Friday, December 23, 2016

Very Good Hebrew – Part VI

Continuing with the Hebrew forms of grammar that are never or seldom  found in English: 
Word plays: did the original Book of Mormon contain word plays which are not apparent to us in the English translation? Word play (or play on words) is a literary technique and a form of wit in English, where the words that are used become the main subject of the work. An example would be the name of the play “The Importance of Being Earnest,” giving credence to the main character “Ernest” with the same sound as “earnest.” Another example would be the word play of James Joyce who wrote: "they were yung and easily freudened" which clearly implies the more conventional "they were young and easily frightened"; however, the former also makes an apt pun on the names of two famous psychoanalysts, Jung and Freud.
    In addition, Hebrew of the Old Testament is replete with clever word selections, names being the principal example. Of course, without reference to the original language, these kinds of word plays are really impossible to identify in the Book of Mormon.
On the other hand, using Hebrew as their language, there are some interesting coincidences that can be observed.
    Four of these are illustrative: the place names Nahom, and Jershon, together with Lehi's river and valley:
1. Nahom: NHM is a Hebrew word meaning "consolation" or "comfort." In Arabic, this same word has the meaning of "to sigh" or "to moan." As Lehi's party were traveling in the wilderness, they buried Ishmael "in a place called Nahom." Is it just coincidence that in describing this event, Nephi commented that Ishmael's daughters "did mourn exceedingly."
    Because vowels in Hebrew are spoken but not written, root words utilize only the consonants and not the vowels, thus some of the variant names based upon the Semitic root NHM found in Hebrew texts are Nahum, Naham, Nihm, Nehem and Nahm, which means that the root will have different meanings. As an example, the South Arabian root NHM is related to stone cutting; however, the Hebrew root NHM is found repeatedly in the Bible and relates to sorrow, hunger, consoling, and mourning, which scholars consider appropriate when used to refer to a place of burial and the expression of mourning.
    This theory is corroborated by a huge area of ancient burial tombs at 'Alam, Ruwayk, and Jidran about 25 miles north of Marib, and the largest burial area known anywhere in Arabia.
2. Jershon: in Hebrew, Jershon means "place of inheritance." Jershon was the name that the Nephite's gave to the land given as a refuge to Ammon's convert Lamanites. In Alma 27:22 we read that this land was given to these Lamanites "for an inheritance." Was it called Jershon after the determination to give the land to the Lamanites for their inheritance, or was it so named earlier, referencing a land given the Nephites for an inheritance in conjunction with the Land of Promise given to Lehi?
3. nhr (nâhâr- נָהָר), is a Hebrew word meaning “river.” It comes from a root meaning "to flow" and also has the secondary meaning of "to shine." Might this be the phrase Lehi used when he admonished Laman to, "Be like unto this river, continually running into the fountain of all righteousness."
4. êtn, a Hebrew word meaning “valley.” More specifically, it speaks of a valley that is "perennial, overflowing, enduring, and firm." Again, might this be the phrase Lehi used when he drew attention to Lemuel’s area of weakness, "Be like this valley, firm and steadfast, and immovable"?
A specific example is the use of the dash. In History of the Church and the Doctrine and Covenants, the use of the dash to represent structural disruptions is very limited, while in the Book of Mormon the dash is used extensively in temporarily holding together strings of un- wieldy structures until a sense of completion can be arrived at. Some of these are quite necessary, while other instances may simply be allowable patterns in the Nephite language that are very different from those of English. It might also be clarified that Joseph Smith's personal writings at times contain long sentences, such that the difference between Joseph Smith's writings and the Book of Mormon is not so much a matter of length as it is the style of those lengths, a pronounced awkwardness inconvenient to English grammar in the Book of Mormon that does not surface in Joseph Smith's personal writings.
Parallelisms in Hebrew writing: parallelism is the foundation of Hebrew poetry and registers most obviously to the English reader as a balanced repetition. Isocolon is a figure of speech in which a sentence is composed of two or more parts (cola) perfectly equivalent in structure, length and rhythm: it is called bicolon when having two parts (Harley Davidson slogan: “American by birth, rebel by choice”), tricolon when having three parts (Abraham Lincoln: “That government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth”), or tetracolon when having four parts (Shakepeare: ““I’ll give my jewels for a set of beads, /My gorgeous palace for a hermitage, /My gay apparel for an almsman’s gown, /My figured goblets for a dish of wood…”).
    The symmetrical arrangement of parallel lines of about the same length (called “cola” or “stichs”) in which meaning, grammar, syntax, form, and stress balance and reinforce one another constitute parallelism. The cadence of the Psalms even in translation rises in the main from these overlapping parallelisms-semantic, syntactic, morphological, prosodic. Usually two parallel lines appear together, forming a “bicolon” or a “distich.” Many lines of synthetic parallelism simply advance or complete the thought without recourse to any of the semantic ties noted before it.
1. Synonymous Parallelism: consists of two lines of text with the idea or subject of the first line either repeated directly or echoed (in what is termed a "synonymous repetition") in the second line. As an example:
    Pray unto him continually by day, and give thanks unto his holy name by night” (2 Nephi 9:52). “Pray” is a synonymous counterpart to “give thanks” and “by day” is a counterpart to “night” with the third parallel between the pronoun “him” and his holy name,” both referring to God. Other examples: “Their works were works of darkness, and their doings were doings of abominations” (2 Nephi 25:2); “Wo unto him that spurneth at the doings of the Lord; yes wo unto him that shall deny the Christ and his works” (3 Nephi 29:5).
2. Antithetic Parallelism: this is characterized by an opposition or contrast of thoughts, or an antithesis between two lines. Parallelisms in which contrasting ideas appear as opposites are called antithetical. A common feature that joins the two lines is the conjunction and or the disjunction but (both “and” and “but” are represented by a single character in the Hebrew, vav [ו ], pronounced “waw”). Often the second line is introduced with one of these two words and immediately follows the contrasting element.
As an example: “Ye are swift to do iniquity, but slow to remember the Lord your God” (1 Nephi 17:45). The antithetic is shown in the opposites of ”swift” and “slow,” and “do iniquity” to “remember the Lord.” Another example: “For I say unto you that whatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil” (Alma 5:40); Another example: “If ye will repent ye shall be saved, and if ye will not repent, ye shall be cast off at the last day” (Alma 22:6). The opposites in this simple summation of the gospel plan are evident: repent ye contrasts with ye will not repent, and saved stands opposite to cast off.
This is obviously something that the uneducated Joseph Smith in 1830 could not possibly have known. All these Hebraisms are just additional proof that the Book of Mormon is exactly what it is purported to be.

(See the next post, “It’s Very Good Hebrew – Part VII,” for more on how the Book of Mormon fails in English but excels in Hebrew.

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