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Gardner On Nephi's Scribal Error


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In his new commentary on the Book of Mormon, Second Witness, Brant Gardner observes that Nephi appears to have made a scribal error in relating Lehi's vision of the tree. Nephi relates the dream from Lehi's perspective, but at the end, when he cuts his account short, Nephi appears to switch from 1st person Lehi to 1st person Nephi in verse 33.

1 Nephi 8:29-35

29 And now I, Nephi, do not speak all the words of my father.

30 But, to be short in writing, behold, he saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.

31 And he also saw other multitudes feeling their way towards that great and spacious building.

32 And it came to pass that many were drowned in the depths of the fountain; and many were lost from his view, wandering in strange roads.

33 And great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building. And after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also; but we heeded them not.

34 These are the words of my father: For as many as heeded them, had fallen away.

35 And Laman and Lemuel partook not of the fruit, said my father.

On this section Gardner states:

Nephi makes an interesting editorial slip in verse 33. He has thus far removed himself from the story, and it does not appear that Nephi played an important role in Lehi's dream. Nevertheless at this point his own involvement in the story supersedes his relation of his father's dream, and he inserts "did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking..."

I see the major purpose of the inclusion of Lehi's vision in Nephi's personal account (the small plates of Nephi) as a precursor to Nephi's experience which results from the dream. As with other parts of Nephi's narration, he may begin to relate something from the large plates, but soon abandons that synopsis for the personal effect of the events. Thus we had the story of Laban in great detail precisely because it was of major importance to Nephi. Likewise, Nephi begins by a reasonably faithful narration of his father's vision, but at the end is anxious to get on with his real purpose - the discussion of his own vision. For this reason he hurries the tale at the end, and for this reason he slips in the editorial "I."

I agree with Gardner that Nephi is more interested in relating the dream in the interpretation that he personally received, for the purposes of his own record. However, I believe there is an alternate reading that may exonerate Nephi in this instance.

Nephi cuts the dream short in verse 29 saying he isn't going to relate all of his father's words and then sums up the rest of the dream. I believe it is possible that Nephi inserts a few of Lehi's own quotes, so to speak, into his summary. In verse 30, 31 and 32 Nephi paraphrases, using "his" and "he" referring to Lehi. In verse 33, Nephi uses "me" but immediately thereafter says "These are the words of my father: For as many as heeded them, had fallen away." It is possible that the punctuation and verse separation here doesn't convey the original intent of the translated sentence. I see the possibility Nephi could be providing a quote from Lehi, followed by an explanation to clarify, though it would be awkward. The original transcript could shed light on this possibility.

Here is the selection without punctuation and verses:

and it came to pass that many were drowned in the depths of the fountain and many were lost from his view wandering in strange roads and great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building and after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also but we heeded them not these are the words of my father for as many as heeded them had fallen away

For clarification, here's how it would look with my interpretation reflected by punctuation:

And it came to pass that many were drowned in the depths of the fountain; and many were lost from his view, wandering in strange roads. And great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building.

"And after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also; but we heeded them not" (these are the words of my father); for as many as heeded them, had fallen away.

Thoughts?

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I agree with your reading of the verses you mention. I think it is a quote from Lehi just by the structure of that last line. In fact that has always been the way I have read it. I suppose it could be said Nephi was the one doing the talking because he did partake of the fruit of the tree and he did not heed just as his father, but in this case I think he was quoting Lehi, because the dream was originally the "dream of Lehi" even though he enjoys the same dream and gets the interpretation. Also note in the next chapter:

(1 Nephi 10:1) "And now I, Nephi, proceed to give an account upon these plates of my proceedings, and my reign and ministry; wherefore, to proceed with mine account, I must speak somewhat of the things of my father, and also of my brethren."
It appears that up until that point he was telling his fathers "story" so that lends to the idea that it was a quote and not an error.
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In his new commentary on the Book of Mormon, Second Witness, Brant Gardner observes that Nephi appears to have made a scribal error in relating Lehi's vision of the tree. Nephi relates the dream from Lehi's perspective, but at the end, when he cuts his account short, Nephi appears to switch from 1st person Lehi to 1st person Nephi in verse 33.

I think verse 34 provides the explanation for the shift:

33 And great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building. And after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also; but we heeded them not.

34 These are the words of my father: For as many as heeded them, had fallen away.

It seems to me he's saying right here "that last sections was a direct quote from my dad."

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Verses 14 and 15:

"And I looked to behold from whence it came; and I saw the head thereof a little way off; and at the head thereof I beheld your mother Sariah, and Sam, and Nephi; and they stood as if they knew not whither they should go.

"And it came to pass that I beckoned unto them; and I also did say unto them with a loud voice that they should come unto me, and partake of the fruit, which was desirable above all other fruit."

