There are 18 thoughts on “Improvisation and Extemporaneous Change in the Book of Mormon (Part 2: Structural Evidences of Earlier Ancient versus Later Modern Constructions)”.

  1. Pingback: A Secret Pattern in the Writing of the Book of Mormon | Meridian Magazine

  2. Though Mormon is a historian-writer, he is also especially an editor-engraver. Which means he embeds, quotes, and appends large sections of material from other writings – e.g., the accounts of Benjamin, Limhi, Abinadi, Alma, Christ in 3 Nephi, and the small plates of Nephi. In Article 2 I note how he carefully and strategically embedded high-improvisational texts earlier in his edited work – they were vivid, noteworthy texts that were selected early on in his editing (improvisatory texts are usually vivid and compel attention).
    By the time Mormon gave his edited works to Moroni for preservation he included the small plates as part of his edited collection – which included his own edited comments appended onto the small plates themselves.
    WofM 1:6: “But behold, I shall take these [small] plates, which contain these prophesyings and revelations, and put them with the remainder of my record, for they are choice unto me; and I know they will be choice unto my brethren.” Mormon “put[s] them with the remainder of [his] record,” i.e., appends them, or includes them – with his own personal explanation connecting the small plates to his own plates of Mormon (Words of Mormon), acting as a good editor. His purpose: “I, Mormon, being about to deliver up the record which I have been making into the hands of my son Moroni” (W of M 1:1). Moroni received the entire collection of Mormon’s edited work, including his written, embedded, and appended texts.
    Here is Grant Hardy’s summary in EOM: “He later made his own plates of Mormon, on which he compiled an abridgment of the large plates of Nephi (W of M 1:3-5; Ne. 5:9-10) . . . After Mormon had completed his abridgment through the reign of King Benjamin (c. 130 B.C.), he discovered the small plates of Nephi, a separate history of the same time period focusing on the spiritual events of those years and quoting extensively from the plates of brass. Inspired to add the small plates of Nephi to his own record, Mormon inserted a brief explanation for the double account of early Nephite history (W of M 1:2-9). . . . Anticipating death, he passed the plates to his son Moroni. Over the next few decades, Moroni wandered alone, making additions to his father’s record, including two chapters now included in a book previously abridged by his father (Morm. 7-8) and an account of the jaredites that he had abridged from the twenty-four gold plates of Ether. He also copied an extensive vision of the last days that had been recorded by an early Jaredite prophet, the brother of jared, and which Moroni was commanded to seal (Ether 4:4-5). He also added brief notes on church rituals (Moro. 1-6), a sermon and two letters from his father (Moro. 7-9), and an exhortation to future readers (Moro. 10). Finally, Moroni took this somewhat heterogeneous collection of records-the plates of Mormon, the small plates of Nephi, his abridgment of the plates of Ether, and the sealed portion containing the vision of the Brother of Jared-and buried them in the earth. About 1,400 years later, in 1823, Moroni, now resurrected, appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith and revealed the location of these records.”

