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Accusatory Questions

Why are Greek names such as Lachoneus, Timothy, Jonas, and Alpha & Omega in a book that should have absolutely no Greek influence?

by Kerry A. Shirts

While this question is asked in a scornful manner, it is, indeed, a most interesting question. New archaeological and historical information and research has brought a new light on this subject, that apparently, critics refuse to notice. We will answer this by appealing first to the incredible research of Hugh Nibley, and then note that in an updating of the issue, show that our poking among old bones has not left us high and dry, nor entirely dependent on Hugh Nibley's research either. In independent sources consulted we find more corroboration of Nibley's stance and bring this issue up to date up to 1991. It's time the critics get serious about their questions instead of simply repeating old anti-Mormon views which were answered long ago, (1957.......that is over 40 years ago!!!) and updated now for our own time. But, for now, we go to Hugh Nibley's ignored research.

"The occurrence of the names Timothy and Lachoneus in the Book of Mormon is strictly in order, however odd it may seem at first glance. Since the fourteenth century B.C. at latest, Syria and Palestine had been in constant contact with the Aegean world, and since the middle of the seventh century Greek mercenaries and merchants, closely bound to Egyptian interests (the best Egyptian mercenaries were Greeks), swarmed throughout the Near East. Lehi's people, even apart from their mercantile activities, could not have avoided considerable contact with these people in Egypt and especially in Sidon, which Greek poets even in that day were celebrating as the great world center of trade. It is interesting to note in passing that Timothy is an Ionian name, since the Greeks in Palestine were Ionians (hence the Hebrew name for Greeks: "Sons of Javanim"), and—since "Lachoneus" means "a Laconian"—that the oldest Greek traders were Laconians, who had colonies in Cyprus (BM Akish) and of course traded with Palestine."

[Nibley's sources for these comments: Robert H. Pfeiffer, "Hebrews and Greeks Before Alexander,'' JBL 56 (1937): 91-95, 101; William F. Albright, "A Colony of Cretan Mercenaries on the Coast of the Negeb,'' JPOS 1 (1921): 187-94; Joseph G. Milne, "Trade Between Greece and Egypt Before Alexander the Great,'' JEA 25 (1939): 178; F. B. Welch, "The Influence of the Aegean Civilization on South Palestine,'' PEFQ (1900), 342-50. At Tel-el-Hesy, just west of Lachish, "the Greek influence begins at 700 B.C., and continues to the top of the town.'' William M. F. Petrie, in PEFQ (1890), 235. Nelson Glueck, "Ostraca from Elath,'' BASOR 80 (December 1940): 3. Eduard Meyer, Geschichte des Altertums, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: Cotta, 1928), vol. 2, pt. 1, p. 553.] [1]

"The population squeeze [of the Near East in Lehi's day] accelerated a world-wide activity in exploration and colonization that had been going on for some time but that reached its peak almost exactly in 600 B.C., in which year the two greatest Greek colonies, Massilia (Marseilles) in the West, and Olbia in the East, were founded. Everyone was taking part in new settlement projects or forming companies to finance them. The search for new resources and new horizons was everybody's business." [2]

"Methods of colonization and exploitation of new lands were the same, whether followed by Greeks or Orientals. For a long time the Near East had been getting crowded, the pinch being first felt in Syria and Phoenicia—due perhaps as much to deforestation and over-grazing as to population increase.

["There is clear evidence, in certain well examined sub-areas [of the Near East], for rapid erosion of parts of the land since the end of the last ice age. This could depend either on greater rainfall or on tectonic movement, but another significant factor was undoubtedly deforestation, probably connected with the appearance of settled villages, husbanded sheep and goats, and expanded human population." Robert J. Braidwood, The Near East and the Foundations for Civilization, Condon Lectures (Eugene: Oregon System of Higher Education, 1952), 13. Man himself may have caused "the existing regime of absolute drought" in the Sahara, says V. Gordon Childe. "In fact the rock-pictures just demonstrate the survival of the . . . appropriate vegetation to a time when stock-breeders were actually using the latter as pasture." V. Gordon Childe, New Light on the Most Ancient East, 4th ed. (New York: Praeger, 1953), 17. The reader is especially recommended to Paul B. Sears, Deserts on the March (Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1947).] [3]

