Friday, February 12, 2016

A Disservice to Translation

When we question the Book of Mormon, we in reality are questioning the translation process of Joseph Smith and the Spirit that guided him in the process. Further, we are questioning Mormon’s abridgements, or those of his son, Moroni (Ether), or the plain writing of Nephi, Jacob, and Amaleki. All of which appears to be doing a disservice to the entire scriptural record and the Spirit that guided the entire work. 
Take, as an example John L. Sorenson’s comment in his book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, (p294) when he writes: “But isn’t it obvious that the “cow” of the Book of Mormon was our familiar bovine, straight out without all this hedging? No, it is not at all obvious. First, we are trying to find out what the Book of Mormon really means by the words we have in English translation; we are not trying to either to simplify or to complicate the matter, but only to be correct. In the effort to learn the truth nothing can be assumed obvious. Second, there is a lack of reliable evidence—historical, archaeological, zoological, or linguistic—that Old World cows were present in the Americas in pre-Columbian times. The same is true of some of the other creatures mentioned in the Nephite record, where modern readers may feel they are already familiar with the animals on the basis of the translated names. In these cases we have to find another way to read the text in order to make sense of it.”
    First of all, let’s make it clear that this is not a matter of squelching Sorenson’s creativity—it is a matter of accepting what has been done and is revered by millions of people as a divinely inspired work. To state questions about its authenticity, or accuracy, without any reliable reason other than one’s own personal beliefs and the fact, of course, that certain ideas are not conducive to one’s avidly stated location of the Land of Promise (Mesoamerica), it seems unconscionable to make such unsubstantiated comments merely to further one’s own personal agenda.
Mesoamerica runs east and west while Mormon describes the Land of Promise running north and south;  however, Sorenson clouds the issue without a shred of evidence by claiming that Mormon didn’t use the same compass as we do, and coined the concept of “Nephite North” meaning they had different directions than we do in order to use his Mesoamerican model
    Secondly, because Sorenson is an avid supporter and believer in Mesoamerica as the Land of Promise, even going so far as to change the entire compass pointings of Mormon’s clearly stated directions for the record to fit his incorrectly shaped Land of Promise, and changing numerous other scriptural references that do not agree with Mesoamerica. Now, Sorenson wants to tell us that Joseph Smith, a farmer all his life, and son of a farmer, that he does not know what a cow is, or that the Spirit acknowledged his use of the word “cow” when it was wrong.
    Such attitude toward the scriptural record appears unjustifiably pretentious on the part of a scholar.
    Third, if we shift the location away from Mesoamerica, in many cases, his desire to change the record is unnecessary and completely without justification under any circumstances. In fact, when metallurgy was not found in Mesoamerica before 900 A.D., though he claims 600 A.D. (still long after the Nephites), Sorenson merely stated that someday research will find that metallurgy did, after all, exist there. Yet, when it comes to other matters, he wants to change the record to remove the embarrassingly absent animals or other facts that point away from Mesoamerica.
Mazama Americana, or Red Brocket deer, is considered by Mesoamericanists as the answer to the translation of other animals, such as the goat or horse. Since the Spanish came to America as horsemen, using the horse to subdue the Aztec, Mayan and Inca, it is difficult to think they mistook a simple deer, which is similar to the deer of Spain, as a horse
    Continuing with his train of thought on “cow” and other animals, Sorenson states (p294) “So what might the Nephite term translated by Joseph Smith as cow actually have signified? He then goes on to talk about Cortez and the Spanish who “observed herds of docile deer that some scholars think were semi-domesticated,” and concluded with the thought, “Perhaps they were “cows.” He then goes on to tell us that the Mazahua Indians of El Salvador at the time of the conquest were described as a “pastoral people” who “owned and cared for” herds of deer. He then (p295) discussed that “only recently have scientists demonstrated that a full pastoral tradition based on domesticated llamas existed in pre-Columbian Peru for thousand of years.” He then suggests “Or we might consider the llama or alpaca—American cameloids—as cows.
They carried loads and provided food and fiber for the people in Ecuador, Peru, Boliva and beyond, though they are not attested by zoologists for Mesoamerica in recent times.”
    So let us take a moment to see how Joseph translated the words Sorenson is questioning:
According to David Whitmer, one of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, where most of the translation took place in his home, he testified: “I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.” (Page 11 of his book An Address to All Believers in Christ, Part First, Chapter 1. Also, Interview given to Kansas City Journal, June 5, 1881, reprinted in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Journal of History, vol. 8, (1910), pp. 299-300.
    In fact, there were numerous witnesses to the translation of the Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith. They all tell essentially the same story: Joseph put a stone (often called a seer stone) in a hat, then burying his face in the darkened hat words appeared on the stone which he dictated to the scribe. The gold plates were either always covered in a cloth, where no one including Joseph could see them or they were not even in the room at the time Joseph was translating.
    Now, consider, that Joseph Smith is translating and comes to the word in reformed Egyptian that he sees as “cow,” he reads out “cow” to Oliver Cowdery. The Spirit acknowledges the correctness of this, the word disappears and another appears on the seer stone. Tell, me where is the mis-translation?
Top: Deer; Middle: Cow; Bottom Left: Llama; Bottom Right: Alpaca. Is there anyone other than Sorenson who thinks a farmer is going to get these animals wrong, especially the cow and deer which he would have seen hundreds of times during his lifetime to that point. Of course, llama and alpaca he never would have seen, heard about, or knew anything about such animals for they were not introduced into North America for decades after the Book of Mormon was published and and Joseph’s death
    The problem, as it always does, lies with the theorist who wants so desperately to disqualify, or call into question, the simple language of the scriptural record as being or meaning something other than what is written.
    As to the actual translation, Martin Harris tells a similar story to David Whitmer. Harris, after all, was the actual scribe, who testified:
    “Martin Harris related an incident that occurred during the time that he wrote that portion of the translation of the Book of Mormon which he was favored to write direct from the mouth of the Prophet Joseph Smith. He said that the Prophet possessed a seer stone, by which he was enabled to translate as well as from the Urim and Thummim, and for convenience he then used the seer stone, Martin explained the translation as follows: 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.”(Comprehensive History of the Church, and also in B. H. Roberts’ Defense of the Faith and the Saints, p 257).
    It seems to me, that Martin Harris, David Whitmer, Joseph Smith and the Spirit simply know more about this process than Sorenson, yet Sorenson is forever questioning, altering, changing and trying to call into question, what has been written with the Spirit’s full acknowledgement of every word, phrase, and statement.

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