Notes on linguistics problems in Mormonism

By Richard Packham

First published: April 20, 2003
Last revised: March 2, 2011


Introduction - How This Article Came About
The Importance of Language in Mormonism
Some Further Preliminary Considerations
"Translated by the power of God"
"King James" Style
Specific Language Problems in Mormonism
The word "Mormon"
"Isaiah" and "Esaias"
"Elijah" and "Elias"
"Jehovah" and "Elohim"
"Christ the Messiah"
More Greek in the Book of Mormon
"Church" and "synagogue"
More Greek Names
More on Book of Mormon Names
Isabel the Harlot
More King James Mistranslations in the Book of Mormon
"Familiar spirit"
The "Tower of Babel"
More Mormon Mistranslations
The Book of Abraham
"Kolob" and "Kokaubeam"
Engraving On Metal Plates (Book of Mormon)
Linguistic Criticisms That Are Not Valid or Not Strong
Linguistic Arguments in Favor of Mormon Claims
Chiasm (or Chiasmus)
Claims of Similar Vocabulary - Semitic and Native American

Introduction - How This Article Came About

            My interest in language in general and foreign languages in particular began when I was a child.   When I was in high school I took every foreign language the school offered (Latin and Spanish), and when I began college I continued that study, with the intention of becoming a language teacher.   I continued with Spanish, and also learned French and German, graduating with a major in German and minors in Spanish and English.   My master of arts degree was in German, after which I began to teach (Latin, German and English).   During that time I also studied Russian.   I then had the opportunity to work toward a doctorate in historical and comparative linguistics, and spent four years in graduate school, learning Anglo-Saxon, Old Icelandic, Gothic, Sanskrit, classical Greek, Old and Middle High German, as well as extensively studying comparative and historical linguistic methodology.   In the years since I have also studied Mandarin Chinese, Esperanto and Hebrew, and acquired a reading knowledge of Dutch and Italian.   During my teaching career of thirty-five years I used comparative linguistic techniques in the classroom.   I have found that my knowledge and experience with the phenomena of language give me a somewhat unusual perspective on Mormonism.

            This article gathers together my own observations as well as comments of others.   Some of these problems are well-known, but some of them I have never seen discussed before.   So far as I am aware, nowhere else has Mormonism been critiqued solely from a linguistic point of view, gathering together all of the linguistic problems in one place.

The Importance Of Language in Mormonism

            Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of Mormonism, was also fascinated with language from the very beginning of his career.   He was raised in a culture which believed in folk magic and the powers of language and mystical words.   (See D. Michael Quinn's Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (2d ed.) and John L. Brooke'sThe Refiner's Fire).   His very first major venture into religious matters was a purported translation of golden plates delivered to him (he said) by an angel and written in a hitherto unknown language ("reformed Egyptian"), which he claimed to be able to translate through the power of God. He later published it as The Book of Mormon.   When he later organized a church, he included among the titles and powers of the head of his church that of "translator":
"[The president of the church is]...to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God which he bestows upon the head of the church." [emphasis added]. (Doctrine and Covenants [D&C] 107:92, see also D&C 21:1)

            As Joseph Smith gained confidence during his career as the head of a growing church, he continued to be fascinated with languages, and he continued to translate.   Even though he claimed that he possessed (as head of the church) the divine power to translate other languages (implicitly without actually studying them ), he spent considerable effort to study other languages in the ordinary, non-divine way.   He hired tutors in Hebrew, and studied modern languages such as German.   He occasionally showed off his supposed knowledge of foreign languages, as in his "Appeal to the Freemen of the State of Vermont," where he demonstrated his linguistic ability by writing in seventeen different languages (quoted in Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, p. 292).

            In addition to the Book of Mormon, he made several other "translations":

            Although every president of the Mormon church supposedly holds all the authority and powers granted by God to Joseph Smith (Doctrine and Covenants 107:92), none of them has ventured to exercise the divine power to translate.

            Even ordinary members of the church were promised linguistic gifts, the ancient "gift of tongues," by which the faithful could speak in languages they did not know, and interpret the sayings of others who spoke in strange languages (D&C 46:24-25, 109:36).   Many instances of "speaking in tongues" are recorded from the early days of Mormonism.   In modern times, however, Mormons seem to be content with seeing that "gift" in the fact that their missionaries successfully study foreign languages to be able to preach in other countries.

Some Further Preliminary Considerations

"Translated by the power of God"

            If God is in fact involved in providing translations through his chosen servants, and if God has specifically called such servants to be "translators", one can assume that God has a purpose in doing so, and that the purpose must obviously be to furnish mankind with important messages.   It cannot serve God's purposes if those translators are in fact unable to provide accurate translations of the sacred material.   Surely, if God is at work here, the translations will be accurate and reliable.   Man's frailty or inabilities cannot be a frustration to the work of an omnipotent God, one would think.   And D&C 3:3 reiterates that idea:
"Remember, remember that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men;..."
            One should be able to assume, then, that God is a master of all the world's languages, and that if we find mistranslations or ignorance of the meanings of words, or inability to express an idea accurately, we are not dealing with a message from God, but a message from someone who merely claims to be speaking for God.

            Mormons will probably cite as an excuse for such errors the passage in the Book of Mormon (BoM), which says (Mormon 8:17) "And if there be faults [in this record] they be the faults of a man....".   They do not seem to realize that such an admission implies that any faults mean that - at least at that point - the man was not inspired by God. Notice, too, that "Mormon" is referring to the text that he is supposedly writing, not the translation to be made centuries later.

            Mormon apologists who try to deal with the many translation problems often try to excuse and explain the problems by showing how translating is an inaccurate art, how difficult it is, how translators are hampered by the inexact correspondence of one language with another.   All of which is very true, if one is looking at a translation done by a translator who was working with no divine assistance.   But none of those excuses can apply to Joseph Smith, who, although he was called the "translator," was merely supposed to be acting as God's secretary.   Accounts of the "translation" process which produced the Book of Mormon describe how the divine power would not let him proceed past a phrase until God considered it correct.  

            In fact, Mormon scholars, in attempting to deal with their inability to find certain cultural artifacts in ancient America which are described in the Book of Mormon, unwittingly deny the role of God in the translation process, since they have to insist that certain words are mistranslated:

"horse" really means "tapir" or "deer"
"chariot" really means "sledge" or "boat"
"north" really means "west"
"southward" really means "eastward"
"plates of gold" really means "plates of tumbaga"
"steel sword" really means "wooden macahuitl"
"narrow neck of land" really means a 160-mile-wide isthmus

Anachronisms - A Sure Proof of Fraud

            Probably ever since mankind began to write, there have been those who have tried to take advantage of the power of the written word by passing off their own writings, which would not have much credence if their true authorship were known, as the writings of someone with more authority, especially some long-dead authority.   There are hundreds, if not thousands, of such examples in the documentary history of mankind: the "Donation of Constantine," or the "Songs of Ossian," to name just two non-religious works.   In ancient times it was very common, and perhaps not even considered dishonest, to publish such a pseudepigraph: most of the biblical Apocryphal books are pseudepigrapha, and even some of the canonical books of the Bible are considered by many Bible scholars to have been written by someone other than the author whose name is associated with it (the Epistles of Peter, the Book of Daniel, the last part of Isaiah, some of the "Pauline" epistles, and others).  

            However, it is often important, in deciding whether to trust what a document says, to know whether its purported author really wrote it, or whether it was written later (especially much later) by someone else.   Thus, techniques were developed by scholars to test such texts, and these tests have proved to be remarkably helpful and accurate.

            One of the most important tests for uncovering an allegedly ancient text that is really a product of later times is the presence of anachronisms, that is, things that are inappropriate to the time in which the work supposedly was written.   It is a very straightforward and relatively common-sense test.

            For example: Suppose I show you a small book that says on its cover: "Journal of Gen'l George Washington." You look through the book and at first reading it does, indeed, appear to be the journal of a period in the life of George Washington.   What a treasure! It sounds authentic.   Its language is typical of the late 18th century, when Washington lived.   It contains material hitherto unknown to historians, and yet not contradictory to what is known.   I explain to you that it is a faithful typewritten copy of a handwritten book that was found among my grandfather's belongings.

            As you read it, however, you come across this sentence: "This aft'noon rec'd an urgent wire, took the rr train to Philadelphia, arr'd toward evening, met by M. Adams at the sta."    

            What is your reaction?   Are you suspicious?   You know that the railroad did not exist in Washington's day, nor did the term "rr train" or "sta[tion]" as a place where one would meet a "rr train."     Nor was a message called a "wire", since that term came into use only with the invention of the telegraph in the next century.   These are anachronisms, and immediately mark the text as not from the times of Washington.

            What explanation could I give you that would persuade you to accept this text as genuine?   I could probably try to defend the authenticity of my text.   I could suggest that "rr train" was probably a special shorthand Washington was using for "stagecoach" (even though there is no evidence of such a use in any genuine Washington writings, or in any other writings from the time).   A similar argument might be made for "wire" for a message.   But to any scholar, and to any ordinary person using common sense and a rudimentary knowledge of history, this text is a clumsy fraud.

            Would you change your mind if I listed all the things that are authentic in the text, or that sound believable or possible?   No, I would hope not.

            Would you change your mind if I argued that, after all, it was only two little anachronisms?   No, I would hope not.   Even only one anachronism - unless it can be conclusively shown to be a later insertion by someone else (a corruption of the original text) - is enough to condemn a text as not authentic.

            Would you change your mind if I confided to you that the journal had been given to my grandfather by an angel of God, and that the angel had told him that it was authentic?   I suppose to some people that would make a difference, but only the very, very gullible.

            The examples given above are of anachronistic objects.   A linguistic anachronism is the use of a word which actually did not come into use until much later than the alleged date of the document.   For example, if we found in the purported journal of Washington the expression "fifth column" (meaning undercover sabotage agents), we would know that the journal is not authentic, since that expression was coined and first used during the Spanish Civil War in the twentieth century.   Many of the anachronisms in Mormon scriptures are of this type, as will be illustrated below.

"King James" Style

            An observant reader of the Book of Mormon quickly notices that the style of English used there is similar to that of the King James Authorized translation of the Bible, with "thee" and "thou" and verb phrases like "hath seen" or frequent use of "behold."     Modern Bible translations generally avoid archaic language and use contemporary language instead.   And, of course, when the King James translators were writing their translation, they were writing in contemporary language, the language of England in 1611.

            Why would the Book of Mormon - also purportedly a translation of an ancient record, like the Bible - not be translated into the modern language of the translator (i.e., the American language of 1829)?   Why use a form of English that had disappeared (except for the King James Bible) from daily use?   True, in the 19th century it was not uncommon for translations of ancient secular works (such a Greek drama, Latin poetry, Norse epics) to use an antiquated form of English, for the purpose of emphasizing the antiquity of the original.

            And that may be the reason for Joseph Smith's use of archaic English in his translation.   However, that does not explain why the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants appear in the same archaic English.   They do not purport to be ancient documents, but modern.   Remember, too, that God insisted that the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants are God's own words, not filtered, and not translated:

"These words are not of men nor of man, but of me." - - D&C 18:34
One gets the impression that Smith's familiarity with the King James Bible led him to believe that when God speaks English, it's got to be the English of 1611.   But why?   Why would God speak in that particular style of English?   But that seems to be the rather pervasive belief among Mormons, who consider it improper to use anything but King James English when praying.   Mormon leaders sometimes suggest that such a style of speaking is more "sacred."

            They have insisted that prayers should address God with "thee" and "thou" rather than "you" because, they say, "thee" and "thou" are more "respectful" than "you."     This shows an ignorance of the history of the differing forms, as well as of the use of the equivalent forms in other modern languages which still use them (German, French, Spanish, etc.).   The "you" form (as well as "ye") is originally the plural form for "thee" and "thou," and the use of the plural when speaking to only one person began (relatively recently) as a sign of respect, whereas "thee" and "thou" (often called the "familiar" forms) did not necessarily indicate respect, but rather familiarity or the superior social status of the speaker.   As it became customary to show more and more respect to more and more people, "you" in English gradually supplanted the singular forms entirely in daily use.   Thus the Mormons have it backwards.

