Sunday Lit Crit Sermon: Stayner on Interpreting Scriptural Poetry

psalmsbookIf a prophet-poet writes scripture and has to make a choice, does he make his poem more Beautiful? or more True? Or, since poetry is usually about expressing some kind of Truth Beautifully, where is the balance between Beauty and Truth? Is the balance always the same regardless of the subject or the role of the poem?

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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.

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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?”

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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”