“Rise Up, O Light of the Lord”:
An Appropriate and Defensible Etymology for Cumorah

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Abstract: This article explores issues with past suggestions concerning the etymology of the name Cumorah and suggests a slightly updated etymology, “Rise up, O Light of the Lord.” It then suggests that Book of Mormon references to the Hill Cumorah appear to confirm the proposed etymology, thus becoming an apt description of the Restoration.

No one should be under the illusion that scholarship in the humanities is an exact science. There are rules, to be sure, with acceptable and unacceptable methodologies, with non sequiturs and sequiturs, with good data and bad data. Knowing that definitive answers in the humanities are often ephemeral is nowhere more important than in the attempt to provide an etymology for Book of Mormon names, including the subject of this essay: the geographic name Cumorah. In fact, definitive explanations of Book of Mormon names are not possible, partly because we do not know for sure what language lies behind Joseph Smith’s translation of the plates.1 Until we have access to the plates and have learned how to read them, the best we can do is to offer an etymology based on educated guesses. What follows is an educated guess about the name Cumorah.

One of the first issues to clear up is that Cumorah is a geographic name and may not follow in all aspects the patterns evidenced in personal names. Nevertheless, I have assumed that Cumorah would [Page 240]follow the same general lexical and semantic patterns I have used in preparing the majority of the etymologies of names in the digital Book of Mormon Onomasticon at https://onoma.lib.byu.edu. A major lesson of that onomasticon is that most of the entries reflect ancient Hebrew patterns.

Years ago, David A. Palmer and Robert F. Smith independently proposed that Cumorah means “Arise, O Light.”2 As these authors pointed out, the Hebrew verb qūm, “arise/rise (up),” along with the Hebrew noun ʾôr, or the feminine form ʾôrah,3 meaning “light, flame, fire,” together yield the meaning, “rise up, (O) light.” This explanation of Cumorah, “Rise up, O light” is a very tempting etymology, given the significance of the Hill Cumorah in Latter-day Saint scripture and Restoration history, and even prefigures the “glad tidings from Cumorah” of Doctrine and Covenants 128:20.4

This etymology seems especially appealing because of repeated allusions to light in the scriptures, the most compelling example being Isaiah 60:1: “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.” The presence alone of “light,” “shine,” and “arise” [Page 241]together in one verse in Isaiah 60 should be enough to convince anyone of the appropriateness of the suggestion from Palmer and Smith.5

In support of the suggested etymology, “Rise up, O light,” the Book of Mormon itself might be hinting about its relationship with the Hill Cumorah. In Mormon 8:14–16, Moroni, the last contributor to the abridged record of his people, clearly declares to the reader that he is the one who will hide “up this record unto the Lord.” Moroni further declares that “whoso shall bring [the Book of Mormon] to light” from the darkness where he would bury it, “him will the Lord bless. For none can have power to bring [the Book of Mormon] to light [from where it was buried] save it be given him of God. … And blessed be he that shall bring [the Book of Mormon] to light; for it shall be brought out of darkness unto light, according to the word of God; yea, it shall be brought out of the earth, and it shall shine forth out of” the darkness where it had been buried.6 In fact, Moroni is the resurrected being who would guide Joseph Smith to the location where Joseph would find the record that would “shine forth out of darkness” and would initiate the Restoration that is destined to enlighten the whole earth.

Yet over the years, I have resisted this attractive and beautiful derivation because of a technical issue with the grammar, namely subject/verb disagreement.7 As understood by the authors of previous explanations, including my own previous analysis, the ending -orah on Cumorah appears to correspond with the Hebrew feminine word for light, ʾôrah. As a Hebrew feminine noun, ʾôrah would require a Hebrew feminine verb form. If the first part of Cumorah, cum-, corresponds with the Hebrew verb qūm, which means “rise (up),” it would require the feminine imperative verb form qūmī,8 which properly can be represented [Page 242]in English as cumi. (This is the precise transliterated form that the Aramaic cognate of Hebrew qūm takes in the King James transliteration in Mark 5:41, Talitha cumi, “Damsel, I say unto thee, arise.” Notice the vocative nature of this cognate Aramaic verb.) Thus, the feminine imperative with the feminine noun would yield cumiorah. This reading could be construed as a possible source of Cumorah if various rules of Hebrew syntax are brushed aside. For instance, in the Hebrew feminine imperative qūmī, the final long ī vowel would not disappear for one main reason — it is phonemic and therefore necessary to indicate the feminine imperative. In other words, cumiorah is philologically difficult if not impossible to reconcile with Cumorah.9

