There are 7 thoughts on “Improvisation and Extemporaneous Change in the Book of Mormon (Part 1: Evidence of an Imperfect, Authentic, Ancient Work of Scripture)”.

  1. Hello Stanford, sorry for the slow response. I have been in transition to Florida the past several days and have been without suitable internet. Your point is well taken. Certainly Royal invests considerably in highlighting these 719 examples as being important, although to a non-linguist many seem minor and many seem grammatical. The broader point of this introductory paragraph is to establish the idea that Joseph Smith and others did substantial editing to “improve” the grammar. Royal, in his collaboration with you early last year (2016), commented on Joseph’s “struggles (mostly successful, but not always) with trying to create a text that conforms to standard English grammar” (Editing Out the “Bad Grammar”). And I quote in my paper Grant Hardy’s summary that the changes for the 1837 and 1840 editions were “virtually all grammatical or stylistic in nature” (Introduction, 2009 Earliest Text).
    With this as backdrop I highlight another type of textual change found in the Book of Mormon text: extemporaneous change that was present the moment Joseph dictated the original text to his scribes, that was improvisational, a fix or repair. These extemporaneous changes were virtually never modified across time and edition in Joseph’s lifetime (98% of my sample was untouched), even though some are quite awkward and clumsy to a modern eye. In various ways these findings are complementary to your own substantive work to dispel the notion that unruly language in the Book of Mormon is the product of the poor grammar of its translator. Your evidence points historically to an earlier era, to Early Modern English. My evidence (relating to the 170 extemporaneous change passages), statistical, contextual, and structural, points to earlier moments in the book’s authoring, editing, and construction – and points away from Smith himself. Needless to say, the Earliest Text Edition has been invaluable in facilitating this type of research.
    Thanks for suggesting the need to clarify that point. I do enjoy your work Stanford!

  2. “Skousen provides a list of 719 important changes in the Book of Mormon across all editions to the present day; simple inspection shows them to be minor grammatical changes.”
    The last part is wrong and should be corrected. These are for the most part substantive in nature.

  3. Jerry your question is an excellent one, let me explain further. Henry Bryant Bigelow, oceanographer noted for cataloging the many species of marine life in the North Atlantic, was asked once why it was important to name and identify so many ordinary species. He replied (my paraphrase) that to name something is to identify it as being worthy of our attention, understanding, and study. That is what I am doing with extraneous change, or improvisation. Extraneous change is what I call “elemental,” used in speech and writing all the time to make corrections and clarifications. As we catalogue further we find different markers of extemporaneous change: types, voice, and settings or content where it occurs. These markers enable us to study extemporaneous change — for example in Article One we were able to statistically isolate different extemporaneous change patterns and match them with the texts associated with different authors and engravers of the Book of Mormon.
    I agree with you about “deseret” which is accompanied by a Type 3 Explanatory extemporaneous change, and your hypothesis that this was necessary in the multi-lingual society of the Nephites makes sense. You wondered if extemporaneous change were really a product of translation into English. My research suggests that it is deeper than that. There are extemporaneous changes in the New Testament (translated from Greek), the Hebrew Bible (originally in Hebrew), and apocryphal texts like Maccabees. Through translation and transcription the words often change, but their structure usually remains constant. A good example of this is the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20, restated in Deuteronomy 5, specifically the 2nd dealing with graven image. Various bible translations will give different words, but the structure of the extemporaneous change remains the same. This finding alone is important. As Old Testament theologian Rudolph Smend noted, the wording of the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) may change with translation, transcription, or editing, but the the biblical writers and editors through history have nonetheless deferred to (not changed) the basic structure of the Decalogue — perhaps because of its original source author (Jewish scholars through the ages have debated whether authorship is purely divine directly from God, or mediated through Moses, or transcribed by others). This is also the case with extemporaneous changes in the Book of Mormon — their structure is virtually always retained across editions.
    Abinadi’s restatement of the Ten Commandments’ extemporaneous change of graven image is especially telling. The improvisation is quoted two times (Mos 12:36, then Mos 13:12, both times referencing the Exodus version, not the Deuteronomy version). I agree with you that the extemporaneous change did not originate with Abinadi or his scribe (whoever recorded his words), but with someone before him — Moses or some ancient scribal source. Did Jos Smith simply copy these into the BoM in the 19th century using the KJV? I don’t believe so, as I discuss his involvement in detail in Article Two. Finally, regarding “applying to a Meso-American setting,” the Abinadi statement of the Decalogue appears to be part of an effort by the book’s editor, Mormon, to ensure that this work be a Mosaic work with elaborations on key Mosaic doctrine — atonement, (Christ as) God, etc. The statement is made more emphatic by the dramatic restatement of the extemporaneous change “any graven image or likeness . . .” upon which the entire account pivots — as discussed in Article One. Moses is most frequently cited of all prophets in scripture, also the Dead Sea Scrolls. He is similarly foundational to the Book of Mormon.
    Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  4. I’m not sure that one can assume that just because the translation in English appears to be improvisational that it was really improvisational. There appears to be a reason that an unknown apparently transliterated term like Deseret is used and then glossed. In multi-linguistic societies like the Nephites it may have been necessary to express it in a term that was understood by some and then restate it to others who may not understand the meaning of the term as the meaning was embedded in the name itself. Also with Abinadi, the restatement was not on the fly. He was stating the scriptural commandment and then applying it to the Mesoamerican setting.

