The Book of Mormon Critical Text Project
Since 1988 Royal Skousen has been working on producing a critical text of the Book of Mormon. Critical texts have previously been prepared for other famous historical and literary documents, but until recently, not for the Book of Mormon. A critical text shows all the substantive changes that a document has undergone, from its original version to its present editions. The word critical is derived from the Greek word krites, meaning 'judge'. When referring to a critical text, the term means that notes accompany the text so that the reader can see how the document has changed over time and thus judge between alternative readings of it.
There are two main purposes for a critical text of the Book of Mormon. The first is to lay out the original English-language text of the book—that is, the text that Joseph Smith received by means of the interpreters (the Urim and Thummim as well as the seer stone). The second purpose is to establish and display the history of the wording of the text, including both accidental errors and editorial changes that the document has undergone as it has been transmitted down through time in its many editions.
A critical text will serve several important functions for Book of Mormon researchers. It can help them discover (1) what the original phrasing of the Book of Mormon was as it was dictated by Joseph Smith (including its Hebrew-like expressions), (2) the process by which Joseph translated, and (3) how editors and printers have modified the wording to make it conform to the expectations of modern English readers.
The first critical text of the Book of Mormon was published by FARMS in 1984–86. That first version, although preliminary, helped to establish important criteria for the work currently being done, including the need for direct access to the original and printer's manuscripts as well as the clearest photographs of those manuscripts. Current work also involves making computerized facsimile transcripts of the two manuscripts and comparing those with computerized versions of 20 significant editions of the Book of Mormon, from the first edition (1830) to the current LDS and RLDS editions.