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What is "reformed egyptian"?


Olavarria

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Morm. 9:32,33

32)And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech.

33)And if our plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record.

Several things jump out in these verses:

1)The reformed Egyptian was a set of characters.

2)The term "the reformed Egyptian" was ideosyncratic.

3)Egyptian characters were modified according to Nephite spoken language.

4)The Nephite prophet historians knew a form of Hebrew.

5)This Hebrew had evolved from what their fathers had used in the Old World.

6)The reformed Egyptian was used because it was a more compact script than Hebrew.

7)If the Nephite prophet historians had written in Hebrew, then they would have conveyed perfectly what they intended to write.

So what was the reformed Egyptian? Apart from what the Book of Mormon states, I don't know.

But I think it was the Nephite version of Hebrew, written in Egyptian characters. Papyrus Amherst 62 uses Demotic Egyptian script to write an Aramaic version of Psalm 20. Aramaic is a sister language of Hebrew, so this sort of thing has happened before.

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One wonders if the Reformed Egyptian was something that they came with, having been developed in Jerusalem for "note taking" or some other purpose - perhaps like stenography. Or, whether it was something the Nephites developed on their own. Unfortunately, we're left to wonder about it since we don't have all that much information on it, since it's really only mentioned in passing.

As you noted, it's interesting that other hybrids of languages have developed over time. English, after all, is simply a hybrid of a number of older languages that have evolved over the years.

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One wonders if the Reformed Egyptian was something that they came with, having been developed in Jerusalem for "note taking" or some other purpose - perhaps like stenography. Or, whether it was something the Nephites developed on their own.

I've written a thing or two about this in the past, and have also posted about it here in the forum. It relates to characters in the Anthon Manuscript, and to some things a few critics have said about the origin of those characters in relation to early European stenography.

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I think reformed Egyptian means that the script was altered, presumably to make it easier to write and to fit larger amounts of text into smaller spaces.

Isn't that precisely how hieratic script was developed? Could it not reasonably be called reformed Egyptian?

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Isn't that precisely how hieratic script was developed? Could it not reasonably be called reformed Egyptian?

Yes, and yes.

I've never, incidentally, understood the mockery to which the notion of "reformed Egyptian" has been subjected by some critics. Languages and scripts change (or "reform," if you will) all the time. Languages evolve constantly, and so, to an extent, do writing systems.

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Languages and scripts change (or "reform," if you will) all the time. Languages evolve constantly, and so, to an extent, do writing systems.

Absolutely, which is why most Hebraisms are unlikely to have survived the centuries prior to Mormon's abridgement.

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Absolutely, which is why most Hebraisms are unlikely to have survived the centuries prior to Mormon's abridgement.

Yet for some reason, a number of Hebraisms have survived to our day - as have the influences of other ancient languages to various degrees.. Indeed, if your claim is correct, one wonders why Latin, a very dead language, still exhibits such influence on English after almost 2000 years.

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"Reformed Egyptian", as copied into the Anthon "Caracters" transcript, looks a lot like a form of Latin shorthand known as Tironian Notes (notae Tironianae). In fact, from the comparison shown below, I would say it looks precisely like Tironian Notes shorthand.

The column on the left in the illustration below shows characters from the Anthon "Caracters" transcript, created by Joseph Smith and carried by Martin Harris to Prof. Anthon, and Dr. Mitchell for their review.

The column on the right below shows corresponding Tironian note characters.

charatr1.gif

Where did Joseph Smith obtain these characters? Probably from Stephen Mack, who was known to have interest in, and access to, a manuscript or its facsimiles that was, at the time (before 1827), believed to be of Middle Eastern origin.

Mack died in 1827 and so Joseph Smith probably felt safe in using the characters as his "Reformed Egyptian". Since nobody then in the US could translate the Tironian notes, and they were thought to be of Phoenician origin, it probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

In fact, since Smith would have logically assumed that Mitchell or Anthon may have seen the MS in question but were unable to translate it, and further assumed that they also believed it to be of Phoenician origin, it probably looked like a sure bet.

