long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

English and more misleading translations

People who study the Book of Mormon in detail need to use the English version. All the translations I've looked at so far have problems because the translators were thinking "Central America."

This shouldn't be a surprise. English is the source language for the Book of Mormon. (Technically, the plates are, but we don't have access to them right now, so we have to work with the English text.)

The basic gospel principles are convened effectively into different languages, but in-depth study requires familiarity with English, just as those who study the Bible use the Greek and Hebrew. When I studied the New Testament in Greek, it quickly became apparent why there are so many variations among the translations.

Translating any language into another is a subjective effort in many respects. There are some words that translate clearly, but others that have no direct one-to-one correlation. In these cases, the translator has to clearly understand the ideas conveyed by the source document and then try to find a comparable expression in the new language. This creates two elements of subjectivity that readers in the new language usually aren't even aware of.

Unfortunately in the case of the Book of Mormon, official translations have been implemented with M2C in mind.

I've discussed how the translations of the Book of Mormon promote M2C* instead of accurately reflecting Joseph's English translation. The example I discussed was the translation of "head of Sidon," which is being translated into foreign languages as the "source of Sidon." This is not a translation but an interpretation, guided by M2C.

A few weeks ago in France I was made aware of additional M2C spin in the translations.

Here is Helaman 13:4 in English:

And it came to pass that they would not suffer that he should enter into the city; therefore he went and got upon the wall thereof, and stretched forth his hand and cried with a loud voice, and prophesied unto the people whatsoever things the Lord put into his heart.

What was the wall made out of? The text doesn't specify. Could be stone, wood, earth, bricks--pretty much anything a wall can be made out of.

Here it is in French:

Et il arriva qu’ils ne voulurent pas lui permettre d’entrer dans la ville ; c’est pourquoi, il monta sur la muraille, et étendit la main, et cria d’une voix forte, et prophétisa au peuple ce que le Seigneur lui mettait dans le cœur.

The painting that leads translators to
interpret, not translate, the Book of Mormon
The French word "muraille" means not simply a wall (mur), but a bulwark, a thick wall, a vertical wall, masonry raised around a castle or city, etc. One commentator explained the difference this way:

"Mur" = any wall you may think of, including some barriers ("sound barrier" = "mur du son").
"Muraille" is never used for a house, even for a castle. It means something really huge and preferably very old and always made of stone, enclosing a stronghold, a town or a whole country. It is also sometimes used to describe a high cliff or a steep mountain slope.

A French member of the Church told me this term definitely means a stone wall. That's one reason why people who read the French translation think of Mesoamerica.

But it's an incorrect translation. In English, the text does not say it's a stone wall. Therefore, the French version is  an interpretation that I consider misleading.

I think the interpretation in this case was driven by the M2C artwork that the Correlation Department inflicts on members of the Church all around the world.


M2C intellectuals always conflate the terms narrow neck, narrow neck of land, and small neck. I think they are different terms because they refer to different things.

But the distinction is removed in foreign translations.

Those who don't read English are reading the M2C spin, not the text Joseph translated.


Alma 22:32 reads:

thus the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward.

In French, the passage is translated like this:

c’est ainsi que le pays de Néphi et le pays de Zarahemla étaient presque entourés d’eau, une étroite bande de terre existant entre le pays situé du côté du nord et le pays situé du côté du sud.

Alma 63:5 reads:

therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship, on the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land Desolation, and launched it forth into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward.

In French, it reads:

s’en fut construire un navire extrêmement grand dans les régions frontières du pays d’Abondance, près du pays de Désolation, et le lança dans la mer de l’ouest, près de la langue étroite qui menait au pays situé du côté du nord.

Ether 10:20 reads:

20 And they built a great city by the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land.

In French, it is:

20 Et ils construisirent une grande ville près de la langue étroite de terre, près de l’endroit où la mer divise le pays.

If you don't read French, you can see that in all three cases, the French uses the term étroite, which means "narrow." You don't get the English distinction between "small" and "narrow." The M2C intellectuals say the terms are synonymous. That's possible, but they have different connotations that are lost in the French translation.

Again, this is an interpretation, not a translation.

Joseph (or Mormon/Moroni) used different terms. Why should the foreign translations use the same terms?

The French does use "bande" instead of "langue" here, which is an interesting choice. "Langue" means "tongue" or "language," but "langue de terre" means a "spit of land." Like a tongue, a spit of land is "a small point of land especially of sand or gravel running into a body of water."

"Bande" means a "strip" or "stripe."

Instead of a "small neck of land" we have a "narrow strip of land."

Instead of a "narrow neck" we have "a narrow tongue." A neck connects two bodies of water or earth, but a tongue extends from one without joining to another. This is a problem for any proposed geography.

In Alma 63:5, "by the narrow neck" becomes "near the narrow neck." This, too, loses the possible alternative meanings of the phrase, such as "through the narrow neck" or "in the vicinity of the narrow neck."

There are other examples, but this introduction hopefully will serve as a caution to non-English speaking members of the Church and investigators.

As long as readers understand the M2C problem with these translations, they won't be misled because they can always refer to the original in English.


* M2C is the acronym for the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory.

No comments:

Post a Comment