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New Skousen Volume


Daniel Peterson

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I'm pleased to announce that I have in my possession -- actually have had for a week or two -- the latest installment in Professor Royal Skousen's continuing study of the textual history of the Book of Mormon: Part Six of Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, covering 3 Nephi 19 to Moroni 10, with addenda.

Professor Skousen's undertaking, sponsored by FARMS (now the Maxwell Institute) and carried out with meticulous attention to detail, is one of the great monuments of Latter-day Saint scholarship.

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Oooo. I am interested in that Yale book.

Also, thanks for the news, Dan. Sounds like this critical text project is winding up, which is great. The very absence of such a rigorous text until now single-handedly calls into question the validity of all so-called "wordprint" studies. (Those that argue for and against "ancient" authorship of the Book of Mormon.) Frankly, I am rather astounded that the newest "Jockers" study didn't mention Skousen's name.

For anyone interested in what this crucial project is all about, here are some sources for you to check out.

Royal Skousen, "Towards a Critical Edition of the Book of Mormon," BYU Studies 30/1 (1990): 42â??69. [download .pdf]

(During the late 80s FARMS published the Book of Mormon Critical Text. It was used for some wordprint studies, and Skousen applauds its publication. However, he also points out some rather large problems with the publication and proposes a better project. He has subsequently taken that project on and as we see it is nearing completion almost 29 years after this BYU Studies article. This article is an interesting introduction.)

Royal Skousen, "The Original Book of Mormon Transcript," Re-exploring the Book of Mormon, John W. Welch, ed., FARMS. [click here]

(Skousen talks briefly about the available manuscripts he studied for the project.)

Royal Skousen, "Translating the Book of Mormon: Evidence from the Original Manuscript," Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited, Noel B. Reynolds, ed., FARMS. [click here and here.]

(In this article Skousen discusses various translation theories including "loose," "tight," and "iron-clad." Though witnesses to the process appear to favor something like an iron-clad theory, Skousen posits a "tight control" based on their statements and evidence from the Book of Mormon manuscript itself.)

Kevin Barney, "Seeking Joseph Smith's Voice," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 15:1, pp. 54-59. [click here.]

(Barney gives an overview of some of Skousen's already-published work and disagrees with a few points Skousen extracts from his data.)

*****

This last article by Barney gives some needed perspective. It is important to remember that Skousen's work comes in at least 2 varieties:

1. His critical text project itself (which is, for the most part, strictly observable data).

2. His extrapolation into theories of translation from that data, which the above articles by Skousen largely consist of.

These are two separate areas. In the first area, Skousen presents documents as direct indicators. Information is virtually uninterpreted, only insofar as Skousen has footnotes etc. prefering one particular reading over another when handwriting is ambiguous or a phonetic mistake can be detected. In the second area, Skousen more fully employs documents as correlates. Skousen takes his data from the critical text, considers witness statements and internal textual evidence (like Hebraisms, etc.) and posits theories of translation, arguing for a "tight control" theory. It is important to remember that the first area can be interpreted differently by different people and his second area does not contain inevitable conclusions, though they deserve close attention and analysis. Brant Gardner, for example, calls into question some of Skousen's conclusions in the second area, though he makes much use of Skousen's first area in his commentary on the Book of Mormon, Second Witness.

(Info about documents as direct indicators and as correlates is borrowed from an older article by Vernon Dibble, "Four Types of Inference From Documents to Events," History and Theory, Vol. 3 No. 2 [1963], pp. 203-221.)

I think I will flesh this out a little more and make it into a blog post.

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Folks here may also be interested in the forthcoming "corrected" edition of the Book of Mormon (to be published by Yale University Press) based on Skousen's critical text. It is being billed as "the most accurate version of the Book of Mormon ever published."

As much as I am admirer of Professor Skousen, both as a scholar and a person, I fundamentally disagree with his decision to produce this work. I suspect that I am not alone in this sense of disapproval. I believe he has ventured outside his purview in so doing.

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As much as I am admirer of Professor Skousen, both as a scholar and a person, I fundamentally disagree with his decision to produce this work. I suspect that I am not alone in this sense of disapproval. I believe he has ventured outside his purview in so doing.

