Hypocrisy, Thy Name Is Biblical Translation

RayAnti-Mormon, apologetics, Bible, book of mormon, christianity, evangelicals, joseph, scripture 63 Comments

This probably will be the shortest post I ever write, but sometimes less is more.  I hope that is the case here.

I have to shake my head in amusement – and sometimes really laugh – when I hear those who complain about the wording of the Book of Mormon (that it’s too much from the KJV of the Bible and the language Joseph and the people of his time spoke), while having no problem whatsoever with Christians using non-KJV, modern translations of the Bible because that version is too hard to understand. It’s totally fine to translate the Bible into words and phrases and a style that teenagers now will understand, but it’s not OK for Jospeh to use words and phrases the readers of his time would understand?  It’s fine for the Bible to go through extensive translations of varying degrees of difficulty for individual understanding, resulting in numerous acceptable versions (including some that without question are “20th and 21st Century versions”), but it’s not OK for Joseph to have translated the Book of Mormon into 19th Century, Christian terminology? 

If people hundreds of years from now could access only the translations of the Bible written in modern English for modern teenagers, they would reject it out-of-hand as being a “product of its time” – exactly as so many people say they reject the Book of Mormon for that reason.

All other translation issues aside, I just find this particular argument amusing, since it really is a comical argument to make from within Christianity.  I have to believe those who use that rationale either don’t understand that modern translations of ancient works generally are written and “translated” in such as way that those who read it in that culture and time can understand it (“Romeo+Juiet” or “Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou”, anyone? – or the multitudinous versions of classics that get modernized as movies) OR that they have a deeper, more foundational reason for rejecting it – like a rejection of the overall prophetic calling of Joseph Smith. 

I believe rejecting the Book of Mormon because of a rejection of Joseph Smith is a teneble position; I belive rejecting Joseph Smith because of a belief that the Book of Mormon linguistically is a “product of its time” is not. 

Irony, thy name is scriptural translation.

Comments 63

  1. Man, I would really like to read a modernized version of the BOM. It would first of all be a lot shorter. I’d kill every “And it came to pass.” Anyone up for the challenge??

  2. I’ve often thought of re-translating the BofM to how I read it in my mind.

    “My name is Nephi, and I was raised by good, kind, and faithful parents. I have learned a lot from my father, and, even though I’ve been through some difficult trials, God has continued to bless me in my life…”

    In my own reading, there are very few “and it came to pass”‘s.

    As to the subject of the post, I agree.

  3. Ray,

    I think that two main groups of people complain about the language of the book of mormon:

    1-Members, investigators. These people just want an easy to read version of the scriptures. I think their complaints are valid.

    2-Anti-mormons. These complaints are only minimally addressed by your post. The complaint that the BOM uses too much KJV language is primarily a complaint that JS fabricated the BOM by copying large sections and themes from the KJV. There is also the complaint that the BOM has too many 1820s ideas and themes and doesn’t anticipate Joseph’s later theological developments. The critics argue that a revealed/translated work should contain more than just the popular ideas at the time of translation. These aren’t exactly laughable concerns, however amusing you may find them to be.

  4. Bill gets it right. The problem isn’t that the BoM is linguistically ‘of its time.’ The problem is that the BoM is thematically ‘of its time.’

  5. There are plenty of other good reasons for using modern translations of the Bible aside from readability. Namely, the KJV is a primitive and politicized translation, influenced by the monarchy which ordered its creation and so old that it lacks the benefit of numerous modern discoveries and techniques.

  6. Ray, it always seems like your calling me on snark. Do you apply the same standard to your own posts?

    Your argument is silly. At the time KVJ was translated, it was translated into the language of the day. The translators didn’t put it into 1200 c.e. vocab and grammar. So why was the BOM set in ye Old English instead of the language of the day? The argument makes perfect sense, no matter how inane you believe it to be.

    And Bill emphasizes the most important point…

  7. I like the translations of translations of translations. (Peter and his BFFs were out walking from town to town doing their apostle thing, you know?) To try to call us out on the language of the Book of Mormon, then go home and decide which of their Bible translations they want to read that night doesn’t make any sense to me.

