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

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Its … It's So Easy to Overlook--Another Test Related to Language in the Original Book of Mormon

In my previous post, I looked at the use of the word be in the earliest text of the Book of Mormon in a test to look for unique elements of New England dialect that might account for some of the non-KJV grammar that is non-standard today. My findings appears to be consistent with the views of Carmack and Skousen regarding Early Modern English (EModE) influence in the text, and showed no readily discernible signs of post-EModE New England dialect in the usage of be. However, in exploring this topic, I ran into an interesting issue that offers another possible test to identify early vs. late English influences. The results may pose a challenge to models of Book of Mormon translation based on EModE as the dominant or sole influence (though I don't think anyone is arguing that it's the sole influence).

In "Grammar in Early Modern English" by Edmund Weiner, deputy chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, I read that the word its, the ubiquitous English third-person possessive of the pronoun it, is a relatively recent innovation that first appeared in print in 1590 and then rapidly took off. Before that precious invention came along, people would use other terms like thereof or his. While Carmack has pointed out that the text is not monolithic and not strictly confined to any one period in time, still, if the Book of Mormon text is primarily influenced by EModE from before the KJV era, then we might expect its to be less common in the BOM than in the KJV. However, the opposite is found. The word its occurs over 40 times in the Earliest Text, but only once in the KJV (Lev. 25:5).

The problem was ameliorated by looking in the OED itself (see OED Online entry on Its) and seeing that its is actually attested even earlier than 1590: 1577 R. Robinson Certain Select Hist. Christian Recreations sig. B.vii, There stands a bedde, its death to tell.

1598 J. Florio Worlde of Wordes Spontaneamente, willingly,..of himselfe, of his free will, for its owne sake [1611 of free will or of it's owne sake].

1599 Shakespeare Romeo & Juliet ii. v. 12 The sweetest honey Is loathsome in its owne deliciousnesse.

1603 J. Florio in tr. Montaigne Ess. i. Ep. Ded. sig. A3v, My weaknesse you might bidde doe it's best.
Finding its in print in 1577 gives us more leeway for its use as a legitimate pre-KJV EModE word. Note also that the Book of Mormon still uses thereof much more than its, about four times as often. I suspect that this ratio may be uncharacteristically low for EModE and may represent the intrusion of more modern English into the translation process. Carmack does not argue that the BOM is pure EModE, but argues that it is a complex, non-monolithic mix with a little modern English and a good deal of Early Modern English (see Stanford Carmack, "Why the Oxford English Dictionary (and not Webster’s 1828)," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 15 (2015): 65-77).

The paucity of its in the KJV is surprising to me. Of course, one could ask why, if the Book of Mormon is based on slavishly imitating KJV language, does it use its at all? But of course, careful analysis of the text has already shown it often departs strongly from the KJV language in many ways. While those departures often include authentic Early Modern English, there are elements of modern English and even a touch of Middle English, as Carmack demonstrates. It is not a simple, monolithic text. As for the word its, its presence could theoretically be consistent with the EModE era but could also be an intrusion of modern English in the text.

Personally, I can accept the idea that there was a base translation of some kind that could be accessed by Joseph Smith in preparing the translation. But since he was obviously willing to make corrections to the dictated text, I suppose he could have used some of his own phrasing at times in the dictation as well. To me, it's impossible to remove human influence in this effort. We see the human influence in the original manuscript, the printer's manuscript, the printed text, and the many revisions to the text that we have today. Why assume the human influence wasn't there as the text was being dictated, even though there was a divine engine driving the whole project? We really don't know how the translation process worked, and need to be open to many difference possibilities as we dig more deeply into the language and other evidences that help highlight the complex origins of a fascinating and divine text that, like all scripture, has gone through many human hands (and lips).

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Update on Early Modern English in the Book of Mormon: One Potential Test to Identify the Possible Influence of New England Dialect on the Dictated Text

Executive Summary:

I remain impressed with the detailed, data-rich work of Carmack and Skousen regarding Early Modern English (EModE) influence in the original text of the Book of Mormon. However, I've wondered if English dialects that Joseph knew and spoke could account for a significant portion of the observed EModE elements in the BOM. In exploring this issue, I have found a study on the use of the verb "be" in New England dialect showing characteristic non-standard forms that evolved after the EModE among immigrants in the United States. The article is "Invariant Be In New England Folk Speech: Colonial And Postcolonial Evidence" by Adrian Pablé and Radosław Dylewski, American Speech, Vol. 82, No. 2 (2007)151-184 (a full text PDF is available). This suggested a test to consider: Does the original text of the BOM use New England-style patterns of the verb be that distinguishes it from EModE, or are the patterns consistent with Carmack and Skousen's work?

Given that Joseph Smith lived in New England (Vermont) until age 8 and was raised by New England parents from Vermont and New Hampshire, a fair assumption about his personal dialect is that it was strongly influenced by New England dialects.

My analysis is not yet complete, and I would appreciate input from competent linguists (including Stanford Carmack if time permits!), but so far, after examining every occurrence of be in the Book of Mormon and looking for usages relevant to Pablé and Dylewski's study, the relevant instances of invariant be appear to be consistent with EModE and do not point to uniquely New England influence.

Note: To best understand the Book of Mormon text as dictated by Joseph Smith, it is vital to use Royal Skousen's The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text(New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), hereafter The Earliest Text.


Much of the non-standard, awkward grammar in the Book of Mormon as dictated by Joseph turns out to be characteristic of Early Modern English (EModE) several decades before the King James Bible was written. This puzzling discovery was first made by Dr. Royal Skousen, the man whose lifetime of work in pursuing the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project has resulted in the Earliest Text of the Book of Mormon, giving us the arguably best available estimate of what Joseph dictated to his scribes.

