FairMormon is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of LDS doctrine, belief and practice.
Book of Mormon/Evidences/Hebraisms
Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon
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
- present in the Book of Mormon, but
- 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," 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). 
- Repetition of the word "and" in the Book of Mormon
- Adverbials in the Book of Mormon
- Antenantiosis in the Book of Mormon
- Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon
- Hebrew clauses in the Book of Mormon
- Colophons in the Book of Mormon
- Conjunctions in the Book of Mormon
- Cognates in the Book of Mormon
- Construct state in the Book of Mormon
- The divine feminine in the Book of Mormon
- Hebrew legal issues and the Book of Mormon
- The phrase "It came to pass" in the Book of Mormon
- Use of numbers in the Book of Mormon
- Ancient poetry and the Book of Mormon
- Prepositions and the Book of Mormon
- Pronouns and the Book of Mormon
- The "land of Jerusalem" in the Book of Mormon
- Hebrew forms of parallelism in the Book of Mormon
- Use of the plural in the Book of Mormon
- Repetition of the Definite Article in the Book of Mormon
- Simile curses in the Book of Mormon
- The Tree of Life in the Book of Mormon
- Merismus in the Book of Mormon
- Prophetic speech in the Book of Mormon
- Names and titles of Deity in the Book of Mormon
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.
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"!
To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here
- See Donald W. Parry, "Hebraisms and Other Ancient Peculiarities in the Book of Mormon," in Echoes and Evidences, 176–77.
- Daniel C. Peterson, "Mormonism as a Restoration," FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 390–417. off-site wiki