I hope my info will help to clarify some of the questions. I do think that
all of us will have a bit more information afterwards to come to a supported
opinion. Most of the bottom info are a condensed "briefing" of my own
research etc. which I put together years ago. So I'm taking much of it from
my old notes and roam around in my memory.
My main goal is to write "understandable", for those who haven't "dug" into
this question, but would like to have an "overview". Naturally this can only
be my overview. I'm also aware of the danger of being misunderstood in doing
this, but then one is always in that danger the moment one communicates. I
guess one of the reasons some people don't like communicating. But we must
remember: It's impossible not to communicate.
Our (Robert's) basic question was, in which "language" was the BoM
originally written? It is often stated, from whomever: Reformed Egyptian.
One (!) of the few (!) sources would be:
32 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.
33 And if our plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in
Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also;
we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection
in our record.
34 But the Lord knoweth the things which we have written, and also that none
other people knoweth our language; and because that
none other people knoweth our language, therefore he hath prepared means for
the interpretation thereof.
In my "quick-shot" first mail, answering Richard, I said:
"Couldn't have said it better ... I fully agree..." having the below in
"The way I read the BoM passages regarding the language in which Nephi et
al. wrote, (and reading it most sympathetically to the Mormon point of
view), it seems to me that Nephi (as well as the other scribes on the
plates) is saying that he is writing Hebrew, but using Egyptian characters."
I overlooked, "misunderstood" one little bit: "...writing Hebrew, but using
Egyptian characters." But I guess what you are actually saying, Richard, is:
"writing corrupted Hebrew, but using corrupted E. characters."? Could that
According to my knowledge, it was James Talmage who first published the
point of view, that the above "reformed Egyptian" is not simply Hebrew
written with Egyptian characters, and he makes a distinction between the
"reformed Egyptian" described by Mormon and the "record language" from
1.Nephi 1:3 (James E. Talmage, A Study of the Articles of Faith; SLC, 1949,
actually first published 1913]), p. 291-92)
It was Hugh Nibley, who else, who made this topic more "public and popular"
in LDS circles.
His Lehi in the Desert, Hugh Nibley, 1952 (!), p. 13 (actually first
published in article form in "The Improvement Era", see foreword):
"It (the Book of Mormon, my addit.) makes it perfectly clear, however, that
Egyptian was for Lehi a second language, "for he having been taught in the
language of the Egyptians, therfor he could read the engravings, and teach
them to his children." (Mos. 1:4) ... Mormon tells us (Mor. 9:32 - 23 (sic!)
that the language of Lehi's descendants was not Hebrew or Egyptian but a
mixture of both, both being corrupted in the process, so that "none other
people knoweth our language," which would certainly not have been the case
had they spoken only Hebrew."
Further (p. 14):
"When Nephi says, "after this manner was the language of my father in
praising of his God," (1.Ne. 1:15) he is not telling us what language his
father spoke, but giving notice that he is quoting or paraphrasing an actual
speech of his father. Likewise when he says, "I make a record in the
language of my father (Ibid., 1:2) he says that he is going to quote or
paraphrase a record actually written by his father. (Ibid., 1:6) He explains
that his father wrote the record in Egyptian though it dealt with Jewish
matters, but he never affirms that Egyptian was his father's native tongue.
The clause in 1. Nephi 1:2 which begins, "which consists of ... " does not
refer back to "language" or "father," of course, but to "record."
I go along with that.
Nibley again (p. 15):
"Some have maintained that the Book of Mormon was written in Hebrew but with
Egyptian characters. But Mormon (9:32 - 34) observes that the Nephites have
altered their writing of Egyptian to conform to their way of speaking it,
and that "the Hebrew hath been altered by us also," with the result that
"none other people knoweth our language." Their language was neither
Egyptian nor Hebrew. Mormon appreciates the accuracy and clarity of old
Hebrew, which is no longer spoken by his people (9:33), and writes
reluctantly "in the characters, which are called among us the reformed
Egyptian," simply because that takes up less space than Hebrew because in
Lehi's day demotic was actually a shorthand, extremely cramped and
abbreviated; and it was a shorthand for the very reason that it was
thoroughly idiomatic, that is, peculiarly adapted to the sounds and thought
processes of one language and one language only. It could be used very
economically for writing Egyptian, but not for any other language."
