Evidence #292 | December 27, 2021

Wordplay on Onidah

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Scripture Central


Hebrew wordplay on the name Onidah is reflected in the sermons to the Zoramites in the Book of Mormon.

When Alma led a Nephite mission to Zoramite dissenters in the land of Antionum, he encountered a group among them who had been oppressed and cast out of their places of worship because of their poverty. “Now, as Alma was teaching and speaking unto the people upon the hill Onidah, there came a great multitude unto him, who were those of whom we have been speaking, of whom were poor in heart, because of their poverty as to the things of the world” (Alma 32:4).

Wealthy Zoramites engaged in vain prayers. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

Mormon’s reference to the name of the hill where these sermons were given is noteworthy given that many other geographical references are sparse in this part of the Book of Mormon narrative. In an important article on this subject, Matthew Bowen argues that “Mormon uses the name Onidah and its meaning to affirm the value of the afflictions and humility of the poor Zoramites who responded to Alma’s teaching.”1

The Meaning of Onidah

The Hebrew noun ʿŏni is usually rendered “affliction” or “poverty.”2 As one scholar observes, “it has a narrow semantic range: ‘misery’ that cries to heaven.”3 It is a condition that may be inflicted on a family, nation, or an individual, and can also be made worse by others. It may take the form of “persecution by enemies” or “suffering occasioned by God’s anger or punishment.”4 It is “a burden of suffering that affects Yahweh, always with social implications.”5 The Lord told Moses, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows” (Exodus 3:7). This affliction is ʿŏni.6

Paul Hoskisson suggests that the name Onidah is most likely derived from the Hebrew ni and yādaʿ, which would yield the meaning “He attends (my) sorrow,” or “He knows my affliction.”7 More recently, Matthew Bowen, building upon that earlier work, suggests the meaning “he [the Lord] knows my affliction” (literally, “he has known my affliction”) or “he has acknowledged my humiliation.”8 Wording which reflects wordplay on the meaning of Onidah can be found in the prophetic teachings about afflictions, poverty, and humility that were given at this location during the Zoramite mission.


Mormon mentions the hill Onidah as he introduces Alma’s teachings to the Zoramites. Alma “beheld that their afflictions had truly humbled them, and that they were in preparation to hear the word” (Alma 32:6). When the leader of the disenfranchised group approaches Alma, the prophet notes, “ye have desired to know of me what ye shall do because ye are afflicted” (Alma 32:24). After teaching them about faith, he then recited a prayer from the prophet Zenos who said, “And thou didst hear me because of mine afflictions … Therefore, I will cry unto thee in all mine afflictions” (Alma 33:11). When Alma finished his sermon, Amulek then addressed the crowd, again noting, “ye have desired of my beloved brother that he should make known unto you what ye should do, because of your afflictions” (Alma 34:3).

The Poor Among the Zoramites Coming to Listen. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

After preaching to them about repentance and the Atonement of Christ, he then taught that they should “visit the sick and afflicted” (Alma 34:28) and said, “I would exhort you to have patience, and that ye bear with all manner of afflictions” (Alma 34:40). He urged them not to revile against those who wronged them, “but that ye have patience, and bear with those afflictions, with a firm hope that ye shall one day rest from all your afflictions” (Alma 34:41).

Poverty and the Poor

Poverty also looms large in these discourses. Mormon emphasized that “they began to have success among the poor class of people” (Alma 32:2). He stated, “Now as Alma was teaching and speaking unto the people upon the hill Onidah, there came a great multitude unto him, who were those of whom we have been speaking, of whom were poor in heart, because of their poverty as to the things of the world” (Alma 32:4).Those in the afflicted group “were esteemed as filthiness; therefore they were poor; yea they were esteemed by their brethren as dross; therefore they were poor as to the things of the world; and also they were poor in heart” (Alma 32:3).

Alma the Younger Speaking to the Poor Among the Zoramites. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

The Zoramite leader asked, “Behold what shall these my brethren do, for they are despised of all men because of their poverty” (Alma 32:5), and Alma referred to them being “despised of your brethren because of your exceeding poverty” (Alma 32:12; cf. 32:15). Amulek further taught them not to revile “against those who do cast you out because of your exceeding poverty” (Alma 34:40).


