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

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Aural and Oral: The Raw Book of Mormon as Dictated By Joseph Smith

When I first examined the published text from the Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon, I was embarrassed at all the non-standard grammar. But now I find it to be a fascinating glimpse into the miracle of the translation process, looking at the raw language that was dictated, hour after hour, as Joseph sought inspiration as he shut out his surroundings and stared at some kind of tangible aid, a seerstone, held inside a hat.

The bad grammar issue is becoming a puzzling but fascinating topic for further research as we learn that almost everything that offends us as bad grammar, much of which Joseph and others edited out of the text later to be more standard English, turns out to be acceptable grammar in Early Modern English, especially in the years just before the KJV. That's right: the English of the Book of Mormon shows a strong pre-KJV and non-KJV influence that, based on the data, cannot be easily explained by Joseph just imitating the KJV. The reasons for this and its implications are not the focus of this post, though I will mention that Stanford Carmack has just added two more strong article giving further evidence for the role of Early Modern English in the Book of Mormon. See "Joseph Smith Read the Words" and "The More Part of the Book of Mormon Is Early Modern English," wherein Carmack examines another unusual English construct that distinguishes the Book of Mormon from both the Bible and apparently American dialects, as far as we know.

Still struggling to leave this tangent! But let me first mention that the case for strong Early Modern English influence in the original dictated language of the Book of Mormon is not driven by any kind of apologetic agenda, but by the data. Skousen and Carmack are examining surprising elements in the data and following the data through meticulous investigation. The data is pointing somewhere, somewhere interesting but perplexing. Let's see where it leads. I was quite skeptical when I first heard the argument, but I've looked at the data and have examined other hypotheses, such as the possibility of Yankee dialect having artifacts that would give rise to the textual surprises pointing to EModE influence. I've also looked at other examples of Joseph Smith's writing, such as in the 1835 Book of Commandments, to find evidence that EModE elements in the Book of Mormon was his natural language. You can roll your eyes all you want, but I challenge you to dig into the data and give me a better explanation for the network of evidence Carmack has been uncovering from many different angles. Something interesting is going on in the original text that Joseph dictated. Carmack sometimes states things more strongly or with more of an edge than I would, but I think his work is excellent and demands more careful, thoughtful consideration. Too often it is simply ignored as people say, "What? Why would God use Early Modern English? That makes no sense." The most exciting discoveries in life come when the data points to something that makes no sense in light of our old paradigms. Shaking up old, inaccurate paradigms for more accurate ones can be disorienting and painful, but it's also exciting. It's progress. So let's see where the data actually leads. If it eventually points to nothing more than Joseph's own outlier dialect of English coupled with some lucky, natural deviations in grammar inspired by the KJV and other sources, it might actually be a relief. Easier to deal with, at least.

Now to today's actual post. Exploring the words of the Original Manuscript and especially Skousen's Earliest Text no longer embarrasses me. Instead, I am thrilled at the echo of Joseph's voice as he dictated raw text not taken from a carefully prepared manuscript from some scholarly collaborator or committee of technical advisors and ghost writers, but from inspiration as he shut out the world and transmuted text from gold plates into ink and paper laden with a treasure in archaic English. Numerous witnesses of this rapid translation work, including at least one non-LDS witness, consistently described what happened and make it clear that the process involved oral dictation that was copied by a scribe.

Joseph was not using a manuscript. He dictated text and the scribe wrote it down. That became the Original Manuscript. It was then copied and delivered to the printer. Remnants of these manuscripts today clearly witness to the reality of these processes, with abundant evidence that the Original Manuscript was the result of scribes hearing words and writing them down, while the Printer's Manuscript shows evidence of scribes seeing words (on the Original Manuscript) and copying them down. This evidence has been discussed in many of the works of Royal Skousen, such as his "How Joseph Smith Translated the Book of Mormon: Evidence from the Original Manuscript." For example, there are many cases where we can see scribal mistakes due to mishearing the spoken text. One example from Skousen:

 In 1 Nephi 13:29 of the original manuscript the scribe (not yet identified, but designated as scribe 2) wrote down the following: 
& because of these things which are taken away out of the gosple of the Lamb & exceeding great many do stumble 
Obviously, scribe 2 misheard “an exceeding great many” as “and exceeding great many”. The scribe’s use of the ampersand (&) shows that the error was not based on visual similarity. Hearing an, the scribe interpreted it as the casual speech form an’  for and.
Other interesting changes can be seen in the Appendix of The Earliest Text giving "Significant Textual Changes." For example, when Nephi quoted Isaiah 14:19 in 2 Nephi 24:19, Isaiah's "raiment of those that are slain" apparently was misheard and was written as the "remnant of those that are slain." A natural aural mistake for someone writing oral diction. "I have removed the borders" in Isaiah 10:13 became "moved the borders" in Nephi's quotation in 2 Nephi 20:13. "Found the kingdoms" in Isaiah 10:10 became "founded the kingdoms" in 2 Nephi 20:10. Likewise Ramah from Isaiah 10:29 became Ramath in 2 Nephi 20:29. These are examples of apparent errors that entered into the early Book of Mormon manuscripts that were or, in some cases, may still be in need of correction. These kind of errors from the aural and oral nature of the Book of Mormon translation process don't just occur in quotations from the Bible, of course. They are found throughout the text, but I think their presence in the Isaiah passages are significant because it reminds us that even the Isaiah passages weren't created by just dragging out a Bible and copying from it (related: "Did Joseph Use a Bible?"). Those passages were probably also dictated. And as far as we know, based on what multiple witnesses saw and based on the evidence we can see in the Original Manuscript and Printer's Manuscript, the text was dictated and recorded by scribes. Nobody saw a manuscript that Joseph used. Nobody saw a Bible that he pulled out when it was time for Bible quotes. It looks like that oral dictation process was in use steadily.

If there was a time when a Bible was used to simplify the translation work, I would guess that it would be for Isaiah 4 through 9 quoted in 2 Nephi 14 through 19, where Skousen's list of significant changes in the Appendix shows a gap, while there seem to be periodic changes in the chapters before and after due to possible scribal errors. That could be because a more careful and accurate scribe was used during those chapters, or for other reasons. (I also think this section probably isn't covered in what we have left of the Original Manuscript, though I haven't checked yet.)

On the other hand, whether there are scribal errors or not, there are numerous other apparently intentional changes in the Book of Mormon's quotations from Isaiah and other parts of the Bible. Some are subtle, such as the recently discovered Hebraism in 2 Nephi 12:2 as it quotes Isaiah 2:2 One little word is changed as that becomes when, but in so doing, significant meaning is added in the process as an interesting Hebraism is introduced in a way that is relevant to the Restoration. Subtle, but cool. See Paul Hoskisson, "Was Joseph Smith Smarter Than the Average Fourth Year Hebrew Student? Finding a Restoration-Significant Hebraism in Book of Mormon Isaiah" at Mormon Interpreter.

And yet, of course, there are still problems. The text quoted seems to follow the KJV when it is good enough, and "good enough" includes errors (generally of no doctrinal significance) in the KJV that some folks insist should have been fixed if Joseph really was inspired. I'm all for total perfection, even in details that don't really matter,  and often demand it in others. Fortunately it's not part of my set of expectations for the Book of Mormon. Human errors have not been completely excised, whether they are errors from Nephite writers, Joseph Smith, scribes, typesetters, or, whoever else had a hand in the Book of Mormon and its translation, including whoever is responsible for those puzzling Early Modern English elements. Stay tuned, and keep your paradigms ready to roll.


