The Word of God
Dan Vogel, ed.

Chapter 15
Making the Scriptures “Indeed One in Our Hands”
Edward H. Ashment

[p.237]The new LDS editions of the King James Bible (1979) and triple combination (1981)—the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price—are the result of a project having five major objectives: (1) to produce a topical guide, chapter headings, a notation and cross-referencing apparatus, and a Bible dictionary, all tailored to present-day LDS scriptural interpretation; (2) to correct errors that have crept into the text of the triple combination and “return to the wording which evidence indicates was intended by the Prophet Joseph Smith”1; (3) “to assist in improving doctrinal scholarship throughout the church”2; (4) to intercalate Joseph Smith’s “Inspired Revision” of the King James Bible into the apparatus of the new edition of the Bible; and (5) to establish the scriptures as the central focus and “anchor” of the church.3

Mormon church authorities are very pleased with the results. Apostle Boyd K. Packer, for example, declares that they are a complete fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy about the stick of Judah and of Ephraim becoming “indeed one in our hands”4— a strong claim to be sure. This essay briefly analyzes each of the five objectives.

The Apparatus and Bible Dictionary Instead of developing its categories from the biblical text, the topical guide groups scriptures under headings reflecting current LDS interpretation. An article in the Ensign magazine explains that “it contains subjects that are not identified by the same words in the Bible text—such as ‘life after death’—and refers the reader to the different Bible words used to [p.238] discuss the topic.”5 In this manner LDS theology is imposed onto the scriptural text rather than developed out of it.6 An unfortunate result of this process is that scriptures which can be grouped together only by reading into them one’s own ideas (called “eisegesis”) are cited as “evidence” of a certain theological concept, thus possibly misleading the reader into believing that this concept is solidly based on scripture.

For example, under the heading “Man, Antemortal Existence of,” cited in a note for Moses 3:5, the topical guide includes several scriptures which have no contextual reference to “antemortality.” In Numbers 16:22 the fact that God is “the God of the spirits of all flesh” means only that he is the God of “the living, breathing being, dwelling in the flesh of men and animals.”7 Nothing indicates that these spirits existed before mortality. Similarly, neither Ecclesiastes 12:7 nor Zechariah 12:1 indicates when God created the “spirit.” Nor can “the sons of God” in Job 38:7 be shown to refer to “antemortal” humankind. In Jeremiah 1:5, Romans 8:29, and Ephesians 1:4, fate or God’s foreknowledge is probably referred to instead of “antemortality.”8 The fact that the Jews believed that a fetus was capable of sinning may be more relevant to John 2:2 than “antemortality.”9 In other words nothing in any of these passages constitutes evidence of a pre-mortality for humanity, with the result that there is no biblical basis for the Mormon doctrine of “Ante-mortal Existence.” Instead, the apparatus relies on contemporary LDS hermeneutics to develop its groupings.

It is also instructive to look at biblical chapter headings to discover how LDS interpretations are imposed on the text. The purpose of these headings is to make the Bible appear to validate Mormon doctrine. For example the heading for Genesis 3, the story of the fall of Adam and Eve, is infused with christological import. The serpent is identified as “Lucifer,” the Latin Vulgate translation of the Hebrew word for “Shining One,”10 and is found only once in the Bible (in Isaiah 14:12). He usually is identified as the king of Babylon, because the concept of a devil did not develop among the Jews until the post-exilic period.11 The name “Lucifer” did not refer to the devil until early Christians equated Luke 10:18 with the Isaiah passage, after which it was used as a synonym for the devil.12 Without any textual support, the heading equates Eve’s “seed” with “Christ.”13

[p.239]In Genesis 49 Jacob blesses his sons, telling them what is going to happen in the future,14 a phrase which the apparatus interprets as the “last days” of the earth’s existence.15 The heading, apparently relying on Joseph Smith’s Inspired Revision, assumes that “Shiloh,” part of a very problematic phrase,16 and the “Shepherd and Stone of Israel” refer to “Christ.” The branches of Joseph’s “fruitful bough” which “run over the wall” are identified as the “Nephites and Lamanites,” even though the entire verse as it stands in the King James Bible (KJV) may be a mis-translation.17

The heading for Job 19, uncritically accepting the English of the KJV and reading Mormon theology into the material, declares that Job knows that his “Redeemer” lives. (The apparatus for verse 25 implies that this means that Job had a testimony of Jesus Christ.) But no textual evidence supports such an interpretation. Instead it seems that Job regarded God as his adversary not his “Redeemer.” A redeemer would be someone who would act as his kinsman, as a witness or umpire for him in his controversy with God.18 If the writers of the heading have Jesus-as-Yahweh in mind as the interceder between Job and God, then they must account for the fact that in Job 2 Yahweh himself makes the agreement with the devil, who as already noted was not conceived of until the post-exilic period (after 450 B.C.E.), when the Jews became concerned about the nature of God’s relationship to evil. The heading further declares that Job “prophesies of his own resurrection,” a conclusion based on the KJV text of Job 19:26: “yet in my flesh shall I see God.” This is an incorrect translation of the Hebrew, which says, “without my flesh I shall see God.”19

The heading for Isaiah 2 interprets the “mountain of the Lord’s house” to be “the latter-day temple,” presumably in Salt Lake City.

Isaiah 11-14 are understood as referring to the earth’s last days, “stem of Jesse” is to be interpreted as “Christ,” and eschatological events are interpreted into the contents of the chapters. There is no textual evidence for such explanations.

Isaiah 26 is a song to be sung by the Jews and is, therefore, written in the first person plural (we). The singers address Yahweh in the second person singular (thou, thee, thy) and also refer to him in the third person (he, his). The first person singular possessive adjective (my), which has no referent but possibly refers to the song’s [p.240] writer, occurs three times (in vv. 9, 19, 20). The heading, however, boldly proclaims that “Jehovah shall die and be resurrected,” basing this claim on the “my” in verse 19. It seems incredible that this theologically significant claim identifying Jesus as Yahweh would be based—with no justification—on an unreferenced pronominal adjective.

The heading interprets Isaiah 29 as foretelling the Book of Mormon, deriving that interpretation from the nineteenth-century Book of Mormon text, thus begging the question.

For Ezekiel 37 the heading identifies the “stick of Judah” as the “Bible” and the stick of “Joseph” as the “Book of Mormon.” This interpretation apparently is based on the Doctrine and Covenants 27:5, which identifies the Book of Mormon as “the record of the stick of Ephraim,” with the result that this heading also begs the question.20

The compiler of the Bible dictionary, Robert J. Matthews, a religion professor at Brigham Young University, has noted several times that the Cambridge Bible Dictionary (upon which he based the LDS version) was “prepared by scholars who did not have the benefit of latter-day revelation.” He describes the new Bible dictionary as “also a dictionary of the broader religious topics which, although mentioned in or indirectly related to the Bible, are developed more fully in latter-day revelation.”21 Accordingly the entire Bible dictionary along with the rest of the apparatus reflects modern LDS “revelation” and contributes to the phenomenon of Mormon doctrinal self-validation.

Correcting Errors in the Scriptural Text: The Book of Moses. Two of the most interesting works Joseph Smith produced during his short career are known as the “Selections from the Book of Moses” and the “Book of Abraham.” They are important not only because they contain some of the most theologically unique Mormon doctrines but also because we have original manuscripts with which to compare today’s editions for “errors that have crept into the scriptural text.”

