D&C 10. Part 3. Text Evolution in Verses 1-19.

This continues part 1 and part 2 of the discussion. I’ve been very busy lately and have not had time to complete the discussion of D&C 10. However, this part has been in the can for some time, and so I thought I should put it up to prove I have not disappeared! Enjoy.

Like many of Joseph Smith’s canonical revelations, the text of D&C 10 underwent modification over time. In this part we look at text evolution from the Book of Commandments imprint to the 1835 D&C for verses 1-19 of the latter (that text is very close to the current LDS 1981 edition and we use its verse structure for ease of reference). We repeat the parallel texts (in a modified way) from part 2 for this purpose. Altered text is in red, eliminated text in blue:

The text of verses 1-19 rehearse the loss of the Book of Mormon manuscript of the “Book of Lehi.” The motivations and failings of the parties involved are discussed. This content has led many to believe that this revelation was given near the time of the loss. However, there are a number of internal hints that this was not the case, as we have noted already.

Book of Commandments chap. 9 1981 LDS Doctrine and Covenants section 10
Now, behold I say unto you, that because you delivered up so many writings, which you had power to translate, into the hands of a wicked man, you have lost them, and you also lost your gift at the same time, nevertheless it has been restored unto you again: therefore, see that you are faithful and go on unto the finishing of the remainder of the work as you have begun. 1 Now, behold, I say unto you, that because you delivered up those writings which you had power given unto you to translate by the means of the Urim and Thummim, into the hands of a wicked man, you have lost them.
2 And you also lost your gift at the same time, and your mind became darkened.
3 Nevertheless, it is now restored unto you again; therefore see that you are faithful and continue on unto the finishing of the remainder of the work of translation as you have begun.
Do not run faster than you have strength and means provided to translate, but be diligent unto the end, that you may come off conquerer; yea, that you may conquer satan, and those that do uphold his work. 4 Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means provided to enable you to translate; but be diligent unto the end.
5 Pray always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan, and that you may escape the hands of the servants of Satan that do uphold his work.
Behold they have sought to destroy you; yea, even the man in whom you have trusted, and for this cause I said, that he is a wicked man, for he has sought to take away the things wherewith you have been intrusted; and he has also sought to destroy your gift, and because you have delivered the writings into his hands, behold they have taken them from you: 6 Behold, they have sought to destroy you; yea, even the man in whom you have trusted has sought to destroy you.
7 And for this cause I said that he is a wicked man, for he has sought to take away the things wherewith you have been entrusted; and he has also sought to destroy your gift.
8 And because you have delivered the writings into his hands, behold, wicked men have taken them from you.
therefore, you have delivered them up; yea, that which was sacred unto wickedness. And behold, satan has put it into their hearts to alter the words which you have caused to be written, or which you have translated, which have gone out of your hands; and behold I say unto you, that because they have altered the words, they read contrary from that which you translated and caused to be written; and on this wise the devil has sought to lay a cunning plan, that he may destroy this work; for he has put it into their hearts to do this, that by lying they may say they have caught you in the words which you have pretended to translate. 9 Therefore, you have delivered them up, yea, that which was sacred, unto wickedness.
10 And, behold, Satan hath put it into their hearts to alter the words which you have caused to be written, or which you have translated, which have gone out of your hands.
11 And behold, I say unto you, that because they have altered the words, they read contrary from that which you translated and caused to be written;
12 And, on this wise, the devil has sought to lay a cunning plan, that he may destroy this work;
13 For he hath put into their hearts to do this, that by lying they may say they have caught you in the words which you have pretended to translate.
Verily I say unto you, that I will not suffer that satan shall accomplish his evil design in this thing, for behold he has put it into their hearts to tempt the Lord their God; for behold they say in their hearts, We will see if God has given him power to translate, if so, he will also give him power again; and if God giveth him power again, or if he translate again, or in other words, if he bringeth forth the same words, behold we have the same with us, and we have altered them: Therefore, they will not agree, and we will destroy him, and also the work, and we will do this that we may not be ashamed in the end, and that we may get glory of the world. 14 Verily, I say unto you, that I will not suffer that Satan shall accomplish his evil design in this thing.
15 For behold, he has put it into their hearts to get thee to tempt the Lord thy God, in asking to translate it over again.
16 And then, behold, they say and think in their hearts—We will see if God has given him power to translate; if so, he will also give him power again;
17 And if God giveth him power again, or if he translates again, or, in other words, if he bringeth forth the same words, behold, we have the same with us, and we have altered them;
18 Therefore they will not agree, and we will say that he has lied in his words, and that he has no gift, and that he has no power;
19 Therefore we will destroy him, and also the work; and we will do this that we may not be ashamed in the end, and that we may get glory of the world.

A number of the noted changes are grammatically expansive or serve to emphasize a point. For example, the word “continue” replaces “go” in verse 3. In verse 6 the added words “has sought to destroy you” make explicit the thought implied in the earlier text. Some changes are intended to bring the language of the revelation a more scriptural feeling such as changing “has” in verses 10 and 13 to “hath.” But this was not a universal effort as evidenced in verse 18. For the casual modern reader, these changes make little difference to the text and do not add meaning (although it is possible to suggest that “continue” implies that translation is proceeding, while “go” implies that it is not at present).

