Elder Solomon was a great companion, and had the most interesting background. He was from Ethiopia. Ethiopia has very strict immigration laws, and it’s not easy for anyone to enter or leave Ethiopia. For this reason, Elder Solomon was the first Ethiopian to go to the temple and receive his Endowment. He was truly a pioneer of his people.
When I mention that my companion was from Ethiopia, people often picture a small, starving young man with bony ribs and swollen limbs. Actually, Elder Solomon was a tall and rather muscular elder with an almost Polynesian-type build. He had a very prosperous family. Of all my companions, Elder Solomon was the wealthiest. In personality, he was fun and charismatic, a character much larger than life, and I considered it to be a great and rare opportunity to be his companion.
His actual name was Solomon Yimer, but he insisted that he be called Elder Solomon. He even got them to print it that way on his missionary tag.
One evening after dark we were driving through the township on a dirt road, when all of a sudden Elder Solomon shouted, “STOP THE CAR!”
“Stop the car!” he repeated.
So I stopped.
I started backing up, saying, “Why, what is it?”
“I think I saw something – stop! Right here.” He jumped out of the car, walked out to the front of the car where the headlights were shining, and scanned the ground carefully. I wondered if he’d seen a small animal or something. By the way he was searching I knew it had to be small.
When he finally came back in the car, I asked him what he was looking for. He explained, “There’s a stone in Ethiopia that glows really bright in the dark. I thought I saw one on the road. But I couldn’t find it.”
Elder Solomon’s native language was Amharic, which is a dialect of Hebrew. I thought this was interesting, but the implications of this fact didn’t drive home until one day when we were reading the Pearl of Great Price. He had only been a member of the church for six years, and had never read the Pearl of Great Price all the way through before. We had been reading it through from the beginning for companionship study, and were now to Abraham 3. We took turns reading columns.
It was my turn, and I was about halfway down my column. Elder Solomon was only halfway paying attention, and was for the moment not following along as I read:
“And he said unto me: This is Shinehah, which is the sun. And he…”
“Whoa, whoa, wait a minute!” Elder Solomon interrupted, “what did you just say?”
So I began to repeat the verse, “And he said unto me: This is Shinehah, which is the sun.”
“Shinehah is Amharic! It means ‘sun’”
“Wow, interesting!” I said. then I thought for a moment while looking at the verse. “What about this? – ‘And he said unto me: Kokob, which is star.’?”
“Yeah!” replied Elder Solomon, still not looking at the verse, “kokob is one of the words for star. Does it say anything about ‘olea’? That’s the word for ‘moon’.”
I read on: “And he said unto me: Olea, which is the moon.”
“That’s amazing!” Elder Solomon said, “where are you at? That’s definitely Amharic!”
I pointed to him where I was reading, and he read further, “And he said unto me: Kokaubeam, which signifies stars, or all the great lights, which were in the firmament of heaven.”
“Yep!” he said, “Kokaubeam means ‘stars’ alright. It’s a kind of old fashioned term, but that’s what it means.”
We read further, looking for more words, but there wasn’t any more in that verse or the next. Then a thought came to me.
“What about the word ‘Kolob’? Is that Amharic too?”
“Kolob… kolob… no, I don’t know that word.”
So we read on. Soon we got to verse 16. “If two things exist, and there be one above the other, there shall be greater things above them; therefore Kolob is the greatest of all the Kokaubeam that thou hast seen, because it is nearest unto me.”
Elder Solomon blurted out, “Oh! Kolob-kokaubeam. Yeah, kolob-kokaubeam is Amharic. It’s like when many stars surround one big star.”
We searched the rest of the chapter, and found a couple more words that are in Amharic. As far as he could guess, all the Amharic words in the chapter were also Hebrew. He said hakokaubeam means ‘a gathering of stars’, and the word ‘floeese’ in Amharic only has one ‘e’ in, but means ‘moon’.
The word ‘Elkenah’ had interesting roots, according to Elder Solomon. In Ethiopia, the largest Christian church was the Orthodox church. This was not the same as the Orthodox Christian churches such as the Greek Orthodox church. According to Elder Solomon, the Ethiopian Orthodox church dates back to a time before King Solomon in the old testament. Elder Solomon explained that according to Ethiopian tradition, Queen Sheba was the queen of Ethiopia (which covered a larger area at that time than it now does), and she belonged to the Orthodox church. Though I wasn’t clear from Elder Solomon’s explanation, it seems that Christian beliefs were adopted by the Orthodox church. In this Orthodox church, the priests are called ‘Elkenah’.
We also read verse 18:
“ Howbeit that he made the greater star; as, also, if there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after, for they are gnolaum, or eternal.”
Elder Solomon translated the word ‘gnolaum’ as ‘life’, or ‘eternal life’. He then went on to talk about other Amharic words with similar meaning. The Amharic word, ‘zalelum’ means ‘forever’, and the word “gezea alem” means ‘time eternal’.
The mix of those words caught my attention, and I asked Elder Solomon if he recognized the word, “Gazelem.”
He thought for a moment, and said, “No. I don’t know that word.”
So I directed him to Alma 37:23, which says, “And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem…”
Immediately he stopped, “Oh! Gazelem! Yes, I know that word.”
I had been pronouncing the word, “Guh-zay-lem,” but when he saw it written, he recognized it, and pronounced it, “Gaa-zuh-lem”
“Yeah,” Elder Solomon continued, “it’s a really shiny rock that shines bright in the dark.”
“Really? Have you ever seen a gazelem before?”
“No. But I want to. They are a strange stone. When travelers in the wilderness see one, they sometimes send people up to get them. But when they get there, they can never find it. The people at the bottom can see the gazelem shining brightly on the people looking for it, but those people cannot see it.”
I read the rest of the verse.
And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people who serve me, that I may discover unto them the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works, their works of darkness, and their wickedness and abominations.
Elder Solomon went on, “Remember the other day when I told you to stop the car so I could look for a glowing stone?”
“That’s what I thought I’d seen, a gazelem.”
It is important to recognize that the things I am sharing about gazelem cannot be considered scholarly research. The only evidence of the ideas shared here are Elder Solomon’s words, and though he was very familiar with Ethiopian culture and lore, it would take a great deal of research to verify what he said – though I have no reason to disbelieve him. But I thought it was a fascinating insight into African culture, and an interesting perspective on the word gazelem in the Book of Mormon.
After our companionship study I read the rest of Alma 37. Alma is talking to his son about the Urim and Thummim, and how these stones will bring to light all the secret works of the wicked one to the eyes of His servants, the prophets. After learning about gazelem, I thought of what an interesting type it is for the Urim and Thummim, and by the same token, how it could be a type or symbol of the prophet.
The prophet is shown the works of evil that are happening in the world around us even though we think we are hidden in complete darkness. The prophet warns the world and strives to guide us to safety, but we ignore, because we can not see what he can see.
I also knew that in the first publication of the Doctrine and Covenants (probably when it was still called The Book of Commandments), many of the brethren had to use code names in some of the sections in order to protect them from opposition. One of Joseph Smith’s code names was “Gazelam.”
I decided that if anyone besides the Savior could be a spiritual “gazelem”, to bring to light secret works of darkness, and light the way for lost persons, Joseph Smith fits the description. We also have a prophet today, and he certainly leads people safely home. We might not see his face light up like Moses’, but he most definitely bares the light of revelation from God, and if we follow his direction, we will find our way safely home.