Alma. The Young Man in the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon is full of incredible surprises including literary beauty and sophistication.  One example is the story of Alma the Elder.  He is introduced in the Book of Mormon (Mosiah 17:2) in the following way.

“But there was one among them whose name was Alma, he also being a descendant of Nephi. And he was a young man…”

What I find so intriguing is that the name Alma means “young man” in Hebrew.  So the story would read thus, if we took into consideration the meaning of his name.

“But there was one among them whose name was ‘young man,’ he also being a descendant of Nephi. And he was a young man…”

When Mormon and Moroni so often explain that they have so little space on the metal plates to write the Nephite history (see Words of Mormon 1:3), why take the time or space to say that Alma was a young man?  What is the role of such a detail in the overall story?  As far as I can tell, the fact that Alma was a young man has absolutely nothing at all to do with the story line.  However, if one understands that in the ancient Near East, especially during Biblical times, the idea of producing puns on and midrashic derivations of names was a widespread literary practice of beauty and meaning making, we suddenly can see that this passage in the Book of Mormon fits well into an ancient Near Eastern literary model that would be second nature for anyone who been so trained.

References: “Homiletic Name-Derivations as a Literary Device in the Gideon Narrative: Judges VI-VIII”, Moshe Garsiel, Vestus Testamentum XLIII, 3 (1993): pp. 302-317.  Moshe Garsiel, Biblical Names: A Literary Study of Midrashic Derivations and Puns (Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 1991).  Ehyeh asher ehyeh (Exodus 3:14): God’s ‘Narrative Identity’ among Suspense, Curiosity, and Surprise.”  Jean-Pierre Sonnet, Poetics Today 31:2 (Summer 2010): pp. 331-351.

Learn more about the meaning of the name Alma at:

  1. http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/alma-young-man-hidden-prophet/
  2. http://www.fairlds.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/tvedtnes-HebrewNames.pdf

About Taylor Halverson

I love learning. I love connecting. I love interdisciplinarity.
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