3 Nephi 4:28–29 Textual Variants

Royal Skousen
and when they had hanged him until he was dead they did [ fall 1ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQ|fell RST] the tree to the earth and did cry with a loud voice saying : may the Lord preserve his people in righteousness and in holiness of heart that they may cause to be [ fell 1ABCDEFGHIJKLMNP|felled OQRST] to the earth all who shall seek to slay them because of power and secret combinations even as this man hath been [ fell 1ABCDEFGHIJKLMNP|felled OQRST] to the earth

In 3 Nephi 4:28–29, the original text had three examples of the causative verb fall (with the meaning ‘to cause to fall’), all of which have now been edited in the LDS text to the overtly causative verb fell. The two passive uses in verse 29 (“to be fell to the earth” and “this man hath been fell to the earth”) were first changed from fell to felled in the 1907 LDS vest-pocket edition and then later in the 1911 LDS edition (perhaps independently). The active use in verse 28 of the causative verb fall (“they did fall the tree to the earth”) was changed to fell in the 1920 LDS edition. In the RLDS text, all three forms of fall were changed to their appropriate fell forms in the 1953 RLDS edition.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists under definition 51c for the verb fall the causative meaning ‘to cut down (trees)’, with citations from Middle English on. The OED states that this particular transitive use of fall is now restricted to dialectal speech in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand; here are two examples from Early Modern English (with accidentals regularized):

Thus the use of fall instead of the standard fell is textually acceptable here in 3 Nephi 4:28–29 and will be restored in the critical text.

There is one additional case of fell in the text where one could interpret the meaning as the causative ‘felled’ rather than the intransitive ‘fell’:

Nonetheless, the text of the Book of Mormon otherwise refers to people falling in combat (as in 16 other examples where the text refers to falling by a sword or by some other means), but never to “being felled” (or “being fell”) in combat. In other words, in this context the intransitive fall is expected, not the transitive fall. And as explained under Enos 1:23, the use of the past-tense fell in Alma 43:38 is perfectly acceptable; such usage is generally found in the construction “there was (not) something ”. The verb fell in “there was now and then a man fell among the Nephites” undoubtedly represents the past-tense form of the intransitive verb fall rather than the past-tense form of the causative fall.

Summary: Restore in 3 Nephi 4:28–29 the three original instances of the causative verb fall with the meaning ‘to fell’ (that is,‘to cause to fall’); such usage can be found in earlier English and in dialectal usage.

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