Authors of two recent articles believe they have found evidence that Joseph Smith, in preparing his revision of the Bible, drew ideas from a contemporary Bible commentary by British scholar Adam Clarke. The evidence, however, does not bear out this claim. I believe that none of the examples they provide can be traced to Clarke’s commentary, and almost all of them can be explained easily by other means. The authors do not look at their examples within the broader context of the revisions Joseph Smith made to the Bible, and thus they misinterpret them. Some of the revisions they attribute to Clarke are ones that Joseph Smith had made repeatedly before he arrived at the passages where they believe he got ideas from Clarke. In addition, there is a mountain of material in Clarke that is not reflected in the Joseph Smith Translation, and there is a mountain of material in the Joseph Smith Translation that cannot be explained by reference to Clarke. The few overlaps that do exist are vague, superficial, and coincidental.
Below is Dr. Wayment’s interview with Rick Bennett:
Clarke is not part of the long passages of expanded scripture. But Clarke can be found in the small edits. Italicized words are 70% replaced with Clarke’s interpretation, for example.
The JST was not an absolute revelation. He wasn’t commanded, as far as we know, to translate the Bible. Joseph didn’t suggest that the JST was the original bible. Joseph studied Hebrew after this translation. He was engaging the materials and learning around him. Joseph asked Anthon about his characters — and if Anthon could translate them — before Joseph translated.
The majority of the JST is editing the English in it. Editing the KJV. If Latter-day Saints adopt a translation other than the King James’ Version, the JST gets lost. As most of Joseph’s edits weren’t doctrinal (outside the Book of Moses, for example). They were grammatical. Removing thees and thous. So, Adam Clark and his commentary disappears from view as members shift from the KJV to the NIV, for example.
Wayment champions newer translations of the Bible. He explains that KJV scholars were not the best at Hebrew and mistranslated some Hebrew verbs. The KJV committee’s Greek scholars were better, but are still not at the level of translators today.
Wayment’s takeaway: as we learn more we can reconstruct our understanding. We don’t need to deconstruct faith.
Mark Ashurst-McGee gave this talk more recently at the 2020 FAIR conference:
Joseph never wrote an introduction to the JST and had not yet published the material. Prior to publication, Joseph routinely added explanations to his revelations.
Of all the expansion Joseph added to the Bible, around 5% can be attributed to Adam Clarke’s commentary.
Joseph seems to have shifted from a revelatory mode to a more secular mode. This pattern is fairly obvious after Genesis 21 JST. The large expansion of material are revelatory restorations and additions to the Bible. No trace of Clarke’s influence are found in these expansions now found in the Pearl of Great Price.
Joseph “studied it out” in his mind, as he appears to have used Clarke’s resources. He sought out the best books to learn from.
Dr. Thomas Wayment took one path and one interpretation. His undergraduate student took another path and interpretation. Joseph appears to have appreciated Clarke’s expertise. Wayment reports that Joseph used words of Clarke in expanded sentences. Not copying three sentences in a row of Adam Clarke’s commentary.
The use of Clarke is very selective and is often adaptive of what Clarke writes. Creative utilization. Not massive hunks of direct borrowing.
Plagiarism has changed a lot since Joseph’s day. Standards are clear today, but taking without citing wasn’t highly thought of in 1830. Terryl Givens talks about ways in which so many in Western Civilization have taken and resued others’ materials. Sam Brown indicated ways in which Joseph repurposed Freemasonry for a higher purpose in an LDS context. Freemasonry components shouldn’t be confused with the whole of the endowment.
Robert G. Matthews: Joseph Smith’s Translation is a revision and translation of the Bible. Not a simple, mechanical process. Rather a study and thought process, accompanied by revelation from the Lord. Not ruling out the possibility of material outside of revelation.
Moderization example: Mark 12:32. JST changed he to him. 100s of changes like this in the JST. Must we assume that this was a result of pure revelation?
Moderization example: thee to you, thou to you, ye to you (82 times), dwelt to dwell, draweth to draw, spake to spoke, gat to got, hath to has, alway to always, amongst to among, and many more. 1200 similar changes occurred. Must we assume that this was a result of pure revelation? It is more plausible that Joseph is making minor changes in the Bible.
