long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

M2C web part 5 - EME and other influences

Just as President Joseph Fielding Smith warned, people are confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon because of M2C. A similar problem is arising with respect to the translation of the text, which makes this is a very important issue.*

In this post, I'm proposing that Joseph Smith actually translated the plates, and that he did so by drawing upon his own mental language base, which was a product of his environment and his education.

IOW, he didn't copy or plagiarize anyone else's work, and he didn't merely read someone else's translation into English that appeared on a seer stone.

Instead, he dictated the Book of Mormon in his own dialect, working it out in his mind as the Spirit drew upon his specific mental language base to render the text into English, "after the manner of his language." (D&C 1:24)

Among the influences we can document are:

1. the Bible (see an excellent article on intertextuality here:

2. The pseudo-biblical texts including The Late War and The First Book of Napoleon (not merely the similar phrases taken out of context and stitched together by critics).

3. The dialect of his parents, siblings, and neighbors, with the primary source being Lucy Mack Smith's dictated History.

This is what we would naturally expect, since it's how every human acquires and expresses language. Most if not all of the vocabulary, grammar, patterns and syntax in the Book of Mormon is drawn from these three sources and appear in the other dictated revelations and letters of Joseph Smith, both before and after he translated the Book of Mormon, in the D&C, PofGP, and elsewhere. 

Other possible sources include other books including Christian commentaries, news sources such as the local Palmyra paper, and input from other associates including Emma, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris. These are all more difficult to document.

There is a big difference between the way people talk and the way they write, as anyone who has read trial transcripts knows. One linguist explained that "speed [of speech] has consequences for the kind of language we use and hear. When speaking, we rely on recycled expressions, formulae we use over and over again, and less complex structures [but a lot of unnecessary or shadow pronouns]." The Book of Mormon consists of many, many recycled expressions and formulae. We'll discuss the structures and pronouns below.

Bottom line, Joseph's writings, such as the 1832 history, don't reflect the way he spoke, but his dictated texts do.

Consequently, I think the EME (Early Modern English) theory provides data that is great for disproving plagiarism and copying, but not for proving or even suggesting that Joseph didn't perform the first translation into English.

There are a lot of LDS scholars jumping on the EME bandwagon, and because that wagon is coming to town in September (well, to Provo, not to Africa), it's fascinating for me to watch how confirmation bias operates in real time.

I realize this series is too detailed for most readers, but it's an important issue because EME is being embraced by the same intellectuals who brought us M2C, the idea that Joseph never used the plates, and other gems widely accepted concepts. Despite the detail in these posts, some readers have been reading carefully and commenting to me, which is very helpful. Some are sending me additional material and resources that I am incorporating as I work my way through this issue.

If you don't have time to read all of these posts now, a version of them will be in my next book. Plus, you can always refer back to them on this blog, at least for a while.

When we consider the translation of the Book of Mormon, there seem to be three possible interpretations, each with various nuances.

1. Joseph (or other contemporaries) wrote the text; i.e., it's fiction, whether plagiarized or copied or composed with elements from other sources, and Joseph merely read a prepared manuscript to his scribes. The EME evidence demonstrates significant yet subtle differences from contemporary books, thereby tending to disprove the plagiarism issue (unless EME texts were plagiarized/copied).

2. Joseph had no involvement with translation, per se, because he merely read what appeared on a seer stone; i.e., it's pure revelation, with the translation performed by God directly, or through an unknown spiritual intermediary. This is the gist of the EME theory.

3. Joseph actually translated the plates with the gift of God; i.e., he studied the characters and worked the translation out in his mind, aided by the Nephite interpreters, but he (and the Spirit) rendered the text in his own dialect, drawing on his own mental language base. This is what I think.

It is well-known that Joseph made hundreds of changes to the text after the 1830 edition was published. That seems consistent with alternative 1 and 3, but more difficult to reconcile with alternative 2.

The translation process has also been framed as "tight" or "loose," a scale describing different levels of flexibility Joseph may have had when he dictated; i.e., was he required to read exactly what appeared on the interpreters, or did he have some input somehow, such as by using his own term (horse) to describe an animal mentioned on the plates (e.g., tapir, using the M2C approach).

Jeff Lindsay provided a nice overview here, with a bonus early introduction to EME as well:

In parts 1-4 we looked at some of the issues involved with The Late War and other pseudo-biblical books published before the Book of Mormon. To recap: Some critics claimed there is evidence that Joseph plagiarized the Book of Mormon from those texts. In response, defenders claim that evidence is wrong, misinterpreted, or not convincing.

The latest response is the theory that the Book of Mormon was translated into Early Modern English (EME), a form allegedly unknown to Joseph Smith. I agree that the data disproves the critics' plagiarism claim, but I don't agree that the data shows Joseph didn't translate the plates into English.

Next month, on September 25, 2018, BYU Studies and the Interpreter Foundation are launching a new book on EME by Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack titled The Nature of the Original Language of the Book of Mormon (NOL). See the announcement here. I encourage anyone interested to attend or view it remotely, if possible.

