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 Hebrew Writing Styles and Idioms

(See also Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon by John Tvetness)

Some of the passages in the Book of Mormon do not read as good English, (however many have been changed in later editions of the Book of Mormon to make the English read better) but they are accepted usage for Hebrew. One of these is on page 351 in the first edition.

"and he went forth among the people, waving the rent of his garment" When the word "rent" is used as a noun in English it refers to the hole in the garment caused by rending by not the portion of rent cloth. This has contributed to the fact that in subsequent editons of the Book of Mormon it is changed to read "rent part" Alma 46:19

But the Hebrew would, in this instance, use but one word, qera, 'rent (part),' coming from qara, 'he rent, tore,' for nouns, in Hebrew, are derived from roots -- as are Hebrew verbs -- by the addition of certain vowel patterns that distinquish them from other parts of speech.

Hebrew uses the conjunction 'and' (w) much more frequently than English. It is frequently used at the beginning of a sentence, even when there is no reason for linkin that sentence up with the preceding sentence. An example of this is found in Alma 43:16-20.

"NOW, the leader of the Nephites, or the man who had been appointed to be the chief captain over the Nephites-- NOW the chief captain took the command of all the armies of the Nephites--AND his name was Moroni; AND Moroni took all the command . . . AND he was only twenty and five years old . . . AND it came to pass that he met the Lamanites in the borders of Jershon, AND his people were armed WITH swords, AND WITH cimeters, AND all manner of weapons of war. AND when the armies of the Lamanites saw . . . that Moroni, had prepared his people WITH breastplates AND WITH armshields, yea, AND ALSO shields to defend their heads, AND ALSO they were dressed with thick clothing--NOW the army of Zerahamnah was not prepared with any such thing; they had only THEIR swords AND THEIR cimeters, their bows AND THEIR arrows, THEIR stones AND THEIR slings; AND they were naked."[1]

The multiplicity of particles such as "and with," and "and their" in the foregoing way seem, to the lay reader, a waste of precious space on the plates. They are, however, necessary items in Hebrew; moreover, in both Egyptian and Hebrew they are treated as affixes to the noun, and take up very little space.

Another example that fits in Hebrew but not as well in English is Jacob 4:5.

"Behold, they believed in Christ and worshipped the Father in his name, AND ALSO we worship the Father in his name."

While this is perfect Hebrew, "and also" (wegam) being written as one "word." English would more properly render it "AND we ALSO worship the Father . . ."

In Hebrew, pronouns used for possession and direct object are ordinarily attached as suffixes to the noun (in case of possession) and verb (in case of direct object). In instances of possession, therefore, one cannot say "his house and family and friends, etc.," but rather, one is obliged to say "his house and his family, and his friends." An example of this is 1 Nephi 2:4

"And it came to pass that he departed into the wilderness. And he left HIS house, and the land of HIS inheritance, AND HIS gold, AND HIS silver, AND HIS precious things. . .(the rest of the verse shows English usage however.)

Another usage not common in English is the construct state, wherein two nouns are placed one after the other because they are in close grammatical relationship one to another. An example would be "the book of Jack" instead of "Jack's book". In Hebrew, we find such expressions as these, extracted from numerous verses in the Book of Mormon:

        altar of stones         mist of darkness
        state of probation      plates of gold
        words of plainness      night of darkness
        land of promise         rod of iron
        plates of brass         bands of death
        chains of hell          voice of the people

There are no occurances in the Book of Mormon of more common English equivalents such as: stone altar, dark mist, iron rod, brass plates, gold plates. This last one is particular interesting since in Joseph Smith's history he only uses the phrase "gold plates."

There are few adverbs in Hebrew. The use of a preposition to produce an adverb is common in Hebrew, and is likewise common in the Book of Mormon, from which the following have been extracted:

        with joy                instead of      joyfully
        with patience           instead of      patiently

Others that are also used: with harshness, with gladness, with diligence in diligence, in abundance, in righteousness, in the spirit, in truth, with strength, of worth, of a surety. All of these examples would reflect the Hebrew preposition b ("in, with, by, through", sometimes "of") plus the noun.

There exists in the Semitic languages a construction called the "cognate accusative." It consists of a verb immediately followed by a noun derived from the same root, and is often used for empahsis. The Book of Mormon has examples of this:

In these examples it should be noted that, as is usual in Hebrew, the adjectives "sore," "fine," and "righteous" would follow their nouns.

Another common Hebraism found in the Book of Mormon is "he said in his heart," meaning "he thought."

Other items that could be shown include: second direct objects, waw conversive process in Hebrew, plural usages, and the phrase "and it came to pass," and other words that indicate a Hebrew origin.

It is possible that some of these Hebraic idioms could have been an accident by Joseph Smith. As a test that English usage may have included some of them in the eighteen-twenties, Melvin Pack made a comparison with the writings of evangelist Alexander Campbell. He concluded that the high incidence of Hebrew idioms in the Book of Mormon are distinctively unique.

"One hundred forty-six items which might be considered Hebraic occured in the Book of Mormon in comparison to thirty-one such items in Campbell's writings. The total number of occurences of possible Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon was seven hundred fifty-six in comparison with fifty-one in Campbell's writings."[2] ************************************

[1] John A. Tvedtness, "Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon," BYU STudies Autumn 1970

[2] Melvin Deloy Pack, "Possible Lexical Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon (Words of Mormon--Moroni)," Master's Thesis, Brigham Young Univ. 1973