Of this area Ebers writes: "Their small country could not contain its numerous population; accordingly there sailed out of the Phoenician harbors many a richly laden vessel to search out favorable places of settlement for emigrants bound for the coasts of Africa, Crete, Cyprus and Sicily." [Georg Ebers, Ägyptische Studien und Verwandtes (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1900), 315.]

Such colonies would continue to enrich the Mother city (hence our word "metropolis") by furnishing her with markets and raw materials. The Greeks were playing the same game. [See the discussion by John L. Myres, "The Colonial Expansion of Greece," in Cambridge Ancient History (New York: Macmillan, 1925), 3:631-84.][4]

We read already in the Odyssey, how Father Nausithous led his people on a new colonial venture after their failure to find rest in the Cyclops country:

They had first settled down in the wide valleys of Hypereia, Hard by the Cyclopes, those savage inhospitable men, Who constantly molested them, being stronger than they were. Leaving that place, they were led by the godlike Nausithous To Scheria, a place far removed from any civilized settlement, Where they built a walled city, erected houses and temples, and began to cultivate the land. [Homer, Odyssey VI, 7-10.]

Every schoolboy should know of the wanderings of "Father Aeneas", who led his people through many toils by land and sea that he might reach his promised land. Thus he encourages his people:

Rally your spirits and get rid of this disgraceful fear. Some day you will be glad to remember these things: Through all these vicissitudes and dangers We are making our way to Latium, where Destiny hath Promised us rest and security; there it is decreed that the Rule of Troy (the mother city) shall be revived. Hang on, and look forward to better times! [Vergil, Aeneid I, 202-7.]

These are no mere literary inventions. Almost every important literary figure of the sixth and seventh centuries participated in such projects, which are often dramatically described. Thus among the Greeks, Hesiod writes of an earlier period:

Even as my father and yours, foolish brother Perses, Used to sail around, trying to make a living, And so landed here, after having journeyed much on the waters, Having put forth in a black ship from Cyme in Aeolis, Not running away from prosperity or wealth or success, But from grinding poverty, such as Zeus gives to men. So he came here and settled in the Mount Helicon country In a miserable little community, Askra—a vile place in wintertime, a hard place in summer, a nice place never! [Hesiod, Works and Days, 631-39.][5]

In the seventh century Tyrtaeus reminds the Spartans:

Zeus himself gave this place to the children of Herakles, In the days when they left windy Erineus And came to the broad island of Pelops. [Eunomia, in Strabo, Geography VIII, 362.]

He is urging them, as Aeneas did the Romans, to fight for their homeland as a promised land, granted by God to the wandering Herakles and all his descendants in the days of migration. About 600 B.C. Mimnermus wrote embittered lines on unsuccessful colonizing projects in which he participated. Thus a fragment cited in Strabo reads:

We left our village on the cliff, Neleius in Pylos, To come sailing full of hope to Asia Minor, Where we settled in delightful Colophon by force, Taking everything over as if we owned it. But the river rose and flooded us out, And so by the will of the gods we moved to Smyrna. [Strabo, Geography XIV, 634.]

The great poet Archilochus, who wrote in the seventh century, has left many vivid fragments recalling the hardships and disappointments of unsuccessful colonizing ventures in which he participated. Simonides of Amorgos himself led a colony from Samos, and is full of tedious practical wisdom. Alceus sought employment in Egypt in the days of Lehi, while his brother hired out as a mercenary in Babylon.[6]

"From these and many other sources we can see what was going on. Small bands of people, usually friends and relatives, would go forth under the direction of an able and daring leader, a patriarch (for that may well be the origin of the word "Father-leader"), from the "mother city" (for that is definitely the origin of the world metropolis), to try their luck in some chosen or eagerly-quested spot, a "promised land" where they could escape the hardships of their old life. These settlements always remained colonies, however. The purpose in sending them out was not only to relieve economic and population pressure at home but to provide "factories" of raw materials and markets for finished goods to the mother city. The control of the mother city depended not on military force but on cultural sentimentalities which were carefully nurtured through the centuries, as we learn so movingly in Thucydides. By the sixth century hopeful parties of Greeks were everywhere being turned back by the discovery that other settlers—usually Phoenicians but often other races as well—had already occupied the best spots.

