12 Answers from Royal Skousen

Professor Royal Skousen has gone far beyond what we asked of him and provided a full and fascinating response to our twelve questions.


© 2004 by Royal Skousen

1. What is the critical text project of the Book of Mormon?

From the beginning, the two goals of the critical text project have been (1) to recover the original English-language text of the Book of Mormon, and (2) to determine the history of the text (namely, how it has changed over time). There are two basic kinds of changes in the history of the text: (a) accidental errors in the transmission of the text, and (b) the editing out of nonstandard English. I began the critical text project in 1988 and have been working full time on it since then.

2. What has been published thus far?

In 2001, FARMS/BYU published the first two volumes of the critical text, namely:

a. The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical Facsimile of the Extant Text 568 pages (including 41 pages of introduction and 16 pages of black-and-white ultraviolet and color photographs of fragments)

b. The Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical Facsimile of the Entire Text in Two Parts 1008 pages (bound in two parts, including 36 pages of introduction and 8 pages of color photographs of the manuscript)

These two volumes present an exact reproduction in typescript of the extant portions of the two manuscripts (about 28 percent of the original manuscript and all but three lines of the printer’s manuscript).

A year later FARMS/BYU published a history of the project, the result of a conference held at BYU:

( c)Uncovering the Original Text of the Book of Mormon: History and Findings of the Critical Text Project (edited by M. Gerald Bradford and Alison V.P. Coutts).

This 76-page document includes articles by me on the history of this project and the systematic nature of the original text of the Book of Mormon. It also includes articles by Robert Espinosa on the Wilford Wood fragments of the original manuscript, Ron Romig on the printer’s manuscript, and Larry Draper on the printed editions of the Book of Mormon. Finally, in August 2004, FARMS/BYU published the first part of volume 4 of the critical text:

(d)Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon: Part One: Title Page, Witness Statements, 1 Nephi 1 — 2 Nephi 10

This first part of volume 4 contains 652 pages of text and examines the first seventh of the Book of Mormon text. When all parts have been published, volume 4 will analyze the text from beginning to end in an attempt to restore the original English-language text (to the extent possible by scholarly analysis). I plan to publish about four more parts, at the rate of one a year.

All of the above items (a through d) are available for purchase. You can contact the BYU Bookstore ( FARMS now distributes their books through the BYU Bookstore). These books can also be ordered through bookstores and website distributors.

Here is a brief numerical summary of the results for the first part of volume 4 (that is, for the first seventh of the text):

774 cases of variation (or potential variation)

Cases of grammatical variation are discussed only once; volume 3 of the critical text (see below) will discuss grammatical changes in their fullness.

420 differences between the critical text and the standard text

157 readings that have never appeared in any standard printed edition

95 are found only in the original manuscript, O
6 are found in only the printer’s manuscript, P (because O is not extant)
38 are found in both O and P
2 are found in the 1829 copyright certificates
16 are conjectured emendations

75 readings that make a difference in meaning

As might be suspected, none of these differences in meaning make a fundamental change in the message or doctrine of the book, but they would make a difference when translating the Book of Mormon into any other language.

52 readings that make the entire Book of Mormon text fully consistent in phraseology or usage

14 readings that restore a unique phrase or word choice to the text

Here is a list of some of the more interesting changes that are recommended in this first part of volume 4:

Incorrect reading Corrected reading
1 Nephi 7:5 Ishmael and also his household Ishmael and also his whole household
1 Nephi 7:17 my faith which is in thee my faith which is in me
1 Nephi 8:27 towards those which had came at towards those which had came up
1 Nephi 8:31 multitudes feeling their way multitudes pressing their way
1 Nephi 10:10 take away the sins of the world take away the sin of the world
1 Nephi 10:19 in these times in this time
1 Nephi 11:36 the pride of the world and it fell the pride of the world
1 Nephi 12:18 the word of the justice of the eternal God the sword of the justice of the eternal God
1 Nephi 13:24 the gospel of the Lord the gospel of the Lamb
1 Nephi 13:32 state of awful blindness state of awful wickedness
1 Nephi 14:13 did gather together multitudes did gather together in multitudes
1 Nephi 14:28 the things which I saw and heard the things which I saw
1 Nephi 15:16 they shall be remembered again they shall be numbered again
1 Nephi 15:35 the devil is the preparator of it [hell] the devil is the proprietor of it [hell]
1 Nephi 15:36 the wicked are rejected from the righteous the wicked are separated from the righteous
1 Nephi 17:3 he did provide means for us they did provide ways and means for us
1 Nephi 17:41 he sent fiery flying serpents he sent flying fiery serpents
1 Nephi 17:53 I will shock them I will shake them
1 Nephi 19:2 the genealogy of his fathers the genealogy of his forefathers
1 Nephi 19:4 what they should do that they should do
1 Nephi 19:10 Zenock Zenoch
1 Nephi 20:1 or out of the waters of baptism delete
1 Nephi 22:8 unto the being nourished by the Gentiles unto the being nursed by the Gentiles
1 Nephi 22:12 the lands of their inheritance the lands of their first inheritance
2 Nephi 1:5 the Lord hath covenanted this land unto me the Lord hath consecrated this land unto me
2 Nephi 2:11 neither holiness nor misery neither happiness nor misery
2 Nephi 3:18 I will raise up unto the fruit of thy loins I will raise up one unto the fruit of thy loins
2 Nephi 3:20 their cry shall go their cry shall go forth
2 Nephi 4:5 in the way that ye should go in the right way that ye should go
2 Nephi 4:26 the Lord … hath visited men the Lord … hath visited me
2 Nephi 9:13 deliver up the body of the righteous deliver up the bodies of the righteous

For a preliminary list of 56 significant changes found throughout the text, see pages 45-66 of Text of the Book of Mormon (referenced above).

3. What other volumes will be published as part of this project?

(a) Volume 3, The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon

In this volume I will discuss each step in the transmission of the text, including Joseph Smith’s dictating of the text and his scribes’ writing it down (the original manuscript), their copying of the text into the printer’s manuscript, the typesetting of the first (1830) edition, and the publishing of 19 significant editions since then (the 1837 and 1840 under Joseph Smith’s direction, 12 within the LDS textual tradition, and 5 within the RLDS textual tradition). This volume will examine some of the important issues regarding how Joseph Smith translated and what kind of text was revealed to him. Each edition will also be examined in terms of its editing history. Each type of grammatical editing will be thoroughly described in this volume. There will also be a lined-up comparison between the biblical quotations from the King James Bible and the corresponding Book of Mormon passages.

Two years ago (in 2002) I decided that I could not produce volume 3 without first determining what the original text was. For that reason, volume 4 is being published first — and also in parts, so that the reading public will have time to examine the textual analysis in manageable segments.

(b) volume 5, A Complete Electronic Collation of the Book of Mormon

This last volume will be available in an electronic format. A few printed versions will also be prepared for archival purposes. In this volume, the entire text for both manuscripts and the 20 editions is lined up and compared, with every difference specified — not only word and phrase differences, but also punctuation, capitalization, spelling, paragraphing, versification, and so forth. The differences will be categorized and can be searched in terms of the type of change. I am planning to make this electronic collation available at the same time volume 3 is published.

4. What are some of the major findings of this project?

(a) The original manuscript supports the hypothesis that the text was given to Joseph Smith word-for-word and that he could see the spelling of the names (in support of what witnesses of the translation process claimed about Joseph’s translation).

(b) The original text is much more consistent and systematic in expression than has ever been realized.

( c) There are hundreds of errors in the text that have never been corrected in any LDS or RLDS edition, although none of them fundamentally alter the text.

(d) There are occasional errors in the original manuscript itself (see, for instance, the first word on line 52 of page 17 of O [1 Nephi 11:32]); errors could enter the text from its very earliest transmission; many of the errors in O show that this manuscript was written down from oral dictation.

(e) Errors in the printer’s manuscript clearly show that this manuscript was produced by visual copying from another text, not by oral dictation.

(f) Joseph Smith’s editing for the second and third editions (1837 and 1840) represents human editing, not a revealed revision of the text.

(g) The original text includes unique kinds of expression that appear to be uncharacteristic of English in any time and place; some of these expressions are Hebraistic in nature.

(h) The early transmission of the Book of Mormon text does not usually support the traditional assumptions of textual criticism — namely, the transmitted text tends to remove difficult readings and lengthen the text; instead, the early transmission of the Book of Mormon text tends to introduce more difficulty readings and to omit words and phrases.

(i) The vocabulary of the Book of Mormon text appears to derive from the 1500s and the 1600s, not from the 1800s.

This last finding is quite remarkable. Lexical evidence suggests that the original text contained a number of expressions and words with meanings that were lost from the English language by 1700, including the following (with the date of their last citation in the Oxford English Dictionary given in parentheses):

to require ‘to request’ (1665) – Enos 1:18 reads “thy fathers have also required of me this thing�

sermon ‘talk, discourse, speech’ (1594) – Mosiah 19:24 should read “after they had ended the sermon� (not the current reading “after they had ended the ceremony�)

to cast arrows ‘to shoot arrows’ (1609; the 1611 King James Bible also has one) – Alma 49:4 reads “the Lamanites could not cast their stones and their arrows at them�

to counsel ‘to counsel with’ (1547) – Alma 37:37 originally read “counsel the Lord in all thy doings�

but if ‘unless’ (1596) – Mosiah 3:19 originally read “and will be forever and ever but if he yieldeth to the enticings of the Holy Spirit�

to depart ‘to part’ (1677) – Helaman 8:11 originally read “to smite upon the waters of the Red Sea and they departed hither and thither�

extinct in reference to an individual’s death (1675) – Alma 44:7 reads “and inflect the wounds of death in your bodies that ye may become extinct�

the pleading bar of God (not in the OED, but two early 1600 citations have been found on Literature Online) – Jacob 6:13 should read “until I shall meet you before the pleading bar of God�, not “the pleasing bar of God� [similarly in Moroni 10:34]

5. What have been the most significant events in the history of this project?

Besides the actual publishing of the volumes of the critical text themselves, there are two events that stand out:

(a) April 1991: two weeks spent in Independence, Missouri, making a careful comparison of my transcript of the printer’s manuscript with the actual manuscript, with the assistance of my wife, Sirkku, and Ron Romig, archivist for the Community of Christ (then the RLDS Church).

