Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Joseph Smith Translation Proverbs 16:29

The Prophet Joseph Smith in his New Translation of the Bible at times makes the thinnest of changes. Attentive readers may appreciate such changes, but the same readers will be hard pressed to find mention of them in books or articles. 

For instance, Old Testament Manuscript 2 yields but three small corrections to Proverbs. Of these, Proverbs 16:29 shows a net change of just one word: the becomes a. A significant change? I'll leave that to the proverbial experts. One thing's for sure: the Prophet justifiably corrects "the way" to "a way," for the Hebrew reads veholikho bederekh lo-tov not baderekh lo-tov ("and directs him onto a path that is not good" not "the path that is not good"). The date of the change, 1833, predates Joseph Smith's study of Hebrew by nearly three years, yet the prophetic footing is sure.

In the KJV we read: "A violent man enticeth his neighbour, and leadeth him into the way that is not good." With the JST, we have "and leadeth him into a way that is not good" (or, dropping the crossed-out words in italics--a preliminary editorial sorting running throughout much of the Prophet's Bible--"into a way not good"). It's likely easier to entice your neighbor to join you in crime than anybody else; he sees the visible evidence of profit from ill-gotten gain. He sees that new car you're driving; he sees it trundling up the driveway every single day. The sense of the Proverb is: A man of violent will easily dupes a carefree and thoughtless buddy into going along with his schemes and thus quickly leads the fool down a bad and dangerous path. He dangles promises, while foregoing warnings of consequences.

In this case the translators slipped up (or went down the wrong path): baderekh not bederekh signals the demonstrative the. Does it matter either way in English? I don't know, but the preponderance of modern translations into English follow the Hebrew and translate "a path" or "a way" or "a bad path." 

There are many proverbs. So why Proverbs 16:29? Something caught his eye. Erlebnis. Nights spent running through woods or vaulting carriages down lonely roads leads one to wondering Just who in their right mind chases people down at night and all night over preachment and baptisms? (Or anything else?) Brother Joseph shakes his head. What tomfool of a fellow breathless runs with a mob? And where snores the plotter who put him up to it?



Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Something New Under The Old Sun: Joseph Smith Translation Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs

Sandwiched between Joseph Smith's three small corrections to the Proverbs and his numerous changes to Isaiah comes the statement: "The Songs of Solomon are not Inspired writings." Nothing beside remains: we await Ecclesiastes as permanent fixture under the sun and find emptiness instead. And why the plural: the Songs of Solomon, are, inspired writings? Well, there are any number of 'em. Love's like that. Lieder not Lied. 

(See also valsederholm.blogspot.com, 13 July 2010: "Joseph Smith's New Translation and the Rejection of the Song of Solomon as "Inspired Writings.")

Robert J. Matthews addressed the curious matter of Ecclesiastican neglect in a question-and-answer session about the Joseph Smith Translation:

"I have heard that the book of Ecclesiastes was omitted from the JST. Why was it not included?

"Response: It is not Ecclesiastes but the Song of Solomon that was omitted. The JST Old Testament manuscript (page 97) states that 'The Songs of Solomon are not inspired writings.' However, what you may also have heard is that in the JST Old Testament manuscript there is no mention of the book of Ecclesiastes, one way or another, with no comment. This is probably an oversight. The printed JST has Ecclesiastes precisely as contained in the King James Version," in Robert Millett and Robert J. Matthews (eds), Plain and Precious Things, 183-184.

Brother Matthews's answer calls for clarification. First, let's be fair: The questioner did not confuse the statement about the Song of Solomon with what he or she had heard about Ecclesiastes. Second, "the printed JST" refers to the Inspired Version published by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and thus sheds no light on an uncorrected, unmodified Ecclesiastes in Old Testament Manuscript 2. Third, when John M. Bernhisel copied the New Translation manuscript in Emma Smith's keeping, he added words not found in the manuscript itself: "Ecclesiastes Correct." That was all generations of Latter-day Saints, eager to get the latest on Ecclesiastes, would ever see (Reed C. Durham dissertation, "A History of Joseph Smith's Revision of the Bible," 162). Fourth, with the possible exception of the Song of Solomon, Latter-day Saints accept and study the entire Bible as canonical scripture. The Doctrine and Covenants no less than three times quotes the Song of Songs to describe the Restored Church adorned as a bride. Joseph Smith himself, here and there, borrows phrases from both Ecclesiastes and the Songs to illustrate his teachings (see indexes in Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith and The Words of Joseph Smith). And lest there be any doubt about the continuing status of Ecclesiastes in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, consider the magnificent way in which Elder David A. Bednar, speaking on 4 April 2015 (today) in General Conference, summarized his own theme by letting us "hear the conclusion of the whole matter": "Fear God. . .For God shall bring every work into judgment" (12:13-14).

