Friday, October 12, 2012

Joseph Smith Translation Hosea 8:11: My Mercies

The King James Version of the Holy Bible is not without its moments of dark incoherence.

Consider the following place (Hosea 11:8): "My heart is turned within, my repentings are kindled together."

"My repentings are kindled together?" Put that sentence into simple English without the aid of anything except a collegiate dictionary!

Things are much turned about in the Joseph Smith Translation of the verse (note: my not mine in the edition of the KJV used by the Prophet), as a comparison of the two versions shows.


How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel?

how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim?

mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together.


my heart is turned toward thee, and my mercies are extended to gather thee.

(Scott H. Faulring, Kent P. Jackson, Robert J. Matthews, Joseph Smith's New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts [Provo, 2004], Old Testament Manuscript 2, 844-5).

Karl Elliger, the editor of Hosea for Biblia Hebraica (1970), takes the Hebrew word nixumay, rendered in KJV as my repentings, as a possible error for raxamay, my compassion or my mercies. Whether the editor is correct in so emending nixumay into raxamay, the emended reading is a dead ringer for that given by the Prophet Joseph: "My mercies"!

But the Prophet's translation of mercies stands whether we are to accept Professor Elliger's emendation of Hosea 11:8 or not. The editors of the Anchor Bible edition of Hosea say the following:

"emotions. The word nixumim [Hosea 11:8 has the plural form with possessive ending: nixumay] occurs only here, in Isa 57:18, and in Zech 1:13. The emotion is one of compassion and pity; it describes the desire to bring consolation. As such it is close in meaning to raxamim; the proposed emendation to raxamay is fatuous" (Francis I. Andersen, David Noel Freedman, Hosea, The Anchor Bible [New York, 1980]589).

My mercies thus answers to nixumay so surely as it does to raxamay. Indeed both the Targum (Aramaic Bible) and the Peshitta (Syriac) translate nixumay with the root r-x-m (see Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon database and Biblia Hebraica).

Elsewhere, the King James translators do not translate nixumim as repentings: repentings in KJV Hosea 11:8 is fatuous and incoherent--it "leadeth not," "comforteth not," unto salvation (Isaiah 57:18: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him; Zechariah 1:13: "And the Lord answered the angel that talked with me with good words and comfortable words"). The Prophet, by the way, at the time of translation, had not yet begun his Hebrew studies, so he would not have been aware of the two other instances of nixumim in the Hebrew Bible. Still, ought the Prophet Joseph to have rendered: "my comforts are kindled together"? Not so. Mercies is just the word.

Of all Bible translations, Martin Luther's alone renders nixumay as meine Barmherzigkeit (my mercy) instead of "my repentaunce" (Wycliffe), paenitudo mea (Vulgate), or metameleia mou (LXX). When Joseph the Seer, a good decade after making his own translation, encountered Luther's Bible, he took pains to learn the language, then pronounced it to be the version best attesting his own revelation. The doctrine of mercy shines brightly everywhere in the scriptures revealed through Joseph Smith, and especially the Book of Mormon, as the very essence of Christ's salvation. Thus nothing in Luther's Bible so attests the inspiration given to the Prophet about the mission of Christ as does this word Barmherzigkeit.

It takes some thinking to get at the root of these twinned Semitic verbs, r-x-m and n-x-m. R-x-m at its essence speaks to love; its place is the womb (rexem) of a loving mother; n-x-m conveys rest and calm (see, for example, the definitions in John Huehnergard's A Grammar of Akkadian). The bowels of n-x-m, its place, yearn to soothe, comfort, pacify. Not only do the verbs phonologically chime, their semantic fields overlap, and where they overlap, they blend in an expression of mercy.

Philology and semantics bring satisfaction, but the prophetic commission to reveal and to translate extends beyond academic pursuits. Said Elder Neal A. Maxwell: "The revelations of the Restoration confirm this cosmic fact: 'God so loved the world, that he gave his Only Begotten Son'" (John 3:16; October 2003, "How Choice a Seer!"). If semantics was the only thing at issue here, it would all be to small point. The replacement of the frustrating dark saying "my repentings" with "my mercies" becomes a translation--though so small in scope as the taking of a new breath--"especially responsive to the deepest human yearnings and puzzlements" (Elder Maxwell, "How Choice a Seer!"). And perhaps that single new breath of mercy, as his daily bread, suffices the Christian pilgrim to the top of yet one more hill.

"My mercies" signifies "My atoning mercies," "my pacifying and reconciling mercies"--and "all" "extended toward thee," "to gather thee," to bring thee Home. Hosea, at the very moment of justice, the moment in which Ephraim is about to be delivered up to the doom of the ancient Cities of the Plain, Admah and Zeboim, testifies of that Christ who, having "satisfied the demands of justice" and "having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion," now stands "betwixt them and justice" (see Mosiah 15:9, and note the complementary, as well as the contrasting, words mercy and compassion; for Admah and Zeboim, see Hosea, The Anchor Bible, 588).

Not long before his martyrdom, the Prophet Joseph observed of a letter sent him by the governor of Illinois: "There is no mercy--there is no mercy here" (History of the Church 6:545). Yet he remained, with his long-suffering brethren, purposeful, poised, and "calm as a Summer's morning"! How many rescuing drops of mercy, grace, and saving kindness do we find in our own here and now?

The editors of the Anchor Bible, as they struggle over the riddling text, linger over the poetic portrayal of a God who seemingly vacillates in agony of indecision. Such--for today's thoughtful reader--may be the ambiguity of poetry, but God does not repent; he does not have an inward turning of heart, says Joseph, so much as a heart burning with mercies, a heart ever turning towards Thee. That change in translation, or in emphasis, or in intent, we submit, becomes for the thirsting soul who finds "no mercy here" a small but sufficient well of grace springing up into everlasting life. We respond affirmatively to the plea of Elder Neal A. Maxwell: "Brothers and sisters, we dare not hold back the restored gospel's declarations! We dare not hold back the reassuring revelations and truth-telling translations about 'things as they really are, and . . . things as they really will be.' These are so needed by those whose weary hands hang down because they suffer from doctrinal anemia, which can best be treated by the red blood cells of the Restoration" (Elder Maxwell, "How Choice a Seer!" Italics added).


An electronic edition of the Luther Bible, 1545, can be found at

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.