Book of Mormon/Evidences/Hebraisms

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Criticism

Critics claim that the Book of Mormon does not contain Hebraic or Semitic language elements, as one should expect if it is truly an ancient record.

Source(s) of the criticism

Response

What is a 'Hebraism'?

A hebraism is a way of speaking or writing that uses the grammatical or rhetorical styles of Hebrew. For example, if originally written in English, the Book of Mormon would speak about "brass plates" instead of "plates of brass." However, "plates of brass" matches how a Hebrew writer or speaker would express themselves.

Therefore, Book of Mormon scholars look for evidence of the Book of Mormon's ancient Hebrew origins by identifying phrases or expressions which are not typical for an English speaker of Joseph Smith's day which may reflect a 'direct translation' of the underlying Semitic-style language of the Book of Mormon.

The presence of hebraisms does not prove the Book of Mormon is an ancient record, but they suggest that the translation was (at times, at least) relatively 'tight,' and require the critic to explain where Joseph Smith would have picked up such expressions in rural New York of the 1820s.

Do Hebraisms exist in the Book of Mormon?

Many LDS sources argue that Hebraisms exist. Some have been overly enthusiastic or operated using problematic methodology. For example, Hebrew and other Semitic languages frequently give give a verb a cognate direct object for emphasis, eg. "he dreamed a dream" or "He hit him a hitting." Since the KJV translators were frequently literal in rendering the Hebrew, the Old Testament contains many English examples of this. Thus, the presence of the cognate accusative throughout the Book of Mormon, though a valid Semiticism, cannot be used as strong evidence for the Book of Mormon. (An appreciation of such devices can enhance our appreciation of the text, however.)

For a Semiticism to be strong evidence it must be

  1. present in the Book of Mormon, but
  2. not common to Joseph's language environment (i.e., the KJV, or English of his day.)

Several such constructions exist.

Colophons

  • The use of colophons in the Book of Mormon reflects ancient practice unknown to Joseph.[1]

Jershon

  • For example, in Alma 27:22, the Nephites give the land Jershon to the Anti-Nephi-Lehi's "for an inheritance." Jershon follows a common Hebrew practice of creating names by suffixing -on to the tri-consonantal root. In this case, we have the root y-r-sh, which means among other things, "to inherit." (Hebrew /y/ is usually represented in English with a j.) In other words, the Nephites give the land "Inheritance" to the Anti-Nephi-Lehi's for an inheritance. If making up names at random, one could eventually make some that fit Hebrew patterns. However, the extreme unlikelihood of an imaginary name making sense in a reconstructed Hebrew original argues against this being the case with Jershon.

Names

  • Other proper names within the Book of Mormon also qualify, since they are unknown in the Bible, but have since been attested to in other ancient documents.

"Up" to Jerusalem

  • Nephi always describes going to Jerusalem as going up (e.g., 1 Nephi 3:9; 4:4; 5:6; 7:3–4), and leaving Jerusalem as going down (e.g., 1 Nephi 2:5; 3:4, 16, 22; 4:35; 5:1; 7:2, 5). This is consistent with Biblical usage in both the Old and New Testaments (e.g., down: 2 Samuel 5:17; Luke 10:30; and Acts 8:15; up: 2 Chronicles 2:16 and Matthew 20:18).[2]

Other interesting linguistic forms

These forms are included for interest's sake, or because their role as Hebraisms has not yet been established. They are included here because they may make difficult passages more easily understood.

Anapodoton

Alma 36:9 reads in part "If thou wilt of thyself be destroyed, seek no more to destroy the church of God."

This is a rhetorical device called anapodoton. The technical term is Greek, meaning "without the main clause." (The prefix ana- means "without," and apodosis means "main clause.")

Anapodoton is a figure in which a main clause is suggested by the introduction of a subordinate clause, but the main clause never occurs. It is an intentional sentence fragment. Here the fragment, archaically put, means "even if you have no care for your own soul...."

As is obvious from the context, it does not mean (as a native English speaker might read it) "if you want to be destroyed, stop trying to destroy the church"!

Conclusion

The Book of Mormon does indeed have authentic Semitic constructions in it, but LDS need to tread cautiously in establishing them. Each must be evaluated on its own merits. Hebraisms that could have been known to Joseph Smith may still be authentic, and may still enhance our appreciation of the text, but they are weak evidence for Book of Mormon antiquity.

