There are 7 thoughts on “And the One Pointed the Way: Issues of Interpretation and Translation Involving the Liahona”.

  1. There was a third source of information on the Liahona: some kind of screen that displayed words that changed from time to time. See 1 Nephi 16:26-29. In the following verse 30, we read: “And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did go forth up into the top of the mountain, according to the directions which were given upon the ball.” Note that the word directions is plural indicating that there could have been three distinct sources of information. I am speculating the following:
    1- top pointer (showing the direction to go)
    2- pictograph pointer (to different categories such as game, oasis, river, etc. This pointer could have been manually set by the user.)
    3- variable display screen (not only are words of wisdom or warnings given but it could have displayed the number of steps to take or cubits or furlongs).
    How to tell if the top pointer was functioning or not? It could have spun erratically if the clan was being unfaithful. All of which could have been explained in detail in the Lost 116 pages?

    • Brian, thanks for your comments. The only source for a “pictograph pointer,” as you call it, is Gladden Bishop. However, Bishop indicates that both spindles were “pictograph” pointers, not just one. In my opinion, cobbling together parts from one story (Bishop, for example) and divergent elements from another (Lapham, for example) to try and find a cohesive explanation for the Liahona only leaves us with Frankenstein’s monster. In addition, for the reasons that I explained in my paper, Gladden Bishop “was either a religious con man or he was troubled by delusions brought on by serious mental illness. Either way, Bishop’s words cannot be trusted to have originated with either Martin Harris, Joseph Smith Jr., or any other trusted primary source.”

      Regarding your proposed “display screen,” the best source for this is 1 Nephi 16:26-30 where Nephi wrote:

      “And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord said unto him: Look upon the ball, and behold the things which are written. And it came to pass that when my father beheld the things which were written upon the ball, he did fear and tremble exceedingly, and also my brethren and the sons of Ishmael and our wives. And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the pointers which were in the ball, that they did work according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them. And there was also written upon them a new writing, which was plain to be read, which did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord; and it was written and changed from time to time, according to the faith and diligence which we gave unto it. And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things. And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did go forth up into the top of the mountain, according to the directions which were given upon the ball.”

      First, Nephi was told to “look upon the ball, and behold the things which are written.” The word for “things” and “words” in Hebrew is the same – דברים (devarim). So, the “things” written upon the ball could also have been translated as “the words which are written.”

      Second, in the first two verses we are told that the “things [words]” were written “upon the ball,” a somewhat nonspecific description. However, in verse 28, Nephi mentioned “the pointers which were in the ball” and explained that they worked “according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them.” The antecedent of the pronoun “them” is the plural noun “pointers.” In the next verse we are told that “there was also written upon them a new writing.” Again, the antecedent to “them” is the same: “pointers.” From this it appears that the “things”, or the words, which were written “upon the ball” were actually written upon the pointers of the ball. No other explanation fits grammatically. This, then, implies that the spindles were probably flattened along the top, at least somewhat, in order for writing to appear and be read. So, rather than a “display screen” it appears that the spindles themselves displayed the words of the Lord.

      Regarding the word “directions,” it functions as a synonym for “things,” or words: “the directions which were given upon the ball.” This becomes clear once we observe that Nephi uses the verb “give” as a synonym for “write.” For example:

      “AND now I, Nephi, do not give the genealogy of my fathers in this part of my record; neither at any time shall I give it after upon these plates which I am writing; for it is given in the record which has been kept by my father; wherefore, I do not write it in this work…. And it mattereth not to me that I am particular to give a full account of all the things of my father, for they cannot be written upon these plates, for I desire the room that I may write of the things of God.” (1 Nephi 6:1, 3).

      In these two verses we observe that Nephi uses the verbs “give” and “write” synonymously and interchangeably. So, I believe that “the directions which were given upon the ball” were actually the words which were written upon the spindles.

  2. Congratulations on an interesting article. Allow me to add a few observations:

    In his 1922 Hebrew translation of the Book of Mormon, Zvi Hirsch Miller provided some interesting equivalents:
    1 Ne 16:10 kaddûr ˁāgûl maˁăśê ḥōšēb něḥōšet mûṣāq ûbětôḥô šěnê kîšûrîm ʼăšer ʼeḥād môre derek
    1 Ne 18:12 hamměḥûgâ
    Mosiah 1:16 hakkaddûr ʼô hammanḥîg
    Alma 37:38 kaddûr ʼô môre derek….lēyyahonâ wětargîmû môre yāšār

    I do not have at hand the 1981 Shunary translation published by the LDS Church (out of print).

