The 2013 Adjustments to the Book of Mormon: Accuracy Delayed

This post is written by guest contributor, Grant Hardy.

It is a weighty responsibility to decide how God’s word should be presented to the world, and the Church takes this charge very, very seriously. The recent adjustments to the official standard works include many welcome corrections to the headings of the Doctrine and Covenants, but otherwise the revisions are quite minimal. As Elder Neil L. Andersen explained, “members should not feel that they need to purchase a new set of scriptures . . .  Changes to the scriptural text include spelling, minor typographical, and punctuation corrections” (my emphasis). This perhaps makes sense in the case of the King James Version, which continues to be what it has been for the last 400 years, and for the Doctrine and Covenants, where the textual scholarship of the Joseph Smith Papers is ongoing. Yet it represents a lost opportunity for the Book of Mormon in light of Royal Skousen’s completed analysis of textual variants (in six books) and the publication of his reconstruction of the earliest text.

The 2013 adjustments include one very valuable feature—the decision to set all the words from the original translation in roman type, including the book introductions and some multi-chapter headings, while leaving in italics all study helps such as chapter summaries, so that readers can easily distinguish between authoritative scripture and editorial additions. (Note that the introduction to the book of Ether still appears in italics; that’s because it was added in the 1920 edition.) But there are few other substantive revisions; instead we find 18 changes having to do with spelling, capitalization, and punctuation; 3 instances of a grammatical change – “plead(ed)” to “pled”; and 1 restoration of an omitted word – “&c” at the end of the introduction to the book of Helaman, which the 2013 adjustment updates to “and so forth.”

Contrast this with the 1981 edition, which included the following note:

About this edition: Some minor errors in the text have been perpetuated in past editions of the Book of Mormon. This edition contains corrections that seem appropriate to bring the material into conformity with prepublication manuscripts and early editions edited by the Prophet Joseph Smith.

For that edition, done at a time when the scholarly analysis of the original and printer’s manuscripts was just beginning, the editors made over 70 textual corrections to restore earlier, more accurate readings. (By the way, the Church’s transparency with the 2013 adjustments is a wonderful development; the link above is to a list compiled by Scott Faulring, printed in the Seventh East Press in Provo on October 21, 1981, and originally put online by Jerald and Sandra Tanner.) A few of these changes restored lengthy phrases that had been accidentally omitted, most were corrections to single words, and some seemed rather inconsequential (e.g., “the reign of the kings” rather than “the reign of kings” at 1 Ne. 9:4), yet nevertheless were an indication of how seriously the Church took its responsibility of getting the words right.

Updating sacred writ can make for difficult decisions, and in the case of the Book of Mormon it is important to determine which variants from the earliest manuscripts were accidental transcription or copying errors, which represented conscious grammatical updating, and which might have been deliberate revisions made by Joseph Smith to clarify points of doctrine. As the Joseph Smith Papers so clearly demonstrate, revelations can be amended or corrected by prophets as needed. There is also the matter of conjectural emendations, which are  scholars’ best guesses about the reading of the earliest text, in places where there appear to be errors in transmission but where the manuscript evidence is inconclusive—mostly because three-quarters of the original manuscript is no longer extant. Dozens of conjectures made by Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, John Gilbert (the non-Mormon typesetter for the first edition), and James Talmage have been incorporated into the current official 1981 text, as can be seen in this article.

Nevertheless, a quick estimate based on the appendix to Royal Skousen’s The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text and his recent article  in BYU Studies (downloadable for $2) yields about three dozen textual corrections that could have been very conservatively incorporated into the text. And by “conservative,” I mean readings that come from the earliest manuscripts (primarily O), make a difference in meaning, appear to have been changed or deleted by accident, do not include any conjectures (though I find some of Royal’s suggestions quite compelling), and make for smoother, clearer sentences.

So for the Book of Mormon, the 2013 adjustments are a holding pattern. I look forward to the day when the Church will return to trajectory set in 1981 of “bring[ing] the material into conformity with prepublication manuscripts and early editions edited by the Prophet Joseph Smith.” Perhaps in that future, more fully revised edition, we will also get indications of the original, longer chapter divisions (since the original manuscript suggests that those breaks were written on the Gold Plates, and hence were intended by Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni), and maybe even a return to paragraphs—the formatting of the Book of Mormon during Joseph Smith’s lifetime.

In the meantime, go ahead and write the following changes into your triple combination or quad. Someday, if the Church’s past commitment to scriptural accuracy is any indication, they will be part of the official Book of Mormon. (In the list below, the first reading is that of the current edition; the second is from the earliest extant manuscript: O = original manuscript, P = printer’s manuscript.)

