If It Looks, Smells, and Tastes Like Translated Hebrew…

There is a lot of effort — all mental, though — trying to legitimize the Book of Mormon. It should be physical effort, in the form of archeology, but that pesky angel took the plates with him.

If we could just get a look at the plates, I’m sure we could do all kinds of analysis — physical and textual — to prove their authenticity. But at least we have the translation, and we can use the translation to look for traces of Hebrew influences that would have been in the original Egyptian-script original.

At least that’s what John A. Tvedtnes argues in an article entitled “The Hebrew Background of the Book of Mormon.”

The essay begins,

The English translation of the Book of Mormon shows many characteristics of the Hebrew language. In many places the words that have been used and the ways in which the words have been put together are more typical of Hebrew than of English. These Hebraisms, as I will call them, are evidence of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon—evidence that Joseph Smith did not write a book in English but translated an ancient text and that his translation reflects the Hebrew words and word order of the original.

I read this and I think, “Are you serious?”

He is.

His essay is an attempt to prove the Hebrew origin of one book by comparing the English translation with an English translation of another book known to be written in Hebrew.

Some choice passages:

Hebrew uses another compound preposition that would be translated literally as from before the presence of or from before the face of. English would normally use simply from. The influence of the Hebrew can be seen in these Book of Mormon passages:

  • “they fled from before my presence” (1 Nephi 4:28)
  • “he had gone from before my presence” (1 Nephi 11:12)
  • “they were carried away . . . from before my face” (1 Nephi 11:29) […]

Hebrew has fewer adverbs than English. Instead, it often uses prepositional phrases with the preposition meaning in or with. The English translation of the Book of Mormon contains more of these prepositional phrases in place of adverbs than we would expect if the book had been written in English originally—another Hebraism. Here are some examples:

  • “with patience” instead of patiently (Mosiah 24:15)
  • “with much harshness” instead of very harshly (1 Nephi 18:11)
  • “with joy” instead of joyfully (Jacob 4:3)

The Book of Mormon uses cognates much more often than we would expect if the book had originally been written in English. These cognates show the Hebrew influence of the original. One of the best-known examples is “I have dreamed a dream” (1 Nephi 8:2). That is exactly the way that the same idea is expressed in literal translation of the Old Testament Hebrew (see Genesis 37:5; 41:11).

Here are some other examples of the use of cognates in the Book of Mormon, each followed by the more normal expression for English:

  • work all manner of fine work” (Mosiah 11:10) instead of work well
  • “and he did judge righteous judgments” (Mosiah 29:43) instead of judge righteously or make righteous judgments […]

For example, Hebrew uses compound prepositions that would be translated literally as by the hand of and by the mouth of. English would normally use just by. The Book of Mormon contains many examples that appear to show the influence of this Hebrew use of compound prepositions:

  • “ye shall be taken by the hand of your enemies” (Mosiah 17:18)
  • “I have also acquired much riches by the hand of my industry” (Alma 10:4) […]

All Tvedtnes succeeds in doing this is the exact opposite of what he’s arguing: he’s providing indications that Smith simply used the old KJV as a model for his writing.

But if “it looks like translated Hebrew” is a good enough argument, well…

And I have taken this computer by the hand of he who is webmaster and have written a fine writing and posted a wonderful post explaining, with much patience, the idiocy of this argument.

And write like Yoda too, I can. A Mormon Jedi must I be!

If a college student were to turn in a paper with this kind of reasoning, the professor would probably write two words at the top of the paper: “See me.”

The idea of “Saac’s sons” can be traced by to J. H. Allen’s Judah’s Sceptre and Joseph’s Birthright, from which Armstrong heavily plagiarized.

Yet this kind of “exegesis” is hardly new. I was first introduced to this kind of thinking growing up in Herbert Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God. It was there that I learned the true etymology of the term “Saxons.” It came from the old days when the children of the Biblical Isaac were referred to as “Isaac’s sons.” It’s easy to see how one could quickly drop the “I” and simply call them “Saac’s sons.”

There are a few problems with this line of reasoning.

  1. “Saxon” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “seax.”
  2. There is no evidence that anyone ever used “Saac” as a nickname for Isaac.
  3. This derivation depends on modern English (“Saac’s sons”), which would be several hundred years in the future from the time, Armstrong claimed, people began calling the descendants of Isaac “Saac’s sons.”

But in the world of cultic exegesis and the presumed conclusion, we can overlook these kinds of things.

Hat tip to Mormanity – A Mormon Blog for the initial link to this article.
Tvedtnes’s original article is available here.

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