Example of Early Mormon "Hebrew" Before Actually Learning Hebrew

Example of Early Mormon "Hebrew" Before Actually Learning Hebrew

Oliver Cowdery Characters 1835

English{For it grieveth me that I should lose this tree & the fruit thereof
Hebrew{fin Zemim ezmon E Zur Oms ifs veris exzer ensvonis vineris
Englishbrethren I bid you adieu
Hebrew{ifs E Zamtri
{ The Book of Mormon
[Two characters]
} { the interpretation of languages
[Two additional characters]
}
Written & Kept for profit & learning [Signature]

Book of Mormon characters copied by Oliver Cowdery, circa 1835, Church History Library.

This page can also be found in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Vol. 1: July 1828 – June 1831, Appendix 2: Copies of Book of Mormon Characters, p. 362.

Explanation

This is a page written by Oliver Cowdery describing the Hebrew behind two short phrases from the Book of Mormon and four characters presumably from the golden plates with their corresponding translation.

The page consists of two parts. First are two scriptures from the Book of Mormon (Jacob 5:13, 7:27) each followed by what their underlying "Hebrew" was supposed to be. The second part is the interpretation of four Nephite characters; two of which mean "The Book of Mormon" and the other two "the interpretation of languages". There doesn't seem to be any particular relationship between the English/Hebrew translations and the English/character translations.

Oliver's notes are also reproduced near the end of a letter written by Fredrick G. Williams (there's a lot more that could be said about this letter that I'd like to go into later).

As the English/Hebrew/Characters are the same between these two letters it seems likely that they share the same source. Likely this source is 1835 in the School of the Prophets held in Kirtland, Ohio. Why 1835? Because in January 1836 a Jewish rabbi, Joshua Sexias, arrived in Kirtland and began a multi-month course on Hebrew. I think it goes without saying that the "Hebrew" in this paper is nothing of the sort and as such probably belongs to the period in the School where they were waiting for their Hebrew teacher to arrive and were already working on learning Hebrew and Greek on their own.

As Joseph Smith was both in charge of and a partcipant in the School of the Prophets I find it worrisome that this page has no real connection to either ancient Egyptian (the written language of the Book of Mormon) or ancient Hebrew (the spoken/written language of the earliest characters of the Book of Mormon), both of which we might reasonably expect Joseph to have some familiarity with as the book's translator.

Tom Doggett

Tom Doggett

I'm a programmer, Ancient Greek reader, feminist, spouse and partner, and a dad.

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