The History of the Book of Mormon Text

Parts 5 and 6 of Volume 3 of the Critical Text



This article is based on a presentation given on January 15, 2020, at the Hinckley Alumni and Visitors Center at Brigham Young University. It was sponsored by BYU Studies, the BYU College of Humanities, the Interpreter Foundation, and Book of Mormon Central.

In this paper, I will provide an overview of the two latest published books in the Book of Mormon critical text project:

Part 5: The King James Quotations in the Book of Mormon
Part 6: Spelling in the Manuscripts and Editions

As the numbers indicate, these two books form a part of a much larger publishing project. The fundamental work in the project is The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, published in 2009 by Yale University Press and now in its fourth printing. Supporting this single volume of the text are the volumes of the critical text project itself, with the completed volumes and parts of volumes marked with a check mark ✓ (partially completed volumes or parts of volumes do not have a check mark):

Published Volumes in the Critical Text Project:

✓ volume 1 (2001)

The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon

The Joseph Smith Papers will publish a revised version of this volume, with myself and Robin Scott Jensen as editors, estimated to be finished in late 2021. It will have photographs with corresponding transcripts for all the extant leaves and fragments of the Book of Mormon (about 28 percent of the text).

✓ volume 2 (2001)

The Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon

The Joseph Smith Papers published a revised version of this volume in 2015, edited by myself and Robin Scott Jensen. It includes a color photograph for each leaf of the printer’s manuscript. Except for a total of three lines at the bottom of the first leaf, the manuscript is fully extant.

✓ volume 4 (2004–2009)

Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, first ­edition, ATV1

This volume is made up of six physical books, published one each year from 2004 through 2009. This volume, as a complete set, is now out of print (although individual numbers are still available). Even so, a searchable PDF version is available online at Book of Mormon Central and also at Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. A second, revised edition of the physical set, ATV2, was published by BYU Studies in 2017 and is available from them.

   volume 3 (in progress)

The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon

Ultimately, there will be 8 parts (that is, books) in this volume. The first six are now complete; the first five have been published; the sixth is in the press.

✓ parts 1–2, Grammatical Variation, GV (2016)

These two books, written in collaboration with Stanford Carmack, provide a complete history of the editing of the Book of Mormon text. The main argument of this work is that the so-called nonstandard English in the original text of the Book of Mormon does not represent Joseph Smith’s upstate New York dialect, but instead it is acceptable language usage dating from the 1500s and 1600s.

✓ parts 3–4, The Nature of the Original Language, NOL (2018)

This work, again written with the collaboration of Stanford Carmack, argues that the Book of Mormon language (its word meanings, phrases, expressions, and sentence structure) represents the archaic Early Modern English spoken from the 1530s up to the 1730s, and definitely not Joseph Smith’s dialectal ­English dating from the 1820s. Moreover, the themes of the Book of Mormon date from the same older time period and represent issues that were prominent among Reformed and Radical Protestants rather than the issues that were prevalent during Joseph Smith’s time.

✓ part 5, The King James Quotations in the Book of Mormon, KJQ (2019)

This part analyzes the numerous biblical quotations in the Book of Mormon, of which all but one come from the archaic 1611 King James translation of the Bible.

✓ part 6, Spelling in the Manuscripts and Editions, SPL (2020)

In this part we investigate just what the misspellings and slips can tell us about the scribal and typesetting processes that the Book of Mormon text has undergone for the nearly 200 years since it was first revealed to Joseph Smith.

   part 7, Transmission of the Text: From the Manuscripts Through the Editions, TXT (estimated to appear in 2021)

Here we follow the substantive changes that have occurred in the transmission of the Book of Mormon text, from Joseph Smith’s dictation of the text, to the scribes taking down that dictation (the original manuscript), then copying that text to produce a second copy (the printer’s manuscript). We then turn to the 1830 typesetter’s setting the type from the printer’s manuscript (and from the original manuscript for one-sixth of the text). And then we follow the transmission through the printed editions, from the 1830 edition up to the 2013 LDS edition. For each edition, we establish the copytext and then analyze the kinds of errors, corrections, and conjectural emendations that each edition has undergone. Also of some importance, we look at the changes in format that the Book of Mormon has undergone, from the manuscripts (and their sentence-long chapters) to the double-column, versified paragraphs now used in the current LDS edition.

   part 8, Textual Criticism of the Book of Mormon, CRT (estimated to appear in 2022)

In this last part, we will consider the principles of textual criti­cism and how they have been followed (or not followed) in the transmission of the Book of Mormon text. There will be a history of previous attempts at doing critical text work on the Book of Mormon as well as, of course, a detailed history of this critical text project (which began in 1988). Finally, we will turn to various issues that have continually beset those attempting to do critical text work on the Book of Mormon, including the question of conjectural emendations and the degree to which they have been allowed in the text.

   volume 5 (in progress)

A Complete Electronic Collation of the Book of Mormon

When all of volume 3 has been published, all 8 parts, I will be releasing the computerized collation, with its WordCruncher searchable electronic comparison of the two manuscripts against 20 significant editions of the Book of Mormon (from 1830 through 1981), showing every difference in the text (not only word differences but also every difference in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, paragraphing, and versification). Ever since the late 1990s, I have been using a preliminary version of this collation in writing all the parts of volumes 3 and 4. It is the indispensable tool for doing research on the Book of Mormon text.

Part 5, The King James Quotations in the Book of Mormon (KJQ)

This paper will concentrate on describing the important findings discussed in parts 5 and 6 of volume 3. In this first half of the paper, I consider part 5, The King James Quotations in the Book of Mormon. The most important question, right from the start, is: What is a King James quotation? One way to look at this question is to ask how many identical words in a row do we need between the two texts before we can say we have a quotation? In trying to identify the quotations, I quickly found that I could not rely on my intuitions to determine what was an actual literal quotation, in distinction to what was a paraphrastic quotation. In other words, intuition was insufficient. Yet whatever I would say in this whole book rested on determining which citations were actual biblical quotations.

Here Stanford Carmack came to the rescue and suggested that we first identify all the precisely identical sequences of words between the two texts, the King James text (on the one hand) and the original text of the Book of Mormon (on the other hand). Carmack, using various WordCruncher techniques, was able to find all the identical n-grams (strings of n identical words) that occurred in the entire King James Bible and the entire Book of Mormon text. This led him to provide me with all the examples of identical word-sequences, from a high of n = 261 down to a low of n = 3. As I examined all of these identical n-grams, I noticed that when n equaled at least 16, the sequence of identical words clearly fell into the class of King James quotations, in agreement with my intuitions; but when n fell below 16, I started to find long nonclausal phrases that seemed more like paraphrases than quotations. So I used n = 16 as a cut-off point between the quotations and the paraphrases, which gave me a total of 36 passages in the Book of Mormon that could definitely be called literal quotations from the King James Bible. These 36 passages are all listed and discussed in section 1 of KJQ.

Here is the beginning of the list of identical word strings with n equal to at least 16, listed in order of the passages with the longest identical n-grams; I also list for each passage the total number of identical n-grams of length 16 or greater contained within that passage:

B of M passage KJB passage longest n-gram total number
n > 15
3 Nephi 24–25 Malachi 3–4 261     6
2 Nephi 12–24 Isaiah 2–14 236 110
3 Nephi 12–14 Matthew 5–7 233   25
3 Nephi 22 Isaiah 54 131    6
Mosiah 14 Isaiah 53 129    6
Mosiah 12 Isaiah 52 112    1
1 Nephi 20–21 Isaiah 48–49 108  31
2 Nephi 6–8 Isaiah 49–52   97  20
Mosiah 13 Exodus 20   87    4
2 Nephi 30 Isaiah 11   77    2
2 Nephi 27 Isaiah 29   65    8


At the end of the list are three quotations where the longest n-gram (marked below in bold) takes the minimum value of 16:

2 Nephi 9:50 ~ Isaiah 55:1

every one that thirsteth / come ye to the waters
and he that hath no money / come NULL ~ ye buy and eat

Alma 42:2 ~ Genesis 3:24

and he placed at the east end ~ NULL of the garden of Eden
cherubims and a flaming sword which turned every way
to keep NULL ~ the way of the tree of life

3 Nephi 20:17 ~ Micah 5:9

thy ~ thine hand shall be lifted up upon thine adversaries
and all thine enemies shall be cut off

For each of these literal quotations, some particular clause remains incomplete. Even so, the incompleteness is due to a minor word difference that does not affect the overall meaning.

On the other side of the dividing line, here are the two longest borderline paraphrastic quotations:

n = 15

3 Nephi 11:25 Matthew 28:19
having authority given me go ye therefore
of Jesus Christ and teach all nations
I baptize you in the name baptizing them in the name
of the Father and of the Son of the Father and of the Son
and of the Holy Ghost and of the Holy Ghost

Here we have a long conjunctive prepositional phrase. Both deal with baptism, but the Book of Mormon passage gives the actual words of the prayer while the King James passage refers to the apostles of Jesus Christ and their calling to baptize.

n = 14

Helaman 10:7 Matthew 18:19
behold I give unto you power verily I say unto you
that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth whatsoever ye shall bind on earth
shall be sealed in heaven shall be bound in heaven
and whatsoever ye shall loose on and whatsoever ye shall loose on
earth shall be loosed in heaven earth shall be loosed in heaven

The second half of this passage is literally quoted for n = 14 words, but the first half is paraphrastically quoted, using the verb seal in the Book of Mormon version but the verb bind in the biblical quotation.

