Defining ‘Ahman’

5.11.12 | | 16 comments

One of the most unusual Mormon terms is Ahman, which appears twice in the Doctrine and Covenants (other than in the term Adam-ondi-ahman)—in 78:20 and 95:17. In both of these scriptures it is part of the term Son Ahman and equivalent to Christ. So, then what does Ahman mean?

Outside of Mormon sources, the only references I’ve found to this word are names—primarily Arabic, but also Swedish and perhaps Chinese. But it is also close to words in other languages. In Mormon Doctrine, McConkie connects this word with the name of the Egyptian God Amon and even with the interrogative, which by custom we use to close our prayers, Amen, which originates in the Hebrew verb aman, meaning to strengthen, confirm, which was used adverbally as an expression of affirmation or consent (according to the OED).

The clearest Mormon documentation for the meaning of Ahman is best known from a talk by Orson Pratt, given February 18, 1855 on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. He explained the term this way:

There is one revelation that this people are not generally acquainted with. I think it has never been published, but probably it will be in the Church History. It is given in questions and answers. The first question is, “What is the name of God in the pure language?” The answer says, “Ahman.” “What is the name of the Son of God?” Answer, “Son Ahman—the greatest of all the parts of God excepting Ahman.” “What is the name of men?” “Sons Ahman,” is the answer. “What is the name of angels in the pure language?” “Anglo-man.”
This revelation goes on to say that Sons Ahman are the greatest of all the parts of God excepting Son Ahman and Ahman, and that Anglo-man are the greatest of all the parts of God excepting Sons Ahman, Son Ahman, and Ahman, showing that the angels are a little lower than man. What is the conclusion to be drawn from this? It is, that these intelligent beings are all parts of God, and that those who have the most of the parts of God are the greatest, or next to God, and those who have the next greatest portions of the parts of God, are the next greatest, or nearest to the fulness of God; and so we might go on to trace the scale of intelligences from the highest to the lowest, tracing the parts and portions of God so far as we are made acquainted with them. Hence we see that wherever a great amount of this intelligent Spirit exists, there is a great amount or proportion of God, which may grow and increase until there is a fulness of this Spirit, and then there is a fulness of God.

The “revelation” Pratt refers to is a document titled “A Sample of Pure Language given by Joseph the Seer as copied by Br. Johnson” which was recently published in the 1st volume of revelations of the Joseph Smith Papers in 2009. Whether it is actually a revelation or not may depend on how you distinguish revelation from other documents—unlike other documents in this handwritten revelation book it isn’t labeled either a revelation or commandment. No doubt Pratt called it a revelation because he saw it in the book with the other revelations (most of which are now in the Doctrine and Covenants). The historical note that appears with this document on the Joseph Smith Papers website points out that Ahman was originally spelled Awmen and later changed to Awman. It also appears elsewhere as Aw-man and Ah man.

McConkie connects the “Pure Language” with the “language of Adam” spoken of in Moses 6:57 and concludes that Ahman means “Man of Holiness” and refers to Heavenly Father in the same way that Savior, meaning one who saves, refers to Christ. Regardless of whether that meaning existed in the minds of Joseph Smith, early Church leaders and Mormons up to Mormon Doctrine, it is likely that, to the extent that the meaning of Ahman is known at all, Mormons since that time have defined it as Man of Holiness.

Of course, I think more research is needed, since I haven’t looked at enough of the uses of the word to get a sense for how it has been used. I do know that it hasn’t been used frequently at all. The General Conference Corpus shows 10 uses in the 1855 Orson Pratt speech excerpted above and a total of six uses between 1942 and 1973 by 5 different speakers. Ahman has appeared more frequently outside of General Conference, both in books about doctrine and Mormonism, and even in fiction, where the 1855 Pratt speech has been quoted on occasion. But the use of the word remains rare. Still, I suspect this meaning is the most plausible, along with a general meaning as a name for God.

