The Systematic Text of the Book of Mormon
In my initial work on the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon, I was always excited to discover the occasional error that had crept into the text. But over time I have become more amazed about the nature of the original English-language text of the Book of Mormon.
One aspect of the text that has surprised me is the internal consistency of the original text. (For the meaning of the term original text, see the discussion on page 5.) Occasionally a mistake in transcription or printing has introduced a reading into the text that is inconsistent with all other usage in the Book of Mormon. Even some cases of editing have led to such inconsistency. These changes do not affect the message or doctrine of the Book of Mormon, but it has been marvelous to see just how consistent the original text was.
In this paper, I will provide evidence for 56 proposed textual changes in the Book of Mormon. The term textual change means an alteration in the words or phrases of a passage or a consistent change in the spelling of a name. Of these proposed changes, 38 are textually significant, but only in the sense that they would also show up when translating the text into other languages. On the other hand, 18 of the changes involve minor variation in the phraseology of the text. These changes do not involve any significant change in meaning. Nonetheless, these minor errors show how consistent the original text was, even in its phraseology. The language of the original text was very tightly controlled.
Consistency in Meaning
I begin this paper by discussing a good number of textual changes that show that the semantically better (or more appropriate) reading is found in the earliest textual source—usually the original manuscript, but sometimes in the printer's manuscript when the original manuscript is no longer extant. The symbol O will be used to stand for the original manuscript; and P will stand for the printer's manuscript, the copy of O that the scribes prepared for the printer of the first edition (1830, Palmyra, New York). Editions are identified by the year in which they were published (from the 1830 edition to the 1981 LDS edition). Unless otherwise noted, Book of Mormon passages and names will be cited as they are found in the earliest textual sources.
° The devil is the proprietor, not preparator, of hell.
1 Nephi 15:35
and there is a place prepared
yea even that awful hell of which I have spoken
and the devil is the proprietor of it
prepriator: scribe 2's original spelling of proprietor in O
preparator: Oliver Cowdery's interpretation, in P; followed by 1830 and 1981
father: Joseph Smith's first emendation, in P
foundation: Joseph Smith's second emendation, also in P; followed by 1837 and all subsequent editions except for 1981
In the original manuscript, scribe 2's prepriator is quite unusual, especially his spelling of the first (unstressed) vowel as e rather than o. Oliver Cowdery misinterpreted the word as preparator, a virtually nonexistent word in English; according to the Oxford English Dictionary, a preparator is a preparer of medicines or specimens. Oliver was probably influenced by the earlier occurrence in this verse of the word prepared. The difficulty of the word preparator explains Joseph Smith's varying attempts to come up with a better reading for the 1837 edition (first, father, then foundation). The devil as proprietor (or owner and operator) of hell makes very good sense. (Renee Bangerter first suggested this reading as a conjectural emendation.)
° The wicked are separated, not rejected, from the righteous and the tree of life.
1 Nephi 15:36 wherefore the wicked are separated from the righteous
and also from that tree of lifeseperated: scribe 2's spelling of separated in Orejected: Oliver Cowdery's misreading, in P; followed by 1830 and all subsequent editionsOliver Cowdery miscopied scribe 2's seperated as the visually similar rejected. Elsewhere in the Book of Mormon text, people can be separated as a result of sin and judgment. Note in particular the usage in nearby verse 28: "it was an awful gulf which separateth the wicked from the tree of life and also from the saints of God." We get the same meaning as in verse 36: the wicked are separated from the righteous saints of God and from the tree of life.
° Alma did know about the persecutors of the church.
Mosiah 26:9 and it came to pass that Alma did know concerning them
for there were many witnesses against themdid know . . . for: original reading in P, in scribe 2's hand; O not extantdid not know . . . for: Oliver Cowdery's later correction, also in P; followed by 1830 and most subsequent editionsdid not know . . . but: 1920 emendation; followed by 1981The unknown scribe 2 of the printer's manuscript originally wrote "Alma did know concerning them / for there were many witnesses against them," a reading which makes perfectly good sense. Oliver Cowdery later corrected the text here by inserting the word not, perhaps because of the unusualness of the paraphrastic did in the verb phrase "did know." This emendation resulted in a difficult reading, which was somewhat alleviated in the 1920 edition by substituting but for the conjunction for. The earliest reading (in scribe 2's hand in the printer's manuscript) is precisely correct.
° The queen clapped, not clasped, her hands.
Alma 19:30 and when she had said this
she clapped her hands
being filled with joyclaped: Oliver Cowdery's spelling in P for clapped; O not extant; recent RLDS editions have clappedclasped: 1830 misreading; followed by most subsequent editionsThe 1830 typesetter apparently interpreted Oliver Cowdery's spelling claped as missing an s, yet this spelling is simply the result of the scribes' tendency to not double consonants after a short vowel. Elsewhere, the text does refer to the more emotional clapping of hands ("they clapped their hands for joy," in Mosiah 18:11), but never to clasping hands. In this second example, Oliver Cowdery also spelled clapped with a single p.
