Thursday, January 29, 2009

Typographical errors...oh, and this, too.

Want to know one of the things I loved about this Church as an investigator?

We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God. (Articles of Faith, no 8)

We use the King James Version, not because it is a perfect translation but the closest to perfect. Joseph Smith spent some time reworking the Bible as evidenced in the Joseph Smith Translation and his revised, if you’ll pardon the term, version of The Gospel of Matthew.

I’ve never taken issue with this. It’s only truth that over time a work can change – we all know the grapevine rule. The first whispers that his mother got a new job and by the time the twentieth person has heard it, the news has changed to some lady was murdered. An exaggerated example, but the idea is there.

The Book of Mormon, however, is supposed to be pure, the most correct book on the Earth. I’ve always understood the book has no need for further translation.

It appears I am wrong, and on some fronts I can accept this. After all, Joseph Smith and his scribes couldn’t exactly spell and when they could, capitalization and other spelling rules differ. The grammar of the time also varies widely from the grammar of today. There are typographical errors and clarifications to be made, as well as a translation of the original handwriting (handwriting can be difficult to understand).

A few years back, my mom gave me a 1920 edition of the Book of Mormon she discovered at an estate sale. I thought “Oh, cool. I wonder what the differences are,” but I didn’t consider anything huge to have happened. I didn’t study it either, but I figured it was all grammatical and placed it on my bookshelf. It is cool after all. I’d kill for an 1830 edition, too, just for the historical value. I never really thought I’d ever have reason to reference this older edition.

So when I ran across an article last night which discussed a major word change from the 1920 edition to the 1981 edition, I double checked and sure enough…

1920 Edition 2 Nephi 30:6

And then shall they rejoice; for they shall know that it is a blessing unto them from the hand of God; and their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and delightsome people.

1981 Edition, 2 Nephi 30:6

And then shall they rejoice; for they shall know that it is a blessing unto them from the hand of God; and their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a pure and a delightsome people.

It’s not that difficult to catch, though I do find it interesting that other passages within the Book of Mormon were not changed:

2 Nephi 5:21 (1981 Ed.)

And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.

Listen, as an investigator I knew about the accusations of racism directed at the Church. Everyone – at least most – knows of the ban of Blacks and the Priesthood. I still remember sitting in my college library, reading the scriptures in an effort to figure this out. I knew of the passages in the Book of Mormon which used the word “white” and concluded it must be metaphorical. After all, white generally signifies purity because white is devoid of all color. Easy enough, and upon some research I’m hardly the first to come to such a conclusion.

But I didn’t know about these quotes. I already mentioned this one in a previous entry, but I’ll repost it anyway:

Think of the Negro, cursed as to the priesthood…. This negro, who, in the pre-existence lived the type of life which justified the Lord in sending him to the earth in the lineage of Cain with a black skin, and possibly being born in darkest Africa—if that negro is willing when he hears the gospel to accept it, he may have many of the blessings of the gospel. In spite of all he did in the pre-existent life, the Lord is willing, if the Negro accepts the gospel with real, sincere faith, and is really converted, to give him the blessings of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get celestial glory.

- Race Problems—As They Affect The Church, Address by Mark E. Petersen at the Convention of Teachers of Religion on the College Level, delivered at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, August 27, 1954. Emphasis added.

That one is bad enough. As a church we like to dismiss such horrible words as the words of an Apostle speaking as a man. Surely this isn’t doctrine, surely these words spawn from a horribly racist culture of the 1950s.

And yet…

I saw a striking contrast in the progress of the Indian people today as against that of only fifteen years ago. Truly the scales of darkness are falling from their eyes, and they are fast becoming a white and delightsome people. . . .

The day of the Lamanites is nigh. For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised. In this picture of the twenty Lamanite missionaries, fifteen of the twenty were as light as Anglos; five were darker but equally delightsome. The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation.

