The KJV in the BoM

Review of Royal Skousen, The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon, Part Five: The King James Quotations in the Book of Mormon (Provo, Utah: The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies and Brigham Young University Studies, 2019).

So I recently received the captioned volume in the mail. There are certain academic series (like the JSPP) that I make a point of keeping up on, and Royal’s BoM Critical Text project is certainly one of them. I have been a big fan of and cheerleader for the project pretty much from the beginning. I cannot claim to be the project’s biggest fan (Hi Grant Hardy!), but I’m definitely somewhere among the bigger fans. As an undergrad at BYU I gained an interest in textual criticism in the biblical context, and spent a lot of time in the library studying it (on my own dime, not for any class), and I just really enjoy seeing Royal apply those principles to the Book of Mormon at a remarkably high level. Could I prepare a critical edition of the BoM? Sure I could. It would look a lot like the old FARMS BoM Critical Text project. It would be a useful tool. It would also be pedestrian. Could I do what Royal has been doing with this project? Uh, that would be a no, for a host of reasons. I’m naturally kind of lazy and am easily distracted by shiny new baubles. Royal has kept a laser focus on this project for decades. This is much, much more than a simple critical edition. The advance planning, the creativity, the remarkable diligence in chasing every possible source down, the willingness to perform incredibly extensive drudge work, the world class knowledge of the most relevant language—English—particular in its various historical forms. No, I’m afraid this is quite clearly beyond me. The only claim I will make is having the chops to be able to read it with comprehension and appreciation.

In 2006 I published a review of Royal’s first Analysis volume under the title “Seeking Joseph Smith’s Voice” in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies (a google search will find it). Near the end I wrote this paragraph:

“I must confess a certain disappointment with Skousen’s decision not to produce an actual critical edition of the Book of Mormon, as he initially had contemplated in his essay “Towards a Critical Edition of the Book of Mormon” in BYU Studies. I have seen enough of the critical text project now to feel quite comfortable that all of the basic information will be made available through his chosen format in this series, and I have every intention of collecting all of the future volumes as they are issued. But I would still like to see an actual critical edition in print at the conclusion of the critical text project, preferably in a smaller format than the large volumes of the series so far, and for an inexpensive price. Such a volume could serve as a sort of summary of the conclusions Skousen has reached through the project as a whole, it would be accessible and within the buying power of students, and it would be portable (much like the critical editions produced by the United Bible Societies), something one could stick in a briefcase or read on a plane. I hope that Skousen has not completely closed the door on the possibility of issuing such an edition at the conclusion of the critical text project.”

Royal changed his mind and three years later published his landmark Earliest Text volume with Yale. Coincidence? Maybe…

I have always been a Bible guy first and a Book of Mormon guy second, so this volume was especially interesting to me, as it combines both literatures. Here I just want to give you a brief description of the various chapters to give you a flavor for the book.


The Biblical Quotations

  1. Identifying the Quotations. Right away we run into a somewhat surprising problem. We’re all familiar with the long biblical quotations, but how do we find all of the quotations? I knew this was going to be a problem, and I was curious how Royal would approach it. If I were trying to do it, in my mind’s eye I imagined myself doing thousands of searches on the Blue Letter Bible, hardly an efficient approach. And sure enough, Royal ran smack dab into this problem. He was trying to identify the quotations subjectively, and it wasn’t working. At the suggestion of his research associate, Stanford Carmack, Royal decided to consider a parallel a quotation only if the BoM text agreed with the KJV text for a string of at least 16 consecutive words. Royal had already long ago created the databases to be able to do this kind of work. This more objective method resulted in identifying 36 quotations.
  2. Paraphrastic Quotations. Obviously there are going to be shorter quotations as well. These tend to be paraphrastic in nature. To find these they ran a search for identical strings of words between 15 and 7.  These tend to be biblical idioms that appear in multiple places in the Bible. Examples are “the same yesterday and today and forever” and “that old serpent which is the devil.” For even shorter quotations Royal ran a computer run of over 1,000 pages and examined them manually. He identifies a total of 83 examples of paraphrastic quotations in 11 types, which are detailed in this chapter.
  3. Dividing up the Quotations: Chapter and Verse. This section focuses on how the Isaiah quotations are broken up differently in the different chapter and verse regimes that were imposed on the BoM text.

The Biblical Sources

  1. The King James Bible as the Quotation Source. Here he demonstrates that nearly every biblical quotation in the Book of Mormon derives from the KJV, with the exception of one phrase that derives from the Septuagint via (directly or indirectly) one of the translations from the 1530s.
  2. Determining the King James Copytext. It is not possible to determine the specific copytext, but he is able to narrow it down to an edition from the 1770s to the 1820s (which is approximately the same KJV we read today).
  3. Dictating the Text: Oliver Cowdery’s Spellings. Some have wondered whether Joseph just gave Oliver a marked up KJV for the long biblical passages. Oliver’s misspellings make it clear he was receiving the text aurally just like the rest of the BoM.
  4. The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. When Joseph was doing the JST and came to a passage that had a BoM parallel, he would typically just have the scribe copy the changes from the BoM, which led to errors from the 1830 BoM edition creeping into the JST as well.

