Tuesday, August 12, 2008


"And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days, and years."

-- Genesis 1:14

The ancient Hebrews did not reckon time by minutes or by hours, according to Mary Ellen Chase's classic work, Life and Language in the Old Testament. The word "hour" does not appear in the Old Testament, except for one instance in the late Book of Daniel, and was not part of the Hebrew lexicon.

Even the Hebrew word "mowed," translated as "seasons" above , does not match our modern conception of the word: spring, summer, etc., but is far more indefinite.

"When the ancient Hebrew writer told of events in the past, he did not remember them as we do in the light of the present but instead took himself back into their time, real and living, if indefinite to him. His time knew no perceptible beginning or end, no clearly defined past, no circumscribed present and no discernible future except that in the Infinite Mind of God," Chase writes.

[Thus the famous KJV, 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,' betrays the mindset of the 17th century English translators, and some versions of the scripture opt instead for, 'When God began to create ...']

Chase quotes the late Willa Cather: "This same dreamy indefiniteness, belonging to a people without any of the relentless mechanical gear which directs every moment of modern life ... we are among a shepherd people; the story has almost the movement of grazing sheep."

I am reminded of the Book of Mormon prophet Jacob, a Hebrew, who wrote: "Our lives passed away as a dream ..."(Jacob 7:26).

The word "hour," I have also discovered, appears only once in the Book of Mormon, which was the product of a Hebrew people. That single reference is quite vague, referring to the coming of the Messiah, not time on a clock. The original word translated hour could easily have been the Hebrew"mowed." [Ed. update: "hours" in the plural appears once as well, in Lehi's dream, 1 Nephi 8., i.e., he traveled for many hours in darkness -- again a very vague concept]

Yet, in the Doctrine and Covenants, a modern work of scripture, "hour" makes frequent appearances, as it also does in the New Testament, written in a different era than the Old Testament.

But of course Old Joe Smith, that pretended prophet, just got lucky once again.

No comments: