Abstract: The name Heshlon, attested once (in Ether 13:28), as a toponym in the Book of Mormon most plausibly denotes “place of crushing.” The meaning of Heshlon thus becomes very significant in the context of Ether 13:25–31, which describes the crushing or enfeebling of Coriantumr’s armies and royal power. This meaning is also significant in the wider context of Moroni’s narrative of the Jaredites’ destruction. Fittingly, the name Heshlon itself serves as a literary turning point in a chiastic structure which describes the fateful reversal of Coriantumr’s individual fortunes and the worsening of the Jaredites’ collective fortunes. Perhaps Moroni, who witnessed the gradual crushing and destruction of the Nephites, mentioned this name in his abridgement of the Book of Ether on account of the high irony of its meaning in view of the Jaredite war of attrition which served as precursor to the destruction of the Nephites.
Toponymy and Toponymic Wordplay
The observation that the Book of Mormon repeatedly correlates the name Jershon and the land given as a place of “inheritance” (cf. Heb. *yrš)1 to the people of Ammon (see Alma 27:22–26; 35:14; 43:22, 25), has laid a foundation not only for more thoroughgoing studies of onomastic wordplay in the Book of Mormon,2 but also for a wider study of toponymy [Page 228]in the Book of Mormon.3 In a number of instances, Joseph Smith’s English language translation renders toponyms wholly (e.g., Bountiful, Desolation)4 or partly in English (e.g., Desolation of Nehors),5 perhaps so that the narrative function of the toponyms and events pertaining to them are clearer to the audience. The translated toponyms Bountiful6 and Desolation serve important literary functions: in the former instance, sharpening the contrast between the Arabian Desert through which the Lehites had traveled and the land of “abundance”7 to which they were providentially led and, in the latter instance, the contrast between the permanently devastated land northward8 where the Jaredites met their demise and where history began to repeat itself among the Nephites9 and all of the rest of the land that is repeatedly characterized as “choice above all other lands.”10 Desolation and Bountiful particularly provide contrast to each other in later Nephite toponymy (see Alma 63:5; 3 Nephi 3:23).
Other names like Jershon, however, are transliterated but untranslated. And yet, using our knowledge of the languages that the Book of Mormon writers said they used,11 we are able to propose reasonable suppositions about their etymology and literary function in the context in [Page 229]which they occur. Thousands of newly converted Lamanites had recently entered into a covenant with the Lord and needed not merely a place of refuge from their unconverted brethren who threatened them, but a land — or a place — of inheritance, a Jershon,12 such as had historically accompanied covenant-making by the patriarchs and ancient Israel including the Nephites themselves. The name itself functions in the Lamanite conversion narrative (and later)13 as a sign that the Nephites themselves recognized and approved of the covenant that Ammon’s converts had made, even though they apparently felt that they would be unable to fully assimilate them into the population of Zarahemla (see Alma 27:21–24).
In this brief article, we suggest a similar literary phenomenon involving the name Heshlon in Ether 13:28–29. Moroni mentions the plains of Heshlon as the scene of a great reversal — both a victory and defeat for Coriantumr that epitomized not only the fluctuating and worsening fortunes of Coriantumr personally, but of those of the Jaredites collectively, all of whom had rejected the prophet Ether’s call to repentance. The Nephites of Mosiah2’s time, for whom flight from the land of Nephi and the decimation of the people of Limhi were fresh memories, probably would have appreciated the significance of military events at a place that connoted “(place of) crushing.” Moroni himself in later years would not have failed to appreciate the ironic parallels between battles that he witnessed during his own lifetime — fleeting victories over the Lamanites, followed by the increasingly devastating defeats at the hands of the Lamanites14 that led to the destruction of the Nephites as a nation (see especially Moroni’s comments in Mormon 8:6 7). Like Mormon’s ominous use of the toponym translated “Desolation” in Mormon 3:5, 7; 4:1–19, the untranslated toponym “Heshlon,” serves as a kind of literary cenotaph for what eventually happened to both the Jaredites and Nephites due to their failure to heed prophetic warnings: they were crushed and ultimately destroyed.[Page 230]
“Heshlon” as an Israelite/Nephite Toponym
Like Gilgal,15 Heshlon is a toponym of Semitic origin which the Nephites either newly applied to their geographic environs or adapted as an alteration or updating of existing Jaredite toponymy.16 Both names occur together within the same verses and within the same context. Hugh Nibley classed Heshlon with the names Emron, Jashon, Moron, etc. on the basis of the archaic Semitic – ôn termination.17 According to grammatical rules preserved in Hebrew, the – ôn termination on both personal and place names was “a particular nominal or adjectival form serving as an appellative”18 that “describ[ed] some feature [or] aspect of the [site]”19 named.