James Anglin said...

I appreciate the kind of argument being made here. A scribe who wrote "and" might perhaps have intended to write "an" but made a slip of the pen. If the scribe wrote an ampersand, though, then it does seem unlikely that they intended to write "an".

And it also seems at least somewhat unlikely that a scribe would write an ampersand if they had a clearly printed text in front of them, which they were for some reason copying. Not impossible, though; I've made some bizarre typos myself, in copying text quickly. And of course if the scribe were copying some bad handwriting, then misreading "an" as "and" could be quite possible, especially if using "many" as a noun was unusual in the scribe's own dialect.

So if this ampersand example is typical of Skousen's evidence for dictation, then I acknowledge that he has some evidence; but I wouldn't call that evidence compelling.

As to the grammar: Jeff, conspicuous by its absence in the list of hypotheses you consider is the very one that occurred to me immediately and spontaneously when I first read the Book of Mormon. Namely, that the writer was trying to sound like the King James Bible, but clumsily overdoing the archaic turns of phrase.

Have you considered this possibility seriously? It is admittedly impious, since if it doesn't directly imply fraud, it sure suggests it. But to me it seems to be a theory that is all too effortlessly self-consistent, whereas the notion that God picked Early Modern English as the target grammar (but not lexicon!) for an 1830 translation of ancient Hebrew ... seems bizarre.

James Anglin said...

Just to show that I really do just find the overdone archaism hypothesis to be easily plausible, and am not simply trying to shoot down this latest Mormon apologetic balloon, I can offer what seems to me to be one possible explanation why God actually might have inspired a translation in archaic grammar. That would be if the original text had for some reason been written in a Hebrew grammar that was archaic for its (Nephite) time. In such a case, English that was archaic in 1830 might have been the most accurate translation of the original authors' style.

Why would the Nephite authors have used Hebrew grammar that was archaic in their day? Well, maybe they were scholars, literate in Biblical Hebrew, and in their own writing they were harking back to the outmoded Hebrew of the Old World, while the daily dialect of their contemporaries had changed a lot in the New World. That's not so implausible to me.

Accurately translating archaism into archaism is pretty tricky for human translators. I've read an English translation of a German novel in which one modern character's lapse into old-fashioned German is represented in English by having the character say "murther" for "murder", and a few other such oddities. But one might well imagine that a divine translation would be distinguished by effortlessly nailing things that few human translators would attempt.

This is not going to be a convincing sign to non-Mormons that the Book of Mormon must have been divinely inspired, because of course the notion that the original Hebrew was archaic is pure speculation, plausible or not, and the alternative that Joseph Smith overdid his fake archaism seems most plausible of all. But for Mormons who are committed to divine inspiration, the archaism-for-archaism scenario would seem to me to be a plausible explanation for why God might use Early Modern grammar.

James Anglin said...

And in fact the idea that God had made a point of preserving Nephite archaisms in the English translation might have theological implications that would resonate for Mormons. It would say that the Nephite authors of the Book of Mormon were trying, even in their grammar, to be faithful to an old tradition that was lapsing in the society around them. And it would say that God considered this fact to be part of their record — a part important enough to be preserved, in the translation, even at some cost in readability. That would show a certain interest and concern, on God's part, for details of how human beings express themselves. And a certain respect, on God's part, for human efforts to be faithful, even in small things.

I mean those musings sincerely; I promise they're not some kind of satirical theory designed to mock or embarrass Mormons. I myself am only entertaining them hypothetically, however. I'm playing Joseph's Advocate, as it were.

Anonymous said...

"...the alternative that Joseph Smith overdid his fake archaism seems most plausible of all."

I don't follow that at all. I haven't seen any examples of eModE grammar that anyone could guess, let alone produce a consistent pattern of guessing right. If he were guessing, he would likely have gotten most of it wrong. And where would he have learned it? As Emma said, he couldn't even dictate a proper letter.

James Anglin said...

Nobody is suggesting that Joseph Smith intended to produce Early Modern English grammar. The overdone archaism hypothesis is that he intended to produce King James Bible English, but failed to nail it. He wasn't a linguist, and the style he used was really just his own best guess at what King James Bible English was supposed to be. It turned out that his guess was a bit off.

Smith was pretty familiar with the King James Bible, so his guess wasn't too ridiculously off. For a hundred and fifty years, most people accepted the Book of Mormon English as a version of King James Bible English, albeit perhaps corrupted with rural New England dialect.

When you look as carefully as Skousen and Carmack have looked, however, you can see that Smith's guess wasn't perfect. Attempting to speak in an older dialect than his own native dialect, he overshot. At least in the respects that Stanford Carmack has measured, Smith's guess at King James English is actually closer to Early Modern English.

To suppose that this match with EModE is a remarkable thing, which must be hard to explain except by miracle, is just another Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. Smith's guess at KJBE was off; it was over-archaic. It could have been less over-archaic, in which case Carmack would have found a match with somewhat later English. Or it could have been more over-archaic, and Carmack would have matched it to earlier English. In whichever way Smith's guess was off, Carmack would have matched it to some earlier dialect. The Texas sharpshooter only has to hit the barn. Wherever his bullet lands, Carmack will paint a bullseye around it, and call it a miracle.

So Joseph Smith didn't ever have to have learned Early Modern English! He wasn't really speaking EModE at all (as is obvious from the Book of Mormon's vocabulary and spelling, which is not remotely like EModE). It's only Carmack's methodology that classifies Smith's overdone archaism as Early Modern English grammar.

James Anglin said...

Emma Smith's statements about her husband's inability to dictate are of no value whatever as evidence against fraud hypotheses. She was his wife; she stayed with him for years as he built up Mormonism; she was one of the Book of Mormon scribes. If Joseph committed fraud, then Emma was almost certainly in on it.

Other evidence of Joseph Smith's verbal fluency is abundant. He was a preacher. In a culture where preaching was a highly respected profession, he could not possibly have built up Mormonism as he did, unless he was a rather good preacher.

James Anglin said...

It's unclear to me how solid Skousen's and Carmack's evidence really is. They do not have sufficient authority for me to accept their claims without dispute: they have some relevant academic credentials, but they are neither of them experts in dating English texts by grammatical patterns; and their work has not been published in any reputable linguistics journals. Their credentials are real, but their claims are much larger than their credentials alone can support.

To claim that a text was written in a certain dialect, it is far from enough merely to produce some matching frequency patterns. One crucial additional issue occurs to me, just as an amateur; real experts will surely have a longer list of essential questions that Carmack has not addressed.

The issue that occurs to me is consistency. In order for use frequencies to be meaningful, one must count up instances within a large block of text, because verb forms vary naturally from sentence to sentence. Only over many sentences does the statistical pattern emerge. But once you get a large enough block of text, you can see the pattern; looking at larger blocks of text, beyond that size, will only confirm the same pattern more precisely.

A half-dozen chapters of a book like 2 Nephi should be plenty long enough to see a clear grammatical pattern, if there is one to see. If the grammatical pattern shown in those six chapters is simply the native dialect of the writer, then the next six chapters by the same writer should show a very similar pattern; and the next six after those, as well; and so on. It's an essential premise of Carmack-Skousen dialectical fingerprinting, that writers don't change their natural dialects.

