There are 30 thoughts on “Joseph Smith Read the Words”.

  1. Loren asked, “Why reveal a text to Joseph that would contain words whose definitions must be understood from a past era? Would that not just lead to confusion? Did Mormon not know his audience?”
    David answered, “Phillip Davis and his team have discovered that of all the different forms of English, Early Modern English stimulates the brain like no other. While current English texts tend to lull the brain into relative inactivity, EmodE texts excite the brain into a deep, self-assessing state.”
    I am wondering if Loren and others who asked this question accept David’s answer?

  2. Stanford,
    In your article you mentioned the idea that “become” might mean “begin to act” in 3 Nephi 1:29. Is this based on the suggested emendation by Robert Baer as found in volume 4 of Royal Skousen’s Critical Text or is there some actual, historical reference or definition which suggests or supports the idea that “become” might have the meaning of “begin to act”?

    • This was arrived at independently since I never read this particular ATV entry till now. All I did was correspond with Skousen about it, and pass on to him the examples I found on point in the textual record. I found three instances of “came to be for themselves”, two in the 1600s and one by DeFoe. I then consulted with someone at the OED and they suggested, for the three attestations, the “be” definition specified in the article, which is ‘ready to act for’. OED examples for this sense, however, are not great–none of them are/is directly on point. The sense I suggested–‘begin to act’–comes from the verb “be” and the specified entry for “come”, which has ‘begin’. ‘Come to act’ works as well, but I wanted to use a different verb from the one inherent in “become”, which is equivalent to “come to be”.
      The fact that two people independently chose ‘begin to act’, more than 25 years apart, provides some additional support for the view. But the expert at the OED was helpful in solidifying the notion, and the context of the three instances, two from eModE, was important as well.

  3. Stanford,
    Does the textual record (found in the data bases that you are using) include English translations? If so, do these translations stem from a variety of source languages?

  4. Many people have asked why the text of the Book of Mormon would be translated into a form of English that was somewhat foreign to Joseph Smith and to modern readers.
    I have a crazy theory about this. Neruolinguistic research conducted at the University of Liverpool has looked at different brain responses to different forms of text. Phillip Davis and his team have discovered that of all the different forms of English, Early Modern English stimulates the brain like no other. While current English texts tend to lull the brain into relative inactivity, EmodE texts excite the brain into a deep, self-assessing state.
    A summary of the Davis’ work stated that, “The research also found that reading poetry, in particular, increases activity in the right hemisphere of the brain, an area concerned with ‘autobiographical memory’, helping the reader to reflect on and reappraise their own experiences in light of what they have read. The academics said this meant the classics were more useful than self-help books.”
    It is interesting to me to consider this research as it relates to Nephi’s invitation to “liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.” ! Nephi 19:23
    Thank you for your very interesting work.

  5. Stanford,
    With your credentials for the subject, you present a compelling case for the Book of Mormon being written in post King James and pre-Eighteenth Century English. The most probable reason for the Lord having done this is for internal confirming evidence that no one of the Nineteenth Century could possibly have written the Book of Mormon. “Signs follow those who believe.” (D&C 63:9)

    • Mr. Brandley:
      I appreciate your enthusiasm for Mr. Carmack’s theories. However, they haven’t been defended through any peer review process. So, I think it is too early to proclaim this is a sign from God.

        • Let me take a crack at it:
          The external evidence seems to weigh heavily against whatever internal evidence Mr. Carmack thinks he has found. DNA doesn’t disappear. There is simply no archaeological or anthropological evidence for the BofM people. Also, there is no connection between semitic languages and those found in the americas. So, whether or not there are traces of early modern english in the BofM manuscripts seems beside the point.
          Further, this “internal” evidence does not begin to explain the other internal impossibilities like Nephi building his ship, the Jaredites and their impossible voyage, the impossible population growth of the BofM peoples, etc. etc.
          So, I don’t think Mr. Carmack’s work is a sign from God. It’s probably a sign of confirmation bias.
          Isn’t the better apologetic that it is somehow inspired fiction?

