Translation Styles and Book of Mormon Apologetics and Exegesis

For the past couple of days I have been reading An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. Like most books or papers on the Book of Mormon I have read, it lacks a theory of Book of Mormon translation and suffers because of this lack. I would like to propose a rule for all future efforts at Book of Mormon apologetics, archaeology, or exegesis. The rule is that before you do anything you have to lay out your theory/explanation of the translation style used in translating the Book of Mormon. This means that before you attempt to explain something about the text you have to explain what kind of text you are working with.

There is an equivalent problem in Biblical scholarship, that of textual criticism. Before you exegete a biblical text you have to nail down what you think the best text is. In almost any biblical commentary the author will spend a significant portion of the time discussing textual problems and possibilities. If they just choose to follow the text as defined by a third party, say the UBS Greek New Testament, then you can find out what the UBS chose as criteria for deciding on a text. If they are engaging in their own textual criticism they will go to great lengths to argue their case. Some commentaries are nothing but textual criticism. The basic rule of thumb is this: before you engage in any higher criticism, you have to engage in low (textual) criticism.

Book of Mormon scholars don’t have to define their text through textual criticism (I am aware of the effort to make a critical edition of the Book of Mormon, but compared to producing a critical edition of the Old or New Testaments it’s a cake walk). With the Book of Mormon the translation style defines the text and this in turn defines what conclusions one can draw about the Book of Mormon. As I see it you have three possibilities for translation style: tight, loose, and mystical.

A tight translation would mean that what was on the plates and what is in the Book of Mormons is a word for word translation with allowances made for differing linguistic structures. If an author decides this type of translation is what happened then the author can point out things like chiasmus and Hebraisms anywhere he/she sees them, since the translation obviously reflects chiasmus and Hebraisms on the original plates. But, the author cannot conclude that horses are tapirs and goats are deer. A word for word translation style demands either that equivalent words are used or transliterations/neologisms (“cureloms” and “cumoms”) are employed.

A loose translation would mean that the Book of Mormon gets basic ideas, stories, and teachings across but does not reflect the exact language on the plates. Using this theory you can conclude that tapirs are horses and goats are deer, but if you see any Hebraisms or chiasmsus then you cannot conclude that they were on the plates originally.

A mystical translation theory would posit that one can’t conclude anything about how the English Book of Mormon reflects what was on the plates. Under this theory one can derive religous or ethical truths from the Book of Mormon, but you can’t really know much beyond that.

The problem is that many people who write on the Book of Mormon, especially apologists, use all three at the same time, which is unwarranted. If an author is going to claim different translation styles in the Book of Mormon then there had better be reasons for this. I have never seen such reasons given and I don’t think that any such reasons exist. If authors would choose a translation style (thereby defining the text they are working with) it would help them be more consistent in drawing conclusions and would help readers in analyzing their conclusions.

About these ads

61 Comments

Filed under Book of Mormon, Mormon Studies

61 responses to “Translation Styles and Book of Mormon Apologetics and Exegesis

  1. Julie M. Smith

    Interesting stuff.

    Two objections:

    (1) a loose translation wouldn’t permit a chiasmus that consisted of

    word a
    word b
    word b
    word a

    but I think a lengthy, phrase- or idea- based chiasmus could be defended, even in a fairly loose translation.

    (2) Even the tightest of translations would have cases somewhat on par with the hapax legomena we find in the Bible: “I have no idea what to do with this word so I’ll have to guess.” I suppose you grant this when you say, ‘A word for word translation style demands either that equivalent words are used or transliterations/neologisms (”cureloms” and “cumoms”) are employed.” but the issue is what precisely constitutes an equivalent word, if there is indeed no equivalent.

    And one more thought: what about the possibility of very tight translations in some places and very loose in others?

    And thus you see why people write about the BoM without addressing this: too messy! (As my 3yo would say.)

  2. I was going say the advantages of using a mixture and then you got to the end and said this was a problem. I wonder why this is a problem. It seems to me that there is also an issue of separating out method from product. There could after all be a tight translation in terms of method of translation and a loose translation in terms of translation (connection between texts)

    The reason I like the idea of a mix is that I think it explains the most. It does admittedly make exegesis more difficult but I think it has the most explanatory power in terms of the text itself.

  3. what about the possibility of very tight translations in some places and very loose in others?

    I thought about that and concluded that I don’t know of any evidence that would allow one to differentiate between sections that are loose and others that are tight. If someone has any ideas I would love to hear them.

    And thus you see why people write about the BoM without addressing this: too messy!

    Yes, very messy. Unfortunately, I think this is something that has to be dealt with to make any progress in Book of Mormon studies.

  4. I was going say the advantages of using a mixture and then you got to the end and said this was a problem. I wonder why this is a problem.

