Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Language of the Nephites – Part II

Continuing from the last post regarding the reason why no Nephite writing survived the Lamanite wars and subsequent thousand years of Lamanite involvement in the Land of Promise. 
   As discussed in the previouis post, it should be no surprise that Hebrew and Reformed Egyptian have not been found in the Land of Promise in the Americas, since the Lamanites were bound and determined to destroy everything written by the Nephites—and in the thousand years between Cumorah and the coming of the Spanish and the Europeans, they had plenty of time to destroy any semblance of Nephite writing and existence.
    Any writing that was left, other than perhaps a fragment here or there, would have been the language the Lamanites developed—what we find today as hieroglyphics or picturegraphs, such as the Mayan Script in Mesoamerica, which had nothing to do with the Nephites, but everything to do with the Lamanites.
The Maya codices. This can hardly be shown as any comparison between Nephite writing in Hebrew or Reformed Egyptian and what was found in Mesoamerica
    It has been asked numerous times what exactly was the language of the Nephites—usually by Mesoamerican theorists who are trying to make some connection between the Maya script coduces and the language of the Nephites—Hebrew or Reformed Egyptian. While the Maya script is an obvious picturegraph writing, ancient Hebrew was an alphabetical system, as was Reformed Egyptian.
Upper two images are the Maya Script; Lower Left: Ancient Hebrew; Lower Right: Reformed Egyptian
    Nor can we decide that the Nephites used some other system, or even relied basically on the Egyptian language, since as late as 421 A.D., Moroni tells us that the record keepers would have preferred to write in Hebrew with which they were far more familiar (Mormon 9:32).  To keep the record straight, it should be noted that the record keepers, the prophets, used Reformed Egyptian on the sacred plates because this writing took far less space than Hebrew. In fact, Hebrew, though it takes far less space than English to write, was evidently much more “wordy” than the far more condensed Reformed Egyptian. Evidently, then, the language for writing on the plates was chosen: 1) to conserve space on the valuable and difficult to make gold plates, and 2) to have the sacred record written in a language (Reformed Egyptian) that no one in the future (when the records were brought forth in this Dispensation) could read except with the help of God through the Apirit and the Urim and Thummim.
    Yet, after a thousand years of using Reformed Egyptian, and a thousand years since its last use, and some hundred and fifty years since learning of it, no evidence in the entire Western Hemisphere has ever been found of that language or anything like it as far as we know. This alone should suggest that the records upon which the Nephites used this language were all hidden and taken from earthly access by the Lord as we are told in the scriptural record. Why would we think anything would be found?
    As for the Hebrew, after 1,000 years in the Land of Promise, we are told by Moroni that the Nephites still preferred to write in Hebrew, which should suggest that they were also speaking their native tongue. But that would not have been a point for Moroni to make in 421 A.D.
His purpose in telling us about writing was because he felt he and those before him did not do as good a job writing the sacred record because they were using a written language that was not their normal language—that Reformed Egyptian was used because of the lack of space on the plates, but had they written in their native Hebrew, they would have been able to do a better job at explaining the word of God to the future readers.
When people speak and write in their native language, they will always communicate better and more effectively. To suggest, as Joseph L. Allen does in his book, that the Nephites’ written language of choice—Hebrew—would not have also been their spoken language is totally without merit.
    So what happened to the Hebrew writing? Obviously, the Maya script has nothing whatever to do with Hebrew or any semblance of it. So two things should be evident:
1) What records or writing of any kind that the Nephites had, which were in the hands of the prophets and leaders, were preserved by the Lord through hiding and are kept now within the cave-room Brigham Young described;
2) The Lord was correct that the Lamanties would not leave anything of the Nephites they found and nothing, particularly the writing, would survive.
    So, once again, the question is, why would we think anything would be found? And along that line, why would we think that any writing connected to the Nephites would have survived in any fashion within the Land of Promise? And when it comes to any Nephites that defected over to the Lamanites, one can see why they would not have left or used any writing after that point, since the Lamanites hatred toward the Nephites was so great, they wiped out every Nephite—why would a defector keep or use anything Nephite under such circumstances?
    Yet, why do we find Maya script in the Americas? Obviously, because it was not the Nephite writing or anything to do with the Nephites at all. And one glance at the Maya script confirms this point completely.
    Consequently, the Maya script can only be accredited to a subsequent period after the Nephites were annihilated, after the civil wars, and to a time when the Lamanites surviving the purges and rampant evil that filled the land, settled down and some began to consider such improvement, the arts and social development. That the Maya script cannot be connected to any other language, especially to anything Nephite, it can only be the result of:
1) Spontaneous development of an independent manner;
2) Inspired by some involvement with a person or people who chanced upon the scene at a later time.
Consequently, for the Maya to have a written language has nothing whatever to do with the Land of Promise, with the Nephites, or with the language once written by the Lamanites during an earlier, peaceful time when they were interacting and communicating with the Nephites (Mosiah 24:5-6), some 600 years before the fall of the Nephite nation.
For Mesoamericanists to draw attention to the idea that a written language was found by the Spanish when they conquered Central America, the only written language in the Americas at the time, does little to further the Book of Mormon, or prove the location of the Land of Promise. In fact, one might suggest it does just the opposite regarding the location of the Land of Promise, since Mormon and Moroni, at the close of their life-long struggle with the Lamanites, makes such a point of needing to hide and bury records in order to preserve the written word and keep it from being utterly destroyed by the Lamanites.


  1. What kind of writing would have been done by the Nephites and Lamanites that left on the ships that Hagoth built and headed North?

  2. Certainly Hebrew, though it was in the process of change as Moroni states 400 years later. It is hard to know how wide-spread was the teaching of Reformed Egyptian and whether or not those Nephites took sacred records, though it seems most likely they did. In Helaman we find that the Nephites kept many records of the proceedings of the people (3:13) and our record (BOM) contains only a hundredth part (3:14). We might conclude that those in Hagoth's ships took sacred and secular records (copies) with them of all that had taken place in their history to that point. It is one of the reasons why the events in Mesoamerica can be found to mirror the events of Lehi coming across the water, etc.