those who refuse to consider Book of Mormon evidence until it appears
in academic publications subject to peer review, I’m happy to report
that two articles from Dr. John Tvedtnes about Hebrew elements in the Book of Mormon appear in the Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics from the renowned publishing house of E. J. Brill in Leiden,
Netherlands. The four-volume set was published in 2013. Brill describes the work this way:
The Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics Online
offers a systematic and comprehensive treatment of all aspects of the
history and study of the Hebrew language from its earliest attested form
to the present day.
The Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics Online
features advanced search options, as well as extensive cross-references
and full-text search functionality using the Hebrew character set. With
over 850 entries and approximately 400 contributing scholars, the Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics Online
is the authoritative reference work for students and researchers in the
fields of Hebrew linguistics, general linguistics, Biblical studies,
Hebrew and Jewish literature, and related fields.
Access requires an academic account or
payment, but you can read Tvedtnes’ works on his website and see images of the printed work.
The first article is “Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon“:
Tvedtnes, John A..
“Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon.” Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics.
Edited by: Geoffrey Khan.
Brill Online, 2016. Reference.
21 January 2016
First appeared online: 2013
First Print Edition: 9789004176423
You can read the text at BookofMormonResearch.org in the article “Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon.”
At the bottom you click on images to see the printed material. I
recommend reading the printed version because it displays the Hebrew,
while the webpage for this article does not (see image 1 and image 2).
The second article is “Names of People: Book of Mormon.” Brill Online cites it this way:
Tvedtnes, John A..
“Names of People: Book of Mormon.” Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics.
Edited by: Geoffrey Khan.
Brill Online, 2016. Reference.
21 January 2016
First appeared online: 2013
First Print Edition: 9789004176423
You can read the text at BookofMormonResearch.org in the article “Hebrew Names in the Book of Mormon.”
The text provides Hebrew, but there it reads left-to-right instead of
the normal right-to-left for Hebrew, possible an HTML or font problem,
so I recommend looking at the images for the article as printed (image 1 and image 2).
Tvedtnes obviously had to be brief in these articles but has provided
some tantalizing examples and good references for further study. One problem, though, is that a couple of his examples of awkward grammar in
the 1830 Book of Mormon (such as “because that …”) that look like good
Hebraisms can also be explained as good Early Modern English discussed
in Stanford Carmack’s works. This could lead to trouble for some people,
as in this hypothetical response:
testimony was strengthened when I learned that the bad grammar in the
Book of Mormon was actually good grammar in Early Modern English
supporting the plausibility of divine translation with tight control
beyond Joseph’s abilities–and then I found out that some of that might
actually be due to Hebraic influence in the original text coupled with
tight translation preserving the Hebraisms. Miraculous Hebraisms or
miraculous Early Modern English??–I was so confused. That’s why I left
and became Evangelical. It’s all much more clear now with just one
I hope that doesn’t happen to you.
Hang in there. These things will be resolved with time. And maybe with
the aid of further peer review.
63 thoughts on “A Significant Scholarly Publication Includes Two Articles on Hebrew Elements in the Book of Mormon”
Jeff, you might want to look again at the first sentence of your post. It doesn't seem quite complete. Did you mean to finish it by introducing Tvedtnes and announcing the publication of his articles?
Brill is an old but somewhat obscure academic publisher. Most of their journals are narrowly specialized. So I'm not sure that being published by Brill is the thing to tout, here. The Encyclopedia's editor-in-chief is more impressive.
This 4-volume encyclopedia is edited by Geoffrey Khan, who is the Regius Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge University. That's about as Establishment as you can get, in this field. Regius Professorships are British academic chairs endowed by the monarch directly; the one in Hebrew at Cambridge was created by Henry VIII. I don't know anything at all about Khan or his work, but he has a Regius chair at Cambridge and he was only appointed to it in 2012, so he holds one of world's top posts in Hebrew studies and he probably hasn't had time to go off his rocker yet. He lists this Encyclopedia on his Cambridge web page as the latest of his 22 major publications.
So if you get a short article on Book of Mormon Hebraisms approved by Geoffrey Khan, then I guess you can say that the mainstream academic world has accepted that it makes some amount of sense to speak about Hebraism in the Book of Mormon. I have to say that I'm quite surprised. But there it is. Congratulations to Tvedtnes.
(Khan describes his Encyclopedia as a "comprehensive reference tool for all aspects and traditions of the Hebrew language and its linguistic study". He acknowledges all his collaborators on the project, as is good and right — and as is also a further sign that he considers this a creditable project, whose credit has to be fairly shared. The emphasis on comprehensiveness for 'all aspects and traditions' does suggest that including a bit of Mormon stuff may have been academic broad-mindedness rather than recognition of a compelling case. Still, this is indeed a really respectable academic publication.)
Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon make much more sense to me than EModE. If there is an apparent conflict between the two, I doubt that will damage anyone's testimony. For me, it says that at least some of the examples Carmack pegged as EModE can be better explained as Hebraisms, which I would expect to be present in the Book of Mormon if it's authentic. If we're pursuing linguistic lines of evidence for BoM authenticity, this one seems like a much better candidate.
Hmm. Hebrew is posited but English is indisputable. So Hebraisms are more likely than older English. Sorry. If something can either be explained as a Hebraism or an eModE construct, then it will be inconclusive and follow from personal interpretation. Yet there is surely plenty of eModE in the BofM that has nothing to do with presumed Hebrew-like language. And how about the divine faculty being able to match at will Hebrew and English structures, as well as dialectal and earlier usage?
I agree about the personal interpretation thing. It is inconclusive. But it makes more sense to me to have Hebraisms than EModE. That is my personal interpretation, which is why I said "FOR ME, it says that at least…" (emphasis added). My reasoning is this: there are two hypotheses that can be addressed. 1) JS did not write the BoM. 2) Nephites did write the BoM. Both EModE and Hebraisms support hypothesis 1. Only Hebraisms support hypothesis 2. Thus I tend to favor Hebraisms as a tool to investigate BoM authenticity. Also, I would predict Hebraic grammatical structures in a work that was written by people of a Hebrew heritage. I would not expect EModE.
I'm not sure I understood the last bit of your comment, but my best guess is that you were saying however the translation came to Joseph, the person providing it could have taken Hebrew structures and made them sound like EModE. I still would be curious why that would be the optimal translation choice, but I concede it could happen. So just to reiterate a point that has been made by me and others, I don't refute the presence of EModE in the Book of Mormon, I just would like to understand why it is there before I take it as strong evidence for BoM authenticity. If someone can explain to me why that version of translation makes the most sense, that would really help. Meanwhile, I think it's really worth pursuing the Hebraic structures thing, sense there is a good a priori reason for that to be present in the first place.
I should amend hypothesis 2. It should say 2) someone with knowledge of Hebrew wrote the BoM. I would expect the Nephites to have knowledge of Hebrew, so the 2 ways of wording it feel like almost the same thing to me.
The clear existence of eModE syntax and vocabulary in the BofM does not disappear when one refuses to acknowledge it because it doesn't personally make sense. The why has been thrown around here before. There's Hebraisms, there's early Anglicisms. There's both. One doesn't preclude the other. Examples: close ye ~ thou switching can be attributed to a Hebrew substratum or to eModE; close objective ye ~ subjective ye switching is only eModE; some Isaiah passage tweaks appear to be Hebrew-influenced; other Isaiah passage tweaks are eModE. Etc. Cheers.
I am not denying the existence of EModE in the Book of Mormon. I don't know how I can make that clearer. All I am saying is that EModE doesn't make as good of a case for BoM authenticity as something like Hebraisms does. Something that does intrigue me, though- you seem to be implying a potential link between Hebraisms and EModE in your last comment. Are you saying that a Hebrew grammatical structure might translate better into pre-KJV EModE than into, say, KJV English? I'd be interested to hear more about that. That would have the potential to answer the question of why EModE demonstrates BoM authenticity.
James, thanks! It's amazing how many mistakes one can make when trying to create text at a rapid rate. Garbled sentences, blatant errors, typos–and this was with the benefit of a spell checker and being able to see the text as I typed it. I can only imagine how much worse it would have been if I were blogging by oral dictation to a scribe with my head in a hat.
The more I consider the subtle intricacies of the Book of Mormon, the more impressed I am by the miracle before us. A text created by oral dictation might manage the big themes well (let's get Nephi to the New World, have some wars, some wickedness, Christ visits, then they apostatize and collapse), but to also fill it with such intricate, consistent details like 25 references from Nephi to travel to and from Jerusalem using "up" and "down" consistently and consistent with the actual terrain, while other authors unfamiliar with Jerusalem no longer use "up" and "down" when referring to the travels of Lehi et al. Details like integrating Old World themes of dust into the story line, including its relationship to enthronement. Details like chiasms that are more complete when the Hebrew meaning or pronunciation of some key words is considered. Details like beginning the Book of 1st Nephi with a summary stating that the "course" of their travels is given, and then 16 chapters later giving specific details that cover each leg of the journey (south-southeast, nearly the same, nearly the same, then nearly due east to Bountiful). There's much more of this nature, including Hebraisms that Joseph apparently saw as awkward and deleted. From the macro level down to the micro level, there is evidence of antiquity and authenticity that challenge any theory based on Joseph as the author or actually anyone of his day as author.
