Special Event

Lecture on a new publication, The Nature of the Original Language of the Book of Mormon

Lecture on a new publication, The Nature of the Original Language of the Book of Mormon

We are pleased to announce the publication of another two volumes of the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project by Royal Skousen, with the assistance of Stanford Carmack. They will present a lecture on the publication on Tuesday, September 25, 2018, 7 p.m., at the Hinckley Center Assembly Hall, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. Parking is available in the large lot east of the Hinckley Center (Lot 16) after 6 pm.

The lecture is free and open to the public. The lecture will be videotaped and made available in the weeks following the event. The event is sponsored by BYU Studies and The Interpreter Foundation. Contact BYU Studies (801-422-6691, or email byustudies@byu.edu). The new volumes will be available for sale from BYU Studies in September.

The Nature of the Original Language (NOL) continues the analysis of the Book of Mormon text that was begun in Grammatical Variation (GV), published in 2016. In that first work, Royal Skousen (with the collaboration of Stanford Carmack), discussed all the editing that the Book of Mormon has undergone, in its manuscript transmission and in the printed editions from 1830 up to the current edition. Critics of the text have viewed the nonstandard grammar of the original text ("they was yet wroth" and "in them days") as an indication of Joseph Smith's dialect, but Skousen and Carmack argue in GV that the so–called bad grammar of the original text was actually Early Modern English and represents language that appeared in published texts from the 1500s and 1600s. Now in NOL, Skousen (again with the assistance of Carmack) argues that virtually all of the language of the Book of Mormon is found in Early Modern English. Not only is the vocabulary, phrases, and expressions of the text from Early Modern English, but a good many of them ceased to exist in English prior to 1700 (examples like but if 'unless', do away 'to dismiss', and idleness 'meaningless words'). In all, Skousen identifies about 80 word uses, phrases, and expressions that disappeared from English one to three centuries before Joseph Smith's time.

Going further, Carmack discusses the syntax of the Book of Mormon and investigates the plural –th ending ("Nephi's brethren rebelleth"), the periphrastic past–tense did ("they did quake"), and complex finite clausal complements ("he can cause the earth that it shall pass away"). The Book of Mormon's extensive (and particular) use of this syntax is not found in the King James Bible, nor in Joseph Smith's writings or in the pseudobiblical writings common to his time. But it was prevalent in the English of the second half of the 1500s.

Finally, Skousen argues that the themes of the Book of Mormon — religious, social, and political — do not derive from Joseph Smith's time, but instead are the prominent issues of the Protestant Reformation, and they date from the 1500s and 1600s rather than the 1800s — examples like burning people at the stake for heresy, standing before the bar of justice, secret combinations to overthrow the government, the rejection of child baptism, the sacrament as symbolic memorial and spiritual renewal, public rather than private confession, no required works of penance, and piety in living and worship.