One of the common complaints about and arguments against the Book of Mormon is the claim that it was written in “Reformed Egyptian” – a unique and obsolete language that was peculiar to the Nephites and could not be read by anyone else. There have been many things written about this issue over the years, some of which are merely skeptical and more of which are mocking. One of the common themes has been, “Well, that’s convenient. There’s no way to check any language for accuracy and veracity. Great con scheme.” What the people who wrote these things in the past and say them now didn’t and don’t realize is that there is a modern example of exactly such a language – one that is unique to its own people and, in many instances, cannot be read even by those from whom its written foundation was taken.
That example is modern Japanese.
First, Mormon 9:32 is the only verse in the Book of Mormon that includes the actual phrase “reformed Egyptian”. It says:
And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, **according to our manner of speech**.
There are two other verses that mention the Egyptian language – 1 Nephi 1:2 and Mosiah 1:4. They read, respectively:
I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.
For it were not possible that our father, Lehi, could have remembered all these things, to have taught them to his children, except it were for the help of these plates; for he having been taught in the language of the Egyptians therefore he could read these engravings, and teach them to his children, that thereby they could teach them to their children, and so fulfilling the commandments of God, even down to this present time.
The premise of these passages is that Lehi read Egyptian and used the hieroglyphs as the basis of the written language that was used in engraving the record he kept on the large plates (and which he taught to Nephi, at least, so he could continue the record) – but that, over time, those hieroglyphs were modified from their original forms to become a unique written language called “reformed Egyptian”. It also is apparent that Lehi’s children did not read Egyptian naturally – that Lehi had to “teach them to his children” and have them “teach them to their children”. It has been argued that this written language was reserved for the sacred and historical records – that it was not the “common written language” of the people, if there even was such a common language. Given the numerous statements in the Book of Mormon about the need to write in a condensed form due to the size of the plates, this makes perfect sense – as does the practice of passing them down along bloodlines (inlcuding “non-prophets” at the end of the small plates, particularly in the Book of Omni), then ruling lines, then prophetic lines. This practice is common throughout history with written records, since the vast majority of people were illiterate, but it plays a particular role in the formation of a “new” language, as it emphasizes the driving force behind the on-going modification of the language – the need to conserve space on plates that were difficult to make and, at the beginning especially, limited in total space. Thus, the written language of the records was continually “altered by us” over time.
Now, to Japanese:
There are many good descriptions of the Japanese writing system, but Wikipedia contains one of the simplest. The entry for “Japanese Writing System” includes a very good intorduction to the multiple “scripts” used in written Japanese. In summary, there are three main scripts: “Kanji” – Chinese symbols that provide the foundation for the MEANING of words, pronounced totally differently than their Chinese pronunciation; “hiragana” – native Japanese alphabetic symbols that match to the spoken language, are syllabic in nature (each symbol represents a syllable, rather than an individual sound [“phonene”] as in English) and provide the necessary “fillers” (articles, conjunctions, conjugators, etc.) necessary to bridge between the kanji and spoken Japanese; and “katakana” – a modified form of hiragana used to designate the use of foreign words not found in native Japanese. Also, in the last decades, “romaji” (Romanized spelling, where an American could read the standard English alphabet and pronounce the words as they would sound in Japanese) has been included. Thus, modern Japanese is a combination of four separate “scripts”. (There is an excellent, side-by-side chart with some examples of how one word could be written in all four scripts in the Wikipedia article. Only one form, the original kanji, would be understood by a Chinese reader.)
What makes this fascinating in conjunction with “Reformed Egyptian” is not just that a new, unique language has been created, but that many modern Japanese kanji (the characters that were borrowed from Chinese) often cannot be recognized or read fluently by Chinese who have not studied them. Over time, many of the most complex kanji have been altered significantly – always as simplifications of the former symbols, removing “strokes” from the original to make it easier to learn, less time consuming to write and easier to teach to children. Furthermore, since spoken Chinese and Japanese are as different as spoken Japanese and English, the inclusion of hiragana and katakana further complicates the process of reading Japanese for those Chinese who have not studied it. Most can get a good or general feel for the meaning of sentences that are strictly comprised of kanji and hiragana, since the kanji still match and convey MEANING (not pronunciation), but when more of the simplified kanji are included, along with katakana and words spelled entirely in hiragana, it becomes much more difficult for Chinese people to understand written Japanese. (As I just said, untrained Chinese can’t understand spoken Japanese at all, so a Japanese could be reading something to a Chinese that the Chinese could understand if she read it – and the Chinese would not be able to understand what the Japanese was saying.)
In Book of Mormon terminology, modern written Japanese is “Reformed Chinese” – in EVERY sense that the term “Reformed Egyptian” is used in the Book of Mormon, right down to a complex hieroglyphic system being co-opted for meaning rather than pronunciation, that hieroglyphic system being simplified over time to make it easier to write and teach, and, perhaps, eventually being assimilated into some other script(s) and becoming nearly unreadable and “foreign” to those trained in the original hieroglyphic system.
There is no indication that Joseph, Emma, Oliver, Sydney or any of those who were prominent in the early history of the Book of Mormon were knowlegable to any degree of Japanese – and, in fact, many of the most radical transformations of written Japanese have occurred AFTER the publication of the Book of Mormon.
Very interesting, although I have a minor quibble with your final statement. I think that the MAJOR transformation of the Chinese writing system was the development of the kana nearly a thousand years ago. Alterations to the kanji in the last 100 years were minor simplifications and only affected a small percentage of the characters.
