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

Monday, May 20, 2019

More on the Impact of Hebrew Study on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers: Hurwitz and Some Curiousities in the GAEL

One of the many strange things in W.W. Phelps' Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (GAEL) is his discussion of the "parts of speech." He shares some strange theories about how characters need to connect to the different parts of speech. But in discussing parts of speech, Phelps does not mention nouns. The word "pronoun" occurs once in the GAEL, but "noun" does not, while verbs are discussed a couple of times and mentioned as one of the "parts of speech." Here are two excerpts from the GAEL transcript at the Joseph Smith Papers Project website:
Page 1:
By counting the numbers of st[r]aight lines and preseving them, or considering them as qualifying adjectives we have the degrees of comparison There are five connecting parts of speech in the above character, called Za-ki an hish These five connecting parts of speech, for verbs, participlesprepositions, conjuntions, and adverbs. In translation translating this chara[c]ter, this subject must be continued until there are as many of these connecting parts of speech used as there are connections or connecting parts found in the character.

Page 15:
For instance, the first connection should be called Jugos, which signifies verb or action: and the second conneton should be called Ka=Jugos, which is a variation, according to the signification of the second degree: Kah Jugos sould <​be​> preserved in the second degree. It signifies an action passed: The third connection is called Kah pr=ga=os, which signifies an action to be receved or <​to​> come to pass. The fourth connection is called Ka=os-Ju which signifies connection and the fifth is called Ka-os=Juga=os and is used to qualify according to the signification of the fifth degree. whether for prepositions, verbs, adve[r]bs &c.

When I first read Phelps' comments in the always painful to read GAEL, I was puzzled about his apparent omission of nouns as a part of speech, when they clearly are present in the GAEL. A possible explanation might come from Phelps' study of Hebrew. 

Perhaps Phelps was influenced by the discussion of the relationship of nouns and verbs in some of the Hebrew books he may have encountered when the Saints began delving into Hebrew. Consider one of the major works on Hebrew in the early 1800s: Hyman Hurwitz, The Eytmology and Syntax, in Continuation of, The Elements of the Hebrew Language, (London: John Taylor, 1831); available at Google Books (Google Books also has a downloadable PDF; also see the 1835 2nd edition at Archive.org, but note that this begins after his 96-page The Elements of the Hebrew Language, 2nd ed. (London: John Taylor, 1835) -- the latter is more useful because it can be searched).

Hurwitz makes an argument over several pages that nouns tend to come from verbs and that verbs should take priority:
...it follows that these two species of words [verbs and nouns] must have formed the very rudiments of language. But, as if both could not have been invented at the same time, it has been made a question which of the two has a right to claim the priority. Most of the Oriental Grammarians have decided in favor of the Verb.  (p. 8)

...the class of words which grammarians denominate nouns, must originally have been verbal, (somewhat like the words called participles,) expressive of some property of circumstance by which the named object was characterized. And indeed, such is still the character of the far greater portion of Hebrew nouns, even of those which designate natural objects [here a list of examples is given including ra-ki-a, the firmament, and l'ba-nah, the moon, like Libnah in the Book of Abraham].(p. 10)

This being the case, we can easily comprehend how the same word would frequently be used both as a noun and as a verb.... (p. 12)

In all these examples it is evidence that there is no distinction whatever between the noun and the verb; but even in those where a distinction exists, it is so slight, as clearly to show the common origin of the words... (p. 13)
Both theory and fact lead me, therefore, to conclude that the Hebrew nouns were originally verbalia; and that verbs ought to be considered as the elements of speech, not on account of their priority of invention, but because they generally contain the primary signification of words. (p. 14)

Hurwitz also uses the phrase "parts of speech" eight times in his text, with "part of speech" occurring four times. This may seem like a common phrase, but a search in Google Books for "parts of speech" between 1700 and 1835 yields only 14 hits. The singular "part of speech" over that time period yielded 12 hits. These are miniscule numbers. "Parts of speech" may not be a very common phrase at all, yet Phelps uses it nine times in the GAEL (six times on the first page) and Hurwitz uses it almost as much in his book. Hurwitz's first use is in pointing out that verbs will be the starting place for treating the different parts of speech:
In treating of the different parts of speech, Orientalists generally begin with the verb. (p. vii)
The early Hebrew Grammarians reckoned only three parts of speech : 1) the name, in which they included nouns and adjectives : 2) the verb : 3) the particle in which they included the other classes. [Hebrew omitted] (p. 6)
Could Phelps' emphasis on verbs and omission of nouns as "parts of speech" derive from study of Hurwitz?

