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


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7 hours ago, the narrator said:

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

Perhaps so, but many of those at the Maxwell Institute are unapproachable (except for Blair Hodges).  I recall being yelled at by the late Jerry Bradford when he was in charge, and he gave specific instructions to some of his people to be as uncooperative as possible when I had any questions.  I did not respond in kind.  This from a guy I had known since 1964, and had eaten pizza with.  I haven't even visited them in their new venue.  I would feel completely unwelcome.

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I read through the article, which is technically a fine piece. On page 2, salvation and exaltation are used interchangeably. At church, don't we learn to distinguish between salvific grace (the reading of 2n2523 the article focuses on, which is unproblematic) and works having a bearing on degrees of exaltation, no matter what lack of nuance recent prophets have given?

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The article quotes from our current scriptures, not the critical text, which is problematic. There's a that missing in the crucial phrase; it would be good to mention it more prominently (Uchtdorf is quoted as employing a that). When I look at the 25k texts of EEBO Phase 1, I find that most quotations have that and it is later ones that don't (1690–; searching for "after all (that) <subj.pron.> can do", using spelling variants). Also, when the article quotes the title page, the early modern language of a famous sentence is not given, so we don't see language that has echoes in known usage by Lancelot Andrewes (see below).

This bears on a general point. If we quote from either the 1840 (lifetime edition) or the current 1981/2013 text, we bias English usage analyses to the side of late modern usage. If we want to fairly find out whether JS could have worded the text, we look at the critical text. Evidence for and against this important question will appear there in an unbiased way.

Edited by champatsch
Correcting error.
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Compare

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And now if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; [modernized]

with

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And now if there be fault, it be the mistake of men. [orig. dictation language — early modern]

 

Edited by champatsch
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On page 2, salvation and exaltation are used interchangeably. At church, don't we learn to distinguish between salvific grace (the reading of 2n2523 the article focuses on, which is unproblematic) and works having a bearing on degrees of exaltation, no matter what lack of nuance recent prophets have given?

I appreciate your thoughts on the article! I probably should have been more careful with salvation/exaltation, but I think their conflation isn't that unusual in broader Church usage. Not that that's much of an excuse. 

4 minutes ago, champatsch said:

The article quotes from our current scriptures, not the critical text, which is problematic. There's a that missing in the crucial phrase, and it's never mentioned (though I saw that Uchtdorf employed a that).

On page 8 I describe the construction as "after all (that) [NOUN/PRONOUN] can do," and in footnote 22 on that page I note that P and the 1830 edition include "that."

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When I look at the 25k texts of EEBO Phase 1, I find that most quotations have that and it is later ones that don't (searching for "after all (that) <subj.pron.> can do", using spelling variants). Beginning in 1690, that is missing. Also, when the article quotes the title page, the early modern language of a famous sentence is not given, so we don't see language that has echoes in known usage by Lancelot Andrewes.

This bears on a general point. If we quote from either the 1840 (lifetime edition) or the current 1981/2013 text, we bias English usage analyses to the side of late modern usage. If we want to fairly find out whether JS could have worded the text, we look at the critical text. Evidence for and against this important question will appear there in an unbiased way.

 

I agree that the critical text definitely offers a clearer picture, but I don't think the inclusion of "that" alters the findings at all. The example from 1829 and the two examples from 1840 all include "that."

 

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7 hours ago, Robert F. Smith said:

I was referring to your claim on recently availability (as of last year).  At what website was jbms fully available?  I am familiar with jstor and have used it for years.

Up until the day before the 2020 volume was posted on the JSTOR page, all the issues up through and including 2019 were open access on JSTOR.

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It's good you mention it. (I'll edit the above to reflect that.) I saw the "(that)" but didn't check the footnote. That is an important and telling syntactic marker in the text. We can see that it's the fourth most common word in the text; in most texts it isn't. This is an indication that JS wasn't wording the text, in a pervasive way, since the level of that usage is extremely high, attributable to syntax like this, and perhaps more importantly to the heavy finite clausal complementation after a variety of verbs, especially cause, command, desire, and suffer. Also due to the original subordinate/pleonastic that usage, which is extremely heavy for a 19c text, more like a 16c text, exhibiting an impressive range of syntactic usage not found in pseudobiblical texts.

In the King James Bible, that follows to in frequency, for fifth position. In the last 30 years of ECCO, that is in seventh position (47.6m counts in my corpus), far behind not only the, of, and, but also to, a, in.