The manuscript in question was later shown to be written by Irish Catholic(s) in the 17th century making frequent use of Tironian notes. Other characters in the Anthon Transcript appear to be in a later shorthand known Irish Ogham. Between Tironian notes and Ogham shorthand, all (or essentially all) of the non-Gaelic characters in the Anthon transcript can be identified.

In the end, however, the characters had nothing to do with Egyptian, or "reformed Egyptian" or Hebrew, or any other Semitic language. They are what they are (a Latin shorthand first developed in about the 3rd Century AD and used until the 17th). The idea that they were "reformed Egyptian" came most likely from Joseph Smith's fertile imagination.

If my reading on this issue is correct, our own Uncle Dale probably has some insight into this theory as well and so I hope he shows up to comment.

So as not to be banned for this clearly heretical assertion, let me note that the foregoing is my humble but considered opinion, based on the evidence presented here.

Edited on Nov. 27 to add: "non-Gaelic" . That is, to be perfectly clear regarding the Irish MS (written, as described by Irish Catholics in the 17th Century) the last sentence in paragraph 7 should read:

Between Tironian notes and Ogham shorthand, all (or essentially all) of the non-Gaelic characters in the Anthon transcript can be identified.

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Absolutely, which is why most Hebraisms are unlikely to have survived the centuries prior to Mormon's abridgement.

I have no way of testing such a statement. Since I have no baseline Urtext or Nephite Ursprache against which to measure the 1830 edition, let alone the last rescension of Mormon and Moroni, I can say no more about the degree of linguistic attrition than you can.

However, there are plainly Hebraisms in the English Book of Mormon. This seems to me undeniable. (At any rate, it has not been successfully denied.)

A parallel case could easily be found in, say, medieval or even early-Renaissance Latin. While it had clearly evolved, it was also clearly the same language, with some of the same idiosyncracies as classical Latin. Ditto for the various periods of Hebrew (biblical, Mishnaic, modern, etc.) and Greek (Homeric, Attic, koine, Byzantine, modern), and so forth. While they change, they also retain characteristics that distinguish them from other languages.

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"Reformed Egyptian", as copied into the Anthon "Caracters" transcript, looks a lot like a form of Latin shorthand known as Tironian Notes (notae Tironianae). In fact, from the comparison shown below, I would say it looks precisely like Tironian Notes shorthand.

The column on the left in the illustration below shows characters from the Anthon "Caracters" transcript, created by Joseph Smith and carried by Martin Harris to Prof. Anthon, and Dr. Mitchell for their review.

The column on the right below shows corresponding Tironian note characters.

Where did Joseph Smith obtain these characters? Probably from Stephen Mack, who was known to have interest in, and access to, a manuscript or its facsimiles that was, at the time (before 1827), believed to be of Middle Eastern origin.

Mack died in 1827 and so Joseph Smith probably felt safe in using the characters as his "Reformed Egyptian". Since nobody then in the US could translate the Tironian notes, and they were thought to be of Phoenician origin, it probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

In fact, since Smith would have logically assumed that Mitchell or Anthon may have seen the MS in question but were unable to translate it, and further assumed that they also believed it to be of Phoenician origin, it probably looked like a sure bet.

The manuscript in question was later shown to be written by Irish Catholic(s) in the 17th century making frequent use of Tironian notes. Other characters in the Anthon Transcript appear to be in a later shorthand known Irish Ogham. Between Tironian notes and Ogham shorthand, all (or essentially all) of the characters in the Anthon transcript can be identified.

In the end, however, the characters had nothing to do with Egyptian, or "reformed Egyptian" or Hebrew, or any other Semitic language. They are what they are (a Latin shorthand first developed in about the 3rd Century AD and used until the 17th). The idea that they were "reformed Egyptian" came most likely from Joseph Smith's fertile imagination.

