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

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Another Very Iffy Book of Mormon Cover-Up

Digging around some very old Mormon writings, I found one smoking-gun document by that Mormon maverick, Dr. Daniel C. Peterson, buried (the document, not Daniel) deep within the digital chaos of a BYU Website, no less. It provides clearcut evidence for a cover-up involving the Book of Mormon. In case something should happen to that document or the URL after this post, I'll cite the relevant part right here. I'll be blunt: Dr. Peterson provides evidence of deliberate changes to the Book of Mormon text in the name of "improving grammar," admitting that the changes are actually covering up some pretty obvious Semitic origins. Hmmm, doesn't that raise a few questions? Here's the excerpt, with my emphasis added:
[S]ome Hebrew constructions that appeared in the first (1830) edition of the Book of Mormon have been erased from later printings, in a bid to make the book read more smoothly as English. One striking example of this involves a series of conditional sentences in Helaman 12:13–21. Such sentences, in English, typically feature an if-clause (either using the word if itself, or something equivalent), which expresses a hypothetical condition, and a result clause that describes what will occur if the hypothetical condition comes about. For example, "If you don't study, you will fail." The result clause may contain a word such as then, but commonly does not. By contrast, the result clause of a conditional sentence in ancient Hebrew can be introduced by the word wa (and), so that the sentence takes what might be termed an if-and form. The occurrence of if-and conditionals in the 1830 Book of Mormon seems to indicate that it did not originate in the mind of a native English-speaker, but is a quite literal translation from a Hebrew original:

13. yea and if he saith unto the earth move and it is moved

14. yea if he say unto the earth thou shalt go back that it lengthen out the day for many hours and it is done.

16. and behold also if he saith unto the waters of the great deep be thou dried up and it is done.

17. behold if he saith unto this mountain be thou raised up and come over and fall upon that city that it be buried up and behold it is done.

19. and if the Lord shall say be thou accursed that no man shall find thee from this time henceforth and forever and behold no man getteth it henceforth and forever.

20. and behold if the Lord shall say unto a man because of thine iniquities thou shalt be accursed forever and it shall be done.

21. and if the Lord shall say because of thine iniquities thou shalt be cut off from my presence and he will cause that it shall be so. (Helaman 12:13–14, 16–17, 19–21, 1830 edition)

4. and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart with real intent having faith in Christ and he will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost. (Moroni 10:4, 1830 edition)

It is difficult to imagine a native speaker of English (such as Joseph Smith, though poorly educated at the time, indisputably was) producing such sentences. Yet they represent perfectly acceptable Hebrew.
Difficult indeed! So, this compelling evidence of Hebraic origins has been carefully covered up in modern printings to make the grammar more acceptable! (Fortunately, some of the other tell-tale Semitic evidence has been allowed to stay.) What are they trying to hide? Well, stew upon that for a while, dear Mormons.

I haven't even brought up the part about the change to cover up Moroni waving the "rent" of his garment in the air, as Hebrews were wont to do (i.e., it's a logical expression in Hebrew, awkward in English), so it had to be covered up for the sensitivities of modern English readers with an emendation to the text. Now Moroni waves the "rent part" of his garment. All in the name of grammar!


Tom Rod said...

I lost you in the last paragraph. Clarification of point? Pro or con? Too hard to tell if this is satirical or straightforward.

Mormanity said...

I just tweaked it to be more clear, I hope.

Ardis Parshall said...

This expose needs to be posted on MormonCult.org, if it isn't already there. How else will the world ever learn The Truth?

Joyce Ellen Davis said...

Don't you just love Dr. Peterson?

Anonymous said...

I don't understand. Will somebody please explain. I am not LDS, not an "anti", just interested in what Jeff has to say.

Tracy Keeney said...

VERY interesting Jeff!!
Anonymous-- apparently, Dr. Peterson is saying that the grammatical changes that were made to the Book of Mormon, may have actually had the accidental affect of "covering up" a writing style that could be further plausible evidence that the Book of Mormon is an authentic book of ancient Hebrew origin, rather than something that Joseph Smith just made up. So in an attempt to make the English translation more clear to US, possible proof of the book's authenticity was "removed".

geoff said...

"I don't understand. Will somebody please explain. I am not LDS, not an "anti", just interested in what Jeff has to say."

It's too bad people have to state that when they have an honest question...

Anonymous said...

I got it. I feel kind of smug that I did :)

If you are having to lighten up the Hebraisms for the sake of modern acceptance of the form and function of the text, then this may be a clear indication that the Book of Mormon is far more complex than I thought and that it has origins apart from a young Joseph Smith. And I'm a Protestant coming from a Baptist background. I get it!

Thanks for the article.

erelis said...

It's too bad people have to state that when they have an honest question...

Blame the trolls and the anonymity of the internet, not the people interested in exchanging views.

