Silk or Sow’s Ear? The Apologetic use of the If>And Construction

I am expressing my own opinions, and not those of the Interpreter Foundation. 

As Royal Skousen worked through the Book of Mormon manuscripts he discovered that there had been editing that made a smoother English reading where the original dictation had been somewhat grating to the ear. In at least one of those occasions, Skousen suggests that the original translation may have preserved an underlying Hebrew form that generated the revision to a more acceptable English phrase. He found that: “In the original text of the Book of Mormon we find a number of occurrences of a Hebrew-like conditional clause. In English, we have conditional clauses like ‘if you come, then I will come,’ with then being optional. In Hebrew this same clause is expressed as ‘if you come and I will come.’ In the original text of the Book of Mormon, there were at least fourteen occurrences of this non-English expression.”1)

This appears to be an impressive confirmation of both the ancient Hebrew language behind the text and the literalness of the translation that preserved it. Daniel C. Peterson has noted: “Of course, Joseph Smith was poorly educated. He spoke and wrote nonstandard English. But it is extraordinarily doubtful that he or any other native speaker of English has ever spoken or written this way. An if-and conditional sentence grates on our ears.”2)

It has become sufficiently impressive that it has moved from an apologetic argument for the Book of Mormon to one for Joseph’s Inspired Version of the Bible. Kent P. Jackson  has found an example of the if>and construction in the manuscript for Moses 6:52:

If thou wilt turn unto me, and hearken unto my voice, and believe, and repent of all their transgressions, and be baptized, even by water, in the name of mine Only Begotten Son, which is full of grace and truth, which is Jesus Christ, the only name which shall be given under heave, whereby salvation shall come unto the children of men, and ye shall ask all things in his name, and whatsoever ye shall ask, it shall be given.3

This if>and conditional survived Joseph’s later editing of this verse.4 Jackson concludes:

The King James translators were thorough and consistent in rendering the Hebrew if-and formation as if-then. Thus there are no examples in the English Bible from which Joseph Smith could have modeled this Hebrew, non-English construction, just as it was not found in American spoken English. When added to the evidence already published for the even more enigmatic “behold I” construction, we see a greater case being made for a Hebrew text behind the nonbiblical material in the Book of Moses. These phrases are nonsense in English, are found nowhere in the English Bible, but are perfectly good Hebrew. Even in limited numbers, a Hebrew original seems to be the best way to explain their presence in the manuscripts.5

The argument is based on two important assumptions. The first is that Joseph translated in such a way that he produced an intricacy of Hebrew construction that relies upon the precise translation of the word “and” rather than “then.” The second is that the presence of this construction therefore affirms an underlying Hebrew in both the Book of Mormon and the nonbiblical portions of the translation of the book of Moses. It is a fascinating argument that the presence of a deduced Hebrew construction becomes proof of a Hebrew original. The circularity of that argument is highlighted when we examine the evidence for that construction in the Book of Mormon.

As Skousen noted above, there were fourteen occurrences of the if>and construction in the pre-edited manuscript for the Book of Mormon. What Skousen does not explain are the thirty-nine examples of if > then clauses that are original to the manuscripts.6The use of this construction as an apologetic for an underlying Hebrew form requires the assumption of a very tight control over the vocabulary on the English translation from the plates. However, the evidence demonstrates that there were two different ways in which conditionals appeared in the same manuscript. The very fact that it could occur in two ways undermines the assumption of exclusive and literal translation. The fact that there are many more occurrences of the more common condition further diminishes the apologetic value of the if>and construction.

Although it is true that it is difficult to find this construction in English literature, it is not impossible to find it in Joseph’s language. I have only been able to find one instance, but the existence of that example removes the assumptions about how it appeared in Joseph’s translations:

<1833> Dec.18 ‘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.” ((Dean C. Jesse, comp. and ed., The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 23; emphasis mine.))

The phrasing here is somewhat awkward, but the final phrase is a conditional, and in the location of the expected “then” appears “and.” The presence of this form in a non-Book of Mormon text from Joseph indicates that, at a minimum, it was available to Joseph, despite being nonstandard.7 It is against this evidence of the two different types of conditionals in the Book of Mormon and the presence of the construction in Joseph’s vocabulary that I suggest that the instance Jackson has discovered in the book of Moses means exactly the opposite of the conclusion he has drawn.

