Thursday, February 7, 2008

Accusation: Joseph Smith had a vivid imagination and made up the Book of Mormon

I wrote and answered this accusation, just because I had the time and haven't had any questions asked in the last couple days that I felt like making a post of. Enjoy...

Joseph Smith made up the Book of Mormon, and the supposed Hebrew/Egyptian names and words therein. He just copied some names from the Bible and made up a couple words and called them Hebrew. -“Liahona”, for instance. Who’s to say that Joseph Smith didn’t just make that word up?

The story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon is understandably difficult for many to accept or even consider. Many nay-sayers of the Church espouse many theories for it’s unexplainable appearance. One, is that Joseph Smith copied it from another manuscript and changed the names and some of the story. Another is that Brother Joseph was delusional and hallucinated his experiences. Some even claim that he just flat out made it up. Even if any of these were reasonable explanations, it would be a far cry to claim he made up words, claiming they were Hebrew, providing a translation of them, and then have them turn out to be correct. That doesn’t just happen.
Though you could not necessarily “prove” the Book of Mormon authentic by analyzing names, words, and phrases used, and finding them to be accurate and contemporary with Biblical Hebrew, it would give the record some additional credence in a scholarly light.

The word “liahona” is used only once in the Book of Mormon to describe the curious object Lehi found outside his tent one morning (1 Ne 16:10). Alma calls it the Liahona centuries later:

“38 And now, my son, I have somewhat to say concerning the thing which our fathers call a ball, or director—or our fathers called it Liahona, which is, being interpreted, a compass; and the Lord prepared it.
39 And behold, there cannot any man work after the manner of so curious a workmanship. And behold, it was prepared to show unto our fathers the course which they should travel in the wilderness.
40 And it did work for them according to their faith in God; therefore, if they had faith to believe that God could cause that those spindles should point the way they should go, behold, it was done; therefore they had this miracle, and also many other miracles wrought by the power of God, day by day.” -Alma 37:38-40

Nephi described it thus:
“a round ball of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness.” -1 Nephi 16:10

Alma (or Joseph Smith, claim the nay-sayers) defined the Liahona in Alma 37:38 as a “compass.” Let’s take a look at what the Hebrew might have looked like.

The first use of compasses were mentioned in Chinese and Western European records in the 12th Century AD; so obviously, ancient Hebrews did not have a term for something they had never seen or heard of before. -Joseph Smith was familiar with what a compass was, and could therefore render a plainer translation when he used the word compass in the translation of Alma 37:38.

Naturally then, they (Lehi’s party) would do the best they could do to describe the object, and probably by what it actually does. It showed the course they should take, and pointed the way (or pointed whither, as Nephi said -1 Ne 16:10) they should go (Alma 37:39-40).

I imagine it’s safe to assume that the English spelling of “liahona” is meant to phonetically resemble or represent the Hebrew word, just like the Hebrew names used in both the Bible and Book of Mormon.
Now, Liahona is not one word. I believe it is a combination of three words.

L, in English is the equivalent of ל (lamed), in Hebrew. By itself, ל means “to.” Like “to” eat, or, “to” the store.

יה, or yah, is God.

הנה (hanah), means “hither” or “thither.” It also means “thitherward.”

When a ל (to) is used before another word (like “to” study) it is connected. ללמוד is the conjunction of ל (to) and לומד (study), meaning “to study.”
ל'ההנה would roughly sound like “li-yah-hana,” coming close to liahona, and means “to” + "God" + “thither” = “thither-to-God”.

I’d say that comes pretty close and would be a pretty darn good guess for an uneducated farm boy. I don’t believe that Joseph was guessing or making things up.

Little textual evidences like this example can’t literally prove the Book of Mormon to be true, nor can they be the basis of someone’s faith. But, they are fun to find and use in defense of the gospel. Till next time…

Best Wishes,

1 comment:

Myke Weber said...


Your answers are always wonderful and this one was no exception. It was a fresh discovery for me and was as exciting as when someone taught me about chiasm in the Book of Mormon.

You're right when you say it doesn't replace a personal, spiritual witness of the book, but it is fun and confirming.

....get new posts emailed to you....

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Thanks for visiting. Subscribe to my feed to keep updated.