Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Book of Mormon's Interesting Uses of Isaiah 25:8, "Death Swallowed Up"

There's no question that the Book of Mormon has great intertextuality with the Bible, frequently drawing upon its language to convey its stories and concepts in familiar sacred language. The subtle allusions and variations that occur can often lead to significant insights into how we can better understand and apply the text of the Book of Mormon.

An interesting example of such intertexuality (a.k.a. "blatant plagiarism" if your goal is the easy one of finding fault above all) was recently discussed at Book of Mormon Central in the post, "'Swallowing Up' Death in Isaiah, 1 Corinthians, and the Book of Mormon," Sept. 3, 2019. Here the post draws upon an outstanding publication by Dr. David Larsen of BYU, “Death Being Swallowed Up in Netzach in the Bible and the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies Quarterly, 55/4 (2016):123–134.

The Book of Mormon, like Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, draws upon a beautiful and hopeful Old Testament passage, Isaiah 25:8, where we read that death will be "swallowed up in victory." The interesting thing is the Hebrew word that was translated as victory in the KJV of Isaiah 25:8: netzach (Strong's H5331). This fascinating word can be translated in other ways, and some of these other ways are consistent with subtle variations in the 3 instances of the Book of Mormon that allude to that passage.

Abinadi in Mosiah 16:7–8 speaks of death being swallowed up in Christ, consistent with other times in the Bible where the netzach of Israel is the "strength" of Israel or the “Triumpher” or “Overcomer,” a great title for the grand Victor, Jesus Christ.

Next Aaron in Alma 22:14 teaches that "the sting of death should be swallowed up in the hopes of glory” (Alma 22:14). According to Book of Mormon Central,
It is therefore fascinating that netzach can also mean “splendor, glory.” In addition to the translations of 1 Samuel 15:29 already mentioned, in that passage netzach frequently gets translated as “Glory of Israel” (see, e.g., NRSV, ESV, NIV), and at least one translation even renders it “Hope of Israel.” The term netzach, translated as “strength” in KJV, but more commonly as “glory” in modern translations (e.g., NRSV, LEB), appears closely with “hope” (tohal) in Lamentations 3:18.
Finally, Mormon in describing the willingness of the Anti-Nephi-Lehites to sacrifice their lives states that to them “death was swallowed up … by the victory of Christ” (Alma 27:28).
Here, Mormon, perhaps drawing on language from Alma’s record, brings the expressions of Isaiah and Abinadi together by adding that it was the victory (netzach) of Christ, rather than replacing netzach with Christ. This fuller articulation may have emerged among the Nephites as an effort to harmonize both Isaiah and Abinadi’s teachings and clarify how death is swallowed up both in victory and in Christ
Sometimes there's much to be learned by considering how the Hebrew of Isaiah or other writers may have been applied in the Book of Mormon. These subtleties suggest the Book of Mormon authors were aware of the range of meaning available for netzach. 

Further Notes:

"Swallowed up in Christ" is not unique to the Book of Mormon. The Scottish pastor Samuel Rutherford's writings have it in 1803 on pp. 411-412 of his 739-page tome, Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners to Himself (Glasgow: Samuel and Archibald Gardner, 1803), though his context may have little to do with Isaiah 25:8, but speaks of how our earthly desires can be swallowed up in Christ as we follow him:

Google Books does not show any pre-1830 instances of "swallowed up in hopes of glory," or "swallowed up in hope." But a search of Early English Books Online (EEBO) shows "swallowed up in hope" does occur in some Early Modern English sources such as a 1605 poem that also links "glorious realm" to the word "swallow."

One of many early examples of a discussion of death being swallowed up is from the 1654 book, Thanatoktasía, or, Death disarmed: and the grave swallowed up in victory by Anthony Tuckney.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Bad Math and the Premature Dismissal of Brian Stubbs' Work on Uto-Aztecan Languages

In my previous post on the negative review by BYU professor Chris Rogers regarding Brian Stubbs' work on ancient connections between Uto-Aztecan languages and three Old World languages, some comments point to Rogers' Table 6 as key evidence for dismissing the correspondences detailed by Stubbs. Table 6 appears to present evidence that chance similarities could account for what Stubbs has found.

As a reminder, the key to establishing genuine connections between ancient languages is not finding a bunch of random words that can appear to be related, but establishing meaningful relationship with many examples of consistent sound changes. Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia's article on the "Comparative Method" describing how to establish legitimate connections:

Step 2, establish correspondence sets

The next step involves determining the regular sound-correspondences exhibited by the lists of potential cognates. For example, in the Polynesian data above, it is apparent that words that contain t in most of the languages listed have cognates in Hawaiian with k in the same position. This is visible in multiple cognate sets: the words glossed as 'one', 'three', 'man', and 'taboo' all show this relationship. This situation is termed a regular correspondence between k in Hawaiian and t in the other Polynesian languages. Similarly, in those data a regular correspondence can be seen between Hawaiian and Rapanui h, Tongan and Samoan f, Maori ɸ, and Rarotongan ʔ.

Mere phonetic similarity, as between English day and Latin dies (both with the same meaning), has no probative value.[31] English initial d- does not regularly match Latin d-[32]—it is not possible to assemble a large set of English and Latin non-borrowed cognates such that English d repeatedly and consistently corresponds to Latin d at the beginning of a word—and whatever sporadic matches can be observed are due either to chance (as in the above example) or to borrowing (for example, Latin diabolus and English devil—both ultimately of Greek origin[33]). English and Latin do exhibit a regular correspondence of t- : d-[32] (where the notation "A : B" means "A corresponds to B"); for example,[34]
 English   ten   two   tow   tongue   tooth 
 Latin   decem   duo   dūco   dingua   dent-  

If there are many regular correspondence sets of this kind (the more the better), then a common origin becomes a virtual certainty, particularly if some of the correspondences are non-trivial or unusual.[21]

This is at the heart of what Stubbs has done, presenting extensive data on widespread, consistent sound changes that link cognates between Uto-Aztecan languages and three Old World languages (that happen to have Book of Mormon ties). Many are non-trivial, detailed, involve lengthy words and sometimes surprising parallels in meanings and multiple meanings. But Rogers seems to treat this work as amateur excitement over chance parallels.

Suppose, for example, that the German had gone completely extinct a couple hundred years ago and only now had scholars recovered and deciphered a handful of texts. Suppose you are working on the language and begin to notice parallels with English, such as "das Buch" = book, "kochen" = to cook, and "suchen" = to seek. These show a consistent relationship between German "ch" and English "k," which is far more meaningful than if book, cook, and seek seemed to align with, say, "ubakr," "kouki," and "zeqqol." With chance finds, of course, it is unlikely that consistent patterns will arise. So even if your list of cognates was still small, the pattern of sound changes could help you realize that perhaps more than chance was at play.

But chance is always a possibility. In fact, false cognates due to chance can be found without too much trouble. In Chinese, "fei" can mean "fee," but there's no evidence that any legitimate relationship is behind this and many other chance parallels. How often can chance lead to a false cognate? Stubbs suggests it is 1% to 3% of the time. OK, but I think it would be very hard to contrive English-Chinese parallels for 1% of either language. But accepting that range, Rogers crunches some numbers to suggest that the 1500+ cognates presented by Stubbs are meaningless. To do this, he considers that the Uto-Aztecan language family has 30 languages and that Stubbs is scanning 3 Old World languages, which greatly increases the potential for finding parallels. Rogers argues that at a 3% rate of chance cognates, we might expect nearly 5,000 chance parallels, making 1,500 completely pathetic. Here's the relevant portion of his paper from pages 255-256 (click to enlarge):

There's clearly something wrong when he reports that 2,598 similarities are expected by chance alone, for that number is the number with a minus sign (i.e., 2,598 less than zero) is the number Table 6 shows remaining after subtracting the actual calculated number of possible false cognates, 4,126, from the number of cognates presented by Stubbs, 1,528. But much more trouble is occurring here than just reporting the wrong sum. This number of over 4,000 false cognates is based on rather spurious math, IMO.

The first additional problem is that Rogers is using the wrong base in calculating potential false cognates. He treats 1,528 as that base, but the base should be the number of words in the language family being considered, which is an even bigger number. But let's assume that Rogers math is correct and that there's a base of only 1,528 Uto-Aztecan words, incorrectly implying that Stubbs is proposing that 100% of the UA vocabulary is related to Egyptian and Semitic. Even in that case, Rogers obliterates any cause for excitement by multiplying the upper limit of 3% chance of a random correspondence by 30 Uto-Aztecan languages and by 3 Old World languages, in other words, 0.03 * 30 * 3 = 2.70, giving 270% of the entire vocabulary being subject to false cognates with Stubb's 3 Old World languages by chance. That's how 1,528 cognates from Stubbs becomes a potential 4,126 false cognates in the crazy math of Table 6. Something is out of touch with reality here.

Part of the problem here is that the 30 languages of Uto-Aztecan are all related, and that Stubbs is not creating an additional entry and claim for each related cognate in each language. Worse than double jeopardy, Rogers would give a false cognate a penalty of 30 * 3 = 90 words to deduct from Stubbs' list. Note that almost each of the 1500+ cognates from Stubbs involve multiple languages and usually involve reconstructed Proto-Uto-Aztecan words; he's not counting a cognate as, say, 15 cognates when half of Uto-Aztecan languages seem to share it, but lists it as one entry.

Further, great weight should be given to cognates that involve Proto-Uto-Aztecan, which would naturally tend to involve multiple modern UA languages. Rogers should consider the high number of cognates that are related to Proto-Uto-Aztecan, where it makes even less sense to conjure up huge numbers of expected false cognates with the multiply-by-30 tactic.