In section 2 of KJQ, I provide an overview of the variety of paraphrastic biblical quotations in the Book of Mormon. In all, I catagorize 83 paraphrastic quotations in that second section, including every case of n-gram identity from n = 15 down to n = 7 as well as a few additional cases with n less than 7. Here, for instance, is a paraphrastic quotation with two instances of three-word identity (namely, “the resurrection of”) surrounded by seven instances of one-word identity (here underlined), all of which occur in the same specific order (they, good, life, and, they, evil, and damnation):

Mosiah 16:11 John 5:29
if they be good they that have done good
to the resurrection unto the resurrection
of endless life and happiness of life
and if they be evil and they that have done evil
to the resurrection unto the resurrection
of endless damnation of damnation


The next question we ask is: Are all the Book of Mormon biblical quotations from the King James Bible? For the vast majority of phrases in the biblical quotations, the closest biblical reading is from the King James Bible and not earlier English translations of the Bible, as can be seen in the following conjoined verb phrase taken from the Beatitudes:

Matthew 5:11 ~ 3 Nephi 12:11

Tyndale 1526 and shall falsely say all manner of evil sayings
Tyndale 1534 and shall falsely say all manner of evil sayings
Coverdale 1535 and falsely say all manner of evil sayings
Matthew 1537 and shall falsely say all manner of evil sayings
Great 1539 and shall falsely say all manner of evil sayings
Geneva 1560 and say all manner of evil
Bishops’ 1568 and lying shall say all manner of evil saying
Rheims 1582 and speak all that naught is
King James 1611 and shall say all manner of evil
Book of Mormon and shall say all manner of evil

Matthew 5:11 ~ 3 Nephi 12:11 (continued)

Tyndale 1526 against you for my sake
Tyndale 1534 against you for my sake
Coverdale 1535 against you for my sake
Matthew 1537 against you for my sake
Great 1539 against you for my sake
Geneva 1560 against you for my sake falsely
Bishops’ 1568 against you for my sake
Rheims 1582 against you untruly for my sake
King James 1611 against you falsely for my sake
Book of Mormon against you falsely for my sake

In this case, the King James reading closely follows the Geneva Bible; the only word difference is the modal verb shall, along with the placement of the word falsely, a question of style.

Yet the King James Bible is derived from earlier English-language Bibles, and this means that for many biblical phrases in the Book of Mormon we cannot uniquely assign the King James Bible as the source for the quotation: For instance, in the following lineup of the translations for a specific conjunctive adverbial phrase in Isaiah 2:15 (quoted in 2 Nephi 12:15), the Book of Mormon phraseology is not only identical to the 1611 King James Bible but also to the 1568 Bishops’ Bible:

Isaiah 2:15 ~ 2 Nephi 12:15

Coverdale 1535 upon all costly towers and upon all strong walls
Matthew 1537 upon all costly towers and upon all strong walls
Great 1539 upon all costly towers and upon all strong walls
Geneva 1560 and upon every high tower and upon every strong wall
Bishops’ 1568 and upon every high tower and upon every fenced wall
Douay 1609–10 and upon every high tower and every fenced wall
King James 1611 and upon every high tower and upon every fenced wall
Book of Mormon and upon every high tower and upon every fenced wall

Here the three editions from the 1530s are identical to each other, but dramatically different from the later English editions. In this case, as in many verses in Isaiah, it is the 1560 Geneva Bible that made the basic revision to the biblical reading, yet in this particular case the Geneva text retained the adjective strong, but this was soon changed to fenced in the 1568 Bishops’ Bible. The result was that in this case the King James reading followed the Bishops’ Bible, but that is not surprising since the Bishops’ Bible was the copytext for the King James Bible.

But returning to our original question: Are there any biblical phrases in the Book of Mormon that derive from biblical sources other than the King James Bible? And the answer is that there is one—but only one—and in this case the Book of Mormon text has two conjoined phrases, one from the Greek Septuagint and the other from the Masoretic Hebrew:

Isaiah 2:16 ~ 2 Nephi 12:16

Coverdale 1535 upon all ships of the sea
Matthew 1537 upon all ships of the sea
Great 1539 upon all ships of the sea
Geneva 1560 and upon all the ships of Tarshish
Bishops’ 1568 and upon all the ships of Tarshish
Douay 1609–10 and upon all the ships of Tarshish
King James 1611 and upon all the ships of Tarshish
Book of Mormon and upon all the ships of the sea and upon all the ships of Tarshish

Basically, the Book of Mormon text combines the Coverdale 1535 reading with the Geneva 1560 reading (or, equivalently, the Greek reading with the Hebrew one), although the Book of Mormon reading adds a couple of function words, and along with the.

The great mystery here, of course, is how Joseph Smith, if he was the author (the English-language translator) of the Book of Mormon, could have known about the Greek reading (or its occurrence in one of the earlier English Bible translations from the 1530s) in order to insert it into his Book of Mormon quotation, otherwise totally based upon the King James Bible.

The next question we undertake to determine is the King James copytext for the biblical quotations in the Book of Mormon. Since we have determined that the King James Bible is the base text for Book of Mormon quotations, we can ask a specific question: Which edition of the King James Bible do these quotations depend upon? Is it the original 1611 first printing, or is it a printing close to 1828, when the Book of Mormon began to be translated, or is it some printing in between? It is easy to establish that the copytext was definitely not the first printing or the second, both in 1611, nor in fact any edition prior to 1660. This is because there are 9 archaic or incorrect word forms and 7 alternative syntactic readings that were in editions prior to 1660, yet there is no sign at all in the Book of Mormon text for these readings:

archaic or incorrect word forms removed by 1660

middest (4 times), haddest (1 time), charets (2 times), stablish (1 time), renowmed (1 time), thorow (2 times), kinreds (1 time), Racha (1 time), and Gebeah (1 time, a typo for Gibeah, but only in the first 1611 printing)

alternative syntactic forms removed by 1660

“sing, O heaven” > “sing, O heavens” (Isaiah 49:13)

“rock Oreb” > “rock of Oreb” (Isaiah 10:26)

“right doeth” > “right hand doeth” (Matthew 6:3)

“thy hooves” > “thy hoofs” (Micah 4:13)

doeth witness” > “doth witness” (Isaiah 3:9)

God hath” > “the Lord hath” (Isaiah 49:13)

“and shall go” > “and ye shall go” (Malachi 4:2)

The only archaic form that could have been in the copytext for the Book of Mormon biblical quotations is astonied, instead of the expected astonished. This form is found in Isaiah 52:14 in the current LDS Bible and in some of the King James editions printed in the early 1800s (2 out of 7 in my sampling); it also occurred in all 12 editions I sampled from 1611 up to the early 1700s. The Book of Mormon reading for Isaiah 52:14, in 3 Nephi 20:44, however, reads astonished. But this means little since the King James copytext could have read astonied, yet either Joseph Smith or Oliver Cowdery, his scribe in this case, could have automatically replaced astonied with the expected astonished. Or the copytext could have actually read astonished, which means that in this case neither Joseph nor Oliver made any change at all. So we have to set aside this example since it does not provide clear evidence for the copytext.

Evidence from variation in the King James italics is less helpful in determining the copytext for the Book of Mormon quotations. There is some relationship, although rather weak, between italics in the King James Bible and missing words in the original text of the Book of Mormon. So if a later King James edition introduced italics into a particular passage and the Book of Mormon quotation is lacking the word or phrase there, we can potentially use the date of that later edition to determine the copytext for the Book of Mormon quotations. It turns out that there is only one example of later italics that could be used in this way. The clause-final verb do in Matthew 6:7 is set in italics beginning in the 1770s; and the corresponding Book of Mormon passage happens to lack the do:

Matthew 6:7 use not vain repetitions as the heathen do
3 Nephi 13:7 use not vain repetitions as the heathen

The italics in two other cases of clause-final verb were added considerably earlier to the King James text:

Isaiah 49:18 and bind them on thee as a bride doeth / doth
1 Nephi 21:18 and bind them even as a bride

The clause-final doeth / doth was set in italics beginning in the 1630s.

Matthew 6:5 thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are
3 Nephi 13:5 thou shalt not be as the hypocrites

The clause-final are was set in italics beginning in the 1660s.

These three examples, taken together, imply that the copytext for the Book of Mormon biblical quotations dates from after the 1760s. But we must remember that this is the only example involving italics that provides any support for dating the copytext, especially a later dating. The 16 examples involving word differences imply that the copytext could date up to a century earlier.