At one meeting a father and mother and their sixteen-year-old daughter were present, the little member girl—sixteen—sitting between the dark father and mother, and it was evident she was several shades lighter than her parents—on the same reservation, in the same hogan, subject to the same sun and wind and weather. There was the doctor in a Utah city who for two years had had an Indian boy in his home who stated that he was some shades lighter than the younger brother just coming into the program from the reservation. These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness. One white elder jokingly said that he and his companion were donating blood regularly to the hospital in the hope that the process might be accelerated. (Spencer W. Kimball, General Conference, October 1960; See also Improvement Era, Dec.1960, pp. 922-923)

Have we taught that the Lamanite people, even the African-American, the Asian, etc. people have darker skins than us due to their less-than-valiant work in the pre-existence? Before finding this discrepancy between Book of Mormon editions, I might've squeezed a “probably not” from my lips. I couldn't say that now.

And it continues in the 2006 Doubleday Edition of the Book of Mormon. For anyone who is unaware, the Doubleday edition is a "commerical" edition of the Book of Mormon meant so anyone who wanted to get a copy could get one without contacting the Church.

1981 Official LDS Version, 2 Nephi 5 (chapter summary)
Because of their unbelief, the Lamanites are cursed, receive a skin of blackness, and become a scourge unto the Nephites.

2006 Doubleday Edition, 2 Nephi 5 (chapter summary)
Because of their unbelief, the Lamanites are cut off from the presence of the Lord, are cursed, and become a scourge unto the Nephites. (original emphasis)

1981, Official LDS Version, Mormon 5 (chapter summary)
The Lamanites shall be a dark, filthy, and loathsome people. (original emphasis)

2006 Doubleday Edition, Mormon 5 (chapter summary)
Because of their unbelief, the Lamanites will be scattered, and the Spirit will cease to strive with them. (original emphasis) (all from Lamanite Curse, FAIRwiki)

Much more PC, eh?

Look, I appreciate the changes, but I don’t appreciate our silence and inability to just apologize for crap said and basically condoned by Church leadership. We explain it away as if it doesn’t matter, but it does matter. The Church explained the change thusly,

The Prophet himself attempted to correct some of these kinds of errors, but his many duties prevented him from completing the project; and even so, some of his corrections seem to have disappeared again in later editions. For example, the 1830 and 1837 printings of the Book of Mormon contained a prophecy that the Lamanites would one day become ‘a white and delightsome people’ (2 Ne. 30:6)

In the 1840 printing, which the Prophet edited, this passage was changed to read ‘pure and delightsome people,’ but for some reason later printings reverted to the original wording.

-Bruce T. Harper, The Church Publishes a New Triple Combination, The Ensign, October 1981.

What are the other changes made? Here are two examples from that article, representative of the whole:

(1) 1920 Ed, Alma 16:5 - To know whether the Lord would that they should go into the wilderness…

1981 Ed., Alma 16:5 - To know wither the Lord would they should go into the wilderness

(2) 1920 Edition, 2 Nephi 29:4 - Do they remember the travels and the labors, and the pains of the Jews…

1981 Ed., 2 Nephi 29:4 - Do they remember the travails, and the labors, and the pains of the Jews…

Simple enough. Understandable enough.

But from “white” to “pure”? Someone’s idea got in the way here, and we’d have to question at a motive. Why would anyone change it either way?

The Utah Lighthouse Ministry – admittedly not a fan of the church – has responded to the Church’s explanation. I don’t post this lightly. I know some, if not many, will stop listening right here but please keep with me. I’m not trying to disprove anyone but offer other arguments for discussion:

It should be noted that Church leaders are unable to produce any documentary evidence to support their claim that this was merely a correction by Joseph Smith of a typographical error. There were originally two handwritten manuscripts for the Book of Mormon—a copy which was written by Joseph Smith's scribes as he dictated it and a second "emended" copy that was prepared for the printer. Unfortunately, most of the first manuscript was destroyed through water damage. The Mormon scholar Stanley R. Larson informs us that this manuscript "does not exist for this section of the text. . . ." ("A Study of Some Textual Variations in the Book of Mormon Comparing the Original and the Printer's Manuscripts and the 1830, the 1837, and the 1840 Editions," Unpublished M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, April 1974, page 283)