Endnotes

  1. [note]  John A. Tvedtnes, "Colophones in the Book of Mormon," in John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (eds.), Rediscovering the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Co. ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991), 32–37. ISBN 0875793878. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)GL direct link
  2. [note]  Jeffrey R. Chadwick, "Lehi's House at Jerusalem and the Land of His Inheritance," in Glimpses of Lehi's Jerusalem, edited by John W. Welch, David Rolph Seely, and Jo Ann H. Seely, (Covenant Communications, 2004), 81–130. ISBN 0934893748. ISBN 978-0934893749. off-site direct off-site

Further reading

FAIR wiki articles

Hebrew influences on Book of Mormon text—wiki articles
A Few Hundred Hints of Egyptian and Northwest Semitic in Uto-Aztecan, Brian Stubbs, 2006 FAIR Conference (YouTube Video)

FAIR web site

Hebrew influences on Book of Mormon text—FAIR articles on-line
  • FAIR Topical Guide: Book of Mormon authorship and evidences FAIR link
  • FAIR Topical Guide: Chiasmus FAIR link

External links

Hebrew influences on Book of Mormon text—on-line articles
  • Kevin L. Barney, "Divine Discourse Directed at a Prophet's Posterity in the Plural: Further Light on Enallage," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 6/2 (1997): 229–234. off-site PDF link wiki
  • Kevin L. Barney, "Enallage in the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 3/1 (1994): 113–147. off-site PDF link wiki
  • Kevin L. Barney, "Poetic Diction and Parallel Word Pairs in the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 4/2 (1995): 15–81. off-site PDF link wiki
  • David Bokovoy, "From Distance to Proximity: A Poetic Function of Enallage in the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9/1 (2000): 60–63. off-site [No PDF link] wiki
  • Larry G. Childs, "Present Participle Adjuncts in the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 6/1 (1997): 24–38. off-site PDF link wiki
  • James T. Duke, "The Literary Structure and Doctrinal Significance of Alma 13:1–9," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 5/1 (1996): 103–118. off-site PDF link wiki
  • James T. Duke, "Word Pairs and Distinctive Combinations in the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12/2 (2003): 32–41. off-site PDF link wiki
  • John Gee, "Two Notes on Egyptian Script," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 5/1 (1996): 162–176. off-site PDF link wiki
  • Cynthia L. Hallen, "What's in a Word? Pairs and Merisms in 3 Nephi," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 13/1 (2004): 152–157. off-site PDF link wiki
  • Scot Hanson and Daniel B. McKinlay, "A Selective Bibliography of Book of Mormon Literary Features," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 16/2 (2007): 88–91. off-site PDF link wiki
  • Heather Hardy, "Another Testament of Jesus Christ: Mormon’s Poetics," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 16/2 (2007): 16–28. off-site PDF link wiki
  • Donald W. Parry, "Service and Temple in King Benjamin’s Speech," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 16/2 (2007): 42–47. off-site PDF link wiki
  • Robert F. Smith, "Assessing the Broad Impact of Jack Welch’s Discovery of Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 16/2 (2007): 68–73. off-site PDF link wiki
  • Steven P. Sondrup, "The Psalm of Nephi: A Lyric Reading," Brigham Young University Studies 21 no. 3 (1981), 37–72. off-site
  • Sidney B. Sperry, "Hebrew Idioms in the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 4/1 (1995): 218–225. off-site PDF link wiki
  • Brian D. Stubbs, "A Short Addition to Length: Some Relative Frequencies of Circumstantial Structures," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 6/1 (1997): 39–46. off-site PDF link wiki
  • John A. Tvedtnes, "Cities and Lands in the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 4/2 (1995): 147–150. off-site PDF link wiki
  • John Tvedtnes, "I Have a Question: Since the Book of Mormon is largely the record of a Hebrew people, is the writing characteristic of the Hebrew language?," Ensign (October 1986), 64. off-site
  • John A. Tvedtnes, "Word Groups in the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 6/2 (1997): 262–268. off-site PDF link wiki
  • Thomas A. Wayment, "The Hebrew Text of Alma 7:11," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14/1 (2005): 98–103. off-site PDF link wiki
  • John W. Welch, "The Discovery of Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon: Forty Years Later," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 16/2 (2007): 74–87. off-site PDF link wiki

