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"punctuation is not some optional decoration"
Not in Semitic or Egyptian. Semitic languages mark things of this kind syntactically, but there's no one-to-one correspondance of "this structure= a period, that structure= a paragraph."

There's a good FARMS article by a linguist discussing it and the associated difficulties in English.

As for myself, I just don't hold the punctuation to be inspired:)
http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=jbms&id=125

The translation of the BoM is a sufficient translation, not a perfect one.

You should take a look at "The Book of Mormon: A Reader's Edition" by Grant Hardy. It restores the original paragraph formatting, among other things.

Back when the RLDS used to put emphasis on the BoM, their edition (I have one from the 1960s) has the books with fewer chapters. The books are divided into verses, however, in that edition, which evidences the RLDS decision to make similar structural changes. It is interesting to have the very long chapters. It did, however, make it difficult to find a certain spot in the text in discussions with an RLDS faithful while on my mission.

>The translation of the BoM is a sufficient translation, not a perfect one.<

Okay, this is exactly the kind of thinking that helped me come to my senses. I'm outing myself here as a "recovering mormon." I apologize if some of my comments are less thoughtful or considered, but pulling out of the Mormon church is an emotional roller-coaster.

Anyway there's always some pseudo- academic argument manufactured by the [nice folks] down at FARMS to justify every inconsistency and every difficulty that becomes apparent with a rigurous look at the church, its history, and its doctrine. But their approach is never guided by rigor or intellectual honesty--it's about justifying, holding up, and keeping a paycheck.

>Semitic languages mark things of this kind syntactically, but there's no one-to-one correspondance of "this structure= a period, that structure= a paragraph."<

Okay, I can believe this. But the Book of Mormon was translated into English. And in the English language, minor punctuation and paragraphing changes can significantly alter the meaning of a text. Any high school freshman with a sentence deconstruction exercise under his belt understands this.

I'm not critiquing the process--Gilbert, Smith, Cowdery, Pratt, whoever did the punctuation doesn't matter too much to me. Consistency of meaning does, but that is not my point.

My point is that statements like this:

>The translation of the BoM is a sufficient translation, not a perfect one.<

inspired by the church's intellectual [response team], are totally at odds with the church doctrine as imparted through approved lesson manuals, missionary discussions, general conference talks, etc. Remember, the Book of Mormon is THE MOST PERFECT BOOK on the face of the Earth. Joseph's translation of the Book of Mormon was inspired, as opposed to the man-made translation of the Bible which we are not supposed to trust.

Anybody with half an intellect who belongs to the LDS Church has to develop a skill with dialectics that would make your average Soviet kommisar rage with jealousy. And dialectics? There's a great topic for a slow day Dave.

[edited by Webmaster, 6/16]

[Nick] wrote Anyway there's always some pseudo- academic argument manufactured by the [nice folks] down at FARMS to justify every inconsistency and every difficulty that becomes apparent with a rigurous look at the church, its history, and its doctrine. But their approach is never guided by rigor or intellectual honesty--it's about justifying, holding up, and keeping a paycheck.

Why do you describe FARMS like this? Isn't it because you can't think up any plausible counter-arguments to what you call their "manufactured," "pseudo-academic" arguments and that frustrates you? The first step toward taking them on, however, would be to actually read their materials and, perhaps, go get a Ph.D. in a topic dealing with linguistics, ancient near-eastern studies, theology, semitic languages, egyptology, anthropology, or some other related research field (you will likely need the training since you will be arguing against the research and conclusions of people with such solid training).

But most of all, have fun with it!

[edited by Webmaster, 6/16]

Oops, that was responding to Nick, not Bill.

Nick, it's true that there are [nice folks] among the church's apologists, and that they come up with some doozies sometimes. But this isn't one of them.

If our current version of the BoM read exactly like the manuscript given to Gilbert, would our understanding of the story and doctrine contained therein be substantially different?

Joseph's use of the word "perfect" in the sentence you quoted is unfortunate. We define the word in an absolute sense. Joseph apparently didn't; otherwise, the phrase "most perfect" wouldn't make sense. But then, of course, we're stuck with the absolute nature of the word "most." The fact is that Joseph's words were hyperbolic, as were many things that were said back then. People tended to say things more for their emotional impact than their technical accuracy. This is still the case in many cultures today.

