Excerpt from here
II. “Loan-Shifting” Their major argument is that:
“In the first place, one should not reject the possibility of “loan-shifting,” in which a name for a familiar species is applied for a new species. This is a well-known phenomenon — for example, Amerindians called European horses ‘deer’ when they first encountered them. The classic example is, of course, the hippopotamus, which name the Greeks gave to an animal they called a “river (potamus) horse (hippo).” Critics who scoff should ask themselves how anyone could mistake a hippopotamus for a horse — the answer, of course, is that the Greeks knew perfectly well that the hippo was not a true horse, but the name stuck.
In other words, sure, the animals mentioned in the Book of Mormon as being in the Pre-Columbian New World weren’t actually there. But here are some animals that did exist which were sort of like those animals. Donkeys weren’t there… but tapirs were! So the argument reads like a cop-out.
But there’s a bigger question: who’s doing the “loan-shifting”? Mormons claim that the angel Moroni translated some pre-Columbian golden tablets out of “Ancient Egyptian” for Joseph Smith, Jr. So three parties may be “loan-shifting”:
The Original Pre-Columbian Authors Moroni, Prophet-Turned-Translating Angel Joseph Smith, Jr. None of these choices make sense.
FAIR mentions that “Amerindians called European horses ‘deer’ when they first encountered them,” but you’ll note that Amerindians didn’t refer to deer as horses… because they didn’t have any contact with horses. So the pre-Columbian Authors, unfamiliar with Old World animals, wouldn’t have referred to the animals they knew by comparing them to animals they’d never seen. If anything, this loan-shifting should be going the other direction: calling Old World animals by New World names. Unless, of course, the author if familiar with European animals. Moroni was a pre-Columbian New World prophet, so the same argument applies to him. Plus, by the time he’s translating for Joseph Smith in the 19th century, we know the difference between a tapir and a horse, and have names for both. There’s no reason that an angel sent by God to translate pre-Columbian books into English couldn’t know the names of the animals he’s translating in English. Sure, if the translation were going on before Columbus, there weren’t English words for these animals. But by the time he’s translating, there are. Under what possible explanation can we explain him loan-shifting? Finally, Joseph Smith himself is a possibility, but he claims that he’s just writing down what the angel tells him. And it’s far-fetched to imagine him being like, “‘Tapirs,’ Moroni? Let’s put ‘asses’ instead.” I’m fine with the general idea of “loan-shifting” in anthropology and cultural studies. People often compare animals that they don’t know with animals that they do (although in the case of the hippo, the Greeks used “water horse” to denote it as a separate animal than a horse, in the same way we say “seahorse”). But that explanation makes no sense at all here, and signals that even LDS apologists can’t defend what Joseph Smith claims that the angel Moroni told him in English.
One final note on this: there’s one time where the Bible does use loan-shifting. Whales are referred to as fish, although there are some Christological reasons for this (the sign of Jonah), so this loan-shift is intention. But it doesn’t occur in the Book of Mormon: Ether 2:24 mentions whales. So it seems that the Book of Mormon isn’t “loan-shifting.” When the original books were written, there wasn’t a word for whales, but when the angel Moroni translated, he used the now-existant word. Why wouldn’t he do that for all the other animals, if he meant things like tapirs?
EDIT: The single best argument against this occurred to me right after I posted. Ether 9:19 says “And they also had horses, and asses, and there were elephants and cureloms and cumoms; all of which were useful unto man, and more especially the elephants and cureloms and cumoms. ” Cureloms and cumoms are animals who appear nowhere outside of the Book of Mormon. From an LDS perspective, they’re animals known to the ancient people but not known to modern readers. Note that the writers don’t rename cureloms and cumoms into European animals.
Now I know we’ll probably never get one, because apologists run and hide when they start running out of excuses but I sure would like to hear a response from someone over at FAIR. I’m sure they lurk here, how else will they know which hot topic to combat?
h/t this post