(b) October 1991: three weeks working with Robert Espinosa and his fellow conservators at the BYU library on fragments of the original manuscript owed by the Wilford Wood family of Bountiful, Utah; these fragments were photographed in ultraviolet light by David Hawkinson and constitute about two percent of the original manuscript.

6. What has been your relationship with the LDS and RLDS Churches in this project?

This project began as an independent scholarly project, and I have made sure by legal agreements that this independence has been preserved. Since the beginning of this project (in 1988) the LDS Historical Department has provided full access to ultraviolet photographs of the original manuscript and has allowed me to directly examine the original manuscript as well as their enormous library of Book of Mormon editions. Without their cooperation, this project would never have been possible. Similarly, archivist Ron Romig, church historian Richard Howard, and the leadership of the Community of Christ (formerly the RLDS Church) have also been fully cooperative in providing access to the printer’s manuscript as well as an enlarged photocopy of that manuscript and their large collection of Book of Mormon editions.

In 1994, the LDS Church Scriptures Committee requested that I provide information on my findings on the text. For the next four to five years, this information was conveyed (ultimately 3650 pages of analysis were submitted, with 1471 suggested changes to the current text). Prior to submitting this information, however, the Church, BYU, and I signed a legally binding letter of understanding guaranteeing the independence of the critical text project, with these two important provisos: (1) I would hold the copyright to the critical text, and (2) I would exercise complete control over the content of the critical text, including my interpretations and analyses of the text.

The critical text project is a scholarly one and has not involved any ecclesiastical approval or endorsement. The transcripts and the textual interpretations represent my own scholarly work, with peer review from a number of scholars (especially David Calabro, a graduate student in Hebrew studies at the University of Chicago). I have received no explicit response regarding any of my interpretations or suggestions for changes from the Church Scriptures Committee. The Church committee has had full access to my findings and is free to use them (or not use them) as they wish.

In fact, this freedom to use the results of the critical text project is extended to anyone wishing to create their own single reading of the Book of Mormon text, including the Community of Christ and other churches as well as publishing firms interested in producing a noncritical edition of the Book of Mormon.

7. Will any of these changes appear in subsequent LDS editions of the Book of Mormon?

I do not know the answer to this question. The Church will decide for itself what changes, if any, will be implemented. The Church will not engage in a public discussion of such changes or the arguments for making (or not making) those changes. On the other hand, this scholarly critical text project promotes public discussion and, when done properly, establishes an on-going process and allows others to contribute. For instance, as part of this project, I have requested anyone who has any suggestions for emendations to the text or questions about problematic readings to send them to me. Thus far I have received hundreds of suggestions for changes — and about thirty or so have led to emendations in the text. Surprisingly, most of these emendations have come from regular members of the church — readers of the Book of Mormon who are simply striving to understand the text. Such an open request for participation has significantly improved the findings of this project.

One important fact that I realized early on in this project is that the original text is not fully recoverable by scholarly means. Only 28 percent of the Book of Mormon text is extant in the original manuscript. And the clear majority of new readings that have never appeared in any printed edition derive from readings in the original manuscript. Oliver Cowdery averaged about three textual changes per manuscript page as he copied from the original manuscript into the printer’s manuscript. The majority of these changes would be unrecoverable if those portions of the original manuscript were not extant. In most cases we have no clue that there is even an error in the current text unless the original manuscript tells us so. Given that the majority of the original manuscript is no longer extant, we will be unable to fully recover the original text by human means. And even the extant portions of the original manuscript probably have errors that we are unaware of. The only way that the original text could be fully restored would be if the Lord chose to reveal it again. Such is definitely not within the purview of this scholarly project.

One valuable aspect of this public, scholarly discussion of the text is that later changes in the text could be made by the Church without engendering the typical complaint that the Church is making changes for political reasons. Note, for instance, the uproar over the 1981 change in 2 Nephi 30:6 from “a white and a delightsome people� to “a pure and a delightsome people�. The change was first implemented in the 1840 edition; Joseph Smith’s motivation for making that change was based on quite something else, as I explain in discussing this change in part 2 of volume 4 (to appear in 2005). An independent public discussion in a scholarly context will avoid having the Church take abuse for making alterations to the text.

8. Does this project have an apologetic purpose? In other words, is one of its purposes to defend the Book of Mormon against detractors?

My task, as I have always seen it, is to recover the original English-language text to the extent scholarly and academic analysis will allow. I have therefore restricted my discussion to the text per se and have completely avoided discussions of whether there are practices found among the cultures of the world (including the Americas) in support of particular readings. Nor have I engaged in any discussion of external evidences for the Book of Mormon, including questions of geography, genetics, and archeology.