EModE can be said to begin around 1470 and to extend to perhaps 1670 or so. The KJV, first published in 1611, fits squarely in this period, yet has some distinct differences from the EModE of earlier decades. Finding EModE elements that pre-date KJV English or that do not occur in the KJV was not driven by an apologetic agenda, but was a completely counterintuitive and controversial find that was simply driven by the data. Apologetic arguments have evolved, but the case for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon in no way depends upon them. If the language of the Book of Mormon as dictated by Joseph Smith was standard Yankee dialect or just Joseph's own bad grammar, as many of us have long assumed, that fits the idea of revelation being given to people in their own tongue and language. It's quite a paradigm shift to consider that the language Joseph was dictating might not just be his own language loosely draped in KJV verbiage but often reflected some kind of tight linguistic control to yield archaic scriptural language that was surprisingly standard or acceptable in an era slightly before the KJV was translated. Why and how is still a matter for speculation and debate. But the data is there and demands to be considered, explored, and tested.

One man taking up that challenge is a linguist, Dr. Stanford Carmack, who has further explored the strange occurrence of archaic EModE from several angles in great detail. Carmack more fully demonstrates that the Book of Mormon provides extensive and accurate EModE usage and grammar in ways that cannot be explained by copying the KJV. Such laughable blunders as “in them days,” “I had smote,” and “they was yet wroth” turn out to be consistent with EModE patterns. The analysis shows that much of what we thought was bad grammar is quite acceptable EMoDE, sometimes showing a sophisticated mastery of EModE.

The findings are puzzling indeed, but his work is rich with facts and data that again demand attention. The four articles Dr. Carmack has contributed to the Mormon Interpreter are worthy of note. I am especially impressed with the broad information and analysis presented in his "A Look at Some 'Nonstandard' Book of Mormon Grammar," which I just re-read today after doing a two-hour seminar in Shanghai last week on the topic of the subjunctive mood in English grammar (the crazy things I get involved with here!). Digging into some of the mysteries of the English subjunctive prepared me to much better appreciate some of the powerful points Carmack makes in that work. His analysis deserves much more attention and contemplation.

Royal Skousen and Carmack Stanford feel strongly that the abundance of EModE elements in the BOM is evidence of divine tight control in text somehow given to Joseph Smith to dictate, and that it is perhaps a fingerprint of divine origins in the text. However, some skeptics have wondered if it can be explained by residual EModE influence in Joseph's dialect of English. Some of the "hick language" found in regional dialects preserves elements of English that have long since become obsolete in modern English, so such a thing could be possible to some degree.

I think Carmack and Skousen would argue that the level of EModE is so strong and often so appropriate to the 1500s that it would be hard for so many elements to survive in the United States. But I feel we need more work to analyze regional dialects that could have influenced Joseph Smith to see if the strange characteristics of the language in the earliest text could be explained as a natural result of Joseph naturally expressing revealed concepts in his own language.

A natural language hypothesis can be consistent with either a fabricated text or a divinely transmitted text based on real ancient writings on golden plates. Indeed, a translation process using Joseph's own language and dialect, complete with bad grammar and other linguistic warts, is what some faithful LDS thinkers have long assumed. But Carmack and Skousen offer a surprisingly different explanation for the flaws in the original text: not bad grammar, but a divinely transmitted English text with heavy dose of reasonably good Early Modern English provided with the consistency, subtlety, variety, sophistication, and naturalness of an native EModE speaker, making the linguistic fingerprint of the Book of Mormon impossible to explain as a derivative of the KJV, though it also draws heavily upon that text. If BOM language is not simply the language of the KJV, could it be in part the language of Joseph's local dialect, or is something more miraculous required?

There She Be: One Possible Test for New England Dialect

To explore the hypothesis that Joseph's own regional dialect simply preserved EModE elements in ways that can account for all or much of the original text of the BOM, some additional tests are needed. While the Book of Mormon was dictated in upstate New York, it's reasonable to assume that New England dialect may have been a strong influence in Joseph's language. He was born in Vermont and lived there until age 8, and continued to be raised by his thoroughly New Englander parents, with a father from New Hampshire and a mother from Vermont.

In searching for information on New England dialect, I found an interesting study that may be useful in framing a test that can differentiate the influence of New England dialect from EModE on some non-standard elements in the original text of the Book of Mormon. The reference is Adrian Pablé and Radosław Dylewski, "Invariant Be In New England Folk Speech: Colonial And Postcolonial Evidence," American Speech, Vol. 82, No. 2 (2007)151-184 (a full text PDF is available).

Pablé and Dylewski explore a widely recognized feature of New England dialect, the tendency to use the finite "be" in indicative cases that would normally require conjugated forms like "is" or "are" in standard modern English. For the third person plural, both New England dialect and EModE sometimes use finite be, as in "they be there." But a distinguishing feature is the use of invariant befor the third person singular indicative, as in "he be here", a pattern which is well known in New England dialect but not characteristic of EModE. New England dialect also shows first and second person singular invariant be in indicative cases, beginning apparently early in the eighteenth century and unattested in the seventeen century, apparently sprouting up in the United States, diverging from Early Modern English and the English of England:

Based on the evidence at our disposal, we feel justified to claim that by the late seventeenth century, be in colonial varieties of English was diffusing to grammatical contexts typical of postcolonial New England folk speech, but atypical of Early Modern British English, namely to the first- and second-person singular context. It may well be that the questions just cited constitute the earliest “American” attestations of nonsubjunctive be with the singular. The historical dictionaries of American English offer no analogous attestations of be dating back to the seventeenth century. The earliest reference work featuring singular indicative be in a declarative clause is the Dictionary of American English on Historical Principles (1938–44), which quotes from Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana, published in 1702: “I been’t afraid! I thank God I been’t afraid!”

Interestingly, the New Englanders using be as a singular indicative form (i.e., Ann Carr-Putnam, the magistrates John Hathorne/Jonathan Corwin, Cotton Mather) were all American-born, which underpins the “domestic origin” hypothesis of singular indicative be.

