Jump to content

'Despite All We Can Do' – 2 Nephi 25:23 in Literary and Rhetorical Context


Recommended Posts

11 hours ago, Dan McClellan said:

.................................

 
My paper demonstrates that "after all we can do" was a phrase commonly used by English-language writers discussing grace in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, and it always and only meant "despite all we can do.".........................

Sounds reasonable to me, though I am still  mystified as to why you rejected the larger rhetorical context I offered last time you were here.

Also, I'd be interested in whether the phrase was actually limited to the late-18th and early-19th centuries.  Perhaps @champatsch could chime in with his data on the phrase.

Link to post
6 hours ago, Robert F. Smith said:

Sounds reasonable to me, though I am still  mystified as to why you rejected the larger rhetorical context I offered last time you were here.

I tried to explain my reasoning in that last thread, but the paper's available now, so you can get a better look at the specific examples I used. 

Quote

Also, I'd be interested in whether the phrase was actually limited to the late-18th and early-19th centuries.  Perhaps @champatsch could chime in with his data on the phrase.

I think a 1694 translation of a French treatise was the earliest occurrence I found, but still within the context of Enlightenment debates about grace. I choose representative examples in the paper, though they're certainly not exhaustive.

  • Like 2
Link to post
21 hours ago, Dan McClellan said:
My Journal of Book of Mormon Studies article, "2 Nephi 25:23 in Literary and Rhetorical Context," is now digitally available on JSTOR:
 
My paper demonstrates that "after all we can do" was a phrase commonly used by English-language writers discussing grace in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, and it always and only meant "despite all we can do."
 
If you don't have access, message me and I'll be happy to send you a PDF.

Given the teachings of opposition earlier in the same book, "despite" conveys a strong sense of opposition to "all we can do" (the root being "despise"), which makes sense if "all we can do" is a function of lack of faith and independence from the Lord (pride). More modern synonyms might render it a little softer, such as "notwithstanding" or "regardless of" and even "complementary to" etc. That last one, "complementary to", conveys something that fills up, completes, or makes better or perfect, which grace certainly does.  I like that this phrasing allows for both the faithful and the wicked, the humble and the proud to gain something they need!

(I used the Merriam-Webster dictionary as my reference)

Edited by CV75
Link to post
2 hours ago, Dan McClellan said:

I tried to explain my reasoning in that last thread, but the paper's available now, so you can get a better look at the specific examples I used. 

I think a 1694 translation of a French treatise was the earliest occurrence I found, but still within the context of Enlightenment debates about grace. I choose representative examples in the paper, though they're certainly not exhaustive.

The Webster 1928 doctionary http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/despite seems to share the stronger sense of the word.

Link to post

I looked over several examples of "after all (that) <subj.pron.> can do" in the early modern period (EEBO; they begin in 1635 in Phase 1 of the database). (The Book of Mormon reading originally had a that, deleted in 1837, but not marked in P.) I also looked at six distinct 18th-century (late modern) examples of "after all that we can do" (ECCO). Most of them, whether early or late modern, seem to employ after with a meaning of temporal sequence and logical opposition — in other words, after conveys a sense of 'subsequent to and nothwithstanding (in spite of)'. The OED's first example (see def. 7b) used to be from Shakespeare's Measure for Measure (5.1.347), dated a1616: "Harke how the villaine would close now, After his treasonable abuses." Now it's from the early 15th century: "Aftyr all this glorie, hym befell the fowle dethe."

Of course, after can also convey a meaning of temporal and logical sequence: 'subsequent to and in consequence of' (see def. 7a). This is the older meaning (the first example is from Beowulf: "Þa þæt sweord ongan æfter heaþoswate hildegicelum..wanian"), but it also persisted into the late modern period. Either meaning is theoretically possible in the Book of Mormon, although most of the close textual examples involve the sense of logical opposition. So on that basis, we could take the 'in spite of' meaning as more likely for 2 Nephi 25:23.

