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The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text Hardcover – September 22, 2009

4.8 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Royal Skousen has single-handedly brought the textual analysis of the Book of Mormon to a professional level on par with the finest classical and biblical scholarship. This volume is the culmination of his labors, and it is the most textually significant edition since Joseph Smith’s work was first published in 1830.  It takes us back to the original manuscript (as best we can reconstruct it) and sometimes beyond, to the very words that were first spoken by Joseph Smith to his scribes.”—Grant Hardy, from the Introduction
(Grant Hardy)

"The product of over two decades of painstaking labor by Royal Skousen—a Brigham Young University professor of linguistics and English language, a Mormon and an occasional spelling-bee judge—this Yale edition aims to take us back to the text Smith envisioned as he translated, according to the faithful, from golden plates that he unearthed in upstate New York."—Stephen Prothero, Wall Street Journal

(Stephen Prothero Wall Street Journal 2009-10-02)

“Very important . . . the bottom-line results of one of the most impressive and sustained individual scholarly undertakings in the history of Mormonism . . . [in] a single, convenient volume . . . readily accessible . . . wonderful . . . a great study edition.”--Daniel Peterson, Mormon Times

(Daniel Peterson Mormon Times)

“A work of unique aesthetic and scholarly value, and an essential resource for scholarly approaches to the Book of Mormon."—Seth Perry, Journal of Ecclesiastical History
(Seth Perry Journal of Ecclesiastical History)

“Although it is the result of meticulous scholarship . . . this is a book that transcends the scholarship. It should appeal to a wider readership . . . as a contribution to experiencing the Book of Mormon.”—Brant A. Gardner, Journal of Mormon History
(Brant A. Gardner Journal of Mormon History)

About the Author

Royal Skousen is a professor of linguistics and English language at Brigham Young University and the leading expert on the textual history of the Book of Mormon. This is the tenth book in his ongoing Critical Text Project.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 848 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition edition (September 22, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300142188
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300142181
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 2.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #186,984 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Royal Skousen is Professor of Linguistics and English Language at Brigham Young University. In 1972 he received his Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. He has taught linguistics at the University of Illinois, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of California at San Diego, and as a Fulbright scholar at the University of Tampere in Finland. In 2001 he was a research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, Netherlands.

Skousen's work in linguistics has dealt chiefly with developing a theory of language called Analogical Modeling, a theory that predicts language behavior by means of examples rather than by rules. He has published three books on this subject: Analogical Modeling of Language (1989), Analogy and Structure (1992), and Analogical Modeling: An Exemplar-Based Approach to Language (2002). More recently, he has published on the quantum computation of Analogical Modeling, notably in his 2005 paper "Quantum Analogical Modeling" (available at www.arXiv.org).

Skousen began working on the critical text of the Book of Mormon in 1988. In 2001 he published the first two volumes of the Critical Text Project, namely, typographical facsimiles for the original and printer's manuscripts of the Book of Mormon. From 2004 through 2009 he published the six books that make up volume 4 of the critical text, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon. This work represents the central task of the Critical Text Project, to restore by scholarly means the original text of the Book of Mormon, to the extent possible.

In 2009 Skousen published with Yale University Press the culmination of his critical work on the Book of Mormon text, namely, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text. The Yale edition presents the reconstructed original text in a clear-text format, without explanatory intervention. Unlike modern editions of the Book of Mormon that have added chapter summaries, scriptural cross-references, dates, and footnotes, this edition consists solely of the words dictated by Joseph Smith in 1828-29, as far as they can be established through standard methods of textual criticism. Later emendations by scribes, editors, and even Joseph Smith himself have been omitted, except for those that appear to restore original readings.

