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Richard Bushman - BOM “reshaped by inspiration”


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Has anyone thus far advanced a theory about an English translation having been produced in the 15th-16th century by a prophet or prophets unknown? Who might have done it and for what purpose? Could the Book of Mormon have been translated for and delivered to an earlier group of English-speaking people unknown to us today? Who and where could they have been?
 

I know it’s all speculative at this point, but I’ll take what I can get. 

Edited by Scott Lloyd
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admittedly I’m not expert here, but Why can’t it be both? It was translated in a non-typical fashion from reformed Egyptian to the 19th century equivalent. Joseph Smith obviously wasn’t a trained translator, so what we expect to see should not be expected to see in the Book of Mormon.
 

I always compared it to writing an essay. The ideas are there, but when it goes down on paper, it is subject to individual understand Ming of how words work and go together. Could it have been that through these tools, God gave the story and message of the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith and it was up to him on how to portray the stories and lessons.

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1 hour ago, Fether said:

admittedly I’m not expert here, but Why can’t it be both? It was translated in a non-typical fashion from reformed Egyptian to the 19th century equivalent. Joseph Smith obviously wasn’t a trained translator, so what we expect to see should not be expected to see in the Book of Mormon.
 

I always compared it to writing an essay. The ideas are there, but when it goes down on paper, it is subject to individual understand Ming of how words work and go together. Could it have been that through these tools, God gave the story and message of the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith and it was up to him on how to portray the stories and lessons.

This is the traditional view, the one I used to have: that JS was "studying it out in his mind" and then rendering it into his own English. But the fact that we now know that JS did not reference the plates while translating, that he read off the words from seer-stone, so many words per minute (as per Skousen), spelling out names, places, and that he did this in 67 working days ...

It seems he was reading off an existing translation. Or at least this is the theory that makes the most sense to me.

Edited by bdouglas
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I don't think he was reading a text. I think he saw text in his mind, but that it wasn't "faxed" to him verbatim (i.e., that he put the images and thoughts into the English at his command). I believe that the Spirit helped him commit superhuman feats of memory (i.e., with the Isaiah and other KJV material), and that his immersion in the KJV Bible after the First Vision and Moroni's visit informed and complemented his local rural upstate New York syntax. 

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6 hours ago, bdouglas said:

I was surprised that Peggy left out the fact of Bushman's long time as stake patriarch.

6 hours ago, bdouglas said:

Some time ago Royal Skousen, in a BYU interview, said that JS, when he looked into his seer-stone, was transmitting an already existing translation, and that this was a “creative and cultural translation” from the 15th-16th century.

And now we have Bro. Bushman hinting at the same thing only he says 19th century.

I get that this is very disturbing to some LDS, who feel that such a theory diminishes the BOM and JS, but for me, it does just the opposite.

Mormon took all of the records of his people and synthesized them into a book, then Moroni added the Book of Ether abridgment, also his final words … and then some other prophet, from the modern age (15-16th century or 19th) took this record and via revelation reshaped it, making it relevant to the modern word.

So what it boils down to for me is that some other prophet (or prophets) also had a hand in the production of this miraculous book.

For me, this makes the BOM more interesting, more miraculous, not less so.

Bushman is simply adopting the midrashic theory of Blake Ostler, which has been around forever, https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V20N01_68.pdf

6 hours ago, bdouglas said:

This is, of course, a theory. If you have a better theory, I would like to hear it … (unless your theory is “Joseph Smith wrote the BOM,” since that theory breaks down on so many levels it is simply unworkable).

At 90, Bushman may be locked in to the 19th century theory, even though his JS bio went the opposite direction.  However, Carmack & Skousen have pretty much pulled the rug out from under that old 19th century notion, since the BofM appears in Early Modern English.  However, that is no defense of the BofM, but only a further complication.

6 hours ago, bdouglas said:

P.S. - Bro. Bushman also says something very interesting about the gold plates, that if they had not been returned to Moroni and were in a museum or on display at temple square, the BOM would not have the power it does now to change lives and inspire faith. It would be a curiosity, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, something mainly interesting to archaeologists and historians.

