LDS Perspectives #51: Joseph Smith’s Education in Sephardic Hebrew

Joseph’s Study of Hebrew and the Book of Abraham with Matthew J. Grey

In the winter of 1836, 100 church members enrolled in a seven-week, intensive Hebrew language course. Matthew Grey sees this study of Hebrew as a direct outgrowth of the larger translation project that Joseph had begun in the summer of 1835.

In July 1835, Joseph had purchased Egyptian scrolls and mummies from Michael Chandler. Shortly thereafter he translated what became known as Abraham 1 and Abraham 2 and began working on a “Grammer and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language” (GAEL). In the fall of 1835, Joseph started looking for a teacher of Hebrew for the Kirtland School. By January, the school committee had hired Joshua Seixas as a Hebrew teacher.

Joshua Seixas used his native Sephardic Hebrew in his transliterations, which varied substantially from the more common Ashkenazi Hebrew spellings. Because of the distinctive Hebrew transliterations in Seixas’s texts, we can trace Joseph’s use of his Hebrew training in succeeding years.

Traces of Sephardic Hebrew can be seen in revelations found in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Book of Abraham, and recorded Nauvoo speeches. Joseph’s insights into Hebrew form a foundation for Nauvoo teachings regarding the nature of God, expansions on the plan of salvation, and verbiage in the temple ritual.

Laura Harris Hales talks with with Matthew Grey on the influence Joseph’s Hebrew study had on Joseph’s subsequent teachings and the role Sephardic Hebrew plays in unraveling the puzzle of the Book of Abraham translation puzzle.

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