Of course, my conclusions are based on what has been published so far. Maybe NOL will address the issues I'm raising here and I'll change my mind accordingly.

We'll start by analyzing the NOL announcement (in blue), with my comments in red.

Critics of the text have viewed the nonstandard grammar of the original text ("they was yet wroth" and "in them days") as an indication of Joseph Smith's dialect, but Skousen and Carmack argue in GV that the so–called bad grammar of the original text was actually Early Modern English and represents language that appeared in published texts from the 1500s and 1600s. 
I love the work of Brothers Skousen and Carmack, but I think their fundamental assumption about Joseph's dialect is a mistake. I agree with their data, but not with their premise or conclusion that Joseph didn't translate in his own language. Because I accept D&C 1:24, I think Joseph dictated the Book of Mormon (and other revelations) in his own dialect; i.e., "after the manner of their language." I think the evidence supports and corroborates D&C 1:24, not the Skousen/Carmack theory; i.e., "after the manner of centuries-old language." 
Now in NOL, Skousen (again with the assistance of Carmack) argues that virtually all of the language of the Book of Mormon is found in Early Modern English. 
We would expect this, given the Colonial lag of English in the U.S. More on that below.
Not only is [sic] the vocabulary, phrases, and expressions of the text from Early Modern English, but a good many of them ceased to exist in English prior to 1700 (examples like but if 'unless', do away'to dismiss', and idleness 'meaningless words'). 
The earliest British settlers of America arrived in the early 1600s (Jamestown, VA, 1607, Pilgrims in Plymouth, MA, 1620, etc. As contemporaries of Shakespeare (1564-1616), Bacon (1561-1626), Donne (1572-1631), etc., these settlers would have spoken a similar dialect (although settlers came from many parts of England, bringing regional dialects that persisted in their American communities). The theory of "Colonial lag" claims that American English changed slower than British English, such that in some ways American English is still closer than British English to Shakespearean English. 
In all, Skousen identifies about 80 word uses, phrases, and expressions that disappeared from English one to three centuries before Joseph Smith's time. 

I discussed the ones in his article here: http://interpreterpeerreviews.blogspot.com/2018/08/peer-review-of-early-modern-english.html. When the book is released, we can see whether and how he addressed the issues raised in my peer review and these blogs. I'd be happy to change my views in response to new information and analysis.
Going further, Carmack discusses the syntax of the Book of Mormon and investigates the plural –th ending ("Nephi's brethren rebelleth"), the periphrastic past–tense did ("they did quake"), and complex finite clausal complements ("he can cause the earth that it shall pass away"). The Book of Mormon's extensive (and particular) use of this syntax is not found in the King James Bible, nor in Joseph Smith's writings or in the pseudobiblical writings common to his time. But it was prevalent in the English of the second half of the 1500s.
Early Modern English was both spoken and written, but spoken dialects rarely make it into print. In my peer review I went through the examples from the article and showed they actually reflect Joseph's own language. All of Joseph's vocabulary and syntax can be found in the sources for his specific mental language base; i.e., the Bible, the pseudo-Biblical books and other contemporary religious books, the dialect he grew up with (e.g., Lucy Mack Smith's History), etc., and the same dialect shows up in the pre-and post-Book of Mormon revelations in the D&C and PofGP.
Finally, Skousen argues that the themes of the Book of Mormon — religious, social, and political — do not derive from Joseph Smith's time, but instead are the prominent issues of the Protestant Reformation, and they date from the 1500s and 1600s rather than the 1800s — examples like burning people at the stake for heresy, standing before the bar of justice, secret combinations to overthrow the government, the rejection of child baptism, the sacrament as symbolic memorial and spiritual renewal, public rather than private confession, no required works of penance, and piety in living and worship.
I don't think it matters when these issues originated. The question is whether they were still "alive" during Joseph's lifetime. Which they clearly were. People still discuss them today, except reframed as "deep state," "fake news," "organized religion vs individual worship," etc.

In the next post, I'll give some specific examples of why I think EME does not explain the text of the Book of Mormon, and why I think the other influences do.

*The translation of the Book of Mormon is an important topic for anyone who doesn't simply accept the Book of Mormon on faith, which means it's important for the vast majority of God's children on Earth. 

People who have the spiritual gift of "exceedingly great faith" (Moroni 10:11) need to realize that many (most) others don't have that gift. Moroni himself reminded us that there are many spiritual gifts. Those who have a gift of knowledge or wisdom, for example, need facts and reason to discern truth, at least to the point where they can also exercise faith.

Plus, the Title Page explains the Book of Mormon was written to convince people that Jesus is the Christ. That means we need to understand and address any impediments to their fair consideration of the Book of Mormon. While it's true that facts and logic don't usually outweigh confirmation bias, clarity about our message, combined with at least plausibility, provides a framework for sincere truth seekers. 

The Gospel Topics Essay on the translation is a helpful start, but doesn't address the specific issues that many people wonder about, such as the influence of The Late War and other books. You can see my suggestions for that essay here.

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