Thursday, September 30, 2010

Joseph Smith Translation Luke 3: The Genealogy

The New Translation of Luke, with its many remarkable additions and changes, simply calls for attention! Here is a feat of prophetic inspiration as remarkable as the Book of Mormon itself, or any other of the revelations and translations of the Prophet Joseph Smith. As Latter-day Saints study the Joseph Smith Translation of Luke (available to us in our beautiful edition of the scriptures), we are often left to ponder the depths and implications of the newly revealed verses and translations. As with the Book of Mormon, curiosity is stirred and questions arise about things we've never before considered. We sing: "What glorious scenes mine eyes behold! What wonders burst upon my view! When Ephraim's records I behold, All things appear divinely new. All things appear divinely new."

Even something as ordinary as a genealogy, though the most extraordinary of all, and the most debated and discussed--that of the generations of Jesus Christ--appears divinely new at the prophetic touch of translation. And that touch, though given by inspiration and without reference to the original Greek, lights, even so, upon one tiny Greek word, breaking it into a prism of added light and knowledge. That word is tou, genitive of the definite article to, and signifies who is of, or which was. . . of.

Authorised Version, Luke 3: 23-38 (and note the italics):

And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which which was the son of Heli, which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi, which was the son of Melchi. . .

and so on and on to the beginning of time.

What we now find in the New Translation rings genuine and deserves close consideration:

And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, having lived with his father, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph,

who was from the loins of Eli,
who was from the loins of Mattat,
who was the son of Levi,
who was a descendant of Melchi,
and of. . .and of. . .and of. . .

[all the way down to]

and of Salathiel,
who was the son of Neri,
who was a descendant of Melchi,
and of. . .and of. . .and of. . .

[and down to]

and of Adam, who was formed of God; and the first man upon the earth,

which final addition to the genealogy is very different from the tou translated in the Authorized Version to read: Adam, which was the son of God.

Note how a mere first five generations yields four different (and rather ambiguous) readings of the relationship expressed by so-and-so tou so-and-so: "from the loins of," "the son of," "a descendant of," "and of": Now that's a lot of ways to skin a single cat. What's it all about? And how about the two patriarchs both bearing the name of Melchi? Why does everyone seem to descend from one or another Melchi?

The Prophet Joseph Smith, having been through all this before with the translation of the royal genealogies of the Jaredites in the Book of Mormon, is giving us a few clues about how to understand Joseph's royal descent. He's trying to help us out here. (Compare the wording in Amulek's genealogy in Alma 10:2-3: "son of," "descendant of"; not to mention the confusing Hamitic family tree of Abraham 1).

Hugh Nibley has the following to say about the genealogical list in Ether and its correspondence to, and occasional seeming contradictions with, the family relationships given in the text of Ether proper:

"The first chapter of our Ether text gives us warning not to be dogmatic about chronology. In the genealogical list of thirty names running back to 'the great tower' the word 'descendant' occurs, once where several generations may be spanned (Ether 1:23; 10:9), and twice interchangeably with the word 'son' (Ether 1:6; 16; cf. 10:31; 11:23). As you know, in Hebrew and other languages 'son' and 'descendant' are both rendered by one very common word. . . A person confined to a written text would have no means of knowing when ben should be taken to mean 'son' in a literal sense and when it means merely 'descendant.' The ancient Hebrews knew perfectly well when to make the distinction. . . it was assumed that the hearer was familiar with his line down to his next important descendant, the written lists being a mere outline to establish connections between particular lines. . . Now Ether proves, at least to Latter-day Saints, that 'son' and 'descendant' were both used in the ancient genealogies, which thus do not present an unbroken father-to-son relationship."

We "are thus faced with the possibility, long suspected by many, that in Biblical genealogies ben must sometimes be read 'son' and sometimes 'descendant'" (The World of the Jaredites = Collected Works of Hugh Nibley 5:158-9).

And note how the Prophet Joseph, after applying the prism of inspiration to the first five names on the list, pretty much leaves the rest of the relationships to the ambiguous "and of," "and of." This too is instructive; besides, the ambiguity leaves the list open to all the variant lineages found in the multitudinous manuscripts of the Greek New Testament (none of which the Prophet had at his disposal). The Prophet has opened the door to interpretation but nothing is settled; the responsibility is now ours to do what we can with what available texts remain. Alas! we can't do much to sort it all out, for "men have long since lost the knowledge that enabled the ancient reader to make the necessary distinction," ibid. 159.

As in the case of so much in the scriptures of the Restoration, our curiosity has been piqued and a tone of authenticity given, but we must wait, and search, and pray for greater light on the matter.

The manuscript variants for the Lucan genealogy focus on but two places in the text. But what variants these are! And the Joseph Smith Translation, with its fivefold manner of translating tou (from the loins of, the son of, a descendant of, and of, who was formed of), gives plenty of leeway for variant readings. Of these, consider the impossibly complex strings of readings found for Father Aminidab (or Aminadam) and his Davidic lineage. If Aminadab is also a good Book of Mormon name, what shall we say of Almei (Alma!), which also appears as an additional name in the manuscripts? And consider the following: Aminidab tou Joram tou Amnei (Omni?!).

We conclude by noting how the Prophet's translation of Luke offhandedly voids concern over the contradictions between the Matthean and the Lucan genealogies of Joseph's immediate forefathers: no need for books, treatises, or elaborated theories about any of it. (Goodbye Grotius.) Matthew gives Joseph's father as Jacob son of Matthan; Luke ostensibly says Joseph is the son of Heli, the son of Matthat. But--and here's a key--the New Translation's phrase "Joseph who was from the loins of Heli" cleanly resolves the matter. Joseph can be both the son of Jacob (as Matthew has it, whatever son means in this case) and yet "from the loins of Heli."

Joseph Smith Translation Hebrews 11:23: Beautiful Baby Moses

What follows is a peek into the ways of scriptural translation.

I focus on a single word in the Hebrew Bible, tov. When used to describe Moses as a baby, tov has been rendered in various ways by the Greek, Latin, German, English, and other translators. The word also caught the attention of the Prophet Joseph Smith in preparing the New Translation of the Holy Bible: Moses, the proper child of the Authorised Version, becomes the peculiar child. Now that's peculiar--and just how does tov become peculiar?

At the outset, let's remember that the Prophet's wrote his New Translation under inspiration and without reference to the original languages of the Bible. Brother Joseph would later study Hebrew, German (Luther's Bible), and even Greek, but in 1832-3, when the New Translation was being prepared, he knew nothing of these. The New Translation, therefore, primarily corrects the reading of the English of the Authorised Version, though it may also sometimes reflect the original text of the Bible in surprising ways.

In the Authorised Translation of Hebrews 11:23 (which borrows from the martyr-translator, William Tyndale) we find the following:

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child, and they were not afraid of the king's commandments.

Again, the New Translation changes one word: because they saw he was a peculiar child. So let's begin with the word proper and learn how just one word in the Bible carries with it an amazing costume of historical and etymological meaning.

According to The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, proper comes from the Latin proprius: "one's own, special, peculiar, probably from pro priuo: private or peculiar thing." Proper, at the time the word entered the English language in the 13th century, means: "pertaining to oneself or itself, to a person or thing particularly." By the 14th century the word means: "strictly pertaining; thorough, complete; excellent, fine." What we today consider to be another word, propriety, arises from proper, and comes to mean (from the 15th to the 17th century), as does proper, the quality of a thing, fitness, appropriateness.

When Tyndale translated "be cause they saw he was a proper chylde," he was following good idiomatic usage. He meant Moses's parents saw he was an excellent child! Yes, yes, a remarkable child! a fine child! a proper child!