Sometimes researchers have suggested that Oliver Cowdery, the scribe for most of the original manuscript, copied the biblical quotations, at least the longer ones, from an actual King James Bible (but one altered in advance by Joseph Smith). There are extant portions of biblical quotations in the original manuscript in the hand of Oliver Cowdery (all of Isaiah 48–49 in 1 Nephi 20–21, plus fragments of Isaiah 50–51 in 2 Nephi 7–8 and of Isaiah 13–14 in 2 Nephi 23–24). For all three of these extant portions of the original manuscript, there is no sign of any influence from the King James spellings for words. Instead, we get only Oliver Cowdery’s typical misspellings in O, such as the following:

hoast, declair, least [lest], moulton, verry, destroid, lead [led], shaddow, hungar, the [thee], to [too], thurst, weopon, streach, hiden, name sake, abhoreth, cloath, exceptable [acceptable], spaned, removeing

Thus the evidence is very strong that Joseph Smith dictated all three of these Isaiah passages to Oliver Cowdery. Moreover, it should be noted, there are some paraphrastic quotations that switch from one King James phrase to another; it seems very unlikely that Joseph would have had Oliver flipping through a Bible to copy these kinds of quotations (or that Joseph himself would have flipped through a Bible in order to read off the same):

Mosiah 18:21 phrases biblical sources
one faith and one baptism one Lord / one faith / one baptism Ephesians 4:5
their hearts knit together their hearts . . . being knit together Colossians 2:2
together in unity together in unity Psalm 133:1
in love one towards another in love one toward another 1 Thessalonians 3:12

When we consider the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (the JST), we find that this is precisely what Joseph Smith was willing to do, at least sometimes: When Joseph came to parts of Isaiah that were in the Book of Mormon, he had the scribe create the “inspired” version of the biblical text by directly copying at least some of those portions from a copy of the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon. Joseph undoubtedly assumed that his earlier dictation of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon included inspired changes, but he did not take into account the possibility that errors had entered the Isaiah text during the early transmission of the Book of Mormon text. In fact, for Isaiah 50 he did not even mark up his Bible with the Book of Mormon changes, but had the scribe simply copy the equivalent of 2 Nephi 7 from the 1830 edition, along with the following errors (in the following list of eight errors, I first give the original reading in the Book of Mormon, which is the same as the King James reading, then the 1830 reading):

verse 2 wherefore when I came > come
I make the > their rivers a wilderness
and they dieth > die because of thirst
verse 4 he wakeneth > waketh morning by morning
he wakeneth > waketh mine ear
verse 5 the Lord God hath opened > appointed mine ear
verse 6 I gave my back to the smiters > smiter
verse 11 behold all ye that kindle a > kindleth fire

Another important question in dealing with the King James quotations in the Book of Mormon is this: Are there any significant differences in the Book of Mormon version? Here are three:

Isaiah 51:19–20 2 Nephi 8:19–20
these two things are come unto thee . . . these two sons are come unto thee . . .
thy sons have fainted thy sons have fainted save these two

The Book of Mormon text is apparently alluding to Revelation 11:1–12 and its prophecy about two prophets who will use incredible powers to hold back the armies of the nations that will surround the temple mount in Jerusalem prior to the second coming of Christ. Interestingly, this interpretation dates back at least to a footnote that Orson Pratt added to this passage in his editing for the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon (and which was continued by James E. Talmage in his editing for the 1920 LDS edition and then by later editors into more recent LDS editions, dating from 1981 and 2013).

A second example might be initially misinterpreted as a visual error since the Book of Mormon word proud could be a misreading of the Isaiah word found. But the following conjoined clause with its replacement of the italicized pronoun them with the noun phrase the wicked makes it clear that the word proud is fully intended:

Isaiah 13:15 2 Nephi 23:15
every one that is found every one that is proud
shall be thrust through shall be thrust through
and every one that is joined yea and every one that is joined
unto them shall fall to the wicked shall fall

A third example is found in the Sermon on the Mount where the Book of Mormon version omits the phrase “without a cause”:

Matthew 5:22 3 Nephi 12:22
whosoever is angry with his brother whosoever is angry with his brother
without a cause
shall be in danger of the judgment shall be in danger of his judgment

The phrase “without a cause” (the single word eikē in the Greek) is missing from the earliest Greek New Testament manuscripts. Of course, the added phrase “without a cause” makes Jesus’s statement vacuous since we always have a cause for our anger! The whole point of this passage in the Sermon on the Mount is anger and how it can lead to violence, even murder, irrespective of whether it is “righteous anger”.

One very important section in KJQ deals with the possible influence of the King James italics in accounting for the textual differences between the Book of Mormon and the King James versions of the biblical text. When we line up the 36 biblical quotations in the last section of KJQ, we can calculate the following statistics for the differences:

total number of differences 712
Δ differences not related to italics 549
i differences related to italics 163 22.9 percent
total number of italicized cases 425
x italicized cases not changed 262
i italicized cases changed 163 38.4 percent

In other words, less than a fourth of the textual differences can be assigned to the italics; and of all the cases of italics in the King James text, over three-fifths are left unchanged. Obviously, any theory that relies solely upon italics for determining the textual differences will be woefully inadequate.

Nonetheless, there are some cases where italics seem to be playing a role in determining the Book of Mormon biblical quotations. One particular type involves the italicized linking verb be in the King James translation. First of all, there are six cases (with a total of 11 instances) where the italicized be verb is omitted in the original text of the Book of Mormon but supplied by later editing (either by Joseph Smith for the 1837 edition or by James E. Talmage for the 1920 LDS edition):

(1) Isaiah 6:5 woe is me
2 Nephi 16:5 woe me

emended to “woe is unto me”, not “woe is me”, in the 1837 edition

(2) Isaiah 6:5 I am a man of unclean lips
2 Nephi 16:5 I a man of unclean lips
(3) Isaiah 6:8 here am I
2 Nephi 16:8 here I
(4) Isaiah 9:5 every battle of the warrior is with confused noise
2 Nephi 19:5 every battle of the warrior with confused noise
(5) Isaiah 14:27 and his hand is stretched out
2 Nephi 24:17 and his hand stretched out

plus five instances of “but his hand is stretched out still”

(6) Isaiah 54:9 for this is as the waters of Noah unto me
3 Nephi 22:9 for this the waters of Noah unto me

All but the last instance of these edited types are found in 2 Nephi 12–24 (that is, Isaiah 2–14).


On the other hand, there are four cases of deleted linking be verb that have never been emended in the Book of Mormon text (one instance for each case):

(7) Exodus 20:10 but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord
Mosiah 13:18 but the seventh day the sabbath of the Lord
(8) Isaiah 3:14 the spoil of the poor is in your houses
2 Nephi 13:14 and the spoil of the poor in your houses
(9) Isaiah 7:8 and the head of Damascus is Rezin
2 Nephi 17:8 and the head of Damascus Rezin
(10) Isaiah 54:5 for thy Maker is thine husband
3 Nephi 22:5 for thy maker thy husband

This makes a total of 10 cases of the deleted linking verb be, with 15 instances in all.


But the situation is more complex than simply identifying these instances of the deleted be verb. We must look at the other side of the coin: namely, we must consider the fact that the biblical quotations in the Book of Mormon happen to retain 54 instances of italicized is, as in the following sampling:

Isaiah 49:4 (~ 1 Nephi 21:4) surely my judgment is with the Lord
Isaiah 51:13 (~ 2 Nephi 8:13) and where is the fury of the oppressor
Isaiah 6:3 (~ 2 Nephi 16:3) holy holy holy is the Lord of Hosts
Isaiah 13:22 (~ 2 Nephi 23:22) and her time is near to come
Exodus 20:4 (~ Mosiah 13:12) or that is in the earth beneath
Matthew 7:13 (~ 3 Nephi 14:13) for wide is the gate and broad is the way
Isaiah 54:17 (~ 3 Nephi 22:17) and their righteousness is of me
Malachi 3:2 (~ 3 Nephi 24:2) for he is like a refiner’s fire

In fact, the is could be omitted in some of these cases without any particular impairment in understanding, as in the 3 Nephi 14:13 example from Matthew 7:13: “for wide the gate and broad the way”.

One particular place of biblical quotation involves considerable alteration from the King James text, and this is in the Sermon on the Mount. The Book of Mormon version adapts the Sermon so that it is applicable to the Nephites, yet all of the following changes are made without any consideration of italics:

no violent bodily harm: cutting out the eye, cutting off the hand
no reference to publicans, scribes, Pharisees, or Gentiles
no altars or gifts
no Jewish judicial system, although prisons still exist
the Nephite monetary system is used (senine instead of farthing)
for the Nephites, the Mosaic law is a written law (not just an oral law)
the Lord emphasizes that we should give alms
worrying about tomorrow applies only to the twelve disciples

Two striking aspects about the textual changes in the Sermon on the Mount are (1) most of the changes occur in the first chapter (3 Nephi 12 ~ Matthew 5), and (2) relatively few changes involve italics (only 6.6 percent). Here are the relevant statistics:

Δ i x
3 Nephi 12 Matthew 5 92 2 10
3 Nephi 13 Matthew 6 16 5 4
3 Nephi 14–15:1a Matthew 7 6 1 5
TOTALS 114 8 19

As before, Δ stands for differences not related to italics, i for differences related to italics, and x to italicized cases not changed.