It is in the context of their afflictions due to their great poverty that Alma was able to teach the importance of humility, which if carefully nourished allows faith to grow and can produce the sweet fruits of knowledge and eternal life (Alma 32:34–35, 42). “And now because ye are compelled to be humble blessed are ye; for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance; and surely, whosoever repenteth shall find mercy; and he that findeth mercy and endureth to the end the same shall be saved” (Alma 32:13).

Those who are not compelled to be humble can be even more blessed, “yea, much more blessed than they who are compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty” (Alma 32:15). Alma also acknowledged that many in this group were already in a state of humility, “for I verily believe that there are some among you who would humble themselves, let them be in whatever circumstances they might” (Alma 32:25).


Bowen observes,

The mention of Onidah occurs amid a profusion of repeated terms that derive from—or relate semantically—to the verbal root ʿny/ʿnh  “(the) poor,” “poorer class” (ʿăniyyim/ ʿănāwim [ʿanwê/ ʿăniyyê]), “their poverty”/ “their afflictions” (ʿonyām, ʿunnôtām) and the verb “humble.” This evident polyptoton, a wordplay on cognates from the same root, creates a verbal picture: poverty and humility surround Alma on Onidah, in contrast to the scenes of self-exaltation transpiring atop the Rameumptum.”9

Alma, as a master teacher, seems to have made use of his setting (the hill Onidah—“He knows my affliction,” “He has acknowledged my humiliation”) to reinforce his message. He may have even chosen the location for that very purpose. Whatever the case, it seems very likely that the sermons on this hill intentionally invoke wordplay on its name, and that Mormon included the name in his abridgment for that very purpose. The nuances of this multi-faceted wordplay reflect the Book of Mormon’s literary sophistication and point to its ancient Israelite heritage.

Matthew L. Bowen, “He Knows My Affliction: The Hill Onidah as Narrative Counterpart to the Rameumptum,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-Day Saint Faith and Scholarship34 (2020): 195–220.

Onidah” Book of Mormon Onomasticon, online at onoma.lib.byu.edu.

BibleExodus 3:7Proverbs 31:5Job 30:16Job 30:27Book of MormonAlma 32:2Alma 32:3Alma 32:4Alma 32:5Alma 32:6Alma 32:12Alma 32:13Alma 32:15Alma 32:24Alma 32:25Alma 32:34Alma 32:35Alma 32:42Alma 33:11Alma 34:3Alma 34:28Alma 34:40Alma 34:41


Exodus 3:7

Proverbs 31:5

Job 30:16

Job 30:27

Book of Mormon

Alma 32:2

Alma 32:3

Alma 32:4

Alma 32:5

Alma 32:6

Alma 32:12

Alma 32:13

Alma 32:15

Alma 32:24

Alma 32:25

Alma 32:34

Alma 32:35

Alma 32:42

Alma 33:11

Alma 34:3

Alma 34:28

Alma 34:40

Alma 34:41

  • 1 Matthew L. Bowen, “He Knows My Affliction: The Hill Onidah as Narrative Counterpart to the Rameumptum,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-Day Saint Faith and Scholarship 34 (2020): 196.
  • 2 Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), 777.
  • 3 G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, Heinz–Josef Fabry, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 15 vols., trans. David E. Green (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2001), 11:239.
  • 4 Botterweck, Ringgren, Fabry, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 11:240.
  • 5 Botterweck, Ringgren, Fabry, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 11:240.
  • 6 The Hebrew noun ʿŏni is one of a group of words derived from the root ʿānâ II which have related meanings. “The basic experience appears to be ‘affliction’ in its various forms. Synonyms depict it as ‘hardship, torment, pain, despair.’ Days of affliction (Job 30:16, 27) are evil times, diametrically opposed to well-being … they are life-destroying. The adjectives always describe people in ‘oppressed, constrained, fatal’ situations. The verb usually expresses the notion that someone is deprecating or threatening the life of another or temporarily embracing such a fate. The afflicted (Prov. 31:5, benê ʿŏni) are almost beyond help.” Botterweck, Ringgren, Fabry, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 11:234.
  • 7 Book of Mormon Onomasticon, “Onidah,” online at onoma.lib.byu.edu.
  • 8 Bowen, “He Knows My Affliction,” 196.
  • 9 Bowen, “He Knows My Affliction,” 206.
Wordplay on Onidah
Book of Mormon

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