            The most damaging argument against asserting that the words in the Book of Mormon and (especially) the Doctrine and Covenants are the actual words of God, speaking in the English of 1611, is that the King James English of those scriptures is full of grammatical errors. Does God make gross grammatical errors in his chosen language?

            The English of 1611 had its grammatical rules, many of which were quite different from the grammatical rules of modern English. Although they were not always as strictly observed by the English of that time, there was not a lot of latitude. Many usages we now consider "correct English" were barely coming into use then, and were thus "incorrect." For example, "thou" "thee," "thy," and "thine" were used to refer only to the single (singular) person being addressed; "ye," "you," "your" and "yours" were used only when addressing more than one person, or a person to whom great respect was due. ("Ye" was the subject form, "you" the object form.) They were not interchangeable, any more than "I" and "we" are interchangeable in modern English. Nor were "ye" and "you" interchangeable, any more than "they" and "them."

            "He has" is modern English. No Elizabethan would say that, but rather "he hath." ("Has" does not occur at all in the King James Bible, but 134 times in the Doctrine and Covenants, along with 100 occurrences of "hath.") The correct possessive for "it" in King James' time was not "its," as in modern English, but "his." (See the first chapter of Genesis for numerous examples.)

            Surely if God were speaking modern English, he would not say things like "you is" or "we am," "Are Joseph here? Yes, they art." Nor would he arbitrarily switch from archaic English to modern English, often within the same sentence. And yet that is precisely the kind of ungrammatical imitation of King James English in Mormon scriptures. Here are some examples (thanks for many of these to Dr. Kent Ponder; emphasis added in all quotations):

            The same kinds of error are also frequent in the other Mormon scriptures:

            These are only a sampling of hundreds of other examples that could be cited, where God (or God's divinely inspired translator) is ungrammatical. Over the years, the Mormon church has corrected over 3,000 errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation and awkward wording in the Book of Mormon since its first publication in 1830, such things as "they was," "he seen," which would have been obviously incorrect to an educated speaker of modern English. One would think they would correct the many violations of King James era grammar as well. Especially if that style of English is God's preferred language when communicating with modern English speakers.

Specific Language Problems in Mormonism

            I will now discuss some of the many linguistic problems in Mormonism which show that its linguistic claims do not withstand close examination.

The word "Mormon"

            The word 'mormo' or 'mormon' can be found in any dictionary of classical Greek. It means "scarecrow, bugbear, ghost, demon."

            Apparently someone who knew some Greek tried to make something of this, and Joseph Smith responded with a "letter to the editor":

Editor of the Times and Seasons:

SIR: --Through the medium of your paper I wish to correct an error among men that profess to be learned, liberal and wise; and I do it the more cheerfully because I hope sober-thinking and sound-reasoning people will sooner listen to the voice of truth than be led astray by the vain pretensions of the self-wise.

The error I speak of is the definition of the word "Mormon." It has been stated that this word was derived from the Greek word mormo. This is not the case. There was no Greek or Latin upon the plates from which I, through the grace of the Lord, translated the Book of Mormon. Let the language of the book speak for itself. ...

Before I give a definition, however, to the word, let me say that the Bible in its widest sense, means good; for the Savior says according to the gospel of John, "I am the good shepherd" and it will not be beyond the common use of terms, to say that good is among the most important in use, and though known by various names in different languages, still its meaning is the same, and is ever in opposition to bad. We say from the Saxon, good; the Dane, god; the Latin, bonus; the Greek, kalos; the Hebrew, tob; and the Egyptian, mon. Hence, with the addition of more, or the contraction, mor, we have the word MORMON; which means, literally, more good.


[emphasis added] Times and Seasons, Vol.4, No.13, May 15, 1843, p.194,
also History of the Church Vol. 5, p.399, in a slightly altered version

            Several questions arise:

            If Joseph Smith was simply translating by the power of God, without actually having to know the foreign language(s) from which he was translating, how did he know that there was no Latin or Greek?   Since Smith did not know any Latin or Greek at the time he was "translating" the plates, it must have been God who told him that there was no Latin or Greek in the plates.   (Remember this statement for later!)

            How does a modern English word ("more") come to be part of an ancient Nephite (or Egyptian?) name?

"Isaiah" and "Esaias"

            The name of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah appears in its Hebrew form (Anglicized as 'Isaiah') only in the Old Testament (in fact, Isaiah is mentioned in the Old Testament only in the historical books of Kings and Chronicles, and in the book bearing his name).   Because the New Testament writers wrote in Greek, not Hebrew, whenever New Testament writers referred to this prophet, they used the Greek form of the name: 'Esaias.' The King James Version, which is the only version of the Bible Joseph Smith knew, also uses the Greek version of the name, anglicized as 'Esaias' rather than the Hebrew form 'Isaiah.' Most modern translations of the New Testament use the form 'Isaiah' rather than 'Esaias' so as to make clear to the reader that it is the Old Testament prophet Isaiah that is being referred to.   The name 'Esaias' thus occurs 21 times in the King James New Testament (but never in the Old Testament), and in each instance the writer is referring back to a prophecy of Isaiah.   Examine some of those occurrences of 'Esaias' in the KJV New Testament, and then check the Old Testament passages of Isaiah to which they refer:

NT Quote of "Esaias" Source in OT: "Isaiah"
Matt 3:3, Luke 3:4, John 1:23Isa 40:3
Matt 4:14Isa 9:1-2
Matt 8:17, John 12:38, Rom 10:16Isa 53:1-4
Matt 12:17Isa 42:1
Matt 13:14, John 12:39-41, Acts 28:25Isa 6:9
Matt 15:7, Mark 7:6Isa 29:13
Luke 4:17Isa 61:1
Acts 8:27-32Isa 53:7-8
Rom 9:27Isa 10:22
Rom 9:29Isa 1:9
Rom 10:20Isa 65:1

            Each of these King James New Testament passages refers to the words of "Esaias" and then quotes the book of Isaiah.   It would seem obvious that in the minds of the New Testament writers Isaiah and Esaias are one and the same.

            But D&C 84:11-13 says that Esaias was a prophet who lived in the days of Abraham, many centuries before Isaiah.   And D&C 76:100 distinguishes Esaias from Isaiah:

"...these are they who say they are some of one and some of another; some of Christ; and some of John; and some of Moses; and some of Elias; and some of Esaias; and some of Isaiah; ..." [emphasis added]
            "Ezias" also occurs in the Book of Mormon (Hel 8:20) in a list of prophets who have testified to the coming of a savior, also as a different prophet from Isaiah: "Zenos... also Zenock, and also Ezias, and also Isaiah,..."

            Thus, according to Mormon revelation through Joseph Smith, there was a prophet in the days of Abraham who had a Greek name (several centuries before the Greek language had developed), the same name as used by speakers of Greek two thousand years later for the great prophet Isaiah, and who appears to be unknown to any bible writer, but upon whom God personally conferred the priesthood.   And his prophecies of the coming savior are lost.

            Perhaps God should have explained to Joseph Smith that the same person's name can appear in different versions in different languages, but it is still the same person: the king who is called Charlemagne by the French and the English is the same person that the Germans call Karl der Grosse; the emperor called Don Carlos by the Spaniards is the same person we call Charles V.

"Elijah" and "Elias"

            Joseph Smith's problem with 'Elijah' (Hebrew) and 'Elias' (Greek) is similar, but more complicated.

            The name 'Elijah' occurs in this Hebrew form in the Bible (King James Translation) only in the Old Testament, over sixty times.   Almost all occurrences are in I and II Kings, but a very important occurrence is in the prophecy in Malachi 4:5-6:

"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse."
            In the Christian Bible, the Old Testament books are arranged so that this verse is the last verse in the Old Testament, emphasizing the Christian interpretation of this passage as a prophecy which is fulfilled in the gospels immediately following.   In the Jewish arrangement of the scriptures, Malachi is the last of the minor prophets, and is followed by the books called "Writings"; thus it is nowhere near the end of the Hebrew scriptures.   (For more problems with this passage, see

            The fame of Elijah rested not only on his great life and the Malachi prophecy, but on the fact that he did not die; he was carried into heaven without tasting death (II Kings 2:11).   It was perhaps this fact that allowed the Jews to accept the possibility that Elijah would, in fact, return as Malachi prophesied, since ordinarily the dead do not come back.   Elijah, however, never having actually died, could return.

            The name in the form 'Elijah' does not occur in the Greek New Testament, nor does 'Elias' occur in the Old Testament.   But 'Elias' occurs thirty times in the King James New Testament , and almost always in reference to the Malachi prophecy.   John the Baptist was considered by many to be the returning Elijah.   Notice however that it is always 'Elias' that is spoken of (Matt 11:14, 16:14, 17:11, Mark 9:11-13, John 1:21, 25 and parallels - KJV).   At Romans 11:2-3, Paul quotes 'Elias' with the words of Elijah from I Kings 19:14.

            At the Transfiguration, Moses and 'Elias' appear (Matt 17:3, Mark 9:4, Luke 9:30, KJV), and the disciples are informed that "Elias has come" (Matt 17:12, Mark 9:12).  

            Most modern translations of the New Testament use the Hebrew version of the name ('Elijah') instead of the Greek 'Elias' in order to avoid confusion and to emphasize that these two names refer to the same Old Testament prophet.

            But Joseph Smith obviously did not know this, and apparently God didn't tell him: In D&C 27:6-9, 'Elias' and 'Elijah' are treated as distinctly different prophets:

"And also with Elias, to whom I have committed the keys of bringing to pass the restoration of all things spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began, concerning the last days;
7 And also John the son of Zacharias, which Zacharias he (Elias) visited and gave promise that he should have a son, and his name should be John, and he should be filled with the spirit of Elias;
8 Which John I have sent unto you, my servants, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Oliver Cowdery, to ordain you unto the first priesthood which you have received, that you might be called and ordained even as Aaron;
9 And also Elijah, unto whom I have committed the keys of the power of turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers, that the whole earth may not be smitten with a curse;..."
[emphasis added] (see also D&C 138:45-46)
            Both Elias and Elijah also are reported to have appeared as two separate beings in the Kirtland temple (D&C 110:12, 13):
"12 After this, Elias appeared, and committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, saying that in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed.
13 After this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us; for Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said:
14 Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi--..."
[emphasis added]
            Thus, for Joseph Smith, the Greek name referred to one prophet and the Hebrew name referred to another.

            This has caused no end of trouble for Mormon theologians.   Mormon apostle and theologian Bruce R. McConkie, in Mormon Doctrine, takes more than three pages to try to unravel the contradictions.   He distinguishes five (!) meanings for "Elias":

1. A prophet of Abraham's time (D&C 110:12) and the "spirit" or "doctrine" of this prophet; McConkie admits that "We have no information, at this time, as to the mortal life or ministry of Elias.   It is apparent that he lived in the days of Abraham, but whether he was Abraham [!], or Melchizedek, or some other prophet, we do not know."

2. The Greek form of 'Elijah'; McConkie says, "This leads to some confusion..."     (Yes, especially in the mind of Joseph Smith!)

3. The Spirit and Doctrine of Elias, which is to prepare for a greater work to come (this must therefore pertain only to the Aaronic priesthood, says McConkie).

4. The Elias of the Restoration.   According to Joseph Smith, says McConkie, Christ is the Elias (JST "Inspired Version" John 1:21-28).   McConkie clarifies: "By revelation we are also informed that the Elias who was to restore all things is the angel Gabriel who was known in mortality as Noah. (D&C 27:6-7) ... From the same authentic source we also learn that the promised Elias is John the Revelator. (D&C 77:9, 14)."     McConkie then concludes that 'Elias' is a "composite personage."     It is a "name and a title."