Edited by champatsch
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5 hours ago, Dan McClellan said:

Up until the day before the 2020 volume was posted on the JSTOR page, all the issues up through and including 2019 were open access on JSTOR.

Interesting.  All the more reason to be contemptuous of the Maxwell Institute policy.

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1 hour ago, Robert F. Smith said:

Interesting.  All the more reason to be contemptuous of the Maxwell Institute policy.

Maybe it would be useful to find out why it happened before making judgment. It may not be connected with other moves, though it may be. 
 

I just think contempt is a strong enough judgment we should be very cautious when going that far. 

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On 9/19/2020 at 12:18 PM, 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."........................

I still prefer to consider that verse in wider rhetorical context:

II Ne 10:24,

REMEMBER THAT[1]

AFTER YE ARE RECONCILED UNTO GOD[2]

THAT IT IS ONLY IN AND THROUGH THE GRACE OF GOD THAT YE ARE SAVED[3]

 

II Ne 25:23,

AND TO BE RECONCILED TO GOD[4]

FOR WE KNOW THAT IT IS BY GRACE THAT WE ARE SAVED[5]

AFTER ALL THAT[6] WE CAN DO

 

Alma 24:11

SINCE IT HAS BEEN ALL THAT WE COULD DO

AS WE WERE THE MOST LOST OF ALL MANKIND

TO REPENT OF ALL OUR SINS

AND THE MANY MURDERS WHICH WE HAVE COMMITTED

AND TO GET GOD TO TAKE THEM AWAY FROM OUR HEARTS

FOR IT WAS ALL WE COULD DO TO REPENT SUFFICIENTLY BEFORE GOD

THAT HE WOULD TAKE AWAY OUR STAINS[7]

Ephesians 6:13 (ISV)

take up the whole armor of God

so that you may be able to take a stand whenever evil comes.

And when you have done everything you could,

you will be able to stand firm. [καὶ ἅπαντα κατεργασάμενοι]


[1] that P 1830; deleted Pc 1837 thru 1981, RLDS 1908.

[2] ǁRom 5:10, "we were reconciled to God."

[3] ǁ25:23 ǁ Eph 2:8, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and not of yourselves: it is the gift of God" ǁ Acts 15:11, "through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved"

[4] ǁII Cor 5:20, "we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God" ǁ      Rom 5:10, "we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son"

[5] ǁ10:24 ǁ Eph 2:8, "For by grace are ye saved through faith"(ǁ   Eph 2:5); cf Rom 4:16.

[6] that P 1830; deleted 1837 thru 1981, RLDS 1908.

[7] [s]tains O; stain P 1830 thru 1981, RLDS 1908.

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4 minutes ago, Calm said:

Maybe it would be useful to find out why it happened before making judgment. It may not be connected with other moves, though it may be. 
I just think contempt is a strong enough judgment we should be very cautious when going that far. 

There is a history there of one betrayal after another over a considerable period of time, and I am not the only aggrieved party.

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20 minutes ago, Robert F. Smith said:

There is a history there of one betrayal after another over a considerable period of time, and I am not the only aggrieved party.

I am well aware of the history, but I still think one shouldn’t assume wrongdoing without significant evidence. Past wrongs should make us cautious, but not prone to make assumptions, imo.  

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11 hours ago, Calm said:

I am well aware of the history, but I still think one shouldn’t assume wrongdoing without significant evidence. Past wrongs should make us cautious, but not prone to make assumptions, imo.  

Nice sentiments, Calm, but of little value when dealing with proven, unrepentant riff raff.

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15 minutes ago, Robert F. Smith said:

Nice sentiments, Calm, but of little value when dealing with proven, unrepentant riff raff.

But you are not dealing with them, you are just making a judgmental comment on a message board based on incomplete information.  

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15 minutes ago, Calm said:

But you are not dealing with them, you are just making a judgmental comment on a message board based on incomplete information.  

I have spoken at length previously about the anti-intellectualism of the Maxwell Institute, their contempt for fact-based analysis, and their jettisoning of anyone who took such things seriously.  It is one of the most closed and intemperate of institutions on BYU campus -- which is saying a lot.  The new boss could have set a more genial tone, have apologized for past wrongs, and made promises never to allow those problems to arise again -- and kept those promises.  Maybe that is an impossibility in any human institution.  Maybe the Gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be operative in such contexts.  Maybe we should favor a psychological analysis by an expert in organizational behavior.  Maybe it is all a matter of group think.

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On 9/19/2020 at 2:18 PM, 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.

