There are 21 thoughts on “Missing Words: King James Bible Italics, the Translation of the Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith as an Unlearned Reader”.

  1. Wow, I may or may not have pondered the meaning of inconsistencies with italicized words in the Book of Mormon before, but after reading this article, I’ll always see them in a different light from now on. How wonderful is that!

    I like the method the author uses to first explain how all three hypothesis can work with multiple textual changes and then discards these from the conversation. This tends to allow us to focus more closely on what he is attempting to show with the remainder, –those which don’t fit the other hypothesis, but fit well with his new hypothesis.

    All-in-all, a rather mind-boggling assessment of an issue that probably deserved this attention and thus a markedly new hypothesis to fit it, long ago.

    • That’s an interesting question.

      The MHW isn’t very helpful for those passages. Mi0748 isn’t a quote, but more of a paraphrase of 1 John 3:1-3. Moroni uses some phrases from John but revises from observation to admonition. And there are no italics in the KJV. I don’t see anything here that looks like JS editing per the MHW.

      Mi0745 is closer to a quote, so the MWH would more likely apply here. It can explain the addition of “and” three times (relative to 1 Cor 13:4-7) but is not helpful in explaining the four other changes: the omission of “charity” twice, of “vaunteth not itself” and of “Doth not behave itself unseemly.” Those would be better explained as Moroni’s paraphrastic omissions or selective quoting. And if Moroni is paraphrasing, then the additions of “and” may also be attributable to his word choice rather than to JS adding words.

      • KJQ takes mi0748 to be a quote, since the match is greater than 15 words and clausal: n = 18 + 4 “the sons of God”. As you note, it doesn’t tell us much about the MWH.

        In the case of mi0745, the words were probably given to JS as they are, even though it’s a quote (with only one italicized word). An issue for the MWH.

        How about Matthew 7, with only three differences in the whole chapter (excluding the edges)? It’s got to be a biblical quote, right?

        I think we have a real problem if we say it’s not a quote. We lose credibility, since the long, barely varying match is undeniable.

        Most likely is that all the words, even the two changes, were transmitted to JS. The thing going for the MWH in the case of whoso is that there’s a lot of it in 3 Nephi 11, so it could’ve been on his mind, even though it was a much rarer word than the alternatives: who(so)ever. Also, adding unto to familiar biblical language seems somewhat unlikely. So in both cases the edits were somewhat unlikely for Joseph.

        • Mi0748 — Of course whether you call mi0748 a quotation depends on what the purpose of your study is, how you define quotation, and the particular methodology you use to apply that definition to a text. Narratively, Moroni isn’t reading to us from his New Testament. But textually, he’s using very similar language to the KJV. So in the narrative sense, it’s not a quote, but based on textual similarity we could call it a paraphrastic quotation.

          Mi0745 – The Book of Mormon interacts with the text of the Bible in different ways, and when it does, there are a variety of possible reasons for differences in the texts. Sometimes the speaker in the Book of Mormon is paraphrasing or adapting the biblical text to the current situation, sometimes the interaction consists of selections fro the Bible rather than a continuous block, some differences are errors of transmission (I don’t believe Skousen would claim he found them all), and others may involve ancient variants in scriptural texts had by the Nephites. The MWH doesn’t deny any of these possibilities. The paper acknowledges throughout that differences are due to a variety of reasons, including in the Conclusions. The MWH attempts to explain some of the differences that are not well-explained by other mechanisms. Primarily, the paper is a comparison of the MWH with the two primary competing theories that attempt to explain the minor differences in the Isaiah chapters. If mi0745 was given verbatim to JS just as we find it, that is not a problem for the MWH.

          Matthew 7 – A biblical quote? Again, it depends on the purpose of your study, how you define quotation, and the methodology you use to apply the definition. For a study to have credibility, it would need to choose a reasonable definition and methodology and consistently apply them. What’s right for one study may not be for another. Narratively, 3 Nephi 14 isn’t a quotation in the sense that most of the BoM Isaiah and Malachi chapters are (rather, it’s a New World discourse), so we need to approach it with some caution since non-narrative “quotations” might be expected to more often include paraphrasing or adaptation (as in BoM’s Isaiah 29 and Matthew 5). But since 3 Nephi 14 follows the KJV so closely, I think we can treat it as a quotation for purposes of this discussion and see how the MWH applies. The MWH explains the omission of italicized “can” and also the addition of “unto” to “ask and it shall be given you.” Sure, this passage would have been familiar to Joseph Smith, but that doesn’t mean his memory was perfect at any given moment, and he may have been influenced by the “unto them,” “unto you,” and “unto the dogs,” in the prior verses or the “unto you” later in the same verse. The fact is that someone added “unto” to this quote even though it doesn’t change the meaning and it unnecessarily diverges from the KJV. It may have easily been an unintentional error of dictation (per Stan Larson’s observation), transcription, or copying of the original manuscript. That would not be a problem for the MWH or any other hypothesis I’m aware of.