    Because one has to explain why some sections are loose and others are tight. One also has to have some basis for determining which sections are loose and which are tight. If you don’t deal with those two sections and just claim, “that’s the way it is/that’s the way God wanted it” you have chosen door #3, mysticism. That’s a perfectly valid explanation for translation but it severely limits any ability to make linguistic or archaeological assertions based on the Book of Mormon text.

  5. Very interesting post. The problem is that tight and loose are not binary (as pointed out in the initial comments). It would still be useful to know what translation theory someone is coming from when they offer analysis, but I get the feeling that we are hoping to come up with a theory of translation from the higher criticism rather than starting from the ground up. Hebraisms are used as evidence for a tighter translation. Anachronisms are used as evidence for a looser translation. In the absence of a decent theory of translation (since we are truly missing one) it seems at times like the best we can do is dig into the text and hope we get clues about how we got the text along the way.

  6. Sterling

    Has anyone thought of moving beyong the wordprint studies of the 1990s and applying the power of text mining to the Book of Mormon? I imagine computer algorithms have advanced to the point where they can distinguish between highly and loosely structured passages in the text. The power to visualize the semantics of various passages in the Book of Mormon could also help answer these questions. What do all of you think about mining this scripture with new technologies?

  7. I’m actually of the “eclectic” type myself. That is, I don’t think there is sufficient reason to assume a purely consistent translation process, particularly since we know the mechanics changed (ie. U&T, seerstone, nothing.)

    I don’t know that we can equate tight control with word-for-word (or formal equivalence) and loose control with thought-for-thought or dynamic equivalence. At least, that’s not how Skousen uses the terms, iirc.

    The other question is how much the KJV language affected the translation.

    “if you see any Hebraisms or chiasmsus then you cannot conclude that they were on the plates originally.”

    I disagree. A loose translation means Joseph was more responsible for the English than a tight translation. Inexperienced translators tend to produce infelicitous translations when they encounter idiomatic or very unfamiliar constructions. The tendency is to translate them literally, producing (perhaps) odd effects in the target language.

  8. I’m actually of the “eclectic” type myself. That is, I don’t think there is sufficient reason to assume a purely consistent translation process, particularly since we know the mechanics changed (ie. U&T, seerstone, nothing.)

    That would be one way of determining translation types, which translation mechanism was employed at any given time. However, I don’t know if anyone can correlate translation mechanisms with actual passages.

    I don’t know that we can equate tight control with word-for-word (or formal equivalence) and loose control with thought-for-thought or dynamic equivalence. At least, that’s not how Skousen uses the terms, iirc.

    Just to clarify, I have no idea how Skousen uses the terms. This is something I made up. Also, I am not equating formal equivalence/tight and dynamic equivalence/loose. These translation terms really only make sense why you can examine a before and after, which we can’t in this case.

    Inexperienced translators tend to produce infelicitous translations when they encounter idiomatic or very unfamiliar constructions. The tendency is to translate them literally, producing (perhaps) odd effects in the target language.

    I don’t understand. Hebraisms come when something is translated too literally, i.e. they disappear in idiomatic English. So it seems to me that this undermines your argument that Hebraisms can appear under a loose translation. Yet you claim the opposite. What am I missing?

  9. The other question is how much the KJV language affected the translation.

    Forgot to reply to that, sorry. In my opinion use of KJV language points to loose translation.

  10. Nitsav

    Skousen uses those terms in connection with this same issue, so I assumed you were borrowing from him.

    In Skousen’s view, tight control= God is more responsible for English word choice, JS writes it down; loose control= JS is more responsible for word choice, God provides the inspiration by which he understands on some level the language of the text.

    Following that schema (which I assumed you were doing), some have argued that Hebraisms could only be present in the English under tight control, because God wanted them there (or some such). I just pointed out why the presence of Hebraisms doesn’t point decisively one way or the other.

    So, to clarify, you’re using tight/loose to describe the relationship between the English translation and the original non-English text. Skousen uses those terms to describe how much input JS had into the English text.

  11. Nitsav,

    Sorry about the confusion, I guess I made a poor choice of words. What you are saying makes sense now. Anyone have a better choice of words?

  12. Nitsav

    I’m also not suggestion that we can tie one particular kind of translation to a particular mechanism. Rather, Joseph seems to be progressing in his abilities, and I think that may affect how he translates (assuming looser control in Skousen’s terms.)

  13. Hebraisms come when something is translated too literally, i.e. they disappear in idiomatic English. So it seems to me that this undermines your argument that Hebraisms can appear under a loose translation. Yet you claim the opposite. What am I missing?
    Not all Hebraisms require a strict, literal translation to be apparent. A series of simple parallel couplets can easily be betray a formal or poetic Hebrew writing style even in a loose translation.

  14. Not all Hebraisms require a strict, literal translation to be apparent. A series of simple parallel couplets can easily be betray a formal or poetic Hebrew writing style even in a loose translation.

