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The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible is unique in its listing of 13 verses at the end of the last chapter of Genesis--chapter 50. These verses specifically name Moses, who would be born 400 years later. They also contain a prophecy of a man named Joseph, which is believed by the LDS to be a reference to Joseph Smith, Jr, since his name, "Joseph", is "after the name of his father".

And that seer will I bless, and they that seek to destroy him shall be confounded; for this promise I give unto you; for I will remember you from generation to generation; and his name shall be called Joseph, and it shall be after the name of his father; and he shall be like unto you; for the thing which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand shall bring my people unto salvation. Genesis 50:33 Joseph Smith Translation

What is the manuscript evidence--that is, the evidence of ancient manuscripts in ancient languages (Hebrew, Greek, Latin, etc.)-- to support the existence of these verses in the original copies? Is there any idea how they could have been lost?

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Erm, isn't the JST manuscript itself evidence of existence in the original copies? –  Matt Jul 2 '13 at 17:13
@Matt: Only to those who believe that the JST is an inspired translation, as it claims to be. It looks like Narnian is looking for independent verification that would be considered valid to someone who doesn't begin from a position of accepting the JST as inspired. –  Mason Wheeler Jul 2 '13 at 17:18
I don't think this question has a good answer. All the different Bibles we have available today are just translations of the same manuscript copies. So what is the manuscript evidence of those translations of the Bible? Well, obviously, the manuscripts themselves. Maybe I'm unclear as to what is being asked here. –  Matt Jul 2 '13 at 17:44
@Matt Translations are not manuscripts. Manuscripts are in the original Hebrew (for the Old Testament). I'm wondering what manuscript evidence there is for the text that are unique to the Joseph Smith Translation. Was this translation based on Hebrew manuscripts that had this text? –  Narnian Jul 2 '13 at 17:57
@Matt I'm sorry for the confusion, but my intent of the word "manuscript" exclusively refers to ancient copies--not modern translations. –  Narnian Jul 2 '13 at 18:02

2 Answers 2

To start with, it might be helpful to clarify the terms used here.

Manuscript Evidence

Manuscript Evidence is a term that is well defined outside of Christianity, in the field of Textual Criticism.

Textual criticism (or lower criticism) is a branch of literary criticism that is concerned with the identification and removal of transcription errors in the texts of manuscripts. Ancient scribes made errors or alterations when copying manuscripts by hand. Given a manuscript copy, several or many copies, but not the original document, the textual critic seeks to reconstruct the original text (the archetype or autograph) as closely as possible. The same processes can be used to attempt to reconstruct intermediate editions, or recensions, of a document's transcription history. The ultimate objective of the textual critic's work is the production of a "critical edition" containing a text most closely approximating the original.

The basics are covered in another post on this site: What is “Manuscript Evidence” and how is it useful?, and it would be redundant cover the same ground here. The short version is this:

  • The more copies we have of a text the more confident we can be that our current translations are true to the original text.
  • Older copies are less likely to contain unintentional/copyist errors than newer ones, so the more old manuscripts we have, the better.

Historical Evidence

This would be external evidence such as works written by historians of the time, or close to the time, corroborated by accepted historical evidence - documents recording the events at the time, archaeology, etc.

Answer, now that the terms have been clarified:

When it comes to the final verses of genesis, we have *no strong manuscript evidence*. The evidence we do have is very weak, using the accepted forms of textual criticism. It is all recent, and all stems from the translation of one author, and a translation of original brass plates that are not available to study. We can only believe, with no external evidence, that they ever existed at all. All that we have at this time is the translated verses. We have no ancient copies of any texts that corroborate these verses. All we really have is the word of the founder, and other believers within.

When it comes to historical evidence, we also have very little. Before Joseph Smith, we have no historians referring to these verses, no Church sermons referring to them, nothing.

Of course, to the believer, lack of proof is not proof of lack. It's impossible to prove the non-existence of something. The answer to this question could, conceivably, be rendered null and void by the discovery of such manuscript or historical evidence. The lack of external evidence doesn't constitute proof that the verses are invalid. it just means that we have no corroborating evidence. All we have is the word of Joseph Smith and a handful of witnesses, whose trustworthiness is affirmed in the LDS Church, but questioned outside it.

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It's not actually impossible to prove the non-existence of things, it's just impossible to do so with science. Of course it's also impossible to prove the existence of things with science so... In any case, a demonstrated absence of expected evidence is indeed indication of absence. It's just that 'indication' and 'proof' aren't the same thing. –  the dark wanderer Mar 22 at 7:42
Nitpick: Smith didn't translate the Bible based on brass plates. "Just as the work was not a literal translation from ancient documents, nor was it an automatic and infallible process where 'correct' words and phrases simply were revealed to Smith in final form. As with Smith's other translations, he reported that he was forced to 'study it out in [his] mind' as part of the revelatory process." –  Mr. Bultitude Apr 4 at 5:10

If you intend to exclude LDS specific sources, I await a more informed answer.

In the Book of Mormon a portion of those last verses are quoted directly. Here are links for comparison Genesis 50 JST and 2 Nephi 3.

From that it should be reasonably assumed that those writings were contained in the Plates of Brass (described here) as they contained "the five books of Moses," which would include Genesis.

As for the loss of the words, we have the following references as possible explanation:

And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records, which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first, which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved.

1 Nephi 13:40

And also the word of God unto Moses:

And in a day when the children of men shall esteem my words as naught and take many of them from the book which thou shalt write, behold, I will raise up another like unto thee; and they shall be had again among the children of men—among as many as shall believe.

Moses 1:41

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The Book of Mormon, as inspired as it may (or may not) be, does not count as manuscript evidence, since no manuscript even allegedly existed--the gold plates were returned, so no longer exist (or are at least no longer accessible). Thus the Book of Mormon itself does not even exist in manuscript form; only in translation form. –  Flimzy Jul 2 '13 at 23:19
Why impose the same concerns about ancient revelation upon more modern revelation? Of course there are no manuscripts for the Book of Mormon. We have the original in the very hand writing of the scribes who wrote as Joseph Smith Jr. received its contents via revelation. It should be clearly understood that Joseph Smith Jr. did NOT translate the Book of Mormon in any traditional sense. What he accomplished was through the gift and power of God, not by way of his own ability to translate some archaic language. This is the exact same gift and power the ancients used to produce holy writ of old. –  Jason L Wharton Jul 28 '13 at 6:31

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