According to a webpage I've just read, however, 2 Nephi shows a huge number of "did do" past tenses in chapter 5, a rather large number in the rest of chapters 1-11, a much lower number in 12-24 (which are copied from KJB Isaiah), and very few in chapters 25-33. That's not the kind of pattern you'd expect for someone writing in their native dialect, but it's very much what you'd expect if Smith was overdoing the archaic structure on purpose in the first third of the book, then noticed from the long Isaiah quote that it wasn't nearly that common in the actual KJB English, and so therefore dialed the "dids" way back in the rest of his made-up text.

(You can check the "did" numbers in 2 Nephi yourself, or google "Stanford Carmack" as I did until you find a site on google page 2. The site in question seems respectful and reasonable to me, but it's critical, and so I won't link to it here. It's not hard to find. There may be other sites like that one; though there hasn't been much non-Mormon response to this Skousen-Carmack EModE theory, since it has only been published in in-house Mormon journals and sites.)

Anonymous said...

The website Anglin refers to does not give the rate of use of non-emphatic periphrastic did, just the amount per 2 Nephi, which doesn't tell us much. Let's say a few chapters are largely in the present tense. Then they can't have a lot of did, no matter what, now can they? The writer of the page doesn't understand this. Also, the writer and Anglin don't know that there are more than 800 word/constituent differences between bulk biblical passages in the BofM and the KJV text. It is more than there would be from copying. It points to conscious altering, which is inconclusive for authorship, except there are nonbiblical eModE tweaks to it, weakening Anglin's view. And there is at least one Coverdale reading, and an alteration of a Septuagint reading as well. And occasionally there is a 1611 reading, not a 1769 reading, further weakening Anglin's view. Anyway, the did stuff wrt bulk biblical passages is inconclusive. From both the divine POV and the fraudulent POV, which Anglin argues for, there is copying with intentional alteration. So copying and tweaking KJV language yields a much lower ADP did rate. Duh.

Anonymous said...

Also, neither Anglin nor the webpage's author understand that the D&C might be a revealed text as well. So the language need not be JS's there either. As a result, one cannot use the D&C and declare definitively that it's JS's language. It cannot be used as a control.

everythingbeforeus said...

Some of the language in the D&C definitely isn't Smith's. For instance, the expression "true and living church" is found in the writings of Swedenborgian's followers before the D&C was ever received as a revelation from God. And we know for sure Smith was aware of Swedenborgianism, because he made a comment about him once.

So, if God really did 'write' the preface to the D&C, God must have admire Swedenborgianism so much to have actually borrowed one of the phrases found in their writings!

Anonymous said...

That is certainly inconclusive, ebu. "True and living church" is found no later than 1660, before Swedenborg was born.

Ryan said...

I'm not entirely on board with the whole EmodE thing, so please take my following comment in that light (I find it interesting as tentative evidence that Joseph Smith is not the author of the BoM, but I don't know that it can say much more than that).

To reiterate, the hypothesis against EmodE as evidence of divine origins is that Joseph was trying to sound archaic, and just wound up a bit off. I wonder if anyone has done a similar analysis on the book of Moses. Does it have the same apparent EmodE fingerprint as the Book of Mormon? One could also compare the Book of Abraham, though I think Moses is a better candidate, since it was produced nearer to the time of the Book of Mormon. I don't know that D&C is a good control, since even if Joseph was a fraud, he may not have been trying to sound so archaic there.

On a separate but related note, James (and probably others) have made the claim that Emma's statement about Joseph's inability to produce a coherent document is no good, since Emma was probably either in on the con or at least highly biased to favor Joseph. When I read some of Joseph's earlier letters/first vision accounts, though, they seem to conform with Emma's statement. Certainly his later work, like the JSH version of the first vision, is much more well written. I'm curious as to people's thoughts on that.

everythingbeforeus said...

"O Lord Jesus, thou divine head of the true and living church..."

-The Liturgy of the New Church Signifying the New Jerusalem in the Revelation, 1828.

"Next to the Lord himself, his true and living church..."

-The Intellectual Repository for the New Church, 1824.

The New Church is the name for several Christian Denominations that sprung out of Swedenborgianism. Notice the dates.....

Anonymous said...

ebu: Your heavy biases have clouded your judgment. Your quotes are irrelevant. They don't prove what you would like to prove.

everythingbeforeus said...

Well, they prove that you were wrong to so confidently declare that there is no mention of a "true and living church" after 1660.

Since you tossed in that erroneous information to refute my original statement that Swedenborgian language shows up in God's revelations, you apparently took my theory very seriously at first since you went to the trouble to try to refute it.

Now, that I have corrected you, you stick your fingers in your ears and ridicule my judgement.

An honest, objective reader of our exchange is going to see what you have done. I am confident of that.

Anonymous said...

FWIW, I find nothing distasteful about the phrase "true and living church" regardless of the source. I am also not bothered that Smith did not coin every phrase that are in the revelations. God chooses whom he will to be his mouthpiece.


everythingbeforeus said...

I didn't say there was anything distasteful about the phrase. That wasn't my point. My point was that a revelation that is recorded in the first person as if God himself wrote it uses terminology that most likely came from Smith's own brain on account of his exposure to Swedenborgian ideas.

If I wrote my ideas, penning them in the first person, pretending like I am God, I think you'd all consider me a rather presumptuous con.

Anonymous said...

By " 'True and living church' is found no later than 1660" was meant that the first instance of this 4-word phrase is found by 1660, not ruling out that it could be found earlier. Nothing was meant in terms of later. It did not mean that it wasn't found later. Sorry for the lack of clarity. "First found" should have been used there. The confusion was unintentional.

In any event, finding these phrases later is meaningless. If you want to argue definitively that JSJr was the author of the D&C or the BofM by certain 19c phrases then you're going to have a lot of trouble being definitive. The divine translation view allows later phrases to be used, up to 1829. Therefore, the fraudulent translation view can't prove anything substantive by these phrases. Anyway, most of the 19c phrase ebu likes to bring up have deeper roots. But because there were 10 to 100 times as many books published in the 1820s as in different decades of the 1600s means that the likelihood of finding certain syntactically banal phrases later is much higher. Hence they are essentially trivial wrt authorship claims.

Also, the divine xlation view allows many different segments of the BofM to have slightly different characteristics from each other. It also allows the D&C to have its own linguistic signature, and that goes for other possibly revelatory texts as well.

James Anglin said...

Maybe I should say again that I am not trying to prove that Joseph Smith faked the Book of Mormon. I don't know of any evidence or arguments that amount to such a proof.

I don't feel obliged to find a perfect skeptical theory that brings every detail about the Mormon scriptures and the lives of Mormon prophets into obvious alignment with pure wickedness and deceit. If some details turn out to be hard to explain by fraud or error or whatever, I'll be happy just to shrug, at least up to a point. Weird things happen. Strange flukes occur.

And by the same token, I'm not going to sneer and call Mormons fools if they shrug off a few awkward issues and continue believing in their faith. Skeptics like to talk about cognitive dissonance, and I think that's a real thing; but a certain amount of cognitive dissonance is inevitable, for everyone, I believe. Expecting to find a theory that fits the real world with no strain at all is one of the more naive delusions.