[Pedro Bosch-Gimpera, "Phéniciens et grecs dans l'extrême-occident," Nouvelle Clio 3 (1951): 269-96, emphasizes the intense competition between the two.]

As the pickings became poorer, explorations became more daring and settlement projects more ambitious. Merchants and settlers in Lehi's day were already moving along the Atlantic seaboard and into the heart of Asia and even the Far East!

[Eduard Meyer, Geschichte des Altertums (Stuttgart: Cotta, 1901), vol. 3, pt. 1, pp. 106-9, reporting that the Greeks in Lehi's day were getting their gold from Tibet.]

In the year Lehi left Jerusalem, the Egyptian government sent an expedition consisting largely of Syrian and Phoenician personnel sailing clear around Africa from east to west. [Herodotus, History IV, 42, discussed by Herrmann, Conquest by Man, 73-76, 79-83.]

Shortly after, the Phoenicians reacted to the challenge by sending Hanno on the same mission of circumnavigation in the opposite direction. In the middle of the sixth century, Scylax reconnoitered the coasts of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean from the Euphrates to the Indus, while in the west, Carthage "reconnoite[d] the Atlantic Ocean to north and south with mighty fleets." [Herrmann, Conquest by Man, 130.]

The Phoenicians ended a long phase of fierce mercantile competition in the Mediterranean by burning the great trading city of Tartessus—Isaiah's Tarshish of the proud ships—and closing the whole western Mediterranean and Atlantic areas to all trade but their own in 530 B.C. [Ibid., 36. Paul Haupt, "The Ship of the Babylonian Noah," Beiträge zur Assyriologie 10, Heft 2 (1927): 22, thinks that even the prehistoric sea epics of Babylonia and Greece "both go back to the same source, viz. the yarns of early Tartessian mariners."][7]

"The very spirit of the age," writes Paul Herrmann, "seems to have been at work in the Punic voyage into the immense distances of the ocean, announcing the dawn of a new epoch." [Herrmann, Conquest by Man, 83; cf. Ebers, Ägyptische Studien und Verwandtes, 311-38.]

The ancients always chafed at the limitations of their geographical knowledge (though we are beginning to realize how much greater that knowledge was than we have ever given them credit for), but never until modern times was that knowledge as great as it was in the sixth century. [Josef Partsch, "Die Grenzen der Menschheit," Abhandlungen der königlichen sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften 68, no. 2 (1916): 62. Jozef M. A. Janssen, "Notes on the Geographical Horizon of the Ancient Egyptians," Bibliotheca Orientalis 8 (1951): 213-17. Paul Bolchert, Aristoteles Erdkunde von Asien und Libyen, Heft 15 of Quellen und Forschungen zur alten Geschichte und Geographie (Berlin: Weidmann, 1908), 3. For the world-map of Lehi's contemporary Hecataeus, John Ball, Egypt in the Classical Geographers (Cairo: Government Press, 1942), 9. For a general survey, Alexander Scharff & Anton Moortgat, Ägypten und Vorderasien im Altertum (Munich: Bruckmann, 1950).]