          If it was an intentional change from the KJV, then the MWH is the only hypothesis I know of that provides a motivation for such a change. Do you have your own idea of why a translator would unnecessarily deviate from the KJV and intentionally add “unto” at this location, but not at other similar locations (for example, “hath given me” in 2 Nephi 7 / Isaiah 50 and 2 Nephi 18 / Isaiah 8)? Inconsistency is expected from the unlearned ad-hoc editing by JS under the MWH.

          The third variant in this chapter, the replacement of “whosoever” with “whoso” is not explained by the MWH or the two competing hypotheses evaluated in this paper.

  2. Stan, you’ve clearly worked hard on this, and cited many useful things.

    For KJQ (2019) — the new authority on this subject — Skousen and I looked at all the biblical quoting (matching of n>15) in the Book of Mormon. It’s important to gather all the details of changes, with counts of italics ignored and changed, and non-italics changed, in more than 17,000 words of (fairly) close biblical quotation. Skousen laid it all out at the end of last year in an easy-to-read two-column format, introducing this publication at BYU in January 2020. The editing rates for these three categories vary dramatically throughout biblical quotation in the Book of Mormon. We also found that in passages with n<16 matching (phrasal level matching) italics was mostly irrelevant. I suppose that MWH would take these to have the italics in the text transmitted to Joseph Smith.

    In general, the MWH is less likely than the other revealed-words alternative: that Joseph received an altered text word for word. Too many of the italics-related insertions seem unlikely for Joseph. Sometimes there are unlikely syntactic insertions, which is strong, nonconscious evidence against the MWH.

    The MWH could be tested, and Mosiah 12 would be a good place to do it. Have 20 persons act as Joseph, being presented visually with text and reading it off to a scribe, eventually giving them text with missing italicized words, and then analyze what they produce.

    As one specific example, I don't see the language of mh1236 — in the first biblical quotation section of the dictation — as a likely rendering of ex2004 for JS, based on the italics. It has a less-common early modern phrase "things which is" in it, an unexpected and unmotivated insertion in this context for JS, who didn't clearly level are to is in this context in his early writings. He only leveled are to is in the case of existential "there is".

    Your approach accepts the following:

    viewed text: thou shalt not make . . any likeness that in heaven above or that in the earth beneath

    resulting text: thou shalt not make . . any likeness of any thing in the heaven above or things which is in the earth beneath [unlikely JS edit]

    More likely JS edits (among many possibles):

    thou shalt not make . . any likeness of things that are in (the) heaven above or that are in the earth beneath [simpler additions]

    thou shalt not make . . any likeness of any thing in (the) heaven above or in the earth beneath [that dropped again as a parallel]

    thou shalt not make . . any likeness of any thing that is in (the) heaven above or (of) any thing that is in the earth beneath [any thing repeated as a parallel]

    In the last footnote, some of the apparent infelicities you mention are perfectly fine early modern variants. Better to take a conservative approach and accept the earliest readings rather than go with mistakes without strong motivation. For example, there is plentyof internal and external textual support for "I have . . . and hath"; there is ample internal and external textual support for "they dieth" and "them that contendeth" (the latter supported by language produced by Lancelot Andrewes and John Bunyan).

    For the typeset version: One instance of "2 Nephi 20" (p.89) should read "1 Nephi 20".

    Final note: Skousen painstakingly went through about 20 different KJVs and presented many variant readings in tabular fashion in KJQ (2019).

    • Hi Stan, thanks for reading the paper and for the comments and pointing out the typo. It has been corrected. I appreciate yours and Royal Skousen’s innumerable contributions to this topic. Yes, the MWH could be tested in the manner you suggest, but only to an extent, and I’m not sure the results would be worth the effort. We can’t duplicate Joseph’s 1828/1829 brain. To get close, we would need to find modern readers who have a similar level of familiarity with the KJV but not these Book of Mormon chapters, and a similar manner of speaking, theological understanding, and education level. Even then, each individual will have their own solution to perceived problems.

      Thanks for your mention of KJQ, which became available after I submitted the paper, and which I am looking forward to reading. I believe I have covered the bases for Isaiah 6&7, having carefully compared about 70 KJV editions from 1611 to 1828.