To get a feel for what Stubbs is reporting and how he counts multiple related hits in multiple languages, below is a randomly selected section from Stubbs' more technical book (I scrolled to a random place and then picked a contiguous section that included discussion of the sound change rule under consideration), where you can see for yourself. Many of those two- and three-letter abbreviations in his explanations are abbreviations referring to specific languages, and UACV followed by a word with a leading asterisk refers to a reconstructed Proto-Uto-Aztecan word from his definitive publication on the language, which is used in each of these entries and I believe the majority throughout the book. Here's the excerpt from pages 80-81 of Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan, which can be downloaded at BMSLR.org for free, courtesy of Jerry Grover (click to enlarge):

Sadly, even some highly educated people have jumped on Table 6 and feel that Rogers with his reported gargantuan numbers for expected false cognates (up to 270% of the vocabulary) has provided compelling reasons to dismiss Stubbs' work as meaningless garbage all due to chance alone. You can always find a reason to dismiss something you don't like, but relying on preconceived notions coupled with bad math is not the most accurate way to reinforce your views. These kind of math errors are easy to make, I'll admit, but it's unfortunate that they survived peer review for the Maxwell Institute's publication. What Stubbs gives us requires more thoughtful attention that this. Yes, it's counter to so much that we think we know so it's easy to want to dismiss it, but the data is not readily explained by chance cognates, and the patterns of consistent sound changes add a great deal that Rogers is missing. I hope Rogers will give Stubbs a closer look! I think he missed some significant aspects of the work he criticizes. Hoping for a round 2!

I also have to point out that Rogers' comment on pp. 255-256 about not accounting for the impact of borrowing is quite puzzling. Stubbs is arguing that there was an infusion of ancient languages, not a genetic relationship. Read Stubbs' response on my previous post to get into that issue more fully. But for today, I'm just addressing the issue of Table 6 and its faulty math.

Further Thoughts on John Gee's Article at The Interpreter

John Gee's recent article at The Interpreter on the Joseph Smith Papers volume on the Book of Abraham points to some genuine problems that merit attention. On the other hand, portions of that review strike me as perhaps too harsh, though others could say the same thing of my critical article on the same volume, The Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Volume 4: Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts, eds. Robin Scott Jensen and Brian M. Hauglid (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2018), hereafter JSPRT4.

It's difficult criticizing a work one feels is seriously flawed without sounding harsh. But let me remind you of the remarkable positives in that work and throughout the Joseph Smith Papers (JSP) series. The fact that I was able to use the book and the JSP Project website to dig into the details regarding the documents related to the Book of Abraham confirms that the JSP Project has clearly delivered on one of their key objectives: making historical documents relevant to Joseph Smith and his work available for others to study in detail. So while I disagree with some of the editorial decisions including explicit statements, implicit suggestions and omissions, the work still stands as a precious resource for which many of us can be grateful. Pointing to the possible errors, as I have done, may be all that is needed or all that can be reasonably hoped for to provide balance for those interested in finding it.

Apart from possible defects in the volume on the Book of Abraham, Dr. Gee makes an important observation about the Kirtland Egyptian Papers that might merit further attention:
The characters in the margins of the Book of Abraham manuscripts come from Papyrus Joseph Smith XI. The characters in the Egyptian Alphabet documents and the Alphabet and Grammar come from Papyrus Joseph Smith I. Because to the editors the characters are meaningless marks on the page, they pay no attention to their origin or the implications of their origins, which explains why they lump different characters from different sources indiscriminately together in their appendix and misplace some of the photographs. If the Egyptian Alphabet documents were the direct source of the Book of Abraham, we would expect that the characters would coincide and have the same source, but they do not. Because the characters do not match, the efforts to match up characters in the Egyptian Alphabet documents and the Book of Abraham manuscripts have to be seen as independent efforts. It also suggests that both efforts are attempts to match a previously existent Book of Abraham with different papyri rather than stumbling attempts to decipher a particular Egyptian text.
As I understand, Papyrus Joseph Smith XI and I, both shown on page 9 of JSPRT4, were originally part of the same scroll that were separated and separately mounted. But whether the two projects Gee refers to (work with Book of Abraham manuscripts with some characters in the margins and work with the Grammar and Alphabet document and the related Egyptian Alphabet documents) involved work with already separated fragments (as I believe could be the case) or with just different portions of the original unseparated papyrus, I think Gee's point merits attention: these two projects don't have the close relationship one would expect if the Kirtland Egyptian Papers are a window into Joseph's translation to product the Book of Abraham. Rather, it looks like two different efforts, with only minor overlap, and in both cases, there is abundant evidence that the Book of Abraham translation came first, as discussed in my article for the Interpreter, with further evidence in my discussion of the twin manuscripts for Meridian Magazine.

Gee's observation is important. Different characters are (generally) used in the Book of Abraham manuscripts and the Grammar and Alphabet plus Egyptian Alphabet documents. I believe that there is a touch of overlap in that 2 characters from Joseph Smith Papyrus XI (the characters are labeled as 5.27 and 5.28 in JSPRT4) were used by Phelps in Book of Abraham Manuscript C and also occur in the GAEL and the Egyptian Alphabet documents, though these characters have fallen off the mounted papyri fragments as shown in the recent photographs for the JSP Project. It does seem plausible that we are seeing not a window into how Joseph created live translation of a particular Egyptian text, but a window into how the scribes worked with bits and pieces of existing revelatory text (surprisingly, including some portions of the Doctrine and Covenants in addition to portions of the Book of Abraham text and perhaps commentary on Facsimile 1 and 2) in attempts to match up various concepts with Egyptian characters from Papyrus Joseph Smith XI and I, as well with non-Egyptian "Egyptian" characters from a variety of sources, apparently including some archaic Greek, a few Masonic ciphers, etc. It's all thoroughly puzzling and certainly doesn't fit the narratives that critics like to offer about how we are seeing Joseph's translation taking place.

What was the purpose of the Egyptian and non-Egyptian characters being matched up to English text in the Book of Abraham manuscripts? As previously pointed out (see "The Twin BOA Manuscripts: A Window into Creation of the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language?"), the header of the twin documents gives us a loud declaration that the critics continue to ignore: "Sign of the fifth degree of the Second part" clearly refers to an unfinished section of the largely unfinished  Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language, a bound book with far more blank pages than written pages in its sparse text. The two scribes preparing Book of Abraham Manuscripts A and B were apparently continuing the work of W.W. Phelps, who already covered Abraham 1:1-3 in Book of Abraham Manuscript C, apparently drawing upon an existing text of the translation, as the other scribes continued to do for Manuscripts A and B. Phelps had become unavailable for the Book of Abraham project due to other demands, necessitating the hiring of a new scribe, Warren Parrish, on October 29, 1835 (this raises serious questions about JSPRT4's dating of manuscripts written by Parrish as a scribe for the Book of Abraham effort -- the editors of JSPTR4 claims that these documents may have been written as early as July 1835, which I feel is unreasonable). Joseph hired Parrish and was clearly interested in this work, but we should know that he did not need and Alphabet and Grammar to receive revelation, but was certainly interested in understanding ancient language, however futile that intellectual that quest was for him and his team as far as Egyptian was concerned.
Parrish and Frederick G. Williams continued where Phelps had left off. Their title of "Sign of the fifth degree of the Second part" means not that they are writing down fresh scripture dictated from Joseph's lips, but were preparing further entries for the section of Phelps' GAEL with that same title, but which was never completed and which never received the additional entries that could have been worked out from the recent attempt at linking characters to the text. We don't know the purpose of the GAEL -- to me there are too many puzzles to fit any one theory comfortably, whether it's reverse engineering the decipherment of Egyptian, creating a reverse cipher to encode English, or compiling the "pure language" of the ancients. Whatever it was, the project behind the Kirtland Egyptian Papers was quickly abandoned and left incomplete. I would say the KEP's purpose certainly wasn't creating the translation of the Book of Abraham from Egyptian characters. That assumption requires ignoring far too much data.

So when Gee writes, "Because the characters do not match, the efforts to match up characters in the Egyptian Alphabet documents and the Book of Abraham manuscripts have to be seen as independent efforts," I think I largely agree. Not completely independent, but perhaps two different aspects of an ongoing and futile project. And I also generally agree with the next sentence:  "It also suggests that both efforts are attempts to match a previously existent Book of Abraham with different papyri [or possibly different sections of a single original papyrus fragment] rather than stumbling attempts to decipher a particular Egyptian text." Overall, his perspective on the relationship between these documents is a valuable one, with the kind of insight that I wish had been provided from time to time in JSPRT4.

To be fair to JSPRT4, I should note that there is some language in there (as quoted in my articles) recognizing that the twin manuscripts might have been created using an existing text, but the additional possibility that is recognized, that they may represent live dictation by Joseph Smith, faces massive problems in light of the textual data and other data and these problems should have been noticed and noted. The failure to consider the implications of the textual evidence is one of many unfortunate omissions and missed opportunities for more accurate understanding of these manuscripts in JSPRT4. But in spite of such flaws, it's still a remarkable book that can help students of the Book of Abraham dig in and learn more about a mysterious adventure in the history of the Church, the story of the Book of Abraham and its related documents.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Guest Post from Brian Stubbs: A Response to Chris Rogers’ “A Review of the Afro-Asiatic: Uto-Aztecan Proposal” in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies

I'm pleased to offer an important guest post from Brian Stubbs, one of the world's leading experts in Uto-Aztecan languages and a scholar whom I deeply respect for his insights and courage. After years of doubting some of the puzzling relationships he kept encountering in his linguistic studies, he finally decided he could not remain silent and needed to share the surprising trends he had uncovered, knowing that it would be highly controversial and easy to dismiss. Brian found very strong and compelling evidence of infusion of Old World languages into the Uto-Aztecan language family, at a degree that vastly exceeds what could happen by chance along and that vastly exceeds the standards that have been used to legitimately establish connections between once presumably distinct language groups in past scholarship. He has urged others to look at the evidence and criticize any genuine flaws in his work--that's the path for scientific progress, of course. Some of the responses to his work, such as that of linguist Dirk Elzing in BYU Studies or linguist John S. Robertson in The Interpreter, clearly recognize Stubbs for his credentials, with no obvious reason to dismiss the controversial case he has built. Ditto for my positive review in The Interpreter.

