There are 26 thoughts on “What Command Syntax Tells Us About Book of Mormon Authorship”.

  1. If I’m reading this right (and I think Stanford Carmack’s work is amazingly helpful), the following would be more likely to be found in the Book of Mormon than in the KJV:

    “Therefore, that your blood may not be spilt in vain, we command that ye give up the strong hold into the hands of the servants of the king, and become captives.”

    “Therefore, I command that ye go not out to battle, but every man remain in his own house.”

    “when the council had weighed well the matter, they declared him guilty and ordered that he should suffer death.”

    These passages are all from The Late War. That text uses the infinitive with “cause,” however.

  2. Stanford, in your analysis of KJV verses, which edition are you using? I ask because I thought there have been textual differences in various editions of the KJV from the 1600s to now.

  3. Even though the KJV seems to consistently agree with the underlying Hebrew “command” + infinitive, or “command that” syntax (I used 11 of the examples given by Carmack, the others being flawed), we do not know what the Vorlage was on the Book of Mormon plates.

    Simply following the 1922 Hebrew translation of the Book of Mormon made by Zvi Hirsch Miller, one finds far less agreement: In fact mostly lacking agreement in the approximately 33 examples provided by Carmack. That is, when the 1829 English translation has “that” or “should,” the Miller translation into Hebrew usually has an infinitive following the “command” verb. That does not prove such a structure to have been preferred on the plates, but it does raise a serious question about the assumptions based on English usage.

    Of course, since the plates were actually incised in ancient Egyptian, it is worth noting that the three most likely “command” verbs in Egyptian commonly used the infinitive as the object of the verb (Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, 3rd ed., §303): wd, šЗ, rdi.

    Aside from that, I’m not sure how to take Carmack’s assertion that “turn again” in Alma 8:25 is “obsolete” (Carmack, p. 208), because it occurs in KJV Leviticus 13:16, Judges 11:8, Ruth 1:11-12, I Samuel 15:25,30, II Samuel 19:37, I Kings 8:33, 12:27, 13:9,17, II Kings 1:6, 20:5, II Chronicles 30:6,9, Job 34:15, Psalm 18:37, 80:3,7,19, 85:8, 104:9, 126:4, Jeremiah 25:5, 31:21, Lamentations 3:40, Ezekiel 8:6,13,15, Micah 7:19, Matthew 7:6, Galatians 4:9.

    The phrase has been part of my vocabularly for a lifetime, and Carol Birch even had a book out in 2004 (Virago Press) titled “Turn Again Home.” It is also in a song on the official Bob Dylan website.

  4. Stanford, have you examined passages that seem to make direct reference to Joseph Smith, like the prophecy from Joseph in Egypt about Joseph Sr. and Jr.? This seems like it would a good place to investigate how much Joseph Smith affected the text himself.

    There are other passages to examine that reference or seem to refer to JS, but I can’t think of any that are so direct as the one that comes from Joseph in Egypt. Some of the others I’m thinking of are the verse in Alma that talks about Gazelem, the discussion (in Mosiah) about seers vs. prophets, the bit about the three witnesses.

    If the grammar in all of these places is consistently EModE, particularly in passages that explicity parallel JS, than I’m not sure what argument critics will be able to pick up.

    • 2 Nephi 3:7,8: Mostly biblical language here, but not all, and it is impressively consistent.

      Compare in Google’s Ngram Viewer the following strings: “this will I do” and “I will do this”; and “none other _NOUN_” and “no other _NOUN_”. The comparisons show how uncommon this biblical language had become by the 18c and 19c.

      One nonbiblical bit in these verses is the use of “shall” after “give commandment”. King James English would be “to do” or “that he do” instead of “that he shall do”. JS would have probably expressed it: “And I will give him a commandment to do a work” etc.

      Another nonbiblical item: a search of “give commandment” in one EModE database I use yields nearly 100 instances of this phrase with different forms of the verb, but the KJB always has “give a commandment”, never “give commandment”.

      The syntactic evidence says that 2 Nephi 3:7,8 is neither KJB language nor Smith’s language.

      • Thank you for looking into that. It’s pretty impressive and very interesting. Of course, it’s verse 15 of that chapter that would be the smoking gun (I think that verse might be the strongest reference to JS in the entire Book of Mormon).

  5. Since the language of the Book of Mormon is so full of Hebraisms, it would be interesting to see how this study relates to that. I have long believed that the Book of Mormon reflects Hebrew syntax; I never suspected that it also contained Middle English phrasing.

    • Yes, Kurt, but what if we examine the Egyptian or Hebrew Vorlage of the Book of Mormon and find the same Early Modern English “command” syntax features discerned by Stanford Carmack?

