Friday, April 20, 2018

Understanding Hebrew Directions – Part I

There seem to be a lot of difficulty among many who write about the Land of Promise in understanding Nephite directions found in the Book of Mormon as listed by Mormon throughout the scriptural record. While there shouldn’t be any difficulty at all, since Mormon uses north, east, south and west along with northward and southward, yet theorists labor over the information as they attempt to justify their own beliefs and models of the location of the Land of Promise and its various lands and locations.
The simple fact is, that there are certain steps that are required in following Nephite directions, and when understood and used, eliminates the problems so many have. It begins with an understanding of the Hebrew mindset regarding directions as viewed in the Middle East and how that varies considerably from those of the western viewpoint. If one is going to correctly understand Mormon’s directions, one needs to understand the Hebrew way of seeing directions and that means understanding how the Hebrews saw their world.
    Despite John L. Sorenson’s lengthy and energetic attempt to try and convince his readers and followers that there was such a thing as “Mormon North”—meaning when Mormon wrote directions he had different directions than we use today—and that north actually meant east, etc., we should discount out of hand such fallacious attempts at self-serving duplicity, if for no other reason than the Spirit seeing to the translation by Joseph Smith knew what Mormon’s writings meant and would never have given Joseph Smith the wrong information since the record was to be read in our day by English-speaking, English-thinking, and western-oriented minds.
    North, after all, means north!
    However, the fact is, the Hebrews did not think the way Sorenson claims in his book An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, any more than they think that way today. This becomes quite plain when we understood the ancient Hebrew mindset.
    First of all, we need to keep in mind that there are certain things about the Hebrews that have not changed for thousands of years, such as:
1. There was and is only one God.
2. The Torah (first five books of Moses) was the Law (Pentateuch).
3. The Tanakh (all 24 books) was the central reference of their religion (Judaism), and all answers to all problems could be found there.
4. Israel/Israelites were the center of the world and all things evolved around them.
5. They were different and separate from all other peoples.
6. East was the predominant part of their world; and was the basis of their viewpoint, their orientation, their religion, and their way of life. Everything evolved around the “east” (this was also true of the Arabs and some other Semitic peoples)
In fact, no other direction had a specific location-meaning as did the East. In addition, the East was not a direction (like we think of in the West and in modern times), but a location, a place, even a circumstance or philosophy, such as:
1) the place where God dwelt, the place where God was from, the place where one went to meet God;
2) the area from which evil came; the “east wind” that brought destruction; the enemy—Arabia, Mesopotamia, Babylon resided there; the sea in the east that gave no life (Dead Sea);
3) that which lay before one, from the past to the present (from “aforetime” to “the fore”—their history to their future).
7. Other directions were merely references to east—that which was before them:
    North was to the left
    South was to the right
    West was behind them
In time of course, each of these other three directions took on meanings of their own, but they began as appendages of the “front” or what was ahead.
8. Cities, villages, settlements, were named after the first man who settled there. This is seen in the Nephite world: City of Nephi, City of Zarahemla, City of Gideon” (Alma 8:7). In addition, the land around that city (the distance varied) was also given the name of the city or founder: Land of Nephi, Land of Zarahemla, Land of Gideon, Valley of Gideon.
    In a work written by John L. Sorenson entitled “Book of Mormon Peoples” in which he erroneously claimed that “the people of the Nephites” was “a label given all those governed by a Nephite ruler,” showing that he and many other modern linguists, historians, scholars, etc., misunderstand the Hebrew language. While we frequently read “Nephites” in the Book of Mormon and “Jews” in the Bible, these are not the way the Hebrews/Jews spoke or wrote. The correct nomenclature of wordage in Hebrew grammar was “the people of the Nephites,” or “the people of the Jews” (more accurately and correctly, the latter would be “the people of Judah”).
    In addition, Joseph Smith sometimes used Hebrew grammar, as seen in “the people of Nephi” (Hebrew) and not “Nephi’s people” or simply “Nephites” (English). Sometimes he translated using English grammar, such as: “West Wilderness” instead of “the wilderness to the west,” or the “Sea East” and not “the sea in the East.”
Ancient Hebrew did not use language as we find in English, or as it is used today. As an example, “the people of the Nephites,” would be like saying “the people of the Americas.” Instead, we use “Americans,” or “Russians,” for “the people of Russia.” The scriptural record is often translated with English grammar using “Nephites” (Alma 2:17; Helaman 1:15; 3 Nephi 2:8); but not always, as in “the people of Nephi “(Alma 27:27; Helaman 1:12; 3 Nephi 2:17), or “the people of the Nephites” (Alma 2:12; Helaman 1:1; 3 Nephi 5:1). Also we find “dissenters of the Nephites” (3 Nephi 1:28) instead of “Nephite dissenters.” It is also interesting that the English grammar “north countries” was used in Mormon 2:3, instead of the Hebrew “countries of the north—the only time such reference is used.”
    The Hebrew language is very specific, not like English, or even modern languages in general. Ancient Hebrew had very little leeway, since words, when used in a context, had only one meaning (though the context could differ, thus changing the meaning).
9. Places, other than cities, villages, settlements, and land nomenclature, did not have names. Areas were normally designated
1) By location: “northern parts” (Alma 22:29) or “north parts of the land” (Helaman 1:23), and “north country” (Helaman 4:7);
2) By subject “isles of the sea” Nephi 29;7); “four parts of the earth” (2 Nephi 10:8); and “borders of the seashore” (Alma 50:15).
10. On occasion areas were named, but only by reference to something nearby (city, land), a person, or a circumstance. “Land of many waters,” “Land of First Inheritance,” “Land of Desolation,” “Land of their inheritance,” “Land of their fathers,” etc.
    It might be of interest to know that though the Hebrews knew the Dead Sea was a “dead sea,” they called it the “East Sea” (Sea to the East), and not the Dead Sea until modern times and modern map makers. So when someone says Sea East or East Sea in a Hebrew setting, an ancient Hebrew-speaking person would translate that in his mind to “Sea of the East” or “Sea to the East.”
    It is something like being an English-speaking person that automatically knows without being a linguist or English Major, that when someone says: “The car oil needs,” it is not correct and no one with a smidgen of English speaking background would say that, any more than they would say “Sell the car I did,” or “Gets gallon miles 17 it will.”
    Consequently, an English-speaking person would automatically know that such translations of English would be incorrect and automatically translate it in their mind to “The car needs oil,” and “I sold the car,” and “The car gets 17 miles to the gallon.” However, the problem is, if we are not a Hebrew-speaking person, or one who has studied ancient Hebrew, we would not know if a claimed interpretation were right or wrong.
    As a result, people accept someone’s interpretation or translation of Hebrew without knowing it is wrong because of the source from which it comes (college professor, writer, scholar, etc.) Unfortunately, many writers and Land of Promise theorists use a meaning of a Hebrew word to support their narrative or belief, but that interpretation is either out-and-out wrong, or a minor use of the word. It is like in English someone might say the meaning of “gun” is an instrument that holds a glue or caulking tube in construction, which is true, but it is a very minor use of the word “gun,” which is, of course, a weapon that shoots bullets.
(See the next post, “Understanding Hebrew Directions – Part II,” regarding how we can understand Hebrew words and their meaning in order to better understand what Mormon is writing, specifically as it relates to the many directions and his usage of compass directions to describe the Land of Promise)

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