Even Jackson understands the difficulty of asserting that Joseph’s translation of the Bible always reflected an underlying Hebrew or Greek text: “In some cases, he inserted new words to strengthen or clarify a passage, as in Matthew 26:25 and 29 in NT1 and in the second translation of 2 Peter 3:4. It is difficult to know in these instances whether the corrections represent the restoration of the original biblical ideas or words or some other means of making the text more meaningful for modern readers.”8

Most importantly, Jackson and Peter M. Jasinski discuss examples some rare times when Joseph provided two translations of the same biblical passage. They note that “the most important changes in the Inspired Version are those that introduce new content or change a verse’s meaning. In several passages in the duplicate translations, we see the introduction of new content into the text—new thoughts that alter the meaning or expand the scope of the passage. A few of these content additions are found only in one of the translations.9

When Jackson and Jasinski highlight the fact that the Inspired Version was not generated in a way that assured a very tight control over the English text, the assumption that supported the single instance of the if>and construction as evidence for such control vanishes. Therefore, the if>and construction should be retired from LDS apologetics on the weight of the combined evidence against it:

  • It is a circular argument that relies upon a particular theory of how Joseph’s translation and is then suggested as a proof of that translation method.
  • The dual options for the construction in the Book of Mormon translation negate the foundational assumption upon which the argument that it is a Hebrew construction is based.
  • It has at least one instance where it is present in Joseph’s non-translation vocabulary.
  • Its presence in the book of Moses (part of the Inspired Version) where there is otherwise no consistent evidence of close correlation to an ancient original language should confirm that its presence comes from Joseph’s vocabulary instead  being the result of a carefully controlled translation of an underlying Hebrew construction.

 

 

 


  1. Royal Skousen, “Translating the Book of Mormon: Evidence from the Original Manuscript,” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The  Evidence for Ancient Origins. edited by Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1997, 88. 

  2. Daniel C. Peterson, “Not Joseph’s, and Not Modern,” in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2002, 13–14. 

  3. Kent P. Jackson, “If. . . And”: A Hebrew Construction in the Book of Moses,” in Bountiful Harvest: Essays in Honor of S. Kent Brown, edited by Andrew C. Skinner, D. Morgan Davis, and Carl Griffin, (Provo: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship and Brigham Young University, 2011), 207. 

  4. Ibid., 208 

  5. Ibid., 210. 

  6. To come up with these examples, I searched for “if, then” in the LDS Scriptures CD-ROM and checked them against Royal Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, to verify that they were original to the manuscripts. Only one current if > then construction was altered from an original if > and conditional (Alma 20:24). All other occurrences have been modernized by removing and without adding then to create an implied then conditional. Skousen, “Translating the Book of Mormon,” 88–89. Other implied conditionals exist, but since there is no way to be sure that they imply if > then instead of if > and, I did not include them in my survey.

    The following verses use the if > then construction in the manuscripts:

    1 Ne. 10:21, 16:3; 2 Ne. 31:13; Jacob 4:9, 5:64; Mosiah 2:18, 4:21, 29:13, 29:27; Alma 10:23, 12:13, 12:33, 14:24, 22:16, 30:43, 32:17, 33:22, 34:33, 41:14, 44:7, 54:18; Hel. 7:8, 8:12, 9:2; 3 Ne. 18:30, 26:9, 10; 27:8, 27:10; Morm. 6:21, 7:10, 9:10; Ether 8:10, 12:27; Moro. 7:5, 7:38, 39; 10:32, 33. 

  7. It might be argued that Joseph learned the form from the Book of Mormon, since the example comes after the translation. However, the fact that a different form was nearly three times as prevalent suggests that the model was insufficient to influence the later use. It is more likely that both forms were available to him in his nonstandard English. 

  8. Kent P. Jackson and Peter M. Jasinski, “The Process of Inspired Translation: Two Passages Translated Twice in the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible,” BYU Studies 42, no. 2 (Summer 2003): 58. 

  9. Ibid., 59; emphasis mine. 

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About Brant A. Gardner

Brant A. Gardner (M.A. State University of New York Albany) is the author of Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon and The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon, both published through Greg Kofford Books. He has contributed articles to Estudios de Cultura Nahuatl and Symbol and Meaning Beyond the Closed Community. He has presented papers at the FairMormon conference as well as at Sunstone.

