Saturday, April 11, 2020

Excellent example of the poetic Hebrew embedded in the Book of Mormon

This paper from Loren Spendlove, published at the Interpreter, outlines several different ways Ammon uses Hebrew wordplay to refute his brother Aaron's accusation of boasting in himself at the success the brothers had in their missionary labors among the Lamanites.

The whole paper is well worth your time, as it unfolds the rhetorical reasons why Ammon seems to repeat himself so many times on the topic of "boast/praise/glory" (הָלַל- "h-l-l") and "joy/rejoicing" (שָׂמַח - "s-m-ch").

Intentional repetition is at the heart of ancient Hebrew rhetoric, even though it doesn't play as big a role in our modern day thinking. If this topic interests you, see this post, this post, and this post for additional examples.

In Alma 26, Spendlove expertly points out a distinct pattern that makes sense in the context of ancient Hebrew, but is barely noticeable in English. This is because words derived from the same root in Hebrew can have several different meanings in English. The common root is easily identified in the Hebrew, but not necessarily in English.

To illustrate this point, I'll post the relevant passages below with words derived from the root "h-l-l" in green and the words derived from "s-m-ch" in blue. I'll be following the tables from the paper as I do this.

First Aaron's rebuke:

10 And it came to pass that when Ammon had said these words, his brother Aaron rebuked him, saying: Ammon, I fear that thy joy doth carry thee away unto boasting. (Alma 26)

Then the first part of Ammon's response:

11 But Ammon said unto him: I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God.
12 Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.
13 Behold, how many thousands of our brethren has he loosed from the pains of hell; and they are brought to sing redeeming love, and this because of the power of his word which is in us, therefore have we not great reason to rejoice?
14 Yea, we have reason to praise him forever, for he is the Most High God, and has loosed our brethren from the chains of hell.
15 Yea, they were encircled about with everlasting darkness and destruction; but behold, he has brought them into his everlasting light, yea, into everlasting salvation; and they are encircled about with the matchless bounty of his love; yea, and we have been instruments in his hands of doing this great and marvelous work.
16 Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel. (Alma 26)

Finally, here is the end of Ammon's response:

35 Now have we not reason to rejoice? Yea, I say unto you, there never were men that had so great reason to rejoice as we, since the world began; yea, and my joy is carried away, even unto boasting in my God; for he has all power, all wisdom, and all understanding; he comprehendeth all things, and he is a merciful Being, even unto salvation, to those who will repent and believe on his name.
36 Now if this is boasting, even so will I boast; for this is my life and my light, my joy and my salvation, and my redemption from everlasting wo. Yea, blessed is the name of my God, who has been mindful of this people, who are a branch of the tree of Israel, and has been lost from its body in a strange land; yea, I say, blessed be the name of my God, who has been mindful of us, wanderers in a strange land.
37 Now my brethren, we see that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people, and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth. Now this is my joy, and my great thanksgiving; yea, and I will give thanks unto my God forever. Amen. (Alma 26)

It is interesting to note that outside of these two sections, the only time any word derived from either root is used in the word "joy" in verse 30. Essentially, Ammon takes two words from Aaron's rebuke and builds an entire repetitive structure out of those two words demonstrating all the reasons he has to boast in God and rejoice in their success. The the first part of his response (verses 11-16) is quite similar to the end (verses 35-37). The middle section (verses 17-34) gives us the details.

This is another example of a passage of scripture in the Book of Mormon that makes far more sense in the context of ancient Hebrew rhetoric than relatively modern English. For me, this example needs to be added to a long and growing list of items one would need to plausibly refute in order to convince me that Joseph Smith (or any other 19th century figure) authored this book.

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