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Brant Gardner'S New Book


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#1 David Bokovoy

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 12:20 AM

Let me begin by saying that in terms of faithful LDS scholarship, there are very few people that I admire as much as Brant Gardner. In my humble opinion, his contributions to Book of Mormon studies and a defense of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon prove immeasurable. I love to read his ideas and hear his presentations. Whenever Brant shares his thoughts in any context, I always gain new and exciting insights into the text. He is a brilliant man. But more importantly, I very much consider Brant an outstanding person and a good friend. Honestly, I can't say enough great things about both Brant and his scholarship.

So in sum, despite the fact that I love my friend Brant and that his new book represents a worthy attempt for which he should be congratulated for approaching the topic with both faith and academic integrity, I find this new book very problematic. I'm not sure yet what forum I will use, but I feel far too passionate about this topic not to point out these issues.

Please note, I'm certainly not discouraging anyone from reading the book, to the contrary, this has become a must read for anyone interested in the subject of Book of Mormon translation. However, please be aware that there is another perspective that needs to be considered before embracing many of Brant's views, especially his critique of Hebraisms.

I spent all evening testing out some of my criticisms of Brant's claims on my sister-in-law, an expert in translating Arabic, and I have in my mind, some very important criticism that needs to be heard regarding the arguments presented in the book.

So despite my love, more to come.

Edited by David Bokovoy, 14 August 2011 - 12:21 AM.

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#2 WalkerW

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 12:41 AM

I'm looking forward to this. I plan on getting Brant's book on Kindle here shortly.
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#3 Brant Gardner

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 04:40 AM

However, please be aware that there is another perspective that needs to be considered before embracing many of Brant's views, especially his critique of Hebraisms.

David - the reason you publish research and ideas is so that discussion starts. I will be happy to be wrong about Hebraisms. Here are some things that I think any proposal that finds authentic Hebraisims must do:


1) Justify their presence in the appropriate text. In particular, we have to justify their existence in Mosiah-Ether. That is the section of the text that Mormon (and Moroni to a much lesser extent) write. Because you have 1000 years of separation from Hebrew, linguistic change alone makes it difficult to posit much survival. Of course, quoted material won't be as old, but we have to establish an untestable hypothesis about the nature of language change and the extent to which Mormon did or did not make his quotations more readable in his own later version of the language.

2) In the books most likely to have Hebraisms (and 1 Nephi is the very most likely for compositional reasons beyond the assumption of language), we need to see Hebraisms that are documentable for an appropriate time depth. In this I suspect you are better qualified than many who have looked at Hebraisms.

3) Syntax-based Hebraisms will be, in my view, the very most difficult to establish. They require support from a theory of translation that accounts for them, and by their nature almost require a much more literal control over the translation than I have seen in the text. That suggests that in addition to demonstrating that they exist, they have to have a very strong evidential justification for their existence that accounts for the rest of the data related to translation.

4) Hebraisms that suggest underlying meaning still have a place in the translation theory I propose, but those are more difficult to establish, and then more difficult to maintain in the Mormon/Moroni edited material.

Although I am willing to be convinced, as you can see, I think it will require much better evidence than has been mounted to date. You are one of the few who can do it. I'm anxious to see the results.
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#4 David Bokovoy

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 08:10 AM

David - the reason you publish research and ideas is so that discussion starts. I will be happy to be wrong about Hebraisms. Here are some things that I think any proposal that finds authentic Hebraisims must do:


1) Justify their presence in the appropriate text. In particular, we have to justify their existence in Mosiah-Ether. That is the section of the text that Mormon (and Moroni to a much lesser extent) write. Because you have 1000 years of separation from Hebrew, linguistic change alone makes it difficult to posit much survival. Of course, quoted material won't be as old, but we have to establish an untestable hypothesis about the nature of language change and the extent to which Mormon did or did not make his quotations more readable in his own later version of the language.

2) In the books most likely to have Hebraisms (and 1 Nephi is the very most likely for compositional reasons beyond the assumption of language), we need to see Hebraisms that are documentable for an appropriate time depth. In this I suspect you are better qualified than many who have looked at Hebraisms.

3) Syntax-based Hebraisms will be, in my view, the very most difficult to establish. They require support from a theory of translation that accounts for them, and by their nature almost require a much more literal control over the translation than I have seen in the text. That suggests that in addition to demonstrating that they exist, they have to have a very strong evidential justification for their existence that accounts for the rest of the data related to translation.

4) Hebraisms that suggest underlying meaning still have a place in the translation theory I propose, but those are more difficult to establish, and then more difficult to maintain in the Mormon/Moroni edited material.

Although I am willing to be convinced, as you can see, I think it will require much better evidence than has been mounted to date. You are one of the few who can do it. I'm anxious to see the results.


See, I love you, Brant, and you are so kind. I love how you're willing to question these issues in a faithful context. And I certainly don't claim to have all the answers on any subject, let alone such a complex issue as this, but I feel I have much to offer in terms of defending the attestation of Hebraisms within the text.

