Die Boek van Mormon


bofmI was searching through my books in storage a few days ago and came across a first edition of the Book of Mormon in Afrikaans. I served a mission in South African from 1971 to 1973. I had interesting and challenging experiences. But this was one of the most riveting.

I attended the special conference in Johannesburg on May 14, 1972, when the new translation of the Book of Mormon into Afrikaans (Die Boek van Mormon) was presented. It was an electric moment. People wept. Some had waited all of their lifetimes to read the Book of Mormon in Afrikaans. Many people had learned English for the sole purpose of reading this scripture. The Spirit was strong among us as we rejoiced.

Remembering back more than forty years, I can still remember Professor Felix Mijnhardt as he spoke of his experience in translating that sacred book. We also had a special zone conference a few days prior where our mission president, Harlan Clark, recounted his involvement with and experience of the translation of the Book of Mormon. I had a good friend who was an assistant to President Clark, who later shared with me his experiences of being in meetings with Professor Mijnhardt and Elder Clark several times. I can no longer remember who said what exactly, but I remember what I felt, and how it affected my newly-minted testimony as a young missionary. I will retell it as best as I can recall.

Professor Mijnhardt was invited to come to the stand and speak about his experience in translating the Book of Mormon. He recounted how he had been given a gift of languages from God from his youth. He said that he was fluent in over sixty languages. He was presently employed at Pretoria University as a language professor. He said he had been praying that the Lord would give him some task, some divinely important task, that would justify his having this gift of language from God.

He said that in about 1970 he had visited a group of Mormon leaders, including a Bishop Brummer, Mission President Harlan Clark, and others, who sought to commission him to translate the Book of Mormon from English into Afrikaans. He said that he knew of the Book of Mormon from his religions studies, and his initial reaction was that he did not want to be involved in translating it.

However, that evening as he prayed upon his knees, as was his habit, the Spirit of the Lord convicted him. The message was something on the order of, “You asked me for a great, divinely inspired task of translation, I sent it to you in the form of translating the Book of Mormon, and you declined.” Professor Mijnhardt said he could not sleep through the night because he knew that translating the Book of Mormon would get him into trouble with his university, which was owned and operated by the Dutch Reformed Church. When morning came he agreed to begin the translation immediately.

Standing at the pulpit, he described the experience. He said something like, “I never begin translating a book at the beginning. Writing style usually changes throughout a book and becomes more consistent toward the middle. Accordingly, I opened to a random place in the middle of the Book of Mormon, and began translating.”

He said, “I was startled by the obvious fact that the Book of Mormon was not authored in English. It became immediately apparent that what I was reading was a translation into English from some other language. The sentence structure was wrong for native English. The word choices were wrong, as were many phrases.”

He asked, “How many times has an Englishman said or written, ‘And it came to pass’?” We all laughed, and knew he was right, of course.

He explained that when he realized this, he knew that he had to find either the original language or a median language, and then proceed to translate it into Afrikaans. He listed a half-dozen languages he tried, all of which did not accommodate the strange sentence structure found in the Book of Mormon. He said he finally tried Egyptian, and to his complete surprise, he found that the Book of Mormon translated flawlessly into Egyptian—not modern, but ancient Egyptian. He found that some nouns were missing from Egyptian, so he used Hebrew nouns where Egyptian did not provide the word or phrase. He chose Hebrew because both languages existed in the same place anciently.

He said he had no idea at that time why the Book of Mormon was once written in Egyptian, but he said that without any doubt, the Book of Mormon had been authored in Egyptian or a language with very similar syntax. I heard him say this over and over. Then, he said, “Imagine my utter astonishment when I turned to chapter one, verse one, and began my actual translation, and came to verse two, where Nephi explains that he was writing in the language of the Egyptians, with the learning of the Jews!”

He said, “I knew by the second verse that this was no ordinary book, that it was not the writings of Joseph Smith, but that it was of ancient origin. I could have saved myself months of work if I had just begun at the beginning. Nobody but God—working through a prophet of God, in this case Nephi—would have included a statement of the language he was writing in. Consider how many documents written in English include the phrase, ‘I am writing in English’! It is unthinkable and absolute proof of the inspired origins of this book.”