Although the Book of Mormon was published in 1830, that doesn't mean we will find pertinent usage informing semantic meaning only in late 18th- and early 19th-century writings. For instance, if we want to find texts where "but if" means 'unless', as in Mosiah 3:19, we must consult earlier writings — texts of the first half of the early modern period. The OED's latest example is currently 1603. Malory's Morte d'Arthur has many instances, and it has the most examples of plural mights besides the Book of Mormon, and it has other archaic linguistic features found in the text. In general, most of the Book of Mormon's meaning is persistent, but not all of it. The same can be said of the syntax. And many of its syntactic patterns are quite clearly archaic, and often nonbiblical.

Look at the original "he which" of v.18. The Book of Mormon's "he/they <rel.pron.>" pattern is archaic, non(pseudo)biblical, and not JS's pattern. Because of this and many other patterns and instances, we conclude that JS didn't word the text and didn't word "after all that we can do". He just translated the text, in the sense of 'convey' or 'retransmit'. (And note that even if the Lord had revealed ideas and not words to JS, the Lord wouldn't have revealed only ideas, since names aren't ideas, and JS would not have been a translator in the usual sense of the term either, since he would've been given ideas he understood, as a monolingual English speaker.)

  • Like 2
Link to post
38 minutes ago, champatsch said:

I looked over several examples of "after all (that) <subj.pron.> can do" in the early modern period (EEBO; they begin in 1635 in Phase 1 of the database). (The Book of Mormon reading originally had a that, deleted in 1837, but not marked in P.) I also looked at six distinct 18th-century (late modern) examples of "after all that we can do" (ECCO). Most of them, whether early or late modern, seem to employ after with a meaning of temporal sequence and logical opposition — in other words, after conveys a sense of 'subsequent to and nothwithstanding (in spite of)'. The OED's first example (see def. 7b) used to be from Shakespeare's Measure for Measure (5.1.347), dated a1616: "Harke how the villaine would close now, After his treasonable abuses." Now it's from the early 15th century: "Aftyr all this glorie, hym befell the fowle dethe."

Of course, after can also convey a meaning of temporal and logical sequence: 'subsequent to and in consequence of' (see def. 7a). This is the older meaning (the first example is from Beowulf: "Þa þæt sweord ongan æfter heaþoswate hildegicelum..wanian"), but it also persisted into the late modern period. Either meaning is theoretically possible in the Book of Mormon, although most of the close textual examples involve the sense of logical opposition. So on that basis, we could take the 'in spite of' meaning as more likely for 2 Nephi 25:23.

Although the Book of Mormon was published in 1830, that doesn't mean we will find pertinent usage informing semantic meaning only in late 18th- and early 19th-century writings. For instance, if we want to find texts where "but if" means 'unless', as in Mosiah 3:19, we must consult earlier writings — texts of the first half of the early modern period. The OED's latest example is currently 1603. Malory's Morte d'Arthur has many instances, and it has the most examples of plural mights besides the Book of Mormon, and it has other archaic linguistic features found in the text. In general, most of the Book of Mormon's meaning is persistent, but not all of it. The same can be said of the syntax. And many of its syntactic patterns are quite clearly archaic, and often nonbiblical.

Look at the original "he which" of v.18. The Book of Mormon's "he/they <rel.pron.>" pattern is archaic, non(pseudo)biblical, and not JS's pattern. Because of this and many other patterns and instances, we conclude that JS didn't word the text and didn't word "after all that we can do". He just translated the text, in the sense of 'convey' or 'retransmit'. (And note that even if the Lord had revealed ideas and not words to JS, the Lord wouldn't have revealed only ideas, since names aren't ideas, and JS would not have been a translator in the usual sense of the term either, since he would've been given ideas he understood, as a monolingual English speaker.)