    • Hi Gerald. Thanks for the response. I’m very interested in any indication you have that Mormon or Moroni made editorial comments on the small plates. That’s what I was asking about and I inferred from your reply that there are no such indications (apart from the Words of Mormon, which weren’t part of the original small plates of Nephi).
      I’m aware of the long-held assumption that Mormon added the small plates to his own abridgment, but of course that assumption contradicts the Title Page, which lists the contents of the plates in the box but does not mention Nephi’s original plates.
      I think the historical record shows that Joseph translated the plates from Moroni’s stone box completely (except the sealed portion) while he was in Harmony, all the way through the last leaf, which was the title page. He returned those plates to a divine messenger before he left Harmony because he was finished with them, as indicated in D&C 9 and 10.
      When Joseph, Oliver and David arrived in Fayette, a messenger brought the plates of Nephi for Joseph to translate. That’s where 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon come from, at least through verse 11. (WoM 1:1-10 are Mormon’s “title page” to the small plates, which he appended at the end just as Moroni appended the Title Page at the end of the set of plates he placed in the stone box.) The messenger retrieved these plates of Nephi from the repository in the Hill Cumorah when he put the Harmony plates into the repository.
      WoM 1:12 appears to be Joseph’s bridge to page 117 that he retained when Martin Harris took the 116 pages. Verses 13-18 appear to be from page 117 of the original manuscript.
      Maybe you haven’t seen my analysis of this, and I can’t repeat the entire chapter/paper as a comment here, but “put them with” does not mean “append” or “include,” which we can tell from WoM 1:10. When he received the small plates from Amaleki, Benjamin “took them and put them with the other plates” which eventually fell into Mormon’s hands. But we know Benjamin did not append or attach the small plates because Mormon had to go search for them.
      I was interested in your two articles to see whether you found any evidence of Moroni’s involvement with the small plates of Nephi. We don’t expect there to be; we don’t know if Moroni ever dealt with the small plates at all, because Mormon left them in the repository with his other source material. Had Martin Harris not lost the 116 pages, and had the Lord not told Joseph he’d have to translate the “plates of Nephi” (which he didn’t have when he was in Harmony), we would never have known they existed.
      The long-held assumption that the small plates of Nephi were in Moroni’s stone box has other problems as well, but the comment section here is not an effective forum to go through the entire thing.
      Again, thanks so much for your insightful articles and your responses.

      • JN, Please tell me where I read your analysis of the Words of Mormon. I am not getting it all from this summary, and currently seem to have a different interpretation from you, and from what you refer to as “[t]he long-hold assumption that the small plates of Nephi were in Moroni’s stone box”. I presume you detail in this other writing what you refer to as “other problems” with this assumption.
        Thanks for joining this discussion.

  3. Jonathan, answering your question: There is a clear pattern of deference to these awkward changes found in the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith virtually never makes changes to the extemporaneous changes he encounters; the same is true for Moroni. From Article 1: “This is what we see too with Moroni’s improvisational work, never authoring his own improvisation (compared to his father’s many improvisations), but selecting and importing those key improvisational texts that help explain the complexities of the unknown Jaredite people.” And from Article 2: “Summarizing the findings of the last several sections, the anecdotal evidence of narrative voice, the inimitable corrective signal used, the personality evident in some improvisations, and the differences in shape and in complexity, all suggest that authorship of these extemporaneous changes occurred at points earlier in the historical chain of authoring, editing, and construction of Figure 1, rather than one person such as Moroni making detailed extemporaneous changes at a later stage in the fourth or fifth century ad. If Moroni as editor retained intact the six improvisations he encountered from earlier authors in the Jaredite record and his father’s epistles, the additional evidence we have seen suggests that the remaining 164 improvisations may have been retained by Moroni as well when preparing and compiling the final codex for delivery at a future day.”
    This conclusion applies to the texts of Nephi as well. The patterns of Nephi’s improvisations are so different from those found in Mormon’s authored improvisations, and are uniquely different from those found in the various embedded author texts quoted in Mormon’s works — or quoted in Moroni’s works for that matter. I am convinced that Moroni likely encountered all of these extemporaneous changes while compiling the final Book of Mormon codex, including the small plates of Nephi. From Article 2: “The improvisations we see in the CCPs are sometimes awkward and clumsy; clearly Smith as translator in the modern day, or Moroni as compiler, finishing-editor and conservator in the fifth century AD, or even Mormon as primary editor-engraver whose work would bear his name, should have cleared these up over time — but they plainly did not.” These warty CCPs give evidence that the BofM is the authentic work of many authors rather than one author.

    • Thanks for much for this clarification, Gerald. However, now I’m curious why you think Moroni encountered the small plates of Nephi at all. They aren’t mentioned in the Title Page, which is one of the reasons I propose they were not in Moroni’s stone box and were not included in the plates Joseph translated in Harmony. Instead, Joseph got the small plates separately and translated them in Fayette.
      Your excellent work on the CCPs supports that scenario; i.e., that Moroni had no input on the small plates.