To Joseph Smith the KJV was a corrupted version of the original Bible. Therefore, as a “branch of [his] calling” he undertook to revise, correct, and supplement it and thus restore it to its original purity as “the word of God” (Article of Faith 8).22 It is important to keep in mind, as one Mormon scholar has pointed out, that the majority of his revisions were “patterned and connected with a [p.241] problem existing only in the English of the KJV, and not in any ancient form of the text.”23 By June 1830 Smith began dictating his insights to his scribes, completing the portion that would be included in the “Selections from the Book of Moses” early the next year. Although most of Smith’s revisions remained in manuscript form (of which there are three for the Old Testament and two for the New Testament), portions were published through the years. LDS apostle Franklin D. Richards compiled several of these in 1851 and published them as the Pearl of Great Price.24

The “Selections from the Book of Moses” are divisible into four parts:

(1) Chapter 1, “Moses’ Theophany” (God revealing himself to Moses), first published in the Times and Seasons 4 (16 Jan. 1843), 5:71-73;

(2) Chapters 2:1-6:25, “A Revision of Genesis 1:1-5:21,” portions of which were first published in the “Lectures on Faith,” in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, and in the 15 March 1851 edition of The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, pages 90 93;

(3) Chapters 6:26-7:69, “An Elaboration on Genesis 5:22,” portions of which were first published in The Evening and the Morning Star 1 (April 1833), 11, and in the “Lectures on Faith,” in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants; and

(4) Chapter 8, “A Revision of Genesis 5:23-6:13,” portions of which were first published in The Evening and the Morning Star 1 (April 1833), 11, and in the “Lectures on Faith,” in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.

In Part One, which is apocryphal to the Old Testament, Smith described God (as well as Satan) revealing himself to Moses and outlined a revelation which ostensibly was the preface to Genesis, traditionally attributed to Moses.25 The only other theophanies closely paralleling it are those of Nephi and of the brother of Jared in the Book of Mormon. All three experience their hierophanies on “exceedingly” high mountains (Moses 1:1; 1 Ne. 11:1; Eth. 3:1). Moses and Nephi are “caught up/away,” while the brother of Jared climbs. Moses and Jared’s brother see God (who in Eth. 3:25, is patently modal),26 but Nephi sees the “Spirit of the Lord” (1 Ne. 11:11). Moses and Jared’s brother are commanded to write about what they see (Moses 1:41f; Eth. 3:21-24, 27), each being told that the Lord would reveal what he should write. Nephi is commanded not to write the [p.242] portion of his vision paralleling the New Testament Apocalypse of John (1 Ne. 14:25, 28). Smith is implicitly identified as the one “like unto” Moses in Moses 1:41f.27

Parts Two and Four are comprised of the KJV text, modified predominantly where Smith’s KJV contained italicized words or phrases, and occasional supplements.28 The major propositions of these parts are that there is a primordial devil who has his own plan of salvation rivalling Jesus’ (Moses 4:1-4); that Adam is the first Christian, receiving the plan of salvation from an angel (Moses 5:1-10; cf. Al. 12:30-33); that the secret societies God destroys in the Noachic flood are founded by Satan and Cain (Moses 5:23-31); and that Christianity is preached among the antedeluvians (Moses 5:12-15, 57-59; 8:19).

Asserting a divine origin for the creation story in response to criticisms by nineteenth-century deists, in Part Two Smith portrayed God himself as the narrator rather than the subject of narration (except in quotations) as in the KJV.29 Part Two also brings the geocentric character of the ancient Genesis creation into alignment with modern understanding by having God specify to Moses that he will “reveal” to him only “concerning this heaven, and this earth”— a small segment of a virtually limitless universe (Moses 2:1).30

Four basic discrepancies between the two Genesis accounts of the creation of the world are, according to one scholar, “a disagreement as to the sequence of creation, a difference in the usage of the divine names, a difference in the conception of God, and a difference in style.”31

Moses addresses only the first, since Joseph Smith was working solely with the English text of the KJV—in which the other discrepancies would not be apparent.32 Genesis 1, a late account,33 portrays God (Elohim) creating the world in seven days and calling into being everything on the day that it is mentioned. He creates plant life before there is a sun to give them light and culminates his work on the seventh day by creating man and woman. But in the second account (Gen. 2:4b-25), God (Yahweh) “forms” man as one would form a pot on a potter’s wheel,34 plants a garden, causes all the plants to grow, “forms” all animal life in an unsuccessful effort to find a “helpmeet” for the man until he “builds/fashions”35 a woman for him.

Part Two of Moses reconciles these two accounts with the [p.243] supplemental text: “For, I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually [referring to the first creation account], before they were naturally upon the face of the earth [which was the second creation]” (Moses 3:5). Thus, the seven-day creation of Genesis 1 becomes merely a spiritual creation, after which God creates everything physically in Genesis 2, only in a different order. In this way the dissonance is resolved. But this solution ultimately was not satisfactory, for Smith later produced a more imaginative creation in Abraham 4 and 5, discussed below.

For Mormons a theological difficulty arises here, for they believe that Elohim is the name of God the Father and that Yahweh is the name of the pre-mortal Jesus Christ—two separate beings in the Mormon tri-corporeal trinity.36 (The Holy Ghost is the third being.) But Moses recognizes no such distinction between Elohim and Yahweh. See for example Moses 2:27, where God (=Elohim in Gen. 1:27) creates man in the image of his “Only Begotten,” who is Yahweh or the pre-mortal Jesus,37 and Moses 3:18, where God (=Yahweh in Gen. 2:18) speaks to his “Only Begotten.”

Neither does the Book of Mormon recognize a distinction between God the father and Jesus Christ (see Mos. 15:1-9). The pre-mortal Jesus tells the brother of Jared that “all men were created in the beginning after mine own image” and that “this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh” (Eth. 3:15). Thus Moses reflects the same belief that the only differentiation in the Godhead was a succession of modes or operations of a single individual as the Book of Mormon and Mormonism before 1835, when also the tricorporeal trinity was conceived.38

Part Three also underscores among other things the antiquity of Christianity as the religion of Adam (Moses 6:51); it advances anti-universalist arguments (vv. 51, 57); it reflects a type of racism (7:7-8, 12, 22); it affirms Enoch’s Zion (vv. 18-21, 23f., 68); it declares that Adam’s transgression was expiated by his baptism and that children therefore are “whole from the foundation of the world” (6:53); and it portrays an apocalyptic perspective of world history complete with millenarianism (7:61-67).39

A number of textual changes have been made in the “Selections from the Book of Moses.” Of the eleven changes I have found in [p.244] the text, two are worthy of note. First, “transfigured” in Moses 1:14 appeared in all three of Smith’s Old Testament manuscripts (OT mss.) but was changed to “strengthened” in the Times and Seasons, which therefore represents Smith’s latest thinking. Although the change of “strengthened” to “transfigured” in Moses 1:14 is a return to the wording of the original manuscripts, it does not represent the latest wording that existed during Smith’s lifetime and may not be a “return to the wording which evidence indicates was intended by the Prophet Joseph Smith.”

In Moses 1:19 “ranted” was “rent” in OT Ms. 1, “went”/ “wrent” in OT Ms. 2, and “wrent” in OT Ms. 3. It first appeared in print as “went” in the Times and Seasons, was later changed to “rent” in 1878,40 and finally became “ranted” in the 1981 edition. The change to “ranted” is difficult to justify, since it is not based on any manuscript evidence.