I agree with Brant. The editorial "I" in verse 33 seems intended to underscore the difference between Nephi and his scoffing brothers' response to Lehi's teachings. The scoffers do not target Lehi; rather they target Nephi's acceptance of his father's message.

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I agree with your reading of the verses you mention. I think it is a quote from Lehi just by the structure of that last line. In fact that has always been the way I have read it. I suppose it could be said Nephi was the one doing the talking because he did partake of the fruit of the tree and he did not heed just as his father, but in this case I think he was quoting Lehi, because the dream was originally the "dream of Lehi" even though he enjoys the same dream and gets the interpretation. Also note in the next chapter:It appears that up until that point he was telling his fathers "story" so that lends to the idea that it was a quote and not an error.

Gardner notes some interesting aspects of Nephi taking over the narrative, it seems this chapter falls right in that moment.

I think verse 34 provides the explanation for the shift:

It seems to me he's saying right here "that last sections was a direct quote from my dad."

That's my reading as well.

Verses 14 and 15:

"And I looked to behold from whence it came; and I saw the head thereof a little way off; and at the head thereof I beheld your mother Sariah, and Sam, and Nephi; and they stood as if they knew not whither they should go.

"And it came to pass that I beckoned unto them; and I also did say unto them with a loud voice that they should come unto me, and partake of the fruit, which was desirable above all other fruit."

I agree with Brant. The editorial "I" in verse 33 seems intended to underscore the difference between Nephi and his scoffing brothers' response to Lehi's teachings. The scoffers do not target Lehi; rather they target Nephi's acceptance of his father's message.

33 is a long way from 14 and 15. My argument is that, beginning at the verse where Nephi begins to paraphrase (verse 29), he inserts another "quote" so to speak from Lehi's description.

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I think that is a valid interpretation, Blair.

Good job and interesting insight!

Gardner is usually pretty good about offering different views; I am interested if he had chosen not to include this alternate reading. Perhaps he has more information from the Skousen study, perhaps he didn't see this as an option.

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In his new commentary on the Book of Mormon, Second Witness, Brant Gardner observes that Nephi appears to have made a scribal error in relating Lehi's vision of the tree. Nephi relates the dream from Lehi's perspective, but at the end, when he cuts his account short, Nephi appears to switch from 1st person Lehi to 1st person Nephi in verse 33.

On this section Gardner states:

I agree with Gardner that Nephi is more interested in relating the dream in the interpretation that he personally received, for the purposes of his own record. However, I believe there is an alternate reading that may exonerate Nephi in this instance.

Nephi cuts the dream short in verse 29 saying he isn't going to relate all of his father's words and then sums up the rest of the dream. I believe it is possible that Nephi inserts a few of Lehi's own quotes, so to speak, into his summary. In verse 30, 31 and 32 Nephi paraphrases, using "his" and "he" referring to Lehi. In verse 33, Nephi uses "me" but immediately thereafter says "These are the words of my father: For as many as heeded them, had fallen away." It is possible that the punctuation and verse separation here doesn't convey the original intent of the translated sentence. I see the possibility Nephi could be providing a quote from Lehi, followed by an explanation to clarify, though it would be awkward. The original transcript could shed light on this possibility.

Here is the selection without punctuation and verses:

For clarification, here's how it would look with my interpretation reflected by punctuation:

Thoughts?

I have always read this passage as follows:

And now I, Nephi, do not speak all the words of my father. But, to be short in writing, behold, he saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree. And he also saw other multitudes feeling their way towards that great and spacious building. And it came to pass that many were drowned in the depths of the fountain; and many were lost from his view, wandering in strange roads.
"And great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building. And after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also; but we heeded them not."

These are the words of my father: For as many as heeded them, had fallen away.

In other words, Nephi simply inserted a verbatim quote from his father's account in the middle of his summary. He probably did so because he found the quote so compelling in its pure, concise simplicity. I know I do. I have the phrase printed out and posted on the wall in front of me, to remind me from day to day that, no matter the amenities of the many suites in the great and spacious building, I am placing my faith and hopes in a better place. Therefore these verses are printed on the same page as the quote from Lehi cited above:

Hebrews 11

13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

14 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.

15 And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.

16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

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I have always read this passage as follows:

These are the words of my father: For as many as heeded them, had fallen away.

In other words, Nephi simply inserted a verbatim quote from his father's account in the middle of his summary. He probably did so because he found the quote so compelling in its pure, concise simplicity. I know I do. I have the phrase printed out and posted on the wall in front of me, to remind me from day to day that, no matter the amenities of the many suites in the great and spacious building, I am placing my faith and hopes in a better place. Therefore these verses are printed on the same page as the quote from Lehi cited above:

Indeed, it seems we read it the same way. Thanks.

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My copy of the Book of Mormon (the Grant Hardy edition) reads:

29 And now I, Nephi, do not speak all the words of my father. 30 But, to be short in writing, behold, he saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.

