Source:Rediscovering the Book of Mormon:Ch:8:14:Hebraisms:Words used in unusual ways

Hebrew influence on Book of Mormon text: Words Used in Unusual Ways

Hebrew influence on Book of Mormon text: Words Used in Unusual Ways

At several points in the Book of Mormon, we encounter English words used in ways that are unknown or unexpected in our language. King Mosiah said, "I shall give this people a name, that thereby they may be distinguished above all the people" (Mosiah 1:11). In English we would expect distinguished from. But the Book of Mormon passage reflects the normal Hebrew expression, which uses the compound preposition that means from above.

Jacob wrote that Nephi instructed him regarding Nephite sacred preaching, revelations, and prophecies that "I should engraven the heads of them upon these plates" (Jacob 1:4). The term head seems out of place. We would expect something like most important to be used. But the expression is readily explainable in terms of Hebrew. The Hebrew word for the head of the body is sometimes used to describe things as chief (see Deuteronomy 33:15; Psalm 137:6; and Proverbs 1:21) or precious (see Amos 6:1; Song of Solomon 4:14; Ezekiel 27:22). This is probably the sense in which Jacob used the word.

Nephi wrote, "We are upon an isle of the sea" (2 Nephi 10:20). It seems strange to have Nephi call the American continent an island. But the Hebrew word generally translated isle in the Bible has a wider range of meaning than just island. It most often refers to coastal lands.

Alma 13:18, speaking of Melchizedek, notes that "he was the king of Salem; and he did reign under his father." This may reflect the normal biblical Hebrew use of the preposition under for the meaning instead of. The same preposition is rendered instead of in some passages of the King James Bible. For example, after King Amaziah had been murdered, "all the people of Judah took Azariah . . . and made him king instead of his father Amaziah" (2 Kings 14:21).

In Ether 8:11 we read "he desired her to wife." English would prefer for a wife. There is a Hebrew preposition that means both to and for. Furthermore, the Hebrew word used for wife really means woman. In three Book of Mormon passages, the word women appears to mean wives:

"Our women did bear children" (1 Nephi 17:1).
"Our women have toiled, being big with child; and they have borne children" (1 Nephi 17:20).
"For behold, he hath blessed mine house, he hath blessed me, and my women, and my children, and my father and my kinsfolk; yea, even all my kindred hath he blessed" (Alma 10:11).[1]


  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.