“If There Be Faults, They Be Faults of a Man”¹

  • Article Formats:
  • MP3 audio
  • PDF
  • MOBI
  • ePub
  • Kindle store
  • NOOK store
  • Order Print Copy

Review of John S. Dinger, ed., Significant Textual Changes in the Book of Mormon: The First Printed Edition Compared to the Manuscripts and to the Subsequent Major LDS English Printed Editions (Salt Lake City: Smith-Pettit Foundation/Signature Books, 2013); with foreword by Stan Larson; 418pp+ xxxvi; hardbound edition limited to 501 copies; ISBN 978-1-56085-233-9

It has been nearly 40 years since I walked into the BYU office of Stanley R. Larson in the early summer of 1974. Stan had just completed his master’s thesis, and he proudly displayed a hot-off-the-press copy of it on his desk. Stan was justifiably proud, and I could see right away while thumbing through it that this was a very important work that could be utilized as the basis for a critical text of the Book of Mormon. I did not realize then that this would become a part of Ellis T. Rasmussen’s much larger effort to prepare a new edition of LDS Scriptures (I had met Ellis in the Holy Land, and he was later kind enough to show me a mock-up of a page of the planned new edition to see what I thought of it).

Stan eventually went to England to earn his PhD, in the meantime producing a series of fine articles demonstrating the value of his thesis project. I set about gathering data for a small-scale critical text and spent a very fruitful seven [Page 196]years in Independence, Missouri, nearly every day utilizing the material available in the Archives of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS, now the Community of Christ), working on that and a variety of other projects. By the time my colleague, John W. “Jack” Welch, established the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) in 1979, I had gathered some excellent data for a modest critical text. He and John L. Sorenson had both encouraged me to establish a dependable text—which is the objective of any good critical text project.

When I moved to Provo, Utah, in 1983, Jack Welch obtained a digital copy of the 1830 Book of Mormon produced by Larry K. Browning, which had been keyed to author by John L. Hilton I and Kenneth D. Jenkins. Jack suggested that I edit it using a large BYU mainframe computer along with new word-processing software that could do footnotes. The Critical Text Project immediately grew into a vastly larger affair than I had foreseen, requiring years of effort, tens of thousands of readings from the various manuscripts and editions, and thousands of references to quotations and allusions to biblical and other relevant writings (Hilton & Jenkins provided a massive computer-generated list of KJV parallels, and I received the valuable help of Grant R. Hardy and Gordon C. Thomasson in finding many additional parallels).

The FARMS Book of Mormon Critical Text eventually grew to three volumes, and when the first volume of the first edition was published in 1984, I began regular visits to the BYU office of Royal J. Skousen to discuss improvements for a projected second edition. That much improved edition was completed and published in 1987, at which point I moved to California, and Royal took over the project—breathing extraordinary new life into it.²

[Page 197]When I recently obtained my copy of this new volume edited by John S. Dinger, I was pleased to see that it contains an authoritative and dependable foreword by Stan Larson.³ It was a pleasure, as usual, to read his summary of the main issues surrounding textual criticism of the Book of Mormon. Would that Stan had taken a closer look at precisely what editor Dinger had done with this particular effort!

It is a beautifully produced hardbound volume, and Stan’s foreword, while not quite worth the price of the volume, is the only useful and dependable part of this book. That is, the book is rife with error and was not designed to be usable or accessible.

At a retail price of $60 (before taxes and shipping and handling), one might expect to have in hand a volume that includes the chapters and verses of the Book of Mormon familiar to most readers (including the 2004 Doubleday edition), without which it is nearly impossible to find any given word or phrase. Instead, Dinger provides us with the long chapters and unnumbered paragraphs of the 1830 edition. This makes it nearly unusable as a reference work and leaves the 3,143 footnotes in limbo.

Worse, right from the outset, Dinger has more errors than accurate notes to the text. It is so disappointing to find that no substantive peer review was provided by the publisher nor that Stan Larson took a few minutes to check the first few pages. It certainly would have been time well spent, and the publisher might have sent Dinger back to the drawing boards. Because Dinger’s volume was merely derivative (not based on original research), one might have expected him to have studied and mastered the Skousen transcripts of the printer’s manuscript [Page 198]and original manuscript.⁴ He might also have consulted the easily understood footnotes in my Book of Mormon Critical Text, 2nd ed., 3 vols. (Provo: FARMS, 1986-1987). Taken together, those resources could easily have prevented the plethora of errors generated by Dinger.

