Why was one sixth of the 1830 Book of Mormon set from the original manuscript, Part II

February 23, 2012 | 3 comments
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Previously appearing on Times and Seasons:

Part I: A tentative theory – the copyists for the printer’s manuscript didn’t work quickly enough

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One important question for this scenario is: Why did the copyists do that part of P that they supposedly fell behind in producing? If they had fallen behind and O was being used by the compositor, why not just skip over what was being typeset from O and work on producing P a few pages further on and thus catch up virtually immediately. In fact, they could have gone back later on to make the copy for that skipped portion of the text. Further, it seems rather strange that it would take them one sixth of the text to catch up. Of course, one could conjecture that they didn’t want Joseph Smith to know they were taking in O to the print shop rather than P (which was apparently against their earlier instructions). The whole point of making P was to have a backup for the text, just in case part of O was lost or stolen. But once some part of the text had been set from O, why worry about making a superfluous copy of the skipped portion? All of this conjecturing adds a conspiratorial aspect to this catch-up process. And one final conundrum: why did Oliver Cowdery proof scribe 2’s work in P against O (from 3 Nephi 19:21 to the end of Mormon) if all they needed to do was make Joseph Smith think they had made the copy as instructed?

Another question is whether there is actually any evidence that the copyists ever had a problem in keeping up in their copywork. We only have one point of reference for this question, but that clearly shows that the copyists were at the time over one month ahead in their copywork. Originally, at the beginning of August 1829, there was only the original manuscript. Sometime in August, Oliver Cowdery copied out the first gathering of P, 24 pages of text covering the first 14 chapters of 1 Nephi. Some time later, when Oliver got to Mosiah 25, he was relieved by the unknown scribe 2 of P. And several times this scribe 2 was momentarily relieved by Hyrum Smith. This relief work by scribe 2 and Hyrum went on until scribe 2 got into Alma 13, at which point Oliver took over once more as the main copyist. By 6 November 1829, the copywork had advanced at least up to Alma 36 because on that date Oliver Cowdery wrote a letter to Joseph Smith stating that they had reached that point in the copywork where the text gives Alma’s “commandment to his sons”.

Here I will construct a time-line for the 1829-30 typesetting of the first edition and assume that the typesetting proceeded fairly steadily up to about a week before the bound book was actually available, on 26 March 1830. I would guess that after all 37 signatures had been printed, a few dozen copies could be bound from the printed sheets within a week’s time or so. The typesetting began on about 27 August 1829 and continued through, then, to 20 March 1830. I assume here that the printers worked six days a week and took off maybe a couple days (at least for Christmas Day and maybe for New Year’s Day). This gives a total of 174 days for typesetting and printing the 37 signatures in the 1830 edition (this analysis is based on the actual 1828-29 calendar). Within these parameters, the printers are therefore averaging about 4.7 days to set and print each signature, giving us the following time-line for the end of each month:

month number of working days running total percent of text printed (averaged) place in text (averaged)
August 4 4 2.3 1 Nephi 4:28
September 26 30 17.2 2 Nephi 24:22
October 27 57 32.8 Mosiah 18:30
November 25 82 47.1 Alma 19:35
December 26 108 62.1 Alma 51:6
January 24 132 75.9 Helaman 15:12
February 24 156 89.7 Mormon 6:21
March 18 174 100.0 <end of book>

On 6 November 1829, the date of Oliver Cowdery’s letter to Joseph Smith, the printers would have been on their 62nd day and setting the text somewhere near Mosiah 26:28. They would have reached Alma 36 on the 95th day, about 15 December 1829, over a month later. So there is no evidence, at least by November 1829, that the copyists were falling behind in their work in producing P.

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Coming up tomorrow in Part III: A new explanation

Royal Skousen is editor of the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project and professor of linguistics and English language at Brigham Young University.

3 Responses to Why was one sixth of the 1830 Book of Mormon set from the original manuscript, Part II

  1. Keith on February 24, 2012 at 3:19 am

    Fun to read the story and watch a keen mind at work. Looking forward for the rest.

  2. James Olsen on February 24, 2012 at 9:27 am

    This really is a lot of fun. Looking forward to the next installment.

  3. Robert C. on February 24, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    On the edge of my seat…!

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