[slight edit by Webmaster, 6/16]

According to Royal Skousen, after Cowdery copied the original manuscript, he began to add a little punctuation beginning on page 106 of the printer's manuscript. But his efforts were sporadic and not systematic. He also did some paragraphing on pages 129 to 145 of the printer's manuscript.

Another scribe was more consistent with his punctuation on the parts of the printer's manuscript he was responsible for (Mosiah 25 to Alma 13 and 3 Nephi through Mormon). But Gilbert seems to have ignored their efforts. Skousen estimates that more than 90% of Gilbert's punctuation marks were implemented in the 1830 edition.

Royal Skousen, "John Gilbert's 1892 Account of the 1830 Printing of the Book of Mormon," in The Disciple as Witness: Essays on Latter-day Saint History and Doctrine in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson, ed. Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, and Andrew H. Hedges (2000), pp. 390, 392-93.

Marquardt's site makes available Gilbert's 1892 memorandum on the printing of the Book of Mormon:

Memorandum

This discussion reminds me a little of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine gets mad over her boyfriend's use of exclaimation points!!!

Just how significant is Book of Mormon punctuation supposed to be? Should I really care about dashes being turned into commas? (The critics who meticulously list the 4000+ 'changes' to the Book of Mormon seem to think I should...)

Nick,

For the record, Ben S. is not employed by FARMS (although he may be a recipient of one of their fellowships) and he is not [a man hired to terrorize or eliminate opponents] in any case. Please be civil.

[edited by Webmaster, 6/16]

>>Okay, I can believe this. But the Book of Mormon was translated into English. And in the English language, minor punctuation and paragraphing changes can significantly alter the meaning of a text. Any high school freshman with a sentence deconstruction exercise under his belt understands this.<<

Ignoring the rest of your deliberately inflammatory statements because thankfully they've been deal with--

"Any high school fresman ... understands this."

May I just point out that Joseph Smith was not a high school freshman? This was the 1820s! In the 1820s most people were lucky to get a 6th grade education. High school was somewhere you went if your family had money or if you and your family were willing to work yourselves to the bone to afford it. High school just wasn't relevant to everyday life. Most of these people were farmers, laborers and craftsmen. Reading Shakespeare and deconstructing sentences was not a necessity for them.

It's a mistake to try to hold other time periods up to our "lofty" social expectations.

I apologize beforehand for the length and somewhat off-topic nature of my post.

Re: Please be civil (John C)

I did not intend to point a finger Ben S., but he cited a FARMS article in his comment. I apologize if it came across [that way]. In any case, I did not use the word "goon" as an insult. See the webster's definition (2nd):

goon: a man hired to terrorize or eliminate opponents

I stand by my characterization of FARMS as a sort of intellectual goon squad, though I'm certain there are individual exceptions to the overall rule. As one apostle put it, FARMS's role is to prevent intellectual opponents from "outflanking" the general authorities.

Re: John Fowles

This is the inherent problem with FARMS as an academic institution. Their primary mission is not to seek out new areas of knowledge, truth, or understanding; rather, it is to support an existing body of ideas. Perhaps my previous use of "pseudo-academic" is faulty. A more accurate term might be pseudo-scientific. What I'm trying to describe is an approach that appears to be based on rigor and methodology (or methodological thinking), but in fact serves an almost propagandistic function.

John Fowles, I hope you can see that I have clearly reasoned thoughts and information behind my opinion of FARMS, and am not merely throwing a tantrum as you implied. I'll disagree with you on the point that the professors at FARMS are men of universally unassailable intellect and rigor, whose conclusions require no independent thought or scrutiny--or that I am unqualified to apply my own thought or scrutiny without a certificate ot that effect hanging on my wall.

[edited by Webmaster, 6/16]

What I'm trying to describe is an approach that appears to be based on rigor and methodology (or methodological thinking), but in fact serves an almost propagandistic function.

What scholarship, in your view, does not do this? When academics go about writing a "thesis," it is because they have something they think they can prove.

or defend, as the case may be.

harpingheather, Joseph Smith's lack of education is unrelated to Nick's claim, which is that punctuation is a vital part of the BoM text. I disagree with his claim, but I think you're conflating separate issues.

