Historicity Implications of Mormon’s “Whoopses”
Historicity Implications of Mormon’s “Whoopses” in the Book of Mormon
Copyright © 2015 by Ted Dee Stoddard
By 1828 definition, an “emendation” involves “The act of . . . correcting what is erroneous or faulty; . . . applied particularly to the correction of errors in writings.” This article discusses “in-text emendations” written by Mormon as he corrected mistakes he made while engraving his abridgment of the Book of Mormon on golden plates. The research discussed in this article gives significant positive evidence about the historicity of the Book of Mormon. That is, Joseph Smith, as he claimed, translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God. Further, the Book of Mormon is, indeed, a real account about real people who lived somewhere in the New World.
About three decades ago, a tour bus was traveling in Mexico on the highway from highland Guatemala to the vicinity of the Grijalva River in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. The tour members had recently listened to their tour director, Dr. Joseph Allen, talk about the “ups” and “downs” in the Book of Mormon in relation to the highlands of Guatemala (up) and the central depression of Mexico (down). Following that discussion, they were visiting with each other or reading the Book of Mormon for further confirmation of what they had recently heard from Dr. Allen.
One tour member sat near the back of the bus reading the Book of Mormon. He stopped abruptly in a puzzled state as he read one particular verse:
And thus we see that, when these Lamanites were brought to believe and to know the truth, they were firm, and would suffer even unto death rather than commit sin; and thus we see that they buried their weapons of peace, or they buried the weapons of war for peace. (Alma 24:19)
“What does Mormon mean by ‘they buried their weapons of peace, or they buried the weapons of war for peace’?” he asked himself.
Moving to the front of the bus, he sat down in the empty seat next to Dr. Allen. As he pointed to Alma 24:19, he asked, “What’s going on here, Dr. Allen?”
Dr. Allen took the tour member’s Book of Mormon and quickly read the verse.
“That’s a ‘whoops,’” he said.
“Yes. Mormon was evidently writing the account about the Anti-Nephi-Lehies when he made a mistake and engraved ‘They buried their weapons of peace.’ He meant to say, ‘They buried their weapons of war.’”
“And that’s a ‘whoops’?”
“Yes. I’ll bet you do the same thing when you’re typing a document. If you make a mistake, don’t you say ‘Whoops!’ and then pause to correct the mistake?”
“I’ve got the picture.”
Dr. Allen then said, “I like to call these things by the euphemistic name of ‘whoopses’ when a Book of Mormon writer made a mistake but couldn’t correct it because of the engraving process.”
“I think I understand. Alma 24:19 reflects a writing mistake made by Mormon. He couldn’t correct the mistake by erasing the engraved words, so he merely corrected himself as part of the in-text narrative.”
“That’s how I see it,” Dr. Allen replied.
“Does the Book of Mormon have any other ‘whoopses’?”
“Yes, I’ve seen a few. Why don’t you do some unique research by reading the Book of Mormon cover to cover with the goal of finding all the ‘whoopses’?”
The tour member accepted that challenge and then slowly pursued that research goal during the next several years. The results of that research very uniquely speak out forcefully in support of the historicity of the Book of Mormon—it is a real account about real people who lived somewhere in the New World.
Anyone who decides to search the Book of Mormon for “whoopses” will very quickly recognize that the “or rather” passages in the Book of Mormon are instances of “whoopses.” The first one is in Mosiah:
And it came to pass when they had been in prison two days they were again brought before the king, and their bands were loosed; and they stood before the king, and were permitted, or rather commanded, that they should answer the questions which he should ask them. (Mosiah 7:8; emphasis added)
From the perspective of Moroni’s promise in Moroni 10:4 about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, readers who are interested in testing that promise should experience at this point a “spiritual thrill” as they suddenly realize that “or rather” is another way for Mormon to say, “Whoops!” In other words, readers should recognize the possibility that they are now face to face with a significant factor that supports the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Why?