Postcolonial and Early-twentieth-century New England. While invariant be in colonial American English has not yet been studied in any systematic way, grammarians and dialectologists devoted some attention to it once it had become recurrent in the speech of the “common people” living in a particular area. In fact, a social and regional connotation inherent in be was noticed by contemporary observers already at the end of the eighteenth century—in Noah Webster’s (1789) Dissertations on the English Language, he included be as a typical feature of “the common discourse of the New England yeomanry”: “The verb be, in the indicative, present tense, which Lowth observes is almost obsolete in England, is still used after the ancient manner, I be, we be, you be, they be” (385).

Grammarians writing in the first decades of the nineteenth century also commented on the regional concentration of invariant be usage. Thus, John Pickering wrote in his 1816 Vocabulary that finite be “was formerly much used in New England instead of am and are, in phrases of this kind: Be you ready? Be you going? I be, &c” (46). In his English Grammar, Samuel Kirkham (1834, 206), in a chapter dedicated to “provincialisms,” cited two examples of be supposedly typical of “New England or New York,” with be appearing in independent direct statements (“I be goin”; “the keows be gone”); Kirkham also adduced examples of be as a main verb in direct questions and short answers—as Pickering had done (“Be you from Berkshire?” “I be”)—and cited the negative form (“You bain’t from the Jarseys, be ye?”). In Kirkham’s opinion, the latter three cases represented only “New England” usage.
(pp. 167-168)

The authors also observe that New England dialect tends to rarely use invariant be with the third person plural, though this was part of EModE and surely was part of the early colonists' dialect. For example,
The collocation there be/they be for ‘there/they is/are’ was not recorded as occurring in the speech of any LANE informants [LANE is the Linguistic Atlas of New England]. Notably, map 678 of the Atlas investigates the existential clause on the basis of the construction There are a lot of people who think so. As it turns out, Type I informants [less educated descendants of old local families, whose speech might best preserve old forms from New England’s preindustrial era] were reported to have said They’s many folks think(s) so and There’s many folks think(s) so, not They/there be many folks . . . , probably because contraction between the existential and the copula is always possible (i.e., grammatical), irrespective of whether the context is singular or plural (i.e., they’s, they’re, and there’s). Thus, plural existentials in postcolonial nonstandard varieties of English no longer find themselves in syntactically “strong” contexts. (p. 170)

On the whole, however, be in postcolonial New England folk speech does not seem to have been a form associated with the “old” subjunctive of Early Modern English but was primarily an indicative form (i.e., occurring respectively in direct questions and sentence-finally). (p. 172)

In discussing negative forms of be, the authors note the prominence of ain't as a feature of New England dialect (less commonly, hain't was also used; see p. 171). In the first half of the nineteenth century (Joseph's era), two other negative forms were also common in New England dialect: ben't and bain't, contractions of be not (p. 171). None of these negative forms are found in the Book of Mormon. None of these negative forms occur in Early Modern English (p. 173).

Based on my understanding of this study, a characteristic trait of New England dialect was the development of invariant be usage beyond the third person plural known in EModE. Finding it in other cases in the dictated text of the Book of Mormon would be one way to differentiate New England dialect from EModE.

Some of those forms began to appear humorous or dated even to New Englanders by the 1930s when the Linguistic Atlas of New England was compiled, as Pablé and Dylewski report:
Atwood (1953, 27) confirms that informants using be as part of their sociolect in LANE belonged exclusively to the “Type I” category, that is, those born in the mid-nineteenth century, which suggests that be had become a relic form, no longer actively used by informants born in the first decades of the twentieth century. In fact, some field-workers of LANE noticed that the expressions How be ye? and . . . than I be were associated with “humorous usage” by younger speakers, which seems to indicate that such phrases were sociolinguistically marked in the 1930s and may have served for stereotyping.
There is no shortage of humorous grammar, at least for modern ears, in the earliest text of the Book of Mormon, much of which has been cleaned up and standardized. Funny-sounding first- and second-person forms of invariant be might just the thing to look for.

I have not found any such forms in the Earliest Text, apart from acceptable subjunctive phrases that are appropriate in EModE and somewhat less often in modern English (e.g., the subjunctive phrase "if it so be" which abound in the Book of Mormon is relatively obsolete today but well attested in EModE). The lack of first- and second-person indicative forms of invariant be is interesting and to some degree weighs against New England dialect as the source of Book of Mormon grammar , but that is not the end of the story.

Though rare, LANE does offer third-person singular examples of invariant be, including "How be it?" "How be it" does occur in the Original Text of the Book of Mormon, which I'll discuss below. It's usage is subjunctive, not indicative, though I suggest it is not consistent with EModE usage of that term.

To explore the possible influence of New England dialect on invariant be in the Book of Mormon, we should also consider third-person singular cases.

Relevant BOM Cases of Invariant Be: It Begins with the Title Page

Using my Kindle version of the Earliest Text to search for "be" poses several problems. Searching for "be" also returns hits for "being," and searches text at the beginning and end of the book that is not part of scripture. Among the roughly 2800 hits for be/being in the Book of Mormon, I estimate that pure "be" occurs about 2500 times. Of those numerous instances, only a handful are noteworthy. If you have better search tools, I welcome your input.

The vast majority are the infinitive "to be" or "be" following a modal verb (can, could, will, shall, shalt, may, might, must and must needs, etc.). There are many subjunctive forms, especially "if it so be", a phrase not found in the KJV but characteristic of EModE, as Carmack has shown and as you may verify by exploring works of Caxton, for example. A few examples of subjunctive instances will be shown below.

Regarding potential uses invariant be that might reflect New England or other folks dialects, the relevant examples of invariant be to consider begin right on the title page.

Title Page: And now if there be fault, it be the mistake of men.

This sentence is one of the most interesting examples of invariant be in the Book of Mormon, and I wish to address it before looking at the remaining cases of note because it will assist in understanding additional cases.

