Friday, September 6, 2013

Some things to look for in the differences between texts

After doing a side-by-side comparison of 21 Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon I noticed a few interesting things about the variations in the texts. There are many very minor variations between the two texts, but there are also some major variations that quite significantly change the meaning. There are some differences that can obviously be attributed scribal error, on the part of Joseph Smith or Oliver Cowdery (or others, such as the printer) that were never found or corrected. Still there are others that point to a difference of translation, and still others that indicate a fundamentally different text from the ones used in translating the Bible. I will try to give examples of each of these interesting differences below.

I was also impressed with how consistent the two texts are, even though there are obvious differences. After going over the two texts from the Book of Mormon and Bible, I could tell that the text found in the Book of Mormon was not a simple, sloppy, or ignorant attempt at plagiarism of Isaiah found in the KJV Bible. The differences and distinctions are too nuanced, and even when they differ the differences are too unintentional that it would take a world class scholar to produce them, or a very inspired man.

In no particular order here are a few of the interesting differences.

Difference in Translation

Differences in the text are marked in RED.
Variations in the text are marked in ROSE.
Mosiah 14:9
Differences in the text are marked in BLUE.
Variations in the text are marked in GREEN.
Isaiah 53:9

9 And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no evil, neither was any deceit in his mouth.

9 And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.

In these verses there is one difference, the word violence is replaced with the word evil. While we may at first assume that this is a difference in the original texts, instead this appears to be a difference in translation. If we compare many different English translations of the same text almost all of them use the word violence, but if we look at a Bible commentary on that passage we find that the same Hebrew word used in that verse is alternately translated as wrong in other verses in the Bible. When Peter quotes the same verse in his first general epistle he uses the word ἀμαρτία which translates, usually, as sin. Also Jesus himself uses a paraphrase of the verse to defend himself as recorded in John 8:46, with the word in question is again translated as sin. So ultimately what we have here is a rather interesting difference in translation. It is a subtle difference but I think that it is still a valid translation of the original concept.

Scribal Error -- The wrong word

2 Nephi 24:19 Isaiah 14:19

19 But thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch, and the remnant of those that are slain, thrust through with a sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcass trodden under feet.

19 But thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch, and as the raiment of those that are slain, thrust through with a sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcase trodden under feet.

I was surprised and intrigued when I found this difference. At first I thought that it could be a difference in translation, much like the previous example, but I looked up other Bible translations and it quickly became apparent that the concept bound up in the original text strongly implied raiment and not remnant. In context, and comparing other similar passages from Isaiah, I am inclined to think that this difference is due to a scribal error. Considering the fact that the two words are very similar when spoken aloud (at least with your standard American accent), and considering the fact that Joseph Smith was dictating the text, it would be very easy for this error to happen. Also because the word remnant makes sense in context this would not be an error that would be easily found and corrected without a review of the original text.

Additional Text -- Slight changes in meaning

2 Nephi 24:2 Isaiah 14:2

2 And the people shall take them and bring them to their place; yea, from far unto the ends of the earth; and they shall return to their lands of promise. And the house of Israel shall possess them, and the land of the Lord shall be for servants and handmaids; and they shall take them captives unto whom they were captives; and they shall rule over their oppressors.

2 And the people shall take them, and bring them to their place: and the house of Israel shall possess them in the land of the Lord for servants and handmaids: and they shall take them captives, whose captives they were; and they shall rule over their oppressors.

In several places there are whole phrases or sentences added that expound on the meaning of the original text. In the verses above there is an additional sentence that adds additional information about what is meant by the verse. There are a few other seemingly minor differences later on in the verse but when they are considered in conjunction with the earlier addition, the subtle changes made to the content is consistent and insightful.

The Missing Words -- Italicized text

2 Nephi 15:28-29 Isaiah 5:28-29

28 Whose arrows shall be sharp, and all their bows bent, and their horses’ hoofs shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind, their roaring like a lion.