Of course, this does not invalidate your argument in any way, and I think you’re on to something.
One more thought. The Nephites presumably used a writing system (Hebrew?) before they decided to superimpose a foreign system upon the spoken language. Is there any other culture or language system to have done this? In the case of Japanese, the Chinese characters were borrowed to write a language that had no writing system at all. I wonder if your argument would be stronger if you found a language in which a foreign writing system replaced an existing one.
KM, thanks for the input.
I agree toally that the major transformation of the Chinese writing system was the development of the kana. I think you misread the last sentence. I am talking about the major alterations in the Japanese writing system over the last hundred years or so (with the proliferation of katakana for foreign words, the abbreviation of many of those foreign words [like “terebi” for “television” – “conne” for “connections” – “futoboru” for “football” – etc.] such that many of the words I didn’t recognize on my mission actually were English transliterations, the introduction and widespread use of romaji [including debates over whether or not to scrap hiragana and katakana altogether and switch exclusively to romaji – which failed, thankfully], etc.) – not the Chinese system itself.
Frankly, I’m not sure the earliest (and, perhaps, continuing) use of a Hebrew writing system matters all that much for this exact topic – except perhaps to map to the existence of the hiragana and katakana of Japanese. Perhaps Japanese actually is a stronger example than I laid out in the post, since it really is a combination of a foreign “hieroglyphic system” (the Chinese kanji) and an “alphabetic” native system (the hiragana and then katakana) that would match very well with a written language (reformed Egyptian) that might have been a combination of a foreign hierglyphic system (the Egyptian) and an “alphabetic” native system (the Hebrew characters).
The more I think about it, the more that makes sense – especially given the way modern Japanese developed. Perhaps the “reformed” part of the Egyptian wasn’t as much JUST an alteration of the actual hieroglyphs but also the insertion / use of Hebrew characters as the equivalent of the hiragana. That makes so much sense in relation to Japanese.
I agree, there have been many changes in the last 200 years. In terms of the first comment, I would say that the language they spoke 1000 years ago wasn’t really Japanese at all… Just speaking from my experience taking a classical Japanese class a few years ago.
The criticism of ‘Reformed Egyptian’ says that it is simply an un-examinable language, not that such a language could not exist. It’s a convenience, similar to having an angel take away the plates before they could be academically studied for veracity.
(*takes breath and decides to take own advice by editing original response*)
#4 – I’ve heard both – and this post is about the rejection based on the linguistic claim, even though I mentioned the convenience rejection in my first paragraph.
The “that’s stupid” argument was the most common reaction in the 19th and early 20th Century dismissals BY FAR, and it still is said more often than you think.
The criticisms of which I am aware, really do not dispute the possibility of such a language, rather that it just references a language that is not known to have existed. Using your Japanese/Chinese examples, we can go back and reference these changes, because they exist in society and literature. As for Reformed Egyptian, we really have little to nothing remaining of this supposed language which existed, even if in only limited circles, for nearly 1,000 years. The critics have some reasonable complaints in that it is wonderfully convenient that we have no linguistic sources from which The Book of Mormon translation can even be approached, let alone challenged.
As a question, some time ago I read a great deal of literature which attempted to draw parallel between eastern languages, particularly Hebrew, and those of the various American Indian groups. While there appears to be occassional phonetic similarities, it appears that no non-Mormon linguistic scholars are willing to draw a correlation. Given Nephi’s claim that much of his learning consisted of the language of the Egyptians, have there been any studies which try to correlate American Indian languages, against those of the sixth century B.C. Hebrew, persian, Egyptian, ect. dialects?
1) Japanese has multiple readings for kanji…let’s not forget onyomi, the Chinese reading, which although they may be based off of previous dynastic readings which would be unintelligible to modern Chinese speakers, many onyomi are only slight differences from Chinese pronunciation…and in fact, the shifts that occur are often rather predictable linguistic shifts.
The Chinese word “dianhua” (or telephone…or literally “electric sound”) becomes the rather recognizable “denwa.” You’re correct though, that Japanese isn’t intelligible to a Chinese speaker though from the start, because obviously, everything isn’t onyomi you can’t really Chinese your way out of Japanese in the way Spanish can do for Portuguese.
Next, kanji simplification (to shinjitai) occurred officially around 1946. Which is basically yesterday in time. Many of the simplifications are related to the simplifications that occurred in Chinese hanzi…and even when they differ (when Chinese simplified and Japanese didn’t; when Japanese simplified and Chinese didn’t; or when both simplified in different ways), they aren’t so unrecognizable. Again, a Chinese reader learning kanji might think, “What strange people for simplifying this character in this way,” (and a Japanese reader learning hanzi might think the same), but it’s not too big of a deal.
However, there is a significant simplification of kanji that occurred…as KMPearce raises. Hiragana and katakana simply ARE simplified hanzi taken for syllabic mora. So with Japanese, you have an example of people who didn’t have a written language, so they borrowed one from a neighboring power (Chinese hanzi)…but then developed their own in conjunction. So, you’d either have to show that Hebrew characters were not well-spread by Lehi’s day, show that they developed in conjunction as simplification of parts of Egyptian characters (!), or show that this is an irrelevant difference from the Sino-Japanese discussion. The differences are tough to reconcile, even if at first, it looks like a great lead.
