Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Lesson From Russell M. Nelson's On-the-Fly Heart Surgery Innovation: Sometimes Revelation Can Be Detailed and Technical

Russell M. Nelson examining a model of the human heart.
Last night I read an entire article from BYU Studies out loud to my wife so we could discuss and contemplate the remarkable content. The article is "Discovering a Surgical First: Russell M. Nelson and Tricuspid Valve Annuloplasty" by Austin A. Robinson and Curtis T. Hunter, BYU Studies, 54:1. A brief overview can be read on the BYU Studies website, and you can download the full PDF for $0.99 (better yet, just go ahead and subscribe to this excellent journal!).

As Austin Robinson mentions in his overview, the details of this remarkable event have not been widely appreciated. Most of what we knew came from Elder Nelson's description of the event in his April 2003 General Conference addresses, where spoke of an incident "during the early pioneering days of surgery of the heart" when a stake patriarch from southern Utah suffered much because of a failing heart.
He pleaded for help, thinking that his condition resulted from a damaged but repairable valve in his heart.

Extensive evaluation revealed that he had two faulty valves. While one could be helped surgically, the other could not. Thus, an operation was not advised. He received this news with deep disappointment.

Subsequent visits ended with the same advice. Finally, in desperation, he spoke to me with considerable emotion: "Dr. Nelson, I have prayed for help and have been directed to you. The Lord will not reveal to me how to repair that second valve, but He can reveal it to you. Your mind is so prepared. If you will operate upon me, the Lord will make it known to you what to do. Please perform the operation that I need, and pray for the help that you need."

His great faith had a profound effect upon me. How could I turn him away again? Following a fervent prayer together, I agreed to try. In preparing for that fateful day, I prayed over and over again, but still did not know what to do for his leaking tricuspid valve. Even as the operation commenced, my assistant asked, "What are you going to do for that?"

I said, "I do not know."

We began the operation. After relieving the obstruction of the first valve, we exposed the second valve. We found it to be intact but so badly dilated that it could no longer function as it should. While examining this valve, a message was distinctly impressed upon my mind: Reduce the circumference of the ring. I announced that message to my assistant. "The valve tissue will be sufficient if we can effectively reduce the ring toward its normal size."

But how? We could not apply a belt as one would use to tighten the waist of oversized trousers. We could not squeeze with a strap as one would cinch a saddle on a horse. Then a picture came vividly to my mind, showing how stitches could be placed—to make a pleat here and a tuck there—to accomplish the desired objective. I still remember that mental image—complete with dotted lines where sutures should be placed. The repair was completed as diagrammed in my mind. We tested the valve and found the leak to be reduced remarkably. My assistant said, "It's a miracle."

I responded, "It's an answer to prayer."
As with many faith-promoting stories, things are often more complicated than they seem. There are many details related to the specific procedure that Elder Nelson invented on the fly, plus details of what was revealed to him, the relationship to other heart procedures that were known, and the technical matters related to the condition he faced. When these are considered, a cool faith promoting story blossoms into an incredible, gritty, granular episode that almost overwhelms me. Please take a look at this account.

Doctor Nelson had been part of the team that developed the first successful heart-lung bypass machine at the University of Minnesota, work that was the basis of his Ph.D. dissertation. After Doctor Nelson came back from further training at Harvard's Mass. General Hospital, he brought the technique to Salt Lake City in 1955, making Utah the third state in the nation with open-heart surgery capabilities. This technique allowed surgeons to see the living heart in action and understand the many mysteries of valve function and other details of the heart, one of the most brilliantly designed organs of the human body. Yes, of course it's designed. Intricately, carefully, brilliantly--it's amazing that it's even possible. Reading the details discussed in this article should further increase your appreciation for the majesty of this vital part of the Lord's Creation.

In spite of the potential offered with new techniques, the tricuspid vale had received very little attention among surgeons by the late 1950s. Most of the problems people had were with the other side of the heart in the mitral valve, where rheumatic fever was a common factor causing valve failure. When Doctor Nelson decided to operate on what medical science then declared was an inoperable condition, he did not have the benefit of the experience of other surgeons in operating on the tricuspid valve.

As he started the surgery on May 24, 1960, he found the mitral valve had the "stenosis" he expected and he was able to treat it with known techniques. Then he turned to the right side of the heart and its tricuspid valve, where he found the kind of inoperable damage he expected to find. He could thrust all five fingers of his right hand through the greatly dilated valve into the right ventricle. As he pondered the severe damage, he had a critical impression: reduce the circumference of the ring. But how? People who had tried constricting ligatures on the mitral or aortic valves had resulted in spectacular failures and death. Purse-string sutures into the external heart tissue would eventually tear through the heart. Belt and strap approaches had also failed. It would be impossible to simple apply mitral valve techniques to this very different system. There was nothing to guide him--except God.

At this point an image was placed in Nelson's mind that gave detailed instructions about how to apply sutures to the flaps of the valve to pull them together and reduce the annulus diameter, restoring valve function. Brilliant.

What most impressed me was how technical the revelation was. As he looked at the second valve, with no idea what he could do, he was given a specific piece of information about the need to reduce the diameter of the annulus. He expressed that goal to his assistants, but neither he nor they knew how to achieve it. And then an image was placed in his mind that showed specific details, even with dotted lines indicating where sutures should go. On the fly, without years of animal testing and analysis, he invented and implemented a surprisingly clever procedure that would provide to be brilliantly correct and successful. It didn't take a series of patient deaths after the animal tests, as in other heart innovations, before it began to work. It was successful on the first try. Truly a miracle.

The article is heavy in technical detail and was a bit overwhelming at times, but well worth the exploration and learning. Enjoy!

This may also be helpful in understanding just what can happen when there is "tight control" in revelation. Certainly shows the extremes that the Lord can achieve in giving revelation. It's not all just warm fuzzies.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

An Even More Embarrassing Issue Involving the Book of Mormon

I may have erred recently when I spoke of the awkward phrase "in them days" as perhaps the most embarrassing language problem in the original text of the Book of Mormon. That phrase only occurs twice and is easy to miss, especially since it's long been edited out of the text. It was interesting, though, that it's not only acceptable Early Modern English, but also occurs in both cases in the midst of what appears to be Hebraic poetry, almost as if it were an ironic marker saying saying, "Look here! This is not as clumsy as you think."

A much better candidate for the most embarrassing language issue in the text is the ubiquitous and often annoying phrase, "and it came to pass." It has offended many, especially those eager to find fault with the Book of Mormon. Though it is biblical, of course, it is vastly overused compared to the Bible, occurring at over twice the rate found in the Bible. Clumsy, dull, awkward, annoying, and downright embarrassing. And it was even worse in the earliest text of the Book of Mormon, since many of its most awkward and annoying occurrences have been edited out to make the text sound like better modern English, though it's still highly loaded with the phrase. So there's my candidate for the most embarrassing aspect of the original Book of Mormon text.

It's also a good candidate for a marker having other interesting meanings, including another "Look here! This is not as clumsy as you think" marker. Donald W. Parry, an instructor in biblical Hebrew at BYU, explained why, as quoted at FAIRMormon.org:
The English translation of the Hebrew word wayehi (often used to connect two ideas or events), “and it came to pass,” appears some 727 times in the King James Version of the Old Testament. The expression is rarely found in Hebrew poetic, literary, or prophetic writings. Most often, it appears in the Old Testament narratives, such as the books by Moses recounting the history of the children of Israel.

As in the Old Testament, the expression in the Book of Mormon (where it appears some 1,404 times) occurs in the narrative selections and is clearly missing in the more literary parts, such as the psalm of Nephi (see 2 Ne. 4:20–25); the direct speeches of King Benjamin, Abinadi, Alma, and Jesus Christ; and the several epistles.
But why does the phrase “and it came to pass” appear in the Book of Mormon so much more often, page for page, than it does in the Old Testament? The answer is twofold. First, the Book of Mormon contains much more narrative, chapter for chapter, than the Bible. Second, but equally important, the translators of the King James Version did not always render wayehi as “and it came to pass.” Instead, they were at liberty to draw from a multitude of similar expressions like “and it happened,” “and … became,” or “and … was.”
Wayehi is found about 1,204 times in the Hebrew Bible, but it was translated only 727 times as “and it came to pass” in the King James Version. Joseph Smith did not introduce such variety into the translation of the Book of Mormon. He retained the precision of “and it came to pass,” which better performs the transitional function of the Hebrew word.
The Prophet Joseph Smith may not have used the phrase at all—or at least not consistently—in the Book of Mormon had he created that record. The discriminating use of the Hebraic phrase in the Book of Mormon is further evidence that the record is what it says it is—a translation from a language (reformed Egyptian) with ties to the Hebrew language. (See Morm. 9:32–33.)
[Ensign (December 1992), 29]
Interesting, no? But it gets even more intriguing.

One of our persistent critics was recently asked on this blog if he could conceive of any evidence in favor of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon that would at least motivate him to admit that it was "interesting." He took up the challenge and kindly responded by listing four things:
I think all of us doubters would be mightily impressed with a Central American inscription, written in Egyptian hieroglyphics, independently authenticated and dated to 600 BCE, that translated into I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents....

Pushover that I am, I would personally be satisfied with a Mayan inscription reading And it came to pass.... Or a 1600-year-old skeleton at the base of Hill Cumorah with a steel sword lodged in its ribs. Or the bones of a 1900-year-old horse unearthed amid the wheels and yoke of a chariot.
Nice list. Several are unreasonable and just aren't going to happen, but . . . be careful what you ask for, folks. As one of my other readers quickly pointed out with a link, there is in fact a Mayan glyph meaning essentially "and it came to pass," and a non-LDS scholar is the one who said "it came to pass" is a reasonable translation for it.

