Sunday, April 30, 2017

Why Our Scriptures Need An Overhaul

                                                   Previously: Evil Speaking Of The Lord's Anointed

When Hyrum Smith arrived at the Palmyra printshop of Egbert B. Grandin in August of 1829 with a handwritten manuscript of what would soon become the Book of Mormon, it was the start of an unlikely alliance. Grandin had recently published a disparaging report about Hyrum's brother Joseph and his rumored "golden bible" in his newspaper, the Wayne Sentinel.  Yet here he was two months later, having reluctantly contracted to produce five thousand copies of that very item.

Grandin had initially rejected the request to print Joseph's book, but when he learned Joseph Smith was in negotiations with a printer in Rochester, and that Martin Harris, a wealthy local farmer, would be guaranteeing payment for the project, he decided he would rather accept the $3,000.00 himself than see it go to someone else. So he changed his mind and took the job. For most people money is, after all, "the one true religion."

Grandin was only twenty-three years old and had never published a book before. He was a newspaper editor, and a small town one at that. Back-country newspapers in those days were assembled by laying out the font one single letter at a time onto a hand-operated lever press, a process so time consuming and tedious that the typical newspaper often consisted of only one page printed front and back, and published once a week. The logistics of producing an entire book of 570 pages practically guaranteed the finished product would be rife with drastic fubars. And it was.

I had always believed that first edition of the Book of Mormon was the most accurate version possible. I could not have been more wrong.

Get Up In The Morning Slaving For Bread, Sir
From 1968 to 1970, I attended early morning seminary every school day at 6:00 a.m. So I'm certain sometime in those years I was taught something about the Book of Mormon. I couldn't tell you what, though, because religious instruction held no interest for me as a teenager. Early morning seminary kept me in a continuous soporific stupor, so if I did manage to learn anything it was through osmosis. Or more likely hypnosis.

Besides, I didn't attend seminary for the betterment of my soul; I went for Carolyn Watts. She and I were in separate wards and went to different high schools, so if I had any hope of spending some time with the girl I had a crush on, I'd have to get up every morning at four a.m., eat breakfast, take a shower, and trudge down to the stake center to plop my tired body into the seat next to hers.

That was the extent of my formal training in the Book of Mormon: sitting in seminary next to the girl I had a thing for, and sometimes hearing the Book of Mormon spoken about by the teacher while my thoughts were elsewhere. Whenever I was called on to open the book and read from it, those choppy little paragraphs with verse numbers in front of them just didn't do it for me. That whole "scripture chase" thing harshed my groove, man. Not really my bag.

When I turned nineteen, I ignored the grownups in my ward who were encouraging me to go on a mission. Then when I turned twenty-one some stake high council dude gave me a Deseret Book gift certificate, so I drove over to see what they had there. I found a replica of the first Book of Mormon, published in 1830, with real leather binding. It looked interesting. "Retro," in the lingo of today. So I took it home and started reading.

And I was converted. I found the narrative flow of that book so much more inviting than the dry,Church-published, versified edition used in church and seminary. I was converted through that book the same way Parley P. Pratt had been converted, and it happened by means of a copy of the Book of Mormon exactly like the one old Parley P had been reading when his soul caught fire.

So at a time when all my friends were returning from their missions, I suddenly felt the call. And I took along that favored copy of the Book of Mormon, because it was much more interesting to read than the one in the triple combination my mom and dad had bought for me. I recall my first Senior Companion advising me to put down that old version and instead start reading the authorized copy. Sorry, I told him. No can do. And by the way man, stop harshing my groove.

Years later I bought the much-heralded 1981 editions of the LDS Bible and and triple combination in the oversize editions. That version of the Book of Mormon was fine for looking up specific cites, but I still preferred my first edition for sit-down reading. Besides, I soon learned that the modern edition had some serious flaws.

Little did I know that my precious 1830 replica itself was full of errors. Royal Skousen, professor of linguistics at BYU, has gone to remarkable lengths comparing the many differences between the original manuscript and the way things ended up in that first print edition. Most disconcerting, Skousen's research exposes the substantial number of flaws that still remain in the editions we commonly use today. Skousen ended up publishing a more accurate transcription of the Book of Mormon, and he did so by painstakingly utilizing what remains of the original manuscript. Yet today's Church leaders seem to have taken no interest in making a more perfect edition available through its official publishing arm.