When does the fit between beliefs and evidence become so strained that it really looks more like delusion or idolatry than faith? That's something everybody has to decide for themselves.

Anonymous said...

The following is stupid reasoning: [ebu] "So, if God really did 'write' the preface to the D&C, God must have admire[d] Swedenborgianism so much to have actually borrowed one of the phrases found in their writings!" You need to sharpen your analytical approach, ebu. It is tiresome and lame.

James Anglin said...


Perhaps there is some independent evidence that Joseph Smith was lousy with words until he got a lot of practice, later in life. But Emma Smith's assertions in themselves really carry no weight, for non-Mormons, because IF the Book of Mormon was a fraud, THEN her bias is obvious. Of course, if the Book of Mormon was not a fraud, then her reasons for exaggerating Joseph's illiteracy disappear, and her statements may be considered valuable insights into the mind of a prophet. So Emma's statements may be important for Mormons; but they still don't do anything at all towards convincing non-Mormons that Smith was too linguistically clumsy to make a Book on his own.

I think the idea of looking at the language of other Smith writings is a good one; but it won't likely be decisive for critics, either. The hypothesis of fake archaic diction, put on deliberately but inexpertly, does not mean that Smith was addicted to making exactly the same kind of fake archaic diction all the time. Maybe once he had gained some confidence as the leader of a new religion, he could have relaxed his efforts to buff up his revelations with Bible-ish language, and reverted to a more natural dialect. But it's also plausible that he might, with increased confidence, have been emboldened to try even stronger doses of the archaism that had gone over so well in the Book of Mormon.

The 'fake language' theory is a tough rap to beat. People can distort their language in lots of different ways, when they choose on purpose to do so. That doesn't mean that Mormons have to stop believing in the Book of Mormon, but it does mean that apologetic arguments like Carmack's, based on supposedly unique features of the Book's language, are inherently and inevitably weak. Carmack can insist otherwise as much as he wants, but fake archaism can explain an awful lot of 'unique features' pretty easily.

everythingbeforeus said...

Anon 4:50

What if a prophet of God came to you with a new book with new prophecies from God, and these prophecies included the following: To be or not to be..." And "I came, I saw, I conquered."

Would you take him seriously?

There is no difference between this scenario and all the 19th Century religious expressions and phrases found in the D&C and the Book of Mormon.

Anonymous said...

ebu, you don't know what you're talking about. You haven't delved into the matter. You've only engaged in superficial study and reasoning that is heavily biased and basically useless. Enjoy.

Anonymous said...

Anglin: "The hypothesis of fake archaic diction, put on deliberately but inexpertly,"

Serious problem here. Anglin doesn't know if it's fake archaic diction and doesn't know if it's inexpert, but he feels perfectly free to state an opinion despite ignorance.

Anglin follows in a long line of critics since day one who have felt free to offer opinions without knowing the subject matter.

Anonymous said...

ebu, maybe you can find the phrase "save it was" in the 19c, where "save" is a conjunction, not a verb. I'd seriously be interested to know where you found one. There are 3 or 4 of these in the BofM but it's not in the KJV.

everythingbeforeus said...

Well, yes...you beat me there. Couldn't find it. Look...I really do find this EModE stuff very intriguing. It is a great mystery story that I will continue to watch excitedly to see how it turns out. I am not being facetious. I am being sincere.

But...I wonder when the story's plot will change, and instead of being introduced to the cast of characters (the EModE constructions that are in the BoM) we begin to see a real narrative develop.

I hope this narrative will tell us all why in the world an ancient record in Reformed English that is now lost forever, but fortunately translated by a young farm boy/treasure digger in the early 19th Century through the power of God in a peepstone, has EModE in it!

That is what I am waiting to hear. What purpose would this serve?

It seems more plausible to me that Joseph Smith was channeling mischievous spirits of humans who had departed and who would have some connection with EModE.

There is a BYU professor who interviewed A. J. Miller, the self-proclaimed Australian Jesus! Yes... a textbook cult leader who claims to be the reincarnated Jesus. The interview is on Youtube.

Trust me...this guy is a quack, but he speaks very eloquently about Joseph Smith and the nature of spirit interactions between the spirit world and earth. And he gives a very plausible alternative. One that is actually very much in line with this EModE research.

While I wouldn't trust this guy for a second, he is probably channeling spirits of his own. (He has convinced many that he is indeed Jesus. His girlfriend even believes she is Mary Magdalene.) I think he might indeed understand how spirits work from real-life experience being duped by them.

You really should go and listen to the interview. It will make you sick.

Ryan said...

I agree with a lot of what you say. I don't think the EModE thing is by any means a smoking gun for divine origins. It may indicate that Joseph Smith was not the author, but as you point out, it's possible he was consciously altering his language. For me his inability to compose well-worded documents becomes important here. If he couldn't compose something decent in a dialect that was familiar to him, I have a hard time believing he could do so in an archaic dialect. Once again, I agree with you that if the whole thing was a con, Emma's statements don't carry much weight, and they do not, by themselves, prove that it was not a con. What her statement is useful for is in leading us to look at Joseph's early writings. We might ask ourselves, "was Emma right in saying that Joseph was a lousy writer?" And to test that hypothesis, we look at things he wrote. If indeed he was bad at writing, then Emma's statement becomes important for having pointed us in a useful direction. If he was not a bad writer, then we can throw Emma's statement out.

All of that said, I am still in the same camp as many of the critics in terms of why there should be any EModE in the Book of Mormon at all. I think you've actually provided the best potential explanation I've heard so far that is neither "he was faking it" nor "he was just writing in his own dialect, whether revealed as such by God or not." I'll have to mull that one over.

Anonymous said...

So Ryan, do you accept Anglin's premise that the BoM has a lot of faulty old language in it?

Ryan said...

No, only his claim that the presence of EModE phrasing doesn't prove the divinity of the Book of Mormon

Ryan said...

Anon, I'm not sure which Anon you are, but keep in mind that I do believe the Book of Mormon is true, inspired, dealing with actual events, etc. I just don't think EModE is particularly convincing proof of that.

Anonymous said...

One important part of the debate over EModE has to do with what it says about whether words or ideas were given to JSJr. The majority view among scholars, lately argued for by Brant Gardner, has been ideas. Skousen has asserted words, dismissing an early "no errors" view because of MS evidence. Plenty of EModE in the earliest text argues for words not ideas. How do you view it?

Ryan said...

You're not going to like my answer, I think. I view it as "he was either given words or ideas, or maybe a little of both." In other words, I don't know. What I do know is this: the Book of Mormon is true and came from God. How it got here would be neat to know, but my testimony does not rest on that knowledge. And whether it was words, ideas, or both, I don't think the book's divinity can be proven based on that analysis. Critics will pretty much always be able to say "Joseph could have done that naturally by x,y,z."

In this case, the presence of EModE in the Book of Mormon, if that's what it really is, only proves that there is EModE in the Book of Mormon. One can try to say that whatever the dialect of the Book of Mormon was, it wasn't Joseph's own dialect, ergo he must not have written it. To that, critics may respond that he was just trying to sound archaic, that maybe Sidney Rigdon or someone else wrote it, that what we see as EModE may have still been at least somewhat common in the spoken language of the time and place, etc. And apologists may respond to those criticisms. And thus it goes.

