3 Nephi 1:1 Textual Variants

Royal Skousen
Jesus Christ [sheweth 1ABCDEFGHIKLMPS|showeth JNOQ|did show RT] himself unto the people of Nephi as the multitude were gathered together in the land Bountiful and did minister unto them and on this wise did he [shew 1ABCDEFGHIKLMPS|show JNOQRT] himself unto them

This preface describing Christ’s visit among the Nephites begins with the verb in the present tense (“Jesus Christ sheweth himself ”) but then immediately switches to the past tense (“as the multitude were gathered together”). Subsequent statements in this preface use the auxiliary do verb in the past tense (“did minister” and “did shew”), which undoubtedly motivated the editors for the 1920 LDS edition to change the present-tense showeth at the beginning of the preface to the past-tense did show (the archaic shew had already been emended to show in earlier LDS editions, beginning with the 1888 large-print edition). Another possibility would have been to change the initial verb showeth in this preface to the simple past-tense form: “Jesus Christ showed himself unto the people of Nephi”.

The finite verbs in the Book of Mormon prefaces can be classified according to their use of tense:

only present tense

only past tense

a mixture of present and past tense (with the latter set in bold)

no finite verbs

The examples with mixture show that the tense can be inconsistent in a preface. In fact, the Alma 9 preface seems rather unusual in its mixture of tenses, yet it has never been edited:

The one instance of the present tense in the Alma 9 preface provides a sense of immediacy to that part of the narrative summary. Although different in purpose, there are examples in the original text of the historical present tense being used in past-tense narratives, as in 1 Nephi 2:1: “the Lord spake unto my father—yea even in a dream—and saith unto him : blessed art thou Lehi”. Examples like this one show a mixture of tenses within the same sentence (for further discussion, see under historical present in volume 3). By starting out the 3 Nephi 11 preface in the present tense, Mormon provides a sense of immediacy, while the specific past-tense emendation, did show, sounds rather abrupt. In any event, the original use of sheweth in this preface appears to be fully intended, and the critical text will restore it.

In the modern LDS text, all instances of the archaic verb form shew have been systematically replaced with the modern show. If the present-tense form of the verb show were restored in the standard LDS text for this 3 Nephi 11 preface, the form corresponding to the original sheweth would, of course, be showeth, not shows. To be sure, neither of the two forms with the do auxiliary, doth show and does show, would be appropriate here since in this case the original preface did not use the do auxiliary.

Summary: Restore the original present-tense sheweth at the beginning of the 3 Nephi 11 preface: “Jesus Christ sheweth himself unto the people of Nephi”; usage in several other prefaces supports the mixture of the present and past tenses in this preface; the critical text will also restore instances of the archaic verb form shew whenever they are supported by the earliest textual sources.

Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, Part. 5