  8. I have it on good authority that the Book of Mormon also includes English words like “tents,” “children,” and “happiness.”

    Which just goes to show that there’s no way this could have been an ancient American document.

    Because those guys didn’t use English.

  9. Ray started out with a silly (according to #9) argument. #11 and #12 have improved on the absurdity. Is it April fool’s day or something? Did I miss a punch line somewhere?

  10. I wondered how many people would focus not on what I actually wrote but jump immediately to conclusions that the post itself doesn’t refute. I knew it would happen, but I hoped everyone would read the following:

    “All other translation issues aside”

    linguistically is a ‘product of its time'”

    I was VERY clear that this post addresses ONLY one aspect of multiple possible translation issues. I find it fascinating that some people call it silly for not addressing others. Sometimes it really is hard to use a narrowing scope when others want to turn it around and look through the other end.

  11. when I hear those who complain about the wording of the Book of Mormon (that it’s too much from the KJV of the Bible and the language Joseph and the people of his time spoke)…

    Ray, it’s with this statement (and the re-emphasis in comment 15) that I think you’re missing the point when it comes to criticism of the language employed when Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. The criticism is that it is too much like the language used in the KJV and nothing like the language that was being spoken or written in the early 19th century.

    When you say that linguistically the BoM is a “product of it’s time” I’m confused. I’ve read a bit of early 19th century literature (Longfellow, Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville to name a few authors) and I’ve got to tell you, not being a linguist, the BoM reads like nothing else I’ve ever read from this era. So why should I believe that the language Joseph Smith used reflects the common language of his time?

    With the BoM appearing to be so different from the common vernacular of the time, the common questions that get asked by skeptics/critics are as follows:

    Why did Joseph Smith feel the need to make the BoM sound like archaic 16th century English? Why didn’t Joseph Smith use common 19th century language in the Book of Mormon?

    One answer is that he only wrote what was revealed to him, therefore the wording is as God wanted it to be, which is an internally consistent view of the “translation” process of the BoM. Another answer is that the BoM is a product of Joseph’s mind and he felt that it would more likely find acceptance as scripture if is sounded like the language of the bible in common use at that time.

    It seems then that you are putting forth another position, that, all other translation issues aside, the BoM really does use 19th century linguistics. But if this is true, then why does the BoM sound so different from other published literature of the time?

  12. I like the translations of translations of translations. (Peter and his BFFs were out walking from town to town doing their apostle thing, you know?) To try to call us out on the language of the Book of Mormon, then go home and decide which of their Bible translations they want to read that night doesn’t make any sense to me. – J.Ro #11

    I’d love to know what versions of the bible you feel are translations of translations of translations. The commonly used modern translations of the bible are all translated from documents felt to be closest to the original Hebrew and Greek. At worst, they are using the same originals as the KJV. At best they are using documents that modern scholars believe to be a more “original” (i.e. early in origin or closer to the originals).

    That’s what great about modern Bible translations, they are generally more accurate than the KJV (within the known biases of the translators).

    Unfortunately, any “re-translation” of the BoM would be a translation of a translation since the source documents are unavailable. Now the Book of Abraham on the other hand…

  13. Post

    Kari, the religious language of Joseph’s time was the KJV. Is that really a controversial statement?

    If prophets really did excerpt from their own ancient records, and if Joseph “translated” that into the vernacular of his time, he would have used the KJV. Is that really a controversial statement?

    Generally, there are very few complicated, complex, highly sophisticated words in the BofM – another way of saying that the words Joseph used generally were common to his time. Is that really a controversial statement?

    Sure, there are some odd phrasing twists, like “and it came to pass” – and some cases where non-English, unknown words were used, like the monetary system and some ore and animal names – but 99+% of the words and quoted passages were common to the period in which it was published. Is that really a controversial statement?