Mormanity said...

Hey, Anon, thanks very much for dropping in. Sorry I didn't make it more clear - sometimes my warped attempts at humor leave people wondering what on earth I was trying to say. But 90% of my posts are less tongue-in-cheek.

In this case, there is a very seious point behind the satire. Critics have been charging that the Book of Mormon is bogus because of all the alleged changes made in it over the years. But these changes are generally correcting printer's errors, obvious typos, and awkward grammar, much of which is due to the heavily Semitic influence in the translation. The content and teachings have not been changed. The changes are the minor kind of editorial corrections we see in abundance in the King James Bible (since 1611), for example. For some further info, see the LDSFAQ article on changes in the Book of Mormon.

The issue of Hebraic influences in the Book of Mormon is one of the most impressive evidences for authenticity. From authentic ancient Hebrew names like Alma to complex Semitic poetical structures like chiasmus, the imprint of its Hebraic origins are clearly evident on the text - in light of modern scholarship, not in light of what Joseph Smith could have known or what scholars accessible to him knew in his day.

None of the evidences for the Book of Mormon are meant as proof, but as providing a tentative foundation of plausibility to allow the honest inquirer after truth to move forward in investigating. Faith is still the key to understanding the message of the text and determining (prayerfully, after study and pondering) through the power of the Spirit of God and revelation from God if it truly is scripture like the Bible. To those who have developed an appreciation for the power of its message, the evidences became interesting tools to strengthen our appreciation of the text, but are not meant to convert at an intellectual level. Some demand compelling validated scientific evidence before they will believe - sort of like "show me a miracle and then I'll believe in Jesus." Not the way of the Lord, of course.

Well, enough preaching from me. Best of luck in your preaching and your journey of faith. Care to tell us a little more about your ministry, etc.? Just curious.

Allen said...

"So in an attempt to make the English translation more clear to US, possible proof of the book's authenticity was "removed"."

We all need to keep in mind that BoM text having Hebrew characteristics doesn't prove anything about the book's authenticity. That text only shows that the person(s) who wrote the text had some understanding of Hebrew literature. The identity of the author(s) of the BoM is not affected by such text.

Anonymous said...

Thank you to those of you who explained this blog to me. I usually understand Jeff's approach to humor, and just knew the reason I couldn't understand is that I wasn't "schooled" in the LDS religion (or "anti" antics) to thoroughly get this.

Now that I see a bit more clearly, I have to say that, Jeff, you've had funnier moments : ) IMO.

As for my faith, I'm not a member of any religion. Baptised in the Lutheran church as a baby, but gworing up, we didn't attend church very often. Now I enjoy reading about various faiths. I'll call myself an agnostic if I must come up with an identification.

Now, I'm wondering about your blog. I understand "they" changed the wording of Helaman so people could better understand the meaning. But that the original words show Hebraic origins.

But, aren't these original words, or their usage, used in the bible? Couldn't they just be a repeated style of writing as seen in the Bible?

Just my humble take on it.

Greg said...

This deserves more attention, especially from non-Mormon studies. Very interesting.

Mormanity said...

Anon @ 2:02 asks a fair question: But, aren't these original words, or their usage, used in the bible? Couldn't they just be a repeated style of writing as seen in the Bible?

Such constructions are in the Hebrew text, but can you show me the "if-and" construction in English? Bonus points if you can!

Footnote 36 to Peterson's article offers this information: See, for instance, the original Hebrew of Genesis 18:26; 24:8, 41; 28:20–21; 31:8 (twice); 34:17 (twice); 44:26; 47:6. The if-and conditional construction is invisible in the King James Version of the English Bible—the version with which Joseph Smith would have been familiar—just as it is in all other translations that I have checked. In current editions of the Book of Mormon, it has been anglicized. See Daniel C. Peterson, "Not Joseph's, and Not Modern," in Echoes and Evidences, 212–14.

But don't take Dr. Peterson's word for it. Dig into the KJV or other English translations yourself and see if you can find this.

Unlike this if-and construction, there are many subtle Hebraic patterns in the Book of Mormon that can also be found in the Bible, if you have access to scholarly insights to point them out. In many of these cases, simple copying of Bible language and styles by Joseph Smith as a "brilliant Bible sponge" probably cannot account for their presence in the Book of Mormon. Chiasmus, for example, is hard to detect in the Bible - often obscured by translation and the printed layout, and is something that can be missed in spite of a lifetime of study. Most people today still haven't heard of chiasmus. It's there in the Bible and can be noticed once scholars point it out, but there was nothing we know of in Joseph Smith's environment that would have given him the knowledge and tools to recognized and duplicate this form of poetry - much less to generate the masterpiece of chiasmus we see in Alma 36, for example.