  4. Excellent article. I didn’t see a specific answer to this question, though: “Could a late-stage finishing editor like Moroni have been responsible for the remaining 164 improvisations, those appearing in the larger corpus of Mormon’s and Nephi’s editorial engravings, and the personal engravings of Jacob’s priestly lineage appearing on the Small Plates of Nephi?”
    I infer you concluded that Moroni was not responsible for the improvisations in the Small Plates of Nephi. If so, that is consistent with my conclusion that the Small Plates of Nephi were not in Moroni’s stone box, but that Joseph got those later.

  5. Jerry, I call it “extemporaneous change” because it appears to be extemporaneous. Writing on plates especially would be a setting in which extemporaneous change would be useful since it is difficult to go back and make a correction. However, your suggestion that these extemporaneous changes were not extemporaneous but were deliberately written in by the original authors, orators, and engravers of the Book of Mormon is interesting. In the second article I highlight awkward examples that could have easily been corrected by the prophet in a subsequent edition, and you would think should have been corrected – but he made no changes. The prophet acts as if they were not his to correct, even as he made thousands of other changes to improve the overall text — and Mormon and Moroni act in a similar deferential way. One possibility is that many of the improvisational passages contained in the BofM come from quoted speeches and embedded documents which include original extemporaneous changes. Brant Gardner suggests this in his Interpreter article “Literacy and Orality in the Book of Mormon” (vol 9, 2014, 29-85): “When it occurs, it occurs just as it would in spontaneous speech and I suggest that it is an artifact of the oral style that is replicated in writing precisely because the oral style informs the literary. It becomes pseudo-spontaneity only in literature that is subject to revision and editing before being committed to final written form. As with the repetitive resumption, self-correction in the Book of Mormon is an indication that there was some spontaneous writing on the plates, even though there is also evidence that there was at least an overall outline.” If this is correct then your explanation that extemporaneous changes were recorded deliberately on the plates would be correct even as they preserve the original extemporaneous changes as originally given by the early embedded orators and authors (Benjamin, Alma, Limhi, etc.). However, some/many extemporaneous changes were authored by Mormon and Nephi (although not Moroni) in their work as editors and engravers. Some appear to be deliberate: e.g., “This is according to the account of Nephi, or in other words, I Nephi wrote this record” (Earliest Text, 5); but others seem more spontaneous, e.g., “and they stood before the king and was permitted — or rather commanded — that they should answer the questions which he should ask them” (Earliest Text, 221). Thanks for your question.

  6. Personally , I am not all that convinced that what are being characterized as improvisations weren’t intended to be there. I would find it surprising that any of the ancient engravers just ‘free-handed’ and engraved on the fly, they would have had outlines and written and re-written on other easier to write on media before making an engraving on the most sacred books and significant histories of their entire people. Especially the ‘interpreted’ words. These were represented with the original words that remained in the record because they represented sacred elements, places, or items, and were even capitalized in the translated text. The meanings were not given off the cuff, they were included because they were important for the ancient audience to understand the actual etymological meaning of the word.

  7. Of course JS often did not improve BofM grammar by his edits. For instance, changing yieldeth to yields in Mosiah 3:19. What was his perception of what he was doing in that case? I don’t think he improved the grammar by removing the stylish variation of the early modern period in aa0916: “there are many promises which is extended to the Lamanites” (see Skousen, GV, 883)? See also mh2415, etc. How about changing “much people” to “many people” in er0802 when the 1611 KJB has 29 of them? There is so much to say about BofM grammar, and it really is a philological marvel. I certainly would not want to say that JS was perfecting BofM grammar or even attempting to do so. He was merely inconsistently and partially modernizing it, making many unnecessary changes and some mistakes along the way.
    For Moroni to have been the translator (Terry 2014:62), he would have had to be a first-rate English philologist, not someone who wasn’t completely comfortable with English. The sad truth is that Terry didn’t have the background in 2014 to comment on these matters reliably, and so we are left with faulty conclusions.

  8. An important contribution of your research is to show that “the view that the BofM is full of grammatical errors” is flawed. “That misleading view was promulgated right after its publication, perpetuated by many, including influential church leaders and scholars, and has now been re-asserted, which is a regrettable circumstance because it is inaccurate from the point of view of EModE, which is the language of the book” (Why the Oxford English Dictionary, fn9). Nevertheless, Joseph’s editorial actions with respect to subsequent editions show his concern with the BofM’s grammar and accordingly he made many changes – which points to the paradox I cite in my paper: He presented to the world a divine work “with miraculous visions and revelations from God; yet the text itself [Joseph] clearly [believed] was imperfect, not only in grammar [as his editorial changes show] (which he tried to perfect over time), but even in the awkward improvisations of its writers (which he evidently did not) — a truly telling paradox.” The corrective conjunction phrases (CCPs) cited in my research show that the BofM’s text indeed contains imperfections – many are awkward and plainly visible to a modern eye – but they are not the mistakes that Joseph noticed. He bypassed them repeatedly at least 4 times when making corrections (to the printer’s edition, and the 1830, 1837, and 1840 editions). Why did he let these stand, while at the same time working vigorously to make all the other corrections he makes? The explanation I suggest: he tacitly sensed that the imperfections found among my CCP sample belonged to earlier writers, editors and translators whose words lay upon the plate text in front of him –Alma, Benjamin, Mormon, Moroni, etc.
    I saw your comments on Terry’s tendency to consider KJV variation to be well-formed syntax while ascribing BofM variation to grammatical errors. What is your opinion of Terry’s hypothesis that Moroni may have been translator of the BofM at some point in the centuries before the 19th century, and therefore Jos Smith received the translated text word-for-word per Skousen’s theory?

  9. “yet the text itself clearly was imperfect, not only in grammar”.
    If you want to comment on BofM grammar, you need to acknowledge and address Skousen, Grammatical Variation (2016) as well as various Interpreter articles on the subject.
    “Roger Terry, who studied the inconsistent usage of archaic pronouns and verbs in the Book of Mormon,”
    I wrote an Interpreter article pointing out that Terry’s study has many inaccuracies, some quite fundamental.

  10. Hi Keith, Ether 13 is a seminal Book of Mormon text that I and other researchers believe was influential on Joseph Smith’s emergent vision during the early Restoration, of Zion, the New Jerusalem, and the center temple located at Zion – which I discuss in detail in my book Schooling the Prophet: How the Book of Mormon Influenced Joseph Smith and the Early Restoration. Grant Hardy has written insightfully on your question re how much of the text is Moroni’s elaboration versus Ether’s prophetic words, in his book Understanding the Book of Mormon. Another excellent source is Terryl Givens who gave the Leonard Arrington talk at Utah State in 2013 or 2014, I can’t remember which year. His talk explored how Joseph Smith viewed Enoch. Of course the visions of Moses given by revelation to Joseph Smith in 1830, now in the Pearl of Great Price as the Book of Moses, give additional specific detail on Enoch, including reference to Jesus Christ, baptism, Zion, the New Jerusalem, etc. These visions are a revealed expansion of the visions Moses received at Sinai – widely regarded in the Jewish world as the most important visions of biblical history.
    From my own research on extemporaneous change, in the historical Ether texts in which extemporaneous changes appear (they do not appear in prophetic texts) it appears that Moroni retains the original historical translated text without elaboration or embellishment – I discuss this in detail in Article Two.
    Regarding your question of digressions, this is similar to the practice of pesher found in the Jewish midrash, and in the Dead Sea Scrolls of the Qumran community who would elaborate on a given text from the perspective of the people to whom the writer was addressing. There is a good example of this in one of the extemporaneous change passages of my sample, 1 Nephi 10:12-15. Brant Gardner provides excellent research on this in his article Nephi As Scribe, published in Mormon Studies Review in 2011.

