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?