(Pres. Eyring, while he was church commissioner of educ, said the same thing in a talk about at BYU, but I can’t find link to this talk.)

I don't agree at all.  If we had the actual gold plates of the BofM, they could be analyzed and their physical origin be determined.  In addition, it would be no difficulty to compare the script with the English BofM as a kind of Rosetta Stone, allowing experts to decipher Reformed Egyptian, as well as to directly compare the Hieratic Egyptian on the Small Plates of Nephi with contemporary Egyptian known in the time of Lehi & Nephi.  No amount of pretending or mockery would alter the results.

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14 minutes ago, bdouglas said:

The only theory I have heard was advanced by Royal Skousen, that the BOM is a "creative and cultural translation" from 15th-16 century, but he does not say who did this translation. I assume he thinks it was a prophet, or prophets. I have heard Stanford Carmack (name correct?) say that, considering the mix of EModE and modern English, this translation was perhaps done by more than one person.

It seems to me that JS, looking into his seer-stone and producing BOM in 67 days, no pauses, no going back to rework anything, spelling out names, places—it seems clear to me that he was not working all this out in his head, rather he was transmitting an already existing text—a text which had already been rendered into English.

I assume, since this translation into English was "creative and cultural" (Skousen), that this translator was a prophet. Maybe he was a translated being. In the D & C JS is told that there are "holy men ye know not of" on the earth. Maybe it was one of these "holy men."

In the economy of God, there is no need for special pleading, nor for special beings to do the Lord's work.  The Bible and BofM are replete with human prophets which did God's assigned tasks.

Indeed, there are those on this board who would attribute the BofM to a scholar or scholars (from a couple of centuries before Joseph Smith Jr) who actually composed the BofM based on their knowledge of SE Asian culture history.  In such a case, Joseph would somehow have gotten hold of the manuscript.

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3 hours ago, Scott Lloyd said:

Has anyone thus far advanced a theory about an English translation having been produced in the 15th-16th century by a prophet or prophets unknown? Who might have done it and for what purpose? Could the Book of Mormon have been translated for and delivered to an earlier group of English-speaking people unknown to us today? Who and where could they have been. I know it’s all speculative at this point, but I’ll take what I can get. 

The closest narrative I've found comes from Swedenborg . He wrote about ancient records that were preserved by Israelites that had been separated from the main body:

Of that ancient Word which existed before the Israelitish Word...In the spiritual world I have talked with spirits and angels ... who said that they have a Word, and have had it from ancient times; and that they conduct their Divine worship according to this Word...

They said, that in it also is the Book of Jasher, which is mentioned in Joshua and in 2 Samuel; and that they have also among them the books called The Wars of Jehovah and Enunciations, which are mentioned by Moses; and when I read to them the words that Moses had quoted therefrom, they searched to see if they were there, and found them; from which it was evident to me that the ancient Word is still among that people. While talking with them they said that they worshiped Jehovah, some as an invisible God, and some as visible. They also told me that they do not permit foreigners to come among them...also that the population is so great that they do not believe that any region in the whole world is more populous...

I have further heard from the angels, that the first chapters of Genesis which treat of creation, of Adam and Eve, the garden of Eden, their sons and their posterity down to the flood, and of Noah and his sons, are also contained in that Word, and thus were transcribed from it by Moses...Their possessing a different Word is the cause of [their] separation.  

This vision given to Swedenborg describes numerous texts including, in my opinion, the Book of Mormon, Book of Moses and other revelations delivered to Joseph Smith. Swedenborg identified the location of these people and their texts, but I've removed those parts. Because if I left them in, the impact of what Swedenborg is saying here would be lost.

Edited by Rajah Manchou
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7 minutes ago, Brant Gardner said:

I disagree. While Skousen and Carmack have found forms that were in printed texts from Early Modern English, their argument entirely rests upon not finding them later than that. Both Skousen and Carmack know that this is not correct, and have indicated in various places that there is even on form in the Book of Mormon that wasn't found until literarure written after 1830. The principle of dating from the latest known dates is not used. They assume the earlier dating, and adjust their arguments to show why one might still accept the Early Modern English Book of Mormon.