Nick wrote I did not intend to point a finger Ben S., but he cited a FARMS article in his comment.

Are you implying by this that once someone cites to a FARMS article their argument can be brushed aside? This is a very convenient way for you to avoid having to address the substance of individual FARMS arguments, which are generally well supported arguments, whether you agree with their conclusions or not. The problem is that, if you do not agree with their conclusions, then you need to address the substantive content of the argument to try to refute it. It that is something that you simply do not want to do, then that is one thing. But to dismiss FARMS as somehow invalid just because the scholarship there pursues a certain goal (that of defending LDS truth claims based on sound research in specialized fields) is a short-cut that ill serves you.

Back on topic, I think it's interesting how quickly we get distracted by whether or not grammatical or spelling errors reduce the value of the Book of Mormon. For the record, I don't think it has the least import.

What does matter--and the reason why punctuation and versification are worth a critical look--is how punctuation, versification, and word choice affect the meaning of the book. As a former editor, I know there are times when shifting a comma here or ending a paragraph there can clearly alter the intended meaning. And that's what makes Gilbert's story interesting.

Joseph's "unfortunate" use of the word "perfect" (per Will, above) was not an anomaly. It is repeated in general conference like a mantra, and for many--if not most--Mormons around the world, it is the backbone of their beliefs. What does "perfect" mean? I defer to the logic of one William Jefferson Clinton: “That depends on what the meaning of 'is' is.”

I'll disagree with you on the point that the professors at FARMS are men of universally unassailable intellect and rigor, whose conclusions require no independent thought or scrutiny--or that I am unqualified to apply my own thought or scrutiny without a certificate ot that effect hanging on my wall.

Funny, I don't remember making that point. to the contrary, take on the conclusions of the FARMS contributors. Address them footnote by footnote, and show why they are not plausible or helpful conclusion based on reasonable research and evidence in the historical, cultural, or linguistic record. My point about the helpfulness of a Ph.D. in your endeavor was to express that if you really want to debunk FARMS's work, then the training you get in such a doctoral program (this is not focused on a piece of paper hanging on a wall) will be of much value in refuting the FARMS arguments. Of course any old person can criticize and argue against any conclusion of any kind. And perhaps you are equipped to counter some of the technical and ancient-research-oriented arguments put out by FARMS. I just know that some of the primary source languages are inaccessible to many people without specific training in those fields, and it seems that knowledge of those things could be useful in refuting FARMS defenses.

>>harpingheather, Joseph Smith's lack of education is unrelated to Nick's claim, which is that punctuation is a vital part of the BoM text. I disagree with his claim, but I think you're conflating separate issues.<<

I don't think it's unrelated at all. Nick seemed to be claiming that the original book should have been translated "perfectly" and by Nick's definiton that seemed to include punctuation. I'm pointing out two things (though the second is a bit after the fact). One: Joseph Smith, like most people of his day, lacked the high school education that Nick was saying was basic to the knowledge of punctuation. Two: Punctuation of the day was very different from punctuation today so likely we'd still find an early edition of the BoM confusing to our modern eyes.

...to dismiss FARMS as somehow invalid just because the scholarship there pursues a certain goal (that of defending LDS truth claims based on sound research in specialized fields) is a short-cut that ill serves you.

In legal and government circles, it's called "conflict of interest."

A friend of mine just suggested another less confrontational way of looking at it: perhaps it's the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning. Do you choose a conclusion based on specific cases and data? Or do you deduce your conclusions from big picture?

My friend argues that FARMS actually uses something like reverse inductive reasoning, selecting a conclusion and then searching for theories and data to support it. The inductive component probably explains why FARMS often attacks the minutiae of their perceived opponents' writings or arguments, rather than the central message. Maybe this is not intended to distract or evade, but is a perfectly legitimate approach derived directly from their worldview. (This is so prevalent in FARMS' book reviews and critical writings that anybody who reads them should see what I'm talking about.)

Anyway, my friend suggests that this fundamental difference (reverse inductive vs. deductive reasoning) goes beyond FARMS, pervading throughout LDS thought, and that this difference could be the primary reason why I'm on my way out of the church. Any thoughts?