Ryan, did you know that eModE is mostly post-KJV, not pre-KJV, since KJV language comes mainly from Tyndale (75%) and he translated during the 1520s and 1530s? EModE goes from 1475 to 1700. Anyway, ye~thou distinctions were not in modern English so those Hebrew distinctions can be reflected in eModE but not in modern English. That's one thing. Also, it's probably true that eModE syntax shares more with classical Hebrew than modE does. But it also shares more with Latin. In any event, Tvedtnes wrote something about "because/after/before that". These go way back in English to Old or Middle English and were still used in eModE so the constructions can either be Hebrew or English. Tvedtnes did this research quite a while ago and probably didn't consider earlier English. If Biblical Hebrew always uses "that" after these conjunctions, then that language is not always reflected in the BofM, which uses "that" in these expressions optionally and at different rates depending on the conjunction, as was the case in eModE.
I did not know that. I thought the argument was that the English in the BoM predates KJB. In any event, the idea that EModE lines up with Hebrew better than modern English does makes the case much more interesting to me. Now I feel like there might be a reason for something like that to be in a book that makes claims like those of the BoM. I would be interested to see some evidence that Hebrew might more readily translate to EModE, if someone can point me in that direction
Just a quick clarification: though dating for EModE extends past the KJV, there are lots of elements of Book of Mormon language that went out of usage before the KJV and therefore are not present in the KJV. Basically, the Book of Mormon contains a fair amount of English that does predate what is represented in the KJV.
Acts 8:23. Moroni 8:14.
"gall of bitterness/bonds of iniquity"
How in the world does this show up in both? This is a Greek expression, and a rather poetic one, too: "cholen pikrias kai syndesmon adikias."
Who cares about Hebrew and Early Modern English. Here we have Moroni using an Greek expression coined by Luke!
Yes, there is a fair amount that is pre-KJV. But the BofM contains a fair amount of language that post-dates the KJV, like possessive "its", which emerged in the 17th-century (the 1610s). The KJV has one case of "its own accord" at Leviticus 25:5, but the BofM has 40 instances of "its" — 100 times the rate. The KJV has more than 900 cases of "thereof", the BofM has 160. The KJV uses thereof at twice the rate.
Take the "did" usage of the BofM. That arose in English in the 1530s. Tyndale was in the Low Countries by then, not exposed to the recent trend, and didn't use much of it. Peak usage was in the 1530s to the 1590s. It had declined from peak use by the beginning of the 17th century. King James translators decided not to incorporate it very much, sticking with Tyndale rates. So BofM did use can be considered to be pre- or post-KJV, depending on whether you want to view KJV language as Tyndale's or early 17c language. But some individual rates are 17c in character. For example, "did do" in the BofM (15x) corresponds to the 17c, because earlier "did do + VERB" meant 'caused to be VERB-ed' — i.e. "did do say" = 'caused to be said'. The use of "did do" as found in the BofM, without a following infinitive, peaked in the middle of the 1600s. So non-causative BofM "did do" usage is most reasonably viewed as post-KJV.
ebu, Ben and Jeff have just been going over this. KJV NT language is found extensively in the BofM because the divine translation wasn't always a literal translation, but often functional/conceptual, and perhaps especially in doctrinal passages. The divine translation carried out by the Lord purposely incorporated a lot of KJV NT language in a virtuosic way.
Anon…this conception you have of the Book of Mormon is a strange one indeed. A little Hebrew, a little Early Modern English, some New Testament, some tight translation, some loose translation, sometimes with the spectacles that came with the plates, more often with the stone Smith found years in advance…
When I was growing up, do you know what I was taught? I was taught that Joseph Smith had golden plates in front of him, he received some help to translate the plates from God, but eventually was able to actually read the text himself after he grew familiar with it. The plates were always there, and they played an integral role in the process. A vital role.
When my family took a trip to Nauvoo in 1993, a senior missionary gave us a brick from the Nauvoo Brick Factory as a souvenir. And guess what was engraved into the face of this souvenir brick: reformed Egyptian letters. The church was handing these things out as souvenirs!
Now, it seems like no one really knows at all how the BoM was translated. Now, it seems like every possible scenario has been mixed into one big grab bag. That is how it was accomplished. All the theories are correct. Joseph Smith didn't just do it one particular way. Oh no…he did it all the different ways it has been postulated that he did it. All the options are true.
This is desperation. It is an act of desperation.
ebu: Who cares what folk tales we may have been taught growing up. And it's not a matter of a "little Hebrew, a little Early Modern English, some New Testament, some tight translation, some loose translation". It's English. Some of it suggests Hebrew influence but it's still (Early Modern) English. KJV NT language is also eModE, based on the Greek. It's not Greek. The (divine) translation, like most translations, was both tight and loose. The control was tight, meaning words were revealed, not ideas.
