Category:Book of Mormon/Anthropology/Language/Hebraisms/Conjunctions

Conjunctions in the Book of Mormon

Parent page: Book of Mormon/Anthropology/Language/Hebraisms

Hebrew influence on Book of Mormon text: The Conjunction

Hebrew uses conjunctions much more frequently than English does. One clear example of this can be found in lists of items. In English, the conjunction and is normally used only before the last item in a list, such as wood, iron, copper, and brass. But Hebrew usually uses a conjunction before each item. The Book of Mormon contains many examples of this Hebrew-like usage, such as this one found in 2 Nephi 5:15: "in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores."

This kind of repetition is so prominent in the Book of Mormon that Professor Haim Rabin, President of the Hebrew Language Academy and a specialist in the history of the Hebrew language, once used a passage from the Book of Mormon in a lecture in English to illustrate this principle, because, he explained, it was a better illustration than passages from the English Bible.

In such lists, Hebrew also repeats related elements such as prepositions, articles, and possessive pronouns. Here are some examples from the Book of Mormon:

"And it came to pass that he departed into the wilderness. And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family and provisions, and tents, and [he, 1830] departed into the wilderness" (1 Nephi 2:4).
"And it came to pass that we went down to the land of our inheritance, and we did gather together our gold, and our silver, and our precious things" (1 Nephi 3:22).
" . . . All mankind were in a lost and in a fallen state . . . " (1 Nephi 10:6).
" . . . My gospel . . . and my rock and my salvation . . . " (1 Nephi 13:36).
" . . . The city of Laman, and the city of Josh, and the city of Gad, and the city of Kishkumen, have I caused to be burned with fire" (3 Nephi 9:10).
" . . . All their men and all their women and all their children . . . " (Mosiah 24:22).

Such repetition seems to be a waste of precious space on the plates, except for the fact that it is required by the Hebrew language.

Another difference between Hebrew and English conjunctions is that in Hebrew the same conjunction can carry both the meaning and and also the opposite meaning but. Here are two well-known Bible passages in which the King James Version renders the conjunction but:

"Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it" (Genesis 2:16-17).
"And as for Ishmael . . . I will make him a great nation. But my covenant will I establish with Isaac" (Genesis 17:20-21).

Evidence for Hebraism in the Book of Mormon lies in the fact that some passages use the conjunction and when but is expected. Here, for example, are two different versions of the Lord's promise to Lehi:

"Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence" (2 Nephi 1:20; compare Alma 50:20).
"Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; and inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence" (2 Nephi 4:4).

In one of the quotations of this promise, Joseph Smith rendered the conjunction and, while in another place, he rendered it but. In other Book of Mormon passages, Joseph translated and when in English we would expect but because a contrastive meaning is clearly called for:

"And when I speak the word of God with sharpness they tremble and anger against me; and (= but) when I use no sharpness they harden their hearts against it" (Moroni 9:4).
"He commanded the multitude that they should cease to pray, and also his disciples. And (= but) he commanded them that they should not cease to pray in their hearts" (3 Nephi 20:1).

Another difference in the use of conjunctions is that in biblical Hebrew, a language with no punctuation, the conjunction also serves as a marker of parenthesis. The words we would put inside parentheses in English are preceded by the conjunction in Hebrew, and, at the conclusion, the next phrase is introduced by the conjunction. In the following biblical example, the same conjunction has been variously rendered and, for, and that by the King James translators to fit the requirements of the English language: "As they that bare the ark were come unto Jordan, and the feet of the priests that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water, (for Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest,) that the waters . . . stood and rose up" (Joshua 3:15-16). We see that for and that, two English renditions of the same Hebrew conjunction, served to set off what the English translators chose to mark with the parentheses.

The Book of Mormon also uses conjunctions to mark parenthetical phrases. In the Book of Mormon examples listed below, I have added parentheses to illustrate:

"After I, Nephi, having heard all the words of my father, concerning the things which he saw in a vision, and also the things which he spake by the power of the Holy Ghost, which power he received by faith on the Son of God (and the Son of God was the Messiah which should come) and it came to pass that I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things" (1 Nephi 10:17, reading of 1830 edition).
"When Jesus had spoken these words unto Nephi, and to those who had been called, (now the number of them who had been called, and received power and authority to baptize, was twelve) and behold, he stretched forth his hand . . . " (3 Nephi 12:1).

A special use in Hebrew of this kind of parenthetical phrase is the introduction of a name. In English, we usually say something like, "there was a man named X," or "there was a man whose name was X." While the Book of Mormon has many such examples, it often reflects the Hebrew usage, which is, "there was a man (and his name was X.)" In the examples which follow, I have added parentheses where necessary:

"Zoram did take courage at the words which I spake (now Zoram was the name of the servant) and he promised . . . " (1 Nephi 4:35).
"They took him (and his name was Nehor) and they carried him . . . " (Alma 1:15).

Another Hebrew-like use of the conjunction in the Book of Mormon is the expression and also. In Hebrew, it is used to emphasize the close links between two things, as in this biblical passage: "Both drink thou, and I will also draw for thy camels" (Genesis 24:44). Here are some examples from the Book of Mormon that seem to reflect the Hebrew usage:

"They . . . worshiped the Father in his name, and also we worship the Father in his name" (Jacob 4:5).
"The Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma" (Mosiah 27:14).
" . . . What the Lord had done for his son, and also for those that were with him . . . " (Mosiah 27:21).
"Now the sons of Mosiah were numbered among the unbelievers; and also one of the sons of Alma was numbered among them" (Mosiah 27:8).[1]

Notes

  1. ↑ John A. Tvedtnes, "The Hebrew Background of the Book of Mormon," in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, edited by John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co.; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991), Chapter 8.

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