Likewise, the received form, Cumorah, is not congruent with masculine forms either. The masculine imperative from Hebrew qūm would, in an English transcription, conveniently become cum. The masculine form of Hebrew ʾôr, “light,” would become or in an English transcription. The two English transcriptions of the masculine forms together would yield cumor without the final -ah of the received text. In other words, without doing speculative phonetic gymnastics, neither the masculine forms alone nor the feminine forms would account for the received English form Cumorah.10 Therefore, as attractive as this suggested etymology might be, “Rise up, O Light” has not been championed in the original Book of Mormon digital onomasticon but mentioned only as an attractive but questionable etymology.11

[Page 243]Nevertheless, lately I have come to believe that the suggestion “Rise up, O Light,” with a technical tweak and additional words, can and should be embraced as the most likely etymology. In order to justify setting aside the seeming subject/verb disagreement, I need to explain a relatively little-known feature of Hebrew names: hypocorism. Because hypocorism is not exactly a household word, I will give a brief explanation using English examples and then move on to Hebrew instances.12 While my initial explanation of hypocorism that follows is necessarily quite technical, a plain language summary follows after the initial discussion of hypocoristica.

Various forms of diminutives, pet names, nicknames, shortened names, caritatives, etc., come under the hypocorism umbrella. For example, an ordinary dog can become a cute, “little” (diminutive), and beloved (caritative) dog by adding a long ī vowel, doggie or even doggy. Native English speakers have no problem recognizing what the addition of a long ī vowel does and can apply it to other names and nouns almost indiscriminately. But not all hypocorisms in English result from just adding a long ī vowel. A different hypocoristic form of the personal name Susan can be produced by truncating Susan to become Sue. Alternatively, replacing the -an of Susan with the long ī vowel turns Susan into the hypocoristicon Susie. Thus, both Susie and Sue are hypocoristica of Susan.

Hebrew also can create hypocoristic names, but in different ways than English. The two most common ways in Hebrew are to shorten the name by eliding one or more elements of the name, and/or by replacing an element of the name with a shorter element. To illustrate this process in Hebrew, I will use an integral part of the etymology of Cumorah proposed in this paper, namely, the Hebrew noun for “light,” ʾōr.13

[Page 244]Psalm 27:1 reads in Hebrew yhwh ʾōrȋ, “Jehovah is my light,” rendered into English by the King James Bible translation as “The Lord is my light.” Because most biblical personal names are theophoric, meaning they contain the name or title of a deity, a case can be made that the personal name Urijah, ʾūrȋyāh, in 2 Kings 16:10 and in 2 Samuel 11:3 was inspired by the declaration of the theological belief that “Jehovah is my light.” In the Hebrew nominal sentence name ʾūrȋyāh, Jehovah is represented by yāh and is the theophoric element (meaning it represents deity), while light is the predicate complement, thus yielding the meaning “Jehovah is (my) light.”14 The Hebrew Bible contains other variations on the name, including ʾūrȋʾēl, “God is (my) light,” in 1 Chronicles 15:11, albeit with a different theophoric element, and the plene form ʾūrȋyāhû in Jeremiah 26:20 (though the King James rendering somewhat disguises the plene spelling of the Hebrew form with the transcription Urijah).15 In other words, the theological concept that “Jehovah is (my) light” takes various forms in Hebrew personal names.

