Sunday, October 14, 2018

My Latest Project

One of my most boring and ultimately most valuable classes in college was the senior seminar I took with Royal Skousen doing an analysis of the Book of Mormon text, comparing what's in the printed edition with the handwritten versions.

Some things I learned:

* There were two handwritten editions of the Book of Mormon: the original and a copy of the original they made to take to the printer, not wanting to lose the only copy. The original copy went into the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House, which leaked water and damaged parts and destroyed parts. The Church now owns most of the parts, but a few are in private hands. The printer's copy we have, but it does have a few copying errors.

* The Book of Mormon, as organized by Mormon, had chapter breaks and a few chapter/section headings built in, but they do NOT match the most recent edition's chapter breaks. At some point, someone (I want to say Orson Pratt, but I'm not sure) who had authority broke the Book of Mormon into chapters and verses to match the Bible more closely and make it easier to refer to specific parts, make notes, and study. He also added chapter headings. Later, footnotes were added. The most recent (2013) edition of the Book of Mormon made an attempt to clarify which chapter headings were original and which were added.

*The original 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon has the original chapter breaks and no verse numbers. It is MUCH easier to read without all the "noise" added to make the Book easier to study. But the 1830 edition has errors in it, many of which Joseph Smith himself went through and fixed for the second edition. The errors in the 1830 edition were of two sorts: copying errors and formatting errors. Most of the copying errors came from the difficulty in reading a handwritten text with nonstandard spelling (so we get things like "wickedness" being replaced with "woundedness" in one verse and "Lamb" replaced with "Lord" in another; and thanks to the spelling issues, on the last line of the Book of Mormon we still have no idea if it originally--when Moroni wrote it--said, "wholly without spot" or "holy, without spot."  Fortunately, they mean the same in context so it doesn't matter.)

* The formatting errors in the Book of Mormon came from a peculiarity of the production process. The handwritten manuscript transcribed while Joseph translated did not include punctuation or paragraphing. The chapters breaks were marked with the word "Chapter" but no chapter numbers. New and difficult words (especially names) Joseph spelled out letter by letter (we know this because a phonetic spelling was crossed out and followed by a corrected spelling in the manuscript), but other words were not spelled out by Joseph and are spelled phonetically and nonstandardly on a regular basis, reflecting their dialect (so you get things like "genealogy" spelled in a way that reveals Joseph pronounced it like most people in southern Utah still do).  Sometimes, the person taking the dictation forgot the correct spelling and went back to the phonetic spelling. Usually that was caught and corrected, but the name Pahoran is still spelled incorrectly, even in the 2013 edition (the original manuscript on the first appearance of that name spelled it out as Parhoran.) Anyway, paragraphing and punctuation were not revealed but instead were inserted later, primarily by the printer, EB Grandin. And he did a terrible job, breaking single sentences into different paragraphs and making the whole document a commastorm.

So it's that last part that has bothered me for years.

I find the official study edition very, very difficult to read because of the formatting. Single sentences are broken into different verses. Paragraphing is nonexistent. People read it like they do poetry, with little pauses at the ends of lines instead of where the meaning breaks. For years now, when I wanted to just read the Book and not cross-reference and footnote and mark it, I've turned to my trusty 1830 replica edition. I can't just read the study edition that is the official edition. It's just about impossible for me to get through because of the formatting, chapter breaks, etc. I mean, the original chapter breaks were put in by the original authors, and if you read them you find that they are thematically organized. The new chapter breaks actually obscure this layer of meaning that was put in by the original ancient authors (which breaks this author's heart!).

For years I've longed for an 1830-style format with the 2013 corrections of the errors introduced by Grandin (and by the printer's manuscript), and with updated formatting and punctuation because Grandin did just a dismally awful job with those.

When President Nelson made his request in conference that the sisters read the Book of Mormon by the end of the year, I knew I couldn't succeed unless I had my 1830 replica edition so I could read fast and easily. And it was packed. So I prayed for help finding it, and then I stood up and surveyed the room. One box stood out to me, and I opened it up and there on top was my 1830 replica! So out it came, and I started reading with a pencil in hand to start marking, as President Nelson requested, the parts that mentioned the Savior.

But reading with pencil in hand totally put me in editor mode, and I found myself horrified and distracted by the awful punctuation of the 1830 edition. Commas everywhere, without rhyme or reason. It was unreadable with a pencil in hand because my copyeditor instincts took over and I found myself marking the thing up--copyediting.  I checked the 1981 edition I use for studying and found that the Church has corrected a lot of Grandin's punctuation storm, but it looks like they still relied mostly on what he did to punctuate. A lot of it is still not correct according to the rules of punctuation.

So....I looked up the copyright permissions on the website, and it says you can use the church materials for personal use. So I downloaded a copy of the Book of Mormon--just the text of the 2013 edition, so it's the most updated and corrected text, and I prayed and asked Heavenly Father if I could make myself a copy of the Book of Mormon in the format I want to read, with the non-revealed parts fixed, and the text left untouched. I got a resounding YES! answer to my prayer, so I set to work.

I've basically said to myself, "If I were in Grandin's spot, how would I have done this?" My rule is that I can't change anything that was revealed to Joseph Smith (no word changes, no shuffling paragraphs, etc.), but anything anyone else added to the text is fair game (line breaks, paragraph breaks, punctuation, chapter headings, false chapter breaks, etc).

First thing to go was the new chapters and verses. I went back to the original chapter breaks, and I'm putting in normal paragraphing. And finally, I'm doing a complete re-punctuation of the entire text. Everything else I'm faithfully, religiously sticking with what the original authors wrote. Just redoing the formatting to make it easier to read. So far I've finished all of First Nephi. I wish I'd found a way to keep the footnotes, but my computer would not process the formatting of footnotes. (I'm using Google Chrome Docs instead of Libre Office, so my formatting options are sorely limited.)

And, lo and behold, it's SO Much easier to read without all the bad punctuation. The Book of Mormon text says it's plain and simple to read, and I've never found it completely simple. But it turns out a lot of that is the punctuation being in all the wrong places, so your brain pauses where it shouldn't, obscuring the meaning.

In doing this, I've engaged in the meaning of the Book of Mormon in ways I never have before.  I've learned things and internalized and understood things that I missed before. And I've discovered some linguistic "forms" that are used throughout the text that are kind of fun. And I've really finally felt the clarity and simpleness and plainness that Nephi said he gloried in, and that we buried in a flood of commas and semicolons that mostly marked the end of lines instead of segments of meaning. It's quite delightful.  I can't wait to get to the rest of the Book!

I think when I'm all done, I'll find a way to print a copy for myself so that finally I will have an edition of the Book of Mormon that is easy to read to myself and easy to read aloud to my children. That would make me very, very happy indeed.


Becca Jones said...

Link to part 1, if you want to read it:

Becca Jones said...

Part 2, Jacob through Mosiah:

Becca Jones said...


Becca Jones said...

Third and Fourth Nephi:

Becca Jones said...

Mormon, Ether, and Moroni

Becca Jones said...
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Becca Jones said...

Final version, with editorial note explaining the project:

Becca Jones said...

for printing on full-sized sheets of paper (448 page pdf, vs 563 pages in the link above):