The title page statement is similar to Mormon 8:17: "If there be faults, they be the faults of a man…" which has finite be in both clauses, but differs in using the plural faults and thus "they be" instead of "it be."

Is "it be" a case of third-person singular invariant be that might be due influence from New England dialect? I don't think so, because this sentence can readily be explained as a case of the subjunctive mood. What is interesting, though, is that the subjunctive mood persists in the second clause after being introduced in the first, when modern speakers might prefer the second clause to be in the indicative mood. Indeed, this sentence was awkward enough that Joseph Smith changed in the 1837 edition of the Book of Mormon to what we have today:

And now, if there are faults, they are the mistakes of men;…

Not only has the double subjunctive been dropped, the subjunctive mood has been completely removed (the related sentence in Moroni 8:17 has not been "fixed"). Further, the singular "fault" that seems odd to modern ears must have bothered Joseph's ear as well and has been replaced with the more standard "faults," a change we'll return to in a moment.

For the moment, I'll use the term "persistent subjunctive" mood or "double subjunctive" to describe a sentence that maintains the subjunctive mood introduced in an early clause. (I'm sure there is a better grammatical term --let me know, please!) This feature, interestingly, is attested in Early Modern English. For example, see William Caxton's printing of Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur (first printed in 1485). In Book 7, Chapter 31, we find:
When Sir Gareth saw that torch-light he cried on high: Whether thou be lord or lady, giant or champion, I take no force so that I may have harbour this night; and if it so be that I must needs fight, spare me not to-morn when I have rested me, for both I and mine horse be weary.
Here a subjunctive mood in "if it so be" seems to be maintained in "I and mine horse be weary." On the other hand, this could just be an old plural form of the verb and not a subjunctive, so a few further examples will be shown where I think the subjunctive is intended. First, though, note that the spelling has been modernized. The original spelling of this passage, for purposes of comparison, follows:
whan sir Gareth sawe that torche lyghte he cryed on hyhe whether thou be lord or lady gyaunt or champyon I take no force so that I may haue herberowe this nyghte / & yf hit so be that I must nedes fyghte / spare me not to morne when I haue restyd me for bothe I and myn hors ben wery
Other examples from Morte Darthur:
Sir knight, said the page, here be within this castle thirty ladies, and all they be widows, for here is a knight that waiteth daily upon this castle, and his name is the brown knight without pity, and he is the most perilous knight that now liveth. [Original spelling here]

And if so be that he be a wedded man, …

By my head, said Sir Gawaine, if it be so, that the good knight be so sore hurt, it is great damage and pity to all this land

Sir, said she, ye must make good cheer, and if ye be such a knight as it is said ye be, I shall tell you more to-morn by prime of the day. [This is also an example of mixing ye and you in the same sentence, as happens in the Book of Mormon.]

so be it that thou be not he I will lightly accord with thee,…
Here is an example from Chaucer's "The Tale of Melibius" (section 25, p. 213):
 And eek, if it so be that it be inpossible, or may nat goodly be parfourned or kept.
 Another comes from his "Complaint to My Lode-Sterre":
 Whether it be that I be nigh or ferre, ....
This "persistent subjunctive" sense continues to occur in the Book of Mormon, frequently in cases where today we might prefer to use indicative or a modal verb + be in the second phrase, or even lose the subjunctive mood entirely. Examples:

1 Nephi 19:6 - save it be that I think it be sacred

2 Nephi 2:13 - If ye shall say there is no sin, there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness, there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness, there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not, there is no God.

Note that this verse a sentence with double indicative, followed by two sentence with double subjunctive, and then concludes with a sentence having double indicative again: is + is, be + be, be + be, is + is. (Sort of a chiasmus.)

2 Nephi 5:32 - If my people be pleased with the things of God, they be pleased with mine engravings which are upon these plates.

That sounds awkward to modern ears. The text now has lost the subjunctive mood entirely: And if my people are pleased with the things of God they will be pleased with mine engravings which are upon these plates.

A Little Fault Finding

The awkward singular fault on the title page, now a comfortable plural, actually appears to be attested in early English, as one can find by searching EEBO (Early English Books Online) at http://quod.lib.umich.edu.

Some examples:
  1. … for the others if there be fault in them, let them be sent for, and punished.

Title: A breife narration of the possession, dispossession, and, repossession of William Sommers and of some proceedings against Mr Iohn Dorrell preacher, with aunsweres to such obiections as are made to prove the pretended counterfeiting of the said Sommers. Together with certaine depositions taken at Nottingham concerning the said matter. [LINK]
Publication Info: [Amsterdam? : S.n.], Anno M. D. XCVIII [1598]

  1. Concerning rites and ceremonies, there may be fault, either in the kinde, or in the number and multitude of them.

Title: Of the lavves of ecclesiasticall politie eight bookes. By Richard Hooker. [LINK]
Author: Hooker, Richard, 1553 or 4-1600.
Publication Info: Printed at London : By Iohn Windet, dwelling at the signe of the Crosse-keyes neare Paules wharffe, and are there to be solde, 1604.
The fourth Booke: Concerning their third assertion, that our forme of Church-politie is corrupted with popish orders, rites and ceremo∣nies, banished out of certaine reformed Churches, whose example therein we ought to haue followed.

Note that sometimes "fault" appears to mean "found" in early English documents, accounting for some of the strange cases you may encounter.

The relevant invariant be example on the title page of the Earliest Text sets the stage for what follows. Namely, every case of the "interesting" or "relevant" instances of invariant be (based on searching for "be" used with first, second, or third person cases) turn out to be reasonable subjunctive cases consistent with Early Modern English usage, including the use of the "persistent subjunctive" discussed above, along with specific phrases not found in the KJV but attested in EModE. If there is unique New England influence in Book of Mormon usage of invariant be, I've been unable to find any trace of it.

