Alma and Adieu: When Will the Tired Apologetic Arguments End?

In his recent op-ed to the Deseret News, Daniel Peterson has trotted out two old FARMS style proofs that supposed anachronisms in the BoM aren’t really such, framing his argument within a rhetorical context that some unspecified “critics” are anxiously engaged in a tendentious search for “concepts or items mistakenly inserted into its supposedly ancient story by an ignorant or careless modern author.”

“But we know now, from evidence found slightly more than 50 years ago, that “Alma” is an authentically ancient Semitic masculine personal name, just as the Book of Mormon presents it.”

Not quite. The consonantal name aiyn-lamed-mem-aleph is found in a 2nd century CE document (Bar Kokhba 44) and possibly reflects Aramaic. This is not evidence that Alma was a Hebrew name and because it stems from a period more than seven centuries after Nephi would have left the old world is of dubious significance.

Normon Golb mentions in a recent discussion of DSS exhibits: “To be sure, Yigael Yadin did spell the name this way (“Alma”) in a 1962 publication. However, the scientific edition of the Nahal Hever papyri transcribes the term as Allima, indicating that while the vocalization is uncertain, the name may reflect the Aramaic term meaning “the strong one” (pg. 14).

Other Aramaic interpretations of the name are possible, but not Hebrew.

“Another popular claim among critics is that the word “adieu” at Jacob 7:27 is anachronistic. French, they point out, didn’t even exist in the sixth century B.C., so why does a French word appear in the Book of Mormon?”

Not so fast. The word “adieu” had indeed become an English word by the time of JS, so its use in the BoM is not anachronistic in the sense that the term is of foreign origin. But that doesn’t mean that “adieu” still doesn’t raise some red flags.

First, “adieu” only appears once in the entire BoM, while the language of the BoM as a whole is very homogenous and repetitious.

Second, the word was used as a synonym for “farewell” in the time of JS, and “farewell’ appears in the BoM quite frequently, which raises the question of why if JS was translating from an ancient document and consistently interpreted the Nephite equivalent of “farewell” as English farewell he would vary from his modus operandi only here.

Third, in most of the attestations of “adieu” in English that I have seen from the early 19th century, it seems to have had more of a literary register aspect to it–found especially in poems, songs, belles lettres, and such, which is understandable; that often happens to simple short foreign words, in this case from the cultured world of old Europe.

Thus the single appearance of “adieu” only at the end of the BoM narration process may not be simply coincidence. Jacob was one of the last books dictated by JS, which makes a striking innovation in BoM language after so many consistent uses of the term farewell more easily explicable. Furthermore, the word farewell was used just ten words before “adieu” in the same verse, which meant that the author of the BoM needed something else. Amen would have suited just fine, and in fact amen is frequently found in just this kind of context elsewhere in the BoM (that is, after farewells at the end of books, Ether 12:38-41; Moroni 8:30; 10:34; 2 Nephi 33:13-15; Jacob 6:13), but the unique adieu here was chosen instead because of its resonance with finality, appropriate for the end of the BoM, and contribution of literary color. All of which is to say, that “adieu” appears to have resulted from the rhetorical interests of the English author of the BoM, not from an ancient translation.

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