Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Systematic and Consistent (Original) Book of Mormon Text

Royal Skousen's recent "Changes in the Book of Mormon" at FAIRLDS.org, the transcript of a 2002 presentation, makes an interesting point about the systematic phraseology used in the original Book of Mormon text:
One of the really surprising things is that in many cases, over 100 I've discovered, the original text was without exception in its phraseology; that over time we'd had occasional errors, one or two in a given phrase, so that the current text has what I call wrinkles in it. They don't prevent you from understanding and reading but if you look at these phrases you discover the original was astoundingly systematic. And I wanted to give a few examples of these.

In a sense this is... we have to be grateful for the mistakes people have been making because these mistakes then allow us to discover how systematic the text originally was. The next twelve or so (overheads) will just be examples that I'll go over briefly.

In referring to the present time the Book of Mormon always says 'this time,' it's in the singular, it is never in the plural, even though we say in these times: original text is 61 to 0, however the current text is 60 to 1. The one mistake in 1 Nephi 10:19 "as well in this time as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come" notice the past and the future are in the plural and because of those occurrences of the plural nearby the 1830 printer accidentally set the present in the plural but the Book of Mormon never does this.

The next one, the word 'whatever' never occurs in the original text, it's only 'whatsoever': original text 74 to 0, current text 72 to 2. We have them both; the 1830 printer put in 'whatever,' once in Jacob and elsewhere in Helaman. These are just accidental errors; notice he didn't replace all 74, he just accidentally replaced two.

The next one, people in the Book of Mormon do 'iniquity' they never do 'iniquities' in the plural: the original text 22 to 0, now it's 21 to 1. Jacob 2:35 "ye have done greater iniquity than the Lamanites" accidentally changed to the plural by the 1830 printer.

The next one, to have hope, the Book of Mormon in the original text has the main verb 'have' followed by the direct object 'hope'--18 to 0, there is one occasion where this is actually due to editing by Joseph Smith, he changed it to 'to have hoped' he made the 'have' into what we call an auxiliary verb, the perfect, and he basically made the noun into a verb. He did this in Jacob 5:46 he left all the other examples. This is an example of his own editing showing that he is not the author of the text. He himself did not realize how systematic the original text was.

The next one, 'if it so be that': 38 to 0. Changed in two cases to 'if it be so that' mixing up the order, occurs in the 1852 and the 1849 editions.

The Nephites and the Lamanites, the 'the' is always repeated: 15 to 0. But, in the 1830 edition, in one place the additional 'the' was dropped so the current text reads "and I saw wars between the Nephites and Lamanites". This is the kind of expression which we might expect.

The Book of Mormon only has, originally, 'to observe to keep the commandments' never 'to observe the commandments': 11 to 0. But, in the 1837 edition the words 'to keep' were accidentally dropped out in one case.

'To set a mark upon' someone, never 'to set a mark on' someone, that's what we really expect in modern day English: 9 to 0 in the original, it's now 8 to 1, an 1837 change.

'Thus ended a period of time', they are all in the past tense. We have four places now where it's in the present 'Thus endeth a period of time' and these are in the accounts in Alma--one in the 1830, 1837 for another one, two of them in 1849. It gives a sort of immediate presence in the accounting but the actual text never does this.

In the Book of Mormon you only 'meet' people, you never 'meet with,' meeting with people sounds like a modern-day bureaucratic system. In any event this one accidentally occurred--1830 edition--Alma is traveling and he... the sons of Mosiah are coming back from their missionary labors with this difficult problem that the... their converts are being murdered. In any event he 'met' the sons of Mosiah on the road he didn't 'meet with' them.

'Conditions' never 'condition', there is no singular condition in the original text, it's always plural: 14 to 0. We have two in the current text: "and we will guard them from their enemies by our armies on conditions that they will give us a portion of their substance" this was changed in the 1920 edition, it was a conscious change, it is marked in the Committee copy. The other one in the 1830 is an accident. We in English expect the singular; it's actually a tribute to the typesetters that they have kept 12 of them because it's so unusual in English to have this plural use for us at least today.

And finally, 'into' one's hands never 'unto' one's hands: the original text was 56 to 0, the current one is 55 to 1. This is one that the 1920 Committee copy isn't marked, it is a typo by the typesetters in Chicago. "Therefore they yielded up the city into our hands" is the original and it was misread as 'unto' so "therefore they yielded up the city unto our hands". When you think about it, it is a little strange it's just a misreading.

Well, these are twelve examples. There are over 90 more, probably over a hundred. I haven't really counted them but it's amazing to me how systematic the text was. And even Joseph Smith couldn't understand how systematic it was.