So I had to wonder: if we claim to believe the Bible as far as it is translated correctly, shouldn't the Church be taking steps to make sure the Book of Mormon we are using is also as accurate as possible?

A Grert Wokr In He Clowd 
After accepting the contract to publish Joseph Smith's manuscript, Egbert Grandin ordered 500 extra pounds of lead type shipped to him via the Erie Canal, and employed an experienced typesetter by the name of John Gilbert to handle the project. This was going to take someone who knew what he was doing, because typesetting was a talent that required the compositor to be able to read the individual letters of type upside down and backwards as he placed them into position on the press. If you're guessing this system resulted in some misspelled words and typographical errors; brothers and sisters, you don't even know.

Those misspelled words you see in the bold subheading above are just four of nearly two thousand errors in my 1830 Book of Mormon. They should read as "great" "work" "the" and "cloud." Harmless enough, you might think. Perhaps even mildly amusing. After all, a reasonably intelligent person should be able to detect what those words should have been. However, misspelled words are one thing, but when an error changes the very meaning of the text, as frequently occurred in numerous places, it can distort the teaching. And that can be problematic.

Here's what made printing an authentic copy of the Book of Mormon so hard to pull off: in order to print a book like that, the compositor first lays out sixteen pages of type one line at a time on the table of the press, and for reasons you'll understand in a minute, those sixteen pages have to be arranged upside down, backwards, and completely out of order from each other. This is why printers in early America were held in such high regard. To anyone watching a compositor at work, that job would have seemed nearly impossible.

It could take days for the compositor to do the typesetting for all sixteen of those awkwardly arranged sections of the Book of Mormon, and when they were ready to go, all sixteen pages were printed at once onto a large sheet of paper measuring almost a yard long and two feet wide. When that big sheet was printed, dried, then folded, John Gilbert had completed his first signature.

It's done that way because to create a book, you can't just stack a bunch of sheets of paper together and slap a cover on them; it would end up all cattywampus. To see how a book is bound properly, pull a quality hardback book off your shelf and take a look down the spine. You'll see what looks like a collection of pamphlets sewn closely together with thick thread. Each of those "pamphlets" are sixteen pages each, and have to be printed and prepared individually. Each time one of these pamphlets is completed, the printer pencils a mark or "signature" on it to show that he's finished with that one and ready to print up the next.

It's almost impossible to appreciate the logistics of such a project without having it demonstrated, so I found a Youtube video that explains it concisely. The first two minutes and ten seconds show how a signature is created, which the author demonstrates using a regular sized sheet of paper to make it easier to follow. Although technology today has eliminated the need for labor-intensive typesetting, signatures are still essentially the same today as back in Grandin's:

Inkballs: Can't Live With 'Em, Can't Live Without 'Em
Here's where it gets interesting. It turns out that my 1830 replica edition of the Book of Mormon very likely contains errors that differ from every one of the other 4,999 copies produced off that same press run. To understand why, first you'll want to take a look at this video demonstrating how a press in those days was inked. The inkballs used by the docent here would have been similar to those used by John Gilbert when he was inking type faces for the Book of Mormon. (You need only watch the first two and a half minutes to get the gist of it.)

As you can see, those inkballs can get pretty sticky. And if a piece of typeset -or even an entire line of type- was loose, the inkball might draw it right out without the compositor noticing. Gilbert could have printed three or four sheets and hung them up to dry before noticing the loose letters that ended up on the floor.

Would he go back and re-do the finished signatures? Not on your life. For a run of 5,000 books, 2500 prints of each "form," or identical sets of those sixteen pages, is going to have to be printed. The type will have to be constantly re-inked, and the ink pressed down onto those chases filled with type before the lever can even be lowered to press ink to paper. If a minor mistake was discovered, it was best to just keep going. Typographical errors were expected in those days. These sorts of things happened.

What the printer would do upon discovering loose type out of place is try and figure out where those missing letters were supposed to go and stick them back in so they wouldn't be missing in any of the succeeding pages. Then Gilbert would have continued printing until he noticed another piece of type had fallen out. When that was discovered, he would put that one back where he thought it should go and continue with the job. That is the way in which the known errors in the Book of Mormon got corrected at the time.