When Father Lehi led his little clan into the wilderness in search for a promised land he was not engaging in a fantastic enterprise at all. He was only doing what hundreds of idealistic and courageous men had done before him. If he had visions of a bountiful land in some far place (1 Nephi 5:5), so did they. If his followers never forgot their homeland and wept to remember it in the desert places, so did theirs. And if he had to rebuke and encourage them with strong words, so did they. The Book of Mormon opens on a note of complete authenticity.[8]

Concerning Alpha and Omega, Nibley's comments have never been rebutted so far as we know, and they were made in 1968:

"Alpha and Omega" in the Book of Mormon is another apparent anachronism. But here again, since it is an accepted English expression, we may view it as the best way of conveying the meaning of a certain Nephite expression to English readers. The purpose of a translation is to transmit meanings, not words: the original words are already there—they don't need to be translated. T, and not long-O, is the last letter of the old Greek as well as the old Semitic (including Hebrew and Phoenician) alphabets. But to say "I am the A and the T" would be meaningless to English-speaking readers, to whom the meaning of "Alpha and Omega" is perfectly clear. In addressing Jewish communities in notoriously bad Greek, but in the peculiar idiom of the ancient sectaries, John uses the expression in Revelation 1:8 because they too were familiar with the expression. It remained the standard designation of Christ as Redeemer and Judge throughout the Middle Ages among people who knew no Greek. [Discussed by F. Chatillon, "Arbiter Omnipotens et le symbolisme de l'alpha et de l'oméga,'' Revue de Moyen Age Latin 2 (1955): 5-50.]

On the other hand, in the old ritual alphabet of the Mandaeans, a purely Semitic alphabet, "the first and last letters, the 'alpha and omega,' are the same and represent perfection of light and life." Both letters "have as their sign a circle, possibly representing the sun-disk as a symbol of light." [Ethel S. Drower, The Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran (Oxford: 1937), 240-41. The expression "Alpha and Omega'' is not found in any pagan writing.]

Hence there may be more behind 3 Nephi 9:18 than a mere literary convention: "I am the light and the life. . . . I am Alpha and Omega."[9]

The questioner of the anti-Mormon website ignored the Greek term Synagogue in the Book of Mormon, which Nibley also discusses: We also have a rather indepth look into this Synagogue issue at FAIR - click here.

"There are a number of New Testament expressions which were loudly denounced as obvious anachronisms but are now known to have gone back to times well before the New Testament was written:

Synagogue and Church are applied in the Book of Mormon to the institutions most closely resembling them in the Old World. The question is purely one of translation. "The origin of the synagogue," wrote Zeitlin, "dates back to the time when local assemblies were occasionally summoned to consider the needs of a community." [Solomon Zeitlin, "The Origin of the Synagogue,'' American Academy of Jewish Research (1930-31): 79.]

The existence of such synagogues, he notes, was by no means restricted to the times after the destruction of the Temple—the synagogue was simply the local Jewish religious assembly, in contrast to the Great Synagogue, which was an assembly "of a national character . . . to consider problems affecting the whole" nation. [Ibid., 79.]

Synagogue though a Greek word was used only by Jews to designate a Jewish assembly in the diaspora or at Jerusalem; "the pagans, who did not know Hebrew, . . . called it a proseuche, not synagogue." No better word, in fact no other word, could be found to indicate ancient Jewish assemblies and assembly places in any part of the world than synagogue. The early Christians designated their assemblies by the same Aramaic term, beth ha-keneseth, as they gave to a Jewish house of worship; but when they spoke Greek they distinguished between the two, according to Zeitlin, by calling the Christian house an ekklesia—which we translate into church. Since Zeitlin's study, however, the Dead Sea Scrolls have come forth; in them the community is designated as a yehad, which Molin, in the most careful study of the word, decided could only be translated properly as church—a pre-Christian church! [Georg Molin, Die Söhne des Lichts (Vienna: Herold, 1954), 138-146.]

Or as Professor Cross styled it, "a church of anticipation." [Frank M. Cross, "The Scrolls and the New Testament,'' Christian Century 72 (August 24, 1955): 969-70.]

Gaster noted at the same time that the other word used for the community at Qumran was cedah, which is actually the old Syriac word for church. [Cited by Alfred R. C. Leaney, A Guide to the Scrolls (London: SCM, 1958), 66-67.]

