Evidence #270 | November 15, 2021

Wordplay on Laman

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Scripture Central


Evidence for Hebrew wordplay on the name Laman, centered around the idea of faith or the lack thereof, is abundantly present in the Book of Mormon.

Laman in the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon name Laman is not found in the Bible. Laman is the eldest son of Lehi who frequently rebelled against the prophetic teachings of his father and younger brother Nephi. After the death of Lehi, Laman and his followers became known as Lamanites and became enemies of the people of Nephi. Notably, however, the Book of Mormon also describes how descendants of Laman and his people become an example of great faith and faithfulness once they were converted to the Lord.

Laman, Faith, and Faithfulness

In a separate evidence article, it was shown that Laman is an attested name from the ancient Near East.1 Matthew Bowen argues that while the etymology of the name is uncertain the mn element in Laman would have invited wordplay based on sound association with the Hebrew mn (“faith”) and mn (“faithfulness”). The root ʾmn carries the meaning “to be firm, trustworthy,” and conveys related meanings of “reliable,” “to believe,” “to have trust in,” “surety,” “faithfulness,” “steadfastness,” and “truth.”2

“Children in Whom there is No Faith”

Bowen draws a connection between the name Laman and the characterization of Israel in the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32:20:

Rebellious Israelites are there characterized as “children in whom is no faith” [Hebrew bnim lō’-ēmun bm], or, rendered differently, “children in whom there is unbelief,” from whom the Lord would hide [his] face,” that is, cut off from his presence (Deuteronomy 32:30). The phrase lō’-ēmun (unvowelled l’ ‘mn) may have been the basis of, or catalyzed the formation of, a negative pun on the name “Laman” among the early Nephites. If so, this pun may have imbued the term “Lamanites” with the meaning “unfaithful” or “unbelieving ones.”3

The Theme of Faith in Nephi’s Record

Faith in the Lord is a significant theme in Nephi’s record where the faith and faithfulness of Nephi is often contrasted with the lack of faith or unbelief of Laman and those who followed him. Laman and his brother Lemuel questioned Lehi’s visionary experiences, “neither did they believe that Jerusalem, that great city could be destroyed according to the words of the prophets” (1 Nephi 2:13). Nephi repeatedly refers to their rebellion as being motivated by unbelief.

When commanded to obtain the plates of brass from Laban, Nephi encouraged Laman and his brothers to be faithful (1 Nephi 3:16–21). When they rebelled in the wilderness, Nephi reminded them that the Lord could do “all things according to his will, for the children of men, if it so be that they exercise faith in him. Wherefore, let us be faithful to him” (1 Nephi 7:12). While building a ship, Nephi said, “I did exhort my brethren to faithfulness and diligence” (1 Nephi 17:15). Notwithstanding these efforts, Laman and Lemuel “did not believe that I could build a ship; neither would they believe that I was instructed of the Lord” (1 Nephi 17:18).

Nephi and Laman fighting on the ship. 

When Lehi’s family divided after his death, those who followed Laman (the Lamanites) became hardened enemies of the people of Nephi. Generations of hatred and unbelief hindered Nephite efforts at reconciliation, leading the Lamanites to reject the Lord’s teachings so that, as King Benjamin explained, they “do not believe them when they are taught them because of the traditions of their fathers which are not correct” (Mosiah 1:5).

Remarkable Reversal: The Faith of Lamanite Converts

Despite the unbelief of Laman and his initial followers, the Book of Mormon recounts the remarkable conversion of many of their descendants and emphasizes their subsequent faithfulness. When King Mosiah’s sons desired to undertake a dangerous mission to preach the Gospel to the Lamanites, the Lord promised that “many shall believe on their words” (Mosiah 28:7). When king Lamoni (a name which resembles Laman and invites a similar connotation) was overcome by the influence of the Spirit and fell to the earth, Ammon comforted his wife.

And he said unto the queen: He is not dead, but he sleepeth in God, and on the morrow he shall rise again; therefore, bury him not. And Ammon said unto her: Believest thou this? And she said unto him: I have no witness save thy word, and the word of our servants; nevertheless, I believe that it shall be according as thou hast said. And Ammon said unto her: Blessed art thou because of thy exceeding faith; I say unto thee, woman, there has not been such great faith among all the people of the Nephites (Alma 19:8–10).

King Lamoni Praying. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

When another group of Lamanites became convinced of the truth of the Gospel, they were put to death by the children of Amulon because “they began to disbelieve the traditions of their fathers, and to believe in the Lord, and that he gave great power unto the Nephites; and thus, there were many of them converted in the wilderness” (Alma 25:5–6). A generation later, the sons of Lamanite converts took an oath to defend the people of Nephi. Helaman, their prophet and leader recorded their reliability in battle and righteousness. Helaman described the miraculous preservation of his young warriors as due to their being “firm and undaunted” in their obedience to his commands.

