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Danish: The first foreign language edition of the Book of Mormon

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 21 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

Elder Erastus Snow of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, standing, and Peter O. Hansen, sitting, put the final proofreading touches on the Book of Mormon in Danish 161 years ago in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was the first foreign edition of the Book of Mormon. (Painted by Scott M. Snow) Elder Erastus Snow of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, standing, and Peter O. Hansen, sitting, put the final proofreading touches on the Book of Mormon in Danish 161 years ago in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was the first foreign edition of the Book of Mormon. (Painted by Scott M. Snow)

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

Latter-day Saints in Denmark were the first to read the Book of Mormon in their native tongue.

Elder Erastus Snow of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Peter Olsen Hansen labored with a few others to produce the first Danish translation of the Book of Mormon for the LDS Church's Scandinavian mission in 1851. It was the first edition of the Book of Mormon to be translated from English into another language.

Elder Snow and Hansen arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark, in August 1850. Hansen was a native of Copenhagen, but his Danish was rusty and took some time to return. Elder Snow immediately began to study and speak Danish. While Hansen commenced work on the translation, Elder Snow traveled to England to "obtain means for publication of the Book of Mormon," according to Elder Snow's biography. More than six months later, portions of the translation were being circulated among the members.

"I am now very busily engaged with Brother Hansen in translating and publishing the Book of Mormon; it is very laborious and tedious work to get issued clean and pure, accoring to the simplicity of the original; and requires the closest attention," Elder Snow said in a letter to President Brigham Young, dated Feb. 14, 1851. "I am publishing 3,000 copies — have 168 pages finished, it will take me till May or June."

The translation process was demanding and frustrating at times. While Hansen worked to regain his native speaking skills, Elder Snow told President Young he interviewed several "learned professors," "but didn't feel they were imbued with the spirit of the work," Elder Snow recorded.

Then came a blessing. The missionaries became acquainted with an unnamed female Danish convert who taught French, German and English. Elder Snow asked her to assist Hansen in the translation work and her contributions were very helpful. A proofreader then scrutinized the manuscript not once, but three times. Elder Snow wrote to his family in a letter dated April 16, 1850: "It (translating the Book of Mormon) is double the work I expected."

Elder Snow did not allow the manuscript to go to press until he had sufficiently mastered the language to be able to review the sacred pages himself.

The translation of the Book of Mormon in Danish was completed in May, nine months after starting the project. In another letter to President Young, dated July 10, 1851, Elder Snow wrote: "Through the blessing of God after eight months faithful and unceasingly in application, have succeeded in the translation and publication of the Book of Mormon, in the Danish language ... I feel that I have done the best I could under the circumstances, and that the Lord has accepted it and will add his blessing."

The Danish translation of the Book of Mormon was revised in 1949 and 2005.

Source note: Information for this article was taken from "Erastus Snow: The Life of a Missionary and Pioneer for the Early Mormon Church," by Andrew Karl Larsen, University of Utah Press, 1971.

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