The JST is a combination of divine revelation and Joseph’s own editorial decisions. Now, you have to evaluate Joseph in his environment. Joseph’s mind wasn’t sealed off with interactions with his scribes.
D&C 76: scribes discussed meaning of John 5:29 (doing the JST). Joseph and the members were part of a wider culture. A wider literary of tracts, pamphlets, and books. Even Bible commentaries, such as Clarke’s. Did his scribes feel they were forbidden from looking at bible commentaries? Probably not.
New research strongly demonstrates that Joseph Smith started the translation of our current Book of Mormon with the Book of Mosiah. This is because when the 116 pages were lost, Joseph Smith simply started translating from where he left off, in Mosiah.
This provides strong evidence for the truth of the Book of Mormon, because there are hundreds of references in the Book of Mormon to earlier content (content that Joseph Smith hadn’t even written yet). So either Joseph Smith was the most talented author of all time, or he was simply translating an ancient record. Watch here!
Careful readers of the Book of Mormon have probably found verses 12–18 of the Words of Mormon to be a bit of a puzzle. For stylistic and other reasons, they do not really fit with verses 1–11, so commentators have tried to explain their presence as a sort of “bridge” or “transition” that Mormon wrote to connect the record of the small plates with his abridgment from the large plates.
This paper proposes a different explanation: Rather than being a bridge into the book of Mosiah, these verses were originally part of the book of Mosiah and should be included with it.
This article presents both documentary and textual evidence to show that (1) Joseph Smith had translated some text that he did not give to Martin Harris (the lost 116 pages), (2) Oliver Cowdery, Joseph’s scribe, copied from the original manuscript onto the printer’s manuscript at the beginning of the book of Mosiah the chapter designation “Chapter III,” (3) verses 12–18 of Words of Mormon do not use the first-person pronoun “I” and do not speak of the small plates, as verses 1–11 do, and (4) the book of Mosiah begins abruptly, without an introductory heading and without any mention of the person for whom the book was likely named (Benjamin’s father, Mosiah).
These and other pieces of evidence support the idea that the last seven verse in Words of Mormon were actually the last verses of what should have been Mosiah chapter 2, but chapter 1 and most of chapter 2 must have been part of the 116 pages lost by Martin Harris.
Consider watching these YouTube videos on the reasons King James decided to authorize another bible at a time many other translations were available.
A five-minute summary:
Another short summary:
This is a series of detailed videos on the KJV
King James organized a committee of around 50 scholars into six separate subcommittees. They had very specific guidelines.
Usually committees and beaucracies don’t create good ideas, and certainly not masterpieces.
Who were the translators? Noted scholars, politicians, editors, adventurers, preachers, a drunk, and others were on the list. A broad composition of society.
The essence of the KJV was in fusing the two wings of the religious divide in England. The Puritans and the Anglicans.
Since many in England at the time were illiterate, the final revising committee read aloud the scriptures before approving them. All in England could hear and be inspired. Not all could read.
The text of the Bishops’ Bible would serve as the primary guide for the translators, and the familiar proper names of the biblical characters would all be retained. If the Bishops’ Bible was deemed problematic in any situation, the translators were permitted to consult other translations from a pre-approved list: the Tyndale Bible, the Coverdale Bible, Matthew’s Bible, the Great Bible, and the Geneva Bible.
Forty unbound copies of the 1602 edition of the Bishops’ Bible were specially printed so that the agreed changes of each committee could be recorded in the margins.
A video on the Bishop’s Bible:
The entire documentary is found below. The fourth and final in the series can be found at the 45-minute mark below:
This video discusses the many bibles that predated the KJV. The interview takes place in a Christian’s library where many of these remarkable bibles are preserved.
Is the KJV the best translation? Is it the most accurate translation?
Myths: that surround the KJV
Errors can be found in the KJV. Latter-day Saints don’t believe the process was perfect. Neither do traditional Christian scholars. After all, the texts the KJV drew from — previous translations and manuscripts — had errors themselves.