    The reason this post was so short is that the very narrow point it is making really isn’t controversial – that the Bible is rendered in multiple ways using various forms of common language to make it understandable to its readers all the time, and almost NO Christians say word one negatively about that process. A modern hip-hop version probably wouldn’t cause an uproar if people thought it would convey the message better to some people, but Joseph’s choice of words for the BofM is criticized regularly as sounding too much like the 19th century in which he lived – or relying too much on a particular Biblical style. Good heavens, one of the very reasons it resonated so well with so many at the time is precisely because of that familiar linguistic feel.

    Why is there a problem with that if a fresh Biblical translation is fine? That’s the ONLY point of this post – the double standard that is employed with regard to this very narrow issue.

  14. Last Lemming & Co. –
    Apparently you’re not the first to attempt a modern translation of the BoM, since such activities prompted an entry in the Handbook of Instructions on the subject many years ago:
    The Church discourages rewriting the Book of Mormon into familiar or modern English. Unusual for many policies in the CHI, they even go on to give an explanation of why. While the “risk of introducing doctrinal errors” is understandable, I’m intrigued by the claim that a modern version might “obscure evidence of its ancient origin.” Apparently, King James English is key to proving that it’s old.

  15. Um, everybody here does know that the KJV appeared in 1611 in England, and the BoM was published in 1830, in America, right? The KJV was well over 2 centuries old at the time in question. To me at least, the linguistic differences between the two times and places are very obvious. Would it be possible for somebody to read Macbeth (for example), and say “this sounds like it was written by Edgar Allan Poe”? I don’t think so.

    I think it’s pretty clear that in borrowing, and (less successfully) imitating, language from the KJV, Joseph Smith would have expected the same sort of effect it would have today: an archaic, impressive, and solemn style. It’s easy to see why this might seem appropriate for a book of scripture, but it’s not a linguistic product of its time.

  16. I don’t mean to pile on Ray, and I agree with his main point that the language of the BoM is not a strong basis for criticism, but about this:

    “Kari, the religious language of Joseph’s time was the KJV. Is that really a controversial statement?”

    I would say it’s not controversial, it’s just incorrect. Of course the KJV was frequently quoted. It still is today. But nobody wrote or spoke that way in their own persona. Look at Joseph Smith’s own writing on religious subjects, leaving aside books of scripture. It just doesn’t sound like that. The same could be said for contemporaries. Heber C. Kimball comes to mind: his style is just absolutely impossible for the 20th century, but equally dissimilar to the KJV.

  17. Ray,

    “That’s the ONLY point of this post – the double standard that is employed with regard to this very narrow issue.”

    I don’t see the double standard at all. If the church produced a version of the BOM in modern english and other Christians were critical of this, then you’d have an unfair double standard.

    Since the ONLY point of the post was to discuss a double standard that doesn’t exist, the post is somewhat pointless.

  18. Kari, the religious language of Joseph’s time was the KJV. Is that really a controversial statement?

    Sure it’s a controversial statement Ray, that’s why there is criticism. Certainly, the KJV was the commonly used bible, but once a person read from it in 1827, they discussed the scripture and wrote about it in the common vernacular. Just as we do today. Now if you could produce a religious tract or other religious writings of the 19th century that were written to mimic the KJV style, then I might agree with you. But I am unaware of any other religious writing of the time that did so. So why did Joseph Smith do so?

    I agree with you that the words used in the BoM is that of the common person of the 19th century; as you state, “very few complicated, complex, highly sophisticated words” are in the BoM.

    But the criticism of which I am aware is generally not that of the words (except the silly criticism of the use of the word adieu, and the more significant criticism, imo, of words that have no known modern or ancient meaning), but one of style.

    For some reason Joseph Smith felt the need to stylistically copy the KJV, when no one else at the time was doing so; in translation/rewriting of the bible or creating original religious works/literature.

    For example, Charles Thomson’s English Translation of the Greek Septuagint (1808) and Alexander Campbell’s Living Oracles are both translations of the bible fairly contemporary to Joseph Smith, but neither mimic the style of the KJV. And certainly Campbell’s original writings weren’t styled in an archaic English style.

    So in the end, I think that your basis for claiming hypocrisy is incorrect. The style of language used in the translation of the BoM is not a reflection of religious language used in the 19th century.