Finally, we should mention one important difference between the large plates of Nephi and the small plates in the use of italics. In the large plates, from the books of Mosiah through Moroni, only 9.0 percent of the changes in the biblical quotations involve italics, while in the small plates, in the books of 1 and 2 Nephi, a much larger percentage of the changes, 30.6 percent, involve italics. In other words, changes involving italics are over three times more frequent in the small plates than elsewhere in the text.

We now turn to the anachronistic elements in the King James quotations in the Book of Mormon. These translation elements have serious consequences for any translation theory of the Book of Mormon. Here we identify three types of anachronistic elements: (1) cultural translations, (2) translation errors, and (3) later textual readings.

In the King James Bible, cultural translations refer to intentional re-interpretations of the original biblical language so that the resulting English-language reading will be understood by speakers of Early Modern English living in England in the 1500s and 1600s. There are 12 of these listed in KJQ, including these two:

candle and candlestick in 3 Nephi 12:15 (~ Matthew 5:15)

do men light a candle and put it under a bushel
nay but on a candlestick

Here in the Greek original, the word for candle means ‘lamp’ and the word for candlestick means ‘lampstand’ (and these lamps are not modern lamps either).

dry-shod, meaning ‘with dry shoes’, in 2 Nephi 21:15 (~ Isaiah 11:15)

he shall shake his hand over the river
and shall smite it in the seven streams
and make men go over dry-shod

Here the Hebrew original as well as the Greek and the Latin translations simply use the phrase “in sandals”, without any reference to getting one’s sandals wet. If the river water had been running, the Israelites would have crossed by taking off their sandals. But in England, when crossing rivers, people would have kept their shoes on, no matter whether water was running or not. It would have made no sense to Englishmen to have translated this passage as “and make men go over with their shoes on”.

Even more serious is the problem of translation errors in the King James Bible. There are 19 examples listed in KJQ, of which 18 occur in the very difficult Isaiah passages. Here are two of them:

rent, referring to a torn part or to a tear, in 2 Nephi 13:24 (~ Isaiah 3:24)

and instead of a girdle, a rent
and instead of well-set hair, baldness

In the Hebrew, there are two different verbs, but with different vocalizations, that take the same consonants n-q-p. One of the verbs means ‘to tear’, the other ‘to go around, surround’. The noun here in Isaiah 3:24 could mean either ‘a tear’ or ‘a rope or cord’. Modern translators interpret this line as taking the second meaning: “and instead of a belt, a rope” (thus the English Standard Version, 2011).

satyr, a Greek word referring to a woodland god, in 2 Nephi 23:21 (~ Isaiah 13:21)

and owls shall dwell there
and satyrs shall dance there

The Hebrew word here in the singular is śāʕīr (with a glottal stop as the second consonant rather than a t); in the Hebrew this word refers to hairy demons or monsters that inhabit the deserts. This word was incorrectly translated by the 1560 Geneva Bible translators into the phonetically similar Greek word satyr, which refers to a woodland god that is half-human and half-beast.

Finally, the King James Bible, following the Textus Receptus (the received Greek text originating with Erasmus’s 1516 Greek New Testament), adopts several readings that are lacking in the earliest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, such as these two examples:

3 Nephi 13:4 (~ Matthew 6:4, Textus Receptus)

and thy Father which seeth in secret
himself shall reward thee openly

The phrase representing openly is lacking in the earliest Greek manuscripts.

3 Nephi 13:12–14 (~ Matthew 6:13–14, Textus Receptus)

and lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil
for thine is the kingdom
and the power and the glory forever

The traditional doxology to the Lord’s prayer is lacking in the earliest Greek manuscripts.

The last half of part 5, from pages 227 through 431, is assigned to various kinds of source material. We first have 45 pages dedicated to the King James vocabulary in the Book of Mormon. This not only includes all the words in the Book of Mormon that occur solely in biblical quotations (both literal and paraphrastic), but also more general words that take on specialized King James meanings in the quotations. Both the first and the last words in the vocabulary list are like this. The first verb listed, abide, typically means ‘to dwell’ or ‘to live by (the law)’ in the Book of Mormon text proper, but there is one biblical quotation where it takes on the archaic King James meaning ‘to endure’: “but who may abide the day of his coming?” (3 Nephi 24:2 ~ Malachi 3:2). And the last verb listed, write, takes the archaic meaning ‘to write down’ or ‘to record’ in two biblical quotations: “every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem” (2 Nephi 14:3 ~ Isaiah 4:3); and “the rest of the trees of his forest shall be few, that a child may write them” (2 Nephi 20:19 ~ Isaiah 10:19). Of course, most of the words listed in the King James vocabulary are ones that appear only in the biblical quotations, some of which are now totally obsolete for virtually all speakers of the language (examples like besom, carbuncle, cockatrice, ephah, homer, plowshare, rearward, roe, silverling, stomacher, tabret, and teil). This section is followed by one that lists all the King James names that occur in the biblical quotations (both literal and phrasal), beginning with king Ahaz (mentioned 5 times in the Book of Mormon text) and ending with Zechariah (the son of Jeberechiah). Some names of special linguistic interest in the Book of Mormon text include Gilgal, Lucifer, Manasseh, Midian, Palestina, Ramah, and Tarshish.

The final section of part 5, informally referred to as the collation, lines up the 36 biblical quotations in the Book of Mormon against their corresponding King James passages. This section takes up 143 pages. Just prior to this long section, there is a short description of the three types of textual distinctions that are identified in the comparison:

Δ the textual difference does not involve italics
i King James italicized words are changed in the Book of Mormon
x King James italicized words are unchanged in the Book of Mormon

This brief introduction to the collation provides examples from the 36 quotations showing how the symbols are to be applied. Then follows the collation for the 36 quotations, as in this example:

The Book of Mormon The King James Bible
1 Nephi 20:3–4 Isaiah 48:3–4
3 3
Δx I did shew them suddenly I did them suddenly
Δ and they came to pass
4 4
Δ and I did it
because I knew that because I knew that
x thou art obstinate thou art obstinate
i and thy neck was an iron sinew and thy neck is an iron sinew
and thy brow brass and thy brow brass

In concluding the first half of this paper, which deals with part 5 of volume 3, it is worth reviewing the findings of the previous parts 1–4 and noting those ways in which the Book of Mormon text dates more to Early Modern English than to Joseph Smith’s own times:

Grammatical Variation, parts 1 and 2

The nonstandard English is found in Early Modern English, in academic and scholarly texts, from the 1500s and 1600s.

The Nature of the Original Language, parts 3 and 4

The word meanings, phrases, and expressions date from the 1530s through the 1730s.

The syntax dates mostly from the second half of the 1500s and the early 1600s.

To these findings, we now add the scriptural language, which also dates from the 1500s and 1600s:

The King James Quotations in the Book of Mormon, part 5

With only one exception, all the biblical quotations and paraphrases come from the King James Bible. The single exception is a phrase in 2 Nephi 12:16 (~ Isaiah 2:16), “and upon all the ships of the sea”, which is found in Miles Coverdale’s 1535 Bible (“upon all ships of the sea”).

Based on the substantive differences in the various printings of the King James Bible, the copytext for the biblical quotations and paraphrases dates after the 1660s, but not more precisely.

The influence of the King James italics appears to play a role for 15 instances of the linking be verb, but its overall influence is restricted since 54 instances of the linking is are not deleted.

The more paraphrases we include as quotations, the worse the influence of italics on variation in the biblical quotations. This loss of influence is a good reason for accepting as literal quotations only those with strings of 16 or more identical words.

The numerous examples of mistranslation and cultural translation in the King James literal quotations almost always date from the 1500s and 1600s, and it is not likely that they derive from the original language on the plates. This finding argues that the Book of Mormon translation is not always a literal translation, but is sometimes a creative and cultural translation, one that can be dependent upon Early Modern English sources rather than ancient ones.

