Book of Mormon/Evidences/Hebraisms

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PERSPECTIVES MEDIA QUESTIONS RESOURCES 2014 CONFERENCE

    Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon

Questions and Answers


Question: What is a 'Hebraism'?

A Hebraism is a way of speaking or writing that uses the grammatical or rhetorical styles of Hebrew

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.


Question: Do Hebraisms exist in the Book of Mormon?

A number of Hebraisms exist in the structure of the Book of Mormon

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 weaker evidence for Book of Mormon antiquity since Joseph could have gotten them from his contemporary environment.

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. 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.

Dan Peterson notes the use of Hebrew idioms and cognate accusative structures in the Book of Mormon:

A number of details from the Book of Mormon text appear to support a view of the book as a rather literal translation from an ancient document.33 In an ancient Hebrew idiom, for example, arrows are "thrown" (see, for example, Alma 49:22). Also, just as in ancient Hebrew and other Semitic languages, in a construction known as a "cognate accusative,"[1] the word denoting the object of a verb is sometimes derived from the same root as the verb itself. "Behold," says the prophet Lehi, "I have dreamed a dream."35 Similarly, the (to us) redundant that in such expressions as "because that they are redeemed from the fall" and "because that my heart is broken" is a Hebraism (see, respectively, 2 Nephi 2:26 and 2 Nephi 4:32). [2]

Evidence


See FairMormon Evidence:
View more evidence of Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon


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"!

For further information related to this topic


  • Chiasmus
    Brief Summary: A literary structure known as "chiasmus" exists in the Book of Mormon. Some claim that the presence of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon is either coincidental, an artifact of the observer, or not impressive since examples of chiastic patterns have been found in the Doctrine and Covenants or other 19th century writing. (Click here for full article)
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  • If-and conditionals
    Brief Summary: The first edition of the Book of Mormon contained several examples of a grammatical structure not known in English, but common in Hebrew: the so-called if/and conditional. (Click here for full article)
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  • Names: authentic Old World names in the Book of Mormon (Click here for full article)
    ∗       ∗       ∗
  • Sami Hanna on the Book of Mormon
    Brief Summary: I have read a talk written by Elder Russell M. Nelson in which he discusses a friend of his who translated the Book of Mormon back into Arabic. What are the facts behind this story and the talk? (Click here for full article)
    ∗       ∗       ∗


To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. See Donald W. Parry, "Hebraisms and Other Ancient Peculiarities in the Book of Mormon," in Echoes and Evidences, 176–77.
  2. Daniel C. Peterson, "Mormonism as a Restoration," FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 390–417. off-site wiki


Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims

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