Faith promoting stories sometimes have obvious weaknesses that can justify discarding the story as just another errant rumor. This can often be the case when enthusiastic LDS believers repeat something they heard or even experienced long ago or report something they heard from someone else. Even when the story is generally accurate, there can be legitimate reasons for questioning and rejecting the story due to gaps, missing details, or outright errors such as mistakes due to details they didn’t fully understand or recalled incorrectly.
The story of the translation of the Book of Mormon into Afrikaans is an interesting example of a faith-promoting story that was easy to dismiss because of some apparently illogical and questionable elements. In light of newly available information, we can now correct an error or two in the story and recognize that the story has significant value. In this case, it’s a story of a non-LDS scholar who stood as a witness of the ancient origins of the Book of Mormon.
The helpful new information is the transcript of the talk given by the translator, Professor Felix Mijnhard, at the special conference in Johannesburg on May 14, 1972, when he discussed his experience in translating the text. This information is shared by Charles Pyle in comments responding to “Die Boek van Mormon” at UnblogMySoul by John Pontius, who shares his recollection of Dr. Mijnhard’s comments heard while he was a missionary in South Africa long ago.
In his translation approach that commenced with the middle of the text–before he ever looked at 1 Nephi–Dr. Mijnhard found strong evidence that the text must have originally been in a language other than English. He eventually found that Hebrew was an excellent fit, for when he translated passages into Hebrew before translation into Afrikaans, awkward English suddenly made perfect sense. This didn’t happen with other target languages he tried. He came to this conclusion before he read 1 Nephi and realized that the book claimed to have ancient Semitic origins.
With some the gaps filled in and errors corrected, thanks to Charles Pyle’s input and the transcript of the talk Mijnhard gave in 1972, Kevin Barney at Common Consent feels that the story some of us once dismissed now makes sense, but perhaps is not as dramatic as some may have thought. I think the story is deeper than just being a case of someone noting the existence of some Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon. In any case, it’s a notable example of a non-LDS scholar finding what he felt to be compelling evidence for ancient origins (and divine origins) in the Book of Mormon.
Not all that glitters is fool’s gold.