  19. RE:#21

    Sorry Ray, but I have to agree with Badger on this one. I’ve read religious writing and sermons going back to William Law in the 1700s and other than for quotes, nobody spoke or wrote in the manner of KJV English. Joseph Smith tried in writing the BoM but if you read it aloud as I’ve done twice it becomes clear, to me anyway, he was trying to imitate it but couldn’t quite bring it off. It isn’t just the overuse of the “it came to passes” but the times he seems to get so entangled with the words like with the tame and wild olive tree that that it just doesn’t ring true. When read silently your mind glosses over or fills in the bumps and chuck holes but if you read it out loud it just sounds like a bad imitation of KJV. Sorry.

  20. I personally hate the KJV Bible. I can’t believe nobody has said that yet. I’m not fond of Shakespeare either, because frankly, I just don’t understand what he’s saying, but if it was translated into Modern English, along the lines of West Side Story, I think I would like Shakespeare. There’s lots of better translations out there, and I would like an updated BoM too, especially the Isaiah parts.

  21. Kari, to be fair most of them are translations of translations. There are plenty of lists, though, of Bible translations to be had online. To name a few that go into the third degree (in no particular order and not being a complete list):
    -The Living Bible; a paraphrase of the American Standard Version, based on Masoretic Texts (Hebrew texts of the Jewish Bible, from various older manuscripts) and Westcott/Hort and Tregelles texts (translations in their own right).
    -The English Standard Version; a revision of the Revised Standard Version, which was based on Masoretic Texts and the Novum Testumatum Graece (a Greek translation).
    -The Great Bible; based on Masoretic Texts, Greek NT of Erasmus, the Vulgate (a revision of earlier Latin translations) and the Luther Bible (German, a translation of Textus Receptus, a 15th century Greek version of older records).
    -The Lamsa Bible; from the Peshitta, the Syriac translation of a Hebrew text (which was a version of biblical records in Hebrew, similar to but different from Masoretic texts and the Septuagint).

    Of course we can get all into technical semantics about the difference between a version and a revision and a translation, etc., but I don’t think we can ignore that in all of those processes some things get changed.

  22. When I saw the title of this post, I thought it would go in one way…I was surprised…

    but I think Ray misses something critical (which has been brought up by many): as was noticed even by other writers and readers of his day, the Book of Mormon was not translated in a way that readers of his time would linguistically understand. It was translated in a way that “hearkened” to what would have been (even in the 1800s) an antiquated, but perhaps revered Jacobean English (in the same way we “revere” Shakespeare, and some fantasy or historical “period piece” writers may try to hark back to it, but it’s most definitely antiquated, or how the General Authorities revere Jacobean English now), and it didn’t even do that well. For an opinion that’s slightly out of time with JS, but still pretty close, look up Mark Twain’s comments on the BoM in 1861…

    So, let’s take something that you say, Ray…

    that it’s too much from the KJV of the Bible and the language Joseph and the people of his time spoke)

    Whoa whoa whoa! No one makes this argument! People comment that it is so linguistically dissimilar to the language that the people of his time spoke, and that while it TRIES to be like the KJV (especially through plenty of word-for-word copy/paste jobs in a pre-Microsoft Word ctrl+c society), it is also dissimilar to this (which makes sense, because Joseph Smith wasn’t a native speaker of Jacobean English. So of course he wouldn’t get the nuances down.) In comment 18, you retreat your ambitious statement just a smidge (so now, it’s not the language Joseph and people of his time spoke…it’s just the language Joseph and people of his time spoke in the religious context.) Again, even if this is true, this allowed contemporary critics to indict Joseph, not support him. For example, Twain specifically picks up that the BoM seems to be a “mongrel” of “half modern glibness” and “half ancient simplicity and gravity.” He knows the KJV style enough to chastise Joseph’s “awkward and constrained” use of it.

    Unfortunately, even though he says the hints of BoM modernity read more naturally…he notes that placed next to the KJV-esque, the modernity is “grotesque.”