I have always wondered if Reformed Egyptian is similar to Coptic language (the language of the Gnostic Christians.) What do you think of the Caracters document and this Wikipedia document showing Coptic characters?
This discussion is outside the realm of my expertise that’s for sure. I served in Russia, so I can’t really draw any parallels. But there are a few things I wanted to point out.
1. I accept Ray’s argument as exactly what it claims to be – a demonstration that the Japanese took a written language (Chinese) and superimposed their language on it (I think that’s what you’re saying Ray).
2. I accept Ray’s argument that in Book of Mormon terminology written Japanese is reformed Chinese.
Is there something else I’m missing here? Are there more conclusions to be drawn? Can we definitively say anything about the BoM, or reformed egyptian given the argument Ray has presented?
“In Book of Mormon terminology written Japanese is reformed Chinese.”
That is exactly my argument, and, as I said, it only refutes the argument that the idea of reformed Egyptian is ridiculous. As I said in #5, that was a regular dismissal in the first 100 years after the Book of Mormon was published, and it still is used by those who are ignorant of situations like Japanese.
Once again, the major alterations in Japanese that are making it more and more unlike Chinese are not the alterations in the kanji.
#7 – Andrew, I don’t think the differences are hard to reconcile at all – since it’s only the framework process that I am discussing. For example, how well spread the Hebrew characters were in Lehi’s day is relevant only if Lehi had no reason to know them and/or if they actually were part of the record – and that’s total speculation, which is why I used “might be” and “perhaps” in #2. (I like Nibley’s speculation that Lehi might have been a traveling merchant, for many reasons, and it would explain perfectly why he would read and write both Egyptian and Hebrew – and understand the idea of a type of shorthand language to conserve space.)
Summary: The exact structural nature of reformed Egyptian is unknown, but the existence of such a language is by no means odd or unlikely or without precedence. In fact, it is likely, not just possible. There are valid reasons to question the validity of the Book of Mormon, and this post doesn’t argue otherwise. It only points out how absurd one still common argument is.
(Also, the disappearance of a language is not odd or unlikely or without precedence – especially if it was limited to only a few ruling elite, as easily could be the case with reformed Egyptian. There are lots of examples of linguistic modification and invention for reasons of secrecy [codes and, in some cases, complex languages], and it is likely we are unaware of many more such “dead languages” than those of which we are aware.)
Do you suppose that the reason critics have made an issue of Reformed Egyptian is because it is either;
a) Uncommon/unprecdented for a group of people to directly borrow the language of another nation, and record their history in that language. Therefore it would be unlikely that a group of Hebrews would keep and maintain a gospel record using a variation on the egyptian language.
b) The Reformed Egyptian is a language not known to exist, and has no basis of support other than The Book of Mormon’s claim that it did exist, which is also of completely debatable origin.
I find the argument that the Reformed Egyptian would be too distorted for common Egyptian’s to understand, a little cart before the horse. We have no real examples of Reformed Egyptian, and because of this I think option b) is probablly closer to mainstream sentiments against the BoM claim to have been written in a modified form of Egyptian. That being said, a plug I could make for the BoM is that Reformed Egyptian was the title given to the language from the Nephites, however we really don’t know how common this language would have been among them, though I would speculate that it is generally safer to say that this language was not commonly known even among them, otherwise Mormons are more accountable for explaining what happened to this pseudo language, and how it completely escaped the historical record. Since the Nephites coined the phrase “Reformed Egyptian”, we shouldn’t expect to find it codified in any of the common anals of history under that label. What would be interesting is to see whether Egyptian was undergoing any type of distinguishable linguistic changes during 600 BC. Even stiil, as interesting as such a study could be, we would still be ultimately left guessing as, again, we have no known examples of the Reformed Egyptian text from which any portion of The Book of Mormon came from.
As a quick caveat, I will make a short exception, we supposedly have a rough sketch of some of the characters that Martin Harris took to Professor Anthon. Does anybody know if there has been any solid research into these characters?
I think the question is…if we found examples of Reformed Egyptian, then shouldn’t early writings be intelligible (or at least recognizable, if not understandable) to certain classical students of Egyptian? It would be reasonable to suggest that over time, it would corrupt and diverge…but the original stuff should be known. Heck, others in Lehi’s day should have had some kind of knowledge of something similar — especially if it, say, was a “trade” language for traveling merchants. In the same way, kanji and hanzi may have come a great way over time, but classical scholars can still pinpoint what the characters of, say, 6th century BC were if they had an example of them. And of course, we have examples of hanzi being borrowed by many other cultures, whether it was kanji (japanese), hanja (korean), hantu (Vietnam), etc., etc.,
We are going off lots of speculation here. So it’s really tough to evaluate such a concept either way.
This post is a good demonstration how weak typical Mormon apologetic arguments are. The story usually goes something like this:
Critic: Horses didn’t exist in the new world in book of mormon times.
Apologist: Well, horses were known to have lived in the new world as late as 10,000 years ago.
Critic: Who cares? 10,000 years ago wasn’t book of mormon times.
In this case it is:
Critic: Reformed egyptian? There is no evidence of any egyptian writing (reformed or not) in the new world in book of mormon times.
Apologist: Long blog post about Japanese writing.
Critic: Who cares?
Have you ever heard of Coptic? (Do you know how to be tactful? Apparently not.)
Critic: Reformed egyptian? There is no evidence of any egyptian writing (reformed or not) in the new world in book of mormon times.
Apologist: Long blog post about Japanese writing.