This may or may not be significant, but I'd note for the record what Joseph Smith said:

"I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book" (HC 4:461).

harpingheather, Will was right. I never even tangentially mentioned Joseph Smith's education. The man had a phenomenal career considering his lack of "formal education," which he took the initiative to correct through active independent study of a variety of fields throughout his life.

My point was about the way we (the modern readers) talk about issues like Joseph Smith's translation. How on one hand we call it the "most perfect book" and firmly believe that its translation was guided by divine revelation, making it far superior to other books of holy scripture. Yet when somebody points out any sort of inconsistency in that statement (ie if punctuation can have such an impact on meaning, why didn't the Lord tell Joseph where to put the commas? -- not my line of reasoning, but one that I have heard), we ask how dare they judge this book with such high standards?

Again, I'm not saying that the punctuation issues delegitimize the Book of Mormon--I just find it interesting how we in the church can comfortably claim two opposite sides of the field like this.

And regarding my "deliberately inflammatory statements"--why is it that so many folks in the church react this way when somebody brings up ideas or information that does not jibe with their orthodoxy? I've always believed that someone who has a firm grasp on their faith shouldn't be threatened because somebody dares to bring up a different point of view. And no, it was never my intention to be deliberately inflammatory--although granted a bit sarcastic with respect to FARMS (which, last I heard, was not grouped in among the Lord's annointed).

Nick,
The issue is fundamentally one of starting points (as your friend suggests). The people at FARMS will never come to a conclusion that says that the Book of Mormon is not what it says it is (an ancient document). This is primarily because they have had a confirming revelatory experience regarding this claim (for the record, so have I). Therefore they may not always accept the conclusion most likely to survive Occam's razor because there are constraints on the conclusions they can draw. There is nothing wrong with it; it is what it is.

For that matter, it doesn't make their scholarship inherently suspect. They are quite plain about their biases. You can choose to account for that in their research or not according to your liking.

Do they sometimes come to conclusions that seem strange to the wider academic audience? Sure. This primarily a function of operating from a different starting point. When FARMS engages in apologetics, it is primarily to help people who are operating from the same starting point understand issues raised by people who are coming from somewhere else (academia, anti's, etc.). The people who engage in this sort of behavior are hardly intimidating; they are working to understand LDS belief in light of academic evidence. Regarding their "goonishness", I seriously doubt that any academic is frightened of what FARMS may have to say on a subject unless they too are interested in influencing those people who are interested in what FARMS has to say. The people at FARMS are hardly "Danites" and to describe them this way misses the point. They're not interested in eliminating their opponents, they are interested in providing alternative explanations to their readers.

On another note, I really enjoyed this post Dave and I apologize for the threadjack. You've made me want to go out and examine an 1830 edition now.

Justin, thanks for correcting us. I'm embarrassed that I didn't catch that misquote.

I'll still stand by my assertion that many of the recorded words of prophets and even Christ himself are not technically accurate, but rather chosen for their emotional impact. When church leaders say something like "There is no greater calling than __________," they aren't trying to make a literal truth claim.

Well, I missed a spirited discussion this morning, didn't I? I "cleaned up" a few comments (but left punctuation and paragraphing untouched).

I think it's hard to deny that punctuation is an integral part of the text and that the BoM's punctuation pedigree is a little embarrassing.

Ben, the fact that Semitic languages didn't use punctuation doesn't get you very far. English didn't use punctuation either until around the fifteenth century. The translation was supposed to be for the world of 1830 or the world of our day, and now we use punctuation. Are you saying God can't handle punctuation? Or that He thinks a partial or mixed translation (divinely inspired words, human punctuation) was good enough for a project as important as the Book of Mormon?

I'd prefer not to engage in another round of the FARMS debate. Summarizing in two or three sentences those prior debates: John F thinks FARMS scholars are highly educated and dedicated group doing the same thing as any other comparable group of scholars, except that they focus their research on the Book of Mormon and related fields. I think they tend to argue from assumed conclusions and in most of their book reviews adopt rhetorical styles that undercut their scholarly pose. Maybe we're both right. [It's also unfair to generalize; I don't see these and other FARMS problems in the writing and discussion by FARMS-affiliated Bloggernackers.]

Justin, thanks for the link to the Marquardt source.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm a Nibley Fellow and have published with FARMS. I've also spent a lot of time dealing with the Semitic languages in my graduate program, so I'm not just tossing out FARMS articles defensively.