Now comes the "proof", which I go along with too (p. 15f.):
"This amounts to a declaration that the Nephites denied themselves the use
of their holy and superbly practical script, oh which Torczyner writes: "The
script of Lachish makes us realise for the first time the Phoenician-Hebrew
alphabet ... is ... a script invented, and used particularly, for writing in
ink upon papyrus, hide (parchment) and potsherds. We now realise that the
ancient Jews could write quickly and boldly, in an artistic flowing hand,
with the loving penmanship of those who enjoy writing."32 (Footnote 32; H.
Torczyner, The Lachish Letters, p.15, my add.!)
But read how Nibley takes off now! IMHO he actually gives the
"killer-argument" himself, of which, we must always remind ourselves, there
is no proof!:
"And the Nephites got rid of this to learn in it's place the most awkward,
difficult, and impractical system of writing ever devised by man! Why all
this trouble? Simply to save space. What space? Space on valuable plates...
It was only later when historians became cramped for space that they saw the
advantage of continuing to write in Egyptian. And the Egyptian characters
can only have been preserved for their use because the language was also
preserved; for people who were not crowded for space would not have
continued to write Hebrew in the difficult Egyptian characters for hundreds
of years, when all the time they might just as well have been writing in the
twenty-two simple and practical characters of the Hebrew alphabet."
Now this is just the point. What LDS love doing is putting up "straw men",
which are then "set alight" and since this results into ashes the "critical"
argument was worth, well, not more than ashes. Plus: Most of the time one
gets "stuffed" with information, page after page, which usually impresses
and overwhelms the "novice" and creates an impression and feeling (!): Since
I'm getting exhausted (in my brain) and since I don't really understand all
of this, it must be true! Or false! Depending on your frame of mind etc. To
observe this is often very impressive indeed.
In a FARMS article, William Hamblin starts out (see FARMS On-line
"Critics of the Book of Mormon maintain that there is no language known as
What is "reformed Egyptian"?
Critics who raise the objection seem to be operating under the false
impression that reformed Egyptian is used in the Book of Mormon as a proper
But this isn't the question! If someone would state, since "I have never
heard of a town called Calgary, this proves their is no such town", it would
only prove his amount general education and /or ability to make reasonable
deductions. The point is not (!): Since we don't know of any language called
(!) "reformed Egyptian" in these days, there couldn't have been any such in
That's why the following statement (from above) is a true, but doesn't
explain the true issue:
"The fact that modern linguists and philologists don't know of a script
known as reformed Egyptian is irrelevant, since Mormon tells us that the
script was called reformed Egyptian "by us."
I wouldn't know any linguist or philologist that would make such a stupid
statement, and still be worth calling himself as such.
The point is: Considering the said above, their is a copy of writing (the
characters given to Martin Harris, which he showed Charles Anthon ("Anthon
Transcript") for validation, and in doing so even proves BoM prophesy) of
the BoM, which have contents of Hebrew and Egyptian, however reformed or
corrupted they may be. If they wouldn't have even the slightest remnants of
both, what sense would it make to called them reformed Egyptian???
And if you read the LDS materials closely, as already said above, you'll
have lots of info, but they never get down to the real issue: Let's compare
the Harris characters with Hebrew, Egyptian (Hieratic, Demotic whatever),
Semitic languages in general). Just this question is brushed aside in this
manner (for example):
Now for the info "over-kill" method: "...there are numerous examples of
modified (or reformed) Egyptian characters being used to write non-Egyptian
languages, none of which were known in Joseph Smith's day." (Hamblin again).
He then mentions Egyptian hieratic and demotic examples, Byblos Syllabic
texts, Cretan hieroglyphics, Meroitic and Proto-Sinaitic material.
