12 Answers from Philip Barlow: Part 1

March 6, 2005 | 13 comments
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It is nice to be introduced to Times&Seasons. My thanks especially to Melissa Proctor for inviting me as a guest. Thanks also to those of you who went to the bother to frame thoughtful questions. My attempt to respond follows. In a few instances I have combined related questions that were posed.

1: Many books that apply academic perspectives to LDS history or doctrine get sucked into the apologetic debate and get labeled as “notorious,” criticized by one side and championed by the other, or sometimes attacked by both sides. Mormons and the Bible, however, somehow escaped that fate. I stumbled across this gem of a book one day at my neighborhood Borders bookstore in the general religion section. Do you share the feeling that the book somehow slipped in under the radar, and if so, why didn’t your detailed account of how Mormons use or misuse the Bible strike a more responsive chord among Mormon readers and scholars?

If Mormons and the Bible “slipped in under the radar” of religious attack and defense, I am pleased. I hope the work is not bland, but I do remember that, when writing it, I sometimes pictured myself reading aloud what I was writing to a small audience of specific people. Among these imagined hearers were my deeply spiritual and devout mother, my teachers at Harvard, Elder Boyd Packer, my institute students, a brilliant atheist friend, several LDS and non-LDS scholars of Mormonism whom I admired, and a representative from each of several denominations and religions. It wasn’t that I figured I could or necessarily should please them all. But I did work to imagine them in the room with me, to look into their eyes as real people, to respect their sensibilities and intelligence and their differences with me, even to learn from each of them. Perhaps something of that experience seeped through in the writing and has muted the book’s becoming prominent fodder for apologists and critics of the Latter-day Saints. My effort was more to explore the underpinnings of my own and my people’s religious thinking in relation to the wider world of religion than to defend or attack.

Scholars from around the country or, occasionally, from abroad, call or write to ask a question or to exchange about something involving Mormons and the Bible, or to invite my contribution to an encyclopedia or an edited book or to propose some joint project dealing with how believers relate to scripture. And Latter-day Saints, most of whom I have not met, continue to write. Occasionally they do so because I wrote or omitted something that surprised or displeased them: How could I fail to give Hugh Nibley more space? Why didn’t I resolve more issues with the Book of Mormon while I was dealing with the Bible? More commonly, however, they write because they seek grounds for faith that do not compromise their minds, and they sometimes bring up something from the book that they are wrestling through, things that have puzzled them or helped them. So conversation about issues related to Mormons and the Bible is an ongoing experience for me and for a fair number of Latter-day Saints. The book remains in print.

As to the extent that the book has yet to strike a deeper chord among Mormon readers and scholars, others may be better positioned than I to comment. The most obvious potential culprit is surely my own limitations as an author. Beyond that, a contributing factor may be that the book is published by Oxford University Press, which does not display its wares at small specialized conferences like that of the Mormon History Association or Sunstone. Arthur Bassett, in reviewing the work for Sunstone, noted that the BYU bookstore placed the book in some general historical or religious section, away from its more perused section of works by Mormon authors.

I am sure that the subject of the Mormon relation to the Bible does not seem to people on the street like a very sexy subject compared to, say, biographies of Joseph Smith or to polygamy or magic. As my colleague at the Cambridge Institute of Religion said long ago with good-humored sarcasm when I told him the subject of the dissertation on which I was at work, “Oh, I bet THAT will sell a lot of copies.” And perhaps I titled the book poorly; Kenneth Winn began his review (for the American Historical Review as I recall) something like: “This book has rather a dreary title for one of the most interesting works on the Saints to appear in years.”

Beyond my own weaknesses and my particular book, however (or perhaps in part because of them, who knows?), I do think that a portion of the Mormon scholarly community does not yet apprehend the fundamental importance of the subject. That may be partly because the Bible has long been taken so for granted in American culture that people scarcely knew how to say or conceive anything interesting about its role. The great Protestant scholar, Mark Noll, has found a similar frustration in trying to get the point across about the need to probe the Bible’s function in American history generally. If we remove the Bible, Mormon history dissolves—or becomes something else entirely. But the nature and function of its role, which affects LDS religious consciousness profoundly both among those who scarcely pick up the Bible and among those who believe they understand it, is not nearly so obvious as it may appear at first glance. You may be right that the book remains under some folks’ radar, in that I continue to encounter historical treatments that seem oblivious, that don’tseem to get it, and therefore indulge in misleading or innocent historical accounts.