However, of importance for the discussion here is another variant based on ʾōr, though not without some controversy. According to some scholars, an even shorter version of ʾūrȋyāh appears in several places in the Old Testament, namely Uri, from Hebrew ʾūrȋ.16 The name could mean “my light.” For most scholars there would be no question about the meaning if Martin Noth, the great 20th-century German Semitist, had not listed Uri among the hypocoristica (short names), with suffixed ī17 in his magisterial work on Hebrew personal names published nearly a hundred years ago.18 That is, the name ʾūrȋ, rather than mean “my light,” is a shortened version (hypocoristicon) of ʾūrȋyāhȗ, ʾūrȋyāh, or ʾūrȋʾēl.19 [Page 245]Note that, as is often the case with many hypocoristica, the hypocorism does not indicate the precise theophoric element that it displaces in the syntax of the name.

Though by no means pervasive, hypocoristic names were fairly common in the biblical period. Noth devoted over four pages to “short names” (“Kurznamen,” as he called them) and enumerates seven different hypocoristic affixes connected to these (often shortened) Semitic names turning them into hypocoristica.20 The contemporary Israeli scholar Shmuel Aḥituv in discussing Hebrew and cognate language names in the biblical period designates by my count 61 names as hypocoristic among the 318 names in the corpus he studied.21 If this ratio is indicative of biblical period West Semitic names, it means that almost 20% of these names are hypocoristic.

The most common affixed hypocoristic element, by my count in Noth, was the long vowel ī represented by the Hebrew letter yod, as in ʾūrȋ mentioned above, followed by the long vowel ā, which can be represented in Hebrew by either heh or aleph.22 As examples of heh and aleph alternating as hypocoristic elements, Noth cites bʾrʾ versus bʾrh, ʿzrʾ versus ʿzrh, and šmʿʾ versus šmʾh.23 Some of the variation between the Hebrew hypocoristic endings heh and aleph can be confusing because some Hebrew hypocoristica end in an aleph but are represented by -ah in the King James translation. For example, Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6:1 is the King James reflection of the Hebrew ʾzzāʾ, עֻזָּ֣א. This personal name Uzzah is then, by the way, another example of a Hebrew hypocoristicon.24

After this slight diversion to explain hypocorism, I can turn to why, with this additional understanding, I changed my mind about “Rise up, O Light” being the most preferrable etymology. While browsing for [Page 246]a different topic, I serendipitously came across an Ammonite25 personal name that pulled me up short and demanded that I reconsider “Arise, O Light.” The Ammonite name in question, ʾwrʾ (אורא, aleph, waw, resh, aleph, a cognate of Hebrew ʾōr discussed above) without affix no doubt means “light.” With affix it was probably pronounced ʾōrā or perhaps ʾūrā and, more importantly, it pointed me in the direction of hypocoristica.

The name appears around the time of Lehi on an Ammonite stamp seal.26 Because the -ah on the end of the geographic name Cumorah is most likely a suffix, most previous explanations (including my own) assumed that the -ah was, as mentioned above, the English transcription of the common Hebrew feminine suffix , -āh (also transcribed into English ָas following the Journal of Biblical Literature guidelines). Indeed, accepting the -ah as a feminine noun marker was integral to Palmer’s and Smith’s explanation and was the main reason that I was leery of their proposal.

However, as I realized from the Ammonite personal name, the suffix transcribed as –ā need not be seen as the transcription of a feminine noun ending. Indeed, the pervasive form of the feminine ending is heh with a long /a/ vowel (, -āh), but the Ammonite name ends in an aleph and not a heh. It was that hypocoristic aleph that allowed me to see that a long ā vowel, such as the -ah ending on Cumorah, can be a hypocoristic element and not always a feminine noun marker.27 A further quick search revealed that both an aleph and a heh can function as hypocoristic elements often with a vocative aspect.28 Thus, the aleph and the heh on the end of the names mentioned above (bʾrʾ/bʾrh, ʾzrʾ/ʾzrh, šmʾʾ/šmʾh), [Page 247]and the aleph on the end of the Ammonite personal name ʾōrā, can represent a hypocoristic element.