1 Ne. 8:27 – those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit, P; those who had come up and were partaking of the fruit, O

1 Ne. 8:31 – multitudes feeling their way, P; multitudes pressing their way, O

1 Ne. 12:18 – the word of the justice of the Eternal God, P; the sword of the justice of the Eternal God, O

1 Ne. 15:16 – remembered again among the house of Israel, P; numbered again among the house of Israel, O

1 Ne. 15:35 – the Devil is the preparator of it, P; the Devil is the proprietor of it, O

1 Ne. 15:36 – the wicked are rejected from the righteous, P; the wicked are separated from the righteous, O

1 Ne. 17:3 – he doth provide . . . means, P; he doth provide . . . ways and means, O

1 Ne 19:2 – genealogy of his fathers, 1830; genealogy of his forefathers, O, P

1 Ne 19:4 – this have I done and commanded my people what they should do, 1837; this have I done and commanded my people that they should do, O, P

1 Ne. 22:8 – being nourished by the Gentiles, P; being nursed by the Gentiles, O

1 Ne. 22:12 – their inheritance, P; their first inheritance, O

2 Ne. 1:5 – the Lord have covenanted this land unto me, P; the Lord hath consecrated this land unto me, O

2 Ne. 4:26 – if the Lord . . . hath visited men in so much mercy, 1830; if the Lord . . . hath visited me in so much mercy, P

2 Ne. 24:25 – I will bring the Assyrian in my land, P; I will break the Assyrian in my land, O

Jacob 7:26 – born in tribulation in a wilderness, 1830; born in tribulation in a wild wilderness, O, P

Mosiah 26:9 – Alma did not know concerning them, but there were many witnesses, 1920; Alma did know concerning them, for there were many witnesses, P

Enos 1:20 – with a short skin girdle about their loins, 1837; with a short skin girded about their loins, P

Alma 2:30 – to save and preserve this people, 1830; to save and protect this people, P

Alma 17:1 – he met with the sons of Mosiah, 1830; he met the sons of Mosiah, P

Alma 19:30 – she clasped her hands, 1830; she clapped her hands, P

Alma 24:20 – for the purpose of destroying the king, P; for the purpose of dethroning the king, O

Alma 27:27 – they were among the people of Nephi, P; they were numbered among the people of Nephi, O

Alma 31:35 – many of them are our brethren, 1837; many of them are our near brethren, O, P

Alma 32:2 – they began to have success among the poor class of people, P; they began to have success among the poorer class of the people, O

Alma 33:21 – that ye might be healed, P; that ye might behold, O

Alma 37:37 – and if ye do these things, 1830; and if ye always do these things, O, P

Alma 39:13 – acknowledge your faults and that wrong which ye have done, 1920; acknowledge your faults and repair that wrong which ye have done, O

Alma 41:5 – the one raised to happiness, P; the one restored to happiness, O

Alma 42:2 – he drew out the man, P; he drove out the man, O

Alma 43:14 – those descendants were as numerous nearly as were the Nephites, P; now those dissenters were as numerous nearly as were the Nephites, O

Alma 43:38 – now and then a man fell among the Nephites by their swords, P; now and then a man fell among the Nephites by their wounds, O

Alma 47:13 – if he would make him, Amalickiah, a second leader over the whole army, P; if he would make him, Amalickiah, the second leader over the whole army, O

Alma 49:28 – because of his matchless power, P; because of his miraculous power, O

Alma 51:15 – he sent a petition . . . desiring that he should read it, 1830; he sent a petition . . . desiring that he should heed it, P

Alma 54:13 – we have only sought to defend ourselves, P; we have only sought to defend our lives, O

Ether 1:41 – gather together . . . thy families, 1830; gather together . . . thy family, P

 

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  • larryco_

    Shucks, I was hoping that they would bring back the secret names given to key LDS leadership in the D&C. There are probably not a lot of people that remember those. As a kid I thought they were cool – kind of secret agent meets The DaVinci Code.

  • http://ldsanarchy.wordpress.com/ LDS Anarchist

    Great stuff, Grant! I’ll use this for my own scriptures project:
    http://1stactscriptures.wordpress.com/

  • smallaxe

    Grant,

    And by “conservative,” I mean readings that come from the earliest manuscripts (primarily O), make a difference in meaning, appear to have been changed or deleted by accident, do not include any conjectures (though I find some of Royal’s suggestions quite compelling), and make for smoother, clearer sentences.