With respect to the last point, there are also word uses within the Book of Mormon text proper that argue for a later, nonliteral translation of what would have been on the plates. Here are two examples:

a judgment bar

In the Book of Mormon, the noun bar consistently refers to the bar of judgment that we will stand in front of, before the Lord, on the day of judgment. The judgment bar is not a biblical or ancient term, but instead dates from medieval times. The Oxford ­English Dictionary lists this striking example from a sermon by John Wycliffe, dating from around 1375: “Ech man mote nedis stonde at þe barre bifore Crist” (that is, “each man must needs stand at the bar before Christ”). The Bible refers to standing before the judgment seat of a judge or the throne of a king, as does the Book of Mormon itself when referring to secular judgment. But the Book of Mormon goes further and refers to the “bar of God” and to the future day of judgment. However, the question arises concerning how this would have been expressed on the plates. I suppose the authors of the words on the plates could have been told, by inspiration, to write a word equivalent to bar, the word that would be used in the future to refer to the judgment bar of God and to God’s final judgment. But note that the noun bar is never used anachronistically within the Book of Mormon text itself to refer to a secular judgment, but is consistently used to refer to the final day of judgment. So rather than the equivalent for the word bar occurring on the plates, it is more likely that the translator(s) decided to use the word bar (and on two places in the text the more specific pleading bar, which clearly dates from the 1600s) to refer to the final judgment, a scene then that would have been fully understood by Early Modern English readers and today’s readers, but not by ancient readers.

the Bible as a collective singular

In only one passage in the Book of Mormon, in 2 Nephi 29, does the text adopt the word Bible to refer to the scriptures, and there it is consistently used 11 times in the singular:

verse 3 and because my words shall hiss forth,
many of the Gentiles shall say:
A Bible, a Bible, we have got a Bible!
And there cannot be any more Bible!
verse 4 O fools, they shall have a Bible,
and it shall proceed forth from the Jews,
mine ancient covenant people.
And what thank they the Jews for the Bible
which they receive from them?
verse 6 Thou fool that shall say:
A Bible, we have got a Bible,
and we need no more Bible!
Have ye obtained a Bible
save it were by the Jews?
verse 10 Wherefore because that ye have a Bible,
ye need not suppose that it contains all my words;
neither need ye suppose
that I have not caused more to be written.

This passage is referring to how people will react to the Book of Mormon when it is published, and of course the word Bible, used in the singular as a collective, would be the familiar term at that time. But elsewhere in the Book of Mormon, the prophets do not use the word Bible since that is not their term; instead, the scriptures are referred to as the record of the Jews:

1 Nephi 13:23 (the angel speaking to Nephi)

The book which thou beholdest is a record of the Jews,
which contain the covenants of the Lord
which he hath made unto the house of Israel.

Mormon 7:8 (Mormon speaking to modern-day readers)

Therefore repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus
and lay hold upon the gospel of Christ,
which shall be set before you,
not only in this record but also in the record
which shall come unto the Gentiles from the Jews,
which record shall come from the Gentiles unto you.

In the Bible itself, the Jewish and Christian scriptures are rarely referred to as a unit or collective whole, but when they are, the text uses the plural biblia ‘books’, as in 1 Maccabees 12:9: “the holy books of scripture” (the King James translation of ta biblia ta hagia ‘the holy books’). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the early Christian father Origin (living in the first half of the third century CE) also used the plural biblia to refer to the scriptures, but for him the term meant both the Old and the New Testaments together. Yet early on in the Christian era the word biblia was re-interpreted as a singular, especially in its usage in the early Romance languages. The Book of Mormon itself avoids using the word Bible except for when it needs to describe how people will react to its publication in Joseph Smith’s time. Thus it seems unlikely that Nephi would have written the word Bible in his record written in the sixth century BCE. Again, the Book of Mormon supplies the appropriate translation, one that lexically dates the English to medieval times or later. (This nonancient use of the word Bible was first suggested by Todd Giberson, identified as “Central Texan” on <> on January 29, 2020.)

Word examples like bar and Bible argue that the English translation of the Book of Mormon depends on words that first showed up in medieval English. This finding implies that these words did not appear as such on the plates themselves and were therefore introduced into the text during the translation process. But this does not mean that the entire translation of the Book of Mormon is paraphrastic or that it was a fiction created by the Lord. My own personal experience with the text has convinced me that the Book of Mormon is the history of real people and describes real events that occurred in their lives, but at the same time the text also shows the direct influence of the translation process.

It is important to realize that the overall text of the Book of Mormon proper (excluding the quotations from biblical sources) could very well represent a literal translation despite various cases of cultural translation. Examples like the construct genitive in “plates of brass”, “rod of iron”, and “altar of stones”, with its use of the of-genitive in English (never brass plates, iron rod, or stone altar), argue for a Hebrew-like literalness. And there are the literalisms in the original text like the extra and after an interrupted subordinate clause and before the main clause, as originally in Moroni 10:4: “and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart with real intent—having faith in Christ—and he will manifest the truth of it unto you”. And then there are the specific Book of Mormon names, ones that Joseph Smith controlled for and spelled out letter for letter to his scribe (examples like Coriantumr and Zenoch).

We have a similar situation with the King James Bible, which is basically a literal translation of the original Hebrew (and the occasional Aramaic) for the Old Testament and of the original Greek for the New Testament. But there are all these individual exceptions, some of them noted in KJQ, such as the cultural translations of candle in place of lamp and dry-shod instead of the phrase “in sandals”. Another example is the King James phrase “to sit at meat” or “to sit at table”, a cultural, creative translation for the original Greek “to recline (at meal or at table)”, that dates back to William Tyndale’s 1526 translation of the New Testament. Jesus indeed ate the last supper with his disciples, but not as Leonardo da Vinci portrayed it, sitting around a table (or on only one side of a long table). We still believe the last supper occurred, even though the Bible translators from the 1500s and 1600s typically translated the text this way, culturally and creatively, as “sitting at meal”.

Part 6, Spelling in the Manuscripts and Editions (SPL)

For the second half of this paper, we take up a more mundane subject, how the scribes misspelled words in the manuscripts. Here we will consider three issues:

Was orthography still indeterminate in the early 1800s?
How good were the Book of Mormon scribes?
What can spelling tell us about the Book of Mormon text?

The first chapter of part 6, entitled “Misunderstanding Spelling Variation in the Book of Mormon”, deals with an article that has had an inordinate influence on how Latter-day Saints have understood misspellings in the Book of Mormon manuscripts and in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, namely, George Horton’s “Understanding Textual Changes in the Book of Mormon”, published in the LDS Church’s Ensign in December, 1983. Despite Horton’s implicit claim in the title of his article that he will undertake to explain “textual changes”, he virtually ignores the subject and instead devotes most of the article to the largely irrelevant question of spelling variation in the early text of the Book of Mormon. Here I will refer to several provocative statements of Horton’s that are essentially false in every respect and have not been helpful to Latter-day Saints trying to deal with the issue of changes in the text of the Book of Mormon.

(1) Horton: “the spelling in the first edition was Oliver Cowdery’s”

The first page of the printer’s manuscript (P), written down by Oliver Cowdery (OC), when compared against the spellings that show up in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon (set from P by the typesetter, John Gilbert), shows that this statement is completely false:

P (OC) 1830 edition (Gilbert) frequency
cours course 2
haveing having 5
knowledg knowledge 1
procedings proceedings 1
prophits prophets 1
destroid destroyed 1
excedingly exceedingly 1

One wonders how Horton could have gotten this claim of his so wrong. It didn’t come from examining photographs of P (which by the early 1980s were available in microfilm in BYU library’s special collections). Perhaps he was misled by this account from John Gilbert of the printing of the 1830 edition (produced by Gilbert himself in typescript in 1892):

On the second day – Harris and Smith being in the office – I called their attention to a grammatical error, and asked whether I should correct it ? Harris consulted with Smith a short time, and turned to me and said; “The Old Testament is ungrammatical, set it as it is written.”

The phrase at the end, “set it as it is written”, could be mistaken to mean ‘set the text from P, exactly as it is written’. But Gilbert was not referring to the spelling of words, but rather to correcting the nonstandard grammar in the text. He was expected to standardize the spellings as he set the type for the first edition, which he did (as we can see from the misspellings he corrected as he set the very first page of P).

(2) Horton: “Consider, too, that the two distinct words strait and straight would sound exactly the same as Joseph dictated it. But Oliver spelled both words straight every time.”

Actually, Oliver Cowdery used the spelling strait for both these words, with only one exception in extant portions of the original manuscript (O) and none in the virtually extant printer’s manuscript (P):

in O 9 times strait, 1 time straight
in P 23 times strait

On the other hand, John Gilbert used the spelling straight for both words, all 27 times. (Oliver Cowdery wrote only 23 instances of strait in P; the four other instances were in the hand of scribe 2 of P, and they were also spelled strait.) So neither the scribe in P nor the typesetter for the 1830 edition made any distinction between these two words that sounded exactly the same. But this is just the opposite of what Horton claimed. Again, he was apparently following his first claim that the 1830 spellings were Oliver Cowdery’s.

(3) Horton: “American English spelling in 1829 was not yet standardized.”

This represents Horton’s most egregious claim, one that is frequently quoted to me by Latter-day Saints. During the second half of the 1700s, English spelling in both Britain and America became more or less standardized, largely the result of Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language, published in two volumes in 1755 in London. Following its publication, there were various one-volume versions of Johnson’s dictionary, usually with pronunciation added but always without Johnson’s citations from well-known British writers (Johnson’s “authorities”). These abridged versions were consulted by printers whenever they needed to check the spelling of a word. Thus the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon was set in standard spelling, with only a few exceptions.

