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Skousen's Text + Ostler's Expansion Theory


David T

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With Skousen opening up his 'original text' of the Book of Mormon for use and republication, I would think an interesting project (online or otherwise) for individuals who hold to a form of the expansion theory to collaborate to present a version of the text that would attempt to distinguish,by textual marks or typefaces, between 'modern expansions' of the text, and the underlying original historical record.

It's quite interesting. For a few years, I'd been developing a view of the Book of Mormon translation method that was very similar to the 1987 Ostler Expansion Theory, but somehow had never heard of it before. Just read the full paper in the last week, and it gave me many things to think about. I do agree it needs to be updated (although it appears Ostler would disagree, I do find elements of Barker's scholarship to allow for more original reading than he may), but I find reading the Book of Mormon as a procedural revelatory primer for Joseph as fascinating.

For example: I could see 1 Nephi 13's original base text as having a reference to pre-exilic reforms, but then serving as a trigger to bring forth the praellel Modern Expansion text we currently have as a revelation - to Joseph - of the Post-Christian Apostasy.

Reading the discourses of Alma and Amulek in such a light explain why in one moment we have early pre- and post-exilic priestly notions of the relationship between the unified mortal and eternal natures of the Son of God/God of Israel figure, and then shortly thereafter, in an advanced theological discourse, having a seemingly unrelated reference to the Christian Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost - with Father and Son meaning something different than it did a chapter earlier).

Has anybody already begun an attempt at such a work? Do you think it would be of interest?

The original 1987 Ostler paper can be read here, but I've attatched a combined PDF of the separate image files there for easy reading/printing.

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Don't forget to check this out:

http://timesandseaso...pansion-theory/

I did check that one out (again). I think that the very first issue to be dealt with before one might even attempt this kind of a project would be one of definitions. Blake is saying that even certain translation issues are an "expansion." That would be a definition that I think is way to liberal to be useful (not to mention that he has misunderstood Sorenson's particular position on that topic).

If I were to try to develop some kind of taxonomy that might be useful, I would say that nothing that is explicable by translation is an "expansion." This would not require that the translation be word for word--as long as it is an reasonable representation of the plate text, that is simply the process of translation, not expansion.

The next category I see as having a different qualitative marker is when we have NT scriptures intruding in the language of the Book of Mormon. I see that as a different type of translation issue, where a model informs the translation rather than the underlying text -- but could still be representative of the underlying text. I remember a class full of Greek students who translated a passage in the NT, and almost all of us rendered it as almost word for word KJV - even though there were reasons that there were better lexical choices. It is a type of difference from the underlying text, but not yet an expansion.

I would see a true expansion as an addition to the text that was not directly representative of the underlying plates. I know that Blake thought that some of the expansions were theological issues, and he has since backed away from some of those as expansions.

So the final methodological question would be how one might determine which aspect of the text fit into which category.

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I did check that one out (again). I think that the very first issue to be dealt with before one might even attempt this kind of a project would be one of definitions. Blake is saying that even certain translation issues are an "expansion." That would be a definition that I think is way to liberal to be useful (not to mention that he has misunderstood Sorenson's particular position on that topic).

I would see a true expansion as an addition to the text that was not directly representative of the underlying plates. I know that Blake thought that some of the expansions were theological issues, and he has since backed away from some of those as expansions.

So the final methodological question would be how one might determine which aspect of the text fit into which category.

When we look at the "seams" in the OT between different authors, scribal camps, or whatever, a lot of the shifts seem pretty jarring (especially in Genesis) or in the smoother transitions, there is a definite stylistic/thematic shift separated by a transitional verse or two.

I'm always reading the BoM looking for that halting, jarring shift between two voices, styles, themes, or doctrinal positions, but I've yet to find anything so jarring as I see in the OT.

What I do see are certain refrains or pauses in the text where the author seems to be gathering his thoughts. That seems, to me, consistent with someone dictating a text as fast as they can but trying to come up with the next thing they're going to say. That is not consistent, however, with the accounts of anyone who took part in the translation process.

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What I do see are certain refrains or pauses in the text where the author seems to be gathering his thoughts. That seems, to me, consistent with someone dictating a text as fast as they can but trying to come up with the next thing they're going to say. That is not consistent, however, with the accounts of anyone who took part in the translation process.