Another characteristic of the GAEL is the frequent use of the term "signification" to describe various aspects of the words being examined. There are 25 occurrences of this term in the relatively brief text. Hurwitz also uses that word dozens of times. It's more common than "parts of speech," though, so this is probably not a significant clue. Correction: It's not super common before 1835. On Google Books, there are only 19 hits between 1700 and 1835. So maybe it should be considered as another possible link between Hurwitz and Phelps. Not too much can be made of using a known but not highly common word, though. But in combination with "parts of speech" and the teaching of the priority of verbs over nouns, perhaps there's a basis for believing that Hurwitz's book has either directly or indirectly shaped Phelps during the early 1836 period of intense Hebrew study among the Latter-day Saints.

The possible relationships between Phelps' writings in the GAEL and a book on Hebrew by Hyman Hurwitz could be one more indication that the Kirtland Egyptian Papers cannot be understood without recognizing the impact of Hebrew study on their content.

We see hints not only from (1) the many terms in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers related to Hebrew letters including aleph, beth, daleth, gimel, he, and possibly ayin,  (2) awareness of the meaning and numerical value of beth and the numerical value of aleph, (3) apparent awareness of diacritical marks such as the lone dot to represent the vowel sound "i" ("iota") and dots placed in various positions relative to characters similar to Hebrew pointing, (4) use of at least one and possible several Hebrew coin letters from Moses Stuart, including the surprisingly appropriate use of the unusual coin letter form of beth for the number 2 in the Egyptian Counting document, and now (5) incorporation of Hurwitz's teachings on the lack of distinction of verbs and nouns with priority given to verbs, expressed in language referring to the "parts of speech."

It seems to me that the role of Hebrew study on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers needs more attention and research. It is true that Joseph ceased translating (or had already finished most of the translation) of the Book of Abraham a few days after Oliver returned to Kirtland on Nov. 20, 1835 with a batch of materials on the Hebrew language, which Joseph asked him to acquire, perhaps believing the study of Hebrew could strengthen the intellectual study of Egyptian. But the cessation of Joseph's translation work does not mean that his peers ceased their work on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. In fact, the surviving documents seem to show various influences from their zealous Hebrew study.

Unfortunately, in Volume 4 of the Joseph Smith Papers dealing with the Book of Abraham, it seems to be assumed that the work with the Kirtland Egyptian Papers was pretty much completed by the time serious Hebrew study started. There seems to be essentially no recognition of the impact of Hebrew study on the project or on the documents. This may have resulted in a missed opportunity to more accurately date the undated documents and to more fully understand the influences that shaped the study and speculations of early Latter-day Saints, however fallacious those purely human intellectual efforts were. But recognizing that at least significant parts of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers were shaped by Hebrew study in early 1836 (ranging from the early Egyptian Counting document to the later GAEL, where Hebrew influence is seen from beginning to end) helps us recognize that those documents were probably prepared with an already translated (and revealed) text in hand and were probably not being used to "translate" the Book of Abraham in the first place. It may be time to seriously reconsider the Joseph Smith Paper's Project date of "circa July–circa November 1835" for the GAEL and other documents related to the apparent "translation" of "Egyptian" (I use quotes because many of the "Egyptian" characters aren't even from the scrolls, but may come from other influences that are not adequately considered in JSP Vol. 4, such as Masonic characters from W.W. Phelps, Hebrew coin characters and other versions of Hebrew letters published by Moses Stuart, etc.).



This post is part of a recent series on the Book of Abraham, inspired by a frustrating presentation from the Maxwell Institute. Here are the related posts:




17 comments:

JoePeaceman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JoePeaceman said...

Awesome again! Wish I hadn't missed so many of your blogs, but there's no going back now
: ), ever onward brother!

Just thinking, (and you've probably mentioned this, or will but...) it's also interesting that, after Joseph heard WWP's ghost written letter, he asked to see the GAEL, as if he wasn't really sure of what was in it. I think Joseph originally believed in the abilities of his peers. He knew that he had a gift, he knew he had plates, etc. He knew he was able to translate. He had no reason to doubt that others could. But then, as you know, after reviewing the GAEL, Joseph apparently suggests creating another.

And, again, I say, I can't imagine how sensible people could imagine that the KEP represent the translation. My mind is open, I'm willing to listen and learn but, right now, it seems clear that the BofA manuscripts were dictated/copied from an already existing BofA.

I also believe that you are on the track, figuring out things that have been misunderstood for decades.

Anonymous said...

Joe - exactly. Smith also knew other seers such as Samuel Lawrence could see the hill camorah and could see things in it Smith at first could not, such as the urim and thummin spectacles.

Robert F. Smith said...

Lindsay 4:01am
In his Manual Hebrew Grammar for the Use of Beginners, 2nd rev. and enlarged ed. (Andover: Gould & Newman, 1834), §10, Joshua Seixas does point out that nouns are derived from verbs, though he does add (note 3) that some verbs are derived from nouns.
See online at https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.hn7lal;view=1up;seq=26 .

JoePeaceman said...


The evidence for your case gets stronger with each Blog : ). It's clear that some of the BofA, (and some of the missing Book of Joseph-if they weren't the same) was translated at least before September 1835, and up to Abraham 3 not long after. If your evidence of Hebrew influence in the KEP holds up, it adds much to the other evidence showing that the KEP post date the translation and are not the translation. Good job.



Not-Ok anon- : )exactly! Another great example. If Joseph Knight is correct in his account, then there were others in the 19th Century who had gifts, some from darker sources. It's awesome that you are at a point in your life where you understand this-- just because you haven't seen something in your limited world, that doesn't mean it isn't real or doesn't exist in someone else's.
This is an important point...if Joseph were pretending to have a gift, he would be much less likely to believe that others had one and, if he didn't believe there were really plates, he wouldn't go to all that effort to protect them.

PS- since you included no question mark, I assumed there was no question...if that was another of your questions, let me know, and I apologize for not answering again :). I feel like I'm doing much better and am glad we can agree on more. Luv Ya

Anonymous said...

I am not sure what this means "darker sources". Does this imply Samuel Lawrence did not possess the greater calling of seer and was only pretending, despite using that calling for JS's enlightenment?

I am not sure your reasoning regarding pretending is sound. To be consistent, that reasoning would require you to insist Samuel Lawrence was not pretending either because he believed js seer ability.

jesus's critics accused him of using power of the devil to perform miracles, which Jesus said does not make sense, so it does not make sense Lawrence used used a dark power to enlighten js on the urim and thummin.

"a point in your life" you have done this a couple of times now, declaring a person moves from one point or step to a different one, but you have no evidence of a change in position, which goes to your bias and habit of just making things up.

JoePeaceman said...


My friend, I believe that, somewhere inside, you really want to learn and stay on topic. However, when others read your “questions” they might interpret them as mere distractions from Jeff’s important research, or even attempts to mislead or trap. So, even though you don’t answer my questions (I’m really not intimidating, not trying to trap you or anything either, just gaining knowledge best I can with my limitations : )), I’ll answer yours again, BUT I'll try to sneakily steer to more relevant topics...

Let me clarify: I know there are powers of light, and of darkness, no pretending. I've had experience with both. No one has a monopoly on gifts. No one is always good or right. Thus, I don’t know about Samuel’s status at given moments in his life. I try not to put people into hard boxes: “good guy” "bad guy”, etc. I see life in analog, with significant points, transitions, changes, thoughts, beliefs, experiences, etc. So, “if Joseph Knight is correct in his account, then there were others in the 19th Century who had gifts, some from darker sources.” This doesn't necessarily apply only to Samuel. But, if Samuel worked with Joseph at times, there were others when he did not. If “Black Pete” was truly “chief among” the Kirtland Saints (as critics claimed) at one point-- walking in the light of the Gospel, he also may have had some experiences with less enlightening forces (along with other early Kirtland converts, without local leadership). This doesn’t make them or their actions all bad. Same with WWP. Critics, such as Vogel, often build arguments on straw assumptions, which imply that only Joseph could have thought he was translating. There is strong evidence that WWP, OC, and other “scribes” tried to translate. But, I’ll come back to that topic in a bit….wink wink ; ) ; ) ; )
But, one of my points is, “if Joseph were pretending to have a gift, he would be much less likely to believe that others had one and, if he didn't believe there were really plates, he wouldn't go to all that effort to protect them.”


You say- “I am not sure your reasoning regarding pretending is sound. To be consistent, that reasoning would require you to insist Samuel Lawrence was not pretending either because he believed js seer ability.” Insisting is more of a critic’s past time, but I’d say Samuel probably either knew there were plates, or believed Joseph Smith was correct when he said he knew it. There is evidence that, those familiar with Joseph knew he was gifted, and that they pressured him to use his gifts for things that he later felt were probably not what God intended.

“jesus's critics accused him of using power of the devil to perform miracles, which Jesus said does not make sense, so it does not make sense Lawrence used used a dark power to enlighten js on the urim and thummin.” Interesting application of that, but there were also people possessed with devils who knew and testified that Jesus was the Christ. There were also people performing miracles in the days of the early Church who didn’t follow the apostles. When they weren’t against, they were for. And, God does interact with and help non-members. I view Samuel’s gift as something that could be used for good or evil. So, I apologize if I wasn't clear on that

"a point in your life" you have done this a couple of times now, declaring a person moves from one point or step to a different one, but you have no evidence of a change in position, which goes to your bias and habit of just making things up.” There’s a saying among skiers that, “if you stop crashing you stop progressing”. If your life, positions, etc. haven’t changed at all, then you really aren’t gaining much from life, conversations, etc. Why bother? : ) ...just sayin

Anonymous said...

