For the online essay of the week, go read 12 Answers From Royal Skousen, the latest and one of the best from the T&S 12 Questions series. In his comments, Prof. Skousen provides details and some preliminary results from the critical text project, which is designed "(1) to recover the original English-language text of the Book of Mormon, and (2) to determine the history of the text (namely, how it has changed over time)" (Q1). Skousen notes that the project began as an "independent scholarly project," and he has protected that independence despite a significant degree of cooperation from the LDS and RLDS (now Community of Christ) churches, which together control many of the manuscripts that are the focus of much of the research (Q6). Here are a couple of the more interesting points from the fascinating discussion.
1. Only 28% of the original manuscript is extant, but 99.9% of the printer's manuscript (a handwritten copy of the original manuscript used for setting the type at the printing office) is extant (Q2b). Furthermore, comparison of the extant original pages with the paired printer's pages shows about three copying errors per page (Q7). In other words, there are several hundred copy errors that are now quite simply unrecoverable and uncorrectable because of lost original pages. It's ashame preservation of the original manuscript was not made a priority in the early years of the Church!
2. Skousen observes, "The vocabulary of the Book of Mormon text appears to derive from the 1500s and the 1600s, not from the 1800s," a finding he describes as "quite remarkable" (Q4i). The commenters at T&S puzzled over this a bit, but I think the most reasonable explanation is the powerful and persistent influence of Shakespeare and the King James Bible on the English language and on Joseph Smith. The KJV influence is obvious and direct, while Shakespeare is more indirect. But don't forget the 2 Nephi 1:14 signpost: " [H]ear the words of a trembling parent, whose limbs ye must soon lay down in the cold and silent grave, from whence no traveler can return . . . ." Since we're talking about the critical text project, I'll point out that the original published 1830 edition spelled traveler as "traveller." The modern 1981 edition version of 2 Nephi 1:14 also changes the colon after "return" to a semicolon and drops a comma after "a few more days."
I can hardly pass up giving the Hamlet quote, which comes right out Hamlet's soliloquy, the best known section of Shakespeare's best known play (and which comes to us in three texts itself!). From Act III, Scene 1, lines 76-82:
Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
That undiscover'd country from whose bourne
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?