          • Peer review of an argument related to X doesn’t consist in dismissing arguments related to Y.
            The emerging view of the Book of Mormon as including Early Modern English (eModE) must be judged on its own merits or lack thereof — which is to say, on historical linguistic grounds. Amerindian DNA, Preclassic Mesoamerican archaeology, and so forth are fascinating topics, but they’re quite unrelated to the question of whether or not elements of eModE appear in the English text of the Book of Mormon. And, in fact, they’re distractions.

  6. Most folks who read the Book of Mormon for the first time say that it is much easier to understand than the Bible (KJV). Now you show that it contains archaic Early Modern English grammatical structures but obviously is not written in that “language” or few would attempt to read it. I think it fascinating that scholars, such as yourself, see so much complexity in the BofM and yet it remains easy for the ordinary reader.
    Thank you for these very interesting articles!

    • Let me try to clear up something here. I consider the BofM to be a younger text than the KJB, not an older one. The KJB is basically 1520s language with some updating. The BofM is basically late 16th-century language with many features from the 17th century, which is still part of the Early Modern period. That’s one of the reasons the BofM is easier to understand. Plus, the BofM also has a few features from before and after the Early Modern era.
      Moreover, the BofM is full of minority Early Modern English usage. That has prevented its proper interpretation. Databases weren’t available till very recently (2013) to show this (h/t Mark Davies, as well as the earliest text: Royal Skousen [2009]). Before 2013, critics were essentially free to assert without knowledge and with prejudice that the BofM was ill-formed because much usage was hard to find. Not so anymore with certain corpora that can be precisely searched.

  7. Stanford,
    I just finished reading both articles. Thank you. I love reading your fascinating insights relating to the BoM and the blog responses….
    I’ve read each of your articles thus far in the MormonInterpreter Journals. Is this where you will be publishing in near future?
    Are there any planned 2016 events (like the 2015 BoM Complexities event) that you will be participating in?
    Thank you …

    • Parts 1 and 2 of volume 3 of the BofM Critical Text Project will be published in March 2016 (more than 1,200 pages). It is likely that Royal Skousen will present some of his latest work at the FairMormon conference in Provo in early August. It is possible that I will be there as well to assist in that endeavor.

  8. All good questions.
    While I am still trting to 1) understand the data and EmodE and 2) interpret its significant and role, I want to thank you for your analysis.

  9. Stanford,
    Someone recently suggested to me that the syntactic evidence for eModE could likely be explained by a fairly literal translation. In other words, Joseph Smith was, for some reason, more directly preserving the source language’s syntax on certain occasions, and that these instances coincidentally conform with syntactic usages and their rates of use found in eModE. I find this alternative explanation quite improbable, but thought I would ask your opinion on the matter.

    • For that, expertise in a posited Classical Hebrew source language and Early Modern English is needed (taking the shorthand Egyptian script to represent some form of changing Hebrew).
      It would appear that various interwoven NT language is not literal. Some questions to ask are whether the source language expressed the past tense heavily with an auxiliary and an infinitive / base form, as obviously occurs in the BofM. Were patterns of complementation after verbs like cause, command, desire, and suffer similar? Were simple dative forms used heavily? Did verb agreement vary extensively and according to the patterns of eModE? Etc. My hypothesis would be no, which needs to be proven right or wrong by extensive, carefully catalogued evidence. For example, I had hypothesized that command syntax in the BofM and KJB were similar in their patterns, and the evidence proved me wrong.