I will say that I really appreciated the fact that this book represents in my mind one of the first serious attempts to engage some of the difficult issues raised by critics of the book's ancient authenticity. Often in the past, we've just ignored some of the more challenging issues and have pretended that they just don't exist.

Despite my disagreements, well done.
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#5 volgadon

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 10:34 AM

I feel I have much to offer in terms of defending the attestation of Hebraisms within the text


I certainly want to read/hear this so please let me know where it'll be when you've decided on a venue.
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#6 Brent Metcalfe

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 10:39 AM

For what it’s worth, Brant’s book has a few factual errors, including one that involves me.

Brant mistakenly claims that my analysis of the wherefore/therefore lexical shift during JS’s BoMor dictation is a summary of Arthur Foster’s research when in fact the analysis is my own (see pp. 298–99 of Brant’s book where he cites my essay “The Priority of Mosiah: A Prelude to Book of Mormon Exegesis”). Foster’s study involved the whosoever/whoso lexical shift; he didn’t know about the wherefore/therefore shift until I brought it to his attention.

Kind regards,

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#7 Brant Gardner

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 01:27 PM

For what it’s worth, Brant’s book has a few factual errors, including one that involves me.

My apologies. This was the second time I have referenced that research. You got complete credit the first time, and I seem to have misread the footnote this time around. If it ever comes up again, I guarantee the third time will be the charm.
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#8 Brent Metcalfe

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 03:36 PM

Thanks, Brant.

I know the inherent madness entailed in publishing a book. Congrats on your important contribution to BoMor studies.

All the best,

</brent>


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(© 2011 Brent Lee Metcalfe.)
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#9 Ron Beron

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 03:43 PM

Let me begin by saying that in terms of faithful LDS scholarship, there are very few people that I admire as much as Brant Gardner. In my humble opinion, his contributions to Book of Mormon studies and a defense of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon prove immeasurable. I love to read his ideas and hear his presentations. Whenever Brant shares his thoughts in any context, I always gain new and exciting insights into the text. He is a brilliant man. But more importantly, I very much consider Brant an outstanding person and a good friend. Honestly, I can't say enough great things about both Brant and his scholarship.

So in sum, despite the fact that I love my friend Brant and that his new book represents a worthy attempt for which he should be congratulated for approaching the topic with both faith and academic integrity, I find this new book very problematic. I'm not sure yet what forum I will use, but I feel far too passionate about this topic not to point out these issues.

Please note, I'm certainly not discouraging anyone from reading the book, to the contrary, this has become a must read for anyone interested in the subject of Book of Mormon translation. However, please be aware that there is another perspective that needs to be considered before embracing many of Brant's views, especially his critique of Hebraisms.

I spent all evening testing out some of my criticisms of Brant's claims on my sister-in-law, an expert in translating Arabic, and I have in my mind, some very important criticism that needs to be heard regarding the arguments presented in the book.

So despite my love, more to come.

I would love to hear arguments on this, pro or con. Why not include the discussion in the Focused Discussions board?
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#10 David Bokovoy

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 08:32 PM

Brant’s rejection of the attestation of Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon in part reflects his interpretation of the work as an ancient Mesoamerican text. Brant reveals his preferred approach to the Book of Mormon’s original language via the statement,

“Let us posit for a moment that the underlying plate text was some regionally appropriate Mesoamerican language rather than Hebrew” (pg. 158).

In the same context, Brant goes on to state that he accepts John L. Sorenson's theory that Zoque was the common language while the Nephites were in the land of Zarahemla. Yet in order for Brant to sustain his theory regarding the Book of Mormon “plate text,” Brant's proposal must overcome four critical issues:

1. The attestation of alleged instances of Hebraisms identified in the Book of Mormon.

2. The fact that as “Jews” living in Jerusalem in 600 BC, Lehi’s family would have taken Hebrew with them to the New World as their spoken tongue.

3. An 1839 statement by Joseph Smith regarding the Book of Mormon in which the Prophet shared that “the language” of the title page paralleled the “running” of “all Hebrew writing in general.”

4. A comment by the Book of Mormon prophet Moroni stating that if the plates upon which the Nephite record had been kept had been “sufficiently large,” Nephite authors would have written in Hebrew and that during Moroni’s era, his people continued to use an altered form of Hebrew.

To his credit, Brant recognizes the challenges that these issues present for his theory regarding a Mesoamerican linguistic background to the Book of Mormon plate text, and his study presents a serious effort to explain how these issues might be interpreted in light of his preferred approach. Ultimately, however, I found his efforts to explain away such issues as Hebraisms and both Joseph Smith and Moroni’s reference to a Nephite connection with ancient Hebrew to be problematic for a number of reasons.

Edited by David Bokovoy, 14 August 2011 - 08:49 PM.

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#11 Brant Gardner

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 09:08 PM

David:

Thanks for beginning the discussion.

