Paul W. Lambert and Dr. Thomas Wayment, Ancient Scripture
The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible has been the source of religious research and study for years. From the time that the Prophet Joseph Smith began his revisions of the Bible, both believers and nonbelievers have been intrigued by the process and doctrinal contributions of the translation. For many years, it has been very difficult for scholars and others interested in the Joseph Smith Translation to obtain concrete information and perform comprehensive analysis of the revisions. Access to Joseph Smith’s materials, particularly the translation manuscripts and marked Bible, has been limited to scholars of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or the Community of Christ. It was not until the 1960’s that Robert J. Matthews, a well known scholar of religion at Brigham Young University, obtained permission to view and study the translation manuscripts. Since then, much more has been learned and understood about the translation. However, there are still a great number of questions that hover around the Joseph Smith Translation. One of these questions is the validity of some of the markings found on the manuscripts. That is where this study begins as it researches and analyzes the markings found in the translation manuscripts and the published revisions that correspond.
In 2004, while involved in research and analysis of the Joseph Smith Translation (JST), as they are related to italicized words in the King James Version of the Bible, Dr. Thomas Wayment and I found various markings within the JST manuscripts that caught our attention. These markings do not seem to be consistent with the rest of the markings made by Joseph Smith and his scribes. This obviously raises an appropriate and pertinent question. Where do these markings come from? Intrigued by this question, we decided that further research was necessary. The ORCA program made the research possible through a grant in 2004.
We began the research by first, performing an extensive study concerning the process of revision by Joseph Smith and the history of events and circumstances surrounding the translation. Second, we conducted a comprehensive analysis of scriptural passages found in copies of the JST and JST publications that have been produced since the process began in 1830. These passages were selected by their relation to the markings made by Joseph Smith and their identification within the text. The information acquired and discovered through the above processes was very helpful in bringing us closer to understanding the JST markings. However, more work was necessary, and a second grant was necessary to further the research that we had begun.
With that second grant, we were able to conduct the third step in the research process—a comparison analysis of the findings with the actual JST manuscripts found in the Community of Christ Archives (RLDS) in Independence, Missouri. This comparison would allow us to solidify our findings through paleographic analysis and visual study of the markings. Such a study would bring concrete evidence to the findings of the project and qualify it for publication.
Through the research conducted in the first half of the project, we learned a great deal about the way in which Joseph Smith marked the translation and how his scribes recorded what Joseph dictated. Joseph, for example, almost always employed certain symbols, such as two small dots to indicate that something needed to be added in the text at that particular point. There were other markings also that indicate changes that were to be made and recorded in the manuscripts. Joseph was quite consistent in his markings and so it is, for the most part, identifiable when Joseph has written or made a mark. Likewise, there are patterns in the writing of each scribe. Many of the scribes, such as Sydney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery and even Emma Smith consistently wrote certain letters in a like manner and or consistently made the same spelling error. These patterns helped a great deal in identifying who was recording and who was marking. Because of these identifiable marking patterns, the unidentified markings that did not correspond with Joseph Smith’s usual symbols greatly stood out. These markings were simply cross-outs of certain words throughout the Bible, especially in the New Testament.
These findings led to the necessity to find out more about these markings and attempt to identify who was responsible for them and the purpose of them. Therefore, the next step was to compare published editions and copies of the JST since the translation process began in 1830. This step would help us identify when the markings were made. Logically, if changes were found in publications after Joseph’s death, such a change could be identified as insertions or corruptions. If the changes are found prior to the Prophet’s death, they qualify as valid insertions made under the direction of Joseph Smith. Through this research we found that there were no obvious changes or incongruities in the different publications of the JST.
With the above research of passage comparison and cataloguing of manuscript and bible markings completed, we traveled to Independence, Missouri to inspect the JST manuscripts. Our intention was to discover the process in which Joseph and his scribes recorded the changes noted in the Bible. Likewise, we hoped that through and analysis of the markings in the manuscripts, we could solidify our hypotheses regarding the time frame and order in which the markings in both the Bible and manuscripts were made. Our study in Independence resulted to be successful. As stated above, we wanted to know if the markings were prior to Joseph’s death. Through comparing the previous research regarding the biblical markings and the manuscripts, we were able to conclude that the markings had indeed been made under the direction of Joseph. We concluded that the difference in the markings was due to different stages of editing and changing that took place in the revision process. Thus, all of the markings were made under the direction of Joseph, leaving no evidence of corruption.
The research that has been possible through this mentoring grant has been extremely useful in advancing the understanding and clarity of the Joseph Smith Translation. We have been able to prepare original documentation as well as present original scholarship regarding the markings of the JST. As we prepare an article for publication, we are confident that this research will be of great interest to the academic and religious community. We are indeed grateful for the funding that has been provided for this valuable research.