The Original Text of the Book of Mormon II: The Yale Edition of the Book of Mormon

February 22, 2011 | 16 comments
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skousen22Royal Skousen is editor of the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project and professor of linguistics and English language at Brigham Young University. The first part of this series is here.

As I got near the end of completing the six books of volume 4, I discovered some potential problems with the project as originally conceived. One of the problems was in getting people, even some academic people doing research on the Book of Mormon, to cite the findings of the critical text project. These books are very large and heavy; and as a complete set, they are also rather expensive. In any event, the result was that researchers were writing articles on the Book of Mormon but, it would seem, quite oblivious to what the actual reading should be – or at least what the critical text project had to say about the reading.

Another problem that became apparent was that with the completion of volume 4 anyone could go out and produce their own original-language version of the Book of Mormon by simply using the findings of volume 4 and referring to the resulting book as the original text. I decided that it would be better if I myself retained control over this process, and so I arranged with Yale University Press to publish, in August 2009, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text. This book represents in one volume the original text, to the extent it can be determined. And if you take off the dust jacket of this book, you will see that the hard cover matches the maroon cover of volume 4. This was done intentionally, to show the connection to volume 4 of the critical text; in other words, the Yale edition derives from the decisions made in volume 4.

There are two important innovations in the Yale edition. The first is that it is set in sense-lines – not in small paragraphs where each verse is its own little paragraph, nor in narrow double columns. My idea, as originally conceived, was to break the lines in the text so that they would represent in some general way how Joseph Smith dictated the text – namely, in phrases and clauses, but none so long that they could not be easily read.

One of the things I have been surprised about since the publication of the Yale edition is how much readers like this format. Many readers, including scholars of the text, have seen things in the text that they have never seen before, simply because it is laid out in sense-lines. Nor do readers get fatigued as they do when reading a two-column text that frequently breaks in the middle of words (by hyphenation) or in the middle of phrases and clauses, a process that puts a lot of stress on readers in negotiating the text. With the sense-lines, it’s also much easier to keep on reading. Some readers have discovered they now read several chapters at a time instead of just the single chapter they were used to reading.

The second innovative aspect of the Yale text is that it is the first time anyone has attempted to publish the original English-language text, to the extent that it can be determined. The Yale text, it turns out, does not have what we call a copytext. It is not a revision of some particular edition of the Book of Mormon. Instead, everything has been done from scratch, so to speak; in fact, the text is directly derived from the computerized collation, as we shall see.

Here is the title page of the Yale edition:

skousen12And here is the title page of the Book of Mormon itself:

skousen13The line breaks occur at places where you could reasonably pause, especially if you were reading the text off to someone else, as in dictation. You will note, by the way, that the traditional statement about the book being translated by Joseph Smith is not on the Book of Mormon title page. That’s because it wasn’t on the original title page of the Book of Mormon. Instead, I place that attribution on the preceding page, on what we call the half title. This is the appropriate place to acknowledge Joseph Smith as the translator.

Here is the beginning of First Nephi:

skousen14You’ll notice that the text just says “The Book of Nephi” – that’s because the manuscripts tell us that that was the original title for the book. There are, it turns out, four books of Nephi in the Book of Mormon. Later Oliver Cowdery and other editors added first, second, third, and fourth to the names of these individual books. The original text had no numbers for any of the books of Nephi. Since this is the way the original text read, we reproduce it that way in the Yale edition.

Here is the next page of the Yale edition, where you can clearly see the sense-lines:

skousen15There are also extra lines of space that represent the paragraphs that I have broken the text into. You will note that overall this is a clear text, a plain text. There is not much editorial intrusion beyond the sense-lines and the paragraph breaks, although I did put the LDS chapter and verse numbers out in the left margin because readers need to reference where they are in the book.