I gather that because you strongly dislike Mormonism and Joseph Smith, you can't accept a reasonable view of things which was held by witnesses of the dictation from the start. Your ideology means you disregard evidence. In contrast, I allow the evidence to guide me. You have chosen to reject versatility in this regard for personal reasons.
In reference to "gall of bitterness," here is an article about choosing words and phrases when doing Biblical translations:
If a phrase is known and represents the same idea from the original even if the original did not use organs to represent an emotion, I am good with that representation. Likewise, I would hope that the phrase "white as snow" would not be translated into a local language where the indigenous people have no concept of snow.
I too like "bonds of iniquity." It conjures up more of an emotion than just saying "damned." And now we have it in the BoM and quite possibly Moroni didn't use "bonds of iniquity" but maybe he did.
I'm sure you know, translating from one foreign language to another is a difficult process.
Anon,…you don't allow the evidence to guide you. Your foregone conclusions guide the evidence.
These folk talks you refer to…it was the church itself that was teaching them. Or have you forgotten?
I was a firm believer for 40 years. I performed all manner of mental gymnastics gladly and proudly, because I had already come to the conclusion. All I needed to do was make everything match my conclusion. I have the advantage of knowing how this works from the inside. And now that I am on the outside, I can guarantee you that you do not have to put yourself through this.
folk tales…not talks.
I'm sure you know, translating from one foreign language to another is a difficult process.
yes…it is. But this issue I am raising has nothing to do with the difficulty of the translation process. It is obvious that Moroni didn't have Acts in either the original Greek or the King James English. So, whatever Moroni wrote, it wasn't "gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity."
This kind of stuff shows up again and again and again throughout the Book of Mormon. This is not called "translation." This is called "plagiarism."
Let's say I am translating the French Les Miserables. As I am translating, I see that many times Hugo is saying things that can be easily rendered into English by borrowing unique expressions from Charles Dickens' works. I am not going to be able to put my name to that work without being accused of plagiarism.
The KJ translation is a work of literature in its own right. To cut and paste little snippets of it and scatter it throughout another text to the extent that appears in the Book of Mormon is, whatever else you want to call it, plagiarism. There is no way around it. It is plagiarism. No one could get away with it today.
"The plagiarism argument made against the Book of Mormon is a charge frequently leveled against the text when convenient. In [most cases] the match is obscure, so a plagiarism charge is inconvenient (hardly any one would believe it), and the argument is not made."
Adam and Eve which was made of the ground. (1566)
Adam and Eve which was our first parents. (1N0511)
they wearied him with their teasings
1731 Jonathan Swift On Mr. Pulteney’s Being Put Out of the Council
[found in volume 11 of a 24-volume Works collection (New-York: William Durell, 1812)]
Sir Robert, weary’d by Will Pulteney’s teazings.
The BofM is a literate text that was far beyond Joseph Smith's innate capacity of expression. The extensive, sometimes complex interweaving of NT language in the BofM is not plagiarism but a virtuosic display of doctrinal exposition.
Well it's certainly not with a plagiarist . Plagiarism is to take someone else's writing and claim it as your own. The BOM is very purposeful in its allusion. It's not trying to take credit for the poetic language of the KJV or even trying to mimick it. It's referencing the KJV most often to make a doctrinal point, like Anonymous is saying. I make these observations from my own findings and also paraphrasing Nick Frederick's observations on the BOM interactions with the Prologue of the gospel of John. Frederick is one of the leading scholars on Book of Mormon intertextuality. He has most recently published a methodology for gauging the validity of a strength of a potential interaction. One of the measurements is dissimilarity, or how unique a phrase is. So if Gall of bitterness is a very unique phrase it's more likely to be an interaction of course like EBU has been saying. A next step would be to look at the context of Book of Mormon use and compare it to the New Testament. There is likely a strong connection either narratively or doctrinally, and the BOM passage will likely be clarified by comparison with the NT passage. Sometimes the BOM does the opposite and contributes it's own 2 cents to the NT passage. That last part is also Frederick's observation. I'd like to look at that interaction myself later.
That first sentence should end, 'plagiarist attitude.'
"Gall" is used more frequently in the Old Testament than in the New and is paired with wormwood several times. E.g., Deut. 29:18, Jer. 9:15, Jer. 23:15, Lam. 3:19, and Amos 6:12. Wormwood is used to express bitterness. (Lam. 3:15 – "He hath filled me with bitterness, he hath made me drunken with wormwood." Prov. 5:4 – "But her end is bitter as wormwood.") So when Deut. 29:18 refers to potential apostates as "a root that beareth gall and wormwood" or when Lam. 3:19 speaks of "Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall," it seems like it would not be a huge leap for others sharing a Hebrew tradition to speak of gall and bitterness together. Indeed, "gall" and "bitter" are associated in Deut. 32:32: "For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter." So "gall" can be coupled with bitterness metaphorically using "wormwood" or directly using "bitter."
