Haley Wilson and Thomas Wayment, Ancient Scripture
The following are a few key passages from the article we wrote together. When we first started the project our goal was the following: to compare the changes made by Joseph Smith to the Bible with contemporary commentaries of his day. In so doing I hope to tentatively reconstruct the 19th century academic Christian world in which he brought forth his Bible translation.
Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible has attracted significant attention in recent decades, drawing the interest of a wide variety of academics and those who affirm its nearly canonical status in the LDS scriptural canon. More recently, in conducting new research into the origins of Smith’s Bible translation, we uncovered evidence that Smith and his associates used a readily available Bible commentary while compiling a new Bible translation, or more properly a revision of the King James Bible. The commentary, Adam Clarke’s famous Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments, was a mainstay for Methodist theologians and biblical scholars alike, and was one of the most widely available commentaries in the mid-1820s and 1830s in America. Direct borrowing from this source has not previously been connected to Smith’s translation efforts, and the fundamental question of what Smith meant by the term “translation” with respect to his efforts to rework the biblical text can now be reconsidered in light of this new evidence.1 What is noteworthy in detailing the usage of this source is that Adam Clarke’s textual emendations come through Smith’s translation as inspired changes to the text. Moreover, the question of what Smith meant by the term translation should be broadened to include what now appears to have been an academic interest to update the text of the Bible. This new evidence effectively forces a reconsideration of Smith’s translation projects, particularly his Bible project, and how he used academic sources while simultaneously melding his own prophetic inspiration into the resulting text. In presenting the evidence for Smith’s usage of Clarke, our paper also addressed the larger question of what it means for Smith to have used an academic/theological Bible commentary in the process of producing a text that he subsequently defined as a translation. In doing so, we first presented the evidence for Smith’s reliance upon Adam Clarke to establish the nature of Smith’s usage of Clarke. Following that discussion, we engaged the question of how Smith approached the question of the quality of the King James Bible (hereafter KJV) translation that he was using in 1830 and what the term translation meant to both Smith and his close associates. Finally, we offered a suggestion as to how Smith came to use Clarke, as well as assessing the overall question of what these findings suggest regarding Smith as a translator and his various translation projects.
Our research has revealed that the number of direct parallels between Smith’s translation and Adam Clarke’s biblical commentary are simply too numerous and explicit to posit happenstance or coincidental overlap.2 The parallels between the two texts number into the hundreds, a number that is well beyond the limits of this paper to discuss. A few of them, however, demonstrate Smith’s open reliance upon Clarke and establish that he was inclined to lean on Clarke’s commentary for matters of history, textual questions, clarification of wording, and theological nuance.3 In presenting the evidence, we have attempted to both establish that Smith drew upon Clarke, likely at the urging of Rigdon, and we present here a broad categorization of the types of changes that Smith made when he used Clarke as a source.
For the sake of this report we will include only one or two examples of Smith’s obvious borrowing of Clarke. Among the more compelling examples are two that witness the omission of entire biblical verses or the rearrangement of parts of biblical verses. In Colossians 2:20–22, Smith rearranges the KJV order so that a portion of verse 22 (“which are after the doctrines and commandments of men”) is appended directly to the end of verse 20, a verse which ends with a comma in the KJV. This change appears to directly reflect Adam Clarke’s statement regarding it, “After the commandments and doctrines of men? These words should follow the 20th verse, of which they form a part; and it appears from them that the apostle is here speaking of the tradition of the elders.”4 The change does little to smooth out the flow of the English translation, and does nothing to change the meaning, but it can be no mere coincidence that the two sources relocate a portion of the verse in precisely the same way by adding a part of one verse to another verse earlier in the same passage.
While the data presented herein accounts for a significant advance in our understanding about the origins of Smith’s Bible translation, it is still unclear how Smith determined which verses were to be changed and which verses were to be spared. The next step in the discussion would need to be a consideration of whether there is a unified purpose in the choice of verses that were changed. Our overall impression is that Smith was inclined to follow Clarke especially in instances where he drew upon manuscript evidence or language expertise.
In categorizing Smith’s larger project of retranslating the Bible, Barlow has argued that Smith’s changes can be categorized into five different categories.5 While this essay has only dealt with some of Barlow’s proposed categories of changes, it is helpful in conclusion to see the larger constellation of changes made to the Bible. Barlow’s five categories can be summarized briefly as follows: 1. Long insertions that interrupt the biblical narrative and have no obvious textual source (we have defined these as belonging to Smith’s revelatory intent), 2. Theological corrections, 3. Interpretive additions that seek to clarify the text, 4. Harmonization, particularly in the Synoptic gospels,6 5. Grammatical changes including technical clarifications and the modernization of terms.