5. John the Baptist is a good example of an 'Elias,' says McConkie.
            Now, which explanation makes more sense and is more likely the case?   McConkie's (Elias is a hitherto unknown prophet of Abraham's time, with a Greek name, or maybe Abraham himself, or Melchizedek, or Gabriel - who is also Noah - and Christ, and Elijah, and John the Baptist, and John the Revelator, and a "spirit or doctrine")?   Or the more obvious conclusion that Joseph Smith was simply ignorant of the fact that the King James New Testament uses the Greek version of Old Testament names?

            Moral: all it takes is one stupid mistake to form the basis for an entire complicated theology.

"Jehovah" and "Elohim"

            In a doctrinal statement by the Mormon First Presidency "The Father and the Son" (cited by Mormon theologian James Talmage in his The Articles of Faith, pp. 465ff) the prophets state that "Elohim" refers to God the Father, and "Jehovah" refers to God the Son. This distinction is also portrayed in the Mormon temple ritual drama, the "endowment," where "Elohim" gives instructions to "Jehovah and Michael" and sends them off to carry them out, which they do.

            This is a fundamental mistranslation of the Hebrew scriptures.

            Exodus 6:2-3 says, translated literally from Hebrew:

2 And Elohim spoke to Moses, and said to him, I am YHWH [Jehovah].
3 And I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as "El Shaddai" [God Almighty], but by my name YHWH I was not known to them.

            The Hebrew word "Elohim" means "God" and is translated in most English Bibles by "God," whereas "YHWH" - as this passage indicates, is the sacred name of God, and is translated in most English Bibles as "the LORD". In the Old Testament the terms are almost interchangeable, and frequently one version of an Old Testament story refers to the deity as "Elohim" (translated as "God") and another version of the same story uses the term "YHWH" (translated as "the LORD"). There are hundreds of such examples.   In fact, it was the use of these different terms in Hebrew for the deity that first led scholars to surmise that the first five books of the Old Testament are from differing sources and traditions: one that called God "Elohim", and another that called him "YHWH". Here are just a few examples:

            In the Flood story, God is referred to as "Elohim" in Gen 6:9-22; 7:9, 16; 8:1, 15. But God - apparently the same God - is called "YHWH (Jehovah)" in 6:5-7; 7:1-5, 16; 8:20. In God's dealings with Abraham, God is called "Elohim" in Genesis 17, but "YHWH" in Genesis 18. It is clear that these are not two different personages, but just one God, referred to by two different terms.   Hundreds of other examples could be cited. (See any analytical concordance under "God" and "Lord" for a complete listing.)

            The Hebrew word 'elohim' is grammatically the plural of the noun 'el' or 'eloi', which was the Semitic word meaning "god."     It is the same root as in the Arabic word "Allah."     Scholars believe that the Hebrews adopted the word from their neighbors the Canaanites, since "El" was the name of one of their chief gods.

            Joseph Smith, after he began to study Hebrew with a Hebrew teacher and later began to delve into the Jewish occultism in the Kabbalah, made much of the fact that the word "Elohim" is grammatically plural, and used that to justify his doctrine of the plurality of gods.   This is reflected in his Book of Abraham, where "the gods" are reported to have created the world (Abraham 3), whereas the corresponding passages of his (equally inspired?) Book of Moses (Moses 2), the creator reports that "I, God, said, Let there be light [etc.]"

            For an extensive discussion about Smith's sources for this interpretation of "Elohim," see "Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection" by Lance S. Owens, in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 27, No. 3, Fall 1994, pp. 117-194, also online here.

            Thus, Joseph Smith again assumes that two different names must signify two different personages.

"Christ the Messiah"

            Not many people are aware of the fact that the word "Messiah" is used in the King James Translation of the Old Testament only twice: in chapter 9 of the book of Daniel (written in the second century B.C.).   The Greek transliteration ("Messias") of this Hebrew word is used only twice in the New Testament, in the Gospel of John (1:41 and 4:25).

            The Hebrew word which gives us the term "messiah" is 'mashiach,' meaning literally "[the] anointed [one]" and is used 47 times in the Hebrew Old Testament, in reference to all anointed persons: priests, kings, etc.   It is only relatively late in Hebrew literature that it came to have the additional special meaning of the yet-to-come anointed king of the house of David who was expected to appear and free the Jews from foreign domination and establish God's kingdom forever on earth, and thus also end the world as we know it.

            Usually in the New Testament, which was written in Greek, the Hebrew word 'mashiach' is translated into Greek with the Greek word which means "anointed": 'christos', and that Greek word is usually not translated into English, but only transliterated (anglicized), as "Christ," with a capital letter.

            One of the fundamental teachings of Christianity, of course (and I am including Mormonism here, since Mormons share this view), is that Jesus was that promised Messiah (or "anointed [king]").  

            In the Greek of the New Testament, of course, he was referred to as "Jesus the Anointed One" ('Iesous ho christos'), which in Hebrew or Aramaic would be something like "Ieshua ha mashiach."

            Now, when we look at the Book of Mormon (supposedly translated from Hebrew written in "Reformed Egyptian"), we find that the term "Messiah" occurs about 25 times.   The term "Christ" occurs about 317 times.

            Several questions arise:

            What is the difference, for the Book of Mormon author(s), between the Hebrew word "messiah" and the Greek word "christ"?   (Especially when Joseph Smith insisted that there were no Greek words in the Book of Mormon.) Why is the Hebrew word used sometimes, but the Greek word at other times? Remember, these authors are supposedly Jews who knew no Greek! Were there two different Nephite (i.e. "Reformed Egyptian") words in the original text, one to be translated as "Messiah" and the other as "Christ"?   If so, what was the difference in their meaning, and what was their origin?

            The confusion is compounded in 2 Nephi 25:19, where Nephi writes:

For according to the words of the prophets, the Messiah cometh in six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem; and according to the words of the prophets, and also the word of the angel of God, his name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God. [emphasis added]

            Putting aside for the moment the question "What Old Testament prophets said that the messiah would be named Jesus Christ?" we would like to ask what this passage must have looked like in "Reformed Egyptian," since it is translating two occurrences of the same word ("the anointed one") in different ways, one with the Greek word "Christ" and one with the Hebrew word "Messiah." Why?

            Another question is why Nephi would think that the word "Christ" is a "name"! It is not a name, even though many Sunday School children think of it as a name ("Jesus Christ was the son of Joseph Christ and Mary Christ"). It is a title.   This passage is like saying "The name of the Father of our country was President Washington."

            Whoever wrote the Book of Mormon seemed to have Greek and Hebrew words at his disposal, but he did not understand their meaning.   Does that sound like God?   Or Nephi?   Or Joseph Smith?

More Greek in the Book of Mormon

            Remember that Joseph Smith said that there was "no Greek or Latin" in the Book of Mormon.   And it should not contain any Greek or Latin, since neither of those languages was familiar to the inhabitants of Palestine before Lehi supposedly left Jerusalem about 600 B.C.   However, as we shall see, there are many Greek words in the Book of Mormon, and that fact must cast doubt on the claim that it was written by Jews who broke off all contact with their homeland in about 590 B.C.   Historically, the Greek language was not used in Palestine until after the conquest of the Middle East by Alexander the Great, in 325 B.C., long after Lehi had left.   Latin did not come into use in Palestine until the first century B.C.   Thus, any Greek or Latin words in the Book of Mormon are linguistic anachronisms.

"Church" and "synagogue"

            In the BoM at 1 Nephi 4:24-26 is this passage, where Nephi has just beheaded Laban, and has disguised himself in Laban's (miraculously non-bloody) clothing. He is speaking to Laban's servant:
24 And I also spake unto him that I should carry the engravings, which were upon the plates of brass, to my elder brethren, who were without the walls.
25 And I also bade him that he should follow me.
26 And he, supposing that I spake of the brethren of the church, and that I was truly that Laban whom I had slain, wherefore he did follow me.
[emphasis added]
Does that sound odd? (Remember, this is a Jew in Jerusalem, 600 BC. Remember, too, that this "translation" is supposed to be divinely inspired.)

What word could Nephi have been using in "Reformed Egyptian" that God would inspire Joseph Smith to translate as "church"? The word "church" is never used in the Old Testament, not even in the King James Version. In fact, there was no such thing as a "church" among the Jews in 600 B.C. When the Jews referred to the religious community of Jews (which was really just the community of Jews - there was no notion of "religion" or religious organization separate from the idea of the community), they used Hebrew terms which are translated in the KJV Old Testament as "congregation" (over 300 occurrences): usually translating the Hebrew words 'moed' ("meeting place, meeting"), 'edah' ("appointed meeting, assembly, people"), or 'qahal' ("gathering, assembly").

Why would God not inspire Joseph Smith to use a word that would fit in with the King James style that Smith was using already? Like "congregation"? The word "church" occurs in the Bible (KJV) only in the New Testament, and, except for two passages in Matthew (which many scholars consider to be later interpolations), only after the death of Jesus and the rise of the organization referred to since then as the "church."     In the English New Testament the word "church" is usually used to translate the Greek word 'ekklesia,' which literally means "assembly" from the root meaning "call forth." The term meant specifically the organization to which the followers of Jesus belonged, to distinguish them from the Jewish "congregation."

            In 600 B.C. the organization of the religious life of the Jews was simply the organization of the hereditary priesthood, and either one was born a priest, or one was not. There was no organization to "join." There was no "church."

            This becomes even stranger when Nephi begins to talk about the "two churches" of God and of the devil, in 1 Nephi 14, in the sense of distinctive religious groups with differing beliefs.

            And then, in Mosiah 25:19-21, the word "churches" is used as though for the first time.   Notice that the author feels he must explain what "churches" means.   But didn't Nephi already use the "Reformed Egyptian" term, and didn't the writer of Mosiah have Nephi's writing available?

19 And it came to pass that king Mosiah granted unto Alma that he might establish churches throughout all the land of Zarahemla; and gave him power to ordain priests and teachers over every church.
20 Now this was done because there were so many people that they could not all be governed by one teacher; neither could they all hear the word of God in one assembly;
21 Therefore they did assemble themselves together in different bodies, being called churches; every church having their priests and their teachers, and every priest preaching the word according as it was delivered to him by the mouth of Alma.
[emphasis added]
            Thus, throughout Mosiah and Alma, the word "church" is used (one or two centuries before Jesus), even though it is really a New Testament word and a New Testament concept.   And it seems to be a new concept for that time, although Nephi had written about "the church" in his records several centuries earlier.

            The Jews, meanwhile, in Palestine, were meeting in "synagogues" for worship, prayer and teaching. And "synagogues" are mentioned frequently in the Book of Mormon (25 occurrences). However, the word as used there is not used as a variant of "church," but rather appears to mean something different - usually the place of worship of a sincere but false religion. One of the first occurrences of "synagogue" in the Book of Mormon is Alma 16:13:

"And Alma and Amulek went forth preaching repentance to the people in their temples, and in their sanctuaries, and also in their synagogues, which were built after the manner of the Jews."
Now, this passage is extremely interesting, because the Book of Mormon does not indicate that there was any contact between the descendants of Lehi and the Jews in Israel after about 590 B.C. And yet scholars of Jewish religious history are almost unanimous in the view that the synagogue, which we think of as so typical of Jewish religious life, did not exist before the destruction of the temple and the Babylonian Captivity (after 589 B.C.)! So how could any Nephite know about "synagogues ... after the manner of the Jews"?

            Even the word "synagogue" is Greek (from 'syn-' "together" and 'ag-' "bring, lead"), and, as mentioned earlier, Greek influence was practically non-existent in Palestine until the fourth century B.C., long after Lehi supposedly had left. The word "synagogue" is used only once in the KJV Old Testament (Psalm 74:8) as a translation for 'moed.' So what is it doing in the Book of Mormon?