"Gall" in the KJV can be:
1. ro'sh, H7219, meaning "gall, venom, bitter, poisonous" – translated 9 times as "gall" in the OT, or
2. mĕrorah, Strong's H4846 – "bitter thing, gall, poison," translated 2 times as "gall" in the OT, or
3. mĕrerah, H4845 – "gall," used once (Job 16:13).
The latter two roots are related to marar, H4843, meaning bitter, bitterness, etc.
Wormwood in the KJV is la'anah, Strong's H3939, which the NIV translates as "bitter poison" or other expressions of bitterness.
"Gall" rather naturally goes with concepts of bitterness, and intensifying it as "gall of bitterness" seems like something that could be reasonably related to Hebrew usage. So some combination of words for "gall" and "bitterness" like "gall and bitterness" may have been translated as "gall of bitterness" to draw upon associations with the NT text. But it could be possible that Mormon or the original sources combined gall and bitterness in a way that might most directly be translated as "gall of bitterness". The phrase "of bitterness" is how Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon (provided in the Strong's Concordance listing of words at BlueLetterBible.org) translates the use of the root mĕrorah (Strong's H4846) in Deut. 32:32, giving "clusters of bitterness" instead of "clusters are bitter" in the KJV. I don't think the Book of Mormon phrase should be considered an embarrassing anachronism or evidence of plagiarism. It is more reasonable to consider it as evidence of translation.
Let's say the Joseph Smith did plagiarized in that he borrowed phrases from the New Testament. Does this mean that Joseph did not translate the Gold Plates into what we now know as the Book of Mormon? Is that your argument?
Very good points, Jeff. "Gall of bitterness" may have deep roots. There are many many things that have deeper roots than most people think.
Gall of bitterness alone is not a big deal. But gall of bitterness used together with bond of iniquity, which is the way it shows up in the New Testament is a big deal, because in Greek, it is a poetic expression. Cholen pikrias kai syndesmon adikias.
The expression is at home in the Greek in a way it isn't in English. It is very probable that the expression is a poetic, creative use of language that is unique. And thus, unique to Acts. And thus,…impossible to also show up in the Book of Mormon, which wasn't written in Greek.
Steve, the church already has admitted that he didn't translate the Gold Plates into the Book of Mormon. He used a seer stone. That is not called translation. I am not going to make a fool of myself by suggesting in any way that channeling words through the Yankee equivalent of a crystal ball is a process that can rightly be called "translation."
The plates aren't here. There is no reason for them not to be here, except that an angel wanted them back. We do have the papyri that Joseph Smith said contained the Book of Abraham. The papyri do not contain the Book of Abraham. Joseph Smith was not a translator.
OK, so here is a quick investigations. "Gall of Bitterness" is found only once in the bible, in Acts, and we have those fun precursors that Jeff has pointed out. However, the phrase is unique, only ocurring in Acts 8. Due to this, Book of Mormon use of this phrase I think is noteworthy, but it gets better. It's not just gall of bitterness, it's "gall of biterness" and "bonds of iniquity." The book of Mormon uses gall of bitterness five times, and four out of five times it uses both phrase gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity, and always in this matching sequence. The other time the BOM uses the phrase, it is "gall of bitterness" paired with a pretty clear variation on bonds of iniquity, "everlasting chains of death." Not only is gall of biterness unique to the single occurence in acts 8, but so is bonds of iniquity making the pairing and matching sequence of the phrases in the BOM even a more likely allusion.
Importantly, the first two uses of this phrase pair in the BOM have a matching context to Acts 8. In Acts, Peter is calling Simon to repentance. Simon's response could imply that he has had a change of heart and is indeed repenting. Here are the pertinent verses below.
20 But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.
21 Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.
22 Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.
23 For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.
24 Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.
The first use of the phrase pair in the BOM is in Alma the younger's description of his repentance. I see Alma's repentance as the shared context with Acts 8. One reason the BOM might have chosen Acts 8 to interact with is that it implies repentance is a change of heart. Repentance is important theme in the BOM, and the inner change is central to the BOM concept of repentance. See Alma's description below:
28 Nevertheless, after wading through much tribulation, repenting nigh unto death, the Lord in mercy hath seen fit to snatch me out of an everlasting burning, and I am born of God.
