Hebraisms

Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon

A Hebraism is a reflection of a Hebrew idiom or word in a translation language. For the Book of Mormon, first published in 1830, the translation language is English. Generally, the Hebraism is something that does not suit the translation language but is perfectly normal in biblical Hebrew.

Among the biblical Hebrew features found in the Book of Mormon are:

Construct state (“plates of brass” instead of “brass plates,” “works of righteousness” instead of “righteous works,” “words of plainness” instead of “plain words,” etc.).

Prepositional phrases in place of adverbs (“with patience” instead of “patiently,” “with much harshness” instead of “very harshly” etc.)

Cognates, especially cognate accusative (“work all manner of fine work” instead of “work well,” “this was the desire which I desired of him” instead of “what I desired,” “taxed with a tax” instead of “taxed,” “cursed with a sore cursing” instead of “cursed sorely,” etc.)

Frequent use of conjunction and repetition of preposition, definite article and possessive pronouns in lists (“And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things” [1 Nephi 2:4]; “All their men and all their women and all their children” [Mosiah 24:22]; etc.).

Conjunction used to set off parenthesis (“They took him (and his name was Nehor) and they carried him” [Alma 1:15]; etc.).

Subordinate clauses following preposition + . Biblical Hebrew begins subordinate clauses with prepositions plus a particle () that translates as ‘that,’ such as in Ezekiel 40:1: “after that the city was smitten.” Such a use, awkward in English, frequently appears in the Book of Mormon, another evidence of Hebrew influence (and even more so in the first [1830] edition). Thus we have such idioms as “because that,” “before that,” and “after that.”

The Book of Mormon includes many more Hebraisms, such as extrapositional pronouns and idioms such as “by the hand of” and “by the mouth of” to denote instrumentality. More impressive are words that have a different range of meaning in Hebrew than in English. For example: “throw arrows” rather than “shoot” reflects use of the Hebrew root yrh (Alma 49:4, 22); “under” in the sense of “instead of, in place of,” reflecting Hebrew taḥat.

Word-plays built around the toponym Jershon (Hebrew root yrš + locative suffix –ōn) are found in Alma 27:22 (“this land Jershon is the land which we will give unto our brethren for an inheritance”), Alma 27:24 (“that they may inherit the land Jershon”), Alma 27:26 (“they . . . took possession of the land of Jershon”), and Alma 35:14 (“they have lands for their inheritance in the land of Jershon”).

Many other examples have been discussed in the literature.

John A. Tvedtnes

Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship

Brigham Young University (ret.)

 

Bramwell, E. Craig, “Hebrew Idioms in the Small Plates of Nephi,” Improvement Era, July 1961, 496, 517.

Brookbank, Thomas W., “Hebrew Idioms and Analogies in the Book of Mormon,” Improvement Era, December 1909–April 1910, January 1914–October 1914, December 1915.

Crowell, Angela, “Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon,” Zarahemla Record, nos. 17–18 (summer/fall 1982): 1–7, 16.

Parry, Donald W. “Hebraisms and Other Ancient Peculiarities in the Book of Mormon,” Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, ed. Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch, 155-189. Provo: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), 2002.

Pinnock, Hugh W., Finding Biblical Hebrew and Other Ancient Literary Forms in the Book of Mormon. Provo: FARMS, 1999.

Sidney B. Sperry, “Hebrew Idioms in the Book of Mormon,” Improvement Era, October 1954, 703, 728–29.

Tvedtnes, John A. “Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon: A Preliminary Survey,” BYU Studies, Autumn 1970, 50-60.

_____, I Have a Question: “Since the Book of Mormon is largely the record of a Hebrew people, is the writing characteristic of the Hebrew language?” The Ensign, October 1986, 64-66.

_____, “The Hebrew Background of the Book of Mormon,” Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, ed. John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne,_77-91. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1991.

­­­­­_____, “The Remnant of Joseph,” Insights: An Ancient Window 20/8 (August 2000), 3.

 Hebraisms 1

Hebraisms 2

See also Hebrew Words Reflected in the Book of Mormon.

 

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