300 and BoM Lachoneus

This afternoon I went to see 300. I liked it quite a bit. I liked Sin City, and this too is an adaptation of a Frank Miller graphic novel. Although the warrior cult stuff was over the top and cartoonish, it was visually interesting, and considering its proximate source it held pretty closely to the actual story of King Leonidas and his Spartan 300 at Thermopylae against the Persian hosts of King Xerxes, as recounted by Herodotus. The brutal martial training of the boys, the military effectiveness of the phalanx, the strength of Spartan women, etc., all were touched on in this sumptuous tale. And I understand that gay men are flocking to it, too, and well they should–there are abs everywhere!

Being the Mormon geek that I am, seeing the movie made me think of Book of Mormon Lachoneus, chief judge of the Nephites at the time of the sign of Christ’s birth (3 Nephi 1), and his namesake son. Why would the movie 300 make me think of that? Well, the name Lachoneus appears to be a romanized transliteration of the Greek gentilic lakon, “Laconian,” the region of southern Greece dominated by Sparta, and is effectively a synonym for “Spartan.” (The form for a woman is lakaina.)

This has actually been a fairly common criticism of the BoM: why does it contain Greek names, such as Timothy and, yes, Lachoneus? Beats the hell out of me. But seeing the movie made me think about this, and I thought I would try to list some possibilities. I’ll list as many as I can think of, and you see if you can add to the list.

1. The name may indeed simply mean Laconian. This is problematic from a couple of perspectives. First: was there sufficient contact between the Aegean world and Judea by 600 B.C. for such a name to have penetrated Lehite culture sufficiently to show up six centuries later? Palestine was on the trade route between the Aegean and Egypt, and there certainly was substantial contact prior to Alexander. How early and how substantial that contact goes is very much an open question. Second: why name someone six centuries into the New World experience with a gentilic for a long-forgotten Greek state? On the surface, this does seem like an odd name to show up in the New World six centuries after Lehi. But then again, maybe not. My nieces play sports for the Sycamore (IL) Spartans, far removed in time and space from the Laconia of old. (Of course, we have Herodotus, and the Lehites presumably did not.)

2. Perhaps the name no longer had true gentilic force, but had picked up some other meaning. This has happened in English itself. Example A: English laconic, which means spare of speech, and derives from the Athenian opinion that the Spartans were men of few words. The classic example is when Philip of Macedon boasted, “If I enter Laconia, I will raze it to the ground,” to which the Spartans replied simply, “If.” Example B: English spartan, which has come to mean spare circumstances in general (as in a spartan apartment). The Greeks had a verb, lakonizo, “to imitate the Laconians,” and as a substantive, the adjective lakOnikos could refer to (Laconian) shoes worn by men. Of course, the trajectory of any such developed or transferred meaning in the Nephite setting is completely conjectural.

3. The name may be used for its underlying etymology rather than as a gentilic. An analogy would be the Hebrew kn’ny, which could be taken as a gentilic meaning “Canaanite,” but also could be taken more generally as “westerner,” based on the underlying etymology of kena’an as meaning something like “westland” (Canaan being to the west of the great civilizations of the East). Looking quickly on the web, I couldn’t figure out what the etymology of Laconia is; does anyone happen to know?

4. Joseph could have just made it up. This one strikes me as doubtful; the form is just too perfect.

5. Joseph could have derived the word from some modern source. Perhaps there was an American place name he could have used. I have not looked into this at all.

Any other ideas?

BTW, the name Lachoneus shows up as a personal name deriving from the BoM usage, such as Lachoneus Moroni Colvin (1846-1943) or the actor Lachoneus Hale.

Comments

  1. I don’t have the answer to your question, Kevin, but according to this artist’s rendering, Lachoneus does bear more than a passing resemblance to Frank Miller’s (and the movie’s) Leonidas.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    For a review of the movie, see Kulturblog here.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Wow, DKL, you’re right!

  4. Victor Davis Hanson, the classics professor and not someone who normally does movie reviews, did a prerelease review a few months ago.

  5. Off topic alert! (Sorry, I have no idea what to say. Maybe it’s Sumerian? Actually, probably not…)

    So, anyway, Kevin, you were in a dream of mine last night. You were showing me something in Hebrew only I couldn’t read it, couldn’t even read the letters. I felt like such a plonker.

    Yeah, Ronan dreams of Kevin.

  6. Not to get all FARMS-y here, but maybe it’s not Greek at all. Maybe it’s — well, Mulekitish, or some other derivation, possibly from a local language.

    After all, languages sometimes end up with words that sound pretty similar. Remember the whole kerfuffle a few years back about the one pundit who used the word niggardly? It’s a legitimate word of Scanadinavian derivation and not at all related to the Latin-derived terms presently used to disparage blacks. But it sounds awfully similar (and as I recall, the fellow lost his job over it).

  7. Well, Kaimi, that may explains why the names sound the same, but it doesn’t explain why the Lachoneus and Leonidas look so similar (as I point out in my comment #1).

