History of the Manuscripts of the Book of Mormon
by Shirley R. Heater
In 1986, while preparing the text for First Nephi of the Study Book of Mormon project, Zarahemla Research Foundation began a word-for-word comparison of the Original and Printer's manuscripts with the 1830,1837,1840,1874, 1892 and 1908 editions. Figure 1 illustrates the sequence and relationships of the two manuscripts and six editions which will be discussed in the following articles. The basic research of the textual comparison research project was concluded in 1990 (see "A Literal Manuscript Version of the Book of Mormon," Recent Book of Mormon Developments, vol.2 p. 65).
We appreciate the cooperation of both the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) churches in this research effort and for their assistance in obtaining photographs of these manuscripts. We're grateful to Brigham Young University Professor Royal Skousen for sharing results of his personal examination of both the Original and Printer's manuscripts. New photographs of the surviving pages of the Original manuscript in both infrared and ultraviolet light should provide material for additional research in years to come. For additional information consult Book of Mormon Critical Text: A Tool for Scholarly Reference (FARMS 1984) and "Towards a Critical Edition of the Book of Mormon" (Skousen 1990).
The Lost 116 Pages (Book of Lehi)
The golden plates were delivered to Joseph Smith, Jr. by Moroni on September 22,1827, which was also the date of the Feast of Trumpets that year. The plates contained Mormon's abridgment of the large plates of Nephi, Moroni's abridgement of Ether and personal writings of both Mormon and Moroni, along with the unabridged small plates of Nephi and a sealed portion. Joseph stated that he began his work of translation on Mormon's abridgment from the Book of Lehi (Preface, 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon).
Using divinely prepared interpreters, Joseph read from the plates (2 Nephi 11:142; Isaiah 29:22 [no KJV]), dictating to a scribe who wrote as he spoke. Joseph's wife, Emma, and her brother, Reuben Hale, were scribes during this early period of translation. Martin Harris became the primary scribe after he joined the work. At least 116 pages were completed by mid-June 1828. After much persistence, Martin obtained Joseph's permission to borrow the manuscript. In addition to showing the manuscript to his wife, father and mother, brother and sister-in-law, Martin also showed it to others; the manuscript disappeared and was never recovered.
After the loss of the manuscript, Joseph lost his gift to translate and had to surrender the plates and interpreters to Moroni. They were returned to Joseph three months later on September 22, 1828, exactly one year after Joseph first received the plates.
It was some time before the work of translating began again as evidenced by Joseph's statement, "I did not however go immediately to translating, but went to laboring with my hands upon a small farm which I had purchased of my wife's father, in order to provide for my family" (Smith 1842:817). Joseph resumed translating during the winter of 1828-1829. Only a small portion had been translated when the work was interrupted again. This is evidenced by a revelation given in March 1829 (D&C 5:6a) which states, "When thou hast translated a few more pages thou shalt stop for a season . . ." Translation began full-time after Oliver Cowdery arrived in Harmony, Pennsylvania in April and became Joseph's primary scribe. Oliver wrote "Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated . . ." (Cowdery 1834:14).
Then, in the first four days of June 1829, Joseph, Emma and Oliver moved with David Whitmer to the home of his father, Peter Whitmer, in Fayette, New York. Translating resumed on June 5th. It was also during the month of June that the plates were shown to the three and eight witnesses whose testimonies are included in all editions of the Book of Mormon. Application was made for a copyright on June 11, 1829, and it is believed that the work of translating the Book of Mormon was completed by July 1, 1829.
Actual time spent translating is estimated to have been 65 to 75 days (FARMS 1986; Welch and Rathbone 1986:3-27). This was a miraculous feat-a manuscript of nearly 300,000 words, written one time, straight through, in spite of several interruptions-when compared with "scholarly" translations of the Bible. For example, it took thirteen years for Martin Luther to translate the Bible, fifteen years for 32 scholars to translate the Revised Standard Version and fourteen years for 82 translators to prepare the English Revised. The King James Version was translated in two years and nine months by 54 scholars (Barabas 1967-117-123). When Joseph's gift to translate was restored to him, he was instructed not to redo what he had previously translated. Instead, he was to translate the unabridged small plates of Nephi (which covered the same period of time as the 116 lost pages translated from the large plates) and then continue where he had left off in translating the abridgment. However, we know that some pages from the initial translating effort (beyond the 116 lost pages) remained in Joseph's possession. Joseph stated in the Preface to the 1830 edition that he was told by the Lord:
... therefore, you shall translate the engravings which are on the plates of Nephi, down even till you come to the reign of King Benjamin, or until you come to that which you have translated, which you have retained [emphasis added].