I don't remember any situations that struck me in that way. Perhaps that is because I read the text as an ancient writer rather than a modern dictationist (dictator didn't seem like the right word :P). I certainly see Joseph in the vocabulary and in the KJV-modeled passages. I suspect another few places that might fit Blake's expansion idea, however, I sincerely doubt that Joseph understood that they were expansions and not part of the text.

Still, nothing that I can think of that suggests dictation on the fly that would not also suggest a writer composing while writing rather than copying. In the case of the asides which detract from the narrative, the method of re-entry into the outline suggests more structure than I believe Joseph would have imposed himself (repetitive resumption).

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I think it's instructive to look at the process of creating the New Translation of the Bible. Joseph had the original KJV text of the Bible in front of him, and as he read, ideas and questions formed in his mind, that resulted in strikeouts, rewording of things to get a new and modern application from the accounts, and large expanses of revealed expanded narrative. However, there were certain points where additional specific questions were asked that resulted in a separate D&C style 'Modern' Revelations without being integrated into the JST text. (Such as D&C 76).

Now, let's apply this to the Book of Mormon. Because there is not a physical underlying text that we have access to, it's certainly more difficult. However, if there were times when a 'visual' translation was shown to his mind through the seer stone, then, for him, the same process could have been taking place. Except for the fact that all versions of the text were being spiritually transmitted to Joseph, his musings and modern revelations based on unspoken questions and confusion as he 'read' the underlying text would be most likely have been integrated into and indestinguishable (for him) from the base text. My thought it that for Joseph, the process of the two translations was VERY similar. There were also cases where specific questions led not to answers in the text, but to additional 'outside' revelations, such as when he left with Oliver to pray for instruction concerning Baptism that resulting in the visitation of John the Baptist.

I believe the Book of Mormon was training wheels of sorts for Joseph. And the Seer Stone was training wheels for the training wheels. (If I understand correctly, he didn't use it for the JST). I think there are some important foundational 'modern' expanded revelations in the Book of Mormon, to Joseph, on the nature of Christ, the Plan of Salvation, and the Apostasy, and the Priesthood (and Church organization) that perhaps weren't originally in such an 'express' form in the Nephite record. What was transmitted through Joseph was the modern-application of many of the original discourses. I can see a Barker-style Old Testament era Day of Atonement discourse being 'translated' as a direct discussion of, and naming, Jesus Christ, etc.

This, also, is a different form of expansion than the 'borrowing' of KJV (especially NT) language to express similar or parallel thoughts. It, in a comparative edition of the BoM, would need to be marked in a different way.

I do want to say, I read Grant Hardy's A Reader's Edition of the Book of Mormon on my mission (one of the local libraries had it in Seattle, believe it or not), and having the scriptural references/allusions specifically indicated rocked my world. I think other such editions could be highly beneficial to exploring different aspects of the Book of Mormon's complicated and fascinating text.

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I don't remember any situations that struck me in that way. Perhaps that is because I read the text as an ancient writer rather than a modern dictationist (dictator didn't seem like the right word :P).

Not until the Nauvoo period, anyway... ;)

I certainly see Joseph in the vocabulary and in the KJV-modeled passages. I suspect another few places that might fit Blake's expansion idea, however, I sincerely doubt that Joseph understood that they were expansions and not part of the text.

It was interesting that in the introduction either Grant Hardy or Royal Skousen mentioned that the parts quoted from the bible are closer to the KJV in the original text than later revisions.

Still, nothing that I can think of that suggests dictation on the fly that would not also suggest a writer composing while writing rather than copying.

The difference, to me, is that I can't imagine someone scratching extra characters on gold plates just to collect their thoughts. On the other hand, I can see someone who is believed to be reading words off of seer stones buying themselves some time with an extra "And it came to pass..." or "wherefore, inasmuch as..." There seems to me to be a lot of phrases which are repeated but don't add anything to the understanding of the text. I don't think it necessarily means what you will probably think I think it means by bringing it up. But it does seem odd to me.

In the case of the asides which detract from the narrative, the method of re-entry into the outline suggests more structure than I believe Joseph would have imposed himself (repetitive resumption).

Can you give an example of this? I believe you, but I'm just wondering which asides you're referring to.

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The difference, to me, is that I can't imagine someone scratching extra characters on gold plates just to collect their thoughts. On the other hand, I can see someone who is believed to be reading words off of seer stones buying themselves some time with an extra "And it came to pass..." or "wherefore, inasmuch as..."