A proper alternative to conjectural emendation is to do everything possible to understand the original text before changing it. In this case there are two possibilities. One alternative, “went upon,” merely presumes that Satan was somewhere other than on the earth (=”ground”?) when he first appeared to Moses and that he “went upon the earth” in order to confront Moses. There are two other occurrences of “went upon” in the Pearl of Great Price: “They fled and stood afar off and went upon the land which came up out of the depth of the sea” (Moses 7:14); and “And Jesus left them, and went upon the Mount of Olives” (Joseph Smith—Matt. 1:4).

In the other alternative, this only occurrence of “rent,” may indicate that Satan tore at himself “in token of [his] rage, grief, horror, or despair.”41 The adverbial phrase “upon the earth” remains somewhat of an anomaly. It is the most probable possibility in that the evidence, according to one scholar, indicates that “Wrent was [the scribe] John Whitmer’s unique spelling [for rent]” with the result that “there is some justification for … the correction” from “went” to “rent” in 1878.42

But instead of using one of the two possibly legitimate readings (“went,” “rent”), either of which might represent “the wording which evidence indicates was intended by the Prophet Joseph Smith,” the modern editors have chosen to emend the text conjecturally and ended up with “ranted.”

Correcting Errors in the Scriptural Text: The Book of Abraham. By [p.245] 1835 Smith had published the Book of Mormon—a volume that he claimed God had kept until the earth’s last days to reveal (2 Ne. 27)—and several revelations through his seer stone, many of which were compiled into the Book of Commandments (1833) and later the Doctrine and Covenants (1835, 1844). The Book of Mormon and some of these revelations made it clear that “other books” (1 Ne. 13:39) and “records” (D&C 9:2; see 6:26; 8:1) would yet appear for Smith to decipher.

So when Michael Chandler arrived in Kirtland, Ohio, with his Egyptian mummy-and-papyrus show and Joseph Smith identified the papyri as records of the biblical Abraham and Joseph, Mormons had no doubt but that divine providence was behind Chandler’s pilgrimage to Kirtland. Chandler was happy to find a buyer for whom his antiquities had such an inflated value. He sold them to the Mormons for $2,400. They only wanted the papyri but had to buy the mummies too or nothing at all.

As Chandler and his family were settling down on the farm that he purchased with a small part of his windfall profit, Smith began attempts to decipher the papyri. He quit after a few months until 1842—an interim of seven years—when he produced a little more, all of which was published as a translation in the Times and Seasons. Although he promised to prepare more of what he called the “Book of Abraham,” he never did.43

The Book of Abraham is divisible into four parts:

(1) Chapter 1, “Abraham’s Autobiographical Introduction,” first published in the Times and Seasons 3 (1 Mar. 1842), 9:704;

(2) Chapter 2, “A Revision of Genesis 11:29; 12:1-13,” first published in the Times and Seasons 3 (1 Mar. 1842), 9:705, and 3, (15 Mar. 1842), 10:719;

(3) Chapter 3, “The Cosmos, and Spirit Existence,” first published in the Times and Seasons 3 (15 Mar. 1842), 10:719f.; and

(4) Chapters 4-5, “A Revision of Genesis 1:1-2:10, 16-25,” first published in the Times and Seasons 3 (15 Mar. 1842), 10:720.

Part One, apocryphal to the Old Testament, is closely connected with the first facsimile and the contents of several of the Joseph Smith Egyptian Papers. It describes Abraham’s quest for the priesthood, including his miraculous delivery from pharaoh’s priest on “Potiphar’s Hill” in “Ur of Chaldea” (Abr. 1:1-20); it provides an account of the discovery, settlement, and government of ancient [p.246] Egypt44; and it includes Abraham’s statement of intent for writing this record—an abridgement of the “records of the fathers” (v. 31), a parallel to what Mormon does in the Book of Mormon (Words of Morm. 1:1-8).

That the contents of Part One are related to the first facsimile and several of the Joseph Smith Egyptian Papers becomes clear from the fact that Papyrus JS 1 (the papyrus fragment upon which Facsimile No. 1 was based) was originally juxtaposed directly to Papyrus JS 11, from which the hieratic characters that accompany the text of Abraham 1:1-2:18 were obtained.45

Part Two is of the same character as Smith’s earlier Bible revision project. The KJV serves as the base text and is interspersed with various additions.

Part Three, the contents of which are connected with the second facsimile,46 is apocryphal to the Old Testament. It proposes a hierarchical order for the cosmos which involves the measurement of time (Abr. 3:4-9), a hierarchical order for all intelligent life in the cosmos (vv. 17-19), a pre-mortal spiritual existence for all humankind in which some pre-mortal spirits were destined for special vocations because of their “greatness” (vv. 21-25), and an elaboration on verse six of the New Testament book of Jude (vv. 26-28).47

Like the Second, the Fourth Part of the Book of Abraham is based on the KJV and resembles Smith’s Bible revision project. It differs most importantly from the Genesis and Moses accounts in three ways. First it regards deity polytheistically, transforming both “God” (Elohim) of Genesis 1 (=”I God” in Moses 2) and “the Lord God” (Yahweh) of Genesis 2 (=”I, the Lord God” in Moses 2) into “the Gods.” Then it declares that the earth was only being “prepared” and “organized” to produce the various life-forms on the third, fifth, and sixth “times” (=”days” [Abr. 4:11, 20, 24]) of the first creation account, thus resolving the contradictions between the two versions. Finally it reorders the Genesis text so that woman is created before the animals.48

I have found twenty-three changes in the text of the Book of Abraham. Only the more significant textual changes are discussed.

The return to “or first father” from “our first father” in the new edition adds grist to the mill of LDS “translations” of the word “Adam.” In addition to being defined as “Many”49  and “first man,”50 it can now also mean “first father.” Unfortunately all these defini-[p.247]tions are based solely on Smith’s English text, which ignores possibilities of the Hebrew root.51

Significantly the text of the new edition (“And the Gods pronounced the dry land, Earth”) does not follow Smith’s Times and Seasons text (“and the Gods pronounced the earth dry”). This change reveals the modern editors’ preference for the less problematic KJV text over the confusing “wording which evidence indicates was intended by the Prophet Joseph Smith.”

But something which was not changed is also significant. None of the titles of the three vignettes that accompany the Book of Abraham has been altered. Because the title of each identifies it as coming “FROM THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM” and because the original of the first vignette was attached directly to Papyrus JS 11 (characters from this text served Smith as the Egyptian equivalent to the majority of the text of Abr. 1:1-2:18), it must be concluded that the de facto position of the LDS church is that in addition to the vignettes, Papyrus JS 11 constitutes at least part of the Egyptian text of the Book of Abraham.