I don't know him personally, but I have followed his critical text project very closely. I see this as the logical outcome of that project. He has spent volumes (up to 6 now) working out what the best original text would be -- and this volume combines that analysis into a single volume that shows the results (though I don't know how much of the analysis).

What are your reasons for disagreeing with the decision to publish?

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I don't know him personally, but I have followed his critical text project very closely. I see this as the logical outcome of that project. He has spent volumes (up to 6 now) working out what the best original text would be -- and this volume combines that analysis into a single volume that shows the results (though I don't know how much of the analysis).

What are your reasons for disagreeing with the decision to publish?

To me, the reasoning is plain: the Book of Mormon is the foundational scripture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The canon of the church is and always has been under the purview of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. From my perspective, Skousen has clearly trespassed into the realm of their stewardship, and by publishing the book through Yale, he has made an implicit statement that his conclusions are not to be questioned, moderated, or modified by the combined judgment of the brethren whose responsibility it is to safeguard the canon.

I would be shocked if my perspective is not consistent with that of the folks at 50 E. South Temple.

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Meh...

I'm sure that the two new Skousen volumes are filled with the same apologetic drivel that is par for the course with FARMS. :P

Just kiddin'. Congrats to the Maxwell Institute, Yale, and Professor Skousen for these new and important publications.

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To me, the reasoning is plain: the Book of Mormon is the foundational scripture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The canon of the church is and always has been under the purview of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. From my perspective, Skousen has clearly trespassed into the realm of their stewardship, and by publishing the book through Yale, he has made an implicit statement that his conclusions are not to be questioned, moderated, or modified by the combined judgment of the brethren whose responsibility it is to safeguard the canon.

I would be shocked if my perspective is not consistent with that of the folks at 50 E. South Temple.

OTOH, it's being published by an academic press as opposed to a popular press, is unlikely to have the type of cross references and footnotes that the church edition does and I don't believe the Church has ever even suggested other forms of the BoM such as the Reader's Edition of the BoM or the easy reader varieties were inappropriate as long as they were used as supplements and not as replacements.

I don't really see a big issue myself as long as the purpose is text analysis and not doctrinal analysis.

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To me, the reasoning is plain: the Book of Mormon is the foundational scripture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The canon of the church is and always has been under the purview of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. From my perspective, Skousen has clearly trespassed into the realm of their stewardship, and by publishing the book through Yale, he has made an implicit statement that his conclusions are not to be questioned, moderated, or modified by the combined judgment of the brethren whose responsibility it is to safeguard the canon.

I'm not sure I understand your reasoning here, Will. Do you object to the Double Day version of the Book of Mormon?

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I'm not sure I understand your reasoning here, Will. Do you object to the Double Day version of the Book of Mormon?

I believe my reasoning has been adequately articulated above. Furthermore, I don't consider the Doubleday version of the Book of Mormon analogous in the least to the situation concerning Skousen's "earliest text" volume. For one, the Doubleday version of the Book of Mormon was vetted by the Brethren. It is my understanding that Skousen's imminent publication has not been.

Nevertheless, my objections have nothing to do with the content of Skousen's book. I am confident that Skousen's scholarship is virtually impeccable, and that, had his work been subjected to the review of the "powers that be," very little, if anything, would have been modified. But, as you may recall from your days in the church, there is (in addition to the formal rules and regulations outlined in the scriptures, the handbook of instructions, and other official statements of policy) an "unwritten order of things," and that "order" dictates that the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve be intimately involved, in an editorial capacity, in any publication such as the one Skousen has produced, and that they be granted full editorial powers--whether or not they ultimately choose to exercise them.

This is, undoubtedly, a difficult concept for some to appreciate and understand, whether a believer or otherwise. But it is the nature of the entity we commonly call "The Church," and it serves an indispensible purpose, albeit one that often eludes the casual or contrarily-motivated observer.

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I believe my reasoning has been adequately articulated above. Furthermore, I don't consider the Doubleday version of the Book of Mormon analogous in the least to the situation concerning Skousen's "earliest text" volume. For one, the Doubleday version of the Book of Mormon was vetted by the Brethren. It is my understanding that Skousen's imminent publication has not been.