Still other changes were made to bring the text into line with usage as it had changed over the years from the date(s) of receipt to 1835. For example, in verse 1 the phrase is added “by the means of the Urim and Thummim.” This is used to name the translation instrument(s) used by Joseph Smith in translating the Book of Mormon. This name is taken from biblical text – for example 1 Sam. 14:41. Opinion is divided on what these words refer to in most instances in the biblical text. However, after 1834 the terms are most often used in Latter-day Saint discourse with reference to either the “spectacles” that were recovered with the golden plates associated with the Book of Mormon or with the seer stones owned by Joseph Smith (the brown and white stones individually).[1] For instance, when Joseph Smith showed Wilford Woodruff the white stone (in 1842) Woodruff called it the Urim and Thummim. Usage evolved over time to the idea that Urim and Thummim referred exclusively to the spectacles or “interpreters” found with the plates. However, the insertion in the revelation reflects simple change in referential language and should not, in itself, suggest that the objects referred too were originally known as Urim and Thummim at the time(s) of the receipt of D&C 10.

Other changes in the text may reflect Joseph Smith’s contemplation of his feelings regarding the experiences mentioned in the revelation. For example in verse 2, the words “and your mind became darkened” seem to recall Joseph’s state of mind when he found that the pages Harris had taken were lost, as well as the period during which his abilities to use the instruments were curtailed (and the spectacles were apparently taken from him).

The small change rendered in verse 3, “is now” is interesting. The words replace “has been” in the Book of Commandments text. The reason for the change is obscure perhaps, but the earlier text time stamps this wording as given after the restoration of the translation ability, whatever restoration that may have been. If this reflects the original text, then this would tend to date this portion well beyond the period when the gift of translation was restored in the fall of 1828.

One other interesting change occurs in verse 5. The added words “Pray always” change the tenor of the text significantly. The Book of Commandments text reads “be diligent unto the end, that you may come off conqueror” while the 1835 text reads “be diligent unto the end. Pray always that you may come off conqueror.” The intent is clearly to refocus the work not only as necessarily being divinely inspired, but that diligence should be seen as insufficient. Indeed, the revised text separates the effort into two parts: consistent ongoing effort in the translation and prayerful supplication to overcome the evil designs arrayed against the work. Here the actual 1835 text reads somewhat differently than the 1981 text: “be diligent unto the end: pray always that you may come off conqueror” The modern Talmage-edited text seems almost to divorce the two commands. The original text suggests that conquering the vast translation project or in other words, conquering the satanic opposition to the project requires diligent application to the task. The revised 1981 text suggests (by the verse break as much as the text change) that conquering satan and his allies is a matter of prayer.

Moreover, the change “pray always” may be drawn from the biblical (KJV) text where it is ubiquitous, but perhaps more appropriately, it is an extremely common sentiment expressed in the Book of Mormon and in language that aligns closely with the apparently intended meaning of the change in verse 5. And this could add to the suggestion of a post Book of Mormon translation date for portions of the revelation. There is much stronger evidence for this later in the text however.

Verse 1 has another interesting change. The words “so many” are changed to “those”. The change may possibly suggest that the loss was significant more for its quantity than the perfidy of Harris or his friends, or even than the continued supplication by Joseph, to allow Harris to take the translation – an often quoted thing serving as an object lesson. If Harris had been allowed to take much less of the text, the Book of Commandments text may suggest that a loss would be less significant. This begs us to ask, did Harris take the whole of the available manuscript? The revelation may suggest that he did not.

Finally, the role of the evil plot. Verse 15 now reads: “For behold, he has put it into their hearts to get thee to tempt the Lord thy God” while the Book of Commandments text reads “for behold, he has put it into their hearts to tempt the Lord their God.” The potential sin of tempting God is displaced by the text from the thieves, or whoever now had possession of the text, to Joseph Smith. The reason for this change seems logical. The thieves did not believe in a divine process at all. Tempting God was not a part of their strategy or motivation in either a primary or incidental way. Whether Smith would have been tempting God seems closely related to the New Testament text regarding the incident of Jesus’ temptation by Satan. The change here seems like a genuine correction to the text. Verse 18 expands on the plan of the thieves. It focuses the text on proving that Smith has no real gift. This may point toward not only an economic interest (see the previous parts of this post) but one of jealousy. Who might have stood to gain here? Possibly the Smith’s neighbor’s who claimed that one of Smith’s divining instruments was theirs and was stolen from their property (the white stone).

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[1] The origin of the usage may have been William W. Phelps, who also suggested other names for the instruments too. But the others did not stick.

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3 Responses to D&C 10. Part 3. Text Evolution in Verses 1-19.

  1. David G. says:

    Thanks, WVS. I look forward to your additional evidence that portions of the text may have been received post-April 1829.

  2. ricke says:

    How were the changes made for the 1835 edition? Was Joseph the primary editor, or someone else?

    The condemnation of Martin Harris seems to implicate him some way in the plot – as if he also wanted to test whether Joseph could replicate his first version. Given Harris’s regular assurance-seeking, it might not be surprising.

    Royal Skousen has written that Joseph’s original translation of the BOM shows amazing internal consistency in its use of particular word forms and phrases. He also notes that Joseph’s later modifications lack (and sometimes destroy) the consistency found in the original. I wonder if a comparison of the original texts of Joseph’s revelations (if they were available) and later texts would show anything similarly noteworthy.

  3. WVS says:

    ricke, I think the texts of the revelations were regarded as somewhat plastic. The editing process is not completely clear, but based on available mss, it appears that there was significant input from the editorial committee members. On Harris, it seems to me that Harris was drawn to the “magical” aspect of the thing but even up to the Moroni visit that he was terribly afraid of being taken in. We have painted him as being duped by wife and friends in the loss of the pages, but the revelation suggests he was part of the plot, perhaps hoping for another test of Joseph’s abilities, to say, find the ms, or something even more dramatic. At least he may have been talked into giving up the ms contra his story about losing it. He is not portrayed as innocent in the matter. Harris had difficulties his whole life with belief in Mormonism.

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