° Repentance involves both acknowledging faults and repairing wrongs.
therefore I command you my son in the fear of God . . .
that ye lead away the hearts of no more to do wickedly
but rather return unto them and acknowledge your faults
and repair that wrong which ye have doneacknowledge your faults and repair that wrong: reading in O, in Oliver Cowdery's hand;
accidental ink drop on p of repairacknowledge your faults and retain that wrong: Oliver Cowdery's misreading, in P;
followed by 1830 and most subsequent editionsacknowledge your faults and that wrong: 1920 emendation; followed by 1981The original manuscript reads repair, but sometime before the text was copied into the printer's manuscript, a number of ink drops fell on this page. One fell right on the p of repair and looks like a crossing on the ascender of the p. Since Oliver Cowdery's r's and n's frequently look alike, the resulting word looks like retain, which is how Oliver Cowdery copied the word. The use of retain in this passage doesn't make sense, thus in the 1920 edition the word was simply deleted. The original reading here ("repair that wrong") is consistent with other Book of Mormon passages that refer to repentance—as in Mosiah 27:35, where the sons of Mosiah were "zealously striving to repair all the injuries which they had done to the church / confessing all their sins / and publishing all the things which they had seen." (Similar language is found in Alma 27:8 and Helaman 5:17.)
° The Nephite dissenters almost outnumbered the Nephites.
and thus the Nephites were compelled alone
to withstand against the Lamanites
which were a compound of Laman and Lemuel
and the sons of Ishmael
and all those which had dissented from the Nephites
which were Amlicites and Zoramites
and the descendants of the priests of Noah
now those dissenters were as numerous nearly as were the Nephitesdesenters: Oliver Cowdery's spelling in O for dissentersdesendants: Oliver Cowdery's spelling in P for descendants (a misreading of O)descendants: spelling in 1830 and all subsequent editions, following POliver Cowdery miscopied dissenters (spelled desenters) as descendants (spelled desendants). The previous verse lists all the Nephite dissenters, ending up with "the descendants of the priests of Noah," yet quite clearly in a few generations the descendants of a couple dozen priests could never have increased to almost equal the population of the entire (non-dissenting) Nephite nation.
° The Lamanites had only one second leader, not several.
. . . and that he would deliver them up into Lehonti's hands
if he would make him Amalickiah
the second leader over the whole armythe second leader: reading in O, in Oliver Cowdery's handa second leader: miscopied by Oliver Cowdery in P; followed by 1830 and all subsequent editionsOliver Cowdery miscopied the as the indefinite article a. This error occurred because the definite article the was at the end of the line and was therefore easily misread. As explained later on in the story, there was only one second leader (thus Alma 47:17: "if their chief leader was killed / to appoint the second leader to be their chief leader").
° Moroni asked Parhoron to heed, not read, his petition.
he sent a petition with the voice of the people
unto the governor of the land
desiring that he should heed it
and give him Moroni power to compel those dissentershead: Oliver Cowdery's spelling for heed in O, also his corrected spelling in Pread: 1830 printer's misinterpretation of head, marked in pencil in P; followed by 1830 and all subsequent editions
Oliver Cowdery frequently spells heed as head (for instance, in the original manuscript for Alma 49:30: "because of their head & diligence"). The 1830 typesetter was usually able to correctly interpret this particular misspelling. But in Alma 51:15 he could not understand "he should head it." He thought the word head was an error for read, and thus he overwrote (in pencil) the initial h with an r. The use of heed, of course, makes perfectly good sense, but requesting Parhoron to read the petition does sound quite unnecessary.
I now turn to examples where the phraseology of the original text is strongly supported by all other usage in the Book of Mormon. Each error described in this section has led to a "wrinkle" in the text. Nonetheless, these textual errors have not been found except by discovering the correct reading in the manuscripts.
° Multitudes are always pressing, not feeling, their way forward.
1 Nephi 8:31 and he also saw other multitudes pressing their way
towards that great and spacious buildingpr∫sing: scribe 3's spelling in O of pressing (that is, without the e)feeling: Oliver Cowdery's misreading, in P; followed by 1830 and all subsequent editionsThere are no scriptural uses of "feeling one's way." Here in the original manuscript scribe 3 wrote pr∫sing (where ∫ stands for an elongated s). Scribe 3's initial p looks like an f, so when Oliver Cowdery copied the text into the printer's manuscript, he misread pressing as feeling. Similar descriptions in Lehi's dream also use press rather than feel:
1 Nephi 8:21 and I saw numberless concourses of people
many of whom were pressing forward
1 Nephi 8:24 I beheld others pressing forward . . .
and they did press forward
1 Nephi 8:30 he saw other multitudes pressing forward . . .
and they did press their way forwardThere are other uses of "press forward" in 2 Nephi 31:20 and Ether 14:12. (Lyle Fletcher first discovered this change of pressing to feeling.)
° The justice of God is a sword.
1 Nephi 12:18 and a great and a terrible gulf divideth them
yea even the sword of the justice of the eternal Godsword: reading in O, in scribe 2's handword: Oliver Cowdery's miscopying of sword as word in P; followed by 1830 and all subsequent editionsIn the original manuscript, scribe 2's initial s looks like an undotted i, which led Oliver Cowdery to accidentally misread sword as word when he copied this passage into the printer's manuscript. There are no other examples of "the word of justice" in the Book of Mormon text, but there are seven other examples of "the sword of justice":
Alma 26:19 the sword of his justice Alma 60:29 the sword of justice Helaman 13:5 the sword of justice (2 times) 3 Nephi 20:20 the sword of my justice 3 Nephi 29:4 the sword of his justice Ether 8:23 the sword of the justice of the eternal God
The last example is precisely the same as the original reading in 1 Nephi 12:18.
Minor Wrinkles in the Current Text
In this section, I list 12 different cases where the phraseology in the original text was perfectly consistent, but over the years occasional printing errors have led to exceptions in the phraseology. These errors do not lead to any substantive change in meaning. But these wrinkles do show just how consistent the original text was, even in cases of minor phraseology.
° this time, never these times when referring to present timeoriginal text: 61 to 0current text: 60 to 1
1 Nephi 10:19
as well in this time as in times of old and as well in times of old as in times to come >
these times (1830)
[Note the influence of the plural times for past and future.]
