Someone just asked a question I see from time to time: Has the BoM ever been translated into Hebrew? In this post, I will try to summarize what I know about this subject, partly to have a convenient place to point people who raise this question in the future, and partly to garner in the comments additional information from readers to fill in the holes in what I know.
There was at least one translation done in the 1920s. LaMar C. Barrett and Blair G. Van Dyke, Holy Lands: A History of the Latter-day Saints in the Near East (American Fork: Covenant Communications, 2005), refers to a translation done in the 20s by Herman Miller, a Latter-day Saint, which was never published. There was also a translation I have seen referred to as the “Hirsch” translation, done in 1922. This translation long resided in Joseph Fielding Smith’s office safe, and Bruce R. McConkie copied the first page of it in 1973 for the Jerusalem Branch when the decision was made by Harold B. Lee (at the Branch’s urging) to produce a new translation of the BoM into Hebrew. It is unclear to me whether the Miller and the Hirsch translations are one and the same; presumably they are, as it is difficult to imagine two different full translations of the BoM into Hebrew being done in the 1920s. I am hoping that someone who knows more about the background of this/these translation(s) will help us to fill in the lacuna.
Janne M. Sjodahl, “The Book of Mormon Plates,” Improvement Era (April 1923), reprinted here, drew 14 pages of English BoM text translated into Hebrew on a single page (to show that the text could have been written on a small number of plates.) See also the accompanying article by John Gee, “Epigraphic Considerations on Janne Sjodahl’s Experiment with Nephite Writing,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10/1 (2001), available here. Presumably these 14 pages were taken from Miller’s full manuscript (assuming that those who have referred to a complete translation by Miller are not mistakenly assuming from this limited production that Miller did a complete translation).
In 1968 Daniel Ludlow commissioned a Hebrew translation of Jacob 5. He no longer recalls the name of the person (an Israeli) who did this for him.
Although President Lee didn’t live to see it, one of his wishes was to have the BoM translated into Hebrew. So a committee was established in Jerusalem, with David Galbraith as manager, a non-LDS Israeli named Yonatan Shunary as translator, and John Tvedtnes as reader. There is a long story behind this translation, which was begun in 1973 and resulted in an abridged translation in 1977. I was on my mission at that time and purchased a copy, but unfortunately I lost it somewhere along the way. They are very rare now, and although one can occasionally be found at DI for just a few dollars, in the Mormon secondary book market this slim paperback goes for over $100 these days. I no longer have a copy.
There are different views on what led to the discontinuation of the Shunary abridgment. The conventional wisdom is that the Church stopped publishing it in order to grease the skids for the construction of the BYU Jersusalem Center. Tvedtnes has a slightly different view. Shunary didn’t know Biblical Hebrew and wrote the translation in a modern Israeli idiom. Both Tvedtnes and seven other readers had serious reservations about it. So according to him, the translation was pulled for quality problems, and this just happened to be the expedient result anyway in light of the brewing controversy over the BYU Jerusalem Center.
More recently, an RLDS couple that does Hebrew translations professionally has produced a complete translation, with a title that translates into English as The Chronicles of the Nephites. If you try to buy this book over the internet (on e-Bay, for example), most sites will try to charge $80 plus, but it can be purchased at Restoration Bookstore for $17. (A long time ago the translators would send one for free to any LDS who asked, but I don’t know that that offer is still on the table. But that is how I got my copy.)
If anyone can add more details to the sketch I have outlined above, please add them in the comments below.