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The Scalp of Your Head: Polysemy in Alma 44:14–18
|Title||The Scalp of Your Head: Polysemy in Alma 44:14–18|
|Publication Type||Journal Article|
|Year of Publication||2016|
|Authors||Bowen, Matthew L.|
|Journal||Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture|
|Keywords||Apostasy; Captain Moroni; Language - Hebrew; Leadership; Nephite; Polysemy; Scalp; Wordplay; Zerahemnah; Zoramite|
The fear that Moroni’s soldier’s speech (Alma 44:14) aroused in the Lamanite soldiers and the intensity of Zerahemnah’s subsequently redoubled anger are best explained by the polysemy (i.e., multiple meanings within a lexeme’s range of meaning) of a single word translated “chief” in Alma 44:14 and “heads” in Alma 44:18. As editor of a sacred history, Mormon was interested in showing the fulfilment of prophecy when such fulfilment occurred. Mormon’s description of the Lamanites “fall[ing] exceedingly fast” because of the exposure of the Lamanites’ “bare heads” to the Nephites’ swords and their being “smitten” in Alma 44:18 — just as “the scalp of their chief” was smitten and thus fell (Alma 44:12–14) — pointedly demonstrates the fulfilment of the soldier’s prophecy. In particular, the phrase “bare heads” constitutes a polysemic wordplay on “chief,” since words translated “head” can alternatively be translated “chief,” as in Alma 44:14. A similar wordplay on “top” and “leader” in 3 Nephi 4:28–29, probably again represented by a single word, also partly explains the force of the simile curse described there.
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