Joseph shared very little about the actual process of translating. He was told by the Lord that people
would not believe you, my servant Joseph, if it were possible that you could show them all these things .... I have reserved those things which I have intrusted unto you, my servant Joseph, for a wise purpose in me, and it shall be made known unto future generations.
D&C 5:2c, 3a
Joseph was asked by his brother Hyrum to relate "the information of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon" at a church conference which was held October 25, 1831 at Orange, Ohio. The minutes record his response-that "it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon; and also ... it was not expedient ... to relate these things" (Cannon and Cook 1983:23). A revelation received seven days after the conference states that:
after having received the record of the Nephites, yea, even my servant, Joseph Smith, Jr., might have power to translate, through the mercy of God, by the power of God, the Book of Mormon [see also Smith 1852:707].
The Book of Mormon text itself corroborates that this record would come forth "by the gift and power of the Lamb" (1 Nephi 3:185). Concerning the translation of the title page of the Book of Mormon, Joseph said in his personal history:
I wish also to mention here, that the title page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates, which contained the record which has been translated; the language of the whole running the same as all Hebrew writing in general; and that, said title page is not by any means a modern composition either of mine or of any other man's who has lived or does live in this generation. Therefore, in order to correct an error which generally exists concerning it, I give below that part of the title page of the English version of the Book of Mormon, which is a genuine and literal translation of the title page of the Original Book of Mormon, as recorded on the plates [emphasis added].
Following this statement, Joseph included the title, sub-heading and the two paragraphs which appear on the title page of the first two editions of the Book of Mormon (later editions placed this page following a "shorter" title page). "The remainder of the title page is of course, modern," Joseph states (Smith 1842:943).
It is apparent that what Joseph did was not ordinary "translating." Normally, a translator must know both languages. We are told by the authors of the Book of Mormon that they wrote in reformed Egyptian, using the Hebrew pattern, and that because none other people knoweth our language, therefore he [the Lord] hath prepared means for the interpreta tion thereof" (Mormon 4:100). That Joseph re )rteYI spelled out at least the first occurrence of unfamiliar words or names for the scribe vidence of which is found on the Original manuscript-lends additional support to the literalness of the "translation" (Briggs 1884:396-397,1916:454; Whitmer 1875).
The only known facsimile of characters copied from the plates is shown in Figure 2. It was in the possession of David Whitmer until his death in 1888, then passed on to his grandson. David had it photographed, and W. H. Kelley (an apostle in the early Reorganization) reports that the characters were "carefully examined and compared" by him and others. Kelley published the facsimile (Kelley 1899:204-205; Church History 1:18-23). The RLDS church received the sheet of characters from Whitmer's heir in 1903. (The "Anthon Transcript" reportedly discovered in 1980 by Mark Hoffman proved to be a forgery.)
Description of the Original Manuscript. The paper used for the Original manuscript was called "foolscap." Foolscap originally referred to a watermark of a jester's cap on writing paper. This term came to apply to writing paper which generally measured 12" to 13-1/2" wide by 15" to 17" long, whether or not it carried a watermark. The surviving Original manuscript pages are of two sizes and three kinds of paper-one, a coarse mesh machined paper, the others of finer handmade texture.
A number of sheets at a time (a folio or signature) were folded and then hand sewn with binding thread along the fold. The folio for Alma 13 through Helaman 2 consists of more than twenty sheets, which had been folded, resulting in 80 pages. On the microfilm this folio appears to have been "sewn" with yarn.
Several decades ago the LIDS church photographed the pages in ultraviolet light with the folios still sewn together, making it difficult to read the "gutters."
The threads were then removed and the pages that did not fall apart were cut or torn apart along the fold to prepare the sheets for laminating. After the pages were separated, some were rephotographed where the gutters had been hard to read. When these "before and after" photos are compared, those made after the pages were cut apart are superior for a word-for-word, letter-by-letter study where the gutters were not visible or the text had been covered by loose fragments in photographs.
