Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Royal Skousen, translation and M2C

Brother Royal Skousen has a new book out about the translation of the Book of Mormon titled The King James Quotations in the Book of Mormon. He's speaking about it at BYU on January 15th. See the announcement here:

https://byustudies.byu.edu/content/special-feature-212

I encourage anyone interested to attend and hear this for yourself.

I've been studying Brother Skousen's book. I've often expressed my respect and admiration for Brother Skousen's work on the Book of Mormon. I rely on it all the time for understanding the details of the Original Manuscript and the Printer's Manuscript. However, I think his Early Modern English theory is misguided and has unfortunate repercussions.

I'm discussing it on this blog because as near as I can tell, all the M2C intellectuals agree with Brother Skousen's views of the translation, at least in part. It fits the M2C narrative that Joseph was an ignorant speculator who misled the Church with the New York Cumorah, his claim that he translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim, etc.

For today, let's consider one overview passage from p. 6 of the new book:

All of this quoting from the King James Bible is problematic, but only if we assume that the Book of Mormon translation literally represents what was on the plates. Yet the evidence in The Nature of the Original Language (parts 3 and 4) argues that the Book of Mormon translation is tied to Early Modern English, and even the themes of the Book of Mormon are connected to the Protestant Reformation, dating from the same time period. What this means is that the Book of Mormon is a creative and cultural translation of what was on the plates, not a literal one. Based on the linguistic evidence, the translation must have involved serious intervention from the English-language translator, who was not Joseph Smith. Nonetheless, the text was revealed to Joseph Smith by means of his translation instrument, and he read it off word for word to his scribe. To our modern-day, skeptical minds, this is indeed "a marvelous work and a wonder." 

Let's break this down sentence by sentence, with my comments in red.
_____

All of this quoting from the King James Bible is problematic, but only if we assume that the Book of Mormon translation literally represents what was on the plates. 

It is standard M2C doctrine that Joseph did not provide a literal translation of what was on the plates. That's how Brother Sorenson comes up with tapirs instead of horses. M2Cers teach that "towers" in the text are actually "massive stone pyramids" because otherwise, the Mayan pyramids do not appear in the text. 

The M2Cers teach that the text actually describes volcanoes and other features of Mayan culture and geography. Brant Gardner claims that the Book of Mormon text is evidence of what Joseph dictated, but is not evidence of what was on the original plates. 

It's true that Joseph said the Title Page was a literal translation of the last leaf of the plates, but the intellectuals don't believe Joseph could have known that since (according to them) he didn't even use the plates. I learned that beauty at BYU Education Week a few years ago.

Yet the evidence in The Nature of the Original Language (parts 3 and 4) argues that the Book of Mormon translation is tied to Early Modern English, and even the themes of the Book of Mormon are connected to the Protestant Reformation, dating from the same time period. 

This is a two-part claim. Brother Skousen's Early Modern English (EME) theory is based on the assumption that the only evidence we have of how Joseph Smith actually spoke in 1829--the only verbatim recording of what he dictated--is not evidence of how he spoke in 1829. 

Let's read that again.

Brother Skousen's Early Modern English (EME) theory is based on the assumption that the only evidence we have of how Joseph Smith actually spoke in 1829--the only verbatim recording of what he dictated--is not evidence of how he spoke in 1829. 

That strikes me as exactly backwards. 

The EME theory simply assumes that Joseph could not have spoken the way he spoke when he dictated the text. Based on? Based on a detailed analysis of published material from around 1829. I won't get into the detail here, but I assume most readers can tell the difference between speech patterns of rural farmers vs. language patterns in published material. And everyone who speaks English has inherited grammar, syntax and terminology much older than themselves.

For example, have you ever heard someone say "ain't" when speaking? People don't write it, but they say it. That contraction dates back to at least the 1600s; 400 years later, people still say it, although it's considered "improper" and "nonstandard" so it is not used in print, except in fiction to portray a character's background, education, etc. 

The second claim relates to the themes of the Book of Mormon. Here, Brother Skousen dates the themes to the Protestant Reformation. He rejects even the possibility that these same themes are perennial and were issues for the Nephite prophets who wrote about them. 

What this means is that the Book of Mormon is a creative and cultural translation of what was on the plates, not a literal one. 

The phrase "creative and cultural translation" is a euphemism for a composition instead of a translation. Set aside the language issue; if the very themes in the Book of Mormon originated in the Protestant Reformation, we are left with, at most, a few ancient names from the plates, and maybe some war tactics, although if the religious themes date to the Reformation, it's difficult to imagine why the war tactics would not also date from that era. 

Based on the linguistic evidence, the translation must have involved serious intervention from the English-language translator, who was not Joseph Smith. 

Here is the bottom line: although Joseph Smith claimed he translated the plates, in reality, according to Brother Skousen and many other LDS intellectuals (including most of the Church History department) he did not actually translate the plates. 

Instead, Joseph merely transmitted someone else's translation. He wasted his time studying and translating the characters during those months after he got the plates. He misled the world by claiming he translated the plates, and by saying the Title Page was a literal translation, because he didn't really translate anything. 

Nonetheless, the text was revealed to Joseph Smith by means of his translation instrument, and he read it off word for word to his scribe. 

The "translation instrument" is a euphemism for the seer or peep stone in a hat, which functioned as a supernatural teleprompter for the unknown actual translator, if it was a translation at all. 

To our modern-day, skeptical minds, this is indeed "a marvelous work and a wonder." 

Wouldn't this new narrative strike even Joseph and Oliver as unbelievable? They explained from the beginning that Joseph translated the plates using the Urim and Thummim. Now our intellectuals are telling us Joseph and Oliver were wrong. 

In this case, our modern-day, skeptical minds ought to question Brother Skousen's theory, not the origins of the text as explained by Joseph and Oliver.

This is a brief introduction to the EME problem. We'll have more posts in upcoming days.

4 comments:

  1. I am completely flummoxed at the arrogance of these, so called, intellectuals. Wow, just wow.

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  2. Perfect example of looking beyond the mark and leading the way into outer darkness. I pray for his soul.

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  3. Unknown,

    You're praying for the wrong person.

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  4. To Russ and Unknown,

    I have never had the privilege of meeting Royal Skousen and wouldn't know him if I bumped into him at Walmart - but I know he has spent over 30 years studying and writing about the Book of Mormon text and is considered one of the world's experts on the subject.

    You may not agree with him (I'm not sure I agree with him either) but you could at least try to be a little less judgmental and critical of him personally. When you have spent as many hours of research into the finer points of this wonderful Book as he has you may not feel so inclined to call him an "arrogant intellectual" and pronounce he is "looking beyond the mark and leading the way into outer darkness."

    My understanding is that the Savior cautioned us in rather strong terms about "judging others." Maybe that means Brother Neville's readers should really be praying for your souls.

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