Wednesday, December 14, 2011

So-Called Book of Mormon Anachronisms: Cimiter Swords – Part II

Continuing from the last post regarding critic’s claims of there being anachronisms in the Book of Mormom, the use of “cimiter” was begun, ending with “So the question arises, why use the term “cimiter” in the Book of Mormon?” In this post we will answer that question.

First, however, that question begs another question. If you were translating a foreign language that had no educated examples, dictionaries, etc., and came across a word that you saw as describing a “curved sword,” but no name was given it, what would you call it? You can’t just call it a sword, since that term in 1829 meant “a weapon worn at the side for either cutting or slashing,” and is not descriptive of the more unusual curved sword intended.

Secondly, let’s take a look at what scimitar is. The word is pronounced “simiter,” and is defined as a backsword with a curved blade. The name can be used to refer almost any Asian sword with a curved blade. However, in the 1828, “American Dictionary of the English Language,” there is no such word as Scimitar. The word used is “cimiter.” Just as Joseph Smith used it in his translation.

Cimiter is defined as a “short sword with a convex edge, or recurvated edge,” which is a “smoothly rounded bend that is backward in a regular form.” Consequently, any sword so shaped today bears the name cimiter, cimeter, cimetar, etc., and used to refer to almost any curved blade, which is often thought of as having a ridge near the end. Such weapons include the Arabic saif, Indian talwar, Persian shamshir, Moroccan nimcha, Afghan pulwar, and Turkish kilij and yatagan among others (see last post). The term as we know it in English is derived from the Middle French cimeterre, or from the Italian scimitarra. The Persian Shamshir, it spread throughout the area now referred to as the old Ottoman Empire, as well as beyond into India, Indonesia and the Philippines. Its strongly curved blade was enduringly popular and absolutely ideal for delivering a devastating cutting stroke. And, contrary to popular belief, it was very effective at delivering rising, descending and hooking style thrusts.

In addition, we need to remember that the purpose of translation is to render an idea that is readily understood, not to translate word for word, since this can become both laborious in translating, and convey words that lead to ambiguity in translation. As an example, when the term “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18) was being translated into a language among the South Sea islands where snow had never been known or seen, the translation was changed to “as white” as a local bird that had snowy white plumage. The meaning was the same and the idea conveyed was the same, but it was not a word for word translation. The same happened when translators changed the word “dove,” where there was no word in the Ulithian language for dove, to “gigi,” a local bird of the same appearance. Some people dislike such translation technique, but at times it is necessary. At other times, using the original word, where a word (and not a symbol) appears, is necessary, such as when Joseph Smith used “neas” and “sheum” (Mosiah 9:9) for two grains of which he had no knowledge, or “cureloms” and “cumoms” (Ether 9:19) for animals he had never seen or could picture.

This is because, as Nephi said, “For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding” (2 Nephi 3:3). That is, the Lord speaks to us at the level of our understanding and in the language we know. Thus, when Joseph Smith translated the ancient writings, he did so in the language known to him in his day, using words we would understand. It is not a difficult principle to understand, for why would the Lord speak to us in a language we did not know, or at a level beyond our understanding?

Consequently, when Isaiah wrote: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD,” he was showing us that we needed to use reason in understanding what the Lord has spoken to us. That is, reason tells us that when Joseph Smith came to the word in reformed Egyptian on the plates describing the curved swords, he could picture the sword in his mind’s eye, and called it a “cimiter,” which was the current name for it. The fact that other men had not “coined” or used that word at the time and in the historical frame of that he was translating is not the point—it was the correct word to use for the word he was translating. What the reformed Egyptian word actually was, like all other words in the Book of Mormon, we do not know—nor do we need to know. We only need to know the translation that was inspired by the Spirit, so God could speak to us in our day in our language according to our understanding.

It is interesting that one apologist wrote: “the word was chosen by Joseph Smith as the closest workable English word for a short curved weapon used by the Nephites. This assumes an unofficial view on the method of translation by Joseph Smith, where he had the liberty to choose the best suited word.”

Cimiter was not the “best suited word.” It was the only English word known to the vast majority of readers, that described the Nephite weapon. After all, if he had used: saif, shamshir, kilij, yatagan, talwar, toor, nimcha, pulwar, or handzar, would that have been better understood by the reader? So, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD.”

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