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Textual Criticism of the Book of Mormon

Chapter 20
Textual Criticism of the Book of Mormon

2 Nephi 27:14 “The Lord God will
to bring forth the words of the book.”

Textual criticism seeks to render intelligent,
scholarly judgment as to the most accurate and original form of a given text.
It is an essential first step in the study of any text, including the Book
of Mormon. The word “criticism” in this sense is taken from the
Greek word krisis, meaning “judgment,” for a critic is one who makes
careful, informed decisions or judgments.

A number of interesting things have been
learned from the textual criticism of the Bible and Book of Mormon over the
years, and, with the publication by F.A.R.M.S. of the Book of Mormon Critical
it seems a good time to provide some examples:

Although the Book of Mormon generally
agrees with the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible both in its acceptable
scriptural idiom of translation and in its direct quotations from Isaiah,
Joseph Smith’s translation of the Isaiah texts in the Book of Mormon sometimes
differs. At 2 Nephi 20:29, for example, Joseph dictated Ramath instead of
the usual “Ramah” of the parallel King James Isaiah 10:29. Indeed,
there is no “t” in the Hebrew text, the Greek Septuagint, or even
in the Syropalestinian Aramaic version. The “t” appears, however,
in the later Jewish Aramaic translation known as Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, as
well as in the Christian Syriac Peshitta version. The words there are Ramata
and Rameta, respectively (as is also evident in the Old Syriac Rametha for
New Testament Arimathea in Matthew 27:57). Neither source was available to

Another difference from the KJV came
when Joseph was dictating from Isaiah 48:11 in 1 Nephi 20:11. Among other
things, Joseph added an “it” that does not appear in the Greek or
Hebrew texts. However, the “it” is in one Syriac manuscript, in
one Jewish Aramaic Targum manuscript, and in a scribal correction to the large
Isaiah Scroll from Qumran Cave One (the latter being the earliest Hebrew text
of Isaiah).

King James “Ariel,” a poetic
term for Jerusalem, is not to be found in the 2 Nephi 27:3 quotation of Isaiah
29:7. However, it is also absent from the Jewish Aramaic Targum—which
replaces it with “the City.” The Book of Mormon reads Zion instead.
This fits well, however, since “Mount Zion” appears at the end of
the verse (Isaiah 29:8), and “Zion” and “Mount Zion” parallel
each other here.

As noted long ago by the late Professor
Sidney B. Sperry, the Jewish Targum and Greek Septuagint texts of Isaiah 2:16
confirm the authenticity of the reading “and upon all the ships of the
sea” in 2 Nephi 12:16, even though the line is lacking in the Hebrew
and King James texts.1

At 1 Nephi 7:11, the Original and Printer’s
Manuscripts of the Book of Mormon, as well as the 1830 edition of the Book
of Mormon, all use the word how, which was changed in the 1837 and all subsequent
editions to read what. However, even the King James translators could not
decide, in translating a closely similar phrase in 1 Samuel 12:24, whether
how or what was a more accurate translation of the Hebrew relative particle
‘asher. They thus placed the one in the text and the other in the margin (the
reasons for marginal readings are explained at length in the introduction
to their 1611 edition of the King James Version). Exactly the same variant
readings occur in the texts we have of the Title Page of the Book of Mormon.

There is an interesting confusion between
things and words at 2 Nephi 6:8 and 33:4. While the Printer’s Manuscript reads
things at both locations, all editions (except the 1830 at 2 Nephi 33:4) have
changed this to read words. Either variant is a good reading, and the Hebrew
word debarim is accurately translated either “things” or “words.”

The 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon
has returned for the first time to the reading of the Printer’s Manuscript
father (singular) at Jacob 3:5, which of course refers directly to Lehi in
the preceding Jacob 2:27, 34. The plural form fathers, which had been mistakenly
used in all editions since 1830, suggested that Jacob attributed a restriction
on plural marriage to earlier Israelite fathers, whereas historical evidence
of any such legal restriction before Lehi is lacking.

These, and many other examples, show
the significant and interesting things that textual criticism can teach us
about the words of the Book of Mormon.

Based on research by Robert F. Smith,
September 1984.
The Book of Mormon Critical Text: A Tool for Scholarly Reference,
published by F.A.R.M.S. in three volumes (1984-87), has enjoyed widespread
use. A further project is now being prepared by Royal Skousen, a professor
in the English Department at Brigham Young University. See his article “Towards
a Critical Edition of the Book of Mormon,”
BYU Studies 30 (Winter 1990):
41-69. In the course of his work, Professor Skousen has newly examined, in
minute detail, improved photographs of the Original Manuscript of the Book
of Mormon and the actual pages of the Printer’s Manuscript. In addition, the
major printed editions of the Book of Mormon have been entered into computer
data bases and can be compared and analyzed now with great precision.


1. Sidney B. Sperry, Answers to Book
of Mormon Questions
(Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1967), 92-93.