The Original manuscript is handwritten on both sides of the paper. Many early sources indicated that the pages were numbered. Numbers are visible on only a few pages today due to frayed and missing corners. Writing is continuous with no paragraph divisions, no punctuation-except on a fragment from Third Nephi 11-12 which was apparently done by the printer for the 1830 edition (Skousen 1991:4-5)-and only some capitalization of proper names and random capitalization of other words. Occasionally words are divided at the ends of lines with no regard for syllabification, most often with a hyphen at the beginning of the line preceding the end of the word.
Only a small number of scribal corrections are evident on the Original manuscript. Corrections made at the time of dictation are obvious because incorrect words are crossed out and the correct word or phrase follows immediately afterward. Other corrections inserted above the line could have been done then or at a later time. Misspellings, capitalizations and the use of archaic forms vary with scribes. While the majority of the surviving Original manuscript is in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery, the handwriting of two other scribes occurs on a few pages in the First Nephi portion, one of whom may be Reuben Hale. In addition, twenty-eight words in Alma 21 (first part) have been tentatively identified as Joseph Smith's handwriting (Skousen 1991:5).
A "subject caption" or heading appears at the top of most manuscript pages. These headings were added after the completion of each page. This conclusion is drawn from examples such as the page seen in Figure 6 on which appear the handwritings of two scribes. The heading is in the same handwriting an that on the last portion of the page.
According to his mother, Lucy, Joseph received a commandment from the Lord following the completion of the Original manuscript by July 1, 1829 that Oliver Cowdery was to prepare a copy of the entire manuscript for security purposes (Smith 1969:170). guard was to be constantly on watch at the house where Oliver was working in order to provide protection for the manuscripts. Oliver began copying the manuscript immediately and printing began a short time later after a contract was secured with E. B. Grandin. It was the copy made by Oliver-the "Printer's copy" (except as discussed in the next section)-which was carried to the printer's office, a few pages at a time, also with a guard in attendance According to John H. Gilbert, typesetter and pressman for the printer of the 1830 Book of Mormon, the first installment delivered to the printer was 24 pages long (one folio) and was picked up and returned at the end of the day's work. This ritual was repeated daily, except for the few times when Gilbert took portions home to read and punctuate in preparation for printing. Oliver continued to prepare the copy while the typesetting and printing was in process.
It took some time for the task of copying to be completed as noted in a letter from Oliver to Joseph almost four months after the work was begun. In the letter, dated November 6, 1829, Oliver states, "I ha-, just got to Alma [sic] commandment to his Son [sic' coppying [sic] the manuscrip [sic] . . ." This passage just past the halfway point (Alma 17) in the Book of Mormon.
We know that the printing and binding was completed by March 26,1830, when the first copies (5,000 total) of the 1830 edition of the Book of Mon were offered for sale to the public. This indicates that Oliver was just keeping ahead of the printer in preparing the manuscript copy.
While over eighty percent of the Printer's manuscript is in Oliver's handwriting, the appearance of two additional handwritings makes it clear that two others assisted him. Scribe #2 is unidentified, whereas recently scribe #3 has tentatively been identified as Hyrum Smith (Skousen, personal communcation 1991).
Description of the Printer's Manuscript. The Printer's manuscript is comprised of 464 numbered pages with the two unnumbered pages of preface material (a handwritten transcript of the Copyright Certificate and the Preface written by Joseph Smith, Jr., both of which were included in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon).
The manuscript is complete and legible except for the bottom of the first page of text. The bottom of this first sheet is worn away, losing the last line of writing and part of the preceding line; 17 complete words plus nine partial words are missing from the front side. On the other side, the last line and part of another is also missing, although two complete lines appear to be missing in photos and on the microfilm. A tissue-like laminating material applied to the bottom of the page, apparently to prevent cracking of the paper, obscures the text. When the page is held up to a light source, writing is visible underneath the lamination.
Tops of the letters of the partial line on the first page can be seen. Other places throughout the manuscript have also had strips of protective lamination applied. An occasional word or partial word is missing along the edge of a page or a corner which has frayed.
The sheets of large foolscap-some machine-made and others handmade-had been folded and sewn into folios in the same manner as the Original manuscript. The sheets vary in size by about a half centimeter, with all sheets in a folio of the same type and of uniform size.
