November 24th, 2006

Cognate Accusatives

Hebrew words

A couple of weeks ago I noticed in the scriptures something I had learned from a Hugh Nibley article a few years back: cognate accusatives. They are a literary element found in Hebrew, also making an extensive appearance in the Book of Mormon.

Definition

A Students’s Dictionary for Biblical and Theological Studies defines the cognate accusative as, “A noun, derived from the same root as the verb, that defines, explains, or strengthens (emphasizes) the verbal idea” (Huey and Corley 1983:45).

This page from Ohio State defines it as “the easiest form of the internal accusative to identify; it is called a “cognate accusative” because the noun in the accusative case uses a same linguistic stem or root as (in other words, it is cognate with) the stem or root of the verb.”

Examples

Old Testament

cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry (Genesis 27:34)
we have dreamed a dream (Genesis 40:8)
vowed a vow (Judges 11:30)
thundered with a great thunder (1 Samuel 7:10)
lamented with this lamentation (2 Samuel 1:17)
devise devices against Jeremiah (Jer. 18:18)

Book of Mormon

curse them with a sore curse (1 Ne. 2:23)
I have dreamed a dream (1 Ne. 8:2)
yoketh them with a yoke (1 Ne. 13:5)
work a great and marvelous work (1 Ne. 14:7)
desire which I desired (Enos 1:13)
succor those that stand in need of your succor (Mosiah 4:16)
taxed with a tax (Mosiah 7:15)

And that, ladies and gents, is another example of why the Book of Mormon is of God. You’d be hard pressed to convince me that an unlearned boy in rural New York knew anything about Hebraic literary patterns (chiasmus being another example). While such things should not serve as the only proof of the Book of Mormon’s validity, they are indeed interesting and reaffirming. I testify that the Book of Mormon is true. It has changed my life for the better, and in it I find priceless counsel, wisdom, and guidance.

11 Responses to “Cognate Accusatives”

  1. fontor
    November 27, 2006 at 10:01 am #

    This isn’t good evidence for the Hebraic origin of The Book of Mormon.

    Of course Joseph was aware of Hebraic literary patterns — he had access to the Old Testament. And you’ve just given several examples that he could have adapted. What better strategy than to follow King James English as closely as possible?

  2. John Anderson
    November 27, 2006 at 10:23 am #

    Just because you have access to the literature, it doesn’t mean you’re automatically aware of the literary devices used in it.

    I would imagine you have access to the complete works of Shakespeare…

    :)

  3. Connor
    November 27, 2006 at 10:35 am #

    John raises a good point, and couple that w/ the fact that Joseph had no formal education, and according to his own wife, “could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well worded letter, let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon.

  4. Jeff
    November 27, 2006 at 10:46 am #

    BTW, Connor, I don’ t want to diminish this post at all. In fact, I think that the literary complexity of the BOM speaks volumes of its authenticity. However, I hear lots of LDS members talk about chiasmi in the BOM as being proof of its Hebrewness. The problem is that the chiasmus is a common literary element, not just in Hebrew, but in many other languages and traditions as well, including English. Many of the poets before Joseph’s time and during were using them regularly. For instance, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, a staple in English lit, is loaded with them.

    I haven’t studied cognate accusatives, but the chiasmus argument doesn’t quite hold up to scrutiny since it is such a common literary device.

  5. Connor
    November 27, 2006 at 10:59 am #

    The problem is that the chiasmus is a common literary element, not just in Hebrew, but in many other languages and traditions as well, including English.

    I don’t disagree with you, I know that the chiasmic form of literature is used in other languages too. My point is that an uneducated farm boy using them extensively, accurately, and correctly is where any “proof” comes into play.. for me, anyways.

  6. Jeff
    November 27, 2006 at 11:06 am #

    I agree. That’s why I hesitated in posting my comment at all. The BOM is extremely complex from a literary standpoint, especially with the number of different voices and writing styles that suggests different authors. I just think a lot of members fall back on the chiasmus argument when they don’t know much about the device at all.

  7. fontor
    November 27, 2006 at 5:27 pm #

    I’m not saying he was aware of the devices; I’m saying he could have unwittingly copied them in. He certainly had enough examples to work from.

    If I have a translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and I try to make up a book of Tibetan history (to the point of copying whole chapters from it), then we shouldn’t be surprised if we see phrases that sound a lot like the source material.

    One other thing: you do Joseph Smith a disservice when you portray him as an ignorant farm boy with an IQ of three. He was a smart guy, a good reader, and he had access to the religious ideas that were floating around at the time.

  8. Connor
    November 27, 2006 at 5:31 pm #

    If I have a translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and I try to make up a book of Tibetan history (to the point of copying whole chapters from it), then we shouldn’t be surprised if we see phrases that sound a lot like the source material.

    One instance, sure. Two instances, maybe. Three, and your pushing it? Several, and you’re far beyond any coincidence or passing influence.

    One other thing: you do Joseph Smith a disservice when you portray him as an ignorant farm boy with an IQ of three. He was a smart guy, a good reader, and he had access to the religious ideas that were floating around at the time.

    I do him no disservice by stating the simple fact that at the time he translated the Book of Mormon, he was quite uneducated. You say he was a smart guy and good reader, but that’s what he became. When the Restoration started, he was far from it, and with the mantle of his calling and aid of the Spirit he quickly progressed to be a highly intelligent man. But in his early years, he was anything but. That’s what’s amazing about him – seeing him rise from a proverbial zero to hero in the amount of time he did, accomplishing the numerous feats that have become his fruits. Amazing.

  9. fontor
    November 27, 2006 at 8:30 pm #

    One instance, sure. Two instances, maybe. Three, and your pushing it? Several, and you’re far beyond any coincidence or passing influence.

    The number of instances is irrelevant. What, if there were only two, you’d say “Shucks, that’s not enough to go on”? You haven’t really got a basis for saying that five (or seven or whatever) is some kind of magic number. Or if you do, please fill me in on the statistics of it all.

    All the instances could have come from someone trying to write in an Old Testament style. I don’t see that this evidence is very strong.

  10. John Anderson
    November 27, 2006 at 8:44 pm #

    @fontor:

    I think you’re right.

    I also think that a high (or elementary) schooler could base a new work from a transliterated Finnish classic “in Finnish style” and somehow craft, on her own, literary devices particular to that same time period and language.

    Perfectly reasonable.

  11. fontor
    November 27, 2006 at 11:55 pm #

    I do find it perfectly reasonable that a book derived or copied from another book would show linguistic features from that book.

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