11 comments:

davidmazel said...

Huh? I don't get the logic here. How does Skousen's demonstration that the Book of Mormon text is "systematic" (one could as easily and accurately term it "repetitive") demonstrate that Joseph Smith "is not the author of the text"? Even if it is true that Smith "himself did not realize how systematic the original text was," how does that demonstrate that he was not the author? All it suggests to me is that he was not very aware of his own writerly quirks and tics.

Walker said...

If you're flying on the edge of your seat, it is not likely that you will be systematic in your dictation. Think of it: do we always say good/well at the appropriate times? Not always--we get lazy.

If Joseph were dictating 500-pages from what basically came from the creation of his own brain, independent of a written text (which witness evidence conclusively indicate is the case), he would have to had essentially "written" 500 pages of text in his brain. Never mind that his holographic writings are starving for some grammatical standardization.

It's an outrageous presumption. Joseph would have had to been a grammatical savant--nothing short of it. Yet Lucy Mack never indicated such proclivity prior, just that he told some stories about the Indians in rich detail (rich detail and perfect grammar are often quite different and sometimes opposed to each other).

No smoking gun mind you. But another brick in the wall of plausibility.

Mormanity said...

Over many days of dictation, in many books that have distinct styles and vocabularies, many of the basic conventions that can belong to a language rather than individual authors remained consistent. The fact that it was always "to have hope" in the original next, not "have hoped," is interesting, especially when Joseph Smith, acting as editor, later changed one of the occurrences to "have hoped", and when many other examples exist where English-speaking editors or typesetters found the some of the systematic conventions to be awkward English and changed them. It just makes it unlikely that Joseph was deliberately trying to impose systematic uniformity on the text - it's unlikely he even recognized that it was there.

davidmazel said...

Walker, you wrote, "If you're flying on the edge of your seat, it is not likely that you will be systematic in your dictation."

I disagree. Inexperienced or unskilled writers often rely heavily on what you're calling "systematic" usage. And the fact that they're unaware of the habit testifies to their inexperience as writers, that's all.

The Book of Mormon abounds with the sort of repeated verbal tics, etc. that characterize unskilled writing that is being composed in a hurry.

You wrote, "If Joseph were dictating 500-pages from what basically came from the creation of his own brain, independent of a written text (which witness evidence conclusively indicate is the case), he would have to had essentially 'written' 500 pages of text in his brain. Never mind that his holographic writings are starving for some grammatical standardization. It's an outrageous presumption. Joseph would have had to been a grammatical savant.

Not at all! Whatever grammatic correction took place could easily have been performed by the amanuensis. And even what was published in 1830 was pretty suspect grammatically--just try to diagram the opening sentence.

You wrote that "Lucy Mack never indicated such proclivity prior, just that he told some stories about the Indians in rich detail (rich detail and perfect grammar are often quite different and sometimes opposed to each other)."

Exactly: Smith might well be responsible for the story line but not the grammar. Many people back then were speculating like crazy about the origin of the Native Americans, and many people were cooking up radical revisions of Christian theology and seeking to return to the "primitive church"--nothing so special about Joseph Smith except that he took two of the most popular hobbies of the time and combined them.

In doing so he betrayed his lack of skill as a writer in many of the ways other unskilled writers do, relying heavily on pet phrases, plagiarizing frequently (as Smith does with Isaiah), even recycling plots. There's every reason to believe the book is the product of Smith's own fertile but uncultivated literary-theological imagination.

Mormanity, you wrote that "It just makes it unlikely that Joseph was deliberately trying to impose systematic uniformity on the text." But of course I never claimed he was trying to. Smith repeats pet phrases because of his limited composition skills, that's all.

All this supposed textual evidence for the Book of Mormon's ancient origins pales beside the overwhelming evidence for its composition in early nineteenth-century America. Most of the stylistic evidence that keeps getting dredged up only suggests an ancient origin in the sense that Smith, as we would expect, was well attuned to the rhythms and other stylistic aspects of the King James Bible--whatever is ancient in the Book of Mormon is derived from what is ancient in the KJV.

Ryan said...

Sometimes you just can't win...

16 But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows,

17 And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil.

19 The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.

(Matt. 11)

Walker said...

Below is my response. But before we get too far in: what do you believe, David? If this is going to be a civil exchange of religious ideas, certainly you would be willing to share with us some of yours.

Inexperienced or unskilled writers often rely heavily on what you're calling "systematic" usage. And the fact that they're unaware of the habit testifies to their inexperience as writers, that's all.

Inexperienced writers, also, due to their naivete of their writing style, would also not know enough to consistently use what comes to quite awkward phrases ("observe to keep").