Several pages of the Printer's manuscript have been cut apart, probably by the printer. Some were cut down the gutter; eleven were cut horizontally across the sheet, two were cut twice, and one was cut three times. The pages cut horizontally had also been pinned back together with 39 min pins which remained in place for a long period of time. A newspaper account in 1878 relates that "it can be seen that several of the pages have been cut, so that the printers could set the copy in what is known to the craft as 'takes"' (Hunt 1938:1293). Where the horizontal cuts had been made, laminating had been applied after removal of the pins. The text is visible through this tissue-like material; however, where a cut went through words, a line that looks like a pencil line remains and the text is not as easy to read.
Most of the pages in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery were carefully hand-ruled or mechanically reproduced across the two-page spread before they were folded. The evenly spaced lines may indicate Oliver was using a master grid of some kind or at least measuring to keep the lines uniformly spaced. A second scribe apparently folded the sheets first, then drew the lines which do not extend into or across the gutter. Figure 8a shows a "goof" in the hand-ruling where the instrument obviously slipped. Hand-ruling by individual scribes resulted in a varying number of lines of writing-as few as 29 and as many as 42. One exception, however, is page 428 which concludes the book, book of Mormon, and is the last page of a folio (ending a large section in the handwriting of scribe #2). This page contains only 11 lines and the rest of the page is blank. The book of Ether, which begins on page 429, is a new folio of a different paper and with Oliver resuming as copyist to conclude the work.
In the process of copying, the scribe corrected some words which were misspelled on the Original manuscript. However, additional misspellings and archaic spellings are noted on the Printer's manuscript which did not occur on the Original. In many instances, proper names which had not been capitalized on the Original were capitalized on the Printer's.
As on the Original manuscript, the writing is one long paragraph, virtually without punctuation (exceptions are small portions done by Oliver Cowdery and scribe #2 as they wrote, plus as added later by the printer); almost every line is filled. Also as on the Original, some words are separated at the ends of lines; where words are hyphenated, hyphens usually appear at the beginning of lines, although some are placed at the end of the line as well as the beginning in the later part of the manuscript.
RLDS Church Historian Richard Howard noted that "only sporadic punctuation and printer's marks appear on a small number of pages" and they "appear to have been added later, some with pencil and some with instrument and ink different from those used in writing the manuscript" (Howard 1969:37). Firsthand testimony of John Gilbert stated that he was responsible for pencil marks on the manuscript. "For two or three nights I took it home with me and read it, and punctuated it with a lead pencil. This will account for the punctuation marks in pencil" (Wood 1958; see Figure 8b). Punctuation marks are found on about thirty percent of the manuscript, although only a portion of some pages are actually punctuated. They first appear on the last nine lines of page 72 of the manuscript, extending through page 83. The punctuation marks near the beginning (pages 72-80) are in ink which has bled through the paper and is clearly visible on the reverse side on both the microfilm and photocopy. Most of the punctuation marks are in pencil, however. There are no printer's markings on the Printer's manuscript for 72 pages, from Helaman 3 through Mormon. The fact that there are also punctuation marks on a fragment of the Original manuscript from Third Nephi 11-12 may indicate that the Original-for at least a portion of the section, or even the entire section-was used by the printer for setting the type for the 1830 edition.
In addition to its use in producing the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, the Printer's manuscript was also used to produce the 1837 edition. Editorial markings were made directly on the manuscript for some of the textual changes made in that edition (see "The 1837 Edition Introduced Significant Editorial Changes" pp. 99-105). These markings appear in a darker, heavier ink in contrast to the original writing which has faded toward a brown color (Skousen, personal communcation 1991). We look forward to publication of Skousen's complete report on his study Of the Printer's manuscript and anticipate more interesting and previously unknown details.
What Happened to the Manuscripts?
After the First Edition of the Book of Mormon was printed in 1830, Joseph Smith apparently kept both manuscripts. On June 25, 1833 Joseph wrote a letter from Kirtland to W. W. Phelps in Independence in which he stated that "as soon as we can get time we will review the manuscripts of the Book of Mormon, after which they will be forwarded to you" (Smith 1845:800-802; Church History 1:299). Oliver Cowdery was also in Independence at that time.