Back in 1973, Janet Jenson of the Church Historical Department published a study comparing 60 of the 70 copies of the 1830 edition then known to exist. Most were held in museums, university collections, or private hands. Her research discovered different combinations of corrections were found in all 60 copies. What that means is that changes and corrections were made on the fly as the Book of Mormon was coming off the press in 1830. So it is highly likely that the 1830 editions of the Book of Mormon have something in common with snowflakes: you will rarely see any two that are exactly alike.
"The discovery of additional variants might well cause even those which are considered now alike to become unique. Seventy is not quite 1.5 percent of the total 5,000 which were printed, but with just the 41 changes so far discovered, it is mathematically possible that each of the 5,000 copies could be unique." (Jenson, Variations Between Copies of the First Edition of the Book of Mormon, BYU Studies, Vol 13:2)
Remember that this examination took place in the early 1970's, when only 41 changes had been compared between extant copies thus far. Jenson doesn't take into account the biggest reveal of all: the handwritten manuscript that Hyrum provided to the printer wasn't even the original manuscript that had been translated by Joseph Smith. The manuscript provided to the printer was only a copy of the original. Joseph was holding on to the original for safekeeping.

The original manuscript, you will recall, had been written down at various turns by Emma Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris as Joseph dictated the words to them. When it was time to furnish a manuscript of the Book of Mormon to the printer, Joseph asked Oliver Cowdery to make a handwritten copy of the original. It was Oliver's copy that Hyrum delivered to Egbert Grandin in installments as fast as Cowdery could finish copying them. And these closely written manuscript pages weren't that easy for John Gilbert to decipher.  Gilbert recalled years later that "every chapter was one solid paragraph, without a punctuation mark, from beginning to end." (Memorandum made by John H. Gilbert, Esq; Sept 8th, 1892, Palmyra New York, quoted in Wilford C. Wood, Joseph Smith Begins His Work, 1958)

Gilbert had to do his best to translate Oliver Cowdery's handwriting, which itself was a copy of the translation previously written down by Emma, Martin, and himself. So this printer's manuscript was already one generation away from the source material before it ever arrived at the printer's. And we now know there were numerous differences between Cowdery's copy and Joseph's original. And since Cowdery's copy of the original contained no punctuation, Gilbert had to decide for himself where one sentence ended and another began, as well as penciling in where he felt the commas, dashes, and semicolons belonged.* That puts the translation yet another generation further from the source, before the thing ever got set into type.
*Also, do you think John Gilbert knew the proper spelling of Amalickiahite? I'm betting he did not.

It's no wonder Professor Skousen estimates there were 2,000 textual errors in the 1830 edition. He has cited 600 corrections that have never appeared in any standard edition of the Book of Mormon and "about 250 of them affect the text's meaning." (Skousen, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text.)

This raises a question in my mind: why has the general membership of the Church never been told that the copies of the Book of Mormon they purchased through Deseret Book contain substantial errors? Professor Skousen's research is not widely known outside academic circles, but if he has cited something in the neighborhood of 250 places where the text in our versions differs in meaning from that which was in Joseph's original manuscript, why has the Church publishing arm not rushed out corrected copies in order that our theology remains pure? Should they not at least furnish corrected copies to the seminaries and institutes?

What Happened To The Original Manuscript?
It's interesting to note that nearly three quarters of the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon is unreadable. It was hidden in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House for over a hundred years, which gave it sufficient time to get rainsoaked and turn to mush. But enough of it survived that forensic experts are able to show how it differs in many ways from Cowdery's copy that John Gilbert used as his guide. Also problematic was that although at various times either Hyrum, Oliver, or Martin were present at Grandin's to keep guard over the printer's manuscript, none of them fully kept an eye on John Gilbert, who, though trustworthy and well-meaning, took certain liberties with the transcription. Since he was left to himself to determine where punctuation marks should go, whenever the manuscript quoted passages similar to those in the Bible, he simply kept an open Bible handy and copied the punctuation directly from the King James version.

