Thursday, March 21, 2013

BYU professor Royal Skousen - Book of Mormon studies

BYU professor Royal Skousen concludes his discussion on changes to the Book of Mormon original text

(by 3-19-13)

The nature of the original text of the Book of Mormon was the focus of Royal Skousen, a professor of linguistics at BYU, during the conclusion of his lecture series on the original and printer's manuscripts of the Book of Mormon on March 12.

Daniel C. Peterson, a professor of Islamic studies and Arabic at BYU, acknowledged the work Skousen has done with the critical text project. Peterson expressed the benefits he has seen because of Skousen's work.

"Without (the critical text project) we would still be at the mercy of critics shouting about the number of changes made to the Book of Mormon text after its first printing, claiming both that our failure to acknowledge those changes demonstrates a cover-up, and that the sheer fact of the changes proves Joseph Smith a false prophet," Peterson said during his introduction for Skousen. "We now know far more than they ever bothered to learn about the nature of those changes, and we know that the changes are anything but faith destroying."

Peterson also mentioned the strict and professional behavior that Skousen maintained throughout the project.

"Although he is a deeply believing Latter-day Saint, he has maintained — successfully from the very beginning — that the project must be run according to the most rigorous academic principles," Peterson said.

The Book of Mormon is considered another testament of Jesus Christ for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a companion the Bible. It was translated by Joseph Smith from gold plates with the help from several scribes.

Skousen discussed the original manuscript, conjectural emendations or changes that had been made to the text, and the nature of the original English language text. Skousen recounted that only 28 percent of the original text is available. Joseph Smith had placed the original manuscript in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House and, once it was recovered, mold and other natural causes had destroyed much of the copy.

But through the 28 percent of the original copy and by also using the printer's manuscript, Skousen has been able to identify where and why some changes took place.

Several specific examples were given, such as the text in 1 Nephi 12:18. In the original text the verse read, "And a great and a terrible gulf divideth them; yea, even the sword of the justice of the Eternal God."
"The word is 'sword,' but (scribe) Oliver (Cowdery) misread it," Skousen said during the last lecture on March 19. "It was mis-copied by him as 'word.' "

Skousen explained how he was able to view the original copy of this section in order to determine the possible misreading.

"We had the original, and people had read it, and I misread it myself as 'word' because of the way it was written by the scribe," Skousen said. "But if we look at the whole text, we will find that there are only references to the 'sword of the justice of God'; there are no examples in the text of the 'word of the justice of God.' "

Skousen suggested that the correction had never been made because "the word of the justice of God" also could make sense. But Skousen pointed out that he has never come across a change that conflicts with doctrine.

"Some people ask me, 'Do we ever find ones that change the doctrine?' and the answer is no," Skousen said. "There have been none that have changed the doctrine, but there have been a few which restore the correct teachings and the doctrine."

An example of such corrections can be found in Alma 39:13. According to Skousen, the original text read, "... but rather return unto them, and acknowledge your faults and repair that wrong which ye have done."

Skousen explained that in this verse, Alma is telling Corianton that he is supposed to go back to the Zoramites and acknowledge his faults and repair what he has done wrong.

"What happened on this particular page in the original manuscript is that when Oliver got done writing it, he dropped ink — little ink drops are all over this page," Skousen said.

It just so happened that some ink had dropped on the word "repair," causing the "p" to look like a "t." Skousen also explained that Cowdery often looped his "r's" down, causing it to look similar to the letter "n."
"Once the typesetter set Gadianton the robber as Gadianton the nobler," Skousen said. "It's one of the best readings in the 1830 because he misread Oliver's 'r' as an 'n.' "

But with the combination of the drops of ink and the letter "r," "repair" easily looked like "retain."
"Oliver himself misread this one once the big, heavy ink blob was there, and he read it as 'retain,' " Skousen said. "It sat there in the Book of Mormon until the 1920 edition."

It wasn't until Elder James E. Talmage, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve until his death in 1933, and the committee pondered the meaning of the word "retain" for the 1920 edition that it was ultimately removed from the text. Skousen expressed the benefits that just this one example can bring.

"'Restore" and 'repair' then means that the full notion of repentance appears in this statement, instead of just part of it," Skousen said. "So it doesn't change any doctrine, but it's reaffirming the true doctrine that we know."