Shouldn't it be worded as ''after all we must do'"   

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7 hours ago, theplains said:

Shouldn't it be worded as ''after all we must do'"   

No. If Nephi’s statement In 2 Nephi 25 is understood  withIn the context of the entire chapter, it’s clear: no matter how diligently and sincerely one might strive to keep the law of Moses, or all the commandments of God in general, it will never be enough to satisfy the infinite and eternal demands of divine justice; therefore all men and women must come unto Christ in faith and be reconciled to God through the infinite and eternal atoning sacrifice of Christ. A man can wear out his life trying to please God and thus be saved through his attempts at obedience but it will never be enough because the demands of God’s justice are infinite and eternal, something wholly beyond the capacity of even the best of men to accomplish. This is why Nephi labored so diligently to warn his people that they must come unto Christ and be reconciled unto the Father through the atonement — man’s finite and imperfect efforts to be reconciled to God without the atonement are inevitably doomed to utter failure. Without reconciliation through Christ there is no salvation.

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Just now, teddyaware said:

No. If Nephi’s statement In 2 Nephi 25 is understood  withIn the context of the entire chapter, it’s clear: that no matter how diligently and sincerely one might strive to keep the law of Moses, or all the commandments of God in general, it will never be enough to satisfy the infinite and eternal demands of divine justice; therefore all men and women must come unto Christ in faith and be reconciled to God through the infinite and eternal atoning sacrifice of Christ. A man can wear out his life trying to please God and thus be saved through his attempts at obedience but it will never be enough because the demands of God’s justice are infinite and eternal, something wholly beyond the capacity of even the best of men to accomplish. This is why Nephi labored so diligently to warn his people that they must come unto Christ and be reconciled unto the Father through the atonement — man’s finite and imperfect efforts to be reconciled to God without the atonement are inevitably doomed to utter failure. Without reconciliation through Christ there is no salvation.

 

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On 9/21/2020 at 10:43 AM, Dan McClellan said:
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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.

So, let's go over overselling the early modern position, talking about the syntax.

We don't determine the character of the English-language text by higher level, content-rich language, but by lower level, content-poor syntax (see my ngram paper) — what would've been non-conscious production by JS, for the most part.

I study the language comparatively: for example, the tense system and the clausal connectors are non(pseudo)biblical and early modern in nature. Most of the higher level aspects are persistent usage — a small amount is only early modern or only late modern.

Historians, theologians, literary specialists aren't in a position to accurately determine the character of the language, unless they invest considerable time in studying the original text linguistically. Mostly what I see are distracting efforts at casting doubt on a position that is dictated by syntactic and even some lexical usage.

Two cases: McClellan points out "but if" = 'unless' is in a later, early 19c edition of Samuel Johnson's famous dictionary, but referencing only early modern usage. Says the usage seems pseudobiblical. Doesn't check a lot of pseudobiblical texts. It's not in the 25 pseudobiblical texts I've made into a corpus. Doesn't point out that currently the OED's last example is dated 1601. McGuire points out "counsel" = 'consult' is used in the second half of the 19c by a canon of Southwark. Doesn't indicate the OED's last example dates from the 1540s; doesn't indicate whether he's established a textual chain of usage between 1550 and 1870, against the OED.

Back to historians, theologians, and literary specialists. Some, without doing hard linguistic analysis, have JS's revelatory language all figured out — he was responsible for wording it. One important contribution they can make and have made is to provide evidence that the Book of Mormon presents as a carefully crafted written text, and not an oral one. Bob Rees is one scholar who has done that over the years.

In a very recent SLTrib article. Brown concludes that the Book of Mormon is an oral production by JS because of a number of inline corrections, citing "the weapons of peace". The problem is that a small amount of textual evidence is considered, and a vast array of higher and lower level usage is ignored. I might go along with such evidence, if there wasn't extremely strong linguistic evidence pointing the other way. Or how about incomplete sentences? Same thing. They aren't convincing evidence that JS was in control, when there's so much strong linguistic evidence in the other direction.

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On 9/29/2020 at 9:37 AM, champatsch said:

So, let's go over overselling the early modern position, talking about the syntax.

We don't determine the character of the English-language text by higher level, content-rich language, but by lower level, content-poor syntax (see my ngram paper) — what would've been non-conscious production by JS, for the most part.

I study the language comparatively: for example, the tense system and the clausal connectors are non(pseudo)biblical and early modern in nature. Most of the higher level aspects are persistent usage — a small amount is only early modern or only late modern.

