Has your work provided any insights into how the Book of Mormon was translated by the Prophet Joseph Smith?

When we started our work of establishing a location for the Book of Mormon lands, we often consulted the Oxford English Dictionary for appropriate definitions of geographical words in the Book of Mormon text. We then began to observe two patterns we did not expect: The totality of the definitions provided a stunning picture that matched the landscape of Baja California, and also the pattern of the definitions yielded a possible insight into how the Book of Mormon was translated into the English language. We prepared a glossary of these definitions for our own use; but then determined that this glossary of geographical words would be helpful to readers of the Book of Mormon and at the same time allow a glimpse into the probable translation process.

The geographical word definitions in this glossary are from the New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd Edition, and are intended to be the acceptable and appropriate definitions at the time the Book of Mormon was first printed in 1829. These definitions have been selected with that date as a benchmark. The definition entries were then trimmed down by omitting alternate definitions, such as the one for the word “bank” as a financial establishment, and retaining only the geographic definitions, such as one for the word “bank” as the land alongside or sloping down to a river or lake. In a similar reduction, when the word in the Book of Mormon text is a noun, the verb form of the definition is not shown, and when the required word is a verb, the noun definition (and adjective and adverb definitions where applicable) is not included. Understandably, modern meanings that have evolved since 1829 have been removed.

Many of the words in this glossary were common English words in 1829 and are still in ordinary usage today. The glossary includes these common words for completeness. Some words are less well known, and their definitions can help readers of the Book of Mormon to better understand their meaning within the text. But the words in this glossary, and their definitions, are not provided solely for increased understanding. There are three more important purposes:

  1. When correlated to the geographical words in the text of the Book of Mormon, we propose the definitions in this glossary paint a picture word by word, definition by definition, stroke by stroke, of the landscape, climate, terrain, plants, and animal life of the Book of Mormon lands. Any proposed location for the Book of Mormon lands would need to fully match this word (or definition) picture. We claim that Baja California matches this all-inclusive pattern, and indeed we were led to this location when selecting a spot on the surface of the earth that would match this word picture and all its details and definitions. Conversely, this geographic pattern, especially the corresponding climate characteristics, would not allow us to accept a location for the Book of Mormon lands in a tropical climate with a landscape of jungle foliage and animal life, or a location in a colder or more humid climate. The characteristics of such locations simply are not reflective of the picture portrayed by the totality of the words and definitions of this glossary, when these definitions are correlated to the corresponding geographical words, and their context, in the Book of Mormon account.
  2. The Book of Mormon was declared by the Prophet Joseph Smith to be “the most correct of any book on earth.” We contend that one way the Book of Mormon could be considered correct is that it uses “correct” English words when describing the physical and human geography features in the text. This “correctness” would only be revealed, however, if the land in question is the appropriate land. Thus we contend that these English words were befitting words and definitions in 1829 to describe the actual geographical landscape of the Book of Mormon people in Baja California. It is not necessary to twist or shade the dictionary definitions of these words in order to match the landscape of this peninsula.
  3. Joseph Smith in 1829, with his limited education and his isolated rural location on the American frontier, could not be expected to supply the correct geographical words time after time and page after page when translating the Book of Mormon into English, especially when attempting to accurately describe a distant landscape he had never seen, and a climate that was much different from the one he experienced in upstate New York. We believe that only through the scriptural explanation that the Book of Mormon came by “the gift and power of God” could this translation have been accomplished (See the Title Page of the Book of Mormon). The translation into correct English words had to be the result of divine intervention by some person or group of persons who knew the English language at a preeminent level. Those involved with the actual translation into English would have also needed to know the meaning of the words inscribed on the gold plates and the nuances and grammar of the accompanying language. This was not an earth-based source of help; it would require heavenly assistance from those with divine credentials. It also lends credence to the sometimes-proposed explanation that Joseph Smith received the English translation on the image surface of the Urim and Thummim one word, phrase or sentence at a time, and then read these words to his scribes. This direct “translation” process did not require Joseph Smith to ponder which English word or phrase or sentence was correct or even to consult a dictionary. Moreover, mere access to a dictionary would not have been sufficient to provide the correct words. Only someone or some group who knew the intended meaning from the original Nephite language of A.D 400 and also knew the English language of 1829 at a high level could have selected the appropriate English word, or a suitable English phrase when there was not a precise word that was fitting. This translation procedure, of course, would have applied to all words in the English translation of the Book of Mormon, not just the relatively few geographic-based words provided in this glossary. We contend, however, that the pattern and definitions of these geographic words, alone, provide impressive support for the divine origin of the Book of Mormon, especially when the pattern of the definitions matches a specific location, landscape and climate on the earth’s surface—a location not known firsthand by the Prophet Joseph Smith.

We are currently preparing a glossary for publication and anticipate adding it to this web site.
Updated: Tuesday, 13 July 2010

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Has your work provided any insights into how the Book of Mormon was translated by the Prophet Joseph Smith?