Monday, July 29, 2019

Chariots and the Role of the Spirit in Translation

The following are comments made in a talk and PowerPoint presentation given to the Book of Mormon Lands Conference, 20 October 2007, as printed in Fair Mormon, under the title: “Horses in the Book of Mormon.” Included are our responses to their comments.
Comment #1: “The Book of Mormon authors tell us that the Nephites would have liked to have written in Hebrew but they used reformed Egyptian instead because it took up less space on the plates (Mormon 9:32-33). Reformed Egyptian was probably a more compact script than Hebrew and it’s possible that it also consisted of a more limited vocabulary. Moroni tells us that if they could have written in Hebrew instead of reformed Egyptian there would have been fewer mistakes. Maybe he understood that at least some reformed Egyptian characters only approximated a concept. As we investigate the Book of Mormon text, we discover that, indeed, reformed Egyptian appears to have had a very limited vocabulary.”
Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and then it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, and if so, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear

Response: Irrespective of the language the Nephites used to write on the plates, when it came time to translate it, Joseph Smith was guided by the Spirit in the process of translation. The words Joseph chose to use were accepted by the Spirit, or they were rejected and the translation of the word or phrase was done again. As a result of this, it would seem certain that whatever translation Joseph made was accurate and clearly understandable.
Comment #2: “The Book of Mormon uses only one word for large bodies of water–“sea.” We don’t read of “lakes,” “ponds,” “oceans,” “pools,” etc. Some LDS scholars have suggested that–in at least some instances–the “seas” of the Book of Mormon may have been large lakes or other bodies of water (like the Dead Sea). The Bible not only uses “sea” but unlike the Book of Mormon it also uses “pond,” “pool,” and “lake.” In the D&C we find “sea,” “ocean,” and “pool.” Our idea that sea only means ocean seems faulty.”
Response: First of all, the word “sea” is clearly defined in the scriptural record in Ether 2:24-25), and 1 Nephi 12-1; 17:5-6; 18:8-10), as an ocean.  Secondly, for water other than a river, the Book of Mormon uses the term “waters” as seen in the “Waters of Mormon,” “Waters of Sidon,” “Many Waters,” “Great Deep,” etc. The point being that the use of such words in the scriptural record are sufficient for our understanding.
    As an example, the word “wilderness” today means “an uncultivated, uninhabited, and inhospitable region,” “Wilderness or wildland is a natural environment on Earth that has not been significantly modified by human activity. Words translated as “wilderness” occur nearly 300 times in the Bible. A formative Hebrew memory is the years of “wandering in the wilderness,” mixing experiences of wild landscape, of searching for a promised land, and of encounters with God.
    The Pentateuch wandering takes place in the midbar, uninhabited land where humans are nomads. This common Hebrew word refers often to a wild field where domestic animals may be grazed and wild animals live, in contrast to cultivated land, hence, sometimes “the pastures of the wilderness” (Joel 1:19–20). Another word is arabah, steppe (Genesis 36:24), also translated as desert: “The land that was desolate [midbar] and impassable shall be glad, and the wilderness [arabah] shall rejoice” (Isaiah 35:1). Land that lies waste is chorbah; land without water is yeshimon.”
    Thus, it’s use in the scriptural record is meaningful and completely understandable when we use the 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language as “a tract of land or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings, whether a forest or a wide barren plain.” We do not need to know if the wilderness was a jungle, desert, grassland, mountainous, full of canyons, etc. What is conveyed in the use of wilderness is exactly what it meant and means—an uninhabited and unoccupied area without permanent dwellings.
Comment #3: When explorers see an unknown animal for the first time, they often use a term from “loan-shift,” that is, using a word or name known to them of another, or close appearing animal. As an example, the American “buffalo,” which is actually a bison and is only distantly related to the water buffalo and African buffalo (the two true buffalos).”
Left: The American buffalo; Right: The European Wisent or Bison (look alike, but not related)