So where does Horton get his claim that American English spelling had not been standardized when the 1830 edition was set? It obviously didn’t come from looking at an actual 1830 edition or a facsimile of it (which would have been readily available). Instead, it came from Horton’s misreading of page 37 of Noah Webster’s introduction to his 1828 An American Dictionary of the English Language, as we shall see below.

(4) Horton: “As late as 1828, American lexicographer Noah Webster noted that five dictionaries were available to him. Examples from four of those dictionaries show the variations in spellings commonly accepted at the time Oliver was taking dictation from the Prophet.”

Horton then provides the following “variations in spellings” from page 37 of Webster’s introduction to his dictionary:

creatshur cretshure creature creture
scriptshur scriptshur scripture scriptyur
claushure clauzhure clauzhure chauzhur

But these “spellings” for creature, scripture, and closure are actually pronunciations. In fact, the actual spellings for all of these words agree with Webster’s and are all standard. We can see this by consulting these dictionaries. I was able to find three of these dictionaries online, and we get the following spellings and associated pronunciations for each of the dictionaries:

Thomas Sheridan, A General Dictionary of the English Language (London: William Strachan, 1780)
Creature kre-t∫hur
Scripture skrip-t∫hur
Closure klo-zhur
John Walker, A Critical Pronouncing Dictionary and Expositor of the English Language (London: G. Robinson, 1794)
Creature kre-t∫hure
Scripture skrip-t∫hure
Closure klo-zhure
R. S. Jameson, Dictionary of the English Language (London: W. Pickering, 1828)
Creature kre-ture
Scripture skript-yur
Closure klo-zhur

So what misled Horton here? Perhaps it was Webster’s last sentence before he provided the list of pronunciations for five dictionaries (on page 37):

In the orthography, I have given the letters used by each author, in the syllable which contains the difference of pronunciation; in the others, I have followed the common orthography.

In some cases, Webster does give the common orthography for the pronunciation, as he states. But the list is also full of pronunciations, which are not spellings. Apparently, Horton didn’t read the preceding five pages of Webster; otherwise, he would have realized that Webster was complaining about how these five dictionaries had treated the pronunciation for words (Webster’s dictionary was superior, by far, or so he thought).

(5) Horton: “It is not surprising, then, that many words in the Book of Mormon would need to be corrected as American English spelling became more uniform later in the nineteenth century.”

Finally, we have Horton’s conclusion, which is doubly false. First of all, the 1830 edition was already in standard orthography; it is not true that “many words would need to be corrected” in subsequent editions. And second, the standard orthography for American spelling is already basically determined by this time; it will not become “more uniform” as the nineteenth century progresses.


In the next chapter of part 6, entitled “The Manuscripts and Their Scribes”, I turn to the question of good and bad spellers in the manuscripts. We get the following results for the scribes, along with John Gilbert, the typesetter for the 1830 edition. I have also tentatively identified scribes 2 and 3 in O as well as scribe 2 of P; in part 7 of volume 3, I will provide the evidence that supports these identifications. I mark these three scribes as tentative (but to different degrees), indicating each with an arrow:

first-rate speller
John Gilbert (JG), the 1830 typesetter
second-rate spellers
Oliver Cowdery (OC), scribe 1 of O and scribe 1 of P
John Whitmer (JW), scribe 2 of O
Martin Harris (MH), scribe 2 of P
third-rate spellers
Christian Whitmer (CW), scribe 3 of O
Hyrum Smith (HS), scribe 3 of P

(I use the symbols JS to stand for Joseph Smith, who is scribe 4 of O and is responsible for 28 words in Alma 45:22. Only one of his words is misspelled, cities as citties. We do not make any assessment here of Joseph’s scribal abilities simply because we have so little of his handwriting in the manuscripts.)

Here are the scribes’ and the 1830 typesetter’s rates of misspelling, with their average number of spelling errors per thousand words:

scribe source sampling date error rate
John Whitmer (JW) O 1 Nephi, JS’s dictation Jun 1829 27
Christian Whitmer (CW) O 1 Nephi, JS’s dictation Jun 1829 73
Martin Harris (MH) P Mosiah 25–Alma 5 Sept 1829 10
P Alma 6–13 Oct 1829 9
P 3 Nephi 19–4 Nephi Jan 1830 7
P Mormon Jan 1830 12
Hyrum Smith (HS) P Mosiah 28–Alma 5 Sept 1829 66
John Gilbert (JG) 1830 the entire text 1829–1830 0.3

We divide Martin Harris’s scribing into four parts (each one covering around 10,000 words); this allows us to see that his scribal errors remained fairly constant throughout his copywork, around 10 misspellings every thousand words. On the other hand, Oliver Cowdery’s spelling improves over time, as we can see in these eight samplings from his copywork (each sampling covers at least 5,000 words):

scribe source sampling date error rate
Oliver Cowdery (OC) O 1 Nephi, JS’s dictation June 1829 22
P 1 Nephi, copying OC Aug–Sept 1829 18
P 1 Nephi, copying JW Aug–Sept 1829 13
P 1 Nephi, copying CW Aug–Sept 1829 14
P Mosiah 13–15 Sept 1829 10
P Alma 13–20 Oct 1829 12
P 3 Nephi 8–19 Dec 1829 7
P Ether 1–12 Jan 1830 5

This spelling improvement is very likely the result of Oliver Cowdery’s proofing of the 1830 typeset sheets against the manuscript. Every so often, while proofing, Oliver would realize that his nonstandard spelling for a word differed from the typesetter’s standard spelling, and from then on in his copywork for P he would use the correct spelling. Here are some examples of the spellings that Oliver learned to spell during the printing process. For each word, I give the statistics for his spellings in both manuscripts, and in each case his corrected spelling and his original incorrect spelling. Finally, in the last column, I indicate where Oliver in his copywork for P switched to the correct spelling; the words are listed in the order in which Oliver learned to spell them correctly in P:

correct / incorrect OC in O OC in P when learned in P
kept / cept 25 8 65 2 1 Nephi 5
whore / whoar 1 3 27 1 2 Nephi 28
hunger / hungar 1 7 18 3 Mosiah 21
destroyed / destroid 1 32 48 58 Alma 14
possession / posession 36 7 77 1 Alma 22
weapon / weopon 5 29 37 21 Alma 43
possess / posess 10 8 54 6 Alma 52
govern / govorn 14 0 48 11 Helaman 1
exceeding / exced(e)ing 0 87 46 233 3 Nephi 12
presence / presance 2 12 4 44 Ether 2
exceed / excede 0 4 4 7 Ether 15

Note that Oliver learned to spell individual word forms at different times: the noun possession (at Alma 22) before the verb possess (at Alma 52); and the adjective / adverb exceeding (3 Nephi 12) before the verb exceed (Ether 15).

For quite a few words, Martin Harris (scribe 2 of P) knew the correct spelling while Oliver Cowdery did not. Oliver’s spelling would typically vary between the standard spelling and his own particular misspelling, although in some of the following cases Oliver learned the correct spelling during his copywork for P (each of these cases is set in bold); but Martin, throughout his own copywork, consistently used the correct spelling:

correct / incorrect  OC in O   OC in P   MH in P 
apparel / apparrel 0 3 0 6 8 0
concerning / conserning 81 0 298 10 45 0
descendant / de[s|c]endant 0 5 8 23 5 0
desirous / desireous 0 18 2 54 6 0
destruction / distruction 31 2 135 5 22 0
expedient / expediant 6 17 1 53 6 0
harden / hearden 7 10 47 10 23 0
imagine / immagine 0 4 3 2 7 0
journey / journy 4 1 18 6 4 0
kept / cept 25 8 65 2 16 0
ninth / nineth 2 3 14 1 3 0
possess / posess 10 8 54 6 6 0
possession / posession 36 7 77 1 8 0
valley / vally 0 15 1 36 7 0
very / verry 2 18 4 53 18 0
weapon / weopon 5 29 37 21 6 0

There are also cases where both scribes showed variation; it turns out that in none of these cases did Oliver Cowdery ever learn the correct spelling during the printing process:

correct / incorrect  OC in O   OC in P   MH in P 
cities / citties 24 2 63 3 11 1
committed / commited 5 0 10 3 3 1
durst / dearst or derst 0 16 1 33 4 3
prophecy / prophesy [noun] 1 17 32 30 9 7
pursue / persue 0 15 1 41 2 4
rebel / rebell 0 6 0 12 2 2
robbed / robed 0 1 0 4 0 3
separate / separate 2 1 11 3 3 1
truly / truely 13 0 31 5 4 1

In analyzing scribal errors, it is important to differentiate between several types of errors. The most prominent type of scribal error would be a misspelling, which is any spelling of a word that would be pronounced the same as the standard spelling of that word. Thus the spelling boddy counts as a misspelling since it is not the standard spelling, body, but it would be pronounced the same as the standard spelling. Under this definition of misspelling, spelling variants do not count as misspellings. For the Book of Mormon scribes, writing in the early 1800s, this would include spelling variants like centre, enquire, journied, sayeth, saviour, and sea shore. All of these were acceptable spellings in the early 1800s in America (and some are still today).

