Irreantum: A Word from Ancient South Semitic?

Paul Y. Hoskisson, with Brian M. Hauglid and John Gee explore possible meanings of the Book of Mormon term “Irreantum” in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 11, 2002. There are several possibilities, but they present an interesting case that it is derived not from Hebrew but from ancient South Semitic, a language Lehi’s group would have been exposed to during their years in the Arabian Peninsula. The Book of Mormon’s statement that it means “many waters” is actually quite plausible. The construction from Hoskisson et al. points to “watering of (super)abundance” as a possible meaning. Not as straightforward as the Hebrew meaning of Liahona, but still worth considering.

By the way, thanks to everyone that participated in the talk radio show tonight on K-Talk radio. Appreciate all the questions and comments! I had a lot more fun than I did on the first program I did.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

26 thoughts on “Irreantum: A Word from Ancient South Semitic?

  1. Im 16, and your LDS FAQ page really helped me in a time of need a year ago. I didn’t have a question, but i did tune in and you did great. I’m from Texas by the way. I love how you clarified that none of this is ‘proof’ and it merely allows for an environment for faith to prosper, that’s what your site did for me and I’m very greatful. I really look up to you for different reasons, one is how much effort you go to getting a fair representation of others’ views and I try my best to do that too. Thanks again. -Brett

  2. Good stuff Jeff – I haven’t seen anything written on Irreantum before, but being a Linguist myself I am aware of South Semitic languages, though never attributed them to borrowing by Lehi’s party.

    While S. Semitic is a macro-classification of Semitic languages, I would venture to think that Sabaean would be a solid candidate for an actual language that Irreantum could be borrowed from by Lehi’s party. Lynn and Hope Hilton’s book ‘Discovering Lehi’ sheds a lot of light into potential routes taken by Lehi et al. I found it fascinating that there is a city called Nah’m (Nephi’s Nahom??) by the Sabaeans and also there was a ruling class of S. Arabians known as the Lihyanites (people of Lehi??). I’m certain that if a more detailed exploration into Sabaean was attempted, perhaps Irreantum could be found to mean ‘many water’ (more or less).

  3. Hey Jeff!

    Great job tonight on Van Hale’s show. I really enjoyed it. Just to let you know, I am Steve who called in about the term anti-Mormon being used too much in the Church, etc. and appreciated your response. I agree with it completely. Thanks for the insightful answer! I also enjoyed your non-hostile and very civil manner in which you conducted yourself. Very nice!!

    Anyways, onto Irreantum. From what I understand, there is also a possible Egyptian etymology for this word proposed by some LDS scholars. It means essentially the same thing (i.e. “great waters” or “many waters”) as suggested in the Book of Mormon. The reason I like this suggestion more is because we know that Nephi (and later Mormon) used Egyptian in his record and thus it seems more plausible that Irreantum is Egyptian.

    Just some thoughts.

    Best wishes,

    Steve Smoot

  4. 20 years before Christ, Dead Sea prophecy “a MESSIAH WHO WILL RISE FROM THE DEAD AFTER THREE DAYS.”

    JERUSALEM: A three-foot-tall tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew that scholars believe dates from the decades just before the birth of Jesus is causing a quiet stir in biblical and archaeological circles, especially because it may speak of a messiah who will rise from the dead after three days.
    If such a messianic description really is there, it will contribute to a developing re-evaluation of both popular and scholarly views of Jesus, since it suggests that the story of his death and resurrection was not unique but part of a recognized Jewish tradition at the time.
    The tablet, probably found near the Dead Sea in Jordan according to some scholars who have studied it, is a rare example of a stone with ink writings from that era — in essence, a Dead Sea Scroll on stone.
    It is written, not engraved, across two neat columns, similar to columns in a Torah. But the stone is broken, and some of the text is faded, meaning that much of what it says is open to debate.
    Still, its authenticity has so far faced no challenge, so its role in helping to understand the roots of Christianity in the devastating political crisis faced by the Jews of the time seems likely to increase.

    Oddly, the stone is not really a new discovery. It was found about a decade ago and bought from a Jordanian antiquities dealer by an Israeli-Swiss collector who kept it in his Zurich home. When an Israeli scholar examined it closely a few years ago and wrote a paper on it last year, interest began to rise. There is now a spate of scholarly articles on the stone, with several due to be published in the coming months.

    “I couldn’t make much out of it when I got it,” said David Jeselsohn, the owner, who is himself an expert in antiquities. “I didn’t realize how significant it was until I showed it to Ada Yardeni, who specializes in Hebrew writing, a few years ago. She was overwhelmed. ‘You have got a Dead Sea Scroll on stone,’ she told me.”

    I am sure this to good to be true. But if true just score another for Joseph Smith.