He noted that he was one of the few people in the world with any knowledge of old Egyptian writing. He was certainly the only person who was also fluent in Afrikaans and English. He indicated that when a verse would not translate directly into English, he used Egyptian as a tool to arrive at a correct translation into Afrikaans.

Professor Mijnhardt spoke of many other things regarding the translation of this book and then said, “I do not know what Joseph Smith was before he translated this book, and I do not know what he was afterward, but while he translated this book, he was a prophet of God! I know he was a prophet! I testify to you that he was a prophet while he brought forth this book! He could have been nothing else! No person in 1827 could have done what he did. The science did not exist. The knowledge of ancient Egyptian did not exist. The knowledge of these ancient times and ancient peoples did not exist. The Book of Mormon is scripture. I hope you realize this.”

“I have since been asked to translate the book you call the Doctrine and Covenants. I got part way through and set it down. It is not like the Book of Mormon. Anyone could translate it into Afrikaans. It is not scripture in the same sense that the Book of Mormon is scripture. I declare that the Book of Mormon is of ancient origin, and is scripture of the same caliber as the Old Testament, or for that matter, the New Testament.”

“I have taken this book of scripture, this Book of Mormon, and presented it to my Board of Regents, and urged them to embrace it as scripture. They declined, of course. I took it to the head of our Dutch Reformed Church and demonstrated why the Book of Mormon is scripture, and urged them to at least study it, even if they did not canonize it or even share it with the people of the church. I urged them to just think what having a new and profound book of scripture could mean to the church–to my church, the Dutch Reformed Church. I pointed out that they need not become Mormons, in the same way that they did not need to become Jews to embrace the Old Testament. They considered my presentation for a very few seconds and then rejected it. They next threatened me regarding my belief in the Book of Mormon, threatened my employment, and ejected me from their presence. I am deeply disappointed, but I am not deterred. I will keep promoting this book as scripture for the remainder of my life–simply because it is scripture, and I know it.”

He paused, then added, “I am not a member of your church, and do not expect to become one. I have been asked many times why I have not joined your church, and my answer is because God has not directed me to join you. If He had, I would be standing here as a fellow Mormon. Perhaps my mission in life is better served outside of your church. I haven’t studied your doctrine or your history since Joseph Smith. The only thing I know about you is that you have authentic, ancient scripture in the Book of Mormon, and that all of the world should embrace the Book of Mormon as scripture. It simply can’t be denied. I believe every religion could embrace the Book of Mormon without becoming a Mormon. You probably disagree with that, but it is my present belief, and my message to anyone who will listen.”

I have pondered that experience for half of a century now. I do not know whether Professor Mijnhardt ever joined the Church. I know my memory of his exact words is wanting, but my memory of what I felt and what I knew and how potent it was to hear his testimony of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon is one of those things that I will never forget.

–Brother John

 

For more accounts from John Pontius’ life, please read “Journey to the Veil”, located here.

* Terri’s note: For anyone interested, the current location of the transcript for the May 14, 1972 Transvaal Stake meeting in Johannesburg is in the Church History Library, call number LR 9256 24, Folder 1.

About John Pontius

I am a lover of truth.
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8 Responses to Die Boek van Mormon

  1. James says:

    By the mouths of two or three witnesses, shall every word be established…

    Thie link below claims Elder Russel M. Nelson became aquainted with a middle-eastern scholar who also found undeniable evidence in the Book of Mormon that it was a genuinely ancient text from the eastern world. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the source and the article has a lot of nay-sayer comments, but that should be expected. You might research what other websites say about it and post if it feels like the right thing to do. However, its content seems ever more plausible considering Brother John’s account of Professor Mijnhardt.

    http://m.sodahead.com/living/a-muslim-translates-book-of-mormon-back-to-egyptian-and-is-converted/blog-356245/?fullSiteOk=1

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    • D. Charles Pyle says:

      Unfortunately, that one about Elder Russel M. Nelson is an internet hoax. Elder Russell M. Nelson never gave this talk, according to his own office. It’s origination, however, was based on a typescript of a talk that also was attributed to Elder Russel M. Nelson, dated August 4, 1981, with a few accretions added and spelling modified. The actual typescript I have claims that it was taken from a talk given by Elder Russell M. Nelson at “The Mission President’s Seminar in Vienna, Austria,” on that date. A number of missionaries had been passing this item around some years back but I have yet to verify this typescript (I had forgotten about it until reading your comment about it). Someone later took this typescript text, added a few comments, changed some spelling, substracted a couple elements, and then circulated it around the internet.

