The critics apparently have a problem with accepting the fact that scriptures can be changed, or revised, for correction or greater clarity. They seem to think that if something is considered scripture that it must be perfect as it stands. The Bible, however, has gone through numerous changes, updates, corrections and clarifications. Newer, and supposedly superior, translations of the Bible have been introduced by the score within the last fifty years. Each translation attempts to more accurately convey the intent of Gods word. How is this different that changes in the LDS scriptures? One author has counted over 400 changes on a single page of the Thomas Nelson Publishers 1979 New King James Bible and the 1611 King James Bible. (Changes in the Scriptures, 2-3.) Whereas Bible changes are done by scholars, many of the Book of Mormon changes were done by the Prophet Joseph Smith himself, no doubt by the inspiration of God.
So what types of changes were made in the Book of Mormon? Among the nearly 4,000 (the critics love to emphasize such a large number) we must include footnotes, headers, chapter redivisions and verse breakdowns. The original edition of the Book of Mormon had chapters but not verses. Over the years verses have been added and the chapters have been redivided for easier reference. In the early days, a Book of Mormon quote would be referenced to a page number, today the book, chapter, and verse are given. Each verse number, and each chapter division is seen as another of among 4,000 changes to the anti-Mormon. Thanks to the age of computers, researches have been able to footnote, index, and cross-reference Book of Mormon verses with other verses in the scriptures. The scriptures, as published by the LDS Church, are probably the most complete and extensively cross-referenced in the world. These footnotes and cross-references are also counted into the critics list of changes. 4,000 changes sound like an impressive number, but not when one realizes that most of those changes are not changes in text. In fact the anti-Mormons, Jerald and Sandra Tanner explain that most of the ...changes which we found were related to the correction of grammatical and spelling errors and do not really change the basic meaning of the text. (Tanner and Tanner , 131.)
What about those changes that did affect the text (though not necessarily the meaning of the text)? There are four reasons why textual changes were made: 1) There were typographical errors in the first edition; 2) the spelling of several words as recorded on the original manuscript by Oliver Cowdery were changed in later editions; 3) changes in clarification; and 4) changes in grammar. To understand the first two reasons for changes in the text we must go back to the printing of the original edition.
After locating a printer for the Book of Mormon, Oliver Cowdery made a copy (a printers copy) of the original manuscript so that the original would not be lost. John H. Gilbert, the non-Mormon typesetter, working under the non-Mormon E.B. Grandin, the printer of the Book of Mormon, said of the manuscript: Every Chapter, if I remember correctly, was one solid paragraph, without punctuation, from beginning to end. Names of persons and places were generally capitalized, but sentences had no end.... I punctuated it to make it read as I supposed the Author intended.... (Horton , 239.) Gilberts punctuation efforts resulted in somewhere between 30,000 - 35,000 additional punctuation marks. (Horton , 26.) Thus we find that the editor sometimes misread what Oliver Cowdery had written when listening to Josephs dictation.
Olivers handwriting ...presented a challenge, notes Horton. His r (which looks like a Palmer r) and his n are difficult to distinguish from each other, as are his b and l. For example, in the 1830 edition Gadianton was once called the nobler rather than the robber. (Horton , 244.) As noted by Horton, other misspellings generated during typesetting include, aaswer, acccording, amog, armss, bacause, beold, bgan, daghter, destoy, expdient, govereor, hia, irsael, khown, mekness, mnltitude, opon, plaees, prohesy, rufused, seeen, sould, theit, and utttered. (Ibid.) Still other typesetting errors included accidental omissions. Some things that were in the original manuscript were overlooked in the printers manuscript. These omissions ranged from a mere letter, to whole sentences. In addition omissions there were also accidental additions. In a few cases a word or phrase was repeated by the typesetter. Even in the twentieth century, with computers and word processors, typographical errors still occur. When we look back at the early 1800s we should not be surprised to find several typographical errors in the first edition of the Book of Mormon. Later editions, of course, were revised to change those initial errors. Again, every one of these corrections adds into the anti-Mormons long list of changes.