If the Book of Mormon used "synagogue" to designate the early Jewish assemblies, and "church" to designate such assemblies after they had become Christian, it is hard to think of more appropriate terms—bearing always in mind that this is a translation, and the purpose of the words is not to convey what the Nephites called their communities, but how we are to picture them in our minds.[10]

On the name Jonas, the Book of Mormon mentions Jonas only at 3 Ne. 19:4"

4 And it came to pass that on the morrow, when the multitude was gathered together, behold, Nephi and his brother whom he had raised from the dead, whose name was Timothy, and also his son, whose name was Jonas, and also Mathoni, and Mathonihah, his brother, and Kumen, and Kumenonhi, and Jeremiah, and Shemnon, and Jonas, and Zedekiah, and Isaiah—now these were the names of the disciples whom Jesus had chosen—and it came to pass that they went forth and stood in the midst of the multitude.

Yet, seeing how the Greek influence historically is much stronger in the Book of Mormon than critics are willing to let on, we don't think this is incorrect at all. As we have even looked beyond Hugh Nibley's numerous writings on this subject we find more of the same. H.V. Hilprect noted that Greek mercenaries entered Egyptian service in large numbers about 600 B.C.[11]

W.H. Hale noted that by the 7th century the Greeks were establishing colonies and trading posts as far away as Syria, Thrace, Asia Minor, and to Egypt.[12]

Edwin M. Yamauchi noted that "From Palestine itself excavations particularly along the coast, have added year by year to the list of imported Greek ware, particularly form the 7th through the 5th centuries B.C. In the 7th and 6th centuries it was primarily Eastern Greek (Ionian) and Cypriote ware; from the 5th century, it was primarily a matter of Attic ware from Athens." [13] This obviously demonstrates contacts with the Greeks in Lehi's day and before.

Michael Grant notes that it was in the eighth century when near-eastern influences were revivied on a massive scale, inspiring a revolution in Greek tastes and affairs. With the orientalizing, widely circulated Corinthian vases with many designs "owed a variety of debts to northern Syria, Phoenicia, Assyria, Egypt and other territories as well." It was in the eighth century that the number of city-states doubled the creation of new settlements "over an enormous additional area." [14]

The nobles who lived independently in their new founded city-states "could also afford to equip vessels and send them to sea to convey cargoes, at first employing warships and then, from the 6th century, sail-driven merchantmen." The Greeks were in contact with the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations, but the great influence was "from the near-eastern cultures which still adjoined their borders. This was true of their art, architecture, literature, philosophy and religion. [15] "As early as the 7th century B.C. the Greeks derived the conception of monumental stone architecture from Egypt." [16] "From 675 B.C. 'Daedelic' figurines, mainly female and with wig-like hair, were produced throughout Greek lands, under the influence of Phoenician and Syrian terracotta statuettes." [17] The Book of Mormon is also in line with this historical information as well, showing an historical authenticity that Joseph Smith would never have realized, since it is such a subtle yet powerful consistency with archaeology and history. Again, as Hugh Nibley noted:

"There is strong philological evidence that the trade of South Arabia with Palestine and the Mediterranean was very old indeed. But in Lehi's day something happened that virtually put an end to the lucrative land-transport between the two regions. Exactly what it was that caused the Arabic center of gravity to shift from the south to the north we do not know, though it is now maintained that it may have been the discovery of the monsoon winds, enabling shippers to by-pass the South Arabian ports. At any rate, the great Arab merchant states in the south gave way to the greatly reduced activities of the mukarribs, independent merchants who closely resembled the Greek traders in the west, with whom in fact, they entered into extensive negotiations through Sidon and Tyre. Along with this there took place in Lehi's day a general shift of business and population from South to North Arabia, where Jewish settlers and merchants lost the economic advantages which they had long enjoyed in those regions. As early as the seventh and sixth centuries B.C. Ammon and Moab received a large influx of desert Arabs, who at the same time were moving into Gaza and the Negev. In the fifth century all the latter region became Nabataean country, the Nabataeans being an Arab merchant state which by the end of the century had become a great empire, even participating in the struggles among the Greek cities for economic control of islands in the Mediterranean. At the same time this kingdom was founded, the son of Lehi's contemporary, Nebuchadnezzar, founded Teima on the north edge of the Hedjaz as a royal residence, since he "obviously realized its great importance on the converging north- and south-Arabian trade-routes."[18]

"Now it is significant that whereas the name of Sidon enjoys great popularity in the Book of Mormon, in both its Egyptian (Giddonah) and Hebrew forms, the name of Tyre never appears in the book. That is actually as it should be, for in Lehi's day there was bitter rivalry between the two, and to support the one was to oppose the other. The upstart nobility that were running and ruining things at the court of Zedekiah were putting their money on Tyre, so to speak, and when Nebuchadnezzar came west on the fatal expedition that resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem, one of his main objectives, if not the main one, was to knock out Tyre. Up until quite recently it was believed that his thirteen-year siege of the city on the rock was unsuccessful, but now it is known for sure that Tyre was actually taken and destroyed, upon which Sidon enjoyed a brief revival of supremacy. Now Lehi shared the position of Jeremiah (1 Nephi 7:14), who was opposed to the policy of the court in supporting Egypt against Babylon; that meant that he was anti-Tyre and pro-Sidon."[19]

The emphasis is correct historically with the Greek names, as well as other place names from the ancient world. The Internal consistency of the Book of Mormon with external history and recent archaeological advances in our knowledge of the Greeks, noted by Grant throughout his book, [see footnote 14] serve as a warning to critics for being in the habit of jumping to quick conclusions about supposed problems in the Book of Mormon. Now the shoe is on the other foot. How was Joseph Smith supposed to have known that the Book of Mormon *must* include Greek and Phoenician names, and the correct ones to boot?


1. LEHI IN THE DESERT - THE WORLD OF THE JAREDITES - THERE WERE JAREDITES, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley: Volume 5 The Book of Mormon, Hugh Nibley, Edited by John W. Welch with Darrell L. Matthews and Stephen R. Callister, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah and Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, Provo, Utah, © 1988 Hugh Nibley, p. 31.

2. AN APPROACH TO THE BOOK OF MORMON, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley: Volume 6 The Book of Mormon, Hugh Nibley, Third Edition, John W. Welch General Editor, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah and Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, Provo, Utah, © 1988 Hugh Nibley, Page-39.

3. AN APPROACH TO THE BOOK OF MORMON : An Auspicious Beginning: Page-40.

4. "Ibid."

5. "Ibid." p. 41.

6. "Ibid." p. 42.

7. "Ibid." p. 43.

8. "Ibid." p. 44.

9. SINCE CUMORAH, Hugh Nibley, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley: Volume 7, The Book of Mormon, John W. Welch General Editor, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah and Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, Provo, Utah © 1988 Hugh Nibley, Strange Things Strangely Told: Page 165.

10. SINCE CUMORAH : Strange Things Strangely Told: Page 164f.

11. H. V. Hilprect, "Explorations in Bible Lands," AJ Holman & Co., 1903, p. 647.

12. W.H Hale, "Ancient Greece," 1965, p. 27, 117.

13. Edwin M. Yamauchi, "Daniel and Contacts Between the Aegean and the Near East Before Alexander," in "The Evangelical Quarterly," Vol. 53-54, 1981-1982, p. 39.

14. Michael Grant, "The Founders of the Western World," Charles Scribner's Sons, 1991, p. 9.

15. "Ibid." pp. 10f.

16. "Ibid." p. 13.

17. "Ibid." p. 14.

18. AN APPROACH TO THE BOOK OF MORMON : The Jews and the Caravan Trade: Page-63.

19. AN APPROACH TO THE BOOK OF MORMON : Dealings with Egypt: Page-88.

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