Saturday, March 5, 2011

Highlight: The Original Text of the Book of Mormon

I've been eager to highlight this series as soon as it was finished. I don't know how they managed it, but the folks at Times & Seasons succeeded in getting Royal Skousen - a linguistics professor at Brigham Young University as well as the editor of the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project - to do a four-post series on Book of Mormon textual criticism. And it is fantastic.

In the first installment, Skousen discusses the various sources we have - such as the manuscripts and various early printings of the Book of Mormon - and includes some excellent photographs as illustrations; he also presents a brief summary of the works he's published (more on that in a bit).

In the second installment, Skousen talks about the critical text of the Book of Mormon that he eventually produced. He discusses its layout and the reasons behind it - incidentally this is considered by many to be a great asset of the volume - and goes into the way he produced the critical text.

In the third installment, Skousen gets into the issue of the discrepancies between various sources - for example, instances where each manuscript has a different reading of the text or where they differ from the printed editions. Skousen presents several examples of this, and he does so quite well; he also explains in each of those cases some of the very sound reasoning he used to determine what the original reading is. He then discusses the issue of conjectural emendations - in other words, when none of the sources seem to have the most likely original reading of the text - and gives some very good examples of ones that he's proposed. (And to keep this in perspective, the Church-published current edition of the Book of Mormon contains a number of conjectural emendations as well.)

In the fourth and final installment, Skousen offers some insights that he's gained about the means by which the Book of Mormon was dictated. For instance, he mentions some features of the original text that seem to make better sense in Hebrew than in English; he mentions some inexplicable archaisms in the English of the text; he discusses certain words that Joseph had to spell out for his scribes; and he mentions a few lengthy phrases that appear verbatim at different points in the text. It's very thought-provoking.

So what are the helpful volumes that Royal Skousen has published as part of this project? Consider:

I for one thoroughly enjoyed Skousen's four-part series, and it makes me even more eager to peruse the volumes produced in the course of his breathtaking project. I strongly suspect that LDS readers would be every bit as enriched by reading the series, so please go check it out.

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