While the attacks of critics have failed to diminish the luster of the Arabian evidence, a new work from an LDS scholar may actually achieve that unintended effect — not by attacking past scholarship, but by uncovering what may be an even more exciting line of evidence for the Book of Mormon which one day may displace Arabia as the “go-to” topic for Book of Mormon defenders. LDS linguist Brian Stubbs, through his decades of exploration of the Uto-Aztecan language family (spanning southwestern Mexico to the Western United States with languages like Nahuatl, Shoshone,
The challenge, however, is that his evidence is far more technical than, say, showing photographs of the proposed Bountiful site at Khar Kharfot in Oman and listing how perfectly the leading candidate accords with Nephi’s text. The strong and compelling evidence of ancient Semitic elements in Uto-Aztecan from a skilled linguist, thoroughly aware of what it takes to establish relationships between languages, demands a good deal from reader to appreciate the linguistic data that now exists, and may take decades before it’s explanatory power is widely recognized in the Church and among other hesitant scholars. But what has been achieved already is so remarkable and so interesting that it may well deserve to be the next big thing in LDS apologetics.
Let me jump to the big picture and put it in context: Stubbs has documented 1500 correspondences between Uto-Aztecan and ancient Semitic languages, particularly Hebrew, Aramaic, and Egyptian. The Semitic influence identified shows patterns consistent with two different infusions, an infusion of one type of Hebrew/Aramaic along with Egyptian, as if from the entry of Lehi and his group, and another infusion of a different dialect of Hebrew that evolved in slightly different ways, as if it were the Hebrew/Phoenician from Mulekites.
The level of Semitic presence in Uto-Aztecan turns out to be much greater than the level of Hebrew in the Yiddish language, which is well known to have developed from Hebrew speakers coming to Europe. Similar changes and adaptation of local languages may have happened with both the Nephites and Mulekites, but the result has left us with much more easily identified remnants of Semitic influence than we find in Yiddish This is a level far beyond mere chance and highly contrived pattern seeking.
In many New World languages, 100 to 200 such cognates are what was required to show a legitimate connection and establish a language family. Cognates and parallels in words and grammar happen by chance all the time in languages. But when they are due to chance, you’ll find a few handfuls, as we sometimes do between Chinese and English. Some, like “mama” for mother may point to common ancient roots shared by many languages, while others are just random and don’t fit any kind of meaningful pattern. In related languages like German and English, however, numerous cognates can be found and they often reflect sound changes that follow some common patterns, like the hard “H” sound of German’s buch becoming the k in book and in many other cognates (e.g., kuchen and cook, suchen and seek). Offering far more than just 100 or 200 cognrates, Stubbs so far has found and published over 1500 cognates and identified many intriguing patterns that point to a strong relationship between these languages. His work, inherently highly controversial since it clearly supports Book of Mormon claims, has been sent to his fellow Uto-Aztecan specialists, with no public but several private comments so far, and eventually will be ready for a fair peer review process, but this takes time and faces some practical and political considerations.
Stubbs’ work is in two volumes, one intended for LDS readers and one intended for linguists. The lighter work for LDS audiences is Brian D. Stubbs, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now (Blanding, UT: Four Corners Digital Design, 2016). This 210-page book includes useful background material on the evolution of languages and the relationships that link languages, as well as some background on the Book of Mormon. The meat of the book are the large sections exploring patterns of relationships with many specific examples creating impressive cases for relationships between Uto-Aztecan and Semitic languages, including Hebrew and Egyptian.
Stubbs’ larger, more technical volume is Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan (Provo, UT: Grover Publications, 2015). This book has 436 large pages and plenty of small print with extensive technical detail, offering 1500 detailed examples of parallels.
In subsequent posts, I'll discuss some specific examples and the interesting trends he uncovers. To me, there are some really amazing finds that go far beyond what one might expect from chance. Some of these were shared in Brian Stubbs' 2016 FairMormon Conference presentation, but there is much more to discuss and ponder.