Since I don't hold to the tight translation these, I wouldn't argue there is a lot of specificity in a "wherefore." However, when it comes to "and it came to pass, that phrase actually has a discernible function in the text. Whatever the plate word was, it was translated into "and it came to pass" in order to replicate a function of the plate word. This comes from examining the contexts, not simply assuming that they were redundant.

Can you give an example of this? I believe you, but I'm just wondering which asides you're referring to.

Examples for both can be found in my 2008 FAIR paper.

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However, when it comes to "and it came to pass, that phrase actually has a discernible function in the text. Whatever the plate word was, it was translated into "and it came to pass" in order to replicate a function of the plate word. This comes from examining the contexts, not simply assuming that they were redundant.

What function is that? For me, when I see words in past tense, I just assume that those things "came to pass." What about the instances that were removed in later revisions by the Church?

Examples for both can be found in my 2008 FAIR paper.

Awesome, thanks.

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How can this theory possibly fit with the understanding we have of the BOM translation process of putting head in hat looking into the peepstone and seeing sentences form?

It can't, unless you assume the sentences were partly the produce of Joseph Smith's mind. I'd venture guess that most people here don't believe that's actually what happened -- I certainly don't.

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There are many ways. I think the Seer Stone is not all that different to Joseph than Lehi's Liahona. What was viewed through it changed according to faith, diligence, heed...and questions. I think it served more as an illuminating or focusing device (perhaps like the Brother of Jared's stones) that allowed a more clarity of mind and focus during the revelatory process.

Is it possible that at times it appeared to his mind as written English sentences? Sure. And it probably did in many instances. I don't think this necessitates the only way the revelatory process worked, however.

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I really like this paragraph in the above-linked Ostler update at T&S:

One of the strengths of the expansion theory is that it sees all of Joseph Smith?s prophetic translations as being of the same kind. Joseph didn?t translate the BofM because he knew Hebrew and/or reformed Egyptian; he didn?t translate the Book of Abraham because he read Egyptian etc. Rather, these translations were the same as the Book of Moses and the parchment of John that he translated now contained in D&C 7. He could translate because he received revelation; and the revelation involved his input in explaining, expanding and making sense of what he received. JS felt free to change, amend, add to, delete from and generally edit the revelations that he received in the Doctrine & Covenants ? and he treated the BofM text in the same way when he made changes to it in 1837. The Book of Mormon cannot be a ?literal translation? or JS?s changes don?t make sense. However, if JS is giving the best expression and explanation that he knows how to give, and later has greater capacity to explain the text or ?translation? in a better way, he felt free to do so.
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I also wouldn't cry boo if at points, when Joseph realized that large portions of Isaiah were being cited, he didn't whip out his KJV and begin dictating from that clearer source (which was sufficient for the time being) until he was informed otherwise. However, there are no accounts saying that he did this. And I think Emma may have said something to the opposite.

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I also wouldn't cry boo if at points, when Joseph realized that large portions of Isaiah were being cited, he didn't whip out his KJV and begin dictating from that clearer source (which was sufficient for the time being) until he was informed otherwise. However, there are no accounts saying that he did this. And I think Emma may have said something to the opposite.

This and Antley's post bring up a rather disturbing proposition: discounting the accuracy of the witness accounts. If we dismiss those, then anything could have happened during the translation period. KJV bibles? Other source material? While I think it is obvious from the manuscript evidence that the text was dictated, and that JS was the originator, I think dismissing the seer stone process (although it is clear the seer stone-in-the-hat method wasn't the only one) could bring up lots of other things which could have been going on during the "translation."

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Most people don't believe the words formed in the seer stones?

Here are a few of the several rubs: the witnesses who describe what Joseph saw in the stone didn't see in the stone. Also, none of them attribute their description of what JS saw in the stone to JS, and the statements were made after JS had died. Finally, the one fellow who might have had a look was Oliver Cowdery, and evidently he failed, though it could be possible he saw something. Did Oliver describe what was seen in the stone? :P

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This and Antley's post bring up a rather disturbing proposition: discounting the accuracy of the witness accounts. If we dismiss those, then anything could have happened during the translation period. KJV bibles? Other source material? While I think it is obvious from the manuscript evidence that the text was dictated, and that JS was the originator, I think dismissing the seer stone process (although it is clear the seer stone-in-the-hat method wasn't the only one) could bring up lots of other things which could have been going on during the "translation."

You're right. In fact, I believe that the KJV text was consulted somehow, and I haven't disregarded the idea that a Bible was used to dictate the Isaiah, Matthew, and Malachi chapters.

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