    Even in 1861, Twain thought that the many “and it came to pass”es and “exceeding”s were not indicative of true KJV-esque writing, but a false (and ungraceful) attempt at it.

    Now, for something different. I have been reading a modernized version of the Book of Mormon…it’s Timothy Wilson’s Plain English Reference to the Book of Mormon. Not a trace of the “and it came to pass”es, And Wilson occasionally has notes whenever a scripture “references” another (it’s not like our extensive footnotes…the book is much more “clean” and novel-like…but it’s still helpful).

  23. I pretty much agree with Kari and Andrew S., that the BoM was neither written in the language of its time nor the religious language of its time. However, I do think that the KJV was a lot more dominant in the 19th century, so there were certainly more people who were comfortable with the BoM’s KJV-esque language back then than there are now.

    As for our day and age, well, let me tell you a story. My late mother had a reading comprehension disorder. She could read very simple things, but she never could have read something written in archaic English like the Book of Mormon—and no, listening to it read from a tape would not have been much better. The missionaries tried to give her a Book of Mormon on one of their visits to me, and she refused to take it. She just shook her head and told them she couldn’t read it. It rubbed her wrong that the church couldn’t adapt to meet her needs. As far as the Bible goes, she was the ideal candidate to be reached by simple, reader’s versions like the NLT.

    I understand that there are unofficial, simple versions of the Book of Mormon put out by other authors, but the missionaries aren’t handing those out and they aren’t being read and used in church and Sunday school classes. Yes, I understand that the source material isn’t available, but you have a prophet of God in Salt Lake City, do you not? What’s stopping him from getting on the batphone to God and producing an inspired revision of the BoM? Besides, do they not make inspired translations of the translation when they need it in French, German, Russian, Spanish, etc.? A Spanish translation or a new English revision, what’s the difference?

    In summary, I don’t believe the Book of Mormon should be criticized because it was written in archaic English (except, perhaps, as part of a case that it’s a bad literary style for its time). I do believe it should be criticized for its failure to adapt to meet the needs of people today. Lack of adaptability is a serious problem for Mormonism IMO.

  24. Jack,

    What’s stopping him from getting on the batphone to God and producing an inspired revision of the BoM?

    Probably because there is little wrong with the Joseph Smith translation.

  25. Dan,

    1-You completely ignore the valid reason for a re-write brought up in #30.
    2-Brigham Young seemed to think that the BOM warrants significant changes: “if the Book of Mormon were now to be re-written, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation.” (Journal of Discourses 9:311)”

  26. Bill,

    You missed my first two comments, apparently. I have absolutely nothing against retranslating the Book of Mormon. Nothing at all. I’d love to see it, since language has significantly changed in the last 200 years. However, for a true translation to be done appropriately, we would need the original source material to ensure the translation was correct. This is the problem the KJV has. It was translated from the Vulgate, and not from the original sources. Modern retranslations of the Bible use sources pre-Vulgate, and as such get closer to the original meaning and intent of the true documents. The Book of Mormon comes from golden plates which are not in our possession at the current moment. Surely God would give them to the prophet who asks for them, if the prophet truly asked for them. I don’t doubt that. Because the need for a retranslation is not really that great, it won’t happen. That’s why I say there is little actually wrong with Joseph Smith’s version of the Book of Mormon.

  27. Dan,

    I think that there is some debate about your statement that “the need for a retranslation is not really that great”.

  28. Of course they were used in the original translation. that’s where they originate. There are witnesses. Twelve in total of the plates. You may not believe the witnesses, but that’s not the witnesses’ fault.

  29. besides which, if you don’t believe the Book of Mormon came from the Golden Plates, why the hell would you even care at all about the Book of Mormon translated correctly or not? If it did not come from the plates as Joseph Smith testified, then the Book of Mormon is not worth much at all. What is your beef with the Book of Mormon if it isn’t translated correctly? That’s like me caring about the Bhagavad Gita. Or more within Christianity, like caring how a Jehovah’s Witness interprets the Bible.