  5. Using the first example from the article, there is a case for modern construction by either Smith, through translation or authorship, or by someone else with knowledge of the New Testament.
    Alma 17:18 is possibly an allusion to Matthew 20:26-68.
    Alma 17:18
    18 Now Ammon being the chief among them, or rather he did administer unto them, he departed from them, after having blessed them according to their several stations, having imparted the word of God unto them, or administered unto them before his departure. And thus they took their several journeys throughout the land.
    Matthew 20:26-28
    26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; 27 And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: 28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
    Shared terminology between the two passages consists of minister/administer and chief among them/you. If we examine how commonly the words are used in the Book of Mormon and Bible (common words and phrases are less likely to be intended allusions), “chief among” occurs only once in the Old Testament, twice in the New Testament, and once in the Book of Mormon. Matthew 20 is a good match for the potential allusion as it is the only biblical passage that shares the combination of the elements “administer” and “chief among.” It’s also worth nothing that Ammon become Lamoni’s “servant” just a few verses later, turning down a position of prominence as son-in-law to the king (Alma17:25). Another nearby New Testament allusion is found in Ammon’s words of comfort to the king’s servants, “Be of good cheer” (Alma 17:21). These are readily identified as Christ’s words, and the allusion’s proximity within the narrative increases the likelihood of 17:18 also being a New Testament allusion.
    If this Alma 17:18 allusion is taken as valid, than is suggests that the CCP is of modern construction, either by translation or authorship, in an effort to accommodate the incorporation of this biblical allusion.

    • Ben thanks for your very insightful comment. I see the parallels you describe. At the time of writing, I found it interesting that “chief among” was found in the texts of Mormon who we know from the book of Mormon (Mormon’s self-authored text) was a military leader. Therefore it appeared that the extemporaneous change found in the Alma 17 passage was inserted to clarify the apparent ambiguous meaning of “chief”. You noted that “chief among” is found in 5 places in scripture — in 3-4 of these the context is military, 2 in the OT and 1 in the BoM. One NT reference is also potentially military, from the teachings of Jesus “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them . . . whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” The other NT reference is to Zacchæus a chief tax collector.
      Regarding your assumption that the Alma 17 improvisational passage was likely of modern authorship, i.e., Smith, that is certainly a possibility. When I began this research I assumed that Smith was indeed responsible for most or all of these extemporaneous changes, used as a vital tool for creating an acceptable translation. Exploring deeper however revealed additional evidence to suggest that they were likely authored at some point earlier in what I call the Book of Mormon’s chain of authoring and construction. Smith always defers to their original presentation as found in the 1829 Earliest Text edition (reconstructed by Skousen) and virtually never makes changes. I address this specifically in Article Two. I hope you enjoyed Article One.

      • Gerald, thanks for the dialogue here. I do think examining CCPs is a great idea. I would be curious to see how many other examples could also be interpreted as incorporating intertextuality. I may take on that investigation myself. Personally, I find biblical intertextuality an integral component of the BOM text that has intended doctrinal significance, and I think adding an intertextual analysis will deepen any examination of the text.
        I do like your point about JS not editing any of the CCPs. However, many translation theories allow for JS to contribute to the text subconsciously. In other words, there is the possibility that he contributed to the translation process without being aware he was doing so and wouldn’t feel justified in altering less-than-pretty but otherwise understandable and doctrinally clear wording. Under these circumstances. From what I understand, his changes largely clarify meaning (beside removing “And it came to pass”), which notably, is exactly what these CCPs are already doing.

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