Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Simplicity of the Translation

In the last few posts we have discussed the type of people who wrote and abridged the passages in the Book of Mormon that so many Theorists ignore or outright change their obvious meaning in order to make the scriptural record agree with and support their model, like Mesoamerica, etc. Probably the most egregious is that of directions. John L. Sorenson began the problem with his ignoring the north-south directions of Mormon’s description, namely Alma 22:27-34 (though there are many others), and provided a myriad of reasons why the Nephites did not use normal compass points.
One argument is put forth by William Hamblin (left) and quoted by John L. Sorenson (FARMS update May 1990; The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book), is that “the Nephites used Egyptian terms with Hebrew meanings, claiming that the Hebrew “land west ward (Hebrew behind)” would be written in Egypto-Nephite characters as “land northward” (eg Behind) while the conceptual Hebrew “land eastward” (Hebrew front) would have been written in Egypto-Nephite as ‘land southward’ (eg Front)…In other words, you find the conceptual geography of the Hebrew universe must be “distorted” in relation to the Egyptian vocabulary.”
Making this simple, Hamblin claims the Semitic minded Nephites tried to say land westward but it got translated “land northward” in the English Book of Mormon. They tried to say land eastward but it got translated “land southward”. They tried to say south sea but it got translated “west sea”, and they tried to say north sea but it got translated “east sea.”
There are two major issues with this type of thinking. First of all is the fact that Nephi wrote plainly that he knew the directions he was traveling along the Red Sea, when he wrote: “And it came to pass that we traveled for the space of four days, nearly a south-southeast direction” (1 Nephi 16:13). Consider these points:
1. Lehi traveled in an area that none in the colony had ever before been—that is, Nephi did not know the directions from past experience;
A camel caravan moving along the Frankincense Trail. Note that it is merely desert and not a trail at all. In fact, it is merely a very wide are of desert between water holes and nothing to set it apart from other desert
2. There were no markers and these trails were merely wide areas, in fact often several miles wide, over which camel caravans and other travelers occasionally moved—there were no markers of any kind, and except for water holes, no reason one might think it was a trail at all;
3. Nephi not only used a cardinal compass point that was accurate (south), but also an ordinal point that was accurate (southeast). Nephi knew they were traveling south-southeast, a compass direction that was totally accurate to his line of travel at the time;
4. Later, when they changed direction, Nephi wrote: “And it came to pass that we did again take our journey in the wilderness; and we did travel nearly eastward from that time forth” (1 Nephi 17:1)—which is another accurate direction, for going eastward from the Red Sea would lead them directly to the south coast and the Arabian Sea in the area of Oman (Salalah), from which they later sailed.
Two points should be noted here:
1) Nephi did not mention direction until after Lehi found the Liahona outside his tent the morning they planned to leave and continue their journey (1 Nephi 16:10)--which may suggest that Nephi gained his directions from the Liahona, and that being the case, he would have had the Liahona giving him directions until at least arriving at the Land of Promise, in which case he would have known the correct directions of the promised land which, in turn, would have been known to Lehi, Sam and Zoram as well, and handed down to others through the years.
Before mentioning the second point, let’s pursue these two scriptures and compare them with Hamblin and Sorenson’s rationale about the Egypto-Nephite language. Taking the first direction Nephi listed, that of south-southeast, a verse translated from the reformed Egyptian which, using Hamblin’s reasoning, we should interpret that Nephi was saying that they had traveled “nearly an east – eastnorth direction”.   Not only does this not make sense, there is no such direction, unless we transpose the second direction to read northeast, thus saying east-northeast. And if this was the direction, they would not be traveling along the Red Sea, but to the northeast from the area of Aqaba, heading across the desert in the direction of Baghdad. This, of course, is not only inconsistent with Lehi’s travels along the Red Sea, but would have been an impossible trek where no known waterholes existed in 600 B.C. As for the second scripture, which mentioned turning eastward from that point, would actually be saying “we did travel nearly northward from that time forth.” Again, this would place their course, when combined with the direction of east-northeast, back toward Jordan—a very circuitous route that would have accomplished nothing, and certainly not bring them to any ocean.
2) In the second point, we need to keep in mind how the scriptural record was translated by Joseph Smith, and how the Spirit was involved in that translation. According to Martin Harris, one of the witnesses and scribes to the Book of Mormon translation, said, “By aid of the seer stone, sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin and when finished he would say "Written," and if correctly written that sentence would disappear and another appear in its place, but if not written correctly it remained until corrected, so that the translation was just as it was engraven on the plates, precisely in the language then used" (originally Deseret News, Nov. 30, 1881, later in the Millennial Star, Feb. 6, 1882, pp. 86-87—emphasis mine). In this way, Joseph’s translation and the scribe’s transcription was verified by the Spirit, and if either were wrong, the writing remained until corrected by Joseph Smith or the Scribe. Joseph Knight, Sr., an early Church member and close friend of Joseph Smith agreed that the writing would remain if not correct (Dan Vogel’s Early Mormon Documents, Vol 4, pp 17-18)
Now, the problem seems to settle into two points of view:
1) The Nephites used a totally different means of determining their directions, a fact that would be different from just about everyone who ever read the Book of Mormon;
2) The Spirit was involved in making sure the plates were interpreted correctly, and the writing would remain and translation could not proceed until any errors or inconsistencies were corrected, either by Joseph Smith in his translation, or by the scribe in his transcription.
One other main factor is simply that “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33), and since Sorenson, Hamblin, and other Mesoamerican theorists create confusion by changing and redirecting understanding of the scriptural record, we need to know that it is not the Lord’s way. For they are basically saying that the Nephite directions as used in the record are confusion unless you understand that the Nephite directions were actually different than what they said—and the only way we can truly understand those directions is to understand a most confusing transliteration of Nephite, Hebrew and Egyptian language.
Personally, I find it hard to accept that the Spirit, whose sole job regarding the Book of Mormon translation was to make sure no errors were made from the meaning of the ancient writing, would allow a totally inaccurate use of the cardinal directions so frequently used in the scriptural record, and allow a confusing meaning to be transcribed. Certainly, Joseph could have been inspired to use the correct direction, for whatever the reformed Egyptian word or symbol was for north, south, east or west, Joseph would not have known it unless the spirit brought that to his mind. So why would the spirit bring the wrong word to his mind? If it was supposed to be west, then why bring north to mind? If it was actually east, why bring south to mind, etc.?
There is an interesting scripture found in Proverbs, which states: “Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease” (Proverbs 22:10). I wonder if that might not be read: “Cast out the confuser, and confusion shall go out; yea, disagreements over the directions in the Book of Mormon shall cease."

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