1 Nephi 12:23 Textual Variants

Royal Skousen
they became a dark [a > & 0|& 1|and ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRST] loathsome and a filthy people

In this complex example, we cannot be sure whether the original text repeated the indefinite article a before loathsome. After writing “a dark”, scribe 2 of 𝓞 initially wrote the letter a, then overwrote it with an ampersand.

There are two possibilities here. The first is that scribe 2 originally started to write “a loathsome”, but then corrected what he had just written by overwriting the indefinite article a with an ampersand. Under this interpretation, we could view the resulting text as a mistake—that is, scribe 2 may have forgotten to restore the a that he had just overwritten with an ampersand. As a result, the current text (“a dark and loathsome and a filthy people”) ended up conjoining three adjectives for which the middle one is missing its indefinite article. A nearly parallel example with the same three adjectives would argue that all three uses of a are expected:

This passage from Mormon is in that part of the text where both the 1830 edition and the printer’s manuscript are firsthand copies of the original manuscript; thus we can be confident that 𝓞 read “a dark a filthy and a loathsome people”—that is, the a was repeated for each conjoined adjective. But unlike 1 Nephi 12:23, there is only one and conjoining the three adjectives.

When we look at the two other cases in the text where three adjectives are conjoined, we find that the evidence is mixed:

In these two cases, the and is repeated both times, but the middle a is missing in the first example. Further, the second example shows the tendency to lose the middle a (in the 1902 LDS edition). Thus both 1 Nephi 12:23 and Mosiah 10:12 may be examples where the scribe accidentally dropped the second of three a ’s. In other words, Mosiah 10:12 could be a scribal error for “a wild and a ferocious and a blood-thirsty people”. The original manuscript is not extant there. The paucity of these examples suggests that we should follow the earliest textual sources when dealing with the problem of the repeated a (as well as the repeated and ).

The second possibility for 1 Nephi 12:23 is that the a that scribe 2 of 𝓞 initially wrote was simply the beginning of the word and (and not the indefinite article a). Normally, scribe 2 wrote & for and, but sometimes he wrote out the and, especially when he first started taking down Joseph Smith’s dictation (at 1 Nephi 3:7). In all, scribe 2 of 𝓞 wrote the word and 312 times in the extant portions of 𝓞 in 1 Nephi. Of these instances, only 15 and ’s (less than 5 percent) were actually written out as and; the rest were written as &. Yet of the first 17 occurrences, scribe 2 wrote the word out eight times (almost half the time). In fact, the first four occurrences were all written out. But as he progressed in his scribal work, scribe 2 only occasionally wrote out the word. He apparently tried hard to write the ampersand since there are two places near the beginning of his work as scribe where he first started to write the initial a of the and, but then he aborted it and wrote the ampersand instead. These two instances are here listed, along with the other and ’s and &’s as scribe 2 wrote them (from 1 Nephi 3:7 through 1 Nephi 3:22):

occurrences 1–6: and, and, and, and, &, and
occurrence 7: a erased and overwritten by the &

occurrences 8–19: I >% &, &, &, &, &, that >– &, and, &, and, and, &, &

occurrence 20: a written before the &, then erased

occurrences 21–31: &, &, &, &, &, and, &, &, &, &, &

The two corrections occurred, it would seem, as scribe 2 was trying to convert from and to &. Nonetheless, it should be pointed out that for the 20th occurrence, one could interpret the erased a as the result of scribe 2 accidentally skipping the and in anticipation of the following as; that is, he started to write the word as, but then he caught his error and erased the a that he had already written. In addition, the 21st occurrence has an erased a, but this a immediately follows rather than precedes the ampersand. In this instance, the erased a could be a scribal error in anticipation of the word all that follows the 22nd occurrence (which is an &):

In any event, the occurrence later on in 1 Nephi 12:23 of a corrected to & may be an example of scribe 2 of 𝓞 starting out to write and instead of & but then correcting himself. We have a case of and written out in the following verse (namely, 1 Nephi 13:1), so there is evidence that scribe 2 still occasionally wrote out the and and may have still been trying to correct this tendency in 1 Nephi 12:23. In any event, this scribal evidence (however meager) suggests that we should not automatically interpret the a that was corrected to & in 1 Nephi 12:23 as a mistake for the indefinite article a.

Summary: Maintain the current phraseology of “a dark and loathsome and a filthy people” in 1 Nephi 12:23, which derives from what scribe 2 ended up writing in 𝓞; the second adjective is not preceded by the indefinite article a, unlike the parallel example in Mormon 5:15 (“a dark a filthy and a loathsome people”), but a similar lack of repetition is found in Mosiah 10:12 (“a wild and ferocious and a bloodthirsty people”).

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