    Without having read the Skousen article in _BYU Studies_ or knowing much of the current literature on the textual history of the BoM, how do we gauge “accident,” and what do you mean by “conjectures”? I guess my question is what reasons do we have to prefer O over P? Or, how do we know when P was not actually intended to be an improvement on O?

  • g.wesley

    Thanks for the great post and highly useful resources.

    So I am wondering how much the ‘ancient scripture’ versus ‘church history’ divide has to do with all this. My generalizing impression is that history (i.e. modern American) is seen as OK now, but that biblical scholarship and the like are still not looked on kindly.

    We can accommodate, even promote the work of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, re: the D&C. And thank goodness for that!!! But it seems that we cannot accommodate scholarship on the Bible, even at the most basic level of textual criticism (e.g. CHI 21.1.7).

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/2010/11/21-1-7/

    Does this result in an inability to accommodate scholarship on the Book of Mormon, Moses, Abraham, even at the most basic level of textual criticism (which is hardly a criticism that is restricted to biblical scholarship of course)?

    And if it does so result, is it because these are biblical texts, and biblical scholarship is not OK? Also because these texts, especially the Book of Mormon, as inspired translations, are the standard for evaluating scholarship on the Bible, not vice-versa?

    Finally, will this accommodation of history (objective genitive) eventually contribute to an accommodation of scholarship on the Bible? Or are we going to be stuck in a sort of twilight zone for the foreseeable future, using our KJV on the one hand, while on the other hand our church history benefits from the Joseph Smith Papers Project?

    As I suggested in my post on the change regarding the Book of Abraham in the new edition, there is no compelling reason not to restore the words “purporting to be,” given that they are in the pre-publication manuscript, not to mention the Times and Seasons, plus the 1851 edition of the Pearl of Great Price.

  • RT

    gwesley: “Finally, will this accommodation of history (objective genitive) eventually contribute to an accommodation of scholarship on the Bible? Or are we going to be stuck in a sort of twilight zone for the foreseeable future, using our KJV on the one hand, while on the other hand our church history benefits from the Joseph Smith Papers Project?”

    Based on Elder Andersen’s announcement that the new edition “will be a blessing to Church members in years to come,” it seems that we are headed toward the twilight zone.

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  • Grant Hardy

    Smallaxe,
    Textual criticism is an art as well as a science, and each variant needs to be investigated individually. That’s what Skousen does in his Analysis of Textual Variants series. Usually preference is given to O as the earliest manuscript, but there are cases where P corrects apparent mistakes in O or deliberately updates its language. There are a number of clues by which we can determine whether changes are more likely to be deliberate or accidental: Are the changes written on the manuscripts? By whom and when? Do they make the meaning more or less clear? Are they similar to other known mistakes? (especially if they are made by the same scribe or typesetter) Is the shift something that can be accounted for by typical scribal errors? Is the new reading consistent with what we find elsewhere in the Book of Mormon? And so on. The 36 corrections I included in my list seemed to me to be clear examples of inadvertent errors that have crept into the text, for which we have very strong evidence of what the original readings were. If you’ve got questions about any of them, see the exhaustive discussions in Skousen’s Analysis of Textual Variants–it’s a marvel of meticulous, conservative scholarship.

  • Grant Hardy

    g.wesley and RT,
    I don’t think that the LDS Church is hostile to textual criticism. In fact, the support for the Joseph Smith Papers and Skousen’s Critical Text Project has been remarkable. And as I pointed out in the OP, previous editions of the Book of Mormon, such as in 1981, have made a point of correcting known errors. But the Church is very cautious and deliberate in revising the scriptures, particularly when dealing with the actual wording of sacred texts as opposed to the headings and study helps, and there is a concern not to burden the members with the expense of buying new scriptures too often. So I fully expect that future editions of the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants will continue to move toward greater accuracy and fidelity to the original revelations, while still accommodating the grammatical and institutional updating that began with Joseph Smith.

    The Bible, however, is a different matter. In that case, our commitment is to a particular English translation rather than to the earliest Greek and Hebrew versions–which is why marvelous discoveries such as the Dead Sea Scrolls have no impact at all on LDS bibles. There are reasons for our continuing use of the KJV, primarily having to do with the antiquated diction of LDS revelations and the ways in which restoration scripture intersects with the KJV, but perhaps as Mormons become more comfortable with textual and historical scholarship as it applies to the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, we will also be ready to read the Bible with more awareness of its original languages, textual transmission, translation, and historical context.

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