Mosiah 26:18-24 — LeGrand Baker — importance of sacral names

Mosiah 26:18-24 — LeGrand Baker — importance of sacral names

Mosiah 26:18-24
18 Yea, blessed is this people who are willing to bear my name; for in my name shall they be called; and they are mine.
19 And because thou hast inquired of me concerning the transgressor, thou art blessed.
20 Thou art my servant; and I covenant with thee that thou shalt have eternal life; and thou shalt serve me and go forth in my name, and shalt gather together my sheep.
21 And he that will hear my voice shall be my sheep; and him shall ye receive into the church, and him will I also receive.
22 For behold, this is my church; whosoever is baptized shall be baptized unto repentance. And whomsoever ye receive shall believe in my name; and him will I freely forgive.
23 For it is I that taketh upon me the sins of the world; for it is I that hath created them; and it is I that granteth unto him that believeth unto the end a place at my right hand.
24 For behold, in my name are they called; and if they know me they shall come forth, and shall have a place eternally at my right hand.

The distinguished biblical scholar Sigmund Mowinckel (a man for whom I have enormous admiration) pointed out that the king’s new king-name was a necessarily element in what called “an endowment with the Spirit.” His use of the word “endowment” was appropriate. An endowment is a gift that grows in value with time. For example, when BYU receives an endowment of money, it invests the principle and spends only the accrued interest. Thus the original gift remains permanently intact, providing a perpetual source of income to support university programs or scholarships. Mowinckel wrote,

       [The king’s] anointing was related to his endowment with the spirit. The later tradition says explicitly that when David was anointed, ‘the spirit of Yahweh leaped upon him’.
In virtue of his endowment with the divine spirit, the king is filled with superhuman power. He receives ‘a new heart’; he is changed into a new man (1 Sam. x, 6, 9)….He receives a new disposition expressed, according to oriental custom, in giving to him a new name which indicates his new, intimate relationship with the god who has chosen him, and whom he represents.
Through his anointing and endowment with the divine spirit, the king also receives superhuman wisdom. {1}

To illustrate how strongly those ordinances persist: Just over 50 years ago, when the present queen Elizabeth II of England was coronated, her government used the same formula that had been used in ancient Israel 3,000 years ago, as is described in Isaiah 61 – Elizabeth II was ceremonially washed, anointed, clothed in royal robes, given a royal name, and crowned.. The new name she chose was her given name, Elizabeth, but now it was no longer just her given name, it was also her royal new name.

The most important statement in the psalm is the affirmation by the king that God said, “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.” Here “son,” “my son,” and in other places “son of God” and “Son of God” (There is a tremendous difference between “son of God” and Son of God”!) are not just a statement of adoption or of genealogy, but are royal name-titles which signify “heir” or “king.” {2} Whenever the Father introduces the Saviour, he uses that name-title which define both his literal relationship and his status as heir to whom all must do obeisance. Examples are Christ’s baptism, his appearance to the Nephites, and Joseph Smith’s first vision.

Several scholars have discussed the evidence for the ancient Israelite use of sacred king-names.

The religious practice of giving and receiving a new name, “is based upon the belief that the name is or symbolizes the self or soul, and that an alteration of the name will effect or symbolize and perpetuate an alteration of the self; on this supposition a man whose name has been changed is no longer quite the same man, for he has been cut off from his own past, or from certain aspects of it, and the future belongs to a different being.” {3}

Mowinckel wrote,

The mention of the king’s ‘name’ [in Psalms 7:18] contains an allusion to the fact that the oracles and ‘decree’ really contained those names of honour which the deity gave to the king on the day of his anointing, his ‘regnal-name’ which expressed both his close relation to Yahweh and the promise of the happiness and honour he was to gain for himself and for his people. We know this to be the case in Egypt, and both in the East generally and in Israel the custom prevailed that the king should take a new name at his accession. {4} Probably also has to be interpreted to the effect that David’s son Jedidiah as king took the name Solomon. {5}


The account in II Sam 12:24-25 of the birth of Jedidiah-Solomon imputes the former name to the prophet Nathan under divine inspiration and the latter to Bathsheba or David. … Solomon is the throne name and Jedidiah the private name…. The slayer of Goliath was Elhanan the son of Jesse of Bethlehem, (II Sam. 21:19) Elhanan can be none other than he who reigned as David.”{6}

A new name is a kind of statement of fact – it is a pistis – a formal token of the covenant it represents. It can be a name that evokes memories of covenants made in the past, or it may be ongoing and current in the present, or it may project one’s covenants into the future.

