1 Nephi 11:13 Textual Variants

Royal Skousen
and I beheld the city of [nathareth 0|Nazareth 1ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRST] and in the city of [nathareth 0|Nazareth 1ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRST] I beheld a virgin

The city Nazareth is twice spelled nathareth by scribe 3 in the original manuscript (this scribe typically leaves proper nouns uncapitalized). One possibility is that this spelling actually represents the original pronunciation of the name—or at least the pronunciation of the name in Nephi’s time. The th could stand for the proto-Semitic voiced interdental fricative /d/, which ultimately became /z/ in Hebrew. Some scholars have argued that the actual name for Nazareth had, instead of the /z/, a Hebrew emphatic s (represented phonetically as /‚‚s/). For instance, the modern Hebrew name for Nazareth derives from this alternative. Historically, the emphatic s could have derived from an emphatic interdental fricative, either a voiced or a voiceless one (that is, from either /‚d/ or /‚h/). Thus the intervocalic th spelling of the Book of Mormon spelling nathareth could represent an original proto-Semitic interdental fricative, either /d/, /‚d/, or /‚h/. Of course, this interpretation presumes that the place actually existed at about 600 bce. (For the historical development of Semitic consonants, see pages 18–20 of Angel Sáenz-Badillos, A History of the Hebrew Language, translated by John Elwolde [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993]. For discussion regarding the pronunciation of the second consonant of Nazareth, see J. C. O’Neill, “Jesus of Nazareth”, The Journal of Theological Studies 50/ 1 [April 1999]: 135–142.)

There are two problems with this proposal. First, biblical names in the Book of Mormon typically follow the standard spellings found in the King James Bible. (The name Sariah is simply not the same as Sarah and is not a biblical name per se.) There appears to be no evidence in the Book of Mormon manuscripts of any conscious attempt to spell a biblical name like its Hebrew or Greek original. Second, we have other evidence for scribe 3 of 𝓞 having difficulty with interdental and alveolar fricatives. For instance, in his attempt to write down ceaseth in 1 Nephi 7:14, scribe 3 anticipated the final th sound and placed it earlier in the word (thus his initial spelling of ceaseth as ceathes). In the same way, the first th in scribe 3’s nathareth may have resulted from scribe 3 anticipating the final th by placing it earlier in the name, although here he did get the correct th at the end of the name.

On the other hand, one could argue that the spelling nathareth seems to be intentional because it was written twice that way in 1 Nephi 11:13. Perhaps scribe 3 actually mispronounced the name as Nathareth. A good example of such a mispronunciation is the name Melchizedek, which is typically pronounced as /melke zßdIk/ rather than /melkI zßdek/ (with metathesis of the second and fourth vowels). The name is consistently misspelled in the printer’s manuscript (the original manuscript is not extant for any of its five spellings). Although the misspellings in scribe 2’s hand (either Melchezidek or Melchesidek) involve a metathesis of the second and third vowels, they do seem to be based on the typical mispronunciation of Melchizedek:

It seems doubtful that we would want to argue that Melchezidek actually represents the original spelling of Melchizedek’s name, especially given its etymological Hebrew meaning of ‘my king is righteous’ (malkıı +sedeq). Note in particular that the first vowel in the Hebrew form of the name is a rather than e. The e derives from the Greek transliteration of the name (as Melchisedek), which ends up being spelled in the King James Bible as Melchizedek (in the Old Testament) and Melchisedec (in the New Testament). There has been no attempt in the Book of Mormon text (or the King James Bible) to spell Melchizedek like the Hebrew Malchisedek.

As further evidence that there was little or no attempt to control for the spelling of biblical names in the manuscripts, consider the following list of biblical names from 2 Nephi 12–24 (quoting Isaiah 2–14) that were misspelled and left uncorrected by Oliver Cowdery in the printer’s manuscript (the original manuscript is not extant for any of these examples):

For most of these examples, the 1830 typesetter seems to have consulted his King James Bible in order to make sure the unfamiliar names were spelled correctly. (For discussion concerning the only example that the typesetter did not revise, Ramath, see under 2 Nephi 20:29.)

Returning to the name Nazareth, it seems that the more plausible solution is that scribe 3’s nathareth is simply an error for Nazareth, perhaps based on a mispronunciation. Oliver Cowdery, in copying the name from 𝓞 into 𝓟, apparently thought it was a scribal error and thus adjusted the spelling.

Summary: Maintain the biblical spelling Nazareth for the name of Mary’s city; scribe 3 of 𝓞’s spelling nathareth (even though repeated) is probably a scribal error, perhaps due to this scribe’s tendency to anticipate the final th or maybe his mispronunciation of the name; in general, biblical names in the Book of Mormon agree with their traditional spellings in the King James Bible.

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