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Thursday, July 2, 2009

And it Came to Pass that the Phrase "And it Came to Pass" was Discovered to be a Hebraism

Christopher Miller on his lurid website "Mormonism Disproved" argues that the high occurrence of the phrase "and it came to pass" in the Book of Mormon is evidence that "Joseph Smith was the single author of the Book of Mormon, that it was not translated, but created from his very creative imagination." And what exactly is the evidence that Mr. Miller provides for this claim? Why, nothing less than the fact that the phrase "and it came to pass" occurs at a much higher frequency in the Book of Mormon than in the current King James Bible. After all, according to our sleuth, "the extensive use of the phrase "and it came to pass" in the Book of Mormon across all of the books" clearly points to single authorship.

The final nail in the coffin, according to Miller, is the fact that the word "exceedingly" also occurs more often in the Book of Mormon than in the Bible. But it doesn't stop there. The thoroughly unbiblical phrase "in other words" is also evidence to Miller that Joseph Smith was a fraud.

I must admit that I was rather amused at not only the sheer desperation of these charges, but also at the fact that Mr. Miller betrays absolutely no knowledge of the fact that the phrase "and it came to pass" is actually a good Hebraism. Rather than belabor the point, I will simply be lazy and quote Professor Donald W. Parry on this matter:

The expression and it came to pass is the translation of a Hebrew expression used frequently in scriptural histories and chronologies and far less frequently in poetry, prophe-cies, or direct speech. Although in its Hebrew form the expression is found in the Hebrew Bible some 1,200 times, it was translated in the King James Version as "and it came to pass" only about 727 times. The King James translators probably found the expression redundant and cumbersome, which would explain why they often translated it as "and it became," "and it was," or "and." On a number of occasions they simply ignored the expression altogether.

Given the Semitic background of the Book of Mormon and the fact that it contains histories and chronologies comparable to those of the Old Testament, it is not surprising that and it came to pass is a characteristic feature of the book. Novelist and humorist Mark Twain once joked that if Joseph Smith had left out the many instances of and it came to pass from the Book of Mormon, the book would have been only a pamphlet.

Similar to Old Testament usage, the phrase and it came to pass is rarely found in Book of Mormon psalms, lamentations, proverbs, blessings, curses, prayers, speeches, and dialogues where the first-person pronoun (Ior we) is used. The expression is obviously missing from the Psalm of Nephi (2 Nephi 4:16–35); the speeches of such personalities as King Benjamin, Abinadi, Alma, and Jesus Christ; and the several epistles found in the Book of Mormon.[1]


But that is not all, Parry has noted elsewhere that "this expression is commonly mentioned in Hebrew grammars. See, for example, Joshua Blau, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1976), 107."[2]

In the December 1992 issue of the Ensign, Professor Parry observed the following:

Mark Twain once joked that if Joseph Smith had left out the many instances of “and it came to pass” from the Book of Mormon, the book would have been only a pamphlet. (Roughing It, Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing Co., 1901, p. 133.) There are, however, some very good reasons behind the usage of the phrase—reasons that further attest the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

The English translation of the Hebrew word wayehi (often used to connect two ideas or events), “and it came to pass,” appears some 727 times in the King James Version of the Old Testament. The expression is rarely found in Hebrew poetic, literary, or prophetic writings. Most often, it appears in the Old Testament narratives, such as the books by Moses recounting the history of the children of Israel.

As in the Old Testament, the expression in the Book of Mormon (where it appears some 1,404 times) occurs in the narrative selections and is clearly missing in the more literary parts, such as the psalm of Nephi (see 2 Ne. 4:20–25); the direct speeches of King Benjamin, Abinadi, Alma, and Jesus Christ; and the several epistles.

But why does the phrase “and it came to pass” appear in the Book of Mormon so much more often, page for page, than it does in the Old Testament? The answer is twofold. First, the Book of Mormon contains much more narrative, chapter for chapter, than the Bible. Second, but equally important, the translators of the King James Version did not always render wayehi as “and it came to pass.” Instead, they were at liberty to draw from a multitude of similar expressions like “and it happened,” “and … became,” or “and … was.”