    Orson Scott Card has suggested that perhaps the Mulekites weren’t descended from Zedechiah at all. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: The Mulekites were descended from Anaxandridas II. And what makes Anaxandridas II any less likely to have an unheard-of son named Mulek than Zedechiah would be?

  8. Christopher Smith says:

    The name mlk does mean “king” in Hebrew. And if I recall correctly, somebody at FARMS has also suggested that a certain seal with the name on it might actually refer to the BoM’s Mulek. Is the name attested in Greek?

  9. I’m with Kaimi on the word association.

    But on the topic of Lachoneus, I wonder why Leonidas would remind you of him? Maybe it is that both names start with L’s. Lachoneus wasn’t a military leader. The military leader at that time was Gidgiddoni.

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    #4, great review, thanks for linking to it.

    #5, let me know what your therapist makes of the dream. Was there any eroticism in it? Did I have abs? I do have abs, but you can only make out two, or maybe four if you squint real hard. It seemed like these guys all had eight-packs.

    #6, yes, excellent. For this exercise I just want to assemble all of the logical possibilities, and that the name derives from a different language altogether but simply by coincidence appears to match the Greek word should certainly be on the list of possibilities. Good addition.

    #8, you are thinking of Jeffrey Chadwick’s “Has the Seal of Mulek Been Found?” from JBMS. It’s a great article, and I agree with him.

    #9, if the word Lachoneus is Greek, it essentially means “Spartan,” and Leonidas was the most famous king of the Spartans. I am not suggesting that there is any relationship between Lachoneus and Leonidas; DKL just found an artist’s rendering of Lachoneus that looks remarkably like Leonidas from the movie 300. I hope that clears that up a little bit.

  11. Kevin,

    Hmmm, the image DKL provided of a possible rendering of Lachoneus reminds me of Shapur II.

    I know we seek to link to the great and glorious, but at least for me (and some reviewers of 300) I find it very troubling that the Spartans were all white with great teeth while all the Persians were of dark skin, weak, or monstrous looking, etc.

    In the Book of Mormon, people didn’t name their children after great military leaders, but after great men of God.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    Following up on Kaimi’s idea, I looked to see whether there was an obvious Semitic root for something like *LKN (or *LQN or *LCHN). The only one I could see quickly was an Aramaic root, *LCHN (or vocalized as lechan), which carries the basic connotation “to be lustful,” and hence “to be greedy.” Thus the Aramaic word lechenah “a concubine,” which appears three times in Daniel 5. There is a Greek cognate, lagnos, “to be greedy.” Not a very promising avenue for investigation, I’m afraid.

  13. Dan: the image DKL provided of a possible rendering of Lachoneus reminds me of Shapur II

    Now that’s just silly. There’s no reason at all to link Lachoneus to Shapur II.

  14. Bookslinger says:

    Kaimi (#6), That story is from 1999

    Headline: Williams Aide Resigns in Language Dispute

    Byline: By Yolanda Woodlee
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, January 27, 1999; Page B1

    Excerpt: The director of D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams’s constituent services office resigned after being accused of using a racial slur, the mayor’s office said yesterday.

    David Howard, head of the Office of Public Advocate, said he used the word “niggardly” in a Jan. 15 conversation about funding with two employees.

    [end excerpt]

    Lesson: be careful of using high-falutin’ words. Ref 1, 2, 3, 4.

    Or perhaps, the two employees knew exactly what it meant and used the occasion to torpedo their boss. Though I suspect the employees were unaware of the actual word he used, and heard the closest sounding word they were familiar with by filtering out the “d.”

    Howard must have failed to repeat the prayer made famous by The Animals.

  15. One more idea:
    Although I don’t know of a single historian who takes it seriously, Second-Temple Jews considered themselves as related to the Spartans, tracing it back to a common ancestor. In 2 Macc (maybe 1 Macc, I can’t remember), the new Maccabean king writes a letter to the Spartans claiming that they are kin. Maybe we should take this more seriously as Mormons?

    Like I said, I think that this is highly unlikely historically, and the that claim to kinship was more political than real, but it is an interesting connection.

  16. Kevin — showing first my ignorance and then something I’m more certain of:

    1. This wasn’t the group that fought for Xerxes with Xenophon?

    2. As to your question in point one, there was extensive trade contact between the Aegean, Palestine and Egypt going back to the early New Kingdom. The Phillistines were a portion of the group known by the Egyptians as “Sea People” who seem to have come from the direction of the Aegean around the time of the collapse of the Minoan and Mycenean civilizations, and that’s all well before 1kBCE iirc. Not sure if that much contact at that point would be useful in bringing this name over at the necessary time, but I do think it points to a very lengthy period in which “our sea” was a channel for contact between cultures that would require some evidence for showing a break-down in that communication enough to make the trading of this name impossible.

  17. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    Perhaps Lachoneus and Leonidas simply sound similar because of linguistic coincidence (“Bimbo” in English means vapid female and “bimbo” in Japanese means “broke, no money.”) and look similar because they’re both written out in the same alphabet, which would tend to make things that sound the same look the same as well.