12 thoughts on “Silk or Sow’s Ear? The Apologetic use of the If>And Construction

  1. I admit upfront that my experience as a translator is limited, but then so was Joseph Smith’s.

    As a second year Latin student, I often struggle to smooth over awkward Latin phrasing into sound English idiom. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t. The result is occasional “Latinisms,” if you will, that persist in my translations. But, because sometimes I manage to more accurately render the same type of phases, the same type of Latinisms do not appear in every instance where they could.

    I agree that the if>and construction is not evidence for tight control. But I do think it is evidence for the original source language, as “a kind of contamination – familiar to any serious translator – of the target language by the habits of expression in the original language,” to use Daniel C. Peterson’s words. (“Editor’s Introduction – Not So Easily Dismissed: Some Facts for Which Counterexplanations of the Book of Mormon Will Need to Account,” FARMS Review 17/2 (2005): xxxi.) As such, it need not appear in every conditional. Like when I translate my Latin, Joseph Smith could have succeeded at times in smoothing it out into proper English, while failed to do so at other times. This allows for there to be both if>then as well as if>and constructs in the Book of Mormon.

    I feel that a single example in Joseph Smith’s writing is insufficient to explain its high occurrence in the Book of Mormon, especially since there is a string of 7 in a row (or something like that) in Helaman 12:13-21.

    • This is the crux of the problem. A random element in English that has a possible connection to Hebrew is being used as a positive connection to Hebrew (as well as a demonstration of the nature of translation). While it is just possible that the variation occurred because Joseph inexpertly translated and was better at times than others only places the English phrase firmly in Joseph’s vocabulary. Nothing about the use of the construction can be used as evidence for anything other than Joseph’s usage precisely because it occurs at random.

      The next problem is that we are anxious to see the connection to Hebrew because it would show antiquity. That gives us a reason to try to find the Hebraisms. However, that search is also based on unexamined assumptions. The only thing the Book of Mormon tells us about Hebrew is that what Mormon and Moroni wrote wasn’t in Hebrew:

      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. (Mormon 9:33)

      Nephi specifically mentions Egyptian, Benjamin says his sons are to be educated to read the brass plates (which were in Egyptian), and the language in which the Book of Mormon is: “in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian.” (Mormon 9:32).

      The assumption that we even should find Hebrew hands on a very thin thread that is made more of hope than evidence. Now, Egyptian is a semitic language, so perhaps there some similarities, but finding evidence of French when we should find Spanish isn’t necessarily helpful.

      • Brant, thanks for responding.

        As I see it, the randomness of the occurrence fits the expectations we might have if it was “contamination” from the original language, just as “Latinisms” occur randomly in my own translations (at least, I have never noticed a pattern to when I do it). I agree, however, that it is just “possible connection to Hebrew” and not a positive. But that does not discount it as evidence. Evidence is, after all, indications of possibilities, and not definitive proof. There often are other ways of seeing evidence.

        I think the frequency to which we see it used, however, is an indication that it is a genuine “Hebraism.” The argument I am making goes something like this: If such constructions are simply a manifestation of Joseph Smith’s non-standard English, then we should expect to see it occurring at about the same frequency in both the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s other writings/revelations. But we don’t. It occurs much more frequently in the Book of Mormon. That suggests to me that this is not simply a manifestation of Joseph Smith’s style of English.

        As for the issue of Hebrew and whether or not that was the language of plates, if I understand the way John A. Tvedtnes has explained himself in the past, he didn’t initially look for Hebraisms or start with a desire to see Hebrew in the Book of Mormon; rather, he just noticed things that seemed Hebrew-like as he read which eventually lead him to the conclusion that the underlying language was Hebrew, written in an Egyptian script.

        To me, it does not make that much of a difference if the underlying language is Hebrew or Egyptian based, but I admit I am somewhat naive on the topic. John Gee has noted that “many of the Hebraisms deduced for the Book of Mormon were true of Egyptian as well” (John Gee, “La Trahison des Clercs,” FARMS Review 6/1 (1994): 81 n.99.) The if>and construct, however is not one of them, and Gee ultimately argues for a Hebrew based source due to it and few other features. But I don’t think it is that simple. Melvin Deloy Pack says that Hebraic features would be present in “a document not written in Hebrew but influenced by the Hebrew of a native speaker” (Melvin Deloy Pack, “Hebraisms,” in Book of Mormon Reference Companion, Dennis L. Largey, gen. ed. (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2003), 321). I suspect that what Pack has in mind is not to different than the way many Hispanics in America sometimes carry over grammatical features of Spanish into their English. So even distinctive features of Hebrew might show up in Nephi’s Egyptian which was, afterall, according “to the learning of the Jews.” Those idiosyncrasies would subsequently be passed down by Nephi to subsequent scribes, and so on.