2. Has the Mormon attitude to the Bible changed at all since you published Mormons and the Bible?

I don’t think so, not in any fundamental way. Offering a new edition of Mormons and the Bible has been suggested to me, however, and if I decide to do that I would need to invent a way to take a fresh look at the question beyond the casual anecdotal evidence provided, for instance, by my own experience in church.

As I will mention in #5 below, the First Presidency issued a statement, some months after the publication of Mormons and the Bible, reiterating the church’s commitment to the King James Bible. Authors of relevant entries in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, which seems one good gauge of popular or widely accepted church practice and understanding, cited Mormons and the Bible in their bibliographies, but then wrote as if they had never encountered the book.

I do know that some folks at BYU are planning a large, multi-volume commentary on the Bible, and among those they have recruited are some capable LDS graduate students in religion programs around the country. So it is possible that a more even and informed product than we have heretofore enjoyed might emerge from that effort; we shall see. On the other hand, while talented people are sometimes hired within religion at BYU or elsewhere, the overall direction of the Church Education System in recent years seems to be yet further distancing itself from the notion that competence as a scholar, or even being well-read, is requisite to teaching our college students. So these are two somewhat contrary developments, and the latter is more pronounced than the former.

3. What are your thoughts about the development of university “Mormon Studies” programs?

I think this development is scandalously overdue. Mormonism now constitutes, among other things, a significant presence among the world’s cultures, one that warrants serious and sustained exploration, and not only in confessional settings. That higher education, especially at centers in Utah and the western United States, is at last inaugurating such a program is a mark of the maturing both of Mormon culture and, at least in Utah, of state culture. By comparison, and as I said to a reporter who inquired a year ago on the matter of university programs in Mormon Studies, it is difficult for me to imagine New York City as too proud, defensive, or indifferent to have engendered university programs in Jewish Studies.

I am pleased that the brainchild of Gene England is creating its niche at Utah Valley State College. I think that Ann Taves and Karen Torjesen at Claremont have been imaginative and resourceful in building bridges between the necessarily independent academy and the religious people it studies through the formation of counsels that may generate sufficient support to found endowed chairs in the study of Islam, Mormonism, and other traditions. I also have been impressed with the thoughtful initiative and years-long care behind the emerging shape of things at Utah State University. The success of the aspirations of the two universities naturally hinges on who inhabits these endowed chairs, because the social, political, intellectual, and religious forces that attend these developments can be potent, complex, and contrary. But all this may well result in the elevation of the study of religion in higher education in the West, and it may be also a historic moment in the study of Mormonism. This is not only the concern of Latter-day Saints and Mormon watchers. National agencies, such as the American Academy of Religion and the American Society of Church History, will take due note if these new prospects are realized in Utah and California.

4. The overwhelming majority of Mormons simply assume the JST is in its every work a literal restoration of material lost from the original texts of the Bible. Church scholars have done little or nothing to try to correct this perception. Is this a powder keg waiting to blow up a lot of people’s testimonies due to unrealistic expectations? Or is it more likely that the status quo in pre-critical attitudes and assumptions towards the JST will simply go on unabated?

I think, quite simply, the latter. This sort of thing can and does blow up in individual faces; they feel betrayed when they find something they have relied upon as important, because it was assumed and taught by all those around them, is not so. But as a group church members can bend quite a stretch; I think most would do so if the nature of Joseph’s relation to the Bible, including what he called his “translation,” were to become more broadly understood.

5. Do you think that the Church will ever abandon the KJV as its official English language translation? If so, how far off into the future do you see such a development? With what would the Church replace it? Do you think that there will be a modernized translation of the Book of Mormon done by the Church in the next few decades?

Thirty or fifty years from now, it would not surprise me if the Church made a change. Nor would it surprise me if it did not. So I’m a pretty cowardly predictor.