  6. WOW! Mormon interpreter ended 2014 with a bang! What a great essay. This essay should cause cognitive dissidence to critics of the Church and thoughtful reflections to people of goodwill everywhere. I have read Royal Skousen saying that the Book of Mormon was written in archaic word usage in the style of early modern English, 300 years before Joseph Smith’s time. This essay, for me, fills in details to Skousen’s statement.
    Also, Ryan’s conjecture is without any earthly evidence, but it is a LOGICAL, POSSIBLE explanation of Stanford Carmack’s research.
    However, this should not be used in talking to non Church members and people young in the Church. But Stanford Carmack’s essay should be shown to everyone interested.
    For me, Carmack’s essay and Ryans comment were an intellectual fireworks display!

  7. Scott,
    I don’t belief there is any implication in these musings that the language of the Book of Mormon translation recorded by Joseph Smith should dictate the same language style of the Prophet’s revelations recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants. The strength of the earlier implied English style translation hypothesis lies in its uniqueness. There is also plenty of latitude for recognizing the possible translation in the spirit world as being a work in progress. Consider, for instance, a stipulation that the translation was also to be in the language of the translator–Joseph Smith–to his understanding, which would account for Joseph’s verb tense errors–is, are, were, and was–that were corrected in later editions of the Book of Mormon.

  8. Has anyone completed a scholarly analysis of the language used in the Book of Mormon as compared to the language used in the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price? My casual observation would be that the language of these latter works seems closer to the King James Bible than to the Book of Mormon. If that is the case, the question arises as to why Joseph Smith would change language styles in recording sacred communications after publishing the Book of Mormon.

    • I think research like that should definitely be done. But my guess is that if Joseph Smith received revelations in a similar language as the Book of Mormon – word for word in early modern english, (whatever the medium or revelation – through the Urim and Thummin or not), the exact wording has long since been lost. That is what makes the original and printer’s manuscripts of the Book of Mormon so valuable. Have you seen all edits that were made in the manuscript revelation books? (published as a facsimile edition by the Joseph Smith Papers) It seems they viewed those edits as permissible. Perhaps only The Book of Mormon and those revelations received through the Urim and Thumim were word for word.

      If research is done to compare the language style of those revelations to the Book of Mormon, of course those manuscript revelation documents are valuable in that in many instances they are the earliest version of each revelation we have, but they still are one or more (sometimes many more) copying steps removed from the original revelation.

      A quote from that volume p. xxix:
      “It appears that few, if any, of the revelations is an original in pristine form. Changes both intentional and inadvertent were made throughout the process. Joseph Smith and his followers considered his revelations to be true in the sense that they communicated the mind and will of God, not infallible in an idealized sense of literary flawlessness. “The revelations were not God’s diction, dialect, or native language,” historian Richard Bushman has written. “they were couched in language suitable to Joseph’s time.” Smith and others appointed by revelation (including Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, John Whitmer, and William W. Phelps) edited the revelations based on the same assumption that informed their original receipt: namely, that although Smith represented the voice of God condescending to speak to him, he was limited by a “crooked broken scattered and imperfect language.” The November 1831 conference resolved that he should “correct those errors or mistakes which he may discover by the holy Spirit.”

      Perhaps if Joseph received a revelation in early modern english, it sounded odd enough to them that they felt the need to edit it – and in doing so, unconsiously made it closer to the King James they were comfortable with (they edited it into “language suitable to Joseph’s time”). What if Joseph actually did receive revelations in that earlier language style, and himself was surprised enough by it to call it a broken, scattered language, and felt a duty to clarify it through editing. Did Joseph Smith feel the same way about The Book of Mormon? – that his edits to later editions would ultimately help those who read?

      But should we be concerned at all that these edits happened if Joseph wasn’t? As much as I want to know what the word for word translation would be, millions of people, including myself, got a testimony of the Book of Mormon from imperfect editions (and if by imperfect I mean anything other than the words Joseph read off to his scribe, I would include every edition and both manuscripts).

      However, I’m glad for the research that is coming forth on the original language of the Book of Mormon. When you add it all up its pretty amazing: Joseph translated hundreds of manuscript pages of scripture in a couple of months, as one continuous dictation, out of order (small plates last), and into a version of english he didn’t even speak.

      • I believe that the real value of Carmack’s work can be sumaarized using his words from the abstract of the article – “All the evidence indicates that Joseph Smith would not have produced the structures found in the text using the King James Bible as a model, nor from his own language.” Whether or not portions of the Book of Mormon share similarities with EMoE is not important, in my opinion. What is important are the differences with the KJV, showing that Joseph did not simply copy the style of that book, as some have claimed.