The problem with this, however, is that Gilbert copied more than just the punctuation. For example, we know that Nephi included extensive passages from Isaiah, and he did so that we in our day would have a more reliable version of those passages than could be found in our Bibles.  But Gilbert thought it more efficient to simply copy the words right out of the Bible and set them into type, thus entering those old errors into the new covenant of the Book of Mormon. So rather than clarifying doctrine, In some of our editions Nephi appears to be repeating the same errors that the biblical translators passed down.

Since even Joseph Smith recognized that the Grandin edition of the Book of Mormon needed fixing, in 1837 he made emendations to it, this time taking the revised manuscript to a book publisher in Cincinnati. This publisher used plates instead of typeset, which enabled Joseph to retain the plates and take them back with him to Nauvoo. Further proof reading convinced Joseph that he had overlooked some errors in his previous revision, so three years later he cleaned it up even further. Most scholars agree that, in the absence of the original manuscript -the one largely destroyed by water damage- the 1840 edition is the most accurate one we have. You can obtain an inexpensive version of the 1840 edition here.

Yet the Book of Mormon you're reading in your Quad or Triple Combination today is not descended from Joseph's 1840 revision. What happened was that the next year, the apostles in England needed a copy of the book they could distribute there, so they employed a printer in Liverpool to churn one out. This British edition was not based on Joseph's most recent 1840 revision, however, but on the one from 1837. The printer in England made some improvements to the book on his own, changing some words here and there that better matched colloquial British English. Joseph Smith had no input on this edition whatsoever. The Book of Mormon the LDS people read from today is descended from that imperfect 1841 edition.

That edition went through a number of alterations in the decades after Joseph's death, culminating with Orson Pratt's making a number of substantial structural changes: clarifying words, cleaning up the grammar, deciding where he wanted certain chapters to begin and end, dividing the text into verses, and other improvements he deemed necessary. Admittedly, there is an advantage to being able to refer to certain sections of scripture by citing chapter and verse. Numerous "improvements" culminated in 1921 with the Apostles Edition, a sort of "authorized version;" evidence that the Church of Christ had been completely taken over by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who now believed they had the right to own and control every aspect of the church, including the scriptures themselves.

You can see the problem. The further we get from a version of the Book of Mormon approved by the original translator, the less accurate a version we have.

I say we're better off with an edition of the Book of Mormon that reads closer to the original manuscript, even if the original contains idioms peculiar to 19th century America, than we are if we are depending on a version that has been polished and tweaked by unauthorized editors over time. This is, after all, our scripture, delivered through a prophet of God. We should not be comfortable with others making improvements to it, no matter how well meaning.

Happily, there is now a proposed version of the Book of Mormon available that is not descended from the 1841 edition, and should therefore prove more reliable. You can download a free copy of it here.  In the footnotes at the bottom of each page of this research edition, comparisons are provided for words and phrases as they differ between Joseph's original manuscript, his 1837 and 1840 revisions, the printer's manuscript of 1829, and the Grandin 1830 edition.

This is just part of a more ambitious project that proposes to embrace the most accurate versions available for all of the latter-day scriptures that Joseph Smith had a hand in producing.  That's the good news. The bad news is that this project has attracted a surprising amount of push-back from people I would have expected would embrace the idea. Some have even referred to the project as "Denver Snuffer's scriptures," even though Denver has had almost nothing to do with any of it.

The Restoration Scriptures
Here are the facts: Over a year ago, a group of individuals got together and decided to dust off the incunabula of our faith, which, in addition to the Book of Mormon, would include the earliest version of Joseph Smith's inspired translation of the old and new testaments, as well as the many revelations Joseph received from the Lord. The idea was to come up with the most accurate versions of all the scriptures, based on the earliest texts. They proposed leaving out those parts of the D&C that lacked Joseph's personal imprint, while including some additional pieces that did.  For example, rather than include only the Articles of Faith, they proposed publishing the entire Wentworth letter, of which the Articles of Faith are one part. Also included is a dream Joseph Smith related where he saw men quarreling and fighting for ownership of what he left behind after his death.

This group of researchers was made up of scholars, investigators, and historians, and one of them phoned Denver Snuffer for permission to include a handful of Denver's short pieces, including his description of what Jesus actually went through at Gethsemane.