Apparently all changes that are not based on evidence are dependent only on the fact, according to Bruce R. McConkie, that “the Brethren felt good about each of them.”52

“Gospel Scholarship” and the King James Version of the Bible. It is important to consider why LDS general authorities would consider the KJV to be of such “monumental importance” to “gospel scholarship.” Apostle McConkie, for example, declared that “As far as the Bibles of the world are concerned [for him the Inspired Revision is not a worldly Bible] the King James Version is so far ahead of all others that there is little comparison. It rates as an item of five or six on our scale [from one to ten]. It is the Bible that came into being to prepare the way for the translation of the Book of Mormon and to set a literary pattern and standard for the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants. It is the official Bible of the Church.”53

Apostle Mark E. Petersen went so far as to affirm that the “similarity of certain passages” between the Book of Mormon and the KJV is due to the fact that the KJV’s “translators fasted and prayed for inspiration in their work. I am convinced that they received it. The similarity in the two books is but a testimony to the accuracy of the King James Version. Both books were beneficiaries of [p.248] the inspiration of God.” Peterson concluded: “The Lord’s hand was in the Book of Mormon, fully and completely, but it was also in the King James Version of the Bible to a significant degree. The Book of Mormon confirms that.”54 In other words, the Book of Mormon, many sections of which were copied from the KJV,55 is Petersen’s litmus test for the authenticity of the KJV, because of similarities to “certain passages in the Book of Mormon.” If not circular, this argument is at least elliptical.

As far as the “other translations of the world,” McConkie has warned Mormons to “Forget them; they are of so little value that it is almost a waste of time to delve into them. We take a liberal view to even rate them as one on our scale [from one to ten]. They are not binding upon us, and in general they simply set forth the religious predilections of their translator. Some, for instance, have Christ born of a young woman rather than a virgin. There may be an occasional instance in which one of these alien translations throws some light on a particular point; they are not all bad, but there are so many things to study and learn that I question the wisdom of treasuring up the translation views of the wise and the learned who really have nothing in the inspired sense to contribute to an understanding of eternal truth.”56

Apparent anti-intellectualism aside, it is doubtful that the most accurate “gospel scholarship” can be achieved by retaining the 376-year-old KJV text. According to scholars, the New Testament “was a translation from a late and comparatively poor Greek text, and with the passage of time better texts came to be established. English-language usage also changed, so that while some of the phrases of the KJV proved unforgettable, others became unintelligible.”57

The key idea for LDS authorities is the similarity between the KJV and Joseph Smith’s additional canon. But the question is whether God revealed his word to Smith and less perfectly to the British scholars in the same seventeenth-century English or whether Smith merely made use of the KJV, quoting from it as well as imitating its style in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. It seems the KJV functions for these leaders as one scholar has argued it functions for religious fundamentalists generally. For such a reader the English text is “the direct and immediate expression or transcript of divine revelation” and corresponds [p.249] “directly to the will of God.” Thus the reader does not need to “search the mind of the author, in his historical setting, in order to interpret his words.”58

McConkie’s distrust of more recent translations of the Bible, which he rated below a one on his scale, and his antipathy about Mormons learning the biblical languages (Hebrew and Greek), knowledge of which he rated at a “one or one and two tenths,” seems to follow from such confidence in the King James Bible. He spoke for the general authorities when he affirmed that “Our concern is to be guided by the Spirit and to interpret the ancient word in harmony with latter day revelation.”59

However, caution must be exercised when subscribing to this type of process, because, as one scholar has pointed out, whenever “the semantics of the words, within the period of the texts and the language of the texts, are neglected, the interpreter has arrogated to himself a very large power of selectivity over the material… Words can only be intelligibly interpreted by what they meant at the time of their use, within the language system used by the speaker or writer.”60

By imposing modern interpretations onto the scriptural texts, interpretations which self-authenticate modern Mormon hermeneutics, Mormons certainly would have more intense testimonies and become competent apologists, as Apostle Packer has predicted.61 But there are problems associated with this approach: “If the Christian apologist simply assumes the doctrine of inspiration and accepts the principle of supernatural intervention, he begs the issue and arrives at ‘conclusions’ which were in the premises from which he started.”62 Consequently “gospel scholarship” as a description of this process may not be as appropriate a term as indoctrination.

Similar views affect general authority perspectives about Mormon history. For Elder Packer the only acceptable historical methodology for writing Mormon history is that it must be “faith-promoting.” Apostle Russell Nelson equates history which “would defame the dead and the defenseless,” presumably past Mormon leaders, as a type of “extortion”—even if accurate. Apostle Gordon B. Hinckley adds that anything that would “cast doubt on the integrity of” Mormonism would necessarily be “incomplete in its [p.250] context.” For Apostle Dallin Oaks one can legitimately criticize business or governmental leaders, but “It is quite another thing to criticize or depreciate a person for the performance of an office to which he or she has been called of God. It does not matter that the criticism is true… The Holy Ghost will not guide or confirm criticism of the Lord’s anointed, or of Church leaders, local or general. This reality should be part of the spiritual evaluation that LDS readers and viewers apply to those things written about our history and those who made it.”63

Unfortunately if the only criteria a believer has available for evaluating a leader’s claim of divine information are what the leader specifies, then the leader has unlimited power. He has eliminated everything but his own word or interpretation by which his authenticity can be tested, and he can make all sorts of proclamations which the believer feels duty-bound to obey rather than evaluate: the leader proclaims that the “Holy Ghost will not guide or confirm criticism of the Lord’s anointed or of Church leaders, local or general,” and the believer wants the Holy Ghost as his “constant companion.” The believer may even be subtly threatened, as when Apostle Packer is reported to have warned that “those who go against the Lord’s anointed won’t have their ‘baskets full,’ and neither they nor their children will have a right to the priesthood. He said a scholar who had baited a church seminary teacher later died an untimely death.”64

A believer cannot confirm the veracity of claims except through the leader’s own proclamations—especially if both leader and believer assume that the leader was appointed by God and that anything he says or does in the name of God is thus above evaluation. This type of thought process opens the door to endless possibilities for duping believers into following their leaders into the wilderness, giving over large sums of money and other property, mindlessly supporting or opposing various political causes, and even drinking poisoned punch in Guiana.

The historian, on the other hand, thinks that “the essential requirement for the interpretation of a text is to read it in context: not merely in literary context, but in the wider, deeper social and cultural context in which both author and audience lived, and in which the language they employed took on the connotations to which the interpreter must seek to be  sensitive.” Historical method-[p.251]ology “faithfully portrays and interprets religious phenomena in their original setting” and “seeks to develop safe-guards against imposing modern categories on ancient data.”65 In contrast the theologian “believes on faith that certain events occurred, the historian regards all historical claims as having only a greater or lesser degree of probability, and he regards the attachment of faith to these claims as a corruption of historical judgment.”66

Thus “scholarship” means something very different to the church leader than to the historian. LDS president Spencer W. Kimball declared that the new editions are designed to “assist in improving doctrinal scholarship throughout the Church” and Apostle Packer affirms that they will help those who use them “develop a gospel scholarship beyond that which their forebears could achieve.” But a member of the committee that prepared the new LDS editions has commented, “In some ways, scholarship was the least important part of our work.”67

This lack of scholarship becomes especially apparent when LDS authors can appeal only to post-exilic, early Christian, or medieval stories about Adam, Enoch, Abraham, or Moses in their efforts to prove the historicity of the non-biblical portions of the “Selections from the Book of Moses” or the Book of Abraham—both of which would have been written between one and three thousand years earlier. These LDS authors’ outlooks are based on the “fallacy of the converse,” which has been described this way: the “fundamentalist interpreter as exegete … abides by the modern historical conviction which can be summarized in the phrase: if it is historical it is true even more than does the historian! For this fundamentalist exegete, truth and historicity are so much identified with each other that he is led to conclude: if it is true (according to my faith), it is historical.”68

While the historian seeks to base his conclusions erapirically on the evidence, the fundamentalist apologist, having already arrived at his conclusions according to his faith, presumptuously admits as relevant only those facts that support his conclusions. In other words he views historical methodology as a threat, because from his perspective it might cause “the fundamental reconstruction of the faith.” He accuses historians, whose writings do not support his hermeneutics, of doing just that: “deconstructing and reconstucting the faith.”69

This fallacy is responsible for a plethora of material dealing [p.252] with archaeology and the Book of Mormon, the historicity of its contents, and the historicity of the “Selections from the Book of Moses” and the Book of Abraham. The primary purpose of these obscurantist works is to convince the reader of the historicity of the LDS scriptures, thus somehow proving the truthfulness of LDS theology.