More unsound reasoning: a person's position on one item has not changed, therefore their life has not changed at all. I am sorry you struggling so much with sound reasoning.

I know deep down you known that Jeff's "important" research is really just distractions from more relevant Mormon keystone theology, like your clarification of non-priesthood holding Samuel Lawrence being a seer, which is greater than a prophet.

"not trying to trap you": only people who are trying to trap make such a claim, but most of the audience here already figured out that your "questions" are merely attempts to mislead and trap.

"even though you don’t answer my questions" What? What questions were not answered? Or was that just yet another failed attempt to mislead and trap.

JoePeaceman said...

Hmmm, I see �� <eyeball roll emoji : ), awesome that u were born at a point in your life where you already knew this a priori :) - just because you haven't seen something in your limited world, that doesn't mean it isn't real or doesn't exist in someone else's.
I would ask if you view Samuel as an additional witness to the BofM plates, but apparently your feeling trapped by honest questions : )

....moving on still luv ya. Feel free to ask on topic questions



JoePeaceman said...

so WWP- It seems that JS was at a point in his life where he believed, from experiences (the scientific method), that others could translate. JS had done it, from real plates, and without even having a document in hand.
Jeff is shedding light on how the BofA was translated. The GAEL was in the handwriting of WWP. The author obviously had some understanding of Hebrew. The source of that knowledge helps with dating the creation of the GAEL. This is important because it helps me understand the process. So far, it’s clear that John, Kerry, Jeff, and others are much closer to figuring this out vs Vogel, CS, etc. who seem to make things up and assume without open evaluation.

Anonymous said...

Joe 9:24 -

Most of the audience realizes, as I suspect you do also, honest people with honest questions do no state "luv ya" and engage in personal attacks and poisoned wells at the same time.

As I already explained, I do not feel trapped by either honest or dishonest questions. I do not see where you previously asked for a descriptor of the Samuel Lawrence episode. In the Mormon lexicon Samuel Lawrence would be a witness, just as the Book of Mormon is considered a translation, though many Mormons are moving the lexicon towards revelation. Outside of Mormonism, the book of Mormon production does not fit the definition of a translation and neither Samuel Lawrence's nor Martin Harris's experience fits the definition of a witness outside of Mormonism.

I do not care which definition is used, I focus on consistency. Just like in physics left-handle or the right-hand rule need to be used consistently.

JoePeaceman said...

But I do love you : ), don't be a snowflake not-OK. Plus, that particular luv may have been directed towards Jeff, the other not-OK anons, etc. etc. How does one know? : )

I'm tempted to mention that both Martin and Samuel were "outside" of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints when they had their respective and (logically) very real experiences with the plates, but I'm going to resist and stay on topic on current blogs- I did just post something on the last one though : ).

And, since there seems to be no disagreement about WWP's belief that he could translate, and his limited knowledge of Hebrew in July 1835, I will move on and ask some questions and maybe present an argument when I return.

Luv ya all, unless that's offensive : )

JoePeaceman said...

*i think what I meant there was that MH saw the plates without priesthood (same with JS,etc) and he testified to seeing the plates when he was no longer a church member. SL was never a church member but seems to have known Joseph had them and to have seen enough to want to steal. Adding his witness to the 13-14 others, in a small way.
The very real experiences with the plates were precursors to the BofA.

Anonymous said...

"experiences with the plates were precursors to the BofA" I think we all agree with that. Your insistence of "very real" has already been discussed. Mormonism declares faith required for the plates existence, which is not how everyone else uses the phrase "very real".

Not sure want your point with MH and SL is, other than to not dispute that according to Mormonism Lexicon, SL was greater than a prophet.

JoePeaceman said...

I’m not sure but I tend to think that all experiences are real. Some more than others. With the BofM witnesses some had actual hefting, turning leaves, seeing with their eyes, etc. experiences. And real critics holding guns to their heads, trying to get them drunk, etc. hoping for a denial that could be used against faith. Not sure how that all fits into your boxes. : )
I’m glad you’re admitting that Joseph had real plates and gave us an historical record. It helps explain a lot about the BofA…..speaking of that, BofA anyone? What Jeff is doing here could be landmark...it’s interesting that our critical friends are so focused on everything else.

Anonymous said...

Glad you're admitting the voree plates ate real. Not sure how that fits into your boxes.

Anonymous said...

Joe - You speak so harshly of others, but here you are agreeing with those you speak harshly are right to say that Voree Plates and translation are real and true like the BoM. Weird.