Fortunately, the second handwritten manuscript—the copy given to the printer to use to set the type for the first printing of the Book of Mormon—was preserved by Book of Mormon witness Oliver Cowdery and is still in excellent shape. This handwritten manuscript does contain the portion printed as 2 Nephi 30:6. It uses the word "white," and therefore does not support the claim that Joseph Smith was only correcting a typographical error (see Restoration Scriptures, by Richard P. Howard, Independence, Missouri, 1969, p. 49). It should be remembered also that both the first two editions of the Book of Mormon (1830 and 1837) used the word "white." It is especially significant that the 1837 edition retained this reading because the preface to this edition stated that "the whole has been carefully reexamined and compared with the original manuscripts, by elder Joseph Smith, Jr., the translator of the book of Mormon, assisted by the present printer, brother O. Cowdery, . . ." (Book of Mormon, 1837 Edition, Preface, as cited in The Ensign, September 1976, page 79)

- Utah Lighthouse Ministry, Salt Lake City Messenger, A White Pure and Delightsome People, Issue # 46, October 1981.

Many will trust the Church on the basis they don’t believe the Church, its leaders, or its doctrine to be racist – at least not today. As other passages in the Book of Mormon continue to use the word “white” in much the same way it is used in 2 Nephi 30:6 in the current edition, it’s difficult to really know. You’d think each ambiguous use of the word (not easily dismissed as metaphorical) would have changed as well in the 1981 edition.

What also baffles me is that, through my own research, I remain unconvinced that Joseph Smith was racist. His political platform dealt with the freedom of the slaves and I understand he baptized at least two black men.

It is curious. I’m unsure who to believe and it is due mainly to the many racist comments made by church authorities over the years – comments which have been dismissed and explained away rather than apologized for and recognized as patently disgusting (after all, we don’t criticize our leaders, even if that criticism is justified). It’s become more obvious to me the doctrine regarding people of dark skin being less valiant in the pre-existence was taught and can be linked to such scriptures as the ones I’ve mentioned here.

In a semi-related issue, there is also the rumor that Joseph Smith taught that polygamy would be necessary to mix the blood of the white people with that of the darker-skinned people as to help expedite the “whitening” process. This is an easy enough teaching to dismiss; however, when compared with then Elder Kimball’s General Conference remark, “One white elder jokingly said that he and his companion were donating blood regularly to the hospital in the hope that the process might be accelerated” it’s a more difficult an idea to reject.

I also understand that if one wants to, one can find evidence sufficient to support any claim. After viewing what I am able, I happen to lean to the side which states the original handwritten copy edited by Joseph Smith used the word “white” instead of “pure.” The LDS sources I’m able to view are short and rather vague while the other sources are much more thorough and cite other sources as well. When I compare and contrast, this is the conclusion I find myself coming to. I know many will undoubtedly gasp in horror and shock at such words (sarcasm), but the links are there for individual viewing and conclusion. I’m interested, if anyone finds the time, for other points of view.

Any thoughts?


Chedner said...

I do not know if you're already familiar with this quote or not:

"Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African Race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so."

(Great Salt Lake City, March 8, 1863 Journal of Discourses Volume 10 Page 110.)

Of course, we also have the Mormon "line upon line" justification re the Journal of Discourses.

Granted, this justification merely tells me that racism was rampant in the early Church, and that the Truth could not be taught because the leaders couldn't hear the voice of the Lord.

For me, it's really a non-issue -- because I don't worship the leaders of the Church. I do not take what they say as "from the lips of God." It is my belief that we never really get pure revelation from God as it is always filtered through the minds and prejudices of the revelators.

Don't get me wrong, though, it thoroughly bothers me how we're expected to take the past racism as God's will and the current views on race as God deciding to reveal things more fully.