        So, my point is, I don’t think it makes much difference whether the source next is Hebrew or Egyptian (but, again, I could just be too naive to really make sense of this stuff). We would expect to see much of the same phenomena either way. I use the term “Hebraisms” because that is the common label for them in LDS circles.

      • A few thoughts, Brant.

        Earl Wunderli has recently tried to argue along similar lines above, i.e. that because the Book of Mormon claims to have been written in Egyptian, not Hebrew, any perceived Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon are not significant. He even appealed to the exact same scriptures as you do above. Here’s why I don’t think this argument works (at least not as well as he and you perhaps think it does).

        (1) The issue of the brass plates being written in Egyptian seem to me to have little bearing on what the plates of Nephi and Mormon were written in. As such, it seems like a red herring to even bring them into discussion.

        (2) Nephi says his plates were written in Egyptian, but “consists of the learning of the Jews” (1 Ne. 1:2). I take this to mean that he’s using Egyptian, probably hieratic, or possibly some variant of what Stefan Wimmer calls “palästinisches Hieratisch,” but is writing by the conventions of Hebrew grammar.

        This sort of thing happens all the time. Right now I’m studying Greek, and my professor includes exercises of translating from English into Greek. My English to Greek translations are somewhat crude, because I am, to a certain degree, obliged to follow the rules of English grammar in my translation, given my relative un-expertise in Greek. I can hammer out a readable Greek sentence, and I don’t totally abandon the canons of Greek grammar, but my translations contained plenty of “Englishisms,” if you will.

        My point is that Nephi very easily could have done the same, i.e. writes in Egyptian, but follows the conventions of Hebrew grammar more than Egyptian grammar, given he’s a native Hebrew speaker. This could, potentially, explain why a text written in Egyptian contains Hebraisms.

        (3) John Gee has pointed out that many of the Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon can also be classified as “Egyptianisms.” Gee also points out what I detailed in (2) above happening in other ancient Near Eastern languages. (See John Gee, “La Trahison des Clercs: On the Language and Translation of the Book of Mormon,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6/1 (1994): 51–120.)

        This is all admittedly speculative, as we don’t have the original plates to examine. Nevertheless, I think it’s a very plausible situation vis-a-vis the plate text, etc.

        Thanks for the stimulating post and discussion!

        • Stephen, what a shot through the heart to compare me to Wunderli! It hurts, I tell you [imagine appropriate smiley].

          Let me get at this with a little different perspective. What good do Hebraisms do for us? They can be apologetic evidence for the Book of Mormon only if they can show that the Book of Mormon was translated from an ancient Hebrew text.

          What might lead us to believe that?
          First, nothing that the text actually says would suggest that it was written in Hebrew. We do know that the first writers were born in the Old World and that we expect that their native language was Hebrew. That gives us a reason that Nephi and Jacob might be written in Hebrew.
          Second, the limited immigrant population and the extent of the existing population into which Lehi’s clan merged strongly suggests that by the time Jacob was raising his children, Hebrew would not have been the native tongue. Any argument about native Hebrew speakers becomes strained the longer the time after Jacob dies. In a text that doesn’t tell ever suggest that it was in Hebrew, our assumptive reasons for ascribing Hebrew are gone within the first generation (Jacob is still Nephi’s generation, though perhaps even approaching two decades younger).
          Third, the majority of the Hebraisms described for the Book of Mormon are also present in the King James Version, and the English translation of the Book of Mormon very clearly imitates the KJV. Therefore, many Hebraisms are KJVisms and don’t have a clear trace to an underlying Hebrew text.
          Fourth, when we do find something like the if?and conditional, it is inconsistent. It is evidence of an underlying Hebrew only if we first posit an underlying Hebrew. It is necessarily circular evidence at it depends upon our assumption and is used as demonstration of the assumption.

          Can we find ways to explain the way Hebrew might have been the language on the plates (not the characters)? Of course. We can be very imaginative and find lots of ways to justify the assumption. The problem is that we are simply supporting an original assumption for which there is no evidence until we force the evidence to fit the assumption. I don’t see any actual apologetic value in that.