      Ideation underlying one anecdote in the typescript referring to Helaman 3:14 and a reference to Sami Hanna as a friend of Elder Russell who translated the Book of Mormon into Arabic as a linguistic exercise that led to conversion to the Book of Mormon, however, can be found in an actual seminar for new Mission Presidents given in the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, on June 25, 1992. That anecdote was adapted into a talk that can be found here:

      “A Treasured Testament”
      https://www.lds.org/ensign/1993/07/a-treasured-testament?lang=eng

      Should I find out more, I will post that information here on this page.

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  2. D. Charles Pyle says:

    While a few details in this account are cloudy by age and mistaken in some details due to lapse of time and memory, the underlying story beneath the recollection is absolutely true. It was Hebrew rather than Egyptian that Mijnhardt spoke about using as a transition language to his Afrikaans translation. This can be seen in the document you mention (which I can verify because I have seen the actual transcript document with my own eyes).

    Professor Mijnhardt really did make use of ancient Hebrew to help him translate portions of the Afrikaans Book of Mormon and really did believe the evidence he found during and in that labor, which demonsctrated to his entire satisfaction that Joseph Smith, therefore, could not have just made up the Book of Mormon, as many critics claimed. He so stated this before entire congregations and this can be seen in the transcript of the meeting wherein he first claimed what he did.

    Professor Mijnhardt never did join the Church but he testified as a non-member that he knew that the Book of Mormon was inspired when Joseph Smith translated it, and that it was a genuinely ancient text to which Joseph Smith had access. His working with ancient Hebrew showed him that.

    That all said, I also can attest that there are various ‘Egyptianisms’ in the text of the Book of Mormon, as I and others have mentioned in various places. Epistles in the Book of Mormon read like Egyptian epistles, the Book of Mormon contains some genuinely Egyptian ideas as well as genuine Egyptian names (such as the Anti- element seen in the Book of Mormon, Ani-, etc.), used correctly. Even the syllabation of the word Irreantum appears to be correctly derived from Egyptian words as part of an Egyptian name-phrase that needed interpretation. Ir re antu m (ir r ntw m) literally means “more than all bodies of water”, which, according to Nephi (also an authentic Egyptian name element in a couple Egyptian names I have seen as -nefi), is by interpretation, “many waters.” What are the odds of Joseph Smith coming up with something like that and being right by chance?

    But, by far the best evidence of the inspiration of that book of scripture comes by way of the Spirit of God, as brother Pontius often stated.

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    • Brother Pyle, thank you for your clarification. Remember, too, that John also referenced Hebrew as well as Egyptian as a language used in translation. He referenced the professor using “Hebrew nouns where Egyptian did not provide the word or phrase.” I find it compelling that one of the mainstays of John’s memory about the professor’s talk was that the professor was surprised when he turned to 1 Nephi and found that the written language was reformed Egyptian. I heard John tell me this story over and over, and he said that this was one of the professor’s main points. Again, thank you for your clarifying comments.

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      • D. Charles Pyle says:

        The reason I brought up what I did was because Egyptian is not stated as one of the number of languages that Professor Mijnhardt knew how to read. His daughter also has confirmed for a friend of mine that the Egyptian part did not happen, and that that part of the account is not correct. The transcript in the Church History Library also seems to confirm this as well. Mijnhardt made no mention of using Egyptian during the translation of the Book of Mormon into Afrikaans. He only states that he used Hebrew in the transcript. He states as follows the process that he used:

        “There are other semantic difficulty — which was the translation of the holy name of the Lord God. The Hebrew origin of the Bible has been translated merely as Lord God, Jehovah, the Lord of Lords, etc. But in each instance it is possible to consult the available Hebrew or Chaldean text and arrive at a satisfactory ending. In the case of the Book of Mormon, the original was written in reformed Egyptian according to Mormon 9:32. And such examples of the various Egyptian languages that are extant do not contain a word or phrase which can be rendered by Jahveh or Lord God, as understood by us. … Now another problem arose from the indirect quotations from the King James version of the Bible which was known at the time. Direct quotation such as from Jeremiah, etc., could be rendered directly from the Afrikaans version. But indirect quotations or references not cited word for word caused many a headache. And I afterwards found that if I translated the relevant passages from the English into Hebrew first and then translated the Hebrew, however cumbersome this may sound, actually those sentences made better sense. This was particularly the case when words or phrases are used in the English but not so in the King James version. There are so many instances of these I shall not even attempt to cite them. The point I wish to make is that this to me proves that the Book of Mormon was not thought up but had in fact a solid matter of fact origin of some Semitic language. …