I guess what I'm getting at is that if the intent of these arguments is to prove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, we're going about it the hard way. No one will be converted by apologetic arguments, as real conversion comes from the Holy Ghost and one's own willingness to hear Him. If, on the other hand, the intent is to understand some neat things about how God inspired Joseph, that's another story. At that point, what I'm left with is, "Hmm, there's some unexpected language in the Book of Mormon. That might teach me something interesting about how it was revealed to Joseph, and about how revelation works." In that vein, I'm interested in the apparent EModE. As far as proving the truth of the BoM goes, though, I think arguments like this are pretty fruitless.

everythingbeforeus said...

If words were given to Joseph Smith rather than ideas, I can understand how this accounts for the presence of EModE in the Book of Mormon, but it would require us to then also assume that God uses EModE when he speaks in English, or for some reason, God deliberately and intentionally put it in there. And I simply can't understand why this would be the case.

Or it would require us to accept the fact that perhaps it wasn't God at all behind it, but something else, another spirit perhaps, that has connection with EModE.

And this is precisely what I have been trying to suggest, even though I do not fully subscribe to the theory. Necromancy is the practice of communication with the dead. Considering the nature of Joseph Smith's magical practices and the fact that even from a believing perspective he did indeed communicate with departed souls of human beings, it is very likely that the spirit he had contacted through his peepstone was not a divine source at all.

More likely then not, James's theory is correct. Or perhaps Joseph Smith's language was filled with more achaisms than the formal written record shows.

We couldn't use the Baltimore Sun to tell us how English is being used in the Baltimore's inner-city neighborhoods, could we? Absolutely not.

The written record should not be any real solid indication as to how the Smith family spoke to each other in rural Vermont. This would require us to look closely at specifically Smith-written documents. Has anyone conducted that kind of research? Are there enough writing samples from the Smith family to give us an idea about their informal speech patterns?

Anonymous said...

ebu: "it would require us to then also assume that God uses EModE when he speaks in English, or for some reason, God deliberately and intentionally put it in there. And I simply can't understand why this would be the case."

The first part of the above quote is an incorrect assumption. A simple answert to the second part: Virtually all of the language is easily understood; it harmonizes with KJV passages.

This objection reveals prejudice and an ideologically driven agenda. Evidence doesn't matter if it doesn't fit within an acceptable paradigm.

Anonymous said...

Ryan, who cares about what most critics say. If what they say is based on substance it's interesting, but otherwise no. That's the vast majority of Anti-Mormon criticism, and it's uninteresting. There is enough textual evidence to decide the matter for those who accept operating according to overwhelmingly strong probabilities. If you don't, then that's the way you operate, and I work another way. Perhaps you misunderstand the worth of evidence to support the view that the words of the Book of Mormon are Christ's words. I refuse to accommodate the ignoble attempts of ebu and anglin to convince others that the foundations of Mormonism are fraudulent. They aggressively put forth "evidence" supporting their damaging viewpoint, with little regard to accuracy and with little attempt to know their subject. That affects certain susceptible people and since it is misleading and inaccurate it has a negative and pernicious effect. You probably don't actually want to play nice with fraudsters. I refuse to do so. They don't know what they're talking about. I'm not sure how much you know about the matter.

everythingbeforeus said...

A simple answer to the second part: Virtually all of the language is easily understood; it harmonizes with KJV passages.

Nice...God put EModE into the Book of Mormon because he wanted it to harmonize with the KJV portions that Smith was going to copy from the Bible.

The Isaiah passages wouldn't have been written on the plates in KJV English! God could've had those passages translated anyway he wanted to. So are you saying he wanted Smith to use the KJV Isaiah, and to maintain style continuity, he had Smith translate the rest of the plates in 16th Century English because it would mesh better? Heck...why didn't he just have Smith translate the whole thing into KJV English then?

This makes no sense.

James Anglin said...

Ryan's take seems reasonable to me. As an apologetic argument, archaic grammar in the Book of Mormon is just not a promising contender. It can still be an interesting phenomenon. Skeptics may see it as evidence that Smith's own native dialect preserved a lot of features that had waned a lot in England at the time, or as a study in how fakes can be revealed by subtle flaws. Mormons may see it as evidence for how exactly Smith's translation worked, or perhaps even for how God thinks about human language.

I agree with Ryan that it would be interesting to study Smith's own earlier writings, and they'd be worth something as evidence; but if Smith's own early writings were ungrammatical, that probably wouldn't mean that he was a grammatically tone-deaf ignoramus. 'Ungrammatical' usually just means 'differently grammatical'. However Smith wrote, he was probably writing correctly, in the dialect in which he was writing. And he could have been perfectly capable of writing correctly in other dialects, as well.

James Anglin said...

"Man had marked this woman’s sin by a scarlet letter, which had such potent and disastrous efficacy that no human sympathy could reach her, save it were sinful like herself." From Chapter 6 of The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, published in 1850.

Hawthorne's classic novel is set in the 1640's, and although the sentence I've quoted is narration, not dialogue, if you read carefully you realize that this sentence is really saying how things seemed to one of the characters (Hester Prynne), not stating omniscient fact. It is part of Hawthorne's skill to use some of the character's archaic diction in his narration, as a subtler way of indicating that these are Hester's thoughts, instead of just saying, "It seemed to Hester that ...".

So "save it were" probably wasn't contemporary dialect in Hawthorne's place and time (1840's New England). It was more 1640's.

But here's the thing: the fact that Hawthorne put "save it were" in his novel proves that 1840's New Englanders were aware that "save it were" was a normal expression in old-fashioned English. They still knew the expression, as an old-fashioned turn of speech, even though they didn't normally use the expression themselves.

Anonymous said...

Yes, James, Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter has two of these. There's also an earlier 1837 poem with one instance written by Jones Very, a Shakespearean scholar and New Englander. So maybe Hawthorne got it from Very. Or maybe both of them got it from the second chapter of the 1830 Book of Mormon (dictated in 1829). Actually, the BofM has 77 or 78 of them. So Very and Hawthorne could have read it in any number of places in the BofM (like the last chapter of Ether), which they might have read portions of out of curiosity, just like Twain did. We can't tell. But now JSJr seems quite literate, even poetic, since most late 19c examples are found in poems (Hawthorne excepted). How about an attestation before 1830?

In ordinary circumstances we would say that Very and Hawthorne copied from JSJr, especially since he dictated almost 80 of them and employed the phrase before them. That seems more likely based on publication precedence and the heavy usage in the BofM. But how about "save it was" (3 or 4 times)?

If you can't find that one, here's another one to try: "had been spake" (Alma 6:8).

Anonymous said...

Hold it, ebu, are you serious? First of all, you can't simply assert that JSJr copied from a Bible when the viewpoint you're criticizing does not take that to be the case. Please show some integrity here. There is no eyewitness testimony that JSJr ever used a Bible, and he would have needed at least three different versions of the Bible to produce Book of Mormon biblical passages. That is a serious problem with the Bible-copying view.

What biblical version was being used heavily in 1820s America and England? What Bible did JSJr and family read? So what version would Isaiah passages be largely used by an English-language translation that the Lord carried out for those portions of the Book of Mormon? That is entirely reasonable. You are further damaging your standing as a reasonable analyst. Please set aside animus and approach this a little more dispassionately.

