Lots of changes. And that’s just fine!
The more you understand the context, the more the Book of Mormon appears to be an absolute marvel!
Lots of changes. And that’s just fine!
The more you understand the context, the more the Book of Mormon appears to be an absolute marvel!
Dan Peterson gave a superb presentation on this topic:
Another great podcast:
In this episode of the LDS Perspectives Podcast, Laura Harris Hales interviews scholar Nicholas (Nick) J. Frederick about New Testament intertextuality in the Book of Mormon.
As an undergraduate classics major at BYU, Frederick became interested in studying Book of Mormon intertextuality. He wanted to discuss with other scholars what he was finding but encountered resistance from those who thought he was attacking the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Further frustration came as he realized that the few resources on the topic were primarily written by critics of the Book of Mormon arguing against historicity. Their research was overreaching and didn’t address how these New Testament elements were functioning within the text.
Frederick, who has since written a dissertation, book, and articles on the topic, hopes to expand the discussion of the New Testament elements in the Book of Mormon beyond that of simply whether they speak to historicity. That the New Testament can be found in the Book of Mormon is undeniable, but some might struggle with the notion of the New Testament as an antecedent text. Frederick suggests that we negotiate this roadblock by untethering the gold plates from the 19th century English document that we call the Book of Mormon because they are “two different texts that are related through translation.” Moving past the issue of why these passages are in the Book of Mormon to how the Book of Mormon affirms, comments on, corrects, and reimagines the New Testament is an important and fascinating discussion.
Unfortunately identifying common phrases isn’t as simple as it would seem. Sometimes there are direct quotations, such as from the Sermon on the Mount in 3 Nephi—though even there Frederick discusses the fascinating influence of John’s gospel on quotations from Matthew. But the presence of the New Testament is often subtle. He explains that the Book of Mormon will “carefully weave these New Testament passages into the larger text,” so the interdependence does not readily stand out to the casual reader. The Book of Mormon seems to masterfully deconstruct and reconstruct New Testament concepts and phrases for its own purposes.
In an attempt to broaden the discussion, Frederick proposes a methodology for determining the probability of intertextuality, which goes beyond simply identifying common phrases. He adds four additional criteria to solidify connections. Through multiple examples, Dr. Frederick shows us how intertextual studies can enrich our study of the Book of Mormon.
About Our Guest: Nicholas J. Frederick served a mission in Brussels, Belgium, then attended BYU where he received his BA in classics and his MA in comparative studies. He then attended Claremont Graduate University, where he completed a PhD in the history of Christianity with an emphasis in Mormon studies, after which he returned to work at BYU. His research focuses primarily on the intertextual relationship between the text of the Bible and Mormon scripture. He enjoys teaching courses on the Book of Mormon and the New Testament, particularly the writings of Paul and the Book of Revelation.
Wonderful lecture about the truth in both scriptures. Samuel points out some issues found with Protestant and Catholic interpretations of the Bible.
The Book of Mormon provides much clarity in how to build a church.
The Book of Mormon reappropriated the Bible, in the view of this speaker.
1 Employ or adapt (something) for a use different from its original purpose.
Brian Hales has written much on Joseph Smith’s polygamy in the past. He recently wrote this article — Changing Critics’ Criticisms of the Book of Mormon Changes — for the Interpreter in 2/18.
You can listen in under 26 minutes here.
Key quotes below:
“The words dictated by Joseph Smith between April 7 and June 30, 1829, were published with few alterations. However, Joseph intervened in the 1837 and 1840 printings to make multiple changes in the previously published wordings. Other emendations have been authorized by subsequent Church leaders.
Several authors have documented different tallies of alternations made in the various versions of the Book of Mormon (see below). Understanding the quantity and quality of these emendations may be helpful in understanding how Joseph Smith created the text in the first place.