            Is it possible that Joseph Smith (and his "divine" inspiration) couldn't translate these terms properly, thus casting doubt on the divinity of the work? Or is it more likely that this is just another indication that Joseph Smith was trying to produce another "bible" on his own, without sufficient linguistic knowledge to get away with it?

            Of course, Mormons will say that these passages prove that there were synagogues and churches in Jerusalem in 600 B.C.


            In 2 Nephi 29:3-10, Nephi (writing supposedly about 550 B.C.) prophesies that when the book he is writing (the Book of Mormon) comes forth, "many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible..."

            The word "Bible" is being used here in the sense that it had in Joseph Smith's day: a collection of sacred writings in a closed canon.  

            The word "Bible," of course, is not found in the Bible itself.   When the original Bible writers wanted to refer to the sacred writings, the Hebrew writers in the Old Testament used the Hebrew word 'k-th-b' "writing(s)." which included all kinds of writings, both secular and sacred.   The New Testament writers, writing in Greek, used the word 'graphe,' which also means simply "[something] written" or even "drawn, painted."

            Our English word "Bible" is an anglicization of the Greek word 'biblia', which means "books," and is simply the plural of the Greek word 'biblion' meaning "book."     This word (in its singular form only) appears about twenty times in the New Testament, referring to a particular sacred book.   But it never appears in the plural (except once, and then it refers to pagan writings).   The idea of a Christian canon (list of approved books, a "Bible" in the traditional sense) began only in the second century A.D., and the first such "canon" was put together by Marcion about 150 A.D. (who is now considered by Christians to be a heretic).

            The King James Version of the Bible uses the word "scriptures" only in the New Testament, where it is very common.   ("Scripture" in the singular, appears in the KJV Old Testament, and only once, in Daniel 10:21.)

            At the time Lehi supposedly left Jerusalem (600 B.C.) the idea of a closed canon of scripture (a "Bible") had not developed.   There was no such thing.   If you study the history of the development of the Jewish and Christian canon, you will find that the idea of canonizing certain books (that is, stamping them with the seal of divine authority) did not arise until the Alexandrian Jews, who no longer were fluent in Hebrew, wanted to translate the Hebrew sacred writings into Greek (about 250 B.C.), and thus a decision had to be made as to what books to translate.   The result, completed only after several generations, was the Greek Septuagint (Old Testament), the first attempt to create a canon, a "bible."     The Jewish canon was not determined completely until the first century A.D.

            So the question arises with the word "Bible" in 2 Nephi: what Hebrew (or "Reformed Egyptian") word appeared on the golden plates, to be translated as "Bible"?   The Book of Mormon uses the word "scriptures" about 38 times.   It is used in the way the New Testament writers use it.   "Bible" is a word, and - more important - a concept which did not even exist until several centuries after it was supposedly written by Nephi.

            If the Book of Mormon were authentic and historically accurate, one would expect that when God told Nephi that the Gentiles would cry, "A Bible! We have a Bible!" Nephi would have asked, "Excuse me, God, what does 'Bible' mean?   It's an idea I'm not familiar with."     And God would have given Nephi an explanation, so that Nephite readers of his record would know what was meant: something that would develop only many centuries later.

More Greek Names

            If you look through the list of names in the pronunciation guide which the church includes in every Book of Mormon, you will find other names in the Book of Mormon that are Greek, and therefore anachronistic:

More on Book of Mormon Names

            Mormons scholars have tried to analyze names in the Book of Mormon to show that they show Egyptian characteristics, or that they are actually Hebrew names which do not occur in the Bible, but only in authentic texts discovered since Joseph Smith's day.   Such evidence is not convincing, since the similarities are often somewhat far-fetched, and can be attributed to pure coincidence.   In the case of Hebrew names, especially, since Hebrew did not use vowels, and most Hebrew names consist of no more than three or four consonants, it is not suprising that actual Hebrew names would be similar to unusual names in the Book of Mormon.   The similarities are pure coincidence.

            Mormons object to the critics' calling such similarities "pure coincidence."     And yet that is precisely the argument Mormons use when presented with remarkable similarities of Book of Mormon names to names which existed in the world of the 19th century.

            The names "Cumorah" (spelled in the original 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon as "Camorah") and "Moroni" appeared on maps available in Joseph Smith's time, showing the Camoros Islands with their capital city Moroni.   A remarkable coincidence!

            Vernal Holley, in his study Book of Mormon Authorship: A Closer Look, third edition, 1992, (online here) lists over a dozen names of geographical locations within a few hundred miles of where Joseph Smith lived, in New York, Pennsylvania and nearby areas, which closely resemble Book of Mormon names, the most obvious one, of course, being the Lehigh Valley of eastern Pennsylvania, which is practically identical to the name of the patriarch Lehi of the Book of Mormon.   There are quite a few such similar names:

Lehi (Nephi 1, passim) Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania
Onidah (Alma 47:5) Oneida, New York
Angola (Mormon 2:4) Angola, New York
Morianton (Alma 50:25) Morgantown, Pennsylvania
Jacobugath (3 Nephi 9:9) Jacobsburg, Ohio
Alma (Alma, passim) Alma, West Virginia or Alma, Quebec
Shilom (Mosiah 7, 9 passim) Shiloh, Ohio
Kishkumen (Helaman 1, 2) Kiskiminitas River, Ohio
Moron (Ether 7) Morin, Quebec
Shurr (Ether 14:28) Sherbrooke, Quebec
Teancum (Mormon 4) Tecumseh, Ontario
Ripliancum (Ether 15:8) Ripley, Maine or Ripley, New York

            I am not suggesting that the real author of the Book of Mormon actually used these modern place names, or that he was even consciously aware of them.   I list them primarily to show that any similarities between Book of Mormon names and Egyptian or Hebrew names unknown to Joseph Smith which may be cited as "evidence of the Book of Mormon" are rather meaningless.   It is interesting to note, however, that the city of "Teancum" is described as "by the seashore" (Mormon 4:3), and the town of Tecumseh, a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, is close to Lake Erie.   Also, "Ripliancum" is supposedly the name of a large body of water or "waters", and Ripley, Maine, is within 40 miles of the cluster of large lakes in north-central Maine, whereas Ripley, New York, is on the shore of Lake Erie.

            It is odd that the text of the Book of Mormon contains a number of words or names which the author "translates" for us:

Irreantum (1 Ne 17:5) "many waters"
Rabbanah (Alma 18:13) "powerful or great king"
Rameumpton (Alma 31:21) "the holy stand [pulpit]"
Liahona (Alma 37:38) "compass" (see below)
Deseret (Ether 2:3) "honey bee"
Ripliancum (Ether 15:8) "large, to exceed all"

            But if these were real "Reformed Egyptian/Nephite" words with those meanings, why would Nephi be translating them for us?   It would be like my writing something like "And they came unto Salt Lake, which, being interpreted, means 'Salt Lake'."

            "Irreantum" is especially problematical, because Nephi says that this is the name given by the Lehites to the Indian Ocean.   We must assume that the Lehite band were still speaking relatively pure Hebrew, since they had left Jerusalem only a few years before.   But "irreantum" is not a Hebrew word, nor does it even resemble a Hebrew word.

            There are at least four words (other than proper names), however, which the author sees no need to translate: "neas" and "sheum" (Mosiah 9:9, apparently edible plants), and "cureloms and cumoms" (Ether 9:19, both "more useful" domestic animals than horses and asses).   One must wonder why these words were not "interpreted" when they were mentioned.   Incidentally, these items pose real problems for Mormon apologists, since they are supposed to represent real plants and real animals that were relatively abundant in ancient America.   And yet the fact that God's translator was unable to identify them with any known species, either ancient or modern, necessarily raises the question as to whether they actually existed except in the imagination of the author.

            The opposite question occurs with the names Bountiful and Desolation, each the name both of a "land" and of a city.   Surely these common English words are not the actual names by which the Nephites referred to these cities and countries.   But what were their Nephite names? And why doesn't the author follow the same pattern that was used before, with "Irreantum," for example?   To put it another way, if Joseph Smith was really translating, and the Nephite word for "bountiful" occurred in the text, and he was inspired to translate it into English, why didn't the same thing occur with all the other geographical place names, which undoubtedly also had meanings?

            It would be analogous to my writing about events occurring in places in modern America for German-speaking readers, and sometimes I would mention "Salt Lake City, which interpreted [in German] means 'Salz-See-Stadt'", but then I would refer to "Ludwigstadt", meaning St. Louis, and the Germans would wonder that there is a large city in America with a German name, since I did not use its real name.

Isabel the Harlot

            The Book of Mormon mentions a harlot named Isabel (Alma 39:3).   "Isabel" is a name that only came into use in France and Italy during the late Middle Ages.   How could it occur in the Book of Mormon during Alma's life?

More King James Mistranslations in the Book of Mormon

"virgin" - 2 Nephi 17:14 = Isaiah 7:14
            The Book of Mormon preserves some demonstrable mistranslations of the King James Version of the Bible.   One notable example is Isaiah 7:14, which in the KJV is translated "a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."     This is copied word for word into the Book of Mormon at 2 Nephi 17:14.   The problem is that the Hebrew text has the word 'almah,' which does not mean "virgin," but "young woman": the Hebrew word for "virgin" is 'bethulah,' and most modern Bible translations do not use "virgin" to translate Isaiah 7:14.   (Some Christians, including the author of Matthew 1:22-23, view this passage as a prophecy of the birth of Jesus from the virgin Mary, but that ignores the entire context of that chapter: the purpose of the prophecy was to answer King Ahaz' question about the outcome of his upcoming war with Syria and Israel.)

            The error can be traced back to the fact that the King James translators relied heavily on the Latin (Vulgate) translation of the Bible by Jerome, from the 4th century A.D.   Jerome, in turn, relied on the Greek (Septuagint) translation of the Old Testament.   In Greek there is only one word for both meanings ("virgin" and "young woman"), making the Greek translation from Hebrew ambiguous.   But why would Nephi be confused?   He was (supposedly) in possession of the original Hebrew text, which would have had the word 'almah,' not 'bethulah.' But he mistranslates the passage just as Jerome and the King James translators mistranslated it many centuries later.

"Lucifer" - 2 Nephi 24:12 = Isaiah 14:12
            Another remarkable example is at 2 Nephi 24:12, copied from Isaiah 14:12, as translated in the KJV: "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!" Here again the problem is a reliance on Jerome's Latin version (remember, from the 4th century A.D.!).

            The only place the word "Lucifer" occurs in the entire Bible is in the King James Version at this passage.   Other translations do not have "Lucifer" there (or anywhere at all), but translate the word correctly as "day-star," "star of the morning" or "morning star."

            This passage, when read in context, is addressed to the king of Babylon, who was very proud and haughty and surrounded in worldly glory, but who was to be destroyed.   "Lucifer" is used in Jerome's Latin (and, following Jerome, in the King James Version) to translate the Hebrew word 'helel', which means "morning star" (i.e., the planet Venus).   The Hebrew root 'h-l-l' means "shine" or "boast," so it is probably a taunting pun in the Hebrew Isaiah.   There were two Greek names for the planet, both similar: either 'heos-phoros' meaning "dawn-bringer," or 'phos-phoros' meaning "light-bringer."     In the Septuagint (Greek) translation of this passage, probably made in the first or second century B.C., they translated 'helel' with the Greek word 'heos-phoros.' When Jerome translated the Bible into Latin, he used the Septuagint as his source and simply translated the Greek word for Venus into the Latin name of that planet, which is an exact translation of the Greek 'phos-phoros': luci-fer, from the Latin roots 'luc-' "light" and 'fer-' "bring, bear, carry."

            It was not until well into the Christian era that the idea arose that "Lucifer" was a name, and that the verse applied to Satan and not to the king of Babylon.   It is probably influenced by the (erroneous) assumption that Luke 10:18 (saying that Satan fell as lightning from heaven) is a reference to the Isaiah passage.

            Oddly, the only other place in the Bible where the term "morning star" ('phosphoros') is used is at 2 Peter 1:19, where it refers to Jesus!