      • I was the one that posed this question, approximately. Ryan made me aware of your work, and I am impressed by the detail and persistence with which you have carried it out. Thank you for enriching our linguistic understanding of the Book of Mormon.
        If I can summarize your work properly (but too briefly), you have found thousands of specific examples of several early Modern English syntactic structures.
        I combine this evidence with two other facts about the language: there is an awful lot of KJV language, and an awful lot of language both specific to and common in the early 19th century (some research showing these things draws some really poor conclusions, but the data and methods are sound even if the interpretations of the researchers are absurd).
        When these are combined, Book of Mormon language can be objectively demonstrated to contain large amounts of early Modern English, King James English, and early 19th century english. I have several unanswered questions regarding how a tight translation model explains certain aspects of Book of Mormon language, but I want to focus on using the numbers and frequencies of examples of early Modern English to distinguish between a tight translation and a functional translation model. This seems to be a difficult distinction to make, since both models predict a translated text that is closely aligned with the original text. I see two remaining issues:
        1. We don’t know the source language. We can speculate as to its syntax, but never with certainty in the absence of the original text. I will return to this.
        2. Controlled statistical analysis of what happens to syntax during various types of translation is lacking.
        I will try to illustrate why this second is necessary.
        Any language has numerous syntactic structures. Both literal (or tight) translation and functional translation models would expect that a selection of syntactic structures would be preserved through translation, and that others would be lost or replaced by the translator’s language structures–either through translator preference or through the impossibility of expressing the structure in the new language (whether the translator is God or Joseph).
        The relevant questions for interpreting your evidence seem to me to be:
        – Are there examples of translations that use non-standard, or anachronistic syntactic structures?
        If the answer to this is that we can’t find any examples of it, then you have a strong case. (I would propose that translations by inexperienced students need to be included in our search if we are to be thorough, since this was Joseph’s first translation and he didn’t know other languages at the time. Perhaps machine translations could substitute.) If the answer is that there are examples of it, then more questions need to be asked:
        – What percentage of the structures are anachronistic, and what percentage match the translator’s dialect?
        If the relative percentages of contemporary to anachronistic syntactic structures are very different, then you have a strong case against functional translation. If they are similar, then the case is much stronger for functional translation.
        So to make your conclusion more than an informed opinion, I think two things are required:
        1. a quantitative cataloging of syntactic structures in the Book of Mormon. How many different structures are there? How many instances of each? How many of those match early Modern English? How many match the KJV? How many match Joseph’s time period?
        2. equivalent catalogs of syntactic elements in a variety of other translations.
        I think such a statistical control is absolutely essential before one can conclude that a functional translation would be unlikely to result in the number of anachronistic syntactic structures that are present in the Book of Mormon. I expect such a study would conclude that functional translation is likely to result in a significant percentage of anachronistic and/or non-standard syntactic structures mixed with contemporary structures, and that the percentages of such structures would roughly match those found in the Book of Mormon, but at this point it is necessarily a hypothesis.
        Returning to the point about the speculative nature of the source language, because we don’t know the source language’s syntax, comparison of specific structures between the English Book of Mormon and the source language are inconclusive. The best we can do is the kind of statistical frequency comparison of ALL syntactic structures among various kinds of translations. That is the only way to distinguish between random convergence of a fraction of the syntactic elements through functional translation and intentional use of anachronistic elements by the translator.

        • I asked this before, but no one answered:
          Which parts of the Book of Mormon are obviously NOT early modern english? Specifically.
          Are there any words or phrases any that blatantly wouldn’t fit from that time period?

          • The sentence structure of the BofM is virtually all eModE. Of course a large amount of it is biblical, or analogous to biblical usage, but there are many aspects of the syntax that are different (see below). Much of this sentence structure carried beyond the year 1700 and can also be found in the modern era, but only the Early Modern view is explanatorily adequate, since not all of the sentence structure carried through. Most word meanings can be found in both the modern era and before, but some meanings apparently died out in the Early Modern period. It makes sense to take a word to have Early Modern meaning when it is surrounded by eModE syntax and morphology. Again, most of this eModE meaning was current in 1820s America.
            As a nonbiblical syntactic example, “save it were” occurs 77 times in the BofM. So far I have located it in the pre-1830 textual record in two poems by Scotsmen, the first one published in 1646, the second one published in 1768. Both authors were from Aberdeenshire. This is one example of how the BofM is characteristically different from the KJB. The BofM often employs rare or minority forms from earlier English multiple times. Many of us are so used to such forms from reading the BofM many times that we don’t know they were rarely used. Another example along these lines is “save he/they shall + INF”, as found in 1N0307. This construction is rare in the textual record, but amply used in the BofM
            Finally, there is at least one item of systematic usage that is modern in form. But it is important to note that the individual instances can all be found in eModE. I refer to the systematic use of the auxiliary verb “have” with past participles of motion and change-of-state verbs like go, come, and become–e.g. “they were nearly all become wicked”. Nevertheless, there are more than 10 instances in the earliest text of the verb “be” used with past participles of this verb class, but the vast majority of the time “have” is used, something that corresponds to systematic use of the late 18th century.