The second methodological problem is that they compare the the Book of Mormon (typically) to regular texts, and not to those using pseudo-KJV. That is a smaller sample, but an important one because there were many writers using those forms--and not doing them correctly. Carmack looked at those and concluded that many of them do use the same kind of Early Modern English forms as the Book of Mormon, but there are statistically more in the Book of Mormon. The argument about statistics misses the point. If other contemporaries of Joseph produced those forms when imitating KJV language, then there is no reason to believe that Joseph did not our could not. Statistically, it simply indicates that he made more grammatical mistakes that contemporary writers.

 

I'm curious to know how you see JS producing BOM without referencing plates. What was he seeing in seer-stone, do you think? If he was working things out on the fly, how does he do this in 67 days, dictating text, spelling out names, places?

Someone who does not subscribe to theory that he was reading off an existing text told me he thought JS did it in the same way he dictated revelations in the D & C i.e. the words were given to him, but yet at the same they were JS's words, his language. Is this the way you see it?

Edited by bdouglas
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42 minutes ago, Brant Gardner said:

I disagree. While Skousen and Carmack have found forms that were in printed texts from Early Modern English, their argument entirely rests upon not finding them later than that. Both Skousen and Carmack know that this is not correct, and have indicated in various places that there is even on form in the Book of Mormon that wasn't found until literarure written after 1830. The principle of dating from the latest known dates is not used. They assume the earlier dating, and adjust their arguments to show why one might still accept the Early Modern English Book of Mormon.

The second methodological problem is that they compare the the Book of Mormon (typically) to regular texts, and not to those using pseudo-KJV. That is a smaller sample, but an important one because there were many writers using those forms--and not doing them correctly. Carmack looked at those and concluded that many of them do use the same kind of Early Modern English forms as the Book of Mormon, but there are statistically more in the Book of Mormon. The argument about statistics misses the point. If other contemporaries of Joseph produced those forms when imitating KJV language, then there is no reason to believe that Joseph did not our could not. Statistically, it simply indicates that he made more grammatical mistakes that contemporary writers.

If we were only dealing with "grammatical mistakes" in a 19th century context, that might be a worthwhile observation, and I myself used to think along those lines.  It is rather the systematic nature of the EModE features which cause our primary concern.  If those special, time-bound features do not appear later, then they must be diagnostic of an earlier text.  The features which continue in use, including any pseudo-biblical features, are then not part of the actual diagnosis -- since some features of a language will continue in use into a later period.  The argument is a statistical one and does not require perfection to be dispositive.  At the same time, I am happy to see scholars closely examining the Skousen-Carmack claims in order to test them to the limit.  If they cannot stand close scrutiny, then by all means abandon them.

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13 hours ago, bdouglas said:

This is the traditional view, the one I used to have: that JS was "studying it out in his mind" and then rendering it into his own English. But the fact that we now know that JS did not reference the plates while translating, that he read off the words from seer-stone, so many words per minute (as per Skousen), spelling out names, places, and that he did this in 67 working days ...

It seems he was reading off an existing translation. Or at least this is the theory that makes the most sense to me.

I see that.

Could it be that God made the “translation” rather than someone in an earlier century? Perhaps God picked out the wording in such a way that would give cause to concern for those looking to disprove it, but also provided the scriptural tone that is expected by traditional believers?

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2 hours ago, Fether said:

Could it be that God made the “translation” rather than someone in an earlier century? Perhaps God picked out the wording in such a way that would give cause to concern for those looking to disprove it, but also provided the scriptural tone that is expected by traditional believers?

When the Holy Ghost is involved, there is no need of any other explanation.

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6 hours ago, Fether said:

I see that.

Could it be that God made the “translation” rather than someone in an earlier century? Perhaps God picked out the wording in such a way that would give cause to concern for those looking to disprove it, but also provided the scriptural tone that is expected by traditional believers?

Maybe. But more often (it seems to me) God uses human agents to do his work here.

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It’s a very good interview.  Actually quite faith promoting for me.  He quoted Grant Hardy in explaining the 19th century elements as a restating of the ideas of the ancient prophets for our day.  I never got the impression from the interview that Bushman was saying that the Book of Mormon is made up 19th century fiction when discussing the elements that are associated with that century.  