° whatsoever, never whateveroriginal text: 74 to 0current text: 72 to 2
let them be of whatsoever name they would > whatever (1830)
in whatsoever parts it had not been rendered desolate > whatever (1830)
° to do iniquity, never to do iniquitiesoriginal text: 22 to 0current text: 21 to 1
ye have done greater iniquity than the Lamanites > iniquities (1830)
° to have hope, never to have hopedoriginal text: 18 to 0current text: 17 to 1
and these I had hope to preserve > had hoped (1837)
[Joseph Smith's editing in the printer's manuscript; in-press change in the 1837 edition]
° if it so be that, never if it be so thatoriginal text: 38 to 0current text: 36 to 2
and if it so be that these last grafts shall grow > be so (1852)
and if it so be that the water come in upon thee > be so (1849)
° the Nephites and the Lamanites, never the Nephites and Lamanitesoriginal text: 15 to 0current text: 14 to 1
and I saw wars between the Nephites and the Lamanites > NULL (1830)
[NULL means that one or more words have been deleted.]
° to observe to keep the commandments, never to observe the commandmentsoriginal text: 11 to 0current text: 10 to 1
and observe to keep the commandments of God > NULL (1837)
° to set a mark upon someone, never to set a mark on someoneoriginal text: 9 to 0current text: 8 to 1
and I will set a mark upon them > on (1837)
° thus ended a period of time, never thus endeth a period of time (usually a year)original text: 47 to 0current text: 43 to 4
and thus ended the fifth year > endeth (1830)
and thus ended the fifteenth year > endeth (1837)
and thus ended the twenty and fifth year > endeth (1849)
and thus ended the days of Amalickiah > endeth (1849)
° to meet a person, never to meet with a personoriginal text: 51 to 0current text: 50 to 1
he met ^ the sons of Mosiah > with (1830)
° conditions, never conditionoriginal text: 14 to 0current text: 12 to 2
and we will guard them from their enemies by our armies on conditionsthat they will give us a portion of their substance > condition (1920)
[change marked in the 1920 committee copy (1911 Chicago edition)]
yea and it bringeth to pass the conditions of repentance > condition (1830)
° into one's hands, never unto one's handsoriginal text: 56 to 0current text: 55 to 1
therefore they yielded up the city into our hands > unto (1920)
[change not marked in the 1920 committee copy (1911 Chicago edition)]
Increase in Parallelism
Frequently the original text shows a higher degree of parallelism between its linguistic elements. In the following example, the parallelism of the original text is assured by repeating a linguistic element (in this case, the preposition).
° There was rejoicing among the relatives of Parhoron and also among the people of liberty.
Alma 51:7 and Parhoron retained the judgment seat
which caused much rejoicing among the brethren of Parhoron
and also among the people of libertyamong the people: reading in O, in Oliver Cowdery's handmany the people: Oliver Cowdery's miscopying of among as many in Pmany of the people: John Gilbert's correction in P (of added in pencil); followed by 1830 and all subsequent editions
The original text here shows parallelism by repeating the preposition among ("among X and also among Y"). Oliver Cowdery misread the second among as many. John Gilbert, the 1830 typesetter, realized that "many the people" was not acceptable, so he inserted the preposition of.
Punctuation and Parallelism
As far as we can determine, the original text of the Book of Mormon had no punctuation. The original manuscript had some dashes in the summaries that are typically found at the beginning of books or sections of books, but elsewhere in the original manuscript the scribes provided no punctuation. For the printer's manuscript, Oliver Cowdery and scribe 2 added some punctuation as they copied the original manuscript. The 1830 typesetter, John Gilbert, ignored the scribes' suggested punctuation and provided his own as he set the type. In most instances, Gilbert's punctuation (or its equivalent) has been retained in the text. In some cases, later editors of the text have emended his punctuation. Even so, there are still a few cases where there is good reason to further emend the punctuation. In the following example, we see that the punctuation should probably be changed in order to maintain the parallel nature of the original text.
° The life of the soul is eternal.
now repentance could not come unto men
except there were a punishment
— which also was as eternal as the life of the soul —
should be affixed opposite to the plan of happiness
which was as eternal also as the life of the soul /
now how could a man repent except he should sin . . .
The 1830 typesetter incorrectly placed the punctuation after "should be" (although in the printer's manuscript he correctly marked the punctuation as coming before "should be"). All subsequent editions have followed his final decision to make the break right before the word affixed. But the resulting parenthetical clause claims that there must be a punishment that is as eternal "as the life of the soul should be"—which really doesn't make much sense. The life of the soul "is eternal," not "should be eternal." Alma is saying that "a punishment . . . should be affixed opposite to the plan of happiness"—a plan which should correspondingly be "as eternal also as the life of the soul." Notice that at the end of the verse the punctuation must occur at the end of the phrase "the life of the soul."
Agreement with the King James Version
The Book of Mormon sometimes quotes from the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. In many cases a change has taken the text away from its original reading, which happens to be the same as the reading in the KJV.
° The Lord will break the Assyrians in the land of Israel.
2 Nephi 24:25 . . . that I will break the Assyrian in my land
and upon my mountains tread him under footbreak: reading in O, in Oliver Cowdery's hand; same reading in KJVbring: Oliver Cowdery's miscopying of break as bring in P; followed by 1830 and all subsequent editions
The KJV for Isaiah 14:25 reads break ("I will break the Assyrian in my land"), as does the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon. The word break was hyphenated at the end of a line, so that the final k was placed at the beginning of the next line. In his copy work, Oliver Cowdery misread the brea at the end of the line as the beginning of the word bring. The change to bring obscures the original semantic parallelism in this verse (where both clauses refer to the destruction of the Assyrian army within the borders of Israel).
