I've previously discussed the problem of including the Mesoamerican paintings in the missionary and foreign language editions in this post. As people told me in France last week, they've always been told the Church is neutral about geography issues, but including those misleading paintings in the official editions of the Book of Mormon is anything but neutral.
The paintings are pretty bad. Imagine an investigator reading the Book of Mormon for the first time and wondering, when am I going to read about the Mayans? The volcanoes and jungles and jaguars? The massive stone pyramids?
Of course, the answer is never.
The artwork not only does not reflect the text, it defies the text and what Joseph and Oliver said about the geography.
As bad as the paintings are, there's an even bigger problem.
When I recently translated the pocket edition of Moroni's America into French, I discovered something I hadn't noticed before.
The translation of the Book of Mormon into French was done with Mesoamerica in mind.
Look at Alma 22:27. In English, it says
the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla, through the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon, running from the east towards the west
les régions frontières du désert qui était au nord près du pays de Zarahemla, à travers les régions frontières de Manti, près de la source du fleuve Sidon, allant de l’est vers l’ouest
This is not a literal translation!
Instead, it's an interpretation.
If you don't read French, look at this phrase:
English: by the head of the river Sidon
French: près de la source du fleuve Sidon
The literal translation of the French would be: near the source of the river Sidon.
Of course, that's the Sorenson translation, meaning, that's the translation that Mesoamerican advocates wish Joseph Smith had used, and the one they prefer. They think Joseph should have written "headwaters" instead of "head" of Sidon.
I've discussed this several times on this blog. You can find the posts by searching for "head of Sidon." Here is one example:
Basically, "head of Sidon" does not mean "headwaters or source of Sidon." The Mesoamerican activists simply change the text to suit their preferred geography. They need the Sidon river to flow northward because the only two rivers in Mesoamerica that they can possibly identify as Sidon flow northward. The tail of their theory wags the dog of the text.
The Mesoamerican activists have successfully educated people throughout the Church about the Sorenson translation (i.e., headwaters of Sidon), and the translator used Sorenson's translation, not Joseph Smith's, when he/she translated the Book of Mormon into French.
A literal translation into French would be: À la tête de la rivière Sidon.
There are several more examples in the French Book of Mormon that I'll discuss in a later post, but first, I want to look at some other languages.
Alma 22:27 in German reads:
entlang der Grenzen der Wildnis, die im Norden beim Land Zarahemla war, durch das Grenzgebiet von Manti, am Ursprung des Flusses Sidon vorbei, von Osten nach Westen verlaufend—und so waren die Lamaniten und die Nephiten voneinander getrennt.
The key phrase in German, in bold above, is literally translated into English as "at the origin of the river Sidon."
A literal translation into German would be: "Durch den Kopf des Flusses Sidon."
The translator would probably argue that this doesn't make sense in German. But the meaning in English is ambiguous, so why pick the Sorenson interpretation for other languages? This deprives readers in other languages of the meaning Joseph Smith gave us in English.
Alma 22:27 in Spanish reads:
y los límites del desierto que se hallaba hacia el norte, cerca de la tierra de Zarahemla, por las fronteras de Manti, cerca de los manantiales del río Sidón, yendo del este hacia el oeste; y así estaban separados los lamanitas de los nefitas.
A literal translation of the Spanish phrase into English is "near the springs of the river Sidon."
A literal translation of Joseph's English version into Spanish would be "Por la cabeza del río Sidón."
So in English, we have "the head of the Sidon River."
In French, it's "the source of the Sidon River."
In German, it's "the origin of the Sidon River."
In Spanish, it's "the springs of the Sidon River."
I could show more, but in most languages I've checked, this passage is translated into something meaning the "origin of the Sidon River."
This is how it is translated in Korean, for example. This is of special interest to me because years ago I was in Seoul, Korea, and I met the person who was revision the Korean translation of the Book of Mormon. Translators have a special edition of the Book of Mormon with an interpretive guide at the back. At the time, I wasn't focused on Book of Mormon geography so I didn't look up what the guide said about Alma 22:27, but apparently it uses the Sorenson translation to lead readers into reaching the conclusion that the "head of Sidon" means the "source of Sidon," which is how the Mesoamerican activists have construed the passage to demonstrate that the river Sidon flows northward.
The irony of this is that translator told me the Brethren had instructed him to do as literal a translation as possible. Yet now I read the Korean translation and find it also says "the origin of the Sidon River" instead of the "head of the Sidon River."
As you'll see in my future posts, this problem is pervasive. Church members and investigators who read these translations are not getting what Joseph translated. They are getting a translation of the Sorenson translation. So far, I haven't found a reference to a volcano in any foreign language edition, but I'll let you know if I do.
Consider this post my plea for a literal translation of the Book of Mormon into these foreign languages.