Such an explanation is bullshit, in my book. Bullshit to make sure people obey whatever the current leaders say (because we can't trust people to have personal testimonies). [/cynicism]

I wish the Church would simply be honest and admit that many of the early leaders of the Church were racist and that such racism influenced their ability to understand the Truth in regards to race.

(Of course, me-thinks this would cause too many to say, "Ah, they're probably wrong about homosexuality, too, then." ... and I don't think the leaders would be too comfortable with that.)

Grégoire said...

Dear Chedner,

I wish the Church would simply be honest and admit that many of the early leaders of the Church were racist and that such racism influenced their ability to understand the Truth in regards to race.

They really can't be honest. Once a serious inquiry is done, the casual student finds Brigham Young declaring that if ever the church reverses it's position on the cursed negro, that will mean that Satan has taken the church down to Hell and that the priesthood has once again been taken from the earth.

Most Mormons just believe whatever they're told from the pulpit without thinking (we were conditioned that way) but the best and brightest would study these things and not be able to reconcile the words of the original prophets with all the radical changes that have gone on today.

The church re-writes history because that's the only thing that keeps it in business.

For me, it's really a non-issue -- because I don't worship the leaders of the Church. I do not take what they say as "from the lips of God."

Brigham Young started most of his crazier speeches with 'thus saith the LORD' and things like this. Like you, I'm willing to give a lot of slack, but it's pretty difficult in the case of that guy and some others.

Take Care,


belledame2 said...

These days I rarely take anything the GAs say at face value. I tend to think things out for myself and investigate using the scriptures if I have any questions. I also look at the source of where the comment is coming from. If it's General Conference, I'll give it more credence than a mere article in the Ensign or fireside talks, etc.

As for those word changings in the Book of Mormon, it doesn't really bother me. I tend to look more at the lesson the scripture is trying to convey. After all it is the work of men and if there are mistakes, it's human mistakes. Frankly, I don't see how Joseph Smith could've written it.

And yes, of course the Church will rewrite history to suit the current times. I don't care much for how the Church tends to whitewash the prophets in the Teachings of the Church President series.

What really matters most to me is the fruits of the gospel in my life. The Word of Wisdom and the law of chastity especially have helped me stay on the straight and narrow. When I first learned about the church when someone told me the First Vision story, it made sense to me. So that's how i look at the church.

Just my opinion.

Katie said...

There are so many things I want to say in response to this post, I just hope the come out how they are in my head (ungarbled) :-)

Such an explanation is bullshit, in my book. Bullshit to make sure people obey whatever the current leaders say (because we can't trust people to have personal testimonies). [/cynicism]

Thank you, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU Chednar! I really appreciate this comment. I feel like if we had a little more of the latter (personal testimony) and a little less of the former (blind faith) and we would all be about where we should be.

I had blind faith for 20 years in the Catholic church. I meet the missionaries, and they explain that I can know if something is true by praying about it, testing it. Alma says the same. And then I am in the church a few years and I come to find people parroting "follow the prophet... follow the prophet..." as though he were infallible (as they claim the Pope is in the Catholic church). NO! God gave us personal revelation - we can't be afraid to use it!!! (this is against no one on this post, btw, just my little soap box).

When I first joined the church, I asked the missionaries how I was supposed to know if what someone was teaching over the pulpit was right or if it was influenced by their upbringing. I was told that the Spirit would tell me. A case in point was the General Conference of Apr. 2003, when war had just been declared on Iraq. Pres. Hinckley was speaking, and the gist I got was that he said that the war was justified, and that we didn't have all the info the president had. Furthermore, he indicated that it was justified b/c people were fighting for their homes and for their freedoms, as Captain Moroni did in the Book of Mormon. (I don't know how to link in the comments, but the talk can be found at:,5232,23-1-353-27,00.html)

Anyway, I remember thinking - gee, is this the church's stance, then? That we believe the war is for people defending their homes? Because it felt an awful lot to me like we were randomly attacking a country that had nothing to do with Sept. 11. I prayed in my heart, and felt that this was one of those times that Pres. Hinkley was speaking as a man. And I felt at peace with that.