"The Book of Mormon abounds with the sort of repeated verbal tics, etc. that characterize unskilled writing that is being composed in a hurry."

Odd that I see know evidence beyond your quite un-systematic analysis. I would love to see some scholarly research on what kinds of verbal tics show "hurriedness." On the contrary, "And it came to pass" is not exactly a simple phrase to haste leads to sloppiness, not consistency.

Whatever grammatic correction took place could easily have been performed by the amanuensis.

ONly that Skousen's work compares the original with the printer's manuscript. Skousen notes here that if anything, the Printer's manuscript made the phrasing more. INCONSISTENTt. Any amanuetical work degraded the consistency rather than improving.

Exactly: Smith might well be responsible for the story line but not the grammar.

Except that Joseph's stories only came after the Moroni visits. Lots of folks here plenty of country (or urban yarns). To think that the mere hearing of tales could prompt one to spontaneously write 500 pages of text is, again, outrageous. What Joseph heard on the streets (which is all he would have received, given the availibility of books in the Palmyra area), could be summarized within a few pages. No where was he exposed to any systematic treatment of American Indian origins. We have no evidence in his personal writings that such an idea even possessed his mind for very long. He was far more concerned about the state of the churches.

The "he picked up the Indian motif" from his enivornment thesis only works if one refuses to consider that the Book of Mormon could be legit.

In doing so he betrayed his lack of skill as a writer in many of the ways other unskilled writers do, relying heavily on pet phrases, plagiarizing frequently (as Smith does with Isaiah), even recycling plots.

A pathetic plagirism that any fool would know better than to attempt. It would be like a fellow writing a paper, saying: "I am now going to plagirize so-and-so." Nephi tells us of his "plagirism" beforehand. Jesus delivers the Sermon on the Mount twice, it's true. But it's the same man speaking both times and there are still significant differences. Add to this that Isaiah/Micah "plagirize' from each other as well, whole chapters.

Recycling plots? The New Testament is terrible at that. Persecution after persecution, apostasy, grace. Can't they talk about anything else?

Really, this is another argument that only works with a priori assumptions about Joseph's authorship. Still no examples. All I see is claims without evidence--bluff and bluster to use a cruder description.

Nothing so special about Joseph Smith except that he took two of the most popular hobbies of the time and combined them.

All this supposed textual evidence for the Book of Mormon's ancient origins pales beside the overwhelming evidence for its composition in early nineteenth-century America...whatever is ancient in the Book of Mormon is derived from what is ancient in the KJV.

ROFL-yeah, a book he NEVER READ! And the Arabian Peninsula, where is that mentioned in the Bible? As I mentioned earlier, Lucy Mack Smith said he never read the Bible all the way through. Yet Hebraisms crop up all over the place. ANd about Nahom? And Hebrew-sensitive chiasmus (not just any, but the kind one must know Hebrew to pick up on--Hel. 6:6-10)? And the tight control of internal quotation?

And this evidence you speak of, what is it? If it's mere parallels, it won't fly. In order to be convincing, you must be able to prove that an element was a STRICTLY nineteenth century theme, idea, or object (addressing what's already been said on the topic by LDS scholars, of course).

Really, it is naive to suppose that this work is just some provincial anomaly. I know Hebrew and I can show you places in the BOM (namely, Hel. 9:6) translates the Hebrew-related word in a manner consistent with the BDB secondary meaning (beged, the Hebrew term for garb also means treachery as seen in Isa. 24:16). Dumb luck though, I know. Can find such things in ALL of world literature I know. An easy way to marginalize real evidence. I know.

ALl I see are conclusions without an infrastructure of evidence. Do yourself and either prove to us that we should take these conclusions seriously or actually read up on the topic so you can make your conclusions informed ones.

davidmazel said...

Ryan: Yes, "Sometimes you just can't win," as for example when you don't have the cards and someone calls your bluff. Then you'll just have to fold. ;-)

BTW, did you mean "flying on the edge of your seat" or "flying by the seat of your pants"?

Walker: You wrote that I should "either prove to us that we should take these conclusions seriously or actually read up on the topic so you can make your conclusions informed ones."

I'll set aside your mildly mean-spirited implication that I haven't done my homework (no offense taken) and focus instead on the question of who should bear the burden of proof in this exchange.

I'm an agnostic. I was a Jew until I read the Book of Joshua many years ago and balked at the viciousness of the slaughter of the women and children of Ai.