Further Relevant Examples of Invariant Be

As mentioned above, many cases of "be" involve an obvious subjunctive mood. Examples include:
  • 1 Nephi 15:33 - And if they be filthy, ….
  • 1 Nephi 17:46 - cause that rough places be made smooth
  • Numerous examples of the phrase "if it so be"
  • Many instances following save or lest, such as 1 Nephi 19:6 - save it be that I think it be sacred (mentioned above)
  • 1 Nephi 21:5 - though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord

"If it so be" occurs 42 times in the Earliest Text of the Book of Mormon, almost always as "if it so be that." This phrase is rather common in the Book of Mormon but completely absent from the KJV. Carmack's work highlights it as an interesting example of EModE influence in the Book of Mormon that cannot be explained by borrowing from the King James Bible. It's found in many classic sources of EModE, such as Canterbury Tales and in the writings of Thomas More. Though obsolete in modern English, did it survive to be common in Joseph Smith's dialect? It's a possibility, but I have not yet found clear evidence of that.

A Twist on If It So Be

After seeing "if it so be" so consistently and frequently in my search results related to be, I was genuinely surprised to stumble across an even more complex variation: If it should so be. This occurs in two places:

Enos 1:13 - that if it should so be that my people the Nephites should fall into transgression … (interestingly, followed by another if it so be that later in the verse).

3 Nephi 26:9 - and if it should so be that they shall believe these things….

This phrase is also found in EModE, such as in the 1562 work of John Jewel, The Apology of the Church of England, originally written in Latin and translated into English in 1564 by the mother of Francis Bacon:

For if it should so be, as they seek to have it, that Christ should be commanded to keep silence…

The phrase without "that" occurs in English much later, including in a 1732 sermon of Jonathan Edward, "Christian Charity," which uses "if it should so be" as an entire clause that ends a sentence, unlike Book of Mormon usage where it is followed by "that" plus another clause.

More relevant may be an 1824 legal trial in Rhode Island that discusses a will written in 1772 having the phrase: "but if it should so be that my son John Shrieve depart this life, leaving no male heir lawfully begotten…" This certainly raises the possibility that this phrase was known in New England near Joseph's day and could have seemed natural in formal writing.

Further Cases of Interest:

2 Nephi 10:4 - For should the mighty miracles be wrought among other nations, they would repent and know that he be their God.

"For should" acts as "if" and creates a subjunctive mood that persists with "they would … know that he be their God."

The next verse, 2 Nephi 10:5, contrasts the unrealized repentance with the future reality, noting that "they at Jerusalem will stiffen their necks against him, that he be crucified." Though not counterfactual, it is a future event where the indicative would not be as fitting. This is not an artifact of New England dialect.

"How be it," as previously mentioned, poses more of a challenge.

3 Nephi 23:11 - And Jesus said unto them: How be it that ye have not written this thing?

3 Nephi 27:8 - And how be it my church save it be called in my name?

"How be it" is an interrogatory phrase in the subjunctive mood expressing incredulity or alarm that is not found in the KJV. The phrase "how be it" is common in EModE, though often with a different meaning. That meaning seems to overlap the meaning of the combined word "howbeit" that appears to have evolved from "how be it." The combined form occurs 64 times in the KJV. One of these verses, Isaiah 11:7, is quoted almost verbatim in 2 Nephi 20:7, using howbeit.

"How be it" with the typical EModE meaning does occur in the Earliest Text in Ether 2:25, which is how the Printer's Manuscript showed it. But when it was typeset, it became "howbeit" in the 1830 Book of Mormon, and then was removed in the 1920 edition and is still gone in our recent editions.

The meaning in Ether 2:25 appears to be similar to "behold" or "verily":
And behold, I prepare you against these things; for how be it, ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea and the winds which have gone forth and the floods which shall come….
Note also the switch from you to ye in the same sentence, a characteristic often found in EModE, as Carmack has shown.

In William Caxton's writings and many other EModE sources, "how be it" abounds but not in the sense of "how can it be?" Rather, it seems to have a range of meanings such as nevertheless, in any case, even if, yet, etc. Examples:

Le Morte Darthur, Book 7, Chapter 23:
Notwithstanding I will assay him better, how be it I am most beholding to him of any earthly man, for he hath had great labour for my love, and passed many a dangerous passage.
Le Morte Darthur, Book 7, Chapter 7:
That may be, said the black knight, how be it as ye say that he be no man of worship,…

That last sentence may again illustrate the persistent subjunctive following its introduction via "how be it," though the subjunctive in the following clause seems fairly natural a quotation of that kind.

An early English use of "how be it that" that might express incredulity and concern is found in John Gough Nichols' Chronicle of the Rebellion in Lincolnshire, 1470. I may be wrong on this, for it seems that the usage here could more closely resemble something like "and it came to pass." The Chronicle opens with this:
First, how be it that our saide souveraigne lorde, as a prince enclined to shew his mercy and pite [pity] to his subgettes [subjects], raither then rigure and straitenesse of his lawes, pardonned of late to his saide rebelles all tresons and felones, trespasses and offences committed and doon by theym ayeinst [against] his highenese afore the fest of Cristenraes last past, trusting that therby he shuld have coraged, caused, and induced theym from that tyme furthe to have been of good, kynd, and lovyng demeaning [loving demeanor] ayeinst his highenesse ; yit [yet] they unnaturally and unkyndly, withoute cause or occacion yeven [given] to theym by our saide soveraigne lorde, falsly compassed, conspired, and ymagened [imagined, perhaps meaning plotted] the final destruccion of his most roiall personne, and of his true subgettes taking parte with him in assisting his highnesse, …
Is he saying, "How could it be that our prince, after forgiving rebellious subjects and showing them great kindness, was the subject of a conspiracy to overthrow him?" I'm not sure. Be that as it may, I still see the two instances of interrogatory "how be it" in the Book of Mormon as more modern English and not from EModE or even from the KJV.

A discussion of "howbeit" is included in a 1997 article by Rfal Molencki on the evolution of "albeit" and may be useful in considering this phrase.

Third-person plural invariant be does occur in the Book of Mormon, as it does in EModE and New England dialect. An example is Alma 7:7: "For behold, I say unto you, there be many things to come." The KJV also has this in Eccl. 6:11: "there be many things…"

I'll share further cases as I update this article.

For now, the case for New England influence in the use of "be" in the Book of Mormon is coming up negative. The negative "ain't" of New England dialect is also a negative for the Book of Mormon, in a positive way: it ain't there.

There's much more to say as I update this or add related material, but for now, in light of one proposed test based on the use of "be" in New England dialect and Early Modern English, the puzzling archaic English of the Book of Mormon as dictated by Joseph Smith is not handily explained an appeal to New England dialect nor by influence from the KJV Bible. There is more data to consider and many more tests to be conducted as we try to better understand Book of Mormon language and origins. I look forward to your thoughts and contributions!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Dark Matter and Joseph Smith's Statement on the Material Nature of Spirit

My latest post over at the Nauvoo Times (Orson Scott Card's LDS project with a good variety of writers) is "Mystery of the Hidden Cosmos: Something Big is Missing from Our Everything," wherein I use a recent cover story from Scientific American to speculate a bit. I've discussed dark matter and dark energy a couple of times here at Mormanity, but recent analysis of dark matter is making things even more interesting as the possibility of complex forms of dark matter become more plausible. Your feedback is welcome here or there.

Mysterious, invisible dark matter and dark energy both appear needed to explain the strange attributes of the cosmos. We know so little about the universe, but thanks to the steady progress of science, each big discovery seems to help us know even less. Or rather, to better appreciate how much we don't yet know. The cosmos is such a marvelous mystery, and so filled with evidence of miraculous intervention to make all this possible--but that's another story.

I really love Joseph Smith's statement in Doctrine & Covenants 131:7-8 about the materiality of spirit, insisting that it is actually a form of matter that is "finer" than the ordinary matter we know and invisible to us, but still real and physical. That seems at least compatible with the surprising finds of scientists in recent years poiting to the existence of much more "dark matter" than the ordinary matter we know. In fact, the ordinary matter (and energy) that we thought was pretty much all there was turns out to only account for about 4 or 5% of the universe. To me, that's stunning and even humbling.

By the way, I hope you're a regular reader at NauvooTimes.com, where many interesting topics are raised each week in areas such as history, movies, literature, and many aspects of LDS life.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

From Hope to Despair and Back Again: The Mysterious Power of Complaining

I have newfound respect for the marvelous power of complaining after an instructive experience in which I feel blessed and instructed by the hand of the Lord. Or call it dumb luck, if you will, for I was certainly lucky and somewhat stupid. I hope my experiences might help some of you in dealing with your frustrations, including those you may have with the Church or its leaders.

I've set a goal recently to not complain about my work situation. Honestly, I have a wonderful job with opportunities, fun, and visibility beyond anything I've experienced before. They treat me well and I have so much to be grateful for, including a spectacularly beautiful headquarters in one of Shanghai's nicest and most convenient locations (the Shanghai Arch in Hongqiao) where I have an office on the top (32nd) floor with a view of Shanghai that is so beautiful it is often distracting. And it's just a 16 minute walk or 8 minute bike-ride from home. What a dream! But as with almost all jobs in real life, and almost all mortal organizations, there are some frustrations.

Some of those issues arise from the large cultural differences between the West and the East. The way a large corporation works in Wisconsin, for example, can be radically different from the way an Asian company operates. Business in China can sometimes be remarkably efficient, rapid, and flexible, much more than what is normal in the West, but in some situations it's more complicated. Learning to deal with these differences can be tough for foreigners, myself included.

Recently, while dealing with a complicated, frustrating issue on Topic X, I had a surprise email from an acquaintance from France who happened to be an expert on Topic X. He was in town that day and wanted to know if he could come by and visit me at work to discuss his business and their services. I knew I wouldn't have time, but did want to see him, so after checking with my wife, asked if he would like to join us for dinner. He accepted, and we had a fun Thai meal (one of the numerous great places to eat at the Shanghai Arch).

As we were helping him find a taxi afterwards, Topic X came up, and having a sympathetic ear who would understand my frustrations, I stupidly abandoned my goal to shun complaining and shared my rather whiny story as I expressed multiple frustrations. As I did so, I increasingly dwelt on those frustrations and began to feel irritated and unhappy with my situation. I went from hope to anger. When I returned home, I dwelled on my complaints as I pondered my job and felt increasingly discouraged. In fact, I think I felt something approaching depression. I was surprised at how fatigued I felt, how sapped and unhappy, and how I didn't want to eat, drink, or do anything except just crawl into a cave. My body and psyche felt drained.

For those who struggle with real depression, I apologize for using that word to describe my simple, momentary state, and recognize that the burdens you face are much more real and consuming that my little trouble. At the same time, the way some have described their symptoms to me resonated with what I was feeling, as if I were having the tiniest taste of what many live with every day due to deep-rooted physiological and other factors beyond my comprehension, but which are as real as a broken leg is, not something to just be shaken off easily. I was truly surprised at just how bad and hopeless I felt for a while. But for me, it was something I would be able to shake off, unlike the real health problems many face.

I went to sleep with a prayer for help, still surprised and curious at how I felt both emotionally and physically. I think I was experiencing the magical power of complaining. This is dark magic with innumerable spells that anyone can utter, spells that can turn day into night, joy into sorrow, blessings into curses, and good food into bad.