If my reading on this issue is correct, our own Uncle Dale probably has some insight into this theory as well and so I hope he shows up to comment.

So as not to be banned for this clearly heretical assertion, let me note that the foregoing is my humble but considered opinion, based on the evidence presented here.

Let me see if I understand your assertion -- Joseph Smith was taught a Latin shorthand by his uncle, and then copied it down onto a piece of paper and tried to pass it off to a professor of ancient languages as an ancient form of Egyptian?

What do you make of the rest of the letters on the transcript that you conveniently ignored?

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Let me see if I understand your assertion -- Joseph Smith was taught a Latin shorthand by his uncle, and then copied it down onto a piece of paper and tried to pass it off to a professor of ancient languages as an ancient form of Egyptian?

Professor Anthon was, specifically, a professor of Greek and Latin. Perhaps the greatest authority on those languages in America at the time.

Yet, although he was convinced that the transcript was fraudulent, he doesn't seem to have noticed the obvious evidence right before his eyes.

Curious.

What do you make of the rest of the letters on the transcript that you conveniently ignored?

That was my question, too.

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I believe it was a MacGuffin. Honestly, the plates could have had dots and dashes on them since the only person reading the plates and providing the translation was [the power of]God.

Except that JS was not the only person to have ever read the plates, just the last one to do so. Those who originally used the plates would have known the language.

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I have no way of testing such a statement. Since I have no baseline Urtext or Nephite Ursprache against which to measure the 1830 edition, let alone the last rescension of Mormon and Moroni, I can say no more about the degree of linguistic attrition than you can.

However, there are plainly Hebraisms in the English Book of Mormon. This seems to me undeniable. (At any rate, it has not been successfully denied.)

A parallel case could easily be found in, say, medieval or even early-Renaissance Latin. While it had clearly evolved, it was also clearly the same language, with some of the same idiosyncracies as classical Latin. Ditto for the various periods of Hebrew (biblical, Mishnaic, modern, etc.) and Greek (Homeric, Attic, koine, Byzantine, modern), and so forth. While they change, they also retain characteristics that distinguish them from other languages.

Just compare Spanish, Portugues and Italian and I'm sure you could collect a list of Latinisms that they use not found in Chinese or Zulu.

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Morm. 9:32,33

32)And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech.

33)And if our plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record.

Several things jump out in these verses:

1)The reformed Egyptian was a set of characters.

2)The term "the reformed Egyptian" was ideosyncratic.

3)Egyptian characters were modified according to Nephite spoken language.

4)The Nephite prophet historians knew a form of Hebrew.

5)This Hebrew had evolved from what their fathers had used in the Old World.

6)The reformed Egyptian was used because it was a more compact script than Hebrew.

7)If the Nephite prophet historians had written in Hebrew, then they would have conveyed perfectly what they intended to write.

So what was the reformed Egyptian? Apart from what the Book of Mormon states, I don't know.

But I think it was the Nephite version of Hebrew, written in Egyptian characters. Papyrus Amherst 62 uses Demotic Egyptian script to write an Aramaic version of Psalm 20. Aramaic is a sister language of Hebrew, so this sort of thing has happened before.

Just a couple of thoughts on this. Nephi mentions way back at the beginning that the brass plates were written in egyptian. He also says Lehi and his children were learned in the language of the egyptians so they could read the plates. (Mosiah 1) 1000 years later, when Mormon is writing, his knowledge of that egyptian has "reformed", yet he still would have needed to read and understand the original egyptian.

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Did anybody else notice the significance of the book linked to in the OP has with the BOA?

The name Horus was substituted for the name of God of the Hebrews when the text was translated into Demotic!

Woah, thanks for pointing this out, I hadn't clicked on the link.

