1 Nephi 11:2 Textual Variants

Royal Skousen
and the Spirit saith unto me behold what [desireth >% desirest 0|desirest 1ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRST] thou

This variant brings up the issue of subject-verb agreement for the second person subject pronoun thou. Initially, scribe 3 of 𝓞 added the -eth ending to the verb desire rather than the standard -est ending. In two other places in this chapter, the same extended use of -eth shows up:

We see that in verses 2 and 4, scribe 3 immediately caught his error, erased the word-final h, and inserted an s between the stem-final e and the now-final t. On the other hand, in the third case (somewhat later, in verse 10), scribe 3 wrote the grammatically incorrect -eth ending in 𝓞 but without ever correcting it. Oliver Cowdery made the correction for this third case when he copied the text from 𝓞 into 𝓟. We should also note that in all three cases we have a preceding saith, which could be the reason scribe 3 accidentally added the -eth ending instead of the correct -est to the following verb.

The first two examples clearly show the tendency of scribe 3 to incorrectly use the third person singular -eth in place of the second person singular -est. So the question is whether we should interpret the example in 1 Nephi 11:10 as a third example of this scribal tendency. (In all three cases, it is also possible that Joseph Smith himself accidentally dictated the -eth ending.) There is considerable evidence in the text that the inflectional ending -eth (or -th) acts more as an indicator of the biblical style than strictly as an ending for the third person singular present. For instance, this ending is frequently used in the third person plural present (see the discussion under inflectional endings in volume 3). And as noted in the following discussion (under 1 Nephi 11:3), the -eth ending shows up in the expression “I saith” (rather than the correct historical-present form “I say”). In dealing with such complex cases, we should consider the specific evidence for scribal error. For instance, in the case of -eth in the third person plural and “I saith”, there is very little (if any) evidence of scribal correction. Thus the manuscript evidence supports the conclusion that some specific uses, although nonstandard, are intentional and should be maintained in the critical text.

On the other hand, the evidence regarding the confusion between the biblical inflectional endings -eth and -est strongly suggests that scribal error is involved. Let us consider first the cases in the manuscripts where we get -eth instead of -est. Besides the three cases produced by scribe 3 of 𝓞 here in 1 Nephi 11, we have five more examples from three other scribes:

In all, we have eight cases where the earliest textual sources have the nonstandard -eth rather than the standard -est. And in five of these cases, we have some evidence that the -eth is a scribal error (1 Nephi 11:2, 1 Nephi 11:4, 1 Nephi 13:28, Alma 11:23, and 3 Nephi 13:17). On the other hand, in three cases, the earliest textual source has the nonstandard -eth without any variation (1 Nephi 11:10, 1 Nephi 12:9, and Mosiah 27:13). The high error rate suggests that these three other cases are also scribal errors. This conclusion is particularly strong for 1 Nephi 11:10 since just before, in verses 2 and 4, scribe 3 of 𝓞 initially wrote the -eth ending but then immediately corrected it to -est.

David Calabro has also pointed out (personal communication) that in nearly all of these examples, the verb ending in -eth is immediately followed by a th -initial word (usually thou, but also that and the). In other words, the tendency to say, hear, or write the -eth ending may have been facilitated by the following th sound (a voiced interdental fricative /d/ in all these cases). Such a phonetic effect would further argue that the tendency to replace the -est ending with -eth was largely due to difficulties in writing down Joseph Smith’s dictation rather than being an accurate reflection of the original text.

In discussing this variation, we should also consider three cases in the manuscripts where the third person singular -eth ending was momentarily replaced by -est:

In these three cases, we have clear evidence that the scribe was responsible for substituting the -est ending (since he caught his error and immediately corrected it). Such mix-ups of -eth and -est are not restricted to the manuscripts. We have a couple of cases where typesetters incorrectly set the wrong ending:

Finally, it should also be noted that in two cases (1 Nephi 12:9 and Mosiah 27:13), the text has long maintained the nonstandard -eth ending. In fact, the RLDS text continues to maintain the -eth ending for both examples (“thou remembereth” and “why persecuteth thou”). This perseverance of the -eth ending provides strong evidence that it has been difficult for scribes, editors, and typesetters of the Book of Mormon to control these unfamiliar biblical inflectional endings. For a complete discussion, see inflectional endings in volume 3.

Summary: The high incidence of scribal corrections involving mix-ups between the biblical inflectional endings -eth and -est strongly suggests that the original text used the standard ending, even when the earliest textual source reads otherwise; thus the -est ending is probably correct for 1 Nephi 11:10, 1 Nephi 12:9, Mosiah 27:13, and 3 Nephi 13:17; corrections in the manuscripts support the -est ending for 1 Nephi 11:2, 1 Nephi 11:4, 1 Nephi 13:28, and Alma 11:23, on the one hand, and the -eth ending for

Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, Part. 1