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Hello Matt, I enjoyed your article and now find it likely that the place-name Shazer is a transliteration with a food-based meaning instead of a terrain or geographical feature-based meaning. I like your suggestion of the gazelle as its possible meaning. The young gazelle was apparently of great significance to ancient Arabians and other cultures throughout the greater region. Your article sparked my mere curiosity, prompting further investigation. Eventually bringing my Saturday Morning Smart Phone research back to basics and searching Arabic root words in the Hans Wehr, I decided upon an alternate explanation which also fits within this context. The following explanation is perhaps related and worthy of further discussion.
From the definition of the modern root word jeem, zain, raa from the Hanz Wehr, I draw an alternate but similar food-based explanation for the meaning of Shazer that fits in with the Book of Mormon explanatory language for 1 Nephi 16:13-14 quite well. The meaning of this root in this context is to ‘slaughter: kill or butcher’ animals [for food]. Nephi relates, after coming to the place Shazer, they took their bows and arrows into the wilderness to slay food for their families. I suggest that Shazer is an early nineteenth-century transliteration of the rural ancient Semitic root or verb ‘to slay food.’
In addition to gazelles and other quadrupeds, wild asses (Onagers) could have been on the menu as well. In the same chapter Nephi describes another now relatively famous place-name, ‘Nahom.’ I found a few scholarly explanations for the Ishmael burial place-name, drawing striking links to a place called NEHHM which is found as a location on a map of Yemen which was produced from exploration records of Captain of Engineers Carsten Niebuhr, sole survivor of a Royal Danish Expedition to Arabia from 1761-1767. Within the facsimile edition of the second volume of the English translation of Nieburh’s narratives, “Travels through Arabia,” is a section on Arabian quadrupeds (TTA, Vol 2, pp. 323-327).
In the vicinity of Shazer and Nahom, likely also in the vicinity of Yemen, near NEHHM, the Arabic letter jeem in a word like jeem, zain, raa: [j-z-r]/(Dj-z-r) as in jazara or jazr, the initial consonant sound could have sounded more like the J in the French Jacques instead of the G in golf or J in Jim, all of which are perhaps commonly used for jeem throughout ancient and modern times. Support for Dj sound in this region vice the G sound is found in Nieburh’s writings. The Syrian Onager is noted as being called Djaear by rural inhabitants of Arabian lands in the late Eighteenth century who ate the flesh of this now extinct animal and considered it excellent food (TTA, Vol 2, pp. 324).
If one considers the Dj sound for the letter jeem and how this would have sounded to the Book of Mormon scribe recording Joseph Smith, Jr. dictations when followed by zain and raa, Shazer would have been a close enough approximation for the sound of jeem, zain, raa, especially when the Dj is followed immediately by a short vowel. Say this word only relatively quickly, and you have one that sounds much like Shazer. The Book of Mormon is said to have been penned by a scribe as Joseph Smith, Jr. dictated. There is no infallibility to the train of thought that the Sh in Shazer must be somehow directly convertible to its Semitic equivalent consonant which would carry more of an English S based sound. Furthermore, the ‘Slaying Food’ definition of jazr as an explanation for the meaning of Shazer matches the language in the Book of Mormon passage better than any other explanation I have heard.
I am not a linguist but an enthusiast of scriptural research and learning in general. I am an Engineer currently serving in the CEC of the USN. I thoroughly enjoyed studying this topic and hope this explanation is an interesting contribution.
Thanks for this interesting article! It’s interesting that the reference to Bountiful is already in English, but Shazer is not. Would you consider that as an indication that it may not have been a term that was part of their Hebrew lexicon?
Not necessarily. Only a handful of toponyms appear in translated form (e.g., Bountiful, Desolation), while there are numerous transliterated-but-untranslated Hebrew names in the Book of Mormon which clearly would have constituted a part of their lexical resources. The precise reasons why names like Bountiful and Desolation appear as translated names remain unclear, as yet. Hugh Nibley suggested that the names of the new world land of Bountiful and land of Desolation (which were relatively near in geographic proximity) functioned as a kind of “coincidentia oppositorum” — a coincidence of opposites.
Thanks for your comment, Danny.
Very best regards,
Fascinating. Who knew Joseph was also knowledgeable in Old Arabic as well? TIC (sort of).
There were certainly plenty of gazelles in the Hijaz at that time. So an excellent etymology, Matt.
Thank you, Bob! I appreciate your feedback as well.
As an Arabic linguist by trade, I found this article extremely interesting. Very well done.
Thank you, Michael! I really appreciate your feedback.
You make it sound so reasonable. I’m convinced.
Thank you, Theodore! I make no claim to infallibility on this subject or anything else, but I hope I’ve made a good case. 🙂
Another home run, Matt.
I look at shazer a while ago with the emphasis that the word was associated with constructing the tabernacle in the wilderness, but it didn’t lead to anything.
Keep it up and stop hogging all the good ideas, will ya!? 😉
Thank you, Mark! 🙂 You are very kind.