It is possible that the meaning of Ahman may change somewhat in the future because of non-LDS use. Recently, FLDS leader Warren Jeffs used the phrase Son Ahman in the documents he sent to media and libraries in the U.S., which may make this term more familiar. I have also seen it used by other groups, including one man who has adopted Ahman as part of his own name.

But perhaps the most intriguing issue remaining with the word Ahman is its grammar. The original “Sample of Pure Language” document says that the name of the Son of God isn’t Son of Ahman, but Son Ahman. Man isn’t Sons of Ahman, but Sons Ahman. And Angels are Ahman Angls-men. I still need to puzzle out exactly what is going on with these terms. Are they entirely new terms? Or some specialized gramatical form that is used with Ahman?

As always, I welcome your thoughts. An intriguing word, isn’t it?

16 comments: “Defining ‘Ahman’

  1. Steve

    This is the term that Warren Jeffs uses in his prophecies that he has been mailing out to public officials.

  2. Kent Larsen Post author

    Yes, Steve, it is. As I suggested in the OP above, I think that his use may even lead to changes in the meaning or connotations of the word, especially if he uses it and we don’t.

  3. J. Stapley

    I think the grammer isn’t exactly like you outline in your penultimate paragraph. From sample of pure language:

    estion What is the name of God in pure Language
    Answer Awmen.
    Q The meaning of the pure word A[w]men
    A It is the being which made all things in all its parts.
    Q What is the name of the Son of God.
    A The Son Awmen.

    Note that where “Ahman” pops up in the revelations in the D&C, it is not original. Typically it was added by WW Phelps E.g., 78:20 originally read “Jesus Christ.”

  4. Kent Larsen Post author

    Hmmm, J. Stapley (3), did you mean grammar? or spelling?

    I mentioned the spelling differences you talk about at the end of the paragraph just after the quote.

    The grammar issue isn’t the spelling differences. It is that when you are talking about God/Man of Holiness its Ahman (or Awmen), but when you are talking about the Son of God, it is now Son Ahman (or Awmen).

    Why isn’t it Son of Ahman?

    Is it that Ahman, unlike other nouns, doesn’t require a pronoun in the possessive case?

    Or is Son Ahman a compound noun?

  5. J. Stapley

    Sorry about that. I meant that according to the sample, it is “The Son Ahman.” The article makes the difference, I think.

  6. larryco_

    When I first studied Zoroastrianism I found it curious that the destrictive spirit (i.e. Satan equivalent) was named Ahriman. I only bring this up because I also find it curious that Elder McConkie would connect the Egyptian sun god Amon Re with Ahman. I think both are just coincidental spelling similarities,

  7. Kent Larsen Post author

    I suspect you are right, larryco, especially given that all these words purport to be transliterations from other languages. Neither Persian, nor ancient Egyptian nor what was called the “Pure Language” used the Latin alphabet as far as we can tell.

  8. Alan Horne

    I think the grammar used reveals a truth. If we render Ahman as the name of an individual, then only Son of Ahman, or Sons of Ahman make sense. But say that Ahman is not the name of an individual. Suppose it is something like a surname, or even a species name. Then the words “Son” and “Sons” become adjectives rather than nouns.

    To use a rather cute analogy, my niece likes birds. But when she sees multiple birds of the same species together, she classifies them as “Daddy Bird”, “Mommy Bird”, “Baby Bird”, and “Big-Girl Bird”. The words “Daddy”, “Mommy”, “Baby” and “Big-Girl” are not nouns, but descriptors for the word “Bird”

    Suppose it is the same with the word Ahman. The term “Son Ahman” would show that Jesus is an Ahman, but also suggests what kind of Ahman he is. The term “Sons Ahman” implies that man is literally the same species as God, but qualifies it with the idea that we are only juveniles of the species, or, as it has been phrased elsewhere, Gods in embryo.

    But as I said above, this only works if Ahman is not an individual name, which I cannot prove.

  9. Kent Larsen Post author

    Alan (8), that’s a very creative explanation. I’m not sure whether or not the very limited usage of these terms will bear that out or not, but I must admit that it does explain the grammar.