Today we take it for granted that a word in English is spelled the same throughout the country and by every literate person. This was not the case, however, in the 1800s. So different were the various dictionaries of the times that when Noah Webster introduced his dictionary in the late eighteenth century there erupted a rather violent war of the dictionaries.... (Partridge, 79.) Horton has shown that in 1828 there were six major dictionaries in use, many of which spelled the same words quite differently. Scripture, for instance, was spelled, scriptshur, scriptshure, scripture, and scriptyur. (Horton , 242.) Other famous contemporaries also used unusual spellings.
The last two categories of changes involve deliberate changes to the text. Many of these were for clarification. For example, in the 1837 edition of the Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 8:4, which originally read, for, behold, me thought I saw a dark and dreary wilderness, was changed to, for behold, me thought I saw in my dream, a dark and dreary wilderness. (Larson, 79.) This change simply helps clarify the meaning of the text. A similar change took place in the 1840 edition. 1 Nephi 20:1 originally read: Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah. Whereas the 1840 clarified this reading: Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, (or out of the waters of baptism) (Ibid., 82.) Such changes are hardly worthy of criticism.
Another change for clarity involves clarification of deities. In the 1830 edition of 1 Nephi 11:18, for instance, we read: Behold, the virgin which thou seest, is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh. In the 1837 edition this was changed to: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest, is the mother of the son of God, after the manner of the flesh (Ibid., 80.) Several other Book of Mormon passages were corrected to clarify the distinction of Christ instead of the Father. The critics have claimed that this shows that Joseph Smith originally believed in a Trinitarian God, that his uniquely LDS views of God evolved later, and that he changed later editions of the Book of Mormon to harmonize with new views. Author Van Hale, however, has shown that the 1830 edition amply teaches the belief that Jesus is the son of God, and that the later changes were simply for clarification of a doctrine already present in the Book of Mormon. (Hale, 35.) Among such scriptures are: (Jesus is son of God) 1 Ne. 10:17; 11:6-7, 24; 25:16, 19; 31:11-21; Jac. 4:5-11; Hel. 3:28; 3 Ne. 9:15; (Jesus is the son of the Father) Al. 5:48; 3 Ne. 11:7; 12:19; 14:21; 18:27; 28:8, 10; Mor. 4:3, 5:2; (Jesus is distinct from the Father) Jac. 4:5; 3 Ne. 11:7, 32; 17:16; 19:18-31; 20:46; 26:2 15; 27:28-30; Mor. 7:27; 9:26. (Ibid.)
Another change which the critics love to attack, is the change of Benjamin to Mosiah in Mosiah 21:28 of the 1830 Book of Mormon, where in Ammon tells Limhi of the translation gifts possessed by Benjamin (1830). The problem is fairly obvious, writes one such critic, for Mosiah 6:5 reads, And King Benjamin lived three years and he died. Fifteen chapters later, however, he is alive and well in the 1830 Book of Mormon. (White, 184.) This issue is a little more complicated. As L. Ara Norwood has observed, the original Benjamin may be correct. There is no hard evidence that Joseph Smith was responsible for the correction of Benjamin to Mosiah in the 1837 edition of the Book of Mormon. Norwood suggests two different scenarios concerning Ammons expedition, concluding that either Benjamin may have been alive when the events of Mosiah 21:28 were described, or Benjamin may have been dead and Ammon (at that time) was not aware of it. (Norwood, 342-343.) With either scenario, Norwood concludes that the change from Benjamin to Mosiah was neither crucial nor necessary. (Ibid., 343.) (Dr. Nibley holds a similar view of the Benjamin/Mosiah change. See Nibley , 7.)