    A series of parallel couplets might betray Hebrew as a source language, but that is not a Hebraism.

  15. clarkgoble

    Because one has to explain why some sections are loose and others are tight.

    Isn’t that only the case if we presuppose there is some overarching method and aim in the translation process? If it is less planned then we should expect inconsistency in translational style.

    I guess that’s what I’m saying is that we’re bringing in too many problematic assumptions.

    That’s not to say there may not be some reason for shifting styles. (I’ve actually heard a few justifications although none totally convincing) I am saying we can’t expect there to be some reason.

  16. clarkgoble

    BTW the most “fanciful” yet somewhat interesting theory is the Moroni as translator theory. Now I don’t buy this in the least. But this theory is that Moroni was translated but walked the earth ala the 3 Nephites. He learned English in Elizabethan England. So the Book of Mormon reflects a style of English that isn’t the KJV nor Joseph’s environment because it reflects Moroni’s speaking style or thought style. Then Moroni via some telepathy like method gives the text Moroni translated and possibly expanded to Joseph word for word.

    As I said I don’t buy it and it is pretty fanciful. But it does answer a lot of questions.

  17. Clark,

    Isn’t that only the case if we presuppose there is some overarching method and aim in the translation process? If it is less planned then we should expect inconsistency in translational style.

    My concern is more with assertions that people make. Suppose an apologist makes the following assertions:

    1) Passage A is a Hebraism, ergo this represents a tight translation.
    2) In passage B, the word horse is a tapir, ergo this represents a loose translation.

    The obvious question is that why is passage A a tight translation and passage B a loose translation? It obviously works out best for the apologist that way, but what other justification is there?

    That’s really the only point I am making. Writers need to identify which translation style is at work before making conclusions. It’s easiest to say that one style is operative for the whole work (which is my view, and I think it’s a loose translation). However, you can argue on a case by case basis for loose or tight translations, but the reasons for doing so in each case better be something other than special pleading.

  18. Blake

    David Clark: I think that you are right both that it seems inconsistent to have both loose and tight translation approaches to explain evidence (since results then tend to be ad hoc) and that such approaches seem to be inconsistent.

  19. Clark,

    The way I heard that theory, it wasn’t Moroni, but a translation committee in the spirit world during the 1600s or so that came up with an English BofM for an aborted restoration (then this text was communicated word for word to JSJ). At least it gets some points for originality.

  20. NorthboundZax

    Well laid out, David. In my opinion, far too much is made of Hebraisms for this very reason (especially with all the biblical overtones). I go with the ‘loose’ direction, too. But I wonder, what do you make of the term ‘curelom’ under a loose translation?

  21. But I wonder, what do you make of the term ‘curelom’ under a loose translation? Simply that nothing exists in the target language that would even remotely identify it so only a transliteration/neologism will do. It makes sense for things like exotic animals and foods to be transliterated no matter how loose the translation.

    Still, I would recommend a description to accompany the word. But since the Book of Mormon is not a zoology text they left it out I guess. When I get to the other side it’s on my top 20 list of things to ask.

  22. clarkgoble

    1) Passage A is a Hebraism, ergo this represents a tight translation.
    2) In passage B, the word horse is a tapir, ergo this represents a loose translation

    That’s a fair criticism but a bad example. After all it could be a tight grammatical translation with a loose word translation. I think we have to distinguish those.

    Just to summarize I think we have to separate out tight vs. loose in three areas. (Yeah I mentioned only two but really your example points out three)

    Method: Did Joseph loosely paraphrase ideas in his mind versus he was given word for word what to tell his translators

    Grammar: Roughly is it a fairly literal translation in terms of words and word order or is it much looser with sentence fragments paraphrased or even added to.

    Words: Roughly do words used translate close to a 1:1 relationship. (Think Google’s translator) Or are some words more loosely connected to the original text. There is some blurring between this and grammar since one might translated a fragment by a word or a word by a fragment. But the idea being that it’s closer to an unit of meaning.

    I think that there are some pretty interesting so-called Hebrewisms. Some are more compelling than others and some appear pretty likely to be coincidence. The problem is there are also some pretty compelling examples and arguments for loose translation. This is why I favor a hybrid method.

    While it’s fair to ask for what translation style is at work the problem is you can only argue for style when you have some other interpretations done and those interpretations themselves depend upon style. That is the hermeneutic circle is at work. So while I think we can ask for this I also think we have to be careful to not demand too much. Ultimately what counts is models and their explanatory power versus competing models.