Still, a "proper child" is, admittedly, archaic (and British). No modern translator would stick with that--and the Prophet Joseph did not.

Tyndale was deeply influenced by Luther's Bible, yet it's interesting how Tyndale chooses English idiomatic usage for describing superior babies, rather than Luther's simple and correct idiom for describing exceptional German Kinder (and Luther also follows the Hebrew for Exodus 2:2 in translating Hebrews 11:23): wie er ein schoenes Kind war. Ein schoenes Kind: beautiful child! lovely child!

That earliest of all English translators, John Wycliffe, followed the Latin Vulgate, yet note the difference between Wycliffe:

for that thei seiyen the yonge child fair

and the Vulgate:

elegantem infantem: an elegant infant!

Elegant seems over the top today, but St. Jerome simply meant, when the word is put back into ordinary English, choice or elect: What a choice baby! Now that's choice.

On to the Greek: that should straighten things out in a hurry. The word for little Moses, found in both the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible, and thus in the Greek texts of Hebrews and Acts 7, is asteion (that is, asteios). It's worthwhile to consider the etymology. An asteios is someone of the astu, or of the town--had baby Moses already been out on the town?--rather than a hayseed (an agroikos). An asteios is polite, accomplished, cultivated, urbane (Latin, urbanus, urbs). Forget the cigars, that baby needs a pipe!

Taken to its etymological extreme, should we suppose that Stephen and Paul see in Moses a city-folk rather than country-cousin? Here's the right sort of baby: a quality child, a fine baby--finesse, refinement. Putting the high-falutin' etymology aside, asteios matches well the later elegantem, schoenes, and proper. Wycliffe's fair seems a bit off somehow. Where does it come from?

We turn now to Exodus 2:2 (both the Septuagint, which St. Paul was simply quoting, and the Hebrew). What does the Hebrew say? It "simply" says that the parents regarded baby Moses ki-tov, or as (kitov, and for that reason (reason enough) chose to hide him from Pharaoh. Now everybody knows what tov means: Matsel Tov! Good Luck! Elegant Luck! It's the simplest of all Hebrew words next to shalom.

But note how the Authorised Translation renders the word: "and when they saw him that he was a goodly child."

Alas! goodly is one of those words that, however simple seeming, defies simplicity. The Prophet Joseph had his try with goodly in the very first verse of the Book of Mormon, and Latter-day Saints have been puzzling over it ever since: I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents. What does that mean? For the many, goodly means simply "righteous parents"; think it through a bit, and goodly seems contextually related to what Nephi goes on to say about Father Lehi, the founder of a race. Lehi is an educated, wealthy estate holder, with possibly a second house in the city(?), who is able to train his sons in both the language of the Egyptians and the learning of the Jews, even a "model sheikh" (as Hugh Nibley says). So there you have it: Lehi, the urbane, the asteios, the cultivated, a man definitely above-the-cut. No wonder they laughed: here is no nutcase out with a revelation, but a man of the goodly class, a gentleman, the last person you would suspect of impropriety (the im-proper). Lehi, like Paul, is a standing insult to his own educated class. No wonder Lehi found that the mocking all too soon turned to murderous intent--here was a serious challenge to the elites.

But let's not lose sight of "goodly Moses." He wasn't cultivated, educated, or well-behaved--though all that would come--"O my prophetic soul." Tov speaks knowingly of "good things to come," but "just for tonight" the baby was simply beautiful: a fair child. And aren't they all?

If we say that Moses was tov, and that tov is fair, then any ol' baby could be Moses. So how shall we render tov in this case? Why, that Moses was an exceptional baby, out-of-the-ordinary, purtty as a picture! He was Special! (In the Mountain West everything is special or a (real) treat.)

Which brings us back to peculiar. Because, you see, peculiar and special bring us back to nothing at all in modern parlance, since both words usually mean nothing more nor less than bizarre, different, weird, plum loco.

How words change! But Moses was a baby with a difference: He was remarkable, proper, peculiar, fair, elegant, of cultivated mien (a prince), goodly, schoenes, and just "plain" beautiful.

And how hard it is to fit words to true praise! Given our thoughtless, even cynical ways, no single word at our command does the job. For us, elegantem infantum would be a joke. We need the specific and peculiar to properly express things. We need a touch of finesse, a bit of cultivation (we need to read Jacques Barzun).

Any babe is beautiful--but Moses was peculiarly so. Besides, he was God's own: even his peculiar possession around whom God would call into being his chosen and royal priesthood and his peculiar people. Nuances vary, yet resonating within that broader, scriptural sense, peculiar is just the word for our little prophet.

26 May 2018
Looking through Clarke's Commentary: Exodus 2, Acts, Hebrews 11, I see nothing that would have led Brother Joseph to the peculiar description of little baby Moses. Peculiar, in the Joseph Smith Translation, is a variant, or synonym, of proper--in its archaic sense--but what a choice variant it is!
The OED: peculiar: a. "Distinguished in nature, character, or attributes from others; unlike others, sui generis; special, remarkable; distinctive." Moses was also special in his meekness.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Joseph Smith Translation Luke 3:4-11: "The Whole Eschatological Theater"

The New Translation of Luke has its wonders--as its readers throughout the world well know! Deeply surprising is the lengthy and complex messianic and eschatological hymn or sermon of John the Baptist, which, like the hymns of Mary, Zacharias, and Simeon, makes up a virtual florilegium (anthology) of scripture that in its use of the Psalms, Isaiah, and 1 Enoch is quintessentially Lucan. All these hymns bespeak both the coming of the Messiah and the ultimate Latter-day "glory which shall be revealed" (see Romans 8:18; 1 Peter 5:1; Doctrine and Covenants 121:31). A beginning to the study of JST Luke 3 might well consider its quotations from the Hebrew Bible (a very preliminary tally of which I insert in brackets) and from the ancient Book of Enoch. A comparable anthology of prophetic utterance comes to us from the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith--History 1:36-41: the sermon, four times repeated, of the angel Moroni to the young Joseph Smith.

Let's begin with the sermon or song as it is found in Joseph Smith Translation New Testament ms 2, Folio 3, and which occurs as an insertion following KJV Luke 3:4 and preceding 3:5 (I've broken up the lines in order to set off its poetic nature):

As it is written in the book of the prophet Esais [sic]; and these are the words, -saying-,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness,
prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight.
[The KJV has: As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying,]

For behold, and lo, he shall come as it is written in the book [Psalms 40:7] of the prophets [Luke 1:70 (Zacharias)],
to take away the sins of the world [Isaiah 53],
and to bring salvation [Luke 1:76 quoting Isaiah 40] unto the heathen nations [the goyim: Isaiah 42:1];
to gather together those who are lost, which are of the sheepfold of Israel;
yea, even her dispersed and afflicted [Jeremiah 23 and 50; Ezekiel 34; Psalms 119:176; and Luke 9:24; 17:33; and the parables of the lost and the found in Luke 15];
and also to prepare the way and make possible the preaching of the Gospel unto the gentiles [Isaiah 66:19: declare my glory to the gentiles; Ezek. 37:38, 39:21; Joel 3:1; Amos 9:12; Malachi 1:11]
and to be a light unto all who sit in darkness, unto the uttermost parts of the earth [Psalms 2:8; Isaiah 60; Isaiah 42:6-7; Luke 2:32 (Simeon)];
to bring to pass the resurrection from the dead [Isaiah 26:19 LXX]
and to ascend upon high [Psalms 68:18],
to dwell on the right hand of the Father [Psalms 110:1],
until the fulness of time [Luke 21:24: times of the Gentiles fulfilled],
and the law and the testimony shall be sealed [Isaiah 8:16],
and the keys of the kingdom [Isaiah 22; Luke 1:33; 9:62]
shall be delivered up again unto the Father [1 Corinthians 15:24 quotes the same prophecy];
to administer justice unto all;
to come down in judgment upon all,
and to convince all the ungodly of their ungodly deeds,
which they have [ungodly crossed out] committed [1 Enoch; Jude 14];
and all this in the day that he shall come,
for it is a day of power [1 Enoch 1:1: day of tribulation; 1 Enoch 100:4: that day of judgment];
yea, every valley shall be filled [compare KJV Luke 3:5-6],
and every mountain and hill shall be brought low;
the crooked shall be made straight,
and the roughf [so it reads] ways made smooth
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God [Isaiah 40:3-5; 1 Enoch 1:6].