The Mayan usage and the whole story around "and it came to pass" is actually much more interesting, as told by Brant Gardner in "Does 'And it came to pass' Come to Pass Too Often?," Meridian Magazine, July 7, 2004. Read this, please. There you will see that "and it came to pass" was actually used frequently by the typesetter as a marker for breaks in the unpunctuated Book of Mormon text, akin to how it was used in Hebrew. You will also learn more about the surprisingly interesting Mayan connection. Since our critic was not, of course, serious in his statement, I can fully understand why none of this will actually be  particularly "interesting" to him and don't expect any softening of his stance, but to those open to investigating the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, this glaring, clumsy weakness in the text may actually be a surprising strength. It's worth thinking about.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Another Test: The 1835 Doctrine and Covenants Use of Command Syntax and What It Tells Us About the Language in the Book of Mormon

In a recent post examining the language of the Doctrine and Covenants, I found that the Early Modern English style of using "did" for past tense, such a common feature of the Book of Mormon, was not common in the Bible. I mentioned that the next test would be to look at command syntax, which Carmack Stanford has examined with surprising results. Basically, he has shown that the complex grammar involving the verb "command" in the Book of Mormon is rather characteristic of pre-KJV Early Modern English (EModD), differing sharply from the Bible. The Book of Mormon favors complex "layered" structures like, "He commanded the blogger that he should stop writing such boring posts" instead of the more modern pattern, "He commanded the blogger to stop writing such boring posts." When "command" governs a subsequent verb, the Book of Mormon strongly favors the former finite pattern, lacking the infinitive "to," while the Bible and modern English strongly favor the latter infinitive form. The finite form is used 79% of the time in the Book of Mormon, but only 18% in the King James Bible.

Looking through the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants as a tool for examining Joseph's language, I find 44 occurrences of the verb "command" plus a verb. 28 are in the infinitive form and only 16 in the finite form, for a 36% finite rate, way below what's in the Book of Mormon and much closer to the Bible. More to come....

Update, Aug. 9, 2016: Analysis of the use of command syntax in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants as well as in our current edition shows strong differences in command syntax relative to the Book of Mormon. The results tend to be closer to the King James Bible's usage, though there may be an influence from Book of Mormon language in the Doctrine and Covenants text, especially for the sections written prior to publication of the Book of Mormon.

Note from Aug. 10, 2016: I have revised my counting method to more closely follow Dr. Carmack's preferred counting technique. Some of my previous numbers involved overcounting. If the infinitive "to" only occurs once after "command," it's one instance of an infinitive verb, even if additional verbs follows. Likewise, if there is only one "that" in a finite phrase, it counts as one instance even if more than one verb is governed by "command." The overall rates change very little because my overcounting affected both finite and infinitive forms roughly equally. The same applies for layered versus simple. One important error, though, was taking Carmack's rate of 73% layered in the Book of Mormon to apply to all uses of command. It actually applies to the finite verb cases. The overall rate of the finite case in the Book of Mormon is 58%. Sentences with "command" governing a verb are in finite form 79% of the time in the Book of Mormon, and 73% of those finite case are in layered format, for an overall layered rate of 58%.

The 1835 text has 40 instances of the verb "command" in some form directly governing one or more other verbs, with a total of 44 50 verbs that are so governed.  The governed verbs are in finite form 14 16 times, or 32% of the time, while they are infinitives 68% of the time. The 32% finite form rate is far below the 79% rate in the Book of Mormon (based on the Earliest Text), but somewhat higher than the 18% rate of the King James Bible.

Finite forms are often in the layered structure, e.g., "I command him that he shall...." instead of the simple form, "I commanded him to ...." However, "that" plus a finite verb can also occur in a simple, non-layered form, as in "I have commanded that you should pretend to no other gift...."

A count of layered vs. simple format for command syntax in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants gives 31 35 occurrences of governed verbs in simple format and 13 15 in layered format, for an overall layered rate of 29.5% 30%. Carmack reports a layered rate of 58% 73% in the Book of Mormon, and 7% (37.5% of the 18.8% finite forms) in the King James Bible.

Of the 40 occurrences of "command" as a verb governing another verb, in 27 cases the command form was entirely simple, in 11 cases it was entirely layered, and in 2 cases a single instance of "command" was used with both forms. Thus, the verb "command" was used in layered forms 13 times (11 pure occurrences+ 2 mixed occurrences), and counting the mixed cases twice in the denominator, we get a rate of 13/42 = 31% for the rate at which the verb "command" is applied in layered formats. Similarly, the rate at which "command" is followed by finite verbs is 33%.

In tracking command syntax, I attempt to follow Carmack Stanford in identifying forms of the verb "command" that govern at least one other verb. Sometimes an instance of "command" governs two or more verbs, and in two cases the results are mixed, meaning, for example, that "command" governs both a finite verb and an infinitive, as in: "I command you, my servant Joseph, to repent [infinitive] and walk more uprightly before me, and yield to the persuasions of men no more; and that you be firm [finite form] in keeping the commandments...," which has one three infinitive verbs [to occurs once + verb(s)] and one finite verb [be] in a "layered" structure (e.g., "command you that you" + finite verb, which is often the auxiliary/modal verb should/shall + another verb).

The 1835 Doctrine and Covenants' first two occurrences of command syntax come from quoting Genesis 3 ("commanded that they should be brought unto Adam" and "The woman whom you gave me, and commanded that she should remain with me"). I exclude these from the statistics since they do not help us understand the language of Joseph Smith and the scriptures he created, but that exclusion has very minor impact on that statistics.

Our current printing of the Doctrine and Covenants is different in many ways, lacking the Lectures on Faith, having a variety of textual changes, and also having revelations given after the printing of the 1835 edition. Analysis of its command syntax shows the verb "command" in some form was used to govern one or more verbs 56 times, with a total of 60 70 verbs being so governed.  Of those 60 70 verbs, 46 53 occur in a simple form and 14 17 in a layered form, for an overall layered rate of 14/60 17/70 = 23.3% 24.3%. These verbs occur as infinitives 45 52 times and as finite verbs 15 18 times, for a finite verb rate of 15/60 18/70= 25.0% 25.7%. These rates are closer to the low rates in the King James Bible and remote from the high levels of the Book of Mormon.

The 56 instances of the verb "command" governing other verbs occur in purely simple forms 42 times, purely layered forms 11, and mixed forms 3 times. They govern only infinitives 41 times, only finite verbs 12 times, and mixed forms 3 times, showing a finite rate of 25.4%.

Though it may be a statistical fluke due to small sample size, the command syntax in the modern printing of the Doctrine and Covenants seems to show a high finite rate (over 50%) in the earliest sections recorded before the publication of the Book of Mormon.  Sections 5 (the earliest occurrence of relevant command syntax) through 19 (recorded shortly before publication of the Book of Mormon) show 15 occurrences of finite form command syntax and 8 in the infinitive, for a finite rate of 65%, rather close to the Book of Mormon. After that, the finite syntax plummets.

If that observation is correct and if it has any significance, then one might speculate that during the days of preparing the Book of Mormon and its manuscripts, it may have been that at least this aspect of Book of Mormon language was fresh and strong in Joseph's mind, and subtly influenced other writings or dictation at this time. Following publication of the Book of Mormon, perhaps his own language became more controlling.

The question, of course, is whether Book of Mormon language was influencing Joseph, or whether it was entirely the other way around. If he was a prophet and was obtaining revelation to dictate the text of the Book of Mormon with a tightly controlled process, I can see the logic of a the language of the translation affecting him strongly during this period. On the other hand, one can assume it was just his natural language all along, affected by his desired to sound archaic and scriptural, and that those constraints gave us the language of the Book of Mormon, which then may have changed naturally as he matured. Or perhaps other hypotheses need to be explored.

As with the exploration of the subtle use of "did" in the Book of Mormon for past tense, and its general absence in the Doctrine and Covenants, this tentative and possibly error-prone examination of command syntax suggests that an appeal to Joseph's natural language and his desire to imitate the KJV fails to account for the high level of layered, finite command syntax in the Book of Mormon. However, the presence of high levels of finite syntax during the early days of the Doctrine and Covenants that overlapped the Book of Mormon translation and preparation process could suggest that such high levels do not necessarily require miraculous guidance. On the other hand, those trends could also be explained as a side effect of the miraculous guidance that gave Joseph the text to dictate to his scribes in the first place, which may have subtly but strongly influenced how he formulated command syntax when giving other scripture during that time. As always, further work is needed, and this present work may contain a variety of errors requiring revision. Your feedback is welcome.

Friday, August 07, 2015

An Old Story Gets a New Face: The Seer Stone and the Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon

Photo of the long-discussed seer stone used by Joseph Smith.
What's interesting news for many Latter-day Saints is, for some of our critics, simply earth-shattering and hopely faith-shattering for benighted Mormons. "Mormon church releases photos of ‘seer stone’ used by founder Joseph Smith" is the headline at the Salt Lake Tribune.

From the various accounts of Joseph's translation process for the Book of Mormon that have been published for many years, it has long been clear that Joseph used a seemingly ordinary rock as a "seer stone" for at least a significant portion of the translation process. See, for example, the Church's prior statement in the LDS Topics area of LDS.org entitled "Book of Mormon Translation" and Richard Lloyd Anderson's 1977 Ensign article on the topic (the Tribune says 1974, a minor error), where the mechanics of the seer stone and the hat are mentioned. Elder Russell M. Nelson also discussed this in detail in his 1993 Ensign article, "A Treasured Testament," which I highly enjoyed. As I understand it, Joseph stared at the seer stone in the darkness provided by a hat and somehow was able to dictate words hour after hour to his scribes to provide the original text of the Book of Mormon.

Was there something miraculous--something even cooler than iPad technology, for example--about this stone or the two stones in the Urim and Thummim that came with the gold plates? Did he actually see something with his physical eyes, as David Whitmer thought, or did he otherwise see or sense something in his mind? Was the real purpose of the physical stone simply to help him concentrate and receive inspiration? We really don't know.

We don't know what was going on in Joseph's mind, but we can be pretty sure what wasn't going on in the hat: he wasn't staring in the dark at a paper manuscript written by Solomon Spaulding or some mysterious team of scholars capable of plausibly describing places and even names in the Arabian Peninsula, and also capable of crafting Hebraic poetry, Hebraic puns, and awkward, even laughable English phrases that are good Semitic phrases. Of course, if there had been a carefully crafted text in the first place, why go through the hassle of spending three months dictating the text word for word? Just hand the text to the printer, or at least hand the text to a scribe to make a copy for the printer. Why add a painful three-month delay that would introduce many typos and result in a dictated text devoid of much-needed punctuation, that surely would have already been present in a real but fraudulent source manuscript?

