Adieu: The Right Word After All
by Angela M. Crowell
Jacob closes the five chapters of his book with the word "adieu." A question has arisen in the minds of some readers of the Book of Mormon as to why this common French word (adopted by English speakers) was used.
The 1828 edition of Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language defines "adieu" as "A farewell, or commendation to the care of God; as an everlasting adieu" (emphasis in original). An understanding of the Hebrew word for "bless" helps to explain the reason "adieu" could be correctly used here.
The Hebrew verb barak means "kneel," or "bless." "Blessing is a most important concept in the 0[ld] T[estament].... Like cursing, it involves a transfer by acts and words" (Bromiley 1985:275). One unique belief of the ancient Near East peoples was that tremendous power resided in the spoken word (Jones 1964:46). This concept is foreign to our Western minds.
Generally "to bless" in the Old Testament means "'to endue with power for success, prosperity, fecundity, longevity, etc."' (Oswalt 1980:132). In Brown, Driver and Briggs' edition of A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament it is stated under additional meanings of barak that it is used for a "greeting in departing, saying adieu to, taking leave of . . (1951:139).
We note that Jacob not only used "adieu" correctly according to this meaning in Biblical Hebrew, but also in a skillful chiastic arrangement:
And to the reader
A I bid farewell,
B hoping that many of my brethren
C may read my words.
A' adieu. Jacob 5:48
In this poetic structure, through the use of the synonyms "farewell" and "adieu," we have the repetition of the same idea. Interestingly, the same 1828 dictionary defines "farewell" as "A wish of happiness or welfare at parting; the parting compliment; adieu." So apparently "adieu," a loan word from French, had become an English word in common usage in the 1820's.
True to the form of ancient Hebrew chiastic structure we have at the center the most important thought-the point Jacob wishes to emphasize--" read my words." In an earlier article (see "Hebrew Poetry in the Book of Mormon: Part I" pp. 12-20) it was stated that chiastic structure can be used to open or close a stanza or poem. This is what is represented here. Jacob used this poetic technique-chiasmus-to close his writing.
In summary, we see that in 1830 "adieu" was an appropriate translation for the Hebrew verb barak because "adieu" contained the connotation of blessing.
Bromiley, Geoffrey W.
1985 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Devon, United Kingdom.
Brown, Francis, S. R. Driver and Charles A. Briggs
1951 A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament.
Clarendon Press, Oxford.
1964 The Greatest Old Testament Words. SCM Press LTD, London.
Oswalt, John N.
1980 Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament.
Moody Press, Chicago.
1828 American Dictionary of the English Language.
Facsimile Edn. Foundation for Christian Education, San Francisco.
This article taken from Recent Book of Mormon Developments vol. 2 p. 40.