  10. First, let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed the article. However, many of these ancient and unique terms and meanings are also found in The Late War. A few examples out of many:
    You wrote: cast = ‘shoot (arrows)’ (†2) (Alma 49:4,19 & Proverbs 26:18).
    Response: “to cast a shot towards her.” The Late War, pg 80, verse 9, (and 11 more references)
    You wrote: curious = ‘ingenious’ (†4) (Alma 63:5)
    Response: See, The Late War, pg 66, vs 12 (and 6 other references)
    You wrote: manifest = ‘expound’ (†2) = ‘declare’ (2 Nephi 1:26)
    Response: The Late War, pg 93, vs 3, pg 212, vs 21
    You wrote: 2 Nephi 30:1 for I Nephi would not suffer that ye should suppose that ye are more righteous than the Gentiles shall be.
    And many, many more………..

    • The occurrence of a word in a different usage is not on point, as these are. For example, “curious workmanship” is different from “curious man”. In the first, curious = elaborate, in the second, not elaborate and either skillful, as Tvedtnes chose, or ingenious, as I have chosen.
      Simply because a word might appear in The Late War or another pseudo-biblical text has no bearing on the issue at hand if the usage is distinct. For instance, the phrase “rod of iron” as it occurs in Hunt’s LW is a wholly different usage from what is found in the BofM. Nevertheless, this didn’t prevent the author of a certain letter from erroneously and misleadingly pointing it out as a match, even though he probably knew there was no match since it is obvious from a cursory study of the texts.

      • Stanford,
        Many of the same words and usage are also found in The Late War. Doesn’t that tend to weaken your argument?
        Look at some of the above examples, like “cast.” The usage is exactly the same in The Late War and the Book of Mormon.
        There are many more of your words with the same usage found in The Late War.
        In my opinion, at the very least this substantially weakens your argument.

  11. Stanford:
    I have a hard time with your theory and theories of Brant, et. al. Why the pre-translation into old english? It doesn’t seem to make any sense whatsoever that God would have a pre-translation. Why bother with this when Joseph Smith didn’t even use the plates to begin with for the “translation?” Do you believe that the old english words from the prior “translation” appeared on Joseph Smith’s rock?
    Brant’s loose translation theory seems better at accounting for “no plates used in the translation,” as it allows for the invention of the book of mormon from the mind of Joseph Smith, like the book of abraham. However, questionable disappearing DNA and the retreat of geography to the jungles of central america seem to kill off both theories. There simply weren’t any nephites and lamanites in any real sense, only spiritual? When will inspired fiction become the theory of choice? In ten years? twenty years? What about spiritual geography?

  12. I just read this today and thought it was relevant: 1 Nephi 16:26-29. “And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord said unto him:
    Look upon the ball and behold the things which are written.
    And it came to pass that when my father beheld the things
    which were written upon the ball,
    he did fear and tremble exceedingly,
    and also my brethren and the sons of Ishmael and our wives…
    And there was also written upon them a new writing which was plain to be read,
    which did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord.
    And it was written and changed from time to time
    according to the faith and diligence which we gave unto it.
    And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things.”
    Is it really that demeaning to say that Joseph Smith “simply” read the words which were revealed to him? Here we have a precedent for the Lord being able to write words in a specific and plain language on a physical object. It is entirely consistent with the calling of a prophet to possess such an item and to receive written words through it. If Joseph Smith read out the words he saw through the interpreters or seer stone, and this is how the Book of Mormon was “translated”, it is no less a marvelous work and a wonder.