So dig into the KJV or other texts and let's see where Joseph could have gotten the inspiration for the "if-and" constructions in the 1830 Book of Mormon.

And if he were crafting them to provide evidence of Hebraic origins, why did he and his peers remove them in later printings? Much more plausible: Joseph and the other early leaders of the Church didn't know anything about that construction, and saw it as just awkward grammar in need of an editorial fix. So where did it come from? My belief - and this takes faith, to be sure - is that it came from the Hebraic influence in the original Book of Mormon as written on the gold plates that Joseph translated through the power of God.

Mormanity said...

Oops - I'm not sure when the Hebraic "if-and" construction was Anglicized out of the Book of Mormon. Did that happen in Joseph's day or much later? Since I'm not sure, it's wrong of me to suggest that it was removed by "Joseph and his peers." Anyone have tools to check that for me?

Lars said...

It looks like the if-and construction was indeed removed at least by the 1840 edition. Some nice person put up some facsimiles at http://bookofmormononline.net/blog/historical-book-of-mormon-facsimiles/, you can find the Helaman verses on p. 441 but be forewarned, it takes a long time to download the images.

(Note, apparently the link that claims to be the 1837 edition actually brings up an 1888 edition, so I couldn't narrow it down further with that resource. Still it's pretty cool.)

To be fair, though, it does appear that Joseph Smith did adopt some Hebraisms for his writing style at some point in his life. That shouldn't be much of a shock, though, when you're that familiar with a book you tend to pick up some of its styles over time.

Andrew I. Miller said...

I'm pretty sure it was edited out in the 1837 version.

What is so interesting about the if-and construction is that it isn't found in English anywhere at anytime. It isn't good OR bad English. No one wrote or spoke that way. So, why would it show up repeatedly in a book composed by an American in the 1820's?

By the way, if-and doesn't show up in the KJV of the Bible or any other version. It's in the Hebrew, but not in the translation into English.

Another "lucky guess" by Joseph Smith.

Andrew I. Miller said...

PS Even if Joseph Smith somehow knew about the if-and hebrew construction and "wrote" it into the Book of Mormon on purpose, why would he remove it later as bad grammar?

Dan and Wendy said...

Great post Jeff.

I recently received an advance reader's copy of a book soo to be published called the Santa Letters. It is by an LDS author and there are parts in the book that have a definite LDS slant to them. Anyway, I loved the book and was curious what a non-LDS person would think of it, i.e. would they view it as LDS literature or simply a heart warming story with a religious undertone.

I gave it to my boss to read. She came back and said she liked the story but hated how many sentences started with the word, "And." She thought that it was bad grammer. I couldn't convince her otherwise. I found it interesting that I hadn't noticed how many sentences started that way.

My wife pointed out to me how many verses in the Book of Mormon start with the word, "And," i.e. "And it came to pass..."

Is starting a sentence with the word "And" a hebraism?

Alex Valencic said...

Dan and Wendy,

Just glancing through random portions of the Old Testament, you'll find that a great very many sentences start with "And..." Even in the New Testament you find these, but not nearly as often. As a definite non-Bible scholar, I couldn't tell you if this is because of Hebraisms being translated or not, but I do find it interesting that the grammatical structure of the Book of Mormon tends to be more in line with the Old Testament, then with the New Testament, which was translated from Greek.

Incidentally, I can't help but note that many people fault the LDS church for updating the grammar of the Book of Mormon, and yet there are myriad translations of the Bible that are "revised" editions that use modern English grammar!

Anonymous said...

Neither the original manuscript, nor the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon (the copy made to give to the printer) had any punctuation. There were no paragraphs. There were no sentences.
In English, meaning is conveyed not only by words but also by punctuation. However, no punctuation existed in ancient Hebrew and Greek writing, and words wer used where English grammer would prerer punctuation marks such as And. At times this means that a punctuation mark or paragraph break represents the meaning that could only be expressed in words in Hebrew or Greek.

Except for manuscripts of the Bible and Qumran literature, this aspect of Hebrew palaeography has been largely neglected in scholarship.
The oldest known document that uses punctuation is the Mesha Stele (9th century BC).
Punctuation developed dramatically when large numbers of copies of the Christian Bible started to be produced.
The epoch begins with Ezra, and extends to the close of the Talmud, c. 500 A.D. During this period not only were the form of writing and the text fixed, but also the pronunciation and division; in short, the major part of the present Masorah was collected in verbal form.

Tracy Keeney said...

Allen said:
"We all need to keep in mind that BoM text having Hebrew characteristics doesn't prove anything about the book's authenticity."

No one SAID it "proves" anything-- I said it's "possible proof", and "plausible evidence". It's just something else to consider.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading the BoM and have also noticed the plethora of instances in which sentences start with "And it came to pass". I know if I took this to a teacher it would be rejected as very bad form (and possibly bad grammar too).