            Revelations 2:28 and 22:16 also refer to the "morning star," meaning Jesus, but use a different Greek phrase made up of the Greek words for "morning" and "star."     One verse promises the "morning star" as a reward to the faithful; the latter verse is Jesus' saying "I Jesus ... am the root and offspring of David, and the bright and morning star."

            This error is compounded in modern Mormon theology, with Lucifer as the name of a character in the endowment ceremony.   See also D&C 76:25-27:

"And this we saw also, and bear record, that an angel of God who was in authority in the presence of God, who rebelled against the Only Begotten Son whom the Father loved and who was in the bosom of the Father, was thrust down from the presence of God and the Son, 26 And was called Perdition, for the heavens wept over him--he was Lucifer, a son of the morning. 27 And we beheld, and lo, he is fallen! is fallen, even a son of the morning!"
            Error upon error! A Latin word in the (Hebrew-"reformed Egyptian") Book of Mormon!   Now, if a Mormon should object that "Lucifer" is just a translation, then we must ask: What is the Hebrew (or "reformed Egyptian") word which it is translating?   And how did it come to be the name of the devil?

"Familiar spirit"
            Mormons believe that Isaiah prophesied the coming forth of the Book of Mormon (Isaiah 29:4):
And thou shalt be brought down, [and] shalt speak out of the ground, and thy speech shall be low out of the dust, and thy voice shall be, as of one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and thy speech shall whisper out of the dust.
            The Book of Mormon itself echos this prophecy, but more specifically (2 Nephi 26:14-17):
14 But behold, I prophesy unto you concerning the last days; concerning the days when the Lord God shall bring these things forth unto the children of men.
15 After my seed and the seed of my brethren shall have dwindled in unbelief, and shall have been smitten by the Gentiles; yea, after the Lord God shall have camped against them round about, and shall have laid siege against them with a mount, and raised forts against them; and after they shall have been brought down low in the dust, even that they are not, yet the words of the righteous shall be written, and the prayers of the faithful shall be heard, and all those who have dwindled in unbelief shall not be forgotten.
16 For those who shall be destroyed shall speak unto them out of the ground, and their speech shall be low out of the dust, and their voice shall be as one that hath a familiar spirit; for the Lord God will give unto him power, that he may whisper concerning them, even as it were out of the ground; and their speech shall whisper out of the dust.
17 For thus saith the Lord God: They shall write the things which shall be done among them, and they shall be written and sealed up in a book, and those who have dwindled in unbelief shall not have them, for they seek to destroy the things of God.
[emphasis added]
            Mormons seem unaware that the word used in Isaiah for "familiar spirit" is Hebrew 'ob,' occurring about fifteen times in the Bible. It does not mean "a spirit which sounds familiar to you (because it is written in the style of the King James Bible)," as most Mormons think, but it means the spirit of a dead person, that is, a ghost, summoned by necromancy, which is everywhere condemned in the Bible as abominable (e.g. Leviticus 20:17, Deuteronomy 18:10-12, 1 Chronicles 10:13, 2 Chronicles 33:6, Isaiah 19:3).

            Another error influenced by mistranslations in the King James Version is the mention of "steel" and "iron."     Others have pointed out that no evidence of iron-working or steel has been found in pre-Columbian America.   But "steel" did not exist even in the Old World at the time Lehi supposedly left Jerusalem.   Where the KJV mentions "steel" (three passages: one in a Psalm of David, one in Job, and one in Jeremiah) the original Hebrew text has either 'nechushah' or 'nechosheth,' both of which mean simply "copper" or "brass."     Thus it appears that the author of the Book of Mormon believed that "steel" such as was common in the 19th century, was also known in Nephi's day.

            The problem becomes more serious for the Book of Mormon, however, since it also uses the term in attributing the knowledge of steel-making to the Jaredites (Ether 7:9), just a few generations after they are supposed to have left the Old World at the time of the Tower of Babel (ca. 2200 B.C.?).   Notice that the mention of steel does not imply that it is anything newly invented or previously unknown, but rather quite familiar.


            I think the most telling anachronism in the Book of Mormon involves the Liahona, the miraculous "ball" or "director" which God gave Lehi to guide him in his travels (1 Nephi 16:10).   Even if one grants, for the sake of argument, that God's power includes the ability to give someone a magic ball like the Liahona, there is still an anachronistic problem.   In fact, it is what one might call a double anachronism. Notice that in Alma 37:38, Alma is quoted as saying (supposedly speaking about 73 B.C.):
"And now, my son, I have somewhat to say concerning the thing which our fathers call a ball, or director--or our fathers called it Liahona, which is, being interpreted, a compass; and the Lord prepared it." [emphasis added]
            Alma also uses the word "compass" in verses 43 and 44.   Nephi also referred to the Liahona as a "compass" at 1 Ne 18:12, 18:21 (supposedly around 590 B.C.), and 2 Ne 5:12 (a few years later).

            The passage in Alma is clearly an attempt to explain one (unfamiliar) thing by saying it is like something else, something familiar.   Since the Book of Mormon claims to be a translation from Reformed Egyptian (or Nephite?), the English word "compass" must be a translation - divinely inspired, therefore correct! - for some Reformed Egyptian (or Nephite?) word that means what "compass" meant in 1830 American English in such a context, namely, a magnetic instrument used to determine geographical direction.

            Now, go to your encyclopedia and read the article on the history of the compass.   You will find that there was no such thing, not even the idea of any such thing, until about 1100 AD in China, about 1187 AD in Europe, about 1220 AD in Arabia, and about 1330 AD in Scandinavia.

            How could a word exist (the Nephite word translated as "compass") when no such device existed (other than the Liahona, of course), or would exist for another 1800 years?   (The word "compass" is frequently used in the English Bible translations, of course, but never in the meaning of a direction device, only in the quite unrelated meaning of "limit, circle, boundary, etc.")

            It would be analagous to the passage in Washington's fraudulent journal, where he looks into the future in America, and says: "There will come a time when every man will possess a wonderful device somewhat like a typewriter, yet it will have a picture before it, and the words typed by the typewriter will appear in the picture, and can be sent around the world..."     How could Washington explain what a computer is by comparing it to a typewriter, when there was no such thing as a typewriter in his day, and therefore the word "typewriter" did not exist?

            And of course the Mormon will argue the Nephites also had compasses, but they all rotted or rusted away, like the chariots and the steel swords.


            Another anachronistic word in the Jaredite story, easily overlooked, is at Ether 2:22-23, where the brother of Jared is talking with God and reporting to him that he has constructed the vessels for the trans-oceanic voyage to America.   The brother of Jared is truly smarter than God himself, since he has noticed something that God had overlooked, and God must ask for advice:
22 And he cried again unto the Lord saying: O Lord, behold I have done even as thou hast commanded me; and I have prepared the vessels for my people, and behold there is no light in them. Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?
23 And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces....
[emphasis added]
            What kind of windows would be "dashed in pieces" by ocean waves?   A porthole, opened for light, cannot be dashed in pieces.   Only a window covered with some translucent material such as glass would run this danger.   Nowadays we think it only natural that windows for admitting light are provided with glass.   And in Joseph Smith's day, window glass was very common.   But at the time Jared's people were supposed to have lived, translucent windows were still several thousand years in the future.   Windows were simply holes cut into the walls.   There was no type of window in ancient times that could be "dashed in pieces" by ocean waves! The Book of Mormon is obviously talking about 19th century windows.

            Of course, windows are mentioned frequently in the Bible.   But they are not windows that could be "dashed in pieces."     They are mere openings.   The only Bible passage which might be thought to indicate that ancient windows had some translucent material is Isaiah 54:12, God's promise to Israel captive in Babylon, which in the KJV is translated: "I will make thy windows of agates."     No other modern translation has "windows" here.   The Revised Standard Version translates it "pinnacles," the Jerusalem Bible has "battlements," Today's English Version has "towers," and the Contemporary English Version has "fortresses," with a footnote that the Hebrew text is "difficult" here.   In other words, modern scholars do not agree with the translators of the King James Version.   Difficult or not, the Book of Mormon reproduces the KJV translation, at 3 Nephi 22:12.

The "Tower of Babel"

            According to the Bible (Gen 11:1-9), at one time the "whole earth was of one language, and of one speech."   But because of men's pride, they began to build a tower to reach to heaven, which made God angry, and he therefore "confound[ed] the language of all the earth..." (v. 9)

            These nine verses are a typical "etiological" myth, i.e., a story invented to explain why something is so, much like children's stories called "How the leopard got his spots," "Why the sea is salty," "Why the sky is blue," etc.   There are a number of other etiological tales in the Bible, such as the tales to explain why a snake has no legs (Gen. 3), or why we see a rainbow after a storm (Gen.9:13-16).

            The point is: the Tower of Babel story is just a story, a myth, an etiological fable.   It no more explains the origin of the many languages of the world than does the punishment of Satan explain why snakes have no legs.  

            Just as scientists can explain the beautiful phenomenon of the rainbow by using the laws of optics (which undoubtedly existed long before Noah's time), so linguistic scientists can show that the many languages of mankind existed long before the period to which the Tower of Babel can be assigned (Mormons believe the Jaredites made their journey to America about 2200 B.C.).   No reputable linguistic scholar today accepts the Tower of Babel story as an explanation for the multiplicity of languages, for their origins, or for the date of their origins. The simple fact is that there are writings in many parts of the ancient world (China, Mesopotamia, Egypt), in widely different languages, dating from a thousand years before the supposed time of the Tower.   This uncontroverted fact shows that the Babel story is only a myth.   (See, for example, the article "Hamito-Semitic Languages" in The Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th ed., Macr 8:592ff, which gives the dates of the first appearance of those languages: Akkadian, 3200 BC; Canaanite, Ugaritic, Amorite, 3000 BC.)

            But it is not only the languages of the all the world that supposedly originated at the Tower of Babel, but also all the peoples of the world (Gen 11:8-9)! In other words, in order to accept the story of the Tower as literal and historical, one must believe that there were no other peoples on earth at the time.   Such a belief is contrary to everything that we know about the early periods of human history.

            If Mormons should suggest that the Tower of Babel must have been therefore much earlier than 2200 B.C., they have the problem that Ether 1:6-33 lists the generations from Jared (who left the Tower) to the last Jaredite, and there are only 28 generations.   The last surviving Jaredite (see Omni 1:21) was still alive some time after the Mulekites' arrival in America about 600 B.C.   To account for 28 generations between 2200 B.C. and ca. 600 B.C., the average generation would already have to be 60 years apart.   To make the "confusion of tongues" a thousand years (or more!) earlier (to account for the Chinese, Egyptians and Sumerians of ca. 4000 B.C.), every Jaredite father listed in the genealogy would have had to be over 120 years old before fathering his oldest child.

            Notice also that among the "Jaredite" generations listed in Ether 1 are two Hebrew names, "Aaron" (1:15-16) and "Levi" (1:20-21).   And the name "Ephraim" occurs at Ether 7:9.   One must ask how such Hebrew names appeared in America, when the Jaredites did not speak Hebrew, but rather a language which had not been confounded.

            Most Christians (except for the fundamentalist / evangelical inerrantists) can accept the mythical nature of the Tower of Babel story.   They can read it as allegory, an object lesson about human pride.   But Mormons must (and do) accept it as literal and historical.

For a more extensive discussion of the problems with belief in the Tower of Babel, see the pertinent section in the article "[Mormonism's] Conflicts with Science" here.

More Mormon Mistranslations

            Joseph Smith was fond of translating individual words, especially Biblical words, and giving them new meanings.   He also gave new meanings to many English words he found in the Bible.   Few of those new definitions have any linguistic validity.

