Question: Why does the Book of Mormon mention "satyrs" in 2 Nephi 23:21? Aren't satyrs mythological creatures?


Question: Why does the Book of Mormon mention "satyrs" in 2 Nephi 23:21? Aren't satyrs mythological creatures?

"The translator’s task is to select the word or phrase that best represents in another language the meaning in the original language"

Stephen Ricks, professor of Hebrew and Semitic languages at Brigham Young University, answered this question: [1]

The translator’s task is to select the word or phrase that best represents in another language the meaning in the original language. It is likely that the word satyr was selected by the King James translators (Isaiah 13:21; 34:14) because they expected that the English-speaking readers of their day would recognize the word’s associations with goats or goatlike creatures.

Many recent translations of the passages in Isaiah render satyr as "goat" or "wild goat." In the New International Version, for example, Isaiah 13:21 reads: "But desert creatures will lie there, jackals will fill her houses; there the owls will dwell, and there the wild goats will leap about."

∗       ∗       ∗

Certainly the Prophet Joseph Smith could have rendered a plainer, more literal translation of satyrs 2 Nephi 23:21 — one that would not lead literalist modern readers to wonder whether goat demons really exist — but the translation apparently was "sufficiently plain to suit my purpose" (D&C 128:18), as Joseph said of another Biblical verse he quoted. A comment by Robert J. Matthews, professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University and author of A Plainer Translation: Joseph Smith's Translation of the Bible — A History and Commentary, is instructive:

"It is evident that Joseph Smith was closely allied to the text of the King James Version.... That doesn't mean that he copied it from the Bible, but that he might have relied upon the language of the King James Version as a vehicle to express the general sense of what was on the gold plates". [2]


Notes

  1. Stephen Ricks, "How do we explain the mention of "satyrs," commonly regarded as mythical creatures, in 2 Nephi 23:21 and Isaiah 13:21 and 34:14?," Ensign (February 1996), 63. off-site
  2. Robert J. Matthew, "Why do the Book of Mormon selections from Isaiah sometimes parallel the King James Version and not the older—and thus presumably more accurate—Dead Sea Scrolls text?," Ensign (March 1980), 40. off-site