The Textual Differences

  1. Notable Differences. Here Royal points out the four most striking differences between the BoM and biblical texts, and other notable differences of varying types.
  2. Archaic Differences Removed. These are cases where KJV archaisms were intentionally removed, such as “an hill” to “a hill.”
  3. Influence from General Usage. These revisions mark a preference for general usage over KJV usage, such as “toward” instead of “towards.”
  4. Nonstandard Grammar. This involves updating KJV usage that over time had become nonstandard, such as “they dieth” to “they die.”
  5. The Italicized Words in the Biblical Text. A number of changes revolve around italicized words in the text. Royal downplays this, pointing out that only a minority of the italicized words are modified, mostly involving be verbs. Most of the more substantive changes involving italics have other accompanying issues beyond the italics alone. Joseph clearly knew the import of KJV italics, but the changes to italics in the BoM do seem to be in general less substantive than what we find in the JST, where changes to italicized words are often very substantive. So I’m guessing there may be some progression there from the BoM to the JST in reactions to italicized words.

Archaic Usage

  1. Anachronistic Elements in the Biblical Quotations. In this section he describes three types of anachronistic problems in the biblical quotations. First is the large number of words and phrases that the KJV translators got wrong, such as “satyr” in Isaiah 13:21 and 2 Nephi 23:21. A second kind of anachronism arises from textual criticism, where it is determined that the original text reads differently than the Textus Receptus on which the KJV was base. And third, there is the conflict over the scholarship suggesting the multiple authorship of different portions of Isaiah.
  2. King James Vocabulary. The biblical quotations involve words that many modern readers are unfamiliar with or misunderstand. So in this section Royal provides a lexicon of the vocabulary specific to the wording of the biblical quotations, some of which are incorrectly translated and others of which are cultural translations that are historically inaccurate.
  3. King James Names. This section lists the names that occur only in the biblical quotations, some of which are misunderstood or are incorrect (such as Lucifer in Isaiah 14:12 and 2 Nephie 24:12, which refers to the deposed king of Babylon and not the devil.

The Collation

  1. Three Types of Textual Distinctions. Here he introduces three sigla he will use in the Collation: a delta (i.e., a triangle symbol) indicates the textual difference does not involve italics, a lower case italicized i indicates King James italicized words are changed in the BoM, and an X indicates King James italicized words are unchanged in the BoM.
  2. The Book of Mormon—The King James Bible. The final section is the heart of the volume and presents the quotation texts. For each text there are two columns, BoM on the left and KJV on the right. Only small strings of words (maybe 3 to 6) are used on each line, which makes it easy to see the differences. Variant text is bolded, and the sigla described in chapter 16 are inserted in the left margin.


So for example, the first text presented is 1 Nephi 20-21 / Isaiah 48-49. The first line reads as follows:

hearken and hear this                        hear ye this

There are two deltas in the left margin, indicating the two changes: the addition of “hearken and” and the deletion of “ye.” The next nine lines are identical. Then we come to this:

yet they swear not in truth                 but not in truth

Here there is an i and a delta in the margin. The i signifies the deletion of the italicized word “but” and the delta signifies the other changes that do not involve italics. The virtue of this presentation is that it makes it very easy to see exactly what has changed between the KJV and the BoM.

In conclusion, I highly recommend the book. It will be particularly useful to scholars, but even lay readers will be able to greatly increase their understanding and appreciation of the Book of Mormon by reading this volume.



  1. Thanks Kevin

  2. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks for the heads-up, Kevin.

  3. Aussie Mormon says:

    Does it go into the significance of each change in a quote, or the significance of the quote itself, or is it just a list of quotes and their original version?

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    The significance of the various types of changes is explored in the previous chapters. The final chapter is specifically a presenta5ion of the textual changes.

  5. “First is the large number of words and phrases that the KJV translators got wrong, such as “satyr” in Isaiah”

    I’m not sure this is the best example of an error. See you (or Skousen) saying the word should be rendered goat instead of “goat demon” – ie satyr? The contact of the passage is pretty devilish, and poetic in a sense. While satyrs aren’t really thought about by the modern reader, it’s essentially an evil mythical character that could represent all kinds of things. (so too could goats… Ie parable of sheep and goats)

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Sute, good point on this particular example. Most modern translations render something like “wild goats” but in a demonic sense. Blenkinsopp in the Anchor Buboe actually retains satyrs.