Brant’s rejection of the attestation of Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon in part reflects his interpretation of the work as an ancient Mesoamerican text. Gardner reveals his preferred approach to the Book of Mormon’s original language via the statement, “Let us posit for a moment that the underlying plate text was some regionally appropriate Mesoamerican language rather than Hebrew” (pg. 158). In the same context, Gardner goes on to state that he accepts John L. Sorenson's theory that Zoque was the common language while the Nephites were in the land of Zarahemla. Yet in order for Brant to sustain his theory regarding the Book of Mormon “plate text,” Brant's proposal must overcome four critical issues:

Somehow I wasn't clear. Although I really do suspect that the lingua franca of the Nephites was a Mesoamerican language, that doesn't play into the discussion of Hebraisms. That particular section deals with the problems of phonetic renditions. Even if we posit Hebraisms, we have to posit less than linguistic accuracy in the rendition of phonemes.

In spite of that, however, the problem for posited Hebraisms lies in the evidence for their existence, not alternate theories of the language spoken. I am not dismissing them in favor of a different language, but because I cannot find any solid evidence for their existence in the text, nor any theory of translation that would account for them (at least in the form in which they have been proposed).

1. The attestation of alleged instances of Hebraisms identified in the Book of Mormon.

Unfortunately, this posits as a conclusion the very thing for which evidence is required. The declaration that there are Hebraisms cannot be used as evidence for Hebraisms. What is required is data indicating Hebraisms that exist without an explanation in either chance or mimicry of the KJV.

2. The fact that as “Jews” living in Jerusalem in 600 BC, Lehi’s family would have taken Hebrew with them to the New World as their spoken tongue.

Indisputably. However, Nephi is the writer coming from that area and he declares that he is writing in Egyptian rather than Hebrew (whatever we think that might have meant - plausibly corroborated by Mosiah 2 teaching Egyptian to his sons). Then, we have the problem of the popular language after the arrival in the New World. Since the evidence supports the admixture of other peoples into the people of Nephi, it is likely that the lingua franca followed the more common/larger number of speaker- language of the region. While one might argue for Nephi retaining an Old World language, the longer we go in time from Nephi, the less likely that Hebrew was the common language. It is certainly possible that it was retained as the language of religion, but that is a point to debate, not to posit.

Still, the issue isn't even what language was spoken, but what was used to record the plates of Nephi/Mormon's abridgment. Once again, the fact that Nephi knew Hebrew is indisputable. The question to be demonstrated is whether or not there is any indication that Hebrew was--or informed--the language on the plates. That is were evidence is required, and the assumption of Hebrew can only be the suggestion for beginning, not a conclusion.

3. An 1839 statement by Joseph Smith regarding the Book of Mormon in which the Prophet shared that “the language” of the title page paralleled the “running” of “all Hebrew writing in general.”

Significantly made after he studied Hebrew. You will find my disagreement/argument against that statement in the Book.

4. A comment by the Book of Mormon prophet Moroni stating that if the plates upon which the Nephite record had been kept had been “sufficiently large,” Nephite authors would have written in Hebrew and that during Moroni’s era, his people continued to use an altered form of Hebrew.

Right. Moroni says that they are not writing in Hebrew (they could have, but didn't). That tells us that there was certainly the retention of that language, perhaps as Latin is still around, but when Moroni specifically says that they are not writing in Hebrew, it requires some very good argumentation to suggest why we should see Hebrew in a text Moroni says doesn't contain it. I understand that the argument is that what Moroni meant was script, not language, but even that is an assumption. In all cases, there is an assumption that we might find Hebraisms, but none of those assumptions are very strong, and certainly none can be elevated to a conclusion.

The question is whether or not we can mount evidence for Hebraisms that do not have an equally viable explanation in either pure chance or in mimicry of the KJV. When you combine the need for evidence with the need for a theory of translation theory that accounts for their selective preservation in the face of all other data contradicting any such selective preservation, there is a very difficult task ahead if you want to establish Hebraisms in the text.

Now, to give us a place where I think there may be some common ground, I see an ability to retain meanings that might have been more specific to Hebrew. The mechanisms of translation exist to make that argument. Of course, there is still the problem of time and culture to deal with, and the way in which anything the Old World could have been preserved for that length of time, but there is a possibility there--if the evidence can be mounted to make any such case.



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#12 David Bokovoy

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 09:36 PM

Somehow I wasn't clear. Although I really do suspect that the lingua franca of the Nephites was a Mesoamerican language, that doesn't play into the discussion of Hebraisms. That particular section deals with the problems of phonetic renditions. Even if we posit Hebraisms, we have to posit less than linguistic accuracy in the rendition of phonemes.


Thank you for that clarification, Brant. I appreciate that you believe there exist some important reasons to question the Nephite use of a modified Egyptian script to record Hebrew, and I believe that you did as brilliant a job as possible to illustrate why the four issues I mentioned do not serve as evidence for a Hebraic background to the plate text, however, I simply wasn't convinced. In the book, you focused your attention on two examples of purported Hebraisms, i.e. the construct state and the if/and construction.

I accept your analysis on the construct state as a King Jamesism, albeit with some reservations. More importantly, I believe that the arguments you raised against the if/and clause in the Book of Mormon clearly do not refute the observation.

To counter Skousen’s observation on conditional clauses in the Book of Mormon as an example of a Hebraism, you cited the following text from Joseph’s journal entry on December 18th, 1833 from Dean C. Jesse’s compilation, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (pg. 23):

"Behold he is blessed of the Lord for his constancy and steadfastness in the work of the Lord wherefore he shall be blessed in his generation and they shall never be cut off and he shall be helped out of many troubles and if he keep the command=ments and harken unto the <council of the> Lord his and [and] his rest shall be glorious" (the underlined "his and" clause has been crossed out, hence your reinsertion of the conjunction "and").

In your book, you cited this text from Joseph Smith as the “single instance” you have successfully uncovered of Joseph Smith’s writing producing a conditional sentence structure where the expected transitional word “then” appears as “and.” Hence the analysis you provide suggests that this journal entry negates the validity of the Hebrew conditional clause in the Book of Mormon (I recognize that there is more context to your rejection of Hebraisms). You state, “the presence of this form in a non-Book of Mormon text from Joseph indicates that, at a miniumum, it was available to Joseph, despite being nonstandard” (174).

Yet is this “single instance” of an alleged Hebrew conditional construct you've uncovered truly what you maintain? Note the same clause from the prophet’s journal as presented in volume one of the Joseph Smith Papers:

"And if he keep the commandmend <commandments> and harken unto the <council of the > Lord his and his rest shall be glorious" (again, the "his and" clause has been crossed out).

This citation illustrates what you needed to do in order to create a conditional clause in the prophet’s journal. In your citation of Jesse’s compilation, you inserted via brackets what was intentinally crossed out as a mistake in Joseph’s journal, i.e. an “and.” In other words, the clause in Joseph’s journal reads:

“And if he keep the commandments and hearken unto the council of the Lord, his rest shall be glorious.”

As explained in the Joseph Smith Papers, the single horizantal strikethrough bar is “used to indicate any method of cancelation: strikethrough and cross out, wipe erasure and knife erasure, overwriting, or other methods” (lxiii). In your analysis, I believe that you have unintentionally misrepresented the text as an example of an if/and conditional in Joseph’s own writing, stating that while the grammatical form is “certainly rare in Joseph’s writings, it is present at least once” (p. 174).

Yet since this is the “single instance” you were able to uncover, the form is not simply “rare,” it is in fact non-existent, since the citation was not truly written by Joseph Smith, but by the prophet’s scribe, Frederick G. Williams and there’s simply no way to determine whether Williams misheard the prophet or whether Joseph himself may have fumbled over his words. Either way, the bracketed “and” that you insert was in fact crossed out in order to avoid the mistaken “and his and” clause that your example depends upon. I do not believe, therefore, that this entry illustrates what you assumed, i.e. that the if/and conditional statement is “rare” in Joseph’s writings and that it appears in Joseph’s December 18, 1833 journal entry.

Hence, in my mind, this analysis cannot negate the validity of the if/and clause as a possible Hebraism. I appreciate that there's much more to your argument against Hebraisms, but this is a start.

Edited by David Bokovoy, 14 August 2011 - 10:07 PM.

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#13 David Bokovoy

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 09:58 PM

Significantly made after he studied Hebrew. You will find my disagreement/argument against that statement in the Book.


Indeed. Your analysis of the prophet's 1838 statement linking Hebrew with the Book of Mormon title page came down to the fact that Joseph's view may have been influenced by the fact that he had begun to study Hebrew at this point in Kirtland and that the "Caractors" from the Anthon script appear to run from left to right rather than right to left, i.e. the direction of Hebrew.

While I accept the probability that the caractors were written down left to right, I see no reason to accept the claim that the very shape of the symbols suggests that they would have appeared on the plates written left to right. Given my work with Semitic languages (not all of which run right to left), I feel very comfortable reading, writing, and even typing right to left. Hence, I put your theory to the test and carefully recreated each of the signs from the Anthon script in a right to left direction. It worked perfectly, without any problems whatsoever.

I then put my sister-in-law to the test (she is an expert in Arabic translations, but knows little of Book of Mormon issues). She was actually recreating some cursive translations at my house for a work project before dinner and I asked her to write the symbols from the first line as she would a cursive Arabic script. She did so rather quickly and enjoyed the challenge, not knowing what they were. I then asked her that assuming that these symbols were in fact a real language, if she could perceive any indication that the symbols showed any signs that they could not be written in a right to left directional flow, i.e. your claim in the book.

Like me, she could not.

So in my mind, despite your analysis, we're still left with the fact that Joseph Smith himself stated that the language on the title page ran like all Hebrew scripts, from right to left.

