Wednesday, February 21, 2018

For a Better Understanding – Part I

Frequently, many of the questions or comments directed our way, as well as several criticisms of the scriptural record by self-proclaimed “experts” on the matter, and even well-meaning members who think they have an understanding of the general topography of Mormon’s numerous descriptions, often get their bearings out of sync with the meaning of the words the ancient prophet used. So for a better understanding, we are going to take a look at a few areas that seem to give some people a lot of difficulty in understanding.
The Island of South America before the Andes rose, tilting the central continent which came up with the mountains and surfaced

• Island: The Land of Promise was an island (2 Nephi 10:20), at least until the crucifixion around 34 A.D. The word “isle” is used by Joseph Smith in his translation as the word “island” in 1829 was considered “an absurd compound of isle and land, that is, land-in-water land, or ieland-land. Webster claimed: “There is no such legitimate word in English, and it is found only in books. The genuine word always used in discourse is our native word, isle.” Some critics of the word “isle” claim that in Hebrew it meant “coast, dry land, country, isle, island,” however, there is no such word in Hebrew. The Hebrew word אָוָה does not mean “isle,” and has no English translation. In the Old Testament, this Hebrew word, phonetically spelled “ee” meant coastlands. Since they had no other word to describe “isle” or “island,” this word was sometimes translated to mean “isle” or “island,” but the two were not confused. That is, if the sentence was “Cyprus is an island,” that word would have been translated as “island” because the land was known to be an island; however, if it was a sentence dealing with a distant, basically unknown land, it would have been translated as “country,” or if known to be along a coast, as “coastland.”
    As an example, in the King James Version of Genesis 10:5, written as מֵ֠אֵלֶּה נִפְרְד֞וּ אִיֵּ֤י הַגּוֹיִם֙ בְּאַרְצֹתָ֔ם, the early English translation was “By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations,” which is obviously an incorrect rendering of the word “isle.” Today, with a better knowledge of ancient Hebrew, it is rendered “From these the maritime peoples spread out into their territories by their clans within their nations, each with its own language,” or “Their descendants became the seafaring peoples that spread out to various lands, each identified by its own language, clan, and national identity,” or “From these the coastland peoples spread in their lands, each with his own language, by their clans, in their nations,” or “From these the coastlands of the nations were separated into their lands, every one according to his language, according to their families, into their nations.”
    In fact, the King James Version 2000 Bible renders this “By these were the coastlands of the nations divided in their lands; everyone after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.” In addition, all places beyond the sea from Judea are called isles, Jeramiah 25:22; however, more accurately that should have been translated as “all placed beyond the sea from Judea are called nations” or “countries” or “lands,” but “coastlands,” would be the most accurate to the meaning of lands bordering on the seas beyond Judeah.
• Land of Promise: The Book of Mormon refers to two lands within the overall Land of Promise, a Land Northward and a Land Southward (Alma 22:32), which was separated by a small neck of land (Alma 22:32) in between.
• Land Southward: This lower land, where most of the Book of Mormon takes place from 1 Nephi 19 through Alma, was nearly surrounded by water (Alma 22:32), except for the small neck of land. This entire Land Southward occupied by the Nephites was called Zarahemla (Ether 9:31), though it was subdivided into numerous lands, including Bountiful (Alma 22:29). That portion of the Land Southward occupied by the Lamanites was called the Land of Nephi; though in the Book of Lehi, making up the 116 translated pages that were lost by Martin Harris, it was also called the Land of Lehi, specifically that area where they first landed.
• Land Northward: This upper land was the home of the Jaredites, who never occupied the Land Southward, and only entered it to hunt (Ether 10:19,21). It is not mentioned as a general knowledge of the Nephites until 73 B.C. (Alma 46:22), and indicated that the Land Northward was controlled by the Nephites in 72 B.C. (Alma 50:11). Apparently, the Land Northward was completely surrounded by water, both as an island (2 Nephi 10:20) at least until the crucifixion, and with seas in every direction (Helaman 3:8), and verified as the land bordering the sea to the east and west (Helaman 11:20). While some claim Jacob’s word “isle” could mean coast, border, region or habitable land, the 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language states it as “a tract of land surrounded by water, or a detached portion of land embosomed in the ocean” which would have been the meaning Joseph Smith would have understood. We do know that Jacob tells us that this “isle” was in the midst of the sea over which they traveled (2 Nephi 10:20).
• Narrow/Small Neck: This small or narrow neck of land was located between the Land Southward and the Land Northward (Alma 22:32), and was near where Hagoth had his shipyard (Alma 63:5), and where the Jaredites built a city (Ether 10:20). This narrow neck was the only land between the land Southward and the Land Northward (Alma 22:32). Within the narrow neck was a narrow pass or passage (Alma 50:34).
• Narrow Pass/Passage: The narrow pass or passage within the narrow neck of land, was the only way to get from the Land Southward into the Land Northward (Alma 50:34; 52:9) and visa versa (Mormon 2:29; 3:5). This pass ran by the sea on either side to the east and to the west (Alma 50:34).
• Seas: This word in the Book of Mormon should always be translated as “ocean” as the correct English word. It should be kept in mind that in ancient Hebrew (as today) there was no word for ocean. As an example, the largest body of water that the first readers of the Hebrew Bible knew was the Mediterranean. They called it הים הגדול – the Great Sea (the largest body of water that the first readers of the Hebrew Bible knew was the Mediterranean (hayyam haggddol). Over the years that word for sea remained in the vocabulary, and eventually was used for any body of water of sufficient size. Thus there’s no word in Biblical Hebrew—or Modern Hebrew, for that matter—for ocean. Instead, they use the same word that English borrowed from Ancient Greek: אוקיינוס. For example, האוקיינוס השקט הוא האוקיינוס הגדול ביותר בעולס. which means “The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world.” In fact, the words אוקיינוס and and יָם can both be translated as “ocean.” However, ocean is used in a different way in Hebrew. As an example, the word צוּלָה in Hebrew means “sea,” but more accurately should be translated as “deep,” meaning the depth of the ocean or sea. It is pronounced “tsulah” (tsoo-law) and is often simply translated as “sea” in the Bible. However, it is correctly translated in Isaiah 44:27 “that saith in the deep, be dry.”
    We have to keep in mind that other languages do not have the numerous words for the same thing that English often does because English is a conglomeration of several languages that have been incorporated into the lexicon over the past three hundred years of continual absorbing other cultures into our own. As an example, in English, we have a separate word for almost every conceivable type of body of water, i.e., ocean, sea, main, brine, oceanic, deep, lake, bay, lagoon, pond, puddle, inlet, harbor, gulf, blue, seas, mar, surge, swell, tide, billows, breakers, brink, bite, nautical, whitecap, coastal, breakwater, pool, expanse, basin, fjord, seaside, bayou, marsh, shallows, shoal, seaboard, seacoast, littoral, inshore, offshore, overseas, tsunami, great waters, etc. This is not the case in most other languages, especially in Hebrew.
    At the same time, the Hebrew word for “sea” is “yam,” also written “yaw,” and pronounced “yawm” (almost like yawn, but with a “w” instead of an “n”), and comes from a root word meaning “to roar.” It is this word that is found throughout the Old Testament, and is used 396 times—25 times alone in Genesis and Exodus, of which all are translated as “sea” or “seas” except for twice, which are translated as “west” (Genesis 9:2) and “westward” (Genesis 13:14). Anciently, the word “yam” was used to describe almost any body of water, including oceans (Atlantic Ocean), seas (the Seven Seas), and lakes—but never “river,” since that word is “nahar” נָהָר, (pronounced naw-hawr), which is used 119 times in the Old Testament, and almost always translated as “river” though occasionally translated as “stream” (Exodus 7:19, 8:5) or “flood” (Joshua 24:3,15).
Left: The Land of Promise runs north and south according to the scriptural record; Right: The major areas of the Land of Promise

