There are 10 thoughts on “On Doctrine and Covenants Language and the 1833 Plot of Zion”.

  1. Thank you, Mr. Carmack, for this small study. Your persistent diligence is inspiring.

    This article has made me think of other open questions:

    1. Do other sections of the Doctrine and Coveants consistently have these older forms of grammar?

    2. Are there idioms and grammar in the Doctrine and Coveants (and Book of Mormon for that matter) that are not in 16th century English but that do exist in the late 1820’s? And if so, why the use of more recent grammar instead of just older?

    All that has been found is tantalizing and worth studying more. There’s just a nagging part of me that thinks we are missing something here.

    • 1. As shown, even some late sections have archaic forms and structures. The D&C is difficult because we don’t have many of the early manuscripts. A ton of work is needed to form a clear picture of things. I won’t be doing that anytime soon. I will be working on the BofM in the foreseeable future.

      2. (You meant to write 16c and 17c English. On average, the BofM is not more archaic than the 1611/1769 KJB, which has a lot of early 16c language from Tyndale.) The answer is probably. I didn’t look for specific forms and structures and try to verify that they were absent in the earlier textual record. Most D&C language is found in both early and late modern English.

      There are items in the BofM that we have not found in EModE, only in the late 18c or early 19c, like “had NOT ought to”. We find “had ought to” occasionally in the 16c and 17c, but not the negative. “Had (not) ought to” appears to have been an uncommon emphatic form that was marginalized as ungrammatical but persisted in the spoken language and even in the written. The BofM verbal system is a best fit with the 16c and 17c. However, one small portion of it fits the late 18c (unaccusative auxiliary usage), and another part fits usage found in the late 15c (verbal complementation after the verb command).

      Does the existence of early 19c language in the BofM or in the D&C negate the existence and implications of a significant amount of obsolete 16c and 17c language (vocabulary, morphology, and syntax)? Some think so, but that view rather obviously doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. See my comments at the top of page 300.

      Why a mixture of language? I don’t think we can approach certainty on the issue. There are many imponderables, not just for the BofM, but also in the case of the D&C, which is presumably not a translation text. Yet we can’t be sure of the process of elaboration in the case of the D&C either.

  2. Stanford, I marvel at the work you have put into this and the amount of detailed evidence you have produced.

    The greater probability as to who did the translation would be one or more of the Three Nephites who were to remain on the earth in a translated state. Presumably they would have remained in America and learned English from the Pilgrim Fathers who arrived in the early 17th Century. This explanation appears to make perfect sense. An analysis of their writings may confirm this.

    • There is a direct connection between the Three Nephites and Mormon and Moroni:

      “And there are none that do know the true God save it be the disciples of Jesus, who did tarry in the land until the wickedness of the people was so great that the Lord would not suffer them to remain with the people; and whether they be upon the face of the land no man noweth. But behold, my father and I have seen them, and they have ministered unto us.” (Mormon 8:10-11)

      The Three Nephites would have been intimately familiar with the book written by Mormon and Moroni.

    • It appears that the translation of The Book of Mormon into English was done about the time the Pilgrims arrived in America, and then it was transmitted to Joseph Smith two hundred years later. Perhaps the same individual(s) who did the translation were also involved in some additional revelations?

  3. Thanks for your very interesting paper, Stan. I have wondered if the same kind of peculiar English found in the BoM was also in other revelations. You have provided some pretty good evidence that it is. This similarity in language seems to favor the idea that God translated the Book of Mormon, since the other revelations were, according to the received view, spoken (or written) by God. However, in stating, “The position of tight control is that the Lord rendered the ancient Nephite record into English or had it done, and then transmitted this translation to Joseph Smith,“ you also acknowledge the idea that someone other than God or Joseph Smith may have done the rendering–perhaps an angel (resurrected, or merely translated) or even an ordinary mortal. Again, considering the similarity of language, it would be most parsimonious to suppose that the BoM and the texts of the other revelations were rendered by the same individual—perhaps someone who first learned English in the Early Modern period and hung onto that way of speaking (for example, Roger Terry and Carl T Cox have proposed Moroni, who would have been either a resurrected being or a translated mortal, as the BoM translator). At first, this may seem to be a non-starter, since it’s odd to think of an angel speaking (or writing) in the first person for God in the D&C revelations. But on second thought, maybe it’s not so odd, considering the idea of divine investiture of authority (First Presidency, 1916). God does have angels convey many of his revelations, as described in scripture. In at least one case, that angel speaks as if he were God, in the first person (Rev. 22:8–9, 12–16; see also Exodus 23:20-21). Maybe we can’t know who rendered the Nephite record into English, but even so, we can acknowledge the range of possibilities (as you have done), and those possibilities may differentially help resolve concerns some people have with the book, such as the various types of anachronism and (as you have pointed out so well) the nonstandard English.

    • A comment on whoever translated from Nephite to English. It is most probable that it was not a native Nephite speaker. There are translations of idioms and agricultural methods that make sense from a Western European perspective (or North American), but not from any Native American culture at any time prior to European contact after Columbus. A native speaker would certainly know their own culture. If they made a mistake in translation into English, we would not expect them to make fundamental errors in cultural descriptions–though that is exactly what we would expect of an English language translation that understood Western European culture far better than the western hemisphere’s native cultures (at any time or in any location). That tells me that any suggestion of Moroni, or any other Nephite or Lamante, is an unlikely choice.

      On top of that, if we accept the grammatical evidence as an indication of the fluency of the translator, then it is even less likely that we have a Nephite/Lamanite with that level of fluency who could have created that kind of translation. If the grammatical/lexical studies suggest that Joseph wasn’t the translator, we have to look for our translator in the
      English world and whose fluency was learned no earlier than the KJV and no later than Joseph Smith.

      • I am not sure how an individual could translate the Book of Mormon from Nephite into English if they were not a native Nephite? However, your point is well taken that they would have to be very familiar Early American culture and language as well. As Moroni was a resurrected being who lived in the presence of God (JSH 1:23), the Three Nephites are the only ones we are aware of who could have met all of the necessary criteria.

        “Behold, I was about to write the names of those who were never to taste of death, but the Lord forbade; therefore I write them not, for they are hid from the world. But behold, I have seen them, and they have ministered unto me. And behold they will be among the Gentiles, and the Gentiles shall know them not…Therefore, great and marvelous works shall be wrought by them, before the great and coming day when all people must surely stand before the judgment-seat of Christ; Yea even among the Gentiles shall there be a great and marvelous work wrought by them, before that judgment day.” (3rd Nephi 28:25-31)

        They were to be among the Gentiles but the Gentiles would not know them. It is particularly interesting that Mormon, who knew them, stated, “great and marvelous works shall be wrought by them.”

        This is the same phrase that the Lord used four times regarding the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. “A great and marvelous work is about to come forth unto the children of men.” (D&C 6:1; 11:1; 12:1; 14:1) It appears that Mormon knew that the Three Nephites were going to be involved in the process.

  4. Another insightful article.

    I think that Carmack brings up an important consideration when he argues against a rapidly fluctuating translation method (between tight and loose control). He writes,

    “Second, when we consider the original manuscript and its 75,000 extant words, there is no original manuscript evidence that the dictation changed character repeatedly — that is, there is no convincing evidence of indecision over lexical or syntactic choice, since such corrections are extremely minimal in occurrence.”

    Supporting the manuscript evidence that Carmack mentions is also the fact that, at least to my knowledge, none of the witnesses ever mentioned Joseph Smith deliberating or agonizing or mentally working through the translation. It seems that to them, a huge part of the miracle was the fluidity of the whole process. Stan Spencer has argued that D&C 9:7-9 doesn’t refer to the translation process itself, and his interpretation seems to be largely supported by the glaring omission of any statements from the witnesses about Joseph studying out the translation in his mind before the sentences would appear in the seer stone. For example, after taking breaks, Joseph seems to have been able to start up immediately from where he left off, without skipping a beat.

    If a good portion of the translation rested solely on Joseph to supply the diction, grammar, and syntax from his own native linguistic ability, it is likely that the witnesses would have, on numerous occasions, noticed him deliberating about the best way to handle certain passages, or else agonizing over what he already dictated. That is simply what people do when they, left to their own human abilities, are tasked to translate something that is meant to be both sacred and lasting. Even for teams of scholars, important translations can sometimes take years to complete. Yet no one mentioned Joseph second guessing himself at all. He never asked Oliver or Emma or anyone else more educated than himself what they thought of the words he chose, or if there was a way to improve them.

    Interestingly, those who witnessed Joseph receive other revelations besides the Book of Mormon report the same sort of vibe about the steady, confident, forward progress. There is no mental exercise of wringing out the best possible phrasing and syntax. There is no parsing of sentences or playing with possible variations. Instead, as Parley Pratt described Joseph’s revelation on the discerning of spirits,

    “Each sentence was uttered slowly and very distinctly, and with a pause between each, sufficiently long for it to be recorded, by an ordinary writer, in long hand.
    This was the manner in which all his written revelations were dictated and written. There was never any hesitation, reviewing, or reading back, in order to keep the run of the subject; neither did any of these communications undergo revisions, interlinings, or corrections. As he dictated them so they stood, so far as I have witnessed” (cited in Rough Stone Rolling, 130).

    Obviously, there were revisions at some point, just like there were for the Book of Mormon itself, but at least from Parley’s perspective, we don’t get the sense that Joseph is struggling to find the right words to convey the voice of the Lord in the process of the dictation itself. It seems that revelations unfolded line upon line, and when Joseph got a line, he read it! Or at least the words came into his mind so distinctly that he might as well have been reading it. Either way, it seems like pretty tight control to me.

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