‘Brethren’? What about the women?!?

Jesus-Christ-Samaritan-Well-mormonHow many of you readers of the Book of Mormon have ever thought, ‘Hey! What about the women!’?  This is a legitimate question.  After all, each prophet throughout the book constantly refers to his audience as his ‘brethren’.  In fact, the word ‘brethren’ or ‘brother’ is used 632 times throughout the Book of Mormon while the word ‘women’ is used only 58 times (but even that is not a fair comparison since only Sariah, Abish, and an unnamed Lamanite queen were the only women specifically spoken to).  Those 58 ‘women’ references were used when women were spoken about.  Are you feeling a bit short changed, ladies?  Give me two minutes and I’ll help you feel much better.

I was once asked why the women of the Book of Mormon were never spoken to, and why women don’t receive direct counsel from the writers of the Book of Mormon.  I thought about these questions for half a minute before sarcastically suggesting that maybe the Book of Mormon was simply a collection of speeches made during the Nephite Priesthood sessions of General Conference.  This answer was not sufficient to the one asking the question!

I figured that I needed to come up with a more ‘real’ answer, so I started looking at the settings of some of the great sermons of the Book of Mormon.  Perhaps these speeches really were given to all male audiences.  Even if that is the case, it could not excuse our good Sisters from dismissing these great sermons.  After all, truth is truth regardless of gender.  But there ought to be some sort of a decent answer to these tough questions.

My first discovery of an all-male audience was a talk given to a group of people by the prophet Jacob.  Jacob was the brother of Nephi who had been visited by the Savior (2 Nephi 11:3).  In the second chapter of the Book of Jacob, it is clear that he wants to address just the men in his audience, even though women are present:

“And also it grieveth me that I must use so much boldness of speech concerning you, before your wives and your children, many of whose feelings are exceedingly tender and chaste and delicate before God, which thing is pleasing unto God;

And it supposeth me that they have come up hither to hear the pleasing word of God, yea, the word which healeth the wounded soul.

Wherefore, it burdeneth my soul that I should be constrained, because of the strict commandment which I have received from God, to admonish you according to your crimes, to enlarge the wounds of those who are already wounded, instead of consoling and healing their wounds; and those who have not been wounded, instead of feasting upon the pleasing word of God have daggers placed to pierce their souls and wound their delicate minds.

But, notwithstanding the greatness of the task, I must do according to the strict commands of God, and tell you concerning your wickedness and abominations, in the presence of the pure in heart, and the broken heart, and under the glance of the piercing eye of the Almighty God.”

Certainly the Lord loves his daughters and is far from pleased with the way we men treat them!  And to think, this book was written for our day.  Perhaps Jacob’s counsel to the men is still valid even 2,400 years later.  But back to the question at hand…

After reading this speech made by Jacob, I thought that I was perhaps right!  Maybe the prophets were just speaking to the men throughout the Book of Mormon.  Really, though?  Not only did logic challenge my lame assumption, but King Benjamin also challenges my thinking.  In setting the stage, Mormon describes in Mosiah 2: 5 that women (of all ages) were present for the sermon of King Benjamin, yet King Benjamin addresses his audience with the term ‘brethren’ 7 times in his short four chapter sermon without mentioning women even once.

Now this is where offence can be taken…and it may be somewhat justified!

However, let’s look to the source.  If Joseph translated an ancient American document which was written by prophets originating out of the Old World, we need to try to determine what those writers really meant.  After all, it wasn’t long ago that here in America the word ‘bully’ use to mean ‘suburb’ or ‘wonderful’.  Not only have the meaning of some words changed between 1830 and 2014, but things can often get lost in translation too.

Nephi states in the second verse of the entire Book of Mormon, ‘I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jew and the language of the Egyptians’.  The word ‘brethren’ in Egyptian simply refers to a group of Christians, regardless of gender.  But it is the Hebrew meaning of the word ‘brethren’ where things start to get even more interesting.  The Hebrew root word ‘ach’ translates to the English word ‘brethren’.  How and when this Hebrew word is used explains the Book of Mormon mystery which we have been discussing.

Achalta refers to a single male.
Achalt refers to a single female.
Achalten refers to a group of female only
Achaltem refers to a group of people that includes at least one male

All four of the above Hebrew words translates into the English language as ‘brethren’!  Every message, every sermon, every warning, and every promise found in the Book of Mormon is given to all women just as equally as it is given to all men.  Although the 2014 American version of the word ‘brethren’ is far from describing women, the way Joseph Smith translated the ancient record is consistent with not only accurate Hebrew and Egyptian translations, but it is also consistent with the universal and equal love that God has for all of his children.  It is almost as if the Lord clarified this fact by defining who ‘mankind’ is and that the message of the Book of Mormon (that of the ‘convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ’) is indeed addressed to everyone when Mosiah says, ‘And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters (Mosiah 27: 25).

Tom Pettit
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D&C 84:57