Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Interesting Hebraism in the Book of Enos

In a 2006 FARMS publication, Insights (Vol. 26, No. 3), Matthew L. Bowen makes a case for an interesting Hebraism in the opening words of Enos, where we may have a Semitic wordplay in parallel to a possible wordplay in Nephi's famous opening words. Here is an excerpt of his article (read the original to see footnotes and additional insights):
The name Enos derives from a poetic Hebrew word for "man, mankind." This raises the possibility of subtle wordplay in the opening phrase of Enos's introduction: "Behold, it came to pass that I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man." When we compare the introductory phrases of Enos and Nephi, the wordplay becomes more evident. The language and structure of the phrases are too similar to be happenstance, and require little elucidation:

I, Nephi,I, Enos,
having been born of goodly parentsknowing my father that he was a just man
therefore I was taught somewhatfor he taught me
in all the learning of my fatherin his language

The name Nephi apparently derived from a Middle Egyptian word, nfr, meaning "good, fine, goodly." Where Nephi interplayed his name with an adjective that Joseph Smith translated as "goodly," Enos interplayed his own name with a repetition of "man." Thus Enos adopted and then adapted Nephi's rhetorical device, cleverly switching the wordplay from the adjective to noun. The parallelism of goodly-just, parents-father, taught-taught, and language-learning reveals the intricacy of Enos's imitation.

This careful use of Nephi's words as a literary model suggests the reverence that Enos and Mormon had for their common forefather and his words. Enos's introduction, with its clever adaptation of Nephi's wordplay is a striking example of the subtleties of the Book of Mormon text, and is additional evidence of its antiquity.
Some of the many Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon can be argued away as things that Joseph Smith could have absorbed from the Bible. But wordplays, names, and poetical structures that build on a knowledge of Hebrew are much harder to explain since Joseph did not begin studying Hebrew until long after the Book of Mormon. They still do not make a slam-dunk case for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, but I think it's fair to suggest that they at least, like chiasmus itself, add a little spice to the Book of Mormon. And that "spice" can help us better appreciate what the various authors were trying to achieve in their writings.

6 comments:

Proud Daughter of Eve said...

I don't usually have much to add to your posts but I always enjoy them Jeff. Thank you for doing what you do. :)

cayblood said...

Another interesting thought along these lines that I have had before when reading the Book of Mormon is that "Reformed Egyptian" was probably a dead language like Latin or Greek to the Nephites, because the only thing they probably used it for was to maintain the Lehite scriptural tradition. It is likely that most of their daily correspondence was recorded using their own modified version of Hebrew.

Since they were an offshoot from a larger society in Jerusalem, they would be completely dependent on one family (Lehi's family) for all the understanding of Reformed Eqyptian that they had. Undoubtedly this would put them in a more limited position than they would be if they had access to a community of linguistic scholars such as would be likely to exist in a city like Jerusalem.

Compounding this problem is the fact that they didn't use this language in their daily conversation, which would further limit their fluency. Not to mention that the tradition of recording the scriptures may have been limited to a few individuals in each generation. Given all these factors, I think it likely that Enos would have copied Nephi not only because he admired him, but also out of necessity, because his fluency in reformed egyptian was simply not sufficient enough to do otherwise.

This line of reasoning also brings greater meaning to Moroni's lament: "And I said unto him: Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things, because of our weakness in writing; for Lord thou hast made us mighty in word by faith, but thou hast not made us mighty in writing; for thou hast made all this people that they could speak much, because of the Holy Ghost which thou hast given them; And thou hast made us that we could write but little, because of the awkwardness of our hands. Behold, thou hast not made us mighty in writing like unto the brother of Jared, for thou madest him that the things which he wrote were mighty even as thou art, unto the overpowering of man to read them. Thou hast also made our words powerful and great, even that we cannot write them; wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words; and I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words."

Anonymous said...

jeff, i would like your take on this discovery of the tomb of jesus and family. in the past this is the sort of thing that woud have shook me but ihas no effect. still curious on your take though. www.dicovery.com/tomb . i am at mpowens1@comcast.net thanks, mike owens

Shawn said...

Anon 9:53

I too find the "rediscovered" discovery interesting. My take is there are many things at work trying to shake down Christianity as a whole. Which is why I dig the whole "Another Testament of Jesus Christ" as a second witness. :)

Off the cuff, I'm curious as to the buial rites performed during that period. I would expect a that if there is any histroicity to the story of Jesus, considering some of the remarkable events depicted, that the story would be evident in the tomb (i.e. "King of the Jews", "Here lies the Great Healer", etc, etc)

-Shawn

Mormanity said...

Actually, some authorities indicate that the real tomb of Jesus has been found in Japan. See http://www.thiaoouba.com/tomb.htm.

This story may prove to be much like the stories of sacred relics for other saints. For example, there are many churches that have bones from John the Baptism, so many that he must had about 5000 bones.

Everybody wants the tomb or relics or artifacts they find to be of someone famous. Put on your hype and delusion filters for that story.

Doug Forbes said...

Here is a good article from the London Times that contains useful concepts for responding to anti-BoM types.


From The Times
March 01, 2007
I dare you to read this and refute (not rebut) my case
Matthew Parris: My Week

But “refute” is such a valuable word. It means to offer convincing evidence against, or “disprove”. It does not mean deny. If you claimed I were over 60 I should deny it, of course, but I can refute it too — with my birth certificate. Especially in the world of reporting, these distinctions are important. “Deny” means “say otherwise”. “Rebut” means “offer evidence suggesting otherwise”. “Refute” means “prove otherwise”

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/matthew_parris/article1454740.ece