I haven't argued that the late-18th and early-19th centuries are the only periods of usage that are broadly relevant to the semantics of the Book of Mormon, but I think they are the only ones pertinent to this particular construction, and particularly in light of the close correlation between the rhetorical context of 2 Nephi 25:23 and that of the anti-deist/Catholic commentary of the early nineteenth century. I'd be happy to respond to an argument about why this particular construction in this particular rhetorical context should not be considered native to the early-19th century, but I don't think an early 19th-century target audience for the formulation of 2 Nephi 25:23 is precluded by pointing out that is seems unlikely for completely independent constructions from other parts of the Book of Mormon. As I believe I've shared with you before, the Book of Mormon seems a mixture of older and newer constructions and usage, so I don't just accept the premise that it should be assumed to all unilaterally originate from a single linguistic period. The debates around dating Biblical Hebrew have long established the fallacy of assuming that for longer texts. I'd also point out that the 15th and 16th century texts in which some of these archaic constructions are limited are frequently quite easy to find in late-18th and early-19th-century reprints and anthologies from England. The fact that "but if" is not common in original compositions dating to after the Early Modern Period is rendered rather moot when, for instance, an 1818 edition of Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language has an entry for "But if" meaning "unless." Similarly, an 1820 publication called The History of the Life and Sufferings of the Reverend and Learned John Wiclif has a page in the front matter orienting readers to the terms he used that were then obsolete, including "but if," glossed as "unless, except." There are numerous examples of that specific usage being identified in early-19th century texts. One 1840 printing of the letters of the 15th-century gentleman John Paston glosses each occurrence of "but if" with "(unless)." I would argue that usage was still very much part of the discourse, particularly for someone interested in archaizing and pseudo-biblical prose. 

  • Like 2
Link to post
18 minutes ago, caspianrex said:

@Dan McClellan I very much appreciated that you laid the appropriate groundwork in the Introduction of your paper, to remind the reader of the following:

It seems to me, in the course of your paper, that you make a very compelling case for "after all we can do" in 2 Nephi 25:23 meaning "despite all we can do."

Meanwhile, the passage from 2 Nephi seems to address, in its own way, the tension between Paul's emphasis on salvation by grace through faith and James's statement that "faith without works is dead." That tension has long troubled many followers of Christ, not the least of whom was Luther, who famously felt compelled to add allein (alone) to "durch Glauben"  (through faith) in Romans 3:28.

(I write as a non-LDS person, so if I have misinterpreted the passage in question, I hope my LDS friends will correct me!)

Thanks for the kind words! I agree that the text seems to be addressing that tension, and providing its own framework for resolving it. Hopefully more work will be done in the future on the question. 

Link to post
5 minutes ago, PacMan said:

Please post in a drive so we can download without a subscription. 
 

Thanks. 

That would violate the contract I signed with the publisher at the moment. Feel free to message me your email address and I'll be happy to send you a PDF.

  • Like 1
Link to post
4 hours ago, Dan McClellan said:

That would violate the contract I signed with the publisher at the moment. Feel free to message me your email address and I'll be happy to send you a PDF.

Interesting that the Maxwell Institute should adopt this new, exclusive policy -- no doubt part of their move to exclude the entirety of the formerly freely available FARMS product (unless available on the BYU scholars archive).  They, after all, claim to be the successor to FARMS, and for a time did have all the FARMS publications on their website.  So many fine pieces have now been orphaned.

  • Like 2
Link to post
7 hours ago, caspianrex said:

@Dan McClellan I very much appreciated that you laid the appropriate groundwork in the Introduction of your paper, to remind the reader of the following:

It seems to me, in the course of your paper, that you make a very compelling case for "after all we can do" in 2 Nephi 25:23 meaning "despite all we can do."

Meanwhile, the passage from 2 Nephi seems to address, in its own way, the tension between Paul's emphasis on salvation by grace through faith and James's statement that "faith without works is dead." That tension has long troubled many followers of Christ, not the least of whom was Luther, who famously felt compelled to add allein (alone) to "durch Glauben"  (through faith) in Romans 3:28.

