Matthew Bowen just published his analysis of another fascinating, newly discovered apparent Hebrew wordplay built into the Book of Mormon. This one, like a great many of the interesting Semitic wordplays of the Book of Mormon, comes from Lehi’s words as recorded by Nephi, arguably the two Book of Mormon characters most familiar with Hebraic literary tools. The publication is Matthew L. Bowen, “‘If Ye Will Hearken’: Lehi’s Rhetorical Wordplay on Ishmael in 2 Nephi 1:28–29 and Its Implications,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 25 (2017): 157-189.
Bowen explores the relationship between the Hebrew word for “hearken” and the name Ishmael, and suggests with compelling evidence that Lehi’s speech invokes a wordplay similar to related wordplays on “hearken” found in the Hebrew Bible. Here is an excerpt
2 Nephi 1:1–4:12 is mainly parenetic [hortatory, encouraging] in character. Lehi speaks to his
sons and “unto all his household, according to the feelings of his
heart and the Spirit of the Lord which was in him” (2 Nephi 4:12). At
the conclusion of the first part of his final blessings and admonitions
(2 Nephi 1), Lehi speaks to all his sons who are older than Nephi
(Laman, Lemuel, and Sam) and to the sons of Ishmael. Here he bestows a
conditional “first blessing,” predicated on their willingness to “hear”
or “hearken unto” Nephi — that is, follow his spiritual guidance and
And now my son, Laman, and also Lemuel and Sam, and also my sons who are the sons of Ishmael [yišmāʿēl or yšmʿʾl] behold, if ye will hearken [cf. Hebrew ʾim tišmāʿû or tišmĕʿû] unto the voice of Nephi ye shall not perish. And if ye will hearken unto him I leave unto you blessing, yea, even my first blessing. But if ye will not hearken unto him I take away my first blessing, yea, even my blessing, and it shall rest upon him. (2 Nephi 1:28–29)
Lehi’s admonition and blessing, as it appears in Nephi’s text, closely juxtaposes the name Ishmael with a threefold repetition of the verb šāmaʿ.47 If we include “obey” from 2 Nephi 1:27, the repetition is fourfold. The polyptotonic48 repetition of šāmaʿ around the name Ishmael
would have had the immediate rhetorical effect of garnering the
attention of Ishmael’s sons (and probably any of his daughters who were
present on the occasion). The imminence and urgency of their decision to “hearken” is accentuated by the repetition of the root šāmaʿ in its verbal and onomastic forms.
My first response was to see how often “hearken” is used in the Book of Mormon to see if this was so common that it was bound to occur within a few sentences of any mention of Ishmael. It occurs almost 100 times, so across the 500+ pages of the Book of Mormon, its close proximity to Ishmael here could be a coincidence but isn’t highly likely. There is a reasonable case to be made that an intelligent wordplay has been invoked. The abstract is just a small part of the scenario explored by Bowen.