"Are you saying God can't handle punctuation? Or that He thinks a partial or mixed translation (divinely inspired words, human punctuation) was good enough for a project as important as the Book of Mormon?"

Yes to the second. If grammatical "errors" (ie. subject/verb disagreement), inconsistant spelling and other things were allowable in the Original Mss, then so is the lack of punctuation. I have yet to see a convincing argument that Joseph thought the 1830 BoM translation was the "perfect" book in terms of spelling, translation, OR theology.

When I say "tallest of the people here" the impact of that statement depends on whether I'm standing in the NBA locker room or in Taiwan. When Joseph says "most correct book..." I don't think that means it was the end-all be-all, just that it brought people closer to God than any other book. He certainly felt like he could emend or correct it. Where's Joseph's respect for his own "infallible" translation? Or did he not hold it to be so? I think the second, and he said as much about his bible treatment, a point that is behind my thinking when I say it was a sufficient translation.

"I might have rendered a plainer translation to this, but it is sufficiently plain to suit my purpose as it stands" D&C 128:18

I also don't want to derail this, but the article linked above is a good article by a linguist on why BoM sentance structure seems to ramble on and on and on. Whether one accepts it hinges on whether one accepts a Semitic vorlage for the BoM, which Nick clearly doesn't. Dismissing arguments withot even knowing what they are is certainly not the sign of an academic or critical thought process.

FWIW, I also prefer the non-versed layout. I think breaking it up into such small pieces destroys context and encourages proof-texting.

Also Dave, just as a sidenote, a background to my original apparently controversial first comment.

I assumed in posting that you and most readers shared the belief in a historical core of the Book of Mormon. (If such an assumption is generally wrong, let me know.)

Given such a presumption, my post was not defending the BoM per se, but trying to contextualize. I'm not interested in arguing BoM historicity, but I AM interested in trying to understand it in and from (what I understand to be) its original context, hence the link. It's one thing to point out strong parallels between the BoM and the ancient world and another thing entirely as to whether those are decisive in the argument for its inspiration or historicity. Even David Wright, after he left the Church, used to admit the presence of ancient linguistic and cultural artifacts in the text. They just weren't decisive for him. (Whether he still does, I don't know. I doubt it, given his strong approval of Palmer's book, but perhaps he does.)

Ben, I don't think there was anything particularly controversial about your first comment. I liked the article you listed (which I skimmed rather quickly) and plan to look up the shorter EOM entry that summarizes the author's comments when I get home tonight.

"Context" is interesting. In a scholarly or objective discussion of historicity or authorship, it seems like all participants should publicly adopt a middle ground (could be ancient, could be modern, sort of an open question), then argue about evidence and inferences. This should be true regardless of the person's personal convictions. Loudly pre-announcing one's convictions prior to discussing the evidence seems to undercut the idea that presenting and discussing evidence is worthwhile (although conspicuous announcement of one's convictions is required in some forums).

>>And no, it was never my intention to be deliberately inflammatory--although granted a bit sarcastic with respect to FARMS (which, last I heard, was not grouped in among the Lord's annointed).<<

No, they're not among the Lord's annointed so to speak but they are your brothers and sisters in Christ, they are for the most part decent people just doing what they think is right and they deserve the same level of respect that you would wish for your questions and comments.

Wow. How do do you know everthing Dave?

I heart DMI!

harpingheather, I second your call for respect. Unfortunately, the reviewers at FARMS haven't always afforded that respect to their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. See their attacks on Grant Palmer for an example.

By all means, look up the reviews of Palmer published by FARMS. There are 3 by historians and one by Lou Midgely, who, as is well-known from elsewhere in the bloggernacle, once rudely interupted the Tanners having fondue with, uh, some signature books guy.

Midgely's article (which is less of a review and more of a history and background)

Review by Davis Bitton.

Review by Stephen Harper

Review by Mark Ashurst-McGee.

There is also a statement from the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute publicly contradicting Palmer's implicit claim that they would agree with him.

All in all, 1 out of 5 FARMS reviews could perhaps be labeled as "an attack."

Thanks to all for comments on this interesting topic (which, in case you forgot, was BoM punctuation or lack thereof).

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