Response: Apologetics use this as a way of saying that animals in the Book of Mormon may not be the animals actually stated. However, the word buffalo comes from the Portuguese “bufalo,” which means “water buffalo,” originally the name of a kind of African antelope, later used of a type of domesticated ox in southern Asia and the Mediterranean lands. The European “bison,” actually called a Wisent, has the word “bison” taken from Latin “bisōn.” In the 1600s and before, the European Wisent or bison was not generally known in most of Europe, its population being in the Bialowieźa Forest of Belarus and Poland.
    These Apologetics also point out that what Americans call a “moose” is actually an elk, which are actually red deer, and “antelope” are not real antelopes. Actually, the term “moose” and “elk” are merely different language appellations for the same animal, Unfortunately, the “elk” became extinct in Europe during the Bronze Age, and few Europeans knew the name, its origin, or purpose when they came to America. The word “moose” entered the English language in 1606, and taken from the Algonqian words moosu, or mo-swa.
    The point is, it is never wise to jump to conclusions, as so many men of letters do in trying to understand unknown factors of the past. When Nephi wrote “horse,” he meant “horse.” He both knew what a horse was and was supported by the Spirit in choosing that translation.
Comment: “The English word “chariot” comes from Latin “carrus,” meaning a car, and is etymologically related to the verb to carry...We should not automatically assume that the Nephites understood chariots as wheeled war machines since no Book of Mormon verse says or suggests that chariots are mounted, dismounted, or that they carried people or were ridden…we cannot say for certain what a Book of Mormon “chariot” means. Native American kings, for example, were often carried into war or to ceremonial events on litters or palanquins. These were sedans carried on the shoulders of other men and certainly fits the Hebrew definition of a “chariot.” The Book of Mormon, it must also be noted, never mentions horses “pulling” chariots.”
The carrus “chariot” used for war and parades until replaced by heavier horses for cavalry, then was relegated to games and races

Response: First of all, the word “chariot” that comes from Latin “carrus,” meaning a car, relates only to chariots used for war or military parades, in which a biga reqired two horses, a teriga three, and a quadriga four.
    Secondly, whatever the English etymoloygy, the Hebrew word chariot has a different beginning. In Hebrew, vehicles are designated by two expressions, "'agalah" and "rakab," with "merkab" and "merkabah" derived from the latter. The former denotes the wagon used for heavy loads and general work, the name being connected with the root "to roll"; while the latter is the chariot of war or of state. Wagons for carrying burdens or persons are found among the different peoples of antiquity, having displaced at an early time the sledge and the drag on rollers, drawn by men or oxen (John Wilkinson, "Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians," vol.3, Dodd, Mead and Co. New York, 1878, p324).
    The noun merkabah/merkavah "thing to ride in, cart" is derived from the consonantal root ר־כ־ב (r-k-b) with the general meaning "to ride." However, when left untranslated, in English the Hebrew term merkabah/merkavah (Hebrew: מֶרְכַּב, מרכבה, and מִרְכֶּבֶת) relates to the throne-chariot of God in prophetic visions.
    Now to understand the significance of the chariot in the Book of Mormon, we need to understand the events of King Lamoni, his servants and the Nephite Ammon. Around 90 BC, when he and his brethren, Alma and the sons of Mosiah, of which Ammon was one, went into the Land of Nephi to preach to the Lamanites, he impressed himself to the Lamanite king, Lamoni, to such a degree, the king offered Ammon one of his daughters to wed.
Lamoni and Ammon journeying to Middoni, along with Lamoni’s servants to rescue Ammon’s brethren

However, Ammon declined saying all he wanted to do was serve the king, in which capacity he stood out further and the king promised to go with Ammon to release his brethren in the land of Middoni, where one of Lamani’s brothers was king. At this point, the king “caused that his servants should make ready his horses and his chariots”(Alma20:6).
    The question arises, “Why ready the horses and chariots for a journey to another land some distance away? Why take chariots at all? The only answer that makes sense is that they rode in the chariots which were pulled by the horses.
    It also seems likely that if the word or meaning intended by Mormon was a “cart” or “wagon,” the Spirit would have waited for Joseph to determine that. After all, Joseph was far more knowledge of carts and wagons in his life and around the farm than of a “chariot,” which were never used in the Americas.
    We need to stop thinking there were errors made during the translation and what we have in the Book of Mormon is a work that requires special interpretation by the reader. Joseph translated the work and if the translation was incorrect, the Spirit did not validate the translation but waited for Joseph to correct his translation. When it was correct, the Spirit allowed him to continue on. Therefore, if chariot was in error, the Spirit would not have accepted that but waited for Joseph to chooser the correct word. While we, with our limited knowledge try to correct that translation because it does not meet our current standard of knowledge will only lead us into error.

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