  23. TT

    I think that I actually agree that there is no reason that we couldn’t see a multiplicity of translation approaches in the BoM. It is a long, diverse book. I also agree with the criticism of this view that it could be applied inconsistently or for apologetic purposes. What we would have to come up with is a method for distinguishing the different translation styles. For instance, 1) excessive KJV language points to loose translation in a particular spot; 2) transliterations point to a tight translation; 3) Hebraisms/chiasmus point to a tight translation in a particular section; 4) 19th c. theological jargon/topics point to a loose translation.
    Once one establishes a set of criteria, it could be tested against the text.

  24. Kevin Barney

    Personally, I take an eclectic approach to the text. I kind of informally think of it along the lines that TT suggests in 23 above. For a more formal attempt at something like this, see my discussion of Hebraisms here (scroll down 1/5 of the way to the caption “Hebraisms”):

    http://farms.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=15&num=1&id=471

  25. clarkgoble

    TT, for (1) wouldn’t we have to examine the relationship of the KJV to the underlying text? It seems to me there could be KJV and a tight source translation and KJV and a lose source translation. In one case we may be dealing with a quotation from the Brass Plates whereas in the other some statement that is paraphrased with common Biblical quotes. So I don’t think it is as simple as you make out. Likewise I don’t think transliterations necessarily tell us much. We may have a loose paraphrasing with the object being discussed some entity not in Joseph Smith’s environment. Ditto with Chiasmus. For extended chiasmus I think it’d survive loose translation so long as the loose translation preserved the basic concepts in roughly the same places. (Say for example Alma 36) I think the same problems apply to 19th century theological jargon. For one thing such “jargon” often isn’t as clearly 19th century as it sometimes appears. (Here thinking of Mosiah 15 and supposed modalism) But even if there is some theological term I don’t think it necessarily is a loose translation. Consider the debate about the prophecies of Christ’s crucifixion. Blake sees that, as you do, as evidence for a loose translation whereas I think the evidence far from clear and if anything points to the opposite direction.

    Of course all this talk might be better if we could point to specific texts.

    To me the texts that I see as most likely loose are much of Alma, Helaman and 3 Nephi with the most likely more tight (since I favor an overall loose translation) are more in 1 Ne – Jacob. Likewise I allow for Ostler styled expansions, within reason (I think the burden of proof is on those arguing for expansion). I think, with Blake, that the beginning of Alma 11 is plausibly an expansion although I think it could go either way. Note that this is an expansion and thus loose but also contains transliterations. (Actually if we look at the various spellings of yah endings in the Book of Mormon we find this as a problem since the spelling appears to vary a lot even though the underlying ending is probably the same)

  26. TT

    Clark,
    I guess it depends on how long the KJV translation is. If we are just talking about a phrase or short sentence, I would say that this doesn’t constitute good evidence for dependence on the KJV either way. Once we get to long sentences or multiple verses, I think that possibility of identical translations between JS and the KJV being coincidence is pretty small based on my experiences translating.
    As for jargon, I agree that we need clearer criteria for evaluating it. For instance, some might even say the appearance of “Christ” as a translation of “Messiah” is a post-Christian translation choice. Does that necessarily mean every mention of ‘Christ’ is evidence of a loose translation? I’m not sure, which is why we need someone to come up with good evidentiary standards.
    Alma 11 is a interesting case study for this. I think we have a lot of work to do. Skousen is the beginning, not the end.

  27. clarkgoble

    But TT I guess I’m suggesting two different kinds of loose source connections. One is pretty close and if the KJV is sufficient then that is used. The other is much looser and uses the KJV if the ideas are similar. For instance I suspect most of the Isaiah quotations are the former. (I’ll ignore the debate over variant words for now) However other passages, such as I suspect the 3 Ne NT quotations, are probably much looser.

    You are right though that likely most of the Isaiah texts still aren’t a super strict source translation. I know some have argued on the basis of variants for variant Hebrew texts. I confess I’m dubious there. (I can’t remember Skousen’s position on this – I ought look it up)

    I completely agree Skousen is the beginning and not the end. I actually suspect that in the particulars you and I probably agree more than others in this thread though. As I said I tend to see the text as largely a loose translation with variants in how loose it is.

  28. I would like to propose a rule for all future efforts at Book of Mormon apologetics, archaeology, or exegesis. The rule is that before you do anything you have to lay out your theory/explanation of the translation style used in translating the Book of Mormon. This means that before you attempt to explain something about the text you have to explain what kind of text you are working with.

    I think that the depth of a theory of translation you have to articulate (or hold) depends upon the kind of project you want to do. If one wanted to describe/construct, for instance, an ethical theory from the BoM, the issue of translation, I would say, does not have to be so prominent. If, on the other hand, one wanted to do a more contextual (or historical) analysis–the usage of Biblical passages in the BoM, for instance–then perhaps the issue of translation would be more in the forefront.

