On this blog I occasionally profile people whose work should be known by both Mormons and Jews. When I heard that there was a rocket scientist in Alabama who is working on a Hebrew translation of the Book of Mormon, I knew that I had to find out more. By day Tom Irvine analyzes shock and vibration data from rocket vehicles for NASA. In his spare time, he translates the Book of Mormon into Hebrew. Since Mormons believe that the book was originally written in “reformed Egyptian” characters by people who also knew Hebrew (leading most LDS scholars to claim that it was written in either Egyptian or in Hebrew using an Egyptian script), this translation project promises to be an interesting one. At his request, I have posted Tom’s comments in full and unedited.
Q: You’re a rocket scientist. Where does your interest in learning Hebrew come from?
A: My Interest in Hebrew developed over a period of many years. I have felt a melancholy emptiness in LDS Church meetings, where most of the membership is drawn from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. I have concluded that Ephraim and Manasseh without Judah is as the sound of one hand clapping.
The Book of Mormon teems with scriptures proclaiming that it must go forth unto the Jews, starting with its very title page. Elder Russell M. Nelson reaffirmed this in his October 2010 conference talk. Elder Nelson is a member of the “Quorum of the Twelve Apostles” in the LDS Church.
Like Elder Nelson, I believe that the Book of Mormon can be the instrument for uniting the tribes of Israel.
The prophet Isaiah wrote that the Ephraim and Judah must reunite. Isaiah 11:7 proclaims “. . . and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.” The lion represents Judah, and the ox is Ephraim. This chapter is repeated in the Book of Mormon.
Members of the LDS Church must embrace their Hebraic roots in order to prepare their hearts and minds for this reunion.
Q: Why did you decide to translate the Book of Mormon into Hebrew?
A: I set a goal some years ago to read the Book of Mormon in Hebrew. I then discovered that the LDS Distribution Center does not currently offer one. So I decided to make my own translation and share it with others.
Q: How many more chapters do you have to go?
A: I have finished about 2/3 of the translation in terms of a first draft, which I began in August 2007.
Q: Are you being paid to do this?
A: I am not being paid in earthly cash, but the Lord has blessed me in many ways.
Q: Does the LDS Church already have a Hebrew translation of the Book of Mormon? Is it sponsoring your translation project?
A: The LDS Church briefly offered a Hebrew Book of Mormon in the early 1980s. But it was withdrawn so that the LDS Church could establish its BYU Jerusalem Center. Ultra-orthodox Jews at the time had protested that the BYU Center would be used for missionary work. So the LDS Church made an agreement that no proselyting would be conducted in Israel.**
The LDS Church is not supporting my translation. Mr. Rob Jex, of the LDS Scripture Committee in Salt Lake City, called me on March 26, 2012 to inform me that LDS Church objects to my translation. He requested that I “pull my website.”
That evening, I took a long walk and prayed about the situation. I received a burning in my heart from the Holy Ghost that I should carry on. Jews will be familiar with the Holy Ghost as the Still, Small Voice which inspired Elijah. (1 Kings 19:12)
I state this only for disclosure. I do not seek controversy. I respect Mr. Jex, and I respect the Church’s position.
I am not making the translation for the LDS Church. Rather I am doing it for the House of Israel.
Q: Have any Jews objected to your labor of love?
A: None has complained.
Q: What have you learned from translating this book of scripture into Hebrew?
A: Jesus the Messiah is the Torah made flesh and dwelt among us. Synthesis of 3 Nephi 15:9 & John 1:14.
The Jews are the Lord’s chosen people (2 Nephi 29:5). He will honor all of His covenants with them.
Members of the LDS Church must embrace the Hebraic roots of their faith. They can begin by praying for peace in Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6). They can also learn the Shema which Jesus himself recited in Mark 12:28-29.
Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Ehad – Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One
The theology of the Book of Mormon is richer in Hebrew than it is in English. As one example, the title Lord is stated as YHWH in the Hebrew Book of Mormon. YHWH is a form of the Hebrew Hayah (I AM) and is pronounced as Yahweh. The equivalent name in English is Jehovah.
The Hebrew Book of Mormon should thus be as much value to LDS members as it is for the Jews.
Q: When you complete the translation, do you plan to publish it?
A: I am currently self-publishing the translation in pdf format at my website. I do not have any plans for printing hard copies.
Q: Where can people go to view the ongoing translation? Do you need proofreaders?
A: Yes, I need proofreaders!
The ongoing translation is posted at:
Q: Are you active in any Jewish or pro-Israel organizations?
A: I have participated in Torah studies and Shabbat services in Jewish Temples from time to time. My favorite part is singing the Shema.
Richard N. Holzapfel, a Hebrew scholar, is the current LDS Mission President in Alabama. I once asked him before a church meeting to recite the Shema in his talk. I was delighted that he did so.
I also support Yad Ezra V’Shulamit, which distributes food baskets to families in Israel. I am mindful of scriptures such as Genesis 12:3 and Isaiah 40:1 which remind us to give our support to the Jews.
And I visit cemeteries to place stones on Jewish grave markers. I have posted some photos at:
**There is freedom in religion in Israel, where proselytizing has always been legal. In order to obtain permission for ongoing construction at the BYU Center in Jerusalem in the 1980s, the LDS Church signed an agreement not to proselytize “so long as such activity is prohibited by the government of Israel.” Since the government of Israel does not prohibit proselytizing, the reason that Mormons aren’t preaching in Israel now is because their leaders voluntarily choose not to do so, not because they don’t have a legal right to share their beliefs.