Wayehi is found about 1,204 times in the Hebrew Bible, but it was translated only 727 times as “and it came to pass” in the King James Version. Joseph Smith did not introduce such variety into the translation of the Book of Mormon. He retained the precision of “and it came to pass,” which better performs the transitional function of the Hebrew word.

The Prophet Joseph Smith may not have used the phrase at all—or at least not consistently—in the Book of Mormon had he created that record. The discriminating use of the Hebraic phrase in the Book of Mormon is further evidence that the record is what it says it is—a translation from a language (reformed Egyptian) with ties to the Hebrew language. (See Morm. 9:32–33.)[3]


Thus, far from being evidence of single authorship of the Book of Mormon, as the quixotic Mr. Miller implies, the continual occurrence of the phrase "and it came to pass" in the Book of Mormon is evidence of the book's ancient authenticity. It is likewise evidence for a Semitic primacy of the language of the Book of Mormon. 

But what about Miller's accusations about the use of "exceedingly" and "in other words" in the Book of Mormon? To me, this is much ado about nothing. I ask; so what if Joseph Smith, in translating the Book of Mormon into modern English, used these words and phrases? Surely one cannot fault him for using modern lingual expressions in translating an ancient language into a modern one. Such is nothing but sheer desperation to get anything on Joseph Smith to make him look bad. 

However, the fun does not stop there. Miller mocks the lengthiness of the Book of Mormon and the repetitive nature of the text. However, had Miller bothered to consult any Hebrew grammar, he would understand that lengthiness and repetitiveness is a common feature in biblical Hebrew. As Brian D. Stubbs explains:

Book of Mormon language frequently contains lengthy structures of rather awkward English. Some may consider these to be instances of poor grammar, weakness in writing (Ether 12:23—26), or the literary ineptness of a fraudulent author; however, I see them as potentially significant support for a translation from a Near Eastern language in an ancient American setting. Many of these lengths of awkward English parallel Semitic (and Egyptian) patterns, particularly the circumstantial or hal-clause.[4]

Jeff Lindsay, in summarizing Stubbs' arguments, notes:

He [Brian Stubbs] responds to Edward Ashment's attack on the Book of Mormon which claims the long, awkward sentences found in so many Book of Mormon verses are much different than the short, concise sentences found in the Old Testament, supposedly showing that the Book of Mormon was not derived from Hebrew. Stubbs shows that the short sentences alleged to be characteristic of Biblical Hebrew may be characteristic of the King James translation of the Old Testament, but are not characteristic of the actual Hebrew. In fact, numerous sentence structures in the Book of Mormon show much more in common with genuine Hebraic sentences than with the English of the King James Bible or with the English of Joseph Smith's day.[5]


Elsewhere, Lindsay observes to "complain about the Book of Mormon being too Hebraic, if you will, but the wordiness of the text is most reasonably interpreted as indirect evidence of authenticity rather than evidence of fraud."[6]

One final note. Miller, in mocking Nephi's comments in 1 Nephi 10:4, asks rhetorically if "any Hebrew speaking person in that time did not know what a Messiah was" and "if any biblical author would find it necessary to explain that to his audience." Contra Miller, who boasts that "common sense" demands that the answer is no, the answer, in light of biblical evidence, is in fact a resounding YES.

Consider, if you will, the fact that the Hebrew word for Messiah, "mashiach" or literally "anointed one", is never explicitly used for a title of Jehovah in the Old Testament, but instead has been applied to Israelite royalty (1 Sam. 24:6; 26:11; 2 Sam. 19:21; 22:51; Ps. 18:50; 132:17), Aaronic High Priests (Lev. 4:5) and even the Persian king Cyrus (Isa. 45:1) and you begin to understand why Nephi had to clarify with his readers who exactly he was speaking of when he mentioned the "Messiah, or, in other words, A Savior of the World" (1 Ne. 10:4). He wanted his readers to be sure that he was speaking of the Savior Jesus Christ, not others who have been held the label "Messiah".[7] Miller, it seems, can have his "common sense" all he wants, but he should not for one moment presume that such is evidence for his claim.

Thus, if our intrepid Don Quixote insists that the presence of "and it came to pass" and the lengthiness of the Book of Mormon is evidence of fraud, he will first have to explain this contrary evidence in favor of the Book of Mormon.