(I write as a non-LDS person, so if I have misinterpreted the passage in question, I hope my LDS friends will correct me!)

IMO, this chapter teaches the correct relationship between the Law of Moses and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It has little to do with the Protestant context of a conflict between faith and obedience/good works despite being often cited for that issue.

2 Nephi 25 explains that even though the Nephites observe the Law of Moses, salvation will not come from obedience to the Law, but rather through the coming Atonement of Jesus Christ. They keep the Law in faith now, anticipating the coming of the Lord, when the Law will be replaced by the Gospel.

These teachings about Christ (who is yet to come) will prepare them for that future time.

Quote

26 And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.
27 Wherefore, we speak concerning the law that our children may know the deadness of the law; and they, by knowing the deadness of the law, may look forward unto that life which is in Christ, and know for what end the law was given. And after the law is fulfilled in Christ, that they need not harden their hearts against him when the law ought to be done away.

Why do we teach faith in Christ? Because keeping the Law is not sufficient. 
 

Quote

23 For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.

While the Law is in effect for now and we must keep it in faith, we must also understand that it will be superseded by His grace, meaning his willing sacrifice, his Atonement, his Gospel. He is the source of our hope, not observance of the Law.

Edited by Bernard Gui
  • Like 2
  • Upvote 1
Link to post
6 hours ago, Robert F. Smith said:

Interesting that the Maxwell Institute should adopt this new, exclusive policy -- no doubt part of their move to exclude the entirety of the formerly freely available FARMS product (unless available on the BYU scholars archive).  They, after all, claim to be the successor to FARMS, and for a time did have all the FARMS publications on their website.  So many fine pieces have now been orphaned.

They publish the journal through the University of Illinois, it's not strange for a university journal to have a one-year embargo on making articles public. BYU Religious Studies Center's Religious Educator journal is the same.

  • Upvote 2
Link to post
12 hours ago, Dan McClellan said:

I haven't argued that the late-18th and early-19th centuries are the only periods of usage that are broadly relevant to the semantics of the Book of Mormon, but I think they are the only ones pertinent to this particular construction, and particularly in light of the close correlation between the rhetorical context of 2 Nephi 25:23 and that of the anti-deist/Catholic commentary of the early nineteenth century. I'd be happy to respond to an argument about why this particular construction in this particular rhetorical context should not be considered native to the early-19th century, but I don't think an early 19th-century target audience for the formulation of 2 Nephi 25:23 is precluded by pointing out that is seems unlikely for completely independent constructions from other parts of the Book of Mormon. As I believe I've shared with you before, the Book of Mormon seems a mixture of older and newer constructions and usage, so I don't just accept the premise that it should be assumed to all unilaterally originate from a single linguistic period. The debates around dating Biblical Hebrew have long established the fallacy of assuming that for longer texts. I'd also point out that the 15th and 16th century texts in which some of these archaic constructions are limited are frequently quite easy to find in late-18th and early-19th-century reprints and anthologies from England. The fact that "but if" is not common in original compositions dating to after the Early Modern Period is rendered rather moot when, for instance, an 1818 edition of Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language has an entry for "But if" meaning "unless." Similarly, an 1820 publication called The History of the Life and Sufferings of the Reverend and Learned John Wiclif has a page in the front matter orienting readers to the terms he used that were then obsolete, including "but if," glossed as "unless, except." There are numerous examples of that specific usage being identified in early-19th century texts. One 1840 printing of the letters of the 15th-century gentleman John Paston glosses each occurrence of "but if" with "(unless)." I would argue that usage was still very much part of the discourse, particularly for someone interested in archaizing and pseudo-biblical prose. 