"Sabaoth"       This Hebrew term occurs twice in the KJV New Testament (Rom 9:29 and James 5:4) in the phrase "Lord of Sabaoth," where the authors did not translate the Hebrew word, but merely wrote it in Greek letters. This is probably why the KJV translaters also left it in its original Hebrew form.   The word occurs several hundred times in the Hebrew Old Testament, where it is translated (correctly) as "hosts", in the phrase "Lord of Hosts."   The word is Hebrew 'saba' (sade - beth - aleph) and means "host [military], warfare, service."   The plural is made by adding the ordinary Hebrew plural ending '-oth': 'saba-oth'.

            But, according to Joseph Smith, D&C 95:7,

...the Lord of Sabaoth, which is by interpretation, the creator of the first day, the beginning and the end.
"Golgotha"       This word occurs three times in the Gospels (Matt 27:33, Mark 13:22, John 19:17), as the Aramaic name of the place where Jesus was crucified.   Each gospel correctly gives its meaning in Aramaic for the Greek reader, as "place of a skull," apparently because of the shape of the hill.   Luke (23:33) calls the place "Calvary," but this is the KJV translators' reliance on the Latin Vulgate, rather than on the original Greek.   In their original Greek texts, all four gospel authors called the place by the Greek word 'kranion,' meaning "skull" and all but Luke also then gave the Aramaic word which was its local name, "Golgotha."   'Calvaria' is the Latin word for "skull" and of course was thus also a (Latin) translation of "Golgotha."

            But, according to Joseph Smith, in his "inspired" translation of Mark 13:22 (appearing in the JST at Mark 15:25), that is not what the word means: "...Golgotha, which is, (being interpreted,) The place of a burial."

            Not only is this a complete mistranslation, but it makes no sense, since no one was buried at Golgotha.

"evangelists"       The sixth "Article of Faith" says that Mormons believe in the "same organization that existed in the Primitive [New Testament] church..." and lists various offices of the primitive church, including "evangelists."

            "Evangelists" are mentioned only three times in the New Testament.   Philip was an evangelist in Caesarea (Acts 21:8), but there is no hint as to why he was called that.   Evangelists are listed among other callings (prophets, teachers, pastors, apostles) at Ephesians 4:11, without defining what an evangelist is.   But Paul hints at what an evangelist is in 2 Timothy 4:1-5, where it seems clear that an evangelist is one who works at spreading the Gospel.   Since the Greek word for "gospel" is 'euangelion' and the verb meaning "to preach the gospel" is 'euangelizein', clearly the Greek word for "evangelist" (euangelistes) means "preacher of the gospel."

            However, Joseph Smith declared: "An Evangelist is a Patriarch, even the oldest man of the blood of Joseph or of the seed of Abraham."   (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 151) He goes on to say that the function of a "patriarch" in the Mormon church is to give blessings.   It is not primarily to preach or to spread the gospel.  

            There are thus two problems with the "evangelists" of the sixth "Article of Faith."   First, Joseph Smith gave a completely new meaning to the word, justified neither scripturally nor linguistically.   And second, there is no such title or office in the Mormon church.   (The Reorganized LDS Church, now renamed "Community of Christ" at least calls their patriarchs "evangelists," but they are no more correct linguistically than the Mormons.)

"seal", "bind", "loose"       Mormons use the word "seal" and "sealing" to refer to the ritual by which they claim to bind forever together in familial relationships husband with wife and parents with children.   This is one of the major purposes of the Mormon temple ceremonies.

            There are many Biblical passages with the word "seal," but they all refer to marking something with a seal, as the ancient equivalent of a signature, to indicate its authenticity or its completion (e.g Isa 8:16, Jer 32:10-11) or to close up a writing so that unauthorized persons could not open it without revealing their intrusion (e.g Isa 29:11, Dan 9:24, 12:4, 9).   There is no biblical reference to sealing by a priest as a religious ritual.   The only religiously significant sealing is done directly by God, and then it is in the sense of marking or identifying or certifying something (Rom. 4:11, 2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13, 4:30; Rev. 13:16-18).   The Book of Mormon also uses "seal" in this sense Mosiah 5:15 (by God) and Alma 34:35 (by the devil).

            In Mormonism, however, "seal" has taken on this new and unprecedented meaning of "joining together permanently."   The American Heritage Dictionary acknowledges that the Mormons have given this word a special (and otherwise unknown) meaning.   Under that verb, after listing its usual meanings (1. to affix a seal; 2. to close up; 3. to certify; 4. to determine) an additional meaning:

5. Mormon Church. To make binding for life; to solemnize forever, as a marriage.
This would seem to indicate that Mormonism's use of the word is recognized as unusual.   The meaning is one invented by Joseph Smith and is not scriptural.

            The Mormons see the authorization for their "sealing" to be the power that was given to Peter at Matt 16:19:

And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsover thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
            The same power is given later, at Matt 18:18, to all believers, without the reference to "keys".

            The word translated as "bind" in Matt 16:19 is the Greek word 'deo', and it means to "tie up [like a prisoner]," that is, to restrict someone's freedom, with a negative connotation.   It is used in that meaning about thirty times in the New Testament.   Paul uses it three times to refer to a person being bound by the law to the spouse, (Rom 7:2, 1 Cor 7:27, 39), but even in those three passages he is speaking of being restricted in contrast to being free.   A similar passage in John's gospel (20:23) hints at the correct intent of the passages: the release from sin.

            The Book of Mormon has the same passage as Matt 16:19, at Helaman 10:7, but changes "bind" to "seal."   Joseph Smith's "inspired" translation is identical to the King James version of Matt 16:19.

"turn the heart of the fathers" (Malachi 4:6)       This passage in Malachi, prophesying the return of Elijah, has played a key role in Mormonism since Joseph Smith's 1823 visitation from the angel Moroni.   (See above, under "Elijah and Elias".) In the KJV, this verse reads:

And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
            This passage is the last verse in the Christian Old Testament.

            The Book of Mormon has this same passage, as quoted by the resurrected Jesus to the Nephites, with exactly the same wording as in the King James Version, at 3 Nephi 25:6.

            Smith's "inspired" translation of the Bible ("JST") also contains the passage, exactly as in the KJV.

            However, in Smith's official account of his 1823 vision of the angel, written in 1838, he reported that the angel quoted to him several passages from Malachi, including this one, but, he said (Joseph Smith - History 1:36-39, in the Pearl of Great Price),

36.   ... He [the angel] quoted also the fourth or last chapter of the same prophecy [Malachi], though with a little variation from the way it reads in our Bibles....
39.   He also quoted the next verse [Malachi 4:6] differently: And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers.   If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.
            It appears, then, that the angel was unaware of, or even disagreed with, the words of Jesus as recorded in the gold plates which he was planning to turn over to Smith, and the inspired text of the Bible.

            But later even Smith disregarded both the inspired words of Jesus and the angel: in a sermon he delivered January 21, 1844, he said:

The Bible says, "...and he shall turn the hearts [sic] of the fathers to the children, and the hearts [sic] of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." Now, the word "turn" here should be translated "bind," or "seal." (History of the Church 6:183-184, also in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 330)
"the Sun [or Son?] of righteousness" (Malachi 4:2 vs. 3 Nephi 25:2)       The 25th chapter of 3 Nephi is identical to the King James translation of Malachi 4, with two modifications, one very minor, and one that betrays the English origin of the Book of Mormon.   Where Malachi says "...ye shall... grow up as calves of the stall" Nephi says "...ye shall... grow up as calves in the stall."   That is insignificant.

            But the other change is where Malachi says "the Sun of righteousness [shall arise]"; Nephi has "the Son of righteousness." Although the two words 'sun' and 'son' sound identical in English, Malachi was writing in Hebrew, and the Hebrew words for 'sun' and 'son' are quite dissimilar.   Only in English could such a confusion occur.   Since the error makes a considerable difference in the meaning, one must ask why God did not correct the error when the scribe was writing the Prophet's dictation of this passage?   (The JST translation has "Sun".)

            It is interesting to note that an article published in 1822 in Canandaigua, New York, (a few miles from where Joseph Smith lived) makes the same mistake in discussing Malachi 4:2, quoting it as "Son of Righteousness" (cited in David Persuitte, Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon (second edition) p. 131).

            Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, in his Mormon Doctrine, article "Son of Righteousness" treats 'son' and 'sun' as having the same meaning.   It appears that Mormon theology works only in English.

"raiment" or "remnant"?     Isaiah 14:19 (KJV) says: "But thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch, [and as] the raiment of those that are slain..." The Hebrew word translated as "raiment" is 'lebush', which appears 28 times in the Bible, translated variously in the KJV as "clothing," "apparel," "garment," "vestment," "vesture," and, here, as "raiment." This passage also appears in the Book of Mormon at 2 Nephi 24:19, but "raiment" is replaced by "remnant." Joseph Smith's "inspired" version of the Bible also has "remnant."

Which is correct? There are over eight Hebrew words meaning "remnant" in the Bible, occurring dozens of times, none of them having the remotest similarity to 'lebush.'

The explanation is quite obvious: Joseph Smith, in dictating the Book of Mormon to his scribe, and reading from his King James Bible, said "raiment" correctly, but the scribe mis-heard "remnant." And Joseph never caught the error. "Remnant" doesn't even make sense in the context.

"Alphus [and] Omegus"     D&C 95 is a revelation supposedly given by "Jesus Christ your Lord," who refers to himself as "Son Ahman; or, in other words Alphus; or, in other words, Omegus;..." This is the only place in Mormon scriptures where these words appear. They are obviously derived (incorrectly) from the names of the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and omega. In the Book of Revelation (second century A.D.) the phrase "alpha and omega" occurs four times (and nowhere else in the Bible) as a title for Christ, signifying that he is both the beginning ("alpha") and the end ("omega"). The BoM also identifies Christ as the "alpha and omega" in a single passage (3 Nephi 9:18). There are over a dozen occurrences of the phrase "alpha and omega" in the D&C, referring to Christ. But here, at D&C 95:17, Smith changed the words to "Alphus" and "Omegus." One must wonder, why? Does God not realize the origin of the term "alpha and omega"? Or did Joseph Smith suddenly realize that words ending in "-a" are feminine in many languages, and thus incorrect for a male deity? And which phrase is correct in referring to Christ?

The Book of Abraham

            The Book of Abraham ("BoA") is Joseph Smith's translation of some Egyptian papyrus scrolls that came into his possession in 1835.   He stated that one of the scrolls was written by the biblical Abraham "by his own hand."   Smith's translation is now accepted as scripture by the LDS church, as part of its Pearl of Great Price.   Smith also produced an "Egyptian Grammar" based on his translation.

            Modern scholars of ancient Egyptian have also translated the scrolls, and they agree unanimously that the scrolls, which are now in the possession of the Mormon church, are genuine, but they are common Egyptian funeral scrolls, entirely pagan in nature, having nothing to do with Abraham, and from a period 2000 years later than Abraham.   The "Grammar" has been said by Egyptologists to prove that Smith had no notion of the Egyptian language.   It is pure fantasy: he made it up.   (For details, see the links here.)

            But even if we did not have the actual papyrus and the testimony of the Egyptologists, proving that it is a hoax, we could recognize the Book of Abraham as such because of the linguistic anachronisms in the text of Smith's "translation."   In considering the material below, remember that Abraham supposedly lived somewhere between 2100 and 1700 B.C., according to most Bible chronologists.

I found the following linguistic anachronisms by my own careful reading of the text of the BoA and by researching the words in standard reference works.   After I had completed my research I discovered that Stephen E. Thompson had already covered the same ground in his article "Egyptology and the Book of Abraham" in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 28:1:143, Spring 1995.   I was gratified to see that my conclusions were confirmed by Thompson, who is a professional Egyptologist.


            The BoA uses the word "Pharaoh" as the name of rulers of Egypt (Abr 1:6, 20, 26) and says that the meaning of the word (1:20) is "king by royal blood."   The first ruler named "Pharaoh" is identified as a great-grandson of Noah (Abr 1:25).