Chapter 5 of Mormons and the Bible treated the historical evolution of the King James translation from the “common” version (which it was in Joseph Smith’s day) to the “official” Bible of the Saints, which it became (de facto) after J. Reuben Clark and (unambiguously) in 1979 with the appearance of the current LDS edition. Within six months or so of the publication of Mormons and the Bible, the First Presidency issued a statement in the Church News (June 20, 1992) reiterating its commitment to the KJV. I defer to the policy of the brethren in their difficult roles and do not lobby against the policy. And the KJV has important virtues. It remains important, though, that we understand the nature, context, and implications of the use of our official translation.

We are in a bit of an awkward position no matter how we choose to relate to the KJV at this point. On the one hand, continued use of this antique version is going to make us, increasingly as this century moves on, seem Amish-like in our dealings with the outside world (that is, attached to a specific time and style for religious/cultural reasons that we ourselves do not well understand) in the specific matter of our biblical choice. 16th-century KJV idiom will continue to retreat rapidly from the rest of the culture’s usage, consciousness, and understanding, making our use of it in missionary endeavors seem increasingly quaint.

In addition, the KJV functions in some ways as a conceptual prison for 21st-century readers. The reason for this is not merely the inaccuracies in the Greek and Hebrew texts on which the KJV is based, which have long been surpassed by better and more ancient texts. Nor is it merely the obscurity of antique words, phrases, and general expression, and the oddness of perpetually having to resort to the footnotes for limited explanation at least of some words—when modern and natural translations abound. Nor is it even the fact that most modern readers would be hard-pressed to follow the complex style and ideas of Paul, Isaiah, and other biblical writers even were they presented in lucid and accurate contemporary prose. The most basic problem is that the elegance of the “Authorized” English Bible warps for the modern ear the tone of the original texts, thus distorting our perception of the very nature of biblical scripture, which our additional scriptures then echo. One can hear no King James-like cathedral bells ringing in the background when one reads the Gospel of Mark in koine Greek. Mark’s writing is raw, fresh, breathless, primitive. The lordly prose of the KJV, as it is heard by 21st-century ears, is for many texts an external imposition, shifting the locus of authority away from the power of the story itself and toward an authority spawned by the partially artificial literary holiness suffusing our culturally created notion of scripture.

This exterior authority in one respect gilds the lily of the original message, then construes respect for the gild rather than the lily as a mark of orthodoxy. We compound the tangle by arguing that Joseph patterned his formulations of revelation after Jacobian language (which he naturally did) and that this neo-17th-century style is therefore sacrosanct. To extend the logic, it’s a little like suggesting that because Luke wrote in koine, 1st-century Greek, modern Greeks (who understand koine Greek less well than most Americans understand Beowulf in its original early English prose of 1,300 years ago) should therefore only use koine Greek.

On the other hand, to be “holy” means to be set apart, and one could argue that retaining an antique and beautiful scriptural style serves the function of deepening the sense of “set apartness.” This can be an asset as well as a liability. Despite what they may think they are doing, most people of faith are not actually trying to discover the sense of scripture as it was penned, but rather using scripture devotionally, to gain and maintain a sense of the divine. And, of course, the beauty of the KJV is pronounced, and beauty can be akin to holiness in some contexts and some respects. Most important, since Joseph Smith cast his revelations in language colored by KJV style, to shift to a biblical translation that is more clear and closer to the original texts would likely induce the need to transpose the language of the Book of Mormon and perhaps other modern revelations. As a people we are naturally reluctant to alter the language of Joseph Smith’s casting of his revelations, and some Restoration understandings (such as the “dispensation of the fullness of times”) are dependent on KJV phrasing rather than on what the original texts said. And all this has been made more complex and difficult by the well-intentioned interweaving of the annotations in the LDS editions of the scriptures published since 1979. Such prospective changes as you inquire about in the phrasing of scripture may or may not come to be seen as in the purview of modern prophets. That is for them, not me, to decide. But either to proceed or not to is rather a substantial decision; it conditions our religious consciousness.

