LDS scholars have been giving significant attention in recent years to the English grammar, vocabulary, and style of the Book of Mormon. The thrust of this literary output has been to argue that the language of the Book of Mormon, far from an embarrassing liability, is in some respects an apologetic asset—even evidence of inspiration. More broadly, these scholars have been arguing that allegations of ungrammatical usage in the Book of Mormon are often unfounded, being based on misunderstandings or ignorance regarding earlier English grammar.
The most recent offering in this burgeoning literature is an article by Stanford Carmack in Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture. According to Carmack, who has written other recent articles of relevance, mistakes in the analysis of grammar and usage in the Book of Mormon have been made on the assumption that Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language is the appropriate reference in such matters. Carmack argues that the Oxford English Dictionary should be used instead. Following the lead of Royal Skousen, the leading scholar on the textual history of the Book of Mormon, Carmack argues that the English of the Book of Mormon is written mainly in the Early Modern English that was current in the 1500s but archaic by Joseph Smith’s day—and not entirely due to imitation of the KJV. On this basis, Carmack argues that Joseph could not have been responsible for the English idiom of the Book of Mormon; it must have come from the Lord revealing specific words to Joseph. At the same time, Carmack admits that some of the language in the Book of Mormon is more modern.
A thorough examination of Carmack’s article is beyond the scope of what I will attempt here. There are dozens of specific examples that would need to be considered and a thicket of assertions and inferences that would need to be evaluated. Carmack’s work in this and other articles will undoubtedly be hailed as having turned the English grammar question of the Book of Mormon into an astounding evidence of its divine inspiration. I believe there are serious holes in the argument and that it raises questions so far unanswered. For example, to the best of my knowledge no one has yet explained why God would reveal a translation of an ancient scripture to a nineteenth-century man in largely (but not entirely) sixteenth-century English. However, here I wish to address just one point, albeit a somewhat tangential point to Carmack’s overall project. The point concerns the use of the English pronoun thou in the King James Version (KJV), a matter of some possible relevance to its usage in the Book of Mormon. Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: Book of Mormon, Early Modern English, King James Version, KJV, Royal Skousen, Stanford Carmack, thee, thou, ye
In my previous article here on the Book of Abraham, I showed that there is some reason to think that it was written in direct dependence on the Book of Genesis in the King James Version (KJV). That is, Joseph Smith was not translating the ancient Egyptian papyri in his possession; he was revising and expanding portions of Genesis as he found it in his copy of the KJV. This article will show that this conclusion is true beyond reasonable doubt.
Any thorough examination of the relationship between the Book of Abraham and the Book of Genesis must take into consideration both the big picture and the little details. The big picture is that three of the five chapters of the Book of Abraham parallel chapters in Genesis:
Abraham 1: New material not found in the Bible
Abraham 2: Parallels Genesis 11:28-12:13 with substantial additions
Abraham 3: New material not found in the Bible
Abraham 4: Closely parallels Genesis 1 with some additions
Abraham 5: Closely parallels Genesis 2 with notable addition and omission
Although I could go through all of this material here line by line, the curious reader will learn far more by doing the exercise for himself. If you have never done so, I recommend opening a copy of the KJV to Genesis and a copy of the Book of Abraham and comparing the chapters as listed above. Even better, you might print out a copy of Genesis 11:28-12:13 and Genesis 1-2 on paper and go through them verse by verse, comparing them to Abraham 2 and 4-5 (even marking up your paper to show the differences, or using a highlighter to mark the parallel wording). It won’t take long, and you’ll make your own discoveries and reach your own conclusions rather than having someone else spoon feed the information to you.
As I said, we want to look at the big picture, but we also need to look at the details. Here we can take a page from the notebooks of famous detectives from Sherlock Holmes to Lt. Columbo: it’s the little, seemingly insignificant details that often tell the tale.
Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: Book of Abraham, Genesis, Genesis 1:28, Joseph Smith, King James Version, plain of Moreh, replenish, translation
The recent LDS.org article “Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham” attempts to explain a number of problems with the Book of Abraham, the most controversial text in the Mormon canon. The most basic problem is the fact that the Book of Abraham does not correspond to the Egyptian text of the Joseph Smith papyri, a fact for which the LDS Church has no definite answer. However, from another perspective a problem that is just as important, if not as basic, is the relationship of the Book of Abraham to the Bible. The new LDS.org article addresses this problem briefly as follows:
Much like the Book of Mormon, Joseph’s translation of the book of Abraham was recorded in the language of the King James Bible. This was the idiom of scripture familiar to early Latter-day Saints, and its use was consistent with the Lord’s pattern of revealing His truths “after the manner of their [His servants’] language, that they might come to understanding.”
That sounds innocent enough. People were accustomed in the 1830s and 1840s to reading scripture in the idiom of the King James Version (KJV), produced not long after Shakespeare wrote his plays. That was the form that English readers in Joseph’s day would expect a newly translated scripture such as the Book of Abraham to take. The article is not specific, but the reader may be led to understand that the Book of Abraham uses such words as thee and thou, hearken, behold, and yea, just as the KJV does. Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: Book of Abraham, Genesis, Joseph Smith, King James Version