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Altering translated scriptures: the case of Familiar Spirit (as a key phrase of the restoration and as an inapt product of Jacobean demonology)

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

The King James Bible translates the Hebrew אוב (’ō·wḇ) by "familiar spirit". The Book of Mormon uses this same KJV language in its passages reflecting the words of Isaiah. Church translation guidelines to other languages require to understand this noun phrase as the necromantic “spirit of a dead person”. This article first contends that the Hebrew and LXX texts do not warrant such interpretation in Isaiah 29. Second, "familiar spirit" is a distinctive KJV idiom, product of its era, with antecedents in Roman and medieval familiares, folk beliefs, and Aquinas’ theology. Jacobean demonology next fossilized the phrase in the KJV, in contrast to all other Bible translations. Brought to America with the KJV, by the 1800s familiar spirit had lost its frequency and Jacobean specificity. Joseph Smith, his revision of the Bible, and the Book of Mormon gave the phrase a new life in the context of the Restoration. However, tied to necromancy, the phrase sustains the magical worldview of the origins of Mormonism. The topic raises broader questions about the distinctiveness of Mormon scriptures and their past and present translations to other languages.
Journal: Journal of Mormon History
ISSN: 0094-7342
Volume: 49
Pages: 45 - 81
Publication year:2023
Keywords:A1 Journal article