Critic: (Very respectfully and tactfully) I don’t see how that addresses the lack of any evidence of egyptian writing (reformed or not) in the new world.
Apologist: Have you ever heard of Coptic?
Critic: (Even more tactfully) Maybe I really don’t understand what you are trying to communicate. Can I buy you a beer?
MH, you should just change your name to MA: Mormon Apologist. You’ve officially been upgraded. and offered a beer
Bill, I appreciate your desire to be respectful. Based on that, I’m sure you would appreciate some honest feedback about how you come across. Even though you may intend to sound respectful, your tone is not. For your first comment, try rephraising it a bit, like: Ray, I think the points you make are weak because of a, b, & c. Of course, you can put it however you want. Addressing people directly is a good start though.
Sorry, let me try it again:
Great post! Its always interesting to learn more about the Japanese language.
I think that it would be helpful to go one step further in answering the critics who complain about reformed egyptian. You’ve shown that languages can be ‘reformed’. The question that will remain with the critics is whether this actually happened in the new world. If there was some stone carving in the new world that was somehow derived from egyptian, that would go a long way in silencing the critics. If, on the other hand, it turns out that most native americans didn’t have a written language during book of mormon times and the one (or more?) cultures that did cannot be linked to egyptian, then the critics will continue to complain about reformed egyptian claim.
A better parallel than the adoption of Chinese characters by Japanese would be an example of a language with a well-established existing writing system and literary tradition that discarded its writing system and replaced it with an import from an unrelated language. It would help if the example was of alphabetic characters being discarded in favor of foreign logographs (since alphabets replace word pictures and not the other way around). Finally, it would be great if there were an example that showed the simultaneous adoption of a replacement script and a novel writing medium, especially one that was harder to produce than what it replaced.
It’s a tall order.
Bill, nice! 🙂
despite the multi-faceted way you come across, you’re naturally very likable.
Thank you for rephrasing that, Bill – since even my Herculian patience was tested enough to have my first repsonse be, “Shove it!” 🙂
This post simply is intended to highlight the fact that there are languages that have developed like reformed Egyptian is said in the Book of Mormon to have developed – so saying the idea of a language like reformed Egyptian existed is ridiculous is, in fact, ridiculous. That’s all. That argument has been made over and over by some critics, so it’s not a useless rebuttal. It’s not intended to be a comprehensive “apologetic” defense of the Book of Mormon – or even of reformed Egyptain – and I said so in the post itself and my previous comments. I understand that, and I thought I made that crystal clear.
To address your main point, I want to emphasize something that your response simply ignores. **There is no internal claim in the Book of Mormon that “reformed Egyptian” was widespread – or even that it existed in ANY form outside of the record keeping of the Nephite leaders.** In fact, the statement in Mosiah 1:4 can be read as stating that the record keepers had to teach it to their children (those who would receive and keep the records) – prossibly because it was NOT the default written language of the people themselves.
What I’m saying is that if you take ONLY what the Book of Mormon actually says about reformed Egyptian and DON’T extrapolate past that, there is no indication that there should be any evidence of its existence. Look at the following passages:
4 Nephi 1:48-49 – “And it came to pass that when *three hundred and twenty years had passed away, Ammaron, being constrained by the Holy Ghost, did hide up the records which were sacred—yea, even all the sacred records which had been handed down from generation to generation, which were sacred—even until the three hundred and twentieth year from the coming of Christ. And he did hide them up unto the Lord, that they might acome again unto the remnant of the house of Jacob, according to the prophecies and the promises of the Lord. And thus is the end of the record of Ammaron.”
Mormon 8:4 – “Therefore I will write and hide up the records in the earth; and whither I go it mattereth not.”
Again, if we only look at what the Book of Mormon actually says, the most straightforward parsing of the text implies that those records that were written in reformed Egyptian were those that detailed the spiritual wrtings of the prophets contained on the gold plates – that if there were more records in that language they were “hidden” more than once – that the only record that was removed from hiding was the one to which Mormon and Moroni added their own messages and Moroni eventually revealed to Joseph.
So, again based only on what the Book of Mormon actually says, there is no reason whatsoever for there to be any evidence of reformed Egyptian available for discovery. I know how frustrating that is for skeptics AND believers to accept, but that’s what the book actually says – and judging it by a standard it doesn’t even attempt to address is exactly what this post illustrates. Whether it is called ludicrous that such a language existed or that there is no trace of it now, those arguments just don’t hold water when ONLY the book’s own words are used as the basis of the argument.
There is a couple types of Egyptian writing that could pass for “reformed egyptian.” The first is called hieratic, and was sort of cursive form of Hieroglyphics, The second is called “demotic” and even more informal than hieratic.
I appreciate the post Ray. Post #22 was great, many charges against the BoM are about things that it never says. I agree that this was a language known only by a few elite. And adding to #23, William Hamblin has cited examples from the ancient Near East of writings that could be considered “reformed Egyptian”.
Interesting idea, Ray.
It may be worth noting that this process of adapting Chinese characters to the native language evolved organically over several hundred years. So, the first native writers (of the Kojiki, NohonShoki, and the Fudoki) simply wrote in the Chinese language (kanbun) since there was no system to conform written Chinese to spoken Japanese. Only gradually through the evolution of a markup system as a medium did the hybrid “reformed” system come into being where the characters fit into the spoken Japanese model so that there could really be a written Japanese.