The majority of the textual changes constitute changes in grammar. For instance, since the first edition of the Book of Mormon the word which has been changed 707 times to who. The critics have long ridiculed the Mormons for Josephs ungrammatical Book of Mormon.
First this critic needs to do a little study into the history of the Bible. As previously explained, the Bible editions today do reflect changes in grammar and clarification. His main point, however, is that the original edition of the Book of Mormon contained grammatical errors. The critics have harped on this point for a century and a half. Another critic has claimed that Examples of grammatical structure plead loudly for his [Joseph Smiths] claims to inspiration.... Hundreds of... errors were expunged.... (Hyde, 282.) And yet a third critic writes:
During the first century after the publication of the Book of Mormon Joseph Smith (and later others appointed by the prophets) attempted to correct grammatical mistakes in the Book of Mormon, add footnotes, divide the book into verses, etc. In defense of the Book of Mormon, early Mormons and Mormon scholars argued that the language of the Book of Mormon was written in the weakness of Joseph Smith, although the ideas behind the language were those revealed by God. There is support for this theory from the scriptures.
Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding. (Doctrine & Covenants 1:24; italics added.)
And now, if there are faults [Nephi wrote concerning the Book of Mormon] they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgement-seat of Christ. (Book of Mormon title page.)
It should not be difficult to understand how bad grammar could have crept into the Book of Mormon considering Joseph Smiths meager education. The anti-Mormons charge that the Book of Mormon should be grammar-perfect if it is truly the word of God, goes back to their concept of an infallible Bible (which it is not). This then is the first and longest standing defense against the poor grammar in the Book of Mormon Joseph Smith, though inspired by God, wrote according to his own understanding of the language. Many Mormons and Mormon scholars still subscribe to this view.
More recently another view has advanced by Mormon scholars. Many students believe that the Book of Mormon is either wholly or partially a literal translation of the reformed Egyptian that is that the entire Book of Mormon, or at least parts of it, were translated word for word (or nearly word for word) from the Nephite script into King James English. Joseph Smith never revealed much concerning the Book of Mormon translation process, however there is evidence to support the idea that, in at least some cases, this literal translation took place. It is this theory that turns the charges of the critics into support for the Book of Mormon.
The theory of literal translation vindicates the Book of Mormon for in most cases thus far investigated, Book of Mormon expressions which are ungrammatical in English are perfect Hebrew grammar. (Tvedtnes , 50.) It has recently been discovered, for instance, that the Book of Mormon contains distinct Hebraisms or Hebrew idioms. To quote Bramwell:
It must also be remembered that by the time the Book of Mormon was completed the Nephite language had undergone nearly a thousand years of change and even the authors of the Book of Mormon claim that their Hebrew had been altered. Nevertheless enough of the Hebrew language apparently survived in the Nephite script that idioms can be found throughout the book; most prominently, however, in the first and earliest portion of the work. 1 Nephi through Omni (which were written on what Book of Mormon prophets called the Small Plates) were the closest chronologically to the Jerusalem departure and therefore had the best chances of retaining Hebrew idioms. As we examine the text, we find that such is the case. In the Small Plates and in Hebrew, conjunctions are used much more frequently. For example, in a list in English, one might write, nuts, bolts, nails, screws, and staples. In Hebrew a conjunction, such as and, is usually used before each item. The Book of Mormon contains many such examples: in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores. (2 Nephi 5:15.) Hebrew specialist, John Tvedtnes, notes that this kind of repetition is so prominent in the Book of Mormon that Professor Haim Rabin, President of the Hebrew Language Academy and a specialist in the history of the Hebrew language, once used a passage from the Book of Mormon in a lecture in English to illustrate this principle, because, he explained, it was a better illustration than passages from the English Bible. (Tvedtnes , 82.)
In Hebrew such lists also include repetitive prepositions, articles, and possessive pronouns. Here are some Book of Mormon examples:
And it came to pass that we went down to the land of our inheritance, and we did gather together our gold, and our silver, and our precious things. (1 Nephi 3:22).
