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Printed JournalWelcome to Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, a nonprofit, independent, peer-reviewed educational journal focused on the scriptures of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Its publications are available free of charge, with our goal to increase understanding of scripture. Our latest papers can be found below.

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The Implications of Past-Tense Syntax in the Book of Mormon

Abstract: In the middle of the 16th century there was a short-lived surge in the use of the auxiliary did to express the affirmative past tense in English, as in Moroni «did arrive» with his army to the land of Bountiful (Alma 52:18). The 1829 Book of Mormon contains nearly 2,000 instances of this particular syntax, using it 27% of the time in past-tense contexts. The 1611 King James Bible — which borrowed heavily from Tyndale’s biblical translations of the 1520s and ’30s — employs this syntax less than 2% of the time. While the Book of Mormon’s rate is significantly higher than the Bible’s, it is close to what is found in other English-language texts written mainly in the mid- to late 1500s. And the usage died out in the 1700s. So the Book of Mormon is unique for its time — this is especially apparent when features of adjacency, inversion, and intervening adverbial use are considered. Textual evidence and syntactic analysis argue strongly against both 19th-century composition and an imitative effort based on King James English. Book of Mormon past-tense syntax could have been achieved only by following the use of largely inaccessible 16th-century writings. But mimicry of lost syntax is difficult if not impossible, and so later writers who consciously sought to imitate biblical style failed to match its did-usage at a deep, systematic level. This includes Ethan Smith who in 1823 wrote View of the Hebrews, a text very different from both the Bible and the Book of Mormon in this respect. The same may be said about Hunt’s The Late War and Snowden’s The American Revolution.

Editor’s note: Because of the complex typesetting of this article, it has not been reproduced on this webpage. The reader is referred to the PDF version to view the article.

Restoring the Original Text of the Book of Mormon

Abstract: The Book of Mormon Critical Text Project, under the editorship of Royal Skousen, began in 1988 and is now nearing completion. In 2001, facsimile transcripts of the two Book of Mormon manuscripts (volumes 1 and 2 of the critical text) were published by the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS). From 2004 to 2009 the six books of volume 4 of the critical text, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, were published, also by FARMS. Parts 1 and 2 of volume 3 of the critical text, The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon, will be published in early 2015. These two parts will describe all the grammatical editing that the Book of Mormon text has undergone, from 1829 up to the present. When all six parts of volume 3 of the critical text have been published, volume 5 of the critical text, A Complete Electronic Collation of the Book of Mormon, will be released. Within the next couple years, the Joseph Smith Papers will publish photographs of the two Book of Mormon manuscripts, along with transcriptions based on volumes 1 and 2 of the critical text. Nearly all of the work of the project has involved the knowledge and periodic involvement of the Scriptures Committee of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The project itself, however, remains independent of the Church, and none of its findings have involved any ecclesiastical approval or endorsement. Continue reading

A Redemptive Reading of Mark 5:25-34

In what is surely one of the saddest tales in the Bible, Jephthah vows that if granted success in battle, he will sacrifice the first person to cross the threshold of his home upon his return. Tragically, it is his only child, a daughter, who hurries out to meet him (Judges 11:29-34). New Testament scholar Mary Ann Beavis shows that this harrowing text has many similarities to the story of Jairus and his daughter in the Gospel of Mark (5:21-24 and 35-43).1 Mark’s story, however, has a joyous outcome: Jairus intercedes for his daughter, and Jesus raises her from the dead. Beavis calls this a motif inversion,2 meaning the text in Mark establishes similarities to Jephthah’s story to encourage the audience to compare the events, only to reverse course and have the story end on a very different note. In other words, Mark suggests correspondences but then shows how, when the story plays out in Jesus’ life, it has a dramatically dissimilar ending. Beavis also discusses another widely recognized example of motif inversion in Mark: in the story of the calming of the sea (Mark 4:35-41), there are many echoes of the story of Jonah (1-4). Jesus, like Jonah, is asleep in a boat and is awakened by questions when a terrifying storm threatens. But Jesus, of course, is no Jonah. The motif is inverted as Jesus, who initially parallels Jonah, takes on the role of God, and, being the only one who can, calms the storm. Continue reading

Father is a Man: The Remarkable Mention of the name Abish in Alma 19:16 and Its Narrative Context

Abstract: The mention of “Abish” and a “remarkable vision of her father” (Alma 19:16) is itself remarkable, since women and servants are rarely named in the Book of Mormon text. As a Hebrew/Lehite name, “Abish” suggests the meaning “Father is a man,” the midrashic components ʾab- (“father”) and ʾîš (“man”) being phonologically evident. Thus, the immediate juxtaposition of the name “Abish” with the terms “her father” and “women” raises the possibility of wordplay on her name in the underlying text. Since ʾab-names were frequently theophoric — i.e., they had reference to a divine Father (or could be so understood) — the mention of “Abish” (“Father is a man”) takes on additional theological significance in the context of Lamoni’s vision of the Redeemer being “born of a woman and … redeem[ing] all mankind” (Alma 19:13). The wordplay on “Abish” thus contributes thematically to the narrative’s presentation of Ammon’s typological ministrations among the Lamanites as a “man” endowed with great power, which helped the Lamanites understand the concept of “the Great Spirit” (Yahweh) becoming “man.” Moreover, this wordplay accords with the consistent Book of Mormon doctrine that the “very Eternal Father” would (and did) condescend to become “man” and Suffering Servant. Continue reading

Celestial Visits in the Scriptures, and a Plausible Mesoamerican Tradition

Abstract: Scriptural accounts of celestial beings visiting the earth are abundant in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Whether a descending deity or angelic beings from celestial realms, they were often accompanied by clouds. In this paper a short analysis of the various types of clouds, including imitation clouds (incense), will be discussed. The relation between the phenomenon of supernatural beings, sometimes in clouds, may have had a great influence on descendants of Book of Mormon cultures. For these people, stories that were told from one generation to the next would have been considered ancient mythological lore. It may be plausible that future generations attempted to duplicate the same type scenario of celestial beings speaking and visiting their people. These events were sometimes recorded in stone. Continue reading