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Friday, July 11, 2008

If/and Conditional Clauses in the Book of Mormon

Over the years, scholars have identified a number of Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon. Hebraisms, of course, being unique Hebrew rhetorical or literary devices commonly used in the ancient Near East. One of my personal favorites is the if/and conditional clause, which are found in the original manuscripts and the 1st edition of the Book of Mormon.

In English, conditional clauses are structured in a if/then format. For example, I might say:

"If you do not study, then you will fail the test."

"If you do not eat your vegetables, then you will not get dessert."

"If you go near the ledge, then you will fall off the cliff."

In biblical Hebrew as well as Egyptian, however, conditional clauses are best emphasized by an if/and format. So, I would say:

"If you do not study, and you will fail the test."

"If you do not eat your vegetables, and you will not get desert."

"If you go near the ledge, and you will fall off."

While if/and conditional clauses are horrific English (any student caught doing that on an English assignment would surely get an F grade) they are perfectly acceptable if not the norm in biblical Hebrew and Egyptian.

There are some passages in the Book of Mormon that once had if/and conditional clauses but were eventually edited out by Joseph Smith because if/and conditional clauses are not possible in English. One instance occurs in the original manuscript in Helaman 12:13-21 (pg. 440 in the 1830 edition) which reads as follows:

13 yea and if he saith unto the earth move and it is moved
14 yea if he say unto the earth thou shalt go back that it lengthen out the day for many hours and it is done
16 and behold also if he saith unto the waters of the great deep be thou dried up and it is done
17 behold if he saith unto this mountain be thou raised up and come over and fall upon that city that it be buried up and behold it is done
19 and if the Lord shall say be thou accursed that no man shall find thee from this time henceforth and forever and behold no man getteth it henceforth and forever
20 and behold if the Lord shall say unto a man because of thine iniquities thou shalt be accursed forever and it shall be done
21 and if the Lord shall say because of thine iniquities thou shalt be cut off from my presence and he will cause that it shall be so

Another occurrence is in Moroni 10:4-5, which is famously dubbed "Moroni's Promise". In the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon it reads:

and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart with real intent having faith in Christ and he will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost.

If/and conditional clauses in the Book of Mormon are impressive enough on their own, but the fact that Joseph Smith edited them out also is further evidence on his behalf. Had Joseph Smith intentionally put them in his fraudulent record, then surely he would have left them in the text, for future scholars to uncover, considering that they act as evidence on his behalf. But the fact that he innocently edited them out simply to correct the English grammar of the Book of Mormon is evidence that he was not aware of the reinforcing ramifications that these if/and conditional clauses have for the Book of Mormon as an ancient Hebrew document.

For further reading, see the following:

Translating the Book of Mormon: Evidence from the Original Manuscript by Royal Skousen

Hebraic Conditionals in the Book of Mormon
by Royal Skousen

A Steady Stream of Significant Recognitions by John Welch