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On 1/16/2021 at 12:14 PM, bdouglas said:

Podcast:

https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2021/01/07/mormon-land-historian/

Print:

https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2020/12/31/agnostic-believer/

Some time ago Royal Skousen, in a BYU interview, said that JS, when he looked into his seer-stone, was transmitting an already existing translation, and that this was a “creative and cultural translation” from the 15th-16th century.

And now we have Bro. Bushman hinting at the same thing only he says 19th century.

I get that this is very disturbing to some LDS, who feel that such a theory diminishes the BOM and JS, but for me, it does just the opposite.

Mormon took all of the records of his people and synthesized them into a book, then Moroni added the Book of Ether abridgment, also his final words … and then some other prophet, from the modern age (15-16th century or 19th) took this record and via revelation reshaped it, making it relevant to the modern word.

So what it boils down to for me is that some other prophet (or prophets) also had a hand in the production of this miraculous book.

For me, this makes the BOM more interesting, more miraculous, not less so.

This is, of course, a theory. If you have a better theory, I would like to hear it … (unless your theory is “Joseph Smith wrote the BOM,” since that theory breaks down on so many levels it is simply unworkable).

P.S. - Bro. Bushman also says something very interesting about the gold plates, that if they had not been returned to Moroni and were in a museum or on display at temple square, the BOM would not have the power it does now to change lives and inspire faith. It would be a curiosity, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, something mainly interesting to archaeologists and historians.

(Pres. Eyring, while he was church commissioner of educ, said the same thing in a talk about at BYU, but I can’t find link to this talk.)

In addition to the BoM containing many 19th century phrases, it also contains large chunks of Appalachian English.  
For example:

", Mosiah 10:15 spoke of people who “had arriven to the promised land”; “they was yet wroth,” reported 1 Nephi 4:4; “I have wrote this epistle,” said Giddianhi at 3 Nephi 3:5; “I was a going thither,” Amulek recalled at Alma 10:8; the original version of Helaman 7:8 and 13:37 referred to events “in them days”; and “they done all these things,” reported Ether 9:29." courtesy of the Deseret News.

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What's going on here? Underinformed musings about Book of Mormon English? There's so much to say, and a lot has been said before.

The character of Book of Mormon English is properly described and determined by a variety of syntactic patterns, mostly involving verb phrases and connectors. Does Bushman — a distant relative (my grandmother was born a Bushman in 1910; her grandfather was a brother to his lineal g-grandfather) — know about these things? No. He knows about content-rich phrases (see my Ngram Viewer paper) which are diagnostically inferior to the Book of Mormon's archaic, extrabiblical, nonpseudobiblical syntax.

A double standard is applied, generally speaking. Take any Book of Mormon phrase which historians and the literary-minded are typically interested in, and if it looks like it was popular in the early 19th century, then it's called a 19th-century phrase. No attempt is made to trace its earlier usage and development. Almost all of them are products of the Reformation. And as pointed out in the Viewer paper, it's difficult to accurately determine relative popularity of genre-specific religious phrases, while it's not nearly as difficult to accurately determine diachronic trends in syntactic patterns and usage. And anyway, none of this really matters since these content-rich phrases are surrounded by the Book of Mormon's extrabiblical early modern syntax. So in isolation any phrase should be considered early modern unless there's absolutely no evidence of it or a similar phrase occurring earlier. For these phrases, no demand is made to determine whether usage might have been as popular in the 17th century or even earlier. Yet a demand is generally made to show that phrases that might have been more popular earlier were never used again, even when their usage became rare. And roughly the same thing is demanded of the syntax. Yet there is syntax that was dead a century before the Book of Mormon was written down, such as ditransitive clausal complementation after the verb cause (12 instances), for which there is no biblical or pseudobiblical support, and archaic referential syntax without it of the form "of which/whom [ø] hath/has been spoken" (again, no external support).

And then we have Gardner's overly rigid dating proposal for the Book of Mormon. If we carry that to its logical conclusion, then we get that the Book of Mormon is actually a late 19th-century text, since we can't find unwearyingness till then. Yet wearyingness and unwearying are attested in the 17th century and many literate 17th-century writers could've quite naturally said and written unwearyingness, especially since it is composed of three productive affixes.