• Directions: There is absolute certainty from Mormon’s descriptions that the entire Land of Promise runs north and south as stated by Mormon in Alma 22:27-34, as well as elsewhere. That is, running from the far south, you have 1) the Land of First Inheritance; 2) the Land of Lehi; 3) the Land of Nephi; 4) the Narrow Strip of Land; 5) the Land of Zarahemla; 6) the Unnamed Land; 7) the Land of Bountiful; 8) the Narrow Neck of Land and Narrow Pass; 9) the Land of Desolation; 10) Land of Cumorah; and 11) the Land of Many Waters.
• Peninsula: Never mentioned in the Book of Mormon.
• Isthmus: Never mentioned in the Book of Mormon.
    Thus, we need to be careful when we suggest that a Hebrew word can be translated to mean something that fits our purpose, but in reality is not the normal or even seldomly translated as such. “Yam,” as an example, is not the word for “West” as Sorenson claims, but the words “maarab” or “maarabah” are, i.e., מַעֲרָב is the correct word to use for “West,” which comes from the root word “eneb,” and in the Old Testament is translated as “west,” “westside,” and “westward.” When Sorenson tries to use such a word for “West” to concur with his viewpoint, it would be like saying in English, “If I am facing east, then west would be behind me, that is, to my back,” but we would rarely suggest that “back” meant “west,” other than in a certain context.
(See the next post, “For a Better Understanding – Part II,” for further information on certain areas of the Land of Promise as they are used in the scriptural record and their meaning)


  1. Just for kicks, here is a geopolitical map showing historically impassable lands removed from South America which makes it more like a group of islands. Even with the Amazon basin risen, it still isolates the Andes like an Island in a geopolitical sense. Though it was literally an island thousands of years ago.

  2. And though the timetable is still messed up because modern scientists cannot imagine catastrophic changes, here is an article that shows new evidence that the Amazon Basin was underwater.

  3. Todd: You will probably be interested in an article that is scheduled to appear in this blog on March 19th, entitled "The Ancient Amazonian Sea," which includes some of the Smithsonian information.