Sunday, April 1, 2012

Understanding Words in the Book of Mormon about the Land of Promise—Part I

It is interesting that Book of Mormon historians try very hard to shape the scriptural text regarding the Land of Promise to suit their own individual areas of interest, pet projects, models, and beliefs. As an example, about 40 years after leaving Jerusalem, in about 559 B.C., Jacob, who had been called of God (2 Nephi 6:2) and consecrated by Nephi, made it clear to the Nephites, who were concerned that the Lord might have forgotten them in their new land, states “for we are not cast off, nevertheless, we have been driven out of the land of our inheritance’ but we have been led to a better land, for the Lord has made the sea our path, and we are upon an isle of the sea” (2 Nephi 10:20). And then, making it more clear to the Nephites, he added, “But great are the promises of the Lord unto them who are upon the isles of the sea; wherefore, as it says isles, there must needs be more than this, and they are inhabited also by our brethren” (2 Nephi 10:21).

It might also be important to keep in mind Martin Harris’ comment about how the plates were translated (as recorded by Edward Stevenson—one of the Three Witnesses—in the Millennial Star 44 (6 February 1882): 86–87): “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 that 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 precisely in the language then used.”

Left: Martin Harris; Center: Edward Stevenson; Right: B.H. Roberts

In discussing this, B. H. Roberts said, “if this account were accurate then it would lead one to assume that the "Urim and Thummim did the translating, not Joseph the Seer." Such a conclusion would imply that the translation would be a "word for word bringing over from the Nephite language into the English language, a literal interpretation of the record. Therefore the language of translation would not be Joseph's, "but the divine instrument's." This would further imply that New England localisms, modern phrases from the English translation of Hebrew scripture, and words from other sources would be present in the original Nephite record. Elder Roberts concludes that there are difficulties involved in such a theory of translation. It would be impossible to have a word-for-word translation from one language to another, for doing so would produce unintelligible jargon. Since the language of the English translation of the Book of Mormon is in the English idiom, and since errors in grammar can be found in the translation, it seems obvious that the translator is responsible for the language and grammar of the text, and any errors in the record are the faults of man, not of God.”

Thus, we must conclude that when Joseph translated the Reformed Egyptian into English, two factors had to have existed:

1. Joseph used the English equivalent of the word(s) he found on the plates, including English idiomatic language, and

2. The Spirit acknowledged when this was correct, and new wordage appeared to be translated, or the Spirit rejected the translation and Joseph worked on it further.

Now, in 1829, when Joseph translated the Reformed Egyptian written on the plates that now appear as the Book of Mormon (his 1827-1828 translation of the 116 pages were lost by Martin Harris), the language known to Joseph in New England, defines the word “isle” as “a tract of land surrounded by water, or a detached portion of land embosomed in the ocean.” At this same time, the word “island” is defined as: “an absurd compound of isle and land, that is, land-in-water land,” or “ieland-land.” There is no such legitimate word in English.”

Thus, according to Joseph’s translation of Jacob’s statement, the Nephites had been led across the sea (ocean) by the hand of the Lord to an isle (island) upon which they landed and lived.

Despite this very clear language, which Nephi transcribed onto the plates of the sermon Jacob delivered to the Nephites, there are numerous efforts by some LDS historians to use their own translation of this statement. Mesoamerican theorists use the term “isthmus” instead of isle (island); Malaysia and Baja California theorists use the term “peninsula” instead of isle (island); and others, like the Great Lakes, Heartland, and eastern U.S. theorists, ignore it completely and place the Land of Promise upon the North American continent, which cannot be described as an isle (island) in any stretch of the imagination.

Finally, it should also be noted that Peter warned that: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:20-21). An earlier Old Testament prophet put it this way, “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth is secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). And Nephi said of his own writing: “And an account of my making these plates shall be given hereafter; and then, behold I proceed according to that which I have spoken; and this I do that the more sacred things may be kept for the knowledge of my people. Nevertheless, I do not write any thing upon plates save it be that I think it to be sacred" (1 Nephi 19:6). He also said, “And I engraved that which is pleasing unto God” (2 Nephi 5:32), and also 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 31:3).

