Exploring the Iconic Nature of the Book of Mormon: Part IIb – The Fluid Nature of the Text of the Book of Mormon

I here continue my series of posts dealing with the iconic nature of the Book of Mormon (BoM). For my introduction to this series, see here. For the first half of the current section on textual criticism and the BoM, see here.

In my last post I gave a brief description of the various manuscripts and editions of the BoM. I would now like to examine what I have found to be several very interesting textual variants in the BoM textual witnesses. As I stated in my last post, anyone interested in BoM text criticism should consult the foundational work of Royal Skousen if she or he has not done so already (I rely heavily upon it in this current post). [1]  In the following examples I will use “OM” to refer to the original manuscript, and “PM” to refer to the printer’s manuscript. For the various editions I will use the year of publication, thus, “1830″ refers to the edition of the BoM that was published in Palmyra, New York in 1830. The 1981 edition will stand for the most current edition. [2]  Now on to the examples:

1 Nephi 8:31

1981: “And he also saw other multitudes feeling their way towards that great and spacious building”

OM: “and he also saw other multitudes pr∫sing their way towards that great and spacious building”

Though many have imagined Lehi’s dream as depicting groups of people “feeling” their way towards the “great and spacious building” (perhaps in correlation with the “mist of darkness” mentioned in vv 23 and 24?), the text probably should read “people pressing their way…” The OM at this point is in an unknown scribe’s handwriting (Skousen refers to him/her as “Scribe 3″ or “Scribe y”) and contains an elongated “s” represented above by a “∫”. According to Skousen, since the scribe’s initial “p” looks like an “f,” Oliver Cowdery in producing the PM misread “pressing” as “feeling.” This conclusion is consistent with the rest of Lehi’s dream which “always us[es] press rather than feel when referring to the movement of people.” [3]  This apparent misreading has been reproduced ever since.

1 Nephi 11:18

1981: “Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God”

1837: “behold the virgin which thou seest is the mother of the Son of God”

1830: “behold the virgin which thou seest is the mother of God”

PM: “behold the virgin which thou seest is the mother of <the son of> God”

OM: “behold the virgin which thous seest is the mother of God”

Most textual variants in the BoM are fairly benign when it comes to questions of doctrine. This was the case with 1 Nephi 8:31. While “pressing” is certainly different from “feeling,” it is our imaginative portraiture that is probably more affected than our theological views. However, there are occasions where a change might affect interpretations of doctrine. 1 Nephi 11:18 is representative of such a variant. In preparation for the 1837 Kirtland edition, Joseph Smith went through portions of the PM and made adjustments, one of which was to insert “the Son of” in front of a number of references to God in order to clarify who was being referenced. This is the case in 1 Nephi 11:18 (see also 1 Nephi 11: 21, 32, 40). As one can see above, OM, PM, and 1830 all read “mother of God” prior to Joseph adjusting the text in 1837 to read “mother of the son of God” (represented by <the son of> in the PM above). I will not attempt here to weigh in on whether these changes represent clarifications, doctrinal reinterpretations, or something else, but merely offer the variant as an interesting example of the textual fluidity of the BoM text. [4]

“Amlicites” in Alma 2:11-12; 21–27, 43

1981: (2:11-12) “Now the people of Amlici were distinguished by the name of Amlici, being called Amlicites and … the Nephites were aware of the intent of the Amlicites”

PM: (2:11-12) “now the people of Amlici were distinguished by the name of Amlici being called Amlikites and … the Nephites were aware of the intent of the Amlikites”   NB: though the first 2 occurrences are spelled “Amlikites in the PM, the remainder (25 occurrences) are spelled “Amlicites”