Why does the BoM use so much of this "And it came to pass"?

By the way- genuine question there!

Bookslinger said...

Why does the Book of Mormon use "And it came to pass..." so often?

We'll have to ask Mormon when we see him. Otherwise, one can only guess.

In Spanish the phrase "and it came to pass" can be represented in two words: "y acontecio'".

As a previous commenter mentioned, if the language Mormon was using had Hebrew origins, ie, Hebrew written with a modified Egyptian alphabet, it _might_ be possible that those words were used to indicate the beginning of certain kinds of sentences.

Every dialect has colloquialisms and shortcuts, and things that can appear to be meaningless. It's like.... ya know.... I'm tellin' ya.... word up.... fo' sho'.... nuff said...uh-huh....

My favorite way to mentally translate "Behold, I say unto you..." is "Lookit! I'm tellin ya..."

Pops said...

FYI, there is a Mayan glyph "i ut" with the meaning "and it happened" or "and it came to pass".

Anonymous said...

This is off topic but does anyone know if the church's website has older general conference reports? I am looking for the 1966 general conference talk from Marion G. Romney where he compares and contracts socialism and the united order. I can find the talk in other non-official church websites, but was hoping to find it directly from lds.org.

Sorry to detract from the conversation.

Alex Valencic said...

Anon at 2:01,

lds.org only provides copies of general conference to 1971. However, I know that several meetinghouse libraries have copies of Conference Reports that may go back further.

Re: "And it came to pass" - as previously noted, this same phrase is found in the Old Testament all over the place. At least in the KJV.

jayleenb said...

Anon 8:30 - What's more important than why it says so many times 'it came to pass' is to realize that while Nephi and Mormon are recounting past events, they use that phrase, and once caught up in their narrative, they cease using that phrase. They both then speak in the current tense.

You might read it as 'And then...' or some such thing.

Jeff - Since I can't type much, maybe you could help explain the significance of Nephi and Mormon only using 'And it came to pass' while they are catching up the history and not when they're caught up.

Bryce said...

I'm surprised you can't see through this.

Smith put the Hebraisms in there on purpose - then he strategically had them removed in the name of "grammar" - all so that a hundred years later people could say, "Look, he didn't even know about them".

He was a sneaky little devil. :)

Anonymous said...

"Anon 8:30 - What's more important than why it says so many times 'it came to pass' is to realize that while Nephi and Mormon are recounting past events, they use that phrase, and once caught up in their narrative, they cease using that phrase. They both then speak in the current tense. "

Do you know- when reading 1 Nephi today I realised that myself! It's a strange thing that the BoM seems more pronounced in its variation of style of writing than the Bible.

Anyway- thanks for the replies. I will continue pondering :)

Russtafarian said...

Anon, 2:01...

I have the full text of that conference talk. Drop me an email and I will send it your way.

Email: jonathanwindsor@gmail.com

Tony said...

Very interesting, Jeff! Again, always a wealth of knowledge on this blog.

Casey said...

I'm just wondering if the Church would consider adding the original errors back into our modern Book of Mormon? I just think it would say a lot to those who accuse us of making changes to the book. It was written correctly the first time!

Also can someone recommend a book that displays the modern Book of Mormon text along side the Original Manuscript/Printer's Manuscript?

kannie said...

FWIW re: the "and it came to pass" tangent - just from my rusty Hebrew, the word is a single one: "way-y'hi" (in probably a very laughable anglicization, pronounced "why-yuh-HEE" in ancient Hebrew). Literally, "and it happened/was," as my teacher explained. And yep, often used to move the reader along... like the "and then."

Also, the "and" word (wah/vah) in Hebrew is kind of an all-purpose conjunction - it's closest to our "and," but also can be almost like a semicolon, in effect ... if that makes sense. Just a connection. [Again, BIG disclaimer: my Hebrew is limited and very rusty.]

Bookslinger said...


Do a search of Amazon and Google, and other online booksellers (Abes, Libris, whatever).

You can easily find replicas of the 1830 edition of the BoM.

There is also a modern "Reader's Version" of the BoM at Amazon, which uses the 1830 edition as the "base".

Kevin said...

Here is another article about this same topic. I saw it today while browsing the Maxwell Institiute Website.


This one by Royal Skousen

DJB said...

Interesting, possibly related topic- the Anthon transcript. Did you know that among the symbols on that transcript, the most simple symbol (looks like a simple dot) occurs with the same frequency as the phrase "and it came to pass" in the BOM.

Also, if you look at the sequence of symbols in that transcript independent of the way they are arranged in the paragraph form in the transcipt, you can see very clear chiastic structures.

And guess what symbol appears at the beginning of these chiastic structures- you got it- the simple dot symbol. Could that symbol represent the English phrase "and it came to pass?"