Book of Mormon/Translation/Method/Mainly italics altered
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Critics claim that in the Book of Mormon material which parallels the KJV, Joseph Smith generally modified the italicized text.
Some members grant the critics' point that the italicized words are often altered "intentionally," but disagree with what this means about the translation. They do not see it as threatening Joseph's inspiration, the divine nature of the translation, or the reality of an ancient text on the plates.
Others hold that there is no evidence that Joseph had a Bible, was aware of the italics' meaning, and had access to the Bible during the translation.
Either option is a viable response, and each has its strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully more data will be forthcoming to help resolve the issue, that we might better understand the translation process of the Book of Mormon.
Italicized text is used in some Bible translations to indicate when a word has been "added" because of necessity of English grammar. Often, it is a word which is implied in the original Greek or Hebrew text, but must be explicitly used in English.
Critics claim that Joseph Smith was aware of this, and while copying the KJV passages, tended to alter the italicized words to make it look more like a translation.
Faithful Latter-day Saints have been of two views on this matter.
- Some believe that Joseph had access to a Bible, and used it as part of the translation process.
- Others believe that Joseph did not have access to a Bible.
We here consider both of these options, and their implications, below.
Option #1: Joseph had a Bible
Note: For a blog post by a member who adopts this position, see Kevin Barney, "KJV Italics," bycommonconsent.com (13 October 2007). off-site
Option #1: Conclusion
Option #2: Joseph did not have a Bible
Advocates of this option note that the critics' argument presumes at least three things:
- A. Joseph Smith owned a Bible during the Book of Mormon translation.
- B. Joseph Smith knew what the italicized words meant.
- C. Joseph Smith used a Bible and copied from it during the translation process.
Advocates of this view argue that each of these points is unproven, and there is considerable evidence against them.
A: Did Joseph own a Bible?
The difficult financial circumstances of Joseph's family during the Book of Mormon translation are well known. There is no evidence that Joseph owned a Bible during the Book of Mormon translation. In fact, Oliver would later purchase a Bible for Joseph, who used it in producing his revision of the Bible (which became known as the Joseph Smith Translation). This purchase occurred on 8 October 1829, from the same printer that was then setting the type for the already-translated Book of Mormon. Why would Joseph, poor as he was, get a Bible if he already owned one?
B: Joseph knew what the italics meant?
Just as there is no evidence that Joseph owned a Bible, there is even less that he had any knowledge of what the italicized words in the translation meant. Emma made Joseph's early ignorance crystal clear:
- When he stopped for any purpose at any time he would, when he commenced again, begin where he left off without any hesitation, and one time while he was translating he stopped suddenly, pale as a sheet, and said, ‘Emma, did Jerusalem have walls around it?’ When I answered, ‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘Oh! [I didn’t know.] I was afraid I had been deceived.’ He had such a limited knowledge of history at that time that he did not even know that Jerusalem was surrounded by walls.
If Joseph didn't know this, how do the critics expect that he knew what the italics in a Bible (which he likely did not own) meant? This is something which many modern Bible readers do not know.
Furthermore, italicization patterns varied between Bibles, and an analysis of Joseph's Book of Mormon "changes" to the KJV concluded that changes to the italics were not a determining factor.
C: Joseph used a Bible and copied from it?
The witnesses of the translation are unanimous that Joseph did not have a book or papers, and could not have concealed them if he did have. Since much of the translation was done via Joseph's seer stone placed into his hat to exclude the light, it is not clear how the critics believe Joseph concealed a Bible or notes in the hat, and then read them in the dark.
Emma Smith described this portion of the translation:
- Q — [Joseph Smith III]. What is the truth of Mormonism?
- A — [Emma]. I know Mormonism to be the truth; and believe the church to have been established by divine direction. I have complete faith in it. In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.
- Q —. Had he not a book or manuscript from which he read, or dictated to you?
- A —. He had neither manuscript or book to read from.
- Q —. Could he not have had, and you not know it?
- A. — If he had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me.
- Q. — Could not father have dictated the Book of Mormon to you, Oliver Cowdery and the others who wrote for him, after having first written it, or having first read it out of some book?
- A. — Joseph Smith could neither write nor dictate a coherent and wellworded letter; let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, . . . it is marvelous to me, “a marvel and a wonder,” as much so as to any one else.
Option #2: Conclusion
Despite the critics' assumptions there is:
- no evidence Joseph owned a Bible at the time;
- no evidence Joseph knew what the italics meant;
- no evidence that Joseph did—or could—copy from a Bible or notes during the translation process.
Advocates of this view hold that if the italicized words differ, that is a data point to be explained—but it is not evidence of copying or Joseph's deliberate alteration of the italicized words without other evidence that this occurred.
- [note] Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana and Chicago, Illinois: University of Illinois Press; Reprint edition, 1987), 95–100. ISBN 0252060121.
- [note] Matthew Roper, "A Black Hole That's Not So Black (Review of Answering Mormon Scholars: A Response to Criticism of the Book, vol. 1 by Jerald and Sandra Tanner)," FARMS Review of Books 6/2 (1994): 156–203. off-site PDF link See also John A. Tvedtnes and Matthew Roper, "Joseph Smith's Use of the Apocrypha: Shadow or Reality? (Review of Joseph Smith's Use of the Apocrypha by Jerald and Sandra Tanner)," FARMS Review of Books 8/2 (1996): 326–372. off-site PDF link
- [note] Robert J. Matthews, A Plainer Translation": Joseph Smith's Translation of the Bible: A History and Commentary (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1985), 26; cited in footnote 165 of John Gee, "La Trahison des Clercs: On the Language and Translation of the Book of Mormon (Review of New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology by Brent Lee Metcalfe)," FARMS Review of Books 6/1 (1994): 51–120. off-site PDF link
- [note] Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Advocate 2 (Oct. 1879): 51.
- [note] See "Italics in the King James Bible," in Royal Skousen, "Critical Methodology and the Text of the Book of Mormon (Review of New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology by Brent Lee Metcalfe)," FARMS Review of Books 6/1 (1994): 121–144. off-site PDF link
- [note] Edmund C. Briggs, “A Visit to Nauvoo in 1856,” Journal of History (Jan. 1916): 454; cited in Russell M. Nelson, "A Treasured Testament," Ensign 23 no. 7 (July 1993), 62.