The progression of Bibles:
A young Latter-day Saint shares a few thoughts:
Applications of the KJV to the Book of Mormon. A few thougths by Hugh Nibley on what the KJV of Isaiah are doing in the Book of Mormon:
LDS scholar Hugh Nibley wrote the following in response to a letter sent to the editor of the Church News section of the Deseret News. His response was printed in the Church News in 1961:
[One of the] most devastating argument[s] against the Book of Mormon was that it actually quoted the Bible. The early critics were simply staggered by the incredible stupidity of including large sections of the Bible in a book which they insisted was specifically designed to fool the Bible-reading public. They screamed blasphemy and plagiarism at the top of their lungs, but today any biblical scholar knows that it would be extremely suspicious if a book purporting to be the product of a society of pious emigrants from Jerusalem in ancient times did not quote the Bible. No lengthy religious writing of the Hebrews could conceivably be genuine if it was not full of scriptural quotations.
…to quote another writer of Christianity Today [magazine], “passages lifted bodily from the King James Version,” and that it quotes, not only from the Old Testament, but also the New Testament as well.
As to the “passages lifted bodily from the King James Version,” we first ask, “How else does one quote scripture if not bodily?” And why should anyone quoting the Bible to American readers of 1830 not follow the only version of the Bible known to them?
Actually the Bible passages quoted in the Book of Mormon often differ from the King James Version, but where the latter is correct there is every reason why it should be followed. When Jesus and the Apostles and, for that matter, the Angel Gabriel quote the scriptures in the New Testament, do they recite from some mysterious Urtext? Do they quote the prophets of old in the ultimate original? Do they give their own inspired translations?
No, they do not. They quote the Septuagint, a Greek version of the Old Testament prepared in the third century B.C. Why so? Because that happened to be the received standard version of the Bible accepted by the readers of the Greek New Testament. When “holy men of God” quote the scriptures it is always in the received standard version of the people they are addressing.
We do not claim the King James Version or the Septuagint to be the original scriptures—in fact, nobody on earth today knows where the original scriptures are or what they say. Inspired men have in every age have been content to accept the received version of the people among whom they labored, with the Spirit giving correction where correction was necessary.
Since the Book of Mormon is a translation, “with all its faults,” into English for English-speaking people whose fathers for generations had known no other scriptures but the standard English Bible, it would be both pointless and confusing to present the scriptures to them in any other form, so far as their teachings were correct.
What is thought to be a very serious charge against the Book of Mormon today is that it, a book written down long before New Testament times and on the other side of the world, actually quotes the New Testament! True, it is the same Savior speaking in both, and the same Holy Ghost, and so we can expect the same doctrines in the same language.
But what about the “Faith, Hope and Charity” passage in Moroni 7:45? Its resemblance to 1 Corinthians 13:] is undeniable. This particular passage, recently singled out for attack in Christianity Today, is actually one of those things that turn out to be a striking vindication of the Book of Mormon. For the whole passage, which scholars have labeled “the Hymn to Charity,” was shown early in this century by a number of first-rate investigators working independently (A. Harnack, J. Weiss, R. Reizenstein) to have originated not with Paul at all, but to go back to some older but unknown source: Paul is merely quoting from the record.
Now it so happens that other Book of Mormon writers were also peculiarly fond of quoting from the record. Captain Moroni, for example, reminds his people of an old tradition about the two garments of Joseph, telling them a detailed story which I have found only in [th’ Alabi of Persia,] a thousand-year-old commentary on the Old Testament, a work still untranslated and quite unknown to the world of Joseph Smith. So I find it not a refutation but a confirmation of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon when Paul and Moroni both quote from a once well-known but now lost Hebrew writing.
Now as to [the] question, “Why did Joseph Smith, a nineteenth century American farm boy, translate the Book of Mormon into seventeenth century King James English instead of into contemporary language?”
The first thing to note is that the “contemporary language” of the country-people of New England 130 years ago was not so far from King James English. Even the New England writers of later generations, like Webster, Melville, and Emerson, lapse into its stately periods and “thees and thous” in their loftier passages.
∗ ∗ ∗ Furthermore, the Book of Mormon is full of scripture, and for the world of Joseph Smith’s day, the King James Version was the Scripture, as we have noted; large sections of the Book of Mormon, therefore, had to be in the language of the King James Version—and what of the rest of it? That is scripture, too.
