Gadianton the Nobler, Reflections on Changes in the Book of Mormon

Introduction to Textual Criticism
Part VI

Somewhere in some book I perused about existentialism is the comment that any philosophical movement that can contain both a devout Christian like Søren Kierkegaard and a devout anti-Christian like Friedrich Nietszche must be very broad indeed. I mentioned that once to Jim Faulconer, from whom I took several philosophy classes, and he said, “Nietszche wasn’t an anti-Christ. I don’t believe in the same God Nietszche didn’t believe in.”

As Jim said several times in class, the god of philosophers and theologians is wholly other than we are, so radically different that it makes no sense to suppose that we might someday become like God, and yet eternal life depends on knowing this radically unknowable being. If the radically unknowable version of God is the only version you know it may make sense to call yourself an atheist. For one thing is God is so radically different from you how do you have any way of knowing that your worship is authentic or acceptable?

Jim suggested that if Nietszche had had a different definition of God available to him, he might have had defined his relationship to that God differently–perhaps if he had known Kierkegaard. Continue reading “Gadianton the Nobler, Reflections on Changes in the Book of Mormon”

Gadianton the Nobler, Reflections on Changes in the Book of Mormon

Introduction to Textual Criticism
Part V

As the Book of Mormon is the cornerstone of our religion,  so the original manuscript was the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House, or at least it was in the cornerstone from 1841-1882, when Lewis Bidamon, Emma’s second husband, removed it. It was badly damaged by water and mold and only about 28 percent survives. Joseph’s scribes made a copy for the printer which survives intact except for a few lines.

That is a great deal more than we have of the original manuscript for any other scripture from antiquity. We don’t have any manuscript within hundreds of years of the original for any book of the Bible, or other ancient books. (And, of course, we don’t have the original records for the Book of Mormon, only the manuscripts of a translation.) We even lack original manuscripts for many books much less ancient, Shaxberd for example.

But we do have many copies of books from antiquity ranging from hamburger-sized fragments and smaller to nearly complete. Textual criticism is a discipline developed to figure out how to handle the differences between the many copies of a work. Sometimes the differences are copyist’s errors, or errors where a scribe didn’t read the original correctly. But there are many cases where a scribe or editor simply didn’t value what the author had written and made some changes. And this still happens today.

Continue reading “Gadianton the Nobler, Reflections on Changes in the Book of Mormon”

Gadianton The Nobler, Reflections on Changes in the Book of Mormon

Introduction to Textual Variants Part IV
When my father taught as a Fulbright professor at the University of Oulu, Finland in 1970-71 we took along an anthology of humor, maybe A Sub-treasury of American Humor, ed. by E. B. White, which had this piece by Robert Benchley with the very strange title “Filling that Hiatus,” about what to do when the people on either side of you at a dinner party are talking to someone else. I couldn’t figure out what a hi-uh-toose was, and for some reason didn’t think to look it up. Now that I’ve been on a taxing highertoose for about a month I figure it’s thyme to parsley write down what I’ve been thinking about.

In Part III I mentioned Joseph Smith’s discourse of Sunday October 15, 1843 which starts with a comment on his love for the Constitution and its guarantees of religious freedom, then moves on to a comment about textual corruption in the Bible, “I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors.” (Documentary History of the Church VI:56-57)

The quote, though not the rest of the discourse, is well-known to seminary students and missionaries, and a young missionary might mention it to a woman who asks why we need additional revelation, hardly expecting her to say, “Do you really believe Jehovah God Almighty would allow errors to get into His scriptures?”

Continue reading “Gadianton The Nobler, Reflections on Changes in the Book of Mormon”

Gadianton the Nobler, Reflections on Changes in The Book of Mormon

Introduction to Textual Variants
Part III

In Part II I discussed John Gilbert’s omission of two letters to justify a line. In this part I want to look at two other instances that may involve missing letters.

Joseph Smith began his discourse of Sunday October 15, 1843 with a comment on his love for the Constitution and its guarantees of religious freedom, but said there was one defect, that there was no way of ensuring that the people who were administering our freedoms would actually protect them, so that the US president wouldn’t say “Your clause is fully justified but I can do nothing for you to get those last two letters into the line.”

Joseph’s transition from speaking about Constitutional protections to speaking about textual errors is almost that abrupt. There’s a one-paragraph transition, and I think the transition is Joseph’s way of telling why his religion is unpopular:
Continue reading “Gadianton the Nobler, Reflections on Changes in The Book of Mormon”

Gadianton The Nobler, Reflections on Changes in The Book of Mormon

Introduction to Textual Variants
Part II

Typographical errors are not the only source of textual variants, typographical practices also contribute. Take a piece of paper and fold it horizontally in the middle, then fold it again vertically in the middle. This gives you 8 pages. Go through and write the page number on each page. Now unfold the sheet and look where the page numbers are.

If you held the sheet facing you to make the first fold page 1 will be the lower right hand corner on the back, page 8 in the lower left hand corner, with page 5 upside down above page 8 and page 4 upside down above page 1. On the other side of the sheet you’ll have 2 and 7 in the lower left and right respectively and 3 upside down above 2 with 6 upside down above 7.

Folding the sheet twice produces a quarto, but the Book of Mormon was printed as an octavo, meaning the printer folded the sheet a third time, to produce a signature of 16 pages. Or, depending on the size of the sheets he was using Egbert Grandin may have used two sheets to produce a signature 7 1/2″ x 4 1/2″. Continue reading “Gadianton The Nobler, Reflections on Changes in The Book of Mormon”

Gadianton the Nobler, Reflections on Changes in the Book of Mormon

Introduction to Textual Variants
Part One

One of the more disheartening things when you’re looking through back issues of Time and Newsweek from the 1970-71 school year to find the story about the Pakistani soldiers who came into a Bangladeshi village searching for blood donors–they simply strapped the young men down and drained all their blood (it would make a great poem)–is to see how many pages have been razor bladed or torn out, even at (that trope of Mormon essay writing) a university with a strict honor code meant to remind students and faculty of what it means to be the Lord’s students.

Librarians, faced with such desecration, such danger to their collections, sometimes talk about closing the stacks, so that patrons have to fill out a request for the item like that American kid found out in 1970-71 at the University of Oulu, Finland library, whose father was teaching across the street in the English Department, which had just moved from over the sausage factory to over the cable factory.

Continue reading “Gadianton the Nobler, Reflections on Changes in the Book of Mormon”

Gadianton the Nobler, Reflections on Changes in the Book of Mormon

Part III: Poetry, Style and Literary Craft in the Book of Mormon

Often in Family Home Evening we would read from different translations of the Bible. Someone would have the KJV, someone else The Jerusalem Bible, another The Revised Standard or New English Version. We would take turns reading and the others would follow along in their translations, and sometimes comment on what we read. Shortly after my brother Kevin returned from his mission he read The Book of Mormon in Finnish and we followed along in English.

When we read Nephi’s lament at the death of Lehi in 2 Nephi 4 my father told us this was a psalm, and the only psalm in The Book of Mormon. I had begun noticing a lot of poetry in the Bible, partly because The Jerusalem Bible and others format the poetry as poetry, but thought there was not much in The Book of Mormon, except Alma’s “Oh, that I were an angel.” I know now there is a great deal more poetry in the Book of Mormon than Nephi’s psalm. Indeed, every time a writer says “Oh,” it is likely the start of a poem. Even without looking at chiasmus there is a lot of lyric poetry, including the Zoramites’ prayer on the Rameumptom and Nephi’s prayer on the garden tower. Continue reading “Gadianton the Nobler, Reflections on Changes in the Book of Mormon”