Sunday, October 23, 2011

What We Need to Know About Translation – Part I

There has been much discussion about what ancient Hebrew words meant and their effect on the scriptural record of the Book of Mormon. As an example, the word “yam” in Hebrew means “sea,” but historians and scholars, and especially theorists, have debated continually over whether or not a use of the word “yam” signifies a fresh water lake, saltwater sea, ocean or some other type of waters.

The Great Lakes and Heartland theorists, using mid- to eastern U.S. models for the Land of Promise, have presented this word and its meaning to prove that the Nephites did not live along a saltwater West Sea, but one of the fresh water Great Lakes—specifically Lake Erie, and to define surrounded by seas, many waters, etc.

The problem lies in how they see the Book of Mormon being translated. As most secular scholars would approach this problem by trying to see what the original words used meant in the time of writing, the Book of Mormon scholar must come to grips with how the ancient record was translated, not what the original words meant.

In addition, one must come to fully understand what language the original writings were in, rather than assume they were in Hebrew because those who wrote that record originally came from Jerusalem. And in so doing, realize that no one outside of the Spirit can interpret that original language the Nephites called Reformed Egyptian. As Moroni, the last Nephi prophet, said:

“We have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech. And if our plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record. But the Lord knoweth the things which we have written, and also that none other people knoweth our language; and because that none other people knoweth our language, therefore he hath prepared means for the interpretation thereof” (Mormon 9:32-34).

Several things should be realized from this passage:
1. The records were written anciently in reformed Egyptian;
2. That reformed Egyptian language had been altered over time by the Nephites;
3. The language of Hebrew, which they knew, had been altered by them and was no longer the same ancient Hebrew known to the world;
4. Their writing was in a language unknown to anyone else and, therefore, could not be interpreted or understood by anyone else;
5. Their writing in the reformed Egyptian language could be interpreted only by the means the Lord had prepared for that purpose.

This alone should cause all Book of Mormon scholars and theorists to cease from trying to define the ancient Hebrew in order to prove what a passage or word means in the scriptural record. This then leaves only one way to scholarly understand what was written and that is to understand how the record was translated.

Of the translation process, the Prophet Joseph Smith said: "Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift and power of God." B.H. Roberts added, "For convenience he sometimes used the Seer Stone. Martin said that the Seer Stone differed in appearance from the Urim and Thummim, and was a chocolate-colored, somewhat egg-shaped stone.” Of the actual translation, David Whitmer said: "In the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear.

Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God and not by any power of man.'' Martin Harris added: "By aid of the Seer Stone, sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin, and when finished he would say 'written;' and if correctly written, the sentence would disappear and another appear in its place; but if not written correctly it remained until corrected, so that the translation was just as it was engraven on the plates.”

(See the next post, “What We Need to Know About Translation – Part II,” for more on the language we need to know to undertand what was written)

No comments:

Post a Comment