            The linguistic problem is that the word "pharaoh" originally meant "great house."   It did not become a title for the king until the beginning of the New Kingdom (18th Dynasty), which began about 1567 B.C.   That usage is unknown in Palestine until after 1000 B.C.   According to Funk & Wagnall's New Standard Bible Dictionary, article "Pharaoh": "It is certain that in Abraham's time the kings of Egypt were not as yet called Pharaohs."   At no time in Egypt was the word used as the actual name of any king.   Of course, Genesis has the same anachronism (12:15), but no one has claimed that Genesis was written by Abraham or a contemporary of Abraham.


            Abraham, according to the BoA, lived in the "land of the Chaldeans" (1:1) which was governed by Pharaoh (1:8-20).   A place of sacrifice there had an Egyptian name, "Potiphar's Hill" (1:20).

            There are multiple anachronisms here.

            "Chaldeans" do not appear in history until the 12th century B.C., quite a few centuries after Abraham lived.   The earliest mention of them in historical records is in the 9th century B.C., in Assyrian records.   It was not until 721 B.C. that they established themselves, by seizing the throne of Babylon, ultimately establishing a Chaldean dynasty in Babylonia, which ruled from 625 to 539 B.C.   It is only after this that the term "Chaldea" or "land of the Chaldees" came to be used for "Babylon".

            This anachronism also occurs in Genesis (11:31), but, as noted above, no one has claimed that Genesis was written by Abraham or a contemporary of Abraham.

            There is no historical evidence that Egypt controlled any part of Mesopotamia at any time when Abraham might have lived.   Thus, it is a gross error to claim that Egyptian sacrifices were taking place in "Chaldea" at a sacrificial place with an Egyptian name.


            The BoA says that "Egyptus" was the wife of Ham (the son of Noah) and the mother of Pharaoh who established the first government of Egypt. (Abr 1:23).   The name "Egyptus" is obviously intended to be the source of the name of the country.   But here is the linguistic problem: the name "Egypt" is not Egyptian, but Greek ('Aigyptos'), and thus was not used for the name of the country until the Greeks had contact with it, long after Abraham's time.

            The Greek name is a corruption of an Egyptian name for the capital city of Memphis, 'Hat-kaptah'.   Perhaps the real name of Ham's wife was Hat-kaptah?   No, because Abr 1:23 says that "Egypt" is a "Chaldean" word (see previous section on "Chaldea"), and it means "forbidden".

            The Hebrew word for Egypt and the Egyptians is 'Mizraim,' which adds to the confusion, because the Bible says that Mizraim was a son of Ham (Gen 10:6, 13) and the ancestor not of the Egyptians, but of the Philistines.

"Kolob" and "Kokaubeam"

            "Kokob" and "Kokaubeam" appear at Abr 3:13, and are interpreted respectively as "star" and "stars".   These are genuine Hebrew words.   "Shinehah" in the same passage, meaning "the sun" is probably based on the Hebrew word for "year" ("shanah").   "Olea" for the moon is a word invented by Smith.   "Kolob" (Abr 3), which is supposed to be the "star" nearest to the throne of God, is perhaps intended to be the Hebrew word 'keleb' ("dog") and may refer to the star Sirius, nicknamed the "Dog Star" (Alpha Canis Majoris), the brightest star in the northern-hemisphere sky.

            Do these Hebrew words provide weighty evidence in defense of the Book of Abraham?   Hardly.   At the time Smith was producing the Book of Abraham he was also intently studying Hebrew with a private tutor.  

            Here, too, Joseph Smith was perhaps trying to be too clever: Abraham lived at a time long before the Hebrew language had even developed.   According to the article "Hamito-Semitic Languages" in The Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th ed., Macr 8:592, Hebrew did not develop until the 13th century BC.   Thus, Abraham could not possibly have spoken Hebrew, since (if he existed at all) he lived about 2000 BC.

Engraving On Metal Plates

            According to Joseph Smith, he translated the Book of Mormon from an original text which was engraved on metal plates. In the text, the ancient authors mentioned how precious the space was on the plates, and they gave as their reason for writing in Egyptian (or "reformed" Egyptian) that this language required less space than Hebrew, their native language. This claim does not hold up under examination.

“And as these plates are small, and as these things are written for the intent of the benefit of our brethren the Lamanites, wherefore, it must needs be that I write a little; but I shall not write the things of my prophesying, nor of my revelations. .”
“And I, Jarom, do not write more, for the plates are small.”
- Jarom 2, 14

“And if our plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew; ..... “ - Mormon 9:33

“ And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech.
“... the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record.”
- Mormon 9:32-33

"Reformed Egyptian"

            Does it make sense that writing in Hebrew would have required so much more space than writing in some form of Egyptian?

            At the time of Lehi there were three written forms of Egyptian: Hieroglyphic (stone & papyrus, from ca 2700 BC), Hieratic (ink on papyrus, from 2700 BC), and Demotic (all media, from 650 BC).

            Here is an example of a short sentence written in hieroglyphic Egyptian:

Hieroglyphics for 'I have given bread'
The characters were pronounced "au er-tana tau" and mean "I have given bread."

            In Hebrew this could be written in seven Hebrew characters, pronounced "nathati lechem" (reading right to left):

Hebrew characters for NTTI LHM

If one were to use Hebrew characters to write the Egyptian sounds, the Hebrew characters would be (also reading right to left):

Hebrew characters for 'W 'RTN TW
pronounced "au er-tana tau." Clearly, hieroglyphic Egyptian would not have saved space on the metal plates.

            Hieratic Egyptian is derived directly from the hieroglyphic, and is no more space-saving. But what about demotic? It is essentially an alphabet, like Hebrew, with each character representing a sound. Here is the demotic alphabet:

            And here is the Hebrew alphabet, for comparison:

            For comparison, here is the only sample of characters from the plates that exists, the so-called "Anthon Transcript," which Martin Harris took to New York to show to language professors at Columbia.

An interesting analysis of these "Caractors" by Richard Stout titled “A Singular Discovery” shows a possible origin for them in the "Detroit Manuscript," an obscure document which has connections to Joseph Smith's uncle and to Professor Mitchill at Columbia, who referred Harris to Anthon.

            One must ask then, why would any Hebrew writer engraving onto metal tablets feel that he would save a great deal of space by using demotic characters rather than Hebrew? It would seem there would be no saving of space at all. Also, the fact that the Jews considered their language sacred, there would be no reason whatsoever for them to keep sacred records in a foreign language, especially the language of a people who had oppressed and enslaved them.

            Some Mormon apologists have pointed out that archaeologists have indeed found Egyptian writings in ancient Palestine, and even some sacred Jewish texts written in Egyptian. Those can be easily explained: Egyptians often occupied Palestine, so it would not be unusual to find Egyptian writing there. There is no reason to assume that Egyptian writings in Palestine were written by Jews and not Egyptians. At most they would be written by bilingual Jews for Egyptian readers who did not know Hebrew. That certainly would not be the case for Lehi's followers to write in Egyptian. They had no audience whose only language was Egyptian.

            A modern example might be the fact that during the German occupation of France in the 1940s there were obviously a number of publications in German, for use of the occupation forces. Some Frenchmen were probably bilingual, and made translations of French materials into German for German readers. But it would be extremely unlikely that French speakers who escaped their occupied homeland and found refuge in other countries would have written their diaries in German. And the Jews with Lehi would just as unlikely have written their records in Egyptian.

            Why then, did the Nephites choose to write in a form of Egyptian?   The obvious answer seems to be that Joseph Smith felt he was less likely to be exposed if he showed plates with engravings in a still-undeciphered language (Egyptian) than in a relatively better-known language (Hebrew).   To add an additional degree of safety, he claimed that the Egyptian had been "altered."     His Egyptian ploy finally caught up with him in the Book of Abraham.

Editing "on the fly"

            One must imagine the Nephite authors working with a stylus on their metal plates, painstakingly etching each character. Surely they must have planned carefully what they were going to write, before putting stylus to metal. But there are numerous passages in the Book of Mormon which look like they are the product of rapid dictation, with corrections made "on the fly." They seem quite unlike the product of "think before you write." A few of the many examples:

“Wherefore, I, Nephi, did make a record upon the other plates, which gives an account, or which gives a greater account of the wars and contentions...” - 1 Nephi 19:4

“Yea, even the very God of Israel do men trample under their feet; I say, trample under their feet but I would speak in other words—they set him at naught, ...” - 1 Nephi 19:7

“..who went up to dwell in the land of Lehi-Nephi, or in the city of Lehi-Nephi” - Mosiah 7:1

“..and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest..” - Mosiah 8:17

“..king Noah sent his armies against them, and they were driven back, or they drove them back for a time..” - Mosiah 11:18

(For a listing of over 100 such passages, click here)


            Another characteristic of the Book of Mormon text that makes one skeptical about its having been engraved on metal plates where space was precious, is the extreme wordiness of many passages. Many examples could be cited. Here are just a few, with the original text on the left and the same information in a more space-saving form on the right, for comparison:

“And ye all are witnesses this day, that Zeniff, who was made king over this people, he being over-zealous to inherit the land of his fathers, therefore being deceived by the cunning and craftiness of king Laman, who having entered into a treaty with king Zeniff, and having yielded up into his hands the possessions of a part of the land, or even the city of Lehi-Nephi, and the city of Shilom; and the land round about” - Mosiah 7:21 (77 words)
“Ye all know that Zeniff was overzealous to become king. He was deceived by king Laman and ceded to him by treaty the cities Lehi-Nephi and Shilom and surrounding lands” (30 words)
"And now it came to pass that all this was done in Mormon, yea, by the waters of Mormon, in the forest that was near the waters of Mormon; yea, the place of Mormon, the waters of Mormon, the forest of Mormon, how beautiful are they to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer; yea, and how blessed are they, for they shall sing to his praise forever." - Mosiah 18:30 (74 words)
"All this happened in Mormon, where the waters and forest are so beautiful to those who are blessed to know their Redeemer and who shall sing his praise forever." (29 words)
And these plates of brass, which contain these engravings, which have the records of the holy scriptures upon them, which have the genealogy of our forefathers, even from the beginning—
4 Behold, it has been prophesied by our fathers, that they should be kept and handed down from one generation to another, and be kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord until they should go forth unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, that they shall know of the mysteries contained thereon.
5 And now behold, if they are kept they must retain their brightness; yea, and they will retain their brightness; yea, and also shall all the plates which do contain that which is holy writ.
6 Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.
7 And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.
8 And now, it has hitherto been wisdom in God that these things should be preserved; for behold, they have enlarged the memory of this people, yea, and convinced many of the error of their ways, and brought them to the knowledge of their God unto the salvation of their souls.
9 Yea, I say unto you, were it not for these things that these records do contain, which are on these plates, Ammon and his brethren could not have convinced so many thousands of the Lamanites of the incorrect tradition of their fathers; yea, these records and their words brought them unto repentance; that is, they brought them to the knowledge of the Lord their God, and to rejoice in Jesus Christ their Redeemer.
10 And who knoweth but what they will be the means of bringing many thousands of them, yea, and also many thousands of our stiffnecked brethren, the Nephites, who are now hardening their hearts in sin and iniquities, to the knowledge of their Redeemer?
11 Now these mysteries are not yet fully made known unto me; therefore I shall forbear.
12 And it may suffice if I only say they are preserved for a wise purpose, which purpose is known unto God; for he doth counsel in wisdom over all his works, and his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round. - Alma 37:3-12 (423 words)

These brass plates, with scriptures and genealogies, are to be handed down and preserved to go forth to all nations, because by small things the Lord performs great things in confounding the wise and saving souls. They have already reminded thousands of the errors of their ways and brought them knowledge of the Lord and Christ. And many more will be brought to that knowledge by these plates, which are preserved for a purpose which I do not know. (79 words)
And they were built after a manner that they were exceedingly TIGHT, even that they would hold water LIKE UNTO A DISH; and the bottom thereof was TIGHT LIKE UNTO A DISH; and the sides thereof were TIGHT LIKE UNTO A DISH; and the ends thereof were peaked; and the top thereof was TIGHT LIKE UNTO A DISH; and the length thereof was the length of a tree; and the door thereof, when it was shut, was TIGHT LIKE UNTO A DISH. - Ether 2:17 (82 words, emphasis added) And they were made very tight to hold water, like a dish. Also the bottom, sides, top, and door (when shut) were tight. The ends were peaked and it was as long as a tree. (34 words)

Unnecessary repetition

            Another characteristic of the Book of Mormon text is the frequent unnessary repetition, again arousing suspicion that the original text was not being engraved on metal in such a way as to conserve space. How often does Nephi have to remind the reader of his identity by repeating "I, Nephi..." (84 times in 1 Nephi and 2 Nephi)?