At the end you seem to imply that the Book of Mormon can be explained as a pseudobiblical effort by JS. I have a corpus of 25 pseudobiblical writings, and a comparison of the Book of Mormon with those shows that the text cannot be explained as a pseudobiblical effort. The Book of Mormon is far more archaic and less biblical in its archaism than pseudobiblical texts. Though conceivable that "but if" = 'unless' could be in a pseudobiblical text, I don't find it in these 25. Also, "but if" probably first enters Johnson's dictionary in the 1818 edition, edited and augmented by Todd, who was an expert in Spenser, whom he quotes, along with another 16c writer. So "but if" was obsolete for Johnson in 1755. And it's not in Webster's 1828 dictionary. The occasional reference to archaic lexis by 19c philologists cannot explain a few dozen instances of archaic Book of Mormon lexical usage by someone with JS's 1829 preparation.

Though the Book of Mormon is a mixture of early and late modern English (I don't think the language is from a single linguistic period), the vast majority is early modern, as shown by pervasive syntactic patterns, many of which are most closely related to the late 16c. So early modern semantic views should be privileged, since words and phrases are enveloped in mostly early modern language. If the meaning was present in the early modern period, there's no reason to insist it's a late modern phrase. It's more likely it isn't.

  • Like 2
  • Upvote 2
Link to post
1 hour ago, Dan McClellan said:

They publish the journal through the University of Illinois, it's not strange for a university journal to have a one-year embargo on making articles public. BYU Religious Studies Center's Religious Educator journal is the same.

Actually, the embargo is since 2016, vol 25, which is the last one accessible on scholarsarchive.  FARMS had a policy of cheap reports and reprints.  Any books published had all profits plowed back into FARMS.  The watchword was selflessness and easy access, not hoity-toity exclusivity.  We already cause young people to get deeply into debt, when we should be finding better ways.  Yes, Univ of Illinois Press is more prestigious, but we were doing just fine publishing the journal here in Utah.

Link to post
2 hours ago, champatsch said:

At the end you seem to imply that the Book of Mormon can be explained as a pseudobiblical effort by JS.

I don't think I do. I think much of its literary profile can be explained as a somewhat inconsistent pseudobiblical effort, but I don't think a credible argument can be made that the content all originates with Joseph Smith. I think the production of the Book of Mormon is a phenomenally complex issue that we don't do nearly adequate justice to try to reduce to either "God did it" or "Joseph Smith did it." 

Quote

I have a corpus of 25 pseudobiblical writings, and a comparison of the Book of Mormon with those shows that the text cannot be explained as a pseudobiblical effort. The Book of Mormon is far more archaic and less biblical in its archaism than pseudobiblical texts. Though conceivable that "but if" = 'unless' could be in a pseudobiblical text, I don't find it in these 25. Also, "but if" probably first enters Johnson's dictionary in the 1818 edition, edited and augmented by Todd, who was an expert in Spenser, whom he quotes, along with another 16c writer. So "but if" was obsolete for Johnson in 1755. And it's not in Webster's 1828 dictionary. The occasional reference to archaic lexis by 19c philologists cannot explain a few dozen instances of archaic Book of Mormon lexical usage by someone with JS's 1829 preparation.

I don't disagree, but I also don't think the argument is convincing that it cannot have been composed in the 19th century. As my paper demonstrates, at least for 2 Nephi 25:23, the 19th century is by far the most parsimonious context for composition.

Quote

Though the Book of Mormon is a mixture of early and late modern English (I don't think the language is from a single linguistic period), the vast majority is early modern, as shown by pervasive syntactic patterns, many of which are most closely related to the late 16c.

I think saying the "vast majority" of the text is from the Early Modern Period is significantly overselling the case.

Quote

So early modern semantic views should be privileged, since words and phrases are enveloped in mostly early modern language. If the meaning was present in the early modern period, there's no reason to insist it's a late modern phrase. It's more likely it isn't.

But when the Early Modern words and phrases are still very much in circulation in the 19th century, the argument loses quite a bit of force. If the only response is that Joseph Smith wasn't educated enough to be aware, that's a stronger argument that a more educated 19th-century writer composed the text that Joseph Smith then claimed than it is an argument that God *for some unknown reason* couched the text *mostly* in Early Modern English.

