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Interpreting Interpreter
Addressing Valedictions

This post is a summary of the article “Toward a Greater Appreciation of the Word Adieu in Jacob 7:27” by Godfrey Ellis in Volume 55 of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. An introduction to the Interpreting Interpreter series is available at


The Takeaway

Ellis provides an exploration of the use of the word adieu in Jacob 7:27, arguing that the deeper connotations of the French word, which implies a more permanent kind of separation, fits the context of that scripture, with the use of the word fitting both Joseph’s linguistic milieu and the Early Modern English that characterizes the Book of Mormon. That meaning also has implications for the parallelistic structure of that passage.


The Summary

In this article, Godfrey Ellis presents an overview of the word adieu, as used in Jacob 7:27, covering the perceived issues that critics have with the word, the general defense of its use in the Book of Mormon, and explicating the oft-overlooked deeper meaning that it has in French—that of a more permanent farewell, usually associated with death. This meaning helps strengthen a potential parallelistic structure for that verse, though it complicates chiastic framings proposed by others. The times when the word was most often used align with both the early 19th century and within Early Modern English, potentially fitting several theories of Book of Mormon translation.

Though critics have taken issue with the word adieu from the beginning, and continue to do so today, Ellis reminds us that adieu, like many other French words, had been incorporated into proper English long before Joseph’s time, and that the use of the word doesn’t imply that the Nephites spoke French. Though Hebrew doesn’t have an equivalent to the phrase “a-dieu” or “to-God”, such wouldn’t be necessary for an English translator to use the word to convey the extended separation contemplated by Jacob, given that it would be understood by modern readers, including those in Joseph’s day.

Ellis carefully walks us through that deeper meaning of extended separation, comparing it to the Spanish equivalent “adios”, and tracing that meaning back to Shakespeare as well as Chaucer. Ellis also compares it with the term “farewell” which is used more commonly in the Book of Mormon, in both the sense of “goodbye” as well as the sense of extended separation. Ellis separates these two meanings into “levels of departure or valediction”, with the “first-level” valediction referring to brief separations, and the “second-level” referring to extended or terminal separations. Ellis provides commentary on all instances of "farewell" and "adieu" in turn, and describes how adieu’s levels of meaning affect the interpretation of Jacob 7:27’s poetic structure, supporting the verse as a parallel with “soon go down to my grave” linked to “adieu” rather than with “farewell” linked to “adieu.

Lastly, Ellis provides several examples of the use of adieu from the writings of Joseph Smith, his family, and others in his time. These writings use adieu in a variety of senses—as a brief goodbye, as a separation by death, and as an end to desirable conditions.


The Reflection

Ellis’ article is one that explains much but is evidence for little. It does more to open up options—whether it comes to tight or loose translation, or nineteenth-century vs. Early Modern English, or how to interpret the structure of the verse itself—than it does to point us in a specific direction. This is no criticism. These types of approaches are necessary, and from an apologetic perspective, the more options there are, the more likely they are to find purchase in hearts and minds. And while the evidence continues to trickle in, adieu remains one of a solid number of criticisms to fall to the wayside, with its nuanced meaning adding a modicum of strength—as ambiguous as it is—to the book’s authenticity.

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