Here are eleven other “or rather” passages that should leave readers with the same feeling of a “spiritual thrill” as they read them. The passages should be read/studied at this point in an attempt to understand fully what is happening. That is, in each instance, Mormon made a writing mistake, possibly said something like “Whoops!” and then corrected the mistake via “or rather.”
Alma 2:34 Alma 17:18
Alma 32:16 Alma 36:14
Alma 50:32 Alma 53:10
With additional reading in an attempt to identify other “whoopses,” readers will find at least another eighty-six “whoopses” that are similar to but different from the twelve “or-rather” passages. For example:
And it came to pass that king Noah sent his armies against them, and they were driven back, or they drove them back for a time; therefore, they returned rejoicing in their spoil.” (Mosiah 11:18; emphasis added)
The eighty-six “whoopses” other than the twelve “or rather” passages are the following:
1 Nephi 19:4
Alma 11:46; Alma 12:1
Alma 37:21 Alma 40:2
Alma 53:3 Alma 54:3
3 Nephi 3:14
3 Nephi 12:23
Readers should read/study the above references at this point so they can comprehend even further the concept of a “whoops.”
So far, ninety-eight Book of Mormon passages that reflect the concept of a “whoops” have been identified. Admittedly, a few of the above eighty-six “whoopses” might not truly reflect a mistake made by its writer but might be the writer’s way of making an “enhancement” of the content. At the same time, analysts might locate a few additional “whoopses” beyond the ninety-eight identified above.
“So what?” is a legitimate question at this point. Obviously, with the above information in mind, Book of Mormon readers will understand a little better what Mormon went through as he did his abridging by engraving on metal plates. But what else do the “whoopses” in Mormon’s abridgment tell readers?”
At this point, Book of Mormon analysts should attempt to determine whether Mormon or Joseph Smith was responsible for the “whoopses.” Why? Because either Mormon made the mistakes and corrected them via in-text corrections during the abridging process or Joseph Smith made the mistakes and corrected them as he dictated the translation while Oliver Cowdery faithfully recorded Joseph’s words. And if Mormon made the “whoopses,” that outcome contributes significantly to the historicity of the Book of Mormon. In other words, the Book of Mormon is, indeed, a real account about real people who lived somewhere in the New World.
A careful search of Book of Mormon passages associated with all the in-text, observable corrections identified so far reveals a startling discovery. Of the ninety-eight “whoopses,” only one can be attributed to a writer other than Mormon. Therefore, all the in-text, observable “whoopses” found in the Book of Mormon, other than the first one in 1 Nephi 19:4, are located in Mormon’s writings. Further, other than the one in 1 Nephi 19:4, “whoopses” are not found among the books of the small plates of Nephi, which Mormon did not abridge. And they are not found among the writings of Moroni.
What have been identified and euphemistically referred to as “whoopses” should be labeled as “emendations.” In Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary, American Dictionary of the English Language, which defines words at the time the Book of Mormon was first published, emendation is defined as follows: “The act of . . . correcting what is erroneous or faulty; . . . applied particularly to the correction of errors in writings.”
Royal Skousen has done landmark research with Book of Mormon emendations that originated during the initial printing and subsequent reprinting of the Book of Mormon. However, as far as has been determined as part of the research for this article, none of the ninety-eight in-text emendations—or “whoopses”—that Mormon is responsible for are included by Skousen in his discussions about Book of Mormon emendations.
Of significant note here is the fact that the emendation process that Dr. Joseph Allen euphemistically refers to as “Mormon’s whoopses” represents a distinctive aspect of the writing style of Mormon. Further, other than the 1 Nephi 19:4 verse that Nephi wrote, none of the other writers associated with the Book of Mormon, including Joseph Smith, reflect whoopses in their writing. Thus, as a quasi-equivalent to Mormon’s fingerprints or his DNA, the emendations found in Mormon’s writings label him as the writer of the books involved in his abridgment.
Again, either Joseph Smith made the word-choice changes of the “whoopses” during the translation process or Mormon himself made the changes. The fact that the changes are found all but exclusively in the writings of Mormon gives unique evidence that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon—as claimed—instead of authoring it himself. That is, he dutifully translated the very words of Mormon, including Mormon’s word-choice corrections through the emendation process, as a routine aspect of the translation work. Again, those conclusions provide significant evidence about the historicity of the Book of Mormon.
