Sunday, December 25, 2016

Very Good Hebrew – Part VIII

Continuing with this final article on Hebrew forms of grammar that are never or seldom found in English. 
    The Book of Mormon also uses conjunctions to mark parenthetical phrases. In the Book of Mormon examples listed below, we have added parentheses to illustrate:
    "After I, Nephi, having heard all the words of my father, concerning the things which he saw in a vision, and also the things which he spake by the power of the Holy Ghost, which power he received by faith on the Son of God (and the Son of God was the Messiah which should come) and it came to pass that I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things" (1 Nephi 10:17, 1830 edition).
    "When Jesus had spoken these words unto Nephi, and to those who had been called, (now the number of them who had been called, and received power and authority to baptize, was twelve) and behold, he stretched forth his hand…" (3 Nephi 12:1).  
    Another example of this, which sets apart the important part of a statement that is within parenthesis is found in 1 Nephi when he states: "For it came to pass in the commencement of the first yer of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah, 9my father, Lehi, having dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days); and in that same year there came many prophets..." (1 Nephi 1:4). in this case, Nephi is not only setting apart an important comment of explanation, it is an important issue all together, that is, lehi lived at Jerusalem, not in Jerusalem.
A special use in Hebrew of this kind of parenthetical phrase is also the introduction of a name. In English, we usually say something like, "there was a man named Sam," or "there was a man whose name was Sam." While the Book of Mormon has many such examples, it often reflects the Hebrew usage, which is, "there was a man (and his name was Sam.)" In the examples which follow, parentheses have been added where necessary:
    "Zoram did take courage at the words which I spake (now Zoram was the name of the servant) and he promised . . . " (1 Nephi 4:35).
    "They took him (and his name was Nehor) and they carried him . . . " (Alma 1:15).
    Another Hebrew-like use of the conjunction in the Book of Mormon is the expression “and also.” In Hebrew, it is used to emphasize the close links between two things, as in this biblical passage: "Both drink thou, and I will also draw for thy camels" (Genesis 24:44). Here are some examples from the Book of Mormon that seem to reflect the Hebrew usage:
    "They…worshiped the Father in his name, and also we worship the Father in his name" (Jacob 4:5).
    "The Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma" (Mosiah 27:14).
    "…What the Lord had done for his son, and also for those that were with him…" (Mosiah 27:21).
    "Now the sons of Mosiah were numbered among the unbelievers; and also one of the sons of Alma was numbered among them" (Mosiah 27:8).
• More on Hal-Clauses (Circumstantial Clauses): The string of hal-clauses evident in Alma 2:1-2 is perfectly acceptable in Hebrew, yet an editor or English teacher would not spare red ink on a similar structure found in written English.
    The Book of Mormon is replete with similar examples, the Bible also. John Gee ("La Trahison des Clercs: On the Language and Translation of the Book of Mormon," in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, 6/1, pp. 51-120), discloses a choice example from the Jewish Publication Society's translation of Genesis 1:1-3:
    "When God began to create heaven and earththe earth being unformed and void, with darkness [being] over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the waterGod said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light."
 In the Hebrew text, everything between the dashes consists of three hal-clauses (also known as circumstantial clauses) that begin with wa- (and) + noun/pronoun; the three nouns heading the three hal-clauses are earth, darkness, and wind/spirit, respectively. Ignoring semantic disagreements, the above is structurally a nice translation of hal-clauses: three verses into one sentence, no less. The three being participial phrases add background information or accompanying circumstances and are thus a prime language environment for hal- clauses in Semitic.
    In stark contrast, the King James Version makes separate sentences or independent and-clauses of the three parenthetical hal-clauses:
    "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light." (Genesis 1:1-3 KJV)
    The fact that the King James translators left many of the Hebrew circumstantial clauses inconspicuous by translating them as and-clauses quite undermines the accusation that Joseph Smith was simply mimicking the King James biblical style, because the Book of Mormon employs -ing participial expressions much more frequently than does the King James Old Testament. [Brian D. Stubbs, "A Lengthier Treatment of Length," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol 5/2, pp. 82-84,96] [See the commentary on Mosiah 7:21-22)
Repetitions: Hebrew also repeats related elements such as prepositions, articles, and possessive pronouns. Here is another example from the Book of Mormon:
    "And it came to pass that he departed into the wilderness. And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family and provisions, and tents, and he, departed into the wilderness" (1 Nephi 2:4, 1830 edition).
    "And it came to pass that we went down to the land of our inheritance, and we did gather together our gold, and our silver, and our precious things" (1 Nephi 3:22).
    "…All mankind were in a lost and in a fallen state…" (1 Nephi 10:6).
    " …My gospel…and my rock and my salvation…" (1 Nephi 13:36).
    “The city of Laman, and the city of Josh, and the city of Gad, and the city of Kishkumen, have I caused to be burned with fire" (3 Nephi 9:10).
“…All their men and all their women and all their children…" (Mosiah 24:22).
    Such repetition seems to be a waste of precious space on the plates, except for the fact that it is required by the Hebrew language.
    The purpose of this eight-part series on the differences between Hebrew and English grammar was to serve three purposes:
1. Show the authenticity of the Book of Mormon being a translation of an ancient text written by Hebrew-speaking and Hebrew-writing people (albeit translated from Reformed Egyptian);
2. Show that the critics views of the many changes in the first several editions was based not on errors in the doctrines being discussed and the Lord’s inspiration and involvement in the original writings, but of making the awkward Hebrew grammar more compatible with English;
3. Show members that “first-blush” views are often wrong in trying to understanding the scriptural record beyond the initial views that Mormon’s words bring to mind.
    Further, it should be noted that for whatever reason, the Book of Mormon is full of these translations that reflect the Hebrew grammar and not the English, whether by design or by Joseph Smith’s lack of translation expertise at the time, the original text of the Book of Mormon and even our current edition, contain many expressions that are not characteristic of English.
While this use of awkward Hebrew expression in English seems to embarrass some who work with the scriptural record, and has been a source of criticism by uninformed critics, either Joseph Smith was unable to go far beyond the liberal representation of the text before him, or working through the Spirit, it was intended. If the latter, and thankfully for these differences, we have a perfect testimony of the accuracy and authenticity of the translation of the Book of Mormon. If we remove all of these incidences (as some LDS scholars want to do), at some point we will have removed the very factors that prove the Book of Mormon is exactly what it purports to be, a modern translation of an ancient record written by Hebrew-speaking and Hebrew-writing people.


  1. Del- Thank you for this very interesting series on the Hebrew writing style showing forth in the Book of Mormon. I found it fascinating and a further testament of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

  2. It certainly is, and so is all that I did not cover. The references of the Book of Moron to the ancient Hebrew is so compelling, and has been known since Hugh Nibley's work in the late 1960s, it is remarkable that it is so ignored by the professional linguists.