The Baptist's prophetic epitome of the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ (including His ministry to the dead) stands unmatched in all of recorded scripture for its scope and its compactness--not to mention its precise control of Hebrew prophecy. I marvel over the following teachings of Elder Bruce R. McConkie, a modern Apostle: "These words inserted in the ancient record by the Prophet Joseph Smith as the spirit of revelation rested upon him, contain such a wondrous outpouring of light and understanding that they give an entirely new perspective as to how and in what manner the gospel was preached in the meridian of time." The sermon is "an inspired summary of the mission and ministry and work of the Promised Messiah as it pertained to both of his comings and as it affected all men of all nations" (Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, 1:390-1).

Whoever composed this hymn knew the Old Testament cold. Consider what Professor Joseph Fitzmeyer says of Luke Chapter 1: "As in the case of the Magnificat [Mary], the Benedictus [Zacharias] is a cento-like composition, built up like a mosaic from numerous phrases drawn from the Greek OT" (Joseph Fitzmeyer, "Luke 1-9," Anchor Bible, ed. William Foxwell Albright and David Noel Freedman [Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965], Luke 1:376-7). Many observant readers will be able to tick off the quotations as they read: Why, that's Isaiah! Ezekiel! Jude!

Jude? Consider Jude 14-15:

And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, 15 To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.

Jude, as has long been recognized, is quoting from an ancient Book of Enoch, that is, the Ethiopic or 1 Enoch:

1 Enoch 1:6 Mountains and high places will fall down and be frightened. And high hills shall be made low. He will preserve the elect. . .
9 Behold, he will arrive with ten million of the holy ones in order [to execute judgment upon all]. He will destroy the wicked ones and censure all flesh on account of everything they have done, that which the sinners and wicked ones have committed/spoken against him.

1 Enoch 100:4 And the Most High will arise on that day of judgment in order to execute a great judgment upon all the sinners.

(James H. Charlesworth (ed.), The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 1)

John the Revelator, in the New Translation, also quotes these words of Enoch, but at some difference:

(Joseph Smith Translation, New Testament ms 2, Folio 4, p. 567) Revelation, Chapter 1:7 For behold he cometh in the clouds with ten thousands of his saints in the Kingdom, clothed with the glory of his Father. And every eye shall see him; and they who pierced him, and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.

That a book attributed to Enoch should be quoted in the New Testament--much less in the added material found in the New Translation--comes as no surprise to Latter-day Saints, who have their own account of Enoch in the Book of Moses. Readers of Hugh Nibley's Enoch the Prophet know these matters well. Brother Nibley, citing several top scholars, places great weight on the Enochic influence on the New Testament. R.H. Charles says: "Nearly all the writers of the New Testament were familiar with it, and were more or less influenced by it in thought and diction" (Hugh Nibley, Enoch the Prophet, 95). In fact many "passages of the New Testament. . . either in phraseology or idea directly depend on or are illustrative of passages in 1 Enoch" (Enoch the Prophet, 284 n.8, again quoting R.H. Charles). Luke, in particular, comes into notice: one scholar has even written an article about Luke's dependence on Enoch.

According to Ephraim Isaac, who edited the work for the Charlesworth collection, 1 Enoch "influenced Matthew, Luke, John [aha!], Acts," just for starters (p. 10). And note: "There is little doubt that 1 Enoch was influential in molding New Testament doctrines concerning the nature of the Messiah, the Son of Man [Nibley has written on the Son of Man title in the Book of Moses], demonology, the future, resurrection, final judgment, the whole eschatological theater, and symbolism."

The New Translation of the Prophet Joseph Smith is available for testing. Let me suggest one test: If the additions to the New Testament given by the Prophet Joseph Smith have any chance of being considered authentic, should not these additions also convey at least something of Enoch? And, if they do, should not at least some of such references be found in Luke?

The New Translation of the Prophet Joseph Smith passes this test. We've mentioned both Luke 3 and Revelation 1--and there are sure to be other places in the New Translation of the New Testament that cite Enoch. And what about "the whole eschatological theater" of which Professor Isaac speaks? If the new and poetic verses found in Joseph Smith Translation Luke 3 do not cover the ground, then nothing does.

Another test would be to compare the poetic and thematic structure of the eschatological anthology or song with other selections from Luke, beginning with the hymns and prophecies of Mary, Zacharias, and Simeon, among the most celebrated of scriptures in Christendom. Do these rely on Isaiah and the Psalms (with an admixture of the other prophets)? Then so does JST Luke 3. The New Translation cites not only Isaiah, Psalms, and Enoch, but also Ezekiel and Jeremiah, with hints of Joel, Amos, Zechariah, and Malachi--the burden of the prophets. Moroni gives a like recitation to young Joseph. Do these hymns speak of the salvation of the Gentiles and the redemption of Israel? So does JST Luke 3.

The songs of Mary, Simeon, and Zacharias, and the sermon, prophecy, or hymn of JST Luke 3 show a continuity of theme. Is the insertion in Luke 3 mere parroting? How then to explain the complexity of reference (including Enoch), the kingdom theme (which is so very Lucan), and the way in which the surprising turns of phrase remain true to theme?

Simeon's blessing reads (in part): For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou has prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel (Luke 2:30-2, quoting Isaiah 40:5 LXX; Isaiah 52:10; Luke 3:6; Titus 2:11--according to the footnotes in my Greek Bible). Turning to the last part of Zacharias' prophecy, we find: For thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:76-9, quoting Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1; 4:2; Isaiah 9:2; 58:8; 60:1-2, all of which follow extensive quotations from the Psalms). The Song of Mary, patterned after that of Hannah, also makes up a complex chain of references to the Psalms, with one reference also to Isaiah 41:8.

And how about all those references to a "Book of the Prophets"? and what of the citations beginning with the striking phrase and these are the words--saying, which is indicative of a tradition of public preaching, or exposition? The scrolls from Qumran contain just such collections or anthologies of the prophets. Quotations from the prophets were duly followed by a pesher: an eschatological, or latter-days, interpretation of the passage. And note how the New Translation better renders the idiom of prophetic citation at Qumran than does our Greek text: "as it is written in the Book of Isaiah the prophet" ('shr ktwb bspr ysh'yh hnby': 4QFlorilegium 1:15; cf. 4QCatena), in Joseph Fitzmeyer, "Luke I-IX," Anchor BibleLuke 1:460 n. 4). Not that the Greek text is so bad either: "the book of the words of Isaiah," which recalls, "the [book] of the words of Enoch" (1QapGen 2:5), Fitzmeyer, Luke 1:117. Not only is the usage of the New Translation authentic, such variation simply blossoms into the genuine. In other words, the inserted sermon is not only Lucan, it is Luke's.