Clearly, the shadow of interesting, relevant evidence related to the validity of Joseph Smith’s claims about the Book of Mormon can be associated with the research about “whoopses.” That is, if Joseph Smith were responsible for the “whoopses,” they would be found throughout the Book of Mormon. Because they are not found throughout the Book of Mormon, readers can conclude that Joseph is not responsible for them. That means all but one of them are found in the Book of Mormon as a reflection of the writing techniques of Mormon.
As Mormon abridged the large plates of Nephi or wrote his own material, he on occasion evidently became distracted and engraved a mistake in wording. When he made what Moroni referred to as a mistake or fault, he could not correct it in any way other than to draw the readers’ attention to it via an in-text, observable correction. The gravity of what he corrected is evident in Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary definition of fault: “an error or mistake; a blunder; a defect; a blemish; whatever impairs excellence.”
All witers have unique writing techniques or behaviors that characterize their written work—akin to fingerprints and DNA that distinctively identify one person from another. For whatever reason, Mormon’s in-text, observable corrections via emendations clearly reflect a distinctive writing behavior associated with Mormon as a writer. Therefore, the “whoopses” evidence about his in-text emendations suggests interesting testimony that Joseph Smith—as he claimed—translated rather than authored the Book of Mormon. That is, Mormon’s in-text emendations have a great deal to say about the historicity of the Book of Mormon.
What implications do the above outcomes have for the Book of Mormon itself? The relevance of Mormon’s in-text emendations can be summed up as follows:
• The Book of Mormon is the singular, most important evidence of the truthfulness of Joseph Smith’s claims to be a prophet and of the divine restoration of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
• The above discussion about in-text, observable emendations associated with the translation of the large plates of Nephi supports Joseph Smith’s statement that he translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God. That is, all but one of the ninety-eight “whoopses” are found in Mormon’s writings. If Joseph Smith were responsible for those ninety-eight “whoopses,” additional instances would be found in the writings of all Book of Mormon writers. That outcome suggests strongly that Joseph Smith faithfully translated Mormon’s words and then did not update the printer’s manuscript or subsequent editions of the Book of Mormon to reflect the mistakes that are corrected in the resulting in-text emendations.
• Because the emendation process via the euphemistic “whoopses” gives unique evidence that Joseph Smith translated, rather than authored, the Book of Mormon, the in-text emendations give tangible literary validity to Joseph Smith’s claim that he translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God. In turn, the ultimate relevance of the “whoopses” in the Book of Mormon reflects impressive evidence about the book’s historicity.
With very vivid and plain language, Moroni warned future readers of the Book of Mormon about potential “mistakes” or “faults” in the book when he said, “And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ” (Title Page; emphasis added). The “whoopses” discussed in this article need not be thought of as examples of those “faults” or “mistakes.” Clearly, however, they are content mistakes made by Mormon during the engraving process; and clearly also, they are in-text emendations made by Mormon as he corrected those mistakes.
The following concluding comments that are made as a result of the research about “whoopses” will help Book of Mormon readers evaluate the relevance of the in-text emendations found in the Book of Mormon:
1. Uniquely, the original mistakes associated with Mormon’s “whoopses” were never corrected by Joseph Smith; therefore, readers can visually see the emendation process via the words used to create each one. Or, from the perspective of Mormon, the logical reason that the Book of Mormon contains in-text, observable emendations in Mormon’s abridgment of the large plates of Nephi and in his personal writings results from the inability of Mormon to correct his errors by erasing them or deleting them.
2. In the second and third editions of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith made hundreds of changes to correct relatively minor usage mistakes, such as those related to punctuation. If he were responsible for Mormon’s “whoopses,” he probably would have corrected the emendation language in each instance, with the result that Book of Mormon readers would be unable to see and “feel” the “whoopses.”