Anyone opening the Yale edition will immediately be struck by the sense-lines format of the Book of Mormon text -- that is, the way the lines of the text are broken up according to phrases and clauses. Joseph Smith dictated the book to scribes who wrote down his words. His dictation did not indicate punctuation, sentence structure, or paragraphing. These he left, ultimately, to the discretion of the printer. Consequently, the Yale edition constitutes a scholarly effort to present to the reader a dictated rather than a written text. To that end, Skousen decided to adopt the sense-line format. He makes no claim that the sense-lines adopted in The Earliest Text represent Joseph Smith's actual dictation breaks, but the first verbalization of the text would have sounded something like the result of reading the sense-lines out loud.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Prof. Royal Skousen, who is also an internationally respected linguistic theorist, has devoted two decades to intensive, meticulous study of the textual history of the Book of Mormon, and this Yale edition is a very important product -- though not the only product -- of that dedicated engagement. Previous reviewers have already adequately described the volume, so, besides simply endorsing it, I would like to say what I especially value about it:

This book represents the bottom-line results of one of the greatest individual scholarly undertakings in the history of Mormonism. The multiple volumes already published by Professor Skousen with FARMS (aka the Maxwell Institute) are wonderful, and, for serious scholars of the Book of Mormon, indispensable. But they're also very large and . . . well, multiple. In other words, unwieldy for speedy reference, when one simply needs to see the text quickly in order to know the likely original reading. I have long wanted a single, convenient volume that would make the superior Skousen text readily accessible, and now it's here. Moreover, with its sense lines and superb physical characteristics (e.g., staying easily open on a table or a desk), this is a wonderful version for simply reading the book through. It's a great study edition.

I recommend this printing of the Book of Mormon enthusiastically and without reservation. It changes no doctrines, but it will change the way even experienced readers of the Book of Mormon perceive and understand its sense and style.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First, the physical production of the volume is outstanding (as one would expect from Yale University Press). High quality paper and binding, outstanding layout and typography. The book is large and heavy (see above) but manages to stay open even near the front and back. The heft of the book makes it a bit hard (though not impossible) to read while stretched out on the couch.

Grant Hardy's introduction lays out the case for accepting the Book of Mormon as a serious work worthy of study in the context of world religions -- all the more so because we have so much definite historical and even forensic information regarding its creation and transmission (cf. Terryl Givens' By the Hand of Mormon).

Skousen's editorial preface in turn provides a brief overview of his methodology in producing the critical text, laying out his overall approach as well as some of his criteria in making critical text decisions. However, he rightly points readers to his multi-volume series on the Book of Mormon Critical Text project for detailed explanations as to item-by-item decisions regarding recovery or conjecture of the critical text.

Skousen also explains his presentation of the critical text: sense lines, (mostly) modern spelling, de novo punctuation, blank lines to indicate paragraph breaks, and a typographic insertion to mark Joseph Smith's original chapter indications. Modern (LDS 1981 edition) chapter and verse indications are given in the left margin.

Note that the punctuation, sense line breaks, and paragraph breaks are Skousen's; the original manuscript had none, and the printer's manuscript didn't have much more.
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Format: Hardcover
The typesetting by Saltzman is really a work of art, and combined with the formatting in sense lines, reads much like poetic prose; the story flows easily as never before. I just got my personal copy from the editor himself, Royal Skousen, who is my brother. With this disclosure I'll try to be as objective as I can in describing this work, having personally witnessed almost every facet of its development over the last 21 years. This single volume is the synthesis of all the detailed analysis Royal did on the historical changes and word variants that occupies in excess of ten volumes of scholarly text (also available to the public). What we have here in this reconstructed text of the Book of Mormon is both a flowing readable text of the story itself plus fascinating summaries in the Preface and Appendix of all the important textual changes that have been restored using the original and printer's handwritten manuscripts.

The ink on these manuscripts was so faint that special ultra violet and infra red photography had to be used to bring out the text and the editing marks, yielding a few hundred very interesting changes stemming mostly from copy errors when a printer's manuscript was prepared for delivery to the printer of the original 1830 edition. By openly discussing all of the copy and editorial changes over the history of the book, Royal feels he has "freed the earliest text" for everyone to view and discuss for themselves. I have observed his rigid adherence to scholarship and his principled resistant to common textual readings that may be more comfortable to our ears, but which are unsupported by the original documents. By giving us the earliest possible text he lets the story speak for itself. Enjoy.

Joel Skousen
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