  7. Kevin, based on your extensive studies–did Joseph Smith produce the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God–or by some other means?

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    JFK, if we can change the “or” in your question to “and” thus turning the question into a statement, I think I could sign on to that. In other words, my approach is eclectic. Gift and power of God? Sure as long as that doesn’t make Joseph a pure conduit, mindless automaton. Joseph’s own fingerprints and influence are all over the text as well.

  9. Those who left us a record of how Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon tell us that he saw the words by means of the stone and read them to Oliver Cowdery who then wrote them down. With the evidence left by those who saw the translation process how do we determine how much of Joseph’s own fingerprints and influence are on the Book of Mormon. Certainly, he was a conduit of some kind. The amount of Biblical verses contained in the Book of Mormon lead some to conclude that Joseph and Oliver must have had a Bible present to use in the translation. Others, believe all the words came via the stone. Do you think they used a Bible or did everything come via the stone? Thanks in advance for considering my question.

  10. The question above is for Kevin.

  11. Jonathan N says:

    Kevin, great review. I completely agree with your analysis, with this caveat: Skousen simply assumes the biblical, blended and paraphrastic quotations originated from the KJV, but my research indicates they can be found in the writings of Christian writers readily available in Palmyra. This is particularly relevant regarding the blended and paraphrastic quotations. Plus, I’ve found over 400 nonbiblical terms and phrases in the Book of Mormon that are found in these same writings. Doesn’t this make the assumption of a KJV connection questionable?

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    Some have thought Joseph handed Oliver a marked up KJV for the quotation text. Royal demonstrates from Oliver’s misspellings that the KJV text was dictated just like the rest of the BoM, which seems to foreclose that theory. That does not, however, foreclose the possibility that Joseph consulted a KJV as part of the dictation. The witness statements do not mention Joseph having a book. But note that the long Isaiah quotations in 1 and 2 Nephi would have come at the very end of the dictation sequence (given the priority of Mosiah), so those witness statements are not necessarily dispositive.

  13. What we need to consider is the meaning of “translated by the gift and power of God”. Based on the evidence we have about the translation process we find Joseph viewing a stone is his hat to translate the Book of Mormon. If we believe that, then it isn’t a very big faith-step to believe he used the Seer Stone for everything we have in the Book of Mormon without the need to have anything else to complete the translation.

  14. Terry H says:

    Kevin, This is an awesome and helpful review.

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    Jonathan N., sorry, I just now saw your comment. Good point about some of the KKV language possibly being mediated through quotations I’m Christian literature. I intended to acknowledge this possibility when I mention the line from the Septuagint. I think we can be confident he didn’t get that directly from the LXX. It comes from one of the translations done in the 1530s (such as Coverdale), but I added the words “directly or indirectly” to cover the possibility he actually derived it from some secondary religious source.

  16. Nicholas Frederick has published a fair amount on related subjects. The Book of Mormon and Its Redaction of the King James New Testament: A Further Evaluation of the Interaction between the New Testament and the Book of Mormon; The Bible, Mormon Scripture, and the Rhetoric of Allusivity, Intertextuality in the the Book of Mormon, I have read some of Frederick’s writings, and I am curious how Skousen’s approach aligns or diverges or is fundamentally different from Frederick’s.

  17. Thanks for details on this volume Kevin.

  18. Man, wouldn’t it be nice if we could get a critical text of the D&C now.

    JSP has all the building blocks.

  19. Kevin Barney says:

    That would indeed be nice, jpv. Dan Vogel did something like that for the History of the Church. Here’s hoping someone will take up the D&C gauntlet.

  20. What if Joseph Smith had a really good memory? Really good meaning able to recall 14 chapters of Isaiah almost verbatim.He grew up in a Bible obsessed culture.

    One might consider this to be a rather unusual feat, until one sees a play by Shakespeare, for example. Those actors practice to train their minds to remember long passages as complex as Biblical text. Many other examples, not that rare, come to mind such as Kabuki theater.

    A woman I know is a professional violinist. As a teenager she could play all 10 books of the Suzuki method from memory. Which if she did it without stopping, would go on for at least 10 hours and never repeat a piece.This level of musical memory is not uncommon among her peers.

    I think JFK sets up a useful but ultimately false dichotomy in the question posed on 6/30 at 10:01. Ultimately as the Creator of all things and giver of all gifts, the “other means” that are contrasted with “the gift and power of God” also came from God. The intelligence of known atheists such as Richard Feynman or Carl Sagan are also gifts of God to be used to lift and challenge others. God can take evil and turn it for good.

    Sometimes we want to make Joseph too stupid to concoct the Book of Mormon. Other times we want him to be a genius. I don’t think we can have it both ways. I favor an assumption, that although not conventionally educated, he was extremely intelligent in certain ways and was given these various gifts at different times from God,as is Kevin and JFK et, al,

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