      You are correct that the edits we see in Mosiah 12:36 are not the simplest edits that JS could have made. But the same can be said for anyone else proposed to have made the changes to the biblical quotation. The simplest solution for a problem isn’t always the one that comes first to mind, or the one we end up choosing. Yet, these are the changes that were made to the biblical language of the quotation from Exodus relative to the KJV, and so these are the ones that call for an explanation. If you have a hypothesis of why someone other than JS would have made the changes we see in this quotation from Exodus, then we can evaluate that hypothesis relative to the others. Simply saying that “things which is” can be found (rarely) in Early Modern English literature isn’t enough. “Things which is” was also certainly present in the everyday speech of Joseph Smith’s environment, and probably at much higher frequency than in published EModE works. Why would someone writing in Early Modern English, when quoting from the KJV, choose to depart from KJV language and change “any thing…that is” (which is perfectly acceptable EModE) to “things which is” (which is much less characteristic of formal EModE)?

      To say that JS didn’t clearly level “are” to “is” in this context in his early writings is technically true, but only because of lack of data. We could just as well say that it isn’t clear from his earliest writings that he would NOT have leveled “are” to “is” in this context. While it is true that he sometimes leveled “are” to “is” in existential “there is,” he sometimes leveled “are” to “is” in other contexts as well. I take the following data from Joseph Smith’s writings up through 1833 that are in his own hand. Sources not in his hand are less reliable because they could have been corrected by a scribe during dictation or copying. If you have additional relevant sources, let me know. In an Oct 13, 1832 letter, he wrote “my bowels is filled with compassion” and in an Apr 13, 1833 letter he wrote “the fundamental principals…of the church is invested.” We don’t know what he would have said in 1828/1829 during the translation period because he left us with no personal writings from that period. His leveling of “are” to “is” is not consistent over time. There are two instances in this data set in which he levels “are” to “is” to form existential “there is” (both in an Oct 13, 1832 letter), but there are just as many instances in which he does not level “are” (“there are” twice in an Aug 18, 1833 letter). This tells us that either JS was inconsistent in his usage of plural “is” or that he improved his grammar from 1832 to 1833. I suspect that both were true. You can see evidence for the latter if you look at all uses of simple present and past verbs with 3rd person plural subjects in his writings in his own hand up through 1833. Up through October of 1832, he (incorrectly) uses a singular form verb nearly half the time. In contrast, from November 1832 on, he nearly always uses the expected plural verb. His apparent improvement in grammar over this period suggests he also likely improved his grammar from 1828/1829 to 1831, when our record of his personal writings begins and after a period of increased interaction with educated people. (It is interesting that there is a trend from “things which is” early in the dictation of the Book of Mormon to “things which are” later in the dictation.) But even if we assume that there was no change in his grammar, we still don’t have the data that would tell us that he would not have thought of “things which is” as a solution, and indeed, we know from his earliest available writings that he often used singular form verbs with third person plural nouns and also frequently used “which” in place of “that.”

      • EEBO1 has more than 50 instances of “things which is”, so it wasn’t rare in Early Modern English, and it was more characteristic of the 16c than the 17c, which is a big feature of Book of Mormon English. (I don’t know how many are in EEBO2.)

        There’s a huge amount of internal support for nonbiblical Early Modern English in the Book of Mormon, some of which I’ve mentioned in my comments here. “Cause X that X shall/should” language is less common than “things which is” in EEBO, and it wasn’t JS’s language, having died out in the first half of the 1700s. Yet there it is in the text 12 times, well beyond what we see elsewhere. The reasonable conclusion from this and many other data points is that Joseph wasn’t controlling either “things which is” or “cause X that X shall/should”.

        There is a marked shift at 3 Nephi 9 to a different character of language, along several linguistic dimensions. And it wasn’t Joseph controlling that either, since there were so many linguistic elements to control differently.

        • I agree that the Book of Mormon is largely written in Early Modern English, which you have provided a good deal of evidence for. There are many instances of “things which is” in EEBO1, but raw numbers alone don’t tell us whether “things which is” would be expected in a book written in early modern English or whether it is characteristic of Early Modern English. For that we need a ratio. How many instances of “things which are” do you find in EEBO1?

          I see the point you are making, which could be very interesting if “cause X that X shall/should” has a very low frequency in Early Modern English compared to the alternative. Have you determined the ratio of usage for this one?
          I have noticed the shift in language around 3 Nephi also. I’m not sure that the shift from “things which is” to “things which are” is related, since it seems to come earlier, in Alma. There may be at least a couple of different things going on there. Any ideas on why the shift in 3 Nephi?

