Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Critical Text Project or Webster’s 1828 Dictionary: An Interesting Comparison – Part XI

Continuing with more of our reader’s comments and our responses, and information about Royal Skousen’s Critical Test Project and Webster’s monumental dictionary.
    24. Land. “and I will cut off witchcrafts out of thy land” (3 Nephi 21:16).
    Skousen would replace “land” with “hand.”
However, the verses before make it clear that the Lord is talking about “the horses and chariots,” the “cities of thy land,” and the “strongholds.” In verse 17 he switches to the works of “thy hands” talking about graven images, then comes back to areas of the land in “groves and cities.”
    Since the Lord is talking about the land mostly, and a much larger scale than just one person, land would be the correct word here, not hand.
    Again, Joseph Smith transcribed the correct word and the scribe wrote down the right word.
    25. Many.And it came to pass that when two hundred and ten years had passed away there were many churches in the land; yea, there were many churches which professed to know the Christ, and yet they did deny the more parts of his gospel, insomuch that they did receive all manner of wickedness, and did administer that which was sacred unto him to whom it had been forbidden because of unworthiness” (4 Nephi 1:27).
    Skousen wants to remove the second “many.”
    However, the point of the entire verse is that many churches had sprung up that did not know Christ. The previous verse, “they began to be divided into classes; and they began to build up churches unto themselves to get gain, and began to deny the true church of Christ” To remove the second “many,” is to eliminate the emphasis of the sentence to the large number being discussed and lessens the meaning of the sentence that many churches were coming into the land after the time of Christ’s advent, and they did not know the Christ.
    Again, Joseph Smith used the right word and it was written down correctly.
    Space in this blog does not allow us to go over every single change Skousen is promoting, and no doubt, in some cases he may be correct, such as in “And it shall come to pass that their cry shall go, even according to the simpleness of their words” (2 Nephi 3:20), which Skousen says should read “their cry shall go forth,” which clarifies the statement and makes it easier to read and understand, yet the way it is, since “to go” means to “proceed or advance” (forth merely adds forward) and still renders the passage easily understood; and the change Skousen suggests for 1 Nephi 17:41, which reads “he sent fiery flying serpents” and should be “he sent flying fiery serpents,” yet there is little need to change this since the reader can easily understand the intent; however, another: “To turn away the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people” (2 Nephi 20:10), in which Skousen claims “away” is the wrong word and it should be “aside.” However, Webster in 1828 tells us that “aside” means “On or to one side; out of a perpendicular or straight direction,” while “away” is much used with words signifying moving or going from; as, go away, send away, run away etc.; all signifying departure, or separation to a distance, which is far likely to be the correct word than “aside.”
    There are far more that could be included, but these 25 of the 113 listed, should suggest to all that making such changes would not be in the best interest of the scriptural record, and certainly unnecessary and in most cases, downright inaccurate! We have compiled another 20 of these, but they would take up too much space here to include (if anyone would like a copy of those 20 other examples, email us from the blog and we will send them to you).
The problem is that when people like Skousen start playing around with words written over two thousand years ago, and translated 185 years ago, they need to be careful that they do not let their tendency to think in the present alter the use and meaning of words as they were originally intended in the past. Skousen talks about words that were in use in the 1500s and 1600s and today are archaic; however, while they may be archaic in 2015, that does not mean they were archaic in 1829 when Joseph Smith translated them, using the English of which he was familiar. To go back and try to modernize ancient scriptural writing has resulted in ten to fifteen modern bibles that do not all say the same thing. Do we want the Church to follow the course of the sectarian world in trying to bring ancient writing up to modern, 21st century standards, and in so doing include this or that opinion, which may not be correct? I think not.
    Besides, when we decide to insert a word because it sounds better or has a clearer 21st century meaning, we erase the proofs that show that Joseph Smith was translating in 1829 words that were written between 600 B.C. and 400 A.D. Why on Earth would we want to do that?
    In addition, while Skousen refers liberally to the Oxford dictionary, he does not refer to Webster’s 1828 dictionary of the English language as known and used at the same time in New England where Joseph Smith grew up and translated the Book of Mormon. While the Oxford dictionaries began in 1621 and continue through today, it has significantly different views of England English from that of American English, especially at the time Webster published his dictionary in 1828.
    4) The letter-for-letter spelling of Book of Mormon names.
    This is a common understanding among linguists who have worked on the Book of Mormon and certainly makes sense. Many of the names in the scriptural record are so different as to defy phonetic spelling when spoken.
    As a matter of fact, while both Emma and her brother Reuben Hale acted as scribes, it is of note that Emma in 1856 recalled that Joseph dictated the translation to her word for word, spelled out the proper names, and would correct her scribal errors even though he could not see what she had written. At one point while translating, Joseph was surprised to learn that Jerusalem had walls around it (E. C. Briggs, "Interview with David Whitmer," Saints' Herald 31 [June 21, 1884]:396-97). Emma was also once asked in a later interview if Joseph had read from any books or notes while dictating. She answered, "He had neither," and when pressed, added: "If he had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me" (Saints' Herald 26 [Oct. 1, 1879]:290).
Still later, Emma added that after a meal or a night's rest they would return to the table to work and Joseph would begin, without prompting, where he had previously left off (The Saints' Herald 26 [Oct. 1, 1879]:290). Nor was there any time taken for research, internal cross-checking, or editorial rewriting. Perhaps for those who have never written, that may not sound so much; however, as an author of eighteen books, both fiction and non-fiction, writing anything more than a few pages without references, re-reading, research, or other prompts or checking, would be next to impossible. Thus, Joseph Smith’s accomplishment in transcribing to a scribe who wrote down over 500 pages in two months time with numerous and important interruptions and many critical side-tracking events, is downright miraculous, and without the spirit involved, could never have been accomplished.
   It might also be of note that when Joseph and the three witnesses retired to a woods near the Whitmer home to pray for fulfillment of the revelation. An angel appeared, and they heard a voice from the light above them, saying, “These plates have been revealed by the power of God and they have been translated by the power of God. The translation of them which you have seen is correct, and I command you to bear record of what you now see and hear.” (History of the Church, 1:54–55).
This, and numerous other experiences with the scriptural record of the Book of Mormon has convinced me that when man today starts playing around with trying to correct what they think are errors in the translation, I have grave doubts and misgivings. Short of a revelation to the prophet that such should be done to correct the claimed mistakes, I am in favor of keeping the scriptural record as it is, and other than grammar and spelling, leave the translation as it is. We would be far better off learning to understand the language of Joseph Smith in 1829, and some Hebrew history and language background understandings, to help us better understand Joseph’s work, we have all that we need to understand the scriptural record. Perhaps if we became more righteous, the Lord would reveal the large plates for translation and the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon for our enlightenment, and then we might know far more than we could ever learn through the Critical Text Project, or anything else like it, which I find as much misleading as it may be enlightening.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for, throughout the blog, sharing so much information about how the actual transcribing process occurred. Very interesting.