Ever since, I have had no faith and belonged to no church at all--much less a church that proselytizes as vigorously as the LDS Church. The LDS Church, by contrast, IS a church that vigorously proselytizes.*

Ergo, I am not in any way trying to persuade you to think as I do. By contrast, the LDS Church (if not you personally) DOES periodically try to persuade me to agree with its view of the Book of Mormon.

In my posts I have been responding to what I have assumed to be the Mormanity site's attempt to persuade me (and other visitors) of the Book of Mormon's veracity, and my response has been, "I'm not persuaded."

Do you believe me when I say that I am not persuaded? Or do I need to provide you with "an infrastructure of evidence" supporting my claim that I am not persuaded?

Seems to me you can take my word for it. That is, you can take my word for it when I say I'm not persuaded. I should know, shouldn't I?

If you want to continue trying to persuade me, fine--have at it. And I'm willing to continue to let you know whether you're succeeding in your effort to persuade me. But I'm not going to try to persuade you of my religious beliefs--I don't even have any! I certainly have no evangelical mission. I simply have no reason to proselytize.

I'm happy to clarify a couple of points, however. My comments on verbal tics and repetition are based on my experience, not on scholarly research. Think of people who pepper their speech with "like" and "you know." They often do so with what you're terming "consistency," which I suppose is accurate enough. I just don't see how such tics are evidence for much of anything other than a lack of awareness of one's own use of language.

When I see such repetitions in an early draft of my own writing, I generally edit them out as they're considered bad style for ordinary prose. But then I am not Joseph Smith. I'm an experienced writer; he was not. He was (in my view) trying to imitate in his own writing the sound and rhythm of the King James Bible; I am not.

I just don't see the significance of the "consistency" of the Book of Mormon's biblical-sounding tics ("it came to pass," etc.)

The basic questions involving the Book of Mormon's authenticity seem to me to boil down to these: Was it written by an inhabitant of ancient America with roots in ancient Israel? Or was it written by Joseph Smith, around the late 1820s, at the promptings of a lively religious and historical imagination? Does it have the prose style it has because it is a translation of an ancient document, or because its 19th-century author was steeped in (and perhaps trying to emulate) the prose style of the KJV?

How exactly does the "systematic" phraseology in question help us answer these questions? How does it point to ancient rather than 19th-century authorship? How does it suggest to us that the prose is that of an ancient author rather than that of someone emulating an ancient author?

You wrote the following (and I think there are some missing words which prevent me from understanding it): "On the contrary, 'And it came to pass' is not exactly a simple phrase to haste leads to sloppiness, not consistency."

I have to disagree with the claim that "'And it came to pass' is not exactly a simple phrase." It IS a simple phrase, and one that would be familiar to anyone with even a passing familiarity with the King James Bible. Furthermore, if I were writing in a hurry, I doubt that my rushing would ever make me get it wrong. On the rare occasion when I did get it wrong, my amanuensis would be likely to say, "Wait--you ALWAYS say it this way: 'And it came to pass.' Did you really mean to say 'And it had come about that it passed....'?"

Besides, what's all this about Smith having to compose in a hurry? Didn't he work on the book (writing or translating--as you wish) for something like 90 days? I forget the exact length of time, but if it was 100 days, that's only five pages per day, much of it rather wordy, inelegant, and repetitive, and something like 20 percent of it taken more or less straight from Isaiah and a few other biblical sources.

It's just not that hard to compose at that rate.

Repetition generally is a very, very common literary trope, with origins in oral performance, where it is said to aid the performer's memory. The classic examples are Homer's frequently ("systematically"?) repeated phrases, like "wine-dark sea" and "rosy-fingered dawn."

Anyone translating Homer would try to use such phrases repetitively, just as Homer did, in order to preserve his style in the translation. Of course, someone writing their own original work who wanted to pass it off as actually Homeric would do the same--maybe not even consciously, but merely as a result of "picking up" various aspects of the ancient style. So if the question at issue was whether a given work were ancient or not, the presence of the repeated phrases wouldn't tell us much.

To my observation that grammatical problems could easily have been corrected by Smith's amanuensis, you wrote "that if anything, the Printer's manuscript made the phrasing more. INCONSISTENTt. Any amanuetical work degraded the consistency rather than improving."

Not so. As I understand it, Smith dictated the book's words not to the printer, but to an amanuensis. If Smith made a mistake, the amanuensis could have corrected it. (Just as plausibly, the amanuensis could have taken something correct and put it down wrong.) Ditto for the printer--the printer could have corrected some phrases, and just as plausibly have introduced some errors.

So what we have are several points at which errors could either be introduced or corrected. How does that fact amount to evidence in favor of authenticity?

Anyway, I hope I've explained clearly some of the reasons why I'm not persuaded. That's all I'm saying.