  5. Re: Stone Dead Sea Scroll

    That *would* throw a nice big wrench in the popular conception of how God’s work has progressed over the ages…

    From what I understand, LDS doctrine is pretty unique in suggesting cycles of gospel knowledge followed by apostasy (ie dispensations).

    The picture my Evangelical friends paint is much more linear — Adam started out knowing next to nothing, Noah knew a bit more, Moses started hinting about a Messiah, Isaiah prophesied a lot about a Messiah, and then Jesus came and brought the gospel. In other words, there could have been no Christians before Christ because the doctrines of Christianity had never been revealed. Similarly, they say, there is no more need for revelation because Jesus revealed the full gospel for the first and last time while He was on the earth.

    If word got out that the ancient prophets knew more about Christ than our current Bible suggests, that linear view might be harder to justify.

  6. Is this Irreantum stuff new? I seem to recall somebody writing about it being derived from South Semitic, but maybe that was over at the MADB…or maybe I’m just having deja vu.

  7. Hi Jeff,I’m from the u.p. michigan and a big fan. I listened to you via the internet and I’m really impressed by your calmness and knowledge.Did you know that you were referred to in the latest ensign magazine? didn’t mention your name but said a fellow from the midwest and I know that it was you. the article is about the internet. the comment was positive. By the way, you should have your own show on the radio.
    Phil Ollero

  8. Actually, I believe the Ensign article was referring to this blog:

    It is written by Bookslinger (from Indianapolis), who is a frequent contributor to comments on this site.

    Either way, both sites (Mormanity & Flooding the Earth) are good examples of the types of internet missionary work that Elder Ballard is encouraging.

    Keep up the good work, both of you!

  9. Re: Anonymous @1:02

    I think this tablet would tend to dispute the authenticity of the Gospels.

    If there was legend that the messiah would die and be resurrected after 3 days that predated the time that Jesus is said to have done just that, there is a credible argument that he was killed and his disciples made a claim that was familiar and would lend credence to Jesus’ teaching and divinity. That being so, I think you have to look to some independent verification that he did, indeed, rise from the dead.

    Is there any independent evidence that witnesses saw his resurrection or verified that he was among the living 3 days after he was buried? Or is it possible that followers who were afraid when their leader was murdered by a government that was threatened by his teachings resorted to adopting a scenario that would give Jesus, and by extension them, some superhuman power that would protect them and intimidate his, and their, enemies?

    I don’t fool myself that this question will be popular. But the appearance of this new information makes this a valid question.

  10. I think Saul/Paul could be counted as an “independent” witness of the risen Messiah. He was not a follower of Jesus until _after_ the resurrection. Specifically, Saul/Paul did not become a follower/believer until the time the resurrected Jesus appeared to him and gave him his assignment. In other words, no one other than the risen Messiah himself convinced Paul that Jesus was the Messiah.

    The 11 surviving apostles were witnesses, plus many of “the seventy,” and then upwards of 500 people.

    However, you’ll say they were already followers of Jesus before his death.

    And that’s kind of like non-Mormons who say “Okay, show me a witness of the gold plates who wasn’t a Mormon.” It’s basically a catch-22.

  11. I don’t think this tablet would tend to dispute or prove the authenticity of the Gospels. I was looking at it from a Mormon view point and doctrine or claims we have been making that if you keep digging in time the concept of Christ before the New Testiment will show up in the Jewish teachings as stated in the Book of Mormon. Does this tablet prove this? But like some have said about the Dead Sea people, “you might as well call them Mormons and be done with it.”

    Not proof just more fun for us.

  12. As I understand it, Paul had a vision that occurred several years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Although very material to Paul and to the history of Christianity, that is not the same thing as witnessing the resurrection at the time it occurred.

    As you suggest, and as only seems prudent in evaluating evidence, the apostles couldn’t be considered independent since it is they, along with the women at the tomb, who were making the claim of the resurrection. And did the women see the corporeal resurrected Christ or merely hear of it from the angel who appeared at the open tomb?

    I don’t know about the seventy and the 500. Where is the claim that they beheld the resurrected Christ directly themselves? And which of them were not already believers who would benefit or seek protection from a claim of the resurrection and, therefore, independent verifiers?

    Is there any historical evidence at all?

  13. I don’t know about the seventy and the 500. Where is the claim that they beheld the resurrected Christ directly themselves?

    Excuse me, I thought you were familiar with the Bible.


  14. “Excuse me, I thought you were familiar with the Bible.


    I know that most of the people here aren’t gamers but I just have to say to the anon this was towards.


  15. ++ PWND

    “where is the claim?” In the New Testament (duh!). No circular logic necessary here. You don’t have to believe the claim to know it’s there.

    “I think you have to look to some independent verification that he did, indeed, rise from the dead.”