Multiple witnesses of the process also affirm that he did not even have a Bible present, though the dictated text closely follows the KJV (though with hundreds of mostly subtle differences). It's close enough to the KJV, including parts that seem to have flaws, that many LDS people have assumed he must have had the KJV text to use when the Book of Mormon quotes the Bible, but something else may have been going on. The dictated text seems to generally use the KJV when it is close enough to the theological purposes of the Book of Mormon, not giving us the miraculous update to a perfectly translated pristine Ur-text that we would readily convince scholars today.

While the nature of the translation process is puzzling, it is clear, however, that the text was actually dictated to scribes just as they and other witnesses maintained. The surviving portions of the original manuscript make it obvious that this was an orally dictated text. That's an important part of the story in the recent release from the Church, which highlights the significance of the original text, the printer's manuscript, and the massive project to provide the papers of Joseph Smith (see JosephSmithPapers.org) and the massive work of Royal Skousen giving us the Earliest Text manuscript for the Book of Mormon.

Understanding the origins of the Book of Mormon requires careful, detailed consideration of the Earliest Text, our best estimate of the words actually dictated by Joseph. It is there we find much that was laughable in Joseph's day which has become a little more respectable upon further examination.

Regarding that text, the LDS.org statement on the translation process say this:
The manuscript that Joseph Smith dictated to Oliver Cowdery and others is known today as the original manuscript, about 28 percent of which still survives. This manuscript corroborates Joseph Smith’s statements that the manuscript was written within a short time frame and that it was dictated from another language. For example, it includes errors that suggest the scribe heard words incorrectly rather than misread words copied from another manuscript. In addition, some grammatical constructions that are more characteristic of Near Eastern languages than English appear in the original manuscript, suggesting that the base language of the translation was not English.

Unlike most dictated drafts, the original manuscript was considered by Joseph Smith to be, in substance, a final product. To assist in the publication of the book, Oliver Cowdery made a handwritten copy of the original manuscript. This copy is known today as the printer’s manuscript. Because Joseph Smith did not call for punctuation, such as periods, commas, or question marks as he dictated, such marks are not in the original manuscript. The typesetter later inserted punctuation marks when he prepared the text for the printer. With the exceptions of punctuation, formatting, other elements of typesetting, and minor adjustments required to correct copying and scribal errors, the dictation copy became the text of the first printed edition of the book.
Elder Nelson's article on the the Book of Mormon goes on to discuss its Hebraisms and bad grammar in English that shows Semitic origins, and even cites the story of Sami Hanna, a neighbor and close friend of his, who was convinced of the ancient authenticity of the Book of Mormon's text after translating it into Arabic. (Brother Hanna gave a powerful fireside on his experience in my ward when I was a teenager that my mother still talks about to this day. Sadly, I skipped it. One of my regrets in life.)

Among the example of the laughable content in the original Book of Mormon, consider a section from a learned critic of the Book of Mormon, Martin T. Lamb, in his 1901 work, The Mormons and their Bible:

His first example is still with us in the current printing of the Book of Mormon, while the second example has long-since been corrected to more conventional English.

His objection to someone "being stabbed ... by a garb of secrecy" is readily resolved by considering the Hebrew origins of the text. John Tvedtnes explains:
In Helaman 9:6, we read that the Nephite judge had been “stabbed by his brother by a garb of secrecy.” Critics have contended that this makes no sense in English, since “garb” has the same meaning as “garment” or “clothing.” This idiom is the same as the English “under cloak of secrecy.”[iii] But what is most interesting is that the Hebrew word begged means both “garment” or “garb” (e.g., Genesis 39:12-13) and “treachery.”[iv] This is an obvious word-play in the Hebrew original of the Book of Mormon. As for the preposition “by,” in Hebrew its range of meaning includes “in,” (locative), “with” or “by means of” (instrumental).
This kind of thing is found on page after page of the Book of Mormon. Names, word usage, and grammar that is objectionable to learned critics turns out to be plausible or even to offer serious evidence for ancient authenticity far beyond the ability of Joseph Smith to fabricate.

But Lamb's second example is the really hilarious one from Alma 46:19 that he relishes at length. Joseph was such a clod that he didn't realize that once you "rend" a garment, you can't "wave the rent of the garment in the air" and you can't "write upon the rent." How utterly stupid, eh? No wonder it was later changed in 1906 to indicate that that Moroni waived "the rent part" of the garment. Funny thing, though, is that this expression reflects pretty accurate Hebrew. John Tvedtnes explains in BYU Studies, Vol. 11, No. 1 (Autumn 1970), p. 50 :
[In] the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, we read that "when Moroni had said these words, he went forth among the people, waving the rent of his garment in the air." (p. 351.) When the word "rent" is used as a noun in English, it may refer to a hole caused by rending, but not, to my knowledge, to a portion of rent cloth; the unlikely usage of "rent" in English as a noun no doubt contributed to the fact that, in subsequent editions of the Book of Mormon, it was changed to read "rent part" (Alma 46:19). But the Hebrews would, in this instance, use but one word, qera', "rent (part)," coming from qara', "he rent, tore," for nouns, in Hebrews, are derived from roots--as are Hebrews verbs--by the addition of certain vowel patterns that distinguish them from other parts of speech.
The original text has numerous such "flaws" which reflect its Semitic origins that "leaked" through the translation process, indicative of some level of "tight control" in the generation of the text that Joseph dictated. Understanding them helps us appreciate the nature of the dictated text.

But what of the awkward "had wrote" in Alma 46:19, which has since been corrected to "had written" to give it a more standard modern English form? Had wrote--isn't that just uneducated dialect? The issue is related to the very similar problem of "had smote" in the original text of the Book of Mormon that is discussed by Dr. Stanford Carmack in "A Look at Some “Nonstandard” Book of Mormon Grammar," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 11 (2014): 209-262:
Next we consider I had smote. To many of us, smote seems to be a past-tense verb form defectively used in a pluperfect construction. The KJV doesn’t use smote in this way. From [Page 219]the perspective of that important biblical text, past-participial smote is a grammatical error; it seems like smitten should have been used in 1 Nephi 4:19 (and in Alma 17:39; 20:30; 26:29; 51:20; Ether 15:31). Indeed, in the latest LDS edition there is only standardized smitten in these contexts, a clear reflection of that view. But smote is specifically noted in the OED as functioning as a past participle for centuries in English, beginning in the 16th century. The OED contains about 10 examples of this usage. Here are two representative quotations from that dictionary, one with smote used in the passive voice,24 one with smote used in the active voice:
1597 Beard Theatre God’s Judgm. (1612) 309 He caused..the Citie of the Priests to be smote with the edge of the sword. 1658 Manton Exp. Jude verse 3. Wks. 1871 V. 98 The goose-quill hath smote antichrist under the fifth rib.25
As a result, we are justified in thinking that smote is the correctly translated word.
That conclusion is based on the thesis that Early Modern English is actually in the Book of Mormon as originally dictated, which I'll mention in a moment. First let me point out that a search of "had wrote" and "hath wrote" shows that this non-standard usage for our days also has deep roots in written English, suggesting that like its "hath smote" cousin, was not non-standard in the past. E.g., Shakespeare's 1608 King Lear has a "hath wrote." Other texts using it date to 1588, for example.  But why would we care about Early Modern English and think it has anything to do with the 19th century translation of the Book of Mormon?

In my opinion, a whole new level of rich data to explore has been opened up in Royal Skousen's careful work pointing to unusual elements in the dictated text that show numerous features of archaic English that actually cannot be obtained by simply imitating the King James Bible. Beyond the Hebraisms of the text, a controversial and somewhat shocking, even troubling discovery, something that should be much more interesting than the appearance of the seer stone, is the finding that much of the awkward grammar of the Book of Mormon, long thought to just reflect Joseph's poor education, is not so much bad modern English as it is good Early Modern English (EModE), often reflecting an era in the language slightly before the King James Bible.

This finding from Royal Skousen, who understands the original text of the Book of Mormon better than any other scholar today, coupled with heavy additional analysis from a linguist, Dr. Stanford Carmack, has been the subject of several posts here at Mormanity with some further analysis and exploration of my own. What it means and how it happened is the subject of ongoing speculation and debate, but it's something that demands attention for anyone interested in understanding how the translation took place and what it actually is. They suggest that their work buttresses the case that the dictated text had some level of tight control. It at least seems that something was going on that simply cannot be explained by Joseph fabricating the text himself or just making stuff up as he dictated hour after hour. That's part of the real story here and it's a story that is just getting started as we explore the data. Not sure where it will lead and if it will withstand more detailed investigation, but I look forward to learning more.

In any case, the stone is a blank slate for us, while the dictated text offers a treasure trove of information remaining to be dug out.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Inspired By a Technical Suport Call--Will Miracles Never Cease?

Often when I'm calling customer service, especially for technical support issues with computer or software trouble, the call is frustrating and often a painful waste of time. I often encounter people who really don't know enough about the technology they are supporting to provide serious help. Sometimes I have to say, "May I please speak with your supervisor?" in order to reach someone who can actually help. Yesterday, though, I asked that question for a completely different reason: I was stunned and delighted with the quality of support my wife and I were receiving, and I wanted to make sure the company knew.

My wife was having some serious issues with her iPhone that we felt really needed tech support. We were both tired, but to catch Apple tech support during their business hours, we made a late evening call from China, and quickly reached a man named Chris. No long waiting--very nice. As we described a serious of issues and problems that would baffle many tech support call centers, he patiently walked us through a number of steps and helped us troubleshoot very efficiently. I was impressed with his cheerful, friendly tone. It was like an old friend kindly helping us out.

He not only knew his stuff, but he knew how to explain things to ordinary mortals to help them better understand, and did it all in a positive, friendly way that made it fun to chat with him. At one point, as he helped us understand what had gone wrong in a previous software update, he started using a home-spun analogy about what might happen to a patient getting brain surgery if the patient were dragged away from the doctors in the middle of surgery. It was hilarious, and I had to jump in at that point.

"Chris, as someone who has been jaded for years over bad tech support calls, I have to say this is the most positive, even delightful tech support experience we've had. I wish I could talk to your boss to let him know!"

"Actually, he's right here, if you'd like to."

"Yes, absolutely!"

I found that he had a boss with a sense of humor and enough patience to listen to a couple of delighted customers praise his employees. When I mentioned his clever analogies, the boss chuckled because this was a trademark of Chris's style. He's a natural teacher who uses a variety of tools to help his customers.