After the 1837 edition was printed, Oliver, who was responsible for printing the 1837, kept the Printer's manuscript; Joseph kept the Original manuscript in his possession. When Oliver left the church in 1838, he took the Printer's manuscript with him. A few months before his death in 1850 he gave the Printer's manuscript to his brother-in-law, David Whitmer, who reportedly kept the manuscript under his bed tied in old newspapers and in a trunk (Smith 1953:245).
With the Printer's manuscript out of the picture, the Original manuscript (the only manuscript then available) was the source for a small number of changes in the next edition of the Book of Mormon, the 1840 edition, which was based on the 1837. On October 2, 1841,Joseph Smith placed the manuscript along with some other items in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House. Joseph specified that it was the Original manuscript in a statement dated December 29, 1841.
In September 1882 after Emma Smith's death, her second husband, Major Lewis Bidamon, opened the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House during a remodeling project. He removed the Original manuscript only to find that its condition had deteriorated due to damage from water seepage.
It was believed that Bidamon equally divided the surviving pages between the LDS and RLDS churches (Church History 6:62; Burgess 1934:137). However, Joseph Smith III reported that Bidamon sent him pages from the book of Jacob while residing in Lamoni, Iowa. Brother Smith stated at the 1908 General Conference that he had received "half a dozen pages." Within two to three months after obtaining the pages, the writing had faded and the pages were reported to have eventually deteriorated and crumbled (General Conference Minutes 1908:1129; Burgess 1930:369, 1934:137). In 1951 in an address at a Book of Mormon Institute, Israel A. Smith stated that "an examination of photostats of pages we received from Bidamon causes us to believe they were in Cowdery's handwriting" (Smith 1951:255). No other mention of these photostats has been found and their whereabouts is unknown.
The LDS church did not receive portions of the Original manuscript directly from Bidamon. Instead, the pages were given to individuals who visited Nauvoo and then later turned them over to the church. Dean Jessee of the LDS Church Historian's Office reported in 1970 that the church's holdings consisted of a total of 144 pages (seventy-two leaves), plus numerous partial pages and fragments, or about one-third of the pages of the total manuscript (Jessee 1970:276; see also FARMS 1984b). These pages and fragments are from First and Second Nephi, Alma, Helaman and Third Nephi. While full pages exist from First and Second Nephi, many of the surviving pages from Alma to Third Nephi are damaged, with holes or missing corners, leaving only about threefourths of a page on the average. Taking this into consideration means that approximately one-fourth of the text remains. Only a total word count would determine precisely what percentage of the Original manuscript still exists.
In 1937, Wilford Wood purchased other fragments from Charles Bidaman. The small "clump," which measured 2" by 4" by 1-1 / 2" thick, was wrapped in cellulose (or cellophane) and kept in a clear plastic box in the Wilford Wood Collection. Two photos are included in the back of Joseph Smith Begins His Work (Wood 1958). In 1991, the Wood family permitted conservators at the BYU library in Provo to examine these previously unknown fragments. The conservators carefully unfolded and pressed the fragments. The photographer for the BYU Fine Arts Museum photographed the fragments in infrared and ultraviolet light. Before returning them to the Wood family, the conservators put the fragments in a milar lamination for preservation. After initial studies have been completed, the photos will be made available to interested scholars.
The fragments are of four types of paper and cover five areas of the Book of Mormon: Second Nephi (both early and ending parts), juncture of Jacob/Enos, Helaman 5 (middle) to Third Nephi 2, and Ether 1 (middle) to end. Although most are small fragments, several are in the range of 3" by 5" or 4" by 6". The text is readable on the ultraviolet prints. Early reports indicate printer's marks at the end of Helaman and beginning of Third Nephi, additional evidence that the Original may have been used by the printer in setting type for this section.
A current list of the surviving pages given in Table 1 includes the Wood fragments and a 1974 acquisition not listed in the earlier sources.
Even though it is not likely that much survived beyond Third Nephi, since the bottom sheets of the manuscript would have received the most severe damage while in the cornerstone, it is conceivable that other leaves or fragments still exist and may turn up in the future.
Meanwhile, in 1878, David Whitmer was visited by Orson Pratt and Joseph Fielding Smith of the Utah church. According to an account in the Richmond, Missouri Conservator dated September 13, 1878, the following transpired:
... Elder Pratt ... made an earnest request of Mr. David Whitmer to surrender it [the Printer's manuscript] to him, as he had been appointed to take charge of the archives of the church [in Utah], and that should he do so that he would be rewarded for his care of it to any amount that he would name. But Mr. Whitmer, who had held it for near half a century, the proper costodian [sic], refused to part with it on any terms, and after a pleasant conversation of about an hour they left with the request that he keep it safe (Hunt 1938:1293).