Declaring that there is evidence of an infusion of Semitic and Egyptian languages into ancient America is highly controversial not just because it fits as possible evidence supporting Book of Mormon plausibility, but because crazed amateurs since the 1800s have periodically claimed to find that Native American languages and Hebrew are related, often on the basis of completely made up "correspondences." Understandably, any expert in linguistics is likely to have an eye-rolling reflex upon hearing such a claim today. "Here we go again: another amateur thinking that Amerindian languages come from Hebrew." That reflex has, in my opinion, kept many people from digging into Stubbs' work to consider its merits. I suspect that such a reflex may have guided the approach that a young and promising professor at BYU took with respect to his review of Brian Stubbs' work.

As soon as I began reading Chris Rogers’ review in the lastest issue of the Maxwell Institute's Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, “A Review of the Afro-Asiatic: Uto-Aztecan Proposal,” I felt something was wrong. I felt like Rogers was responding to some caricature on Reddit of Stubbs' work, and must not have had the time to dig into the meat. He makes a casual remark that the two volumes of Stubbs that he was reviewing are essentially the same book, when they are worlds apart, one a tiny, easy-to-read volume for a general audience of members of the Church, and one a mammoth compilation of intricate details for scholars. Further, Rogers didn't seem to recognize that Stubbs was proposing relatively recent infusions of Old World influence into the Americas, not a very old genetic relationship, and didn't seem to recognize that Stubbs is a leader in the field of Uto-Aztecan languages who wrote some of the most definitive and broadly cited materials in that field. Things that Stubbs allegedly neglected or overlooked were there, sometimes abundantly so, but somehow missed. These kind of mistakes, if I am right and mistakes have been made, are not uncommon in the swirling forums of the academic world and remind us of the need to do our own diligence. Reading Stubbs' review below clarifies the many things that are seriously wrong. I hope you'll read that response, kindly shared here for my readers, and also please read Brian Stubbs' profound works, including the one with all the meat: Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan, as overwhelming as it may be (it can be downloaded at BMSLR.org for free, courtesy of Jerry Grover, or rather, at his expense). For a much less technical general overview, read his Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now

If you know what Stubbs has done and respect his work, don't be upset at Rogers for the negative review.  Great scholars often make some mistakes in the course of their work. In fact, his is an entirely understandable reaction from a linguist who has heard about some crazy amateur  once again imagining a connection between Hebrew and Native American languages -- understandable until one recognizes (1) the depth of detail and proficiency behind Brian Stubbs' work, and (2) what serious credentials Stubbs has. (For example, Stubbs is among key publishers of articles on the Uto-Aztecan language family in linguistic journals. His book Uto-Aztecan: A Comparative Vocabulary is the largest in the field, doubling the size of previous works on comparative Uto-Aztecan studies.) Neither of those two issues seem to be recognized by Rogers, which suggests to me that he is responding less to a serious examination of the detailed content in Stubbs' books and more to what he thinks he already knows about it. It's a natural human mistake, in my opinion, but we all make mistakes in our assumptions and can easily jump to errant conclusions based on flawed assumptions. I hope Rogers will reconsider and look more carefully at what Stubbs has given us. Or if you agree with Rogers, let me know why and let's discuss the issues politely, please.

Stubbs' approach is completely unlike the amateurs making up stuff or repeating false rumors or snatching at a tiny handful of purported parallels. He offers an overwhelming level of analysis, extensive correspondences, intricate parallels that go way beyond chance alone, and along the way provides an overarching framework that helps solve multiple mysteries in Uto-Aztecan with significant predictive power.

As a reminder on the level of evidence compiled by Stubbs, with over 1500 cognates linking Uto-Aztecan to Semitic and Egyptian, here is an excerpt from my review article at The Interpreter:
To put things in perspective, compare Stubbs’s collection of [over 1500] cognates with the works that have inaugurated other new language groupings in previous linguistic work:
After Sapir (1913, 1915) established Uto-Aztecan as a viable family of related languages, Voegelin, Voegelin, and Hale (1962) produced the first numbered list of 171 cognate sets .… Klar (1977) brought the Chumash languages to clarity with 168 sets. Taylor (1963) established Caddoan (a language family of the central plains), assembling 107 cognate sets. Hale (1962, 1967) did the definitive study for Kiowa-Tanoan with 99 sets. This work’s proposal may better compare to tying two distant language families, as did Haas (1958) by ending four decades of controversy in uniting Algonkian-Ritwan, an eastern US family with a west coast family, by means of 93 sets. Chamberlain (1888) began the union of Catawba with Siouan via 17 comparisons, and Siebert (1945) secured it with mostly morphological correlations, as not enough clear cognate sets were known at the time to establish correspondences .… Thus, the going rate is between 50 and 200 sets to establish most Native American language families.
What follows is the text from Stubbs' response paper. Since The Journal of Book of Mormon Studies is now only published once a year, Stubbs naturally does not want to wait a year for a chance to have his response published, and very kindly is allowing me to share it here. Assume any errors in format or other problems below are mine; the original PDF of paper can be obtained from my website, JeffLindsay.com.

Update, Aug. 30, 2019: Brian sent me a minor revision today with a few minor changes and corrections. I've made those changes in the text below and linked to a revised PDF. I tweaked formatting in a couple of places.

Brian Stubbs' Review

A review of Chris Rogers’ “A Review of the Afro-Asiatic: Uto-Aztecan Proposal” in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 28 (2019), 258-267, wherein he reviews Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan (Stubbs 2015b) and Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now (Stubbs 2016).

Brian D. Stubbs, 2019

The purpose of this paper is to grant a clear view of Chris Rogers’ review. By way of background, Uto-Aztecan is a family of some 30 related languages in western Mexico, the U.S. Southwest, and the several Nahua dialects from Mexico to El Salvador. After 30 years of research and publishing several articles on Uto-Aztecan (UA) in peer-reviewed journals, I published Uto-Aztecan: A Comparative Vocabulary (2011), the new standard in comparative UA and well received among specialists in the field. After 35 years of research, I published Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan (2015b), which linguistically establishes a Northwest Semitic (Hebrew/Aramaic) and an Egyptian infusion, language mix, or massive borrowing into UA. Though skepticism was always the initial reaction, the LDS and non-LDS linguists, Uto-Aztecanists, and Semitists actually examining the data, offered favorable assessments, silence, or dismay, but none refuted it. Following those reference works, the smaller Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now (2016) emerged for LDS lay-readers, addressing the relevance of the research to The Book of Mormon.

While many BYU linguists, Semitists, and other scholars have followed the work with interest or approbation the last 35 years, I began hearing that one Chris Rogers, a new hire among BYU linguists, was disparaging the work. I was curious what fault he found, so I sent him a friendly email 4/23/18: “I’d like to amicably answer what questions you might have.” I also explained that I had sent 2015b to the best 15 Uto-Aztecan specialists, all non-LDS PhDs in linguistics. Ten were silent, but five found it sound, with valid correspondences, etc.; “but none of the 15 refuted it with specifics. So maybe you are the first, as soon as I know the specifics you have in mind.” However, Mr. Rogers never answered me. He seemed not interested in answers or discussion, but preferred a public forum for his attempt to discredit. So we can do it that way. A major problem in fairness is that the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies comes out only once a year now. Other linguists have expressed a desire to rebut his review in next year’s issue. For my part, such a flawed denigration deserves a more immediate response.

Rogers’ first error is found in the title and in several pages throughout, claiming that I am proposing a long-distance relationship between Afro-Asiatic and Uto-Aztecan (UA). Not at all! That would involve a time-depth of more than 7,000 years. The thousands of coherent sound correspondences suggest, rather, that UA received a substantial infusion or mixing or borrowing from something resembling a pre-exilic stage (before 600 BC) of something Northwest Semitic with early forms specific to Hebrew and Aramaic, along with much Late Egyptian (not Middle Egyptian nor Old Egyptian, nor Proto-Afro-Asiatic). The data point to a time-depth of perhaps 2500-3000 years, not much more than Proto-Romance or Germanic. The infusion / mixing / borrowing of these two Near-East elements into UA is mentioned at least 21 times in the two books (Stubbs 2015, 26, 35, 80, 158, 237, 320, 354, 356, 360-362; and Stubbs 2016, 64, 86, 89, 96, 104, 112, 114, 154, 161, 170), and such an infusion / mixing is very different from common descent from something ancestral to Afro-Asiatic and UA, as many paragraphs below will show.

In fact, I cannot understand what Rogers read or saw to make him assume this work deals with common genetic descent from something pre-Afro-Asiatic. An electronic search of 2015b shows Hebrew is mentioned 3132 times, Aramaic 1370, (Late) Egyptian 2136, Akkadian 140 times, and Ethiopic 27 times. Even within Semitic, Hebrew and Aramaic (4,502) are the topics of discussion, as the fewer mentions of Akkadian (140) and Ethiopic (27) are incidental to a few of the phonological or semantic discussions. So the focus is not even general Semitic, let alone Afro-Asiatic. In fact, Afro-Asiatic occurs only 6 times: once in a bibliographic title, once in a misphrased compliment of my work by the late Roger William Wescott (President of the Linguistic Association of Canada and U.S.), and 4 times in discussing phonological details. Furthermore, other branches of Afro-Asiatic (Berber, Chadic, Cushitic, etc) are not mentioned at all; and never was Afro-Asiatic mentioned as part of the comparison. How does a focus on two Semitic languages (out of many) and Egyptian, but no other branches, and practically no mention of Afro-Asiatic, become construed as a proposal having anything to do with Proto-Afro-Asiatic?

Second, Rogers frequently misrepresents my work. An example among many is his claim that the Nahuan or Aztecan languages “are systematically ignored in the comparisons” (Rogers 2019, 266, my emphasis). A search of 2015b revealed over 800 references to the Nahuan or Aztecan languages! Might he have missed such details as CN being an abbreviation for Classical Nahuatl, for which there are over 400 occurrences of that alone?

Third, Rogers’ choice of quotes are often lifted out of context to turn positive comments into negative. For example, John S. Robertson, Harvard PhD, leading Mayanist, former chair of the BYU Linguistics Department, who has been following the progress of the work for 35 years, in his positive review more fully said, “I cannot find an easy way to challenge the breadth and depth of the data [in Stubbs 2015b]”, yet Rogers claims, “there is ample reason to ‘challenge the breadth and depth of the data’,” citing Dr. Robertson 2017:114 at the end of the clause, to appear as if Robertson said that, when Robertson said the opposite. He does similarly with the Elzinga quote immediately afterwards in the same sentence (Rogers 2019, 259).