31 And he also saw other multitudes feeling their way towards that great and spacious building. 32 And it came to pass that many were drowned in the depths of the fountain; and many were lost from his view, wandering in strange roads. 33 And great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building. And after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also, but we heeded them not. 34 (These are the words of my father.) For as many as heeded them, had fallen away. 35 "And Laman and Lemuel partook not of the fruit," said my father.

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Interesting, indeed. Again, I am curious as to why Gardner omitted the alternate reading. If it was deliberate, why, and if it was not deliberate, that's fine, too. The book is still very thorough.

I think Brant may have not even thought of this possibility. He was probably focused on the manner that Nephi used to formulate his writing prior to actually committing it to the plates and it struck him as an anomaly. Easily explained by a lapse on Nephi's part rather than a punctuation problem by the printer. After reading your comments, I tend to favor the punctuation answer.

Larry P

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I think Brant may have not even thought of this possibility. He was probably focused on the manner that Nephi used to formulate his writing prior to actually committing it to the plates and it struck him as an anomaly. Easily explained by a lapse on Nephi's part rather than a punctuation problem by the printer. After reading your comments, I tend to favor the punctuation answer.

Larry P

I also think his particular angle led him to his conclusion.

Thanks, LP.

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Thoughts?

Yep. I've done similar things myself. At least if it happened the way I think.

I think Nephi had his father's record in front of him and, lost in concentration, lapsed into copying straight from the record. He may have been dutifully changing all the "my"s to "his"s, then someone came into the hut, distracted him and, well, you know how difficult it is to erase, or in other words, alter, the text. In short, we may be reading too much into it.

Or not, who knows?

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I confess I didn't see the alternative reading. I can see it now, so I have gone over the verses several times to see what seems to be the better reading.

I think I have to stick with my first impression (even though I didn't see the alternative). Here is my reasoning:

It requires that we posit for Nephi a redactive technique I don't remember him using anywhere else. Nephi quotes large blocks of text, not small ones. It is not consistent with his editorial style to present a quotation in the middle of narration. He gives whole blocks, even when he is pulling out only small themes from them. The punctuation solution makes that one phrase a unique quotation in verses 30-38 where every other phrase is paraphrase - and where verse 30 virtually declares a shift from quotation to paraphrase.

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I confess I didn't see the alternative reading. I can see it now, so I have gone over the verses several times to see what seems to be the better reading.

I think I have to stick with my first impression (even though I didn't see the alternative). Here is my reasoning:

It requires that we posit for Nephi a redactive technique I don't remember him using anywhere else. Nephi quotes large blocks of text, not small ones. It is not consistent with his editorial style to present a quotation in the middle of narration. He gives whole blocks, even when he is pulling out only small themes from them. The punctuation solution makes that one phrase a unique quotation in verses 30-38 where every other phrase is paraphrase - and where verse 30 virtually declares a shift from quotation to paraphrase.

Ah, come on. You're just saying that because the book is in print. :P (If or when it makes a second edition, though, you should consider the alternate reading as a suggestion; I've noticed you like to include different views. Grant Hardy's BoM readers edition could be a good source.)

I think it could go either way; I see the ending of the dream as one of the more strange selections from Nephi's writing. I think his clarification of "these are the words of my father" makes a pretty good case that he lapsed back for one more quote there.

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Ah, come on. You're just saying that because the book is in print. :P (If or when it makes a second edition, though, you should consider the alternate reading as a suggestion; I've noticed you like to include different views. Grant Hardy's BoM readers edition could be a good source.)

I think it could go either way; I see the ending of the dream as one of the more strange selections from Nephi's writing. I think his clarification of "these are the words of my father" makes a pretty good case that he lapsed back for one more quote there.

If ever there is a second edition, I will be sure to include the alternate view. I'm sure there are plenty of places where I tunnel-visioned some explanation. I actually tried not to, but I doubt it can be entirely avoided. I even don't mind changing my mind. There are several places in the printed version where I have changed my opinion from the time it was posted on the web. I suspect there will be more.

Frankly, I hope a lot of people will do what you did and question something. Even if I don't agree with the change, I do agree with the process of thinking about the scriptures and trying to make sense of them.

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If ever there is a second edition, I will be sure to include the alternate view. I'm sure there are plenty of places where I tunnel-visioned some explanation. I actually tried not to, but I doubt it can be entirely avoided. I even don't mind changing my mind. There are several places in the printed version where I have changed my opinion from the time it was posted on the web. I suspect there will be more.

Frankly, I hope a lot of people will do what you did and question something. Even if I don't agree with the change, I do agree with the process of thinking about the scriptures and trying to make sense of them.

I've enjoyed the book thus far; I'll very likely pick up the next volume and so on. I'll keep you apprised of anything else I see. (Including the typos! I've only found 3 or 4 so far.)

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