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.
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