Within two weeks of that published report, the Conservator wrote that "the Kansas City Journal of Commerce thinks that the manuscript should be 'deposited at Independence (Missouri), as that is to be the future city of the faith' . . ." (Hunt 1938:1293). However, the manuscript remained in David Whitmer's possession.
The Reorganized Church first learned of the existence of the Printer's manuscript in the early 1870's. However, it wasn't until nearly ten years later that arrangements were made to examine it. On April 11, 1884, the General Conference adopted a resolution
That a committee from our number be appointed for the purpose of comparing the present and Palmyra Edition of the Book of Mormon, with the manuscript in the hands of David Whitmer, and that Win. H. Kelley, T. W Smith, and A. H. Smith compose that committee (General Conference Minutes, Saints'Herald 1884:31:297-302).
In June 1884, less than two years after the Original manuscript was taken out of the Nauvoo House cornerstone, William Kelley and Heman C. Smith from the RLDS church met with David Whitmer for an initial examination of the Printer's manuscript. The following month the committee-which included Joseph Smith III at David Whitmer's requestgathered for eight days at Whitmer's home for the purpose of comparing the Printer's manuscript with the 1830, 1840 and the first RLDS 1874 edition. Their report was published in the Saints'Herald (Kelley et. al. 1884:545-548; see also Anderson 1936:113).
When David Whitmer died in January 1888, custody of the manuscript passed to his grandson, George Schweich. In 1902 Schweich contacted the RLDS church, offering to turn over the manuscript for the sum of $2,500. After consideration by the First Presidency, the Minutes of the First Presidency state that
All seemed to be agreed that if some other paper which he possessed could be secured together with the Book of Mormon manuscript, they would be worth the price
asked. Hence a motion prevailed that negotiations be opened with him for that property (1902:48).
The final price of $2,450 purchased not only the Printer's manuscript, but also other manuscripts". .. John Whitmer's history, and a third copy of some parts of the Inspired Version and the manuscript of part of the early revelations . . ." plus a sheet with characters taken from the plates (General Conference Minutes 1904:689; Burgess 1930:369).
They were turned over to the RLDS church April 18,1903 (Church History 6:62). Acquisition of the Printer's manuscript was announced in the March 29, 1905 issue of the Saints'Herald (Salyards 1905:281-283) which includes the earliest known photographs of the manuscript (p. 463 of the manuscript which ends the Book of Moroni and begins the testimony of the three witnesses, plus a view of the complete manuscript). This manuscript-the Printer's manuscript-was the basis for the 1908 Authorized Edition.
The Printer's manuscript is presently stored in a bank vault in Kansas City. It was on public display during the RLDS World Conferences in 1960,1970 and again in 1980 in observance of the sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of the First Edition of the Book of Mormon and the founding of the church. Consideration is being given to placing the manuscript on permanent display in a museum planned for the new RLDS temple complex.
Microfilms of the Original and the Printer's manuscripts are available for individual study at both the RLDS and LDS church headquarters. A large photoreproduction of the Printer's manuscript is also available in the RLDS Library-Archives. Those portions of the Original manuscript which are in private and public holdings are not included on the above-mentioned microfilms.
Which Manuscript is Which?
As noted above, during the time that David Whitmer was custodian of the Printer's manuscript, several individuals examined and compared the manuscript with the printed editions. They correctly determined that the manuscript in Whitmer's possession was the one used by the printer, based on the appearance of printer's markings on portions of the manuscript. However, they incorrectly called this manuscript the "Original," thereby causing confusion about the identity of the manuscripts for the next eighty or more years.
After the RLDS church obtained the Printer's manuscript from Whitmer's heir, the 1906 General Conference appointed a committee to study the versification and produce a concordance; a subcommittee ultimately made a comparison of the recently-acquired manuscript with the 1837 and 1874 editions which resulted in the 1908 Book of Mormon. The 1908 Authorized Edition, on its title page as well as in its preface, refers to the Printer's manuscript as the Original manuscript, thereby contributing to the confusion.