In this section, I discuss two interesting cases where the manuscript evidence supports a change in the spelling of a Book of Mormon name. In both of these cases, the original spelling reveals an interesting aspect regarding the history of the peoples in the Book of Mormon.
° Muloch, not MulekHere the earliest manuscript spelling for the surviving son of king Zedekiah reads Muloch (in Mosiah 25:2 of the printer's manuscript). On the other hand, this name is spelled Mulek in Helaman 6–8 of the printer's manuscript. This alternative spelling is probably due to the nearby influence of 13 occurrences of the name of the city Mulek (consistently spelled as such in both manuscripts, from Alma 51 through Helaman 5). Note that the spelling Muloch suggests an ominous connection with the god Molech / Moloch (to which children in Israel were sacrificed prior to the Babylonian captivity—see 1 Kings 11:7–8, 2 Kings 23:10 and Acts 7:43).
° Amlicites, not Amalekites
There is only one group of dissenters that Amlici founded—namely, the Amlicites, first described in Alma 2–3. This same dissident group is later referred to (in the current text) as the Amalekites (Alma 21–27, 43). But the earliest extant manuscript spelling (in Alma 24:1) spells the name of this "other" group as Amelicites, with only the one vowel difference between Amlicites and Amelicites. The incorrect later spelling Amalekites may have been influenced by the competing name Amaleki, which in the Book of Mormon refers to the record keeper first mentioned in Omni 1:12 or one of the men of Ammon listed in Mosiah 7:6. Another possible source for the secondary spelling is the Amalekites, a prominent people in the land of Canaan and frequently mentioned in the Old Testament.
Original Lack of Redundancy
We sometimes find that errors have created unnecessary redundancies, as in the following example.
° You would behold quickly.
Alma 33:21 if ye could be healed by merely casting about your eyes
that ye might behold
would ye not behold quicklybehold: reading in O, in Oliver Cowdery's hand; the o is no longer extantbe healed: Oliver Cowdery's misreading, in P; followed by 1830 and all subsequent editions
Oliver Cowdery wrote beh at the end of the line in the original manuscript, then -old at the beginning of the next line (although the line-initial hyphen and the o are no longer extant). When copying into the printer's manuscript, Oliver Cowdery accidentally misread the hyphenated word as be healed. The emphasis in this passage is on beholding quickly. There is no need to repeat the already stated condition of being healed, as the text now redundantly reads "if ye could be healed by merely casting about your eyes that ye might be healed".
Variation in the Text
When emending the text, it is important to keep in mind that not every case of variation in the text should be made consistent. There will exist legitimate possibilities of choice involving alternative phraseology or semantically similar words.
° Moroni was appointed chief commander.
Alma 43:17 and he was only twenty and five years old
when he was appointed chief commander
over the armies of the Nephiteschief commander: reading in O, in Oliver Cowdery's hand; 1830 follows O rather than Pchief captain: Oliver Cowdery's substitution, in P; followed by 1837 and all subsequent editions
For gathering 22 of the 1830 edition (pages 337–352, covering Alma 41:8–46:30), page proofing was done against the original manuscript. Thus Oliver Cowdery's mistake in copying commander as captain into the printer's manuscript was corrected. However, the 1837 edition restored the reading of the printer's manuscript. Both "chief commander" and "chief captain" are found elsewhere in the text. Usually Moroni is referred to as "chief captain" (4 times), but in one place he is referred to as the "chief commander of the armies of the Nephites" (Alma 46:11), nearly the same language as originally in Alma 43:17.
The Existence of Single Readings
Since variation does occur in the text, the correct reading may very well be unique—that is, a particular phrase or word may occur only once in the entire Book of Mormon. Statistically, of course, we expect such cases of singularity, and we should not therefore be overzealous about eliminating exceptional readings.
° The Nephites only sought to defend their lives.
Alma 54:13 ye have sought to murder us
and we have only sought to defend our livesour lives: reading in O, in Oliver Cowdery's handourselves: Oliver Cowdery's misreading, in P; followed by 1830 and all subsequent editions
Here the original manuscript reads our lives. This usage is unique in the text, so it is not surprising that Oliver Cowdery miscopied the phrase as ourselves. The use of "we have only sought to defend our lives" makes a clear contrast with the preceding "ye have sought to murder us" and therefore seems more appropriate than the more prosaic expression "we have only sought to defend ourselves." (The phrase "to defend one's self" occurs 12 times in the text.)
In studying the Book of Mormon text, we come across cases of possible emendation for which there is no direct manuscript evidence. Nonetheless, it is important to set restrictions on such conjectural emendations. The first requirement for an acceptable conjectural emendation is that there be something inappropriate about the earliest extant readings of the passage (whether printed or in the manuscripts). Evidence regarding the unacceptability of a reading is sometimes referred to as internal evidence since it is based on a conceptual analysis of the language usage within the text. Of course, it may be rather easy to discover something wrong with a particular reading, so we add a second requirement to the first one—namely, there must be some evidence to suggest why the transmitter of the text (whether scribe or typesetter) might have made the error that is presupposed by the conjectural emendation. This second requirement means that we must analyze the errors that the scribes and typesetters typically made as they transmitted the text. This kind of evidence is sometimes referred to as external evidence in that it physically exists in real manuscripts and in actual copies of books. Both these requirements (of internal and external evidence) are necessary in order to prevent conjectural emendation from being excessively applied.
° Ishmael and also his whole household were persuaded to leave Jerusalem.