Granted, this does not deal with the issue you raised concerning whether or not Joseph ever even truly read from the plates.

Edited by David Bokovoy, 14 August 2011 - 11:11 PM.

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#14 David Bokovoy

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 10:25 PM

Right. Moroni says that they are not writing in Hebrew (they could have, but didn't). That tells us that there was certainly the retention of that language, perhaps as Latin is still around, but when Moroni specifically says that they are not writing in Hebrew, it requires some very good argumentation to suggest why we should see Hebrew in a text Moroni says doesn't contain it. I understand that the argument is that what Moroni meant was script, not language, but even that is an assumption. In all cases, there is an assumption that we might find Hebraisms, but none of those assumptions are very strong, and certainly none can be elevated to a conclusion.


And yet in my mind, the assumption that Moroni means that he would have written using a Hebraic script to write Nephite Hebrew is a much better assumption than the one that suggests that Nephite scribes would have kept alive a scribal language for a 1000 years when there was absolutely no need!

Since according to your theory, neither the Nephite scriptures, nor their own religious writings used to form the Book of Mormon were written in Hebrew, I fail to see how a Nephite scribal school could have existed preserving Hebrew as a scribal language for a 1000 year period when there was absolutely no need!

In your analysis,you provided the example of the attestation of biblical Hebrew on texts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls to argue that “the preservation of a language and its use in a particular sacred context cannot be used as evidence of its use as the spoken language” (pg. 169). You then cited as a reference a comment from The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation by Michael Wise, Martin Abegg Jr., and Edward Cook that actually contradicts your claim. The authors write:

"The scrolls have therefore proven that late Second-temple Jews used various dialects of Hebrew along with Aramaic… For writing, however, they generally tried to imitate biblical Hebrew, and older form of the language" (pg. 9)

In other words, the Hebrew on the Dead Sea Scrolls provides evidence that late Second-temple Jews were speaking dialects of Hebrew along with Aramaic at the time the documents were produced. Moreover, in my mind, your analysis, should take into consideration that an “altered” Hebrew (to adopt Moroni’s term) suggests a “spoken” Hebrew rather than simply a Hebrew preserved by scribes in the form of a sacred written tradition, which would have been extremely conservative, i.e. without alteration.

But again, where is the need for such a school when everything in the Book of Mormon is placed in terms of Egyptian scripts, including the Brass Plates?

Edited by David Bokovoy, 14 August 2011 - 11:09 PM.

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#15 David Bokovoy

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 10:58 PM

The question is whether or not we can mount evidence for Hebraisms that do not have an equally viable explanation in either pure chance or in mimicry of the KJV. When you combine the need for evidence with the need for a theory of translation theory that accounts for their selective preservation in the face of all other data contradicting any such selective preservation, there is a very difficult task ahead if you want to establish Hebraisms in the text.


And this point is one of my biggest concerns with your approach to Hebraisms. I have a lot to share on this issue, but my main concern on this argument is what I perceive as an inconsistency in your approach to King Jamesisms versus Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon.

You make the argument:

"The preservation of a language and its use in a particular sacred context cannot be used…as evidence that [the archaic language’s] grammatical patterns would influence that population’s language” (169).

In other words, simply because as you theorize, a Nephite scribal tradition may have existed, the preservation of Hebrew by that scribal school would not in and of itself indicate that the language of the Book of Mormon would have been influenced by Hebrew (again, relying upon your belief that Nephite language was something other than Hebrew).

Yet even if you were correct about Nephite language (and, again, I cannot accept this argument), is this a correct statement, because to be honest, I'm not convinced that it is:

"The preservation of a language and its use in a particular sacred context cannot be used…as evidence that [the archaic language’s] grammatical patterns would influence that population’s language” (169).

If we take into consideration the preservation of King James Bible English, has that archaic language’s grammatical patterns failed to influence the language of Latter-day Saints, i.e. a “population” that has preserved King James English in its “sacred context” via the Bible?

Or in reality, has King James Bible English influenced the language of Latter-day Saints, especially in a religious context? Based upon what I observed today at Church, I would argue that it very much has!

In fact, Brant, your assertion that the preservation of an archaic language does not serve as evidence that the language would have influenced that population’s speech directly contradicts your use of Bramwell’s cautions in the identification of Book of Mormon Hebraisms:

"Another matter of relevance is to know what extent the common speech of Joseph Smith and his American contemporaries was interspersed with archaic Biblical expressions. It is possible that some of the idioms found in the Book of Mormon might be a reflection of a Biblical-type speech used on the American frontier in the 1820’s rather than the result of a translation of a purported oriental record" (as cited on pg. 168).

In your analysis, the possibility that purported Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon may derive from idioms and grammatical patterns absorbed by Joseph Smith through the King James Bible actually directly contracts your assertion that the preservation of an older language in a sacred context cannot be used as evidence that the grammatical patterns in the text would have influenced the language of the secondary population.