[Page 231]John Tvedtnes, who has suggested that the – ôn suffix in these names denotes “place of X,”20 suggests that “Heshlon” is formed from the Hebrew verb *ḥāšal as attested in Deuteronomy 25:18,21 where it is stated that the Amalekites attacked “the crushed” or “the feeble” (kjv), i.e., “the stragglers” (hanneḥĕšālîm),22 at the rear of Israel’s hosts. Here *ḥāšal is used is in a military context.
In addition to the attestation of *ḥāšal in Deuteronomy, the Aramaic cognate ḥāšēl is attested in Daniel 2:40: “And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth [wĕḥāšēl] all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise.” The kjv translates ḥāšēl as “subdue,” but its use as a synonym of *dqq (“break in pieces” or “crush in small pieces”23) indicates that a better translation would be “and crushes.”24 The context here is also a military one.
Marcus Jastrow suggests that postbiblical Hebrew ḥāšal means “to scrape off, polish; to reduce” and that in the durative (Piel) stem, it means to “crush” or “batter.”25 In support of this he cites Koheleth Rabbah 1:6,26 a midrashic text which describes how the Lord “breaks,” “crushes,” or “weakens” (mĕḥaššĕlô, i.e., blunts) the force (or strength) of the wind by means of the mountains.27 This extra-biblical attestation of [Page 232]ḥāšal has possible relevance for Moroni’s description of what happens to Coriantumr at Heshlon, whose armies’ strength was crushed, enfeebled, or blunted to such a degree that Coriantumr thereafter had no power to “constrain” the Jaredites from shedding blood en masse (Ether 13:31, critical text; see further below).28
Intriguingly, the Sifre Devarim (or Sifre Deuteronomy), a rabbinic exegetical commentary on the Book of Deuteronomy — commenting specifically on the hanneḥĕšālîm mentioned in Deuteronomy 25:18 — interprets this word as a reference to “the children of men who have withdrawn themselves from the ways of the Existence [i.e., the Lord] and have been crushed away from underneath the [protective] wings of the Cloud.”29 The Jaredite nation, like the Nephite nation, was crushed and destroyed precisely because they had withdrawn themselves from the Spirit of the Lord, and the Lord had thus withdrawn his Spirit from them (cf. Mosiah 2:36; Helaman 4:24; 6:35; 13:8; Mormon 2:26; Ether 11:13).
Jastrow glosses the Targumic Aramaic term ḥăšal or ḥăšîl as “to furbish, forge, or hammer” something. A ḥāšlāʾ was a “furbisher” or “smith” with the secondary sense, “to plan”30 (cf. modern English, “forge a plan” or “hammer out a plan”).31 Here, too, the root *ḥšl suggests the action or product of the action of striking or dealing a blow.
Just as importantly, Hebrew *ḥāšal and Aramaic ḥāšēl are both cognate with the Akkadian verb ḫašālu, which means “to crush, to shatter”32 As a military term, it means to “crush” in the sense of “destroy”33 [Page 233]— e.g., Ishtar “crushes the unsubmissive.”34 It can be used statively of a person who “is crushed.”35 We can say, then, with some assurance that Hebrew ḥāšal meant to “crush” with the idea of making feeble (enfeeble) and that its usage was, at least sometimes, a military one.
Thus, Heshlon (with the toponymic – ôn suffix) would mean “place of crushing,” i.e., “place of (a) crushing” and would make sense as a Semitic, Hebrew, and even a Nephite name. Although its sole attestation in the Book of Mormon is in the story of Coriantumr and the destruction of the Jaredites, it appears with the name Gilgal, which as noted above, is a Semitic name. Moroni, relying on Mosiah2’s earlier translation (see especially Mosiah 28:11–19) or his own memory of that record,36 frequently uses Israelite/Nephite toponymy rather than Jaredite (e.g., Gilgal, Ramah),37 or at least updates Jaredite toponymy.