Wow. It was like being in a different dimension. An out of body experience. I came away from a tech support call not feeling upset and frustrated, but actually inspired. I don't mean to promote any particular company, but I do want to promote the positive example that Chris set for us.

What would life be like in the Church if we could provide that kind of friendly, positive, attentive "technical support" to our members when they have questions and problems? What if home teachers and visiting teachers gave that kind of energy to their work? What if bishops and other local leaders could consistently imitate Chris's great example? They do a great job in many cases, but sometimes we tend to overlook the sincerity and the deep needs behind tough questions asked by members or investigators. "Pray about it" or "Reinstall your testimony" may not sufficiently helpful responses. We may not have answers, but helping others get in contact with those who do would be much better than ignoring the problem. "Please hold" and an endless round of the Tabernacle Choir is not going to solve the problem.

Great customer service can work wonders. Let's pay more attention to how we serve and stay cheerful, positive, and helpful. Of course, that's what we should all know, but this little episode brought that message home to me in a new way.

Part of what made the call so fun for us was being able to praise someone to their boss. Perhaps when we see great things from those who serve us, thanking them and letting others know might make things even better and encourage the kindness we experienced.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

An Embarrassment . . . of Riches in the Book of Mormon Text--And a Surprise from "Them Days"

When I first opened up my newly purchased blue-bound volume from Royal Skousen containing the details of the surviving original text of the Book of Mormon, I was immediately disappointed. Yikes, hick grammar! Not just archaic KJV language, but genuinely bad grammar, like "he found Muloki a preaching the word." I was chagrinned and wondered why we couldn't get more up-to-date English in the divine text. Having the beautifully printed summation of Royal Skousen's work, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), hereafter The Earliest Text, lessens the impact of the awkward grammar, but the discomfort is still there.

As I read more about the process, I came to terms with the idea that God could give revelation to people in their own language, even their own dialect. I guess that was OK--except now there's growing evidence that many of these "errors" weren't necessarily the result of Joseph's New England dialect and aren't as much bad English as much as they are legitimate older English, namely, Early Modern English, often slightly predating the era of the King James Bible, in spite of heavy quotations therefrom. Puzzling, strange, weird, and controversial--but with detailed data that shouldn't be ignored.

While I saw some grammar that bothered me, I'm glad the first few pages I looked at did not contain what may be the most jarring grammatical oddity in the text: "in them days," with two painful occurrences in the Earliest Text of the Book of Mormon at Helaman 7:8 and 13:37, which Joseph mercifully exterminated in the 1837 edition. It's not just quaint or archaic to my ears, but immediately evokes a visceral reaction in me because it sounds so uneducated. Please, I can handle someone a preaching as they are a going, but not if it happens "in them days."

Naturally, it came as a relief and a surprise to see that "them days" did occur occasionally in formal EModE, as Stanford Carmack demonstrates in "A Look at Some 'Nonstandard' Book of Mormon Grammar," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 11 (2014): 209-262.

As I wondered about those two occurrences, it seemed strange that they were so close together in the Book of Mormon, both in the Book of Helaman. I wondered if there might be other factors that their usage had in common. Interestingly, I discovered that both occur within quotations of public laments from prophets, quotations rich in parallelism, with apparent elements of Hebrew poetry such as paired bicola.

Here's the first occurrence in Helaman 7:
6. ... And he did exclaim in the agony of his soul:
7. Oh, that I could have had my days in the days
when my father Nephi first came out of the land of Jerusalem,
that I could have joyed with him in the promised land.
Then were his people easy to be entreated,
firm to keep the commandments of God,
and slow to be led to do iniquity.
And they were quick to hearken unto the words of the Lord.
8. Yea, if my days could have been in them days,
then would my soul have had joy in the righteousness of my brethren.
9. But behold, I am consigned that these are my days
and that my soul shall be filled with sorrow
because of this the wickedness of my brethren.

Look at the nice grouping of parallel elements in couplets (paired bicola):
A. Nephi in Jerusalem / him [Nephi] in the promised land
B. easy to be entreated / firm to keep the commandments
C. slow to do iniquity / quick to hearken
D. them days, soul have had joy in righteousness of brethren / these days, soul shall filled with sorrow [from] wickedness of my brethren.
In addition to this series of four paired bicola, there may be a small chiastic structure as well in verses 7-9:
A. Past days: joy with my father Nephi
   B. easy to be entreated
      C. firm to keep the commandments
      C'. slow to do iniquity.
   B'. quick to hearken.
A'. Current days: sorrow with my wicked brethren.

Here's the passage from Helaman 13, taken from the Earliest Text prepared by Royal Skousen:
32 ... And then [in the days of your poverty] shall ye weep and howl in that day, saith the Lord of Hosts, and then shall ye lament, and say:
33. O that I had repented
and had not killed the prophets and stoned them and cast them out.
Yea, in that day ye shall say:
O that we had remembered the Lord our God
in the day that he gave us our riches,
and then they would not have become slippery,
that we should lose them.
For behold, our riches are gone from us.
34. Behold, we lay a tool here and on the morrow it is gone.
And behold, our swords are taken from us
in the day we have sought them for battle.
35. Yea, we have hid up our treasures,
and they have slipped away from us, because of the curse of the land.
36. O that we had repented in the day that the word of the Lord came unto us.
For behold the land is cursed;
and all things are become slippery, and we cannot hold them.
37. Behold, we are surrounded by demons;
yea, we are encircled about by the angels of him
who hath sought to destroy our souls.
Behold, our iniquities are great. O Lord, canst thou not turn away thine anger from us?
And this shall be your language in them days.

Parallelism also abounds in this lament of the prophet, Samuel the Lamanite:
A. then shall ye weep and howl / then shall ye lament,
B. repented and not killed the prophets / stoned them and cast them out, had remembered the Lord
C. our riches, become slippery / our riches are gone from us.
D. tool … on the morrow it is gone / swords are taken in the day of battle.
E. hid up our treasures / they have slipped away from us
F. curse of the land, repented [turned toward God] / word of the Lord , the land is cursed;
G. all things slippery / we cannot hold them.
H. surrounded by demons / encircled by Satan's angels
I. destroy our souls / our iniquities are great.
And there may be a chiastic structure:
A. then shall ye weep and howl in that day,
 B. O that I had repented
  C. killed the prophets and stoned them and cast them out [destroy the prophets, great sins listed]
   D. remembered the Lord our God
    E. Riches have become slippery, that we should lose them [BIG SLIPPERY SECTION]
     F. the curse of the land.
      G/G': O that we had repented in the day that the word of the Lord came unto us.
     F'. the land is cursed;
    E'. all things are become slippery, and we cannot hold them.
   D'. surrounded by demons of Satan
  C'. destroy our souls / our iniquities are great.
 B'. O Lord, canst thou not turn away thine anger from us?
A'. And this shall be your language in them days.

Section E comprises several lines introducing the theme of slippery riches. Above it is collapsed to its key phrasing, but it may actually be a chiasmus within a chiasmus:
A. our riches have become slippery
  B. our riches are gone
    C. a tool here and on the morrow it is gone.
    C'. our swords are taken from us in the day of battle.
  B'. hid up our treasures
A'. they have slipped away from us
Reference to "days" (including "the morrow") occur in the middle of the slippery chiasmus, and in the middle and outer ends of the large chiasmus. Days is a unifying feature, and the jarring "in them days" at the end almost seems to invite us to look at these often-overlooked words in new ways to understand the structure and poetry that is there. Poetry marked with an ironic instance of hick grammar (albeit acceptable EModE)--strange, I know. Yes, perhaps it's another example of the many ironies found in the Book of Mormon, where weak and foolish things start getting a little stronger and smarter over time.

Or is it just an overactive imagination on my part? Intended Hebraic poetry? Actual EModE? All just the result of Joseph's natural lack of education in the frontier spewing out bad grammar? I think there's more than lucky accidents going on in the sophisticated text that Joseph Smith dictated rapidly to his scribes back in them days.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Did You Notice? What the Doctrine and Covenants Tells Us About the Earliest Text of the Book of Mormon

Introduction and Overview

For those of us puzzled over the fascinating and fairly strong occurrence (so it seems, tentatively) of Early Modern English (EModE) in the Book of Mormon, the way it got there is a subject of debate and speculation. One hypothesis is that Joseph's natural dialect (New England?) coupled with his attempt to sound scriptural, imitating archaic forms in the KJV, might have produced the results we see. The challenge is that the KJV doesn't provide the knowledge he would need to do much of what he did in dictating the Book of Mormon text with so many EModE elements. Did his natural speech provide the rest? It's hard to say, but one suggestion has been to compare his original form of the Doctrine and Covenants, the 1835 version, for clues. So here are my initial observations.

Using the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants (available online at Josephsmithpapers.org), I have considered how the word did was used in light of Stanford Carmack's article, "The Implications of Past-Tense Syntax in the Book of Mormon," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 14 (2015).

My hypothesis before I dug into the text was that Joseph, whether he was a prophet or a fraud, would likely have maintained many subtle aspects of the linguistic fingerprint of the Book of Mormon that he translated/authored, so I would not expect the two texts to be extremely different. For us believers in the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, we may hypothesize that Joseph's dictation of the Book of Mormon text was largely a reflection of his own language and dialect, coupled with KJV language, or we might hypothesize that there was often tight control of the dictated text and that the language he uttered to his scribes was largely given by inspiration. Either way, I would expect the scriptural language of the Doctrine and Covenants to preserve some Book of Mormon elements, probably including some of the subtle ones with EModE flavor, though I would also expect the EModE influence to be somewhat weaker. If it suddenly became much stronger as modern scripture was generated, that would be a surprise. If it was nearly as strong, perhaps that would suggest that it was still his natural language with surprising EMoDE remnants or that the language of revelation was, for Joseph at least, somehow "dialed in" to an EModE-heavy dialect.

If a significant part of the EModE in the Book of Mormon was largely foreign to Joseph's language and seemingly the result of a puzzling miraculous transmission of translated text somewhat predating KJV language, as Carmack and Skousen argue, then I would expect that he surely would have learned from his dictation and subsequent study of the text, and would have naturally applied similar conventions and style to some degree, but to a lesser degree, as he penned the Doctrine and Covenants or even as he gave religious lectures. Again, I'd expect the EModE to be toned down somewhat.