In reality, Brant, this is precisely what you have argued is the explanation for Hebraisms, i.e. that an older language (King James Bible English) influenced the language and hence translation of the Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith. In other words, Brant, here is how I see your argument:

1. Simply because Nephites preserved Hebrew as an archaic scribal religious language doesn't mean that Hebrew would have influenced the language of the Book of Mormon because "the preservation of a language and its use in a particular sacred context cannot be used…as evidence that [the archaic language’s] grammatical patterns would influence that population’s language.”

2. Ancient Hebraic forms appear in the Book of Mormon because Joseph Smith's language was influenced by the preservation of King James English in the sacred context of the Bible, so the attestation of Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon is evidence that an archaic language (King James Bible English) influenced Joseph Smith's language.

So the very point that you argue is probably not happening in terms of the Nephites, i.e. that their language and religious writings were influenced by the preservation of an archaic religious language is precisely how you explain the attestations of Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon, i.e. that Joseph's language was influenced by the preservation of an archaic religious language, i.e. the King James Bible that as you correctly note, often features Hebraisms in its translation.

Like I said, I have a lot I would like to share on this issue, but from my perspective, this was an important inconsistency in your methodology.

Again, sorry to be so critical. Given my respect for you, I've been very excited to read this book, but I was bound to disagree.

Edited by David Bokovoy, 14 August 2011 - 11:05 PM.

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#16 Brant Gardner

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 04:22 AM

Yet since this is the “single instance” you were able to uncover, the form is not simply “rare,” it is in fact non-existent, since the citation was not truly written by Joseph Smith, but by the prophet’s scribe, Frederick G. Williams and there’s simply no way to determine whether Williams misheard the prophet or whether Joseph himself may have fumbled over his words. Either way, the bracketed “and” that you insert was in fact crossed out in order to avoid the mistaken “and his and” clause that your example depends upon. I do not believe, therefore, that this entry illustrates what you assumed, i.e. that the if/and conditional statement is “rare” in Joseph’s writings and that it appears in Joseph’s December 18, 1833 journal entry.

Let us accept the argument that this single instance doesn't represent Joseph's language, but that of Williams. That doesn't place the phrase in Joseph's vocabulary, but it does place it in his environment, so the argument that it is so unusual in English is still diminished.

However, I don't consider that the most important argument against the if>and construction. The real problem is that in order to preserve a plate-text if>and construction, we have to posit a very accurate translation of two rather unimpressive words, 'if' and 'and', and then suggest that they occur in a specific context. The problem is, that of all of the places where that construction was used in the text, the if>and construction appears is too small a percentage of them. What that means is that in order to suggest that this represents a Hebraisms, we have to posit a very specific kind of very close relationship between the plate text and English, but that it occurs rarely as a translation of that kind of conditional. The infrequency argues for random appearance rather than intentional. I checked the data against Skousen's variants to make sure that I didn't examine the places where the if>and conditional had been corrected.

So, in order for this to be an authentic Hebraism, we have to have some translation method that preserved it, but only did so about a third of the time when the conditional was used, with the greater number following the more regular English pattern. I can't see that as a very compelling case.


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#17 Brant Gardner

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 04:38 AM

Indeed. Your analysis of the prophet's 1838 statement linking Hebrew with the Book of Mormon title page came down to the fact that Joseph's view may have been influenced by the fact that he had begun to study Hebrew at this point in Kirtland and that the "Caractors" from the Anthon script appear to run from left to right rather than right to left, i.e. the direction of Hebrew.

While I accept the probability that the caractors were written down left to right, I see no reason to accept the claim that the very shape of the symbols suggests that they would have appeared on the plates written left to right. Given my work with Semitic languages (not all of which run right to left), I feel very comfortable reading, writing, and even typing right to left. Hence, I put your theory to the test and carefully recreated each of the signs from the Anthon script in a right to left direction. It worked perfectly, without any problems whatsoever.

Let's pretend that the characters on the plates were Hebrew (knowing that they were not). I strongly suspect that in copying them, Joseph would have naturally written them left to right. I suspect that they would have been recognizable as Hebrew, though certainly not written by a practiced hand. I wouldn't make any argument that one could not write any set of characters in any direction one would wish.

The argument isn't in the writing, but in the shapes of the characters, on which side of vertical you have outward/forward movement. The argument is that the design of the characters suggests their creation by a writing system that moved left to right. Hebrew and Arabic show similar evidence in the actual formation of the characters suggesting the direction in which they were intended to be created (and I believe that the Roman alphabet similarly shows a left to right intention in the formation of the characters.

I have no doubt that one could reproduce them from either direction, but a script is designed to be written and I believe tends to show the underlying assumption of the direction of formation.