Some representative examples:

Mistakenly attributes printer’s manuscript (PMs) readings to original manuscript (OMs), where OMs does not exist:

—pages 5-6 have several notes leading with “OMs” in a section where it does not exist (nn. 10-12,17-18,20), where he clearly intended “PMs,” or “PMs-cor,” as later in the volume. This includes “The first Book of Nephi,” “Chapter 1st,” “three days,” “&C,” “haveing,” “is,” etc.

Repeatedly fails to attribute changes to OMs-cor (corrected OMs), although he does so sometimes later in the volume (OMs-cor or strike out, nn. 114,207,211,235,425,468,485-486):

—page 8, nn. 45,54, even though Dinger declares “text absent” in OMs, they are actually present in OMs-cor: “the fountain of” is in OMs-cor; “of God” is in OMs-cor.
—page 11, n. 79, has “&” in OMs, but fails to show OMs-cor “I” (1 Nephi 4:8).
—page 17, n. 141 (1 Nephi 8:34), gives OMs instead of correct OMs-cor.

Repeatedly misleads by failing to attribute changes to PMs-cor (or perhaps PMs-corcor) or to line through replaced readings, although he does so sometimes later in the volume (PMs-cor nn. 188, 192, 226, 228, 266, and lining through at [Page 199]nn. 22,27,84,86,88-89,91,133,192,205,214, 229,234, or both), perhaps by then beginning to realize the crucial value of such data:

—pages 6-9, 14, 16-22, 24, nn. 24, 26, 34-36, 41-42, 57, 59, 63, 110, 121, 123, 125-126, 134, 147-152, 158-159, 164-167, 178, 197, including “it,” “is,” “are,” “those,” “said,” “Brothers,” “who,” “thy,” “who,” “may,” etc.

Misses some changes:

—page 11 (1 Nephi 4:19), fails to list OMs “own” head, which is dropped in PMs and editions. Has no note on “girted” in OMs PMs 1830;“girded” in OMs-cor 1837, etc. (1 Nephi 4:21).
—page 14 (1 Nephi 6:6), missed OMs “plate,” PMs “plates,” etc., just as he did at 1 Nephi 5:19.
—page 21 (1 Nephi 11:22), fails to note the insertion in OMs above the line “of men,” which would be an example of OMs-cor, if noted.

Misleads or presents false information in notes:

—page 7, n. 43, entirely overlooks OMs “beside,” and claims “by the side of” in PMs 1837. In fact PMs has “beside,” and PMs-cor has “by the side of,” thus missingthe standard pattern of corrections made to PMs for the 1837 edition.
—page 8, n. 49, only catches half the phrase “that he” which was removed in 1837, bolding and listing only “he.”
—page 9, n. 62, falsely states that the 1852 ed reads “knew” (thus supposedly following the 1840 ed), but the 1852 actually reads “knowing,” and actually follows the 1830 1837 & 1841 eds.
—page 10, n. 70, has PMs “Brother,” which more likely reads “Brethren” (1 Nephi 3:28); not to mention PMs-cor “Brother,” and PMs-corcor “Brothers.”
n. 71, misses OMs “thou shalt” = PMs. It is PMs-cor which has “ye shal” (1 Nephi 3:29).
[Page 200]n. 72, PMs does not have “spake,” but “spoken” (1 Nephi 3:30).
n. 75, has PMs “text absent,” but fails to note PMs-cor “then” (1 Nephi 4:1).
—page 11, n. 81, “to me” (1 Nephi 4:12) is not in OMs or PMs.
—page 12, n. 94, claims falsely that 1852 follows 1830. 1852 follows the 1849 in dropping “had,” thus leaving only “came” (1 Nephi 5:4).
—page 14, n. 108, the 1852 ed does not follow 1840 “ye are,” as he alleges, but has instead “thou art” (1 Nephi 7:8).
—page 16, n. 119, incorrectly has 1849 “methought.” It is hyphenated at line end, so that we do not know if it should have a hyphen (1 Nephi 8:4).
n. 121, has no indication of PMs-cor (1 Nephi 8:7).
—page 18, n. 153, falsely has “should” removed by PMs. Yet OMs PMs 1830 all read the same; PMs-cor included “should,” which was not “removed,” but simply ignored (1 Nephi 10:3).
n. 155, falsely claims that PMs reads “should be” (1 Nephi 10:3). Yet OMs PMs 1830 all actually read the same, and PMs-cor reads “should be,” which is followed by 1837 ed.