In distinction to misspellings, we have spelling slips, examples like concening, ome [one], woice, Nindred, and Nepi. For cases of slippage, the scribe accidentally omits, adds, or miswrites a letter in a word (and sometimes more than one letter), so that the resulting spelling is not pronounceable like the standard spelling for the word.

A third type of scribal error is where there is an obvious slip in the substantives, that is, where there is an easily recognizable error in the actual words of the text rather than in the spelling of those words. Here are three instances that Martin Harris (scribe 2 of P) produced when he was copying from O into P:

in my shall they called (Mosiah 26:18)
“in my name shall they be called”

the number Number of the slain (Alma 3:1)
“the number of the slain”

In the first example, there are two omissions of words: the noun name and the auxiliary verb be. In the second example, the word number was written twice. Any scribe, including Martin, would have recognized these errors, if only he had briefly looked over what he had written.

Finally, a slip in the substantives can make a textual difference, one that seems like a perfectly acceptable reading but cannot be recognized unless the scribe (or a proofreader) checks his copytext. In cases like these, without the copytext, we may think that the scribe has done a good job of copying, when in fact the resulting copy may be full of unrecognizable substantive slips, such as these slips that Oliver Cowdery made when he copied from O into P, all in 1 Nephi:

wherefore I cried > did cry unto the Lord (1 Nephi 2:16)
he did provide ways and means > means for us (1 Nephi 17:3)
to be cast with sorrow > null into a watery grave (1 Nephi 18:18)
thou hast heard and seen > seen and heard all this (1 Nephi 20:6)
being nursed > nourished by the Gentiles (1 Nephi 22:8)

For these examples, O is still extant, and thus we can discover the errors that Oliver made. Without O, we would have no idea in any of these cases that the resulting P was incorrect. And that is one reason why all of these errors except the one in 1 Nephi 18:18 involving the loss of the phrase “with sorrow” have persisted in the standard LDS text of the Book of Mormon.

Thus, in order to fully analyze the slips the Book of Mormon scribes made, either in taking down Joseph Smith’s dictation (the original manuscript, O) or in copying the text (the printer’s manuscript, P), we need the copytext. Of course, we do not have any direct record of what Joseph saw in his translation instrument or of what he dictated to the scribes. And in the case of copying from O into P, most of O is not extant (72 percent). These two factors make it difficult to determine all the scribal slips that led to substantive differences in the text, so in this analysis of the scribal slips we will include only the obvious slips in the substantives, errors that the scribe should have caught by simply re-reading what he had just written down. This will allow for a fair comparison in assessing each scribe’s ability to avoid scribal slips because for most of the scribal transmission we do not have the copytext for the scribe. (All these substantive scribal slips, that is, any slips not readily recognizable as errors in the scribe’s copy, will be considered in part 7 of volume 3 of the critical text, From the Manuscripts Through the Editions.)

We therefore calculate the rate of scribal slips by combining the two kinds of obvious slips, ones that the scribe should have caught and corrected from viewing his copy alone: (1) slips in the spelling of words, and (2) slips in the substantives (the words). Equivalently, for a typesetter we can calculate all his typos, either in the spelling of individual words or in obvious errors in typesetting the words of the text. For all the secondary manuscript scribes and, at the end, for the 1830 typesetter, we get the following rates of scribal slips (errors per thousand words):

scribe source  sampling date error rate
John Whitmer (JW) O 1 Nephi, JS’s dictation Jun 1829 9
Christian Whitmer (CW) O 1 Nephi, JS’s dictation Jun 1829 14
Martin Harris (MH) P Mosiah 25–Alma 5 Sept 1829 9
P Alma 6–13 Oct 1829 8
P 3 Nephi 19–4 Nephi Jan 1830 9
P Mormon Jan 1830 11
Hyrum Smith (HS) P Mosiah 28–Alma 5 Sept 1829 29
John Gilbert (JG) 1830 the entire text 1829–1830 0.6

Christian Whitmer and Hyrum Smith not only had high rates of misspelling, but they also had high rates of scribal slippage, especially Hyrum. Both Martin Harris and John Whitmer also had fairly high rates of scribal slips; and Martin’s scribal slippage remained fairly constant over time. Of course, the 1830 typesetter made relatively few typos compared to the slips the scribes made.

When we consider the rate of slips for Oliver Cowdery, the main scribe in both O and P, we discover that he had a consistently low rate of scribal slips:

scribe source  sampling date error rate
Oliver Cowdery (OC) O 1 Nephi, JS’s dictation Jun 1829 3
P 1 Nephi, copying OC Aug–Sept 1829 3
P 1 Nephi, copying JW Aug–Sept 1829 2
P 1 Nephi, copying CW Aug–Sept 1829 2
P Mosiah 13–15 Sept 1829 2
P Alma 13–20 Oct 1829 1
P 3 Nephi 8–19 Dec 1829 2
P Ether 1–12 Jan 1830 2

Of course, we do not expect scribal slippage to improve over time. Thus Martin Harris’s rate was about 10 per thousand words, while Oliver Cowdery averaged a low rate of about 2 per thousand words.

There are three factors, then, that lead us to evaluate Oliver Cowdery as a first-rate scribe, especially in comparison to all the other scribes:

(1) his rate of scribal slips is consistently low
(2) his spelling improves over time
(3) he writes with the clearest and smoothest hand (by far)

I have not mentioned this third factor, clarity of the hand, until now. When I was transcribing the scribes’ words as part of my initial work on the manuscripts (in 1988), I was always relieved when the scribe switched to Oliver Cowdery. All the other scribes were very difficult to transcribe, especially since I needed to make sure of what they had actually intended to write; and as a result, it would usually take about three times longer to transcribe any given line in their hand than if it were in Oliver’s hand. I could always deal with Oliver’s misspellings. It was the scribal slips (along will ill-formed letters) that caused the real difficulties in transcribing the manuscripts, and fortunately that was never a particular problem with Oliver.

The final chapter of part 6 is an extensive 455-page analysis of all the misspellings in the manuscripts as well as the spelling variants in the printed editions of the Book of Mormon. Most of the sections in this chapter are organized according to phonemes (that is, sounds), as in this listing found under the spellings for the phoneme /p/:

Misspellings of /p/
in the manuscripts:
p > pp opperation, opperate; sepparateth; uppon
pp > p hapen, hapened; hapy; suplicate, suplication; disapointment; soposing, suposed
single p with endings claped, shiping, sliped, stoped, striped
in the editions:
variation for p ~ pp worshiped ~ worshipped
worshiping ~ worshipping
worshipers ~ worshippers

Near the end, there are a few sections dealing with the spelling of certain graphemes (that is, letters), such as silent e and the letter x. And to conclude this entire analysis, there is an index of all the words in the analysis, organized according to their standard spellings.

Given all this analysis of the misspellings, one may reasonably ask: “Can there any good thing come out of misspellings?” One purpose of part 6, dedicated entirely to the spellings in the manuscripts and the editions, is to show the numerous ways in which spelling issues have had an important impact in the critical text project of the Book of Mormon. Here are some of the things that spellings errors can tell us:

(1) how Joseph Smith or his scribes pronounced names

Amalickiah was consistently pronounced with stress on the first syllable, not the second, probably by Joseph Smith as he dictated the text.

Melchizedek was pronounced as Melchezidek, with a switch in the second and third vowels. This is the pronunciation generally used by today’s speakers of English, including those in the LDS Church.

Joseph Smith pronounced Mosiah identically to Messiah (with an s rather than a z). Either pronunciation for Mosiah (with either an s or a z) still occurs among speakers in the LDS Church.

(2) various dialectal pronunciations for the scribes

Oliver Cowdery (scribe 1 in O and in P)
grievous grievious with an extra /i/ before the –ous
height heighth plus the nominalizing suffix /θ/
obliged oblidged the /ɪ/ vowel rather than /ai/
wage wedge the /ɛ/ vowel rather than /ei/
Martin Harris (scribe 2 of P)
deaf deef the /i/ vowel rather than /ɛ/
scroll scrawl the /ɔ/ vowel rather than /ou/
Christian Whitmer (scribe 3 of O)
Nazareth nathareth with /ð/ rather than the standard /z/
obliged oblieged the /i/ vowel rather than /ai/
spacious specious the /ɛ/ vowel rather than /ei/
John Whitmer (scribe 2 of O)
spacious specious the /ɛ/ vowel rather than /ei/


(3) a word’s pronunciation sometimes led to a scribal error

The verb scourge was apparently pronounced as “scorge” by both Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery rather than as “scurge”, today’s standard pronunciation. Oliver’s typical misspelling of scourge(d) in P and extant O was scorge(d), in 9 out of 22 cases. Thus the only difference between scorched and scourged would have been voicing: “scorched” versus “scorged”. This is probably why Oliver Cowdery misheard the original scorched in Mosiah 17:13 as scourged:

Mosiah 17:13–14

and it came to pass that they took him and bound him
and scorched [dictated] > scorged [misheard] > scourged
his skin with fagots / yea even unto death
and now when the flames began to scorch him
he cried unto them saying . . .