* Note the ease with which I composed that little chiasmus--easiest thing in the world.

Walker said...

Fair enough. When an individual claims he is not persuaded, I fully respect that. Of course I make attempts to persuade, since I do base some of my religious beliefs on what I see as rational evidence. However, that is just an example of good old-fashioned rational discourse, not religious dogmatism (in my opinion).

Thanks for sharing your beliefs. Sometimes folks don't, and it creates a lopsided discussion of interrogator and interragetee.

BTW, the missing words are just a haste-induced faux pas. I write these things in haste, by the edge of my seat if you will. I don't ask you to believe the BOM based on this tidbit alone (a small tidbit indeed). However, I simply ask for people to look at the evidence the Mormons have gathered--all of it--and make an informed decision from there.

BTW I have a difficult time with Joshua's killings too. I just taught a lesson on that book a week or so ago. It was that one element of the Joshua story that I don't know how to handle. But complex theology is going to have seeming contradictions

I do not intend to persuade, by any stretch. My reasons for studying these, more often than not, are to reinforce the believers, to gain a greater personal appreciation. Unless the listener has some desire to believe, my experience has been that these discussions remain in the realm of the theoretical. I do know of cases where university-trained theologians have believed the Book of Mormon, but that's hardly a cause for believing just because some P.h.D. did. P.h.D.'s have been wrong before. A couple of points, however:

1) You're right on the ease in creating a chiasmus, at least one of that length. HOwever, it's an isolated occurence and it's message is extremely simple. As Jack Welch points out, such occurences can be found throughout world literature. BOM chiasmus occur in abundance and in nuanced ways (as indicated previously, in ways that a non-Hebrew speaker would not appreciate). Additionally, you actually know what a chiasmus is. Joseph didn't.

2) Oliver was in no position to correct Joseph's dictation. Not in Oliver's mind anyway. JOseph was a prophet of God after all. In fact, Oliver would read back the manuscript to him to ensure its correctness. ANd such changes then made were but few and seldomly significant.

3) On the elegance issue, that's a difficult question, as I can find various literature that most Americans would find not only inelegant, but actually quite annoying while the given culture (I'm thinking of the Hmong kwv txhiaj) views it as immensely beautiful. Elegance is too much of a cultural construct for it to enter too heavily into discussions on BOM veracity.

Also, you state that the writing process was easy cut and paste from Isaiah. Joseph never had a manuscript to work from, according to witness testimony.

4) On the simplicity of the language, I actually have no problem accepting that Joseph was, in some regards, mimicking the lanugage of KJV. That's the only way to explain certain similarities in phrasing. However, there is a difference between the production layer of a translation and the meaning itself. Mimick as you will, Joseph, as long you stick to tone and style, not content (and when he does try content, it's cited properly). If it's a proper rendering of the text (which we cannot fully discern through empirical evidence), that's what matters. Point here is that the mere mimickry of the KJV does not plagirism (sp?) make.

I think that these repeated phrases have little to do with the antiquity of the work. They DO have to do with its internal consistency. A frontier yarn of that length, i continue to maintain, would acquire anomalies in speech, as no individual's mental grammar is so perfect (let alone Joseph's) that it is perfectly consistent all the time every time.

Yes, I do believe the BOM, and I think that Skousen's work has some (if limited) relavance to it. Read more, consider more evidence. More importantly, see what the BOM has to offer you personally. Even if you don't accept it as "the word of God," it might be able to do some good anyhow.

davidmazel said...

Not to worry, Walker--I do intend to read more. I'm not interested, however, in what the Book of Mormon has to offer me personally, which is not much, I'm afraid--more than Mary Baker Eddy's work, certainly, or the writings of Ellen White, but less than the Bible or, for that matter, Moby Dick. (Just being honest.) Nor am I really interested in the question of the book's authenticity, being already convinced by the overwhelming evidence that it is a 19th-century work. What I AM interested in are questions like Joseph Smith's influences, how his writing and theology fit into their 19th-century American cultural context, and so on.

aaron said...

Overall, I thought the article was thought-provoking. However, since the Book of Mormon is alleged to be a compilation of books and writings spanning several centuries, WRITTEN BY SEVERAL AUTHORS, couldn't parallel phraseology hint at a COMMON author of a book written during a short time period? And, I realize that there are idioms within languages that are common within those languages, but the English of 400 years ago is vastly different than the English in the subsequent centuries.

Walker said...

Possibly.

On the other hand (and this is my view), I would think that it would tend towards a common translator rather than author, esp. an untrained one, which is what Joseph would have been. It makes perfect sense that Joseph's lack of vocabulary would have limited the verbosity of the translation.