    Of course, it could be that this speculation becomes widely enough accepted that it becomes the definition! Stranger things have happened.

    On the other hand, this is one of those cases where the meaning is so closely tied to doctrine that any attempt to proscribe the definition may be seen to be slightly presumptuous.

  10. Mark Penny

    The intervening preposition (not pronoun) you wonder about is an element of English grammar (not grammer). Other languages would connect the words differently. Hebrew has the structure ben NAME for “son of NAME”.

    I once took umbrage at a BYU archaeology professor’s assertion that the Church was full of folklore. Nowadays I suspect that, not having television or the Internet, some of the busier minds wiled away the hours filling in gaps in the origin tales. This was a time when it was cool to be learned–or act like you were. Add that to the need of the religiously oriented for certainty and you get a lot of half-baked pseudo-scholarship and quasi-revelation forming a thick layer of para-canonical mould on the literature.

  11. Kent Larsen Post author

    Mark (11), I would appreciate it if you would be a bit more kind in how you make your criticisms. Things like obvious misspellings can almost always be ignored without prejudice to anyone.

    As for “pseudo-scholarship,” I suspect you are right that it has added a lot of ideas that have no support. But speculation has a long tradition in Mormonism, from the days of Joseph Smith to today’s Elders and High Priest Quorums (and probably in Relief Society too, but I don’t have much experience with that). Fortunately, A Motley Vision isn’t likely to be taken by anyone as a source of official doctrine.

  12. Spence

    This has long puzzled me. I have recently heard some words that sound similar that stem from Eastern origin. For example Brahman and similar words with the ahman in them. They seem to cannot a oneness which strikes me because of Christs prays that we may be come one with him even as he is one with the father. In eastern religion this oneness is the greatest “glory” that one can achieve. Perhaps there is some residual truth in this but not in the insubstantial sense that they believe. Just as the name of God the father is plural perhaps ahman is referring to the oneness that is god.

  13. Ryan

    Interesting. I’ve been reading Nibley’s Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri (2ed – CWHN Vol. 16). On p. 121-22, Nibley references the phrase “the God’s Father and Prophet of Amon-Re” from the Joseph Smith papyri.

    With the Father as Ahman and Christ as Son Ahman, it is interesting to compare these to the Egyptian Amon and Amon-Re. (I made this connection yesterday, having forgotten that McConkie mentioned it in MD.) If Ahman and Amon are the same and the name of God, then Re could mean Son. At least Re is the Sun God in Egypt and as such would give light to the world. There’s so much symbolism to be found in the Egyptian history. They chose tons of things to represent others.

    So, while Ahman and Amon (with Son Ahman and Amon-Re) may coincidentially look and sound the same without any hard evidence, it doesn’t bother me too much. It’s an interesting idea and connection to be made and nothing more. Is it possible that Joseph Smith, or the Egyptians for that matter, heard the word from someone else and spelled it the best they could? Yes. While traces of words can be traced back through history to find origins, it always seems to come down to who is doing the analyzing when determing what qualifies or doesn’t in order to make their point. Again, while some words and meanings can clearly be traced, other cannot be. If anything, we are more strict in our interpretation of spellings and tracing word origins today that ever before. Surely the people who spoke these words did not care so much about how things were spelled all the time. That depended on their education combined with, where the language was in its development at that given time. Slang terms and even people pronouncing things differently comes into play. So how silly it is for us to definitively prove or disprove word associations based on slight variances in spellings. Awman and Ahman are a perfect example by the way. Who decided to change the spelling to Ahman? Was that a good of bad decision. Surely these same spelling alterations were made in the past several times over, so that is why I get frustrated when a linguist appears on the scene, pretending to know something that cannot be known.

    Ok, I digressed a little. Thank you for this article. Ever since this connection hit me (Ahman=Amon and Son Ahman=Ahman Re) I’ve been digging for more info, aware all of the time that there may be support for this idea or the opposite.

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