November 12, 2008

Nephi's scribal error?

In his new commentary Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Brant Gardner observes that Nephi appears to have made a scribal error in relating Lehi's vision of the tree. Nephi relates the dream from Lehi's perspective, but at the end when he cuts his account short (v. 33) Nephi appears to switch from first person Lehi to first person Nephi:

29 And now I, Nephi, do not speak all the words of my father.
30 But, to be short in writing, behold, he saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron...
31 And he also saw other multitudes feeling their way towards that great and spacious building.
32 And it came to pass that many were drowned in the depths of the fountain; and many were lost from his view, wandering in strange roads.
33 And great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building. And after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also; but we heeded them not.
34 These are the words of my father: For as many as heeded them, had fallen away.
35 And Laman and Lemuel partook not of the fruit, said my father (1 Nephi 8:29-35).
Gardner's commentary notes:
Nephi makes an interesting editorial slip in verse 33. He has thus far removed himself from the story, and it does not appear that Nephi played an important role in Lehi's dream. Nevertheless at this point his own involvement in the story supersedes his relation of his father's dream, and he inserts "did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking..."

I see the major purpose of the inclusion of Lehi's vision in Nephi's personal account (the small plates of Nephi) as a precursor to Nephi's experience which results from the dream. As with other parts of Nephi's narration, he may begin to relate something from the large plates, but soon abandons that synopsis for the personal effect of the events. Thus we had the story of Laban in great detail precisely because it was of major importance to Nephi. Likewise, Nephi begins by a reasonably faithful narration of his father's vision, but at the end is anxious to get on with his real purpose - the discussion of his own vision. For this reason he hurries the tale at the end, and for this reason he slips in the editorial "I."
I agree with Gardner that Nephi is more interested in relating the dream with the interpretation he personally received for the purposes of his own record. I also do not claim infallibility for the Book of Mormon. It does contain mistakes, as the book itself notes.1 While I see Gardner's opinion as possible I believe there is an alternate reading that may exonerate Nephi in this instance.

Nephi cuts the description of the dream short in verse 29 saying he isn't going to relate all of his father's words and then sums up the rest of the dream. It's possible that Nephi inserts a few of Lehi's own quotes, so to speak, into his summary. In verses 30-32 Nephi paraphrases using "his" and "he" referring to Lehi. In verse 33 Nephi uses "me" but immediately thereafter says "These are the words of my father: For as many as heeded them, had fallen away." Given that the punctuation for the book was not part of the translation and was added by the typesetter,2 it is possible that the punctuation and verse separation here doesn't convey the original intent of the translated sentence. Nephi could be providing a quote from Lehi followed by an explanation to clarify (though it would be awkward). Here is the selection without punctuation and verses:
and it came to pass that many were drowned in the depths of the fountain and many were lost from his view wandering in strange roads and great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building and after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also but we heeded them not these are the words of my father for as many as heeded them had fallen away
Here's how it would look with my interpretation reflected by punctuation:
And it came to pass that many were drowned in the depths of the fountain; and many were lost from his view, wandering in strange roads. And great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building.

"And after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also; but we heeded them not" (these are the words of my father); for as many as heeded them, had fallen away.3
Thoughts?


FOOTNOTES
[1]
"And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ" (Book of Mormon title page).

[2]
"Every chapter, if I remember correctly, was one solid paragraph, without a punctuation mark, from beginning to end...I punctuated it to make it read as I supposed the author intended, and but very little punctuation was altered in proofreading" (John H. Gilbert, "Recollections of John H. Gilbert [Regarding printing
Book of Mormon]," 8 September 1892, Palmyra, New York, typescript, BYU).

[3]
Grant Hardy independently arrived at the same conclusion in his The Book of Mormon: A Reader's Edition:
And he also saw other multitudes feeling their way towards that great and spacious building. And it came to pass that many were drowned in the depths of the fountain; and many were lost from his view, wandering in strange roads. And great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building. And after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also, but we heeded them not. (These are the words of my father.) For as many as heeded them, had fallen away. "And Laman and Lemuel partook not of the fruit," said my father (A Reader's Edition, p. 20).
This post is a continuation of the LoGP series "Likening With Care."

20 comments:

Jacob J said...

I have always read that the way you suggest at the end of the post, but Gardner's idea is an interesting one that I had never considered. Looking at it again, the "These are the words of my father" line seems awfully suspicious. It can either apply to the verse before, which happens to shift to first person, or it refers to the second half of verse 34. I think it makes a lot more sense as referring to verse 33, since it not only explains the anomalous shift to first person, it also was a poor fit for vs 34 in the first place. Is there anywhere else in the BoM that has a quote preceeded by "these are the words of blah colon?

BHodges said...

Good Q. I believe Mormon uses the phrase just before quoting Ammon in Alma 26 v.1:

And now, these are the words of Ammon to his brethren, which say thus: My brothers and my brethren, behold I say unto you, how great reason have we to rejoice; for could we have supposed when we started from the land of Zarahemla that God would have granted unto us such great blessings?

see:
http://scriptures.lds.org/en/alma/26/1#1

This would be differentiated by the fact that Nephi wrote his record redacting from Lehi while the Alma example is redacted by Mormon who is quoting from another source (among other things.)

Jacob J said...

Nice pull.

Jeremy said...

I haven't read any reviews on Gardner's series. Do you recommend his works?

BHodges said...

Yes, I think the series is the best full commentary on the Book of Mormon to date. I did a series with Gardner here:

http://tinyurl.com/5usrur


My initial review of his series is here:

http://tinyurl.com/69szwm

velska said...

I don't like to "ditto" too much, but like jacob, I have likewise always thought that the first-person piece in v.33 is explained by "these are the words of my father". If nothing else, Gardner's view serves as a warning against taking things for granted. Our own reading is always somewhat clouded by our own experience and the language we are used to.

Thanks for doing your reviews. I haven't had the opportunity to get Gardner in my own hands yet, but one of these days I'll have to get this book. You have really whetted my appetite...

BHodges said...

velska, you hit on one of my favorite things about Gardner's series. It makes you notice things in the Book of Mormon that you likely never noticed, and it does so over and over again. So even when I don't follow Gardner's conclusion he has made me see the text in a new way, or notice something I hadn't before. It really is a valuable series even for those who won't agree with his conclusions.

Andrew I. Miller said...

I prefer your interpretation.

BHodges said...

Me too. ;)

I'll keep working on Brant. He'll come around. hehe

BHodges said...

I need to update this into the main text, but Skousen's textual analysis should also be considered here. He depicts 1 Nephi 8:33-34 as follows:

And great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building./And after that they did enter into that building,/ they did point the finger of scorn at me/and those that were partaking of the fruit also,/but we heeded them not./Thus is the words of my father,/for as many heeded them had fallen away.

See Royal Skousen, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, (Yale University Press 2009), p.23-24. I don't have the actual volume where Skousen makes the case for this reading, however, but this is what he believes the earliest dictation indicated, which I believe is closer to my and Hardy's position than Gardner's. When I get the chance I will add this to the blog post proper.

BHodges said...

The "/" marks between the lines represent Skousen's "sense-lines," which he used to break up the text as it might have been in a dictation and to avoid over-punctuating his text, since the original BoM manuscripts did not have punctuation.

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