My initial endeavor as editor of the critical text project was to produce a detailed transcription of the original and printer’s manuscripts. And right from the beginning, I discovered errors that had crept into the text as Oliver Cowdery and the other scribes produced the printer’s manuscript from the original manuscript. Within a year or so I recognized that I would not be able to completely recover the original text by this method. Yet at the same time, I began to see considerable evidence for the traditional interpretation that witnesses of the translation process claimed: the text was given word for word; Book of Mormon names were frequently spelled out the first time they occurred in the text; and during dictation there was no rewriting of the text except to correct errors in taking down the dictation. Joseph Smith was literally reading off an already composed English-language text. The evidence in the manuscripts and in the language of the text itself supports the hypothesis that the Book of Mormon was a precisely determined text. I do not consider this conclusion apologetic, but instead as one demanded by the evidence.

The opposing viewpoint, that Joseph Smith got ideas and he translated them into his own English, cannot be supported by the manuscript and textual evidence. The only substantial argument for this alternative view has been the nonstandard nature of the text, with its implication that God would never speak ungrammatical English, so the nonstandard usage must be the result of Joseph Smith putting the ideas he received into his own language. Yet with the recent finding that the original vocabulary of the text appears to be dated from the 1500s and 1600s (not the 1800s), we now need to consider the possibility that the ungrammaticality of the original text may also date from that earlier period of time, not necessarily from Joseph’s own time and place. Joseph Smith is not the author of the Book of Mormon, nor is he actually the translator. Instead, he was the revelator — through him the Lord revealed the English-language text (and by means of the interpreters and the seer stone). Such a view is consistent, I believe, with Joseph’s use elsewhere of the verb translate to mean ‘transmit’ and the noun translation to mean ‘transmission’ (as in the eighth Article of Faith).

I should also point out that my personal testimony of the Book of Mormon is not dependent upon my work on this project. The Book of Mormon stands on its own and is ultimately not dependent on how that text may vary in printed editions or in the manuscripts. Moroni promised that the Lord will give a testimony of the book to the prayerful reader — irrespective of any infelicities and errors in the text (which Moroni recognized could be there, as he himself noted in the last sentence on the title page of the Book of Mormon). I received my own personal witness of this book long before I ever began work on this project. I have never needed to prove to myself that the text is from the Lord. Nor have errors in the text ever prevented the Spirit from bearing witness that the book is the Lord’s.

My own personal witness of this book dates from 1979, when I was reading the book during a time of difficulty. I was reading the words that king Lamoni’s queen expresses as she comes out of her state of unconsciousness:

Alma 19:29-30 (original text)

she arose and stood upon her feet and cried with a loud voice saying
O blessed Jesus who has saved me from an awful hell
O blessed God have mercy on this people
and when she had said this she clapped her hands being filled with joy
speaking many words which were not understood

And as I was reading this passage, the Spirit witnessed to me, “This really happened.� What is interesting about this passage is that I didn’t actually read “she clapped her hands� (the reading of the printer’s manuscript), but instead I read “she clasped her hands� (the reading found in the 1830 edition as well as in all LDS editions). Now I do not take this personal witness as evidence that I should reject the earliest reading, clapped. It simply means that the Lord witnesses the truthfulness of this book irrespective of the minor errors that may have crept in. I know of no error that changes any doctrine or the basic account of the text. There is no error, awkward expression, or ungrammaticality in any of the printed editions of the book that will prevent the honest reader from gaining a testimony of the Book of Mormon.

9. So why should we be interested in recovering the original English-language text of the Book of Mormon?

The major thrust of this project is oriented towards scholars, not the lay readers of the book. There is no reason to restore in the current standard text the nonstandard language and the non-English Hebraisms that were largely eliminated by Joseph Smith himself in his editing of the text for the second (1837) edition. On the other hand, many of the word and phrase changes proposed by the project (such as those listed under question 2 above) make the text much more systematic and consistent. The Church (especially in its 1920 and 1981 editions) has consistently tried to print an accurate text, including the restoration of original readings (providing the language itself is in standard English).

From a scholarly perspective, restoring the original text provides new ways of viewing the Book of Mormon text. By studying the language of the text, I have seen much that confirms my personal testimony of the book as well as what early witnesses of the translation were able to observe.

10. Won’t changing the text prove embarrassing for some commentaries and interpretations by church leaders and scholars?

I do not think this is much of a problem. There are so few examples where restoring an original reading will cause difficulties for previous commentary. In virtually every case, the original text will re-enforce and make even clearer gospel principles. As an example, there is the passage in Alma 39:13 where Alma tells his son Corianton (in the current text) to “return unto them [the Zoramites] and acknowledge your faults and that wrong which ye have doneâ€?. Yet the original text read here “return unto them and acknowledge your faults and repair that wrong which ye have doneâ€?. The original text emphasizes that repentance involves more than saying “I’m sorryâ€? — it requires us to do all we can to make restitution for our sins. This doctrine is, of course, supported by other passages in the Book of Mormon.

One place where the original reading will lead to some revision of commentary deals with the parenthetical phrase that Joseph Smith added in the 1840 edition in 1 Nephi 20:1, which explains that “the waters of Judah� means “the waters of baptism�. The 1920 edition removed the parentheses that Joseph had placed around the extra phrase “or out of the waters of baptism�, which has subsequently led some church writers to interpret the additional phraseology as part of the original Isaiah text, with a few writers even accusing ancient Jewish scribes as having purposely removed a clear Old Testament reference to baptism from the book of Isaiah!