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On 1/16/2021 at 11:14 AM, bdouglas said:

This is, of course, a theory. If you have a better theory, I would like to hear it … (unless your theory is “Joseph Smith wrote the BOM,” since that theory breaks down on so many levels it is simply unworkable).

For me, I know what inspires me and it's sources are irrelevant.

If a folk tune is turned into a magnificently inspiring hymn, which stirs the hearts of millions, is it diminished for its origins?  

Why would it matter?

The proof is in the effects of its message, not who wrote it, how or when.

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On 1/16/2021 at 10:04 PM, Brant Gardner said:

The second methodological problem is that they compare the the Book of Mormon (typically) to regular texts, and not to those using pseudo-KJV. That is a smaller sample, but an important one because there were many writers using those forms--and not doing them correctly.

I have a WordCruncher corpus of 25 pseudobiblical texts. Do you have one? I search this frequently. So you're just throwing out bad information here. Thanks for that.

Take the Book of Mormon's original subordinate that usage (think "after that he had done this"). There are 8 archaic types in the Book of Mormon and 7 in the King James Bible. There is no "since that S" in the Bible, but the Book of Mormon has one in 1 Nephi 22, and there is one in the forerunner to the King James Bible, the 1568 Bishops' Bible. (The Book of Mormon also has other syntactic usage found in that earlier Bible but not in the King James Bible.)

No longer pseudobiblical text (there are 12 longer ones with more than 10,000 words in my small corpus of about 600,000 words) has more than two types of this subordinate that usage. Some of the longer pseudobiblical texts even have none, and some have one type. (Only one shorter pseudobiblical text as an example of subordinate that.) The Book of Mormon also has several archaic subtypes of subordinate that usage, some of which are found in the Bible (like present/future subjunctive shall in "before that S" and "after that S" clauses), some of which aren't found in the Bible (like past subjunctive should in "after that S" clauses). Bingo. The Book of Mormon presents as an authentically archaic text in this linguistic domain and pseudobiblical texts don't.

I try to study this stuff seriously. Others just throw out popular opinions, couched in reasonable-sounding language, and they get some upvotes. If you want to know about Book of Mormon grammar, syntax, and lexical usage, you have a choice about who to read and follow. You can read the writings of the underinformed that accord with a historically preferred academic view of the Book of Mormon, or you can read the writings of the informed who actually study the usage in textual databases from the late 1400s to the 1800s. Some wish to stay in the dark ages of linguistic study on this matter, ignoring the development of a critical text and vast digital databases. Not me, I choose not to remain in the dark. I rely on primary sources, more than 10 relevant WordCruncher corpora containing more than 11 billion words total, up to the first half of the 1800s (with some slightly later pseudobiblical material). All this is precisely searchable.

Edited by champatsch
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On 1/16/2021 at 8:11 PM, bdouglas said:

I'm curious to know how you see JS producing BOM without referencing plates. What was he seeing in seer-stone, do you think? If he was working things out on the fly, how does he do this in 67 days, dictating text, spelling out names, places?

Someone who does not subscribe to theory that he was reading off an existing text told me he thought JS did it in the same way he dictated revelations in the D & C i.e. the words were given to him, but yet at the same they were JS's words, his language. Is this the way you see it?

There is a growing amount of evidence concerning all of Joseph's translation projects. What is becoming clear is that Joseph's mind was an important aspect of each of the projects. Of course, the most controversial of those is the Book of Mormon because we can actually know so little of what the actual process was. My opinion is that Joseph received the meaning of the plates (or of the revelations, or the book of Abraham), and wrote that meaning according to his available language. I do believe that he saw words when he used the seer stone. There seems to be a lot of evidence that he saw something, and the spelling of names is the strongest suggestion that there were words. I also suggest that there was a process that allowed him to see text that was still derived from his seeric ability. There is an important case of another person seeing a paper with text on it when using a crystal ball (a type of seer stone).

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I wonder why Joseph didn't take paper and do a rubbing of the page/pages on the plates. That would have been something to see! 

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