The New Translation gives us a unique scriptural anthology brim with verve and sweep, which, while sufficiently different from the songs of Simeon, Mary, and Zacharias to stand on its own, yet soars from the very same themes. The previous hymns having been building up steam, we now have the final trumpet blast: The salvational salpinx salvo of Moroni. It's the whole eschatological theater rolled into one. The little eschatological hymn is not only authentic--it's genuine Luke.


Donald J. Miles, "Preservation of the Writing Approaches of the Four Gospel Writers in the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible" (MA Thesis, BYU: Provo, UT, 1991), notes the Lucan nature of the passage about the preaching of the gospel to the gentiles, 59-60.

Joseph Smith Translation Luke 17:6 Sycamore, Sycamine

The Prophet's scribes copied out the entire Gospel of Luke as part of the work of translation. It seems the Prophet, reading aloud, but making additions, deletions, and whatnot to and from the King James Version, dictated the text just as he wished it to read. And it's likely the scribes would not even have noticed minor variations from the Authorized Version.

Consider the sycamine tree that even mustard-seed faith can uproot and plant in the sea (Luke 17:6). The Prophet's scribes leave no trace of it; instead we find: "syc[k, struck out]amore tree," or "sycamore tree." Did the Prophet misspeak or his scribes mishear? It's possible, though I wonder. The business of translating under inspiration was a serious matter.

Let's suppose oversight. Given the nature of the Prophet's critics, such a claim to the ordinary accidents of our nature will never get him off the hook. Brother Joseph wasn't afraid of human error; the critics insist on inerrancy for prophets. And the botanists are raging: the sycamine is the Egyptian mulberry! It is not a sycamore! although related. Plus, say the textual scholars, Luke names both trees: sycamore (Luke 19) and sycamine (Luke 17). He knew what was up.

Whisking through Professor Joseph Fitzmeyer's Anchor Bible Commentary on Luke, vol. 2, 1143 n.6, we find a little peace from the supposed teapot tempestuousness that encompasseth our Prophet:

To this mulberry tree. "The Greek n. sykaminos occurs in the LXX (1 Kgs 10:27; 1 Chr 27:28; 2 Chr 1:15; 9:27, etc.) as the translation of Hebrew shiqmah, which is really the 'sycamore tree.' See Luke 19:4, sykomorea ["which occurs only here in the NT and never in the LXX, 1223 n.4"]. Luke may not have differentiated them."

Luke has a bigger problem than sycamines anyhow. For "what would have prompted Luke to change [St. Matthew's uprooted] 'mountain' into 'mulberry tree'?," 1142. Call in the geologists, call in the botanists, call the eye doctors.

Joseph Smith Translation Luke 3: Treasury, Tolls, and Taxes

Treasury, Tolls, and Taxes in the Lost Verses of Luke

Part 1

We speak of lost books but there are also "lost verses." The Joseph Smith Translation of the Holy Bible restores many such lost verses and, in so doing, opens broad areas of discovery for books we thought we knew.

Consider Luke 3:12-13:

12 Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do?
13 And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you.

Crystal clear, as we suppose, but now consider what follows in the New Translation and then consider how things would appear should we put the words of that New Translation back into Lucan Greek. Would it have a genuine ring to it?

Joseph Smith Translation Luke 3: 19-20
(New Testament Manuscript 2, Folio 3 = Joseph Smith's New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts, ed., Scott H. Faulring, Kent P. Jackson, Robert J. Matthews [Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2004]):

19 For it is well known unto you, Theophilus [misspelled "Theophelus" in NT Ms 2], that after the manner [ethos/nomima] of the Jews, and according to the custom of their law [kata to ethos tou nomou tou, or kata to nomos tou] in receiving [apolambanein] money [xalkon/argurion] in [LDS Bible: "into"] the treasury [eis ton gazophulakion], that out of the abundance [ek tou perisseuontos] which was received, was appointed unto the poor [diatetagmenou ptoxois], every man his portion [meros sou];

20 And after this manner [houtos] did the publicans [telonai] also, wherefore John said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed [diatetagmenou] you.

What we have here is an aside about the institution of toll-collecting or the like in Roman Palestine, a matter we know little about. Because Luke also holds forth on the institution of the Temple Treasury, things get confusing.

Yet the key to interpretation lies in the comparison: "And after this manner did the telonai, or publicans also." That means the institution of toll-collecting compares in kind to that of the Temple Treasury and distribution to the poor--quite a leap!

To make sense of things, we have to toss aside those manuals from schooldays and glimpse something of what a publican (the Latin word for telonos) is and what he is not. (The true ordo publicani is set forth by Ernst Badian, Publicans and Sinners: Private Enterprise in the Service of the Roman Republic.) And summing matters up in the Anchor Bible edition of Luke, Professor Joseph Fitzmeyer notes: "Neither 'publican' nor 'tax-collector' [nor 'tax-farmer'] is an accurate translation of the Greek term [telonos], which technically designates 'toll-collectors,' i.e. those engaged in the collection of indirect taxes (tolls, tariffs, imposts, and customs)" (Joseph Fitzmeyer, "Luke 10-24," Anchor Bible, ed. William Foxwell Albright and David Noel Freedman [Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965], Luke 2.469 n 12). While, in a broad sense, the telenai could include tax-farmers, Professor Donahue insists we are to see them in the New Testament as the "minor functionaries" at the toll booth, where they work under a supervisor (like Zacchaeus): "The telonai with whom Jesus associates in the Gospels are most likely toll collectors," 338 (John R. Donuhue, "Taxation in the New Testament," in Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman [New York: Doubleday, 1992], 6.337-8).

What we have here, Professor Werner Stenger further informs us, is the institution of the Portorium or, speaking of the duties, the portoria (from Latin for door or gate, and harbour). Matthew sits at the toll-station, Portorium, or telonion, "the receipt of custom." And I admire the Prophet Joseph Smith's plain definition of "receipt of custom" in JST Luke 5:27 as "the place where they received custom." Such stations typically were found at the borders (gates) between both provinces, or political borders, and economically and geographical distinct regions (Werner Stenger, "Gebt dem Kaiser, was des Kaisers ist...!": Eine sozialgeschichtliche Untersuchung zur Besteuerung Palastinas in neutestamentlicher Zeit [Frankfurt: Athenaum]30; Hugh Nibley, "Tenting, Toll, and Taxing," in The Ancient State: The Rulers and the Ruled = CWHN 10 [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991], 33-98, unfolds the ageless tale of tolls and taxing; for the origin of the toll, or "tent-money," see p. 58f).

For Palestine, Professor Stenger notes "eine Zollstation in Jericho" (Luke 19:1), which marked the border of the Jordan River that divided the Tetrachy of Herod Antipas and Roman Judea. Another example is the toll-station at Capernaum (Mark 2:14), Matthew Levi's post (Stenger, 30).

Whoever passed through these stations had to declare (the practice of professio) and pay customs on, well, everything (Verzollt wurde fast alles, was eine Zollgrenze passierte): yokes, wagons, draft animals, wheat, oil, garden foods, cattle, pearls, and items of jewelry and clothing (Stenger, 31).

Should the wayfarer make a false professio (most foolish because soldiers often stood at guard), the duty was doubled. But ordinarily all went well, and the traveller went on his or her way with a document bearing the official stamp of the toll station (Stenger, 32).

Back to Luke (in my own words):

"Theophilus, being, as you are, a Greek proselyte to Judaism, you have traveled to Jerusalem at Passover and cast freewill offerings into the Chamber of Secrets in the Temple Treasury. You know well how these freewill offerings are then quietly distributed to the poor of good family, and you certainly understand the need for a surplus of such offerings if all the worthy poor are to be helped (Mishnah, Shekalim, 2,5; 5,6).