3. If the outcomes of the “whoopses” research were to be validated via statistical procedures, the following positive hypothesis would be accepted: Mormon rather than Joseph Smith is responsible for the internal emendations in the form of “whoopses” found in the writings of Mormon in the Book of Mormon.
4. The “whoopses” emendations found in the translation of the large plates of Nephi and in the personal writings of Mormon are an intriguing facet of the writing behavior of Mormon. They suggest that Mormon was apparently a very busy person who often had much on his mind while he worked on his abridgment. As a result, even though the engraving process was probably slow and laborious, he tended to engrave incorrect characters at times and then faced the necessity of correcting his errors. He did so by making in-text, observable corrections via the emendation process. If Joseph Smith were responsible for those emendations, they would be found throughout the Book of Mormon. However, because they are found all but exclusively and also routinely in Mormon’s abridgment and in his personal writings, Book of Mormon readers can experience a minor, spiritual sensation each time they notice one and can say something like, “Thank you, Mormon. You’ve just spoken to me and reminded me that you indeed authored what I’m reading.”
5. The above discussion about in-text, observable emendations supports Joseph Smith’s statement that he translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God. That is, all but one of the ninety-eight emendations are associated with Mormon’s writings. If Joseph Smith were responsible for the ninety-seven emendations found in Mormon’s writings, additional examples would be found in the writings of all Book of Mormon writers. That outcome suggests strongly that Joseph Smith faithfully translated Mormon’s words and then did not update the printer’s manuscript or subsequent editions of the Book of Mormon to correct the mistakes or faults reflected in the in-text emendations.
6. Moroni clearly alludes to potential mistakes in the Book of Mormon and then forcefully counsels his readers to avoid condemning the book because of mistakes. Anti–Book of Mormon critics should be aware of Moroni’s warning that those who condemn the book will suffer dire consequences—they “shall be in danger of hell fire” (see Mormon 8:17).
7. Mormon did not abridge the small plates of Nephi. Had he done so, readers could naturally expect to find in-text, observable emendations comparable to the ninety-seven in today’s Book of Mormon. The presence of only one observable emendation in the translation of the small plates of Nephi provides substantial evidence that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon instead of creating it from the figments of his imagination.
8. From the large plates of Nephi, Mormon abridged the book of Lehi, which Joseph Smith translated with Martin Harris as scribe and which constituted the 116 pages that were stolen from Martin. If today’s Book of Mormon included the book of Lehi as abridged by Mormon, it probably would contain additional in-text emendations comparable to those found in Mormon’s writings in the books of Mosiah, Alma, Helaman, 3 Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni—because Mormon was responsible for the abridging work that resulted in the book of Lehi.
9. An examination of today’s Book of Mormon shows that only one “whoops” came from the small plates of Nephi. With high probability, that emendation can be attributed to Nephi. If Joseph Smith were responsible for that emendation, the laws of probability suggest that other comparable in-text emendations would be found in the books containing the words of writers other than Mormon: 1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Jarom, Omni, Ether, and Moroni.
10. All writers tend to reflect unique characteristics of their writing style in their writing—much like fingerprints and DNA are used to identify specific individuals. In that respect, three characteristics of Mormon’s writing style are his frequent use of (1) “thus we see,” as he dealt with object lessons for his readers, (2) “and it came to pass,” as he helped readers in their transition from one account to another, and (3) “this is not all,” as he signaled his readers that he had more to say about a particular topic. In a similar vein, his tendency to make engraving mistakes and then correct them via in-text, observable emendations uniquely identifies him as the author of the abridging work of the large plates of Nephi but not the author of the books of the small plates of Nephi or writings attributed to Moroni.
11. Finally—but most important—the in-text emendations of Mormon give unique evidence that Joseph Smith translated, rather than authored, the Book of Mormon. In other words, the emendations give tangible literary validity to Joseph Smith’s claim that he translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God.
In summary, the ultimate relevance of Mormon’s “whoopses” in the Book of Mormon lies in their support for the historicity of the Book of Mormon. It is, indeed, a real account about real people and not merely a fabrication by Joseph Smith. Bottom line: It is historical rather than ahistorical.