My surprise is just how different the Book of Mormon is from the Doctrine and Covenants. Though the language of the Doctrine and Covenants has a KJV feel, the subtle things that reveal EModE influence in the Book of Mormon are much different in the Doctrine and Covenants (based on my brief explorations so far). It's as if the EModE signal has been almost wiped out. It's that way when I look at the subtle use of did to express past events. It's that way when I look at characteristic non-KJV phrases with EModE flavor like "if it so be." The Doctrine and Covenants has a touch of those things, but just a touch. A surprisingly light touch that points to something really remarkable taking place in the language of the Book of Mormon, something that appears to be surprisingly independent of Joseph's personal writing style.

These are tentative observations that will require further study. Maybe I'm missing a lot. But I think when it comes to the language of the Book of Mormon, we've all been missing a lot for a long time. There's an fascinating story waiting to be revealed. It may not be what we are expecting nor what we are comfortable with. But I'm anxious to see where it will lead in the end. The Book of Mormon invites, even demands scrutiny. It's time we dig in more.


By way of background, Carmack examines the Book of Mormon's heavy use of did in ways that are archaic for modern English. What's interesting is that the way did is used in the Book of Mormon was already somewhat archaic when the KJV text was prepared, but statistically fits well with its usage in the mid to late 1500s. Carmack looks at a particular form of did, the affirmative declaratory periphrastic did ("ADP did"), in which an affirmative sentence expresses the past tense by using did plus a verb, as in "Moroni did arrive with his army." ADP usage is not intended to be emphatic ("actually, I must confess that I did eat that donut") nor is it used in questions ("Did you eat it?" is not ADP).

ADP did has several variants. Did can be adjacent the verb (that's adjacency) or separated by one or more words (ellipsis). It can occur in inverted order with the subject after did (inversion, e.g., "thus did Alma and Amulek go forth"). It can also have an adverb or an adverbial phrase between did and the infinitive (intervening adverbial use, as in "I Nephi did again with my brethren go forth into the wilderness").

The KJV definitely has ADP did, perhaps most famously in Genesis 3:6:
[Eve] took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
For critics not willing to read and consider the analysis of Carmack, that one bite of ADP did is all that's needed to demonstrate how Joseph crafted past tense in the Book of Mormon. He just glommed onto Genesis 3:6 and used that pattern over and over. In fact, he way overdid did, just like he overdid "and it came to pass." But just as subsequent analysis of the Book of Mormon annoying abundance of "and it came to pass" actually points to long-missed strengths in the text and authentic aspects of this usage that go beyond merely imitating the sparser use in the KJV (see Brant Gardner, "Does 'And it came to pass' Come to Pass Too Often?", Meridian Magazine, July 2004; see also a relevant article FairMormon.org), so also Joseph's seemingly clunky and annoying overuse of did points to something more sophisticated than mindless overuse of an infrequent KJV artifact.

What's interesting is how widely the KJV text differs from the Book of Mormon in how did is used. Of the 6,797 past tense counts Carmack has found in the Book of Mormon, there are 4,951 occurrences of simple past tense and 1,846 occurrences of ADP did, giving a gargantuan ADP did rate of 27.2%. In the Bible, with only 515 occurrences of ADP did and nearly 30,000 cases of simple past tense, the ADP did is a meager 1.7%.

The differences go beyond just the magnitude of ADP did occurrences, but also in how they are broken down among variants, as shown in Table 1 from Carmack's article.

When it comes to did and especially ADP did, the KJV text has quite a different flavor than the Book of Mormon.

Alvar Ellegård, a non-LDS scholar who dug into ADP did and its history in English, has shown that ADP did usage had a sharp peak in the mid-to-late 1500s, reaching an average rate of nearly 10%, while it was only around 2% in the 1520s when Tyndale's Bible came out that heavily influenced the KJV text. When the KJV Bible was published, ADP did was plummeting sharply again, being around 3%, and would continue to taper off. Today we rarely use it.

From documents such as the Salem Witch Trials, we can see that ADP did persisted at relatively high level in New England speech into the 17th century, but not as high as during the peak era of EModE. After the 18th century, ADP did does not appear at high rates in a sustained way as it does in the Book of Mormon, based on Carmack's searching so far: "Sustained high-rate use of ADP did has been found so far only in 16c and 17c texts. A good measure of this use seems to be past-tense expression consisting of at least 20% adjacency usage. The BofM has these high levels of use."

The ties to EModE extend beyond the high overall rates alone. Statistics for adjacency, inversion, and intervening adverbial use also show rates consistent with EModE texts and removed from modern English and from other texts of Joseph's day, including texts seeking to imitate KJV language.

The Bible use of ADP did is lopsided in the verbs it is applied to. Over 115 of its 500 counts (over 20%) involve "did(st) eat", as in Genesis 3. In the Book of Mormon, the most common verb used in ADP did is go, with only 54 counts, less than 3%, pointing to a more relatively more uniform distribution. Analysis of ADP did with individual verbs also shows fairly good correspondences with EModE texts. For example, the Book of Mormon avoids "did die," always using the simple past tense instead--a feature consistent with other early EModE texts. Analysis of other verbs gives mixed results, but generally consistent with EModE usage.

During the brief era of high ADP did usage in English, some religious texts had rates as high as 51%, even higher than what we have in the Book of Mormon. But did New England dialect maintain high ADP did rates? Carmack notes that evidence from the Salem Witch Trials points to rates as high as 3% among some New Englanders in the 1690s, when the rate in England was generally even lower. But this elevated rate in New England dialect doesn't come close to accounting for the high rates in the Book of Mormon. ADP did rates were on the decline after the 1690s, and the low rate (1.7%) in the KJV Bible would be expected to exert a leveling effect on any dialects with high rates. As further evidence of how New Englanders used ADP did in Joseph's day, Ethan Smith's scant use of it in View of the Hebrews provides further evidence that the Book of Mormon's verbiage is not a product of Joseph's environment, an issue Carmack explores at length in his article. Others who wrote text with imitations of KJV language do not replicate these high rates of ADP did. High ADP did is a surprising and unexpected feature of the Book of Mormon's dictated text.

Ellegård, the scholar who did the groundwork of analysis of ADP did in English, notes that it was heavily favored by preachers and other elites in English speaking society. Carmack builds on this to offer a possible reason for its preference in the translated Book of Mormon text:

[The ADP did form] may have been chosen to adopt a plain syntax that is more than appropriate for a formal religious text in light of its historical development. (The plainness of the syntax follows from its use of unmarked infinitival stems along with high frequency did and didst, as well as usage such as they did beat which is unambiguously past tense, as opposed to opaque they beat.)

So ADP did may have served a useful role in creating a plain and simple but distinctly scriptural text. Whatever the reason, the data point to something interesting going on, something beyond a clumsy imitation of what Joseph might have seen in Genesis 3. But was this all just an accident, just his language, his style of writing when he was trying to sound scriptural? Further tests might be helpful.

Exploration of the occurrence of the word did in the 1835 Doctrine & Covenants

In searching the nearly 300 pages of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, including the Lectures on Faith, I was quite surprised to find that the word did was not used much at all. It occurs just 72 times. It occurs nearly 2000 times in the Earliest Text of the Book of Mormon. This is a dramatic difference before we even consider the subtlety of ADP did.

Most of the 72 occurrences interrogatory or negatives. Many are buried in one section with a series of rather boring questions and answers taken from Genesis ("Q. In what year did Seth die? … Q. In what year did Enos die? … Q. In what year did Cainan die? etc. etc."). As for ADP did, there are only around 11 cases, depending on how you count them, two of which come from simply quoting Genesis 3. So out of hundreds of past tense statements from Joseph in this volume, less than 10 are in ADP form. It's a rate consistent with modern English and wildly unlike the Book of Mormon text, even though large parts of the document are in KJV-style English, laced with "thee" and "thou," the obvious stuff in KJV language, but quite devoid of the subtlety of ADP did.

Here are the 9 relevant passages (I've excluded the two occurrences quoted from Genesis 3):
  1. For instance, Abel, before he received the assurance from heaven that his offerings were acceptable unto God, had received the important information of his father, that such a being did exist, who had created, and who did uphold all things.
  2. Neither can there be a doubt existing on the mind of any person, that Adam was the first who did communicate the knowledge of the existence of a God, to his posterity; and that the whole faith of the world, from that time down to the present, is in a certain degree, dependent on the knowledge first communicated to them by their common progenitor; and it has been handed down to the day and generation in which we live, as we shall show from the face of the sacred records.
  3. We have now shown how it was that the first thought ever existed in the mind of any individual, that there was such a being as a God, who had created and did uphold all things: that it was by reason of the manifestation which he first made to our father Adam, when he stood in his presence, and conversed with him face to face, at the time of his creation.
  4. Behold thou knowest that thou hast inquired of me, and I did enlighten thy mind; and now I tell thee these things, that thou mayest know that thou hast been enlightened by the Spirit of truth; yea
  5. But behold I say unto you, that I the Lord God gave unto Adam and unto his seed, that they should not die as to the temporal death, until I the Lord God should send forth angels to declare unto them repentance and redemption, through faith on the name of mine only begotten Son: and thus did I the Lord God appoint unto man the days of his probation;
  6. Thou didst baptize by water unto repentance, but they received not the Holy Ghost; but now I give unto thee a commandment, that thou shalt baptize by water, and they shall receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, even as the apostles of old.
  7. Behold I say unto you, my son, that because you did not translate according to that which you desired of me and did commence again to write for my servant Joseph Smith, jr…
  8. Now this is not all, their faith in their prayers were, that this gospel should be made known also, if it were possible that other nations should possess this land; and thus they did leave a blessing upon this land in their prayers, that whosoever should believe in this gospel, in this land, might have eternal life; yea, that it might be free unto all of whatsoever nation, kindred, tongue, or people, they may be.
  9. ...and I have trampled them in my fury, and I did tread upon them in mine anger, and their blood have I sprinkled upon my garments, and stained all my raiment: for this was the day of vengeance which was in my heart.
What about other writings of Joseph Smith? Consider the famous Wentworth Letter penned by Joseph in 1842. It uses did once, and it's not an ADP instance but an ordinary negative usage:
But in the summer of 1836 these threatenings began to assume a more serious form, from threats, public meetings were called, resolutions were passed, vengeance and destruction were threatened, and affairs again assumed a fearful attitude, Jackson county was a sufficient precedent, and as the authorities in that county did not interfere they boasted that they would not in this; which on application to the authorities we found to be too true, and after much privation and loss of property, we were again driven from our homes.
Doesn't sound anything like the Book of Mormon, of course.