Fourth, it is ironic that Rogers accuses me of “numerous assumptions” (p. 260) without clarifying, but then wildly assumes that “The only motivation for comparing Semitic languages and Egyptian to the Uto-Aztecan languages seems to be Stubbs’ personal investment in Uto-Aztecan languages and linguistics” (p. 262). Nothing could be further from the truth. Navajo and its Athapaskan affiliation were my first language exposure, but my own three-day investigation into Athapaskan and various East Asian languages convinced me that Athapaskan came from East Asia, which other linguists later provided evidence for, receiving considerable, but not universal, acceptance (e.g., Vajda 2010, Rice 2011, Campbell 2011, Kiparsky 2015). After Athapaskan, I looked into Yuman, Pomoan, Wintuan, Maiduan, Shastan, Yana, Kiowa-Tanoan, Keresan, Zuni, Salishan, Karuk, Algic, Siouan, Caddoan, Iroquoian, Muskogean, and Uto-Aztecan in North America; and Mayan, Totonacan, Mixe-Zoquean, Otomanguean, and a few isolates in Central America; and Chibchan, Cariban, Tupian, Paez, Arawakan, Aymaran, Witotoan, Quechuan, Matacoan, Pano-Tacanan, Guahiboan, Barbacoan, Macro-Je, Jivaroan, Movima, Zaparoan, and others in South America. An MA in linguistics and studies in Semitic (Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, PhD/ABD) preceded the perusing and enabled me to see a substantial infusion / borrowing of Northwest Semitic and Late Egyptian in UA. So for Rogers to assume that my investment in UA was the motivation for seeking Semitic similarities in it is astonishing, when it was the opposite: years of investigating dozens of language families throughout the Americas led to or motivated my 40-year investment in UA.

Fifth, Rogers insists that “Linguistic comparisons require like systems” and that “the similarities identified must come from like systems, such as families, languages, or dialects” (p. 262). Does he mean that one can only compare proto-language family to proto-language family, or language to language? Discoveries often call for a language (or two) to be compared with a language family, as when Tocharian A and B were discovered and then proven to belong to the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language family (Sieg and Siegling 1908), and as when Hittite was discovered and was shown to belong to PIE (Hrozny 1917), and as when the Cochimi language was united to the Yuman language family by my former professor Mauricio Mixco (1978). Additional obstacles to his ideal are that:

  1. There is not yet consensus on a system for reconstructing UA. We UA specialists agree on many points, but other matters are still under discussion.
  2. Semitic reconstructions are further along than UA, yet reconstructions of Proto-Semitic are not entirely agreed upon either. Interestingly, UA contains evidence relevant to one Semitic question: whether the so-called Semitic velar fricative x was velar or uvular. The UA evidence suggests uvular (Stubbs 2015b, 313-6; Stubbs 2019, 33-37).
  3. So much remains unknown about ancient Semitic languages; for example, ancient written Hebrew is only a fraction of what was in the spoken language. That is why Semitists in comparative work often list several relevant related forms for a broader perspective or bigger picture for comparison, as I did also on occasion. For example, Rogers (pp. 262-3) listed set 13 as a flawed set:
    Arabic snw; Ethiopic snw; Hebrew šaani; Akkadian sinitu; and Hopi soniwa ‘beautiful, bright’ all sharing common meanings. Rogers shows it as Arabic snw; Ethiopic snw; Hebrew šaani; Akkadian sinitu > Hopi soniwa, as if Hopi soniwa descends from all of them, but that is not how I had it. In Stubbs 2015b, the key forms to consider are in bold, as in two sentences above. From these terms we can see that the original Semitic root consonants are s-n-w (clear in Arabic and Ethiopic), which three consonants are clear in the Hopi form as well.
  4. Because Semitic forms are based on consonantal roots of usually 3 consonants (sometimes 2 or 4 or 5), Semitists do not see vowel variations as invalidating what identical consonants offer. For example, the root ђrm ‘to be sacred, forbidden’ is foundation to many vowelings of words for ‘woman, wives’—Arabic ђuram, ђurm, ђurma, ђaram, ђarama, ђariim, ђirma; plurals: ђaraamaa, ђuraamaa, ђiraamaa, and ma- prefixes: maђrama, maђruma—and all 12 vowelings mean ‘woman, female(s)’. For this reason, consonantal roots, not vowel variation, anchor cognate relationships in comparative historical work in Semitic, especially since only fractions of the ancient languages are attested. So to suppose, for example, that the UA forms, Warihio oerume / oorume ‘woman’, do not reflect Semitic ђrm ‘woman’ for lack of an attested voweling would be ignoring the comparative historical method, especially in light of the fact that pharyngeal ђ always shows rounding w/o/u in UA. Leonid Kogan (2011, 119-123), a prominent Semitist, says it well in noting a “wide variety of unpredictable deviations in the vocalic domain in glaring contrast to the full regularity of the consonantal skeleton.” So in the Semitists’ tradition, I often bring in various Semitic forms to the discussion, but UA is not being compared to Proto-Semitic, but to something of a Hebrew-Aramaic mix.
Sixth, he states, “long-distance relationships are less likely to include a large number of similarities. The sheer number of similarities in Stubbs’ proposal is not likely for the type of linguistic scenario presented” (p. 263). So too many similarities invalidates the case? Of course, again he is mistakenly assuming that I am lumping Afro-Asiatic and UA in a long-distance relationship. True, a time-depth of 7,000-10,000 years would yield fewer similarities. However, the bulk of 2015b identifies much vocabulary, fitting a system of sound correspondences, that accords with a language or dialect of Northwest Semitic (Aramaic-Hebrew, 700 sets) mixed with a substantial amount of Late Egyptian (400 sets), not Middle Egyptian, nor Old Egyptian, nor Afro-Asiatic, but specifically Late Egyptian, exhibiting the Late Egyptian definite article prefixes, which had not yet developed in Middle Egyptian (Stubbs 2015, 137-8). For non-linguists, I might clarify that a long-distance relationship means a deep time-depth, usually connecting language families; so UA compared with a Hebrew-Aramaic dialect is geographically long-distance, but not linguistically a long-distance relationship.

Seventh, he says “lexical similarities are often used as evidence for genetic relationships between languages” (p. 263), then in footnote 17 he adds, “but these are far from convincing; see Campbell and Poser 2008, 165-172.” Lexical similarities are a lesser or larger part of every demonstration of language relatedness, though morphology and other factors are important too. In the Campbell-and-Poser book that my friend Lyle Campbell sent me, pages 165-72 refer to lexical similarities (1) of limited amounts (because any two languages can have some accidental sound-alikes), (2) without additional supporting evidence like sound correspondences, and refer to (3) long-range comparative linguistics, the primary example cited being Greenberg 1987, who is a lumper (unlike me) and lumps language families on lexical similarities without sound correspondences. So none of the three applies to my work! My lexical similarities are based on a system of sound correspondences, and they are many, and they do not involve a long-distance relationship, but show one language family with considerable language contribution from specific languages, at a fairly shallow time-depth of 2500-3000 years.

Eighth, Rogers objects to my straying from the usual focus on Proto-Uto-Aztecan or the whole language family to intermittent focus on certain UA languages, which he claims results in “cherry picking the data to fit the proposal” (p. 262). No, there is no cherry picking. What happens (and it happens in every language family) is that some ancient words leave related cognates in most of the descendant languages, while other ancient words survive in only a few languages or only one.   I list all cognate / descendant forms available for each established UA cognate set in 2015b (as in 2011), sometimes many and other times a few or one, along with the Semitic/Egyptian form or root aligning with the sound correspondences. For example,
  • Hopi soniwa ‘beautiful, bright’ (< Semitic snw ‘gleam, be beautiful’), and
  • Hopi hoonaqa ‘drunkard’ (< Egyptian ђnqt ‘beer’; n’-ђnqt ‘the-drinkers’; no vowels provided in Egyptian, but the round vowel for the initial pharyngeal is exactly as expected in UA).
These two exist only in Hopi, and in no other UA languages. Yet such impressive matches deserve to be listed. Does Rogers think I should leave out single language matches? Furthermore, not many UA cognate sets appear in all 30 UA languages, but from among the two dozen or so that do, a high percentage of them (ca. 70%) belong to the Near-East contribution. That is significant, as it suggests that the Near-East language component was part of Proto-UA. Some might contend that such could not be the case given UA’s supposed glottochronological time-depth of 5,000 years or so, but Campbell and Poser (2008, 167), in the same book that both Rogers and I cite above, also say “It [glottochronology] has been rejected by most linguists, since all its basic assumptions have been challenged.”

Ninth, Rogers claims to see “mistaken definitions or incorrect characterizations of linguistic concepts” (p. 260). That is odd, because the best 35 Uto-Aztecanists in the world, most being PhDs in Linguistics, have all received the work by now, and none of them spoke of incorrect characterizations of linguistic concepts. Through 40 years of presenting at professional linguistic conferences and publishing in several journals, I have never been accused of mischaracterizing linguistic concepts. Two different editors of the International Journal of American Linguistics (the most prestigious journal for publishing comparative Native American work, in which I’ve published four articles) both said (20 years apart) that I do good work. The late Jane Hill at an annual UA conference said, “Brian is the only one of us who does a comparative paper every year” (because a grammatical aspect of one language is easier than dealing with 30). I was invited to give a lecture at UCLA on comparative Uto-Aztecan, and Calvert Watkins, Harvard’s internationally renowned Indo-European scholar, happened to attend, and afterwards he told Dr. Munro (the prominent UCLA linguist, accomplished in Uto-Aztecan, Yuman, Muskogean, and Zapotecan) that “we need more lectures like that one.” When MIT decided to publish a volume on UA, the other Uto-Aztecanists voted me to do the first article to introduce the language family with a comparative overview (Stubbs 2003). When the Society for the Study of Indigenous Languages of the Americas decided to do a special session on UA to celebrate the centennial since Sapir’s establishment of UA in 1915, the other Uto-Aztecan specialists selected me to present the lead paper to begin the session (Stubbs 2015a). That is an unusual list of honors for one mischaracterizing linguistic concepts.