When a hypocoristic element appears in a name in the position where a theophoric element normally would be, the hypocoristic element is said to represent a shortened version of the theophoric element. It is not that the hypocoristic element is per se theophoric, but the element can be said to be a theophoric hypocoristicon if the creation of the hypocoristicon involves eliding or replacing a theophoric element. Thus, if Ammonite ʾōrā/ʾūrā is a shortened version of a name morphologically similar to Hebrew ʾūrȋyāhȗ (or any other theophoric element), then the aleph on the end of the personal name can be thought of as a theophoric hypocoristic ending representing an elided Ammonite deity, analogous to Hebrew ʾūrȋʾēl, “God is light.”

When a theophoric element in a name has been replaced by a hypocoristic element, the deity’s name that was replaced by the hypocoristicon cannot be readily identified. For example, the feminine personal name in 1 Samuel 1–2, Hannah, ḥannâ, חַנָּה, is according to Martin Noth most likely a hypocoristic name.29 Yet the hypocoristic ending on Hannah, the -āh (), does not reveal which theophoric element it represents. When comparing other names containing the Hebrew lexeme ḥēn, the name Hanniel, in Numbers 34:23 comes to mind.30 The suggestion that Hannah is a shortened form of Hanniel, “God is grace,” is not readily apparent in English. The shortening becomes apparent only when viewing the Hebrew originals, ḥannâ, חַנָּה, versus the supposed longer form, ḥannȋʾēl, .31

[Page 248]In some instances, when a hypocoristicon occupies the position normally taken by the theophoric element, the document may provide a link or hint to the identity of the elided deity. For example, biblical names in an Israelite context would suggest an Israelite deity. With names in the Book of Mormon, however, we are not blessed with a plethora of information. We cannot rely on the geographic origin of the text, or the perceived language in which the text was composed. As is the case with nearly all Book of Mormon names, we must rely on educated guesses, based primarily on the assumption that Hebrew language and Israelite culture with an admixture of Egyptian influence pervade the Nephite record.

In the case at hand, with Cumorah, which is attested in a Nephite language text and arguably in a Nephite geographic area, the most likely elided theophoric element would no doubt have been a form of one of the many Hebrew designations for deity, e.g., “El,” “Jehovah (Yahweh),”32 “Elohim,” “Most High God,” “Mighty One,” etc. In the Hebrew Bible, “light” is paired with both Jehovah and El, as seen above. But, given that we do not know which theophoric elements were employed in the Nephite onomasticon, as a nod to a somewhat ambiguous situation, Jehovah or El, I offer a generic King James Bible English theophoric designation that English speakers will have no problem recognizing, namely, “the Lord.” Therefore, given my explanation that the -ah on Cumorah is not a feminine ending, but most likely a hypocoristic ending with a vocative aspect, I can now concur with Palmer and Smith that the Book of Mormon geographic name Cumorah, with my slight addition to their etymology, may be interpreted as “Rise up, O Light of the Lord.”33

[Page 249]Note that Cumorah would not be the only hypocoristicon in the Book of Mormon. As explained in the entry for Alma in the online Book of Mormon onomasticon, http://onoma.lib.byu.edu, this common Book of Mormon name is composed of the lexeme ʾlm, “hero, young man,” plus the hypocoristic ending aleph, /ʾ/, or heh /h/, in the normal place of a theophoric element, yielding the meaning of “Young man of God.”34 In fact, to illustrate the variability of hypocoristic affixes, the late Hebrew attested personal name Alma, ʾlm, appears twice in a Hebrew Bar Kokhba letter, once with a suffixed aleph, ʾlmʾ and once (in the same document!) with a suffixed heh, ʾlmh.35

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, though geographic names should follow the semantic and lexical norms for the assumed language of the vorlage, geographic names do not need to follow with exactness the naming conventions of personal names. Nevertheless, an early anonymous reviewer raised the question of whether there are examples of precative forms among Hebrew names. Though the question may be moot with regard to the geographic name Cumorah, I have nevertheless chosen to provide examples of Semitic personal names with precative forms.

