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Comments about ‘Defending the Faith: The very surprising language of the Book of Mormon’

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Published: Thursday, Aug. 21 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

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John Marx
Layton, UT

Daniel Peterson writes "Those who regard Joseph Smith as the book’s author, however, should feel challenged and deeply perplexed." To be fair I think lots of people will be 'perplexed.' Let's say that the hypothesis put forward by this column is correct, that the Book of Mormon was written in pre-King James English.
Why would it be?
The claim is that Joseph Smith could not have known the obscure extinct version of English the Book of Mormon is written in. But why translate a Book into a language and grammar that is outdated, so outdated that no one in the time period could have known it. Doing so would only serve to make it more difficult to understand for modern readers.

Craig Clark
Boulder, CO

"....I would assert that it is no longer possible to argue that the earliest text of the Book of Mormon is defective and substandard in its grammar. … It clearly draws on a wide array of … language forms and syntax from the Early Modern English period...."
- Stanford Carmack
______________________________

Why should it do that if it were being translated directly from an ancient language into 19th century English? The only explanation I can conceive is that of a telltale art or craft at work to make the volume seem to be something that it isn’t.

maclouie
Falconer, NY

@Craig Clark

If you don't want to be limited by your "only explanation I can conceive" then watch the Book of Mormon Translation episode from the Joseph Smith Papers BYUtv Series. From that you will discover another explanation for the use of an old English language in the translation. And then watch it again until you "get it". I had to watch it several times until I "got it".

coltakashi
Richland, WA

What this means is that Joseph Smith was not the person who composed the "English" of the Book of Mormon, but he was reading text to his scribes, which he saw. The actual composer(s) of the "English" text were speakers of English native to the 1500s, over two hundred years before Joseph's day. Joseph was not an Elizabethan scholar conversant with the grammar and vocabulary of Early Modern English, but the person who actually did the translation and prepared the text that Joseph read was a native speaker of that earlier dialect. Yet Joseph had no paper manuscript he was reading from. He saw that text through miraculous means. It dates to an era of the first encounters between Europeans and American Indians, so its knowledge of Meso-American geography and culture ius all the more remarkable. It was also an era when Englishmen had very little understanding of Hebrew literary patterns such as chiasmus, yet the Book of Mormon is replete with them. None of the theories about an 1800s American writing the book hold up.

Tyler D
Meridian, ID

Help me out here LDS folks because I’m confused as to what Dr. Peterson is trying to prove.

Alexis de Tocqueville, in his tour of America as preparation for writing his classic Democracy in America, noted that America was a country of readers even down to the most itinerant farmers. Besides newspapers, he said that the two most prevalent texts he found in all the houses and log cabins he visited were the Bible (almost exclusively the King James) and the works of Shakespeare.

Is Dr. Peterson claiming that the Book of Mormon contains some language and idioms (Elizabethan) that may best be represented by the Bard? And this is surprising in early 19th century America because… ?

Further, doesn’t the Book of Mormon purport to be a text written by ancient, ocean faring Hebrews who would have been totally unfamiliar with both the King James Bible (in terms of idioms) and Shakespeare?

What am I missing here… maclouie?

Craig Clark
Boulder, CO

If one wanted to concoct a hoax scripture and history that’s believable, might he not find it essential to employ a syntax that invites comparisons to widely accepted existing scripture/history? Joseph Smith knew that the language of the King James Bible was familiar to the readers of his time.

The King James Bible is the landmark translation into English but it has its influences. The Tyndale Bible, the Great Bible, and the Bishop’s Bible all preceded it in the previous century (the 1500s).

John Marx
Layton, UT

coltakashi wrote,
"What this means is that Joseph Smith was not the person who composed the "English" of the Book of Mormon, but he was reading text to his scribes, which he saw. The actual composer(s) of the "English" text were speakers of English native to the 1500s, over two hundred years before Joseph's day."
I'm sorry, what?
As the story goes, the Gold Plates were buried until Joseph Smith received them from Moroni in the 1820's. So how exactly did these people who spoke 1500's English translate the Book of Mormon? Who were they, and how did they get a copy of the plates? And why did Joseph even have the plates if he was just transcribing a version translated from someone else in the 1500's?

Lledrav
West Jordan, UT

Joseph isn't the author. Neither is any other man. The Lord provided the text to Joseph.

We have a mistaken tradition in the church that Joseph was the translator when in fact he was given the text via revelation. This is in agreement with this article and with the eyewitnesses.

David Whitmer said that Joseph spelled out names, that he "was utterly unable to pronounce many of the names which the magic power of the Urim and Thummim revealed and therefore spelled them out ..."

Emma said, "When my husband was translating the Book of Mormon, I wrote a part of it, as he dictated each sentence, word for word, and when he came to proper names he could not pronounce, or long words, he spelled them out, and while I was writing them, if I made a mistake in spelling, he would stop me and correct my spelling, although it was impossible for him to see how I was writing them down at the time."

Joseph saw the text that the Lord revealed and dictated it to the scribe, spelling the words he didn't know and couldn't pronounce. The Lord chose 15th century English for the text.

