Evidence #49 | September 19, 2020

Wordplay on Zeezrom

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Scripture Central

Abstract

The name “Zeezrom” (possibly meaning “he of the silver”) may be a wordplay that is meant to emphasize this character’s lust for money and his notable attempt to bribe Amulek with “six onties of silver.”
Image of Judas Iscariot via Wiki Images.

In Alma 10:31, Zeezrom is introduced as a lawyer who “was the foremost to accuse Amulek and Alma, he being one of the most expert among them, having much business to do among the people.” This emphasis on “business” is brought up again in the next chapter, where the Nephite monetary system is outlined to help readers understand the significance of Zeezrom’s attempt to bribe Amulek: “Behold, here are six onties of silver, and all these will I give thee if thou wilt deny the existence of a Supreme Being” (Alma 11:22; emphasis added).1

In light of this context, Zeezrom’s name may be a dysphemism, or a deliberately derogatory or unflattering word or name meant to disparage the intended recipient. This would follow known ancient Hebrew literary practice, which employs both euphemisms and dysphemisms as substitutes for names.2 Zeezrom’s name might also be described as an example of metonymy, where something is named because of its association with another concept or idea.3

As explained by Gordon C. Thomasson,

In Alma 11 we find a seeming digression from the topic of the text in the complex discussion of Nephite weights and units of measure and equivalents. Conspicuous, now, among the names of the units of value given is that of an ezrom (Alma 11:6, 12). It is a quantity of silver. Immediately after the discussion of money we find the person who is called Zeezrom. This appears to be a compound of the word Ze, which we can translate “This is an” as a prefix, and the word “ezrom.” Zeezrom is distinguished by having offered 10.5 ezrom of silver to Alma and Amulek if they would deny their testimonies. Zeezrom is a lawyer of dubious repute—today we might call him a bag-man, or a “fixer”—one who offers bribes, and his name entirely fits his life before he repents (Alma 11:12). His name would translate “this is a unit of silver.”4

Stephen D. Ricks has given a similar assessment:

The Nephite monetary system would most likely have consisted of weights and measures as opposed to minted coins. Image via Wikimedia commons.

The Book of Mormon proper name Zeezrom may follow a naming pattern parallel to the Hebrew zeh Sinai, “he of Sinai” (i.e., God) (cf. Judges 5:5; Psalm 68:8) and may have the meaning “he of the Ezrom.” Ezrom/Ezrum is a Nephite word mentioned in Alma 11:6, 12, as a unit of silver measure. As a silver measure (which, in Hebrew, is kesep, “silver; money”), it may be the equivalent of money as well, indicating the meaning “he of silver, money,” suggesting Zeezrom’s early obsession with money or his willingness to resort to bribing Alma and Amulek with money to have them deny their belief in God (Alma 11:22).5

Conclusion

The above analysis suggests that Mormon may have deliberately emphasized or perhaps even given Zeezrom his name to add a measure of irony to this story: it was Zeezrom—literally “he of the silver”—who attempted to bribe Amulek with silver. Thomasson concluded, “If this is not metonymic naming I am anxious to learn what it might be.”6

Book of Mormon Central, “Why Would Zeezrom Attempt to Bribe Amulek? (Alma 11:22),” KnoWhy 118 (June 9, 2016).

Stephen D. Ricks, “A Nickname and a Slam Dunk: Notes on the Book of Mormon Names Zeezrom and Jershon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 8 (2014): 191–194.

Gordon C. Thomasson, “What’s in a Name? Book of Mormon Language, Names, and [Metonymic] Naming,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 3, no. 1(1994): 15–16.

Alma 10:31–Alma 11:25

Alma 10:31Alma 11:25

  • 1 For more information on this monetary system, see John W. Welch, “Weighing and Measuring in the Worlds of the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8, no. 2 (1999): 36–45; John W. Welch, “The Laws of Eshnunna and Nephite Economics,” in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon: The FARMS Updates of the 1990s, ed. John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999), 147–149; John W. Welch, “The Law of Mosiah,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon: A Decade of New Research, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 158–161.
  • 2 See Marvin H. Pope, “Euphemism and Dysphemism in the Bible,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman, 6 vols. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992), 1:720–725; Paul Y. Hoskisson, “Dysphemisms,” Insights 31, no. 2 (2011): 2; “Euphemism and Dysphemism,” online at jewishvirtuallibrary.org.
  • 3 See Gordon C. Thomasson, “What’s in a Name? Book of Mormon Language, Names, and [Metonymic] Naming,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 3, no. 1(1994): 10: “Metonymy or metonymic naming involves ‘naming by association,’ a metaphoric process of linking two concepts or persons together in such a way as to tell us more about the latter by means of what we already know about the former. For example, to call a potential scandal a ‘Watergate’ is to suggest volumes in a single word. Similarly, if we call an individual a Judas or a Quisling, rather than giving his or her proper name, we can in one word convey an immense amount of information about how we at least feel toward that person. Names which are specific to particular castes in India have a metonymic function, linking the individual clearly to the role they are to perform in this life. In this case, these are names which the person actually bears in real life. Other names are assigned after the fact.”
  • 4 Thomasson, “What’s in a Name? Book of Mormon Language, Names, and [Metonymic] Naming,” 16.
  • 5 Stephen D. Ricks, “A Nickname and a Slam Dunk: Notes on the Book of Mormon Names Zeezrom and Jershon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 8 (2014): 192–192.
  • 6 Thomasson, “What’s in a Name? Book of Mormon Language, Names, and [Metonymic] Naming,” 16.
Linguistics
Wordplays
Wordplay on Zeezrom
Book of Mormon

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