Tenth, he calls my work “so replete with disorganization” (p. 260). Organization may be in the eye of the beholder. The organization proceeds from an introduction, then systematically addresses the sound correspondences, then shows how Semitic or Egyptian provides the underlying forms that explain seven of nine phonological puzzles that UAnists have not been able to solve in the last 100 years, since Sapir’s establishment of the language family in 1913 / 1915 (interestingly my work was published exactly a century later 2015), then vowel correspondences, then addresses medial consonant clusters, then shows grammatical and morphological parallels, and then discusses unusual semantic combinations preserved in UA. He may prefer a different organization, but I see nothing radically awry in my organization.

Eleventh, he says that my two books under review are not substantially different (p. 260). Most who examine the two would disagree. The larger work (2015b), with 20 times more detail, is for linguists, Semitists, and other scholars, and establishes the tie linguistically. The smaller work (2016, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now) is greatly simplified for lay-readers, is one-fifth the size, and contains in reduced / simplified form 1/20th of the data, and addresses the data’s relevance to the Book of Mormon.

Twelfth, Rogers’ condescending attitude and derogatory language are apparent throughout: e.g., “it is so replete with disorganization, numerous assumptions, mistaken definitions or incorrect characterizations of linguistic concepts, inexact methods, pedantry, and apologetic rhetoric that the idea [of the language tie] seems dubious, even without careful scrutiny” (p. 260). Wow, that could leave one with a very negative impression, yet the non-LDS linguists, who are the best UA specialists in the world, and Semitic scholars said no such thing, but responded with favorable comments or “no comment.” Like Robertson (2017) says in his review of 2015b, that it includes many of the same cognate sets and the same quality of work as my 2011 Uto-Aztecan Comparative Vocabulary, which was praised in the International Journal of American Linguistics review (Hill 2012).

Thirteenth, he even hints at disdain for the appendices: “Other information of varying usefulness to the proposal itself, but which seems personally significant to Stubbs, is presented in the remainder of both books through a number of appendices” (p. 260). In the 2015b book the appendices are:
  • A) sound correspondences (very important),
  • B) English index to the sets,
  • C) Semitic index to the sets,
  • D) Egyptian index to the sets
It should be obvious that the appendices are indices, helpful in finding forms in the massive 435-page, 365,000-word work. Each of the appendices to Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now (2016) is also relevant, either to a particular chapter, a group of chapters, or to the whole book.

Fourteenth, on p. 261, Rogers says, “A proposal for a genetic relationship … must be supported by two types of evidence: (1) evidence that the languages discussed are in fact genetically related.” That is exactly what the 435-page work (Stubbs 2015b) does: it establishes that a significant amount of Proto-UA descends from the specified Near-East infusion, with sound correspondences, morphological parallels, unusual semantic combinations preserved, and other parallel patterns. It is not genetically related at a bi-family level, but is descended from a sizable Near-East infusion mixed with other. He continues, “and (2) evidence for the reconstruction of the common linguistic ancestor.” His footnote 14 lists a couple of books on historical linguistics, both of which I have and have read, in addition to others. Again, he is insisting on the reconstruction of a non-existent ancestor of Proto-Afro-Asiatic and UA, but that is not what I am proposing, but rather, Aramaic often provides the needed reconstructed form, given the devoicing of voiced stops (b > p, d > t, g > k):
  • (1274) Aramaic kookb-aa(’) ‘star-the’ > UA *kuppaa’: Sr kupaa’ ‘to shine (as of the stars)’
    (a denominalized verb, all vowels as expected; Sr v < *-p-, so Sr p < *-pp- or cluster)
  • (889) Aramaic rikb-aa(’) ‘upper millstone-the’ > UA *tïppa ‘mortar, pestle’
    (initial r- > UA t- is well demonstrated in 2015b, 100-101, 173-174, 221)
    (note that both of the above show the same cluster -kb- > *-pp- in UA, common in UA)
  • (618) Aramaic di’b-aa(’) ‘wolf-the’ > UA *tï’pa ‘wolf'
    (not from Hebrew haz-zǝ’eb ‘the-wolf’)
  • (617) Aramaic diqn-aa(’) ‘beard-the, chin-the’ > UA *tï’na / *tï’ni ‘mouth’
    (consonants and vowels align with Aramaic, not from Hebrew zaaqaan ‘beard, chin’)
    (also note in the 3 above, the vowel assimilation *-i-a > UA -ï-a is natural and common)
  • (616) Aramaic dǝkar ‘male’ > UA *taka ‘man, male, person, self, body’
    (aligns with initial d of Aramaic, but vowels of Hebrew zaakaar ‘male, man’)
    (note the 3 above and several others all suggest Aramaic d > UA t, not from Hebrew z)
  • (1130) Aramaic pagr-aa(’) ‘corpse-the’ > Hp pïïkya ‘skin, fur’
    (not from Hebrew hap-pɛgɛr ‘the-corpse’)
  • (1403) Aramaic šigr-aa(’) ‘drain, ditch, gutter-the’ > Hp sikya ‘ravine, canyon of sloped sides’
  • (743) Aramaic tuumr-aa(’) ‘palm-the / date-palm-the’ > UA *tu’ya ‘type of palm tree’
    (aligns with Aramaic, but not Hebrew taamaar)
    (note in the 3 above that -r- as 2nd consonant in a cluster > -y-: *-Craa > -Cyaa)
  • (967) Aramaic qušṭ-aa(’) ‘bow-the’ > UA *kuCta-pi ‘bow’
    (usual loss of s in a cluster, again from Aramaic, not from Hebrew qešet / qašt- ‘bow’)
  • (1409) Aramaic kuuky-aa(’) ‘spiderweb’ > UA kukyaC: Hopi kookyaŋw ‘spider’; Cp kúka-t ‘blackwidow spider’
    (note 9 of the 10 nouns above show Aramaic suffix: -aa ‘the’)
  • (559) Hebrew bky/ baakaay ‘cry, weep’ (perf stem); Aramaic bakaa / baka’ > Hopi pak- ‘cry’;
    Tb pahaa’at / ’apahaa’ 'cry, bawl, howl' (Tb h < *k); Ktn paka’ ‘ceremonial yeller, clown who shouts all day to announce a fiesta’.
    (Northern UA (Tb, Ktn, Sr, Hp) sometimes shows the glottal stop of written Aramaic -aa’, which suffix Hebrew does not have. The Aramaic article suffix -aa(’) ‘the’ has a written glottal stop, but debates continue whether it was pronounced or simply signifies the long vowel of the suffix. Northern UA languages often show that glottal stop, whereas Southern UA languages do not.)
So because the UA forms usually aligned so well with the Northwest Semitic form or Egyptian form, there seldom seemed a need for an identical or near identical reconstruction.

The number of matches with specific Aramaic forms means that the UA infusion was after Aramaic and Hebrew were clearly defined as separate Northwest Semitic languages. And Hebrew did not exist as a language until after Jacob’s reentrance or Moses’ entrance into Canaan to begin adopting the Canaanite language, for Hebrew is the Israelites’ dialect of Canaanite after their adoption of Canaanite. And several UA terms specific to Israeli culture (ephod, Yahwe, etc.) suggest that the infusion included Israelite Hebrew. As for Aramaic, note that Abraham, Jacob, and Laban the Aramean (Genesis 25:20) and his daughters Leah and Rachel and maids (the mothers of future Israel) came from Aramaic-speaking areas. In addition, the Manasseh land grant in the Northeast corner of Northern Israel borders Aramaic regions, and Lehi, being of Manasseh, was likely descended from Josephite refugees to Jerusalem fleeing the destruction of Northern Israel a century earlier (Stubbs 2016, 75). Furthermore, Semitists like Young (1993, 54-62, 85-86) and Rendsburg (1997, 2003, 2006) believe that many northern Israelites may have been bilingual, never losing their Aramaic, if they even added Hebrew / Canaanite to their repertoire. Or even if they lost Aramaic at some point, reacquiring the international lingua franca in their proximity to neighboring Arameans is probable for a percentage of the population. For all those reasons, we should not be surprised if Lehi’s and Ishmael’s language(s) included a substantial amount of Aramaic, as the UA data suggest it did. Yet UA’s preservation of some archaic phonology and old Hebrew and Aramaic forms points to at least pre-exilic. So all factors taken together suggest an infusion of language forms like the Hebrew or Aramaic of 1300-600 BC, which also approximates the Late Egyptian period. Thus, nothing as far back as Proto-Afro-Asiatic is suggested or possible, which should be apparent from reading either book (2015b, 11-12, 34-35, 66, 320-322, 343-4, 357-9; or 2016, 64, 71-73, 125-27).

Fifteenth, Rogers says, “One of the main methodological issues of Stubbs’ proposal is the omission of an explanation for why the UA and Afro-Asiatic languages are being compared in the first place” (pp. 261-2). Again, I am not lumping UA and Afro-Asiatic as related language families, but am dealing with an infusion or substantial borrowing from Northwest Semitic (Hebrew/Aramaic) and Late Egyptian into UA. In the next paragraph, he repeats his concern, “Stubbs’ proposal sidesteps this issue and suggests that the putative similarities are the evidence that these are related languages, but without explanation for why specific languages are named and used in the comparison.” Is he expecting me to depend on archaeology or other extra-linguistic evidence to point to the language selections? The languages themselves are the best source for finding whether languages are related or not! Sir William Jones noticed the similarities among key Indo-European languages (Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Germanic, Celtic) simply because he was familiar with the languages (Campbell and Poser 2008, 5-6), not because something else told him: those are the languages you need to look at.