  9. Very interesting. I would just suggest to some that they don’t too vocally spout ideas that have no scriptural or relevatory basis. It seems like the Book of Mormon origin is tough enough for some people to believe in this secular age without making unfounded suggestions that this was translated by William’s Tynsdale in spirit prison.(not trying to pick on anyone) All I know is Jospeh Smith translated by the “gift and power” of God. These syntax studies make it seem like it was a “tight” translation, while other factors make it seem like it was more of a “looser” translation(as proposed by Brant Gardner) a normal language to language translation. (taking foreign concepts/words/ideas and modernizing them)

    • Steve

      I’m sorry if I offended. My comment was not apologetic in nature, simply exploratory. It makes sense to wonder if text which exhibits such strong correlations to Early Modern English might have been translated by someone from that time period. The rest was speculation, and I admitted that readily. I wasn’t trying to couch my proposal as the next line of defense in the apologetic arena.

      We have come upon a somewhat baffling phenomenon, and usually when we stumble upon such oddities it helps to stretch our current paradigms and consider new possibilities.

  10. Jeff writes:

    “The question remains as to why this older version of English would have so much influence on the text, when it could have been infused with a more modern scriptural language. If your analysis is correct, there are some large and interesting missing parts to our understanding of the story of Book of Mormon translation.”

    A hypothesis has been mulling around in my mind for some time about this issue. In my opinion, Skousen and Carmack have given compelling evidence which identifies the text as being most closely related to Early Modern English, and certainly not a product of Joseph’s natural language patterns. Yet if Joseph Smith was only reading off a pre-translated text the nagging question is who translated it and how.

    First of all, I think we will never know until it is revealed. But here is a reasonable speculation:

    It seems the Lord will often require that his children use their own wisdom, talents, and spiritual gifts to solve problems instead of using his divine power to solve everything for them. It is reasonable to presume that this applies to both sides of the veil.

    I’m prone to believe that William Tyndale and the other martyrs and reformers were specifically called and foreordained to fulfill their earthly responsibilities, and they played a pivotal role in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fullness of times. Unfortunately, many of them didn’t get to see the fruits of the their labors while in the flesh.

    Imagine William Tyndale sitting in the Spirit World–on which side of the divide we probably can’t say at this point (is it Paradise by virtue of righteousness or Prison because of lacking ordinances, or some enlightened upper division of Spirit Prison–who knows?)–and then one day the Angel Moroni contacts him and says “William, your work is not yet done. We have another translation project for you to accomplish.” Then Moroni explains to Tyndale that he is to head a committee of specially chosen martyrs and reformers to help translate the Book of Mormon into English.

    If the Lord needed someone to prepare an English translation of a sacred text, these would likely be the men he would call upon. They had already proven themselves capable and worthy, and it seems the “principles of intelligence” which we gain in this life will follow us into the next worlds.

    Also, it seems like certain responsibilities tend to follow men into the next world. Moroni, for example, seems to be a steward of the “keys of the Book of Mormon” and he was its last author and the one to bury it. Elijah was the steward over the sealing keys and he delivered them to Joseph Smith. John the Baptist held the keys of the Aaronic priesthood and also was called to deliver them to Joseph. It, therefore, doesn’t seem unreasonable to me that the Lord would use the early translators of the Bible to also translate the Book of Mormon. They already had the translation experience, and that seemed to be their assigned and perhaps foreordained calling.

    How the details might have worked out is all speculation, but it seems a reasonable scenario. Perhaps the committee was tutored by ancient Nephite prophets to help them learn and adequately grasp the reformed Egyptian texts and perhaps the language(s) spoken by their people. And perhaps the prophets also provided necessary background information, explanations of cultural idiosyncrasies, or doctrinal clarifications to ensure a high level of accuracy.

    Who knows how their initial communication would take place? The gift of tongues? Or perhaps some Nephite prophets had previously learned English for this very task. Who knows? Perhaps everyone learns a common language in the Spirit Realm and they used that as their medium of communication. It isn’t so important that we know exactly how it took place as it is to simply concede that it possibly could have taken place.

    The strength of this hypothesis is that it may help adequately explain the peculiarities of the text. It displays intentional linguistic control indicative of, if not divine intervention, then at least a committee of well informed experts; yet it also yields the types of variation that suggests a sort of human quality. It also may help explain the prevalent usage Early Modern English. I have no idea who the committee members would be, but Tyndale at least seems a likely candidate. Perhaps the committee members hailed from different time periods and that helps explain some of the variation of usage.