  30. Of course they were used in the original translation. that’s where they originate. There are witnesses. Twelve in total of the plates. You may not believe the witnesses, but that’s not the witnesses’ fault.

    Just because there are witness who claim to have seen the plates, doesn’t mean they were used for translation. In fact, Bushman, in Rough Stone Rolling, clearly documents that the plates weren’t used in the traditional way one thinks of translation. They usually sat, covered, on the table next to Joseph while he looked at his seer stone in his hat and dictated the words that appeared to him. If I remember correctly, one of the sources cited by Bushman is the account of Emma’s father who reported that Joseph would translate with the plates still hidden in the woods and not even in the house where he was translating.

    So it would seem to me that the BoM could be “re-revealed” to the current prophet without the plates returning from wherever they are. All President Monson would need is a seer stone and a hat. The church has Joseph’s seer stone in its possession and I’m pretty sure President Monson has a hat he could use.

  31. Dan, your argument basically says we shouldn’t be translating it into other languages either. How can we translate it into French without having a native French speaker checking it against the source material to make sure the translation is correct? The nuances of translating it into an entirely different language would create more dissimilarities than simplifying the English. Are Joseph Smith’s exact words the only possible correct version? Should members from other countries be reading it English if at all possible?

  32. Kari,

    I just went back to reread that portion of Rough Stone Rolling. My impression is that the plates are needed in close proximity for the translation to work right. Joseph never translated, or transcribed, the Book of Mormon without the plates close by.

    Otherwise, why exactly would the Angel Moroni even give Joseph the plates if they really were not needed? To make him be a target of all the people in the area who wanted to steal the plates from him? Just doesn’t make sense. I mean, the plates are real. Too many witnesses to disprove the reality of the plates.

  33. I don’t know why you guys are so bothered by the current translation of the Book of Mormon. Frankly, I am more excited about the possibility of the translation of the REST of the plates. But we can only get those if we are faithful to what we have so far. Judging by some of the comments, I think it will be a while before we get the rest of the translation.

  34. Dan,

    I’m at work currently, but I’ll re-read RSR and see if I can find the source/footnote that deals with Joseph’s FIL’s account. I’ll get back to the thread tonight.

  35. #31 Dan ~ Probably because there is little wrong with the Joseph Smith translation.

    If you don’t mind being unable to meet the needs of people like my late mother, then I agree completely. Nothing wrong with the current translation.

    I guess it’s just my silly evangelical ideal that the God’s word ought to be accessible to everyone.

    #33 However, for a true translation to be done appropriately, we would need the original source material to ensure the translation was correct.

    So did God return the gold plates for the creation of the Spanish, Russian, French, etc. versions of the Book of Mormon? Or were they simply done inappropriately?

    If those translations are considered inspired and authorized sans gold plates, then I really don’t see why there can’t be an inspired English revision without them.

  36. Jack,

    I have absolutely no problem with creating a simplified version of the Book of Mormon in the English language for people like your late mother. I thought the issue of this post was revising the original Book of Mormon to be completely accurate with the English language we use today, which is a different question all together. As the revisers of the NRSV and other new translations are doing, I would not expect revisers of the Book of Mormon to attempt such a revision without the original source material – i.e. the golden plates.

  37. Dan re-read the original post. It has nothing to do with revising the BoM to be accurate with current English. It has to do with criticism of the style of language that was used for the BoM.

    I would not expect revisers of the Book of Mormon to attempt such a revision without the original source material – i.e. the golden plates

    Again, why? If Joseph Smith didn’t need the plates, why would any subsequent translation? The problem lies in calling the process used to create the BoM “translation” when clearly it wasn’t translation in any sense of the word. A more accurate word would be “revelation” or even “divination.”

  38. Kari–“The church has Joseph’s seer stone in its possession and I’m pretty sure President Monson has a hat he could use.”

    Wisdom like this is why I read MM.