Denver told the caller "I don't care where you publish them; do whatever you want." But he also told the caller that he was aware of another group of researchers who were working on pretty much the same kind of scripture project. Denver told him, "You should get in touch with those guys and compare notes."

So that's what they did. These two separate teams of researchers combined forces. After a year of intensive labor, they put together a draft of what they call the Restoration Scriptures, culling the earliest and most reliable words of Joseph Smith into what they hoped would be the most accurate versions in existence.

The idea was not to expand the scriptures, but to go to the sources so that the most accurate versions can be combined in one set. For example, regarding the Inspired Version of the Bible, it's well known that Brigham Young dismissed their importance, but we now know that was due to his feud with Emma Smith, who refused to turn those scriptures over to him. Joseph actually referred to that work as "the fulness of the scriptures," so it seems to me that an accurate revision of the old and new testaments would be something all latter-day Saints would want to be familiar with.

The RLDS church had the Inspired Version in print for years, but it turns out even that volume did not contain everything it should. The Restoration Scriptures committee has found at least twenty changes by the prophet where he provided further insight. Those additions are included in the new compilation.  You can download any of these books of scripture into the format of your choice by clicking here.

After editing and reviewing these drafts, the committee decided to submit the entire collection to the scrutiny of anyone who had further suggestions. Is there something they left out that should be in there? Parts anyone thinks should probably not be included? Suggestions are still being sought and considered. You can throw in your two cents by sending an email to the committee through this link.

Ultimately, of course, it doesn't really matter what either you or I or any committee decides should be included in our scriptures. That is really up to the Lord, because these are His scriptures, and it's His covenant. It may surprise you to learn that although the Doctrine & Covenants was put to the members for a vote, the Book of Mormon never was. The early Saints never sustained the Book of Mormon as scripture, nor made it binding upon them.

That is a remarkable thing to contemplate, because the Lord called the Book of Mormon "the new covenant." Yet the the body of the church neglected to enter into that covenant with the Lord and to abide by its precepts. It's no wonder the Lord declared the church under condemnation for neglecting that covenant. (D&C 84: 54-57) And lest we forget, President Benson reminded us over thirty years ago that the condemnation has never been lifted.

Many of us are finally, as Moroni put it, awakening to our awful situation. I'd say it's time we remedied that.

The two teams of researchers who worked to compile this new set of scriptures explain their reasoning and motivations here, including a discussion of why it is important for us all never to let any committee dictate what should or should not be considered scripture. You can follow updates to the project here. Besides the free online versions of each book, you can also purchase physical copies through Amazon. It should be noted, however, that the work as it presently exists is a proposed draft only. It will not be finalized until all suggestions are considered and it has been submitted to the Lord for His approval. Then it will require a suitable number of people willing to vote to accept it. After that, it will be put into print in fine, 100% cotton onion-skin paper with leather binding.

Although Denver Snuffer had very little to do with researching and compiling this version of the scriptures, he does have much to say about its importance. I highly recommend reading his 28 page exegisis, Things To Keep Us Awake At Night. I would hope you would read the whole piece to the end without skipping anything -it's that important. I also recommend this piece describing Scripture, Prophecy, and Covenant.

In closing, it shouldn't be necessary to do this, but I guess I have to remind some readers that the arrival of these proposed books of scripture does not mark the harbinger of any new church or religious denomination. And Denver Snuffer will not be leading this imaginary movement. Denver is a friend of mine, and I can tell you he has vigorously quashed attempts by two separate groups who proposed he be sustained as a prophet and leader. He will have none of it.

So let me repeat what I've said many times before: There is no "Snufferite Movement." There is no new Mormonite splinter group arising under Denver Snuffer's direction. Denver has no desire to lead, govern, or direct any movement, group, or person. Ever.

While it is true that thousands of believing latter-day Saints are awakening to further light and truth, this will not result in anyone or any group organizing any kind of church or faction. If you see any attempt to create an organized movement in your midst, run away from it. Fast. That is not the Lord's method.

The scriptures of the Restoration are available to everyone. Always have been. You are not required to belong to any religious denomination in order to claim them as your own. They are yours already.

Eventually, a covenant people will be gathered. But not because they belong to an organization. It will only be because they practice a true religion.