With these four points out of the way, we can now see the substance of Matthews's answer to what should have been taken as an apt question: "The omission of Ecclesiastes from the manuscript was probably an oversight." Matthews qualifies his answer with "probably" because he has no definite answer to give. That he doesn't, however, find the omission purposeful can be seen by the follow-up: "The printed JST has Ecclesiastes precisely as contained in the King James Version" (and that's good enough for me!). (Should we tease Brother Matthews? I didn't know him so I can tease him. We talked once on the phone. I just dial people up all the time.) The Prophet Joseph did make changes in Proverbs; Proverbs and Ecclesiastes partly overlap; therefore, Ecclesiastes must be scripture and, accordingly, its omission must (let's qualify it with "probably") be an oversight.

Matthews makes a case, but the omission of a book does not fit the Prophet's pattern.

Ruth escapes change. The record boldly states: "The Book of Ruth is all correct" (OT Manuscript 2, 711). The same annotation attends the Lamentations of Jeremiah and six minor prophets. For both Ezra and Esther, following each Roman number, the chapters are, one by one, marked "correct." No surprise here: Ezra was the great scribe of Israel. No tidying up necessary; no errors need apply. As for Ruth and Esther, these are the only books in all scripture bearing the names of women. Enough said.

The Lamentations of Jeremiah also passes unscathed. How could anyone's lamentation invite correction? That would hardly be fair. The Book of Mormon includes some lamentations of its own. Consider Nephi lamenting from the tower. A lamentation can carry scriptural authority.

The most economical answer to the question Why was Ecclesiastes not included in the Joseph Smith Translation? must be because the Prophet Joseph Smith felt that some of the "writings" attributed to Solomon were "not inspired writings." Was "Songs" of Solomon intended as a catch-all? did it include the Preacher's wisdom? Not necessarily. Even so: "The Songs of Solomon are not inspired writings" does, by default, include Ecclesiastes.

H. Michael Marquardt, in a review of Faulring-Jackson-Matthews, Joseph Smith's 'New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts, says that editing in the Prophet's "Marked Bible" shows intent to change wording in Ecclesiastes (Journal of Mormon History 31:3, 2005, 274-281; page 277). A review of the pages shows otherwise. The scribal hand makes a quick go-over of Ecclesiastes by striking out many, perhaps most, of the italicized words and phrases. A very few words inseparably bound in meaning to the italicized are likewise struck through. The strikeouts point at an intent to read Ecclesiastes in a new light by omitting any words presumably not reflecting original Hebrew text. They signal nothing more.

Marquardt does discover a real puzzler. The manuscript stops tracking changes in Proverbs after chapter 22 (in fact, after v. 12). He again notes changes in the "Marked Bible," but once again, these "proposed changes" are simply a first tracking of the italics. The Prophet likely decided by chapter 23 (or 22:13) that the Proverbs, or at least the last nine-and-a-half chapters, was of little moment, perhaps of none at all--not even sufficient to mark "correct." The manuscript shows but three small corrections to Proverbs anyhow. For instance, Joseph justifiably corrects "the way" to "a way" in Proverbs 16:29: the Hebrew, after all, reads bederekh lo-tov not baderekh lo-tov. From Proverbs 24 to Isaiah 1, a unique prophetic stillness falls upon the Bible. Pass. Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs get lost in the wake of that decision or realization (Marquardt, "Review," 277).

Wisdom yet "uttereth her voice" in Scripture (Proverbs 1:20). The Book of Mormon evokes Lady Wisdom 58 times. Lehi speaks of bringing up a child in the way he should go (2 Nephi 4:5; Proverbs 22:6: "train up"). Does that show Lehi read the same collection of proverbs we do? It simply means Lehi went to school and became an "instructed scribe." There might even be a touch of Kohelet in Alma 40:11 (and cf. 2 Nephi 9), but we should not view Alma as quoting that book. The New England translator of Alma may indeed echo the Preacher, but any original similarity in wording signals not dependence but Kulturkreis, a broadly shared cultural theme: at death the spirit of life returns to the Giver.

We can lose our focus on the central truths of eternity in the interminable parade of proverbs. Joseph Smith was impatient to get on with "the translation of the prophets" (Doctrine and Covenants 90:13). "Remember," he tells the whimsical Josiah Quincy, "I am a prophet": "for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy," that is to say, "the spirit of all the prophets" (Revelation 19:10).

The Lord taught the Prophet more about some books than others, and there are effulgent expansions so well as splendid changes. If He taught nothing at all about darksome Ecclesiastes, so be it. The Joseph Smith Translation, more than any other work, guides us to those Biblical places which yield the greenest pastures of covenant, the stillest waters of promise, and the deepest wells of salvation. There Lady Wisdom also walks, and "the children of men," "wild flock" though they be, go there to "seek Wisdom" that "she should rule over them" (Mosiah 9:20-21; see also Helaman 12).


Joseph Smith--Kohelet-like--tried his hand at a few maxims of his own, but he never put them out as scripture. Sometime let's all get together and read from the Maxims, the Songs, and Kohelet to the strumming of harps. You come too.