28 Whose arrows are sharp, and all their bows bent, their horses’ hoofs shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind:

29 They shall roar like young lions; yea, they shall roar, and lay hold of the prey, and shall carry away safe, and none shall deliver.

29 Their roaring shall be like a lion, they shall roar like young lions: yea, they shall roar, and lay hold of the prey, and shall carry it away safe, and none shall deliver it.

After doing a few chapters I decided that I needed to keep track of the italicized text in the Bible. For those who don't know, in the KJV of the Bible there are many words that are in italics. These are words that do not appear in the original Greek or Hebrew, but must be added to make it grammatically correct in English. For any one who has learned a foreign language this is something obvious about translation. Sometimes certain words (pronouns, participles, adverbs etc.) are not needed in another language, but are needed in English. After a while I noticed that a number, but not all, of the italicized words in the KJV were either missing or different in the Book of Mormon. This would indicate a slightly more literal translation was used for the Book of Mormon. That was a particularly remarkable realization and changed the way I viewed the basic text of the Book of Mormon.

Also there were a few cases where a phrase that appeared in a previous verse was moved to the next verse in the corresponding chapter and verses. The two above verses are an example of that.

Joseph Smith's Commentary

1 Nephi 20:1 Isaiah 48:1

1 Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism, who swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, yet they swear not in truth nor in righteousness.

1 Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, which swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness.

The very first chapter that I did, the very first verse, turned out to be one of the most interesting in terms of providing insight into not only how the translation process worked, but also Joseph Smith's idea of what it meant to "translate" something. If Joseph Smith had ever had the opportunity to attend a real university, and if he had taken a class on Biblical Hebrew then he surely would have failed the class and would have driven the professor to the point of insanity. Joseph Smith's idea of "translation" was to say or write down whatever he thought it meant, not what it actually said.

Fortunately Joseph's translation of the Book of Mormon was more of a revelatory process and not an academic process, which is what most people think of when they hear the word "translation". Most people think that Joseph sat there and translated, in an academic sense, the etchings on the gold plates, which would have required him to actually learn Reformed Egyptian. But from the many accounts of people who witnessed the translation process, the translation was more of an inspired revelation that utilized the resources of Joseph's mind to formulate the text into English. It was by all measures quite remarkable.

So why this little rant of mine? Because of the phrase "or out of the waters of baptism". That phrase does not appear in original manuscript, nor in the printer's manuscript, nor in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, but it does appear in the 1840 edition of the Book of Mormon. What that phrase appears to be is a "prophetic commentary" by Joseph Smith. It is something that he apparently had no problem adding to the text as he considered it his job to "translate" and to expound scripture, but it is something that would make academics working on a translation tear out their hair and curl up in a ball in the corner of the room and cry for hours on end. It is a major indication that Joseph Smith did not understand translation in the same way that you and I view translation. Upon finding out that he would change the text like that some people would, and do, criticize him for improperly changing the meaning, but as far as we can tell this is the only instance of "prophetic commentary" by Joseph Smith in the Book of Mormon. The rest of the text seems to be as it was on the gold plates.

Conclusion

To be honest I was never wild about Isaiah like some people are in the Church. It never crossed my mind to take the class Writings of Isaiah at BYU. I did, and still do, read Isaiah in my personal scripture study. I think that by far my favorite chapter in all of scripture is 3 Nephi 22, which is also Isaiah 54, so it cannot be said that I dislike Isaiah, it's just that never felt an intense desire to take a class devoted to Isaiah, or to write a book about him. So it may be a little odd that I spent, and will still spend so much time on this project. Still, I think I learned more about Joseph Smith and how he translated the Book of Mormon than I did about Isaiah by doing this. It definitely changed the way I view the actual text found in the Book of Mormon and it gave me a greater appreciation of how real, and in some cases, how literal the text is. I think the translation is a very good one and will stand the test of time.

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