    Unfortunately, such a hypothesis is not very testable. I think it is worth considering though.

    • I read a theory like this, and I have to wonder if you are being serious. If Tyndale gets to translate the Book of Mormon into English in the Spirit World, who gets to translate it into German, and Japanese, and French, and Spanish in the Spirit World? I don’t mean to sound rude, but if this is what we have to discuss and believe to help ourselves overcome the obvious problems with Book of Mormon authenticity, maybe it is just time to give it all up. Hey,…if Tyndale needs to do a Spirit World translation of the Book of Mormon, doesn’t that mean that when Tyndale, in life, made his Bible translation, there might also have been a committee in the Spirit World that had already accomplished that, too? Wow! Maybe everything has to first happen in the Spirit World before it can happen here. Maybe when I make my dinner tonight, I’ll just be making the same dinner that my Spirit World chef already cooked up for me in the mansions of heaven! No wonder my kids always enjoy my cooking.

  11. I was immediately struck by a prospect from Carmack’s study that the translation of Mormon’s gold plates into English was accomplished some 300 years before Joseph Smith obtained the plates in 1829. The translation would have been put in “computer” storage and then accessed through the urim and thumim as a “computer” reader. This should make perfect sense in computer technology knowledge today. The translation was evidently not an instantaneous extraction directly from the gold plates, because Joseph was able to read the translation through placing the stones in his hat to block out the exterior light when he placed his face in the hat to read the translation. He was also able to pick up the translation after an interruption right where he left off without any review, just like we are able to read a computer screen today.

    The fantastic unbelievable gold plates story, as skeptics think, in this scenario makes perfect sense. The miracle of the gold plates translation my be no more of a miracle than the miracle of computer technology today.

  12. If you support the tight translation hypothesis, then why all the subsequent changes? Why was “god” changed to “son of god” in 1 Nephi 11 and 13 in your opinion if “Joseph Smith received specific, revealed words from the Lord” during the translation process? Also, why then was it necessary for the printer to edit the work before publication?

    • Please see Skousen’s Analysis of Textual Variants on this website, and his Interpreter 11 (2014): 161-176 article, and his extensive comments on the MSS and John Gilbert as part of his critical text project.

      • Stanford,

        I am wondering how the changing between wherefore and therefore at the begining and end of the BOM fits into a tight translation, early english model. Thanks.

        • I have studied this but not thoroughly. First, Skousen pointed out 20 years ago in his review of Metcalfe’s analysis that they are not perfect synonyms. See his article. Also, I have not isolated the use in biblical BofM passages.

          The KJB is 90% therefore. The NT is 95% therefore. The BofM is 61% therefore. There is an abrupt shift in Ether from almost all therefore to almost all wherefore. The small plates are almost all wherefore. (Again, I haven’t checked the rate in BofM Isaiah passages.)

          EModE: By the year 1600 it is nearly 90% therefore, hence the KJB’s rate. By the year 1700 it is 90+% therefore. Stepping back, in the first half of the 1500s it is 65% therefore (on average). (A big shift occurs in the 1580s.) Caxton 1483 has 55% therefore (900+ counts). The BofM’s 61% rate closely matches the rate found in the first half of the 16th century.

  13. Fascinating extension of your previous work on the language of the Book of Mormon. These granular details of a common but complex grammatical structure with broad and subtle stylistic possibilities strike me as a more precise measure than the rather blunt tools used in wordprint or stylometry studies.

    The question remains as to why this older version of English would have so much influence on the text, when it could have been infused with a more modern scriptural language. If your analysis is correct, there are some large and interesting missing parts to our understanding of the story of Book of Mormon translation.

    I look forward to your continued insights on this theme and feel it is important for readers to understand that theories based on simply drawing upon the KJV and Joseph’s environment do not adequately explain the intricate details of the Book of Mormon.

    • Thank you for your helpful and insightful comment.

      The Book of Mormon contains old, distinctive syntax that is nevertheless plain to the understanding. In view of Moses 1:39, the Lord wants us to take the Book of Mormon seriously. Many have begun to doubt the historicity of the book in part because they have decided that Joseph Smith is the author of the English-language text. Ample syntactic evidence tells us that he could not have been the author. I am confident that the Lord knew that we would eventually find this out, and that we would learn about it at a time when we had a strong need for solid empirical evidence that the book was divinely translated, which points ineluctably to historicity.

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

All comments are moderated to ensure respectful discourse. It is assumed that it is possible to disagree agreeably and intelligently and comments that intend to increase overall understanding are particularly encouraged. Individual authors are given the option to disallow commenting or end commenting after a certain period at their discretion.

Close this window

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This