Nevertheless, my objections have nothing to do with the content of Skousen's book. I am confident that Skousen's scholarship is virtually impeccable, and that, had his work been subjected to the review of the "powers that be," very little, if anything, would have been modified. But, as you may recall from your days in the church, there is (in addition to the formal rules and regulations outlined in the scriptures, the handbook of instructions, and other official statements of policy) an "unwritten order of things," and that "order" dictates that the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve be intimately involved, in an editorial capacity, in any publication such as the one Skousen has produced, and that they be granted full editorial powers--whether or not they ultimately choose to exercise them.

This is, undoubtedly, a difficult concept for some to appreciate and understand, whether a believer or otherwise. But it is the nature of the entity we commonly call "The Church," and it serves an indispensible purpose, albeit one that often eludes the casual or contrarily-motivated observer.

What will inevitably happen is that some members will view Skousen's version of the BOM as being more accurate and authoritative than the Church approved version. I want a copy because it is the most accurate BOM in existence.

I hope and trust that no changes were made to the content due to concerns from leadership. That would taint the whole project.

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But, as you may recall from your days in the church, there is (in addition to the formal rules and regulations outlined in the scriptures, the handbook of instructions, and other official statements of policy) an "unwritten order of things," and that "order" dictates that the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve be intimately involved, in an editorial capacity, in any publication such as the one Skousen has produced, and that they be granted full editorial powers--whether or not they ultimately choose to exercise them.

You are entitled to your opinion, but I don't agree. Let the First Presidency be given "editorial powers", and there goes Skousen's credibility as a scholar. Imagine the howls of protest. If, hypothetically, the Brethren did want something changed, would they not be over-riding Skousen's expertise? How could they determine what should or should not be published, not having expertise in that specific area? It's a scholarly work, produced by an expert in the field, not canon. Not General Conference.

The First Presidency, as far as I know, do not vet the multitude of commentary on the Book of Mormon produced by Mormons. Why should they do so in the case of Skousen?

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I don't dish out praise lightly to Mormon scholars, but from what I've read of Skousen (admittedly I haven't followed his later editions) I think he's doing mightly impressive work, and trying to be as objective as possible, and even providing comparative primary sources which are open to criticism from anyone. He is what I would call a real Book of Mormon scholar, and it's not too often I take them seriously. :P

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I don't dish out praise lightly to Mormon scholars, but from what I've read of Skousen (admittedly I haven't followed his later editions) I think he's doing mightly impressive work, and trying to be as objective as possible, and even providing comparative primary sources which are open to criticism from anyone. He is what I would call a real Book of Mormon scholar, and it's not too often I take them seriously. :P

I am in awe of the scholarship evident in his series Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon. Absolutely and unabashedly in awe.

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I am in awe of the scholarship evident in his series Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon. Absolutely and unabashedly in awe.

I read one of Skousen's articles and he made a very strong case for the tight translation theory. Where do you stand on that issue?

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I believe my reasoning has been adequately articulated above. Furthermore, I don't consider the Doubleday version of the Book of Mormon analogous in the least to the situation concerning Skousen's "earliest text" volume. For one, the Doubleday version of the Book of Mormon was vetted by the Brethren. It is my understanding that Skousen's imminent publication has not been.

Nevertheless, my objections have nothing to do with the content of Skousen's book. I am confident that Skousen's scholarship is virtually impeccable, and that, had his work been subjected to the review of the "powers that be," very little, if anything, would have been modified. But, as you may recall from your days in the church, there is (in addition to the formal rules and regulations outlined in the scriptures, the handbook of instructions, and other official statements of policy) an "unwritten order of things," and that "order" dictates that the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve be intimately involved, in an editorial capacity, in any publication such as the one Skousen has produced, and that they be granted full editorial powers--whether or not they ultimately choose to exercise them.

This is, undoubtedly, a difficult concept for some to appreciate and understand, whether a believer or otherwise. But it is the nature of the entity we commonly call "The Church," and it serves an indispensible purpose, albeit one that often eludes the casual or contrarily-motivated observer.