Incidentally, I also searched for the EModE phrase "if it so be" that is often used in the Book of Mormon. It does occur in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, but only 3 times. The word if occurs about 800 times, compared to 656 times in the Book of Mormon, which has dozens of "if it so be" examples. The Doctrine and Covenants does use "if it be" 10 times.

Next up: the command syntax of the Doctrine and Covenants. Since it began as the Book of Commandments, there ought to be some good command syntax there, and perhaps plenty of cases similar to the Book of Mormon. Need more time to look at that issue, I hope it will be interesting.

So far I'm not seeing easy-to-find evidence that Joseph's inherent language coupled with Bible imitation could account for the subtle use of ADP did in the Book of Mormon text. Something else must be going on.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Its … It's So Easy to Overlook--Another Test Related to Language in the Original Book of Mormon

In my previous post, I looked at the use of the word be in the earliest text of the Book of Mormon in a test to look for unique elements of New England dialect that might account for some of the non-KJV grammar that is non-standard today. My findings appears to be consistent with the views of Carmack and Skousen regarding Early Modern English (EModE) influence in the text, and showed no readily discernible signs of post-EModE New England dialect in the usage of be. However, in exploring this topic, I ran into an interesting issue that offers another possible test to identify early vs. late English influences. The results may pose a challenge to models of Book of Mormon translation based on EModE as the dominant or sole influence (though I don't think anyone is arguing that it's the sole influence).

In "Grammar in Early Modern English" by Edmund Weiner, deputy chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, I read that the word its, the ubiquitous English third-person possessive of the pronoun it, is a relatively recent innovation that first appeared in print in 1590 and then rapidly took off. Before that precious invention came along, people would use other terms like thereof or his. While Carmack has pointed out that the text is not monolithic and not strictly confined to any one period in time, still, if the Book of Mormon text is primarily influenced by EModE from before the KJV era, then we might expect its to be less common in the BOM than in the KJV. However, the opposite is found. The word its occurs over 40 times in the Earliest Text, but only once in the KJV (Lev. 25:5).

The problem was ameliorated by looking in the OED itself (see OED Online entry on Its) and seeing that its is actually attested even earlier than 1590: 1577 R. Robinson Certain Select Hist. Christian Recreations sig. B.vii, There stands a bedde, its death to tell.

1598 J. Florio Worlde of Wordes Spontaneamente, willingly,..of himselfe, of his free will, for its owne sake [1611 of free will or of it's owne sake].

1599 Shakespeare Romeo & Juliet ii. v. 12 The sweetest honey Is loathsome in its owne deliciousnesse.

1603 J. Florio in tr. Montaigne Ess. i. Ep. Ded. sig. A3v, My weaknesse you might bidde doe it's best.
Finding its in print in 1577 gives us more leeway for its use as a legitimate pre-KJV EModE word. Note also that the Book of Mormon still uses thereof much more than its, about four times as often. I suspect that this ratio may be uncharacteristically low for EModE and may represent the intrusion of more modern English into the translation process. Carmack does not argue that the BOM is pure EModE, but argues that it is a complex, non-monolithic mix with a little modern English and a good deal of Early Modern English (see Stanford Carmack, "Why the Oxford English Dictionary (and not Webster’s 1828)," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 15 (2015): 65-77).

The paucity of its in the KJV is surprising to me. Of course, one could ask why, if the Book of Mormon is based on slavishly imitating KJV language, does it use its at all? But of course, careful analysis of the text has already shown it often departs strongly from the KJV language in many ways. While those departures often include authentic Early Modern English, there are elements of modern English and even a touch of Middle English, as Carmack demonstrates. It is not a simple, monolithic text. As for the word its, its presence could theoretically be consistent with the EModE era but could also be an intrusion of modern English in the text.

Personally, I can accept the idea that there was a base translation of some kind that could be accessed by Joseph Smith in preparing the translation. But since he was obviously willing to make corrections to the dictated text, I suppose he could have used some of his own phrasing at times in the dictation as well. To me, it's impossible to remove human influence in this effort. We see the human influence in the original manuscript, the printer's manuscript, the printed text, and the many revisions to the text that we have today. Why assume the human influence wasn't there as the text was being dictated, even though there was a divine engine driving the whole project? We really don't know how the translation process worked, and need to be open to many difference possibilities as we dig more deeply into the language and other evidences that help highlight the complex origins of a fascinating and divine text that, like all scripture, has gone through many human hands (and lips).

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Update on Early Modern English in the Book of Mormon: One Potential Test to Identify the Possible Influence of New England Dialect on the Dictated Text

Executive Summary:

I remain impressed with the detailed, data-rich work of Carmack and Skousen regarding Early Modern English (EModE) influence in the original text of the Book of Mormon. However, I've wondered if English dialects that Joseph knew and spoke could account for a significant portion of the observed EModE elements in the BOM. In exploring this issue, I have found a study on the use of the verb "be" in New England dialect showing characteristic non-standard forms that evolved after the EModE among immigrants in the United States. The article is "Invariant Be In New England Folk Speech: Colonial And Postcolonial Evidence" by Adrian Pablé and Radosław Dylewski, American Speech, Vol. 82, No. 2 (2007)151-184 (a full text PDF is available). This suggested a test to consider: Does the original text of the BOM use New England-style patterns of the verb be that distinguishes it from EModE, or are the patterns consistent with Carmack and Skousen's work?

Given that Joseph Smith lived in New England (Vermont) until age 8 and was raised by New England parents from Vermont and New Hampshire, a fair assumption about his personal dialect is that it was strongly influenced by New England dialects.

My analysis is not yet complete, and I would appreciate input from competent linguists (including Stanford Carmack if time permits!), but so far, after examining every occurrence of be in the Book of Mormon and looking for usages relevant to Pablé and Dylewski's study, the relevant instances of invariant be appear to be consistent with EModE and do not point to uniquely New England influence.

Note: To best understand the Book of Mormon text as dictated by Joseph Smith, it is vital to use Royal Skousen's The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text(New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), hereafter The Earliest Text.


Much of the non-standard, awkward grammar in the Book of Mormon as dictated by Joseph turns out to be characteristic of Early Modern English (EModE) several decades before the King James Bible was written. This puzzling discovery was first made by Dr. Royal Skousen, the man whose lifetime of work in pursuing the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project has resulted in the Earliest Text of the Book of Mormon, giving us the arguably best available estimate of what Joseph dictated to his scribes.

EModE can be said to begin around 1470 and to extend to perhaps 1670 or so. The KJV, first published in 1611, fits squarely in this period, yet has some distinct differences from the EModE of earlier decades. Finding EModE elements that pre-date KJV English or that do not occur in the KJV was not driven by an apologetic agenda, but was a completely counterintuitive and controversial find that was simply driven by the data. Apologetic arguments have evolved, but the case for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon in no way depends upon them. If the language of the Book of Mormon as dictated by Joseph Smith was standard Yankee dialect or just Joseph's own bad grammar, as many of us have long assumed, that fits the idea of revelation being given to people in their own tongue and language. It's quite a paradigm shift to consider that the language Joseph was dictating might not just be his own language loosely draped in KJV verbiage but often reflected some kind of tight linguistic control to yield archaic scriptural language that was surprisingly standard or acceptable in an era slightly before the KJV was translated. Why and how is still a matter for speculation and debate. But the data is there and demands to be considered, explored, and tested.

One man taking up that challenge is a linguist, Dr. Stanford Carmack, who has further explored the strange occurrence of archaic EModE from several angles in great detail. Carmack more fully demonstrates that the Book of Mormon provides extensive and accurate EModE usage and grammar in ways that cannot be explained by copying the KJV. Such laughable blunders as “in them days,” “I had smote,” and “they was yet wroth” turn out to be consistent with EModE patterns. The analysis shows that much of what we thought was bad grammar is quite acceptable EMoDE, sometimes showing a sophisticated mastery of EModE.

The findings are puzzling indeed, but his work is rich with facts and data that again demand attention. The four articles Dr. Carmack has contributed to the Mormon Interpreter are worthy of note. I am especially impressed with the broad information and analysis presented in his "A Look at Some 'Nonstandard' Book of Mormon Grammar," which I just re-read today after doing a two-hour seminar in Shanghai last week on the topic of the subjunctive mood in English grammar (the crazy things I get involved with here!). Digging into some of the mysteries of the English subjunctive prepared me to much better appreciate some of the powerful points Carmack makes in that work. His analysis deserves much more attention and contemplation.

Royal Skousen and Carmack Stanford feel strongly that the abundance of EModE elements in the BOM is evidence of divine tight control in text somehow given to Joseph Smith to dictate, and that it is perhaps a fingerprint of divine origins in the text. However, some skeptics have wondered if it can be explained by residual EModE influence in Joseph's dialect of English. Some of the "hick language" found in regional dialects preserves elements of English that have long since become obsolete in modern English, so such a thing could be possible to some degree.

I think Carmack and Skousen would argue that the level of EModE is so strong and often so appropriate to the 1500s that it would be hard for so many elements to survive in the United States. But I feel we need more work to analyze regional dialects that could have influenced Joseph Smith to see if the strange characteristics of the language in the earliest text could be explained as a natural result of Joseph naturally expressing revealed concepts in his own language.

A natural language hypothesis can be consistent with either a fabricated text or a divinely transmitted text based on real ancient writings on golden plates. Indeed, a translation process using Joseph's own language and dialect, complete with bad grammar and other linguistic warts, is what some faithful LDS thinkers have long assumed. But Carmack and Skousen offer a surprisingly different explanation for the flaws in the original text: not bad grammar, but a divinely transmitted English text with heavy dose of reasonably good Early Modern English provided with the consistency, subtlety, variety, sophistication, and naturalness of an native EModE speaker, making the linguistic fingerprint of the Book of Mormon impossible to explain as a derivative of the KJV, though it also draws heavily upon that text. If BOM language is not simply the language of the KJV, could it be in part the language of Joseph's local dialect, or is something more miraculous required?

