What’s New with the JST?

Kent P. Jackson, Understanding Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, 2022)

Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible: The Joseph Smith Translation and the King James Translation in Parallel Columns (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, 2021)

I have served four tours of duty as a Gospel Doctrine teacher and a long stint as my stake’s institute instructor. Accordingly, I have taught adult classes in my ward and stake for probably something like 25 years, at least 1,000 classes, about half of which would have been focused on the Bible. In January of each OT year I sometimes made it a practice to ditch one of those lessons and devote an entire class to the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. I specifically remember doing that on two occasions, and I may have done it on a third as well. I know people get a little nervous when I go rogue like that, but my thought was we were about to start a two-year stint focused on the Bible, and people are going to be making comments based on the JST in every class. That first January tends to be heavily focused on the JST anyway (i.e., the Book of Moses), so to me it made sense to do a general class on the JST right at the beginning of the biblical curriculum.

As much as people enjoyed that intro class, I’m not sure how much of it actually sank in. People seemed to know three things and three things only about the JST: (i) the abbreviation JST stands for “Joseph Smith Translation,” (ii) footnotes at the bottom of the official LDS KJV (1979/2013) tagged JST gave a JST revision to the KJV with the changed text marked by italics, and (iii) longer revisions were included in a JST Appendix in the back. Where it came from and how we should understand it always seemed a little bit uncertain to most class members.

We still have a year and a half to go in our current biblical curriculum, so I thought it might be useful for me to point you to two brand new and important resources for your JST study, the titles of which are given in the caption to this post.

If you really wanted to, you could turn yourself into something of a JST scholar with existing materials. You would start with Bob Matthews’ A Plainer Translation (from his dissertation), add Phil Barlow’s Mormons and the Bible, get the massive 2004 Manuscripts volume (as I recall I paid $100 for my copy when it was brand new, but the manuscripts are now available for free at the JSPP), read the Religious Studies Center volume on the subject, and read certain book chapters and periodical articles. Realistically, the odds that anyone is going to do all that are pretty slim; most people with that much of an interest in the subject have already read that material.

But the new Kent Jackson volume is a convenient way to learn all the nuts and bolts of the JST in a single non-technical volume of only a little over 250 pages. Even your seminary age teens will be able to understand it.

At pages 3-5 Kent has a great timeline of the scribes, locations and material covered. There were two rough draft manuscripts: OT1 (most of Genesis) and NT1 (most of Matthew). This material was copied into new manuscripts, OT2 and NT2, into which the balance of the NT and OT would be copied. The original OT1 and NT1 manuscripts wee not discarded, apparently being kept as a kind of back-up. As the project took just over three years, a series of scribes worked on it: Oliver Cowdery, John Whitmer, Emma Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Jesse Gause, Frederick G. Williams, and  Newel K. Whitney (Joseph’s own hand appears a few times as well).

To give you a sense for the volume I’ll type in the table of contents:

Introduction

  1. Manuscripts and Scribes
  2. Understanding the Text
  3. Historical Clues from Manuscripts
  4. What is Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible?
  5. The Vision of Moses
  6. Creation and Fall
  7. The Early Generations in Genesis
  8. Reinventing Genesis
  9. Promises and Priesthood in Genesis
  10. Shedding Light on the Story of Jesus
  11. Adding to the Words of Jesus
  12. Text and Message
  13. Guiding Instincts
  14. Opening the Biblical Text
  15. Restoring the Doctrine
  16. “What is the Sign of Thy Coming?”
  17. The New Translation and the Book of Mormon
  18. The New Translation and the Revelations
  19. Translated More Than Once
  20. Publishing the New Translation
  21. The New Translation and the Pearl of Great Price
  22. The Book of Moses and Joseph Smith-Mathew
  23. Footnotes and Selections
  24. The Brigham Young University Edition
  25. A Testament of Jesus Christ
  26. For the Salvation of Souls

There is a common belief in the Church that the JST was never finished. The thought seems to be that the manuscript was nominally finished on July 2, 1833, so Joseph must just have not been done with it because he lived another 11 years without publishing it. Kent is strongly of the view, and I agree, that Joseph did indeed complete the translation in mid-1833. So why didn’t he publish it? Time, resources, circumstances. The publication of the revelations (Book of Commandments, Doctrine and Covenants, new editions of the Book of Mormon) were ahead of the JST in the queue, and with everything else going on he just didn’t get to it before his death.

