3 Nephi 17:17 Textual Variants

Royal Skousen
and no tongue [cannot 1|can ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRST] speak neither can there be written by any man neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak

Here the printer’s manuscript has a multiple negative (“& no tongue cannot speak”). The 1830 edition, on the other hand, lacks the extra negative (“and no tongue can speak”). Elsewhere in this part of the text, where both 𝓟 and the 1830 edition are firsthand copies of 𝓞, we have a similar case where 𝓟 has the multiple negative and the 1830 edition lacks the extra negative:

In the discussion for that case, I noted that there is only one unambiguous case where Oliver Cowdery accidentally created a multiple negative, but that error was only momentary. On the other hand, there are two clear cases where the 1830 compositor, John Gilbert, removed a multiple negative from the text. (For these examples, see under Helaman 13:28.) Thus the odds are that here in 3 Nephi 17:17 Gilbert is the one responsible for the textual variation.

There is an alternative reading that should be considered here. Perhaps the original text read without the no before tongue:

As this passage was dictated, one could argue, either Joseph Smith or Oliver Cowdery (the presumed scribe in 𝓞) could have accidentally added the no before tongue, giving “and no tongue cannot speak”. Usage elsewhere in the text supports the alternative reading “and tongue cannot speak”. For instance, there are no other cases of no tongue in the text, but there are two other cases of the subject tongue followed by a not:

For both of these examples, there is a conjoined neither- clause with the same modal verb can. These two passages, as well as the example here in 3 Nephi 17:17, say the same thing: they first refer to the tongue not being able to express something, then refer to the inability to write the words down. So if we are to remove the multiple negative from 3 Nephi 17:17 (say, in the standard text), the more appropriate emendation would be to remove the no before tongue rather than change the cannot to can. This argument from usage thus supports the hypothesis here in 3 Nephi 17:17: namely, that the 1830 compositor, John Gilbert, removed the multiple negative—in fact, he removed the wrong negative! Similarly, there is internal evidence that Gilbert removed the wrong negative in the case of Helaman 13:28 (mentioned above); see under that passage for discussion. So the evidence is fairly strong that 𝓞 read as a multiple negative here in 3 Nephi 17:17: “and no tongue cannot tell”. There are quite a few examples in the original text of multiple negatives; for additional discussion, see under 2 Nephi 26:32 or, more generally, under negation in volume 3.

Summary: Restore the cannot in 3 Nephi 17:17 that the 1830 compositor, John Gilbert, changed to can when he set the type for this passage; we have independent evidence that Gilbert occasionally removed multiple negatives from the text, including one other case where he deleted the wrong negative (in Helaman 13:28); on the other hand, Oliver Cowdery apparently never permanently added a multiple negative to the text; for the standard text, the correct emendation (based on parallel examples) would be to remove the no before tongue from the multiple negative, giving “and tongue cannot tell”.

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