        I think you will have understood by now why the Book of Mormon took more than a year to translate and another year to revise. I undertook the work with some diffidence. As I progressed, I came from passage after passage of the above nature New Testament words and phrases used in a Pre-New Testament setting.

        I could only reconcile myself of the prevelance when I had transliterated them into the Hebrew idiom. Retranslating using the familiar idiom would of course have been a natural thing to do in Joseph Smith’s case. The problem is how did he translate? Did he “see” the correct rendering as a whole or render each passage piece-meal? Considering the time stated for completing the whole work, I cannot believe the latter explanation. I refer you anyway to the History of the Church, Volume 1, page 132, further.

        Now as I progressed the mass of detail comprehended in the Book of Mormon no fact conflicting with any other impressed me more and more. One would be inclined to either accept the entire work as inspired or to repudiate it in it’s entirety. To repudiate it would mean ignoring the plain fact that that it was conceived and written inside a space of three months which proves rather that it was inspired. Living with it as I have done for three years does not make it easy to dismiss it entirely. …”

        (Transvaal Stake meeting transcript and recording, LR 9256 24, Folder 1, pages 5-7, CHL, spelling and grammar as in original, ellipses mine)

        For rest, and for the fuller context, see the transcript at the CHL. In any case, the underlying story is based in fact, that Professor Mijnhardt did indeed translate English passages into Hebrew and then into Afrikaans, that he saw that as evidence of a genuinely Semitic origin for the underlying text of the Book of Mormon, and that indeed should be comforting for those who may become discouraged by those people attacking the entire story for a few lapses of memory in the retelling of the story so many years after the fact.

        I am grateful for Brother Pontius’ retelling of the story, in spite of any flaws in memory after around 40 years, because it enabled me to find the actual transcript of the meeting that day and to be able to confirm the underlying truth of Professor Mijnhardt’s translation methodology of translating passages of the English Book of Mormon into Hebrew and finding the passages giving him so much difficulty being made so much easier by doing so to become evidence for him of an authentic, original Semitic text from which Joseph Smith translated.

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        • Up until today, I was not aware that Egyptian was not used to translate. I had known that Hebrew was used, and understood that Egyptian was used as well. I am going to insert an explanation into this post, as well as into future printings of “Journey to the Veil.” Thank you for bringing this to my attention! As you stated, the flaw in John’s assertion about Egyptian does not negate the general assertion of this professor. But, I do not want to release information that is incorrect or misleading in any way. I will clarify this correction in the future. Thanks!

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  3. Jared says:

    My parents divorced when I was 10– resulting with my Father choosing to be absent from our lives. I chose to use my agency poorly in my teen years. My mom was diagnosed with a terminal cancer when I was 14. She was told that with chemotherapy and radiation she could possibly live 8 months. She explained to the doctor that she had faith she would live long enough to see her last children off. Very shortly after this, she was given a priesthood blessing that told her as much. Miraculously, her bone cancer multiple myeloma went into remission. My sweet angel mother was about as perfect as mom (child of God) could be. She was a fervent follower of Jesus in word and deed. Truly, this elect woman was without guile and was filled with and emanated the pure love of Christ. So many times I would be healed mentally and emotionally and lifted spiritualy just being in her righteous company.

