Insights: The Newsletter of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship


Book of Mormon, text, wordplay, Alma


Thanks to the work of Hugh Nibley, Paul Hoskisson, Terrence Szink, and others, the plausibility of Alma as a Semitic name is no longer an issue. Hoskisson has noted that “Alma” derives from the root ‘lm (< *ǵlm) with the meaning “youth” or “lad,” corroborating Nibley’s earlier suggestion that "Alma” means “young man” (cf. Hebrew ‘elem,עלם). Significantly, “Alma” occurs for the first time in the Book of Mormon text as follows: “But there was one among them whose name was Alma, he also being a descendant of Nephi. And he was a young man, and he believed the words which Abinadi had spoken” (Mosiah 17:2; emphasis in all scriptural citations is mine). This first occurrence of “Alma” is juxtaposed with a description matching the etymological meaning of the name, suggesting an underlying wordplay: Alma (‘lm’) was an ‘elem. A play on words sharing a common root is a literary technique known as polyptoton.