A few weeks ago, I posted about Book of Mormon dependence on the King James Version and the way that that sometimes raises interesting questions about how the text should be understood. As I continue my project of what a modern-language version of the Book of Mormon might look like, I’ve run into another example.
1 Corinthians 15:55 is referenced three times in the Book of Mormon, including in Mosiah 8 (Mosiah 16 LDS), where I’m currently working my way through the text. The KJV take on this verse reads:
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
However, the WEB (which I’m using as reference text) reads differently:
“Death, where is your sting? Hades, where is your victory?"
The WEB isn’t the only translation to use “Hades,” but it looks like most other modern translations actually use “death” twice. Of course, this is further complicated by the fact that 1 Corinthians 15:55 is a quote of Hosea 13:14, which references “Sheol” and death.
All of this raises interesting questions about how the source languages of the Book of Mormon should be understood. Practically speaking, the only source language we have for the text is English, but it purports to be a translation of an inaccessible text in “reformed Egyptian.” While I’m highly skeptical of the historicity of the Book of Mormon, my point here isn’t to make such a critique. Rather, it’s to ask how the source text of the Book of Mormon should be understood for the purposes of a faithful reading of the text, whether for a literally-minded Latter-day Saint’s purposes of doctrinal understanding or for my purposes of rendering a modern language version of the text. In cases like this, where the practical, English source text clearly takes cues from the King James Version of the Bible, are we to understand that the purported, inaccessible source text also takes those cues? Or is this rather evidence of Joseph Smith’s “interference” in the translation process—an unavoidable human element in what is intended to be a divine translation process?
Besides rendering a modern language Book of Mormon text, one of the purposes of my project is to raise these kinds of questions, and that sometimes affects the way that I make choices about language. In this case, the Greek “Hades” would be an obvious anachronism to include in the text. I originally decided to stop short of that, instead using the Hebrew “Sheol,” since that’s the term used in Hosea. If Mosiah is quoting 1 Corinthians and 1 Corinthians is quoting Hosea, maybe there’s a transitive property of quotation that I could use to give the more generous choice of words here. However, in writing this post up, I’ve decided to go with the more jarring word precisely because it’s more jarring.
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