Employs a faulty 1830 edition text:

—p. 36, misspells “statutes,” as “statues” in 1 Nephi 17:22, even though it is spelled correctly in OMs, PMs, 1830 and all editions.
—p. 86, drops “and” from the beginning of 2 Nephi 29:9, even though it is in PMs 1830 and all editions (OMs not extant).
—p. 213, leaves out “death” at end of Alma 25:9, even though it is present in PMs 1830 and all other editions (OMs not extant).
—p. 347, misspells “new” as “knew” at the end of 3 Nephi 15:2. The PMs and 1830 read “new.”

[Page 201]Because these were items noticed at random by me, the likelihood that there are many more such errors is quite high. One might need a collating machine to find out exactly how often the input was erroneous. Meanwhile, Royal Skousen’s dictum that such texts should never be keyed in by hand is proven yet again.

Other assorted problems and errors:

p. xx, “in a language sometimes described as ‘reformed Egyptian’,” misses the point that the term comes from the Book of Mormon itself (Mormon 9:32).

pp. xxiv-xxv, xxxii, Dinger neglects to include the 1879 SLC: Deseret News, 6th American edition along with his 1879 Liverpool edition information.

p. xxvi, for the 1911 Chicago edition, Dinger simply said that it “was a reproduction of the 1905 Chicago edition,” which is only indirectly true. In fact, the 1911 edition was based on the 9th electrotype edition produced by Charles W. Penrose in Liverpool in 1909, which was in turn based upon the 1st Chicago edition of 1905.

pp. xxvi-xxviii, Dinger doesn’t bother to mention the BYU faculty members who did the actual heavy lifting in producing the 1979 & 1981 new edition of LDS Scriptures (foremost among them Ellis Rasmussen). Likewise, he does not bother to point out that the adoption of some of Stan Larson’s recommendations in the 1981 LDS edition of the Book of Mormon took place via Ellis Rasmussen.

pp. xxvii-xxviii, in his “Major Studies of the Textual Changes,” Dinger somehow missed the massive and path-breaking Book of Mormon Critical Text published by FARMS in two editions (1984-1987) of three volumes each, instead wasting precious space on the false claim that “a significant textual change to the Book of Mormon” was to be found in the 1981 introduction (n. 40). No biblical scholar would be [Page 202]concerned with an introduction to the King James Version or other version of the Bible. Instead, scholars focus on the canonical text and the variant readings thereof.

p. xxxv, Dinger erroneously lists the books of Enos, Jarom, Omni, and Words of Mormon as having chapters. As for the biblical book of Obadiah, the epistle of Paul to Philemon, the epistles of 2 John, 3 John, and Jude in the KJV, one does not properly insert chapter numbers in a book with no chapters. References in such cases are to the verses only.

p. 7, n. 38, misleads on the complexity of OMs, OMs-cor, and PMs.

p. 10, n. 64 should not have inserted an indicator of missing text (1 Nephi 3:21) because OMs has simply “God,” and should be bolded as an 1830 reading; PMs does make the mistake of “the Lord,” but it is immediately lined out and “God” placed on the line following.

n. 69, bolded wrong word “hard,” instead of “words” (1 Nephi 3:28). However, PMs “things” only tells half the story, since PMs-cor has “words.”

pp. 11, 13,18,22-25, etc., frequently and inconsistently notes use of “&” (ampersand) in Ms, even though it seems a waste of space —particularly when he ignores more important variants, such as the deletion of “it came to pass (that)” in many locations (Mosiah 23:3,5,6,24, 24:12,20, 25, 25:15; Alma 8:27,30, 10:31, 17:26, 43:19,35,42, 55:8; Helaman 2:8; 3 Nephi 11:16, 19:30), yet noting it in many other locations, thus likely skewing some types of statistical calculations addressing that issue —if dependent upon his book for accurate data.

p. 23, n. 222, misrepresents orthography of “paʃs” in OMs at 1 Nephi 12:12 as “pafs.”

p. 36, has the misspelling “statues,” where it should be “statutes” in 1 Nephi 17:22. Perhaps a Signature Books typo, but ironic in view of Dinger’s vocation.