1 Nephi 7:5 the Lord did soften the heart of Ishmael
and also his whole householdhole hole: scribe 3 in O originally wrote hole, then inserted a second hole above the linehousehold: Oliver Cowdery's interpretation of hole hole as household, in P; followed by 1830 and all subsequent editionswhole household: emendationAll other Book of Mormon uses of household (11 times) include the universal quantifier (all, whole, or the equivalent of none in negative contexts). The use of "his hole hole" in the original manuscript suggests that the original text had the phrase "his whole household," which is also found in Alma 22:23 ("his whole household were converted unto the Lord"). When Joseph Smith read off the text for 1 Nephi 7:5, the final d of household may have been left unpronounced, so that scribe 3 ended up writing down "hole hole," but without the word house. (The first hole is, of course, a homophone for whole.) When copying into the printer's manuscript, Oliver Cowdery emended the impossible reading to "his household"—but without any universal quantifier.
° The Bible originally contained the fullness of the gospel of the Lamb, not the gospel of the Land or the gospel of the Lord.
1 Nephi 13:24 and when it proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew
it contained the fullness of the gospel of the Lambthe gospel of the Land: dubious reading in O, in scribe 2's handthe gospel of the Lord: Oliver Cowdery's interpretation, in P; followed by 1830 and all subsequent editionsthe gospel of the Lamb: emendationScribe 2 of the original manuscript apparently misheard Joseph Smith's lamb as land, especially since the final d of land is often silent. When copying into the printer's manuscript, Oliver Cowdery interpreted Land as an error for Lord. Elsewhere the text only refers to "the gospel of the Lamb" (4 times, all in this same chapter), never "the gospel of the Lord." (This emendation was first proposed by three of my students, Zane Kerby, Merilee Knoll, and Rebecca S. Wilson.)
° The gentiles shall not always remain in a state of awful wickedness, not woundedness or blindness.
1 Nephi 13:32
neither will the Lord God suffer that
the gentiles shall forever remain
in that state of awful wickedness
which thou beholdest that they are inwoundedne∫s: reading in O, in scribe 2's hand; copied as such into P by Oliver Cowdery; 1830 also follows this readingblindne∫s: Joseph Smith's emendation, in P; followed by 1837 and all subsequent editionswickedness: emendationScribe 2 of the original manuscript wrote down woundedness, which is visually similar to wickedness (both begin with w and end with edness). But since the error is probably not an auditory one, it is quite possible that Joseph Smith himself misread the word to his scribe (instead of the scribe mishearing it). Elsewhere the Book of Mormon never refers to a "state of woundedness" (in fact, there are no other examples of the word woundedness in the text). On the other hand, there are references to a "state of wickedness" (4 times), and in each case the word awful occurs with the expression:
Helaman 4:25 for they had fallen into a state of unbelief and awful wickedness Helaman 7:4 and seeing the people in a state of such awful wickedness . . . 3 Nephi 6:17 and thus in the commencement of this the thirtieth year they were in a state of awful wickedness Ether 4:15 behold when ye shall rend that veil of unbelief which doth cause you to remain in your awful state of wickedness . . .Finally, we should note that here in 1 Nephi 13:32 the pronoun that ("in that state of awful . . .") refers the reader back to an already mentioned state of the gentiles—namely:
1 Nephi 13:29
and because of these things which are taken away
out of the gospel of the Lamb
an exceeding great many do stumble
yea insomuch that Satan hath great power over themThe last line in verse 29 describes a state of wickedness. Although a metaphorical meaning of spiritual woundedness could be assigned in 1 Nephi 13:32, the word woundedness did not seem right to Joseph Smith when he did his editing for the 1837 edition. Thus he emended the word to blindness.
° The Lord told Nephi that he would shake, not shock, Laman and Lemuel.
1 Nephi 17:53
stretch forth thine hand again unto thy brethren
and they shall not wither before thee
but I will shake them
saith the Lordshock: reading in O, in Oliver Cowdery's hand; followed by P, 1830, and all subsequent editionsshake: emendationThe two following verses (1 Nephi 17:54–55) use the word shake to refer to what Nephi did to his rebellious brothers ("the Lord did shake them even according to the word which he had spoken" and "it is the power of the Lord that hath shaken us"). Note, in particular, the added explanation in verse 54: "even according to the word which he had spoken." Other Book of Mormon usage supports shake, as in 1 Nephi 2:14 ("my father did speak unto them in the valley of Lemuel with power / being filled with the spirit until their frames did shake before him"). In fact, the word shock occurs nowhere else in the Book of Mormon. Oliver Cowdery, the scribe here for 1 Nephi 17:53 of the original manuscript, probably misheard Joseph Smith's shake as shock.
° Happiness is opposed to misery.
2 Nephi 2:11
righteousness could not be brought to pass neither wickedness
neither happiness nor misery
neither good nor badneither holiness nor misery: reading in P, in Oliver Cowdery's hand; O not extant; reading followed by 1830 and all subsequent editionsneither happiness nor misery: emendationThe original manuscript is not extant here, but it probably read happiness rather than the visually similar holiness. Elsewhere in the text, misery is consistently contrasted with happiness (9 times). For instance, later on in this same verse, the text again lays out a list of oppositions:
2 Nephi 2:11
wherefore if it should be one body
it must needs remain as dead
having no life neither death
nor corruption nor incorruption
happiness nor misery
neither sense nor insensibility(This emendation replacing holiness with happiness was first suggested by Corbin T. Volluz.)