One can think of lots of arguments for using King James English in the Book of Mormon, but the clearest comes out of very recent experience. In the past decade, as you know, certain ancient nonbiblical texts, discovered near the Dead Sea, have been translated by modern, up-to-date American readers. I open at random a contemporary Protestant scholar’s modern translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and what do I read? “For thine is the battle, and by the strength of thy hand their corpses were scattered without burial. Goliath the Hittite, a mighty man of valor, thou didst deliver into the hand of thy servant David.”
Obviously the man who wrote this knew the Bible, and we must not forget that ancient scribes were consciously archaic in their writing, so that most of the scriptures were probably in old-fashioned language the day they were written down. To efface that solemn antique style by the latest up-to-date usage is to translate falsely.
At any rate, Professor Burrows, in 1955 (not 1835!), falls naturally and without apology into the language of the King James Bible. Or take a modern Jewish scholar who purposely avoids archaisms in his translation of the Scrolls for modern American readers: “All things are inscribed before Thee in a recording script, for every moment of time, for the infinite cycles of years, in their several appointed times. No single thing is hidden, naught missing from Thy presence.” Professor Gaster, too, falls under the spell of our religious idiom. [A more recent example of the same phenomenon in the twenty-first century is discussed here.]
By frankly using that idiom, the Book of Mormon avoids the necessity of having to be redone into “modern English” every thirty or forty years. If the plates were being translated for the first time today, it would still be King James English!”
From FAIR Mormon on the topic of the use of the KJV by other scholars in their translations of the Dead Sea Scrolls:
“Even academic translators sometimes copy a previous translation if it serves the purpose of their translation. For example, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) provided previously unknown texts for many Biblical writings. However, in some translations of the DSS, approximately 90% is simply copied from the KJV.
Surely we are not expected to believe that the DSS translators dropped back into King James idiom and just happened to come up with a nearly identical text! They, in fact, unabashedly copied the KJV, except where the DSS texts were substantially different from already known Hebrew manuscripts.
Why was this done? Because, the purpose of the DSS translation is to highlight the differences between the newly discovered manuscripts and those to which scholars already had access. Thus, in areas where the DSS manuscripts agree with the Biblical texts that were already known, the KJV translation is used to indicate this.
This is not to argue that there may not be a better way to render the text than the KJV—but, it would be counterproductive for the DSS committee spent a lot of time improving on the KJV translation. A reader without access to the original manuscripts could then never be sure if a difference between the DSS translation and the King James (or any other) translation represented a true difference in the DSS text, or simply the choice of the DSS translators to improve existing translations.
The situation with the Book of Mormon is likely analogous. For example, it is possible that most of the text to which the Nephites had access would not have differed significantly from the Hebrew texts used in later Bible translations. The differences in wording between the KJV and the Book of Mormon highlight the areas in which there were theologically significant differences between the Nephite versions and the Masoretic text, from which the Bible was translated.
Other areas can be assumed to be essentially the same. If one wants an improved or clearer translation of a passage that is identical in the Book of Mormon and the KJV, one has only to go to the original manuscripts available to all scholars. Basing the text on the KJV focuses the reader on the important clarifications, as opposed to doing a new translation from scratch, and distracting the reader with many differences that might be due simply to translator preference.
Since there is no such thing as a “perfect” translation, this allows the reader to easily identify genuine differences between the Isaiah texts of the Old World and the Nephites.”
The above title (and link) refers to a 2001 Master’s thesis. This thesis reviews the Isaiah variants found in these four texts: the Masoretic Text (MT), the Septuagint (LXX), the Qumran (Q) or Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), and the Book of Mormon MT, LXX, Q, and BoM Isaiah.
Nearly 80 pages of tables demonstrate the differences in Isaiah verses between the four versions.
This link shares the research done by John Tvedtnes: Isaiah Variants in the Book of Mormon.
Skeptics have sometimes compared the Book of Mormon to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, including his epic trilogy The Lord of the Rings. If, they reason, Tolkien could create an entire imaginary world, with a large and detailed geography and a complex history that involves multiple ethnic groups, wars, and intricate subplots, it’s surely not impossible to imagine that Joseph Smith might have done the same.
