Joseph Smith's use of Hebrew

excerpted from the preface to the reprint of Andrew Sexias' Hebrew Grammer by Louis. C. Zucker

In Joseph's use of Hebrew outside of the Mormon Scriptures, we find a tiny, little sentences, like those in Seixas's Manual (1834, pp.87 ff.) but simple - Ahtau ail rauey, 'Thou O God seest me' - and the name 'Nauvoo'. Now, in April, 1839, Joseph Smith, surveying from a hill the wild prospect around Commerce, imagining what he could do with it, thought, "It is a beautiful site, and it shall be called Nauvoo, which means in Hebrew a beautiful plantation." B. H. Roberts comments: "The word Nauvoo comes from the Hebrew, and signified beautiful location: 'carrying with it also,' says Joseph Smith, 'the idea of rest.'" Many have scoffed at the assertion that the name is Hebrew, but it is. In Seixas's Manual (1834, p.111), in a List of Peculiar and Anomalous Forms Found in the Hebrew Bible, the first words under the letter Nun are na-auauh and nouvoo - verb forms whose anomalous "voice" is designated, without translation. The first word the Authorized Version renders "becometh" (Psalms 93:5), and the word nauvoo is rendered "are beautiful" (Isaiah 52:7), "are comely" (Song of Solomon 1:10). This verb may be used of person, thing, or place. The idea of rest may have stolen in from idyllic verse two of the Twenty-Third Psalm, where a homonymous root is used meaning "pastures" (ne-ot or ne-oth).

We come now to our main subject: the use made of Hebrew - Hebrew from the Bible, of course - within the Mormon Scriptures and in authoritative statements by Joseph Smith and Orson Pratt. I say "Hebrew of the Bible"; Joseph had no idea of post-biblical Hebrew literature: so far as he was aware, the Hebrew of the Jewish Scriptures was all the Hebrew there was. The Book of Moses, in existence five years before the Elders turned to Hebrew, does not show any knowledge of the sacred tongue. The true biblical names it employs, and the off-biblical names like Mahujah and Mahijab (which resemble "Mehujael" in Genesis 4:18), were available to Joseph in his English Bible. The personal names Kainan (from Cainan), Hananiah, and Shem become the names of lands, as, in the Book of Mormon, the place name Lehi (le-kbee) was made a personal name. How does "Adam" come to mean "many" (Moses 1:34)? This is an interpretation which may be a subconscious reflection of Moses 4:26: "for thus have I, the Lord God, called the first of all women, which are many".

The Doctrine and Covenants, first edition (1835), carried some new off-biblical names, like Shalemanasseh (section 82), Shederlaomach (112 and 104), and Tahhanhes (104) - names which have a familiar ring, sounding like Shalmaneser and Manasseh, Chedorlaomer and Tahpanhes. "Ahman," part of the name Adam-ondi-Ahman, closely resembles in sound and idea the name Amen in Revelation 3:14 ("These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God"). Other invented names found in 82 and 104, such as Shinehah and Laneshine and Olihah, Pelagoram, and Gazelam, are hardly biblical in sound. When Joseph had reason to use pseudonyms, he could have borrowed from the Bible names like Hananeel, Hadoram, Ahiman, Aholiab, Argob, Tirzah. He uses the biblical "Mahalaleel" both as a real name and as an oblique name. "Cainhannoch" for "New York" is a linkage of Cain and Hanoch (the "Hanoch" of Genesis 4, not the good Jaredite Enoch of Genesis 5) which is both closely biblical and strangely different. All this assorted invention might spring from the exercise of the restored gift of tongues and a related taste for the tonality of the "pure Adamic language." A note (1914 ed.) on "Ahman" in 78:20, "your Redeemer, even the Son Ahman," says the name signified God "in the pure language." Also a taste for florid romance could have entered in. At all events, dependent on a knowledge of Hebrew this invention is not.

But, in the 1844 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, two revelations (1914: 103 and 105) appeared for the first time, containing invented names which did require a knowledge of Hebrew. And this despite the fact that they are concerned with Zion's Camp and are dated April and June, 1834. In 103, Joseph obtains another pseudonym besides "Gazelam": namely, Baurak Ale, repeated in 105:16 and 27. Orson Pratt translates Baurak Ale: "God bless you," and "The Lord blesses." The form "baurak" is not actually found in the Bible but is a perfectly valid hypothetical form; Seixas gives it as one of the Roots "of common occurrence" and meaning "he blessed, knelt down" (Manual, p.77). The Bible prefers, for "he blessed," another form: ba - (like "bay") rak (Manual, p.29). Either form could say, "having blessed from aforetime, He continues to do." "Ale" or El is more fittingly a part of the name than "Jehovah" would be because 103 is the Lord's proclamation, to "the strength of my house."...