Printed material

Hebrew influences on Book of Mormon text—printed materials
  • Larry Childs, "Epanalepsis in the Book of Mormon," in John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (eds.), Rediscovering the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Co. ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991), 165–165. ISBN 0875793878. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)GL direct link
  • Alan Goff, "Mourning, Consolation, and Repentance at Nahom," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, edited by John W. Welch, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992), 92–93. ISBN 0875796001 off-site FAIR linkGL direct link
  • C. Wilfred Griggs, "The Book of Mormon as an Ancient Book," in Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins, edited by Noel B. Reynolds and Charles D. Tate (eds.), (Provo, Utah : Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University ; Salt Lake City, Utah : Distributed by Bookcraft, 1996 [1982]),75–94. ISBN 0884944697 GospeLink (requires subscrip.)GL direct link
  • Grant Hardy (editor), The Book of Mormon: A Reader's Edition (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2005). ISBN 025207341X. ISBN 978-0252073410.
  • Donald W. Parry, "Antithetical Parallelism in the Book of Mormon," in John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (eds.), Rediscovering the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Co. ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991), 167–169. ISBN 0875793878. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)GL direct link
  • Donald W. Parry, The Book of Mormon Text Reformatted According to Parallelistic Patterns (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1998). ISBN 0934893365. ISBN 978-0934893367.
  • Donald W. Parry, "Power through Repetition: The Dynamics of Book of Mormon Parallelism," in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, edited by Noel B. Reynolds, (Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1997),?–??. ISBN 093489325X ISBN 0934893187 ISBN 0884944697. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)GL direct link
  • Donald W. Parry, "Teaching in Black and White: Antithetic Structure in the Book of Alma—Its Form and Function," Book of Mormon Symposium at Brigham Young University, February 1991.
  • Noel B. Reynolds, "Nephi's Outline," in Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins, edited by Noel B. Reynolds and Charles D. Tate (eds.), (Provo, Utah : Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University ; Salt Lake City, Utah : Distributed by Bookcraft, 1996 [1982]),53–73. ISBN 0884944697 GospeLink (requires subscrip.)GL direct link
  • Richard Dilworth Rust, "Poetry in the Book of Mormon," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, edited by John W. Welch, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992), 100–113. ISBN 0875796001 off-site FAIR linkGL direct link
  • David Rolph Seely, "The Image of the Hand of God in the Book of Mormon and the Old Testament," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, edited by John W. Welch, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992), 140–143. ISBN 0875796001 off-site FAIR linkGL direct link
  • Brian D. Stubbs, "Book of Mormon Language," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 1:179–181. off-site off-site
  • John L. Sorenson, Angela Crowell, and Allen J. Christensen, "Parallelism, Merismum, and Difrasismo," in John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (eds.), Rediscovering the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Co. ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991), 80–82. ISBN 0875793878. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  • John A. Tvedtnes, "Colophones in the Book of Mormon," in John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (eds.), Rediscovering the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Co. ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991), 32–37. ISBN 0875793878. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)GL direct link
  • John A. Tvedtnes, "Colophones in the Book of Mormon," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, edited by John W. Welch, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992), 13–15. ISBN 0875796001 off-site FAIR linkGL direct link
  • John A. Tvedtnes, "The Hebrew Background of the Book of Mormon," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, edited by John W. Welch, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992), 77–91. ISBN 0875796001 off-site FAIR linkGL direct link
  • John W. Welch, "The Book of Mormon and the Heavenly Book Motif," in John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (eds.), Rediscovering the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Co. ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991), 26–28. ISBN 0875793878. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)GL direct link
  • John W. Welch, "The Calling of a Prophet," in Monte Nyman and Charles Tate, eds., First Nephi, The Doctrinal Foundation (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, 1988), 35–54.
  • John W. Welch, "Lehi's Council Vision and the Mysteries of God," in John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (eds.), Rediscovering the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Co. ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991), 24. ISBN 0875793878. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)GL direct link

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