The Church has already adopted more modern translations in languages other than English. The explosive growth of the international church, which is in some instances using modern translations (and not to do so would strike many peoples abroad as strange indeed), is apt in the future increasingly to rub against the usage of an early 16th-century text by the (minority) English-speaking church.

Whether the Church in the foreseeable future will adopt a modernized phrasing of the Book of Mormon is thoroughly entwined with the KJV problem, and I have no way of knowing how it will address the issue. Certainly, in theory, Church leaders could act on prophetic authority in modernizing the language, just as (because of a shift toward a global context for its readers) they have amended and clarified the language of the 10th Article of Faith and (because of shifts in perceptions of the Saints) added a sub-title to the Book of Mormon.

If the Church did feel inspired to loosen its attachment to the King James Translation, it could one of several paths. It could re-adopt its policy operative before J. Reuben Clark, wherein the KJV was widely but not officially in use, with Church members frequently consulting other translations. That is, the Church would not have an “official��? translation of the Bible, as it did not for most of its history and as most other churches do not. Or it could produce its own translation, which would have the virtue, presumably, of integrating well with other LDS scriptures along with the liability of potentially being or seeming more sectarian. It could adopt the New King James Translation, which makes helpful though modest and conservative changes in the KJV, including taking note of scholarship and of Hebrew and Greek texts which are superior to those available to the 17th-century translators. Or it could embrace one of the best modern English translations, and perhaps concurrently be more thoroughgoing in updating the language of distinctively LDS scriptures.

6. Mormonism does not seem to have many scholars who do source criticism of the Bible. We have believing scholars who apply the tools they learn in graduate school toward understanding the text as it now stands, but there seems to much more reluctance in applying the tools in ways that break apart the texts or question their authorship. Composite texts are not countenanced and literal readings are encouraged if only by silence. What are the implications of this phenomenon? Is it important for Mormon biblical scholars to accept the fundamental assumptions of their fellow academic colleagues? Will Mormons feel “left behind” and see themselves left out of important debates? Should Mormons care? Will Mormon views of the Bible become aligned with Christian Fundamentalist readings? Will outside biblical scholars have anything to learn from Mormon biblical scholarship?

I am tempted to interpret some of these excellent questions as rhetorical. That is, one implication of our unawareness of, or lack of response toward, these issues, as well as our incapacity to deal with modern critical tools of textual analysis, is that this spawns among us a false consciousness: a sense that we are a competent, Bible-believing people, when in fact we have little idea of the fundamental developments of the past two centuries that reveal much about the texts. We are indeed badly “behind,” whether we feel it or not. It’s a little like believing that because we are spiritually attuned and have deep faith in God, we therefore have no use for science, a man-made thing that has produced a lot of atheists. We should care about the issues you raise if we believe in the 13th Article of Faith; we should care if we believe that God is a God of truth and that the glory of God is intelligence. We should care to the extent that we take scripture seriously.

But there is another side to all this. While I would never advocate our failure more thoughtfully to understand the texts to which we profess allegiance, including gaining mastery of the tools and issues of modern biblical scholarship, I do not think this inevitably requires adopting all the assumptions of espoused by various professional colleagues. I think, for instance, that some of the procedures and conclusions of the Jesus Seminar are basically off the mark.

Criticism of the Bible becomes a somewhat pointless task if it does not have a spiritual end product. It may give a great deal of insight into matters of composition and historical setting, but these conclusions are not particularly helpful in determining the ultimate point of the scripture unless they can be brought into conjunction with the actual practice of the religion in question—in this case our own Mormonism.
An example from outside Mormonism: the formidable New Testament scholar Ulrich Luz, who works out of the University of Bern in Switzerland and who has published two of his three volumes of commentary on Matthew, says that he was trained in the historical-critical method, but finds it incapable of producing fruitful results at the deeper levels of meaning. As he read commentaries based on the higher critical methods, he found himself bored and increasingly persuaded of the slender benefits (mostly tangential) that come from historical criticism. By contrast and at the same time, he realized as he read the commentaries of writers like Augustine and Luther and Aquinas and Calvin, he encountered real theological depth. The basic problem, he then realized, is that theological issues are bracketed out of most scholars’ “higher critical” approach. The results therefore tend to be more or less theologically sterile, almost by definition.