We continue with the search for effects of Joseph's Hebrew study discernible in astronomical and cosmological names, names of "strange gods" and Facsimiles 1 and 2, all of which are found in the first three chapters of the Book of Abraham. As we know, this Book, in Webb's opinion "is an actual translation from the Egyptian as written by an Israelite" (pp. 75-76); and he moves the Hyksos rule higher, to 2250-1750 B.C., so as to place Abraham in the middle of it. Names like Korash, Mahmackrah, and Shagreel, he states, are Hebrew. Of the three, only Korash sounds Hebrewish. The "Hebrew" which Webb transliterates as "Shagreel," a pupil of Seixas would transliterate as "Sha-gna-ra (ray)-el"; "el," of course, is Hebrew. Webb aserts, too, that Shinehah, Olea, and Kolob are Hebrew as truly as are Kokaubeam, Hah-ko-kau-beam, Kokob, and Raukeeyang. Three of these last four words are transliterated virtually in the Seixas way. All four are given their Hebrew meanings: stars, the stars, a star, firmament or expanse. Another such word is Shaumahyeem (exactly the Seixas pronunciation), heavens, in the sense of Genesis I; Shaumau is an invented singular, unkown to the Bible. Kolob, the name of the greatest of all the Kokaubeam, may be a variant of Kokob. Olea, a name for the moon, may be an invented variant for a Hebrew word for "moon," yau-ra-akh, the same as the vowels of Adonai were transposed into the word Jehovah. The more poetical word for "moon," le-vanah, the White One, turns into the name Libnah for one of the idolatrous gods. The name Jah-oh-eh for the earth ("Explanation," Facsimile 2), which applies literally the time-idea of Psalm 90:4, could be an inversion of the vowels of Ye-ho-vau (Jehovah) in Seixas' translation (p.15). This inversion has theological significance. One word remains: gnolaum (3:18) - "Yet these two spirits. . . shall have no beginning. . . no end, for they are gnolaum, or eternal." This, again, is an exact Seixas transliteration; however, the Hebrew word is not an adjective but a noun, which in the plural may act as an adverb. The phrase "an everlasting covenant" (Doctrine and Covenants 45:9) is taken from Genesis 17:13, where gnolaum, in the English idiom "everlasting," is, in the Hebrew idiom, a noun, "eternity."

How does Joseph use the Hebrew term-name Elohim or Eloheem, God? In translating "Elohim" in Exodus 22:28, he changed the King James "the gods" to "God." The Revised Version (R. V.), followed by the standard Jewish translation of 1917, changed "the gods" to "the judges." Joseph was a strict monotheist then. Likewise, in the Book of Moses, he positively, militantly makes "god" singular in recounting the creation of the universe and does not at all depart from monotheism in the first three chapters of the Book of Abraham nor in the Explanations of the three Facsimiles. But, in the fourth and fifth chapters of this later book, Joseph is triumphantly positive that Eloheem means "the Gods." "The Gods organized the lights in the expanse of the heaven"; "the Gods took counsel among themselves and said, Let us go down and form man in our image." Now, in the Hebrew we find: "And God said [singular], Let us make man in our image, after our likeness... And God created [singular], man in His image." With the exception of "let us make," the verbs which go with "God" (Eloheem) are singular throughout Genesis 1. The same is the situation in Genesis 3:22: "And the Lord God said [singular], Behold the man is become as one of us.." and in Genesis 11.6-8. "Go to, let us go down," says the Lord (singular). "The gods" (plural) in Genesis 35:7 (R. V. "God") are the same as "the angels of God" (so A. V.) in 28:12. Seixas' Manual invariably treats the Eloheem of the Israelites as singular, although the word is plural in form; and he explains the plural form as "a pluralis excellentiae, used by way of eminence" (pp.85,94). Professor Seixas was not to blame if, on learning that Eloheem is plural, Joseph "concluded that the Bible had been carelessly translated," even though Parley Pratt thought so. It is also doubtful that the Professor led Joseph to "conclude that God must have made the heavens and the earth out of materials He had on hand." (See Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, p.171.)

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