° Abinadi will suffer even unto death, not until death
Mosiah 17:10 yea and I will suffer even unto deathuntil death: reading in P, in Oliver Cowdery's hand; O not extant; reading followed by 1830 and all subsequent editionsunto death: emendationThe original manuscript is not extant here. Oliver Cowdery probably miscopied unto as until (which is visually similar). Elsewhere, whenever someone's death is described, we get only "unto death" (6 times), never "until death." For instance, later in verse 13, the text refers to Abinadi's death by means of the phrase "yea even unto death." Later, king Noah's death, also by fire, is referred to in the same way:
Mosiah 19:20 and they were angry with the king
and caused that he should suffer
even unto death by fireIn Mosiah 17:10, the problematic phrase "suffer until death" would mean that Abinadi's suffering will extend from that time until the moment of death, which is not what Abinadi intended to say. Rather he was prophesying that he would suffer death for his testimony.
° Abinadi's skin was scorched by the burning fagots.
Mosiah 17:13 and it came to pass that they took him and bound him
and scorched his skin with fagots yea even unto deathscourged: reading in P, in Oliver Cowdery's hand; O not extant; reading followed by 1830 and all subsequent editionsscorched: emendationThe original manuscript is not extant here, but Oliver Cowdery probably miscopied the original scorched with the visually similar scourged. The verb scourge "to whip" does not make sense here, especially with fagots (bundles of sticks for burning). The word scorch here means "to burn the surface of," in distinction to totally burning up or consuming by fire (a distinction which can be inferred from the definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary). The correct verb scorch is used in the following verse:
Mosiah 17:14 and now when the flames began to scorch him
he cried unto them saying . . .
° The city of Mulek was in the land of the Nephites.
Moroni had thus gained a victory
over one of the greatest of the armies of the Lamanites
and had obtained possession of the city Mulek
which was one of the strongest holds of the Lamanites
in the land of the Nephitesthe land of Nephi: reading in O, in Oliver Cowdery's hand; followed by P, 1830, and all subsequent editionsthe land of the Nephites: emendationThe city of Mulek was in Nephite territory. The land of Nephi was originally settled by Nephi, but was later abandoned to the Lamanites. Elsewhere the Book of Mormon text always uses the phrase "the land of Nephi" to refer to this Lamanite territory (55 times). But in this passage, the text refers to Nephite cities that the Lamanites had captured. There is scribal evidence in the manuscripts that Oliver Cowdery sometimes mixed up his writing of "the people of Nephi" with the "the people of the Nephites," so that the mix-up of "the land of Nephi" with "the land of the Nephites" is quite plausible. (This emendation was first suggested by Dale Caswell.)
° Shiz slew both men women and children.
and it came to pass that Shiz pursued after Coriantumr
and he did overthrow many cities
and he did slay both men women and children
and he did burn the cities thereofboth women and children: reading in P, in Oliver Cowdery's hand; O not extant; reading followed by 1830 and all subsequent editionsboth men women and children: emendationUsage elsewhere in the text consistently favors the expression "both men women and children":
2 Nephi 9:21
for behold he suffereth the pains of all men
yea the pains of every living creature
both men women and children
Helaman 1:27 . . . slaying the people with a great slaughter
both men women and children
but they did march forth
from the shedding of blood to the shedding of blood
leaving the bodies of
both men women and children
strewed upon the face of the land
when they were all gathered together
— everyone to the army which he would —
with their wives and their children
both men women and children being armed
with weapons of war . . .
On the other hand, there are no other examples in the original text of "both women and children." (The only example in the current text—in Mormon 4:14—originally read "of women and of children." The 1837 edition changed this conjunctive phrase to "both women and children," thus creating a unique but problematic reading.) The original manuscript is not extant for Ether 14:17, but probably included men. The eye of the scribe (Oliver Cowdery) may have simply skipped over the word men to the -men at the end of the next word, women.
We now consider a number of textual changes involving the numbering of people, including one conjectural emendation.
° The Lamanites will be numbered among the house of Israel.
1 Nephi 15:16 behold I say unto you yea /
they shall be numbered again among the house of Israelnumbered: reading in O, in scribe 2's handremembered: Oliver Cowdery's misreading, in P; followed by 1830 and all subsequent editionsScribe 2 of the original manuscript wrote numbered, but Oliver Cowdery accidentally copied it as remembered. The words are visually similar. As we shall see, usage elsewhere in the Book of Mormon clearly favors numbered in this context.
° The people of Ammon were numbered among the Nephites.
Alma 27:27 and they were numbered among the people of Nephi
and also numbered among the people which were of the church of Godthey were numbered among the people of Nephi: apparent reading in O, in Oliver Cowdery's hand; only last part of word is extant (namely, ered )they were among the people of Nephi: Oliver Cowdery's misreading, in P; followed by 1830 and all subsequent editionsOliver Cowdery accidentally dropped out numbered when he copied the text into the printer's manuscript. (The last part of the word is extant in the original manuscript.) The people of Ammon were not actually distributed among the people of Nephi, but lived apart (in the land of Jershon). But they were counted as Nephites (not Lamanites) and also as members of the church. It should also be noted that the use of the phrase "also numbered" in the second clause does not make much sense unless the word numbered occurs in the first clause.
° Nonbelievers were no longer numbered among the people of God.