The other basic problem is that, as many seem now to agree, it is not possible to be “objective” when pursuing a matter of biblical interpretation. It seems more fruitful, then, to define one’s point of view and use it openly in doing one’s interpretations. (This is not to say, of course, that there is no such thing as good and poor quality and a broad array of relative intelligence and spiritual and intellectual insight in defining and applying one’s point of view.)

In sum, I would urge a rare recipe: a serious, competent, and non-defensive engagement with critical analysis, whose real object is understanding rather than the barricading of pre-established notions—but all fueled by an awareness that the point of critical study is theological understanding and spiritual edification. Faith seeking understanding. A broad, flexible, resilient, open faith seeking honest understanding of the divine and of the history of human approaches to the divine.

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13 Responses to 12 Answers from Philip Barlow: Part 1

  1. […] h Version of the Book of Mormon by Nate Oman The first installment of Phillip Barlow’s excellent 12 Questions raises the interesting question of whether the Chur […]

  2. Kevin Barney on March 6, 2005 at 11:22 pm

    Thank you for your thoughtful responses.

    FWIW, I am a big fan of Mormons and the Bible. And I appreciate you citing my JST article from Dialogue; now I can say I’ve been cited in the Harvard Theological Review. (grin)

  3. Arturo Toscanini on March 6, 2005 at 11:56 pm

    Interesting notes about the KJV. If I had to make a prediction, I’d say that at some point it will be ditched–and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it happen in the next 5-10 years even. I think that the church has stuck with the KJV so long because it is so loath to embrace fads–attraction to hula-hoop style trends undermines claims of divine guidance. (Consider also the delay in the move to embrace civil rights.) Now that it’s quite obvious that the KJV is merely historical importance, a shift is likely. Probably the best candidate for an Old Testament translation would be the latest JPS one, which follows the Mesoretic text closely enough that it conflicts much less with the KJV than other modern translations. As far as New Testament, who knows? (I’ve heard that McConkie favored the NIV New Testament. Yuck!)

    Incidentally, the RLDS church published a modernized Book of Mormon in 1966. It’s pretty boring fare. Though the Book of Mormon does sound vaguely Jacobean (nice to see that you don’t mistake it for Elizabethan), its prose is basically the formalized version of early 19th century heavy-handed, neoclassical ecclesiastic speech. It’s still reasonably close to 20th century usage (partly in thanks to Talmage’s 1920 revision), and it doesn’t cry out for an update the same way that the KJV does.

    Great answers! Very interesting. Now I’m going to run off and read Mormons and the Bible.

  4. Keith on March 7, 2005 at 12:36 am

    “The overwhelming majority of Mormons simply assume the JST is in its every work a literal restoration of material lost from the original texts of the Bible. Church scholars have done little or nothing to try to correct this perception. Is this a powder keg waiting to blow up a lot of people’s testimonies due to unrealistic expectations? Or is it more likely that the status quo in pre-critical attitudes and assumptions towards the JST will simply go on unabated?”

    “I think, quite simply, the latter. This sort of thing can and does blow up in individual faces; they feel betrayed when they find something they have relied upon as important, because it was assumed and taught by all those around them, is not so. But as a group church members can bend quite a stretch; I think most would do so if the nature of Joseph’s relation to the Bible, including what he called his “translation,” were to become more broadly understood.”

    For my part I think we will see (and are seeing) a shift here. Robert Matthews’ work did a good job of showing places where the work is not a restoration of a lost text. Similary, Kent Jackson’s recent work has had lots to say about this as well. These are respected scholars for many, including mainstream, traditional Latter-day Saints. Similarly, I don’t know many (if any) current teachers of religion at BYU who will argue that all parts of the JST are a restoration of an original text. In short, I think most of LDS scholars already have a broader notion of translation when it comes to the JST, so I don’t think this is likely to be something that will explode in their faces. And I think the general attitudes the have find their way into the everyday Mormon’s thought, even if slowly.