    However, given the function of the Liahona as a “ball”-shaped “director” or “compass” (1 Ne 16:10-29; Mosiah 1:16, Alma 37:38-47) which helped Lehi’s party find their way from one encampment to another, the most likely etymology is hypothetical Hebrew *layaḥōne “Encamping for Yah,” using the participial form of the Hebrew verb ḥānā, “to pitch (tent), encamp, dwell” (cf. cognate ancient Egyptian hn “tent”), namely ḥōne, “encamps” (Psalm 34:8 [KJV 34:7] “the angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them”; 53:6 [KJV 53:5]; Ex 18:5; plural ḥōnîm at Ex 14:9, Num 2:27, 3:38, 2 Sam 11:11, and the root frequently throughout Exodus and Numbers; Exodus 33 alone lists 13 stations/ encampments, reusing that verb each time). The Hebrew pataḥ following initial lamed (Deut 14:1, Psalm 136:1 laYHWH) creates the diphthong -ay- as used in the Deseret Alphabet pronunciation 𐐢𐐌𐐈𐐐𐐄𐐤𐐈 (laɪæhoʊnæ). “Encamped for Yah,” therefore, would fit the notion of the Lehites engaged in a similar “Exodus” in stages (beginning with their encampment in the neighborhood of ancient Midian, in the Valley of Lemuel), in an account filled with explicit Exodus motifs.

    As to its functional nature (as we learned in scouting), a magnetic compass generally had two spindles, one to indicate magnetic north, and another to set the azimuth. Likewise, a geometric compass has two legs (dividing callipers), and was used anciently to find directions, as well as to calculate relative distances. This latter function might even apply to early sextants or astrolabes.

    Alma 37:38 declares that Liahona by interpretation is a “compass,” that is, either (1) a double-spindled instrument for inscribing circles (which we have all used in geometry class), or (2) a circle or globe itself. In a more general sense, Liahona connotes an aid to help find the desired direction. Therefore, whatever etymology is proposed must not do violence to these meanings of the word “compass” (Proverbs 8:27 Hebrew ḥûg; Isaiah 44:13 mĕḥûgâ = LXX Greek metron; Job 26:10 Hebrew ḥāg).

    • Robert, thanks for your comment. Your “Encamping for Yah” is definitely a possibility for the origin of the word Liahona, as are other suggestions as well. However, in proposing this solution I would spell it as two words, like this: לְיָהּ חֹנָה [lejah chonah]. And I would prefer חֹנָה [chonah] over חֹנֶה [choneh] (see 1 Chronicles 11:15 for the use of חֹנָה). However, the issue that I see with this suggestion is the ה at the end of both words. If this represents the origin of the word, why does our liahona not at least have the letter h at the end of the word?

      With regard to Alma 37:38, the word compass is interesting. Based on what you wrote it appears that you believe that whatever word Alma used must have been related to circles. While I agree that this is a possibility, I do not see that as a requirement. The use of the word compass in the English translation could merely be referring to “an instrument for directing or ascertaining [one’s] course.” Both Mormon (Mosiah 1:16) and Alma (Alma 37:38 and Alma 37:45) refer to the Liahona as a director.

  3. There’s another possibility for the two spindles that are actually one. Please see the compass pictured here:

    How many spindles does it have? Two, one pointing north and the other pointing south–and yet the two are actually one. If the Liahona spindles worked in the same way, it could have been exactly what Alma says it was: a compass. There’s no need for elaborate speculation about what the “second” spindle might have been.

    • Jack, thanks for your comment. What you propose is interesting but untenable. The picture of the compass that you linked only has one spindle, and two ends. By definition, a spindle is a “slender rounded rod with tapered ends.” So, two spindles would require four ends, not two. Nephi is very clear to tell us that “within the ball were two spindles,” not two ends.

  4. Wonderful analysis. The article notes, “The biblical words translated as spindle and whorl connect with the concepts of straight and round — tying us into the idea of God’s paths being straight and his course one eternal round.”

    This also connects with compass and square.

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