Die Boek van Mormon
By John M. Pontius
I 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 Africa from 1971 to 1973. It was an interesting and challenging experience.
I attended the Stake 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 50 years, I can still remember Professor Felix Mynhardt [not a member of our church] as he spoke of his experience in translating that sacred book. I will retell it as best I can recall.
Professor Mynhardt 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 many languages, including English, Afrikaans, Hebrew and Egyptian, as well as many others.
He was presently employed 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 in about 1970 that he had visited with a group of Mormon leaders, 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, he said 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 Mynhardt 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 telephoned Elder Clark to inform him that he would begin the translation immediately. He stood at the pulpit and described the experience.
“I never begin translating a book at the beginning. Writing style usually changes through 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.”
“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.”
“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 continued,
“When I realized this, I knew that I had to find the original language, and translate it back into the original language, or a similar language to the original, 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,
“I finally tried Egyptian, and to my complete surprise, I found that the Book of Mormon translated flawlessly into Egyptian, not modern, but ancient Egyptian. I found that some nouns were missing from Egyptian, so I added Hebrew nouns where Egyptian did not provide the word or phrase. I chose Hebrew because both languages existed in the same place anciently. “I had no idea at that time why the Book of Mormon was once written in Egyptian, but I can tell you without any doubt, that this book was at one point written entirely in Egyptian.”
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 describes that he was writing in the language of the Egyptians, with the learning of the Jews!”
“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 and was in fact scripture. 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, “we are writing in English!”
It is unthinkable and absolute proof of the inspired origins of this book. He paused, then noted,
“I am one of the few people in the world that is fluent in ancient Egyptian. I am perhaps the only person fluent in ancient Egyptian who is also fluent in Afrikaans and English. And I know for a fact, that I am the only person alive who could have translated this book first into Egyptian, and then into Afrikaans. If your church ever needs an Egyptian translation of the Book of Mormon, it is sitting in my office as we speak.”
We all laughed. Professor Mynhardt 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 will keep promoting this book as scripture for the remainder of my life– simply because it is scripture, and I know it. I haven’t studied your doctrine or your history since Joseph Smith. The only thing I know about the Mormon religion is that you have authentic, ancient scripture in the Book of Mormon, that your church was begun by a living and true prophet of God, and that all of the world should embrace the Book of Mormon as scripture. It simply can’t be denied.”