(4) the written form in O was misread by Oliver Cowdery when he copied it into P, especially when the scribe in O was not Oliver

four examples from other scribes of O:

Christian Whitmer’s pr∫sing > Oliver Cowdery’s feeling, in 1 Nephi 8:31

“and he also saw other multitudes pressing > feeling their way towards that great and spacious building”

John Whitmer’s sword > Oliver Cowdery’s word, in 1 Nephi 12:18

“and a great and a terrible gulf divideth them / yea even
the sword > word of the justice of the Eternal God”

John Whitmer’s where > Oliver Cowdery’s was, in 1 Nephi 13:12

“a man among the Gentiles which were > was separated
from the seed of my brethren by the many waters”

John Whitmer’s prepriator > Oliver Cowdery’s preparator, in 1 Nephi 15:35

“and there is a place prepared / yea even that awful hell
of which I have spoken / and the devil is
the proprietor > preparator of it”

one example where Oliver Cowdery miscopied his own hand in O:

desenters > desendants, in Alma 43:14

“now those dissenters > descendants were as numerous nearly as were the Nephites

five conjectural emendations based on either misspellings in O or misreadings of O:

hapiness in O [conjectured] > holiness in P, in 2 Nephi 2:11

“neither happiness > holiness nor misery / neither good nor bad”

raiment in O [conjectured] > remnant in P, in 2 Nephi 24:19

“and the raiment > remnant of those that are slain”

Isaiah 14:19 reads raiment.

unto in O [conjectured] > untill in P, in Mosiah 17:10

“yea and I will suffer even unto > until death”

cermon in O [conjectured] > cerimony in P, in Mosiah 19:24

“and it came to pass that after they had ended the sermon > ceremony that they returned to the land of Nephi”

Here the archaic sermon means ‘discussion, talk’.

Cut in O [conjectured] > put in P > hewn in the 1830 edition, in Alma 5:35

“and ye shall not be cut > put > hewn down and cast into the fire”

Here Cut, with the capital C, apparently looked like Put.

(5) errors made by the 1830 typesetter, misreading a spelling in either O or P

claped in P > clasped in the 1830 edition, in Alma 19:30

“she clapped > clasped her hands / being filled with joy
speaking many words which were not understood”

head in P > read in the 1830 edition, in Alma 51:15

“he sent a petition with the voice of the people unto the
governor of the land desiring that he should heed > read it”

desenting in P > deserting in the 1830 edition, in Helaman 4:12

“raising up in great contentions and dissenting > deserting away into the land of Nephi among the Lamanites”

Cumorah in O [conjectured] > Camorah in the 1830 edition, in Mormon 6:2

“by a hill which was called Cumorah > Camorah

Here the 1830 edition was set from O, not P. The scribe in P was Martin Harris and his Cumorah reads clearly with a u, but very likely the u in Oliver Cowdery’s Cumorah in O looked like an a (which was typical of Oliver’s hand).

(6) a name was misinterpreted because of priming from preceding words or names in the text

Rezin in O [conjectured] > Razin in P, in 2 Nephi 18:6

“and rejoice in Rezin > Razin” (razor in 2 Nephi 17:20)

Ramah in O [conjectured] > Ramath in P, in 2 Nephi 20:29

Ramah > Ramath is afraid” (Hamath in verse 9 and Aiath in verse 28)

shilum in P > shiblum in the 1830 edition, in Alma 11:16

“a shiblon is half of a senum / therefore a shiblon for a half a measure of barley / and a shilum > shiblum is a half of a shiblon

Muloch /mjulək/ in dictation > Mulek written in O [conjectured], three times in Helaman 6 and 8 (influenced by 13 preceding references to the city of Mulek in Alma 51–53 and Helaman 5)

(7) difficulty in interpreting the correct wording (especially for homophones)

straight or strait (several places in the text)

“and I also beheld a straight ~ strait and narrow path” (1 Nephi 8:20)

“Sun of righteousness” or “Son of righteousness” (several places in the text)

“but the Sun ~ Son of righteousness shall appear unto them” (2 Nephi 26:9)

travails or travels (several places in the text)

“do they remember the travails ~ travels . . . of the Jews?” (2 Nephi 29:4)

up on or upon (several places in the text)

“and they carried him up on ~ upon the top of the hill Manti” (Alma 1:15)

striped or stripped (one place in the text)

“to pay . . . or be striped ~ stripped or be cast out” (Alma 11:2)

rights or rites (several places in the text)

“they were fighting . . . for their rights ~ rites of worship” (Alma 43:45)

whither or whether (several places in the text)

“and the remainder of them being much confused knew not whither ~ whether to go or to strike” (Alma 52:36)

bare or bear (several places in the text)

“and the multitude bare ~ bear record of it” (3 Nephi 17:21)

past or passed (several places in the text)

“the day of grace was past ~ passed with them” (Mormon 2:15)

holy or wholly (one place in the text)

“that he become holy ~ wholly without spot” (Moroni 10:33)

(8) archaic spellings can make understanding difficult

The weapon scimitar is consistently spelled cimeter in the 1830 edition (compare this with Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary spelling cimiter). Databases show that both cimeter and scimitar occurred with equal probability in the early 1800s, but by 1900 cimeter had become obsolete; yet it is still in the standard text of the Book of Mormon. Most readers will wonder what this cimeter is.

(9) detecting forgeries, especially in the University of Chicago acquisition (Alma 3–5), dating from the early 1980s and intending to be in Oliver Cowdery’s hand

This forgery (covering four pages of the original manuscript, supposedly) has unique spellings, ones that the scribes never used: forheads, thruout, Morman, and gilt [guilt].

This document also has the spelling reccord for record, yet that spelling was never used by Oliver Cowdery; in P and in extant O, he used reckord 12 times and record 181 times. However, Alma 3–5 in the printer’s manuscript is in the hand of Martin Harris and Hyrum Smith; and there Martin wrote the misspelling reccord once and Hyrum twice.

These four pages have three instances of and actually written out as and. Yet Oliver Cowdery never wrote and in this way in either manuscript: for thousands of occurrences he wrote and as an ampersand, &; and for hundreds of occurrences, at the beginning of a sentence or a chapter, he wrote And. Only two times did Oliver write and, but in both those cases the initial a was simply an enlarged a, written that way to overwrite an earlier miswriting of Oliver’s. On the other hand, Martin Harris and Hyrum Smith both used & and and in their copywork. It looks like the copytext for this forgery was the printer’s manuscript!

In part 6, I discuss at some length two of these inappropriate spellings: thruout and reccord; all of these unexpected spellings will be discussed in part 8 of volume 3 when I analyze all of the known forged fragments of the original manuscript.

(10) the spelling out of Book of Mormon names in O

There is striking evidence in the original manuscript for Oliver Cowdery initially writing a name phonetically, then immediately revising that spelling, apparently the result of Joseph Smith spelling out that name for him. Three examples are thoroughly discussed in part 6:

Zenock > Zenoch (Alma 33:15)
Ameleckiah > Amalickiah (Alma 46:5)
Coriantummer > Coriantumr (Helaman 1:15)

Known biblical names are never spelled out, but there is one potential biblical name that is corrected, Gilgal. In Ether 13:27 of O, Oliver Cowdery initially wrote “in the valley of Gilgall”, which he later corrected (with distinctly heavier ink flow) from Gilgall to Gilgal. It is unlikely that Oliver recognized Gilgal as biblical, thus it was spelled out to him. Although biblical names were not typically spelled out, if necessary they could have been.

(11) the spelling out of common words of English

In part 6, I also discuss the issue of whether Joseph Smith ever spelled out actual English words (as Emma Smith claimed in one of her accounts of the translation process). There seems to be one extant example in O where this might have occurred, in 1 Nephi 5:14 where Christian Whitmer misspelled his first instance of genealogy as jenealeja, but then spelled his subsequent instances of the word correctly. This difference suggests that Joseph might have correctly spelled out this word to Christian when he had to write it a second time. But this is the only example we have in extant portions of O where this kind of spelling out of difficult English words might have occurred.

(12) names that Oliver Cowdery, for no apparent reason, changed the spelling of when he copied the text from O into P

Am(e)licites > Amalekites
Gaddianton > Gadianton
Kishcumen > Kishkumen
Morionton > Morianton
Pa(r)horon > Pahoran

Oliver did not make the change from Amlicites to Amalekites in Alma 2–3, but only for the phonetically closer Amelicites in Alma 21–43.

The more substantive changes in the spelling of words and names will be thoroughly discussed in part 7 of volume 3, The Transmission of the Text: From the Manuscripts Through the Editions, as well as in part 8, Textual Criticism of the Book of Mormon. And so on to these next two parts and to the end.

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About the author(s)

Royal Skousen, professor of linguistics at Brigham Young University, has been editor of the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project since 1988. In 2009, he published with Yale University Press the culmination of his critical text work, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text. He is also known for his work on exemplar-based theories of language and quantum computing of analogical modeling.