Given the new evidence presented in this paper, it would seem prudent to recognize that Barlow’s numbers three through five appear to be frequently influenced by Clarke’s commentary. In fact, it is arguable that Clarke is the primary source Smith used to make these types of changes, and as such these changes may not actually represent Smith’s initial impetus for translating the Bible, but may demonstrate that Smith was induced to change the Bible in certain ways through the encouragement of Clarke. In attempting to simplify what was a very complicated process, it is apparent that Clarke was not utilized for the long emendations. It is more likely that Clarke provided grammatical, historical and linguistic aide to Smith as he carried out his work. Therefore, it can be argued that Clarke was less a theological resource than he was a practical one and, by means of Sidney Rigdon, Smith likely became familiar with the commentary and utilized it at varying levels of engagement throughout the “translation” process.7 Finally, characterizing the overall intent and purpose of Smith’s retranslation of the Bible has been a somewhat elusive endeavor. The translation of the Bible done by Alexander Campbell is representative of a denominationally oriented academic translation whereas Smith’s translation represents something else entirely. It preserves the KJV text as the foundation upon which it adds a prophetic rephrasing and reshaping with an academic veneer that originated in Methodist scholarship of the early nineteenth century that was both linguistically and historically informed.8 One of the larger questions raised by this study is whether this new information would alter the reception of Smith’s translation as a canonical or nearly canonical text.9 With some of the changes that Smith introduced into the text of the Bible resulting from academic sources, albeit modified and altered, the question arises as to whether the changes that arose via Clarke would have the same claim to canonicity that the longer revelatory insertions might have.
1 Cf. Ronald V. Huggins, “‘Without a Cause’ and ‘Ships of Tarshish’: A Possible Contemporary Source for Two Unexplained Readings from Joseph Smith,” Dialogue 36 (2003): 163, who does discuss the influence of Clarke on two of Smith’s textual emendations.
2 In doing the research for this paper, we also encountered numerous theological parallels to Charles Buck’s Theological Dictionary (1802). The parallels to Buck are inherently different from those identified in Clarke. They are broadly theological and while they demonstrate conceptual parallels, they lack the exactness of the Clarke parallels.
3 We have identified one change to the text that warrants further inquiry and cannot be accounted for by our thesis that Smith was reliant upon Clarke only after Rigdon joined the Latter-day Saint movement (see below). At Matthew 5:22 Smith removes the phrase “without a cause,” a change that is argued for by Clarke. However, the same change is made to the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 12:22), an alteration to the text that took place ca. 1829 and thus prior to Rigdon’s initial meeting with Smith.
4 Adam Clarke, Clarke’s Commentary: Matthew–Revelation, 525.
5 Barlow, Joseph Smith’s Revision of the Bible, 55–57.
6 Barlow utilizes the example of the revision of Matt 27:3–8, which narrates the death of Judas Iscariot and seems at variance with the rendition of Judas’s death in Acts 1:18–19. Smith combined the two accounts and eliminated the discrepancy. See Barlow, Joseph Smith’s Revision of the Bible, 56.
7 The suggestion that Rigdon held sway over Smith intellectually has been noted by others. David Whitmer would eventually accuse Rigdon of introducing errors into church doctrine. See David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ [Richmond MO: David Whitmer, 1887), 35. Cf. John Wickcliffe Rigdon, Edited by Karl Keller, “I Never Knew A Time When I Did Not Know Joseph Smith: A Son’s Record of the Life and Testimony of Sidney Rigdon.” Dialogue 1 (1966): 19–20.
8 Cf. Eran Shalev, “‘Written in the Style of Antiquity’: Pseudo-Biblicism and the Early American Republic, 1770–1830,” Church History 79.4 (2010): 826 and Flake, “Translating Time, 525.
9 Royal Skousen, in a review of Faulring’s, Jackson’s and Matthew’s work on the translation, similarly noted a concern with accepting all of Smith’s changes to the Bible as canonical and calls for a reconsideration of the longer additions to the text as revelatory insertions while at the same time calling for caution in dealing with the shorter, grammatical, and linguistic changes. Royal Skousen, “The Earliest Textual Sources for Joseph Smith’s ‘New Translation’ of the King James Bible,” Farms Review 17.2 (2005): 461–68.