I awoke that Saturday morning feeling a little better but still with a prayer in my heart for power to drop that shroud of darkness from soul that was still there. As I prayed, I remembered some of the last words my European friend had said before he got into the taxi. He mentioned the way his company handles one aspect of Topic X, and now I suddenly realized he had given me a key, a best practice I could explain to management that would give us a chance to revisit my main frustration on Topic X and find a better resolution. I came up with plan, made a call to my boss, and began a conversation that would result in a compromise approach that removed one of my major pain points and greatly improved the situation that had tempted me to complain so much.

The mysterious European who showed up out of the blue came at exactly the right time to help me in several ways. He had come on the very day that a new burden was given to me that could be painful and ugly. Through my interactions him, including my personal failure, I would better recognize the dangers of dwelling on my frustrations. I would better understand the potent power of complaining to change how I feel and how I see things. But he also helped me directly in one of the most important work-related matters of my four years here in China. Out of the blue, a blessing, tailored for my needs. Thanks to the information he gave me and the help of the Lord in seeing things from a different angle, I was able not only to go from despair to hope, but also to make a big improvement in a matter of great importance to me. And I learned to think twice before chanting any of the endless spells from the dark magic of complaining.

We all have plenty to complain about, whether it's our work, our spouse, our family, our church, our friends, or those around us. But beware how the act of complaining can reinforce our focus on the worst, while making the good things around us seem invisible or irrelevant. When it comes to the good that can be so easily shrouded, no cloak of invisibility is so broad and rapid as the magic of complaining.

There's a reason why the Lord says "in patience possess ye your souls" (Luke 21:19). Faith, hope, charity, and especially patience are the shields to complaining's potent power.

I think this is also why the Lord warns us against "speaking evil" of our Church leaders, even though we all know they are mortals capable of numerous human errors. There can be plenty to complain about in some cases, but we are asked to patiently support them and seek to help, not to mock or tear down with our complaints. To dwell on those errors and complain vocally about it can dramatically change how we see the Church and how we feel about it, obscuring the good and magnifying the flaws. Be patient and charitable in what you say to others. It can be a healthy way to handle our frustrations.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Hannah Ronning, Missionary to China

I recently discussed a book that continues to inspire me, China Mission: A Personal History from the Last Imperial Dynasty to the People's Republic (Louisiana State Univ. Press, 2013) that deals with the life and work of Reverend Halvor Ronning (1862-1950) and his family. I discussed some aspects of his life recently, and now wish to discuss his wife, Hannah Ronning, who is a great example of Christian love and of a Westerner falling in love with China.
She was born in 1871 as Hannah Rorem to Anna and Torgrim Rorem, immigrants from Norway who settled in the prairielands of Iowa. Hannah grew up as a restless soul who loved to ride horses and explore the outdoors. One night during a fierce Midwestern thunderstorm, she was exhilarated with the beauty of the raging lighting and went outside to see it more fully, standing beneath a large maple tree with her arms outspread as she soaked in the beauty and wonder. She nearly took in much more. Her brother Tom saw her and yelled to call her back to safety, but it was too late. An instant later a blast of lightning struck and a ball of fire came rolling right toward her. The next thing she knew she was rolling in the grass, covered with wet leaves but unharmed. She had been struck by lightning, it appeared, but had survived. Her father sobbed, the first time she had heard him cry.

As she came out of her daze, she felt regret for her irresponsible actions and felt a need to pray, asking God to forgive her and help her find herself. As she prayed out loud, she didn't realize her father had entered her room and was listening. She broke into tears. "Oh, Papa, I don't understand myself." He comforted her with these words: "It's all right, Hannah…. It's all right now." This sent a flood of comforting warmth into her soul.

A week later, her father would die from influenza. His last words to his wife, Anna, were these: "Do not worry, Anna. I have prayed to God that all my children will come to Jesus and be saved and He told me that my prayers would be answered … so you see it's all right …" With this loss, restless Hannah turned more fully to God. She gave herself to the Lord, not knowing how she could be useful to Him and where He might take her, but she was ready and willing to do His will. (p. 152)

Two months later, a handsome missionary came to town. Halvor Ronning and his sister Thea were preparing to go to China. Hannah felt her prayer was answered. She would go with them to China as Thea's companion, fall in love with Halvor, and in China become his companion and wife. It's not quite the way we do missions, but it worked for them.

God bless Hannah for going to China. There she would rescue girls from the tragedy of foot binding, where feet are deliberately broken and distorted to make feet appear dainty--supposedly essential for a woman to have any prospects in marriage in that era. She would be a pioneer in bringing education to women. She would rescue numerous abandoned female babies that otherwise would have been eaten by dogs. She started an orphanage, loved and taught, rescued and blessed, raised her own children, and sacrifice so much of her life to serve that God who she had given herself to. For this, for nine years of love and service, her life would be in danger as one of the foreign devils driven out by the secret society of the Boxers.

Though driven out of China, after a brief visit to Norway and then to her family in the US, she could could not stay in a setting of such comfort when there were so many suffering people in China who needed her love. China was in her blood and she yearned to return. They came back at the first opportunity, in 1901, right after the anti-foreigner violence died down. Their work prospered, and by 1903 they have 240 children in their school. What they founded then is now the largest high school in Hubei province with over 4,000 students and a museum named in honor of Reverent Ronning.

They had come at time of great change in China. Revolution was in the air and Dr. Sun Yat Sen and other leaders were inspiring many with a vision of a new China. They had also come just in time for a terrible famine in Hubei Province where they lived. This famine would take a great toll on Hannah, who was recovering from a serious illness she contracted on this second visit. With proper nutrition, her recovery might have been complete. Unfortunately, she grew weaker and died at the age of 36.

Famine is ugly. Few of us modern folks have any idea of how desperate human society can become when people are starving. Few of us are properly prepared for the hardships that can strike when there is famine in the land. Reading that the Ronnings experienced during a time of famine motivated me to beef up my food storage and better prepare for troubled times in the future. It was an ugly drought, not even recognized in the capital, with thousands of refugees from the hardest-hit areas crowding into Fancheng, the city where Hannah and Halvor had created a mission.

