Thursday, October 12, 2017

Jaredites and their Language – Part I

The record Moroni abridged that briefly recorded the history of the Jaredite people, lastly inscribed by the prophet Ether, the 29th generation from Jared (Ether 1:6), who led his people out of Babylonia at the time the Lord confounded the language (Ether 1:33), along with his brother, a man Joseph Smith said was named Mahonri Moriancumer, though the Jaredite record leaves him nameless. From the Book of Mormon we learn that Jared, his brother, and their friends (making up 22 separate families, or a total of 24 overall) were present at or near the Tower of Babel.    When the language of the people was confounded, Jared asked his brother to ask God not to confound their own language, that of their friends, and that of their immediate families (Ether 1:35).
The Jaredites lived in the near vicinity of the Tower of Babel in the area today known as Mesopotamia, near where Noah settled after leaving the Ark

After being granted to have their language not confounded, they asked to be led to where the Lord would have them go, hoping that it would be a choice land. They were led through the wilderness, across many waters, to the "great sea which divides the lands," and then dwelt in tents at the seashore for four years. They named this place where they had (temporarily) settled Moriancumer Ether 2:13).
    Now in Babylonia, archaeologists have discovered remains of many towers, called Ziggurats (Akkadian word ziqqurat from zaqaru, “to be high”). They are of varying sizes from 65-feet on a side to over 295-feet on a side. More than 30 have been discovered and they had names like "Temple of the Foundation of Heaven and Earth," "Temple that Links Heaven and Earth," "Temple of the Exalted Mountain," "Temple of Exalted Splendor," and "Temple of the Stairway to Pure Heaven." These names, of course, reflect the scriptural record which states: “let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven” (Genesis 11:4).
    It is believed that the earliest such tower was located at Eridu, which according to Sumerian tradition was the first city. Some are multi-layered, up to 16 layers, with each being built over the remains of earlier structures. The building materials were sun dried bricks in the centers and burnt bricks and bitumen mortar for the outer layers.
    Briefly, sun-dried is where the clay or much brick is dried by the heat of the sun, while burnt bricks are made by burning in the kilns, the latter is obviously stronger and more useful. On the other hand, bitumen is the binding material present in today’s asphalt. Sometimes it is also known as mineral tar. Bitumen is produced by partial distillation of crude petroleum, and used in such things today as road construction, dam groutings and linings, jetties and dyke protection, swimming pools and waterproofing.
    While these ziggurat constructions are the most famous and many have proposed that one of them is the Tower of Babel, others claim the oldest ziggurats that have been found to date is Teppe Sialk which is located to the northwest. The main ziggurat there has been dated to 2900 B.C.
"A family tree of Indo-European languages suggests they began to spread and split about 9,000 years ago. The finding hints that farmers in what is now Turkey drove the language boom—and no later by Siberian horsemen, as some linguists reckon. Around this time, farming techniques began to spread out of Anatolia (Turkey) and across Europe and Asia, archaeological evidence shows." (John Whitfield, "Language tree rooted in Turkey"). This shows that all of the early history of Genesis 1-11 was located in the Ararat area and the northern most portion of Mesopotamia which would be the location of the tower of Babel.
    In regard to the confusion of languages, the Scriptural Hebrew account is so brief that it is difficult to discern the full story. Many have implied that immediately the workers on the tower were unable to understand each other and quit work in confusion. When in fact, there is no mention of the time factor and the method of "confounding" the languages is also not discussed. The word used in the ancient Hebrew is “balal,” which means “to anoint.” It also means to “mingle, mix, confuse, and confound.” In Genesis, as used, it has the meaning of “confuse” or “confound,” both words are used in the various translations, as well as “mixed,” “mingled.” Thus, the basic meaning of the Hebrew word "balal" is to overflow and then by implication, to mix.
    Josephus writes of this: “"When all men were of one language, some of them built a high tower, as if they would thereby ascend up to heaven, but the gods sent storms of wind and overthrew the tower, and gave every one his peculiar language; and for this reason it was that the city was called Babylon."
    Possibly then the manner in which the Lord initiated the confusion, "let us go down,” was via a natural catastrophe. If this was the major contributing factor or just a part of the whole of the "confounding" is difficult to understand. Josephus’ account would seem to indicate a two-part event, with first a blowing over of the tower and then a giving of a "peculiar language" to each person.
    Today many that supposedly speak the same language have radically different understandings of the same words. We also know that men readily make changes in their languages and often in very short time spans as slang crop up and then the slang is more permanently incorporated into the language. Therefore, many like to propose the concept that languages are continuously "evolving" and that over time humans evolved their languages from much simpler languages, grunts and gestures. However some recent studies have indicated that there are no simple "evolving" languages on the present earth and some languages are actually with time being simplified
Luigi Lura Cavalli-Sforza (left), a population geneticist, formerly at Stanford, states: "All contemporary modern humans use very complex languages. There are no "primitive" languages: the 5,000 or more spoken today are equally flexible and expressive, and their grammar and syntax are sometimes richer and more precise than that of the more widespread like English and Spanish, which have undergone some simplification over the centuries." ("Genes, People and Languages,” North Pointe Press, New York, 2000, p59)
    Therefore as has been proposed by some students, our present languages are not necessarily evolving, but actually doing the opposite and becoming more simplified and less exacting.
    We may actually have many more words to speak and write with, but we may in fact have languages today that are less capable. Indications such as these have caused some linguists to conclude that the nature of the language situation is almost "insoluble." The Dead Sea Scrolls, however, are evidence that for millenniums the believers were very exacting in maintaining the "sacred" records! We can probably assume that the non-believers were not necessarily so exacting.
    According to Herman Daily’s Accuracy in Genesis, “Could it be that the ones in Babel having strayed from the faith no longer felt it imperative to hold to the "sacredness" of the original language and teachings given of the Lord, and this was a part of the causation of the "confounding"? Or how about the possibility that the only scholars and scribes of the area, and their records, were destroyed when the tower collapsed?” (Editor Herman Daily, Accuracy in Genesis: New Perspectives Affirming the Scriptural Creation Record, H. Daily, 2010, p69)
(See the next post, “Jaredites and their Language-Part II,” for more information on the language of the Jaredites and its possible connection to the language of the Hebrews)

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