Historians, theologians, literary specialists aren't in a position to accurately determine the character of the language, unless they invest considerable time in studying the original text linguistically. Mostly what I see are distracting efforts at casting doubt on a position that is dictated by syntactic and even some lexical usage.

Two cases: McClellan points out "but if" = 'unless' is in a later, early 19c edition of Samuel Johnson's famous dictionary, but referencing only early modern usage.

Well, I pointed out that it occurs in many texts published in the nineteenth century, and highlighted a few of them, including Johnson's dictionary. 

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Says the usage seems pseudobiblical. Doesn't check a lot of pseudobiblical texts. It's not in the 25 pseudobiblical texts I've made into a corpus.

I referred to interest in "archaizing and pseudo-biblical prose," which is not so much a reference to a particular genre or corpus as it is to the practice of evoking the Bible with antiquarian prose. You seem to be suggesting that by using the word "pseudobiblical," I must be referring to adherence to an established set of conventions associated with a specific genre, which I'm definitely not.  

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Doesn't point out that currently the OED's last example is dated 1601. 

Well, I did refer to the fact that "'but if' is not common in original compositions dating to after the Early Modern Period," and I also pointed out that that fact is rendered moot by the indisputable facts that books containing that usage continued to be reprinted, and that that usage was reproduced and commented on in anthologies and discussions about those earlier texts, and was clearly part of the discourse, "particularly for someone interested in archaizing and pseudo-biblical prose."

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OK. Does this lexicographical information and a growing interest in the early 19c in earlier works like Malory's suggest the usage was obscure? Not for philologists. And not terribly obscure in the Book of Mormon for nonspecialists, since the meaning can be deduced in context. Does the information we currently have suggest JS was likely to use "but if" to mean 'unless'? No, so the short lexical phrase functions as a perfectly agreeable, less-than-opaque marker pointing away from JS authoring the text. Should we consider it to be anything other than early modern usage? No, there's a lot of supporting archaic syntactic and lexical usage in the text. A mention in an early 19c dictionary doesn't make "but if" late modern. It's a 15c and 16c two-word phrase.

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48 minutes ago, champatsch said:

OK. Does this lexicographical information and a growing interest in the early 19c in earlier works like Malory's suggest the usage was obscure? Not for philologists. And not terribly obscure in the Book of Mormon for nonspecialists, since the meaning can be deduced in context. Does the information we currently have suggest JS was likely to use "but if" to mean 'unless'? No, so the short lexical phrase functions as a perfectly agreeable, less-than-opaque marker pointing away from JS authoring the text. Should we consider it to be anything other than early modern usage? No, there's a lot of supporting archaic syntactic and lexical usage in the text. A mention in an early 19c dictionary doesn't make "but if" late modern. It's a 15c and 16c two-word phrase.

You're coming back to the argument that Joseph Smith wasn't the author, which is something I've already said I agree with. Also, I've nowhere suggested that "but if" was late modern. All I've done is suggest that it was easily accessible through texts widely available in the early-nineteenth century to anyone with antiquarian interests. 

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On 9/26/2020 at 6:55 PM, teddyaware said:

No. If Nephi’s statement In 2 Nephi 25 is understood  withIn the context of the entire chapter, it’s clear: no matter how diligently and sincerely one might strive to keep the law of Moses, or all the commandments of God in general, it will never be enough to satisfy the infinite and eternal demands of divine justice;

Do you believe God gave the commandments as try to obey (conditional) or you must obey (unconditional)?

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8 hours ago, theplains said:

Do you believe God gave the commandments as try to obey (conditional) or you must obey (unconditional)?

Because of our fallen natures, the best we can hope for in this life is to sincerely strive, with God’s help, to do his will, but always do so the with humble awareness that no matter how earnestly and sincerely we might strive to keep his law our efforts will never enough to satisfy the inflexible and exacting demands of divine justice. And it’s for this reason that Nephi labored so diligently to persuade his people to believe in Christ and be reconciled to God through his infinite and eternal atoning sacrifice. Nephi knew our imperfect works will never enable us to be worthy enough to enter God’s presence and receive eternal glory. Only reconciliation to God through Christ can make such supernal blessings possible. But the apostle Paul also knew that even though our very best efforts will never be enough to merit eternal life, he nevertheless made it clear that God expects us to diligently strive to improve by continually taking advantage of our many opportunities to grow in the grace and knowledge of God. The Lord doesn’t want his people to neglect their opportunities  to improve spiritually and thus reap increased joy and confidence thereby.

12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
15 Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. (Phillipians 3)

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