One of the reasons for their erroneous conclusion was the identification of multiple handwritings on the Printer's manuscript-portions written by others constitute seventeen percent of the whole. It was known that Oliver Cowdery, as principal scribe for the Original Manuscript, was assisted by others, but it was wrongly assumed that Oliver had solely prepared the Printer's copy. Therefore, the assumption was made that the Printer's manuscript with its multiple handwritings was the Original (Kelley et. al. 1884:545; Church History 4:451, 459).
However, they were forgetting the manuscript from the Nauvoo House cornerstone. It, too, contains the handwritings of others in addition to Oliver Cowdery. Remember that Joseph Smith, Jr., himself, said that it was the Original manuscript which was placed in the cornerstone. Because both manuscripts contain the handwriting of others besides Oliver, this criteria cannot be used to determine which manuscript is the Original and which is the Printer's copy.
At the 1908 General Conference, in response to the question "as to whether we have the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon," statements were made by several individuals who had examined the Printer's manuscript. The general consensus was that this-the only intact manuscript-was one of the two made prior to the printing of the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon and that the manuscript in possession of the RLDS church contained printer's marks in some places. But again, the presence of multiple handwritings made them assume it was the Original manuscript (General Conference Minutes 1908:1128-1130). Heman C. Smith later noted:
There has been some controversy as to which [manuscript] was the original. It matters not which was written first. The manuscript from which the book was printed is the one now preserved, for it has the printer's marks upon it in many places. So when we speak of the printed volume there is no question but this is the original from which it was produced [emphasis in original] (Smith 1969:170; Church History 6:279).
Because of the differences between the two manuscripts, there is reason for strong objection to the above statement that "it matters not which was written first." Clear identification of the Printer's manuscript was further confused when RLDS Church Historian S. A. Burgess declared that the manuscript actually "consisted of two-thirds of the original which was preserved and one-third of the manuscript which was sent to the printer" (1930:369). His conclusion may have been based on the appearance of punctuation on about thirty percent throughout the manuscript (which was primarily done by Gilbert) and the seventy-two page gap in punctuation discussed earlier. However, the manuscript is consistent in page numbering, page sizes (within 1/2 cm), and, except for the break at the end of Mormon as mentioned earlier, continuity of writing; it is obviously one complete manuscript. In the summer of 1968, handwriting specimens were compared with the Printer's manuscript, but no certain identification could be made even though earlier statements identified several handwritings as noted earlier (Howard 1969:27). To this date, no official identification of scribes on the Printer's manuscript has been made.
Comparing the Manuscripts
As the scribes hand copied line after line from the Original manuscript, there occurred copying errors such as writing the wrong word, adding or dropping s's or other final letters and omitting a word or phrase. In addition, spelling and capitalization on the Printer's manuscript differed in some places from the Original. Some errors occurred which were immediately corrected. Other corrections appear to have been made during a proofing step and prior to printing the 1830 edition. Some, however, were never corrected. Therefore, the resulting text of the Printer's manuscript differs from that of the Original manuscript. See all of these elements. Additional changes made directly on the Printer's manuscript show that it was also the manuscript used to produce the 1837 edition. These differences and the new understanding of the Hebrew nature of the Book of Mormon (and the significance of every word) undergird the importance of resolving the question of "which manuscript is which." After analyzing a variety of examples, the manuscripts can be properly identified based on the sequence of word omissions, changes and corrections. The analysis explains the consensus in both the LDS and RLDS churches today-that the Original manuscript is the one which was placed in the Nauvoo House cornerstone just as Joseph Smith, Jr. said it was and the Printer's manuscript is the one retained by Oliver Cowdery and presently owned by the RLDS church. The results of the textual comparison research of the two manuscripts is presented in "Variances Between the Original and Printer's Manuscript" pp. 80-88).
Anderson, Mary Audentia Smith (editor)
1936 Memoirs of President Joseph Smith. Saints' Herald
1967 Bible, English Versions. In The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary,
edited by Merrill C. Tenney, pp. 117-23.
Regency Reference Library, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Briggs, Edmund C.
1884 Letter dated April 25th to Bro. Joseph Smith. Saints' HeraId
1916 A Visit to Nauvoo in 1856. Journal of History
9(4):446-462. RLDS Board of Publication, Lamoni.
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