I’ve referred to the “Sorenson” translation before, when Brother Sorenson and like-minded people use terms that aren’t actually in the text. The best known example is replacing the phrase “head of Sidon” with “headwaters of Sidon.” Another is the phrase, “narrow strip of mountainous wilderness.” Mountainous does not appear in the text.
When I recently translated the pocket edition of Moroni’s America into French, I discovered something I hadn’t noticed before.
The translation of the Book of Mormon into French uses the Sorenson translation.
Wherever the text uses a variation of the phrase “head of the river Sidon,” the translation first converts the English into “source of the river Sidon” and then translates it that way.
Look at Alma 22:27. “the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla, through the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon, running from the east towards the west.”
In French: “les régions frontières du désert qui était au nord près du pays de Zarahemla, à travers les régions frontières de Manti, près de la source du fleuve Sidon, allant de l’est vers l’ouest.”
This is not a literal translation!
Instead, it’s an interpretation.
The literal translation of the French back into English would be: near the source of the river Sidon.
Of course, that’s the Sorenson translation, meaning, that’s the translation that Mesoamerican advocates wish Joseph Smith had used, and the one they prefer. They think Joseph should have written “headwaters” instead of “head” of Sidon.
I’ve discussed this Sidon several times on this blog. You can find the posts by searching for “head of Sidon.” Here is one example:
The Mesoamerican activists need the Sidon river to flow northward because the only two rivers in Mesoamerica that they can possibly identify as Sidon both flow northward. Therefore, they reason, “head of Sidon” means “headwaters of Sidon,” which means “source of Sidon.”
The Mesoamerican activists have successfully educated people throughout the Church about the Sorenson translation (i.e., headwaters of Sidon), and the translator used Sorenson’s translation, not Joseph Smith’s, when he/she translated the Book of Mormon into French.
A literal translation into French would be: À la tête de la rivière Sidon.
The same thing has been done in the translations into other languages.
I’m sure the translators think “head of the river” is too vague to translate, so they put it in words that convey a specific meaning; i.e., they changed the text to read the “source of the river.”
Joseph knew the word source. He used it here, in 2 Nephi 25:26: “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.”
Had the Nephite text referred to the source of the river Sidon, Joseph could have used that word. I think he would have used that word. He would have dictated “source of Sidon.”
Instead, he chose the phrase “head of Sidon.”
The Mesoamerican activists think Joseph translated this incorrectly. They think he should have dictated “headwaters” or “source.” They can’t change the original text (fortunately), but they can change the foreign language texts by influencing the translators.
Consequently, unless you read English, you will think Joseph translated the plates using the term “source” in connection with the River Sidon.
But he did no such thing.
A related problem is the small neck of land, the narrow neck of land, the narrow neck, the narrow pass, and the narrow passage. In English, each of these is a distinct term. But in French, they are conflated into one term, the way the Sorenson translation does.
Alma 50:34 – there they did head them, by the narrow pass which led by the sea into the land northward, yea, by the sea, on the west and on the east.
French – là ils les devancèrent, près du passage étroit qui menait près de la mer jusque dans le pays situé du côté du nord, oui, près de la mer, à l’ouest et à l’est.
Mormon 2:29 – And the Lamanites did give unto us the land northward, yea, even to the narrow passage which led into the land southward.
French – Et les Lamanites nous donnèrent le pays situé du côté du nord, oui, jusqu’au passage étroit qui menait au pays situé du côté du sud.
Notice how in French, both are translated as passages, even though the term passe is the French translation of the English pass.
Alma 63:5 – launched it forth into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward.
French – et le lança dans la mer de l’ouest, près de la langue étroite qui menait au pays situé du côté du nord.
Ether 10:20 – And they built a great city by the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land.
French – Et ils construisirent une grande ville près de la langue étroite de terre, près de l’endroit où la mer divise le pays.
Both of these are translated as a “narrow tongue,” not as a “narrow neck.”
Alma 22:32 – the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward.
French – le pays de Néphi et le pays de Zarahemla étaient presque entourés d’eau, une étroite bande de terre existant entre le pays situé du côté du nord et le pays situé du côté du sud.
Notice here that the French does not say a “small” neck of land, but a “narrow strip of earth.” This seems to refer back to verse 27, another narrow strip, but it also links it to the previous narrow places.
Alma 22:27 – by a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east even to the sea west,
French – par une étroite bande de désert, qui allait de la mer de l’est jusqu’à la mer de l’ouest,
The French translation uses “désert” for wilderness (which means desert in English) instead of a more accurate translation, “région sauvage.”
Source: Book of Mormon Concensus