Also KJV English is older English, on average, than the English of the BofM. That's one reason the nonbiblical BofM is easier to understand. It is appropriate to think of the Book of Mormon as containing a broad form of Early Modern English, and the King James Bible as containing a narrow form of Early Modern English (from the 1520s and 1530s, updated slightly).

Anonymous said...

Oops, read: "So what version might be used by an English-language translation ...?"

Ryan said...

I think there are perfectly reasonable lines of evidence outside of EModE. My position is that we should focus on those instead. I am willing to be convinced otherwise

Jeff Lindsay said...

What strikes me as significant is the depth and diversity of EModE constructions in the Book of Mormon. I think the evidence points far beyond "just faking it" or overdoing KJV language. There is a strong, solid, pre-KJV thread of EMoDE in the Book of Mormon that merits consideration for anyone interested in understanding how the Book of Mormon came about.

James Anglin said...

@Anonymous 6:34:

Or maybe Very and Hawthorne and Smith all got their archaic expressions from much older literature that was still available on bookshelves all around them, and even quoted in speech and sung in old hymns.

You didn't think enough about my last sentence. Nathaniel Hawthorne was a popular author. He wrote for money, and he was trying to make book sales. With The Scarlet Letter, he did. It was an instant best-seller in 1850.

Hawthorne was not writing for the narrow market of people who had read the Book of Mormon or one poem by Very. His 1640's characters say "save it were" quite a lot, and he would never have put dialect into his story that that only a niche audience could have understood. His book would not have sold as well as it did, if it had been full of jargon incomprehensible to most of his market, or if all his characters had sounded to his contemporary readers like illiterate babblers.

Everyone around Nathaniel Hawthorne — and everyone around Joseph Smith — knew that "save it were" was a valid form in old-fashioned English. And everyone knew what it meant. The Book-of-Mormon-EModE school has set up a bizarre interpretation of what it means for an expression or grammatical structure to become obsolete. It means that people have stopped using the expression in ordinary speaking and writing, but it does not mean that the expression has been lost from memory.

Tracking down the poem by Very, and arguing that Nathaniel Hawthorne must have learned "save it were" either from him or from the Book of Mormon, is a fine example of the kind of cargo-cult scholarship that is far too common in Mormon apologetics (and in plenty of other places, too, of course). Scholarship is not a special kind of thinking in which citations and documents somehow trump common sense. On the contrary, good scholarship is nothing but unusually careful common-sense reasoning, doing the best it can with documentary evidence.

James Anglin said...


"Depth and diversity" sounds good; but what does it actually mean?

As Orbiting Kolob observed here some time ago, grammar is productive. If you know that a certain kind of grammatical form is allowed, then you automatically know that you can do it with any and all kinds of words. So a certain kind of "diversity" is irrelevant. If I'm trying to sound like a hillbilly, I'm going to put "a-" in front of every present participle I can find. I'll be a-ridin' and a-fishin' and a-typin' and a-surfin' the web. That ain't a-countin' as diversity.

"Depth" is even more obscure. What do you mean by it?

Ryan said...

I believe the pre-KJV stuff is there and abundant, and as a believer I don't accuse Joseph of faking anything. What I want to know is why it is there. That would shed interesting light on how we got the Book of Mormon. But the mere fact that it is there doesn't prove the BoM true. I like James's explanation of why it is there. If this work is to continue, I think that's where we need to go: not "is it there?" but "why is it there?" And we should recognize that while it is of value to believers, it will not convince anyone. There are better lines of evidence for that. That is all I'm saying.

Anonymous said...

Ryan, There actually are not better lines of evidence since there are nearly 270,000 English words put together in a certain order in the BofM. The structure can tell the analyst a ton, even more than chiasmus, since the syntax and lexical usage are hugely represented and myriad systematic studies can be made.

James, it is somewhat impressive but entirely unuseful that you write plenty of meta-critiques without delving into the evidence. What I wrote above was very reasonable and professional. I didn't argue one way or the other. I wrote, "We can't tell." You're the unreasonable one. You've continued your off-putting correspondence and meta-critiques. It is quite boring.

Did you find "had been spake"? Did you find the analogous "save it was"? How about finding a form of the verb cause followed by "it that it" (3 Nephi 29:4)? How about finding "save he/they shall/should + VERB" (10 times in the virtuosic BofM), where "shall/should" are archaic subjunctive markers? Syntax like "save he shall prepare a way for them" (1 Nephi 3:7) is very old, very rare, and highly literate. Let me know if you find it in modern English. I will be happy to catalog the instance since I am always glad to catalog things as they are.

Last one for now, how about "fain be glad" (Alma 12:14)?

everythingbeforeus said...

I am still waiting to hear what conclusion beyond "Smith didn't write it" I am expected to draw from this EModE stuff. It does not prove that the book is divine. It simply doesn't. So I am not sure what I am expected to take away from these discussions. It is just interesting trivia.

"Hey...did you know that the Book of Mormon contains English grammatical constructions that Smith couldn't have been aware of?"

"Cool, dude! I didn't know that. And...?"

"And what?"

"You mean that is all you have to say about it?"

"Yea...isn't it cool?!"

"Sure....why do you think it is cool?"

"Because it shows that God did it!"

"Oh, really? Does God prefer an older form of English?"

"Well...I don't think we can say that."

"Then why is it in the Book?"

"I don't know. No one knows. But it is cool, isn't it?"

Anonymous said...

It does not follow from this that God prefers an older form of English. That is a stupid, distracting thing to say, which you have said various times. So you don't learn. And your base motives are laid bare. Well, that's a problem you have, and those reading this can see it.

As you know, ebu, extensive EModE in the BofM clearly demonstrates to the reasonable that JS did not write it and that no one who has been proposed as its author wrote it. It leads the unreasonable another way. It leads you to propose idiotic things. This then reveals something about your judgment, which is shown thereby to be suspect and hopelessly biased. Everything is not before you. Very sad.

Ryan said...

Anon,I get that there are lots of phrases in the BoM that don't seem to have been in JS's vernacular, nor in the bible. But to say that proves the Book is divine is quite the logical leap. I find other data, such as the Arabian peninsula evidence and the like, to be much more interesting. And even those don't prove divinity. They indicate that the events described were real, subject to debate of course. I agree that linguistic evidence suggests Smith was not the author, and that is interesting. Critics can rebut that, but it is still interesting. Where I am somewhat skeptical, as I've said, is when it comes to why EModE should be there at all. The Nephites didn't speak it, and neither did Joseph. So where is it coming from? I am satisfied that something is there. Now I want to know why. Then this line of evidence could become much more interesting

everythingbeforeus said...

Anon 3:57

In all your blustering, you didn't propose anything that answers my question. This is why I can't take this EMode stuff seriously. It tells us nothing except that Joseph Smith didn't write the Book of Mormon. It only tell us we don't now who the author is. And unless you can propose a theory as to why God would want EModE in the Book, it doesn't even tell us that God wrote the book.

Even Ryan, who is on your side, is saying the same thing! Because Ryan is apparently a person who has the ability to think objectively about stuff, even when thinking subjectively about it would bolster his spiritual worldview.

I have asked this many times over the past several months here. No one has anything to offer. I hope you all have fun following this thread of a theory. Most likely, when the answer does emerge, it will destroy the legitimacy of the Book of Mormon's claims. If I were you, I'd turn and run from this theory as fast as you can. Archaic English in the Book of Mormon, to me, doesn't bode well considering what the Book claims to be.

