Saturday, August 22, 2015

Is the Scriptural Record Really a Guessing Game? Part I

As we sit with scriptures in hand, reading over Moroni’s abridgement of the ancient Ether record, do we really see it as a guessing game as to what was meant by the last of the Nephite prophets?
How narrow is narrow?
How long is a day-and-a-half journey?
How many souls is every soul?
Who are all the people on all the face of the land?
How far east is from the east to the west sea?
How many Nephites defected over to the Lamanites?
Who are all the people who had not been slain who were on all the face of the land save it be Ether?
What is meant by “all the face of the land” in Ether 14:19, 21, 22, 23, 31?
What is meant by “all his household?”
    Hugh Nibley, in his 1952 published “Collected Works,” discussing “The World of the Jaredites,” and writing about “What Happened to the Jarsedites?” asks the question that has oft been repeated by other theorists:
“First, we might ask, does Ether 13:21 really say that all the Jaredites would be destroyed, or is Ether referring only to the household of Coriantumr?”
    Others often then go on to ask a follow-up question,
    “What is the meaning of the word destroyed?” as Nibley sets forth in his writing.
    It might be of interest to know that though the word “destroyed” was written somewhere around 580 B.C., it was then later abridged by Moroni in 390 B.C., and translated by Joseph Smith in 1829 A.D. While we cannot say what Ether’s original words meant (we don’t even know what language he wrote in, other than to say it was Mesopotamian about 200 years or so after the Flood as it was handed down among the Jaredites over about 1500 years of change.
    On the other hand, we do know more about Moroni’s abridgement, since his writing would have been in Reformed Egyptian at the close of the Nephite record (close to 400 A.D.), using characters “which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech” (Mormon 9:32). In fact, even the Hebrew language, to which they were more familiar, had been altered by them as well (Mormon 9:33).
Let’s repeat Moroni’s comment: “which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech.” Two things come to mind:
1. This sounds like Moroni is telling us that the actual characters of the Reformed Egyptian had been altered by them over the 1000 years of use, differing to some extent from those originally used by Lehi and Nephi upon first starting out.
2. These changes were made over time because of the manner of change in their speech.
    Regarding their manner of speech, it seems clear that the Nephites did not speak Egyptian because of its difficulty and because its use was caused by space requirements on the plates (Mormon 9:33).
3. They were more familiar with and more comfortable with the Hebrew.
    Second, it also seems that Reformed Egyptian was used so no one else would be able to interpret their writing (Mormon 9:34).
    This brings us back to what types of changes would Moroni be talking about? We do not know how to relate the Reformed Egyptian and the altered Hebrew of 400 A.D. had among the Nephites, but we do have a common point and that was the translation of Joseph Smith, of which we have a dictionary of the English language in the period of time and location (1828, New England) in which Joseph lived. So, by looking up “destroyed” in that 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, we can arrive at the only “common” point in the entire process available to us, i.e., the meaning of a word Joseph Smith used at the time he used it, not the world in English as it is known today, 185 years later.
• Destroyed:, participle passive Demolished; pulled down; ruined; annihilated; devoured; swept away; etc.
Destroy:, verb transitive, Annihilate, demolish, ruin, bring to naught; to lay waste, to make desolate, to kill, to slay, to extirpate (pluck up by the roots); to cease to exist; in general, to put an end to. (A reference is given in Numbers 32:15 ”Ye shall destroy all this people”)
    Thus, in 1828, at the time Joseph Smith translated the plates into English, he was familiar with these general meanings regarding the word “destroy” and “destroyed,” as they were used at the time in the area in which he grew up.
    Hugh Nibley then goes on to ask, “So who were destroyed?”
    Who, indeed, were destroyed? The only people on the land mentioned in the scriptural record were the Jaredites, where they had lived for about 1500 years.
    So we have Mormon at the end abridging the record, using “modern” (to him) or altered Reformed Egyptian characters from what he was reading throughout the record as he abridged it. We have Moroni doing the same, i.e., using altered Reformed Egyptian characters to abridge the Ether record, which was written in a language we do not know.
    The purpose of both these abridgements was one of translation—translating a language from something their future readers could not have read into something that could be read and understood. As Moroni put it: “But the Lord knoweth the things which we have written, and also that none other people knoweth our language; and because that none other people knoweth our language, therefore he hath prepared means for the interpretation thereof” (Mormon 9:34)
    And what was that means?
    The translation of the plates by Joseph Smith through the power of the Lord and the aid of the Spirit. As stated in the Origin of the Book of Mormon “Joseph Smith, through whom by the gift and power of God, the ancient Scripture, known as the Book of Mormon, has been brought forth and translated into the English tongue, made personal and circumstantial record of the matter.” And as stated in “An account written by the Hand of Mormon upon plates taken from the Plates of Nephi, which among other things, was “To come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof—Sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by way of the Gentile—The interpretation thereof by the gift of God.”
It can only be asked, then, does anyone think that the Spirit, who aided in the translation of the plates, actually sat there and played word games so that we, in our understanding, need to keep asking ourselves “what does that mean, what does that mean, what does that mean,” in order for us to guess at interpretation of Mormon and Moroni’s writing?
    So let’s recap this: 1) Ether wrote in an unknown language; 2) By the Power of God, 3) Moroni translated that into a language we do not know called Reformed Egyptian; 4) By the Power of God and the Aid of the Spirit, 5) Joseph Smith translated that into 1829 English Language of New Englandwhich it so happens we have a complete dictionary of the English Language as spoken in the area of New England by Americans at the time of Joseph Smith.
    So the question Hugh Nibley should have asked is, what does it matter what Ether meant in 13:21—what did Moroni and Joseph Smith tell us that meant in the language of New England in 1828? And in that language, as pointed out above, “destroy” means the Jaredites were annihilated, and Ether was correct in saying only he and Coriantumr survived that last Jaredite battle. There simply were no other Jaredite survivors, Coriantumr lived long enough to see the people who would inherit his land and be buried by them, as Ether wrote. There is no mystery about the translationit is pure and simple and easy to understand!


  1. When we can not be true to ourselves.. we can not be true to others. The day that MesoAmerician theorists become true to themselves.. that is the day they will tell you that MesoAmerica is NOT the lands described in the Book of Mormon.

  2. When fame, fortune, pride and careers are at stake, truth often takes a back seat. It is a sad commentary on human behavior, but unfortunately found throughout society--especially in academia where pride and fame are so strongly connected to one's station and standing among one's peers. Mesoamerica is not going to go away any time soon--too much is at stake among too many people who keep perpetuating their stand through the teaching of the next generations. Unfortunately in academia, God has far too often been banished, the scriptures are always being questioned and people's careers and standing seem far more important than the truth found in the scriptural record.