  29. SmallAxe,

    Even an ethical theory derived from the Book of Mormon should benefit from being explicit on one’s theory of what the text is. Take the example of the debate about the historical Jesus, the ethical theory that one claims Jesus had is directly related to one’s views on textual matters. The Jesus Seminar ends up with Jesus the talking head, Crossan ends up with Jesus the Cynic philosopher, and E.P. Sanders ends up with Jesus the apocalyptic prophet. In each case Jesus has a radically different ethic. However, in each case the Jesus one ends up with is directly related to how one views/defines the available texts. I think a similar situation holds for deriving ethics from the Book of Mormon.

  30. SmallAxe,

    My previous example was a bad one. The different interpretations of Jesus are more due to source criticism, not textual criticism. Since I am arguing that translation style should be compared to textual criticism, my example is invalid.

  31. smallaxe

    Even an ethical theory derived from the Book of Mormon should benefit from being explicit on one’s theory of what the text is.

    I guess I’d disagree here; but before moving forward let me reiterate that I’m not claiming that questions about “what the text is” can be completely dismissed (as I mentioned, they need not be as prominent). I should also say that if by a “theory of what the text is” you mean any account of the text (e.g., “this text is so disjointed it has little ideological coherency”), then this really is a non-argument since it’s impossible not to have some theory of what the text is. I take ‘theory’, however in this context, to mean a refined conclusion about the compositional nature of the text. In the case of the BoM, one could argue for one of the three theories of translation you list, combine them, or come up with an alternative in an equally rigorous sense. Answering “I don’t know”, or “It doesn’t matter”, etc. is NOT to have a theory.

    With that out of the way, if one pursues issues, as you raise, of “archeology”, and “exegesis”, then in a general sense I would agree that a robust theory of what the text is, is necessary (I think apologetics extends beyond these, FWIW). Certainly, as you point out, if your question is “Who was the historical Jesus”? then a theory of the nature of the texts you are using to answer that question is implicit. Pushing this case I would say that answering the question “Who is Jesus in the BoM?” does not need as robust a theory of the translation of the BoM (not that it, however, can be ignored).

    As far as an ethical theory is concerned, I think Jonathan Schofer’s The Making of a Sage: A Study in Rabbinic Ethics. (Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2005), is a pretty good example of dealing with a text that evades a theory of composition–he points out that historians/philologists argued for the impossibility of constructing an ethical theory–yet he then moves on to build an ethical theory. The effectiveness of his project depends upon the kinds of questions one sees him answering. If he is simply engaged in a descriptive endeavor (“What kind of an ethic does Rabbi Nathan put forth?”), then his project is severely flawed. But if his project is more constructive (he calls it a “theoretically informed descriptive analysis”–pp. 7), and takes the figures in a more literary rather than historical sense (which he discusses on page 31), the questions of a theory of textual composition are relegated to the background. I would actually go so far as to say that engaging those kinds of questions can actually be less rather than more productive in these cases.

  32. smallaxe

    Oops, I wrote my response without seeing your last comment. You’ll see in my response that I elided source criticism and text criticism (assuming that you were operating under such assumptions); although for the most part I think it still works.

  33. clarkgoble

    Just a suggestion for some future posts. (I really liked this post even if I disagreed in some details) Why not consider some major popular apologetic articles from FARMS and analyze them in this way? Pick the dominant ones. (It’s not hard to find some crappy ones that even most at FARMS don’t like but those have limited influence and make up a minority of what’s there)

    The one thing I think is problematic is that we’re so abstracted from the actual texts and arguments that it’s hard to see where we might disagree in practice.

    For instance I just visted the FARMS site and there is one paper on the front page that might be good to look at. It’s a close textual analysis of 2 Ne 12:16 & Is 2:16 that seems directly related to this topic.

  34. Clark,

    I was planning on doing a post or two on some stuff from FARMS, but I was hesitant. They are after all on “our side” and it’s generally considered bad form to be critical of people on one’s own side, no matter how boneheaded they may be. I don’t agree with that stance, but one has to deal with social realities. I have not looked at that article, but I had a couple of other in mind, one from FAIR and one from FARMS.

  35. clarkgoble

    I don’t think it’s bad form to be critical of ones side. Plus FARMS is hardly monolithic. There are quite a few different views within FARMS, particularly on this issue. (There are some, like Skousen, who favor tight control and many who favor loose control) What I’m most interested in are single papers where this is muddled and the author tries to have it both ways.

  36. Ed Goble

    You say: “The problem is that many people who write on the Book of Mormon, especially apologists, use all three at the same time, which is unwarranted.”

    Well, the problem is, I believe all three are present in the text in different parts of the text. The problem for apologists is that we cannot prove where one is being used and the others are not.