11. Would it be worth doing textual criticism for the translations of the English-language Book of Mormon into other languages?

Yes. In fact, I can think of one very specific aspect that could be of tremendous benefit to my own project — namely, the question of how translators have dealt with problematic passages. Their solutions may suggest possible conjectural emendations for the English-language text. As an example, consider the English-language reading for Mosiah 17:13: “they took him and bound him and scourged his skin with fagots yea even unto deathâ€?. This passage literally states that Abinadi was whipped to death with bundles of sticks. I have conjectured that the word scourged here is a mishearing for scorched, the verb used in the next verse (Mosiah 17:14) to refer to Abinadi’s death by fire (“and now when the flames began to scorch himâ€?). And some foreign language translators have also realized that the text intends to say that Abinadi was burnt to death and have therefore substituted for scourged a verb that is equivalent to burning rather than whipping. Some students in my class on textual criticism have involved themselves in projects of this sort, but their work has been limited to a few languages and only to checking whether the English-language conjectures proposed in this project can be found in any of the translations. It would undoubtedly be worthwhile checking the other side of the coin: Are there readings in the translations that suggest conjectures for the English-language text?

12. What role has your theory of analogical modeling played in the Book of Mormon project?

Analogical modeling (AM) is a theory of language that I have worked on since the 1970s. The traditional method for describing language has been in terms of rules, but in analogical modeling there are no rules, only examples (instances) of past behavior that a speaker uses to understand and produce language. AM is actually a general theory of description that uses both nearest neighbors and not-so-near neighbors (under certain well-defined conditions) to predict behavior.

AM has been implicitly used in many aspects of the critical text project, particularly in finding instances of usage for testing the reliability of readings. One important characteristic of the Book of Mormon — one that is very helpful in establishing the text — is the size of the book (584 pages of text in the 1830 edition). The specific language of the text is sufficiently repeated throughout the book so that there are usually enough exemplars to make a reasoned analysis for any given expression or phrase. It has not, in my opinion, been fully appreciated how huge a scriptural text the Book of Mormon is and what an advantage that is in analyzing and establishing its text.

In distinction to the findings of computerized stylistic analyses of the Book of Mormon text, I have found that many expressions, phrases, and words extend throughout the text, such as the term pleading bar by both Jacob and Moroni (in Jacob 6:13 and Moroni 10:34) or the precise expression “yea even the sword of the justice of the eternal Godâ€? by both Nephi and Moroni (in 1 Nephi 12:18 and Ether 8:23). Sometimes Jacob uses expressions that are unique to him (at least in the original text), such as “the commands of Godâ€?. As many readers have recognized, every time Jacob starts to speak or write, his flowing style is almost immediately distinguishable from Nephi’s complex syntax — and it doesn’t take a mathematical analysis of function words within passages of five thousand words to figure this out!

As a result of my work in AM, I have continually attempted to look for exemplars that might be responsible for creating errors in the Book of Mormon text. As an example, in 2 Nephi 20:29 all the printed editions as well as the printer’s manuscript read Ramath instead of the Ramah found in Isaiah 10:29 (the original manuscript is not extant for this passage). A number of scholars have noted that Ramath would have been the earlier Hebrew form for Ramah and have therefore claimed that the Book of Mormon text here maintains the earlier Hebrew name for this place, thus showing that the Book of Mormon text was translated from a more ancient version of Isaiah. What has not been noticed in all of this discussion is that within the Book of Mormon quotation for Isaiah 2-14 (found in 2 Nephi 12-24), a great many names are misspelled in the printer’s manuscript. The 1830 typesetter corrected all of these misspellings by reference to his own King James Bible — except for the case of Ramath. And for each of these misspelled names there is an analogical source for the misspelling — either a nearby word in the Isaiah quotation or a common English word or biblical name:

King James Bible misspelling in P analogical source
2 Nephi 18:2 Jeberechiah Jerebechiah Jeremiah
2 Nephi 18:6 Rezin Razin razor
2 Nephi 19:1 Zebulun Zebulon Bablon
2 Nephi 20:26 Midian Mideon Gideon
2 Nephi 20:28 Michmash Mishmash mishmash
2 Nephi 20:29 Ramah Ramath Hamath

In the case of Ramath, we find Hamath earlier in the same chapter (2 Nephi 20:9). Another influence that would have led Oliver Cowdery to write Ramath instead of the correct Ramah would have been the name Aiath, found in the immediately preceding verse (2 Nephi 20:28). In fact, these two earlier occurrences of names ending in –ath could have readily misled the 1830 typesetter into thinking that he didn’t need to check his King James Bible for the spelling Ramath.

Three AM books have been published and are all available:

(a) Analogical Modeling of Language (Kluwer: Dordrecht, The Netherlands, 1989)

(b) Analogy and Structure (Kluwer: Dordrecht, The Netherlands, 1992)

( c) Analogical Modeling: An Exemplar-Based Approach to Language, edited by Royal Skousen, Deryle Lonsdale, and Dilworth B. Parkinson (John Benjamins: Amsterdam, 2002)

These books are rather technical. For an introduction to AM, see my article “Analogical Modeling: Exemplars, Rules, and Quantum Computing�, Proceedings of the Twenty-Ninth Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society (Berkeley, California: Berkeley Linguistics Society, 2003), pages 425-439. A preprint version of this paper is available from our research group’s AM website: < http://humanities.byu.edu.am/>.

