"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
October 3, 2014
Digging into Golden "Or" in the Imperfect Book of Mormon
by Jeff Lindsay

One popular anti-Mormon site cites Alma 24:19 as an example of a really strange blunder in the Book of Mormon. It has this confusing passage: "...they buried their weapons of peace, or they buried the weapons of war for peace."

The authors point out that "weapon of peace" just seems crazy. They think it's a mistake. Frankly, I suspect they are right — but there is an important positive aspect to my admission that deserves some attention.

Yes, there are errors in the Book of Mormon. Not just errors created from the tedious dictation process or the printing process, as we can see from the detailed work of Royal Skousen in investigating the original manuscript and printer's manuscripts of the Book of Mormon, but also apparent errors in the engraved text, right there on the sacred gold plates.

Some people are unprepared for the possibility that inspired writers, whether Moses, Peter, Paul, or faithful scribes passing on the biblical text, could make errors. But if the men creating scripture could make serious errors in their own lives, as Peter did in denying Christ three times, for example, must we demand typo-free perfection in their speaking and writing?

I think a careful examination of scripture will reveal that any text that passes through human hands can occasionally have mistakes introduced.

The inerrant biblical record that some people reverse is largely imaginary — a brief examination of the complexities of the conflicting ancient variants for nearly every verse and the obvious gaps in some parts of the Hebrew and Greek texts can quickly reveal that we have received is far from error free.

The Book of Mormon has not suffered at the hands of countless scribes over the centuries resulting in variants for every verse, but humans were still involved and errors are possible in the original sacred plates.

Consider that word, plates, and specifically the thin golden plates Mormon was engraving, apparently on both sides. Once you engraved a word, it wasn't easy to erase it. Pound it out might not be feasible — for example, it could damage what was on the other side.

So what do you do when you write something and realize you've made a typo? Suppose you're writing down the phrase "weapons of war, for peace" but then make the error, "weapons of peace." Without an eraser, without a metallic backspace function, one possible way to fix the problem might be to continue writing to add the correction, but use the Semitic equivalent of "or" to introduce the change.

A few LDS writers have pointed to a variety of passages using "or" in the Book of Mormon are consistent with this "no eraser" theory. I think the primary online reference on the topic is "No Erasers" by Mary Lee Treat.

Mary lists a number of passages where an engraving error may have been corrected by restating what was meant, just the way we do it when speaking, but not like what you would expect for a book being composed by someone working on paper where it's easy to strike out a passage and revise it on the spot.

Later authors noted the significance of the word "or" in such passages, and pointed out a variety of interesting passages that Mary missed.

One passage not listed in Mary's article is Mosiah 7:8 (actually, it's mislabeled in that article as Mosiah 5:11), which my family encountered a while back as we were reading through Mosiah.

Here we read about a man named Ammon and some other Nephites from Zarahemla who came down to search for the people that went back to Lamanite territory to settle the original land of Nephi.

Ammon and some others are seized by King Limhi's guards, who mistook them for some other troublemakers. Mosiah 7:8 tells us that "when they had been in prison two days they were again brought before the king, and their bands were loosed; and they stood before the king, and were permitted, or rather commanded, that they should answer the questions which he should ask them."

Why use "permitted, or rather commanded"? If they were commanded, just say so.

If Mormon were preparing gold plates reciting this story and wrote "permitted" first by mistake, not having an eraser, he could have corrected it by adding "or rather, commanded" after the error. But why would there be such an error in the first place? Read the rest of Mosiah 7 for a clue.

In verse 11, the king concludes some remarks with, "Ye are permitted to speak." And in verse 12, Ammon rejoices that he is yet alive and that he is "permitted to speak."

So I think that Mormon, being familiar with the text that he was about to copy, had "permitted to speak" on his mind from the later conversation, and very naturally engraved "permitted" in Mosiah 7:8, when the record actually had "commanded."

The mistake is perfectly natural given the text that follows, and the use of the "or" to correct the scribal error makes sense for someone engraving on gold. But for someone crafting and revising a text on paper, "permitted, or rather commanded" seems out of place.

This is one of many interesting little textual issues in the Book of Mormon that seem strange or awkward until the context is considered. In this case, the context is that of an authentic, ancient document engraved on golden plates by prophets of God who, in spite of being inspired, could sometimes skip a word or make other typos in need of correction.

For more from Jeff Lindsay, see Mormanity at http://mormanity.blogspot.com and his Mormon Answers section at http://jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/.


Bookmark and Share    
About Jeff Lindsay

Jeff Lindsay has been defending the Church on the Internet since 1994, when he launched his LDSFAQ website under JeffLindsay.com. He has also long been blogging about LDS matters on the blog Mormanity (mormanity.blogspot.com). Jeff is a longtime resident of Appleton, Wisconsin, who recently moved to Shanghai, China, with his wife, Kendra. He works for an Asian corporation as head of intellectual property. Jeff and Kendra are the parents of 4 boys, 3 married and the the youngest on a mission.

He is a former innovation and IP consultant, a former professor, and former Corporate Patent Strategist and Senior Research Fellow for a multinational corporation.

Jeff Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins and Mukund Karanjikar are authors of the book Conquering Innovation Fatigue (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).

Jeff has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Brigham Young University and is a registered US patent agent. He has more than 100 granted US patents and is author of numerous publications. Jeff's hobbies include photography, amateur magic, writing, and Mandarin Chinese.

Copyright © Hatrack River Enterprise Inc. All Rights Reserved. Web Site Hosted and Designed by WebBoulevard.com