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Book of Mormon translation: French

Published: Monday, Feb. 20 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

Editor's note: This is one in a series on the Book of Mormon translations and translators.

The first French edition of the Book of Mormon, published in 1852, had on its title page: "Traduit de l'Anglais par John Taylor et Curtis E. Bolton." A more accurate statement would have credited Taylor as supervisor of the translation, which was carried out by Bolton, Louis A. Bertrand, a Mr. Wilhelm and Lazare Auge.

In June 1850, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened the French Mission in Paris with then-Elder John Taylor, of the Quorum of the Twelve, (who later was the third president of the church) as president and Bolton and John Pack as counselors.

Bolton, the only one who spoke French, was appointed by President Taylor to begin translating the Book of Mormon. Within the next few months, Bolton and President Taylor met Bertrand, an editor of the Icarian newsletter "Le Populaire."

Bertrand and Wilhelm joined the church on Dec. 1, 1850. Bertrand began helping with church publication efforts. Wilhelm was assigned to help translate the Book of Mormon, but quit work in late February and left the church soon after.

On March 22, 1851, Auge, a nonmember friend of Bertrand's in need of a job, replaced Wilhelm in the translation work, though he knew no English.

Bertrand was fired from "Le Populaire" on Nov. 18, 1851, and this allowed him to take over for Auge and speed up the translating of the Book of Mormon, and it helped distance him from the volatile political scene.

The translation was almost complete when, in the midst of political upheaval, President Taylor was ordered to leave France. He reorganized the mission presidency, making Bolton president and Bertrand counselor and departed.

Printer Marc Ducloux began setting type on Jan. 13, 1852, and the first run of 1,000 copies was completed by Jan. 22.

Since its publication, the French translation of the Book of Mormon has received revisions and changes, including chapter divisions, new versing and footnotes, through the efforts of James Barker and Joseph Evans in 1907 and Roger Dock in 1952 and 1962.

By the time of the 1989 printing, the church had stopped crediting translations.

Of the initial translators, McClellan wrote, "In light of the political, cultural, and even social impediments in France at the time, it is no small wonder that this team of five men, each with different ideals and interests, was able to produce a translation that has endured for so many years… Sometimes God uses small and simple things to further his work; this time everything was small but not very simple."

Source: The information in this article is from "Traduit de L'Anglais: The First French Book of Mormon" by Richard D. McClellan, published in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: Volume 11, Issue 1, p. 29-34. Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 2002, and available online at maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/?vol=11&num=1&id=290.

Email: rbrutsch@desnews.com

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