34 comments for “12 Answers from Royal Skousen

  1. This is one of the best and most substantive posts I’ve ever read at T&S. At this point all I want to say is a big THANK YOU to Royal Skousen for his incredible dedication to this amazing project. And thank you for providing such extensive answers to so many questions.

  2. Agreed — this is an incredibly helpful and informative set of answers from Dr. Skousen, and we really appreciate the effort he put into them. His project sounds very, very interesting.

  3. Just one interesting comment on translations into other languages:

    The Japanese Book of Mormon, 1957 edition, renders the word “wine” in 3 Nephi 18 as “budoeki”, which is non-alcoholic–grape juice. Thus the Lord commands his disciples to bring bread and grape juice, and institutes the sacrament. Moroni 5 also uses “budoeki”–grape juice.

    The word “wine” in Mosiah 22 is translated “budoshu,” which makes sense because it would have been hard to make the Lamanites drunk on grape juice. The character for the last syllable “shu” is read “sake” if not in combination, and it is clear that an alcoholic beverage is intended.

    The 1995 edition of the Book of Mormon in Japanese uses the word “budoshu” in Mosiah, 3 Nephi and Moroni.

    The first translation into Japanese was done by Alma Taylor, in 1909. The 1957 edition is referred to as a new translation by a man named Sato–his given name is tough for a semi-literate like me to read. I’d be interested to know whether the “grape juice” was in the 1909 translation or if it first showed up in 1957. Bryce-san, I expect you to pull one from your family collection and let us know.

  4. Excellent presentation, Royal.

    Did I understand correctly, that you are allowing individuals and groups to use your information to create non-critical editions of the BoM text? That is very generous of you.

  5. Truly amazing work. Since there are irrecoverable but minor errors, it seems to me we might have to be more careful about how far we can push a close reading of the text. For me, the jaw-dropper was the usage of language dating to the 16/17th centuries. Have there been any attempts at an explanation so far? Strong KJV influence? What’s even in the realm of possibility on this one?

  6. Jonathan, many scholars have pointed out that the language of the BoM is purposefully concordant with that of the KJV. There are several purposes for this: 1)many of the texts in the BoM are straight from the Bible — what version of the Bible should be used? 2)this was the language of religion in the early and middle 19th century, and it makes sense to make the language of the BoM similar to that language 3)people spoke using phrases from the KJV all the time in the 19th century. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense for the BoM to have the same language as the KJV: can you imagine “oh you people with too little faith” instead of “oh ye of little faith?” More modern language just wouldn’t sound right (which is why more modern version of the Bible often sound strange to the very religious). The use of 16th and 17th century language also explains things like, “adieu” (Jacob 7). Were the early Nephites speaking French to each other? Obviously not. The person wrote “goodbye” or “fare well” or “Godspeed” but the translation came out “adieu” precisely because that’s in line with how people wrote in then 16th and 17th centuries.

  7. Dr. Skousen —

    Thanks for the great post.

    Mark B.–

    Alas, members of my family have been native English speakers for over eight decades, and members of the church for perhaps half that time, so no help there.

    I do have a couple of nice triple combinations that are no longer available.

    I miss the language of the 1957 edition, although the 1995 edition is much easier to read.

  8. The reason I put the copyright on is that I do not want people to lift material without citing it. I don’t mind this information being distributed widely, but I want my name to remain on it. If it is cited and my name is on it, I’ll be happy and won’t cause anybody any trouble. But in the past I’ve had problems with people taking my analyses and claiming them as their own.

  9. “I’ve had problems with people taking my analyses and claiming them as their own.”

    A sound idea. Since you’ve posted your thoughts on T&S, you should be safe — where else would the poachers come from? Yeah, Kaimi — I’m talkin’ to you!

  10. Jonathon, one explanation is that Joseph wrote the BOM himself. Dr. Skousen suggests otherwise but does so without explanation. Interestingly, I thing Geoff’s comments can be used to support the notion.

  11. Steve,

    My link to your post was fully attributed. Take a look at the post ( http://timesandseasons.org/wp/index.php?p=1424 ) — it’s actually pretty short and uneventful. “Steve says X. What do folk around here think?” I’m not claiming ideas, I’m just providing a forum for discussion of the question.

    As for further developments, well, I can’t help it if we get more comments over here on a single post than some other mormon group blogs get in their entire existence. :P

  12. It’s not just the last post, K-man, it’s like you have my office bugged or something. I mean, I was totally going to post on hurricane paths until somehow, I got scooped!!

  13. To clarify: I’m fully aware that the BofM follows the KJV closely in its Bible citations. But what Royal Skousen calls a remarkable major finding is: “The vocabulary of the Book of Mormon text appears to derive from the 1500s and the 1600s, not from the 1800s.” He lists several examples where the latest OED citation predates the KJV and, presumably, the given usage doesn’t occur there. So where does this early modern language usage from from? Someone in 1575 dug up and glossed the gold plates? The Urim and Thummim was accidentally switched to the “Renaissance” setting? Did the contemporary religious language familiar to Joseph Smith preserve archaisms that didn’t make it into the KJV? Or did Joseph Smith know the KJV so well that he could recreate KJV-era archaisms by analogy?

