I’ve spent many hours this week poring in fascination over the first two volumes of Royal Skousen’s 6-volume Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon. (Someone else posted about this recently in such an interesting way with so many examples, that that blogger is completely responsible for causing me to explore this set. I owe a thank you and a link to that article, but I cannot remember where it was – if you know what article I’m talking about, please identify it.)
I am mesmerized by seeing how Skousen analyzes a difference between the original or printer’s manuscript or one or more printed editions, reasoning back to what may have been the actual word spoken by Joseph Smith as he read or received the text and dictated it to Oliver Cowdery or some other scribe. I’ll have a post ready in the next week discussing three or four of his analyses that lead to a meaningful (to me) insight.
Most of the variants are of course extremely minor and probably without theological import – does Nephi report a mist of darkness in his vision, for instance, or mists of darkness? Skousen believes he knows, and convinces me he’s right – but does having the correct word lead to anything beyond a pedantic accuracy? Ditto for the discussions of that vs. which and hath also vs. also hath that fill a great many pages.
Skousen notes that there are only two places in the Book of Mormon (Jacob 1:11 and Helaman 3:5) where the word whatever appears. All other occurrences read whatsoever. After identifying one point where Oliver Cowdery first wrote whatever and corrected it to whatsoever, and noting how easy it would be to overlook such an error during proofreading, and offering other considerations, Skousen concludes that the original Book of Mormon would be more accurately reflected if the word were emended in these two cases to whatsoever.
No doctrinal consideration there, perhaps, but I am certain there is a significant lesson for us to learn on the level of social history. I believe that we can now better understand the “murmuring” for which Laman and Lemuel and their spiritual descendants were so notorious. The analysis of this variant takes us onto the very scene of a prophet calling a wicked youth of the Book of Mormon era to repentance: