There are 13 thoughts on “Barlow on Book of Mormon Language: An Examination of Some Strained Grammar”.

  1. Pingback: Seer stones, Reformed Egyptian, and Translation – Why the LDS Church is True

  2. Thanks Stan,
    Granted the evidence for the presence of certain grammatical forms/variations predating KJV that Joseph Smith is unlikely to have encountered are found in the Book of Mormon. Is there a conclusion being drawn that Joseph Smith ‘read’ these forms off in the ‘translation’ process?
    As examples you give above show, grammar and lexis co-exist, so what about the lexis? Modern spelling with archaic English in the Book of Mormon, how does that work?

    • See my article “Joseph Smith Read the Words”. On lexis: next year look for a definitive publication by Skousen titled “The Nature of the Original Language” (1300 pages). Spelling can be modernized rather easily. It would be interesting to read a Book of Mormon spelled like a 16th-century text: e.g. “And yf it so be that he fynde it, veryly I say vnto you, he reioyceth more of that sheepe, then of the ninetie and nine, which went not astray.”

  3. Really? I thought that the Joseph Smith Sr. family read the Bible, and others with whom Joseph stayed were also Bible readers. Why do you think he didn’t have access to a Bible? Further, I even thought Joseph Smith Jr. must have turned to the Bible for some of the language that is the same in the Book of Mormon and the Bible. It seems like recent explanations of the translation process suggest that he did not have anything to reference on the table — other than a hat with a stone, but I have supposed that either those explanations have missed something or that Joseph could reference the Bible at times that he was not actively translating. Is there firm evidence one way or another?

    • To clarify my comment, it’s likely Joseph didn’t have access to any version of the Bible during the translation process. I didn’t mean that he – at any age – didn’t had access to it; though I can see how it could read that way. Apologies for any confusion.

      Of course, his family probably did have a copy from which he read James 1:5 and prompted his prayer in the grove. However, he didn’t live close to his family while translating the Book of Mormon. When Joseph started the translation, he lived in Harmony, PA, which was about a 4 days journey at the time. Granted, he lived close to his in-laws, but Joseph and Emma still had their own home, and they were poor enough that they likely didn’t own their own Bible. If he consulted the Hale’s Bible, it couldn’t have been in any meaningful way, especially considering the other details we have about the translation process. He dictated for hours, and every witness is adamant he had no references or notes.

      After completing the translation of Mosiah-to-Moroni, Joseph moved to Fayette, NY and lived with the Whitmer family. There he finished the translation of the small plates of Nephi. While they likely had a Bible, witnesses all claim Joseph didn’t use it. There was one occasion in which Joseph was surprised that Jerusalem had walls and insisted on seeing evidence in the Bible. That was a notable enough incident that 2 witnesses (Emma and David Whitmer) both recall it, which indicates that the Bible simply wasn’t involved in the regular translation process.

      After the translation, Joseph purchased a copy of the Bible, which is pretty good evidence that he didn’t own one before that. While he may have had access to other people’s copies, all the historical evidence points away from him using them.

      It’s theoretically possible that he referenced the Bible when not actively translating, but again there is no evidence that he did. Furthermore, how would that even have impacted the translation? Is the idea that he memorized passages? That would have been noticed, especially when he was reciting 5 chapters of Isaiah daily in front of the entire Whitmer family. Could he have been studying the grammar and style? If he did, then he was a genius because he imitated biblical phraseology better than scholars of his day that deliberately affected that register.

      • Thanks Emerson, for your thoughtful reply. I have probably caused this thread to diverge from the original topic of Stan’s article, but it is intriguing to think about ways that 17th century language would appear consistently in the Book of Mormon. I thought maybe Joseph’s referencing an old Bible could help us understand some of the language. Regarding the long passages of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, and other passages that have language that appears to be from the King James Bible, I am thinking it seems simpler to explain if Joseph Smith had reference to that language. Are there likely errors or inconsistencies in the KJV passages in the Book of Mormon? If so, why wouldn’t tight revelation of the words of the book have fixed them. I see that it is possible that reproducing practically exact language from the KJV Bible would have provided a point of reference for people living then who were familiar with the KJV; perhaps that comes close to being enough of an explanation. At the same time, as Stan pointed out again in his article, Joseph Smith thought it was acceptable to edit grammar in the Book of Mormon, even to the point of changing some meaning. I am thinking that the freedom Joseph and others felt to edit words in the Book of Mormon, seems strange if exact words were provided by revelation during the translation. If you have insights about the translation process that could help with the questions of how KJV Bible language came to so clearly be represented in the Book of Mormon and why Joseph Smith felt comfortable editing the language, I would like to see an article by you on the topic. On another front, I know there has been substantial discussion about why English language occurs in the Book of Mormon in patterns that seem to pre-date Joseph Smith, but I have yet to see a comprehensive consideration of theories that have been floated, an examination of their assumptions, and an evaluation of their apparent explanatory ability. Perhaps I have just missed that writing. If you (or anybody else) knows where it exists, please point me in the right direction. Best regards.

        • “I am thinking that the freedom Joseph and others felt to edit words in the Book of Mormon seems strange if exact words were provided by revelation during the translation.”

          Here it seems that you are privileging evidence that is weaker over evidence that is stronger. Specifically, the willingness to edit is weaker evidence that words were not given than the archaic, extra-biblical lexis and syntax are that words were given. May I suggest that you begin with the stronger evidence, and take that as a starting point for your investigations.

          Before one can achieve interesting results in this area, it’s important to gain a thorough understanding of the history of the text. This can be done by studying ATV (2004-2009, 2017) and GV (2016), as well as the forthcoming Nature of the Original Language (NOL, 2018). Also, it’s good to bear in mind that before Joseph was an editor in 1837, Oliver occasionally acted as an editor in 1829 as he copied the printer’s manuscript, and so did John Gilbert during the typesetting process.

  4. It constantly leaves me with amazement that were it not for modern-day databases and a few individuals willing to research and compare these early-modern English resources against early critical Book of Mormon manuscripts, that Joseph Smith’s translation would still be subject to those individuals with incorrect or wholly ulterior agendas and motives. These agendas and motives, of course, include those naysayers who argue that Joseph’s language peppers the Book of Mormon and yet at the same time, contend that he wasn’t capable intellectually or educationally of producing the Book of Mormon –the two being natural contradictions of each other.
    I’m grateful once again for Stan’s ability to cut through the plethora of evidence for and against in order to give us a cogent understanding of other possibilities, including that the earliest Book of Mormon contained rather extraordinary but entirely acceptable early Modern English grammatical usages. It kind of puts a smile on my face to realize that those who have claimed poor grammar in the Book of Mormon for so long may not have done their due-diligence nor sufficient research in order to have made those claims.

  5. Thank you. Astounding. Either Barlow does not know the chronology of the Book of Mormon translation and Doctrine and Covenants revelations, or opts to overlook the actual chronology to further his thesis. Either way it misleads the reader inappropriately.

    • The historical evidence doesn’t suggest he did. In fact, it’s very possible that he didn’t have access to the Bible at all – regardless of age – during the translation process.

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