    In any case saying that the language of the BofM is just like the KJV isn’t enough, when the cited forms aren’t found (I presume) in the KJV. And what would be the reason for the author/Author of the BofM to use archaic forms that are opaque or misunderstood in 1830? Or is there just less to this finding that I thought at first?

  14. It might also be interesting to try to identify works in existence in the early 19th century that used the specific archaisms Dr. Skousen has identified from the Book of Mormon, but not (presumably, though this should be verified) from the KJV.

    If I understand the OED practice correctly, a work is published as of a particular date and the OED references that date as the last appearance of the particular usage that occurs in it. However, that does not mean that the work is not reprinted verbatim after that date, nor that the work becomes automatically inaccessible after that date.

  15. “Joseph Smith was literally reading off an already composed English-language text.”

    This is a fascinating conclusion. Does it mean that Skousen has ruled out the possibility that Joseph consulted the KJV while dictating the Isaiah portions? Or the New World Sermon on the Mount? I’ve long thought that the general consensus of LDS scholars was that Joseph consulted the KJV when he noticed clear parallels to the text on the gold plates.

  16. Greg – I think that was Nibley’s conjecture, but Skousen seems to be saying that, based on the evidence in the manuscript, JS was getting the text word for word.

    I guess that doesn’t preclude the idea he got his KJV out and read from it, but it doesn’t require it either.

  17. Dr. Skousen– Thank you for sharing the findings of your monumental work. I look forward to a rich harvest of scholarly work on the BoM based on this foundation.

    I’m also intrigued by the appearance of anachronistic early modern vocabulary and usage (particularly since early modern English is my academic field). If the BoM does in fact import archaisms from a period neither of the book’s origin nor of its transmission (I like this term as a substitute for “translation”), I would have to seriously reconsider all of the various theories I have entertained about Joseph’s method. Jonathan’s list of explanatory possibilities is fascinating, and as I read it something else came to mind. The early modern poet Edmund Spenser deliberately composed in an (inauthentic) archaic idiom–he did so for various reasons, including his interest in laying claim to a “native” English tradition of poetry. That is, he realized that the lexis of his poem would carry a kind of cultural meaning apart from (though, of course, not unrelated to) the content of the poem itself. By analogy, we could speculate that God deliberately transmitted the BoM text in a sociolect that would carry a specific cultural meaning for its readers, even though (or perhaps precisely because) that sociolect would be inauthentic and anachronistic.

  18. For several years I was involved with the retranslation project of the BoM in Dutch. I also got information from the main “retranslator” of the BoM in French for my linguistics course at BYU where we study some of these challenges. Translation, indeed, reveals numerous problems, but is, like brother Skousen suggested, especially fascinating to discover unexpected ambiguities in the English text. A few examples:

    Alma 42:25 – “do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice?” = “rob justice”, a collocation difficult to render in another language

    1 Ne 13:33-34 – “visit in judgment” – visit is a neutral term in translation, but should it not have a meaning of “punish”?

    Alma 7:25 – And may the Lord bless you, and keep your garments spotless. = “and [may the Lord] keep your garments spotless” OR “and [you should] keep your garments spotless”? In translation the verb “keep” will have a different form according to the choice you make. We mag have a tendency to read it according to the first possibility. But some will interpret that it is not the responsibility of the Lord to keep your garments spotless, but your own, in which case the second possibility is preferred.

    And an interesting problem has been the added words “the BoM – Another Testament of Christ”. The word “another” has two meanings, “one more Testament” or “a different Testament”. The first is meant of course. But in other languages the translation can rather convey “different”. Plus “of Christ” is meant as “in favor of Christ”, but in other languages “of” can mean “from, given by”. You see the ambiguity in certain translations that can be understood as “a different Testament given by Christ”.

  19. Rosalynde: “If the BoM does in fact import archaisms from a period neither of the book’s origin nor of its transmission (I like this term as a substitute for “translation”), I would have to seriously reconsider all of the various theories I have entertained about Joseph’s method.”

    I agree that this was the most interesting part of Professor Skousen’s study. Two questions:

    (1) Why do you prefer “transmission”? (I like the term, too, but I wonder if we share the same reason.)

    (2) Why would the existence of archaisms force you to reconsider Joseph’s method? Stated another way, what theories have you entertained?

  20. I am left somewhat confused about some of the conclusions, and it leaves me with a number of questions. For example, if Joseph Smith was reading from an english text, then why did he need a scribe? The usage of a more ancient form of english is a troubling conclusion for me because it suggests to my mind an attempt by the author to make the book sound more ancient that it is. Also, I am not sure what to make of Joseph Smith spelling the names letter for letter. The Book of Mormon language of “reformed egyptian” would not have used spelling. If Joseph Smith is reading something letter-for-letter it begs the question of why the plates were needed in the first place.

