Question: Do Hebraisms exist in the Book of Mormon?

Table of Contents

Question: Do Hebraisms exist in the Book of Mormon?

A number of Hebraisms exist in the structure of the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon does indeed have authentic Semitic constructions in it, but LDS need to tread cautiously in establishing them. Each must be evaluated on its own merits. Hebraisms that could have been known to Joseph Smith may still be authentic, and may still enhance our appreciation of the text, but they are weaker evidence for Book of Mormon antiquity since Joseph could have gotten them from his contemporary environment.

Many LDS sources argue that Hebraisms exist. Some have been overly enthusiastic or operated using problematic methodology. For example, Hebrew and other Semitic languages frequently give give a verb a cognate direct object for emphasis, eg. "he dreamed a dream" or "He hit him a hitting." Since the KJV translators were frequently literal in rendering the Hebrew, the Old Testament contains many English examples of this. Thus, the presence of the cognate accusative throughout the Book of Mormon, though a valid Semiticism, cannot be used as strong evidence for the Book of Mormon. (An appreciation of such devices can enhance our appreciation of the text, however.)

For a Semiticism to be strong evidence it must be

  1. present in the Book of Mormon, but
  2. not common to Joseph's language environment (i.e., the KJV, or English of his day.)

Several such constructions exist. For example, in Alma 27:22, the Nephites give the land Jershon to the Anti-Nephi-Lehi's "for an inheritance." Jershon follows a common Hebrew practice of creating names by suffixing -on to the tri-consonantal root. In this case, we have the root y-r-sh, which means among other things, "to inherit." (Hebrew /y/ is usually represented in English with a j.) In other words, the Nephites give the land "Inheritance" to the Anti-Nephi-Lehi's for an inheritance. If making up names at random, one could eventually make some that fit Hebrew patterns. However, the extreme unlikelihood of an imaginary name making sense in a reconstructed Hebrew original argues against this being the case with Jershon.

Dan Peterson notes the use of Hebrew idioms and cognate accusative structures in the Book of Mormon:

A number of details from the Book of Mormon text appear to support a view of the book as a rather literal translation from an ancient document.33 In an ancient Hebrew idiom, for example, arrows are "thrown" (see, for example, Alma 49:22). Also, just as in ancient Hebrew and other Semitic languages, in a construction known as a "cognate accusative,"[1] the word denoting the object of a verb is sometimes derived from the same root as the verb itself. "Behold," says the prophet Lehi, "I have dreamed a dream."35 Similarly, the (to us) redundant that in such expressions as "because that they are redeemed from the fall" and "because that my heart is broken" is a Hebraism (see, respectively, 2 Nephi 2:26 and 2 Nephi 4:32). [2]

Notes

  1. See Donald W. Parry, "Hebraisms and Other Ancient Peculiarities in the Book of Mormon," in Echoes and Evidences, 176–77.
  2. Daniel C. Peterson, "Mormonism as a Restoration," FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 390–417. off-site wiki