Notes:

[1]: Donald W. Parry, "Hebraisms and Other Ancient Peculiarities in the Book of Mormon", in Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, John W. Welch, eds., Echos and Evidences of the Book of Mormon (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2002), 163-64.

[2]: Ibid, note 11.

[3]: Donald W. Parry, "I Have A Question: Why is the phrase "and it came to pass" so prevalent in the Book of Mormon?", Ensign, December 1992, 29.

[4]: Brian D. Stubbs, "A Lengthier Treatment on Length", Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 5/2 (1996): 82

[5]: Jeff Lindsay, "Numerous Hebraic Language Structures", available online here: http://www.jefflindsay.com/BMEvidences.shtml#hebraic

[6]: Jeff Lindsay, "Too Wordy to be True?", available online at: http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/wordy.shtml

[7]: See the entry under "Messiah" in Dennis L. Largey, ed., The Book of Mormon Reference Companion (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2003), 536

Christian Courage at Temple Square

Note to the reader: This is an essay I wrote in reply to the July 2009 Ensign's call for articles. The theme was around Elder Robert D. Hales' conference talk entitled "Christian Courage: The Price of Discipleship". Constructive criticisms, critiques and other comments are appreciated before I submit this essay to the Ensign.

Christian Courage at Temple Square 


by Stephen O. Smoot 


As a volunteer with the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FAIR)1, I was particularly impressed by Elder Robert D. Halesʼ October 2008 General Conference talk2. In his talk, Elder Hales admonished the Saints to respond to criticisms and challenges from critics and other foes of the Church by exhibiting what he called “Christian courage”; namely, we should “not retaliate” against our critics, but instead “show forth His love, which is the only power that can subdue the adversary and answer our accusers without accusing them in return.”3 Elder Hales went on to clarify that “especially important [are] our interactions with members of other Christian denominations. Surely our Heavenly Father is saddened—and the devil laughs—when we contentiously debate doctrinal differences with our Christian neighbors.”4 Thus, Elder Hales cautioned, “our primary concern must be othersʼ welfare, not personal vindication. Questions and criticisms give us an opportunity to reach out to others and demonstrate that they matter to our Heavenly Father and to us. Our aim should be to help them understand the truth, not defend our egos or score points in a theological debate.”5 


In my experience as a volunteer with FAIR, I have had several opportunities both in person and on various online message boards and chat rooms to engage with critics of the Church and its teachings. These experiences have been interesting, exciting, uplifting, faith-promoting, frustrating, irritating, and disheartening simultaneously. While I have learned much from engaging with critics of the Church and my testimony in the Restored gospel has grown stronger with my experience with FAIR, I have at times come away from these interactions in a bad temper or exceedingly vexed. Usually it is after I have been vigorously Bible-bashing or contending with a heated ego and temper against someone who is as equally sure of their convictions as I am of mine. Thus, these words from Elder Hales have been very important to me as I have interacted with critics and skeptics. They remind me of how I must react to critics and skeptics the same way the Savior would - with love and understanding that even those critics who I debate with are children of our Heavenly Father who have their right to their free will and agency. 


However, one particular moment has always stood out above others to me as an example of how I was able to exhibit Christian courage in the face of adversity and skepticism. Every six months at General Conference, I travel down to Temple Square with a couple of my fellow volunteers from FAIR to speak with and engage the anti-Mormon street preachers who try pester and provoke the Saints with unsavory epithets, distasteful slurs and repugnant accusations against the leadership and doctrines of the Church. During the April 2009 General Conference, I met a man at Temple Square, an Evangelical Christian with a large poster who was there to, according to his own account, “witness” to the Saints, with whom I began to speak with. 


This man informed me that he was a former member of the Church who discontinued believing in the Restored Gospel. When I asked him why, he stated that he came to believe that the doctrines of the Church were not compatible with the Bible. After listing some examples, such as the unique understanding of the Godhead that the Saints hold to compared to conventional Christianity, this man then began to ask me various questions designed to challenge my faith in the Restored Gospel: How can you believe in the Book of Mormon when there is no evidence for its authenticity? Are you aware that the LDS view of the nature of God is not at harmony with the Bible? How can you believe in Joseph Smith as a prophet even after he uttered false prophecies? The Bible makes itself clear that it is the sole source of authority. How, then, can you accept additional scriptures?  