The USSR forcing a wide myriad of languages (i.e. central Asian Turkic, etc.) into the Cyrillic alphabet is a modern example that comes to mind of adapting an alphabet to fit new languages.
Andrew, where were you when I was discussing polygamy? Thanks for the [root] beer! I accept. 😉
I admit that polygamy, like many ancient history lessons, is not incredibly interesting to me. So, I was probably taking a nap, or ran out of popcorn.
root beer — indeed superior
Bill, I liked #18 much better, and I think you raise some VERY valuable points.
Cowboy in #6. It is my understanding that Native American languages bear little or no resemblance to either Hebrew or Egyptian. Sorenson seems to make a claim about some Indian tribes in the southwest US, but I don’t believe there is widespread acceptance of this.
Coptic, Demotic, and Hieratic, as Agnes says, are the Egyptian language using the Greek alphabet. I believe Coptic dates to the 11th to 16th century BC, so I think it could be a possibility for the BoM. I agree that Bill’s point that it is not found in the new world is a problem, though there are a small minority who believe the BoM could have taken place in areas outside of the Americas.
I have often wondered if Charles Anthon may have influenced Joseph. I have often wondered if the BoM could have been written in Aramaic, instead of Reformed Egyptian. Anthon didn’t know what he was looking at (and neither did Joseph), and I wonder if it could have been a different language altogether. I do think that Coptic, Demotic, or something else could be a candidate for reformed Egyptian.
MH, aka MA.
Somewhat unrelated to the topic, but fun is the speculation of connection between ancient Israel and ancient Japanese. The following is from one of many websites that discuss the topic:
Similarity Between Japanese and Hebrew
Joseph Eidelberg points out that there are many Japanese words which are very similar to Hebrew in both meaning and pronunciation.
A Japanese word “anata” which means you is also said “anta”, and in the dialect of Kyushu is said “atah”. In Hebrew this is also “atah” or “anta”. “Aruku” in Japanese meaning to walk is in Hebrew “halak”.
Japanese “hakaru” means to measure and Hebrew “haqar”means to investigate or measure. Japanese “horobu” means to perish and Hebrew “horeb” means to become ruined or perish. Japanese “teru” means to shine and Hebrew “teurah” means illumination.
Japanese “meguru” means to circle and “magaru” means to turn, while Hebrew “magal” means circle. Japanese “toru” meaning to take is “tol” in Hebrew. Japanese “kamau” means to mind or care and Hebrew “kamal” means to sympathize.
Japanese “damaru” which means to become silent is “damam” in Hebrew. Japanese “hashiru” means to run and Hebrew “hush” means to hurry. Japanese “nemuru” means to sleep and Hebrew “num” means to doze.
Japanese “ito” which means thread is “hut” in Hebrew. The stick with white papers of zigzag pattern put on its upper part which the Shinto priest waves is called “nusa” in Japanese, while a Hebrew word “nes” means flag. Japanese “ude” means arm and Hebrew “yad” means hand. Japanese “kata” which means shoulder is “qatheph” in Hebrew. Japanese “owari” which means end or finish is “aharith” in Hebrew.
Japanese “kyou” which means today is “qayom” in Hebrew. Japanese “tsurai” means painful and Hebrew “tzarah” means trouble or misfortune. Japanese “karui” which means light in weight is “qal” in Hebrew. Hebrew “qor” means coldness and reminds of a Japanese word “kooru” which means freeze or “koori” which means ice.
Japanese “samurau” means to serve or guard (for the noble) and Hebrew “shamar” means to guard (Genesis 2:15). In Japanese, from “samurau” came a word “samurai” which means Japanese ancient warrior or guard. Also in Hebrew, if we attach a Hebrew suffix “ai” meaning profession to “shamar”, it would be “shamarai” which sounds close to the Japanese guard “samurai”. [This is the same case as “banai” which is a Hebrew word for builder and is a combination of “banah” (to build) and “ai” (suffix meaning profession) . Modern Hebrew does not have the word “Shamurai” but it fully satisfies the grammar of Hebrew.]
Researchers point out many other similarities between Japanese and Hebrew. A researcher points out more than 500 similarities of words. Among them, there may be several examples of similarity only by chance, even in those I listed here, but can we think all of these are by chance? There could be, by mere chance between two languages, several words which resemble each other in pronunciation and meaning, but when there are many words similar between the two, we may have to think that there is etymologic relationship between the two. Japanese includes many words which seem to have Hebrew origin.
The study of the Japanese language is complicated somewhat by the Ainu–the original settlers of Japan were Caucasian. I realize that Jewish is Semitic, but who knows from whence the Ainu came? I also believe there are similarities between Japanese and Finnish, of all things.
Re 28: Demotic and hieratic are cursive hieroglyphs. They came into existence with the change of writing medium from clay tablets to papyrus. Like hieroglyphics, they include logograms (word pictures), phonemes and determinatives (grammatical markers). Like hieroglyphics, the number of symbols is large. Coptic, on the other hand, is an entirely new writing system with a small number of characters based on a foreign (Greek) alphabet.
Any variant of Egyptian script that would be relevant in the timeframe required by BoM chronology would have been based on hieroglyphs (or possibly its cursive forms, although these would only have been recently invented). Coptic can be ruled out entirely for purposes of the BoM discussion, since it appears only in the Christian era (2nd century AD). The unexplanable part is why the efficient and well-established Hebrew alphabet would have been discarded in favor of the tremendous comparative complexity and linguistic foreignness of hieroglyphs. It would be like swapping the Latin alphabet for Chinese hanzi when trying to write Spanish. Why would you go from a symbol set numbering a few dozen to one with thousands of complex characters? I’m not saying this is impossible, it’s just very, very odd.