Such works encourage in the reader what one scholar has called an “obscurantist interpretation” defined as “identifying true with historically true.”70 They unnecessarily place the reader in danger of denying what is “true” if what he has accepted as being “historically true” is shown not to be the case. Because the success of critics of Mormonism depends on the reader having such an interpretation, these obscurantist works ultimately create more problems than solutions.

Joseph Smith’s Inspired Revision of the Bible. The apparatus refers to Joseph Smith’s revision of the Bible as a “translation,” but this is technically incorrect. As Robert Matthews explains, Smith “used neither ancient manuscript nor a knowledge of biblical languages,” because of “the absence of a suitable manuscript.” Otherwise “there are plenty of scholars who could render [the “necessary material”] into the English language and there would not have been such a major need for Joseph Smith’s unique contribution.”71 But another scholar has described Smith’s project as making wholecloth additions and “rewriting and rephrasing … certain paradoxical sections of scripture [which] made the written word even more self-authenticating to the Mormon community which accepted that these changes were of divine origin.”72

Apostle McConkie has affirmed that the Inspired Revision rates “an eight or nine” on a scale from one to ten; that it is “a thousand times over the best Bible now existing on earth. It contains all that the King James Version does, plus pages of additions and corrections and an occasional deletion. It was made by the spirit of revelation and the changes and additions are the equivalent of the revealed word in the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants.”73 And Matthews hails Smith’s Inspired Revision as “manna from heaven,” declaring that Mormons “can be grateful that the Church … strengthened [its new edition of the Bible] with hundreds of excerpts from the [Inspired Revision]. It is a clear signal in a world of contradiction and uncertainty.”74

[p.253]Concerning one doctrine, however, the Inspired Revision is rather less than “a clear signal.” Both the KJV Matthew 5:40-41 and the Book of Mormon 3 Nephi 12:40-41 represent Jesus as teaching his followers to “go the extra mile.” But in his Inspired Revision, Smith changed the text to have Jesus promoting the doctrine of “doing no more than you are told”—a significant difference.75 This change is difficult to reconcile with claims some writers have made about the Inspired Revision. It provides us with a perception “by revelation [of] what the intention of [scripture] really was,” furnishes us with “a truer meaning of passages in the New Testament,” and reflects “the reality of a restoration of ancient happenings” and of what is in Jesus Christ’s “own bosom.” It renders “much of [the Sermon on the Mount] in a way that excels even the Book of Mormon.” If these claims are true, then “going the extra mile” obviously is a false doctrine, and Jesus himself taught it to the Nephites.76

Curiously there is no reference to Smith’s Inspired Revision in the apparatus of the new edition for Smith’s truer meaning of Matthew 5:40-41. Perhaps the editors thought that Smith’s revision of that doctrine was somewhat less than inspired, the acknowledgement of which would have occasioned a revision of Article of Faith 8 to “we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” Indeed this passage is more appropriate in Matthews’s “contradiction and uncertainty” category than his “clear signal” department.

The Scriptures as the Central Focus and “Anchor” of the Church. The new editions of the LDS canon and apparatus reflect a change from general authorities functioning as “living oracles” to an emphasis on scriptural authority as the access to “the headwaters of divine communication and revelation.”77 Apostle Packer observes that “The entire curriculum of the Church was restructured. All courses of study for children, youth, and adults were revised to center on the scriptures, on Jesus Christ”; further, “while [Latter-day Saints] have been about the work of anchoring ourselves to the scriptures, others have been busily cutting themselves loose from them. They have been drifting downstream, interpreting and revising the scriptures to agree with the philosophies of men.”78

However, caution must be exercised about such statements. As one scholar has pointed out, when people “energetically proclaim the authority of scripture as their first principle, it requires no [p.254] great insight to see that in many cases it is ‘conservatism,’ or ‘Calvinism,’ or ‘evangelicalism’ [or “Mormonism”] that is the actual authority, and that the authority of [scripture] is used and maintained simply because it is supposed to provide the necessary support for doctrinal authority, which is the real dominant power.”79

The massive “helps” in the new LDS scriptures, with their strong LDS bias, are designed to reinforce LDS “doctrinal authority.” Perhaps this is why Packer regards them so highly: “the Latter-day Saint publication of the King James Version of the Bible and the new triple combination with all their helps are of monumental importance to all members of the Church”; “They will develop a gospel scholarship beyond that which their forebears could achieve. They will have the testimony that Jesus is the Christ and be competent to proclaim Him and to defend Him.”80

Conclusions. As part of the LDS church’s new emphasis on scriptural supremacy and inerrancy, the LDS canon, in the words of Apostle McConkie, had to be brought into “harmony with latter day revelation” and thus become, in the words of Apostle Packer, “the headwaters of divine communication and revelation.” According to Packer, Mormons have been busy “anchoring” themselves to scriptural authority, while everyone else has been “drifting downstream,” tampering with the scriptures “to agree with the philosophies of men.”81

But there is a catch. For only after they were “interpreted” and harmonized “to agree with the philosophies” of the Mormon hierarchy (made “indeed one in our hands”) does Packer appeal to the scriptures as a supreme authority. This is made even clearer by Packer’s criticism that mainstream protestants are “busily cutting themselves loose from” the Bible. By this he means that they do not share Mormon views. For in reality responsible biblical scholarship has become increasingly sensitive to the problem of interpretive bias and adheres to a historical method that, according to one scholar, “enables the researcher to look with fresh insight at familiar evidence, to avoid unwarranted, simplistic identification of parallels, to prevent mistaking neat schemes of classification of phenomena for historical analysis, and to see with new clarity how structures of religious experience and aspiration are transformed in changing contexts.” To historians of religion, it is an anathema to read “modern categories and values back into ancient cultural epochs, rather [p.255] than making the effort to enter empathetically into the world of a past time, place, and outlook”—whether thousands of years ago or only one hundred fifty. In other words modern historical methodology enables us to develop an increasingly accurate and sensitive perspective of the scriptures.82

But when the church’s goal is to bring the entire LDS canon into harmony with its interpretations, it is understandable that its authorities would decry scholarship and historical methodology, denigrating knowledge of biblical languages and warning members to avoid Bible translations “of the world” which do not conform to the Mormon interpretation of the KJV. The preparation of the new editions of the LDS canon seems to have been aimed primarily at self-authentication of modern Mormonism instead of attempting to increase scholarship among the membership.

Indeed the new editions reflect the church’s increasing emphasis on “(a) the inerrancy of the [properly interpreted LDS canon], the absence from it of any sort of error; (b) a strong hostility to modern theology and to the methods, results and implications of modern critical study of the [scriptures]; (c) an assurance that those who do not share their religious viewpoint are not really ‘true Christians’ at all.”83 These three items constitute the “most pronounced characteristics” of protestant fundamentalism, according to one scholar. Thus the Mormon scripture project can be seen to reflect Mormonism’s entry as a new sect into that category of Christianity.