It would have been easy for me to become defensive and combative with this gentleman as he asked these questions. It would have been easy for me to become dismissive and flippant in the face of these accusations. However, I remembered the council of Elder Hales as well as the words of the Savior to the Nephites in 3 Nephi 11:29 and restrained myself from become contentious. In response, I calmly pointed out to this gentleman that these accusations have been answered by groups such as FAIR or the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS): While there is evidence for the Book of Mormonʼs authenticity, it is primarily and most importantly a witness from the Spirit that we come to know of the Book of Mormonʼs truthfulness.6 The Latter-day Saint view of God does have backing from and is in harmony with the Bible.7 The allegations that the Prophet Joseph Smith uttered false prophecies rests on both a misunderstanding of the nature of prophecy and prophets alike.8 The Bible affirms the principle of an open canon and nowhere claims to be the sole source of authority from God.9 


I could tell that my non-confrontational approach to these accusations had made an impact on this gentleman, as he seemed to open up and began asking questions that were not so much aggressive but genuinely sincere and thoughtful. He asked me what I thought about Jesus Christ. I responded that my faith is in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. He asked how I knew this. I responded that my testimony came from reading the Book of Mormon and the teachings of the prophets therein. 


  I could tell that because our encounter did not turn into a vindictive and egotistical debate but instead became a sincere and friendly discussion, I was more easily able to share my testimony of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ with this man. Because of the fact that the spirit of contention was unable to penetrate the atmosphere, the Spirit of our Heavenly Father was able fill both our hearts and plant within them peace. We ended our conversation with good feelings towards each other and the spirit radiating within us. 


This demonstration has shown me that Elder Halesʼ principles taught in his General Conference speech are true, and that by abiding by these precepts when we encounter criticism and skepticism we can hopefully escape the spirit of the contention and do our best to stand firm in our faith and our testimonies as we bear witness of the truth. We will all ultimately face criticism. We will all be asked questions about our faith from both sincere and insincere people. It is therefore imperative that we as Latter-day Saints remember to exhibit Christian courage in the face of adversity and affliction and to “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9).


Notes:

1 FAIR operates a website, www.fairlds.org, that is an online cache of apologetic information. Apologetics, 

from the Greek apologia (απολογία), is a systematic defense of a particular doctrine or idea. See, for 

example, the remarks of the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 3:15, wherein the Saints are admonished "to make a 

defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you" (Revise Standard Version, 

emphasis added). 


2 Elder Robert D. Hales, “Christian Courage: The Price of Discipleship,” Ensign, Nov. 2008, 72-75 


3 Ibid, 73. 


4 Ibid.


5  Ibid.


6 While a large corpus of literature has been written on this subject, see generally Donald W. Parry, Daniel 

C. Peterson and John W. Welch, eds., Echos and Evidences of the Book of Mormon (Provo, Utah: 

Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies. 2001), Noel B. Reynolds, ed., Book of Mormon 

Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research 

and Mormon Studies. 1997) and Noel B. Reynolds, ed., Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on 

Ancient Origins (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies. 1982). See also the 

plethora of articles published in the FARMS Review and the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, both 

produced by FARMS. 


7  See generally David L. Paulsen, “Divine Embodiment: The Earliest Christian Understanding of God,” in 

Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy, ed., Noel B. 

Reynolds (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies. 2005), 239-295. See also 

the FAIR wiki website under the category “God” at http://en.fairmormon.org/ 

FAIRwiki:Table_of_contents#God (Accessed June 29th, 2009). 


8  See generally John A. Tvedtnes, “The Nature of Prophets”. Available online at http://www.fairlds.org/ 

Bible/Nature_of_Prophets_and_Prophecy.html (Accessed June 29th, 2009).


9 See generally Michael R. Ash, “Is the Bible Complete?”, available at http://www.fairlds.org/ 

FAIR_Brochures/Is_the_Bible_Complete.pdf (Accessed June 29th, 2009). See also the FAIR wiki article 

“Open Canon vs. Closed Canon” at http://en.fairmormon.org/Open_canon_vs._closed_canon (Accessed 

June 29th, 2009).