1981: “Amalekites” 19 times in Alma chs 21–27, 43

PM: ”Amalekites” 19 times in Alma chs 21–27, 43

OM: “Amelicites” in Alma 24:1, 24:28, and 27:2

One possible way to view this variant might help to explain an entire group of people known in the 1981 text as the “Amalekites.” As the text now stands, two particular groups of dissenters (against the Nephites) are mentioned: (1) the “Amlicites” in Alma 2–3, and (2) the “Amalekites” in Alma 21–27, 43. However, the earliest manuscript evidence (extant portions of OM) spells the name of the second group as “Amelicites.” This becomes important if we realize that while we are accustomed to pronouncing “Amlicites” with a “soft c” sound (as instructed by the “Pronunciation Guide” at the back of the 1981), the use of a “k” in the PM suggests that Joseph pronounced the name with a “hard c” sound. Assuming the scribal inclination to write down a “k” for a “hard c” sound, it is worth noting that the only difference between the  the “Amelicites” (OM) in the later chapters of Alma and the “Amlicites” (1981) of Alma 2–3 is a single “e.” Viewing the added “e” as a scribal error makes sense in the larger context of the BoM narrative . Alma 24:1 states that “many of the Amalekites and the Amulonites were after the order of the Nehors” while Alma 2:1 informs us that Amlici was “after the order of the man that slew Gideon,” i.e. Nehor (see Alma 1:15). Furthermore, Alma 43 lists this group among the Zoramites and Amulonites, descendants of King Noah who rebelled against the Nephites. Skousen’s suggestions to “Accept the spelling Amlicites instead of Amlikites found in the printer’s manuscript for Alma 2:11-12 [and to] change all 19 occurences of Amalekite(s) in Alma 17–27 and Alma 43 to Amlicite(s)” seem warranted. [5]

Alma 50:40

1981: “Now behold, his name was Pahoran. And Pahoran did fill the seat of his father”

PM: “now behold his name was Pahoran and Pahoran did fill the seat of his father”

OM: “now behold his name was Parhoron and Parhoron did fill the seat of his father”

In one last example, here’s another case of what is probably a scribal error due to the oral/aural nature of the BoM transcription process coupled with the unfamiliarity and irregularity of proper nouns. If Joseph pronounced “Parhoron” with stress on the second syllable (similar to present day pronunciation) the “r” before the “h” would have been difficult to distinguish for a scribe. This seems to be the case as Oliver Cowdery, according to OM evidence, started off hearing the “r” clearly. However, by the fifth occurrence (Alma 51:5) it appears that Oliver was not hearing the “r” as evidenced by his writing of “Pahoron.” It appears that all occurrences of “Pahoran” should in actuality be “Parhoron” [6].

There are countless other examples that could be cited and discussed (“white and delightsome” to “pure and delightsome” in 2 Nephi 30:6, PM and 1830 reading “Benjamin” instead of “Mosiah” in Mosiah 21:28 and Ether 4:1, and several lines of Alma 32:30-31 being accidentally omitted by the 1830 typesetter and not being restored until the 1981); nonetheless, even a few examples should suffice in demonstrating just how fluid the text of the BoM is (a feature prominent in any text). Refraining Beal’s words from my previous posts, “there never has been a time when we could really talk about the Bible in the singular.” [7]  It appears that the same could be said of the Book of Mormon.


1. Skousen’s The Critical Text of the Book of Mormon (CTBOM) project has been a life-long project that is nearing completion. To date, 4 of the proposed 6 volumes have been published: The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical Facsimile of the Extant Text, CTBOM 1 (Provo: FARMS, 2001); The Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical Facsimile of the Entire Text in Two Parts, 2 vols; CTBOM 2 (Provo: FARMS, 2001); Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, 6 vols; CTBOM 4 (Provo: FARMS, 2004-2009); The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009). Two volumes are still to come: The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon and A Complete Electronic Collation of the Book of Mormon. See Royal Skousen, “History of the Critical Text Project of the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 11 (2002): 5-21.

2. There are a number of adjustments to the text (some to the canonical text and some to secondary text) that have been made to the edition of the BoM published by Doubleday in 2006 and to the online edition of the BoM. I will make note of such changes when/if needed. A listing of the most recent changes to the standard works can be found at lds.org.

3. Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, 1:187.

4. Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, 1:230-33. Skousen argues that these changes “should be considered as clarifications, not as doctrinal reinterpretations” (230). Among his arguments is that Jesus is clearly identified as the “Son of God” in earlier parts of 1 Nephi, as well as later parts of the BoM.

5. Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, 3:1605-1609. See also Royal Skousen, “The Systematic Text of the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 11 (2002): 45-66.

6. Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, 4:2635-2637.

7. Timothy Beal, The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), 22.

  • Jason W

    Very interesting. I’m loving this series so far. Hopefully there’s more to come.