His best proof is then a "Psalm 20 in demotic Egyptian. Scholars have also
recently deciphered an Aramaic version of Psalm 20:2-6 that was written in
demotic Egyptian characters ... This is precisely what the Book of Mormon
claims existed: a version of the Hebrew scriptures in the Hebrew language,
but written using Egyptian characters."
Sounds great, nearly overwhelming. But: IMHO it scores with the "critics",
because this material can be translated and read!!! It would have been
"proof" would it be unreadable up this day! That's not the case! Nibley
himself states, quoting Mormon 9:32:
"...characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, ..."
something not recognizable to any Egyptologist today, altered beyond
recognition..." (The Lachish Letters, in: The Prophetic Book of Mormon, SLC,
1989 p. 386)
The "standard-work" for learning ancient Egyptian (at least at German and
English Universities) is Sir Alan Gardiner's "Egyptian Grammar", Oxford,
1979, 3rd edt. Gardiner states: "No less salient a characteristic of the
language is its concision; the phrases and sentences are brief and to the
point." P.4 He is here talking about Middle Egyptian.
Egyptians used three different kinds of writing. Hieroglyphic writing is
only one kind of script, which is further subdivided into Old, Middle and
"Out of hieroglyphic sprang a more cursive writing known to us a hieratic,
and out of hieratic again there emerged, towards 700 B.C., a very rapid
script formerly sometimes called enchorial but now always known as demotic"
(Gardiner, p. 9) remembering Lehi is supposed to have left Jerusalem about
Demotic actually stems from Greek demotikos "popular".
In his "Since Cumorah", SLC, 1967, Nibley mentions this topic only very
shortly. He there gives two small examples of hieroglyphic and demotic
writing, which IMO are rather misleading. The casual reader will see his
example as proof how space can be saved in using demotic characters instead
of hieroglyphics. I actuallly wanted to copy a plate from Gardiner's
Egyptian Grammar here but have trouble getting it condensed (!) after
scanning it. I turns out as 2.8 MB picture! Not sure how to work it out. On
the plate one can compare how "space-saving" the "corrupt" demotic may be,
remembering that "reformed Egyptian" must have been even more condensed even
than demotic! The plate pictured by Gardiner gives you one the opportunity
to compare all three Egyptian writing styes including (!) their
One observes that the writing does get condensed more and more as one
"works" oneself down from Hieroglyphics, through Hieratic to Demotic.
Demotic would look "similar" to some sort of shorthand. But it isn't (!) as
compact as one might expect.
Having that in mind, one would expect any sort of "reformed Egyptian" to be
even more condensed than Demotic. Looking like a shorthand shorthand! But
the moment one compares Demotic with the Harris-Anthon "Caractors" (so
spelled on the slip of paper presented to professor Anthon ) the latter are
not (!) more condensed. One can observe the "Caractors in William E. Berrett
's "The Truth Restored". I only have a German edition, it would be found
there on p. 32, 5. Chapter.
Again what can be seen? IMHO the "caractors" are definitely not (!!!)
shorter. You don't need any kind of ability to translate or whatever. Only
eyes to see and a brain to compare! This is were Richard's statement really
comes on to the stage: "Where the explanation falls on its face, however, is
the reason given for using Egyptian characters rather than Hebrew: to save
Richard also states correctly then when writing: "Even a cursory knowledge
of the systems of Egyptian writing current in the sixth century B.C.
demonstrates that these systems were not particularly space-saving, and that
the characters had such detail that they would not lend themselves easily to
Randy said: " AFAIK, the few characters from JS' "Anthon transcript" have
never been found to have any meaning or translatability. Since that
transcript is the only known authentic example that JS claimed to be the
BOM's "Reformed Egyptian"---and it can't be matched with any known language
or translated into anything intelligible---then it means that JS, the
producer of the transcript, is a fraud until someone can show why he isn't."
