Wednesday, February 17, 2016

What is so Difficult to Understand About Translation?

What is so difficult to understand about translation? The Book of Mormon came forth in 1830—we have had it for the past 185 years—and was meant for us in this day and age. Therefore, any words within that book are going to be words known to us today and contemporary with that period of time from 1830 to the present and beyond. Otherwise, how could it be of any value to us at all? 
    Despite Hugh Nibley, Sorenson or others trying to tell us we do not understand the meaning of what was written, if it is so difficult to understand and we need an academician to interpret it for us, what is its purpose to the common man? Was it not meant for all of us? Or is it a work meant to be simply understood by each reader. Certainly, all scripture has depth—the works of the Lord are not meant to be taken lightly; however, that does not mean the word is confusing, or means something other than what it clearly says.
Left: The Red Brocket Deer; Right: A Goat. There is very little resemblance between the two and anyone in the Book of Mormon period would have been somewhat of a farmer and a person far more knowledgeable of animals than perhaps some of our historians of today
    As some theorists have stated, “It has already been indicated that a referenced animal in the Book of Mormon could actually be something somewhat different, but had a similar appearance. There is an animal now living in Mesoamerica that fits this description, the Red Brocket deer, Mazama americana.  Unlike other deer it has but a single goat-like horn – which is really an antler that is shed and regrown annually like other cervids” (Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, (p299); Matthew Roper, “Deer as `Goat’ and Pre-Columbian Domesticate,” Insights: An Ancient Window 26/6 (2006), 2-3).
    After all, what value would the Book of Mormon be if the writer meant tapir and Joseph translated it to horse; or the writer meant deer and Joseph translated it goat?
While the type of elephant may have been a mammoth (a true elephant), may not be important, it is clear that an elephant is an elephant, but when we are told by theorists that really, the animals mentioned in the scriptural record were probably extinct, what value is the record to our understanding when the writers knew they were writing to a future people? And does one really believe that the Spirit is going to acknowledge an interpretation of the wrong animal name as being correct?
In the frontpiece of the Book of Mormon, it is written: “Wherefore, it is an abridgement of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites—Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile—Written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation—Written and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed—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.”
    If this is not the case, then the entire purpose of the Book of Mormon is called into question, for it was written, as the frontpiece (above) tells us, for us in our day.
    Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the words Joseph Smith chose to use and verified by the Spirit as correct are going to be misleading, not understandable, or difficult to comprehend their meaning. Or, in the case of these theorists, the wrong animal. After all, it was written for us in our day, therefore, irrespective of the words Mormon and others used to describe something, in the translation process those words would have been made clear to the translator for our use today if he had any knowledge of that animal--and surely Joseph Smith, living on a farm in an agrarian society, knew the difference btween a deer and a goat and a horse.
    Even in our day, when we translate the Book of Mormon into other languages, there are occasions when a particular word or phrase is substituted for that particular language and people to clarify meaning.
    Many years ago when translating for a South Seas language, the phrase “as white as snow” was changed to read “as white as (a white bird of the region)” since snow was unknown to that people.
    Consequently, when we read how the names of animals are inaccurate, that cow does not mean cow, or horse does not mean horse, or goat does not mean goat, it is difficult to understand where those thoughts came from and how they got started. If it had been a different animal, it would have been identified as such with one caveat, i.e., as in the case of the curelom and cumom, since those animals were unknown to the translator (Joseph Smith) and he was unable to come up with the original meaning, therefore, he simply used the original words or names by which either the Nephites or the Jaredites knew them.
    If the translation was done by any other means, goat inserted when deer was meant, or horse when tapir was meant, etc., as so many theorists try to claim, then the overall translation of all matters must be called into question. How then do we know that doctrinal terms were used correctly, or specific instructions, comments from the Lord to the Nephites, or other directives or advice are correct?
But the translation is correct, and the words used are those meant to be used, for as Nephi said, “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). Joseph Smith used the language of his day in deciphering the Book of Mormon.  Where he had no knowledge of a current word, phrase, or item, he used the original word, complete with its original spelling equivalent, as in the case of the animals curelom and the cumom (Ether 9:19), the plants neas and sheum (Mosiah 9:9), and the metal ziff (Mosiah 11:8).
    To think that Joseph used inaccurate or misleading words in his translation is to deny the role of the Spirit in acknowledging the work as has been stated in these pages many times and verified by the testimonies of David Whitmer and Martin Harris, who both said that if what Joseph Smith read was not correct, the wordage remained until he translated it correctly and when correct, the wordage then disappeared.

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