There She Be: One Possible Test for New England Dialect

To explore the hypothesis that Joseph's own regional dialect simply preserved EModE elements in ways that can account for all or much of the original text of the BOM, some additional tests are needed. While the Book of Mormon was dictated in upstate New York, it's reasonable to assume that New England dialect may have been a strong influence in Joseph's language. He was born in Vermont and lived there until age 8, and continued to be raised by his thoroughly New Englander parents, with a father from New Hampshire and a mother from Vermont.

In searching for information on New England dialect, I found an interesting study that may be useful in framing a test that can differentiate the influence of New England dialect from EModE on some non-standard elements in the original text of the Book of Mormon. The reference is Adrian Pablé and Radosław Dylewski, "Invariant Be In New England Folk Speech: Colonial And Postcolonial Evidence," American Speech, Vol. 82, No. 2 (2007)151-184 (a full text PDF is available).

Pablé and Dylewski explore a widely recognized feature of New England dialect, the tendency to use the finite "be" in indicative cases that would normally require conjugated forms like "is" or "are" in standard modern English. For the third person plural, both New England dialect and EModE sometimes use finite be, as in "they be there." But a distinguishing feature is the use of invariant befor the third person singular indicative, as in "he be here", a pattern which is well known in New England dialect but not characteristic of EModE. New England dialect also shows first and second person singular invariant be in indicative cases, beginning apparently early in the eighteenth century and unattested in the seventeen century, apparently sprouting up in the United States, diverging from Early Modern English and the English of England:

Based on the evidence at our disposal, we feel justified to claim that by the late seventeenth century, be in colonial varieties of English was diffusing to grammatical contexts typical of postcolonial New England folk speech, but atypical of Early Modern British English, namely to the first- and second-person singular context. It may well be that the questions just cited constitute the earliest “American” attestations of nonsubjunctive be with the singular. The historical dictionaries of American English offer no analogous attestations of be dating back to the seventeenth century. The earliest reference work featuring singular indicative be in a declarative clause is the Dictionary of American English on Historical Principles (1938–44), which quotes from Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana, published in 1702: “I been’t afraid! I thank God I been’t afraid!”

Interestingly, the New Englanders using be as a singular indicative form (i.e., Ann Carr-Putnam, the magistrates John Hathorne/Jonathan Corwin, Cotton Mather) were all American-born, which underpins the “domestic origin” hypothesis of singular indicative be.

Postcolonial and Early-twentieth-century New England. While invariant be in colonial American English has not yet been studied in any systematic way, grammarians and dialectologists devoted some attention to it once it had become recurrent in the speech of the “common people” living in a particular area. In fact, a social and regional connotation inherent in be was noticed by contemporary observers already at the end of the eighteenth century—in Noah Webster’s (1789) Dissertations on the English Language, he included be as a typical feature of “the common discourse of the New England yeomanry”: “The verb be, in the indicative, present tense, which Lowth observes is almost obsolete in England, is still used after the ancient manner, I be, we be, you be, they be” (385).

Grammarians writing in the first decades of the nineteenth century also commented on the regional concentration of invariant be usage. Thus, John Pickering wrote in his 1816 Vocabulary that finite be “was formerly much used in New England instead of am and are, in phrases of this kind: Be you ready? Be you going? I be, &c” (46). In his English Grammar, Samuel Kirkham (1834, 206), in a chapter dedicated to “provincialisms,” cited two examples of be supposedly typical of “New England or New York,” with be appearing in independent direct statements (“I be goin”; “the keows be gone”); Kirkham also adduced examples of be as a main verb in direct questions and short answers—as Pickering had done (“Be you from Berkshire?” “I be”)—and cited the negative form (“You bain’t from the Jarseys, be ye?”). In Kirkham’s opinion, the latter three cases represented only “New England” usage.
(pp. 167-168)

The authors also observe that New England dialect tends to rarely use invariant be with the third person plural, though this was part of EModE and surely was part of the early colonists' dialect. For example,
The collocation there be/they be for ‘there/they is/are’ was not recorded as occurring in the speech of any LANE informants [LANE is the Linguistic Atlas of New England]. Notably, map 678 of the Atlas investigates the existential clause on the basis of the construction There are a lot of people who think so. As it turns out, Type I informants [less educated descendants of old local families, whose speech might best preserve old forms from New England’s preindustrial era] were reported to have said They’s many folks think(s) so and There’s many folks think(s) so, not They/there be many folks . . . , probably because contraction between the existential and the copula is always possible (i.e., grammatical), irrespective of whether the context is singular or plural (i.e., they’s, they’re, and there’s). Thus, plural existentials in postcolonial nonstandard varieties of English no longer find themselves in syntactically “strong” contexts. (p. 170)

On the whole, however, be in postcolonial New England folk speech does not seem to have been a form associated with the “old” subjunctive of Early Modern English but was primarily an indicative form (i.e., occurring respectively in direct questions and sentence-finally). (p. 172)

In discussing negative forms of be, the authors note the prominence of ain't as a feature of New England dialect (less commonly, hain't was also used; see p. 171). In the first half of the nineteenth century (Joseph's era), two other negative forms were also common in New England dialect: ben't and bain't, contractions of be not (p. 171). None of these negative forms are found in the Book of Mormon. None of these negative forms occur in Early Modern English (p. 173).

Based on my understanding of this study, a characteristic trait of New England dialect was the development of invariant be usage beyond the third person plural known in EModE. Finding it in other cases in the dictated text of the Book of Mormon would be one way to differentiate New England dialect from EModE.

Some of those forms began to appear humorous or dated even to New Englanders by the 1930s when the Linguistic Atlas of New England was compiled, as Pablé and Dylewski report:
Atwood (1953, 27) confirms that informants using be as part of their sociolect in LANE belonged exclusively to the “Type I” category, that is, those born in the mid-nineteenth century, which suggests that be had become a relic form, no longer actively used by informants born in the first decades of the twentieth century. In fact, some field-workers of LANE noticed that the expressions How be ye? and . . . than I be were associated with “humorous usage” by younger speakers, which seems to indicate that such phrases were sociolinguistically marked in the 1930s and may have served for stereotyping.
There is no shortage of humorous grammar, at least for modern ears, in the earliest text of the Book of Mormon, much of which has been cleaned up and standardized. Funny-sounding first- and second-person forms of invariant be might just the thing to look for.

I have not found any such forms in the Earliest Text, apart from acceptable subjunctive phrases that are appropriate in EModE and somewhat less often in modern English (e.g., the subjunctive phrase "if it so be" which abound in the Book of Mormon is relatively obsolete today but well attested in EModE). The lack of first- and second-person indicative forms of invariant be is interesting and to some degree weighs against New England dialect as the source of Book of Mormon grammar , but that is not the end of the story.

Though rare, LANE does offer third-person singular examples of invariant be, including "How be it?" "How be it" does occur in the Original Text of the Book of Mormon, which I'll discuss below. It's usage is subjunctive, not indicative, though I suggest it is not consistent with EModE usage of that term.

To explore the possible influence of New England dialect on invariant be in the Book of Mormon, we should also consider third-person singular cases.

Relevant BOM Cases of Invariant Be: It Begins with the Title Page

Using my Kindle version of the Earliest Text to search for "be" poses several problems. Searching for "be" also returns hits for "being," and searches text at the beginning and end of the book that is not part of scripture. Among the roughly 2800 hits for be/being in the Book of Mormon, I estimate that pure "be" occurs about 2500 times. Of those numerous instances, only a handful are noteworthy. If you have better search tools, I welcome your input.

The vast majority are the infinitive "to be" or "be" following a modal verb (can, could, will, shall, shalt, may, might, must and must needs, etc.). There are many subjunctive forms, especially "if it so be", a phrase not found in the KJV but characteristic of EModE, as Carmack has shown and as you may verify by exploring works of Caxton, for example. A few examples of subjunctive instances will be shown below.

Regarding potential uses invariant be that might reflect New England or other folks dialects, the relevant examples of invariant be to consider begin right on the title page.

Title Page: And now if there be fault, it be the mistake of men.

This sentence is one of the most interesting examples of invariant be in the Book of Mormon, and I wish to address it before looking at the remaining cases of note because it will assist in understanding additional cases.

The title page statement is similar to Mormon 8:17: "If there be faults, they be the faults of a man…" which has finite be in both clauses, but differs in using the plural faults and thus "they be" instead of "it be."

Is "it be" a case of third-person singular invariant be that might be due influence from New England dialect? I don't think so, because this sentence can readily be explained as a case of the subjunctive mood. What is interesting, though, is that the subjunctive mood persists in the second clause after being introduced in the first, when modern speakers might prefer the second clause to be in the indicative mood. Indeed, this sentence was awkward enough that Joseph Smith changed in the 1837 edition of the Book of Mormon to what we have today:

And now, if there are faults, they are the mistakes of men;…

Not only has the double subjunctive been dropped, the subjunctive mood has been completely removed (the related sentence in Moroni 8:17 has not been "fixed"). Further, the singular "fault" that seems odd to modern ears must have bothered Joseph's ear as well and has been replaced with the more standard "faults," a change we'll return to in a moment.

For the moment, I'll use the term "persistent subjunctive" mood or "double subjunctive" to describe a sentence that maintains the subjunctive mood introduced in an early clause. (I'm sure there is a better grammatical term --let me know, please!) This feature, interestingly, is attested in Early Modern English. For example, see William Caxton's printing of Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur (first printed in 1485). In Book 7, Chapter 31, we find:
When Sir Gareth saw that torch-light he cried on high: Whether thou be lord or lady, giant or champion, I take no force so that I may have harbour this night; and if it so be that I must needs fight, spare me not to-morn when I have rested me, for both I and mine horse be weary.
Here a subjunctive mood in "if it so be" seems to be maintained in "I and mine horse be weary." On the other hand, this could just be an old plural form of the verb and not a subjunctive, so a few further examples will be shown where I think the subjunctive is intended. First, though, note that the spelling has been modernized. The original spelling of this passage, for purposes of comparison, follows:
whan sir Gareth sawe that torche lyghte he cryed on hyhe whether thou be lord or lady gyaunt or champyon I take no force so that I may haue herberowe this nyghte / & yf hit so be that I must nedes fyghte / spare me not to morne when I haue restyd me for bothe I and myn hors ben wery
Other examples from Morte Darthur:
Sir knight, said the page, here be within this castle thirty ladies, and all they be widows, for here is a knight that waiteth daily upon this castle, and his name is the brown knight without pity, and he is the most perilous knight that now liveth. [Original spelling here]

And if so be that he be a wedded man, …

By my head, said Sir Gawaine, if it be so, that the good knight be so sore hurt, it is great damage and pity to all this land

Sir, said she, ye must make good cheer, and if ye be such a knight as it is said ye be, I shall tell you more to-morn by prime of the day. [This is also an example of mixing ye and you in the same sentence, as happens in the Book of Mormon.]

so be it that thou be not he I will lightly accord with thee,…
Here is an example from Chaucer's "The Tale of Melibius" (section 25, p. 213):
 And eek, if it so be that it be inpossible, or may nat goodly be parfourned or kept.
 Another comes from his "Complaint to My Lode-Sterre":
 Whether it be that I be nigh or ferre, ....
This "persistent subjunctive" sense continues to occur in the Book of Mormon, frequently in cases where today we might prefer to use indicative or a modal verb + be in the second phrase, or even lose the subjunctive mood entirely. Examples:

1 Nephi 19:6 - save it be that I think it be sacred

2 Nephi 2:13 - If ye shall say there is no sin, there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness, there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness, there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not, there is no God.