As I have worked on my own JST project (much of it posted here in preliminary form on the blog), I have noticed a bunch of tendencies in the translation. Examples would include replacing subjunctive “be” with indicative “is”; softening the word “damnation” in various ways (such as “condemnation), turning metaphor into simile by adding the word “as” to be clear the metaphor is not to be taken literally, and so forth. One of my favorite chapters in this volume is the one on “Guiding Instincts,” which of course includes a suspicion of italicized text, but a lot of other tendencies as well.

Our current, solid understanding of the textual history didn’t always exist. Early on both the RLDS and LDS traditions made mistakes based on a lack of understanding of the manuscripts. In its original publication of the Inspired Version the RLDS made a mistake by using OT1 for Genesis instead of OT2. On the LDS side Orson Pratt correctly edited Moses to conform to the Inspired Version, but later James Talmage undid those edits and privileged the early newspaper publications, which was exactly the wrong thing to do. We do better when we work together. Of course, it’s a different day now with all our cooperation on matters of history, but learning to cooperate on the JST was an important step toward a more ecumenical friendship.

One of the things most LDS do not realize is that the JST material in our LDS KJV is a small fraction, less than 20%, of the whole. And there hasn’t been a really good solution to that. Sure, you can read the Inspired Version, but that version doesn’t distinguish between KJV text and JST text; it’s just one undifferentiated mass. Which leads to the other volume I want to mention, the BYU edition of the JST with the KJV in parallel columns. There were a lot of editorial choices that had to be made as to how to present the text, and I think the editors consistently made good ones. With this edition you may now read the entire JST and also compare the KJV text in parallel columns.

So brothers and sisters, that’s what’s new with the JST.

Comments

  1. David T says:

    Is there a benefit to this volume over the two Wayment editions of the complete OT and NT in parallel with the KJV? Loved how he also included key variants between the OT1 and OT2 (etc) mss where warranted. Is there something more to this volume that the Wayment versions don’t offer?

  2. Doug Reed says:

    Excellent! Thank you!

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    David, I wasn’t aware Thom had done that. That source should be fine as well. To me the key is you have to give the KJV in parallel; it doesn’t work to give just the JST.

  4. Thanks, Kev. I wish there was a parallel with KJV JST NRSV. Too many issues to do that I suppose, but would be a fun project.

  5. Mark Peterson says:

    You can see the most complete, accurate JST version of the Bible here:
    https://scriptures.info/scriptures/oc
    https://scriptures.info/scriptures/nc

  6. My, oh my. What next? I’m sticking with the mainstream Christian KJV. Why so? Because Joseph Smith’s translation of the papyri which came into his possession resulting in the Pearl of Great Price has been found to be a complete fabrication.

  7. Mark Peterson’s link takes you to the website for Denver Snuffer’s apostasy. Bill Joyce is merely a latter-day Balaam — a talking ass.

    Kevin, I hadn’t been especially interested in yet another JST formatting … until reading this post the other day. My copy of the JST in parallel columns was delivered today, and my copy of Understanding should arrive tomorrow. That’s how much I think of your recommendations, after having followed your earlier posts on the JST. As always, thank you.

  8. Not a Cougar says:

    Kevin, thank for the article. It’ s not exactly new (though fairly recent), but any comments on the Wayment/Wilson-Lemmón writings on the connection between Clarke’s bible commentary and the JST?

    Separately, I’ve tried in my adult Sunday School lessons to point out the various potential uses of the JST text (and even referenced the Wayment/Wilson-Lemmón findings) and that it wasn’t simply “the restored and true text of what actually happened” (which is what most people seem to believe, and I never got any pushback, but it seems like most of the students didn’t really care that much (which can be said of a lot of Sunday School topics).

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    I posted some (very) preliminary thoughts on the Adam Clarke research here:

    https://bycommonconsent.com/2021/04/16/on-secondary-source-infuence-in-the-jst/

  10. On the “is it or isn’t it finished debate,” see this recent piece from BYU Studies (which is less substantive on this question than I remembered.)
    https://byustudies.byu.edu/article/the-joseph-smith-translation-of-the-bible/

  11. Mark Ashurst-McGee says:

    Thanks, Kevin. I appreciate your expertise and posting on the JST.
    And thank you, Kent Jackson, for the excellent scholarship.

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