Sunday, June 16, 2013

Book of Mormon Word Usage: Smell

In trying to recapture the world of the Book of Mormon, perhaps the most difficult of the sense to recapture is that of smell. The Book of Mormon uses a number of terms for this sense and uses them in unexpected ways.

Some words for smell are not used in the Book of Mormon. These include aroma, stench, reek, and odor.

The word scent occurs three times in the Book of Mormon. None of the circumstances of the scent are pleasant.

Alma 16:11 describes the aftermath of the destruction of the city of Ammonihah:
After many days their dead bodies were heaped up upon the face of the earth, and they were covered with a shallow covering. And now so great was the scent thereof that the people did not go in to possess the land of Ammonihah for many years.

Ether 14:23 uses the term twice in describing the final Jaredite destruction:
So swift and sppedy was the war that there was none left to bury the dead, but they did march forth from the sheeding of blood to the shedding of blood, leaving the bodies of both men, women, and children strewed upon the face of the land, to become a prey to the worms of the flesh. And the scent thereof went forth upon the face of the land, even upon all the face of the land; wherefore the people became troubled by day and by might, because of the scent thereof (Ether 14:22-23). 
In all cases, the Book of Mormon uses the term scent to describe the smell of decaying human flesh. The term is used for a noisome odor that bothers people.

For a pleasant odor, the Book of Mormon uses the word smell, but does so only once in a quotation of Isaiah: “instead of sweet smell there shall be stink” (2 Nephi 13:24). The adjective sweet needs to accompany the term smell to refer to a pleasant odor showing that the term smell is more neutral.

This leads us to the last term for odor in the Book of Mormon: stink. As a noun, stink occurs once in opposition to a “sweet smell” (2 Nephi 13:24). As a verb, stink is used three times in the Book of Mormon.

In the quotation of Isaiah in 2 Nephi 7:2, God is quoted as saying:
Behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make their rivers a wilderness and their fish to stink because the waters are dried up, and they die because of thirst.
So in this passage dying and drying fish are said to stink.

The other passage using the verb stink twice in describing Lamoni, who has been in a comatose state for two days and nights. His wife discussing the situation, observes:
Some say that he is not dead, but others say that he is dead and that he stinketh, and that he ought to be placed in a sepulchre; but as for myself, to me he doth not stink. (Alma 19:5).

So stink, like scent, is used in the Book of Mormon to refer to the smell produced by decaying bodies.

In the Old Testament, the term savor is sometimes used of good smells, but in the Book of Mormon it is only used of the taste of salt (3 Nephi 12:13; 16:15).

One might wonder why the olfactory world of the Book of Mormon is so overwhelmingly negative. Perhaps only the bad smells were thought worthy of mention. Perhaps Mormon and Moroni, observing the destruction of their people, with their noses as well as their eyes, saw fit to leave us a pungent reminder of their people’s folly.