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Unexpected Insight into Book of Mormon Culture

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 13, 2012

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:

Click here



16 Comments »

  1. Impressive. Yea, verily.

    Comment by Paul — January 13, 2012 @ 8:11 am

  2. And thus we see that this post doth wax gnarly.

    Comment by Mark Brown — January 13, 2012 @ 8:16 am

  3. Hey, it’s Friday. The 13th, yet.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 13, 2012 @ 8:22 am

  4. Awesome.

    Comment by Alison — January 13, 2012 @ 8:26 am

  5. Thanks!

    Comment by ji — January 13, 2012 @ 9:57 am

  6. Whatsoever thou postest, I shall read and laugh.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — January 13, 2012 @ 11:08 am

  7. Sweet!!

    Comment by Bruce Crow — January 13, 2012 @ 12:02 pm

  8. Whatsoever….(rolls his eyes)

    I’m assuming that is what teens and young adults said to their parents in Book of Mormon times.

    I’m intrigued by all of this textual analysis of the Book of Mormon. My first real taste of this came in reading Brant Gardner’s The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon, where he uses a limited number of textual variants as examples, and references Skousen’s work. There are some real insights to be gained through this, but it is hard work, and time consuming. I look forward to your examples.

    Comment by kevinf — January 13, 2012 @ 12:37 pm

  9. I have enjoyed and learned from Skousen’s series. Our family has actually turned reading his edition of the BOM into a bit of a game. When we do our family BOM study I read from Skousen’s ed. and my kids read from their standard versions. When it’s my turn to read they have to pay close attention and see who can be the first to catch me reading something “different”

    My favorite “change” is in the Abinadi story where the wicked priests “scorched” him instead of “scourged” him with faggots. (Which never made sense to me how do you beat someone with a large bundle of sticks?)

    But I’m not sure I can buy into Skousen’s “exact translation theory” to me it contradicts the “study it out in your mind” instructions from the Lord as found in the D and C

    Comment by andrew h — January 13, 2012 @ 1:11 pm

  10. Andrew H, that is covered in a lot of detail in Brant Gardner’s book on the translation. He examines the evidence and arguments both for exact translation versus a contextual translation, with some really interesting ideas. Gardner rejects an exact translation theory, although not completely, instead positing an intermediary translation into English before revealing it to Joseph Smith.

    Comment by kevinf — January 13, 2012 @ 3:44 pm

  11. Whatsoever, indeed! Nice.

    Comment by David Y. — January 13, 2012 @ 4:50 pm

  12. Embarrassing confession. I wrote my comment in # 8 without realizing I could click through to your example. Now I feel like a total dweeb, which is only slightly worse than my normal mode of only feeling somewhat like a dweeb. “And it came to pass, that I did read more diligently, yea even the hyperlinks, so that I might be more fully edified and instructed. And I exhort you to do likewise.

    Comment by kevinf — January 15, 2012 @ 11:02 pm

  13. kevinf, you only prove that great minds (well, yours and mine, anyway) work alike …

    Whatsoever.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 16, 2012 @ 2:27 am

  14. I just noticed on my statistics page: 340 people clicked on this post, but only 147 clicked through to the second page (the “Click here” at the bottom of the post).

    That means that nearly 200 of you didn’t get the joke!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 1, 2012 @ 11:09 pm

  15. 200 Keepa readers are going through their days entirely beswotted; some wondering if your pettifogging clone has gained the upper hand, others unsure just what is the matter – was this column boring, or simply writ too far above their understanding?

    Comment by Diane Peel — February 2, 2012 @ 12:44 am

  16. Neither! Click the dang link already!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 2, 2012 @ 8:17 am

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