Critics of the Book of Mormon should be given some credit. Sometimes they are like a cartoon that ran in the Daily Universe [BYU's student newspaper] back in the early 1990s: Brigham Young is overlooking the Salt Lake Valley and points to where the temple will be built. “How do you know that is the right place?” his companion asks. “Because,” President Young replies, “there are a bunch of anti-Mormons down there protesting.”
Critics look for the oddities, the weird things, the things that just don’t make any sense. Believing members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are less likely to notice these things because they are looking for the religious truths of the scriptures.
Take the story in Helaman 9 where the Nephite’s chief judge is murdered “and did lie in his blood.” How is he killed? Verse 6 tells us he had been “stabbed by his brother by a garb of secrecy.”
To many of the critics of the Book of Mormon, this was the ultimate howler. They say it shows Joseph Smith’s stupidity. Everybody knows a “garb” is not a weapon to kill somebody, let alone to have him bleed enough to “lie in his blood.”
On and on they go. In one anti-Mormon book, this is the sole example given of the absurdity of the Book of Mormon and enough to dismiss the entire book as nonsense. One critic asks, “How can one be stabbed by a garb (garment)?” Another exclaims “What a hole it must have made in him.” Yet another marvels that “this remains uncorrected.”
But, like a signpost, the critics have brought attention to another fascinating item in the Book of Mormon. An article in The FARMS Review by Matthew Roper and John A. Tvedtnes touched on this issue.
The standard response to the criticism is that “by a garb of secrecy” is the same thing as saying in more familiar modern English the phrase “under a cloak of secrecy.” So, in other words, the judge was “stabbed by his brother under a cloak of secrecy.”
And what do you stab with? A knife, sword or other sharp weapon.
And how can you do this? By an open attack that everybody can see or by a covert operation hidden behind secrecy.
It is a good thing the Book of Mormon doesn’t say the murder was an undercover operation. Critics may have talked how absurd it is to try to kill somebody doing surgery underneath a blanket.
But still, the wording is odd in Helaman 9:6. Roper and Tvedtnes explain that in Hebrew, the word for “garb” or “garment” is BEGED. This word is used in the story of Joseph in Genesis 39:12: “And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.”
A quick jaunt to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance gives this entry for the word BEGED: “apparel, clothes, garment, lap, rag, raiment, robe, very treacherously.”
Wait a second! What was that last definition?
Strong’s explains that the word comes from “a covering” or in other words, “clothing” and “also treachery or pillage.”
“This would seem to be a wordplay in the Hebrew original of the Book of Mormon,” Roper and Tvedtnes write.
Mormon described the murder with words that have a double meaning. It was a Hebrew pun. Roper and Tvedtnes also write that the preposition “by” has a range of meaning in Hebrew such as “in,” “with” and “by means of.”
So, thanks to critics bringing attention to this particular sentence, it appears that the author of the Book of Mormon understood enough Hebrew to make an appropriate wordplay on an event. The murder was done with secrecy like being covered by a garment. The murder was done in secret treachery.
And to think the wordplay may never have been noticed if not for the critics.
This article is based on part of an article by Matthew Roper and John A. Tvedtnes in The FARMS Review, vol. 15:1, 2003, Pages 147-99.(1)