Of course, there are some differences between them. For example, Joseph Smith was a marginally literate frontier farmer who dictated the Book of Mormon in less than three months and always insisted that it represented genuinely ancient history.
By contrast, Tolkien, who created his Middle Earth over the course of many decades and never claimed it was other than fiction, was an accomplished philologist and translator. He taught at Oxford University as the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon and then as the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature.
However, a new comparison of the Book of Mormon to the works of Tolkien is well worth considering. In their intriguing article “Comparing Book of Mormon Names with Those Found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Works: An Exploratory Study,” four Brigham Young University professors — Brad Wilcox (ancient scripture), Wendy Baker-Smemoe (linguistics), Bruce L. Brown (psychology, with specialization in the psychology of language), and Sharon Black (education, with a focus on writing and editing) — look specifically at the unusual names found within both Tolkien’s books and the Book of Mormon. (It’s published on mormoninterpreter.com, of which I am the chairman and president.)
They focus on “phonemes,” the smallest units of sound, using a hypothetical construct that they term a “sound print” or “phonoprint.” This is a pattern of sound that — rather like the individual “wordprint” seems to characterize different writers or like the fingerprints that are used to identify and specify the perpetrators of criminal acts — appears to be distinctively characteristic of individual authors and could, therefore, serve to differentiate one writer from another.
“Traditionally,” say the authors of this new study, “words have been seen as the smallest building blocks over which authors have some freedom to choose. This new line of research expands the fundamental unit of text into phonemes and proposes the possibility that we could produce a phonoprint that would differ from author to author. Despite that authors have fewer sounds with which to create words than they have words with which to create prose and poetry, there is some evidence that authors favor certain sounds over others when choosing or inventing names.”
Using this fresh and unusual research approach in an “exploratory” fashion, the authors examine the dwarf, elvish, hobbit, and human names created by Tolkien, as well as the Jaredite, Nephite, Mulekite, and Lamanite names found in the Book of Mormon. Although Joseph Smith always maintained that he had translated the Book of Mormon from an ancient record, his critics have frequently claimed that he wrote it himself, just as any ordinary writer composes a fictional narrative. Presumably, if those critics are right, he would have chosen the names for his imaginary world, or created them, just as other writers of fiction do.
Their summary of their findings is worth quoting:
“Results suggest that Tolkien had a phonoprint he was unable to entirely escape when creating character names, even when he claimed he based them on distinct languages. In contrast, in Book of Mormon names, a single author’s phonoprint did not emerge. Names varied by group in the way one would expect authentic names from different cultures to vary. . . . Thus the Book of Mormon name groups were significantly more diverse than Tolkien’s. . . . If the Book of Mormon names were created by an individual, they were created by a very different process or based on languages more different from each other and consistent within themselves than those created by Tolkien.”
For Tolkien, the invention of fictional languages was a lifelong hobby that contributed substantially to his creation of Middle Earth. He began developing “Elvish” in his late teens, for example, and was still working on its history and grammar at age 81 when he died in 1973.
It seems highly unlikely that Joseph Smith was better at inventing fictional languages than Tolkien was.
“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:
Understanding the “Changes” and “Variants”
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.
Book of Mormon Changes Do Not
Represent Revising or Rewriting
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.
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.
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.
You gotta listen to these Blake Ostlerpodcasts. This topic is one that Blake had already published in BYU Studies in 1987. But, fortunately for us, he recently put into podcast form.
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.
Mosiah 1-5, 7-8: closely reflect covenant renewal festival in the Old Testament
Abinadi and Samuel the Lamanite: evidence of prophetic lawsuit, following biblical form
1 Nephi 1: ancient form of prophetic commission
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.