A display of the critical text project is available to view at the L. Tom Perry Special Collections section at the Harold B. Lee library at BYU. Some early editions of the Book of Mormon, along with materials and artifacts of the critical text project, are included in the display.


BYU professor discusses Book of Mormon translation

(by Sarah Petersen 3-7-13)

After 25 years of research, Royal Skousen, a professor of linguistics at Brigham Young University, has compiled in-depth information about the original and printer's manuscript text of the Book of Mormon.

Joseph Smith restored the LDS Church in the early 1800s, and one of his endeavors was to translate the Book of Mormon from engraved metal plates. The Book of Mormon is considered companion scripture to the Bible.

Skousen pointed out the difficulties in the project because the original text can never be restored, having simply been the words spoken by Joseph himself. Skousen also believes the original text should be considered as English because that is what was given to the Prophet.

"It was a text, I believe, in English letters — English words — given to him through the instrument," Skousen said during the Feb. 26 lecture, which was the first of three in a series about the Book of Mormon at Brigham Young University.

The analysis of the text is "an evaluation on how (Joseph Smith) translated it and what kind of text was revealed to him," said Richard Turley, the assistant historian of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Through his evaluations, Skousen has pieced together the earliest and most accurate form of the text. According to Turley, Skousen's work is "the finest understanding that we have all had about the Book of Mormon."

Skousen explained the ways Joseph first viewed the original text, as there were two specific instruments used.

"One was originally called the interpreters or the Nephite interpreters, and later on Joseph Smith referred to these two clear stones — they were like glass lenses, I suppose — as the Urim and Thummim. This is the instrument that came with the plates," Skousen said.
Skousen described the other instrument used as the seer stone.

"In some way, he was able to view the text ... ," Skousen said. "It's my belief that this original English language text that we're trying to recover is what he saw. Now you can all see there's problems — he didn't videotape it."

Although the text Joseph saw cannot be restored, Skousen said people can still learn from the scribe's original manuscript and the printer's copy of the text.

According to Skousen, during the translation process Joseph was able to view about 20-30 words at a time. Such information was determined by errors the scribes made. Skousen also determined accidental errors and editorial changes by identifying specific marks on the text.

"At each of these stages, from Joseph Smith reading it off all the way, to setting the type, there is potential for error," Skousen said.

In Skousen's book, "How Joseph Smith Translated the Book of Mormon: Evidence from the Original Text," he addresses certain inconsistencies.

"In numerous cases we find that the original Book of Mormon text is consistent in its phraseology, but subsequent copying errors or changes due to editing have created exceptional phrases uncharacteristic of the text," he wrote.

Such examples include the spelling of Zenoch, the prophet of Israel.

"Frequently the first occurrence of a Book of Mormon name is first spelled phonetically, then that spelling is corrected; in some instances, the incorrect spelling is crossed out and followed on the same line by the correct spelling, thus indicating that the correction was an immediate one," Skousen wrote in his book.

Alma 33:15 is used as an example for this finding. According to Skousen, the original manuscript says "for it is not written that Zenos alone spake of these things but Zenoch also spake of these things."

"Oliver Cowdery first wrote Zenock using the expected ck English spelling for the k sound," Skousen wrote in his book. "But then Oliver crossed out the whole word and immediately afterwards, on the same line, wrote Zenoch."

Although the name was changed to the correct Jewish form of spelling on the original manuscript, it did not stay that way for long. According to Skousen, when the text was copied for the printer's edition, Oliver Cowdery went back to spelling Zenoch with a ck. This is why it is currently spelled with an English spelling.

In the second lecture on March 5, Skousen discussed specifically each printed edition of the Book of Mormon and the changes that were made to each copy. He pointed out that during the printing of the 1830 edition, the typesetter, John Gilbert, would correct errors as the printing was taking place. Thus, Skousen concluded that Gilbert truly was trying his best to produce a quality product, rather than sabotaging the edition as people have since accused him of.

"The point of this," Skousen said during the March 5 lecture, "is that these guys were accused in our church history because they had typos, that they were trying to cheat Joseph Smith. No, they were trying to do their best."

More information is available in Skousen's text online at or by attending the remaining lecture on the original and printer's manuscript. The final lecture in this series is 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 12, at the Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni and Visitors Center at Brigham Young University.


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