Beating and Crushing: The Repetition of “Beat” and “Heshlon”
By the time Ether came to Coriantumr and uttered his prophetic ultimatum (i.e., repent and be spared or otherwise be destroyed, Ether 13:20–21), Coriantumr and his sons had already “fought much and bled much” (13:19). Immediately thereafter, the name “Heshlon” (a hapax legomenon)38 occurs within the greatest concentration of the word beat, i.e. “defeat” in a military sense, anywhere in the scriptures.
The word beat (i.e., “attack and destroy,” cf. Heb. nākâ in the causative stem)39 occurs as a military term twenty times in the Book of Mormon, [Page 234]first in Mosiah 21:8.40 Mormon uses beat as a military technical term nine times (eight times in his personal record, Mormon 1–8, and once in Mosiah 21:8); Moroni uses beat eight times in Ether compared to only one by other Book of Mormon writers — Helaman1 once (Alma 57:22). Tellingly, Mormon and Moroni together account for nineteen out of twenty uses of beat as a military technical term. This is unsurprising considering the relentless “beatings” — military victories and defeats — that they witnessed, these culminating in the final crushing and “extinction”41 of their people.
It must be significant that the verb beat occurs in its largest cluster here: five times in Ether 13:23–30 (13:23–24, 28–30). We suggest that the name Heshlon — “place of crushing” — has been juxtaposed with a verb translated “beat” in a fivefold repetition as, perhaps, a synonymic play involving Heshlon and its root meaning, “(place of) crushing” in order to emphasize just how disastrous this series of battles was for the Jaredite nation: Coriantumr and his opponents “beat” and “crushed” each other so severely that Coriantumr’s royal power became fragile and his opponents became too feeble to overthrow him. Thus the Jaredite bloodshed thereafter became unstoppable (Ether 13:31). The nation was doomed at Heshlon and Gilgal, as a close reading of the structure of Ether 13:25–31 also suggests.
Heshlon within the Chiastic Structure of Ether 13:25–31
[Page 235]Although the structure of any text can be variously arranged and diagrammed,42 Ether 13:25–31 exhibits a remarkable degree of chiasticity. Heshlon can be viewed as the turning point of this chiasm:
The chiastic structure of Ether 13:25–31 is bracketed with the phrases upon all the face of the land and upon the face of the land. The phrases Every man and all manner of iniquity correspond to the phrases all the people and there was none to restrain them and are linked by the synonyms and antonyms every, all, and none. Ether 13:25–26 evidences a small self-contained chiasm, the center phrase of which, fighting for that which he desired, emphasizes the nature of the pandemic conflict during Ether’s and Coriantumr’s time. There is elemental progression at the end of the chiasm (A′) as “every man” becomes “all the people,” “fighting for that which he desired” worsens to “were a shedding blood” and a ubiquitous national amorality (“every man”, “all manner of iniquity”) is amplified by the fact that now “there was none to constrain them” — not Coriantumr’s authority and still less the Spirit of God.
These elements emphasize two different “battle[s]” that were fought in “the valley of Gilgal.” These elements also describe a time factor attached to both battles — i.e., that Shared “fought” Coriantumr “for the space of three days” and that after the second battle, which culminated in Shared’s death and a near-mortal wound for Coriantumr, the latter “did not go to battle again for the space of three years.” The great anger described in B bears awful fruit in the death of Shared and in Coriantumr’s massive blood loss in B′. The “space of three days” mentioned in B becomes a “space of two years” in B′.
Coriantumr’s defeat of (“beat[ing]”) Shared in C is matched by the unexpected defeat of (“did beat”) Coriantumr by Shared in C′. Narrative progression in the chiasm is marked not only by the opposite outcome of the second battle, but by Shared’s driving Coriantumr back to the “the valley of Gilgal,” which is mentioned twice in epistrophe (repeated endings to clauses) in C′.
The D-D′ elements set up “the plains” as the scene of the battle that will dramatically change and worsen the fortunes of Coriantumr and the Jaredite nation as a whole. A “pursuit” becomes a “battle” upon the plains. And Coriantumr’s presumed rout becomes something wholly different from what he imagined.
Chiastic Center (X): Heshlon
The name Heshlon in the text (Ether 13:28) marks a reversal of the text’s structural flow. Appropriately, the battle on the plains of Heshlon [Page 237]marks a dramatic reversal of Coriantumr’s expectations and fortunes. What Coriantumr had hoped would be a final victory over Shared, his archenemy, instead turned into be the crushing or breaking of the strength of his own forces on the plains of Heshlon. Although Coriantumr subsequently again beats Shared and his forces again in the valley of Gilgal, Coriantumr is badly wounded and his forces so defeated that he cannot enforce any authority over his kingdom: “all the people upon the face of the land were a shedding blood, and there was none to constrain [i.e., force] them” (Ether 13:31, printer’s manuscript). This description reminds us of Moroni’s earlier words following the extinction of the Nephites: “the whole face of this land is one continual round of murder and bloodshed; and no one knoweth the end of the war” (Mormon 8:8). Perhaps incidentally, but ironically, the name Gilgal, which is repeated three times in Ether 13:27–30 in connection with the name Heshlon, connotes a “circle” or “round,” perhaps a “cycle.”
Coriantumr and his supporters who had not only rejected Ether’s prophecies, but also sought to kill him, begin to reap the consequences of these actions. The mention of “Heshlon” (“place of crushing [defeat]”) serves in Ether 13:28 as a didactic inference that the judgments of God as pronounced by a prophet are inescapable. From this point forward, the narrative drives inexorably toward the final Jaredite destruction.
Coriantumr cannot and does not escape Ether’s prophecy. Although Coriantumr eventually prevails over Shared (13:30), Coriantumr himself is wounded and cannot “constrain” Jaredites on either side of the conflict from their willful shedding of blood (13:31). New archenemies arise in Shared’s stead (Lib, Shiz) and deal further defeats to his armies as often as he is able to do the same to them. Before long, the Jaredites on both sides are crushed to extinction in a war of attrition. Unlike Shez, when the Jaredites had previously nearly warred themselves into annihilation, Coriantumr will not be able to “build up again a broken people” (Ether 10:1). The curse is set (Ether 14:1) and the entire nation will be completely destroyed.
Moroni’s Late Literary Use of “Heshlon”
Moroni’s late use of the name “Heshlon” in his abridgment of the Jaredite record may owe a literary debt to Mosiah2’s earlier translation of that record, even if Moroni wrote his own account from memory.45 Moreover, it is possible that the idea of “place of crushing” originally referred to [Page 238]some feature of the topography of that place. It is additionally possible that this toponym was applied to those plains by earlier record-keepers in connection with previous battles. However, one can only speculate on these points.
Nevertheless, naming a place after what occurred there was not uncommon in ancient Israel or among the Nephites (e.g., Judges 15:15–17; Alma 22:30). The open plains (including the plains of Heshlon) are sites of battles in at least four instances in the Book of Mormon.46 Moreover, one cannot rule out the possibility that a Jaredite name that denoted something like “place of destruction”47 was rendered “Heshlon” by Mosiah2 and then left transliterated but untranslated by Joseph Smith. The name Heshlon may even constitute an adaptation or updating of a similar Jaredite name.48 And yet the key point is that the Hebrew root *ḥšl denotes “crushing” and the affixation of the appellative – ôn termination, together with the expected vowel changes to the root, easily produce Heshlon and the meaning, “place of crushing.”
In that case, the name Heshlon would have been especially evocative for Nephites, both to Moroni who witnessed the crushing of his nation, but perhaps also to earlier generations of Nephites, including those who lived under the reign of King Mosiah2 some of whom had experienced wars with the Lamanites under King Benjamin, and others had been king Noah’s and King Limhi’s subjects and had been nearly destroyed in ill-conceived wars. It is certainly clear that Mosiah2’s initial translation of the Jaredite record was a major motivating factor in his and the people’s decision to bring monarchy to an end. For them, the names [Page 239]Heshlon and Desolation (i.e., Hormah,49 or whatever word was used to represent “desolation” in their language) would have been unambiguous portents of what monarchic evil and covenant disobedience could bring upon them. We likewise can and should consider the portents evident in these names.
We have made a plausible, if not a compelling case that Heshlon is of Semitic origin, was a toponym whose meaning would have been significant to the Nephites, and would have meant “place of crushing.” These observations are significant when we consider Moroni’s abridgment of the Jaredite record and its concluding scenes which describe the fulfillment of Ether’s prophecies regarding the total destruction of the Jaredite nation. Heshlon, the “place of crushing,” sits appropriately at the chiastic center of a block of text which describes the reversal of Coriantumr’s fortunes to the great weakening of his power, which eventuated in additional bloodshed and loss of life. If these observations are not amiss, Heshlon represents yet another instance in the Book of Mormon in which nomen est omen: the name is the sign.
The authors would like to thank Robert F. Smith and John A. Tvedtnes for suggestions that improved this paper.