I recommend a really great book that tells the story of Champollion, the French scholar who decyphered the Rosetta Stone. It’s Lesley and Roy Atkins’s The Keys of Egypt: The Race to Crack the Hieroglyph Code. The book tells a fascinating story, and the Egyptian language itself is remarkable in a number of ways.
#31 – “Why would you go from a symbol set numbering a few dozen to one with thousands of complex characters?”
There is only one reason that makes sense – to save space.
This highlights another oft-criticized linguistic part of the Book of Mormon – the use is the word “adieu”. However, when you consider the root meaning of that word (“God be with you as we part” – or something similar), it is the perfect choice of one word to express that sentiment in that instance at the end **of that particular passage** using one word rather than many – and saving space in the process. I don’t know of an English word that would have been familiar to Joseph that could have conveyed that message in such an abbreviated way – and if it matched to a glyph that conveyed the same meaning, it is a perfect choice. Since that is the only time such a modern, foreign word was chosen, it’s worth considering carefully why – and there is a perfectly logical reason, if one is willing to grant logic a chance.
“Farewell” comes to mind.
I agree that saving space would be the considerable point.
But then I have to also pay attention to what MoHoHawaii posed: It would be like swapping the Latin alphabet for Chinese hanzi when trying to write Spanish.
I might swap out that Latin alphabet for Chinese hanzi when writing Chinese (and I find frequently that writing Chinese takes less space than writing any latin-based language — you find that quickly when you’re texting or tweeting, have 160 character limits, and realize that one character means a lot more than one letter, and you start enjoying them very much), but I wouldn’t use Chinese hanzi for writing Spanish or English. Yet there you have manyogana, using hanzi for writing Japanese, not concepts but sounds, and seeming to defeat the “space saving” traits of the hanzi.
And regardless of the space considerations, linguistic trends *do* tend toward stable phonemic characters. So, Japanese does get a little lazy with the manyogana (the hanzi used to represent specific sounds), creating katakana and hiragana from them.
As for adieu…perhaps I haven’t paid attention to the discussion, but I think this reflects on Joseph’s selection of word for translation, not what was in the plates. Similarly, Joseph selected the kind of English (King James imitating) that he did — these things do not, on their own, suggest anything about the authenticity of the BoM. Perhaps he just wanted “adieu” instead of “goodbye” (which has the same root and most certainly was available)
and really, that’s the shame of not having the plates. I don’t care about anti-mormon arguments and a lot of them seem kinda silly, but with the NT, you gotta admit, having greek copies allow you to have plausibly accurate editions other than NKJV. That’s cool (even if a lot of members will look at you crazy if you use any other version).
But with the BOM, you’ve got the official edition, and that’s the only one you can be “faithful” and be sure that it’s accurate to the original (just go with me here). The church couldn’t release a different edition (now with 30% less instances of “And it came to pass”…) with the assurance that it would be as true a translation. Because we don’t have the original source :(.
All I’m saying is I think it MIGHT be helpful if there were AUTHORITATIVE and EASY-TO-READ BoMs. Who’s with me?
sorry for the rant.
Consider this a lesson on original meaning. 🙂
“Adieu” has MUCH more root meaning than either “farewell” or “good-bye”.
dictionary.com is a good example of how the original meaning has been lost in the English translation. The first definitions there simply are “good-bye” and “farewell”. However, when you go further down the list, you find “I commend you to God,” and, critically, “originally said to the party left; farewell was to the party setting forth.”
This fits exactly the context of Jacob 7:27 – in which “farewell” already has been used. The verse reads:
In this context, “adieu” can’t be a synonymn for “farewell” – especially when space was at a premium. That verse would be ludicrous if that was the case. If, however, Jacob literally was saying “farewell” to the reader who reads and departs but “Brethren, adieu” (“I commend you to God” ) – to those who were left as HE was getting ready to depart from them – (which is exactly how the overall passage reads) . . . “farewell and “adieu” are the PERFECT choices as they were used in their original meaning.
There simply isn’t an English word that fits better than “adieu” and is that concise – especially with the use of “farewell” in the same verse.
Re 32, I get that motivation and agree that it’s the only one that makes sense. Unfortunately, if we are talking about hieroglyphics, the space-saving motivation is hard to argue. Hieroglyphs are beautiful but ungainly. Large, complex characters are used to encode single phonemes, like a detailed picture of a horned adder just to indicate the “f” sound. Also, the characters are so complex that they take a fair amount of space to draw. For economy Hebrew would have been a better choice.
If we say that the efficiency of known Egyptian scripts doesn’t matter because these scripts were substantially modified, then there’s no point in making linguistic arguments at all. We’re then left with the scenario of an new, otherwise unknown script being invented for the purpose of optimally encoding a single text. Again, I suppose this could happen, but it’s very, very odd.
By the way, I saw the Dead Sea Scrolls in a museum exhibit a few years ago. The size of the text is absolutely miniscule. It was very impressive.
