1 Nephi 11:3 Textual Variants

Royal Skousen
and I [saith 0A|saith >js said 1|said BCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRST] ...

There are 12 places in the small plates of Nephi where the original text has “I saith” (sometimes saith is spelled sayeth). In each case, the saith (or sayeth) represents the historical present. (For a complete discussion of this usage, see historical present in volume 3.) The other 11 examples of “I saith” are as follows:

In the original text, there are many more examples of saith being used in narrative discourse (most of them involving a third person singular subject). In his editing for the 1837 edition, Joseph Smith consistently changed these present-tense uses of saith to the past-tense said, including the 12 cases of “I saith” here in the small plates of Nephi.

There is one case outside of the small plates of Nephi where the scribe (Oliver Cowdery) initially wrote “I saith” but immediately corrected it to “I say”:

But this is not an example of the historical present, so the use of “I saith” here would be inconsistent with its usage elsewhere—namely, in the small plates of Nephi. The small plates are, of course, written in the first person, so the first-person historical present is expected. On the other hand, Mormon abridged the large plates of Nephi, with the result that when Mormon abridges a narrative, it is always someone else’s narrative and not Mormon’s, and therefore no first-person historical present ever shows up in Mormon’s abridgment.

Interestingly, in these narratives there are no examples of the standard “I say” for the firstperson historical present. Since the occurrence of “I saith” is so frequent in the small plates, we have to accept it there as being genuine. This does not mean however that there are no occurrences in these same narratives of the corresponding past-tense “I said”. When cases of “I saith” occur, we normally find about an equal number of cases of “I said” intermingled within each narrative, as indicated by the following statistical comparison for various discourse narratives in the small plates:

narrative I saith I said
1 Nephi 11–14 4 5
1 Nephi 16–19 3 0
1 Nephi 21 1 0
Jacob 7 3 1
Enos 1 1 0
totals 12 8

Summary: Restore in the small plates of Nephi the 12 examples of the historical present “I saith”; the earliest textual sources support its frequent occurrence in first-person narratives.

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