Two critics took the time to count the changes. Turns out, they underestimated when compared to the digital work done by LDS scholar, Royal Skousen:
Jerald and Sandra Tanner’s 1965 publication, 3,913 Changes in the Book of Mormon, has probably had a greater influence. Much like Lamoni Call’s approach in the 1890s, Jerald Tanner sat down eighty years later with an 1830 edition and a 1964 edition of the Book of Mormon and annotated all changes he could identify. His count almost doubled Call’s. In their introduction, the Tanners also allege a conspiracy by Church leaders to conceal the changes: “The changes made in the Book of Mormon and in Joseph Smith’s revelations have apparently caused the Mormon Church leaders some concern, for they fear that their people will find out about them.”12
In the last two decades, digitalization of the texts has allowed a much more nuanced analysis of the words and word substitutions by a team of scholars in the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project led by BYU professor Royal Skousen.13 When he was asked, “How many changes are there in the Book of Mormon text?” Skousen replied:
I don’t know for sure, and I’ll tell you why it’s hard to count them. In my computerized collation of the two manuscripts and 20 significant editions of the Book of Mormon, I can count the number of places of variation. These are places where there’s a textual variant. The variant itself can involve spelling, punctuation, words missing or added, a grammatical change, and so on. In all, there are about 105,000 places of variation in the computerized collation.14
Critics claim no errors at all should be present. But the translation at least partly involved Joseph. And the original didn’t include punctuation, headings, columns, etc.
Different camps of believing Latter-day Saint scholars believe Joseph exercised what have been called tight or loose control.
There is evidence for both camps, tight and loose control. Joseph spelled out proper nouns, but seemed to have freedom to speak (loose control), using words he knew, and playing a role in the transmission.
Others, such as Martin Harris and David Whitmer, reported that Joseph literally saw a scroll with Egyptian characters with English below. That is the view of tight control.
“Joseph Smith left no description of how the words came to him as he dictated. At a Church conference in 1831, Hyrum Smith invited the Prophet to explain how the Book of Mormon came forth. Joseph’s response was that “it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and … it was not expedient for him to relate these things.”24 His only answer was that it came “by the gift and power of God.”25
That Joseph contributed to the process in an undefined but necessary way was demonstrated in 1829 when Oliver Cowdery attempted to translate but failed. The Lord explained why: “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask.” (D&C 9:7–8). It appears that translating involved more than mimicking a court recorder reading back previous testimony.”
Brian Hales identifies and categorizes the changes and variants below:
The Book of Mormon is “a literary feat for the ages,” writes Huffington Post blogger Jack Kelly. That Joseph Smith “dictated most of it in a period of less than three months and did not revise a single word before its initial printing is even more jaw-dropping.”29 So Joseph did not revise the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon before it went to print, but as Lamoni Call and the Tanners have documented, changes were made in subsequent printings.
If numerous revisions, rewritings, edits, and modifications were needed in a second edition, then the question is why? Did the original Book of Mormon manuscript contain many errors that needed correction like the early draft of most books that are eventually printed? If so, its creation might not have required divine intervention or have been significantly different from other publications. But if the changes constituted minor letter and word substitutions to upgrade the dialect and grammar without changing the primary story line or message, then Joseph’s creation would retain an important uniqueness.
Royal Skousen has recently published “all of the cases of grammatical variation in the history of the Book of Mormon text.”30 His study identifies 106,508 “accidentals” in the different versions of the Book of Mormon.31
Skousen’s research supports that none of the general categories of changes indicates the presence of glaring problems within the Book of Mormon narrative.
The two major (Tanner) claims related to adding “Son of” to God in four places in the Book of Mormon. And changing Benjamin to Mosiah in two positions. Hardly major changes. Only editing changes for clarity.
“In Joseph’s early teachings, Christ was both God and the son of God, so either rendition was accurate.42 It could be reasoned that this highlighted change did not alter any doctrine or teaching, but the additional words served to more clearly distinguish the teaching from Trinitarian views popular in other religious traditions. Skousen speculates, “Perhaps he didn’t like the Catholic sounding expression” and that the addition was simply a “clarification.”43
It appears that of all the possibilities, these two emendations were the most significant changes the Tanners could identify. If more important historical or doctrinal alterations had been encountered in their research, it is probable those would have been mentioned first.
The significance of all the changes will likely remain controversial, but a couple of observations can be made. First, these two do not seem to represent an attempt to correct sweeping contradictions or blunders in the text but rather provide clarification to potential ambiguities. Second, if these are the most egregious changes critics can identify, the Book of Mormon narrative, as it fell from Joseph’s lips, was remarkably free from significant errors.
As discussed above, the changes identified by Skousen and Carmack do not refer to major modifications or corrections to sections of the Book of Mormon’s original wording.
(LDS critic) historian Dan Vogel acknowledged, “Smith’s method of dictation did not allow for rewriting. It was a more-or-less stream-of-consciousness composition,” adding, “It is not that the manuscript went through a major rewrite.”44
Normal content editing, which involves revising and reworking parts of the text, did not occur in the original or in subsequent editions of the Book of Mormon.