  39. Re #3

    In regard to a “modern” English translation of the Book of Mormon. Does anyone remember the 16-volume Illustrated Book of Mormon that came out in the 70s? That was the first Book of Mormon that I read. My mom read it to me first, then I read it many time after that. I enjoyed the pictures quite a bit (particularly Nephi building the boat, but also the Allegory of Zenos/Olive Tree), but it wasn’t until years later that I looked back and realized that it was a far more ambitious project than I realized at the time. It had (as far as I can recall) the *entire* text of the Book of Mormon translated into modern English. The original text covered in each volume was included at the end of each volume for comparison. I have read the actual BofM many dozens of times, but my first testimony of it came as I read the illustrated version. I loved it.

    Whenever people complain that we need a modern English version of the Book of Mormon (something I generally disagree with) I wonder if they ever investigated this version. What were its pros and cons? What was its impact? Why don’t we hear anything about it anymore?

    I personally think that one of the pitfalls of any translation is the interpretation that must inevitably be made of the original text. I think mistakes were made in the interpretations that were made for both the 16-volume illustrated version and the Church’s current scripture “Stories” books. I’m okay with the books themselves, but the less layers of interpretation between the scriptures and me the happier I am.

  40. HQ will never issue a new English version. Many (most?) members believe “the most correct book” description means way more than it was supposed to. We see the critism of Ray’s idea. Imagine the criticism of a new BoM. The risk would never be worth the benefits, especially since most people view the BoM as readable.

    I rarely think about the translation process. For one of the changes in his inspired version of the Bible, Joseph changed sun to Son (or vice-versa–don’t remember). That change always seemed odd to me. Where in the process could that error have been made? I doubt sun/son are similar in the original text. Seems laughable that the u and o were changed in making the English version. In my ignorance I could be totally wrong–it just seemed like an odd (convenient?) change. Joseph did what he did and the BoM is what it is–a source of inspiration and revelation to millions, a farce to many more than that.

  41. Now here is an interesting idea. It is suggested that the BOM is the BOM only in its’ original translation. Another parallel with Islam that regards the Koran as only the Koran in Arabic. But it would be impossible to produce a modern translation of the BOM because a translation comes by studying and transcribing into another language, idiom etc the original document, or reliable early copies. No such orignal exists therefore any “translation” would be a paraphrase.

    The criticism of the BOM language for transposing whole tracts of the KJV is valid enough but the real problem lies in the fact that the so-called KJV language of the BOM is no more than a poor pastiche of the original KJV and in parts is comical in its naivety. BTW the KJV was not “written in the language of the day”. The literary form of the KJV was already slightly archaic when first produced and phrases like “it came to pass”, ubiquitous in the original edition of the 19th century BOM, had already passed out of common usage by the early 17th century. It also uses English Latinate forms aavoured by the translators and so can hardly be called truly contemporary with the time of its publication. The beauty of the KJV is in the choice of archaic langauge forms that lend themselves to its purpose that it is “appointed to be read in churches.” If you want to hear for yourself read it aloud.

  42. I read the NIV Bible along with the KJV. Some of the archaic words do not make sense, and many times, the NIV Bible helps me love and appreciate Christ in ways that I would not have otherwise. Although there are some passages in the KJV version of the Bible that can’t be surpassed for the sheer beauty of the language, other times it contains words and phrases that are unintelligible.

  43. When the Spirit speaks to me, and I try to relate the things the Spirit speaks to me, say, in a talk or a blog comment, I use both language that is natural to me and language that I wouldn’t use in everyday conversation. The point is that it passes through the filter of my mind without my doing much of any self reflection on the process. It seems easy enough to understand that whatever was contained in the material that made up the BoM, it passed through Joseph’s mind and came out colored both by his natural language and the idiosyncratic language that in his naivete sounded like scripture.

    Things like place and people names may have been, in some or all instances, altered unintentionally by him or even been a product of his mind. For instance, we find Joseph affixing “hah” to the end of many names, and doing that same thing many years later in the PoGP. “Antelope” may have come out as “cows”, and “using slingshots” may have come out as “riding chariots.” Nephi’s real name may have been “Bill.”

