Recovering the Original Text of the Book of Mormon: An Interim Review
M. Gerald Bradford
In 2001 Royal Skousen published carefully prepared typographical facsimiles of the original and printer's manuscripts of the Book of Mormon1 and thereby launched a long-term study of the text.2 Other scholars, doing comparable work with original manuscripts of other Latter-day Saints scripture, in particular the Book of Moses and the Book of Abraham, are following in Skousen's footsteps.3
By studying the Book of Mormon manuscripts and 20 significant editions of the text from 1830 to 1981, Skousen is seeking to determine, as accurately as possible, the English-language translation of this scripture as Joseph originally received it.
Following Skousen's initial publications on the manuscripts are his analytical studies that will eventually treat all significant textual variants in the publishing history of the Book of Mormon. The first of these, published by FARMS in 2004, is Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, Part 1: Title Page, Witness Statements, 1 Nephi 1 – 2 Nephi 10. The Journal invited five scholars to review this volume. Each one brings a distinctive point of view when assessing the quality and character of Skousen's investigations. On one level, these reviews celebrate the essential bedrock nature of Skousen's work. On another, they signal that serious students of the Book of Mormon cannot afford to overlook his findings, especially when undertaking any kind of study based on the text itself.4
1. About 28 percent of the original manuscript (dictated by Joseph Smith) is extant. The printer's manuscript (copied by Oliver Cowdery and two other scribes) is nearly fully extant (missing are about three lines of text at 1 Nephi 1:7–8, 20).
2. Royal Skousen, ed., The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical Facsimile of the Extant Text (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2001); The Printer's Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical Facsimile of the Entire Text in Two Parts (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2001).
3. Recent studies of the Book of Moses began with work on the Joseph Smith Translation. See Joseph Smith's New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts, edited by Scott H. Faulring, Kent P. Jackson, and Robert J. Matthews and published by BYU's Religious Studies Center in 2004. Jackson subsequently prepared a critical edition of the Book of Moses entitled The Book of Moses and the Joseph Smith Translation Manuscripts, published by BYU's Religious Studies Center in 2005. A comparable study of the Book of Abraham is under way, known as A Textual Study of the Book of Abraham: Manuscripts and Editions, edited by Brian M. Hauglid. It will result in a comprehensive study of the four sets of Abraham manuscripts, a detailed historical comparison of the extant Book of Abraham text with all available manuscripts and editions, an analysis of significant variants in the text over time, and an analysis of the Egyptian characters in the Book of Abraham. The work will be published in the FARMS series Studies in the Book of Abraham.
4. One can already see the impact of Skousen's efforts in J. Christopher Conkling's recent article "Alma's Enemies: The Case of the Lamanites, Amlicites, and Mysterious Amalekites," JBMS 14/1 (2005): 108–17.