Many naturalists consider Joseph Smith to have been a first-time novelist in 1829 as he created the Book of Mormon, so the lack of revisions is unexpected.45
Professional writers and instructors generally emphasize the need for rewriting in order to create a finished manuscript. Betty Mattix Dietsch, author of Reasoning & Writing Well, addresses the plight of first-time novelists: “Some inexperienced writers seem to think they have hit the jackpot on their first draft. They evade the fact that every exploratory draft needs more work.”46
Note: image above is from the 9th edition.
“I usually write about ten more or less complete drafts” confides Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Kidder, “each one usually though not always closer to the final thing.”47 In her college [Page 62]textbook, Steps to Writing Well, Jean Wyrick emphasizes the importance of rewriting:
The absolute necessity of revision cannot be overemphasized. All good writers rethink, rearrange, and rewrite large portions of their prose. … Revision is a thinking process that occurs any time you are working on a writing project. It means looking at your writing with a “fresh eye”—that is, reseeing your writing in ways that will enable you to make more effective choices throughout your essay. … Revision means making important decisions about the best ways to focus, organize, develop, clarify, and emphasize your ideas. … Virtually all writers revise after “reseeing” a draft in its entirety.48
Louis Brandeis, who served as an associate justice on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1916 to 1939, coined a common maxim for authors: “There is no good writing; there is only good rewriting.”
That changes have been made in the Book of Mormon text should not be confused with the idea that revisions or rewriting occurred. They did not, which is surprising for a frontier-schooled twenty-three-year-old farm boy who is listed as “author.”49
A review of critical literature regarding the Book of Mormon identifies two classes of critics. There are those who tell their audiences that many changes have been made and provide examples (like the Tanners). There are others who report “upwards of 4,000” changes without any further discussion.50
On the surface, voices that stress the thousands of emendations could easily generate a mental picture of a book that underwent significant revisions and rewriting after its first edition. If the overall insignificance of the changes is not disclosed, the number of 2,000 or 3,913 changes could be used by critics to mislead their audiences, as propaganda is designed to do.
Jerald and Sandra Tanners have sold many copies of their book 3,913 Changes in the Book of Mormon, since first released in 1965. The title of the book is technically accurate. But how many unsuspecting observers have read (and continue to read) the title and assume the Book of Mormon manuscript required thousands of corrections to compensate for significant mistakes in Joseph Smith’s dictation?
The perception created by the title might be misleading because readers may impute more significance to the word “changes” than actually justified. If transparency is sought, then adding a subtitle might be useful: 3,913 Changes in the Book of Mormon: But None are Really Significant.
Royal Skousen summarized his research: “Errors have crept into the text, but no errors significantly interfere with either the message of the book or its doctrine. … Ultimately, all of this worry over the number of changes is specious.”51
Reid Moon, a 1985 BYU grad, shows the first five editions of the Book of Mormon printed in Joseph’s lifetime.
By Royal Skousen at FAIR, published in 2015. Royal discusses several minor emendations. Nobody knows more about the Book of Mormon manuscripts and the Book of Mormon changes than Royal Skousen.
The Book of Mormon is a marvel. The translation was a matchless feat. It contains the restored Gospel.
The first few paragrahs:
“Stylometry examines the styles of writing in a text by identifying word-use patterns. It is “also known as computational stylistics [and] is a method of authorship attribution that uses …statistical techniques to infer the authorship of texts based on writing patterns. It tries to describe an author’s conscious and unconscious creative actions with quantifiable measures such as the frequency with which an author uses certain words or groupings of words. Stylometric analysis is based on the fundamental premise that authors write with distinctive, repeated patterns of word use.”1
In the past, Roper and Fields had used stylometry to show a consistency of authorship in Isaiah and the Pauline Epistles. But in this presentation, they chose to compare two novels each from Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, James Fennimore Cooper, Mark Twain with the Book of Mormon. Together these eight volumes have about the same number of words as the Book of Mormon, but contrast in voice, character development, and other aspects.
Using a 3-D computer model, they showed a unity of authorship in each book written by contemporary authors along with the characters they each developed. They showed how these authors did not come close to the 119 characters developed in the Book of Mormon. That book shows four major authors or abridgers, who among them go on include many more writing styles from other Book of Mormon contributors.
For example, Mormon as a writer contributed about 36% of the words in the Book of Mormon with a central theme around war. Nephi is the next most prolific writer with a theme around family. He is followed by Alma with a theme of faith and Moroni with themes of ordinances and governance. In each of these themes, the writer of abridger developed 24 more writing styles with 24 other sentiments. This is far too many for Joesph Smith to keep track of and many more than the selected contemporary authors of the prophet. In the same light, the 119 Book of Mormon characters shows narrative voices that eclipse any of the other contemporaries chosen.