Note that this verse a sentence with double indicative, followed by two sentence with double subjunctive, and then concludes with a sentence having double indicative again: is + is, be + be, be + be, is + is. (Sort of a chiasmus.)

2 Nephi 5:32 - If my people be pleased with the things of God, they be pleased with mine engravings which are upon these plates.

That sounds awkward to modern ears. The text now has lost the subjunctive mood entirely: And if my people are pleased with the things of God they will be pleased with mine engravings which are upon these plates.

A Little Fault Finding

The awkward singular fault on the title page, now a comfortable plural, actually appears to be attested in early English, as one can find by searching EEBO (Early English Books Online) at http://quod.lib.umich.edu.

Some examples:
  1. … for the others if there be fault in them, let them be sent for, and punished.

Title: A breife narration of the possession, dispossession, and, repossession of William Sommers and of some proceedings against Mr Iohn Dorrell preacher, with aunsweres to such obiections as are made to prove the pretended counterfeiting of the said Sommers. Together with certaine depositions taken at Nottingham concerning the said matter. [LINK]
Publication Info: [Amsterdam? : S.n.], Anno M. D. XCVIII [1598]

  1. Concerning rites and ceremonies, there may be fault, either in the kinde, or in the number and multitude of them.

Title: Of the lavves of ecclesiasticall politie eight bookes. By Richard Hooker. [LINK]
Author: Hooker, Richard, 1553 or 4-1600.
Publication Info: Printed at London : By Iohn Windet, dwelling at the signe of the Crosse-keyes neare Paules wharffe, and are there to be solde, 1604.
The fourth Booke: Concerning their third assertion, that our forme of Church-politie is corrupted with popish orders, rites and ceremo∣nies, banished out of certaine reformed Churches, whose example therein we ought to haue followed.

Note that sometimes "fault" appears to mean "found" in early English documents, accounting for some of the strange cases you may encounter.

The relevant invariant be example on the title page of the Earliest Text sets the stage for what follows. Namely, every case of the "interesting" or "relevant" instances of invariant be (based on searching for "be" used with first, second, or third person cases) turn out to be reasonable subjunctive cases consistent with Early Modern English usage, including the use of the "persistent subjunctive" discussed above, along with specific phrases not found in the KJV but attested in EModE. If there is unique New England influence in Book of Mormon usage of invariant be, I've been unable to find any trace of it.

Further Relevant Examples of Invariant Be

As mentioned above, many cases of "be" involve an obvious subjunctive mood. Examples include:
  • 1 Nephi 15:33 - And if they be filthy, ….
  • 1 Nephi 17:46 - cause that rough places be made smooth
  • Numerous examples of the phrase "if it so be"
  • Many instances following save or lest, such as 1 Nephi 19:6 - save it be that I think it be sacred (mentioned above)
  • 1 Nephi 21:5 - though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord

"If it so be" occurs 42 times in the Earliest Text of the Book of Mormon, almost always as "if it so be that." This phrase is rather common in the Book of Mormon but completely absent from the KJV. Carmack's work highlights it as an interesting example of EModE influence in the Book of Mormon that cannot be explained by borrowing from the King James Bible. It's found in many classic sources of EModE, such as Canterbury Tales and in the writings of Thomas More. Though obsolete in modern English, did it survive to be common in Joseph Smith's dialect? It's a possibility, but I have not yet found clear evidence of that.

A Twist on If It So Be

After seeing "if it so be" so consistently and frequently in my search results related to be, I was genuinely surprised to stumble across an even more complex variation: If it should so be. This occurs in two places:

Enos 1:13 - that if it should so be that my people the Nephites should fall into transgression … (interestingly, followed by another if it so be that later in the verse).

3 Nephi 26:9 - and if it should so be that they shall believe these things….

This phrase is also found in EModE, such as in the 1562 work of John Jewel, The Apology of the Church of England, originally written in Latin and translated into English in 1564 by the mother of Francis Bacon:

For if it should so be, as they seek to have it, that Christ should be commanded to keep silence…

The phrase without "that" occurs in English much later, including in a 1732 sermon of Jonathan Edward, "Christian Charity," which uses "if it should so be" as an entire clause that ends a sentence, unlike Book of Mormon usage where it is followed by "that" plus another clause.

More relevant may be an 1824 legal trial in Rhode Island that discusses a will written in 1772 having the phrase: "but if it should so be that my son John Shrieve depart this life, leaving no male heir lawfully begotten…" This certainly raises the possibility that this phrase was known in New England near Joseph's day and could have seemed natural in formal writing.

Further Cases of Interest:

2 Nephi 10:4 - For should the mighty miracles be wrought among other nations, they would repent and know that he be their God.

"For should" acts as "if" and creates a subjunctive mood that persists with "they would … know that he be their God."

The next verse, 2 Nephi 10:5, contrasts the unrealized repentance with the future reality, noting that "they at Jerusalem will stiffen their necks against him, that he be crucified." Though not counterfactual, it is a future event where the indicative would not be as fitting. This is not an artifact of New England dialect.

"How be it," as previously mentioned, poses more of a challenge.

3 Nephi 23:11 - And Jesus said unto them: How be it that ye have not written this thing?

3 Nephi 27:8 - And how be it my church save it be called in my name?

"How be it" is an interrogatory phrase in the subjunctive mood expressing incredulity or alarm that is not found in the KJV. The phrase "how be it" is common in EModE, though often with a different meaning. That meaning seems to overlap the meaning of the combined word "howbeit" that appears to have evolved from "how be it." The combined form occurs 64 times in the KJV. One of these verses, Isaiah 11:7, is quoted almost verbatim in 2 Nephi 20:7, using howbeit.

"How be it" with the typical EModE meaning does occur in the Earliest Text in Ether 2:25, which is how the Printer's Manuscript showed it. But when it was typeset, it became "howbeit" in the 1830 Book of Mormon, and then was removed in the 1920 edition and is still gone in our recent editions.

The meaning in Ether 2:25 appears to be similar to "behold" or "verily":
And behold, I prepare you against these things; for how be it, ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea and the winds which have gone forth and the floods which shall come….
Note also the switch from you to ye in the same sentence, a characteristic often found in EModE, as Carmack has shown.

In William Caxton's writings and many other EModE sources, "how be it" abounds but not in the sense of "how can it be?" Rather, it seems to have a range of meanings such as nevertheless, in any case, even if, yet, etc. Examples:

Le Morte Darthur, Book 7, Chapter 23:
Notwithstanding I will assay him better, how be it I am most beholding to him of any earthly man, for he hath had great labour for my love, and passed many a dangerous passage.
Le Morte Darthur, Book 7, Chapter 7:
That may be, said the black knight, how be it as ye say that he be no man of worship,…

That last sentence may again illustrate the persistent subjunctive following its introduction via "how be it," though the subjunctive in the following clause seems fairly natural a quotation of that kind.

An early English use of "how be it that" that might express incredulity and concern is found in John Gough Nichols' Chronicle of the Rebellion in Lincolnshire, 1470. I may be wrong on this, for it seems that the usage here could more closely resemble something like "and it came to pass." The Chronicle opens with this:
First, how be it that our saide souveraigne lorde, as a prince enclined to shew his mercy and pite [pity] to his subgettes [subjects], raither then rigure and straitenesse of his lawes, pardonned of late to his saide rebelles all tresons and felones, trespasses and offences committed and doon by theym ayeinst [against] his highenese afore the fest of Cristenraes last past, trusting that therby he shuld have coraged, caused, and induced theym from that tyme furthe to have been of good, kynd, and lovyng demeaning [loving demeanor] ayeinst his highenesse ; yit [yet] they unnaturally and unkyndly, withoute cause or occacion yeven [given] to theym by our saide soveraigne lorde, falsly compassed, conspired, and ymagened [imagined, perhaps meaning plotted] the final destruccion of his most roiall personne, and of his true subgettes taking parte with him in assisting his highnesse, …
Is he saying, "How could it be that our prince, after forgiving rebellious subjects and showing them great kindness, was the subject of a conspiracy to overthrow him?" I'm not sure. Be that as it may, I still see the two instances of interrogatory "how be it" in the Book of Mormon as more modern English and not from EModE or even from the KJV.

A discussion of "howbeit" is included in a 1997 article by Rfal Molencki on the evolution of "albeit" and may be useful in considering this phrase.

Third-person plural invariant be does occur in the Book of Mormon, as it does in EModE and New England dialect. An example is Alma 7:7: "For behold, I say unto you, there be many things to come." The KJV also has this in Eccl. 6:11: "there be many things…"

I'll share further cases as I update this article.

For now, the case for New England influence in the use of "be" in the Book of Mormon is coming up negative. The negative "ain't" of New England dialect is also a negative for the Book of Mormon, in a positive way: it ain't there.

There's much more to say as I update this or add related material, but for now, in light of one proposed test based on the use of "be" in New England dialect and Early Modern English, the puzzling archaic English of the Book of Mormon as dictated by Joseph Smith is not handily explained an appeal to New England dialect nor by influence from the KJV Bible. There is more data to consider and many more tests to be conducted as we try to better understand Book of Mormon language and origins. I look forward to your thoughts and contributions!