I'm not and never was an expert on ancient Egyptian, forget Demotic! But I
was well trained in Middle Egyptian and in doing scientific research. I had
the great luck of being educated with two (!) others students at the
Egyptological Seminar, Göttingen, Germany. I compared in between my studies,
summing up to months in amount, the Harris-Anthon "caractors" with ancient
Demotic and similar documents, which would be copies or prints. I futher had
the great chance to visit the Egyptological Seminar at Kopenhagen, Denmark
with fellow students and professors. Because of my special interest in
original Demotic documents (for obvious reasons! :-)) I was the only
student, with my professor (Westendorf) allowed to view and handle Demotic
documents the Danish had in a large safe. The rest of the team were out on a
drink btw! I again compared my caractors, Westendorf and the Danish
professor, of whom I can't remember the name anymore, watching on. They
became curious and so I explained. None had ever heard of Joseph Smith etc.
We compared together. My eyes could see the hard facts. Not one shred of
similarity, the other two agreed. After the safe was closed, Field felt like
having his first drink in his life! After that I decided to visit the little
mermaid at Kopenhagen harbour. Found out that she was far smaller and not as
"attactive" as always talked about. Stumped again!
But still then LDS will try to cop out and say all this can't be understood,
only by revelation. Granted! Then one day, when the prophet of God get's the
"sealed part" of the gold plates to "translate", maybe then we will see
better copies of the "caractors". But even then we will probably be told,
they don't compare with any known language, so hard luck.
To follow up on Richard's words: Were the reformed Egyptian issue "falls on
it's arse" (sorry) is on a related topic:
Not too long ago "luck" struck! Along came, to be bomber and killer of three
people, Mark W. Hofmann and "left the transcript in custody of the Church
Historical Department for preservation and for further studies to determine
its authenticity." (Ensign, June 1980, p. 74). Hofmann had "found" Joseph
Smith's Family Bible and bingo(!), right in the middle of the Bible a copy
of a transcript of Bom gold plate characters. The Ensign shows the document.
It was also printed in full colour on the inside covers of the July 1980
Ensign. Here one can also find a full blown article on the finding. On 22
April 1980 Hofmann showed the characters to the First Presidency (Kimball,
Tanner, Romney) plus Hinkley and Packer! See the picture in the June 1980
Ensign, p. 74! Making a long story short, even though Kimball used a
modern-day "Urim and Thummim", looking-glass, actually a magnifying glass,
none of the "Lord's chosen" translated one bit of the document, even worse,
never detected a fraud and big hoax. Even later, after Hofmann had bombed
and killed people, church officials were dishing out money to buy Hofmann's
fairy-tale materials. Well granted, Kimball didn't have the "gift of
translation" for the given opportunity, for whatever reason, what about the
gift of discernment e. a. the Holy Ghost. The Church had a brilliant chance
and failed like a pre-schooler!
It does not "fit"!
I remember having a feeling of suspicion all the time, because all of
Hofmann's findings would fail on an important issue when dealing with
documents: sources. They were never really presented! Even more when the
"Salamander Letter" appeared on the scene. I compared for myself and on a
bases of style, nothing else I could go by, I thought it was a forgery. By
coincidence I visited Utah right after Hofmann had blown himself up and
found out that Tanner's had published a small article that they felt the
Salamander Letter was a forgery! Everybody else, but not them!!! The
Salamander letter was "damaging" enough, so they should be dancing in
circles. They didn't! So here I was, trying to figure out, as the full story
came to day-light later, how could me small light and even Jerald Tanners
"believe, think, feel" this was all a big joke", not for the people killed
mind you, and the "Brethren" never having a clue what was going on!
So I can go along with Richard stating again:
"Rather it seems more likely, as has been suggested already, that Smith did
not want to present Hebrew characters, because there were lots of people who
might know Hebrew. Nobody could read Egyptian yet. And if he labeled it
"Reformed" he was even safer. And for extra insurance, claim that the
Hebrew was also modified. And, to top it all off, claim that any mistakes
are due to the language difficulty."
Hope all this helps.