Friday, June 12, 2015

Right on Target: Gidgiddoni

Art by James H. Fullmer

There are generally two approaches to Book of Mormon names. One of them searches for plausible etymologies for Book of Mormon names; the other looks at whether the name is actually attested. If it is attested it does not matter much whether or not we can figure out an etymology for the name (that is, whether we can determine what the name originally meant). Both of these approaches are useful and have their merits.

The Book of Mormon name Gidgiddoni can now be added to the list of names that are attested.

Gidgiddoni, it will be remembered, was "great commander of all the armies of the Nephites" (3 Nephi 3:18) during the reign of Lachoneus. He is first mentioned during events of "the sixteenth year from the coming of Christ" (3 Nephi 3:1), and is last mentioned ten years later (3 Nephi 6:6).

The name Gidgiddoni, with its reduplication and doubled consonant, is unusual for a Hebrew name. We now know that it is not. It is a well attested name in Neo-Assyrian records. It comes from the same Assyrian empire that is discussed so extensively in the works of Isaiah. The name is mentioned many times in Assyrian records, covering a number of individuals. It is spelled a number of ways:
  • Gíd-gi-da-nu (SAA 1: 152:6) 

  • Gíd-gi-da-a-n[i] (SAA 1: 152 r 9) 

  • [Gíd-g]i-da-a-[ni] (SAA 1: 152 r 6) 

  • [Gí]d-gi-da-a-[ni] (SAA 1: 39 :4) 

  • Gíd-gi-da-a-nu (SAA 6: 31 r 23) 

  • Gíd-gíd-da-nu (SAA 11: 123 ii 13) 

  • Gíd-gíd-da-[nu] (SAA 12: 51 r 12)
The variety of cuneiform spellings demonstrates the following points about the Assyrian name.
  1. The second d is doubled. (see Gíd-gíd-da-nu).

  2. The a is long. (see Gíd-gi-da-a-nu). This is important because Assyrian (Akkadian) long a goes to an o in Hebrew. Cuneiform does not have an o sound and uses a variety of strategies to reproduce it.

  3. The form of the name borrowed into Hebrew is the oblique case. Hebrew does not have case endings but does have names ending in -i.
The form of the name borrowed into Hebrew must have been taken from the oblique case, which may have been the form of the name they heard most often. Hebrew often changes foreign names when it adopts them (think Marduk-apil-iddina becoming Merodach-Baladan).

The following individuals bearing the name are known from Neo-Assyrian records:
  1. An individual working in Dur-Sharrukin during the reign of Sargon II.

  2. A man from Kalhu listed in as a member of the chariotry during the reign of Sargon II.

  3. A tailor to the governor of Kalhu during the reign of Sargon II.

  4. A temple carpenter from Assur during the reign of Esarhaddon.

  5. A man from Assur during the reign of Assurbanipal.

  6. A man mentioned during the reign of Assur-etel-ilani.
(The Prosopography of the Neo-Assyrian Empire [Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 1999], 1.2:422-23.)
The simplest explanation is that an Assyrian individual with the name Gidgiddanu was mentioned in the brass plates. This was then the source of the name for this particular military leader several centuries later.

Interestingly, the Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project was not able to determine an etymology or meaning for this name.

Thus the number of attested non-biblical names in the Book of Mormon has just increased by one.

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