29 My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but I am snatched, and my soul is pained no more.
The second use of the phrase pair is in Alma's parallel description of his repentance to his son. Here the repentance process is expanded, and now includes an explicit plea to the Son of God. Essentially, I believe that the BOM is using Acts 8 to help develop it's repentance doctrine/theology. Here is the text of this second BOM example:
18 …O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
19 And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
The other uses, which all come later in the BOM, describe the state of the wicked in a more generic way (Alma 41:11; Mormon 8:31; Moroni 8:14). I'm not sure if there is really anything important here except to perhaps refer us back to the earlier references which illustrate repentance as a change of heart affected through faith in Christ.
EBU got his comment in while I was still composing mine, so I didn't see it. I agree with him that the greek poetry (that I don't really know about) makes the allusion even more significant/intentional.
I don't pretend to be anything remotely like an expert in Greek, Hebrew, early modern English, or linguistics in general, but the whole debate about the presence of phrases such as "the gall of bitterness" in the Book of Mormon and what it says about its authenticity reminds me of a comment G. K. Chesterton made about American journalists that interviewed him during his first visit to the United States acting as translators, in his book What I Saw in America, in the chapter "Irish and Other Interviewers." I have no problem supposing that Joseph Smith did something similar from time to time:
Another innocent complication is that the interviewer does sometimes translate things into his native language. It would not seem odd that a French interviewer should translate them into French; and it is certain that the American interviewer sometimes translates them into American. Those who imagine the two languages to be the same are more innocent than any interviewer. To take one out of the twenty examples, some of which I have mentioned elsewhere, suppose an interviewer had said that I had the reputation of being a nut. I should be flattered but faintly surprised at such a tribute to my dress and dashing exterior. I should afterwards be sobered and enlightened by discovering that in America a nut does not mean a dandy but a defective or imbecile person. And as I have here to translate their American phrase into English, it may be very defensible that they should translate my English phrases into American. Anyhow they often do translate them into American. In answer to the usual question about Prohibition I had made the usual answer, obvious to the point of dullness to those who are in daily contact with it, that it is a law that the rich make knowing they can always break it. From the printed interview it appeared that I had said, ‘Prohibition! All matter of dollar sign.’ This is almost avowed translation, like a French translation. Nobody can suppose that it would come natural to an Englishman to talk about a dollar, still less about a dollar sign—whatever that may be. It is exactly as if he had made me talk about the Skelt and Stevenson Toy Theatre as ‘a cent plain, and two cents coloured’ or condemned a parsimonious policy as dime-wise and dollar-foolish. Another interviewer once asked me who was the greatest American writer. I have forgotten exactly what I said, but after mentioning several names, I said that the greatest natural genius and artistic force was probably Walt Whitman. The printed interview is more precise; and students of my literary and conversational style will be interested to know that I said, ‘See here, Walt Whitman was your one real red-blooded man.’ Here again I hardly think the translation can have been quite unconscious; most of my intimates are indeed aware that I do not talk like that, but I fancy that the same fact would have dawned on the journalist to whom I had been talking. And even this trivial point carries with it the two truths which must be, I fear, the rather monotonous moral of these pages. The first is that America and England can be far better friends when sharply divided than when shapelessly amalgamated. These two journalists were false reporters, but they were true translators. They were not so much interviewers as interpreters. And the second is that in any such difference it is often wholesome to look beneath the surface for a superiority. For ability to translate does imply ability to understand; and many of these journalists really did understand. I think there are many English journalists who would be more puzzled by so simple an idea as the plutocratic foundation of Prohibition. But the American knew at once that I meant it was a matter of dollar sign; probably because he knew very well that it is.
G.K. Chesterton is a candidate for the title of cleverest English writer of all time. He had a really remarkable gift for putting things well. Good writers are unusually good at finding just the right words for things, but Chesterton often went beyond this. He could construct just the right paragraph so that it woulld end with just the right sentence. "[He] knew at once that I meant it was a matter of dollar sign; probably because he knew very well that it is."
I think Jeff's argument seems coherent and plausible, from his Mormon point of view: the Book of Mormon was not written in Greek, but it was translated by the 'gift and power' of a God who knew what other Scriptures were known, and who desired to bring out parallels and resonances. Rendering Hebrew expressions into a familiar English translation of a Greek couplet could have been divine poetic license, not anachronism. Why after all should God provide a strictly literal translation, such as a human might naturally make, when the whole provenance of the Book of Mormon is miraculous?
I find that theory to be coherent and plausible from a Mormon point of view. I would say that I admired its ingenuity, but in fact I'm not even sure it's ingenious. I think it may just fit naturally, from a Mormon viewpoint.
From a non-Mormon viewpoint, of course, it can seem a little too darn convenient. If you postulate the notion of miraculous translation, and think it through seriously, then you realize that this is a theory which can justify just about anything. There's really not going to be too much that could possibly happen in the Book of Mormon text which this theory could not comfortably explain. So from the point of view of a critic who is eagerly sniffing for flaws in the text, which can be flung in Mormon faces as unanswerable challenges, then this theory of Jeff's is going to seem awfully unfair. It must somehow be cheating.