Jeff Lindsay said...

James, very interesting comments. Thank you for raising the possibility of Book of Mormon writers using archaic language. Nephi indicates that he s using what must clearly be an archaic writing system when he says his record uses the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians in 1 Nephi 2:5. Later Mormon in Mormon 9:32-33 mentions that he is writing in reformed Egyptian and would struggle less if only there were more space on the plates to permit Hebrew to be used, but the Hebrew had also been modified over the centuries. He's struggling with an archaic system requiring special training as it did for Nephi. So the point you raise is an interesting one, though I think the reason for archaic English is both its wide acceptance as scriptural language but also its simplicity and directness. Carmack has made some valuable points on that latter issue.

Anonymous said...

Ryan, ebu, the why has been answered before, at least twice. If you don't like the answer or accept it then you will say it wasn't answered. Whatever.

Ryan, just because you find other evidence more interesting doesn't mean English linguistic evidence is less powerful. It just is to you. That doesn't mean it's absolutely less powerful, just that it is relatively less powerful to you.

The fact that the Nephites didn't speak any form of English is basically irrelevant to the question of why one variety of English would have been chosen for the translation. The BofM needed to be translated into some form of English. There were probably fewer than a dozen different varieties it might have been translated into. It could have been translated into a narrow KJV eModE, two or three other forms of eModE, modern British English, modern American English, 19c American dialect. Some of the dialect corresponded with minority forms of eModE. So there's some overlap there. Broad eModE harmonizing with KJV language and also overlapping partially with 19c American dialect satisfies multiple conceivable aims of a divine translation.

everythingbeforeus said...

It is easier to translate between certain languages than others. I suppose it is much easier to create a very accurate translation between languages that are related, like English and German, then it would be to create a translation between, say...English and Japanese. (I served my mission in Japan. Japanese is from a whole other planet.)

So, I suppose the BoM language may have fit better into EModE than into 19th American English, but I think that theory is a real stretch. Here is why:

The differences between EModE and 19thAmerE would be miniscule compared to the differences between the original language of the BoM (Hebrew written in Reformed Egyptian script) and either form of English. A person who grows up only knowing modern English can still pick their way, albeit somewhat clumsily, through much older forms of English. But I suspect that the same person, if they could see the original Reformed Egyptian, would not be able to read it at all. I have a hard time believing that the relatively slight differences between EModE and 19thAmerE, which are mostly syntactical and grammatical, would be of such a disparate nature that one version of English would actually make much more of a difference than another form of English when trying to convey ideas from one language to another.

Also, if EModE is practically obsolete anyway by the time Smith is translating the Book of Mormon, and no one alive at the time uses it or speaks it or writes with it, what advantage would there be for the reader of the translated text? The translator may have an advantage, because EModE provides a "softer cushion" for the translation process, so to speak, but the reader would not be benefited at all by this. Just the opposite in fact.

Just translate the book into the actual language Smith and others were speaking at the time. I can go to the library and find the original Beowulf in Old English, which of course is unreadable to modern English speakers. I can find old translations which are readable, but clumsy and difficult to modern readers, and I can find very good modern translations, such as Seamus Heaney's, which make the experience of reading the book very enlightening and enjoyable. Which translation do you think will be of the most service to the most people today?

I don't think the ideas that have been allegedly preserved through the EModE of the BoM would've been lost by simply putting the ideas into plain English. This is possible. Translation is an art, and there are people who do this stuff all the time. It is certainly possible if God is in charge.

I think the history of the Japanese Book of Mormon sheds some light. The Japanese BoM I was handing out in 1994 had been translated into a very old form of Japanese. This old form carried with it a sense of honor and poetry and eloquence that the more modern Japanese did not carry, but it was unreadable for many people. So, in 1995, we were given a new translation. It was a Godsend! Even the missionaries could now read it! Here we had the powerful BoM doctrines spelled out in clear and simple language. Yes...that special sense of poetry possessed by the first translation was lost, and the older members mourned that. But apparently the church didn't feel any of the doctrine was weakened. On the contrary, the doctrine was strengthened because it was understandable.

It makes no sense to put a translation into an archaic language, even if for some reason that archaic form is better suited to convey ideas in the original language. (Which, since we don't even have the original language of the BoM, no one can ever prove.) It is actually pointless, because even if the archaic form is better, who would even know?! No one is alive who understands the subtleties and the nuances of the archaic language!

So, I think either Smith was channeling different spirits, or Smith was simply writing in the language he was most conversant with at the time, and everyone is making a mountain out of a molehill.

Ryan said...

I guess I missed it then. Would you explain to me the "why" one more time? I really want to know, because it does not make sense to me right now. Maybe with a good explanation I will come on board with EModE being a good line of evidence. I have kept quiet on the matter until this thread, thinking maybe something would come along that would convince me. So far it hasn't.
Of course you are right that it is only my opinion that there are better lines of evidence. Please remember, though, that it is a two way street. It is only your opinion that this is the best line. My questioning of it doesn't make me a hard hearted apostate, it only means I feel there might be better places to look. You are welcome to try to convince me otherwise, but don't be surprised if I have questions.

Ryan said...

Just to make sure we are on the same page- I get that the translation would be given in archaic language because that is the language of scripture. What I don't get is why it would be pre-KJV archaic. That was not, I think, the scriptural language Joseph was familiar with. So was there something about how the Nephites wrote that made EModE a more accurate translation than anything else? Is preKJV English clearer than KJV? Or is it something else? That is where I get stuck

everythingbeforeus said...

Ryan, I think that is what Anon is trying to say: there is some relationship between the BoM language and EModE that makes it more conducive to translation. I wrote just above you a reason why this theory has some flaws.

I want to know why, too. I was told that the EModE synchs well with the KJV. I don't know what that means. I assumed anon was saying the EModE synchs well with the KJV passages in the BoM. But this is ludicrous, because the KJV passages as they would've appeared on the plates would not have been in KJ English. Those passages would've presumably been in either Hebrew or Reformed Egyptian and would've needed translating also. Unless Smith was copying from his Bible.

I pointed this out to Anon, and he ridiculed and insulted me.

Frankly, except for Jeff, I find that the people who are supporting this strange research into EModE are quite touchy, sensitive, rather defensive. They prefer to ignore the very real issues that you and I and Orbiting Kolob and James have been raising. They'd rather tell us we are out of our league.

I think they are out of their league. They can't even answer these simple objections with out losing their cool.

Look...I don't have time to read all this stuff. I get the general idea behind it, and that alone raises questions for me. I don't need to compile a list of all the EmodE constructions and study them for a decade before I can see that the basic concept itself has problems. Big problems. Big, big, big problem.

It is irritating to be told that my big problems are of no validity because I haven't devoted my life to reading all this research. All this research will never answer my big questions. I accept it as a matter of fact that there is EModE in the Book of Mormon that Joseph SMith didn't put there. I buy into it. I am on board.

Now....tell me WHY! The only answer I have received is that God was concerned about stylistic continuity with the KJV. This doesn't make sense. If God wanted continuity, he could've had the entire BoM translated into KJV English just as easily as he had it translated into a strange hybrid of EModE and KJ English.

James Anglin said...