"Now it's the same principle of distribution, more or less, that one finds with our telonai, or toll-collectors--a matter which would be unfamiliar to you as a man of Athens. From the surplus or abundance of money collected at these stations, each telonos receives his due percentage. So, you see, most noble Theophilus, while a clumsy comparison--Temple and Tollbooth indeed!--it's as simple as all that.

"And you can see John's point: the system lies wide-open to abuse. Toll-collectors, conspiring together, would, as a matter of course, exact more from travelers than duly required (often by false accusation doubling their duty) in order to grow the abundance and thus increase the portion of every man. Such like abuse, O Theophilus, you never see back home in Athens!"

Note how the simplistic, or overly precise explanation--and Luke as physician loves the detail--awaits summary removal from the final cut by no-nonsense scribes. Yet the restored verses truthfully reflect an institution in the Roman Empire but poorly known today, despite all its administrative niceties.

In one deft stroke the Prophet Joseph Smith tells us something about who mysterious Theophilus was and also touches briefly on the economic workings of the day, including the Temple Treasury as a charitable institution (including perforce district treasuries, as set forth in the Mishnah, Shekalim 2,1), and shows us how publicans sometimes cheated the poor. And note the irony of an otherwise cold comparison: the Temple Treasury, as sacred institution, exemplifies the proper, consecrated use of money "for the intent to do good." While identical in function, in a broad sense--for Luke somewhat forces the comparison between tollhouse and temple--how utterly opposite in outcome and intent!

A hidden homily, ironically poised, underlies these restored words of the Gospel of Luke.

Publicans: "The publicans of the New Testament were not real Roman publicani at all, but merely their local employees," Ernst Badian, Publicans and Sinners: Private Enterprise in the Service of the Roman Republic (Blackwell: Oxford/Cornell University Press, 1972), 11; "The very appellation of the publicani is due to the fact that they dealt with the public property (publica) of the Roman People," 15, i.e., public companies as contractors, mine owners, weapons dealers, and sometimes tax-farmers, and similar.

Out of the abundance: Since abundance means surplus, one wonders whether Luke might have been talking about the Surplus Collection (from the Shekel tax), the sheyarei ha-lishkah. Indeed the distribution of the sheyarei ha-lishkah (care of altars, sanctuaries, courts, Jerusalem's water system, towers) has been partly contested in Midrash (Ket.106b v Shek 4:2). In JST Luke 3:19-20, however, "abundance" likely refers to those "special chambers for freewill offerings" of which, "One was the chamber of anonymous gifts for those who wished to give charity anonymously: 'sin-fearing persons used to insert their gifts therein secretly, and the poor of good family would be supported therefrom secretly' (Shek 5:6)," Encyclopaedia Judaica, ed. Cecil Roth and Geoffrey Wigoder (New York: Macmillan, 1971-2), 15:981.

For Athenian probity in tax collection, see A. H. M. Jones (ed. P. A. Brunt), The Roman Economy: Studies in Ancient Economic and Administrative History (Oxford: Blackwell, 1974), 152ff., and 154: "It seems unlikely that at Athens, where they could be sued before the people's courts, contractors often exacted more than their due."

I have not been able to find any Latter-day Saint commentary on JST Luke 3:19-20 other than brief notices that such an addition exists. Robert J. Matthews very briefly notices the additional verses in JST Luke 3:19-20 on ps. 238-9 of his "A Plainer Translation": Joseph Smith's Translation of the Bible; as do Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the New Testament, 273; Robert L. Millet, "The Joseph Smith Translation and the Synoptic Gospels: Literary Style," in The Joseph Smith Translation: The Restoration of Plain and Precious Things, (ed. Monte S. Nyman, Robert L. Millet), 157; and D. Kelly Ogden and Andrew Skinner, Verse by Verse:The Four Gospels, 84.

Part Two

of Treasury, Toll, and Taxes in the New Translation of Luke

The New Translation reworks the wording of "receipt of custom" (the tollbooth) in three different ways, a reworking which reflects the study of the Prophet as he tried to express things clearly and accurately. The action of inspired translation, we are told in revelation, requires enormous mental effort, including trial and error, to be followed by prayer and confirmation (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 9).

Consider, then, the following clarifications for "receipt of custom":

1) JST Matthew 9:9: The original manuscript, New Testament Manuscript 1, shows no change: He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the receipt of custom.

2) JST Mark 2:14, New Testament Ms 2, Folio 2: He saw Levi, the son of Alpheus, sitting at the [receipt of custom, phrase written and then crossed out] place where they receive [present tense] tribute, as was customary in those days.

3) JST Matthew 9:9, New Testament Ms 2, Folio 1, with pinned on note, penned by Sidney Rigdon: "sitting at the [receipt of customs, phrase written and struck out--and note the plural!] place [where they received tributes as, all struck out] [pinned note begins] where they received [past tense] tribute, as was customary in those days.

4) And now, JST Luke 5:27, the end of the chain: the place where they received custom.

The question that arises is what the strange phrase, the place where they received tribute, as was customary in those days, is all about? Did the Prophet, at first, not understand what "custom" (or "customs") in "receipt of custom" meant? Possibly. More likely, a pun occurred to the mind (the Prophet Joseph was wild about punning, according to friend, Benjamin Johnson): "custom" (taxes) thus becomes "custom" (practice). And such a pun surely takes a jocular stab at the ubiquity of taxes. In fact, it's all quite funny: as was the custom in those days, as opposed to these happy times in 1831 when all taxes have been abolished. . .

Now, while the statement about the institution of collecting taxes, tolls, or tribute stands true (it indeed "was customary in those days"), and perchance reflects a lost shard of text, the translation is not the best of all possible worlds. And note how the words for tolls and tribute are interchangeable in the New Testament, as Fitzmeyer observes. The observation is only logical, since a toll, according to Hugh Nibley, is a token payment exacted for "permission to pass somewhere," and duly "given in recognition of sovereignty or lordship," i.e., tribute money (the New Testament word, phoros), 58.

The mental struggle for clarity was long, but by Luke 5:27 the Prophet found both apt phrasing and confirmation: "custom" is a better choice than "tribute"--and no puns allowed.

The result stands true in plain American prose:

Telonion, or receipt of custom: the place where they received custom.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Tower of Sherrizah and Book of Mormon Toponyms

The Late New Kingdom Wilbour Papyrus (Ramesses V) sheds light on settlement toponyms in the Ancient Near Eastern Kulturkreis, a Kulturkreis that encompasses the Book of Mormon as well.

"About 416 settlement names are given [in the Wilbour Papyrus]. . .The nature of the place names is very much like that of modern Egypt. Some are 'proper' names, but a large number are compounds in which the first element is descriptive. In modern Egypt the commonest are Kom (mound), Bet (house), Ezbet (originally a settlement for a landowner's peasants), Naga (properly an originally Arab Bedouin settlement), Zawiyet (a hamlet), and Deir (a Coptic Christian monastery)" (Barry Kemp, Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization, 311-312).

As for the New Kingdom scene: "Wilbour gives us Iat (mound), At (house), Wehit (hamlet), Bekhen (an official's villa), and Sega (tower). Altogether there are 141 of these places, subdivided as follows: 51 mounds, 37 houses, 29 hamlets, 17 villas, and 7 towers," Ibid., 312.

Again: " 'Houses' tend to be more numerous in zones where there were fewer larger towns, whilst 'villas' and 'towers' cluster in zones marked by larger towns [to protect them? store their provisions?]," 312. Further (312): "The place names just discussed have as their second element a personal name, 'The villa of so-and-so' "--a feature also noted for the Nephites in Alma 8:7--though with the Nephites, it was a primary element:

Now it was the custom of the people of Nephi, to call their lands, and their cities, and their villages, yea, even all their small villages, after the name of him who first possessed them; and thus it was with the land of Ammonihah.