In Hebrew and other Semitic languages, the precative forms range from first person (cohortative forms), to second person (imperative [Page 250]forms), through second and third person (jussive forms).36 For example, Genesis 1:3, “Let there be light,” is the King James translation of a Hebrew third person jussive, yәhȋ ʾōr, “Be light!” The biblical name Reuben in Genesis 29:32, which can be interpreted as “Look, a son!” is perhaps the most recognized Hebrew personal name that is a jussive/imperative.37 But there are other examples of jussives and imperatives in Semitic names. Aḥituv, in his discussion of biblical period Hebrew and cognate language names, lists six names that contain a jussive or an imperative: Yәḥawʿēlȋ, “Let the High (the god) live”;38 Kәmošyāṯ, “May Kәmoš come!”;39 Pәgaʿqôs, “Plead with Qôs”;40 Qôlāyāw, “Trust, hope in YH(W)”;41 Šuḇʾēl, “Return, O God”;42 Šәḇanyāhȗ, “Return, O YHW!”;43 and possibly a seventh with particular importance for my discussion of Cumorah, Qәrabʾor, “Come near, O Light,” or “light has come near.”44 Though not readily apparent in English-language texts, perhaps the best known Semitic name containing an imperative is the East Semitic name Nebuchadnezzar. The transcription of the Babylonian form of his name, Nabȗ-kudurri-uṣur, “[the god] Nabu, protect the heir,” contains the imperative form uṣur from the Babylonian verb naṣāru, “to watch over, protect, preserve.” Thus, precative personal names are not unknown in the Semitic onomasticon.

[Page 251]One last word about geographic names. While the name Cumorah in the Book of Mormon at times also applied to the territory and land around the Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:2–6), the name Cumorah itself may be referring more to the record buried there than to any geographic feature of the hill. Instructive in this regard is the story in Judges 15:9–17. This incident involves a geographic location that the King James translation renders as “Lehi” in verse 9. However, as verses 16 and 17 make clear, the location received its name after the battle in which Samson “slew a thousand men” “with the jawbone [lehi], of an ass” from the Hebrew lәḥî-hămôr, לְחִֽי־חֲמֹ֖ור). Additionally, no doubt the Mount of Transfiguration in the New Testament was called by that name only after the transfiguration took place. Is it then not possible that Cumorah received its name proleptically in anticipation of the fulfillment of prophetic foresight (as quoted above from Mormon 8:14–16) of what would take place there? Leaving aside the implications of the two-Cumorah theory, the territory and land in upstate New York surrounding that hill certainly qualify as the geographic territory where the Light of the Lord would arise and shine forth in the Restoration. What more meaningful and significant name for that hill or area could there be than “Rise up, O Light of the Lord.”

1. Mormon 9:32–33 only offers comments about the script used on the plates and says almost nothing about the language behind the script. For more about the language possibilities, see Book of Mormon Onomasticon, “Introduction,” https://onoma.lib.byu.edu/index.php?title=Introduction.
2. David A. Palmer, In Search of Cumorah: New Evidences for the Book of Mormon from Ancient Mexico (Bountiful, UT: Horizon Publishers, 1981), 21, and Robert F. Smith, “Oracles & Talismans, Forgery & Pansophia: Joseph Smith, Jr., as a Renaissance Magus” (typescript draft, August 1987). Smith attributes this idea to Eldon and Welby Ricks.
3. For the feminine form (which is far less common in the Hebrew Bible than the masculine form), see Esther 8:16, Psalm 139:12, and Isaiah 26:19, though two of these three are plural in form. Some would suggest that the suffix ah could be a cohortative. Many Semitic languages do have a cohortative form ending in , including Hebrew. However, the cohortative in Hebrew “occurs (with few exceptions) only in the 1st person.” Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, 2nd English ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970) §48b. That means it is unlikely that a first-person cohortative suffix, , would be attached to a third-person jussive, with the meaning “shine” [O light].
4. Additionally, light in a symbolic sense can be a metaphor for revelation. See Numbers 27:21; 1 Samuel 28:6; Isaiah 2:5; 51:4; and Proverbs 6:23. Even the early members of the Restoration understood light as metaphor, as, for example, in the words of Parley P. Pratt’s hymn “An Angel From on High,” Hymns, no. 13, second verse, referencing Cumorah and the Book of Mormon.