  13. Stanford
    First, let me say that I enjoy reading your articles and have found much of what you write to be very enlightening. However, it is my opinion that you often stretch your arguments beyond their logical boundaries, especially in this article. A few examples:
    You wrote: “require = ‘request’ (5, †of one) (Enos 1:18 & Ezra 8:22)”
    Response: This usage was not obsolete during Joseph’s time. I know that you and Royal are not fans of Webster, but according to his 1828 dictionary, “request” was an appropriate definition of require – “3. To ask as a favor; to request.”
    You wrote: “again = ‘back’ ([†]1) (eg 1 Nephi 22:12 & 1 Chronicles 21:12)” “turn again = ‘return’ (†66b) (Alma 8:25 & Ruth 1:11)”
    Response: In both of these cases, the Hebrew uses the verb shuv (שׁוּב) to express this idea. This verb is extremely common in the OT and is translated into English in a wide variety of ways (See Strong’s H7725). Here are some of those: return (391x), …again (248x), turn (123x), …back (65x), …away (56x), restore (39x), bring (34x), render (19x), answer (18x), recompense (8x), recover (6x), deliver (5x), put (5x), withdraw (5x), requite (4x), repent (3x), misc (37x). If anything, these Book of Mormon usages help underscore the book’s underlying Hebrew language rather than support your argument for Early Modern English.
    You wrote: rebellion = ‘opposition, variance’ (†2c) (Mosiah 10:6).
    Response: The verse in question reads: “And it came to pass that king Laman died, and his son began to reign in his stead. And he began to stir his people up in rebellion against my people; therefore they began to prepare for war, and to come up to battle against my people.” Opposition or variance do fit well here, but they represent only one possibility. One of Webster’s definitions for rebellion was: “Open resistance to lawful authority.” It is also possible that Zeniff, who had lawfully established his kingdom under the reign of King Laman, was indignant that the new king wanted to revoke his “lawful authority” and bring his people into bondage through war. Just because one definition fits does not rule out other possibilities.
    You wrote: scorch = ‘burn, consume’ (†2) (Mosiah 17:13,14)
    Response: Verse 14 reads: ” 14 And now when the flames began to scorch him, he cried unto them, saying:” Webster’s definition of scorch: “2. To burn; to affect painfully with heat.” How does Webster’s definition not work? Why is it necessary to find some “older” definition here?
    You wrote: suppose = ‘suspect’ (†3a) (Alma 54:11)
    Response: The verse reads: “But behold, it supposeth me that I talk to you concerning these things in vain; or it supposeth me that thou art a child of hell;” First, the only way “suspect” works here is to rewrite the sentence, because this does not work: “But behold, it suspects me that …” You would have to write it: “But behold, I suspect that …” Webster defined suppose as: “1. To lay down or state as a proposition or fact that may exist or be true, though not known or believed to be true or to exist; or to imagine or admit to exist, for the sake of argument or illustration. 2. To imagine; to believe; to receive as true. 3. To imagine; to think.” If we are going to rewrite the sentence, “imagine,” “think,” and “believe,” work as well as “suspect.” Again, why go looking for a definition that was obsolete during Joseph’s time when a contemporary definition works just as well? To me, this seems to demonstrate a bias against a contemporary translation rather than critical analysis of the text.
    I respect that you have an “opinion” regarding the translation process of the Book of Mormon. You also have “opinions,” as do I, of the usage of words and phrases in the text. But, we must accept that these are only that – opinions. We should not fall into the trap of making someone else “an offender for a word,” or for the definition of a word, etc.

