Thursday, December 9, 2010

Insights Into Joseph's Experience in "Translating" the Book of Mormon

1 Nephi 1:2 –Yea, I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.

In this verse Nephi mentions the synthesis or at least the combination of the best qualities of two cultures. He tells us that he is going to be sharing the “learning” of the Jews, especially concerning their understanding of God, i.e. their theology and religious practices, but he is going to do it using a modified version of the hieroglyphic, picture-characters of the Egyptian–where one symbol or a short series of symbols could be translated into one or more sentences of our English language–even a whole paragraph–maybe more.

Insight: one of the “weaknesses” of the English language is that it takes so many characters to convey an image, because the characters (letters) themselves, taken alone, have no cognitive connection to the phenomenon they are trying to convey.

Insight: this is what constitutes “intellectualism”–this reliance on abstract symbols–letters and numbers for the conveyance of information–removed from the reality they represent. Thus the need for “book-learning,” for literacy, for the “reading,’ and “writing,” of marks that have no connection cognitively to the reality they convey.

Meanwhile, there has been and there still could be a language where a single character or even a single audible sound could convey much more intelligence in a very succinct way and thus convey a much more accurate “picture” to the receivers mind. They say one picture is worth a thousand words. It is possible, then, that one word or symbol even, that ignites a picture in the listener’s mind is worth the other 999 words.

I see that this is how so much English (once translated) was packed onto the gold plates. I see that Joseph only transcribed a portion of what was on the plates–besides the 116 pages that were lost.

I see that the process of “translation” was that of looking upon characters that conveyed pictures to his mind, accompanied by the literal voice of each of the still living prophets themselves, dictating to him through the Spirit of Revelation.

“I, Nephi . . .” I see that in a very real sense, Joseph was taking dictation from the prophet Nephi directly.

And now, I also see that the previously curious (and a bit embarrassing) stories of him looking into a hat while dictating represented his attempts to shut out all distraction and to focus his mind and attention on the revelations he was receiving. It was an attempt to shut out all interference to the whisperings of the Spirit, because through that gift he heard the words of the prophets, themselves.