  21. Gordon–

    (1) Wish I could take credit for inventing the usage myself, but I simply picked it up from Dr. Skousen’s piece, when he wrote, “Joseph Smith is not the author of the Book of Mormon, nor is he actually the translator. Instead, he was the revelator – through him the Lord revealed the English-language text (and by means of the interpreters and the seer stone). Such a view is consistent, I believe, with Joseph’s use elsewhere of the verb translate to mean ‘transmit’ and the noun translation to mean ‘transmission’ (as in the eighth Article of Faith).”

    (2) I’m no expert in translation practices, but I have tried to imagine how Joseph could have produced his translation/transmission of the plates. I accept the book’s fundamental historicity, but there have been (and still are) moments when a particular word or passage seems out of place in the text; right now, for example, I’m troubled by the word “monarchy” in Alma 43:45, which seems culturally and linguistically misplaced. As I see it, there are a few methodological possibilities (and these are certainly not especially original): first, God revealed each word directly and unequivocally to Joseph’s mind or eye, presumably in a syntax that closely matched the original text but in a vocabulary that preserved Joseph’s sense of the sacred (ie KJV-Biblical). Dr. Skousen’s work argues for this kind of initial controlled transmission, which would warrant very close, word-by-word exegesis of the text, but (frustratingly) makes it clear that the original product of that method is permanently lost (barring further revelation), and so we cannot read the majority of the text in that way. The presence of early modern linguistic forms, under this possibility, would originate with God, and thus I would have to re-evaluate God’s rhetorical objectives (not an easy feat). Second, I’ve thought that perhaps only inchoate concepts and information came to Joseph, which he then formulated into language by means of his own rational faculties. If there are truly archaic early modern forms in the BoM that are not extant in the KJV, this theory would be nonsense, since Joseph would have no mental access to those forms (I have previously rejected this theory for other reasons). Finally, I’ve postulated a sort of middle ground, where words and phrases are transmitted to Joseph ready-made, but where God provides close (but not exact) linguistic matches to words or idioms that have no equivalent in 19th-C English; this would allow for both semitic and 19th-C elements to appear in the text. But if Dr. Skousen is right about archaic forms being present in the text, that would suggest that God did in fact transmit words and idioms that were unfamiliar to Joseph, at least in certain cases, rather than transmitting a close but familiar equivalent.

    Of course, we haven’t seen any of the evidence for early modern archaisms yet, and though I trust Dr. SKousen’s initial judgement, it’s possible that the conjecture will not pan out.

  22. “If Joseph Smith is reading something letter-for-letter it begs the question of why the plates were needed in the first place.”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it the case that the consensus of the various accounts we have of Smith’s translation of the BoM is that the plates were not, in fact, needed, or even present most of the time? Joseph stared into the Urim and Thummin, or into his seer stone, or into his hat (or all three), and recited to his scribes, while the plates themselves were elsewhere–in the room, downstairs, hidden in a barrell of beans, etc., correct? I’m uncomfortable with the the idea of the book’s revelation being a process of strictly controlled, word-for-word transmission, but to the extent that the evidence points that way, it supports the conclusion which follows from this fact: namely, that the plates were primarily a catalyst (kind of like how the Egyptian Book of the Dead scrolls were a catalyst for the revelation of the Book of Abraham), and that no actual, literal translation of Reformed Egyptian marks hammed into metal plates took place at all.

  23. I’m no expert, but I will confess to some skepticism about the importance of the examples of 16th century language. It seems to me that the examples cited could have just arisen by chance. In any process of transcribing and copying, some errors and unusual usages will creep in, and it would not be surprising if some of them matched earlier usages. Of course if there are hundreds or thousands of these, the case is considerably strengthened. But I would assume that Prof. Skousen selected some of the most interesting or convincing examples to mention, and most of them seemed to me like things that could easily arise by chance. It would be interesting to look for similar examples in other writing, particularly any writing that was purposely written in an old fashioned style.

    Is anyone else skeptical, or is it just me?

  24. ed –

    it’s just you.

    (or not)


    Anyway –

    We know that Oliver Cowdery averaged about three textual changes per manuscript page as he copied from the original manuscript into the printer’s manuscript.

    I wonder if we could conjecture that, therefore, it is likely Oliver and the other scribes made an average of three changes per manuscript page from whatever Joseph was reading/receiving.

    Oral transmission would be different than the visual method of transmission from the Original Manuscript to the Printers, but since we can’t truly know exactly what JS saw, we can only conjecture what changes Martin Harris/Oliver Cowdery/other scribes introduced into the original manuscript.

    Now my brain aches.

  25. I actually thought this was the most interesting conclusion:

    “Joseph Smith’s editing for the second and third editions (1837 and 1840) represents human editing, not a revealed revision of the text.”

    If the original manuscript represents a word-for-word transmission to Joseph Smith (a la the Qu’ran to Muhammad) with some dictation errors then why did Joseph and others he authorized ever revise it at all?

    Philip Barlow among others have argued that we LDS often take the scriptures a bit too literally as the precise words of God to humanity (i.e. that we ignore the potentially fallible human role in producing scripture). His primary evidence for this argument was Joseph Smith’s repeated revisions of his own revelations in the D&C and his revisions of the Book of Mormon.

    If Joseph Smith’s revisions to the BOM were “human editing” rather than revelation why did he do it or allow others to do so?

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