  5. Jim F. on March 7, 2005 at 1:09 am

    Though I certainly understand the problems with the KJV, letting go of it will also be a problem because the Book of Mormon so often refers to it by using its language. I don’t take those references to be unimportant. Indeed, they are part of what it means to be a second witness, to say the same thing that the Bible says. I suppose that a revision of the Book of Mormon to match another translation is theoretically possible, but it would be a Herculean undertaking.

  6. Christian Y. Cardall on March 7, 2005 at 8:34 am

    Jim, Herculean the task would be indeed, but as we’ve been reminded recently in Gospel Doctrine class, being a “translator” is part of our President’s job description (DC 21:1). That’s why they’re paid the big bucks! ;)

  7. Jed on March 7, 2005 at 11:14 am

    Thanks, Professor Barlow, for these thoughful answers.

    I was struck by this passage in the answer to question 5: “On the other hand, to be ?holy? means to be set apart, and one could argue that retaining an antique and beautiful scriptural style serves the function of deepening the sense of ?set apartness.?”

    This argument resonates with me. Whether you are speaking koine Greek, Jacobian English, or 21st century English, you have to stand somewhere. And if you have to stand somewhere, why not stand in a place where the language lifts you above your everyday, mundane way of speaking and thinking, in the way, say, the Arabic of the Qur’an lifts Muslims above everday Arabic? In like manner, I want my scripture to take me out of the world, to point my head to heaven, to challenge me. The KJV does all of these things. Language produced in a Christian era is partularly striking to 21st century secular ears. So far, so good.

    Yet even as I say this, I can see how my own culturally-specific assumptions produce fissures in this worldview. In other tongues, the language of the holy is the colloquial, not the high. Could I not, then, argue the opposite: the more the language of scripture resembles our everyday speech, the more the divine becomes a part of who we are and how we think? Moreover, the politics of Jacobian England seems to throw the high and holy idiom of the KJV into question. One might argue the language is purposefully inflated because it was designed to unify a fractured constituency. James sent his translators out with a political charge. On this view, the holy language is actually rather secular.

    Can we imagine a day when the church sees its way out of these dillemmas by sending its own scholars, its own 47, to go out and retranslate the Bible with an ear to producing an LDS idiom of the holy? This new idiom might capture some of the archaic in the KJV and the BofM while at the same time modernizing in the language of the General Conference idom, which is, by and large, modern. I don’t see the problem of 17th English as insurmountable, but I am reluctant to part with it altogether, because it is functionally useful.

  8. Julie in Austin on March 7, 2005 at 3:16 pm

    This is fabulous (and well-written) stuff, thank you Melissa and Prof. Barlow.

  9. Arturo Toscanini on March 7, 2005 at 7:57 pm

    As far as inter-textuality, I do not think that the New Testament is any the worse for quoting the Septuagint, though we use a translation of the Mesoretic Text for our Old Testament. The large swaths of Isaiah in First and Second Nephi were (in all likelihood) copied into the manuscript directly from the KJV by Oliver Cowdery while Joseph was out of town trying to secure a printer. There’s no reason why these portions cannot simply be updated in as wholesale a manner as they were copied. Even so, if we adopted a different translation, is there really any very compelling reason to back-fill the the Book of Mormon with modernized Biblical readings?

  10. Jim F. on March 7, 2005 at 9:50 pm

    Arturo: The NT isn’t any worse for quoting the LXX (especially since the Masoretic text wasn’t yet in existence), but readers who can see the connection between the LXX and the NT are better off. The same is true, I take it, for readers who can hear the implicit OT references in the Book of Mormon, and that would be lost without the back-filling. Would that be fatal? Probably not? Unfortunate? Yes.

    Most non-LDS editions of the KJV help readers see the connections between the KJV and the LXX with footnotes showing when the LXX is being quoted. Unfortunately, someone decided not to include those in the LDS edition. Perhaps something like that could be done for the Book of Mormon that would help make those connections.

    Those looking for a KJV without the thee’s and thou’s and with some other updating should look for a “New King James Version.”

