Introduction to Textual Criticism
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.