Contrary to what one would expect if Joseph Smith were just making up the Book of Mormon, a surprisingly large number of the names introduced in the Book of Mormon have tantalizing evidence in favor of their plausibility as ancient names with Semitic roots. Some of the most interesting finds involve names that critics have attacked as blunders, such as the clumsy "mistake" of using the female Latin name Alma for an ancient man's name. Thanks to 20th-century archaeological finds, we now know that Alma was an ancient Jewish name for a man (more info is on my Book of Mormon Evidences page).

Today I'd like to point to the new evidence for the plausibility of Lehi as an ancient man's name in the Near East. Before discussing this any further, let me waive off the usual howls by pointing out that in showing evidence for the plausibility or authenticity of one tiny element in the Book of Mormon, I am not claiming that the Book of Mormon has been proved to be absolutely true. I am simply suggesting that one argument for rejecting the Book of Mormon might have been weakened.

The argument in this case involves the name Lehi, which does occur in the Bible but only as a placename, not as the name of a person. The Book of Mormon begins with a prophet named Lehi in 600 B.C., who ends up leading his family (including his son, Nephi, the record keeper introduced in the first verse) to the New World via an entirely plausible route through the Arabian Peninsula. Critics have suggested that Lehi is not known as a person's name and that Joseph Smith made a mistake in treating it as such.

Evidence for Lehi as an ancient male name is presented by Jeffrey R. Chadwick in his article, "Lehi in the Samaria Papyri and on an Ostracon from the Shore of the Red Sea," Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture, vol. 19, vo. 1, pp. 14-21, 2010. It's a good read. I'll just share the conclusion:
That the lḥy element of Ablehi was written in Aramaic script of the Persian period, just like the name lḥy on Ostracon 2071, and that the two inscribed names even look very much alike, also seems significant. If, indeed, it is quite plausible that the lḥy element of Ablehi is actually a Hebrew name (in a Samaritan context, north of Judea), then the plausibility of lḥy on Ostracon 2071 being a Hebrew name (in an Edomite context, south of Judea) is enhanced.

It is also an interesting coincidence that similar evidence for Lehi's wife's name has turned up in a papyrus document, written in Persian period Aramaic, in the era following the sixth century BC. The female Jewish/Hebrew name Sariah appears in an Aramaic papyrus from the fifth century BC (albeit partially restored by the original publisher). The document is known as C-22 (or Cowley-22), and was found at Elephantine in upper Egypt around the year 1900. The appearance of the name Sariah was first published as a possible example of the Book of Mormon female name Sariah by myself in 1993 [see "Sariah in the Elephantine Papyri"]. The female name Sariah does not appear in the Bible, just as the male name Lehi does not. Yet both appear in the Book of Mormon. That we can now identify both the Jewish/Hebrew names Sariah in the Elephantine Papyri and Lehi in the Samaria Papyri and on Ostracon 2071 represents two significant steps forward....
Again, I'm not saying this is any reason to join the Church. But I will venture my humble opinion that alleged problems with ancient names like Lehi, Sariah, and Alma are NOT good reasons to leave the Church or reject the Book of Mormon. There are plenty of other good reasons to choose from, if that's your goal, but my hope is that people will give the Book of Mormon a chance and actually read and study that majestic text before rejecting it out of hand based on what they've heard from the critics. It's a book that has changed my life and made it so much richer. I hope you'll experience the power of this Christ-centered book in your life, too.
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