  • Upvote 2
Link to post
2 hours ago, Robert F. Smith said:

Actually, the embargo is since 2016, vol 25, which is the last one accessible on scholarsarchive.  FARMS had a policy of cheap reports and reprints.  Any books published had all profits plowed back into FARMS.  The watchword was selflessness and easy access, not hoity-toity exclusivity.  We already cause young people to get deeply into debt, when we should be finding better ways.  Yes, Univ of Illinois Press is more prestigious, but we were doing just fine publishing the journal here in Utah.

They must have changed it when they added the 2020 volume, because a week ago it was all open access all the way through the 2019 volume. 

Link to post
4 hours ago, Robert F. Smith said:

Actually, the embargo is since 2016, vol 25, which is the last one accessible on scholarsarchive.  FARMS had a policy of cheap reports and reprints.  Any books published had all profits plowed back into FARMS.  The watchword was selflessness and easy access, not hoity-toity exclusivity.  We already cause young people to get deeply into debt, when we should be finding better ways.  Yes, Univ of Illinois Press is more prestigious, but we were doing just fine publishing the journal here in Utah.

They were also being incredibly wasteful with their money, printing far, far, far more copies of their journals and many other publications than were needed. (This isn't an attack on anyone. They were scholars, not publishers.) UofI wasn't chosen for prestige. It was to get professional publishing and distribution help to both save money and better utilize resources.

  • Like 2
Link to post
2 hours ago, Dan McClellan said:

I don't disagree, but I also don't think the argument is convincing that it cannot have been composed in the 19th century. As my paper demonstrates, at least for 2 Nephi 25:23, the 19th century is by far the most parsimonious context for composition.

Nothing has been said about when it was composed. The array of syntax is dispositive on the issue of what the text is like; we don't decide the textual character by phrases that have simple, persistent syntax.

2 hours ago, Dan McClellan said:

I think saying the "vast majority" of the text is from the Early Modern Period is significantly overselling the case.

The reason that's accurate is because of the (morpho)syntax, which is early modern to a high degree. Have you comparatively studied this aspect of the text?

2 hours ago, Dan McClellan said:

But when the Early Modern words and phrases are still very much in circulation in the 19th century, the argument loses quite a bit of force. If the only response is that Joseph Smith wasn't educated enough to be aware, that's a stronger argument that a more educated 19th-century writer composed the text that Joseph Smith then claimed than it is an argument that God *for some unknown reason* couched the text *mostly* in Early Modern English.

Most words and phrases could have been composed by early and late authors. Quite a few of them, however, required early modern knowledge; only a few required late modern knowledge alone. A large amount of syntax required early modern sensibilities. Speculative why arguments are weak and not dispositive.

Edited by champatsch
Link to post
2 hours ago, the narrator said:

They were also being incredibly wasteful with their money, printing far, far, far more copies of their journals and many other publications than were needed. (This isn't an attack on anyone. They were scholars, not publishers.) UofI wasn't chosen for prestige. It was to get professional publishing and distribution help to both save money and better utilize resources.

BYU Press has long been able to print on demand and mail directly from their own facility.  One need not find expensive storage space for remainders.  So Univ of Illinois was certainly not needed.

Before he came to BYU, Joe Spencer and friends published their excellent cogitations on Scripture in far less prestigious ways.

Link to post
23 minutes ago, Robert F. Smith said:

https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/jbms/

That is where I am looking.  Do you have another location?

 

JSTOR is the journal's main host:

https://www.jstor.org/journal/jbookmormstud2

Edited by Dan McClellan
Link to post
1 hour ago, Robert F. Smith said:

BYU Press has long been able to print on demand and mail directly from their own facility.  One need not find expensive storage space for remainders.  So Univ of Illinois was certainly not needed.

Before he came to BYU, Joe Spencer and friends published their excellent cogitations on Scripture in far less prestigious ways.

A lot can be gained from just talking to them instead of making silly assumptions.

Link to post

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...