[Page 203]p. 60, is a page with 8 footnoted changes (three of them “which” to “who”; 1 “hath” to “have”; and 1 “to” to “unto”), only 2 of which are “significant” items, in the midst of a quotation from Isa 51 —52. Yet misses the difference on that same page of 19th century “rung” for 20th century and KJV “wrung” in 2 Nephi 8:17.

p. 85, Dinger mentions in note 722 (2 Nephi 28:16) that “nought” gets changed in 1879 to “naught,” but doesn’t notice the same phenomenon at 2 Nephi 27:31-32. The rationale for such all-too-common hit-and-miss decisions is not explained, and it might be mentioned in passing that “nought” is KJV style.

It is a worthy objective to provide this important text-critical information in a single volume. So it is a mystery why John Dinger painstakingly prepared and edited an expensive 452-page book without bothering to make it accurate and easily usable. Buyers may rightly be disappointed—and author and publisher be embarrassed—about the lack of professionalism in this enterprise. They will, hopefully, try again—but this time with a heavy dose of peer review.


1. Mormon 8:17, following the Printer’s Manuscript reading (likewise followed by the RLDS 1908 edition, and by the 1999 Restored Covenant Edition).
2. An excellent account is available in Royal Skousen, “The Book of Mormon Critical Text Project,” in Joseph Smith: The Prophet, The Man, eds., Susan E. Black and Charles D. Tate, 65-75.  Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1993.
3. On p. xvii, Signature Books erroneously has “joined” in Alma 62:29, where it should be “join” (as in PMs, 1830, etc.) – apparently a typo.
4. Royal Skousen, ed., The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical Facsimile of the Extant Text. Provo: FARMS, 2001; Skousen, ed., The Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical Facsimile of the Entire Text in Two Parts. Provo: FARMS, 2001.

Email This Page

6 thoughts on ““If There Be Faults, They Be Faults of a Man”¹

  1. Robert:

    Excellent review. Skousen also has a rather negative assessment of this volume coming out in BYU Studies Quarterly, from what I understand. My one quibble is with this statement:

    “Dinger erroneously lists the books of Enos, Jarom, Omni, and Words of Mormon as having chapters. As for the biblical book of Obadiah, the epistle of Paul to Philemon, the epistles of 2 John, 3 John, and Jude in the KJV, one does not properly insert chapter numbers in a book with no chapters. References in such cases are to the verses only.”

    Standard LDS practice has generally been to give a chapter 1 designation in from of the verse number on single chapter books of scripture. As such, I feel that any volume that targets an LDS audience is better to include it, so as to not generate any confusion.

    • Skousen’s web only review is available free at BYU Studies, https://byustudies.byu.edu/showTitle.aspx?title=9301

      Yes, you are undoubtedly right about LDS practice, Neal. And perhaps this review is not the place to impose my personal preferences. However, I take my cue from standard non-LDS practice in citing the KJV (and from the 1611 KJV itself), and also from John Dinger’s habit of placing “CHAPTER I” at the head of books which did not have such headings in PMs (Words of Mormon, IV Nephi have them added later by PMs-cor), and failing to provide a note to that effect. Of course such false chapters were added to the 1830 edition, but were dropped by Elder Talmage in 1920 (as currently). I was taught the correct mode of citation (by analogy from proper outlining) long ago during my year of freshman English at BYU, later reinforced by biblical study at other universities.

  2. “Royal Skousen’s dictum that such texts should never be keyed in by hand is proven yet again.”

    I have heard Brother Skousen say that before, but is there an alternative for the lay scholar? I looked recently for electronic copies of the Book of Mormon, and all I found were 1830 editions of dubious quality. Electronic copies of the Earliest Text and 2013 editions would be very useful.

    • Prof. Skousen is preparing a complete electronic collation of all editions. Hopefully, all editions will then be searchable and subject to analysis by WordCruncher. Until that time, we must be patient.

  3. Great review; Skousen’s review was, if anything, even more damning.

    I’m mostly baffled why Signature chose to publish a Book of Mormon critical text at all, much less one that appears to be as full of errors and poorly laid-out as indicated by both Smith and Skousen. Most of the reasons that come to mind do not reflect well on Signature, so I will leave them unexpressed.

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

All comments are moderated to ensure respectful discourse. It is assumed that it is possible to disagree agreeably and intelligently and comments that intend to increase overall understanding are particularly encouraged.