Returning to Joseph's statement about the text running right to left, we have a statement made around 10 years after the translation, and certainly after learning about Hebrew. We have a translation method that never clearly has Joseph interacting with the plates. Assuming that the characters represented their location on the plates (i.e., they represent a line of text rather than randomly selected characters) there is nothing about the transcript that suggests right to left movement, and nothing in the individual characters that suggests that they were intended to be written differently from the way they were copied. If Joseph did not consult the plates during the translation, and read English phrases to his scribes, when might he have become cognizant of the reading direction of the plate text? I strongly doubt that it even occurred to Joseph that one might write right to left until he learned some Hebrew.
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#18 Brant Gardner

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 05:02 AM

And yet in my mind, the assumption that Moroni means that he would have written using a Hebraic script to write Nephite Hebrew is a much better assumption than the one that suggests that Nephite scribes would have kept alive a scribal language for a 1000 years when there was absolutely no need!

Of course there would have been a need, for the same reasons that Latin has been preserved but is no longer a spoken language (at least a naturally spoken language).

Since according to your theory, neither the Nephite scriptures, nor their own religious writings used to form the Book of Mormon were written in Hebrew, I fail to see how a Nephite scribal school could have existed preserving Hebrew as a scribal language for a 1000 year period when there was absolutely no need!

I couldn't tell you what was written in Hebrew, but it was certainly known as a language. It would not be surprising for someone to retain the understanding so they could read ancient documents. As you know, the ancient world put a premium on the idea of antiquity. Old texts were inherently better.

So, yes, Hebrew was preserved. What does that mean for the Book of Mormon? It means that if any of the early texts were written in Hebrew, Mormon and Moroni could read them. It means that whatever reformed Egyptian was, Mormon and Moroni could compare it to Hebrew and declare it to be different (in some way, of course some posit only in the script).

We also have Moroni telling us: "But the Lord knoweth the things which we have written, and also that none other people knoweth our language; and because that none other people knoweth our language, therefore he hath prepared means for the interpretation thereof." (Mormon 9:34)

Mormon and Moroni certainly knew of their distant heritage in Jerusalem and their position in the house of Israel. I cannot imagine the preservation of Hebrew without a connection to Israel. That makes their statement that no one knows their language a rather difficult proposition for any suggestion that the plate text was written in Hebrew. Moroni says it was not, and says that the language used isn't known (and he must have known that Hebrew was--though in a different continent).

So, yes they preserved Hebrew, but whatever they did with it, the relevant question is how much it affected the plate text. That is where we have Moroni telling us it didn't. That is a high hill to climb to reintroduce significant Hebrew into the plate text.

In other words, the Hebrew on the Dead Sea Scrolls provides evidence that late Second-temple Jews were speaking dialects of Hebrew along with Aramaic at the time the documents were produced.

Remembering that while we classify them as different languages, they are not unrelated. The preservation of the sacred texts in that language certainly provided a reason for the retention and use of Hebrew (and I return to the Latin example for another preservation of a scholarly/special language).

That doesn't dictate common spoken language, which is going to move in its own direction. It cannot be slowed by texts that most of the speakers cannot read.

Moreover, in my mind, your analysis, should take into consideration that an “altered” Hebrew (to adopt Moroni’s term) suggests a “spoken” Hebrew rather than simply a Hebrew preserved by scribes in the form of a sacred written tradition, which would have been extremely conservative, i.e. without alteration.

Unfortunately, we have a statement that has to be interpreted. How might we understand the "altered" Hebrew? Certainly it might argue for continued use and therefore natural change. However, using that argument to establish that as the lingua franca only complicates the issue of Hebraisms. If it was a living, spoken language and subject to the kinds of changes that occur over 1000 years, how can you be certain that any Hebraism you find was the result of something that was retained as opposed to those things that were not?

If you argue that the changes in Hebrew are due to the continuation of Hebrew as a spoken language and the language of the plates, you again have one of the writers of the plates telling you that it is sufficiently different that no one knows it. Someone who can read the classic Hebrew that they retained is telling you that what they use is different. How can we discern any Hebraism if we don't know what the language is we are looking at? Do we find Hebraisms in Aramaic? We should. Should we find Aramaicisms in the Book of Mormon? Surely there were some forms in Aramaic that differed from the classic Hebrew. As representatives of a later language, why not look for those.

The problem with Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon is that they are too often the result of the assumption that they should be find. Simply finding the evidence we are looking for does not establish the connection, it establishes the art of searcher. We need a much tighter methodology.

But again, where is the need for such a school when everything in the Book of Mormon is placed in terms of Egyptian scripts, including the Brass Plates?

Good question, of course. Why are we not preferring to find Egyptianisms? Of course, the relationship of the languages suggests that there might be similarities, but why prefer Hebrew to Egyptian?


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#19 Brant Gardner

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 05:30 AM

And this point is one of my biggest concerns with your approach to Hebraisms. I have a lot to share on this issue, but my main concern on this argument is what I perceive as an inconsistency in your approach to King Jamesisms versus Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon.

You make the argument:

"The preservation of a language and its use in a particular sacred context cannot be used…as evidence that [the archaic language’s] grammatical patterns would influence that population’s language” (169).