Sealed by Moroni’s hand,
It has for ages lain
To wait the Lord’s command,
From Dust to speak again.
It shall again to light come forth
To usher in Christ’s reign on earth.

5. Other verses also speak of light, such as Isaiah 49:6: “And I will give thee as a light of the Gentiles” (my own translation of the Hebrew ȗnĕtatȋkā lĕʾôr gôyȋm). The Jewish Publication Society Tanakh translation is “I will also make you a light of nations.” Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds., The Jewish Study Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). The King James translation reads, “I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles.”
6. I purposely avoid using the name Cumorah in this paragraph and elsewhere in this paper to obviate any discussion of the “One Cumorah” versus “Two Cumorah” theories.
7. Even though English subject/verb disagreements in the received English text of the Book of Mormon are well documented and therefore not unprecedented, subject/verb disagreement should not be brushed aside when considering the transcriptions of the ancient names in the Book of Mormon.
8. The feminine form occurs in Isaiah 60:1 (quoted above), ק֥וּמִי, qūmī.
9. In fact, given the likely nature of the Nephite language and script (a melding of Hebrew and Egyptian), each consonant and each vowel of the received form of a Book of Mormon name needs to comport with the consonants and vowels of the assumed source language of the Book of Mormon vorlage.
10. Note that none of the variant spellings of Cumorah in the earliest Book of Mormon text, the printer’s manuscript (the original manuscript is not extant for the instances of Cumorah), solve the issue of subject/verb disagreement of “Rise up [masculine], O Light [feminine].” According to Royal Skousen, the printer’s manuscript reads Mormon 6:2, Camorah (once, but corrected by Oliver Cowdery to Cumorah); Mormon 6:2, Cumorah (once); Mormon 6:4, Cumorah (twice); Mormon 6:5, Comorah (once); Mormon 6:6, Cumorah (twice); Mormon 6:11, Comorah (once); and Mormon 8:2, Cumorah (once). The 1830 Book of Mormon consistently spells the name of the hill Camorah, while the 1837 has the consistent spelling Cumorah. Royal Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, 2nd ed., six parts (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies and Brigham Young University Studies, 2017), 3770.
11. I am responsible for the current July 2023 form of the entry for Cumorah. Book of Mormon Onomasticon, s.v. “Cumorah,” last edited July 9, 2023, https://onoma.lib.byu.edu/index.php/CUMORAH.
12. It is inherently dangerous to use a language like English from one language group, Indo-European, to help explain a language like Hebrew in a totally different language group, Semitic. In the case at hand, hypocorisms in English and in Hebrew share a few of the concepts but even fewer of the particulars. Yet at times, comparing apples to oranges is instructive.
13. For the purposes of this paper, I will, with Martin Noth, not distinguish between Hebrew ʾōr, אוֹר, and ʾūr, אוּר. Usually, the former is associated with daylight, and the latter is associated with firelight. Martin Noth, Die Israelitischen Personennamen im Rahmen der Gemeinsemitischen Namengebung (1928; repr., Hildesheim, DEU: Georg Olms, 1966), 168–69. All translations and paraphrases of Noth’s German text are mine. See also Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew & Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: Brill, 2001), CD-Rom Edition. For an example of mixing daylight (as a metaphor for the God of Israel) and firelight, see Isaiah 10:17: “And the light of Israel (ʾōr yiśrāʾēl, אוֹר־יִשׂרָאֵל) shall be for a fire.”
14. With Shmuel Aḥituv, Echoes from the Past: Hebrew and Cognate Inscriptions from the Biblical Period (Jerusalem: Carta, 2008), 475, I have put parentheses around my because the i vowel in Hebrew in this case can be interpreted as either a ḥireq compaginis, which has no semantic value (Gesenius’ Grammar, §90k–n), or as the first person singular possessive pronoun.
15. For this form of the name and translation in biblical period inscriptions, see Aḥituv, Echoes from the Past, 475.
16. See Exodus 31:2, 35:30, 38:22, 1 Chronicles 2:20, and 2 Chronicles 1:5.
17. Noth, Personennamen, 38, ʾūrȋ (as #65 in his “Namenregister” on page 235) is listed as having the vocalic ending ī.
18. The fact that the book was reissued in 1966 as a photographic reprint is a measure of its importance.
19. Noth, Personennamen, 168, and Koehler and Baumgartner, Lexicon, s.v. “אוּרִי.”
20. Noth, Personennamen, 36–41, expounds on and gives examples of Semitic hypocoristic names, including Hebrew names.
21. Aḥituv, Echoes from the Past, 474–88.
22. The Journal of Biblical Literature guidelines suggest transcribing the Hebrew character ה with . However, to avoid confusion with the English personal pronoun he, I have opted for the purposes of this article for the transcription heh of the Hebrew character ה. Similarly, I have opted for aleph as the transcription of Hebrew א to better represent its pronunciation. The King James translation/transcription of biblical Hebrew names cannot be relied on to represent with exactness the original Hebrew. See the discussion at the end of this paragraph.
23. Respectively Noth, Personennamen, 238 (#240), 253 (#1053), 259 (#1368).
24. See ibid., 38, 160 (#1036).
25. Ammonite was spoken during the biblical period in the area east of the Jordan River Valley. It was not only geographically close to Hebrew, but it is also linguistically closely related to Hebrew. Both Ammonite and Hebrew belong to the Northwest Semitic language group.
26. Nahman Avigad, Corpus of West Semitic Stamp Seals, revised and completed by Benjamin Sass (Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1997), 364 (no. 988).
27. In an email to the author on September 11, 2023, Jan Wilson suggested that the ending on Cumorah might be the locative -ah, ending, making a plausible translation of “Rise up toward (the) light!” (See Gesenius’ Grammar, §90a–c.) This reading certainly solves the subject/verb disagreement and is therefore syntactically possible. However, I think that the symbolism of God’s light (the Restoration) arising from Cumorah, as I propose below, comports better with the Book of Mormon scriptures in Mormon 8:14–16 cited above.
28. Noth, Personennamen, 38, wrote, “Often on the shortened names … a vocalic ending is attached, usually with a vocative meaning.”
29. The Bible Dictionary in the Latter-day Saint edition of the Old Testament states that “Hannah” means “Grace.” In a broad sense this is certainly true. The name is built on the Hebrew noun ḥēn (see Koehler and Baumgartner, Lexicon, s.v. “חֵן”), which does mean “grace,” “charm,” “favor.” The noun form ḥēn is congruent with the Hebrew verb form ḥnn, meaning “to favor” and that in some forms means “to implore favour, compassion” (Koehler and Baumgartner, Lexicon, s.v. “חָנַן”). As far as I can tell, there is no feminine form of the noun ḥēn that ends with -ah. That is one of the reasons why, no doubt, Noth, Personennamen, 187n4, states חנן and חנה are both “derived from the perfect form” ḥan and not from ḥānan, and that the affix /a/ is not the feminine form marker, but rather is the much used hypocoristic suffix (“nicht für Femininzeichen, sondern für die viel gebrauchte hypokoristische Endung”).
30. My colleague David Calabro reminded me in an email on December 22, 2022, that Hanniel might be translated “God’s grace.”
31. It needs to be said at this point of the discussion that, like most languages, Hebrew has a natural gender and a grammatical gender. For example, the Hebrew word for “city,” ער, is grammatically feminine, but is not marked by a feminine ending, neither is there anything about a “city” that is naturally feminine. And yet the noun is feminine. Beginning language students can easily confuse grammatical genders with natural genders. It should be noted here that names of females in the Old Testament need not contain a grammatical feminine marker. Hannah is probably the best example of this.
32. For two examples among many pertinent examples of Jehovah as the theophoric element in personal names, consider the biblical period Hebrew personal names Uriah, אוּרִיָּ֥ה, in 2 Samuel 11:3, and Uriyahu, אוריהו, in the first line of Arad ostracon #31 in Aḥitub, Echoes from the Past, 135.
