Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Narrow Neck of Land and the Fallacy of Mesoamerica’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec - Part VI

In all the rhetoric written about the meaning of Hebrew words and their root derivatives, which many Mesoamerican and Great Lakes theorists have used to cloud the simple language and understanding of the Book of Mormon, one very important fact has been left unsaid by them—and that is how the plates of Nephi were interpreted by Joseph Smith and the impact of that interpretation upon our understanding.

First of all, Nephi makes it quite clear that the Lord speaks to us in our own language—that is, in our language so that we can easily understand the meaning. As Nephi wrote:

“For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding” (2 Nephi 31:3).

Now that should be plain enough. God does not speak to us in such a way that we need someone to interpret it for us. We do not need a scholar, a linguist, or someone who has a special or unique understanding of ancient words. What we need is to read the scriptures that were interpreted for us by a prophet—one who used the Urim and Thummim and did so under the direction of the Spirit who ratified each translation sequence or waited for a correction to be made.

Now let us understand this fully. What words the ancient prophets used to denote their meaning, whether Hebrew or Reformed Egyptian, no matter what the word meant to a Nephite, the end result was for the word to be translated into our language so we would understand it. That is, the wordage we should become familiar with for our understanding is the language of Joseph Smith in 1829. That language is what he used to interpret the Nephite language meanings.

So, if the Nephite word used meant “XYZ,” then Joseph would have used the current English meaning of that word known to him in 1829. If Joseph wrote down “west,” then whatever word with a Hebrew meaning as shown in Reformed Egyptian written on the plates, meant “west.” If Joseph used “northward,” the Nephite word meant “northward.” If Joseph wrote “elephant,” the Nephite word used to describe the Jaredite animal, meant “elephant.”

If Joseph had no understanding of the word and no image could be brought to mind for the Spirit to acknowledge, then he was left to use the word as it appeared before him. Thus, we have words like neas, sheum, cureloms, cumoms, ziff, etc. The reason we do not know what those words represent is because Joseph did not know and the Spirit could not describe to his mind something Joseph had no experience in understanding.

In this sense, the fact that a Hebrew word “Ma’aray,” which means “from the place of evening” in Hebrew, and whatever equivalent word in Reformed Egyptian used to write upon the plates, the end result is that Joseph Smith used its current English equivalent in his time and, if he was correct, the Spirit acknowledged that by removing the writing on the image Joseph saw and replaced it with another. If Joseph was wrong, then the image remained and Joseph was left to try again. Thus, Joseph translated “Ma’aray,” or its Reformed Egyptian equivalent into the English word “west.”

In the same sense, when Mormon and others wrote the word Sea, whatever word they used in Reformed Egyptian to describe their Hebrew idea, it was translated into English as Sea—a word in Joseph Smith’s day that meant the same as “ocean.” It does not matter what the word “yam” meant originally in Hebrew. What matters is what the word that Joseph Smith used meant to him in his day.

This then leads to the final requirement in understanding the words used in the Book of Mormon, and that is having and checking Noah Webster’s “1828 American Dictionary of the English Language.” That is the language of Joseph Smith’s day in the area of New England where both Joseph Smith and Noah Webster grew up, lived and worked.

Why Mesoamerican and Great Lakes theorists want to cloud the simple understanding of the Book of Mormon is beyond good conscience. To try and prove a model of the Land of Promise in such a way that requires clouding the simple language of the Book of Mormon is not only poor scholarship, but it is disingenuous in intent.

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