Scholar documents some 3,200 textual changes in editions of the Book of Mormon
Award-winning scholar produces an easy-to-use, one-volume study of changes among every major edition including the original manuscripts.
Salt Lake City—By day, John S. Dinger is the Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Boise, Idaho. By night, the Rocky Mountain native has been moonlighting on something completely different, by comparing fifteen official editions of the Book of Mormon against the original 1830 printing and prepublication manuscripts. This month he published his findings in a new book, Significant Textual Changes in the Book of Mormon: The First Printed Edition Compared to the Manuscripts and to the Subsequent Major LDS English Printed Editions. Although the title is long, it does not overstate the contents, laying out some 3,200 significant differences among the various texts.
The original printing of the Book of Mormon was commissioned in 1830 by twenty-five-year-old Joseph Smith. Five thousand copies were printed in Palmyra, New York, by the Grandin Printing Company. Smith claimed an angel visited him when he was a teenager and began preparing him to receive records of ancient peoples of America. The ancient inhabitants are said to have come from Jerusalem and split into two groups around 600 BCE. The righteous faction presents itself as the record-keepers and God’s chosen people while the unrighteous side is cursed with dark skin, becoming the ancestors of Native Americans.
Smith said that after four annual meetings with the angel, he was entrusted with the records and, through mystical means, translated them into English. The resulting Book of Mormon became the basis for a new American religion with Smith as its prophet. Most of Smith’s followers eventually left the then United States to settle the American West. Since then, Latter-day Saints have gained political influence in the United States and claim some fourteen million members around the globe.
Stan Larson, a biblical scholar and retired curator at the University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library, was the first to make a detailed analysis of the printer’s Book of Mormon manuscripts and original handwritten sheets. In a foreword to Dinger’s book, Larson calls it an “exhaustive work,” allowing for a “better and more accurate appreciation of the development of what Mormons revere as God’s revealed word through the human instrument of His prophet Joseph Smith.”
As the Book of Mormon was being printed, the typesetter proofed the sheets, stopping the press to make grammatical corrections. Rather than start over, he would simply place the corrected sheets on top of the stack waiting to be collated, so that every surviving copy of the book’s first edition is likely unique. Dinger chose to use an edition of uncut sheets found by Mormon collector Wilford Wood in the 1950s. BYU scholar Janet Jenson’s study suggests that the uncut sheets were from the latter half of the production and represented about 25 percent of the printing errors in the first edition, making this text useful in separating later changes from those made by the press.
Among the more interesting textual changes are those that show a gradual departure from Christian views of the Trinity. For example, the phrase “Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and Savior” appeared in the first edition. It was later changed to “The Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father,” reflecting Joseph Smith’s evolving view of God. In another instance, likely based on a printing omission in the first edition, a comparison to a seed was not included in the first edition but was introduced 150 years later into the 1981 edition. Presently, most Mormon youth attending release-time seminary in high school memorize this verse that was not in the original Book of Mormon.
John Dinger will discuss these changes at Benchmark Books on Thursday, July 18, 6:00-7:00 p.m. There will be an informal book signing just prior to the event.
3269 South Main Street, Suite 250
Salt Lake City, Utah 84115
Significant Textual Changes in the Book of Mormon
The First Printed Edition Compared to the manuscripts and to
the Subsequent Major LDS English Printed Editions
John Dinger, editor
Smith-Pettit Foundation, publisher
454 pp. 978-1-56085-233-9.
hardback. $60.00, limited edition of 501 copies