And we do justly ascribe it to the miraculous power of God, because of their exceeding faith in that which they had been taught to believe—that there was a just God, and whosoever did not doubt, they should be preserved by his marvelous power. Now this was the faith of these of whom I have spoken; they are firm, and they do put their trust in God continually (Alma 57:21, 26–27).

The Lord tells another group of Lamanite converts, “Peace, peace be unto you, because of your faith in my Well Beloved, who was from the foundation of the world.” (Helaman 5:46–47).

The Example of Lamanite Faithfulness

Bowen observes how in times of Nephite wickedness the Nephites “in large measure, become the kind of unbelievers that exemplified the worst aspects of what they—in their own pride—had always detested about Lamanite unbelief and culture.”4 In one such time, a Lamanite convert named Samuel reminded the wicked Nephites of the faithfulness of those Lamanites who were converted to the Lord.

And behold, ye do know of yourselves, for ye have witnessed it, that as many of them as are brought to the knowledge of the truth, and to know of the wicked and abominable traditions of their fathers, and are led to believe the holy scriptures, yea, the prophecies of the holy prophets, which are written, which leadeth them to faith on the Lord, and unto repentance, which faith and repentance bringeth a  change of heart unto them—Therefore, as many as have come to this, ye know of yourselves are firm and steadfast in the faith, and in the thing wherewith they have been made free … And now, because of their steadfastness when they do believe in that thing which they do believe, for because of their firmness when they are once enlightened, behold, the Lord shall bless them and prolong their days, notwithstanding their iniquity (Helaman 15:7–10).

Shortly before the death of Christ, at a time of gross apostasy, Mormon noted the faithfulness of another group of Lamanites who had received the Gospel. “And thus there became a great inequality in all the land, insomuch that in the thirtieth year the church was broken up in all the land save it were among a few of the Lamanites who were converted unto the true faith; and they would not depart from it, for they were firm, and steadfast, and immovable, willing with all diligence to keep the commandments of the Lord” (3 Nephi 6:14). Mormon’s description of Lamanite faith evokes the earlier hopes of father Lehi for his children (1 Nephi 2:9–10).

Laman and his family listening to Lehi teach. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 


Book of Mormon accounts which describe Laman and the Lamanites point to wordplay centered around the concept of faith (ĕmûn) and faithfulness (ĕmûnâ) with related meanings of firmness and steadfastness. In a negative context Laman and his people were a people who dwindled in unbelief (1 Nephi 12:22). When they converted to the Lord, however, this negative characterization turns on its head, revealing the repentant Lamanites as a believing people, whose faith and faithfulness, Nephite prophets affirm, often far exceeded that of the Nephites. The apparent wordplay associated with Laman and his people point to the Book of Mormon’s literary sophistication and Hebrew origins.

Matthew L. Bowen, “Laman and Nephi as Key Words: An Etymological, Narratological, and Rhetorical Approach to Understanding Lamanites and Nephites as Religious, Political, and Cultural Descriptors,” FAIR Conference Presentation, 5–7 August, 2019.

Matthew L. Bowen, “Not Partaking of the Fruit: Its Generational Consequences and Its Remedy,” in The Things Which My Father Saw: Approaches to Lehi’s Dream and Nephi’s Vision, ed. Daniel L. Belnap, Gaye Strathearn, Stanley A. Johnson (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book and the Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2011), 240–263.

Stephen D. Ricks, “Lehi and Local Color,” FARMS Review 21, no. 2 (2009): 173.

BibleDeuteronomy 32:20Book of Mormon1 Nephi 2:131 Nephi 3:16–211 Nephi 7:121 Nephi 12:221 Nephi 17:151 Nephi 17:18Mosiah 1:5Mosiah 28:7Alma 19:8–10Alma 25:5–6Alma 57:21Alma 57:26–27Helaman 5:46–47Helaman 15:7–103 Nephi 6:14


Deuteronomy 32:20

Book of Mormon

1 Nephi 2:13

1 Nephi 3:16–21

1 Nephi 7:12

1 Nephi 12:22

1 Nephi 17:15

1 Nephi 17:18

Mosiah 1:5

Mosiah 28:7

Alma 19:8–10

Alma 25:5–6

Alma 57:21

Alma 57:26–27

Helaman 5:46–47

Helaman 15:7–10

3 Nephi 6:14

Wordplay on Laman
Book of Mormon

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