How well do the various types of Book of Mormon toponyms match those of Egypt's New Kingdom or the broader Ancient Near East?

The Book of Mormon gives evidence for many a mound or hill, many of which bear names. Are any of these places of settlement--a Iat? The nature of Egyptian topography and consequent settlement patterns would little resemble the Book of Mormon lands. The Sons of Mosiah, we are told, taught the Lamanites in their houses and streets, and "upon their hills" (Alma 26:29), but their hills likely held no permanent residences. Ammon and his party of explorers tented on a hill boasting one of Noah's royal towers (Mosiah 7:5: 11:13). The same hill had indeed once served as "a resort for the children of Nephi at the time they fled out of the land," which again points to tents rather than houses (11:13).

The absence of another type of mound, the ruin mound (Eg. Iat, Heb. tel, Arabic tall, English tell)--a common Ancient Near Eastern toponym--at first holds forth against the Book of Mormon! But why would the Nephites, pioneers of a new civilization, call the fresh places they founded and settled tells or mounds? The tell belongs to the archaic milieu, and like Jericho, eldest of all, the Ancient Near East is a layer cake built upon millennia of settlement.

Even so, the Nephites did renew ruined cities: Zeniff renews the ancestral capital of Nephi-Lehi; after the great earthquake, "the Nephites "did build [1830 edition, fill] cities again where there had been cities burned" (4 Ne v.7).

Whether they themselves used the toponym or not, the Nephites did know what a tell consisted of. Far to the north of Nephite lands, archaic Americans had "cast up mighty heaps of earth" (Ether 10:23); after "great destruction, "their bones [became] as heaps of earth upon the face of the land" (11:6). When the Nephites first explored the far North, they found a land "covered with ruins of buildings [tells] of every kind" (Mosiah 8:8). The Nephites were, thereafter, quick learners. After the Nephite city, Ammonihah, was utterly destroyed in a dramatic raid: "their dead bodies were heaped up upon the face of the earth, and they were covered with a shallow covering. . . and it was called Desolation of Nehors" (Alma 16:11). Ammonihah was also later rebuilt, essentially a new city built on the previous destruction level.

We should not pass lightly over any cultural data the Book of Mormon may provide. Consider again 4 Nephi 7: after the great earthquake and fires, "the Nephites did build [1830 edition "fill"] cities again where there had been cities burned." Filling in a city on a burn site would be tell-making par excellence--but so would be building "cities again." We recall the earthquake layers at Hazor. To fill a city evokes the Ancient Near Eastern cultural pattern! Yet thanks to Professor Royal Skousen's wonderful detective work with both the original manuscripts and printed editions of the Book of Mormon, we learn that "The printer's manuscript has build rather than the 1830 edition's fill," Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, 6.3563. Either verb works; besides Zarahemla likely had several previous layers, both Mulekite and Nephite.

How about the toponym house, which does not appear--at least not to the casual reader--in Nephite America. Father Lehi "left his house, and the land of his inheritance" (1 Nephi 2:4), his Beit Lehi. We read that the house (if indeed the same "house") was "his own house at Jerusalem" (1 Ne 1:7). Yet to get to Lehi's house from Laban's house at Jerusalem, the sons of Lehi had to "go down to the land of our father's inheritance" 1 Ne 3:16, 22), and then go "up again to the house of Laban." So we do clearly have a sort of "Beit Lehi" (cf. 1 Ne 7:4, "the house of Ishmael").

Alma tells us that the palace-estate of the Ismaelite-Lamanite kings was known as "the king and his house," an authentic touch recalling the Egyptian pr (house) as palace complex (Alma 19:19). We do find a further hint of the "house" among the Lamanite commoners: thus Ammon and his brothers went from "house to house and village to village," which may signify a different thing entirely from "their houses" and "their streets" in which they were taught. (That is, one type of "house" might represent a toponym, the other, a residence.)

Why is house absent among the Nephites? The Nephites lived in "cities," "villages," and "small villages" and, in their Late Period, in "towns and villages," rather than on retired estates or little pockets of houses. Yet in those times in which the Nephites spread abroad in newly opened northern lands, desolate lands without timber, "they did build houses of cement" against the time new timber should suffice "to build their houses, yea, their cities, and their temples, and their synagogues, and their sanctuaries" (Helaman 3:7, 9). The statement suggests Beit as place name, though Helaman gives no examples.

The Wilbour Papyrus yields many a merry hamlet or village (and everybody knows Egypt also had its great cities). As just mentioned, the Nephites spoke of "cities," "villages," and "small villages" (Alma 8:7); or as they are listed centuries later: "towns, and villages, and cities" (Mormon 5:5). Nephites loved city life. They crushed together (cf. 3 Ne 4), packed in "from one city to another" in an urban chain stretching from north to south (Helaman 5:14-16)--from Brigham City to Payson. The Egyptians, although boasting fewer cities (were the Nephites so insecure in a new world, that nearly every named toponym had to be a city?) likewise packed themselves in up along the Nile, as did Sumerians and Babylonians down the Euphrates.

We turn last to tower as toponym: Tower of So-and-So makes up a place name in New Kingdom Egypt as well as Ancient Israel. While the Book of Mormon is lousy with towers: watchtowers, fortress towers, ensign towers, garden towers, propaganda towers, and temple towers dot the land, but the heavily edited Book of Mormon omits the possible toponyms.

And, then, in the next to the last chapter of the last book in the Book of Mormon (Moroni 9:7), we learn from an unedited letter, hurriedly added at the last minute, that the Nephites employed tower + Personal Name as toponym:

Behold, the Lamanites have many prisoners, which they took from the tower of Sherrizah [or Tower Sherrizah; Tower of Sherrizah]; and there were men, women, and children. And the husbands and fathers of those women and children they have slain; and they feed the women upon the flesh of their husbands, and the children upon the flesh of their fathers; and no water, save a little, do they give unto them (9:7). . . And again, my son, there are many widows and their daughters, who remain in Sherrizah; and that part of the provisions which the Lamanites did not carry away, behold, the army of Zenephi has carried away, and left them to wander whithersoever they can for food; and many old women do faint by the way and die (9:16). And the army which is with me is weak, and the armies of the Lamanites are betwixt Sherrizah and me (9:17).

The Tower of Refuge (cf. Arabic sharada) has become the Tower of Terror, of the Raid (Arabic, gaza). Sherrizah: the very name suggests Terror to the English ear. "Sherrizah" shout the headlines of every daily.

For the tower toponym there serve two Semitic words of widespread use, including Egypt, Phoenicia, Anatolia, and everywhere else: migdol (place of great size, tower; Mary Magdalene came from such  a tower city in Galilee) and segor (enclosed placed, tower, castle, fortress).

Magdala, borrowed from Hebrew, names Egyptian towers down to Coptic times. Professor James Hoch observes: "In Medinet Habu 42 the word occurs in a caption over the depiction of a tower with high doors, upper-storey window, and crenellated parapet with narrow crenals and rounded merlons. The caption reads: Mgdr n R'mssw Hq3-Iwn 'Magdal of Ramses, Ruler of On,'" Semitic Words in Egyptian Texts of the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period, #224. Some places in the Ancient Near East were simply called Tower or Tower City, or even Twin Towers (#224). For Tower + Personal or Place Name, the Bible has both the following long-established names (echte Ortsnamen): Migdol-El, Migdol-Gad, Migdol Eder, and Migdol-Shechem, and also the newer "given names" (benannte Tuerme): Migdol Penuel, Migdol David, etc. (Koehler-Baumgartner Lexicon). A migdol is often associated with a city, be its name what it may: Gideon "beat down the tower of Penuel and slew the men of the city" (Judges 8:17); "But there was a strong tower within the city [Thebez], and thither fled all" (Judges 9:51). Was the tower also called Thebez?