      • Stan, it sounds to me like you think that JS was responsible for all instances of “things which is” in the Book of Mormon. Am I reading you correctly?

        • I think that’s a possibility that needs to be considered, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be all one way or the other.

  3. Brant, the nature of the biblical quoting in the Book of Mormon doesn’t result from your perspective, whatever it might be now. In 2011, it was an eidetic imagery approach, which would have given us a much different text in the manuscripts, so that view must be rejected. You might have a different approach now, but it’s not going to work if it’s based on Joseph wording the biblical quotations.

    The evidence against your incomplete sentence hypothesis is overwhelming. You’re assuming the Lord would’ve given us a text without incomplete sentences. It’s possible but unknowable and maybe wrong. Not strong evidence for theorizing in the face of all the other syntactic and lexical evidence. If we say incomplete sentence evidence shows it was more likely that Joseph was wording these passages than early modern translators, then we still have a host of textual evidence, the English usage, which argues against him wording the text. And within the passages themselves there are usually early modern markers that argue for knowledgeable early modern authorship.

    As I’ve explained elsewhere, it’s probably not the case that there was one unknown translator. It’s more likely, from our limited perspective, that there were multiple translators and that the text wasn’t the result of a simple, one-time translation event. The translators could have been responsible for the incomplete sentences. Even their enhanced memories might not have been perfect when it came to extended, complex discourse structures. (Even carefully programmed algorithms can have trouble parsing difficult sentence structure.) But, you might say, translators or editors would’ve cleaned up the Book of Mormon text. Maybe, maybe not. We don’t know for sure. There are many nonbiblical, early modern bits that weren’t cleaned up, from a narrow biblical perspective, like “I know that the record which I make to be true” (syntax found in Malory, and at least once in More’s writings, and elsewhere). The Book of Mormon was a natural language translation where variation wasn’t minimized and infelicities weren’t cleaned up.

    In general, we can quite clearly tell that Joseph wasn’t wording the Book of Mormon by the text’s heavy finite clausal complementation and the heavy which usage in the personal relative pronoun system and the heavy use of shall as a subjunctive marker and the archaic past tense system, etc. There are thousands and thousands of things that run throughout the text that tell us it isn’t Joseph’s text, syntactically and lexically speaking. Most of this is nonconsciously produced, meaning Joseph couldn’t and didn’t control the usage.

    The Book of Mormon is not a pseudobiblical text in its structure, nor is its Joseph’s syntax, nor is it modern syntax, nor is it purely biblical syntax. And it has a few dozen obsolete lexical bits which the latest databases and the OED still don’t indicate as having occurred in modern dialects. In fine, early modern sensibility runs throughout the text.

    Even in immediate textual corrections, we have two involving “the more part”, which was quite clearly not Joseph choosing the usage, since it encompasses two rare early modern variants and isn’t biblical in formation and isn’t found in pseudobiblical texts. So the corrections aren’t clearly Joseph’s interpolations. Moreover, we can tell from comparative, historical study that he almost certainly didn’t choose many different aspects of the text, like the “if it so be” language 42 times or the “save it were” formulation 77 times, etc.

    • Stanford, this isn’t the right forum for an intense discussion. However, your suggestion that my thoughts have change suggests that perhaps they were not explained well enough–or understood well enough. I haven’t changed at all.

  4. Stan, I see you cited Skousen a lot, but didn’t cite KJQ, which came out at the end of last year. A reviewer or editor should have had you read and cite KJQ, so that you were referring to the latest scholarship from that critical text volume. More later.

  5. The most important contraindication to the hypothesis that Joseph was reading a text that someone else prepared to explain the issue of italics is the translation of the KJV. In that case, we are certain that he was interacting with the English text of the KJV, and we see many of the very same issues surrounding italics as we do for the Book of Mormon.

    It is possible that Joseph learned to do this, but given the nature of the changes, it is much easier to suppose a single translator making the same judgments as to impute another unknown and unknowable inefficient translator of the Book of Mormon–one who was not present for the same issues in the JST.

    • Much more is going on in the King James passages than italics alteration. And all the details actually provide further evidence against the highly unlikely view that Joseph Smith worded the Book of Mormon.

      In looking at your 2011 book, in the part having to do with this topic, it dawned on me that your approach there is basically a revealed-words view, although your writing doesn’t make this clear:

      “Therefore, what Joseph saw may have reproduced the page with the italics, but did not reproduce the chapter divisions. It is at this point that we invoke the divine. The Lord provides the stimulus of the appropriate neural nets, and the brain creates the appropriate visual image. The mechanism was available, but the impetus was external.”

