Nephite names find a 'home' in Middle East

Nephi begins his story by telling us that in about 600 B.C. his father Lehi received a divine command to take his family and flee Jerusalem. This initial group consisted of Lehi, his wife Sariah, and their four sons, Laman, Lemuel, Sam and Nephi. Daughters are not mentioned probably because ancient patriarchal societies didn't mention females as frequently as males. Elder Erastus Snow, however (who knew Joseph Smith), claimed that the lost 116 pages mention Ishmael's sons marrying Lehi's daughters.

I'd like to pause the story here to talk a bit about the names we have from 1 Nephi. First we have "Lehi." The word appears in the Bible as a place name, but not as a proper name. And while the name seems to be mostly unknown in the ancient Near East, there are tentative connections to an ancient Arabic and Neo-Babylonian versions of a similar name.

Lehi's wife, Sariah, however, has a much more fascinating Old World parallel. According to Dr. Jeffrey Chadwick — who holds a Ph.D in archaeology and Semitic languages — the likely Hebrew spelling of Sariah would be s'ryh. While "Sariah" is not found in the King James Bible, s'ryh is a well documented male name in ancient Israel and appears 19 times in the Hebrew Old Testament, representing eleven different men. Until recently, however, it was not known to represent a female name. So even if Joseph was able to read Hebrew in 1829 (which he could not), why would he use a common Israelite male name for Lehi's wife?

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