Edward H. Ashment, former coordinator of translation services for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, studied Egyptology at the University of Chicago. “Reducing Dissonance: The Book of Abraham as a Case Study” and “Making the Scriptures ‘Indeed One in Our Hands'” are published here for the first time.


1. Bruce R. McConkie in Bruce T. Harper, “The Church Publishes a New Triple Combination,” Ensign 11 (Oct. 1981): 18. Note: scriptural refs in this essay are given only for LDS editions.

2. Spencer W. Kimball in Harper, “Church Publishes,” 9.

3. Boyd K. Packer, “Scriptures,” Ensign 12 (Nov. 1982): 53.

4. Ibid.; also see Robert J. Matthews, “The New Publications of the Standard Works—1979, 1981,” BYU Studies 22 (Fall 1982): 422; Edward J. Brandt, “Using the New LDS Editions of Scripture—As One Book,” Ensign 12 (Oct. 1982): 42.

5. Lavina Fielding Anderson, “Church Publishes First LDS Edition of the Bible,” Ensign 9 (Oct. 1979): 17.

6. Theology is defined as an effort “to organize scriptural materials [p.256] in a meaningful way, giving higher importance to some aspects and lower to others, taking some elements as necessarily literal and assigning a more figurative or illustrative function to others.” See James Bart, Holy Scripture: Canon, Authority, Criticism (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1983), 38. With this in mind, it is noteworthy that McConkie declared that one of the keys to understanding the Bible is to distinguish correctly between “literal and figurative” meanings, which, he affirmed, “is difficult to do; it requires considerable experience and discernment.” See Bruce R. McConkie, “The Bible—A Sealed Book,” a paper presented at the CES Doctrine and Covenants Symposium, Brigham Young University, 14 Sept. 1984, 23. An example of just how difficult it can be is found in a communication under a letter bearing the letterhead of the Council of the Twelve, dated 21 Dec. 1984 and signed by Roy W. Doxey, in which the Scripture Reading Committee of the church declares that “we cannot follow the literal wording of [2 Ne. 16:10] because it is in error.” See Roy W. Doxey, Letter and Review Notes, 21 Dec. 1984 [1985], copy in my possession. This, of course, contradicts Article of Faith 8, which affirms absolutely that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, the Bible being regarded as the scripture that contains errors. This statement seems to be a de facto admission that Smith obtained at least this portion of the Book of Mormon text, errors and all, from the flawed KJV text.

7. Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1953), 925a; hereafter BDB. See also Walter Baumgartner, Benedikt Hartmann, and E. Y. Kutscher, Hebraisches und Aramaisches Lexikon zum alten Testament, 3 vols. (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1967-83), 156f; hereafter BHK.

8. Markus Barth concludes: “It is doubtful whether Ephesians can serve the construction of a Christian ontology.” See Markus Barth, Ephesians, The Anchor Bible, ed. by William F. Albright and David Noel Freedman (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1974), 112.

9. Raymond A. Brown, The Gospel According to John, The Anchor Bible, ed. by William F. Albright and David Noel Freedman, vol. 29, 2d ed. (Garden City: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1966), 371n2.

10. BDB 237b; BHK 238a-b.

11. Helmer Ringgren, Israelite Religion (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 313.

12. F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingsone, eds, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), 341; see D&C 76:26.

13. BDB 282a; BHK 271b.

14. BHK (35b) points out that “the last days” is not to be understood eschatologically; rather the phrase is a cognate with the Akkadian phrase ina ah(i)rat umi and means “in future days.” E. A. Speiser observes that the phrase does not mean “‘in the end of days’, with tradition, but in the days to follow; cf. the analogous Akk. ina arkat umi ‘in the future’.” Speiser, Genesis, The Anchor Bible, ed. by William F. Albright and David Noel Freedman, vol. 1, 2d ed (Garden City: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1964), 364n1.

15. This it does in Genesis 49:1 n. c, by including it in a list of references to “the last days” in the topical guide.

16. Speiser, Genesis, 365 n. 10; BDB 1010a.

17. Alexander Jones, ed., The Jerusalem Bible (Garden City: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1966), 75 n. p, acknowledges that its translation of v. 22, likening Joseph to a creeping plant, “whose tendrils climb over the wall,” is merely “conjectural.” Speiser (367 n. 22) rejects the “fruitful bough” analogy altogether, basing his conclusion on paleographical arguments and contextual parallels. He translates the passage this way:

22. Joseph is a wild colt,
A wild colt by a spring,
Wild asses on a hillside (363).


The Good News Bible (New York: American Bible Society, 1976), 59, prefers a translation similar to Speiser’s, while acknowledging the possibility of the “fruitful tree” analogy in note y.

18. Marvin H. Pope, Job, The Anchor Bible, ed. by William F. Albright and David Noel Freedman, vol. 15, 3d ed. (Garden City: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1973), 146 n. 25a; see BDB 145a-b; BHK 162b.

19. BDB 478b.

20. For further examples, see also the headings for Mic. 4-5; Na. 1; Zeph. 1, 3; Zech. 3, 6, 8, 12-14; Mal. 3-4.

21. Anderson, “First LDS Edition,” 17; Matthews, “New Publications,” 388; Matthews, “Using the New Bible Dictionary in the LDS Edition,” Ensign 12 (June 1982): 48; emphasis added.

22. Robert J. Matthews, “A Plainer Translation”: Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible: A History and Commentary (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1975), 3, 4.

23. Anthony A. Hutchinson, “A Mormon Midrash?: LDS Creation Narratives in Redaction-Critical Perspective,” copy in my possession.

24. Matthews, A Plainer Translation, 26, 72, 60, 220.

25. For a brief description of the Moses-as-author-of-the-Pentateuch problem, see Speiser, Genesis, xixff., and Norman K. Gottwald, The Hebrew Bible: A Socio-Literary Introduction (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 10ff.

26. See Cross and Livingston, Dictionary, s.v. “Modalism”; cf. also Moses 7:21ff. and Abr. 3:12.

27. For an insightful discussion of how “one like unto Moses” was [p.258]understood by the ancient Jews, see Robert R. Wilson, Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), chap. 4.

28. This, by the way, “weakens the credibility” of any claim that the Selections text predates the KJV (Hutchinson, 38; see Matthews, A Plainer Translation, 59).

29. Hutchinson, 49. In some places, however, the Selections copies the KJV. For example, in 4:14, God is referred to in the third person, and all of chapters 5 and 6 (except in 5:1, 40) refer to him in the third person, with the result that in those places God, who otherwise is portrayed as the narrator, refers to himself as though he were a human author writing about someone else.

30. Moses 2:1; see Hutchinson, 50.

31. H. H. Rowley, The Growth of the Old Testament (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Harper Torchbooks, 1963), 24; see also his page 21.

32. Hutchinson, 28.

33. Gerald A. Larue, “How the Old Testament was Written,” Free Inquiry 7 (Winter 1986/87), 1:34.

34. BDB 427b. This is not an unusual metaphor for the creation of man in the ancient Near East. See the discussion of the Egyptian creator god, Chnum, in Lexikon der Aegyptologie (1984) 5:676; see also Hans Bonnet, Reallexikon der Aegyptischen Religionsgeschichte (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1952), 137.

35. BDB 124.

36. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 224, 392.