    You also say: “it’s generally considered bad form to be critical of people on one’s own side, no matter how boneheaded they may be”

    I’m an apologist, but I have no “side”. I’m on the side of truth, and I’m against bad apologetics. I’m not a “party loyalty” kind of guy. If I have to rip apart somebody to expose bad scholarship, then that is what I have to do. FARMS and FAIR have done it to my work, yet I’m a part of FAIR, and I won’t hold back saying what needs to be said, even about work done by FAIR members if I must. Otherwise nobody can fix what is wrong in their work.

  37. Well, the problem is, I believe all three are present in the text in different parts of the text. The problem for apologists is that we cannot prove where one is being used and the others are not.

    If that’s the case then as an apologist you have a duty to choose the translation style that is least helpful to your case. Anything else can and should be labeled as biased, since you have already admitted that you don’t have sufficient evidence to make a case.

    As for sides, I said that I disagreed with putting party loyalty first. However, since I do this on my own time and for free I have no desire to whine in a vacuum with no one listening. That was my point.

  38. Ed Goble

    Everything is biased anyway. Nobody can “prove” anything anyway, but can only give our best reasonable shot at an issue. Oh, I can make a case alright, but it doesn’t mean you will agree with it. All that matters is if it defends faith and is plausible.

  39. clarkgoble

    Ed, you would agree that some readings are stronger than others. The question is how strong the arguments marshalled are. One complaint I’ve had with far too many Mormon studies is no rigorous consideration to the theoretical models that hold them together. (this is true of all sides)

  40. David, I find that a particularly odd position to take (comment #37). I see many theological positions I couldn’t argue if I had to argue for a position that I don’t believe in. What isn’t biased? I’m really not sure what you hope to accomplish by choosing a translation style that is least helpful to your case.

    I would agree that it would be valuable to state what the problems/benefits would be for taking a certain position and explore (at least cursorily) their implications for specific texts; but I wouldn’t require it.

  41. Looking for a unifying theory of Mormonism, Clark?

  42. Ed,

    Congratulations on choosing door #3, mysticism, with a heavy helping of postmodernism. You can go that way if you want, but I have to say that I am quite sure that if the only criteria for doing apologetics is that “it defends the faith and is plausible” the apologist does more harm than good in the long term.

  43. Kent,

    I am simply going with what Ed says. He says that he thinks that the Book of Mormon contains both tight and loose translations and that he has no arguments for determining which are which. So if you are making a point using a reading what do you do? You can:

    1) Always choose the translation style that makes your case and rightfully be labeled biased (since you are choosing this based only on what helps your case).
    2) Randomly choose a translation style by rolling a dice and be rightfully accused of insanity
    3) Only make cases based on the translation style that is weakest for your case. In that way you have made your case and cannot be accused of bias since could have chosen stronger evidence but did not.

    My point is that an effective and unbiased apologist would choose #3 given the conditions that Ed says hold.

  44. Tom D

    Re #37
    I think that calling your theory of the translation method “bias” is a mistake. It is really an “assumption” (one of many usually) that leads to a particular interpretation of the text. We always make assumptions. Some assumptions are more conservative than others, but we seldom (if ever) have full knowledge of all facts. We use assumptions to fill in for facts. The first things I look for in an engineering analysis is a clear statement of the problem and then a list of the assumptions made.

    After many, many readings of the Book of Mormon I personally favor the “tight construction” theory with occasional mistakes by the translator, scribes, and printers. (I rather like Skowsen’s suggestion that Oliver Cowdery miscopyed Amlicites as Amalekites in Alma.)

    I suspect that the Lord purposefully gave Joseph Smith the KJV language with just enough corrections to fix the worst corruptions of the original text because Joseph expected it and drastically different quotes of the Bible would have been a needless stumbling block for many people at that time. There may be other reasons.

    It has been interesting this year to see in the Joseph Smith Priesthood & Relief Society manual how often he quoted from the Bible, even when the doctrine was more clearly explained or shown in the Book of Mormon. It took generations for the Book of Mormon to achieve the doctrinal status it currently has. This reminds me of Moses’s difficulties with the Israelites’ in the wilderness and the reluctance of the Jewish Christians to give up the Law of Moses– not that I’m saying we need to give up the Bible, but that we needed to value the Book of Mormon more.

    I have less confidence in the translation of the Bible, but that varies a lot with section. I am grateful here for modern scholarship, archeology, and revelation. All are useful there, but especially the revelation.

    I would like to see more scholars using the Book of Mormon to understand the Bible, but most folks seem to be reluctant to go there. I find the offhanded mention by Mormon of TWO different traditions among the Nephites of Moses’s death or translation (Alma 45:18-19) to be fascinating! Why were both still current? What does this imply?

  45. clarkgoble

    Looking for a unifying theory of Mormonism, Clark?

    No, and many arguments don’t (I think) generally depend upon major theories. Theories can be vague in that only a few properties are necessary for ones argument.