All mankind were in a lost and in a fallen state... (1 Nephi 10:6).
My gospel . . . and my rock and my salvation... (1 Nephi 13:36).
...with our bows and our arrows and our stones and our slings... (1 Nephi 16:4).
...wherefore I did arm myself with a bow and a arrow, with a sling and with stones... (1 Nephi 16:23).
The frequent use of not only and but the more lengthy and it came to pass has been the target of ridicule since the Book of Mormon was published. The Rev. M. W. Montgomery wrote in 1890: it came to pass is repeated thirty-nine times in five pages. Mark Twain says that this expression occurs so many times that if it were taken out of the book there would be nothing left to come to pass. (Montgomery, 242.) In 1979 Latayne C. Scott repeated the charge by claiming that The Book of Mormon is cursed with the clumsy, repetitious phrase, and it came to pass, that appears hundreds of times in the book, almost on every page. (Scott, 63.)
Neither the Rev. Montgomery nor Mark Twain (nor Joseph Smith for that matter) would have known in the eighteenth century just how important the above phrase was to the authors of the Book of Mormon. As to the above twentieth century critic we are left to guess whether he didnt to his homework, or if he simply refused to acknowledge the fact that the phrase, and it came to pass, is one of the most important proofs of the Hebrew language in Book of Mormon. Interestingly enough not only is this phrase proof of Hebrew influence but also of Egyptian influence. The phrase, it came to pass, and similar monotonous phrases, are grammatically necessary for both Hebrew and Egyptian historical texts, and may not be omitted. (Nibley , 169.)
Other interesting Hebraisms found in the Book of Mormon include possessive pronouns added to the end of a noun.
Since Hebrew has fewer adverbs than English, prepositional phrases often use the preposition meaning in or with instead of an adverb:
One of the Hebrew words for river, nahar, has verbal root meaning to flow. The Hebrew word eytan, which means valley, is actually an adjective meaning perennial, ever_flowing, enduring, firm. Another word for valley is aphig (which actually means a stream_bed or a ravine), from the verb meaning to be strong. It is possible that Lehi deliberately patterned his speech to reflect the meaning of these Hebrew words. (Tvedtnes , 64.)
Due to lack of space we cannot examine all of the possible Hebraisms found in the Book of Mormon, but note that among such idioms we would include, cognates, compound prepositions, subordinate clauses, relative clauses, extrapositional nouns and pronouns, interchangeable prepositions, comparisons, naming coventions (Tvedtnes , 77-91) colophons (Tvedtnes , 13-16; MacKay, 90-109), parallelism, merismus, and difrasismo (Sorenson, Crowell, & Christensen, 80-82), antenantiosis (Call, 96-97), epanalepsis (Childs, 165-166), antithetical parallels (Parry [1992a], 167-169; Barney , 15-81), climatic forms (Parry [1992b], 290-292), enallage (Barney , 113-147; Barney , 229-234), and more.
The charge of poor grammar then has backfired. Likewise, nearly every charge against the Book of Mormon has transformed into support for the Nephite scripture as our understanding of the ancient worlds increases. ...it is apparent, Dr. Sperry has written, that a far stronger case can be made out of the Book of Mormon as translation English than can be made for the Four Gospels as translation Greek as seen in the work of certain scholars such as C.C. Torrey of Yale University. (Sperry , 4.) By translation English Sperry simply means that the Book of Mormon is not English freely composed but is rather that type of English that would be produced by a translator who frequently follows the original too closely.... In other words, I [Sperry] hold the English of the Book of Mormon often betrays a too literal adherence to an apparent Hebrew original. (Ibid.) And so we see that although changes were made in subsequent editions of the Book of Mormon, these changes were either nontextual, corrections based on printing mistakes, or clarifications many of which demonstrate the antiquity of the Nephite scripture.
Michael R. Ash
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