          Of course, I do see valid apologetics for the antiquity of the text, but I can’t find any justification for including Hebraisms as one of them.

          By the way, I’ll respond to one of Neal’s comments here so I don’t proliferate responses. It is true that we see the if?and condition only in early Joseph and that it is removed even before publication of the Book of Mormon. I think that is telling. We see it as substandard English that others were helping Joseph improve. As he had others who scribed for him and perhaps cleaned up the grammar, or he learned the more standard forms, it disappears. That explanation fits the facts much better than suggesting evidence of a Hebrew original that exists only because someone thought it should. Especially when that evidence is inconsistent, but is demonstration of a conscious replication of a feature of Hebrew only when it is posited as a carefully controlled replication. When it is random, that randomness argues against intention and therefore against usable evidence that it best represents the plate text.

          • Brant,

            You know I compared you to Wunderli just to poison the well. That’s all I’m really good for.

            I actually agree with your point about the loss of functional Hebrew in the New World over time. This is something I hadn’t thought of until I read stuff by you and Mark Wright about how the Nephites would’ve been more likely to adopt Mesoamerican culturural traits than vice versa. As such, your point here is valid.

            However, I wouldn’t dismiss so quickly the possibility of Hebrew and/or Egyptian being taught as a scribal or liturgical language besides whatever New World language the Lehite colony picked up and used as their functional language. We see this phenomenon even today. Languages such as Coptic, Latin, Old Church Slavonic, Syriac, and even biblical Hebrew are still used today, some 1000+ years later, as the liturgical and/or scribal language of many pious individuals. I myself have heard with my own ears Old Church Slavonic read in an Orthodox church in Belgrade, Latin read in a Catholic church in Vienna, and biblical Hebrew read in synagogues in Salt Lake City, Budapest, and Jerusalem. Each of these languages is 1000+ years old, dead (or, as my Greek teacher likes to say, “less active”) and pretty much only read in liturgy, but they still are read, written, and spoken!

            My point is that while the Lehites would almost certainly have lost the functional use of Hebrew and/or Egyptian, they still could very well have maintained it as a scribal or liturgical language. I mean, how else would the Book of Mormon authors/redactors have been expected to transmit the plates, etc.?

            It would be impossible for me to articulate all of my views on the Book of Mormon translation process in just a few comments on a blog post, but suffice it to say that I see the question of Hebraisms (including their irregularity in the English text) as being more related to how “tightly” or “loosely” Joseph translated, and how consistently he did such, not necessarily what language was on the plates. Call me naïve, but the mere presence of demonstrable Hebraisms and Egyptianisms in the Book of Mormon leads me to agree with Skousen that some sort of non-English language underlies the English translation.

            Thanks again for your thoughts.

          • Stephen: I am certain that Hebrew was kept as at least a scribal language. Moroni could not only speak about the Hebrew they didn’t use (but could have) and also knew that it differed from whatever examples they had of Hebrew from some earlier time. However, once we accept that the quotidian language wouldn’t have been Hebrew, we can no longer lean on a spoken Hebrew influencing the way the text was written.

            The issue for me is your statement that the are demonstrable Hebraisms. I cannot find any that I can confidently ascribe only to a plate text source. Either they mimic the KJV form and therefore could be “KJVisms” or they are inconsistent. With the inconsistency it is hard to know what was actually on the plates because we have at least two options (even assuming a very literalist translation).

          • Brant,

            Once again, thanks for responding. I know that you have better things to do than deal with pesky undergrads. I’ll just add a couple of short comments and then leave you at peace.

            First, I’ll grant that the different frequency of if>and conditionals could be due to the factors you explained: more educated scribes “fixing” Joseph’s grammar, Joseph himself getting more educated and refining his speech, etc. I am not convinced, however, that this necessarily fits the facts *better* than the possibility that it reflects the underlying plate language. I’ll just leave it at that for now though.

            Next, you say that it is circular to use if>and conditionals (or other “Hebraisms”) because it requires that we assume things about the translation and original language. But is it not the features of the English text which ultimately provide the (very little) evidence for what the original language is, and the type of translation it is? If the features of the text suggest Hebrew-like constructs, isn’t that evidence to take into consideration on what the original language is and how the translation is related to it? Non-LDS scholars have done this kind of exercise with other texts believed to be translations from a no longer extent original, and have reached a consensus in some cases. I’m just confused as to why you won’t allow for the same kind of exercise with the Book of Mormon.