Together this was supposed to help the audience consider the impossibility of someone of Joseph Smith’s age and limited experience working with Oliver Cowdery over 60 working days to compose anything so complicated as the Book of Mormon. It worked for me and others in the audience.”
Fascinating study. Check out the entire article above!
As part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project. Click below to watch associated videos:
Royal Skousen — the leading authority on the Book of Mormon manuscripts — hasn’t found a word in the Book of Mormon that is found to have come into English (according to the Oxford English Dictionary) later than 1720. The Book of Mormon is an archaic, biblical-sounding text. It’s not simply the King James Text.
It’s an Early Modern English text, not an Upstate New York dialect. Skousen doesn’t fully know what it means.
Skousen believes Joseph saw words, and in many cases spellings, in the interpreters. Not simply ideas.
Consider the structure of the Book of Mormon:
Interesting complexities in the Book of Mormon:
This LDS historian, Gerrit Dirkmatt, points out details in history you’ve never heard. Joseph and Martin visited several printers before their negotiations led them back to Grandin (who finally agreed, after getting paid much more than usual).
Dirkmatt points out additional details, such as early accounts of Joseph’s visions (possibly the first mention of the 1st Vision), that were published in a competing print shop around the time of the Book of Mormon printing.
Dr. Carmack focuses on syntax: the arrangement of words and phrases. Early Modern English was spoken centuries before Moroni’s visit.
1475-1700: Early Modern English
BH Roberts posited that the Book of Mormon was full of grammatical errors because Joseph was uneducated. This has long been the dominant view.
Dr. Royal Skousen is the premier authority on the Book of Mormon text. He argues we should continue to adapt our theories of the Book of Mormon, based on new evidence.
Skousen reviews the translation witnesses’ accounts, what the documents show about the translation process, unique vocabulary, and other variables.
Skousen closes, saying the transmission involved Joseph Smith. But the transmission was the Lord’s.
Another publication by Carmack: Is the Book of Mormon a Pseudo-Archaic Text?
Carmack compares the Book of Mormon syntax to four books from Joseph’s time period. Three of them have elements that more closely match the Book of Mormon than the fourth book: The View of the Hebrews (VH).
The View of the Hebrews has long been claimed by LDS critics to be a source material for the Book of Mormon. I find it highly interesting that other books — with no real or even claimed connection to the Book of Mormon — more closely mimic the Book of Mormon than a book (VH)the critics claim gave rise to the Book of Mormon.
In this weekly episode Ostler’s synthesis is this: the Book of Mormon has ancient, as well as modern, elements.
Ostler and his sons discuss several modern topics that others suggest influenced the Book of Mormon: View of the Hebrews, the use of the King James Bible, claimed anachronisms, possible Wesleyan (Methodist) influence on Joseph Smith, a very developed form of Christianity (not available in ancient Judaism), and others.
Then Blake and his sons review the improbability of Joseph knowing ancient material and otherwise guessing correctly in so many areas.
Blake sees ancient and modern influences in the same text. The same thing occurs in the Bible, as older texts are re-purposed and redacted.
They also discuss the translation process that was not a simple fax from heaven. William Smith described how Martin Harris used the breastplate/spectacles to translate in 1828. He stopped using this system, as it strained his eyes.
Once Oliver was involved (1829), Joseph used a chocolate-colored stone he found near him home when he was digging in a well. Blake explains that David Whitmer’s explanation — ancient text with English below — can’t be the answer for a variety of reasons.
Elder Oaks referenced world-famous LDS author, Orson Scott Card (OSC) in his own talk about Book of Mormon historicity.
Elder Oaks and OSC both spoke on this topic in 1993.
OSC wrote this essay on the topic of BoM historicity: “The Book of Mormon – Artifact or Artifice?”
This essay was adapted from a February, 1993 speech given at the BYU Symposium on Life, the Universe, and Everything.
The final paragraph of OSC’s essay:
“Joseph Smith didn’t write the Book of Mormon, though he did translate it, so that his voice is present when we read, including the flaws in his language and understanding.
Those who wrote the original were also fallible human beings who will reveal their culture and their assumptions just as surely as the writers of I Love Lucy did.
But unlike the writers of that TV show, the prophets wrote and translated under the direction of the Lord, out of love for us.
It’s well worth finding out who these men were, the culture from which they wrote, how it’s different from ours, and how it’s also very much the same.”