"This text [Papyrus Amherst 63] includes a version of the biblical Psalm 20 in Aramaic written in Demotic [script], with the name Horus substituting for the Jewish divine name. Such substitutions were rather common in this period, and in this practice the name of the Jewish god was hardly exceptional." (pp. 281-82)

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Yes, and yes.

I've never, incidentally, understood the mockery to which the notion of "reformed Egyptian" has been subjected by some critics. Languages and scripts change (or "reform," if you will) all the time. Languages evolve constantly, and so, to an extent, do writing systems.

Yes, yes, yes, and YES!!!! I've recently posted about this on CARM, wwhat a battle.

What killed me was how Brian H said that 100% of written languages change, but wouldn't accept anything as evidence.

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The brass plates were written in the "language of the Egyptians".

1 Ne. 1:2

2 Yea, I make a record in the alanguage of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.

Mosiah 1:4

4 For it were not possible that our father, Lehi, could have remembered all these things, to have taught them to his children, except it were for the help of these plates; for he having been taught in the language of the Egyptians therefore he could read these engravings, and teach them to his children, that thereby they could teach them to their children, and so fulfilling the commandments of God, even down to this present time.

Mormon's record was written in the charactors which were called aong them the reoformed Egyptian.

Mormon 9:35

And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech.

Notice, no reference to language when speaking about the New World record that Mormon makes. Any takers?

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Just a couple of thoughts on this. Nephi mentions way back at the beginning that the brass plates were written in egyptian. He also says Lehi and his children were learned in the language of the egyptians so they could read the plates. (Mosiah 1) 1000 years later, when Mormon is writing, his knowledge of that egyptian has "reformed", yet he still would have needed to read and understand the original egyptian.

Now, if that is the case, why would they have Hebrew?

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The brass plates were written in the "language of the Egyptians".

1 Ne. 1:2

2 Yea, I make a record in the alanguage of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.

Mosiah 1:4

4 For it were not possible that our father, Lehi, could have remembered all these things, to have taught them to his children, except it were for the help of these plates; for he having been taught in the language of the Egyptians therefore he could read these engravings, and teach them to his children, that thereby they could teach them to their children, and so fulfilling the commandments of God, even down to this present time.

Mormon's record was written in the charactors which were called aong them the reoformed Egyptian.

Mormon 9:35

And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech.

Notice, no reference to language when speaking about the New World record that Mormon makes. Any takers?

Or in other words, the BoM seems to distinguish between "language" and "charactors".

Language is used when reffering to the brass plates and charactors are used when reffereing to Mormon's record. Why?

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Let me see if I understand your assertion -- Joseph Smith was taught a Latin shorthand by his uncle, and then copied it down onto a piece of paper and tried to pass it off to a professor of ancient languages as an ancient form of Egyptian?

What do you make of the rest of the letters on the transcript that you conveniently ignored?

JA,

You have a point, and I have edited my original post to address your question.

I should have been more clear about the Insular Miniscule script used for the Gaelic. Again, the MS in question, as stated, was written in the 17th century by Irish Catholic(s). The main script used in the Gaelic document was an Insular Miniscule, or Irish miniscule Gaelic script (and I see now that I did not make that clear enough).

The Tironian Note shorthand and Irish Ogham code (or shorthand) were also used, as was often the case during that time when creating religious documents. Tironian Notes was a shorthand script based on Latin that eventually grew to contains thousands of symbols (because there were rules under which one could create new or composite that others would be able to read). Tironian notes notation is considered by many as the forerunner of modern shorthand (which hardly anyone uses anymore because of ubiquitous personal computers and G3-4 cell phones.)

As I edited my original post on this thread to indicate, most if not all, of the signs and symbols shown on the Anthon Transcript can be shown to be Irish miniscule, Tironian Note shorthand, or Ogham code shorthand, all having been used in the Irish MS to which Mack has access.

Anyone wishing to quibble about one or two of the hand-written signs or symbols should keep in mind that Joseph Smith may well have thrown in a few symbols of his own when creating his "Reformed Egyptian" script.

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