Now for Sigara, defined by Professor Hoch as Secured Building 'Fort' or 'Magazine'; 'Gate(?)'. How telling for the Book of Mormon is the following observation (Semitic Words in Egyptian Texts, #385; and cf #555, sikara = Tower Gate): "The word [sigara] occurs in a model letter from a captain concerning runaway slaves." Could anything be closer to the letter of Captain Mormon, with its streams of Tower of Sherrizah refugees? "The captain says," continues Hoch, "that he reached the sgr n Tkw 'sgr of Tjeku,' presumably a military installation. The word has been identified with BH sgor 'enclosure," and usually translated 'fortress,' or sim[ilar]." Interestingly: "The word occurs in the context of military or other stations including a migdal and a xtm," #385. The several words clearly are interchangeable, although various types of towers do appear.

The widespread use of the word sigara goes all the way back to Sumer; it is a Sumerian loan word (SI.GAR or KAK.SI.GAR = bolt of a sigar) into Semitic (Hoch, #385) and signifies "bolt" or "bar" of a gate, even--by synecdoche--sometimes "gate" or "tower gate" (Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, Shin, Part 2, cv sigaru).

In the Book of Mormon (where some form of magdal was likely used, since segor doesn't occur in place names in the Hebrew Bible), we find all the varieties of towers these several terms describe, including tower as toponym. Alma further notes many forts and strongholds, which all fit into the picture.

Let's list two examples:

1) the two towers built by King Noah (Mosiah 40: 12-13: "a very high tower, even so high. . .") near the temple, and "a great tower [that he caused] to be built on the hill north of the land Shilom, which had been a resort [place of refuge; fort, Zuflucht, i.e., not Disneyworld] for the children of Nephi, at the time they fled out of the land." Here are two magdala(s) like that of Ramesses: the Magdala of Ramesses, Ruler of Heliopolis (the centerplace) matching the Magdala of Noah, Ruler of Lehi-Nephi. Magdala of Ramesses need not be a toponym, although it could be, being descriptive of the builder, e.g.,  the tower built by David, Penuel, or whoever.

2) the Tower of (Personal Name) Sherrizah mentioned in Mormon's letter toponymically matches those dotting the Wilbour Papyrus and elsewhere. Again, these refer especially to military installations, and Sherrizah is so described. It was a target of the Lamanite army, being a place of provisions sacked by both Lamanite and Nephite(!) armies, as well as a city having a moderate to large (refugee?) population. Mormon explains that the military objective in raiding Tower Sherrizah was to plunder its store of provisions. And to get all its store, Sherrizah has, in fact, to be sacked twice. Here we have a sigara or sogar, even though it is likely rendered as Magdala Sherrizah (Migdol Sherrizah).

We must be detectives. Evidence for the Book of Mormon, says Hugh Nibley, ought to be both peculiar and specific to the ancient linguistic usage and to the cultural milieu of the Ancient Near East. So, with that in mind, we return to Professor Skousen's analysis of the Book of Mormon text to round things off:

"In the printer's manuscript, Oliver Cowdery initially wrote 'the tower Sherrizah.' Later, probably while proofing against the original manuscript," opines Skousen, "he supralinearly inserted the preposition of." Again: "Sherrizah is apparently the name of a place (probably a city, but also possibly a land--or perhaps both, a characteristic of Nephite naming [after founder's personal names]," 6.3939.

"In other words, Mormon is referring here in verse 7 to the tower in the city or land of Sherrizah rather than to a tower named Sherrizah. The of helps facilitate this reading," 6.3939. The logic is flawless; the grammatical reading inerrant; the conclusion out of step with the Ancient Near Eastern evidence.

The conclusion? "Sherrizah is not the name of the tower, but the place where it is located," 6.3939. That may be true, we find "tower and city" together, etc., but also note the peculiar and specific way in which the "Tower Sherrizah" or "Tower of Sherrizah" matches the Ancient Near Eastern evidence, including both the Wilbour Papyrus and the military missive about the Tower of (with genitive morpheme, nj) the Tjenu (note how Egyptian both uses the genitive marker and omits it at will--just as in the Book of Mormon toponyms).

Now if we only could figure out what Sherrizah means--what a puzzler! The name occurs only in Mormon 9, a good thousand years after Lehi left Jerusalem. The match with Semitic roots need not be perfect, given the expected linguistic shifts, only approximate. Let's try a couple out, while trying (just for fun) to match meaning with the content of Mormon 9.

A first guess leads us to the Moabite Personal Name Sh'rjh = *Sha're-ha (Ihre Tore = Her Gates), a good name for a fortress (Koehler-Baumgartner Lexicon cv sh'r, gates). Ugaritic has an "unknown mythological character," named shrgzz, which could possibly mean "Prince of heroes or warriors" (A Dictionary of the Ugaritic Language, Del Olmo Lete and Sanmartin, vol 1). Shrgzz matches our Sherrizah rather well. Still searching, we turn to another loan word from Semitic into Egyptian: s=-r-ta. Professor Hoch, though with hesitation, transcribes the word as tsallatu; I might further suggest shallatu. The word seems to refer to prisoners of war. Now that fits the context of Mormon 9. Even better is a consideration of the r's and z's in Sherrizah as the object of metathesis, a turn of events that yields Shezirrah, an outcome most reminiscent of sigara/SI.GAR/sogar, and the like: The Tower of a Military Installation.

Sherrizah also much recalls a Samaritan place name, Tsaridda (Heb Tseredah), the home of Jeroboam I (Koehler-Baumgartner, III, 1983). Here's a best try: Hebrew has a root sh-r-r, which speaks to soundness, integrity, health, and thus impregnability, or even opposition or enmity (cf. ts-r-r). Sharar is the father of a Davidic hero. For this root, we have the nominal form *sherirut, which the Koehler-Baumgartner lexicon renders as Wahrheit, Verhaertung, Verstocktheit (as in hardness of heart), and the like. But note an Aramaic (Syriac) form: sharriruta (Festigkeit): Ein Feste Burg ist unser Gott. Sharriruta makes a perfect bull's-eye for Sherrizah.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Joseph Smith Translation Psalm 104:1--Power and Majesty

Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, thou art very great;
thou art clothed with honour and majesty.
Who covereth thyself with light as a garment:
who stretcheth out the heavens like a curtain.

It would be difficult to surpass the beauty of these lines in any new translation of the Old Testament; the Authorized Version of the Holy Bible remains unsurpassed, and as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I am grateful for its official status as the true "Mormon Bible."

While the Prophet Joseph's New Translation of the Holy Bible does not replace the Authorized Version, it can clear up tangled patches. Often the Prophet deftly rephrases, with fewer words, and so improves the literary quality. The style of the New Translation is that of William Bradford: American plain style. One can quibble, for the New Translation in its quest for clarity, like any other modern version, in places mars the timeless beauty, however ambiguous, of the Authorized Version. Brother Joseph, Yankee Prophet, eschews tangling ambiguity.

The phrase "thou art clothed with honour and majesty" is certainly not injured, and is likely improved, by the Prophet's rendering "thou art clothed with power and majesty." And say what one will about Brother Joseph, what pious reader of Scripture can resist ascribing more power to God? Somehow honour graces not enough for the inspired translator: kings may have honor; God stands clothed in power.

