“…to Judea

A Hebrew inscription that a Nephite could have read

 

There are place-names in western New York and the Great Lakes region in general, that sound a lot like Book of Mormon place names. The Native American name “Oneida” is one example. (Alma 47:5) But have any Book of Mormon place names turned up in the Americas as a result of professional archaeology? Has a place name been found in the Americas in a form of writing that the Book of Mormon claims was utilized by the Nephites? The answer, as you will see, is yes!

As with the name “Y’hudah” (Judah), the Semitic name “Yhud” is older than the book of Joshua. (Joshua 19:45) Later in the Bible we read:

 יְדִיעַknown 

 לֶהֱוֵאBe it

 לְמַלְכָּאunto the king,

 דִּי־that

 אֲזַלְנָאwe went

 לִיהוּדinto Judea, (literally: “to Yhud” or “to Judea”)

(Ezra 5:8)

In rendering the name “Judea” from the Hebrew Yhud, the King James translation takes its cue from the Greek translation of Jewish scripture. (Septuagint, Ezra V.8) Following the same King James convention, the English Book of Mormon recounts:

“And notwithstanding the Lamanites being cut off from their support … they were still determined to maintain the city; therefore it became expedient that we should take those provisions and send them to Judea, and our prisoners to the land of Zarahemla.” (Alma 57:11)

Below, the biblical and Book of Mormon expression “to Judea” is written in post-exilic, block Hebrew (Hebrew letters developed after the Babylonian exile – after the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi left Jerusalem). The Hebrew is pronounced authentically (transliterated) in English, and on the left, the expression is translated into the familiar language of the King James Bible:

To Judea = LiYhud = לִיהוּד

But what does “liYhud”, “to Judea” look like in pre-exilic Hebrew – the kind of Hebrew letters familiar to Lehi?  

Again,

“To Judea” in post-exilic Hebrew (as it appears in Hebrew Bibles today):

      לִ     י     ה     וּ     ד

Compared to,

“LiYhud” in pre-exilic Hebrew (familiar to the Book of Mormon patriarch Lehi):

to Judea (pre-exilic Hebrew)

W. V. Coon 2011

Now see if you can discern similar letters inscribed on the tablet below:

Bat Creek Mound Tablet

This tablet was reportedly recovered in situ during a credible archaeological excavation of a burial mound in Bat Creek, Tennessee. (Thomas, Cyrus H., Twelfth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution 1890-91, 1894. "Report on the Mound Explorations of the Bureau of Ethnology." Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.)

Over the years, professional speculation has posited the characters to be either “Cherokee”, or a “Hebraic script” (unfortunately published upside-down by the Smithsonian). It has been argued that the Hebrew inscription, if it is not a well contrived hoax,  indicates a trans-Atlantic crossing to America “from Judea”, possibly in the early centuries A.D. (Gordon, Cyrus, H., Before Columbus: Links Between the Old World and Ancient America, pg. 187). There is no proof, however, that the script itself is from this proposed time period. Though somewhat altered, the letters clearly match a form of pre-exilic or paleo Hebrew - a form of ancient Hebrew that changed little from before Isaiah to the time of Jeremiah, Lehi’s contemporary:

Paleo Hebrew Letters

Kris J. Udd 2010

As we have seen, the ancient Hebrew expression on the stone, parallels a quote, including an American place name, from the Book of Mormon.

According to the Book of Mormon, one of the writing systems of the Nephites was “altered” pre-exilic Hebrew. (1 Nephi 1:2-4, Mormon 9:33) Lehi would have been able to read the Bat Creek inscription! He would not have been familiar with the modified square Hebrew inscribed on another “find” - the Ohio Decalogue stone. The individual(s) responsible for creating the Ohio Decalogue stone confused Hebrew letters in such a suspicious way, that the blunders spell hoax! The Hebrew words for “covet” and “thy neighbor”, for instance, show egregious substitution errors. These mistakes are not just misspellings. The slips show that the source the engraver was transcribing (substituting with improvised characters), was post-exilic Hebrew (i.e. from a Hebrew Bible). Barely familiar with the Hebrew aleph-bet, the transcriber confused several similar looking letters from the Hebrew Bible, before substituting them with what he thought was the correct symbol from a contrived, replacement aleph-bet. The transcriber also had no idea he correctly spelled the same word in one instance and carved nonsense elsewhere. (McCulloch, J. Huston, An Annotated Transcription of the Ohio Decalogue Stone, The Epigraphic Society Occasional Papers, Volume 21, August 1992, pp. 56-73)

Though controversial, several professionals have ardently defended the Bat Creek inscription to be genuine. The Bat Creek inscription is a cut above specious Michigan relics, and glamorous Ohio Hebrew stones, some of which are admitted fakes. The Bat Creek mound tablet is the finest example of a correspondence to a New World Book of Mormon place name; engraved in what appears to be a form of ancient Hebrew known to Lehi. If nothing more, the Bat Creek inscription is consistent with the Book of Mormon's classification in the “Mound-builder” genre. Israelites in ancient America is a reoccurring theme in this North American genre.

Correlations do exist for the two Nephite writing systems mentioned in the Book of Mormon. (Mosiah 1:4, Mormon 9:32-33)

First there is the logogrammatic, Egyptian-like writing system typified by North American Micmac (Mi’kmaq). Mi’kmaq hieroglyphs have an oral tradition claiming their use prior to European contact. (Mi’kmaq Hieroglyphic Prayers, Readings in North Americas First Indigenous Script, Edited and Translated by David L. Schmidt and Murdena Marshall, Introduction, pg. 4)

Egyptian - Micmac Comparison

Nephite Mi'kmaq Comparison

The above Nephite symbols come from the “Caractors” transcript (early Mormon transcript of characters copied from the Book of Mormon Plates). Care has been taken to avoid any comparisons that draws from Mark Hofmann’s Anthon Transcript forgery.

Though the spoken language of the Mi’kmaq people of northern America is certainly not the same as Nephite, the style of Nephite writing resembles Mi’kmaq hieroglyphs. In both Nephite and Mi’kmaq, symbols represent entire words. This explains why Nephite “reformed Egyptian” is even more compressed than Nephite “Hebrew”. (Mormon 9:33)

Second, we have the altered pre-exilic Hebrew as it appears on the Tennessee mound tablet.

We should distinguish, as in Biblical Archaeology, between evidence that only supports the literary setting of scripture and evidence proving that scripture is literal history. The latter can be much harder to come by. Mainstream Anthropology, American History and Literature scholars already accept the “Mound-builder” literary setting for the Book of Mormon. (Garlinghouse, Thomas, “Revisiting the Mound Builder Controversy”, History Today, Sept 2001, Vol. 51, Issue 9, starting pg. 38)

As the Book of Mormon becomes less of a show piece (tied to media, tourism, and other financial interests) and more of an object of personal study, the authentic setting for the scripture will become obvious to more Latter-day Saints.

 

 

 

W. Vincent Coon 2011


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