    • So to identify answers to my two questions:
      1. You think Ether had access to a version of the Enoch/Moses panorama vision (given to the man Moriancumr?) which the Lord recycled for chosen prophets. Do you think ‘Jerusalem’ was so named in that vision, or that Ether or Moroni interpolated that name in Ether 13?
      2. I accept that the digressions throughout the Book of Mormon are strongly similar to ‘the practice of pesher’ used by the ancient Jews. My question is whether you or anyone else has been able to identify that practice in the words of Jesus used outside the Book of Mormon, for example in the Gospels or in the Doctrine and Covenants? My sense is that it is possible to identify His voice and word prints.

      • I believe that visions of the creation of the earth were accessible to Ether and Moroni, similar to the visions of Moses revealed to the prophet in 1830 — in Ether he “showed unto the brother of Jared all the inhabitants of the earth which had been, and also all that would be; and he withheld them not from his sight, even unto the ends of the earth.” Quite similar to Moses who saw all the inhabitants of the earth + descriptions of innumerable worlds that now stand or have passed away. Significantly, the revelatory impulse of the visions of Moses of 1830 was to introduce new creation knowledge before the Genesis creation accounts. A careful reading of the OT shows that creation was central to Israelite religion.
        Moroni said: “Ether saw the days of Christ, and he spake concerning a New Jerusalem upon this land.” Seems pretty clear.
        I haven’t studied pesher in the NT, but there seem to be many examples — the Sermon on the Mount expanding on the Decalogue, the Bread of Life sermon in John, etc. Sounds like an excellent project.
        Thanks for your excellent questions Keith.

  11. I love the work you have done here Gerald. I have wondered as I have read, in a slightly different direction, what you or others make of the following two passages:
    1. Ether 13. The ‘added in’ headnote says that Ether spoke of a New Jerusalem, though the chapter begins in the voice of Moroni. How much of this is Ether and how much of this is Moroni putting Christ in, as you have said in your paper? Though it is certainly possible that Ether (like Isaiah) should have seen the House of Israel come forth and conquer Jerusalem under David to make it their capital and sacred city, Jerusalem seems more likely a Nephite obsession than a Jaredite concern since Jerusalem likely did not exist when the Jaredites left the old world…
    2. In a completely different vein, during Christ’s Bountiful ministry and particularly when He was expounding the future of the Lehite branch of the House of Joseph, He digressed a number of times. 3 Nephi 21:2-7 is an example. He was going to give the Nephite people gathered at Bountiful a sign as to when He would regather His people, but He digressed for 5 verses to explain how it was the Father who had ordained that the Book of Mormon should come forth through the Gentiles as a precursor to that gathering. My question – do we see this digression practice elsewhere in what the Bible preserves of Christ’s teaching? Is it cultural Jewish from the meridien of time, or is it unique?

    • Keith,
      I’ve also wondered about why Ether would be talking about old and new Jerusalem to a non-Israelite group that would have had no real cultural connection to Jerusalem. Here’s one hypothesis I’ve been noodling to answer why that might not be anachronistic. What if the Mulekites first landing place was within the territory of the Jaredites, with the people of Zarahemla being a group that left the main body of the Jaredites before their final civil war? IIRC, when introducing the people of Zarahemla, the BoM mentioned that they had had lots of wars and contentions before Mosiah met up with them. It doesn’t seem like that big of a stretch, especially when you combine the BoM story with our understanding of what was going on in Mesoamerica at that time.
      If the Jaredites of Ether’s time included a recent infusion of Israelites recently fled from Jerusalem, that might explain the Old/New Jerusalem references. Especially if the Mulekites and their history were well known among the Jaredites (as a colony arriving from the old world might be).
      Anyhow, this hypothesis may raise more questions than it answers, but I wanted to throw it out there. Apologies if this isn’t a novel new idea–I mostly follow BoM apologetics and BoM archeology research as a side interest.

      • I think your hypothesis is consistent with John Sorensen’s revised views (in Mormon’s Codex) of where the various landings (Jaredite, Nephite and Mulekite) took place.

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