I disagree with you here a little bit. I suppose it all depends on the way one looks at it. If one looks at the work as simply an attempt to show what the earliest Book of Mormon manuscript evidence says, and to provide that information to the public, then I don't see a problem with it. It would not be replacing the current edition of the BoM, the same way the fact that you can buy a reprinting of the original BoM, BoC, and D&C from the church history museum at temple square doesn't mean they supersede the modern editions. From my personal understanding of the editing that has been performed in the past by Joseph Smith, Orson Pratt and others to the Book of Mormon (and other works of scripture) the editing made by later prophets supersedes the earlier work. Skousen's work is simply giving us access to earlier additions. In the same way that my artistic experience is not diminished that the versions of Shakespeare that I may see in a theater don't perfectly align with critical editions of Shakespeare, the same way my reading of the current Book of Mormon will hardly be affected by my knowledge of what early manuscripts say, except in areas where an earlier reading clears ambiguity.

I've got to drive to Utah tonight, so I'll write more later. Maybe.

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Here's a cliff's notes version of what this project is all about:

12 Answers from Royal Skousen

Answer #7 seems to deal with Will's concerns:

7. Will any of these changes appear in subsequent LDS editions of the Book of Mormon?

I do not know the answer to this question. The Church will decide for itself what changes, if any, will be implemented. The Church will not engage in a public discussion of such changes or the arguments for making (or not making) those changes. On the other hand, this scholarly critical text project promotes public discussion and, when done properly, establishes an on-going process and allows others to contribute. For instance, as part of this project, I have requested anyone who has any suggestions for emendations to the text or questions about problematic readings to send them to me. Thus far I have received hundreds of suggestions for changes — and about thirty or so have led to emendations in the text. Surprisingly, most of these emendations have come from regular members of the church — readers of the Book of Mormon who are simply striving to understand the text. Such an open request for participation has significantly improved the findings of this project.

One important fact that I realized early on in this project is that the original text is not fully recoverable by scholarly means. Only 28 percent of the Book of Mormon text is extant in the original manuscript. And the clear majority of new readings that have never appeared in any printed edition derive from readings in the original manuscript. Oliver Cowdery averaged about three textual changes per manuscript page as he copied from the original manuscript into the printer's manuscript. The majority of these changes would be unrecoverable if those portions of the original manuscript were not extant. In most cases we have no clue that there is even an error in the current text unless the original manuscript tells us so. Given that the majority of the original manuscript is no longer extant, we will be unable to fully recover the original text by human means. And even the extant portions of the original manuscript probably have errors that we are unaware of. The only way that the original text could be fully restored would be if the Lord chose to reveal it again. Such is definitely not within the purview of this scholarly project.

One valuable aspect of this public, scholarly discussion of the text is that later changes in the text could be made by the Church without engendering the typical complaint that the Church is making changes for political reasons. Note, for instance, the uproar over the 1981 change in 2 Nephi 30:6 from “a white and a delightsome people" to "a pure and a delightsome people". The change was first implemented in the 1840 edition; Joseph Smith's motivation for making that change was based on quite something else, as I explain in discussing this change in part 2 of volume 4 (to appear in 2005). An independent public discussion in a scholarly context will avoid having the Church take abuse for making alterations to the text.

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I read one of Skousen's articles and he made a very strong case for the tight translation theory. Where do you stand on that issue?

I have read the same article and been through it several times (I have also been through instances where John Welch also presents evidence for a tight translation). In most cases I don't think the evidence supports his conclusions strongly enough to provide an alternative to what I see is a larger body of data that can only be explained through a looser translation method. Some of his evidence has another explanation that does not require tight translation.

The one place where there is good evidence is in the spelling of names. I think that tells us that there were points at which Joseph did exercise pretty tight control over the resulting English text. Of course, how that instance of clearly tight control represents the plate text is unknown. It clearly shows a tight control of names from translator to scribe, but less obviously from text to translator. That is the "black box" where we have to guess what is happening.

That said, until I get something published that presents the evidence that I see, his opinion will (and should) carry much more weight than mine.

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