Think of the old hymn, "Glory to God on High": "To him ascribed be/Honor and majesty/Thru all eternity:/Worthy the Lamb!" Change but a word, and "praise ye his name" shines all the brighter: "To him ascribed be/Power and majesty" (James Allen, 1734-1804).

But does power for honour reflect the Hebrew? Brother Joseph, in 1832-33, had not yet purchased his Hebrew Bible and Lexicon or engaged his Hebrew teacher. The original Hebrew phrase reads as a lovely and intensifying alliteration, hod ve hadar. According to the Koehler-Baumgartner lexicon, the word hod approximates the English words weight, power, glory, and the like, with power taking second place in the list. As with the Hebrew word kavod, usually rendered as the glory of God, the principal idea expressed by hod may be that of weight, of a center of gravity or gravitas. Hadar is said to represent "the soul in its highest manifestation of power," although the word literally refers to ornament, attire, splendor: the clothing of God in majesty. Hod ve hadar, with the accent falling on the second part of the phrase in good Semitic fashion, thus bespeaks "power and highest power."

Although not so changed elsewhere in the Prophet's New Translation, power would also better render hod in many other places. Thus God's thundering is to be recognized in the hod of his qol, in the reverberating "power of his voice." In this place (AV Isaiah 30:30) "his glorious voice" makes no sense at all.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Joseph Smith Translation 1 Sam. 28: The Words of Samuel in the Story of Saul and the Witch of Endor

In his New Translation of the dramatic story of King Saul's night journey to the Witch of Endor, the Prophet Joseph Smith adds telling detail that includes insight into the cleverness of the witch, the deftness of her questions, and her neurological state--a mind all but out of control--drama indeed! The taut dialogue between Saul and the witch, punctuated by a sharp scream, is worthy of Sophocles.

After cleverly denying her practice until Saul promises his protection (a detail missing in our Bibles but present in the New Translation), the witch asks Saul whose "words" (The words of whom? she asks in her routine way) she is to bring up, and Saul specifically demands the words of Samuel. The phrase words of, in the New Translation, fits the notion of the witch as oracle or mouthpiece: here is a divination by means of words. The idea of divining by words, of being mouthpiece for a spirit, is clearly set forth in the supernal masterwork of Johannes Pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture (1926).

Let's begin with the Prophet's New Translation of 1 Samuel 28: 9-15, as found in Old Testament Manuscript 2 (additions to the text of the King James Version appear in italics): And the woman said unto him, Behold, thou knowest what Saul hath done, how he hath cut off those that have familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land: wherefore then layest thou a snare for my life, to cause me to die also, who hath not a familiar spirit?

And Saul sware unto her by the Lord, saying, As the Lord liveth, there [the JST in the LDS Bible has then, possibly a misreading of there by modern transcribers of Manuscript 2] shall no punishment happen to thee for this thing.

Then said the woman, The words of whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up the words of Samuel.

And when the woman saw the words of Samuel, she cried with a loud voice; and the woman spake to Saul, saying, Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul.

And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou?

And the woman said unto Saul, I saw the words of Samuel [omit KJV gods, Hebrew elohim] ascending out of the earth. And she said, I saw Samuel also.

And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, I saw an old man coming [omit: cometh] up; [omit: and he is] covered with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped [omit: with] his face to the ground, and bowed himself.

And these are the words of Samuel unto Saul [And Samuel said to Saul], Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed.

The Prophet's changes to the story, strikingly odd, startle the reader.

But compare the wording of the New Translation to the comments of Johannes Pedersen on divination practices in Ancient Israel, based on his close reading of the Hebrew Bible.

"Saul," says Pedersen, "was left without counsel and in distress, being without a word from God, he went as a last resort" to Endor, Israel, 4.481.

Again: "We continually meet with the two terms 'obh and yidh'oni in conjunction (Lev. 19, 31; 20,6.27; 2 Kngs 21,6; 23, 24 et al.). They denote departed souls who speak to the living. Their whispered voices can be heard from the ground (Isa. 29:4) [a Book of Mormon prophecy here], but most frequently they speak through a man or woman who understands how to make them active. This spirit is said to be in the man or woman in question (Lev. 20:27). that means that it enters the soul and unites with it. Therefore the person through whose mouth the departed speaks can also be called 'obh and yidh'oni (II Kings 23:24)," words used too about all dealings with the dead," Johannes Pedersen, Israel, 4.482, cited by P. Kyle McCarter (ed), 1 Samuel, Anchor Bible 8 (1980), 420 (bold added). Professor McCarter leaves off quoting Pedersen here, but note what more is to be found in that encyclopaedic work:

"People 'enquire of' or 'consult' the departed spirits in the same way as they consult Yahweh in the oracle (Lev. 19, 31; Deut. 18, 11). The behaviour of those who bring up the dead is very like that of the prophets; a divine voice speaks in the souls, only it is not that of Yahweh," Israel, 4.482.

After all, does not Isaiah say that spirits "whisper and mutter"? and "peep," 4.483?

Even more striking about the story, as found in the New Translation, is the statement of the witch: "I saw the words of Samuel ascending from the earth." What is that all about? How can heard words be seen? But this expression of the witch is the most authentic touch of all. The mixing or blending of sensory perception, often called synaesthesia, rightly belongs to the mantic world. Just as some musicians "see" colors unfold in musical note and phrase, so does the witch in her trance see what properly belongs to hearing. The state of trance is colored in the synaesthetic mode of experience: "Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,/Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone" (Keats).

The whole story is despairingly unearthly, punctuated, as it is, by screams and the fourfold repetition of the question Why? But in the end--while Why? hangs in the darkness--no magic persists. Fighting against time, the witch bustles a hasty meal for Saul and his companions: "they ate, rose up, went," the very antithesis of Caesar's veni, vidi, vici: I came; I saw; I conquered. Spent Saul goes out into the darkness, not raging, but as lifeless automaton into night's abandon. And the witch qua witch vanishes in swift night with only Saul's pledge to cling to--all her magic come to term--abandoned without pay and minus her fatted calf. Her ultimate in art reflects no technique of magic, but the mere details, ironically elaborated, of domestic ritual. Mistress of Spirits no longer, she is transformed into a cook.

What happened? The Egyptians have a word for it: pn', a word written with the hieroglyph of the capsized boat. Pn' hk3w thus signifies to "counter" or to "capsize magic," and that's what we find in 1 Samuel 28. Capsized Saul and the Mistress of Spirits devolve, deflated, into cringing objects of fear, the flotsam of a fleeting pretence.

The phrase the words of highlight the fact that she is an oracle, a medium, which fits the Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern context, cf. J. P. Brown (1981), "The Mediterranean Seer and Shamanism," ZAW 93: 374-400.

Interpretation: The best words on the convoluted doctrinal Nachleben (afterlife--a pun) of the story, as found in Jewish commentary, can be found in the Soncino Bible edition of Samuel, note 12. when the woman saw Samuel., S. Goldman (ed) Samuel, 1951.

Latter-day Saint commentary on 1 Samuel 28 includes: President Charles W. Penrose, "The Witch of Endor," Improvement Era 1898; Elders' Journal 4:225-9 (1902); LDS Bible Dictionary, "Samuel"; and footnote 14a for 1 Sam. 28 in the Latter-day Saint edition of the Holy Bible. President Penrose took a firm stand against any truth behind the story; the footnotes of the LDS Bible follow his lead; while the LDS Bible Dictionary considers the possibility that if Samuel appeared, the appearance was of his own volition, that is, "despite and not because of" the conjuring. The Latter-day Saint edition of the Bible does not, however, speak to the changes in the New Translation. These have been noted briefly in print only by BYU Professor Monte S. Nyman.