Thursday, June 14, 2018

Another Look at Mormon’s Use of Egyptian Writing – Part II

Continued from the previous post regarding the use of Egyptian writing in Mormon’s writing, and how Hebrew and Egyptian impacted the meanings of the words and phrases Mormon used, including both ellipsis writing and other styles that sometimes changed the apparent meaning of his words.
    In addition to the hieroglyphs used, in grammar there is the use of “merismus” (the use of words that mean more than used), which is also found in the writing of Mormon. As an example, we know that the six elements that define the gospel or doctrine of Jesus Christ are: 1) Faith in Jesus Christ; 2) Repentance; 3) Baptism of water; 4) Baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; 5) Enduring to the end; and 6) Salvation or eternal life. On the other hand, a typical Book of Mormon “merism,” like the one found in 2 Nephi 33:4, states that believing in Jesus (#1) and enduring to the end (#5) is life eternal (#6). While repentance (#2), water baptism (#3), and baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost (#4) are not mentioned here, these are all treated as additional essential elements in closely related passages.
    According to Professor Noel B. Reynolds, of BYU, in “Biblical merismus in Book of Mormon gospel references,” states that “Seventy-nine passages, each of which includes a reference to salvation, are shown to be two-, three-, or four-element merisms for the six-element gospel formula” (BYU Scholars Archive, All Faculty Publications, 2016, p1681).
    Reynolds goes on to add: “The presentation of the gospel in the text features abbreviated statements that only reveal the full six elements when the separate statements are considered cumulatively.” It becomes important, therefore, that we not fail to recognize these abbreviated statements as “merisms” that point to each other. They are intended, of course, to invoke the full six-element formula in the minds of hearers and readers, we can rush to the conclusion that the text is not clear or even consistent with itself. In fact, there are 150 references to the six gospel elements in the three core passages—as is shown in:
The point is, while Mormon or any other writer of the Book of Mormon would not have known anything about the modern terminology of writing (elliptical, merismus, etc.), they used the idea—often to abbreviate or limit the amount of writing being done, sometimes because it simply made more sense to do so.
    Fourthly, it should also be kept in mind that there were no vowels in nearly all Old World Semitic languages as well as many others (Hebrew, Arabic, Phoenician, Egyptian, early Greek, Farsi). Whereas written languages like English, Spanish, Russian Turkish, Czech, Bosnian, Slovak, Serbian and Croatian had vowels. Not only did old languages not have vowels, they often did not have sentence construction. This is seen in two ways of a simple sentence.
1) Subject, verb, object of
Take the simple sentence “Lehi left Jerusalem”
In 99% of world languages, this would be:
• 45% - Subject, Object, Verb
Lehi Jerusalem left
(Indo-European, Sanskrit, ancient Greek, Latin, Japanese, Korean);
• 42% - Subject, Verb, Object
Lehi left Jerusalem
(Cantonese, English, French, Italian, Malay, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish);
• 9% - Verb, Subject, Object
“Left Lehi Jerusalem”
(Irish, Gaelic, Malagasy [Madagascar], Baure [Bolivia], Austronesian [Maritime SE Asia]);
• 3% - Object, Verb, Subject
“Left Jerusalem Lehi”
(Apalai [Cariban Brazil], Hixkaryana [Amazon Brazil])
2) Missing Adverbs, Adjectives, Prepositions and Conjunctions:
• Ancient Greek: Heúrēka!
English: "I have found”
Meaning: "I have found it."
• Ancient Greek: Diploûn horôsin hoi mathóntes grámmata.
English: "Those who know letters see double”
Meaning: "Those who can read learn twice as much as those who do not."
• Ancient Greek: causa sine qua non
English: "But for causation”
Meaning: "An act is the cause of the result."
• Ancient Greek: Hèn oîda hóti oudèn oîda
English: “I know that I know nothing”
Meaning: “One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing.”
    It should be noted that while we are used to in English what we would call the normal parts of speech: noun, verb, adjective, adverb, pronoun, preposition conjunction, interjection (sometimes numeral, article or determiner), not all languages are so constructed. Take Hungarian, for example, which has no prepositions at all, and Finnish, which has very few. In Latin, there are no “yes” “no” words (of course, or of course not; ita meaning “it is so”; “minimē “not at all’); and in Welsh the “yes” “no” are used in echo-answers (repeating the verb with a yes or no). Several languages have multiple words for “yes” or “no,” depending on the subject matter if the question asked or the subject to be answered. Yup’ik, spoken by 10000 Alaskans, have suffixes as words rather than additions (English: prehunt. Yup’ik: sealhunt, egghunt); Leco (Leko) around Lake Titicaca in Bolivia/Peru has six types of consonants and six vowels, including “é” as well as “w” as a semivowel, no prepositions and only adjective lexemes.