Did it come from the pulpit? Yes. Am I going to boldly proclaim that the church was NOT for the war? No, because I recognize it was personal revelation that I received. But, nevertheless, I knew it to be right (for me, at least - maybe it was what I needed to hear?) If Pres. Hinckley was affected by his political leanings or past military history, then I have no doubt that previous church leaders could have been influenced by their blind hatred of other races. I agree with Chednar in that the words we hear are not necessarily word-for-word God's word, but through a filter of a man. Hence one difference between the Pope (infallible) and the Prophet (fallible), in terms of what we should expect of them.

Second, I don't think that Joseph Smith received the Book of Mormon word for word in translation. My understanding is that it was more of an "understanding" of general things, similar to how men often receive blessings that they give (my husband at least) or when we receive answers to prayers. This came up because I wanted to know how the heck the Lamanites and Nephites were talking in King James Bible-ese when there was no 1800's thee/thou/lovest/stinkest etc. to work from. It was explained that Joseph received the words in the way that he could understand them - NOT as pure dictation. Thats another reason why it doesn't bother me that it has been shown that the Joseph Smith papyri didn't "say" what he read at all - I believe it was still God's true words, just the medium may have been different.

Third, the idea that blacks were "evil in the pre-existence" has been proposed by GAs and refuted by GAs at various and sundry times. Similarly, they could not come to a consensus as to Darwin's evolution, with some highly for it and some highly against. I tend to think we just DON'T KNOW and they just aren't fundemental to our salvation. Then why are false teachings being spread over the pulpit? Prophets being influenced by their manhood (ie, non-infallibility). I agree with belledame on this one that is is more about the fruits of the Gospel and less about the little things.

Thanks for another great conversation, Lisa!

Super Nova said...

I had the tendency to rationalize this in SEVERAL different ways until I started dating a black man. With our inter racial relationship these sayings of the church have come to the forefront in many ways. He is very intelligent and has no problem learning or talking about the church as a religion, but he also boldy states how racist the church is and how they've tried to cover it up over the years.

And it's true.

And while I am inactive now, I always thought that maybe I would return when I had children, or I would teach my children some of the basic principles. And yet, the thought of my children being born with that "dark skin curse" and seeing them read the scriptures and looking up at me with questions in their eyes...well, it's made me REALLY rethink the whole racial avoidance and yet, non avoidance in talks. Avoid what has been said, but not avoid saying harsh things (like the GAs have done for years.)

It is,yet again, another thing to add to my list of grievances.

belledame2 said...

Katie and Chedner:

Your posts reminded me of some things I encountered at Breed 'em Young.

First I had to take a course called "Teachings of the Living Prophets" for my religious requirement. The teacher gave examples of quotes from the GAs both in favor of AND against birth control! Oh my word, there's some REALITY here! How refreshing, I thought to myself.

Later on I took a course about dating and marriage preparation. The teacher was good because he really taught the facts of life about reproduction. We had to learn the biology of sex, which disturbed some of the students. Then when he talked about birth control and that yes, he and his wife practiced it, there was a lot of shock in many of the students' faces. Being from the mission field myself, I looked around in amazement, thinking to myself, so what's the big deal?

Compare that to the first time I got on campus to go to the Breed 'em Young bookstore with my nonmember sister and we were stunned to see a mom dragging FIVE kids behind her. My sister turned to me and said, "If this is what your church is about, I don't want anything to do with it!"

I never really got used to that Happy Valley of Provo mentality. When I drove from Utah into Colorado, I stopped on the side of the road, got out of my car and yelled, "Yes! I'm back in reality!"

On a final note, I really do appreciate the knowledge and training in my last two years of college there at the Y. I'd gladly relive those two years in a heartbeat.