    But let me give the classic example of the problem I see: Quinn’s Magic World View. Instead of providing a clear theoretical framework for what he’s arguing for we have some vague and inconsistent gestures about magic. Then we get a scattershot of parallels none really considered against a theoretical framework (and many conflicting with it).

    Now I think with FARMS there are similar problems at times although I often think the problem is vastly exaggerated. What some see as the problem is that differing papers hold different underlying theories but those theories aren’t made explicit (which is I think David’s criticism) But it isn’t a criticism that FARMS doesn’t have an overarching theory. Indeed had they such I’d consider it a weakness. Rather FARMS is the typical academic organization where there are lots of theories and models and there is competition to see which has the best explanatory powers.

    David, I’m not sure plausibility for apologetics is a bad thing. Apologetics isn’t about truth as such (although good apologists are seeking that). Rather apologetics is about whether it is rational to believe something. Now the particular arguments may turn out to be wrong, but that’s true in all academics. The point apologetics provides is that one can believe in a rational rigorous fashion. Now if someone demands from apologetics some fixed static theology then yes there will be disappointment. But frankly someone who wants answers in that fashion will always be disappointed.

  46. Ed Goble

    You say: “if the only criteria for doing apologetics is that “it defends the faith and is plausible” the apologist does more harm than good in the long term”

    I didn’t say it was the only criteria. I mean to say that any and all apologetics are by nature tentative faith promoting arguments when there is lack of revealed information, or lack of real strong evidence anyway. So, no, it doesn’t do any harm at all, when people who have weak faith need something that is reasonable to hang on to when they don’t know what else to do when they are trying to have faith. Faith can survive for those of weak faith usually where a position can be reasonably defended when evidence is ambiguous. I’m not against rigor at all. Certainly I am for rigor, as I am against bad apologetics. Bad apologetics is apologetics that DENIES real evidence. Good apologetics is coming to a faith promoting explanation of the evidence, while acknowledging the evidence is evidence. Harmless, good apologetics is tentative when there is nothing but AMBIGUOUS evidence.

  47. Ed Goble

    Clark says: “Ed, you would agree that some readings are stronger than others.”

    Yes I would agree.

    David says: “I am simply going with what Ed says.” No actually you are taking it farther than where I’m going with it. You are committing a slippery slope fallacy and putting words in my mouth.

  48. Ed Goble

    A real good example of bad apologetics based on a bad reading of the text when the text is clear is the Mesoamerican Cumorah theory, that goes against the clear and absolutely unavoidable reading that there was an exceedingly great distance between Cumorah and the Narrow Neck of Land. In that case, apologists that deny the clearness of the text are forced to say that the text doesn’t say what it says clearly. I on the other hand, since I don’t believe in that theory, choose to read the text as it is clearly and make a defense based on what it actually says. Steel swords being passed off as obsidian blades, or deer as horses are other bad apologetic examples as well.

  49. Ed,

    Since I am in complete agreement with your #46 and #48, perhaps our positions are not so far apart.

  50. clarkgoble

    Ed, I just can’t agree with your 48. But I’ll belabor that here.

  51. Whoops. Not belabor that here. (grin)

    (Actually I agree that some of the sword apologetics are pretty bad although I think you’re mischaracterizing things to suggest all are)

  52. Ed Goble

    Clark says: “Ed, I just can’t agree with your 48. But I’ll belabor that here.”

    Clark, you cannot agree because your ideology forces you to make an interpretation of the text that somehow the exceedingly great distance doesn’t say what it says. You therefore default to a non-literal interpretation for your apologetic.

    Yet, on the other hand, when it is clear from the literal interpretation that the two seas on either side are pretty close together, and that Zarahemla is not far from the narrow neck of land, you are happy to accept the obvious interpretation of the text, because it fits with your ideology. So in essence, your interpretations of the text are ideologically framed by a preconception that you will jam all the lands into Mesoamerica, not by letting the text say what it obviously says. That is bad apologetics, because it is ideologically driven rather than letting evidence speak for itself.

    If evidence were allowed to speak for itself, which should be our starting point, then our apologetic would start with the idea that we must defend the book of Mormon not ONLY from the standpoint of Mesoamerica, but also from the standpoint of the great Lakes region, since we have an exceedingly great distance to deal with. Then the text would say what it says, and we would acknowledge it, and then we can actually start to come up with a good defense for those facts.

  53. Ed Goble

    Oh, one more thing Clark, that I forgot to mention in the previous statement. By making ideologically driven interpretations, your apologetics manifest a DOUBLE STANDARD where you are happy to accept an obvious literal interpretation where it is convenient to your ideology, but you reject another obvious literal interpretation when it is inconvenient.

  54. Once again Ed, I just don’t think hermeneutics works that way. I think there’s a playback between theory and text and one has to see what models account for both. To speak of “literalness” given the nature of the translation is kind of silly. That presupposes a tight translation method and tight translation content. Which is fine if you presuppose that. (That’s David’s point) But you’re not going to get far convincing others who don’t hold that premise and often (as here) the premise is left unexamined and unargued for.