In a very broad sense, a new name, like “son,” is an earnest because it is not only an acclamation of who one is, but is also an avowal of who one is becoming. In the course of one’s life here – and most probably in the course of one’s full existence – one accumulates a large number of covenant names. For example, in the king’s name-titles, one might find the whole history of the king’s final ascension to the throne.

The enthronement psalms must be understood against the background of this festival, with all the rich experiences contained in it, experiences including past and future in a re-creating present….{7}

Nibley explained that the ancient Egyptians had the same concept. In ancient Egypt one received a number of names, some of which were symbolic of where and what one is doing just now, others with one’s role in the Council and creation, still others with promises for the future. The name with which one evoked God for blessing or information was determined by the sort of information or assistance one wished.

When Re says to the gods, “ I have many names and many forms; in me Atun and the youthful Horus are addressed,” he signifies that he may be conjured either as the Ancient of Days or the Newly-born, depending on the name employed and the situation in which his presence is desired…. {8}

Nibley expands on that idea by explaining that the name of Atum (the Egyptian Adam) was changed when he left the realm of the gods and came to the garden.

Atum and Re stick close together in creation contexts. Re “comes down” to be with Atum, or, as in the passage just cited, when he comes down he is Atum. “Re comes down to me in his evening,” says a Coffin Text that forcibly calls to mind God’s walking with Adam in the evening, especially when we read what follows, “and we walk about (dhn.n) and stroll around (orbit, phr.n) the heaven” (C.T. 160, 11, 385). The setting fits, too, in the next Spell, when “Re takes the arm of NN” (the candidate) and places him in his Garden of Reeds, and puts him “in charge of the plants, of which he freely eats” (C.T. 162,11, 393-94). It is Re who is concerned with what goes on in the garden: “The Great God, who breathed (into the) creatures (irw, shapes, forms) within his verdant gardens, who explains (wd’ mdw) the secret matters of the vestry (of Re)” (C.T. 75, I, 359f). But the one he deals with is Atutn, he who comes down to earth and changes his name in doing so. The classic instance of this is Re himself, who is known by the name of Atum when he descends to earth, as attested by our Books of Breathing. This name changing is clearly indicated in C.T. 80, II, 40: “I am the living one … whom Atum made as (to be) Neper (the corn-raiser) when he sent me down to this earth . . . when my name became Neper (or Osiris) the son of Geb (Earth).” When he moves from a heavenly to an earthly role his name is changed accordingly. {9}

The reason it was important to have many names was because one’s existence covered an enormous span of time, and during that time one played many roles with covenantal responsibilities.

 Every name is an epithet designating some peculiar attribute or function of an individual. That is why it is possible for persons even in our society to have more than one name, each name calling attention to a different aspect of the individual: for to have many forms and functions is to have many names…. {10}

Examples he might have given of our current use of multiple name-titles are bishop, scoutmaster, mother, teacher. These are all name-titles, some, like mother and father, are a kind of statement of rank assigned by one’s culture. Others, like Relief Society President and High Counselor are names which denote called responsibilities, and the name-title will is no longer effectual after one is released. In ancient Israel there were some names that were much more significant than others, especially those given by formal ordinance and covenant. The most important example was the formal bestowal of the king’s names in connection with his coronation. Such names were of the utmost importance to the Egyptians because “the name is a person’s essence. If his name perishes, he himself does not exist any more.” {11} Some names are secret, known only to the king on whom they were bestowed, because the name represented his past or future eternal Self.

The importance of these names, even the secret one, is expressed by the fact that “To possess knowledge of another’s name is to hold some power over him, even if it be the high god himself.” {12} A modern legal example is that if two people agree to something their agreement is not legally binding until the agreement is written and their signatures attest its validity. The agreement is nothing without the names.