37. Ibid., 546.

38. As late as December 1835, Oliver Cowdery described the “godhead” in the traditional trinitarian view as “three, yet in one” (Messenger and Advocate 2 [Dec. 1835], 3).

39. This argument is absent from the Bible, but is an important issue in Moroni 8. For an analysis of apocalyptic in the early LDS church, see Stephen J. Stein, “Signs of the Times: The Theological Foundations of Early Mormon Apocalyptic,” Sunstone 8 (Jan.-April 1983): 59. For an excellent discussion of apocalyptic per se, see Robert L. Webb, “‘Apocalyptic’: Observations on a Slippery Term,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 49 (April 1990): 115-26.

40. Matthews, A Plainer Translation, 228.

41. OED, s.v. “rend,” 3b.

42. Matthews, A Plainer Translation, 229.

43. HC 4:543.

44. The proferred etymology of “Pharaoh” as “King by royal blood” (Abr. 1:20) does not match what is known historically. See Worterbuch [p.259]der Aegyptischen Sprache 1:516. Moreover, it is very unlikely that “Pharaoh” was used as a title of the Egyptian king at the time of Abraham; see Lexikon der Aegyptologie 4:1021; Alan Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, 3d ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1957), 75; Donald B. Redford, A Study of the Biblical Story of Joseph (Genesis 37-50), Supplements to Vetus Testamenturn, vol. 20 (J. Brill, 1970), 233.

45. See Klaus Baer, “The Breathing Permit of Hor,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 3 (Autumn 1968): 112 n. 15. Also, see my forthcoming “‘The Papyrus Which Has Lived’: Joseph Smith and the Interpretation of Ancient Egyptian Documents.” It is significant that in two places in Abraham 1 (vv. 12 and 14) the reader is referred back to the vignette (Papyrus JS 1) “at the commencement of this record.” In addition, most of the characters that Smith directed Reuben Hedlock to use in completing many of the missing portions of the text in Facsimile No. 2 were some of the same characters from Papyrus JS 11 from which he produced the text of Part One, again pointing to Smith’s using that papyrus fragment as the Urtext of the Book of Abraham. See my “The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham: A Reappraisal,” Sunstone 4 (Dec. 1979): 42.

William W. Phelps’s (Folder 2, Book of Abraham Ms. 1a), Warren Parrish’s (Folder 3, Book of Abraham Ms. 1b), Phelps’s and Parrish’s (Folder 1, Book of Abraham Ms. 2), and Willard Richards’s (Folder 4, Book of Abraham Ms. 3) Book of Abraham manuscripts all contain the contents of Part One—with the exception that mss. 1a and 1b begin with verse 4. For a discussion of this evidence, see my, “The Papyrus Which Has Lived.”

46. The explanations to “Fig. 1” through “Fig. 5” elaborate on the chronometrics of vv. 4-9.

47. An interesting consideration at this point is that the “Urim and Thummim” were the medium through which Abraham talked with God “face to face, as one man talketh with another” (Abr. 3:4, 11). In other words, Abraham was not really in God’s actual presence. This insight may contribute to an understanding of the modus operandi of Joseph Smith’s early revelations, all of which early Mormon David Whitmer said came through Smith’s seer stone. See my, “The Book of Mormon—A Literal Translation?” Sunstone 5 (March-April, 1980): 11.

48. For an informative discussion of the three creation accounts (Genesis, Moses, and Abraham), see Hutchinson.

49. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 17.

50. Erastus Snow, Journal of Discourses 19:269

51. BDB 9; BHK 14.

52. McConkie as quoted by Harper, “Church Publishes,” 18.

53. McConkie, “The Bible,” 24.

54. Mark E. Petersen, “It Was a Miracle!” Ensign 7 (Nov. 1977): 13. [p.260]Elaborating on Petersen’s line of reasoning, “the Lord’s hand” would have also been with the Campbellite evangelist Walter Scott (1796-1861) “to a significant degree,” who developed the “famous ‘five finger exercise’ stressing faith, repentance, baptism, remission of sins, and the gift of the Holy Spirit,” which is virtually identical to Article of Faith 4; likewise Jonathan Mayhew (1720-66), who “repudiated the idea that the sin of Adam could be imputed to his children,” anticipating Article of Faith 2. Benjamin Franklin, too, must have been a beneficiary, for he anticipated Mosiah 2:17 in his maxim: “The most acceptable Service of God was the doing Good to Man.” See Robert T. Handy, A History of the Churches in the United States and Canada (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), 169, 107; also James Turner, Without God, Without Creed (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), 66.

55. Stan Larson, “The Sermon on the Mount: What Its Textual Transformation Discloses Concerning the Historicity of the Book of Mormon,” copy in my possession. Here is an interesting example of the Book of Mormon’s dependence on the KJV: A characteristic of Hebrew poetry is its semantic couplet structure. That is, a verse of poetry consisted of two phrases that were semantically similar. For example:

a Islands, listen to me,

b pay attention, remotest peoples (Is 49:1, Jerusalem Bible).

Note the semantic parallel between “islands” and “remotest peoples,” and between “listen to me” and “pay attention.” Another example:

a Yahweh called me before I was born,

b from my mother’s womb he pronounced my name (ibid.)

Again note the semantic parallels: “Yahweh called me” and “he pronounced my name”; “before I was born” and “from my mother’s womb.” There are several couplets and triplets in Isaiah. Versions such as the Jerusalem Bible acknowledge them by arranging the verses as poetry.

A look at Isaiah 49:24 (=1 Ne. 21:24; 2 Ne. 6:16):

a Shall the loot [BHK 2:562] be taken away from the hero [BHK 1:165],

b or the captive of the tyrant [BHK 3:837] escape?

The important word here is “tyrant.” It is present in the oldest Hebrew manuscript of Isaiah, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and in the Septuagint. (See BHS Is 49:24 n. a.) Moreover, the parallel structure of the couplet is continued in the next verse: For Yahweh says:

a Yes, the captive shall be taken away from the hero,

b and the loot of the tyrant shall escape.

Thus the reading “tyrant” is supported by the oldest Hebrew manuscript available, by the Greek version (itself dating to the same general time [p.261] period), and, importantly, by the continuation of the couplet structure in the following verse.

However, the later official Hebrew text, codified at the end of the first century CE, apparently contained a misspelling for arîs, “tyrant” with a word that appeared to be almost identical in the Hebrew script: sadîq, “lawful.” The couplet structure was thus destroyed, and this part of the poem became a non sequitur. But, because the Jews regarded the text as sacrosanct, nothing was changed, and the mis-reading was perpetuated in the KJV, and therefore, in the Book of Mormon:

a For shall the prey be taken from the mighty,

b or the lawful captives delivered?

Because they assume the historicity of the Book of Mormon text, in order to have the verse make sense, Matthews and the LDS scripture committee provided a gloss for “lawful captives”: “the covenant people of the Lord,” basing that interpretation on the next verse of Isaiah in Smith’s Inspired Revision—even though it fails to explain why the Lord’s covenant people are “lawful captives,” and it fails to account for the poetic non sequitur. The second example (Is. 14:4 = 2 Ne. 24:4):

a How the oppressor ceased,

b the attacker [KHB 2:598] ceased!

