While reviewing information related to Cornelis Van Dam's outstanding book on the Urim and Thummin (he's a non-LDS scholar whose scholarship regarding that ancient tool should be of special interest to LDS people, as I've discussed here before and will discuss in my next post for the Nauvoo Times), I ran across a rapid-fire but noteworthy essay from Daniel Peterson on the Restoration, courtesy of the Maxwell Institute. Below is an excerpt dealing with the Book of Mormon that I found helpful. I hope you'll read and ponder his entire article over at the Maxwell Institute. For the latest from Daniel Peterson and friends, be sure to regularly visit the Mormon Interpreter. (For what follows, please see the original article for all the footnotes.)
Joseph Smith obtained the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated from the angel Moroni on 22 September 1827—which was not only the autumnal equinox but Jewish New Year's Day, Rosh Hashanah, the so-called "birthday of the world."20 More and more, the Book of Mormon appears to fit the ancient world from which it claims to have emerged.21 This is a remarkable fact, considering that its translation and dictation appear to have been accomplished in roughly 63 working days—a torrid pace that, with neither rewrites nor significant corrections, produced nearly 8.5 pages (of the current English edition) daily.22 And it was produced in what might justly be termed an "information vacuum" by a semiliterate young farm boy who had essentially no access to data of any kind about antiquity.23 Yet Joseph Smith's account of the translation process, according to which he made use of a priestly implement that the Hebrew Bible terms the Urim and Thummim, now finds remarkable circumstantial support from contemporary scholarship on that rather mysterious object.24 
And the book that resulted from the process is littered with what can now be recognized as authentically ancient names, many of them unknown in the Bible or in any other source available to Joseph Smith. The name of Lehi's wife Sariah, for example, previously invisible outside the Book of Mormon, has now been found in ancient Jewish documents from Egypt.25 Likewise, the nonbiblical name Nephi belongs to the very time and place of the first Book of Mormon figure who bears it.26 Other uniquely Book of Mormon names—such as Abish, Aha, Ammonihah, Chemish, Hagoth, Himni, Isabel, Jarom, Josh, Luram, Mathoni, Mathonihah, Muloki, Sam, and Shule—are now attested in ancient materials.27 Two male characters named Alma appear in the Book of Mormon. And, of course, this seems to run counter to what we might have expected: If Joseph Smith knew the name at all from his environment, he would most likely have known it as a Latinate woman's name. (Many will recognize the phrasealma mater, which means "beneficent mother.") Recent documentary finds demonstrate, however, that Alma also occurs as a Semitic masculine personal name in the ancient Near East—just as it does in the Book of Mormon.28As a final example, Jershon designates a place that was given to the people of Ammon as a "land . . . for an inheritance" (Alma 27:22). In Hebrew, Jershon means "a place of inheritance."29 It is simply inconceivable that Joseph Smith could have known this in the late 1820s. 
The presence in the Book of Mormon of the characteristically ancient literary structure or technique known as chiasmus—a complex rhetorical device largely overlooked by biblical scholarship until decades after Joseph Smith's martyrdom in Illinois—is another powerful indicator of the record's antiquity and almost certainly did not arise by random chance.30 (The same literary structure has now been identified in pre-Columbian America.)31 In one intriguing example of chiasmus, the crucial wordplay rests on an equivalence between the word Lord and the royal name Zedekiah (see Helaman 6:10). But those words are only equivalent to readers aware that the termLord probably stands (as it does in the King James Bible) for the divine name Jehovah or Yahweh, and that the -iah element in Zedekiah is the first portion of that same divine name. This chiasm thus works better in Hebrew than in English, which seems an important clue to the original language of the Book of Mormon.32 
A number of details from the Book of Mormon text appear to support a view of the book as a rather literal translation from an ancient document.33 In an ancient Hebrew idiom, for example, arrows are "thrown" (see, for example, Alma 49:22). Also, just as in ancient Hebrew and other Semitic languages, in a construction known as a "cognate accusative,"34 the word denoting the object of a verb is sometimes derived from the same root as the verb itself. "Behold," says the prophet Lehi, "I have dreamed a dream."35 Similarly, the (to us) redundant that in such expressions as "because that they are redeemed from the fall" and "because that my heart is broken" is a Hebraism (see, respectively, 2 Nephi 2:26 and 4:32). 
But some Hebrew constructions that appeared in the first (1830) edition of the Book of Mormon have been erased from later printings, in a bid to make the book read more smoothly as English. One striking example of this involves a series of conditional sentences in Helaman 12:13—21. Such sentences, in English, typically feature anif-clause (either using the word if itself, or something equivalent), which expresses a hypothetical condition, and a result clause that describes what will occur if the hypothetical condition comes about. For example, "If you don't study, you will fail." The result clause may contain a word such as then, but commonly does not. By contrast, the result clause of a conditional sentence in ancient Hebrew can be introduced by the word wa (and), so that the sentence takes what might be termed an if-and form.36 The occurrence of if-and conditionals in the 1830 Book of Mormon seems to indicate that it did not originate in the mind of a native English-speaker, but is a quite literal translation from a Hebrew original:
13. yea and if he saith unto the earth move and it is moved
14. yea if he say unto the earth thou shalt go back that it lengthen out the day for many hours and it is done.
16. and behold also if he saith unto the waters of the great deep be thou dried up and it is done.
17. behold if he saith unto this mountain be thou raised up and come over and fall upon that city that it be buried up and behold it is done.
19. and if the Lord shall say be thou accursed that no man shall find thee from this time henceforth and forever and behold no man getteth it henceforth and forever.
20. and behold if the Lord shall say unto a man because of thine iniquities thou shalt be accursed forever and it shall be done.
21. and if the Lord shall say because of thine iniquities thou shalt be cut off from my presence and he will cause that it shall be so. (Helaman 12:13—14, 16—17, 19—21, 1830 edition)
4. and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart with real intent having faith in Christ and he will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost. (Moroni 10:4, 1830 edition)37
It is difficult to imagine a native speaker of English (such as Joseph Smith, though poorly educated at the time, indisputably was) producing such sentences. Yet they represent perfectly acceptable Hebrew. 
Lehi's vision of God and his accompanying prophetic call, we now know, could serve as a textbook illustration of such visions and calls as they are recounted in ancient literature, complete with motifs of the heavenly book and the divine council that have only garnered scholarly attention in recent decades.38 The imagery of Nephi's subsequent vision, too, is deeply rooted in ancient Near Eastern symbolism with which Joseph Smith could not conceivably have been familiar but that seems to point directly to an origin in preexilic Israel (see 1 Nephi 11).39Not surprisingly, in that light, the account of Jerusalem just prior to the Babylonian captivity that is given early in the Book of Mormon narrative gains in plausibility as research accumulates.40 Although it is generally supposed, for instance, that the captured Judahite king Zedekiah was forced to watch the execution of all his sons before his eyes were put out and he was taken off to Babylon, the Book of Mormon says that one of them, named Mulek, survived. A careful reading of the Bible, particularly in the original Hebrew, suggests that the claim is plausible, to the point, even, of including the detail of the prince's name.41 Even Nephi's slaying of Laban, and the justification given to him for doing so, can now be seen to fit very specifically into that period.42 The book claims, moreover, to have been written in "reformed Egyptian" (Mormon 9:32). Most who have studied the subject conclude that this signifies writing the Hebrew language in modified Egyptian characters. In recent years, we have learned that several indisputably ancient documents were written in precisely that fashion.43 
The account of Lehi's Arabian sojourn after his hasty departure from Palestine is remarkably accurate—in fact, likely Book of Mormon locations have been identified along the coasts of Arabia—but no scholar in the nineteenth century, let alone Joseph Smith, could have known any of this.44 And Lehi's epic journey from Jerusalem to the New World endured for a millennium in the memory of his descendants, who saw it as a signal instance of God's miraculous power much like the Israelites' earlier deliverance from Egyptian bondage.45 Indeed, careful modern readings show that the very terms in which it was described and remembered derive from the biblical account of the exodus. The literary crafting of the story is both sophisticated and authentically Near Eastern.46
These are just some of the many things that can strengthen our appreciation of the Book of Mormon as an authentic ancient text.  It truly is an impressive book worthy of deep study and reflection. 

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