Schnee
Salt Lake City, UT

@coltakashi
"It was also an era when Englishmen had very little understanding of Hebrew literary patterns such as chiasmus"

It's really not noteworthy for someone to use something unusual when examples of it is sitting right next to him in the Bible.

atrulson
cohoes, NY

Tyler D:
"doesn’t the Book of Mormon purport to be a text written by ancient, ocean faring Hebrews who would have been totally unfamiliar with both the King James Bible (in terms of idioms) and Shakespeare?"

It was originally written in Mormon's, Nephi's, Moroni's etc. language, then translated into English.
What Skousen's study shows is that Joseph Smith translation into English was not of his own vocabulary, but he was given, (via the seer stone?), what appears to be a per-translated version of the book into a variant of English that predates the KJV. Where that translation comes from we don't know.
While this creates more questions than it answers, it also challenges claims that Joseph Smith, or anyone from his era wrote the book.

Moontan
Roanoke, VA

@Tyler D re. "...the Bible (almost exclusively the King James) and the works of Shakespeare..."

The Bard was 46 in 1611 when the King James was published. Go to the 46th Psalm. 46th word from the top is Shake, and 46th word from the bottom is Spear.

What does this mean? I have no idea. :)

The Wraith
Kaysville, UT

This is one of the oddest articles yet. All the evidence Dr. Peterson lists is actually more proof that the BofM was not translated from ancient Americans. This proves that Smith wasn't translating anything like that but instead writing a book in his own words small amounts of which were still hold overs from a previous time period.

Verdad
Orem, UT

Is there any evidence, John Marx, that the English-speaking readers of the original edition of the Book of Mormon had a difficult time understanding it?

Is there any evidence, Wraith, that the peculiar features of the original edition of the Book of Mormon to which Skousen and Carmack point represent Joseph Smith's "own words"? Their argument seems to run exactly contrary to that. Is there any evidence that unique features of Early Modern English, let alone features unique to the transition period from Late Middle English, survived in Joseph Smith's dialect or that of his environment? Skousen and Carmack seem to be arguing against that.

If you have evidence that will disprove their argument, I hope you'll share it.

JesusSmithers
USA, CA

Mr. Peterson seems to imply that Joseph Smith’s translation into English used vocabulary and grammar given by revelation (through the stone in a hat, presumably) which he didn't know himself. That is, he translated into English styles that co-date and pre-date King James English and that he hadn't learned from an education of his period and location.

In other words, Smith got what he got directly from God. That being the case, how did God confuse tapir with horse, sheep with llama and wheat with corn? If the words weren’t Joseph’s, then someone has some explaining to do regarding poor word choice.

John Marx
Layton, UT

Verdad wrote,

"Is there any evidence, John Marx, that the English-speaking readers of the original edition of the Book of Mormon had a difficult time understanding it?"

As Daniel Peterson notes in the beginning of his column these "seeming errors in grammar and diction, particularly in the earliest manuscripts and first printed edition of the English Book of Mormon." The fact that it was changed in later versions is evidence that it was enough of a problem to merit correction.

maclouie
Falconer, NY

Bingo! coltakashi got it. OK everyone, like I said, watch the Joseph Smith papers episode about The Book of Mormon Translation. Brother Skousen doesn't come out and say it directly but someone had to write the words that Joseph Smith saw. I just don't know who's handwriting it was.

Tyler D
Meridian, ID

@Moontan – “The Bard was 46 in 1611 when the King James was published. Go to the 46th Psalm. 46th word from the top is Shake, and 46th word from the bottom is Spear.”

Wow, that’s some serious exegesis going on there! Are you a renowned Bible scholar or a Kabbalah mystic?

@Verdad – “Is there any evidence that unique features of Early Modern English, let alone features unique to the transition period from Late Middle English, survived in Joseph Smith's dialect or that of his environment?”

Please read my earlier comment about Shakespeare and the prevalence of his works in early America?

As for evidence in general let’s keep in mind that extraordinary claims (should) require extraordinary evidence. If we have a situation where there is some evidence in both directions, history has shown countless times that the natural and mundane (vs. supernatural) explanation in the end proves to be the correct one.

And that is why they call it faith…

maclouie
Falconer, NY

JesusSmithers:

Your comments are typical of what most people miss. I don't think Joseph Smith said he got it directly from God. Others may have said that, but I don't believe JS said that (and no doubt there are those that say that JS said that so it get's tough to wade through all the error).

Two of the things I recall JS saying about the translation is 1) it was by the power of God and 2) if there be any mistakes they are the mistakes of men.

It's very important that before anyone dismisses the BoM that they get the facts straight and not twist or exaggerate what was said or claimed. It's taken me decades to figure this out. That episode, though, explained a lot.

Verdad
Orem, UT

Shakespeare doesn't -- can't -- account for usages that apparently derive from the transition period from Late Middle English, Tyler D. He's much too late for that. Nor can Shakespeare account for archaic language features that appear in the Book of Mormon but not in Shakespeare.

Stand Alone Complex
Layton, UT

"The actual composer(s) of the "English" text were speakers of English native to the 1500s, over two hundred years before Joseph's day"

So JS is channeling / revealing text to his scribes that is really a translation of the plates made by someone else who is a native speaker of 16th century English, as shown by grammar and structure.

Why exactly? This makes little sense. What happened to 'plain and precious?'

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