Here is another page, one where there’s a transition from one book to another, namely, from Mosiah to Alma:

skousen16As mentioned earlier, the Yale text was not derived from a copytext (that is, from a particular edition of the Book of Mormon) but instead from a computerized collation that gives all the textual variants. Here, for instance, is the computerized collation for that portion of 1 Nephi as it goes from chapter 3 to chapter 4:

skousen17At the beginning of each line of this collation, before each textual variant, there is some indication in braces (that is, in curly brackets) of the kind of variant that will follow. Then in square brackets I give the actual variant. The very first variant in this sample from the collation is a number – in fact, it’s a verse number. The two manuscripts are represented by the symbols 0 and 1; and since the manuscripts don’t have any verse numbers, there is in this case no number assigned to the original and printer’s manuscripts. In the rest of the textual variant we find the capital letters A through T, which stand for the printed editions of the Book of Mormon (from the 1830 edition to the 1981 edition). In this instance, the majority of the printed editions have a verse number (but the particular number varies). You can go down through the collation and consider in the same way each variant in turn.

The underlined text in the collation represents what I believe is the original text (but with the spelling we expect in today’s standard English). The text in bold stands for the reading of the original manuscript. In other portions of the collation (not shown here), you won’t find any bolding; that means that the original manuscript is not extant for those portions.

With the help of my colleague Deryle Lonsdale, a computer program was used to extract the underlined text from the computerized collation. This means that I did not key in the text for the Yale edition. Here is what you get when you extract the underlined text for that portion of the collation covering the transition between 1 Nephi 3 and 4:

skousen18This is the proposed original text for this passage, but without any intended line breaks (that is, hard returns) or punctuation. This is much like what the 1830 typesetter was confronted with when he set the type – a long string of words with no breaks except when a new chapter begins.

From this long string of words, I then constructed the sense-lines and put extra lines in for where I thought there should be paragraph breaks:

skousen19In the next stage, I added the LDS chapter and verse numbers in the left margin:

skousen20One of the things you’ll notice here is that chapter 4 comes in the middle of a paragraph. Reading this portion of the text, one sees that there probably shouldn’t be a chapter break, not even a paragraph break, where chapter 4 begins.

And finally, after the chapter and verse numbers had been added, I put in the punctuation (as well as the necessary capitalization), but from scratch, without looking at the original 1830 punctuation or the current punctuation (which derives from the 1830 edition):

skousen21I found this last task to be the most difficult one in preparing the Yale edition. I’m frankly amazed of what John Gilbert, the 1830 typesetter, was able to do here, especially given the difficult syntactic structure of the Book of Mormon. It appears that for about two thirds of the text Gilbert determined the punctuation as he set the type. He did a really fine job, although he probably overpunctuated the text from our modern point of view (but this is what was expected in his day). What I wanted to do here was to determine anew the punctuation for the entire text. As far as I know, the Yale edition represents only the second time that the punctuation has been done completely from scratch – at least in a published edition.

The Yale edition also has an appendix that shows the significant changes in the text. There are 719 of these at the end of the book. In the Yale edition, I wanted the list of changes to appear in the appendix, not intruding upon the text itself. I should also point out that this appendix is not simply a comparison between the current standard LDS text and the Yale edition. Instead, it’s a representation of important changes that have occurred in the history of the text. In many instances, the Yale edition agrees with the current text. The appendix is not intended to be a listing of differences, but rather of significant variants in the history of the text.

At the beginning of the appendix there is a stemma that shows the textual relationship between the printed editions of the Book of Mormon:

skousen22You will notice here that there are two textual traditions that split off from the second edition (the 1837 Kirtland edition). One is the RLDS textual tradition – that’s on the left. And on the right is the LDS textual tradition. These stemma relationships show the copytext for each printed edition from 1830 on. If you consider, for instance, the 1920 LDS edition, the stemma shows that its copytext was the 1911 LDS edition. This means that the 1920 typesetter worked off a copy of the 1911 edition, one that was presumably marked up with changes. In other words, the stemma here shows the copytext relationships between the various editions.

16 Responses to The Original Text of the Book of Mormon II: The Yale Edition of the Book of Mormon

  1. Kirk Caudle on February 23, 2011 at 8:55 am

    Royal, this is all fantasic. Keep up the good work!

  2. Matt W. on February 23, 2011 at 9:45 am

    Royal these are terrific! Keep it coming! I hope in a future post, you’ll deal with tight vs. loose translation of the text.