In ancient ceremonial covenants, there need have been no written contract, only the spoken covenant and a verbal exchange of names which related exclusively to that covenant. Let me give you a very simplistic example. Two persons make a covenant. Sam covenants that he will remember his friend Tom, and Tom covenants that if Sam still remembers five years from now he will give him $100. They exchange covenant names. Sam has the covenant name of Green, and Tom has the new name of Blue. Both are now larger and more complex individuals than they were before. Tom has two concurrent identities: “Tom” and “Blue.” Blue must keep $100 in reserve, because if he fails to pay, Blue will cease to exist, and that part of Tom will be lost forever. Similarly, the extension of Sam who is Green must remember his friend. If he does not remember, then Green will cease to exist, and that part of Sam will be lost forever. Five years pass. A young boy knocks on Tom’s door. He says, “I represent Green. Your name is Blue.” Because the boy knows the names, he has power over Blue. Blue must surrender the $100 to the boy or Blue will cease to be. However if Blue does pay, his covenant is fulfilled, the friendship is renewed, and both Blue and Green live forever. By keeping the covenant the friends have created a new entity whose name is Sam/Green/Tom/Blue. The new “person” may not be perceivable by others in space, but it exists in the dimension of time. All you have to do is recall when you met a friend whom you had not seen for years, and recall how the distances of time and space melted away in the instant of the renewed friendship, and you will understand what I mean. Now Sam/Green and Tom/Blue are fuller, more complex, and more complete persons than they could have ever been without the covenant and the names associated with it. That example is extremely simplistic, but the idea is very complex. If the covenants and names identify one in terms of assignments and friendships sealed in the Council in Heaven, then they have eternal consequences, and the idea of one’s existence being expanded as one takes on more covenant names becomes a very complex idea indeed.

The Israelite kings may have been given several covenant names during the course of the New Year festival. (One representing the time he was at the Council, one for when he came to this earth, one representing his kingship, one representing the promises of eternal life – that sort of thing.) We know of two: One was “son of God” (or simply “son” as given in Psalm 2), and the other was the royal name by which he would be known during his administration. For example, when Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem the first time, he took the Jewish king to Babylon and left his uncle to rule in his place. The account reads, “And the king of Babylon made Mattaniah his father’s brother king in his stead, and changed his name to Zedekiah.”(2 Kings 21:17) So now Mattaniah has at least two names: his given name, and the name which denotes his royal administration and represents his covenant to be a subservient king to Nebuchadnezzar. If Zedekiah breaks his covenant with Nebuchadnezzar, king Zedekiah will cease to exist. That, by the way is exactly what happened. Zedekiah rebelled, and Nebuchadnezzar came a second time to conquer Jerusalem. He captured Zedekiah and his sons; dethroned the rebel king, killed the sons, and blinded the father. As a footnote to that story, Whiston wrote,

 Burder remarks, this was done with the intention of rendering the king incapable of ever re-ascending the throne. Thus it was a law in Persia, down to the latest time, that no blind person could mount the throne. Hence the barbarous custom of depriving the sons and the male relatives of a Persian king, who are not to be allowed to attain the government, of their sight. Down to the time of Abbas, in 1642, this was done by only passing a red-hot copper plate before the eyes, by which the power of vision was not entirely destroyed, and person blinded still retained a glimmer of sight. {13}

Josephus records that the blind man spent the rest of his life in a Babylonian prison. Mattaniah was no longer king, and could never again be king. It was the blind man named Mattaniah who was the prisoner, not the king Zedekiah, because the king who had once had the covenant name of Zedekiah did not exist any more.

Perhaps the best working example of the significance of sacred covenant names is found in the 1 Nephi 20 version of Isaiah 48. The unique thing about that passage is that while we are not told what the covenant was, but we are told the names, and the names are sufficiently explicit that one can guess the broad outline of the covenant. (In the Bible, Isaiah 48 contains more phrases that refer to our pre-mortal existence, such as “in the beginning” and “before you were born,” than any other chapter in the Old Testament except the creation story. The Book of Mormon in 1 Nephi 20 is much more complete and accurate. In the story, as Isaiah tells it, we are not told what the initial covenant was, but we are told the two covenant names associated with it.