      • That selected quotation might make it appear that I favor a “revealed-words” view, but I would disagree. As for what is going on in the alteration of the italics, the crucial point is that there is no discernible difference between what we see in the Book of Mormon and the JST, and we know that the JST interacted with the English text.

        As you know, we disagree that Joseph Smith could have supplied the words of the Book of Mormon. Frankly, there longer I study the text, the more convinced I am that he must have. The clear evidence of the incomplete sentences (most of which are incomplete in similar ways) suggests issues of memory, not reading. Either than, or in all of the years there was this pre-Joseph translation, no one ever thought to read it and edit it.

        • “There is no discernible difference between what we see in the Book of Mormon and the JST”. The answer to this is laid out in chapter 7 of KJQ (2019). The Book of Mormon’s biblical passages were the source for the JST text, so that’s why you might not see any discernible differences. In KJQ, Skousen points out that Joseph Smith used 1830 first edition biblical quotations for the JST, even when the 1830 text was in error (different from the manuscripts, O and/or P). And so Joseph sometimes inserted 1830 errors in the JST.

          KJQ, 136:
          “Mistakes like these argue that for at least this part of his biblical work Joseph Smith was not receiving a revealed text, but was simply transferring the 1830 Book of Mormon text, including its errors. Joseph knew that the Book of Mormon was a revealed text, and he apparently assumed that the 1830 edition reflected that text, without worrying about the possibility that errors had entered in during the transmission of the text.”

          • Doubtlessly correct. However, there is more to the nature of the changes in the JST, and the nature of the changes in non-Book of Mormon related sections strongly suggest a similar methodology. We are no longer speaking of the limited quotations, but rather the nature of the types of changes that are made in the JST.

    • Thanks for the comment, Brant, and for reading the paper. I think we agree that, as you said, in both the JST and the BoM, Joseph was interacting with more or less the English text of the KJV. I think we also agree that it was not exactly the same KJV, as you note that the chapter breaks differ in the BoM version. And I think we agree that he did not use a physical Bible in his Book of Mormon translation, while he did in making at least a portion of the JST.

      The idea I’ve presented in this paper doesn’t necessarily imply the involvement of any more individuals than your or Stan Carmack’s ideas. The individual (whether God or someone else) who produced the translation that was provided to Joseph by revelation (in Stan Carmack’s view) or the person who decided in what form the KJV text would be presented to Josephs neural nets (with the italics, but without the chapter breaks, in your view), could have been the same individual who, in my view, omitted the italicized words for whatever reason.

      I think a comparison of variants in the Book of Mormon and JST would be an interesting study. It is true that in both the JST and the BoM, italicized words that are unnecessary are frequently omitted. But I think the similarity fades after that. Some interesting questions could be asked. Do changes in the JST result less often in grammatical errors? Do changes in the JST more often clarify meaning? Is there more often an obvious motivation behind the changes in the JST? Do changes in the JST more often result in smoother reading? I would predict “yes” to all of these questions. Why? Because in translating the Book of Mormon (in my view), JS made edits based on less information (the italicized words being absent) so, although his edits may have been improvements to grammar or clarity relative to the reduced text he was working with, they were not often improvements relative to the intact KJV text. In contrast, in editing the JST, JS could see the italicized words (even if crossed out) so he had the advantage of that knowledge and made edits only when he could see it would be an improvement to the intact text, or at least not cause damage.

      Unfortunately, there wasn’t room to do justice to such a study in this article. But I think you will be able to see these types of difference between the sample chapters in this paper (beginning on p. 50) and a sample chapter from the JST New Testament. I would suggest Matthew 26 for convenience, since Jackson and Jasinski have provided not just one but two JST translations of that chapter showing differences from the KJV. This can be found in their paper, “The Process of Inspired Translation,” at

      Unlike the variants in the two Isaiah chapters I evaluate, which mostly have no apparent purpose, often do damage to the meaning, clarity, or grammar, and sometimes make for rougher reading, most of the variants in the JST make for smooth reading and seem to have some rational motivation behind them, whether to clarify meaning, modernize language, remove perceived doctrinal difficulties, harmonize parallel passages, smooth the text, or resolve other perceived problems or deficiencies.

      Such may not be true throughout the JST. In particular, the earliest part of the JST (Book of Moses chapters corresponding to Genesis) may have been produced more like the Book of Mormon was, maybe even with the use of a seer stone, so the variants relative to the KJV in that part of the JST may be more similar in character to those in the Book of Mormon.

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