  18. lxxluthor says:

    Not an expert on any of this by any means but I have this one observation to offer: All of those Egyptian names started popping up in the same general time in the BoM (Pahoran, Paanchi, Pacumeni, other P names, etc) which don’t have any recorded popularity before or after. Is it possible that the records the Nephites (brass plates I guess) had more history on them than we realize and that it was in vogue at the time to name your kids funny names from the scriptures? Heaven knows this has certainly happened in the Church.

  19. Kevin Barney says:

    Blain, the expedition of the 10,000 Greeks chronicled in Xenophon’s Anabasis was on behalf of Cyrus, not Xerxes, and took place a generation or two later than the events recounted in 300.

  20. Blain, Xenophon was fighting after the Peloponnesian (about 430 to 400 BC) war as a mercenary for Cyrus the Younger. Leonides was fighting in the Persian War, roughly 50 years earlier. Herodotus wrote the history of the Persian War for fame and fortune, and Thucydides wrote The History of the Peloponnesian War in order to preserve what happened as an illustration for later generations.

    The Persian war was a war between the Greeks and the Persians that led them to unite against a foreign foe. The Peloponnesian war was a war with the Greek peoples between the Athenians and the Spartans (well, actually, between the Athenian Empire and the Peloponnesian League, but you get the idea).

    Right after the Athenians lost to the Spartans in the Peloponnesian war (with help from the Persians), Xenophon signed up to fight with a group of 10,000 Greek mercenaries for Cyrus the Younger to take control of Persia from his brother. They won a battle deep in the heart of Persian territory, but Cyrus died. Xenophon is famous for assuming control of the 10,000 Greeks and successfully fighting his way out of Persia back to Greece. (And he’s famous for recording some simplistic biographical information about Socrates, of whom he was a follower, but that’s a different story.)

  21. It’s worth noting that according to these busts, Thucydides and Xenophon could practically be twins. What a coincidence — it’s almost scary.

    Everybody already knew about how Lachoneus has a strangely greek name, but now we also know that he was a dead ringer for Leonidas. Plus, we find out that Thucydides and Xenophon are practically friggin’ brothers. It boggles the mind!

    If we connect the dots, the conclusion is inescapable: Perhaps the Mulekites were descended from Olorus instead of Anaxandridas II, so that it would be Olorus who had an unheard-of son named Mulek — and not Anaxandridas II or Zedechiah. Thus: The Mulekites were Thracian!

    It makes one wonder where the Hill Cumorah really is.

  22. Okay, that’s right. I’ve been just out of my Greek stuff long enough that I got the two confused.

    Not feeling any buzz to watch the movie prior to it’s dvd release, but it’s good to rember what it’s talking about.

  23. This is starting to remind me of History of the World, Part I where Mel Brooks, wearing some kind of Greek soldier get-up, runs in and breathlessly informs the governor that the army “has defeated the cretins at Sparta – or was that the Spartans at Crete?”

  24. Mephibosheth says:

    Not that I know what I’m talking about or anything, but I once heard someone speak at length about Book of Mormon names. They surmised that Lehi may have been a merchant of some kind (due to his riches, ability to just drop everything and live in a tent, etc.) and may have picked up some Greek names which he then took to America. (Lachoneous is not the only one, there is a Timothy mentioned in 3rd Nephi).

    Also, they said something about having the phone book from 600 B.C. or something because they took down the names of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity (or something), and that the percentage of Greek names found in that record matches the percentage of Greek names in the Book of Mormon. And, the most popular Greek name from that Babylonian phone book happened to be Timothy.

    But this could be lies, all lies.

  25. Kevin Barney says:

    I’m pretty sure there were no Jews named “Timothy” in the Babylonian captivity. I have no idea what this “phone book” is supposed to be; I am unaware of any contemporary census by name of the captives.

  26. Mark Pickering says:

    There were Greek mercenaries in Judah and in the wider region for a century or two before Lehi left.

  27. Mark Pickering says:

    See also Hugh Nibely, An Approach to the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1978), 234:

    “Recently there have been discovered lists of the names of prisoners that Nebuchadnezzar brought back to Babylon with him from his great expedition into Syria and Palestine. These represent a good cross section of proper names prevailing in those lands in the days of Lehi, and among them is a respectable proportion of Egyptian names, which is what the Book of Mormon would lead us to expect. Also in the list are Philistine (cf. Book of Mormon Minon and Pathros!) Phoenician, Elamite, Median, Persian, GREEK and Lydian names–all the sweepings of a campaign into Lehi’s country.”

    Citations and emphasis omitted, with the exception of “GREEK,” which is my emphasis.

    Nibely cites D. W. Thomas, Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 1950, pp. 5ff.

  28. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks, Mark, I was totally unfamiliar with this.

    Has anyone looked at Nibley’s source to see whether it holds up, and what kinds of Greek names were attested among the populace at that time?

  29. David Brosnahan says:

    I think there is a striking similarity with idea of the Greek phalanx and the coming together of the Nephite people into one body against the Gadianton Robbers. Could it be called the Nephite Phalanx?

  30. I’m guessing that Nibley made it up.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,658 other followers