    • Loren, I’m afraid you mistake the matter. The strong syntactic and lexical evidence supports the weak syntactic and lexical evidence. You must confront the former to argue against the eModE view reasonably, not the latter, which is what you have done here. The OED is probably the result of 50 times the human effort as Webster’s 1828: The latter is deficient. Just looked for the verb belove as used in Alma 27:4; not there, but it’s in the OED. What does Webster’s have? It says, “Belove, as a verb, is not used.” How about counsel = consult, depart (intr.) = become divided, ye = thou, but if = unless, to that = until. If you wish to continue using a less-than-adequate dictionary, that is your choice.
      While the OED is not completely reliable, it is much more reliable than Webster’s 1828, who often lifted definitions from Samuel Johnson 1755-56, both of whom did not (clearly) indicate obsolescence in many cases. Their definitions of the noun choice (relevant to 1N0715) are one example of this.
      In the case of require, Webster quotes Ezra 8, stating that it is rarely used. Its rare use probably derives from 5 instances found in the OT. Ezra 8 is the clearest one. Johnson doesn’t have the definition. Obsolescence was likely.
      In the case of turn again, of course the underlying Hebrew could be as you state. The eModE view is equally valid, however, and the BofM has hardly been examined from that rich perspective. The point here is that if JS had been given the idea of returning, then it is more likely he would have uttered return or turn back, than turn again.
      In the case of rebellion, I think your view is less likely and strained. Skousen’s view (see Interpreter 7:92-93) is that the Nephites were subordinate to the Lamanites at this time. Any lawful authority that Zeniff might have had ended once king Laman attacked and broke their covenant. By Mosiah 10:6 Zeniff had no lawful authority over the Lamanites that they would have acknowledged. This particular usage appears to be Scottish, supported by “to that”, “anger” (intr.), “hinderment”, etc.
      In the case of scorch, the OED suggests by its last-dated example of 1624 that the meaning involving deep burning was obsolete well before JS’s time. Webster’s examples after his definition 2 indicate superficial burning.
      In the case of suppose, you may refer to the relevant Interpreter article that mentions that the OED takes impersonal dative constructions to be semantically equivalent to active counterparts. That is, according to the OED, the construction “it supposeth me” is equivalent to “I suppose”, and I would add that the simple dative syntax is less direct and softens the assertion. The reason suppose might be ‘suspect’ here and ‘expect’ elsewhere is because of the context and because Gower used the verb with those meanings in the poem where he used “him supposeth”.
      The presence of eModE in the BofM is established by substantial textual evidence and form matching. There is lexis that is nonbiblical eModE and biblical eModE. In addition, Skousen has stated that the vocabulary goes as late as the 1730s, which is the beginning of the modern period. Whether you wish to consider meaning that was found in both the Early Modern period and the modern period as modern English is your choice, but it is the less likely view. In terms of vocabulary, a strict eModE view is largely comprehensive, but a strict modE view is deficient in many respects.

      • Stanford
        Thanks for your reply. I do not refute the EModE syntactic evidence, what you might call the strong evidence, that you have presented in this article or others. But, I also do not think that necessarily supports a link to EModE definitions. Why reveal a text to Joseph that would contain words whose definitions must be understood from a past era? Would that not just lead to confusion? Did Mormon not know his audience?
        I will just follow-up on one example here:
        You wrote: In the case of scorch, the OED suggests by its last-dated example of 1624 that the meaning involving deep burning was obsolete well before JS’s time. Webster’s examples after his definition 2 indicate superficial burning.
        Response. The text from Mosiah reads: “And now when the flames began to scorch him.” There is no indication of “deep burning” in the text. On the contrary, “began to scorch him” indicates that the burning was in the beginning phases. So, why look for “deep burning” when a common definition of “scorch” at the time of the translation fits? It seems that you are reading something into the text that is not there.

        • If you look at the OED you’ll notice that scorch has the modern meaning way back as well. So yes, both of these might be superficial burning, or not. One cannot be certain. Hence a list of possibles.
          Because the second instance of scorch is inchoative, however, either view is possible. IOW, it could be “when the flames began to” ‘burn him superficially’ or ‘consume him’. And the obsolete meaning is possible for the first one since it is followed by “unto death”, which could mean ‘so (much) as to cause death’ (see definitions 10 and 14 of unto in the OED).

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