In my previous post on Alma 7:11 (I wonder if that was the name of an ancient Nephite convenience store?), one commenter, MahNahvu pointed to possible “evidence of a Hebrew original in the Psalm of Nephi, 2 Ne 4:16-35.” His insightful comments for verses 21-22 are posted at http://feastupontheword.org/2_Ne_4%3A21-25. Thanks, MahNahvu! FeastUponTheWord.org is an interesting site, like a Wikipedia for scriptural commentary.
His comments reminded me of the many subtle ancient Semitic influences one can find in the Book of Mormon. Sometimes aspects of the Book of Mormon that seem weak or even ridiculous actually become subtle evidences for authenticity when someone with knowledge of Hebrew or ancient Semitic practices deals with the issue. On the other hand, there are cases where someone with knowledge of Hebrew appears to expose a flaw in the text. One such example deals with the name “Alma” itself in the Book of Mormon.
The name Alma for years was derided as a gaffe in the Book of Mormon, since “everyone knows” it is a female name in Latin and Spanish, not a Jewish man’s name. Then a discovery in Israel apparently showed that it was a real Jewish man’s name from roughly the time of Lehi. While this discovery ought to give the critics food for thought, it has ignored or rapidly dismissed, and more recently attacked by some critics having a little knowledge of Hebrew. For example, one critic e-mailed the following question: “Why do pro-LDS apologists cite names such as ‘Alma’ as evidence? In Hebrew, vowels are omitted so any ‘new discovery’ is just a coincidence (Alma= LM).”
Critics tend to always dismiss any evidence as just coincidence, but in this case, as with many others, there is little basis for the dismissal. The critic implies that all we have for the name Alma is two consonants that could just as easily be pronounced Lame-o, Elmo, Alum, Oleomo, Oily Moe, and so forth. This is not the case. The name in the ancient Jewish document is actually spelled with four letters, beginning with an aleph. The name appears in two forms that differ in the final letter, but “Alma” fits both.
For scholars of Hebrew, there is good evidence that the name should be “Alma,” which is exactly how the non-LDS scholar, Yigael Yadin, transliterated it. For details, see Paul Hoskisson, “What’s in a Name?,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 7, No. 1, 1998, pp. 72-73, which shows a color photograph (in the printed publication) of the document that has the name Alma twice. John Tvedtnes also discussed the name Alma in a well-received presentation to other non-LDS scholars, “Hebrew Names in the Book of Mormon,” where he noted that in addition being found as a male name in one the Bar Kochba documents, it is also found as a medieval place name in Eretz Israel and as a personal male name from Ebla. (Also see “Book of Mormon Names Attested in Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions” by John Tvedtnes, John Gee, and Matthew Roper.)
Are you aware of any critics that have provided a meaningful explanation of the numerous Hebrew influences found among Book of Mormon names? Was it just luck that Joseph could take a female name, call it an ancient Hebrew man’s name, and have that verified over a hundred years later? No, the name Alma doesn’t prove anything, but taken with all the other evidences of Hebraisms and Semitic influence, it seems inadequate to ascribe the origins of the Book of Mormon to mere fraud and dumb luck. Now if Ethan Smith or Solomon Spaulding had used the male name Alma and other names in the Book of Mormon, the case for plagiarism might be much stronger.