Book of Mormon/Language/Structure

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Language structure in the Book of Mormon

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Question: Why does "and it came to pass" appear so often in the Book of Mormon?

This much-maligned phrase is actually evidence of the Book of Mormon's authentic antiquity

Some have mocked the frequent repetition of "and it came to pass" in the Book of Mormon.[1] Mark Twain famously joked that if the phrase were omitted, Joseph would have published a pamphlet instead of a book.[2] As it turns out, however, this much-maligned phrase is actually evidence of the Book of Mormon's authentic antiquity.

The phrase “and it came to pass,” appears 727 times in the King James Version of the Old Testament

Donald W. Parry, an instructor in biblical Hebrew at BYU, wrote in the Ensign:

The English translation of the Hebrew word wayehi (often used to connect two ideas or events), “and it came to pass,” appears some 727 times in the King James Version of the Old Testament. The expression is rarely found in Hebrew poetic, literary, or prophetic writings. Most often, it appears in the Old Testament narratives, such as the books by Moses recounting the history of the children of Israel.

As in the Old Testament, the expression in the Book of Mormon (where it appears some 1,404 times) occurs in the narrative selections and is clearly missing in the more literary parts, such as the psalm of Nephi (see 2 Ne. 4:20–25); the direct speeches of King Benjamin, Abinadi, Alma, and Jesus Christ; and the several epistles.

But why does the phrase “and it came to pass” appear in the Book of Mormon so much more often, page for page, than it does in the Old Testament? The answer is twofold. First, the Book of Mormon contains much more narrative, chapter for chapter, than the Bible. Second, but equally important, the translators of the King James Version did not always render wayehi as “and it came to pass.” Instead, they were at liberty to draw from a multitude of similar expressions like “and it happened,” “and … became,” or “and … was.”

Wayehi is found about 1,204 times in the Hebrew Bible, but it was translated only 727 times as “and it came to pass” in the King James Version. Joseph Smith did not introduce such variety into the translation of the Book of Mormon. He retained the precision of “and it came to pass,” which better performs the transitional function of the Hebrew word.

The Prophet Joseph Smith may not have used the phrase at all—or at least not consistently—in the Book of Mormon had he created that record. The discriminating use of the Hebraic phrase in the Book of Mormon is further evidence that the record is what it says it is—a translation from a language (reformed Egyptian) with ties to the Hebrew language. (See Morm. 9:32–33.)[3]

There is also a New World connection to the phrase "and it came to pass"

For several years, researchers have been aware that the phrase and it came to pass is a good translation of a common Hebrew element.[4] Bruce Warren also reports the confirmation by Mayan experts that an element translated "and it came to pass" functioned in at least four ways in Mayan texts: (1) As a posterior date indicator in a text that meant "to count forward to the next date," and (2) as an anterior date indicator that signified "to count backward to the given date." Additionally it could function (3) as a posterior or (4) anterior event indicator, meaning "counting forward or backward to a certain event."5 Warren finds instances of all four functions of and it came to pass in the Book of Mormon, as well as combined date and event indications in both posterior and anterior expressions. For example, "And it came to pass that the people began . . . " is a posterior event indicator (3 Nephi 2:3), whereas "And it had come to pass . . . " is an anterior event indicator (3 Nephi 1:20).[5]


Question: Are Book of Mormon phrases or language too "modern" to be of ancient origin?

The Book of Mormon is a translation. As such, it may well use phrases or expressions that have no exact ancient counterpart

Some people claim that Book of Mormon phrases or language is too "modern" to be of ancient origin.

The Book of Mormon is a translation. As such, it may well use phrases or expressions that have no exact ancient counterpart. Modern Bible translations use similar expressions or phrases, and yet remain translations of ancient documents.

Only if we presume that the Book of Mormon is a fraud at the outset is this proof of anything. If we assume that it is a translation, then the use of (say) 19th-century language tells us merely that Joseph translated it in the 19th century.



Notes

  1. Origen Bachelor, Mormonism Exposed Internally and Externally (New York: Privately Published, 1838), 9. off-site
  2. Mark Twain, Roughing It (Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing Co., 1901), 133.
  3. Donald W. Parry, "I Have a Question: Why is the phrase 'and it came to pass' so prevalent in the Book of Mormon?," Ensign (December 1992), 29.
  4. Robert F. Smith, " 'It Came to Pass' in the Bible and the Book of Mormon" (Provo: F.A.R.M.S., 1980).
  5. Paul Y. Hoskisson, John W. Welch, Robert F. Smith, Bruce W. Warren, Roger R. Keller, David Fox, and Deloy Pack, "Words and Phrases," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, edited by John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992).