Evidence #261 | October 25, 2021

Wordplay on Shilom

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Several lines of evidence help connect the name Shilom with the Hebrew root šlm—associated with “peace” and also with being “complete” or “whole.”

Shilom and šlm

Matthew L. Bowen has proposed that the name Shilom in the Book of Mormon derives from the same root (šlm) as the Hebrew word šālôm—meaning “peace.”1 Evidence supporting this proposal comes from Zeniff’s brief account of his reign, wherein peace in the land of Shilom, or the lack thereof, plays a central role in the narrative.

“Shilom” and “Peace” as Paired Poetic Elements

The first indication of this linguistic connection comes from a parallel structure found in Mosiah 9:5–6. The way “Shilom” is paired with “peace” (element E) gives considerable support for Bowen’s thesis:2

  AAnd it came to pass that I went again with four of my men into the city,
   Bin unto the king,
    Cthat I might know3 of the disposition of the king, and that I might know if I might go in with my people
     Dand possess the land
      Ein peace.                                                                                                                                         
  AAnd I went
   Bin unto the king,
    Cand he covenanted with me that I might
     Dpossess the land
      Eof Lehi-Nephi, and the land of Shilom.                                                                                     

Shilom and the Peace Treaty

In effect, it appears that in relation to the land (including Shilom), Zeniff was seeking a “bĕrît šālôm—a ‘covenant of peace,’ or what we would today call a ‘peace treaty’—on terms of equality with the king of the Lamanites.”4 On two other occasions in Zeniff’s record, the possession of the land is similarly linked with peace:

  • “And it came to pass that we again began to establish the kingdom and we again began to possess the land in peace” (Mosiah 10:1).
  • “… thus we did have continual peace in the land for the space of twenty and two years” (Mosiah 10:5).

Shilom and the Breaking of the Peace Treaty

However, as Bowen has noted, this “peace” treaty at times ended up being ironically ineffective. After the Nephites possessed the land for twelve years, the Lamanites began to violently raid Nephite settlements “south of the land of Shilom” (Mosiah 9:14), which escalated into a full-blown conflict with thousands of deaths (vv. 18–19). In the 22nd year of Zeniff’s reign, after a new Lamanite king took the throne, the Lamanites again attacked the Nephites—except this time “they came up upon the north of the land of Shilom” (Mosiah 10:8). Thus, in each case, Zeniff specifically noted that it was in the “land of Shilom”—a place which should have been a symbol of peace—where the peace was broken and conflict ensued.

Lamanites attacking Zeniff's people. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

Shilom and Ten Years of Peace

It is interesting that Zeniff provided the passage of time between these conflicts, when the rest of his account doesn’t contain any references to time. The first conflict began in the 13th year, after they had peace for the space of 12 years (Mosiah 9:12, 14). The second conflict began after Zeniff’s people had dwelt in the land for 22 years, indicating that the peace was likely broken for the second time in the 23rd year.

If so, the peace would have lasted for approximately ten years, much like a later peace treaty between the Nephites and Lamanites (Mormon 2:28; 3:1).5 In ancient Hebrew culture, the number ten can, among other things, symbolize “divine completeness.”6 This association is noteworthy because the Hebrew root šlm (from which the name Shilom appears to derive) can also mean “to be whole, complete.”7 Thus, by providing these dates, Zeniff may have been emphasizing that a whole or complete cycle of peace had transpired before the Lamanites again invaded Shilom.

A Biblical Precedent

Finally, readers should be aware that Shilom’s connection to peace, especially the lack thereof, has a relevant parallel with the biblical name Absalom. As explained by Bowen,

Regarding the narratological wordplay on the name Absalom (“[my] father is peace”) in terms of šālôm (“peace”) and the verbal root šlm throughout 2 Samuel 13–20, Moshe Garsiel observes that “the entire story deals in a manner of the most pronounced irony with the absence of ‘peace’ between ‘father’ and son.” It is, he notes, an example of the “ironic inconsistency of names to events” being deliberately highlighted by the biblical writer.8

Thus, the way that Shilom is connected both to times of peace, and ironically to the notable instances when that peace was broken, should not be viewed as an inconsistency in the proposed wordplay. If anything, that type of dualistic irony only strengthens the proposal.

Death of Absalom, by Corrado Giaquinto, 1762. Image via Wikimedia Commons. 


Throughout Zeniff’s record, the land of Shilom is connected to the Hebrew root šlm (“peace,” “whole/complete”) in multiple ways: (1) Shilom’s initial mention as part of the peace treaty between Zeniff’s people and the Lamanites, (2) the poetic pairing of “Shilom” with the word “peace” in the description of this treaty, (3) the emphasis throughout the record of “peace” in the land, (4) Shilom’s twice-repeated connection to the breaking of peace, (5) Shilom’s association with specifically ten (i.e. “whole” or “complete”) years of peace.

As summarized by Bowen, 

Just as the name Absalom (“father is peace”) and šālôm/šl-m dramatically and ironically emphasize the absence of “peace” between father and son in the David-Absalom cycle (2 Samuel 13–20), Zeniff’s juxtaposition of the name Shilom alternatively with “peace” (šālôm) and with “war” terminology serves the same function throughout his autobiography. For Zeniff, the name Shilom served as the bittersweet symbol of a mostly tenuous “peace” with the Lamanites in whom he had once seen “Nephite”-like “good” (Mosiah 9:1) and an ironic reminder of the ever-looming reality of war and bloodshed in the lives of his people.9

Matthew L. Bowen, “‘Possess the Land in Peace’: Zeniff’s Ironic Wordplay on Shilom,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 28 (2018): 115–120.

John W. Welch, “Counting to Ten,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12, no. 2 (2003): 42–57, 113–114.

Book of Mormon Onomasticon, s.v. “SHILOM,” online at onoma.lib.byu.edu.

Mosiah 9:5–8Mosiah 9:14Mosiah 10:1–5

Mosiah 9:5–8

Mosiah 9:14

Mosiah 10:1–5

Wordplay on Shilom
Book of Mormon

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