Anti-foreign sentiment readily returned as mystical rainmakers marched through the countryside proclaiming that rain would not come again until foreign blood was spilt.
Hannah and Halvor were sickened to think that after all the progress they had made, they would still be blamed for natural catastrophes. They were moved to almost unbearable fear and despair. The potatoes and tomatoes that Halvor brought from America thrived, but the missionaries had barely enough food to feed the mission workers and students. They began storing rice and river water in barrels. At the beginning of the drought, Halvor and Himle [a missionary doctor] had gone into the streets to distribute relief, they were mobbed and forced to run for their lives. It was not long before the refugees gathered in front of the mission. They huddled in dreadful, trembling hordes against the walls, banging on the gates with wooden bowls, begging for food. The missionaries knew they were endangering their own lives but felt they had no choice. They cooked some of their precious fruit and vegetables with rice and potatoes in large cauldrons and distributed what they could to the starving people. Hannah made sure that all the mission children had adequate food, but her own food turned to ashes in her mouth. Halvor appealed to the civil mandarin, who sent some rice, but there was never enough to ease the hunger.

One old man collapsed at the mission gate. Halvor and Himle carried him into the already-overflowing hospital. After he sipped some warm broth, incoherent words began to tumble out of him. Halvor later wrote:

His name is Lin. His eyes were wild and haunted and his body so emaciated that he could hardly walk. He was a farmer and the only survivor of a family of fourteen that had started from a town 100 miles north. He talked in a whisper because he had not the strength to speak louder: "They fell by the roadside until there was only five of us left. I could not bear to see my children suffer anymore, out of mercy I smothered three of them in the snow. Some others saw me and they dug them out and carried them away. My wife screamed because they knew they would eat them. I tried to drag them back but it was hopeless. When they were gone my wife made a hole in the ice and drowned the baby. Then she went in the water herself, begging me to cover the hole so no one would find them." When he finished the terrible story Hannah was in tears. I comforted Old Lin as best I could. He looked at me with half-crazed eyes, and said, "What kind of people are you that will weep for strangers?" I told him that we were children of God just like he was. He has since grown stronger and helps us in the vegetable garden. Food is the most urgent problem in China. Famines and floods have been the scourge of China for centuries. Cities crumble but somehow the people go on. Untold millions have died of starvation and no government has taken steps to prevent it. There must be a way even if it means revolution! (p. 189-190)
They would have some relief as a foreign gunboat brought food for the mission to distribute, but crowds rushed onto the dock and fought to take the supplies. Neighbor fought against neighbor, even mother against child, in the crazed struggle for food. Eventually rain came again and the famine ended.

Today famine is a distant memory in China, though many of the older generation have experienced it. When faced with famine, the norms of civilization can be shattered. Some have experience the horror of a community that begins turning to cannibalism to survive, though this is a topic we don't discuss. I pray that China will be spared from its long history of famines in the past. The prosperity it now enjoys is remarkable, and numerous measures have been taken by the government to reduce that risk. May that horror not return, but may each of us, in whatever land we are in, diligently prepare for the possibility of famine or even temporary disruptions to our food supply. It can happen in so many ways: wars, disease, earthquake, hurricane, a trucker strike, cyber attacks on the supply chain or other forms of economic chaos. The convenience of modern grocery stores stocked with food is the result of many cogs in complex economic machinery working in unison. When some vital part breaks down, the shelves can become empty overnight. Please be prepared. Don't let the years of comfort you may have experienced create the illusion that this will persist forever and that someone else will be there to take care of you if problems arise. Hunger is an ugly thing.

Though she survived the famine, Hannah became ill shortly after it ended, apparently due to inadequate nutrition. Her husband, Halvor, took her to a mountain retreat and she was on her way to recovery when news came that their son Chester was ill with diphtheria. Halvor wanted to keep her there longer but she insisted on returning immediately to care for her son. When she saw him struggling for breath, she had Doctor Himle perform an emergency tracheotomy.

Her son was still delirious with fever. The doctor said there was nothing more to be done, but she disagreed and with incredibly renewed energy spent the next ten days caring for him day and night, bringing him back to health. Chester Ronning would later become Canada's ambassador to China and would have close personal relationships with some key people in Chinese history. His mother had brought a dying son back to life, but at a terrible price. She had a relapse and on Feb. 9, 1907, died at the age of 36.

Alice Landahl, a missionary who married the Carl Landahl, the husband of Halvor's sister Thea before she died, wrote an article giving some details about Hannah's last words.
Just before she died, she spoke to us with a clear strong voice to tell us how God had revealed himself to her in such a merciful and wonderful way that she was fully resigned to his will, and all anxiety for herself and her own left her fully. I will never forget her last, touching words: "I am so glad you have all come," she told us with a weak smile. "I want to tell you what an unusual experience that God has given me. It is wonderful! There are no words to describe it. I have like Paul been in Seventh Heaven and seen unutterable things. I saw Jesus in all his glory and he came so near to me. I just rejoiced in His nearness. I couldn't believe that such a poor human being as myself could contain such grace and holiness. O my dears! God has been so good to me. He fills me with joy and peace--it is so blessed and sweet to rest in Him. When they prayed and anointed me, the Lord did such a remarkable thing for me. He came right to me and His love poured over my whole being. I could feel it go right through me. All my pain left. Since then I have rested so sweetly. I have endured pain. I know what it is to suffer. But the Lord took it away in the blink of an eye.

"Oh I am so fortunate! And I love all of you so much. I have never loved the Chinese like I do now. When we come nearer to God we learn to love. The nearer we come to God, the nearer we come to each other. There is no difference, We are all one in Christ." (p. 207)
Inspiring words from a remarkable woman. I look forward to meeting Hannah someday and learning more of what she experienced in China.