Sixteenth, Rogers (p. 262) also says, “this [Semitic speakers coming to the Americas] does not limit their contact to the UA languages, perhaps they intermingled with speakers of the Chibchan languages in South America (among other possibilities).” I never suggested that the UA case means that Lehite posterity did not also intermingle with other language families. In fact, in Stubbs 2016, I say the opposite several times, that they probably did mix with many language families, and the appendices (of varying usefulness) D, E, and F are included for the very purpose of showing how easily and widely an ethnic infusion can mix far and wide. Rogers has me saying things that I never said nor suggested.

Seventeenth, a lot of double-speak may sound academic, but “unravels with scrutiny.” For example, he claims, “each similarity must be rigorously proven to be both valid and reliable. Many, if not most, similarities in this proposal are not accompanied by the necessary explanations to make them either valid or reliable” (p. 263). Valid AND reliable? Can it be valid but unreliable, or reliable and not valid? If it’s one, it’s both. But doubling up and then saying it is neither helps make it sound very bad. Furthermore, this criticism is somewhere between hyper and unfounded. When needed, explanations are provided. Though a few spots might benefit by more, it was my explanations that have pleased the UA specialists: as Hill (2012) said, “Each set is discussed in some detail and the serious comparativist will delight in the discussions.” After explaining that Semitic b > UA *p, how much explanation is needed to show that:
  • Hebrew boo’ ‘way to’ parallels UA *pooC ‘road’ (C means unknown consonant)
  • Semitic baraq ‘lightning’ parallels UA pïrok ‘lightning’ (and the vowel changes are explained)
  • Semitic baka’ ‘cry, he cried’ parallels UA *paka’ ‘cry’
  • Hebrew batt ‘daughter’ parallels UA *pattï ‘daughter’
  • Aramaic bǝquuraa ‘livestock’ parallels UA *pukuC ‘domestic animal’ (and vowel changes are explained); etcetera for more than 1,000 parallels.
Eighteenth, he arranges my data to suggest things I never said. In addition to set 13 addressed above, he also presents at table 3, set 1, the plural suffix as Semitic *-iima > Hebrew -iim > UA *-ima, and then says that an explanation is needed for why the final -a disappeared in Hebrew but then was reinserted in UA (p. 264). The book explains that the Hebrew Bible was voweled by the Masoretes AD 700 or so, nearly a millennium and a half after Lehi. UA did not reinsert -a, but Northwest Semitic *-iima > UA *-ima, and Semitic *-iima > Hebrew -iim. So both derive from the older Northwest Semitic form, not one from the other. In fact, items like this point only to Northwest Semitic *-iima, because Arabic -uuna, Akkadian -uu, etc, exclude other Semitic languages, removing it far from Proto-Afro-Asiatic (see Stubbs 2015b, 66). The great UAnist, Wick Miller, my professor, agreed with my reconstruction of PUA *-ima. Most before me had reconstructed UA *-mï, but they all neglected to consider that five UA languages have a high-front vowel (i or e) before -m and other matters. Though Wick Miller did not like and refused to consider my proposed Near-East tie, he could not refute it, and he agreed with various points that I brought to his attention, as long as I did not mention the Semitic source of my insights.   Miller was kind to me, valued my abilities, and was pleased with and encouraged my comparative work in UA.

In Table 4, set 3, Rogers calls for explanations why š > s (p. 264). I explain elsewhere that all three kinds of Semitic s (š, ś, s) merged to PUA *s. If I explain it in every case that occurs, the book would have been even larger and too repetitive. The merger of those three is also apparent in the appendix of “varying usefulness” that lists the sound correspondences. This set also points specifically to Hebrew yšb, and not to Aramaic ytb nor Arabic/Proto-Semitic wθb, again far from Afro-Asiatic. The most interesting aspect of this set is that Masoretic Hebrew yaašab has been determined to be from an earlier pre-Masoretic Hebrew *yašiba, another older voweling found in UA. In addition, yašiba ‘he sat, dwelt’ is 3rd person singular perfect, while yašibuu ‘they sat, dwelt’ is plural; and in the Piman branch of UA we see the plural voweling and the plural meaning *yasipu ‘they sit/dwell’. Rogers also says that changes in vowel length need explanation. That would be nice, but vowel length has not yet been figured out for PUA, as various layers of changes in stress patterns in the various branches and languages caused the lengthening of stressed vowels and the shortening or loss of unstressed vowels, but the sorting through those multiple and changing layers has not been accomplished yet. So only vowel quality is reconstructed for UA, not vowel quantity, explained twice (in Stubbs 2015b, 12, 37).

Nineteenth, Rogers asserts, “while the UA language family is one of the most studied language families in the Americas, as is the Mesoamerican cultural area, the fact that very little is done to connect the proposal back to this previous scholarship is thus odd” (p. 266). That ranks among the most rank of his misstatements. I wrote the book on comparative UA. It includes and builds on the viable previous linguistic scholarship. If he has in mind cultural, archaeological factors, etc, the other major linguistic works on UA have not included that either. Miller (1967) wrote Uto-Aztecan Cognate Sets with 514 sets. Miller later collected others, and Kenneth Hill added another 400 sets to total some 1200 sets on a UA computer file. The next publication was my 2011 Uto-Aztecan Comparative Vocabulary with 2700 cognate sets. Kenneth Hill, another great Uto-Aztecanist, wrote a positive review in the International Journal of American Linguistics (Hill 2012); and UAnists have spoken highly of that work ever since its first preliminary edition in 2006. Besides cognate sets, it has sizable sections treating UA phonology, from PUA phonology to the branches and some individual languages, discussing the previous research, verifying or adjusting what the past UA scholars have proposed. I cite the literature or the “previous scholarship” with a new look at a lot more data, thus enabling me to further verify some previous views and improve others. True, the 2015b work does not include a lot of the comparative detail / findings of the 2011 work, except when helpful or applicable.

Twentieth, his math and statistics on page 265 are creative (wrong). If a set’s match is a coincidence, it does not matter whether the UA cognates in that set number 30, 15, or 2, the one set might be subtracted from 1528 (i.e., 1528-1 = 1527), but not 30 or 90 subtracted for each set. Even if the whole book were wrong, the total of valid sets would be 0, not negative / — 2,598. Furthermore, when the vocabulary are consistent with an established system of sound correspondences, those within that framework are not counted as accidental matches.

Twenty-first, moving ever further from probabilities of coincidence are lengthy matches: the longer a match, the less likely it could be by chance, and this tie exhibits many lengthy matches. An eight-segment match is:
(567) Hebrew ya’amiin-o ‘he believes him/it’ > UA *yawamin-(o) ‘believe (him/it)’

(the sound change ’ > w is established; given 13 consonants and 5 vowels in UA, probabilities of such a match by chance are less than one in 17 million: 1/13 x 1/5 x 1/13 x 1/5 x 1/13 x 1/5 x 1/13 x 1/5.)
A few among other lengthy matches which are 6- and 7-segments long include:
  • (853) Aramaic ђippušit ‘beetle’ > UA *wippusi ‘stink beetle’ (both have geminated -pp-; and both pharyngeals (ђ and ʕ below) result in UA rounding (w), as also Greek o < ʕ of Phoenician)
  • (87) Arabic ʕgz / ʕagaza ‘to age, grow old (of women)’ > Tr wegaca- 'grow old (of women)’
  • (57) Semitic singaab ‘squirrel’ = Hebrew *siggoob ‘squirrel’ > UA *sikkuC ‘squirrel
    (vowel changes are explained in the book and devoicing of g > k)
  • (88) ʕalaqat ‘leech’ > UA *walaka ‘snail’
  • (892) ṣanawbar ‘stone pine’ (type of pine) > UA *sanawap ‘pine tree’
  • (832) *sarṭoon ‘scratcher, crab’ > *saCtun > siCtun / *suCtun ‘claw, nail, crab’
  • (1274) kookb-aa(’) ‘star-the’ > UA *kuppaa’ ‘to shine (as of the stars)’ (-kb- > -pp-)
  • (614) makteš ‘mortar’ > UA *maCta ‘mortar’; Ca *mattaš ‘crush, squash, vt’ (with *-tt- and -š)
Twenty-second, he thinks onomatopoeia (sound imitation) explains items like:
Arabic ṣurṣur / ṣurṣuur ‘cricket’; Aramaic ṣarṣuur ‘cricket’; Akkadian ṣarṣaar ‘cricket’;

Syriac ṣiṣr-aa / ṣiiṣr-aa ‘cricket’ and UA *corcor (or tsortsor) ‘cricket’ (pp. 264-5).
Possibly, but it is an impressive parallel with Arabic or Aramaic (after vowel-leveling) or an unattested ancient Hebrew form (cannot always specify a single language): it is six segments long, and I explain the change of ṣ > ts. It seems to me that sound imitation of a cricket would sound more like English ‘cricket’ or chichi with high-front vowels. While ṣ or ts fits cricket sounds, neither round vowels (o/u) nor r sound very cricket-like to me. Does he think the Semitic forms are also due to onomatopoeia? He might even disqualify the Semitic terms as a Semitic cognate set: the vowels do not match; there is no standard correspondence of u:a:i for these Semitic languages, but with the consonants corresponding, no Semitist doubts their relatedness.

Mr. Rogers once came close to saying well when he said, “Stubbs purports to provide some insight into the unknowns of Uto-Aztecan grammar” (p. 260)—if he had only left out ‘purports’. For this language tie does some provide profound insights into UA; in fact, perhaps the most impressive contribution of this tie to comparative UA linguistics is its being able to explain 7 of 9 puzzles that UAnists have not been able to solve over the last 100 years. For example, UAnists suppose that PUA initial *t- remained t- in all UA languages, except in Tarahumara (Tr), in which Tr *r- corresponds to UA *t- of the other languages. However, there are as many instances of initial Tr t- also corresponding to PUA *t- of the other languages. No one could explain the split or discrepancy through four generations of linguists. Yet the underlying Semitic and Egyptian provide the solution. Initial r- in Semitic or Egyptian became PUA *t-, probably because of contact / mixture with a people who did not have initial r- in their language’s phonological repertoire, only initial t-.   However, Tr did keep the r-. So Tr’s showing both r-/t- corresponding to PUA *t is explained by the fact that Semitic and Egyptian t, t, d > Tr t-, while Semitic r- and Egyptian r- > Tr r-. So simple! Some 40 Tr terms agree with and explain that distinction. Another matter is that PUA *w > Hopi l before low vowels a, e, ö much of the time, but not all the time. In many instances PUA *w remains Hopi w. Again, no one has been able to explain the dichotomy the last 100 years. Yet again, Semitic and Egyptian provide the solution. Many PUA *w are from Semitic / Egyptian pharyngeals / laryngeals ʕ, ђ, ’.   Those PUA *w from the Semitic / Egyptian pharyngeals / laryngeals became l before low vowels, while PUA *w from Semitic / Egyptian w, remain w in Hopi before those same vowels, as in Hopi soniwa < Semitic snw, mentioned previously. Pharyngeals’ becoming liquids (r, l) happens in some Arabic dialects also, as I’ve heard a native Syrian Arabic speaker say sabriina < sabʕiina ‘seventy’. The underlying Semitic and Egyptian clarify not only those two issues, but five other previously unresolved matters as well.   That is huge—that Semitic and Egyptian explain seven of the nine, possibly eight of the nine, previously unresolved phonological puzzles of UA! How could that be, if the tie were not valid?