    It is impossible to say how tainted this makes any holy writ, but all of it has passed through the mind of someone or other in being produced. I’d imagine that at certain points the relative strength of the revelation itself imposes language – but my personal experience leads me to believe that would be the exception. It seems to me that this does mean that we have to use the scriptural language not primarily on its own terms but as a door to pass through to spiritual understanding, approximating all the possible meanings contained in the original revelation. It looks to me that this is one of the realities that prompts Peter to say “Knowing this … that no prophesy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” He is pointing to the source, and the necessity of accessing the source, rather than the flawed end product. ~

  44. By the by, the Spanish version of the BoM has been re-translated, at least once, and the new version is _more_ likely to use uncommon or difficult words than the old one, which was translated with an eye to ease of reading. Although I understand that some of the odder syntax has been simplified. (For instance, the original translation that would have read something like “I, Nefi, he estado nacir de padres buenos” now reads something more like “I, Nefi, naci de padres buenos.”) I have this second hand through my father, who has been talking with the many folks involved with such things over the last several months in conjunction with the production of some Latin exhibits for the Church Museum. So, it may be a little like playing telephone – this is what I understand. ~

  45. In reading the reactions to my comment #18, then re-reading that comment, I realized I had typed one word incorrectly – and that mistake changed my meaning dramatically. For that, I apologize.

    I wrote:

    the religious language of Joseph’s time was the KJV.

    I meant:

    the scriptural language of Joseph’s time was the KJV.

    That is a HUGE difference, and I appreciate the intelligent and thoughtful comments on what I actually wrote (given my oft-repeated belief in parsing, ironically). My apologies for the mistake.

  46. It’s OK, Ray. Just remember that if there’s ever another slip that about 30-40 crazed denizens of the internet will be waiting like hungry turkey vultures to help you see the error of your ways. I mean, what are friends for?

  47. Post
  48. Haven’t read all the comments yet, but needed to respond to this one

    “At the time KVJ was translated, it was translated into the language of the day.”

    Not true, actually. Due to the instructions given the translators, the KJV language was archaic and outdated in several ways when it was published. See In the Beginning- The Story of the King James Bible, and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture.

    “One of the most interesting aspects of the King James Bible is its use of ways of speaking that were already becoming archaic in the standard English of the first decade of the seventeenth century.” The KJV retained “older English ways of speaking in religious contexts, creating the impression that religious language was somehow necessarily archaic.”

    Philip Barlow in Mormons and the Bible points out that for Joseph Smith and others, religious language *was* KJV language. Other translations of ancient texts, even until relatively recently, also often used archaizing English.

  49. And now I see that I should specify *scriptural* language instead of *religious* language lest I be jumped on.
    I one pulled together a bunch of examples of other texts translated using KJV language. I’ll see if I can dig it up and the Barlow reference, since it seems to be in question here.

  50. I am a Catholic who has read a number of books by Mormons (or LDS if you prefer).
    What seems to missing from Mormon appologetics is an understanding of how unlikely the Smith storry appears. They attack each objection one by one but never answer why there are so many unlikely elements. Yes, many of the difficulties can be explained away as “It could be the case” but taken together the whole thing seems ridiculious to us. Could God have authorized this clumsy translation into half old-English & half new with a French word thrown in? Yes. Likely? No. Add in the numerous changes. Add in the use of the trinitarian doxology in the testimonies. Add in that this “most perfect” book leaves out so much that would later be revealed. Add in the poligamy and how Smith lied about it at first. Add in horses & mules. And on and on. It is beyond credulity.
    If a man tells you he is late because his car broke down, then the bus he took broke down, then the taxi he took broke down, each element is possible but together then are unbelievable.
    So, you see it is not that Smith could not have translated the BOM into such an odd style but is it likely?
    That is the question on the table.

  51. For what it’s worth, the Sunstone magazine has been doing anime/manga versions of parts of the Book of Mormon. And yes, there are similar presentations of biblical material as well. I don’t think I want to know which codexes, plates, and cocktail napkins lie behind them. 🙂

  52. #61 – Change “Book of Mormon” to “Bible” and you have the exact same argument – with the exact same strength. That really goes to the heart of the post, actually.

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