Notice the parallelism between “the oppressor” and “the attacker.” The oldest known Hebrew text has “attacker” (BHS Is. 14:4 n. a), and the Septuagint has a similar word (“one who presses on”). Somewhere along the line, though, someone apparently misread an “r” for a “d”; thus, the “word” madhebah came into existence, a one-of-a-kind-occurrence that has no meaning in Hebrew.

The Book of Mormon follows the spurious meaning of the KJV, based on this misspelling that ruins the Hebrew poetic couplet structure:

a How hath the oppressor ceased,

b the golden city ceased!

Such examples as these, as well as those presented by Larson, are additional evidence that the Book of Mormon was originally composed in the nineteenth century, the most ancient text upon which any of its contents were based being the KJV.

For informative discussions about Hebrew poetic semantic couplet structure, see Stanley Gevirtz, Patterns in the Early Poetry of Israel, Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization, no. 32, 2d ed. (Chicago: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 1973); also William R. Watters, Formula Criticism and the Poetry of the Old Testament, Beiheft zur Zeitschrift fur die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, edited by Georg Fohrer, no. 138 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1976).

56. McConkie, “The Bible,” 24.

[p.262]57. See Kurt Aland, A History of Christianity, Vol. 1, From the Beginnings to the Threshold of the Reformation (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 387; Norman Perrin and Dennis C. Duling, The New Testament: An Introduction 2d ed. (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1982), 457; Gottwald, The Hebrew Bible, 125.

58. James Barr, Fundamentalism (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1978), 210.

59. McConkie, “The Bible,” 17; emphasis added.

60. James Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961), 139.

61. Packer, “Scriptures,” 53.

62. Van A. Harvey, The Historian and the Believer (Philadelphia: The Westminsters Press, 1966), 19.

63. Packer, The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981), 4; Russell M. Nelson, “Truth and More,” presented at Brigham Young University, 27 Aug. 1985, 8; Gordon B. Hinckley, “Questions and Answers,” Ensign 15 (Nov. 1985): 52; Dallin H. Oaks, “Reading Church History,” paper presented at CES Doctrine and Covenants Symposium, Brigham Young University, 16 Aug. 1985, 25; emphasis added.

64. Dawn Tracy, “LDS Close Archives, Presidential Collections to Researcher,” Salt Lake Tribune, 3 Jan. 1987.

65. Howard Clark Kee, Miracle in the Early Christian World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), 1, 5.

66. Harvey, Historian and Believer, 5.

67. Harper, “Church Publishes,” 9; Packer, “Scriptures,” 53; Rasmussen in Anderson, “First LDS Edition,” 18.

68. Daniel Patte, What is Structural Exegesis? (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976), 7.

69. Gary K. Clabaugh, Thunder on the Right: The Protestant Fundamentalists (Chicago: Nelson-Hall Co., 1974), 34. An example is Louis Midgely, “Some Challenges to the Foundations,” paper presented at Brigham Young University, 14 Sept. 1984, 3, 12.

70. Patte, Structural Exegesis, 8.

71. For some reason Matthews ignores Smith’s apparent ability to “see” manuscripts in his seer stone (later called “the Urim and Thummim”). For example, through that medium Smith gave a revelation which he claimed to have “Translated from parchment, written and hid up by [John, the beloved disciple]” (HC 1:36=D&C 7; see also D&C 93:6-18). Thus, it would seem that through his seer stone Smith could have had available to him any manuscript—extant or not—with the result that the argument that he did not actually translate because he lacked a “suitable manuscript” is [p.263]moot in light of his professed ability. See Matthews, “Plain and Precious Things Restored,” Ensign 12 (July 1982): 15.

72. Douglas James Davies, Meaning and Salvation in Religious Studies, Studies in the History of Religions, edited by M. Heerma van Voss, E. J. Sharpe, and R. J. Z. Werblowsky, vol. 46 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1984), 150.

73. McConkie, “The Bible,” 25.

74. Matthews, “Plain and Precious Things,” 20.

75. Smith’s final revision reads: “42. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have it; and if he sue thee again, let him have thy cloak also. 43. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him a mile; and whosoever shall compel thee to go with him twain, thou shalt go with him twain” (NT Ms. 3). See Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible (Independence: Herald Publishing House, 1970), 246. I am grateful to Brent Lee Metcalfe for bringing this example to my attention.

76. Robert M. Millet, “Restoring Plain and Precious Truths: Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible and the Synoptic Gospels,” paper presented for Mormon History Association, 10-13 May 1984, 3, 16, 17. McConkie, “The Bible,” 30.

77. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 547; Packer, “Scriptures,” 53. McConkie declared authoritatively that a prophet speaks as a prophet only when his declarations “accord with the teachings in the Standard Works”; moreover, “wise people anchor their doctrine on the Standard Works,” not on statements of prophets that are “out of harmony therewith.” This would seem to leave Joseph Smith in a unique category, in that he created virtually all of the Mormon extra-biblical canon, according to which he then would teach, or which he would revise if their contents did not later suit him. McConkie, “The Bible, 3, 7, 8.

78. Apostle Packer appeals to the apparatus in response to the criticism that the Mormon church is not Christian, challenging that if critics would turn “to that one thing in which they show the least interest and in which they have the least knowledge, the scriptures and the revelations, they would find in the Topical Guide 58 categories of information about Jesus Christ; 18 pages of small print, single-spaced, list literally thousands of scriptural references on the subject.” That is, for Packer those eighteen pages of citations constitute proof that the Mormon church is “anchored to the sacred name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Redeemer, our Lord.”

Instead, Packer could have addressed the problem of whether Mormonism is truly a Christian sect or just a cult more meaningfully by discussing those doctrines wherein Mormonism truly differs from the rest of Christianity: “that more books belong in the canon, and that it would remain open”; its “modified form of the doctrine of the Trinity”; its millenarian [p.264]belief that “Christ will personally reign over a new earth,” that the resurrected “Christ ministered briefly in America and that Zion will be built in the western hemisphere”; how Mormons rationalize death; and Mormon temple rites. See James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2 vols. (Garden City: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1983-85), xxiv; Cross and Livingstone, 941; Handy, History of the Churches, 191n31; Klaus J. Hansen, Mormonism and the American Experience (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 34-112; Lawrence Foster, Religion and Sexuality (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), 144.

Another topic Packer could have addressed profitably is Mormonism’s unique combination of low- and high-church characteristics. For example, the Mormon priesthood “combined features of the [high-church] Catholic doctrine of authority vested in men through the indelibility of ordination by properly empowered persons, with the [low-church] immediacy of access to god already referred to as a basic protestant belief.… The [high-church feature of a] line of succession in the priesthood is carefully maintained and validates the process of salvation in which the church members are involved whilst it also calls into the question of existence of all priesthoods and ministries existing in other religious bodies.” Davies, Meaning and Salvation, 151.

Handy (History of the Churches, 224-27) presents a balanced summary history of the rise and development of Mormonism as a Christian denomination. For an informative discussion of cults in America and the relationship of Mormonism to Christian cults, see Willa Appel, Cults in America (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1983), 161.

79. Bart, Holy Scripture, 31; emphasis added.

80. Packer in Harper, “Church Publishes,” 19; “Scriptures,” 53. For an insightful study, observations in which provide a sociologically comparative basis for the evolving LDS concept of the prophetic role, see Wilson, Prophecy, 21-86.

81. See George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), 117; Handy, History of the Churches, 95; McConkie, “Scriptures.”

82. Kee, Early Christian World, 292, vii.

83. Barr, Fundamentalism, 1.