I don't think it's cheating. A big part of the reason why intelligent Mormons can be confident in their faith is that, even if they don't all articulate their reasoning, they realize that they have a story which is inherently hard to shake. Faiths that survive and grow in the world tend to have something like that. Otherwise they don't last. Human beings aren't stupid.
I'm happy to acknowledge all that. I came here expecting to find this kind of thing. I can also say, however, that skeptical non-Mormons also have theories of how the Book of Mormon was produced, which are inherently difficult to falsify, in much the same way. The skeptic's two basic premises are that Joseph Smith was a cunning con-artist, and that intelligent believers can be very good at rationalizing their beliefs. If you take these premises seriously, and really think them through, then you will also realize that hardly anything could possibly happen in this text, which they could not comfortably explain.
So if believers and skeptics are fighting, it's a fight between knights in plate armor, wielding toothpicks. The chance of either contender landing a fatal blow is virtually nil. No Mormon apologist is going to be able to turn up a wondrous feature of the text that will convince a critic, because none of the wondrous features require much stretching to explain, from the skeptic's point of view. And vice versa.
Wait, so any books with hebraisms is possibly divinely inspired?
Hang on, gotta buy a bigger bookshelf
John F. Kennedy, the Hebrew:
"Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country."
You said "skeptical non-Mormons also have theories of how the Book of Mormon was produced, which are inherently difficult to falsify,"
Can you produce a coherent secular theory, based on actual evidence (I said evidence, not proof), that explains how the Book of Mormon was produced? LDS scholars have produced a tremendous amount of evidence that the probability that the Book of Mormon was produced by Joseph Smith (or any other person contemporary to Joseph) is on a very low order of magnitude. No one has actually statistically quantified the odds on each new discovery, so I will not say impossible.
The only things skeptics have been able to produce so far are theories that say "Joseph could have done this or Joseph could have done that, or Joseph could have seen this, or Joseph could have seen that," without providing any type of supporting evidence that Joseph actually did this, saw that, or read the the other thing.
To be sure, the skeptics have no end of theories, just nothing that works for the individual subject, much less for the total package. You can produce theories which satisfy you, but you do not deal with the evidence that has been presented in any substantial manner. Your attitude seems to be that if you cannot deal with it with evidence, you attest it to "The skeptic's two basic premises are that Joseph Smith was a cunning con-artist, and that intelligent believers can be very good at rationalizing their beliefs. If you take these premises seriously, and really think them through, then you will also realize that hardly anything could possibly happen in this text, which they could not comfortably explain."
The premise "that Joseph Smith was a cunning con-artist" is a non-sequitur. But it is a comfortable rationalization for the skeptic, releasing him or her from any "intellectual" need to deal with the evidence rationally or to engage in any serious research on this or that subject which just might undermine the secular premise.
So, then when evidence is presented by an LDS scholar, the skeptic can then retreat to the mantra, "It doesn't mean anything unless it has been peer reviewed." But wait, that is what this blog is all about, n'est ce pas???
@ James Anglin
Yes, I love Chesterton's writings, though it's usually impossible to carve out pithy sayings — often, you're lucky if you can get away with a single paragraph as I did.
It seems to me that the debate over the authenticity of the Book of Mormon revolves around the label "reasonable," as in, "a reasonable man could believe that." From the point of view of atheists, of course, the Book of Mormon is implausible just because of its origin claims, so any talk of Hebraisms, etc., is ridiculous because they can't be anything but fraud or coincidence. But then, atheists believe that believe in the divine is inherently unreasonable. For theists, things get more interesting since a dismissal of the Book of Mormon as unreasonable has to be base on the text itself (and the presumed character of Joseph Smith, but that's a different issue).
So you get skeptics pointing out the problem of the mention of steel weapons, swords and horses, and Mormons pointing out the way that the mention of steel in the BoM fades over time as well as how when the Conquistadors arrived they considered the obsidian-lined macuahuitl to be swords and the natives at first called horses deer. Skeptics point out the ludicrousness of having the entire north and south continents populated by refugees from the fall of the Kingdom of Judah, and Mormons that look the matter over mostly come to agree and settle on those refugees finding a continent that was already populated, with the BoM taking place within a much smaller area. Skeptics point at the failure of genetic testing of Amerinds to find any markers that could indicate Semitic origins (except for one extremely minor one that is found up around the Great Lakes, which just happens to be one of the four regions on the two continents with the necessary mineral resources in a small enough area), Mormons point out how the conditions described in the BoM make any such genetic analysis impossible. The list is near endless, and all over whether belief in the Book of Mormon is reasonable rather than true.