    You could always ask Him…

    I don’t see how another prophesy of Christ’s resurrection weakens the New Testament at all. In fact, the Pharisees beat Anon to the punch by about 2000 years:

    “the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first. (Mattew 27:62-64)

    You can certainly choose not to believe in the resurrection, but the existence (or not) of prophecies about the resurrection has very little relevance in that decision IMO — you can choose to believe the prophesy but not the fulfillment, or just not believe either one.

    Unless you’re implying that the recently unearthed prophesy is true and simply unfulfilled to date?

  16. Not understanding the concept of circular logic, are we?

    A proof of the identity of the coming messiah exists.

    Jesus, who claims to be the messiah, is found guilty of treason and murdered by local governor leaving his followers leaderless, suspect by authorities and vulnerable. So (one could argue), they deliberately and fraudulently remove the body, claim Jesus was the messiah and provide themselves some instant legitimacy.

    Now, if a dangerous enemy of the existing government were executed and then rose from the dead — a significant occurrence — where is the record of that happening? What did the local authorities or the record-happy Romans have to say about the reappearance of their previously dead enemy? Is there something?

    New Testament? Written by the same people who could (note the use of the conditional word that sets up one possibility) have created the illusion and could be benefiting from promoting it?

    Let me sell you this wonder product that I have tested and found to be nothing short of miraculous. Have doubts? No need to look at this advertising copy I have written to assuage your every doubt. OK then, how many bottles?

    This is not a Biblical problem (although I understand the need of believers to get past this); this is a matter of logic. You do not prove a question with biased sources.

    I don’t know how to say that in “gaming” but there you are.

  17. The record happy Romans did not seem to care too much about the Jews as it appears that Josephus is the only one that recorded anything about Jewish Messiahs. It happens that Josephus does mention the tradition of the resurrection in his book, Jewish Antiquities though Josephus was not a witness himself.

  18. “What did the local authorities or the record-happy Romans have to say about the reappearance of their previously dead enemy?”

    You just need to look inside the belly of a lion.

  19. Whoa, what a load of tangents we have here. Anybody have comments on Irreantum or South Semitic?

    I agree that the Bible alone can be questioned by non-believers as a biased source that theoretically could have been contrived by a small handful of believers. When it reports, for example, that there were 500 witnesses of the Resurrected Christ, in reality all we have is a verse or two written by a believer – not the notarized, verified accounts of those nameless 500 people.

    Thanks goodness we have a second record from the other side of the world that confirms the reality of the Jesus of the Bible – namely, the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Christians everywhere should read this and rejoice.

  20. Oh, for newbies, I should explain the use of “PWND” here. It is, of course, the abbreviation for People With Nice Deltoids. It is something of a back-handed compliment that suggests someone has been spending a lot of time working on a great physique and perhaps not enough reading Bible commentaries or FARMS publications. As important as it is to be a bookworm, someday I hope that I, too, can be worthy of the compliment “PWND!” But first I need to finish this great book on the Dead Sea Scrolls….

  21. I have a desire to know about where is Irreantum possibly?Lehi’s
    group took 8years(1Nephi:17)from Jerusalem to Irreantum,and then
    they built a boat,so maybe Irreantum is in the east of China.what do you think?
    pei LI

  22. I did a very quick search so not much time spent here but will continue to "ponder" to find it What language Irreantum is. I think it is Latin. The history of Latin written out is only dating as far back as 750 BC. But Greek seems to be more prevalent in the southern mediterrean. I say this because as a younger nerd, I took Latin in HS and this word seems to have aspects of Latin. The word Irrigation has Irr so the start of Irreantum. And the ending um which is "many" Um is also Latin as in curriculum. From the quick search in history of Latin and Italic languages Latin started out being the smallest written area to later becoming the biggest read and written= learned language and possibly only surviving Italic language- tho it is considered Dead. Meaning it was spoken before being written and perhaps by quite a lot of people. It traveled- obviously from that tiny placein central Italy to Just about everywhere. I am not sure how it did- but the Roman Catholic church certainly helped. The Swiss language is similar in that it is basically a spoken language. Latin is different in written from spoken Latin. And the Latin that continued to evolve became known as vulate or vulgar and continued to spread- much like a fad as we see today with saggy pants and Rap just ascot anywhere in the world it took off. I think this word comes from ancient which later became known as classical Latin. I hobo this is why it was translated to us in the BOM and why it is not a semetic word not even remotely. However, the translation is and this translation makes me think Native American where we see many translations of names much like "Many Waters": adjective subject combos. for names of people, places, objects. This word makes me think Latin in language and Native American in Culture. That Nephi was learned and aware of the world around him at that time and that would make Jerusalem quite what it was "worldly" only this was the positive aspect of this word. And that the Native American – not all tribes but some- derive from Nephi and his culture.

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