    To merely discount a different position as a double standard simply because it doesn’t follow your premises (which are unargued for) is exactly the sort of problem I think David is highlighting. I’ll be the first to admit this does occur in apologetics. I find it unfortunate when it does. Things simply are not as simple and obvious as some portray.

  55. Ed Goble

    No, actually the hermenuetics do work that way if you let the text speak. (1) Narrow neck of Land at the south part of desolation. (2) Desolation extends an exceedingly great distance to large bodies of water. (3) One large body of water among the others is named Ripliancum. (4) Cumorah is a short distance southward of that large body of water.

    You don’t see it that way, because the core of your belief system is based not on the text but on Mesoamerican archaeology, and you are in lockstep with the Mesoamericanist thought process. What I mean to say is that the question of archaeology being the biggest concern is all you care about. You think Cumorah must be in the same land with the “urban collossus” because you have preprogrammed yourself to not think past that. You can’t see past the prestige of the Mesoamericanist theory.

    It is impossible to you to consider because you haven’t looked critically at that thought process. You haven’t critically examined David Palmer’s/John Sorenson’s criteria for Cumorah in light of Great Lakes Region archaeology which John Clark and the rest of the ilk of the Maxwell Institute guys gloss over. I mean, certainly I respect them for all the good they do, but their work for Cumorah is not beyond reproach nor is it gospel. It needs to be scrutinized, and I’m aiming to start an ideology of sorts that uses rational argument to scrutinize it, not the tired old numb-headed quotes about Cumorah coming from Church tradition.

    I don’t discount your position merely on the basis because it doesn’t follow my premises. To the contrary. MY RESEARCH discounts your premises, not mere polemics. I’m led by evidence and years of hard work to overcome and refute your premise that leads me to discount your premise.

  56. Actually Ed I’m not particularly committed to either side although it does appear to me that the mesoAmerica model has far more evidence overall. And I have looked at the Great Lakes model. It’s fine to be passionate for a model. But let’s not discount the overall interpretive strategies.

  57. Ed Goble

    It appears that you misunderstand me if you think I’m an advocate for the great lakes model. I used to be but abandoned it. I’m an advocate for the traditional Mesoamerica/New York Cumorah model.

    The Great Lakes model doesn’t work at all, and neither does the Mesoamerican model. You must have a land southward in Mesoamerica and a Cumorah in the Great Lakes region for it to work.

    The Mesoamerica model works for the Land Southward but suffers in its Cumorah candidate. The Great Lakes model only has Cumorah right and the rest of it is a pile of nonsense. And there are many great lakes models. There is the General New York model, such as characterized by the Delbert Curtis, and then there is the “broad” great lakes model such as my old one featured in the book “This Land: Zarahemla and the Nephite Nation”, and now Rod Meldrum is carrying on the torch of that one, having essentially lifted the major points from my book. Suffice it to say that I have retracted all that stuff that appeared in it.

    Anyway, this is now way off track from the main point of this because it wasn’t my initial thing to go off on Book of Mormon Geography, so I’m trying to keep all of this brief so we can get back on track.

    But I will not discount interpretive strategies in general. I’m discounting their misuse in the case of the Mesoamericanist Cumorah model.

  58. clarkgoble

    I’ll just say I disagree and leave it at that.

  59. Ed Goble

    Sounds like a good plan. I’ll leave it at that too.

  60. Can I ask a question? Joseph didn’t really explain the translation process, so we rely on accounts of people who were witnessing it – often submitted years after the fact.

    I have read that Joseph at times agonized over a choice of words. I haven’t found a source for that tidbit. Are there documents that report this? (This would point to loose control, I suppose.)

    At least Martin Harris and Oliver reported that Joseph couldn’t pronounce (some?) BofM names and had to spell them out. I have those refs. (This pointing to tight control.)

    We would have to try to take into account what others have given us in description of the process, which point to a mixture of styles.

    Myself (I’m no scholar), I subscribe to the “mystical” (or door #3), IOW, one can derive ethical/doctrinal ideas, but the rest of the text is filler. Take the example of the “head” of the river Sidon (Alma 22:27). “Head” here can, by dictionary definition, mean either a protruding delta, where the river has carried sediments to form a peninsula, or the headwaters, or the source of the river. I wonder if that is done on purpose (to avoid giving too many geographical clues for some reason) and whether we can know if it is so?

    Thanks for bringing this up, since I’m interested in this.

  61. I am not an expert in early church history. The only writing I have seen that discusses this is the chapter in Rough Stone Rolling that touches on Book of Mormon translation. Perhaps someone with more detailed knowledge can fill in the gaps.