    I will never forget a time in my life when I was 16 watching “Heraldo” ( A tv talk show) downstairs in my room. The theme of the show that day was: people who were abducted by aliens and returned. Sounds so comical now, but, at that time of my life– it created a faith crisis. Heraldo’s guests were most convincing. As the show progressed, I became increasingly convinced these folks –had– been abducted. Panic filled my heart! The thoughts that raced through my mind were “how could the church be true– why would God allow these things to take place”? I knew I had to speak to the resident- spiritual authority in my home. Hollering to see if my mom was upstairs– She replied that she was. I wanted at some point in my life to embrace the faith that my mother so beautifully reflected. I knew that my lifestyle was void of the happiness and serenity she had in abundance. I was feeling very forlorned as I walked up those stairs. I most assuredly hoped, but was not so convinced, that my mother could pore oil on my troubled waters. When she saw me she asked sweetly what she could do for me. I observed that she was sitting in her favorite dimpled leather chair reading her her oh-so- loved scriptures. Upon being in my mother’s presence I was immediately filled with incredible peace and joy. All feelings of emotional pain, anxiety, and confusion were completely purged from me. So thorough was this cleansing– that I didn’t even ask my mother a single question. Astonished by this beautiful and immediate result– I simply told her “oh nothing” turned around and went back downstairs.

    Though I had this profound experience, numbskull me, Still chose to live a life That was unbecoming of Latter day Saint. The 19th year in my life was approaching fast. I was settling in on the idea that a mission was going to be a part of my future. This was a strong wish and desire of my mothers. My mission call came. The day came for me to leave to the MTC. My angel mother passed that morning. My twin sister had already left the home. Departing to the MTC that morning, I was the last of her 9 children to leave. The power of this rightous woman’s faith and the power / efficacy of a priesthood blessing– her righteous desire and wish was fullfield –to the day–

    The Lord’s mission I was serving was a difficult struggle initialy. President Benson talked about being a missionary that could “match the message,” that–I was not. Growing spiritually during my formative years was wasted. The lead surgeon in the county that we labored in –my first area–Invited us over to teach a friend. Introducing my companion and I– he explained in glowing details what a great missionary my trainer was. He explained in an unenthused tone that “I meant well as a missionary but was not quite up to speed”. I was devastated. He was right. As we enterered our apartment that night I asked to be alone in the bedroom. Pouring my heart and soul out to Father in Heaven– I cried and cried asking forgiveness for not being prepared and pleading for help.

    That first area I nearly read the Book of Mormon 3 times. A miracle occurred. Nothing short of the Red Sea parting. Not only did the gospel make crystal clear sense, but my intellect ( by my standards) soared! I went from an unorganized somewhat unkept fella– all the sudden I felt to be organized and precise in my actions. My mind was expanded and made much more clear. My previous swollen twisted tongue shrunk to size and was “loosed” I truly was going through a glorious- spiritual rebirth. The last fast and testimony meeting before I was transferred to a new area this lead-surgeon member stood to bear his testimony. He stated that amongst other things that help him to know that the church is true– he testified that another feather in his cap of testimony was seeing a miracle with the transformation of Elder Beesley. He rightly knew that I was a lowly way behind the curve missionary when I first entered the mission field. He also knew that nothing short Of God’s tender mercy and miraculous help could have done for me what had occurred and was occurring. I know unquestionably, Nothing unlocked this door for me so profoundly as did the study of the Book of Mormon. Father in heaven and and my Savior Jesus Christ became so wonderfully real and close to me. I can honestly say that I read a total of 6 books in 19 years of living. The majority of those in the fourth grade. I gave little to no energy from junior high to high school. Suddenly, to study the Book of Mormon, a book litered with thee thou and thines etc and for it! to come alive!—– Wonder of wonders… I became infused with the Spirit of God. I truly was a “new creature in Christ” I do not know how many times I read The Book of Mormon on the Lord’s mission. I do know that it was approaching somewhere around 15 times. I read certain books with in the book, hundreds of times. Love the book of Alma. Joy and anticipation came arising in the morning to to read the Book of Mormon. I could not wait to come home for lunch to read the Book of Mormon. I truly hungered and thirsted for the glorious affects that came from reading the great “stick of Joseph” When you are near SPIRITUALY blind, lame, deaf, dumb and are suddenly given beautiful gifts and your talents heightened, beautiful vistas opened, the word of God heard and obeyed– understanding and speech increased amazingly beyond your ability given through by way of the fruits that came from reading such a book —–wow, the love and appreciation that comes… I always knew my mother “knew it” she truly was a mother “who knew” I testify that to become a person “who knows” the expedited path is the path that leads you to the unending feast, even the great spiritual banquet –which is– the Book of Mormon.

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  4. Thanks for sharing this, Terri. I need to reread “Journey.”

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