Alma 1:24 and their names were blotted out
that they were numbered no more among the people of Godremembered: reading in P, in scribe 2's hand; O not extant; reading followed by 1830 and all subsequent editionsnumbered: emendationThe original manuscript is no longer extant here. Consistent with all other Book of Mormon usage (38 examples, counting the two changes listed just above), the verb should be numbered. As we have just seen (in 1 Nephi 15:16), there is specific scribal evidence for misreading numbered as remembered. Furthermore, the word remembered does not make sense here in Alma 1:24; even though peoples' names may be blotted out, the people themselves are remembered. Moreover, all other passages connect church membership with numbering and not remembering:
and them that would not confess their sins
and repent of their iniquity
the same were not numbered
among the people of the church
and their names were blotted out
and behold their names shall be blotted out
that the names of the wicked shall not be numbered
among the names of the righteous
the same were rejected
and their names were blotted out
that their names were not numbered
among those of the righteous
and if they repented not and confessed not
their names were blotted out
and they were not numbered
among the people of Christ
This last conjectural emendation thus makes the entire Book of Mormon systematic in its use of numbering people rather than remembering them.
Yea as an Indicator of Further Explication
There are hundreds of examples of the connective adverb yea in the Book of Mormon text. Interestingly, virtually every example represents an attempt to modify, amplify, or explain the meaning of the previous clause. Yet, in a few cases, the connective yea seems to be used incorrectly. It turns out that these cases involve errors. In fact, in two cases the yea should actually be the word year.
° In the latter end of the nineteenth year . . .
in the latter end of the nineteenth year
—notwithstanding their peace amongst themselves—
they were compelled reluctantly to contend with their brethrenthe nineteenth year / notwithstanding: reading in O, in Oliver Cowdery's handthe nineteenth / yea notwithstanding: Oliver Cowdery's scribal error, in P; followed by 1830 and oher early editions, plus all RLDS editionsthe nineteenth year / yea notwithstanding: Orson Pratt's emendation, in 1849; followed by all subsequent LDS editionsIn both manuscripts Oliver Cowdery frequently dropped off the final r when he wrote the word year. In his editing for the 1849 edition, Orson Pratt realized the need for the word year in this passage, but he did not recognize that the yea was an error for year. The purpose of the connective yea in the Book of Mormon is to comment or expand on a just-mentioned clause. In Alma 48:21 the yea does not serve that function.
° And it came to pass in the forty and sixth year . . .
Helaman 3:3 and it came to pass in the forty and sixth year /
there were much contentions and many dissensionsthe forty and sixth / yea there were: reading in O, in Oliver Cowdery's hand; copied as such by Oliver Cowdery into P; followed by
1830 and all subsequent editionsthe forty and sixth year / there were: emendation
The original manuscript has only yea, but we have many examples of Oliver Cowdery dropping the final r of year (as in the previous example in Alma 48:21). This passage definitely needs the word year, while the use of yea here does not provide any comment or expansion on the previous clause.
When copying from the original manuscript into the printer's manuscript, the scribe would frequently repeat a portion of the text, usually a small phrase. Such dittographies (or repetitions) were usually caught by the scribe himself or by the 1830 typesetter. For instance, when Oliver Cowdery copied 1 Nephi 1:17 into the printer's manuscript, he first wrote "wherefore after that I have abridged the record of my father of my father." In this instance the dittography is blatantly obvious and Oliver crossed out the repeated "of my father." In this section I propose one example of a possible dittography. In this case the original manuscript is not extant, so we have a case of conjecture. This dittography has also been difficult to notice since it begins with the conjunction and. Yet the repeated portion is completely unnecessary and is in fact distracting.
° They will be grasped with death and hell and the devil.
2 Nephi 28:23
yea they are grasped with death and hell and the devil /
and all that have been seized therewith must stand
before the throne of God
and be judged according to their workswith death and hell / and death and hell and the devil: reading in P; O not extant; reading followed by 1830 and all subsequent editionswith death and hell and the devil: emendationElsewhere the Book of Mormon text has nine examples of the phrase "death and hell," and in each instance there is no repetition. Here are two of these examples, both in 2 Nephi, which conjoin the phrase "death and hell" with "the devil":
2 Nephi 9:19
for he delivereth his saints
from that awful monster
the devil and death and hell
and that lake of fire and brimstone
which is endless torment
2 Nephi 9:26
they are delivered from that awful monster
death and hell and the devil
and the lake of fire and brimstone
which is endless torment
These last two examples also argue that the clausal break for 2 Nephi 28:23 should come at the end of the complete prepositional phrase "with death and hell and the devil." (This dittography in 2 Nephi 28:23 was first suggested by Nathaniel Skousen.)
Emendation Supported by Chiasmus
Sometimes a conjecture is further supported by the poetic structures found in the Book of Mormon. Here is an example that chiasmus supports.
° God is perfectly just and merciful.
Alma 42:15 . . . that God might be a perfectly just God and a merciful God alsoa perfect just God: reading in P, in Oliver Cowdery's hand; O not extant; reading followed by 1830 and all subsequent editionsa perfectly just God: emendationIn the original manuscript, the lacuna (or gap) for this passage has room for a couple more letters, which suggests the emendation perfectly. Another possible emendation is "a perfect and just God" (that is, there was an ampersand between perfect and just). The overall passage refers to the justice and mercy of God, but not God's perfection. Moreover, the chiastic structure of the larger passage supports the emendation "perfectly just":
A to bring about the plan of mercy
B to appease the demands of justice
B that God might be a perfectly just God
A and a merciful God
Revising the Text
In certain instances of emendation, we need to distinguish between revision and restoring the original text. In cases of revision, we recognize that the suggested change is probably not what the original text read, but seems necessary for modern readers of the text. One way to avoid such emendations is, of course, to place the revision in a footnote, thus providing an explanation of what the original text either meant or should read. In the following I discuss several possible revisions to the text.
Archaic Word Meanings
Sometimes the word used in the original text has an archaic meaning. It may be quite difficult to understand such archaic uses of a word. In the following example, the scribe apparently replaced such an archaic word by one that seemed, at the moment, more reasonable.