1 Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel [Israel is the covenant name], and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism, who swear [covenant] by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, yet they swear not in truth nor in righteousness. [they are making covenants, but not in zedek]
2 Nevertheless, they call themselves of the holy city [they claim to be Zion], but they do not stay themselves upon the God of Israel, who is the Lord of Hosts; yea, the Lord of Hosts is his name.

“Israel” means “let God prevail” or “one who speaks or acts in God’s behalf” –depending on the dictionary one uses. In either case it means one who works for God and the success of his objectives. “Lord of Hosts” means “Commander of the Armies.” So there we have the covenant: God is the commander and we will obey his commands and work toward his success.

The point is: new names represented covenants and were evidence of their validity (that is, a new name is a pistis). When a person receives a new name, both the name and the covenant become a part of the individual. If one breaks the covenant and loses the name, he has violated that part of the law of his own being, and becomes less than he would be otherwise. God cannot break his covenants, so that leaves us entirely free to define our own destiny. Only we can shrink or expand our Selves by breaking or keeping the covenants we have made with him.

That concept probably accounts for much of the ancient Egyptians’ belief about their judgement after death. As the spirit of the dead person approached the gods who guarded the way, the Egyptian was stopped by a gatekeeper god who demanded a sign before he would give permission for the person to pass. The individual would then give the correct name and assert that he had not broken the covenants. Those names and the covenants could only be known if the individual had performed certain rites on earth. So salvation required three steps: 1) making the covenants, 2) keeping the covenants, 3) being judged accordingly.{14}

Coincidentally, Brigham Young taught essentially the same thing:

 Let me give you a definition in brief. Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell. {15}


1} Sigmund Mowinckel, He that Cometh (New York: Abingdon Press, 1954), 66. For another discussion on the power of new names see, Hermann Gunkel, (Michael D. Rutter, trans.) The Folktale in the Old Testament (Sheffield, England, Almond Press, 1987), 87.

2} In the context of covenants that were treaties, “son” denoted vassalage rather than heirship. In adoption contracts, “son” designates one as a legal heir.

3} A.M. Honeyman, “The Evidence for Regnal Names Among the Hebrews,” in Journal of Biblical Literature, 67, 1948: 13.

4} In a footnote he adds: See 2 Kgs 23.31 (Shallum-Jo’ahaz); 23.34 (Elijakim-Jehoiakim). 2 Sam. 12.24-25.

5} Sigmund Mowinckel, D. R. Ap-Thomas, trans., The Psalms in Israel’s Worship (Nashville: Abingdon, 2 vols., 1979), 1: 63 and n. 86. See also: James K Hoffmeier “From Pharaoh to Israel’s Kings To Jesus,” in Bible Review (13/2, June 1997), 48.

6} A. H. Honneyman, “The Evidence for Regnal Names Among the Hebrews,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 1984, v. 67, p 23-24.

7} Sigmund Mowinckel, translated by A.P. Thomas, The Psalms in Israel’s Worship, 2 Vols.(Nashville, Abingdon, 1962), vol. 1, 183. Mowinckel’s footnote reads as follows: Pss. 47., 9; 93.2, cf. V. 5b; 96.13; 97.2b, 7b, cf. The description of the epiphany = procession of entry in vv. 3-6; 98.3b, 9b; 99,1.

8} Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, and Egyptian Endowment (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1975), p. 40-41.

9} Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, and Egyptian Endowment (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1975), p. 133.

10} Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, and Egyptian Endowment (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1975), p. 40

11} Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, and Egyptian Endowment (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1975), p. 139.

12} Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, and Egyptian Endowment (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1975), p. 140.

13} William Whiston, trans., The Complete Works of Flavious Josephus (London, The London Pringing and Publishing Company, Limited, 1876) p. 213 footnote.

14} Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, and Egyptian Endowment (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1975), p. 221.

15}Teachings of Presidents of the Church, Brigham Young [Melchizedek Priesthood Manuel] (Salt Lake City, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1997), p, 302. From Discourses of Brigham Young, p.416

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