One hurdle for the "archaic Hebrew original" explanation, of archaic English in the Book of Mormon, is that the quotations from Isaiah are surely not a later form of Hebrew than what Nephite scribes would have known as old Hebrew; and yet their English rendering in the Book of Mormon is less archaic than other parts of the text.

The way I can see to clear that hurdle is a little convoluted, but arguably consistent. It's to argue that when Isaiah was composed, its old Hebrew was the contemporary dialect of the time. Isaiah is thus old, but it was never archaic. The hypothesis is that other parts of the Book of Mormon were written in a Hebrew dialect that was old-fashioned at the time of writing. It is that kind of archaism which is represented with archaic English — not simply the absolute age of the Hebrew original language.

I myself would kind of narrow my eyes if someone else presented it to me. But after a little thought I'd probably concede that it made sense.

James Anglin said...

The basic archaism of King James English, as opposed to 1830s English, would to me be a matter not of archaism or dialect, but of what linguists call "register". People speak in different ways in different contexts. Slang has no place in a job application, and battlefield commands require vocabulary you don't use in sermons. In 1830s New England, it seems to me that King James English really was the current dialect. It was the register of Scripture.

EModE, being significantly older than King James, would be true archaism.

Anonymous said...

A number of points.

1. EModE goes from 1475 to 1700.

2. The BofM is not pre-KJV Early Modern English.

3. The KJV is mostly Tyndale language with some updating; he translated in the 1520s and 1530s.

4. The BofM has language from throughout the Early Modern period; the BofM is on average a younger text than the KJB; the BofM has elements from a wide spectrum of literate English usage. The core syntax is eModE.

5. It makes sense from our perspective that the dominant Bible of 1820s America was used as the basis for biblical language in the BofM.

6. From that point flows the idea that broad eModE harmonizes with the narrow eModE of the KJB, which the Lord determined to be the base text for BofM biblical language.

7. The why is a very open-ended matter. It depends on agenda and other factors.

8. Yes, the BofM could have been cast strictly in KJV language.

The Lord knew the true nature of the BofM would be discovered in this information age, when the BofM's historicity and foundational claims would be vigorously attacked on the basis of (mis)information. All of it was known by the Lord: the emergence of the digital information age, the discovery of broad eModE in the BofM, and the forceful attacks against his text in our age. The recognition that there is substantial broad eModE usage in the BofM provides solid evidence that the claims of those who brought forth the BofM and witnessed to it are entirely reasonable. If 18c language had been used or strict KJV language there would be no such evidence. (I would like to add here that at the very least dissidents like ebu should be tolerant of family members who believe in the divinity of the BofM because the significant presence of nonbiblical eModE in the text makes that view objectively reasonable.)

I'll leave the faithless response up to ebu. He disbelieves the BofM's divine origins, uses the why as a distraction, to further ends I consider ignoble. I think the faithful have the better cause. Those who attempt to undermine the foundational claims of Mormonism with bad information deserve strong censure. I stand by any assertions made in that regard. I am happy to defend the words of Christ against the ill-informed who have no compunction about throwing out vicious opinions because they refuse to become better informed. Ebu spends his time otherwise and has ample time to become informed about this matter. Instead, what he has chosen to do is accumulate information to attack the BofM. He could change course. Because it contains Christ's words (3N2111), I will stoutly defend the BofM against any such attacks, which are made without regard to truth and available information. That approach deserves strong condemnation. The language of the BofM has been maligned with evil intent for a very long time.

James Anglin said...

Ryan asks, "[W]as there something about how the Nephites wrote that made EModE a more accurate translation than anything else?" The only answer I can imagine is the one I mentioned: that maybe what the Nephites wrote was archaic, at the time when they wrote it, in an analogous way to the way EModE was archaic at the time when what they wrote was translated.

The view that some sets of grammatical rules are clearer or more expressive than others seems linguistically dubious to me, at least if we are talking about rules from any natural human dialect. Made-up rules for artificial languages may well turn out to be lousy, but natural language evolution is pretty fiercely selective, in the Darwinian sense, because humans really need to be able to communicate. All natural languages and dialects are pretty equally serviceable. So I find it hard to imagine that archaic English could possibly have had any advantage over more modern English, as a vehicle for expressing Scripture — unless the advantage was simply archaism itself.

Just because I really want to avoid ever being two-faced here, I repeat that I am unimpressed by apologetic arguments based on Book of Mormon language. But I am genuinely interested in Mormon thinking about the language of Mormon Scripture.

Jeff Lindsay said...

As a reminder, my request for civil, polite behavior is not just for our critics, but also for my fellow Mormons, who sometimes get riled over the arguments and criticisms of outsiders. If we get stirred up to the point of hostility and name-calling, we lose. Stay calm and respectful, and remember that those who think we are idiotic are not necessarily idiots, and may have some valid arguments from their perspective, even if we can immediately see that they are missing significant points and, from our perspective, being unfair. More dialog, less name calling. If something really riles you, it doesn't need a response. And if our critics need to be called out sharply for bad behavior, let me do that, as I do, occasionally, and sadly, sometimes do poorly and too harshly. I've come to find that even the "most annoying" are pretty interesting and have some valid perspectives to share. Many thanks to those of you who listen and engage respectfully.

everythingbeforeus said...

The Lord knew the true nature of the BofM would be discovered in this information age, when the BofM's historicity and foundational claims would be vigorously attacked on the basis of (mis)information. All of it was known by the Lord: the emergence of the digital information age, the discovery of broad eModE in the BofM, and the forceful attacks against his text in our age. The recognition that there is substantial broad eModE usage in the BofM provides solid evidence that the claims of those who brought forth the BofM and witnessed to it are entirely reasonable. If 18c language had been used or strict KJV language there would be no such evidence. (I would like to add here that at the very least dissidents like ebu should be tolerant of family members who believe in the divinity of the BofM because the significant presence of nonbiblical eModE in the text makes that view objectively reasonable.)

So, God used EModE to help provide evidence of the BoM in an age when digital technology would allow for this evidence to come to light.

Well, perhaps. But the Book of Mormon came forth in an age when there was not digital technology. And now, we have other forms of technology in this "information age," such as genetics, etc, which actually undermines the claims of the Book.

If God was concerned about providing evidence for those who believe, he could've done what had been done with the Bible. He could've left the plates behind. Non-believers can look at authentic ancient manuscript copies of the Bible in the original languages. Does this harm the path of faith? No...you still need faith to believe the Bible's spiritual message. But you at least have some solid historical proof upon which to build that faith. The Bible is of great value to believers and non-believers alike.

With the Book of Mormon, the EModE stuff provides no evidence for Nephites or any of the historical events the Book describes. It only provides evidence that Smith didn't do it.

Anonymous said...

This public marketplace of ideas about the BofM is not the place to play Mormon-nice, Jeff. I reserve that for most domains. Christ gave us an example of not always playing nice. When defending Christ in this domain against spurious claims, it seems appropriate to me to be assertive. Critics rely in part on Mormons playing nice to further their aims of damaging belief. It is sad but true. We see it here all the time. My excoriations are meant to dissuade them from peddling misinformation. To the degree that is effective, those who consult this blog are benefited. Cheers.

Anonymous said...

ebu, most people can see how evidence that Smith didn't compose the BofM provides indirect evidence of historicity. I know from what you have written here that you have an alternate view of things.

Unknown said...

Thats an obvious joke. At least to me its obvious.