Twenty-third, speaking of mischaracterizations, Rogers claims that “any connections between Mesoamerican languages and South American languages have been definitively disproved” (p. 266), and footnote 21 “For an overview, see Campbell 1997.” We will overlook the fact, as Rogers seems to have done, that both the Chibchan and the Arawakan language families are spread into both Central America and South America, though not all definitions of Mesoamerica include all of Central America. Nevertheless, disregarding those two language families, one can say that no such connections have yet been demonstrated to the satisfaction of a majority of linguists, but one cannot say that a viable proposal will never emerge from such a huge arena of far-from-fully-explored potential (190 language families), or that all pertaining to futurity must be automatically rejected, in all future proposals’ being hereby / previously disproved. Rogers refers us to Campbell (1997), but Campbell says no such thing. I have read twice Campbell’s (1997) American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America, and Campbell leaves open a few possibilities. First of all, most controversial proposals are on a spectrum, opinions ranging from—demonstrated, probable, maybe but not fully demonstrated, not likely, not close. Campbell provides his own assessments of several such proposals, giving a number within a 200-point range from +100 (definitely proven) to -100 (definitely not). Campbell (1997, 326) gives Misumalpan (in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador) with Chibchan (South and Central America) a +20 (120/200 = 60% chance). He gives much lesser probabilities to Tarascan-Quechua (5%, p. 325) and Maya-Chipaya (10%, p. 324), the latter of which Campbell (1973) was the main critic after others had viewed the proposal favorably. I do not support any of the above, yet to none of the above does Campbell give a 0% chance, as he does to some other proposals; and thus his assessments, though not supportive, are far from saying that all such possibilities are “definitively disproved”; i.e., none is at 0%; nor does he say that all future proposals are “definitively disproved.” In fact, in ways I am a stricter judge than Campbell (1997, 269-273), who gives the UA-Tanoan tie a 50% possibility. In addition to my 40 years in UA, I spent some years investigating the Kiowa-Tanoan (KT) language family, and had compiled the largest Tewa dictionary in existence. The tribe asked that I not publish it, so I dropped working on it; twenty years later another larger work appeared, whether with permission or not, I don’t know; nevertheless, I am quite familiar with UA and KT, and with the UA-KT debate. Their grammars are very different, and the limited lexical similarities look much more like areal loans (among the Ancient Puebloans) than genetic affinity. In fact, in Stubbs (2011, no. 613) I track one such areal UA loan into Keresan: UA *posi ‘bear’ > Piman *wohi (*p > w, *s > h), which is borrowed into Tr/Wr wohi/gohi/ohi, which is a loan consideration for Keres guhaya ‘bear’ (< *gohi). I would give a possible UA-KT genetic tie 10- 20%, much less than Campbell’s 50% possibility of a genetic tie. I respect Campbell as a foremost authority in Native American historical linguistics, as his publications demonstrate, and I agree with him most of the time, so this slight difference of opinion in areas in which I may be the more familiar, is hardly a criticism of him, but I simply give a possible UA-KT genetic tie less promise than he does.

What did surprise me was Rogers’ use of Edward Sapir’s (1925) “Hokan Affinity of Subtiaba in Nicaragua” to exemplify that “long-distance relationships are convincingly determined through submerged features” (p. 263), when Campbell (1997, 208 and 324-5) cites Rensch, Suarez, and Kaufman as superseding Sapir and says that “it is now clear that Tlapanec-Subtiaba is just one more branch of Otomanguean” and gives that tie a 95% probability. So not only is the Hokan-Subtiaba tie discounted by Campbell, but Hokan itself is a hypothesis “still undemonstrated and controversial” (Campbell 1997, 68).

Twenty-fourth, I disagree with most of Rogers’ last two paragraphs, but let’s address only his closing sentences: “We simply do not have any recorded information about the language(s) being used by the people in the Book of Mormon (other than a small amount of information about the class of priest-scribes). Without that information, any suggestions of linguistic affinities are wildly speculative and should be dismissed” (p. 267). While I agree that all branches of Lehite posterity were thrust into multilingual environments, which tend toward language change or loss, that does not mean that no trace could be left anywhere, or that actually finding a sizable body of similarities must be labeled as “wildly speculative” and should be automatically dismissed. It is better to consider the evidence before going with the assumption that it would be “wildly speculative and should be dismissed.” Furthermore, we do have limited information about the languages of the people. At the beginning are mentioned Egyptian and the learning of the Jews (1 Nephi 1:2) and at the end of their history a millennium later, both writing systems—Hebrew and Egyptian—had been altered according to their manner of speech (Mormon 9:32-34). Only dead languages (if written) do not change (vs. all living / spoken languages which do change): the dead language Latin vs. spoken Italian, French, Spanish, etc; the liturgical Hebrew studied and read by Jews the world over, though recently revived in Israel in quite a different form; the Classical Middle Egyptian was often written in the fossilized former form with little change, while the people’s later spoken forms of Egyptian changed according to their manner of speech. So in light of Moroni 9:32-34, we must leave open the possibility, if not probability, that elements of those ancient languages had continued into whatever language mixture(s) had developed by then, even if in ever-decreasing amounts. Whether only the educated priest-class or also the commoners could read, some kind of continuation from those languages seems to have been recognized among them. And surely they were a scripture-reading people during those centuries of peace and righteousness, for Christ told them to search the prophets (3 Nephi 23:5) and to search the words of Isaiah (3 Nephi 23:1); and only a century earlier, the rulers of Ammonihah burned both the righteous and their scriptures (Alma 14:8). So it seems that a number of common people were also able to read their scriptures and search the prophets (Isaiah in Hebrew) besides the so-called “class of priest-scribes.” There I go again, in “apologetic rhetoric”—as if there is anything wrong with reason defending faith.

I searched Rogers’ article for a valid criticism or helpful suggestion, not entirely in vain, for I did come away with the realization that his reference to “disorganization” may have been partly due to a general sense of 2015b seeming ‘unfinished’; that’s because it IS unfinished. As I say in (2016, 188), “Only when I die do all drafts become final drafts.” Such massive reference works as 2011 and 2015b can hardly be finished in one lifetime. Though working on both for 30 years, I can look at any page of either, and see improvable wordings, a typo, or matters inviting further investigation. The UAnists at each annual conference from 2000 to 2011 heard me say that I hoped to finish the comparative vocabulary by next year. After three preliminary editions in 2006, 2007, 2008, finally in 2011 the hardbound published edition appeared. Likewise, many wondered for decades when I would have the full measure of the Semitic and Egyptian in UA out and available. Massive reference works always take years longer than expected, and I finally realized that it may take more years to complete than I have left—there is no end to unfinished trails and questions that many data lead to—but after 30 years of assembling, I decided I had to simply impose an arbitrary breaking point and call it a decent plateau. Yet even rounding out or finishing / presenting the content of that arbitrary cut-off took five years. If I were to attempt finishing the book to perfection, I’d expire first, and then nothing would be available. So what’s better—an unfinished plateau with lots of data to fill decades of others figuring out other things, or having nothing? That’s what I decided too. The published copies of 2011, 2015b, and 2016 are all but sold out and await 2nd editions. I shudder at the thought; and realizing that “only when I die do all drafts become final drafts” offers little hope for conclusion and rest.

More could be said of Rogers’ review, but let that suffice for the moment, as I now feel for him. Whether or not he eventually realizes the value of what is actually quite sound and will stand the test of time, most others will … with time. No one knows everything, or gets everything right all the time; so those who associate with him, be nice to him. 


Campbell, Lyle. 1973. “Distant Genetic Relationships and the Maya-Chipaya Hypothesis.” Anthropological Linguistics 15(3):113-135.

Campbell, Lyle. 1997. American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Campbell, Lyle. 2011. “Review of the Dene-Yeniseian Connection, ed. James Kari and Ben A. Potter.” International Journal of American Linguistics 77(3), 445-451.

Campbell, Lyle, and William John Poser. 2008. Language Classification: History and Method. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Elzinga, Dirk. 2016. Review of Brian D. Stubbs, Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan. Provo: Jerry D Grover Publications, 2015. BYU Studies Quarterly 55:4, 172-176.

Hill, Kenneth C. 2012. Review of Uto-Aztecan: A Comparative Vocabulary, by Brian Stubbs.
International Journal of American Linguistics 78/4 (2012), 591-3.

Hrozny, Bedrich. 1917. Die Sprache der Hethiter: Ihr Bau und ihre Zugehorigkeit zum indogermanischen Sprachstamm. Leipzig: Hinrichs.

Kiparsky, Paul. 2015. “New Perspectives in Historical Linguistics.” In Bowern, C.; Evans, B. (eds), The Routledge Handbook of Historical Linguistics. London and New York: Routledge, 64-102.

Kogan, Leonid. 2011. “Proto-Semitic Phonetics and Phonology.” In Weninger, Stefan, and Khan, Geoffrey, and Streck, Michael P., and Watson, Janet C.E. (eds.), The Semitic Languages: An International Handbook, 54-151. Berlin: De Guyter Mouton.