Since, and above all, we must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation, we need to use the words and their 1829 meaning known to Joseph Smith in understanding what the Book of Mormon describes. We cannot use our own words merely because they agree with our preconceived ideas, models and beliefs. An “isle” is simply and understandably NOT an isthmus or a peninsula, and should not be ignored at all.

(See the next post, “Understanding Words in the Book of Mormon about the Land of Promise—Part II” for more information on the words Joseph Smith knew and used in his translation)


  1. It truly is puzzling why someone pontificates ad nauseam. Are you cognizant of the fact that you continually pick and choose topics that you [i]think[/i] support your per-conceived model; or that you misinterpret material to make it to appear to support the same???

    It's not a contest to see how much you can find and make fit, but how objective you are, and how honest.

    You consider to be Mormon and yet I am yet to see reverence for church leader statements.

  2. The reverence for Church leader statements is as high as the reverence for the statements of ancient prophets we call scripture. Ancient prophets tells us how things were anciently. Modern prophets tell us how things are today. The funny thing is they do not conflict with one another. If you want to know about the Church (and location( during Book of Mormon times, ancient prophets who lived there and during that time would be the best reference available. If you want to know about the Church today (and its worldwide location), then today's prophets (and church leaders) would be the best reference available. No church leader today lived during the time of Christ, nor do they try to tell us about his living conditions, or hidden information about his living place (though that has been well researched), but concentrate on what he said and what he taught. The best reference for where Christ walked and the conditions of his time were those written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, plus Peter and to a lesser degree, Paul. When it comes to the Book of Mormon, the best reference is the prophets Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Mosiah, Alma, Helaman, the Disciple Nephi, Mormon and Moroni. I have never heard of any prophet in this Dispensation contradict any of these BOM prophets. Thus, what these ancient prophets said and wrote is of prime importance, and no irreverence of modern prophets is intended or stated. Many people have written about what others have said, such as Nibley, Sorenson, etc., but they were (are) neither prophets or writers of scripture any more than i am. So I rely strictly on scripture to make my points about the ancient Land of Promise. If you can find any where that I have misquoted scripture, or written anything that is not 100% consistent with scripture, or suggested anything not consistent with Mormon's extensive descriptions, etc., please let me know. Otherwise, my writing about the Land of promise,while it may seem ad nauseam to you, is simply an effort to try and show what scripture tells us of the ancient Land of Promise, which, at times, is quite contrary to what modern writers and historians/scholars claim.

  3. I am always amazed that many critics will make statements of fact without explaining the why or how of these statements. As an example.. lets look at the comment made by "Not-Again". He said and asked:

    'Are you cognizant of the fact that you continually pick and choose topics that you think support your per-conceived model; or that you misinterpret material to make it to appear to support the same???"

    Here he is not telling you what topics you are choosing that is supporting your model. And then he tells you that you are misinterpreting material but not being specific as to what the material is nor how you misinterpreted it. But the way he speaks... I suppose we must just blindly agree with his assessment without asking for any explanations.

    I can't believe that he is questioning your loyalty to the church and former prophets. That seems a bit judgemental to me.

  4. I don't know what positions this individual has held, but I have been a bishop, served on several high councils, as wel as regional and area assignments, and spent the past 24 years studying the Book of Mormon for the purpose of writing the four books I have published and working on this blog. In addition, I have taught the Book of Mormon in Gospel Doctrine classes in four wards spanning a 20-year period. Or stated differently, the Lord has seen fit to call me to such positions and I have spent a good portion of my life in the Book of Mormon, as well as the Doctrine and Covenants.

    In regard to the comments, I cannot think of an area regarding the geographical setting of the Book of Mormon that I have not written about. In my first book, I set out 65 areas that the scriptures illustrate regarding the Land of Promise and cover every single one of them. I have also repeated that coverage in these blogs over the past two years, which are all available to anyone who wants to check on them (click on the period to the right of the posts).

    Like most people who object to common sense, rational thinking, and scriptural statements, this person merely states an emotional response, but nothing that one can respond to.

    I have always felt, if you are going to disagree with something, you should state your point with support to offset the point you are disagreeing with--this never seems to be done when someone posts a disagreement here.