    In fact, while almost all languages have the word classes noun and verb, beyond these there are significant variations in different languages, which includes noun incorporation by combining an adjective into a noun. Where one cultural language thinks spatially of an ant on your right leg, another thinks in terms of an ant on your eastern leg—leading to a better understanding that knowing language is an even greater task than once thought.
    In the 5th or 6th century B.C., Sanskrit had only four categories of words: noun verb, prefix and particle. Plato claimed “sentences are a combination of nouns and verbs,” while Aristotle added “conjunctions.” Not until the 2nd century B.C. did grammarians expand language to include eight parts of speech. Our parts of speech today, however, follow the European tradition, not the East or Middle East traditions.
    The point is, when translating, or at least trying to understand something written long ago, there are numerous factors involved that sometimes are even missed by professional linguists. One of the biggest mistakes is trying to evaluate, understand or judge the past by the present methods, which often leads one down an erroneous path. Of course the terminology we use today is not the same used or even understood in the past, such as elliptical writing.
    Few ancient writers or speakers would have understood the concept grammatically, but they used the process none-the-less. In fact, in speaking of changes, the idea of having a standard spelling is historically new, and until fairly recently, spellings of words were not fixed. Even after spelling systems did become more standardized, they still change over a period of generations in order to better reflect the newly developed pronunciations as words.
    It may not be important to know what Mormon, Nephi, Moroni, et al, knew and understood—but it is important to know what they did and said, and most importantly, what they meant! It is also important to know that in translating from one language to another, it is not always a direct word-for-word translation, but a meaning-for-meaning translation.
In fact, there are actually three ways to translate from one language to another: 1) Literal, 2) Direct, and 3) Word-for-word, the latter meaning translating one word at a time (from Latin “verbum pro verbo” that is, with or without conveying the sense of the original whole). While this latter is needed for technical translation of scientific, technological or legal texts, it does not do well when translating general thought, since it does not try to convey the meaning of idioms, and can render grammar unintelligible—nor does it often convey original meaning.
    Literal translation is like translating German kindergarten into its literal meaning “children garden,” which would be incorrect since kindergarten means a period between pre-school and first grade. Or in literally translating Italian “So che questo non va bene,” meaning “I know that this is not good,” becomes “Know(I) that this not goes(it) well,” which has English words and Italian grammar.
    Or in the literal translation of one language into another and back again: take this in Russian: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" (дух бодр, плоть же немощна), an allusion to Mark 14:38, when literally translated into Russian and then back to English, the result was "The vodka is good, but the meat is rotten" (водка хорошая, но мясо протухло).
    Or what about translating when one does not know the difference between past and present tense of the language one is translating into. In Young’s Bible translation of Genesis you get present tense language of a past tense original, such as “and God saith, 'Let light be;' and light is,” or “And God calleth to the expanse 'Heavens;' and there is an evening, and there is a morning — day second.”
    Many years ago when translators of the Bible, ran across: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18 emphasis added). Unfortunately, the people of the south sea island whose language was being translated had no word for “snow,” and didn’t understand its meaning. So the translators decided to use an example of something the islanders all knew was white, and translated “they shall be as white as the Angel Tern” which was a local bird.
The Angel Tern, sometimes called the White Tern (Gyglis alba), a small seabird found across the tropical oceans of the world

The point, of course, is that white is white and the translation, though not the same words, conveyed the same idea. This is true of most translation. In fact, as one linguist reports “the translation world today often appears to be overflowing with novice (but certainly well-meaning) translators flailing about in dangerous waters infested with their own conceptual blindness. This is an inevitable outcome of the persistent and wrongheaded solitary focus on language to the exclusion of content.”

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