Friday, September 4, 2009

The Name of Gazelem

The noted Hebrew scholar, author, and historian, Dr. Robert Smith, answered someone’s concern about a strange name that appears in the Book of Mormon; that name is Gazelem. This information came to me from Robert Smith by e-mail not long ago. Because of its relevance to the subject of this book, I feel it has pertinent information for the reader. In presenting it, I will take the liberty of doing a little editing for the sake of brevity. For the sake of simplicity, I will also not be separating it out by quotation marks, and any emphasis is my responsibility. With this in mind, his response and comments are as follows (No quote marks will be added):

Today I will answer another question someone has sent me. ... The reader asks what the name Gazelem means. It is found in the Book of Mormon in Alma’s instructions to his son Helaman. Let me first quote the place where Alma gives this prophecy.

"And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people who serve me, that I may discover unto them the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works, their works of darkness, and their wickedness and abominations. And now, my son, these interpreters were prepared that the word of God might be fulfilled, which he spake, saying:" (Alma 37:23-24)

Alma is giving the plates of Nephi to his son Helaman who will be the custodian of them and who will continue the record keeping. He also gives him the plates containing the record of Ether with the history of the Jaredites who had been destroyed. He also gives Helaman the Urim and Thummim to keep along with the records.

First we have to ask who Gazelem is. He is someone the Lord is going to prepare to read this record of the Jaredites, and we suppose of the Nephites, although it is the plates of Ether he is speaking of. We know one thing about him. He uses the Urim and Thummim to read the record. The only person in the Book of Mormon who did this was Mosiah who originally translated Ether’s record of the Jaredites.

In Alma 37:18, he tells Helaman this is for and pertains to future generations. Mosiah was a contemporary of Alma’s father, Alma the elder. Mosiah is gone now so it cannot refer to him. As Alma says, it is future. It can only apply to our time.

Another evidence is now gone, but in earlier versions of the D&C, the brethren used pseudonyms so their enemies would not know of whom they were speaking. Gazelem was also used to refer to Joseph thereby identifying him in those early church records. Alma’s prophecy is for future generations, and we understand that to mean the last days or our time, and Joseph was the one who did translate the Nephite and Jaredite records.

The prophecy in Alma 37 is indeed a prophecy of the calling and work of Joseph Smith. It is an unusual word, in fact it is unique. You cannot look this word up in the dictionary to find out what it means because it is a new word the Lord originated for this one use. This is part of the encoding possible in Hebrew and it requires knowledge of the method in order to understand it. This is one of the marvelous things about Hebrew writing.

In English, if we want to form a new word due to technology or some other reason, there are no rules or guidelines. For example, the computer industry has spawned dozens of new words, but we have to learn them individually. We cannot look at “byte” for example, and immediately and instinctively know what it means. We have to learn what the word means before we can use it. A lot of words are acronyms such as ROM, RAM, FIFO, etc. But why disk rather than usual word disc? It is most likely the original users simply spelled disc wrong and it stuck so a lot of new English words come from ignorance or mistakes.

The wonderful thing about Hebrew is it can be used to coin new terms which do not need to be explained and we have an excellent example in Gazelem. The way in which we understand such words that are used in no other place is by a unique characteristic of Hebrew. The individual letters of the alphabet have meanings themselves. They are also given numerical values. There are no numbers in Hebrew because aleph stands for 1, bet is 2, gimel is 3 and so on. This function gives great versatility to the language.

If the Lord, or anyone else for that matter, wants to make a new word to define something or someone, he merely puts together the necessary letters as was done in the beginning when the language was developed. How many possible words are there in Hebrew? Because of this unique ability of the language there is an almost endless number of words that can be formed. Let me just show how many words are possible. If we make only two-letter words, then there are 484 words that can be made (22 x 22). But if we go to three-letter words, we can make 10,648. If we include four-letter words we can have 234,256 which exceed the total words in many languages today. But these are just two, three and four letter words. If we want to make five-letter words, we could have a total of more than five million possible. If we make words up to eight-letter ones, we could have more than 50 billion and if we go to ten letter words, we could have 24 trillion words possible.

... My name is Robert Smith and I have known many men with the same name. When I was young, there were three Bob Smiths in my own neighborhood. In 1978, there were 69 Robert Smiths listed in the Salt Lake telephone directory. There were probably a few more not listed as well. This is because there are not enough names available and most of the names have no meaning. People now name their children Fufu, or they make up names from syllables that sound pretty such as Shanae or Brisha and many others. They usually have no meaning at all but it is an attempt to give the children unique names. That is not a problem in Hebrew. In China they have a problem because they are running out of names.

Well, that is off the main idea a little but the point is we have a unique word the Lord used and it is not found anywhere else. This gives Joseph Smith’s critics a lot of fodder because they can look at this funny word and claim he made it up and since no one can explain what it means, they say it proves he is a false prophet.

As I explained, we can understand new words by various methods. One method is called notarikon, which is done by interpreting the various letters. The second method is called gemetria which uses the numerical values of the letters to determine what is said. The third is a more difficult and complex method called tumarah which involves changing the order of letters or reversing the word or otherwise changing it. In my translations and commentaries of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, there are several encoded words, mostly anagrams, using this method and I have defined them and explained the usage.

The word Gazelem can be understood using notarikon and gemetria. Let me explain the word then. First the letter gimel (G) means nourishment or food. This in turn is a metaphor with which you are familiar. Food is doctrine or teaching given to the people. The Lord refers to it as bread, meaning good food.... To nourish in this sense means to give pure and correct doctrine and teachings to the people. Lamed (L) means teaching and/or learning. Mem (M) means the revelation of God’s mysteries or hidden knowledge. So putting them together we get the definition of someone, since we know it is a person, who reveals the mysteries of God and teaches the people true doctrines.

That leaves the letter zayin (Z) which is the number seven and represents the creation from the seven days used in the creation, including the rest day. The number seven means it includes all the things of the universe from the beginning of the creation to the end of time. This person, then, is able to penetrate the mysteries of God from the preexistence to the end of time and unlock them. He reveals these hidden things and teaches the people correctly. This is the definition of a seer, and that then is what the word means. This is a prophecy of Joseph Smith, the true seer and there is little mistaking what it means.

Alma also says the Lord will “prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness….” Stone is also a metaphor in Hebrew for seer. As it is punctuated here, the Lord will prepare to Gazelem, a stone, which…. There are two meanings here as well. Stone is in apposition to Gazelem. In other words it is like saying, “My car, a Ford, takes me where I want to go. Here car and Ford are one and the same. Hence Gazelem and stone are one and the same. Gazelem is the stone.

The double meaning is also apparent In fact most people miss the first meaning and only get the second, because they think entirely literally. The second meaning is literal. The Lord provided a stone, which stands for the seer stones in the Urim and Thummim. The Lord prepared these stones in order to translate the records of the Nephites and Jaredites.

The use of this single word does a couple of things. First, it validates Joseph as a seer and it validates the Book of Mormon. The insertion of this one little word in both the Book of Mormon and the D&C are most significant. At the time of the translation of the Book of Mormon, which mostly took place between April and June 1829, a very prodigious effort that was done very quickly, Joseph could not have known this word. He certainly never heard it anywhere and had not studied Hebrew by that time until several years later in Kirtland. Nor could he have made it up and had it mean exactly what it means in the Book of Mormon. The combination of two truths; he did use this word, and it means “seer” is pretty solid proof the Book of Mormon is not a fabrication of Joseph, but is a true record. Whatever it is, the Book of Mormon was not originated by Joseph. The use of this interesting and unique word is at once a proof of the Book of Mormon and of Joseph as a true seer.