Sustaining the Brethren

Abstract: Believing Latter-day Saints hold different views about what it means to sustain the presiding Brethren of the Church. In this article, I outline some considerations that might be kept in mind as members of the Church evaluate their views on this vital topic and the Lord’s admonition to sustain the Brethren by their faith, prayers, and actions. Continue reading

Place of Crushing: The Literary Function of Heshlon in Ether 13:25-31

Abstract: The name Heshlon, attested once (in Ether 13:28), as a toponym in the Book of Mormon most plausibly denotes “place of crushing.” The meaning of Heshlon thus becomes very significant in the context of Ether 13:25–31, which describes the crushing or enfeebling of Coriantumr’s armies and royal power. This meaning is also significant in the wider context of Moroni’s narrative of the Jaredites’ destruction. Fittingly, the name Heshlon itself serves as a literary turning point in a chiastic structure which describes the fateful reversal of Coriantumr’s individual fortunes and the worsening of the Jaredites’ collective fortunes. Perhaps Moroni, who witnessed the gradual crushing and destruction of the Nephites, mentioned this name in his abridgement of the Book of Ether on account of the high irony of its meaning in view of the Jaredite war of attrition which served as precursor to the destruction of the Nephites. Continue reading

Reflections of Urim: Hebrew Poetry Sheds Light on the Directors-Interpreters Mystery

Abstract: In the early editions of the Book of Mormon, Alma refers to the Nephite interpreters as directors. Because director(s) elsewhere refers to the brass ball that guided Lehi’s family through the wilderness, Alma’s use of the term was apparently considered a mistake, and directors was changed to interpreters for the 1920 edition of the Book of Mormon. There are reasons, however, to believe that Alma’s use of directors was intentional. I present contextual evidence that Alma was actually using the Hebrew word urim, which was later translated into English as directors (for the interpreters) and director (for the brass ball), and biblical evidence that those translations are appropriate. Alma may have called the instruments urim to emphasize their sacred importance. As English prose, Alma’s discussion of these sacred instruments is wordy and at times confusing. As Hebrew poetry built around the word urim, it makes more sense. Alma’s apparent sophisticated use of this word suggests that he had a thorough understanding of the ancient connotations of urim and remarkable talent as a classical Hebrew poet. Continue reading

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