My point, exactly. Thanks. 🙂
If we’re really going to go on about the difference in impacts of “God be with ye” vs “I commend you to God,” then really, now, I just don’t know what to say. 😀 the problem is that both terms (as well as adios for Spanish) all lost their religious meaning over time with the shortening of the terms…so if Goodbye wouldn’t have been suitable for translation, then why would adieu have been? You’re great at parsing, Ray, but you’re now parsing a meaning that wouldn’t have been familiar to readers of Joseph’s day and most certainly isn’t familiar to readers of this day. Unless Joseph wanted to be exotic in which case: touche.
#40 – Andrew, what I’m saying is that perhaps the character on the plates best approximated the meaning of “adieu” – which was not as “lost” nearly two hundred years ago as you might think. I’m also saying that “adieu” fits the actual verse perfectly when you actually look at how the verse is constructed and how “farewell” is used as a counter-expression in the verse preceding “adieu”.
Again, I’m NOT using this as a “proof” of any kind – other than that the word chosen fits the context perfectly, and I’m not aware of any other word that would have been known to Joseph that would have fit. When you have an argument that dismisses the use of a word out-of-hand, parsing is all that is available – and parsing this verse is enlightening.
Revealed or inspired or fiction, all I’m saying is that “adieu” is the perfect word for the context. Saying it is silly or proof that the BofM is not inspired just doesn’t work. (I’m not saying that’s your position – just that I hear it all the time, and it’s beyond a stretch.)
This is an interesting thesis. However, my experience (and I readily admit I haven’t spent a lot of time on the subject) is the exact opposite of what you are saying. It is true that the Chinese cannot read the Japanese characters. But the reason is because the Chinese have drastically modified the charcters over time, whereas the Japanese (until recently) have maintained use of the original characters they adopted centuries ago.
If you can’t see the wind but you know it is there does it make it any less real???? You can’t see the air but you need it to live is it any less real or needed any less???
I really think that all the arguing about the Book of Mormon is a crock. God doesn’t want us to argue about HIM. Only to love and serve HIM. If you haven’t read the Book of Mormon how do you know. We don’t know everything about the past 2000 years but they did happen. Why would it be any less real for God to send a record of a language no one really knew. Since so much evil was in the world. All his disciples were killed just for following him. He sent Noah to do things. He sent a lot of people to do many different task.No one any less important than the last one. It is always been about faith!!!!! You need to asked God to let you know if this is from Him or just some man. Then who’s to say if it is true or not. Only way to know is to pray and step in faith and be lead by God to what, where and when he needs you.Only God know the truth
I haven’t read everyone’s comments so I don’t know if anyone mentioned this already, sorry.
This reminds me a lot of the book and movie “Breaking the Maya Code”. Interesting correlations.
Interesting article. The ultimate challenge to the critics, however, is simply the Book of Mormon itself. Even if they could prove that reformed Egyptian never existed, could they explain the book? No. You can pile up as much evidence as you want against what is written about and in the book, if you can’t give a rational explanation as to how it was put together, this evidence amounts to nothing.
Wow! Fascinating discussion. Many interesting points on all sides. Many bits of information I have never seen.
I have no particular argument to add but a couple of points to consider. In addition to space being a PREMIUM and therefore some sort of condensed language was necessary, I wonder what dynamic the act of ENGRAVING in metal plates might add to the choice of languages or alphabets? I mean, it’s not like typing it on my computer or even writing it on a page. What engraving tools were used and how might they alter the choice.
Also, there may be many choices of alphabets or languages that may have existed at 600 bc but exactly how many of those did Nephi himself personally know of?
Finally, though I find the information interesting I choose not to get too concerned about any arguments. I know the plates existed, that they were written (engraved) in a modified language form that the author referred to as “reformed egyptian”. They were translated by the gift and power of God by a prophet at His command and then He chose not to leave them for public discussion. God has His reasons and I’m not one to debate it with Him.
We could talk about proof and evidence all year but in the end it will all boild down to whether it did in fact happen. The best proof is in it. Read it and apply the promise in Moroni 10:4. The rest is just interesting.
So, given that as my perspective I found it to be an interesting bit of information. Thank you for bringing it up Ray.
I read most of these arguments about the languages and how they are reformed etc. I am not educated in languages and am in fact only a high school deploma recipient. I raised ten children, from whom I learned a whole “new” language. I was born in Holland and if you were to go to Germany and get closer and closer to the border, you will find a whole new “reformed” language. In fact, if I remember right, the dutch language used to be German. Go to Belgium, you will find a whole new “reformed” language, mixed with French and even those who speak Dutch are often not understood by the “true Dutch. What about South Africa’s “Dutch”. We had a foreign exchange student from there and, trust me, that “Dutch” was mutilated (reformed). Go to any of the different provinces in Holland and you will find a lot of “reformed” languages. My mother came from the province Friesland, which is righ next to the province Groningen, where I was raised and guess what? She spoke such a different language that when mother spoke it in our home we couldn”t understand her. Thanks goodness she did learn “our dialect. Now, they send you to school and guess what, they teach you a “high” dutch, which is supposedly the “pure” language. Over time, a whole lot of these other “reformed” languages are rarely spoken except maybe in the homes. Lost, for the most parts except for the “written” words that still exist and can hardly be read except to be taught by our parents or grandparents. But it wouldn’t be recognized my you and some not even by me. The book of mormon is true. So what if after centuries that language doesn’t exist anywhere else. It is in the “written” language of the original plates of the Book of Mormon that Joseph Smith, whith the help of God, (who has the power to preserve any language) translated. God probably did this so people would rely on FAITH and not their “own inteligence” to find the truth. By FAITh is how we know the truth of all things. And “By their fruits ye shall know them”. How did a young man, uneducated in languages write such a book without help from a higher being. He had no formal education. He couldnt read the hyroglyphics himself, until God allowed it. And that is my statement, undereducated as I might be. I do have a fair amount of Common sense.