            Finally, I see your point with KJVisms. That is, of course, why if>and conditionals have become so popular among apologists, though, because they are not in the KJV. Despite the issue of KJVisms, though, I think there are still some ways to try and parse out whether Book of Mormon Hebraisms are legitimate examples or just copies over from the KJV. An interesting parallel case is the gospel of Luke and the Septuagint. At least one scholar, James R. Edwards, believes that the material unique to Luke (i.e., not in common with Mark and Matthew) stems from an original Hebrew Gospel now lost, because there is a proliferation of Semiticisms in that unique content (that is, of course, just one part of his argument, just as Hebriasms are only part of the arguments for the Book of Mormon). Of course, one possible explanation of this is that the writer was strongly influenced by the Septuagint, which has its share of Hebraisms. Edwards is aware of this, but believes that the Semiticisms of Luke can be distinguished from mere “Septuagintisms”. He makes his case in his book, “The Hebrew Gospel and the Development of the Synoptic Tradition” (Eedrmans, 2009). I have not yet had the chance to get this book and read it, but when I do, the questions I have are these:

            (1) How does he argue for legitimate Semiticisms vs. Septiagintisms?
            (2) Are his arguments convincing/do they work?
            (3) Can the same or similar methods be used to parse between legit Hebraisms vs. KJVisms in the Book of Mormon?

            If Edwards method is effective, it might be usefully employed for testing the Book of Mormon as well. But those are questions I have not answered yet.

            In any event, I appreciate you responding to my rabble. It is nice to have some of my musings tested and challenged by someone who knows much more than I do on the topic. You’ve given me a good deal to think about.

          • Neal:

            The only problem there might be in applying Edwards’s ideas is that there are a limited number of possibilities for the source of the “isms.” In the case of the Book of Mormon, we are not only trying to establish the nature of how the material arrived in the translated language, but we don’t have a firm base to know what the original language might have been. Regardless of what languages Nephi and Jacob might have known from the Old World, their incorporation into New World populations presents us with linguistic issues. There is good evidence for the merging, and therefore every reason to suspect that the smaller population learned the language of the majority, even if the Old World language was kept as a scribal language in some form. With the majority of the people speaking something other than Hebrew, there is an equal chance that most records were kept in the new language rather than the scribal language. The linguistic picture is even more complicated after Zarahemla.

            All of this places us in the difficult position of not having a firm understanding of the language on the plates. Then we have features of the text that replicate the kind of Hebrew that we see in the KJV, so we can’t securely see those as a remnant of the plate text because they could easily have been part of the translator’s vocabulary. We are left with inconclusive evidence such as the if>and that we assume must be non-English. However, even that is based on an assumption that Joseph only spoke standard English (though I doubt anyone would attempt to promote that hypothesis).

            For me, and obviously I am a minority voice on this among proponents of the Book of Mormon, this leaves the question of Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon as thin evidence hanging on thin threads.

      • Dear Brant and Neal,
        There is also the possibility of reverse contamination. This happens continuously with translators. In my case, I am so deeply involved with both English and Spanish translations that when I write my family in Dutch, I receive comments about my grammar being strange, not quite Dutch.

  2. Enjoyed your short piece here, Brant.
    However, Royal now says that the “if…and” conditionals are not strong indicators of Hebraism, and that they never occur in short conditionals — only if there is an interruption, as at I Ne 17:50 and Moroni 10:4. He said this at the recent BMAF conference at the Provo Convention Center, Oct 19, 2013.
    Such murkiness in claims of specific Hebraisms ought to help us to abandon that specific claim in favor of far more convincing Hebraisms and Egyptianisms, since both clearly appear in the Book of Mormon, and since both provide good support for apologetic claims of the book’s antiquity. Such indicators are less likely to come from grammatical peculiarities, than from (1) good etymologies of names which are enmeshed in word-play, as well as (2) from literary topoi, again with word-play, etc.

  3. I have just finished listening to Skousen’s presentation at the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (October? 2013). It is posted on YouTube. In it Skousen indicates that the if >and construction only occurs when there is an interrupting phrase between the clauses. He is now saying that it cannot be demonstratively used as a Hebraism.

    It is interesting that there is a specific context in which it occurs, but that context is not specifically Hebrew.

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