence #355 | July 11, 2022

Wordplay on Joshua

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Scripture Central


The name of the land Joshua is ironic in light of the Nephites’ rejection of Jesus at that place.

The Bible provides examples of people and places that bear names which are ironic in the context of the surrounding narrative.1 Some names in the Book of Mormon are also ironic. For instance, the name Nephi (Egyptian nfr for “good, goodly, fair”) is sometimes used ironically in times of Nephite wickedness.2 Names such as Noah and Boaz are also ironic in light of surrounding activities and events.3 Joshua, the name of a Nephite land mentioned by Mormon, provides yet another possible example of intended irony.

The Nephites at Joshua

Under Mormon’s early leadership, his people fled before the Lamanites from the city of Angola to the “land of Joshua” (Mormon 2:6), where they were able to defend themselves against their enemies for many years. Social disruptions during this period caused the Nephites to mourn, leading Mormon to hope that they would turn again to the Lord for mercy and repent of their sins (v. 12).

Mormon discovered, however, that “their sorrowing was not unto repentance, because of the goodness of God; but it was rather the sorrowing of the damned, because the Lord would not always suffer them to take happiness in sin” (Mormon 2:13). During these years, “they did not come unto Jesus with broken hearts and contrite spirits, but did curse God, and wish to die.” (v. 14). Mormon laments that he saw thousands of them cut down in battle in a state of “open rebellion” (v. 15).

Mormon Bids Farewell to a Once Great Nation by Arnold Friberg.

The use of the name Joshua in this setting may be significant. Joshua (Hebrew yhôšûa) means “the Lord is salvation.”4 And indeed, through his prophet and military leader, the Lord did save them at this location, at least temporarily. Yet, as Mormon later noted, the Nephites “did not realize that it was the Lord that had spared them, and granted unto them a chance for repentance” (Mormon 3:3).

It is sadly ironic that the people “did not come unto Jesus” at this time and place. Rather than partaking of his salvation, they suffered the “sorrowing of the damned” (Mormon 2:13–14). The way Mormon soon after contrasts their sorrowing with his own may also be relevant: “for my heart has been filled with sorrow because of their wickedness, all my days; nevertheless, I know that I shall be lifted up at the last day” (v. 19).5 Both “temporally and spiritually,” salvation was clearly available to the people, just as it was for Mormon, but because of their wickedness “the day of grace was passed with them” (v. 15).


The primary message of the Book of Mormon is to invite the reader to come unto Christ and be saved (Mormon 7:3–5, 10). Irony associated with a land named Joshua (“the Lord is salvation”) strengthens this message. Mormon shows how, in connection with this place, his own beloved people rejected the Lord’s spiritual salvation and didn’t recognize that the Lord was the source of their temporal salvation. This proposal provides evidence for the complexity and ancient origins of the Nephite record.

Robert A. Rees, “Irony in the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12, no. 2 (2003): 20–31, 111–112.

BibleJoshua 1:1Book of MormonMormon 2:6Mormon 2:12Mormon 2:13Mormon 2:14Mormon 2:15Mormon 7:3–5Mormon 7:10


Joshua 1:1

Book of Mormon

Mormon 2:6

Mormon 2:12

Mormon 2:13

Mormon 2:14

Mormon 2:15

Mormon 7:3–5

Mormon 7:10

  • 1 See Lillian R. Klein, The Triumph of Irony in the Book of Judges (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1988), 142.
  • 2 See Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: Wordplay on Nephi,” Evidence# 160, March 1, 2021, online at evidencecentral.org.
  • 3 See Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: Wordplay on Noah,” Evidence# 0078, September 19, 2020, online at evidencecentral.org; Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: Wordplay on Boaz,” Evidence# 0353, June 27, 2022, online at evidencecentral.org.
  • 4 Alfred Jones, Proper Names of the Old Testament Scriptures, Expounded and Illustrated (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1856), 209; Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007; originally published in 1906), 221.
  • 5 While this discussion follows soon after the events at Joshua, Mormon noted that his people had fled to the “land of Jashon” (Mormon 2:16–17). One possible meaning of the name Jashon, assuming it is of Semitic derivation, is “Jehovah gives rest” or “Jehovah is at rest.” It also “cannot be ruled out that it may be a NEPHITE late rendering of the Hebrew PN Joshua by way of the Greek name Jason. For example, Jason was used by Judeo-Christians in New Testament times as a form of the Hebrew PN Joshua.” Book of Mormon Onomasticon, s.v., Jashon, online at onoma.lib.byu.edu. While both of these proposals are uncertain, either one would work well in this setting. Mormon may have been emphasizing how Jehovah had personally given him rest and salvation, despite his deep sorrow that his people were damned. And if Jashon was indeed a variant form of Joshua (“the Lord is salvation”), that would make even better sense, as Mormon directly invoked the certainty of his own salvation, in contrast to his people.   
Wordplay on Joshua
Book of Mormon

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