Ya know, TEXTING is a case for at least a language modified for space reasons… modified by the masses. No, the characters aren’t modified but… you get the point. TTYL
I have only done a brief studying, but old Mongolian used to be written in Uyghur script ( looks like vertical not horizontal arabic to me, but sure it’s different somehow ), now it’s written in Cyrillic
I know wikipedia isn’t super reliable, but sometimes a good reference.
I enjoyed your article and your perspective. One thing which I would like to add to the above discussion (and admittedly I didn’t read all the responses so forgive me if someone else brought this up), it’s a mistake to assume that the Hebrew writing system we know today was used and standardized circa 600BC. The writing system we normally associate with Hebrew was actually Babylonian (Chaldean) in origin and didn’t really come into use in the writing of Hebrew until the captivity, after the events outlined in the BOM regarding Lehi and his family leaving Judah and Jerusalem.
Prior to the captivity Hebrew was largely written using Phoenician characters, which themselves, as I understand it, were based on Egyptian alphabetic elements (as opposed to the ideo- and logograms) which had been adopted in cities in southern Palestine and over the years and centuries gradually morphed into what we would recognize as Phoenician or a Paleo-Hebrew script.
During this period in history, languages were typically recorded in whatever writing system the particular scribe happened to know. As I understand it, there is evidence of various languages being recorded in the phoenician script, (egyptian heiroglyphs, hieratic, and demotic), and cuneiform (very popular prior to phoenician letters). During this period of time, according to Biblical and historical accounts, there was a fair amount of interaction between Egypt and the Israeli kingdoms both north and south. It is possible that Lehi, for one reason or another, learned a simplified form of Egyptian writing, instead of Phoenician or Chaldean, because that’s the writing system he had the most proximity to. The idea that they, as good Jews, would be loyal to a particular language or writing system is laughable and not born out by history (see Yiddish and Ladino). If that were the case, then Hebrew would not have needed to be resurrected by Eleazar Ben-Yehudah. It was a dead language as far back as Jesus’ time and perhaps earlier. After the captivity most Jews spoke Aramaic. So, the premise that Lehi and his family, as good Jews spoke Hebrew but wrote in Egyptian is perfectly plausible.
The biggest issue I would have would be the total dissimilarity between any Ancient Near-Eastern writing system and the (Central) American writing systems. There were three, Aztec, Mayan, and Olmec and all have been or are in the process of being deciphered. None of them resemble Egyptian of any kind. They are typically made up of carvings of faces as ideo- or logograms with boxes placed around the faces to indicate syllabic usage. This is totally foreign to Egyptian Hierogliphic writing. There also doesn’t seem to be any cursive form to the American writing systems, even in the codices they left behind, whereas Egyptian cursive transformed the hieroglyphics to something barely resembling writing as much as scribble in the final form called Demotic (Coptic writing doesn’t count, it was based on Greek).
I can’t really see the possibility of the Nephite writing system being kept from the rest of the people. That makes little sense that Lehi would only teach Nephi and Sam and not Lemuel and Laman. As Nephi’s older brothers, it would make more sense that Lehi would teach them first in order for them to help him with record keeping, business, etc. While it is true that most of the people would be illiterate, it makes little sense to leave a record of that kind of importance which only a handful of people could read at best, and those dead or dying by the time the record was buried. We should just simply see more evidence of a Nephite writing system in the Americas somewhere, even if it isn’t exactly like the Anthon transcript (since this resembles a written cursive as opposed to some kind of a more refined engraving or inscription), it should resemble it in some way.
The Japanese-Chinese argument is a good one, and it answers some surface questions well. It’s the deeper questions of lack of more evidence of this writing system that is the most troubling. It’s also extremely troubling that no languages in the New World have any strong ties to Hebrew, Egyptian, or any Hamito-Semitic language. To really determine a direct descent we would need to see not only similar vocabulary in a few words here and there, but also a defined similarity in pronouns, numbers and counting systems, parts of speech, and sentence construction. For example, Spanish and Latin are demonstrably related. Hebrew and Akkadian are demostrably related. English, German, Russian, Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit are all demonstrably related. Even Greek and Hittite can be demonstrated as being related. It is really, really tough to prove such a link between, for example, Hebrew and Mayan or Olmec. Or Hebrew and Cherokee. We should see a lot more continuity between mother and daughter languages, and we just don’t see that.
In short, something truly bad and extraordinary would have had to have happened to totally wipe away all evidence of such a writing system and turn a civilization with writing and iron age technology into various tribes and bands of nomadic hunter gatherers (in some cases) with no evidence of written language whatsoever. Yes, the BOM does say many really bad things happened to them, but even with this… The Minoan civilization was completely leveled by a really big volcano which was felt as far away as Egypt and was probably the basis for the story of Atlantis. We still have examples of their writing system. We can’t read it, but we have examples of it. It’s called Linear A and it’s around 3500 years old. The Nephite writing system likely ceased to be used around 1400 years ago. We should have something.
Those interested in reading the book involving the Translation of the Book of Mormon Caractors Document that I have just completed, I have set up a website where it can be accessed. http://www.bookofmormoncaractorstranslation.com
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