Joseph wouldn’t have edited a text directly and exclusively given by God (with no room for variation or modification); in fact, in 1837 Joseph added and modified text to clarify
translation will never be directly and solely from God, unless God overpowers Joseph’s mind
no translation can possibly be exactly word for word; and Joseph didn’t know a language other than English at this time
Ostler speaks of the Gospel of John, which was written long after Jesus’ death, and contained insights into Jesus’ divinity (living water, bread of life, etc); these insights weren’t understood at the time of Jesus, as the other Gospels show that the Apostles didn’t understand Jesus’ mission and teachings during his life; the Gospel of John in much more reflective and imposes a more complete view
Ostler argues that, like the Gospel of John, Joseph is receiving the revelation of the text, but also the true meaning of the text in a 19th Century thought world
not only is the Book of Mormon a translation (from the Golden Plates), but it’s also a revelation with Joseph’s expansion and reflected through Joseph’s world
puzzler: no text of Isaiah on table, but he has multiple chapters; uses neither plates nor book available while Joseph is looking at stone (within hat); he was simply inspired to know revelation; he translated just as he did the parchment of John, the Book of Abraham, the Book of Moses, and other translations (revelation is the answer)
early witnesses needed Golden Plates to help Church grow, not because Joseph viewed the plates to translate (in 1828 he gave up trying to understand the characters)
theory of revelation: includes a human and God, but it’s a human experiences; this experience requires interpretive framework; reflects ancient text, but his own abilities, terminology, and cultural influence has its effects observable
there’s no such thing as revelation from God’s point of view; we get revelation from our point of view
the Book of Mormon is twice inspired! Once with the original prophet, but second with Joseph’s expansion.
Was Joseph aware he was expanding beyond the plates? In 1837, Joseph felt inspired to expand the already-published Book of Mormon. Ostler argues that he originally followed inspiration, not knowing he was the instrument to expand.
Joseph was free to express, not give an isomorphic 1:1 translation. Any translation has “play” in it. Ostler believe he received concepts and phraseology, and then explained it.
The Book of Mormon revelation was given great liberty what the underlying text meant.
Ostler recognizes that chiasmus, Hebrew phrases, separate and unique voices in the book (Nephi, Jacob, Mormon, and Moroni) are all evidences against the expansion theory.
Revelation is communication in which God is a flawless, divine encoder, but mortals are the decoders. Various kinds of “noise” prevent perfect understanding.
There is no evidence that Joseph Smith thought in technical terms of communication theory, but he understood these ideas well. He did not assume as we might that his revelation texts were faxed from heaven.
He understood that the Lord could certainly send signals seamlessly, but he knew better than anyone else that he lacked the power to receive the messages immaculately or to recommunicate them perfectly.
He considered it “an awful responsibility to write in the name of the Lord,” as he put it, largely because he felt confined by what he called the “total darkness of paper pen and Ink and a crooked broken scattered and imperfect Language.”
Joseph often revised his revelations before publishing them. He would reflect, edit, and revise. In contrast to what became Joseph’s approach, Joseph dictated the Book of Mormon and only later made few changes.
Consider these thoughts (the conclusion from Dr. Underwood’s devotional):
October 13, 2009, Grant Underwood. Professor of History, Brigham Young University
In conclusion, let us listen to two great students of the Prophet Joseph Smith. The first is F. Henry Richards, one of our Community of Christ (formerly RLDS) “cousins” and longtime member of their First Presidency.
Edwards counseled readers of the Doctrine and Covenants to “not be unduly concerned about the exact phrasing in which revelation is recorded, nor even when further light makes it possible to enrich this phrasing in the attempt to convey this further light.
What is important is that the record shall prove the gateway to understanding, as it has to many thousands who have studied it under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.” My brothers and sisters, however we may view the process by which scriptural texts are composed, Edwards reminds us that in the end those texts should become a “gateway” to God rather than an idol that replaces Him.
Similar thoughts were expressed by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland in his April 2008 general conference address, and to him we give the concluding word. Said he,
“The scriptures are not the ultimate source of knowledge for Latter-day Saints. They are manifestations of that ultimate source. The ultimate source of knowledge and authority for a Latter-day Saint is the living God.”
In the spirit of Elder Holland’s insightful reminder, may we ever strive to let the written “word of God” in its full divinity and humanity lead us to the Living Word himself. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Another view of the story behind the revelations.
Published by FAIR Mormon in 2015. The video subtitle is “Using the Joseph Smith Papers to Understand the Doctrine and Covenants.”