In the case of how Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, the issue is complicated by the way that Mormons don't really agree. Some push for as close to a word-for-word translation as possible (it can't be a complete word-for-word, for some idea of what that might look like check out Young's Literal Translation of the Bible, online at Bible Gateway). Others push for a concept-by-concept translation. Then there's arguments over how many of Hebraisms and anachronisms are inherent in the text and so need explanations, and how many are because of Joseph Smith translating so it sounded like what he thought scripture ought to sound like. The general consensus seems to be that he was limited to his own vocabulary, except for a few names that for all I know he may have made up because he didn't have a word remotely similar. For me, I have no problem believing that sometimes he was translating concept-by-concept, and sometimes almost word-for-word. He wasn't exactly trained for the task, or when it came to education trained for much of anything, really.
Still, the traces reported of Early Modern English in the Book of Mormon that doesn't fit the era of the King James Bible seem to me to make for an interesting problem for both sides of the debate, with the same problem for both — where do they come from? For believers, why would an ancient American text have EME in the text? For skeptics, how could Joseph Smith be writing with traces of EME? In some ways, it's the same question.
Calling a premise a non-sequitur is a non-sequitur. Premises aren't supposed to follow from other things. They are starting points.
Why should I need to present evidence, in order to presume that Joseph Smith was a cunning con-artist? It is the nature of cunning con-artistry, to cover its tracks. 150 years later, one can't expect to find much direct evidence for fraud. It wouldn't be much of a fraud, if one could.
Don't like that style of defense? Too convenient an excuse for not presenting evidence?
Then I hope you'll show me the ruins of Zarahemla, with steel weapons and inscriptions in reformed Egyptian, because to argue that one can't expect evidence of an entire civilization, after 1500 years, is too convenient an excuse.
But I'd advise against starting a battle on this ground. I admit that 1500 years is ten times longer than 150, but it seems to me that even after that much longer time, a civilization that encompassed several hundred million person-years would still be much harder to hide than a few old books and some scraps of scratched brass, especially when the ancient cities would not have hidden themselves on purpose. So insisting on evidence seems to me like a dangerous tactic for Mormon apologetics.
I think 'reasonable' versus 'true' is a good distinction to draw. I don't believe that the Book of Mormon is true, but I'm not really trying to argue that it isn't true. If someone says, "I believe it because I feel that it's true", then I'm not going to object. I believe some things that way, myself. I'm willing to argue, though, over whether or not beliefs are reasonable.
I'd extend the concept of 'reasonable', however, by saying that things can be reasonable, or not, from different points of view — from different premises as starting points. I don't believe that anyone can really live by pure reason. Now, sometimes people can be wrong, even from their own point of view, because they just mess up in their thinking; and assumptions can be self-contradictory. Other than those cases, though, the default outcome of a serious discussion among intelligent people is that each concedes that the other is being reasonable from their own point of view, given their assumptions. From this stalemate, however, each may gain a clearer understanding of what the other's perspective really is — and of what their own perspective is, as well, for that matter.
The only kind of conversion I expect to see resulting from a really intelligent discussion is for one party (or both parties!) to decide, afterwards, "Now that I understand my own perspective better, I don't like it so much." I believe that can sometimes happen. Someone who thus becomes dissatisfied with their own perspective may then look for a new one. I don't think it can happen very often, however, that the perspective they end up choosing as a replacement happens to be the perspective of their recent discussion partner. That would be quite a fluke.
OK, let me restate that a bit. The statement that Joseph Smith was a con artist is actually a non sequitur. We have been discussing in a series of blogs by Jeff on the surprising discovery that the English in the Book of Mormon is pretty heavily Early Modern English mostly predating the King James Bible. The current blog is about articles by LDS scholars concerning the Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon appearing in peer reviewed publications.
The question of possible fraud has not even been brought up. In other words, based upon the current topics and the evidence that has been produced thus far, the statement that Joseph Smith, or even the premise, does not follow. It is an illogical statement. There has been no evidence introduced of fraud of any type concerning the Early Modern English or the Hebraisms found in the Book of Mormon.
As to your assertion about 150 years leaving a fraud undetected, maybe you could enlighten us as just what fraud you are talking about? The Book of Mormon??? It is the best evidence itself against the bald assertion that Joseph was a con artist.
In fact. the Early Modern English and the Hebraisms are a couple of examples that point away from the con artist explanation.
The Book of Mormon has and is being scrutinized by LDS scholars from a variety of disciplines. I know of no qualified critics that are making any substantial responses to the information that is being produced, for whatever reason.
At this point, you are reduced to asserting that Joseph Smith was a con artist and asking where is the sign saying "Zarahemla", which has nothing to do with the subject at hand.