In other words, simply because as you theorize, a Nephite scribal tradition may have existed, the preservation of Hebrew by that scribal school would not in and of itself indicate that the language of the Book of Mormon would have been influenced by Hebrew (again, relying upon your belief that Nephite language was something other than Hebrew).

Can we agree that the King James Bible is written in English, although representative of a more historical version of it? Because it is the same language, we read it in "the original"--though we misunderstand it in the original due to shifts in vocabulary and probably sentence constructions with which we are no longer comfortable. Nevertheless, I doubt you would get very many people suggesting that the KJV is written in a different language.

Still, there are aspects of language change that are still applicable using that model. We don't speak that version of English. We quote it. We can imitate it, and when we do, everyone recognizes what we are imitating and that the imitation is intentional and not the result of a chance parallel because we speak similarly. That was not the case in Joseph's day, because that language style was still informing everyday speech. It wasn't that different from the colloquial at the time (and probably served as the only rural model for proper English).

Let's return to the problem of language and the Book of Mormon. We agree that Hebrew was preserved. Now the question is whether that preserved Hebrew informed quotidian speech. Perhaps, if they spoke the version that was so modified from the original. However, there is no guarantee for that, since the typical process for a smaller group merging in to the larger is that the dominant language remains that of the larger established group (even Norman French did not replace English--though it clearly influenced vocabulary, though not syntax that I can think of at the moment).

What we cannot do is declare the nature of a spoken language simply because a language is preserved for religious or scholarly use. Latin tells us that. Therefore, the preservation of Hebrew cannot be used (without any other evidence) as a justification for assuming English as the plate text. Historical evidence tells us that it could easily have been different. Therefore, any assumption of Hebrew on the plate text has to be justified. In the end, that would happen if we have non-random Hebraisms that could not appear through mimicry of the KJV. I would also suggest that it is required that we have a theory of translation into which we can fit their preservation against the textual content that does not as clearly have an ancient model.

If we take into consideration the preservation of King James Bible English, has that archaic language’s grammatical patterns failed to influence the language of Latter-day Saints, i.e. a “population” that has preserved King James English in its “sacred context” via the Bible?

That is an interesting question, because the influence comes only in the context of religion and only when there is an expectation that the audience will comprehend the reference.

KJV does not inform quotidian speech, save in quotation or reference, and it is the essential distinctiveness that marks such as a quotation or reference.


Brant, here is how I see your argument:

1. Simply because Nephites preserved Hebrew as an archaic scribal religious language doesn't mean that Hebrew would have influenced the language of the Book of Mormon because "the preservation of a language and its use in a particular sacred context cannot be used…as evidence that [the archaic language’s] grammatical patterns would influence that population’s language.”


Correct. The preservation of Hebrew doesn't tell us (by the fact of its preservation) what the quotidian language was. Neither the preservation of Hebrew nor the quotidian language necessarily tell us what the plate text was. The only information we have is Moroni telling us that they could have written in Hebrew, but didn't.

2. Ancient Hebraic forms appear in the Book of Mormon because Joseph Smith's language was influenced by the preservation of King James English in the sacred context of the Bible, so the attestation of Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon is evidence that an archaic language (King James Bible English) influenced Joseph Smith's language.

There are two parts, the first that there are arguable Hebraisms. I don't disagree with that. The second part you couch accurately. I see them occurring through the influence of the KJV rather than as a representation of a very controlled translation of a vocabulary item on the plate text.

So the very point that you argue is probably not happening in terms of the Nephites, i.e. that their language and religious writings were influenced by the preservation of an archaic religious language is precisely how you explain the attestations of Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon, i.e. that Joseph's language was influenced by the preservation of an archaic religious language, i.e. the King James Bible that as you correctly note, often features Hebraisms in its translation.

Interesting idea. I do have a problem with your suggestion that the KJV is written in a different language.

Now, let's suppose that your KJV example is precisely the one we should look at for the Book of Mormon. Let's posit a quotidian "reformed Hebrew" as the Nephite language. That then is certainly parallel to and would have had some influence from the inherited Hebrew, which language was certainly still understood by those who could read and write in Moroni's day.

How then do we interpret Moroni's dual declaration that no one knows their language, and that although they knew how to write in Hebrew, they didn't do that on the plates? I have no problem with declaring that Hebraisms appear based on the weight of evidence, but what cannot be done is suggest that they appear because we expect them to.

Again, sorry to be so critical. Given my respect for you, I've been very excited to read this book, but I was bound to disagree.

I understand that you are trying hard to be polite, given the dramatic difference in our opinions, but please don't worry about being critical. That is what ideas are for. I expect critical analysis of those ideas. If I didn't think I could defend my position, I wouldn't have presented it. However, I may not yet have been exposed to the best argument against it. Bring them on, please. I have changed my mind on lots of things based on the weight of evidence. I will be happy to do it again.

However, also please understand that I'll continue to defend my position until I see an argument that is compelling. Posted Image


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#20 Olavarria

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 01:01 PM

*LIKE*
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