Miller, Wick R. 1967. Uto-Aztecan Cognate Sets. UCPL 48. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Mixco, Mauricio J. 1978. Cochimi and Proto-Yuman: Lexical and Syntactic Evidence for a New Language Family in Lower California. University of Utah Anthropological Papers, No. 101.

Rendsburg, Gary A. 1997. Chapter 5 “Ancient Hebrew Phonology.” Online offprint from Phonologies of Asia and Africa. Alan S. Kaye, ed. Eisenbrauns.

Rendsburg, Gary A. 2003. “A Comprehensive Guide to Israelian Hebrew: Grammar and Lexicon.” Orient 38, pp. 5-35.

Rendsburg, Gary A. 2006. “Aramaic-like Features in the Pentateuch.” Hebrew Studies 47, pp. 163-176.

Rice, Keren. 2011. “Review of the Dene-Yeniseian Connection, ed. James Kari and Ben A. Potter.” Diachronica 28:2, 255-271.

Robertson, John. 2017. Review of Brian D. Stubbs, Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan. Provo: Jerry D Grover Publications, 2015. The Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 25, 103-116.

Rogers, Chris. 2019. “A Review of the Afro-Asiatic: Uto-Aztecan Proposal.” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 2019.

Sapir, Edward. 1913, 1915. Southern Paiute and Nahuatl: a study in Uto-Aztecan, parts 1 and 2. Part 1, 1913 in Journal de la Société des Américanistes de Paris 10:379-425. Part 2, 1915 in American Anthropologist 17:98-120, 306-328, reprinted 1919 in JSAP 11: 443-88. Parts 1 and 2 reprinted 1990 in The collected works of Edward Sapir 5: American Indian Languages, William Bright, ed., 351-444. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Sapir, Edward. 1925. “The Hokan Affinity of Subtiaba in Nicaragua.” In American Anthropologist 27/4: 402-435, 491-527.

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Stubbs, Brian D. 2003. “New Sets Yield New Perspectives for Uto-Aztecan Reconstructions.” In Studies in Uto-Aztecan, Luis M. Barragan and Jason D. Haugen, eds., 1-20. MIT Working Papers on Endangered and Less Familiar Languages, no. 5.

Stubbs, Brian D. 2011. Uto-Aztecan: A Comparative Vocabulary. Flower Mound, Texas: Shumway Family History Services and Rocky Mountain Books.

Stubbs, Brian D. 2015a. “The Proto-Uto-Aztecan Lexicon: Distribution of Cognate Sets and Language Family Prehistory.” Paper delivered at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Indigenous Languages of the Americas, January 6-11, 2015.

Stubbs, Brian D. 2015b. Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan. Provo: Jerry D Grover Publications.

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Stubbs, Brian D. 2019. Comparative Issues in Uto-Aztecan. Paper presented at the 2017 Uto-Aztecan conference, Boise, Idaho, and later filled out to address all 7 of the 9 previously unresolved issues in UA that Northwest Semitic and Egyptian solve, and sent to 35 Uto-Aztecanists in 2019.

Vajda, Edward J. 2010. “A Siberian Link with Na-Dene Languages.” In Kari, J.; Potter, B. (eds.) The Dene-Yeniseian Connection. Anthropological Papers of the University of Alaska, new series 5. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Fairbanks, Dept of Anthropology, pp. 33-99.

Young, Ian. Diversity in Pre-Exilic Hebrew. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1993.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Is There Direct Evidence that the Early Saints Had Heard of Champollion?

In previous posts (here and here) on the Book of Abraham and in my article for The Interpreter, I have noted that newspapers and other sources in the United States make it fairly clear that the story of Champollion seems to have been widely known by 1835, contrary to assertions in two volumes of the Joseph Smith Papers Project. But one reader argued that relying on possible "common knowledge" of the day still doesn't provide a direct link showing that the early Saints actually know of or spoke of Champollion. Could it be that they really hadn't heard of the Rosetta Stone and Champollion's work, the cause of so much interest in all things Egypt? Perhaps! Maybe they were gripped in Egyptomania without hearing the most basic news tied to that fad.

With that fair objection in mind, I did another search this morning and found something that I hope will help clarify the issue. It involves the account of Martin Harris going to the East with a copy of Book of Mormon characters in hand, seeking academic validation for Joseph's translation work. (See the related information in the "Scholar Gives New Insights on Martin Harris’s 1828 Visit to Charles Anthon," based on Richard E. Bennett's 2015 Sperry Symposium presentation.) 

In 1831, James Gordon Bennett, a man who would become one of America's leading journalists, gave a boost to his journalistic career with a sensational two-part article on the "Mormonites." He interviewed a couple of people, apparently E.B. Grandin, printer of the Book of Mormon, and Charles Butler, a lawyer and friend of Martin Harris, and then prepared a two-part article sharing what he had learned and his views on the Book of Mormon story. Part 2 of this article was published in New York City in the Morning Courier and Enquirer, Sept. 1, 1831. The article was soon reprinted in several other newspapers. Since it mentioned Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, it was surely brought to Joseph's attention. The story behind the article and the complete text of the two-part story are found in Leonard J. Arrington article, "James Gordon Bennett's 1831 Report on 'The Mormonites,'" BYU Studies, 10/3 (1970): 353-364. On p. 362, we see that Bennett claims that Dr. Samuel Mitchill mentioned Egyptian hieroglyphics and Champollion's decipherment to Harris:

Larry E. Morris in his excellent Documentary History of the Book of Mormon (relevant portion viewable on Google Books) is not sure that the mention of Champollion in Bennett's newspaper account came from the interviews or from Bennett's embellishment of the story (he suggests embellishment is more likely), for the notes from the interviews in Bennett's journal only mention Mitchill comparing the characters to hieroglyphics without mentioning Champollion. (The original newspaper story is document 1.13 in Morris, appearing on pp. 90-95, and is considered again on pp. 298-299, where Morris's comment on Champollion occurs.) So it may be that Mitchill had mentioned Champollion, or perhaps he merely mentioned hieroglyphics and then Bennett extrapolated with the addition of Champollion to the story. In either case, though, the Saints of 1831 cannot be viewed as ignorant of Champollion. Whether Martin had been told about Champollion by Harris, or the Saints first learned the name from this article, it seems there's little room to believe that they could have remained ignorant of the news after 1831, even if the only newspaper stories they ever looked at were the ones from their area talking about them.

The article, of course, treats knowledge of Champollion as old news that should be familiar to most people. If Joseph and his peers had not yet heard of him, surely they would start inquiring after this announcement, being relevant to the precious Book of Mormon.

Reprints of this story can be found in the Essex Gazette of Haverhill, Mass., Vol. V, No. 47, Nov. 19, 1831, under the title "History of Mormonism," available at Uncle Dale's Readings, and elsewhere (apparently include Ohio's Hillsborough Gazette, Oct. 29. 1831, shown at GospelLink.com). 

By the way, while my past posts and my article for The Interpreter provide a wide variety of sources from American soil in the early part of the nineteenth century dealing with Champollion and the Rosetta Stone, here are a couple others just as a reminder of the state of common knowledge in the States. First, Uncle Dale's Readings in Early Mormon History offers this excerpt from the Ohio-based Presbyterian newspapers, The Observer and Telegraph, Oct. 21, 1830:


It is well known that the Champolions have by wonderful perserverance and extensive research, unlocked the mysteries of the pyramids of Egypt, and disclosed the arcana of their interior, by decyphering the hieroglyphics which have perplexed the investigation of the learned for centuries, and thereby furnishing additional testimony to the truth of sacred history, and of the oppression of the ancient Israelites. The account of the investigations which led to the discovery of these hieroglyphics, has been lately translated from the French, by Professor Stewarts son, of Andover, and is illustrated by notes of the Professor. The work no doubt will much interest the curious, and particularly the biblical scholar. [emphasis added]
Of course, since Joseph and other early Saints spent some time in Pennsylvania, we may also with to inquire there. The Pittsburgh Recorder on April 26, 1825 published this note, also courtesy of Uncle Dales' Readings:


Discovery of very ancient Egyptian Archives, written several
ages before the Trojan war.

The learned are well acquainted with the important discoveries made by Young and Champollion in the art of decyphering the sacred writing of the Egyptians. The latter is still engaged in pursuing this most interesting object, as will appear from the following detail.... [emphasis added]

Or consider the open letter to Champollion published in Philadelphia's Atlantic Journal in 1832:

First Letter to Mr. Champollion, on the Graphic systems of America, and the
Glyphs of Otolum or Palenque, in Central America.
You have become celebrated by decyphering, at last, the glyphs and characters of the ancient Egyptians, which all your learned predecessors had deemed a riddle, and pronounced impossible to read. You first announced your discovery in a letter. I am going to follow your footsteps on another continent, and a theme equally obscure....
Here is another from New York, from Palmyra, Wayne County, a place with obvious connections to the early members of the Church, published simply as "Items," Nov. 4, 1829 in The Reflector, courtesy of Uncle Dales' Readings:
M. CHAMPOLLION -- in company with other learned Frenchmen, is now in Egypt investigating the various subjects of antiquity. It is reported that this gentleman reads hierogylphics with as much readiness as his native language. Much light will be thrown upon a dark period of ancient history.

What was well known in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York in the early 1830s was probably known also to the Latter-day Saints, and almost certainly would become known once the 1831 news story in New York linked the Book of Mormon characters to Champollion's discovery with hieroglyphics from Egypt.

Understanding that Champollion's story -- the headlines, not the technical details -- surely was known by key members of the Church by 1835 helps us better question the arguments that are repeatedly made about Joseph Smith thinking that Egyptian was a bizarre language where one character could contain vast treasures of information, enabling one character to become 200 words of text with names and other details all mysteriously embedded therein. It's time to recognize that the Saints, like their follow Americans,  did not experience Egyptomania without knowledge of the news that helped Egyptomania reach a fever pitch: Champollion was translating Egyptian, and those mysterious characters were often simply phonetic, making Egyptian a language just like the "reformed Egyptian" as described by Joseph and implied in the Book of Mormon itself -- a running language.