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I have recently been reading through the CES letter. My question comes from this excerpt:

When King James translators were translating the KJV Bible between 1604 and 1611, they would occasionally put in their own words into the text to make the English more readable. We know exactly what these words are because they're italicized in the KJV Bible. What are these 17th century italicized words doing in the Book of Mormon? Word for word? What does this say about the Book of Mormon being an ancient record?

ISAIAH 9:1 (KJV) Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations.

2 NEPHI 19:1 Nevertheless, the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali, and afterwards did more grievously afflict by the way of the Red Sea beyond Jordan in Galilee of the nations.

The above example, 2 Nephi 19:1, dated in the Book of Mormon to be around 550 BC, quotes nearly verbatim from the 1611 AD translation of Isaiah 9:1 KJV – including the translators’ italicized words. Additionally, the Book of Mormon describes the sea as the Red Sea. The problem with this is that (a) Christ quoted Isaiah in Matt. 4:14-15 and did not mention the Red Sea, (b) “Red” sea is not found in any source manuscripts, and (c) the Red Sea is 250 miles away.

MALACHI 3:10 (KJV) ...and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. 3 NEPHI 24:10 ...and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

In the above example, the KJV translators added 7 italicized words to their English translation, which are not found in the source Hebrew manuscripts. Why does the Book of Mormon, which is supposed to have been completed by Moroni over 1,400 years prior, contain the exact identical seven italicized words of 17th century translators?

Reading the bottom excerpt will tell you my question.

2 Answers 2

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TLDR: the italics carried the intent/message well enough

The translation of the Book of Mormon was not necessarily a word for word translation.

D&C 1:24

24 Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.

Continuing from an apologist site:

While the translation of the Book of Mormon may come directly from God, this does not preclude the role that Joseph would play in adapting the language of the Book of Mormon to a cultural and linguistic framework that would both establish that the text was authentic and inspired while also communicating the Book's message clearly. Thus Joseph's model of revelation is one in which God could use things such as King James language as the means to the end of establishing his everlasting covenant and calling his children to repentance....He worked in cooperation with Joseph (instead of merely subjecting his mind to the revelation) to get his message out to his children.

From another page:

The Book of Mormon claims to be a "translation." Therefore, the language used is that of Joseph Smith. Joseph could choose to render similar (or identical) material using King James Bible language if that adequately represented the text's intent.

Only if we presume that the Book of Mormon is a fraud at the outset is this proof of anything. If we assume that it is a translation, then the use of Bible language tells us merely that Joseph used biblical language.

If Joseph was a fraud, why would he plagiarize the one text—the King James Bible—which his readers would be sure to know, and sure to react negatively if they noticed it? The Book of Mormon contains much original material—Joseph didn't "need" to use the KJV; he is obviously capable of producing original material.

And while some translations from KJV of the bible are word-for-word (italics included) there are other parts of the Book of Mormon that differ at portions. If Joseph Smith was just plagiarizing straight from the bible why would some parts differ? I could try to list all of these but this has been done in 1904 Improvement Era 3 pg 179-196 so I'll provide one like OP (there are a bunch-though I'm not 100% sure this is all of them):

Isaiah 3:10-11 Say unto the righteous it shall be well with him; for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him; for the reward of his hands shall be given him

2 Nephi 13:10-11 Say unto the righteous, that it is well with them; for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. Woe unto the wicked! for they shall perish; for the reward of their hands shall be upon them.

Beatitudes have several differences as well (pg 185)

See also:

all emphasis mine

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  • Just seems like a very odd thing to do. 1+ all the same.
    – Luke Hill
    Jan 29 at 7:07
  • @LukeHill why is it odd?
    – depperm
    Jan 29 at 15:08
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    Another way to understand this point is the Book of Mormon wasn't intended to replace the Bible, but exists as "another testament of Jesus Christ" as it says on the covers (now).
    – zanlok
    Jan 29 at 17:35
  • @depperm it just seems suspicious to me.
    – Luke Hill
    Jan 29 at 18:32
  • Looks like the "apologist site" link links to a FAIR page with nothing on it, perhaps the link's off a little? Jan 31 at 3:31
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I must respectfully admit to the OP that I'm a bit confused by this question. If some passages of the Book of Mormon are intended to be good translations into English of Hebrew scriptures recorded 1400 years prior to its publication, and the translators of the King James version also did a good job with their translation of the same passages, wouldn't it make sense that they end up in many cases with the same added clarifying words?

depperm's answer presents some other explanations for why the Book of Mormon and the KJV Bible are identical in places to round things out, and I recommend his answer as being more complete. But I wanted to put my additional question-to-a-question out there.

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  • The Hebrew for Malachai 3:10, following "blessing" is only one hyphenated Hebrew word: "עַד־בְּלִי־דָֽי", approximately meaning "until-not-enough". (interlinear). The translators took it as "that-not-enough", and supplied extra words to clarify: "that there shall not be room enough to receive it". That direct words are the same in the other book isn't unexpected. That it is only coincidence that the supplied words are identical in a translation made hundreds of years later is very unlikely. Jan 31 at 17:06
  • Compare with the large variety of wording in other translations: Malachi 3 (KJV) - Bring ye all the tithes. Jan 31 at 17:07
  • @RayButterworth I am not making a claim that the supplied words are identical to a translation made hundreds of years later, nor do I think that's a claim that is common among Book of Mormon apologists. This is one of the reasons I pointed to depperm's in my own, since he covers this point in his answer. I'll highlight the relevant link and quote in a subsequent comment. Feb 6 at 21:02
  • fairlatterdaysaints.org/answers/Book_of_Mormon/Translation/… "While the translation ... may come directly from God, this does not preclude the role that Joseph would play in adapting the language of the Book of Mormon to a cultural and linguistic framework that would ... communicat[e] the Book's message clearly. Thus Joseph's model of revelation is one in which God could use things such as King James language as the means to the end of establishing his everlasting covenant." Feb 6 at 21:04
  • My comment was in response to "wouldn't it make sense that they end up in many cases with the same added clarifying words?". Generally yes, but in this case, no, it wouldn't make sense. This particular passage has very few words in Hebrew and many in the translations, with a large range of possibilities. That these two are identical cannot be something that happened by chance. I'm not saying there was any "cheating" or deception involved. But it's almost certain that the Mormon text was directly influenced by the KJV translation, even if it were only used as a reference for familiar wording. Feb 7 at 1:15

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