Source:Echoes:Ch7:18:Observations on Hebraisms

Observations on Book of Mormon Hebraisms

Observations on Book of Mormon Hebraisms

Donald W. Parry:

1. The Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon attest to the book's Near Eastern background and antiquity. Their presence cannot be explained as a matter of coincidence, nor could a modern writer have integrated them so effectively (naturally and correctly) throughout the narrative. It is very unlikely that Joseph Smith had technical knowledge of these various archaic modes of expression, for many of them are subtle in their Book of Mormon contexts and are similarly inconspicuous in the Old Testament. Joseph's level of education and familiarity with the Bible could not have equipped him with the requisite literary knowledge and skill to craft so many Hebraisms so seamlessly and correctly into the Book of Mormon text. This is especially obvious in light of statements by his mother, Lucy Mack Smith, and his wife.27

2. The literary forms covered in this paper were generally uncommon in, if not altogether foreign to, the English of Joseph Smith's day. One must search beyond the nineteenth century for the origin of the Book of Mormon text.

3. It is significant that many changes in the Book of Mormon from the first edition in 1830 to subsequent editions pertain to Hebrew literary style. Joseph Smith and others apparently changed many awkward-sounding Hebraisms to idiomatic English. This does not mean, however, that the meaning of the text has changed. For instance, English and linguistics professor Royal Skousen has found in the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon fourteen examples of a common Hebrew-like construction whose literal translation ("if . . . and") is not significantly different in meaning from its present adjusted version. One passage is Moroni 10:4, which originally read, "If ye shall ask with a sincere heart with real intent having faith in Christ and he will manifest the truth of it unto you." The passage now reads, "If ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you."

4. When properly understood, the topics discussed in this paper enhance the readability of the Book of Mormon. For example, readers who come upon a simile curse will recognize its form and function and will thus better appreciate the cultural and religious world of the prophets of both the Old and New Worlds. Similarly, readers who encounter the cognate accusative (e.g., "dreamed a dream") will recognize it is an ancient Hebrew form instead of being distracted by it.

5. The peculiar expressions in the Book of Mormon that reflect ancient literary forms in the underlying text reveal Joseph Smith to be a careful, faithful translator of the text inscribed on the gold plates.

6. ...as significant and interesting as they are, [Hebraisms] are far less important than the primary objective of the Book of Mormon: to bring people to Christ and his atonement. Although some people may attempt to argue against the validity, significance, or even existence of the ancient literary forms I have identified in the Book of Mormon, they cannot argue against the fact that the book has the power to transform lives, a power that has converted millions of people into followers of Christ. The Book of Mormon accomplishes that by encouraging people to believe in Jesus Christ and his gospel, to repent of and forsake their sins, to become Christlike in their dealings with others, and to make the atonement meaningful in their lives (seeJacob 1:7; Omni 1:26; Moroni 10:30,32).[1]

Notes

  1. ↑ Donald W. Parry, "Hebraisms and Other Ancient Peculiarities in the Book of Mormon," in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), Chapter 7, references silently removed—consult original for citations.