SANDY, Utah — One way to defend the Book of Mormon is by a study of its proper names and origins.
That was the message delivered by Stephen D. Ricks at the 12th Annual Mormon Apologetics Conference at the South Towne Exposition Center Thursday afternoon.
Ricks, a professor of Hebrew and Cognate Learning at Brigham Young University, said just knowing Book of Mormon names and their origins would help an individual know these names were authentic.
"The Book of Mormon is what it claims to be, a document whose ancient text contains names, dates and places … that were proper to their time and place," said Ricks, a member of BYU's faculty for 30 years.
Using a PowerPoint display, Ricks showed slides with proper Book of Mormon names with Hebrew, Semitic, Greek or Hellenic origins, as well as proper names whose origins are otherwise identified.
Jaredite proper names may possibly be of ancient Near Eastern or Afroasiatic origin, but are of quite uncertain background, Ricks said.
Most of Ricks' presentation consisted of his breaking down several names to show their origin and meaning, in relation to when the name appears in the Book of Mormon.
Names of Hebrew origin include "Laban," "Jacob" and "Joseph." Names such as "Laman" and "Lemuel" are of Semitic or Arabian origin, Ricks said.
One name of particular interest is Jershon, mentioned in Alma 27:22.
"Jershon is from the Hebrew word 'yarshon' — place of inheritance — and from the root 'yarash' — to inherit," Ricks said.
When mentioned in the Book of Mormon, Alma 27:22, 24, 26, the land Jershon is referred to as "This land Jershon is the land which we will give our brethren for an inheritance."
"Alma" comes from the Hebrew word 'elem, meaning "young man or youth." In Mosiah 17:2, "Alma" is referred to as "a young man."
Ricks could go on and on.
"Sariah," Nephi's mother in the Book of Mormon, was likely a name used by men and women in ancient Israel, Ricks said, just like Dana, Aubrey, Kim, Jordan, Morgan and Robin are today.
"Nephi" was an example of a proper name of Egyptian origin that meant "Captain."
Other names discussed included "Sam" (Israelite origin), "Anti-Nephi-Lehi" (Alma 24:3), "Irreantum" (I Nephi 17:5) and Nahom (I Nephi 16:34).
Ricks is one of several language specialists working on a project to compile a list of approximately 330 proper names in the Book of Mormon. The scholars meet every Wednesday morning and discuss a few names that are added to the list. They hope to complete the project in 2012 or 2013 and get their work published. During the project, they will maintain the list on a Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship website: mi.byu.edu.
"Eventually those names will be published and sell by the dozens in the BYU bookstore," Ricks said, smiling. "It doesn't matter as long as we know we have done due diligence and we are happy with it."