  11. Arturo Toscanini on March 7, 2005 at 10:25 pm

    Jim F., my point about the discrepancy between the Masoretic text vs the Septuagint is twofold. First, it doesn’t justify using the Septuagint in place of the Masoretic text. Second, it is the tradition of NT translation not to re-render the OT quotes in a manner consistent with the accompanying OT translation. One justification for this is that the quotations sometimes advance points of view that hinge on the phrasing or wording specified. Thus, back-filling from the OT texts we have renders at least some of the quotations nonsensical (or at least, less sensical).

    I don’t think that it is a matter of thee’s and thou’s, either. I just randomly opened my trusty 1979 LDS KJV to a scripture. It turned out to be Jeremiah 36:6. I’ve included verses 5-7 so that it makes sense (forgive whatever typos there are—they represent my weakness as a men and not the weakness of the Word of God):

    KJV: And Jeremiah commanded Baruch, saying I am shut up; I cannot go into the House of the LORD. Therefore go thou, and read in the roll, which thou hast written from my mouth, the words of the LORD in the ears of the people in the LORD’s house upon the fasting day: and also thou shalt read them in the ears of all Judah that come out of their cities. It may be they will present their supplication before the LORD, and will return every one from his evil way: for great is the anger and the fury that the LORD hath pronounced against this people.

    Jewish Publication Society (1985): Jeremiah instructed Baruch, “I am in hiding; I cannot go to the House of the LORD. But you go and read aloud the words of the LORD from the scroll which you wrote at my dictation, to all the people in the House of the LORD on fast day; thus you will also be reading to all the Judeans who come in from the towns. Perhaps their entreaty will be accepted by the LORD, if they turn back from their wicked ways. For great is the anger and wrath with which the LORD has threatened this people.”

    It’s not that I can’t see that the meaning of the KJV rendition, it’s that the JPS transition is substantially clearer. Nor do I find the KJV rendition especially edifying for all its additional obscurity.

  12. Jim F. on March 8, 2005 at 12:41 am

    Arturo Toscanini: I didn’t think that you and I were discussing whether the KJV is more difficult to read than a good, modern translation. If we were, we are in complete agreement: it isn’t.

    The question was whether the relation between the text of the Book of Mormon and that of the KJV is important. I’ve advanced a rather mild view, I think: that connection is important, but there may be ways, such as the use of footnotes, that will allow readers to see that relation. For some reason, however, the editors of our present edition did not think that the connection between books of scripture is important.

    As for the differences between the OT texts as quoted in the NT and as we have them in the OT: Sometimes they are inaccurate quotations of the text. Often, however, they are accurate quotations, but of the LXX, which differs from the equivalent that we find in the Masoretic text. So, for the most part, the differences between NT and OT versions of the same text is a result of the difference between the LXX and the Masoretic text. Of course, the need to alter the translation in order to capture a play on wording can also create differences, but–though I’ve not done a careful analysis and, so, may be mistaken–my impression is that is less often the case than that the difference is between the LXX–or perhaps some other non-extant version of the OT–and the Masoretic.

    For example, most of the time Paul quotes from the LXX and he does so accurately, but because he is quoting from it rather than from whatever the Aramaic precursor to the Masoretic text was at that time, his quotations will not match up with quotations in our OT–since it is a translation of the Masoretic text. However, when Paul quotes Habbukuk 2:4 in Romans 1:17, what he says doesn’t match our OT text and he is not quoting the LXX accurately. That difference between his quotation and the texts we know about could be a result of a decision to change the text to make his point better, or it could be the result of paraphrase rather than quotation, or it could be that he is using a different manuscript than any we have.

    Nevertheless, a footnote to Habbakuk would be helpful to readers–but the present LDS edition doesn’t let readers see that connection. I think that was a mistake.

  13. Arturo Toscanini on March 8, 2005 at 8:58 am

    I agree that the cross-referencing you describe (which, as you point out, is pretty standard in other Bibles) would improve the quality of the LDS Study Bible. But I do not think that our understanding of Romans 1:17 would substantially improve if its quote of Habbukuk 2:4 were rendered to more carefully mirror the MT version. That’s why I don’t see any very compelling reason to back-fill the Book of Mormon with modernized biblical readings.