Alma 27:10–12 Textual Variants

Royal Skousen
but the king saith unto him inquire of the Lord and if he saith unto us : go we will go otherwise we will perish in the land and it came to pass that Ammon went and inquired of the Lord and the Lord said unto him get this people out of this land that they perish not

In the first part of this passage, we have “otherwise we will perish in the land”, but in the second part, which parallels in part the language of the first, we have “get this people out of this land that they perish not”. The question here is whether the phrase the land might be a mistake for this land. It is true that the original manuscript clearly reads the land in Alma 27:10, but nonetheless there is definite evidence that Oliver Cowdery had difficulty with writing down this land in the manuscripts, as in the following cases where he miscopied this land as the land:

For the last two passages, both 𝓟 and the 1830 edition are firsthand copies of 𝓞 (and 𝓞 is not extant in either instance). In the last case, Oliver corrected his error virtually immediately. In the preceding case, the variation in Helaman 14:20 is probably the result of Oliver miscopying an original this as the, especially since we have no independent evidence for the 1830 compositor ever setting this land for an original the land. In fact, there is only one example of this kind of error in the entire text (that is, one in the opposite direction, from the land to this land ):

In this case, the scribe in 𝓞 was Oliver, and he initially wrote this land but immediately corrected it to the land. On the other hand, there is one place where the 1830 compositor set the land instead of the correct this land:

Overall, scribal evidence indicates a persistent tendency to replace this land with the land; thus there may be a primitive error in Alma 27:10 that entered the text as Oliver Cowdery took down Joseph Smith’s dictation. Oliver could have miswritten “we will perish in this land” as “we will perish in the land” (or perhaps Joseph accidentally dictated “we will perish in the land” instead of “we will perish in this land”).

Despite this evidence for an early transmission error in Alma 27:10, it should be noted that in the original text the general phrase the land does occur in specific contexts, as in this striking set of examples for which the original manuscript is fully extant:

Besides “dwelling in the land” and “fleeing out of the land”, the Book of Mormon text also refers to people succeeding or failing “in the land”, as in the following examples:

Thus there is nothing inherently wrong in Alma 27:10 with “we will perish in the land”. The critical text will therefore retain that phraseology, although the possibility remains that “we will perish in the land” is an error for “we will perish in this land”.

It should also be noted that the term “in the land” is often used in the King James Bible (and in the original Hebrew) to mean ‘in this land’, as in these examples from the first two books in the Hebrew Bible:

Summary: Maintain in Alma 27:10 the reading of the original manuscript with its use of the in “we will perish in the land”, even though nearby in verse 12 the text reads “get this people out of this land that they perish not”; although there is considerable manuscript evidence for accidentally replacing this land with the land, there are also many examples in the Book of Mormon text (as well as in the Bible) where the general phrase “in the land” means ‘in this land’.

Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, Part. 4