  3. lyle on February 23, 2011 at 10:13 am

    Thank you Brother Skousen. I agree that it is easier to read the Book of Mormon in a more “native” format, such as your sense lines. One version I tried was in a “Play” format, i.e. where the speaker is identified before (s)he speaks. This also provides some interesting insight into the text, when readers consider it as having happened “live” once rather than just dead words on paper. Hopefully there are others that make the text more adaptable/easier to apply to our daily lives.

  4. Kevin Barney on February 23, 2011 at 10:40 am

    In my published review of the first commentary volume, here: http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/?vol=15&num=1&id=406

    I wrote the following:

    I must confess a certain disappointment with Skousen’s decision not to produce an actual critical edition of the Book of Mormon, as he initially had contemplated in his essay “Towards a Critical Edition of the Book of Mormon” in BYU Studies.8 I have seen enough of the critical text project now to feel quite comfortable that all of the basic information will be made available through his chosen format in this series, and I have every intention of collecting all of the future volumes as they are issued. But I would still like to see an actual critical edition in print at the conclusion of the critical text project, preferably in a smaller format than the large volumes of the series so far, and for an inexpensive price. Such a volume could serve as a sort of summary of the conclusions Skousen has reached through the project as a whole, it would be accessible and within the buying power of students, and it would be portable (much like the critical editions produced by the United Bible Societies), something one could stick in a briefcase or read on a plane. I hope that Skousen has not completely closed the door on the possibility of issuing such an edition at the conclusion of the critical text project.

    Accordingly, I was thrileld with Skousen’s decision to publish the Yale book, which accomplishes what I hoped would come at the conclusion of this stage of the project.

    And I think the sense lines innovation is frankly brilliant.

  5. raedyohed on February 23, 2011 at 11:38 am

    I wholeheartedly agree with and would elaborate a little on the last line of comment #3.

    The sense lines are not just a well-conceived convenience for us a readers. I think they may represent a step forward in textual analysis of the Book of Mormon. The first thought I had when reading this was that sense lines might somehow correlate or confound the underlying poetic structure in the Book of Mormon text. In other words: “Thesis – The natural spoken-language cadence that emerges from the text of the Book of Mormon (e.g. sense lines) does not correspond to the poetic structure of the Book of Mormon text. This suggests that the poetic forms are hold-overs from a more ancient source document for the modern textual work that is the Book of Mormon, and that what we have in the modern text of the Book of Mormon derives from a primarily written and secondarily spoken (i.e. dictated) account.”

    I realize this has been ongoing work and I’m not at all up to date with it. Has this kind of question been approached? What, in your opinion does the appearance of a natural cadence throughout the Book of Mormon tell us about the book itself? Or can a natural spoken cadence be teased out in any writing? Am I jumping at shadows here?

  6. Adam Greenwood on February 23, 2011 at 11:55 am

    This looks grand.

  7. Jakob J on February 23, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    Fantastic! I have always been blown away by the huge task Gilbert took on of punctuating the whole Book of Mormon. I am blown away by the amount of work that has gone into the Critical Text project. Thanks for devoting that last two decades of your life to this.

  8. WVS on February 23, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    Thanks very much. This is great stuff.

  9. DavidH on February 23, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    We have been using the new Yale edition for our family BofM daily reading. I like it a lot.

  10. PaulL on February 23, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    Is there any hope of this being published electronically?

  11. roger on February 23, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    Fascinating forking going on there :)

  12. BHodges on February 23, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    One of the most landmark projects in the history of Mormon studies.

  13. Clark on February 24, 2011 at 11:52 am

    I’d second Paul’s comments. It’d be great to have these online.

  14. danithew on February 24, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    I have a copy of the Yale edition and need to use it more.

    I also purchased a copy for my mother as a gift – and she loved the way it was organized. I think she’s already read through it at least once.

  15. Mark Ashurst-McGee on February 25, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    Royal, I think I remember reading that some of the conjectures are based on hearing errors on the part of the scribe. Are some of the conjectures based on pronunciation or speaking errors on the part of Smith? Are some of the conjectures based on reading errors on the part of Smith (which would assume he was reading)?

  16. Jonovitch on February 26, 2011 at 12:39 am

    This is fantastic! Keep it coming. I put the Yale edition on my wish list, to treat myself for my next birthday.