° After they had ended the sermon . . .
Mosiah 19:24 and it came to pass that after they had ended the sermon
that they returned to the land of Nephithe ceremony: reading in P, in Oliver Cowdery's hand (spelled as cerimony); O not extant; reading followed by 1830 and all subsequent
editionsthe sermon: emendationspeaking: possible revision
The word ceremony does not make sense here, nor is there any older meaning of the word that might work. Earlier in the English language the word sermon had the more general meaning "talk or discourse" rather than the more specific modern meaning of "preacher's discourse." The original manuscript is not extant here, but if the scribe for that manuscript had misspelled the word sermon as cermon, then the word could have been very easily misread as ceremony. Since sermon seems odd here, just as ceremony does, we might consider revising the text by selecting a word more appropriate to the style of the Book of Mormon. However, none of the synonymous words that I can think of (for instance, discussion and conversation) ever occur in the Book of Mormon. Moreover, nouns like speech, talk, and discourse have historically changed so that now they often refer to a specific verbal presentation by one person. One possible revision for sermon could be to use a nominalized verbal such as speaking ("after they had ended speaking"), especially since there are nominalized uses of speaking elsewhere in the Book of Mormon. Another possibility would be to use sermon, but to explain its earlier meaning in a footnote. (Renee Bangerter came up first with this emendation.)
The original text of the Book of Mormon has a number of Hebraistic expressions that are difficult to understand. These non-English expressions have generally been edited out of the text. In some cases, alternative revisions are possible, as in the following example.
° Lehi knows that Jerusalem must be destroyed.
1 Nephi 3:16–18
and all this he hath done because of the commandment
for he knoweth that Jerusalem must be destroyed
because of the wickedness of the people
for behold they have rejected the words of the prophetsknowing: reading in O; followed by P, 1830, and other early editions, plus recent RLDS editionsknew: emendation, probably by Joseph Smith, in 1840; followed by later LDS editionsknoweth or knows: possible revision
The Hebraistic use of the participial form knowing could be interpreted in either the present or the past tense—literally, as either "he is knowing" or "he was knowing." English, of course, does not use the stative verb know in the progressive. For the 1840 edition, Joseph Smith edited the participial knowing to the simple past tense knew. However, at the time Nephi spoke these words to his brothers, the city of Jerusalem had not yet been destroyed. The surrounding use of the present tense in this passage suggests therefore that the grammatical revision should have been to the simple present tense, as either knoweth or knows rather than knew. Usage elsewhere in the Book of Mormon favors knoweth over knows.
Correcting a Primitive Error
Sometimes there are errors which may have occurred on the original plates.
° The Lamanites preached the gospel to the less wicked, not the more wicked, of the Gaddianton robbers.
the Lamanites did hunt the band of robbers of Gaddianton
and they did preach the word of God
among the less wicked part of them
insomuch that this band of robbers was utterly destroyed
from among the Lamanitesthe more wicked part: reading in P, in Oliver Cowdery's hand; O not extant; reading followed by 1830 and all subsequent editionsthe less wicked part: possible revision
It is difficult to know when the error entered into the text here. It is possible that it might have actually occurred in Mormon's original record (that is, on the plates). It is clear that Mormon intended to say that the Lamanites eliminated the band of Gaddianton robbers (1) by hunting down the more wicked part of them and (2) by preaching to the less wicked part. It is unreasonable to think that the opposite was the case. The resulting confusion in the text seems to be a conflation of these two opposing ideas.
Supplying an Ellipsis
Occasionally the text has a passage where there is considerable ellipsis (or skipping of a phrase). Some of these ellipses may have occurred in the original plates.
° Leaders of churches and teachers shall be lifted up in the pride of their hearts.
yea it shall come in a day
when the power of God shall be denied
and churches become defiled
and shall be lifted up in the pride of their hearts
yea even in a day when leaders of churches and teachers
shall be lifted up in the pride of their heartsleaders of churches and teachers in the pride of their hearts: reading in both P and 1830; followed by subsequent editions except for
recent LDS onesleaders of churches and teachers shall rise in the pride of their hearts: third printing of 1905 LDS edition; followed by all subsequent
LDS editionsleaders of churches and teachers shall be lifted up in the pride of their hearts: possible revision
Here both the printer's manuscript and 1830 edition were copied from the original manuscript. Both are missing a finite verb phrase before the second "in the pride of their hearts," which means that the original manuscript probably read the same. It is possible that the original text actually read this way—that is, the text here may represent a case of intended ellipsis. For his 1907 revision of the 1905 Chicago missionary edition, German Ellsworth revised the text by supplying "shall rise" as the ellipted finite verb phrase. However, a more plausible revision would be "shall be lifted up," based on the preceding "and churches become defiled and shall be lifted up in the pride of their hearts."
Ultimately we must realize that the original English-language text of the Book of Mormon is not fully recoverable by human effort. Textual errors are generally not found except by discovering the correct reading in the manuscripts. Unfortunately, only 28 percent of the original manuscript is extant. Conjecture based on internal analysis of the Book of Mormon text has largely been unsuccessful in recovering the correct reading. Still, some conjectures are probably correct. Another important point to keep in mind is that even if we had the entire original manuscript, there would still be errors in the text, mainly because the original manuscript itself has some errors.
The systematic nature of the original text supports the theory that the text was revealed to Joseph Smith word for word. On the other hand, all subsequent transmissions of the text appear to have been subject to human error. Errors have crept into the text, but no error significantly interferes with either the message of the book or its doctrine. These textual errors have never prevented readers of the book from receiving their own personal witness of its truth.