            Here are more examples of unnecessary repetition (see also the "tight like unto a dish" passage above):

“Now behold, how great reason we have to mourn. Yea, I say unto you, great are the reasons which we have to mourn.” - Mosiah 7:23-24

“And there cometh a resurrection, even a first resurrection; yea, even a resurrection of those that have been, and who are, and who shall be, even until the resurrection of Christ..” - Mosiah 15:21

“And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things.
"And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little achild, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. - 3 Nephi 11:37-38

" And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me. ...
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.
"And thus will the Father bear record of me, and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me; for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one." - 3 Nephi 11:32-36, emphasis added

            These examples of on-the-fly editing, wordiness, and unecessary repetition could be multiplied a hundredfold. Open any page of the Book of Mormon and you will find them. They are completely inconsistent with the claim that the original text was engraved by the authors on metal plates. But they are quite consistent with a conclusion that the Book of Mormon is a text which got its final form while being dictated, and that the author(s), rather than trying to conserve precious space, was trying to expand the volume of the text. Larger, longer books are more impressive, and can demand a higher price on the market.

Linguistic Criticisms Which are Not Valid, or Quite Weak

            However much we might appreciate criticism of Mormonism, there are a few linguistic objections - mostly to the Book of Mormon - which are not valid or not convincing. At the risk of being accused of defending Mormonism, I will point them out.

Reformed Egyptian

            Some critics have objected that there is no such known language as "Reformed Egyptian." This objection fails on two counts. First, just because an ancient language is not yet known, one should not assume that it does not exist. Previously unknown languages are frequently discovered. Second, there is no reason to suppose that an ancient, isolated people such as the Lehites, using Egyptian as their language, would not modify it over the course of centuries. That is a very common phenomenon. Modern English, for example, might justifiably be called "Reformed Anglo-Saxon," or modern Italian might well be referred to as "Reformed Latin."

"And it came to pass..."

            One of the most frequent criticisms of the language of the Book of Mormon is the frequent use of the phrase "And it came to pass..." That may well be a valid criticism of the literary style of the supposed translation, but that criticism overlooks the fact that the very same phrase occurs quite frequently in the King James translation of the Bible, over 500 times in the Hebrew Old Testament and over 70 times in the Greek New Testament. The phrase in the New Testament is a translation of the one Greek word 'egeneto' meaning "it happened." In the Old Testament it translates a word of four characters, pronounced 'weyehi' meaning "and it happened." It is not unreasonable to assume that "Reformed Egyptian" might also have had such a single short word.

"adieu" (Jacob 7:27)

            The fact that a French word is used in an English translation does not mean that the original text had that same French word. "Adieu" is used in English in a special sense, a final farewell to one whom one does not expect to see ever again. If there were a word with such a specific meaning in an original text, it would be quite appropriate to translate it into English with the French word, since English has no word which is an exact equivalent.

" the cold and silent grave, from whence no traveler can return" (2 Nephi 1:14)

            Critics object that this is a quotation from Shakespeare's Hamlet, from the famous soliloquy beginning "To be, or not to be..." The line there is: "the undiscover'd country from whose bourn no traveller returns." (Hamlet III:1)

            The metaphor, however, is not unique with Shakespeare. It occurs also in the Bible: "I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death" (Job 10:21)

Linguistic Arguments in Favor of Mormon Claims

            Mormon apologists also use linguistic evidence in support of Mormon claims.   The supposed similarity of Book of Mormon names to genuine Egyptian or Hebrew names has already been discussed above. The most important of the other claims will be discussed here.

Wordprint Studies

            Some Mormon apologists claim that wordprint studies confirm one claim of the Book of Mormon, namely that it is the work of multiple authors (Nephi, Jacob, Alma, etc.).   "Wordprint" refers to a statistical analysis (usually done by computer) of different texts to discover supposedly subconcious stylistic peculiarities of the author(s), such as preference for particular phrases or words.   (See for example the official Mormon publication Ensign, January 2000, "Mounting Evidences for the Book of Mormon".)

            The techniques used in wordprint studies are still subject to much debate (not just among those studying Mormon writings) and the basic premises are questioned.   Even one prominent Mormon apologist, John Tvedtnes, has rejected such evidence for the Book of Mormon (see Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 33:1:85-87).   For other criticism of these studies, see Issue #84 of the Salt Lake City Messenger, "New Computer Study".and "Book of Mormon Wordprints Re-examined" by D. James Croft. For a concise summary of several studies, see "Conflicting Results..." at http://www.religioustolerance.org/ldsbom1.htm.

Chiasm in the Book of Mormon

            Mormon apologists have made much of the discovery of chiasms in the Book of Mormon.   A chiasm (also called "chiasmus"), named after the Greek letter 'chi' which resembles the letter 'X', is a literary device where a series of statements or phrases is followed by a reversed restatement of the same phrases: A, B, C, D, d, c, b, a.

            This literary device was discovered in the Bible in the 19th century, and Mormon apologists discovered it then also in the Book of Mormon.   They present this as evidence that the Book of Mormon is divinely inspired, since chiasm had not yet been recognized in the Bible when Joseph Smith produced the Book of Mormon.

            Chiasm loses all of its persuasiveness as evidence for the divinity of the Book of Mormon when one realizes that it is a literary device which can occur quite naturally in non-divine writings as well, and that an author need not be consciously aware of the device, nor know its name, to make literary use of it.   Joseph Smith's diary, for example, does not claim to be divinely inspired nor to be an ancient document, yet the entry for April 1, 1834, is an excellent example of chiasm:

A  the Lord shall destroy him
   B  who has lifted his heel against me even that wicked man Docter P. H[u]rlbut
       C  he [will] deliver him to the fowls of heaven
       c  his bones shall be cast to the blast of the wind
   b  [for] he lifted his [arm] against the Almity
a  therefore the Lord shall destroy him

            The third president of the church, John Taylor, used chiasm quite naturally, and no Mormon claims that the chiasm in his reflections are either evidence of divine inspiration or of ancient origin:

A  And He in His own person
   B  bore the sins of all,
      C  and atoned for them
         D  by the sacrifice of Himself,
            E  so there came upon Him the weight and agony
               F  of ages
               f  and generations,
            e  the indescribable agony consequent upon
         d  this great sacrificial
      c  atonement
   b  wherein He bore the sins of the world,
a  and suffered in His own person the consequences of an eternal   
   law of God broken by man
(The above examples are from Brent Lee Metcalfe, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol.26, No.3, pp.162-164.)

            Lorenzo Snow's famous couplet, which any Mormon can quote from memory, is an example of a simple chiasmus:

  A  As man is,
     B God once was;
     b As God is
  a  Man may become.
No Mormon claims that the chiasm proves it to be ancient or divinely inspired.

            A tongue-in-cheek article in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol 33 No. 4, Winter 2000, p 163, by Robert Patterson, "Hebraicisms, Chiasmus, and Other Internal Evidence for Ancient Authorship in 'Green Eggs and Ham'" demonstrated that the same arguments which Mormon apologists use to show that chiasm is evidence for the Book of Mormon can also show that Dr. Seuss' children's book "Green Eggs and Ham" is also ancient:

I am Sam.
Sam I am.

I do not like them, Sam-I-am.
  I do not like green eggs and ham.
    Would you like them here or there?
      I would not like them here or there.
    I would not like them anywhere.
  I do not like green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.

            Vernal Holley, in his book Book of Mormon Authorship: A Closer Look, 3rd ed., p 26, (on line here) points out that Solomon Spaulding's "Manuscript Story" (also called "Manuscript Found"), considered by many - including Holley - to be a major source of Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon, also contains quite a few examples of chiasmus.   And yet no Mormon apologist would consider that fact as evidence that Spaulding's story is actually Hebrew scripture.

            For a thorough discussion of how frequent (and natural) chiasmus is, see Dr. Mardy Grothe's website at http://www.drmardy.com/chiasmus/book. He gives no indication that chiasmus is evidence of antiquity or of divinity (nor does he mention the Book of Mormon).

            More links on chiasmus:
http://www.strangite.org/Chiasmus.htm   (chiasmus in the Strangite holy scriptures!)

Claims of Similar Vocabulary - Semitic and Native American

            Some Mormon apologists point to comments by Dr. Roger William Westcott, linguistics professor at Drew University, and Dr. Mary Ritchie Key, who have written on the similarities between many words in Native American languages and the languages of the Bible lands.   Westcott and Key, however, did not base their comments on their own research, but rather on research by Mormon Brian Stubbs.   Stubbs simply scoured vocabularies to compile his listing.   However, similarities of vocabulary (as any real comparative linguist should know) are not enough to establish a connection between languages.   There are far too many such similarities that are pure coincidence.   For example, Greek 'ho' means "the" and Hebrew 'ha' means "the" Does that indicate that Greek and Hebrew are related?   Absolutely not.   Aztec 'pax' means "war" and Latin 'pax' means the opposite: "peace".   Is that evidence that Aztec and Latin are related?   No.   Greek 'theos' and Latin 'deus' both mean "god".   Striking similarity, but they are completely different roots, even though Latin and Greek ARE related.

            I would guess that a careful search of Chinese and English would turn up a list of words with similar appearance and similar meaning.   Would any linguist accept that as evidence that Chinese and English are related, or that one is derived from the other?

            Mormon apologists defend Stubbs' work by pointing out that he also shows patterns of sound shifts, such as have been observed in known language families such as the Indo-European group (which includes most modern and ancient European languages), in addition to the similarities in individual vocabulary items.   However, Stubbs does not present nearly the quantity of examples that support the Indo-European sound shifts (the most widespread IE shift is known as "Grimm's Law").

            Stubbs is Mormon and writing for a Mormon audience.   He has flummoxed two retired linguistic professors (Key is now dead, actually).   What about the thousands of other reputable linguists who are not convinced?   Only lay people are convinced by vocabulary lists such as Stubbs'.   (For many more such vocabulary similarities, see http://tinyurl.com/52w8t8.)

            See also the article "Setting the Record Straight About Native Languages: Linguistic Relationships" at http://www.native-languages.org/iaq3.htm#4.

            For another example of an attempt to use vocabulary similarities to support the Book of Mormon see the article "Lehi in the Pacific" by L. Dwayne Samuelson here with my rebuttal.


            In light of the many linguistic blunders and erroneous translations made by this man who claimed to be a divinely inspired "translator," it is difficult to see why anyone with any understanding of linguistic phenomena would accept his claims.   Joseph Smith was quite ignorant of languages, in spite of his boasting of his abilities and divine inspiration, and when one examines his linguistic claims and his supposedly divine linguistic accomplishments, one must conclude that if his god inspired him, his god was as poor a linguist as he was.

            Mormonism's claims fail on many other fronts besides linguistics.   But even a few of the gross linguistic errors as discussed here should be sufficient to show that Smith's claims are no more than the boastings of an ignorant (although charismatic) human being.

Video of a presentation based on this material at the 2009 Exmormon Foundation conference in Salt Lake City is at

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©  2003, 2007, 2009 Richard Packham    Permission granted to reproduce for non-commercial purposes, provided text is not changed and this copyright notice is included

Traduttore - traditore!      [The translator is a deceiver!] - Italian saying


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