One of the joys of living in Shanghai is just how much from around the world comes to this town. Whether you want to find interesting technology, conferences and trade shows on any topic (usually free), music, or art, or want to meet fascinating people, Shanghai is the place to be. President Russell M. Nelson has stood at the pulpit of our meeting place twice since we came to Shanghai. Many fascinating inventors, business leaders, writers, politicians, etc., have come our way. Even an athlete or two. One of my China highlights was being part of a small group that introduced one of our members, Jimmer Fredette, to a couple of Party officials and a major business leader who were so excited to meet the hottest basketball star in China. One of them was excitedly quoting all sorts of Jimmer stats and factoids to us before Jimmer arrived. It was one of those charming moments that make it so easy to love China and its people. Jimmer’s graciousness and kindness to our Chinese friends was also deeply touching.
Today I had the pleasure of meeting Nathan Arp, the fascinating author of a recent 2019 paper published at The Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. “Joseph Knew First: Moses, the Egyptian Son” is one of several papers related to the Pearl of Great Price that need to be talked about more in this era when it has become too common for some LDS scholars to talk about the Pearl of Great Price as something of an embarrassment, as if Joseph’s “translations” were really just inspiring fiction he used as vehicles to express his own ideas, perhaps dressed up with a few things he might have learned from others. Here is the abstract from Nathan’s outstanding publication:
After about 1500 years of slumber, ancient Egyptian was brought back to life in the early 19th century, when scholars deciphered hieroglyphs. This revolutionary success opened the door to a reevaluation of history from the viewpoint of ancient Egypt. In the wake of this new knowledge, the first scholar posited the idea in 1849 that the name of Moses stemmed from the Egyptian word for child. Subsequently, this idea was refined, and currently the majority of scholars believe Moses’s name comes from the Egyptian verb “to beget,” which is also the root for the Egyptian word for child, or in the case of a male child, a “son.” Before this discovery and certainly before a scholarly consensus formed on the Egyptian etymology of the name of Moses, Joseph Smith restored a prophecy from the patriarch Joseph that played upon the name of Moses and its yet to be discovered Egyptian meaning of “son.” This article explores the implications of this overt Egyptian pun and its role as a key thematic element in the restored narratives in the Book of Moses.
One of the most interesting and most pervasive evidences of antiquity in the revealed translations provided by Joseph Smith is the evidence of appropriately applied wordplays in ancient languages. We’ve discussed many here before, especially those involving Hebrew puns on names in the Book of Mormon. These can be “explained” if one assumes that Joseph had some outstanding Hebrew specialists on his technical advisory team looking for subtle ways to juice up the text for future apologetics purposes — not for Joseph’s day, of course, but for, say, a century and a half after Joseph would be dead (such a visionary charlatan to add many evidences, like all those pertaining to the Arabian Peninsula, that would not even be detected and mentioned until everyone involved with the Book of Mormon had been dead for over a century). But Egyptian puns posed a bigger challenge, for competent specialists who could add anything meaningful to, say, the Book of Mormon or the Pearl of Great Price were not easily acquired in the United States during Joseph’s translation work.
In spite of the challenges, though, readers of Nathan’s article may see that Joseph managed to build in a plausible and context-appropriate pun on the Egyptian meaning of the name Moses, and did so many years before scholars began writing about the meaning of Moses’ name in Egyptian. That’s how good his technical advisory team was. Or how lucky Joseph was when just making things up. Your call.
Yes, of course it’s possible that such wordplays are artifacts of chance since we don’t have the original language text to see what was written, but we can detect a text that appears to knowingly take advantage of the wordplay and can view that as at least an interesting tentative find consistent with ancient origins. A few of these things might just be luck. The dozens we have in my opinion may suggest something other than luck is going on, but of course one is free to believe it’s all just luck and artifacts. But for those that already have some faith, understanding the apparent wordplays, poetical devices, Hebraisms, etc., often enhances the meaning and aids our understanding of the passage, and that’s where the real value is. Not in proving something to those who don’t care, but in showing gems of added meaning to those who do.
This find may not be as stunning as the Mahujah/Mahijah bull’s-eye in the Book of Moses (also see “Joseph’s Luckiest ‘Guess’ From the Book of Moses” at Third Hour), but it still should be interesting for students of the Book of Moses. Please read Nathan Arp’s article and let me know what you think.
Here is one excerpt from Nathan’s work that highlights one of the most important aspects of the sense of son related to Moses’ name:
Moses as a Type of Christ
Moses’s sonship becomes a key theme in restoration scripture.
Specifically, the restored narrative contained in the Book of Moses in
the Pearl of Great Price focuses on Moses as a son of God and a type of
Christ through the repetitive use of the words son and begotten, which are also related to the etiology of the Egyptian name Moses. For instance, note God’s heavy use of these terms:
And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten; and mine Only Begotten
is and shall be the Savior, for he is full of grace and truth; but
there is no God beside me, and all things are present with me, for
I know them all. (Moses 1:6)
The connection between Moses, God’s son, and Christ, God’s only
begotten, can become a signal to the witting reader that Moses’s
Egyptian name is a central theme in this narrative. Moses is not the
only prophet the Lord called his son, but the frequency with which the
Lord refers to Moses as his son is uniquely pronounced.
Moses and Satan’s dialogue further emphasizes Moses’s divine
sonship. “Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship
me” (Moses 1:12). Moses, who has just learned his true patronage,
corrects Satan, “I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only
Begotten” (Moses 1:13). Moses not only refuses to worship Satan but
also calls for Satan to leave. “Get thee hence, Satan, deceive me not;
for God said unto me: Thou art after the similitude of mine Only
Begotten” (Moses 1:16). This episode with Satan ends with Moses’s
confirming his relationship as a son of God and expelling Satan in the
name of the Only Begotten.
Thank you, Nathan, and thanks for chatting with me today in beautiful Shanghai!
2 thoughts on “Nathan Arp on an Apparent Egyptian Wordplay on the Name of Moses”
We'd be interested in learning more about what you know of China's social credit system. Are you at liberty to write about that?
If you Google "China's Social Credit System," you'll see a number of mild stories that might be helpful and have been approved or at least not yet censored by Google. I don't have any personal experience with it, and don't wish for a discussion on it here on this post — a bit off-topic.