33. My colleague David Calabro suggested that the spelling of the hill as Camorah once in the printer’s manuscript (but corrected by a different scribe to Cumorah) and all nine times as Camorah in the 1830 Book of Mormon (see footnote 10 above) could represent a precative or jussive and could be translated as “Let the Light of the Lord Arise.” David Calabro, email message to author, December 2022 and May 17, 2023. The cam- would be the transliterated form of the precative perfect form qām. This form of the name, Camorah, would be playing off the Hebrew precative forms as in Genesis 1:3, “Let there be light,” a very attractive suggestion indeed. As Robert F. Smith reminded me in an email on September 4, 2023, Parley P. Pratt’s words, “to light come forth,” in the hymn “An Angel From on High,” mentioned earlier, may be the first instance of a modern viable etymology for Cumorah.
34. For all the technical explanations, including the interchange between the initial ǵaiyin and aiyin see Book of Mormon Onomasticon, s.v. “Alma,” https://onoma.lib.byu.edu/index.php/ALMA, last edited September 7, 2023.
35. Hugh Nibley was the first to notice that the personal name ʾlmʾ/ʾlmh in the Bar Kokhba letter may represent the Book of Mormon name Alma. ʾlmʾ with aleph appears at the end of the fourth line from the top of the letter, and ʾlmh with heh is found at the beginning of the fourth line from the bottom. Yigael Yadin, Bar-Kokhba: The Rediscovery of the Legendary Hero of the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome (Tel Aviv: Japhet Press, 1971), 177. The original publisher of the letter, Yigael Yadin, along with Hugh Nibley and myself read the name as Alma. Hugh W. Nibley, “Bar-Kochba [sic] Zigael Yadin [sic],” BYU Studies 14, no. 1 (Autumn 1973): 121. However, in the subsequent scholarly publication of this letter, this name has been reinterpreted as Aramaic ʾallimaʾ, “strong, powerful.” See The Documents from the Bar Kokhba Period in the Cave of Letters: Hebrew, Aramaic and Nabatean-Aramaic Papyri, ed. Yigael Yadin, Jonas C. Greenfield, Ada Yardeni, and Baruch Levine (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology, and Israel Museum Shrine of the Book, 2002), 47.
36. Normally, an imperative is thought of as a second-person form. Most Semitic languages also have precative forms for first- and third-person verbs. The cohortative form appears almost exclusively with first-person forms and may be translated as “Let me…” or “Let us…” The jussive form is used for second- and third-person verb forms (both singular and plural, male and female), and like the cohortative can usually be rendered into English with “Let him…,” “Let her…,” “Let them…,” etc. As with the cohortative, the particle and other particles can be used to emphasize the jussive aspect. Gesenius’ Grammar, §109a-b.
37. “She called his name Reuben: for she said, Surely the Lord hath looked upon my affliction” (Genesis 29:32). Though this explanation of Reuben may be later folk etymology, the imperative or jussive nature of the verbal element in Reuben is not suspect.
38. Aḥituv, Echoes from the Past, 482.
39. Ibid., 483.
40. Ibid., 486.
41. Ibid.
42. Ibid., 487.
43. Ibid.
44. Ibid., 486. Aḥituv translates this name as a past tense form, “light has come near.” He then suggests the name could also be an entreaty; therefore, my vocative translation, “Come near, O Light.” “Let the light come near” would capture the jussive aspect.

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Cite this article as:
Paul Y. Hoskisson, "“Rise Up, O Light of the Lord”: An Appropriate and Defensible Etymology for Cumorah," in The Interpreter Foundation, February 9, 2024, https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/rise-up-o-light-of-the-lord-an-appropriate-and-defensible-etymology-for-cumorah/.

About Paul Y. Hoskisson

Paul Y. Hoskisson, emeritas professor of Religious Education at BYU, received his PhD from Brandeis University in ancient Near East languages and history. In addition to teaching in Religious Education at Brigham Young University beginning in 1981, he served as institutional representative on the Board of Trustees of the American Schools of Oriental Research, Director of the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies, Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding, Associate Dean of Religious Education at BYU, Coordinator of Near Eastern Studies at BYU, and epigrapher for the 1983 ASOR excavation at Qarqur, Syria. Prior to coming to BYU, he taught ancient Near East languages at the Universität Zürich.

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