3 Nephi 26:6 Textual Variants

Royal Skousen
and now there cannot be written in this book even [an 1|a ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRST] hundredth part of the things which Jesus did truly teach unto the people

The printer’s manuscript has the archaic Early Modern English style for the phrase “an hundredth part”, while the 1830 edition has the expected a form of the indefinite article (since in the standard English of today the h is pronounced). The original manuscript is not extant here.

Elsewhere in the original Book of Mormon text, there are four occurrences of “a hundredth part” but none of “an hundredth part”. All four of these are in Oliver Cowdery’s hand; none were written by scribe 2 of 𝓟. There is only one occurrence originally of “the hundredth part” (in Ether 15:33), although one instance of “a hundredth part” was accidentally changed to “the hundredth part” in the 1837 edition (in the Words of Mormon 1:5). So textual consistency would argue that here in 3 Nephi 26:6 we should accept “a hundredth part”.

Interestingly, there are seven occurrences of “an hundred” in the Book of Mormon text but none of “a hundred”. The only examples of “an hundred” written by scribe 2 of 𝓟 occur after 3 Nephi 26:6 (namely, three of them in 4 Nephi), which means that if scribe 2 of 𝓟 introduced the an in the reading “an hundredth part”, it was not due to him being influenced by “an hundred” in the Book of Mormon text. If he is responsible for the change, it must have occurred because of his familiarity with the King James biblical style. In the King James Bible, there are 176 instances of “an hundred” but only one of “a hundred” (in Isaiah 37:36). The King James text has no examples of “a(n) hundredth X”, but there is one example of “the hundredth X”, namely, in Nehemiah 5:11: “also the hundredth part of the money” (note here that the word part is in italics, which means that it was not in the original Hebrew but was supplied by the translators). In any event, one could argue that in 3 Nephi 26:6 scribe 2 of 𝓟 was influenced by the biblical use of “an hundred” and thus introduced “an hundredth part” into the Book of Mormon text.

When we consider the tendency to mix up a and an before h-initial words in the Book of Mormon text, there is one case of each type (that is, one of a to an and one of an to a):

In the first case, the 1852 typesetter is responsible for introducing an holy into the text for Alma 8:20. As explained under that passage, he was probably influenced by earlier instances of “he was an hungered” and “an humble servant of God” in Alma 8:19 (the preceding verse), although he might have also been influenced by the King James style that favors an holy over a holy (41 to 2). He wouldn’t have been influenced by the possible use of an holy in the Book of Mormon itself since Ether 13:5, the second case listed above, appears to be the only instance of an holy in the original text (there are 16 cases of a holy). And even this single instance of an holy was removed from the text. In that particular case, Oliver Cowdery seems to have misheard an original an holy as and holy, which he then wrote in 𝓞 (one would assume) and copied into 𝓟 as “& holy”, thus creating the impossible “it should be built up again and holy city unto the Lord”. The 1830 typesetter recognized this as an error but incorrectly replaced the and with a, not an. But at least the Ether 13:5 example does show that an holy is possible in the Book of Mormon text, even though all other instances read a holy. In the original Book of Mormon text, if we accept the reading in 𝓟 for 3 Nephi 26:6, we will have a similar kind of predominance for “a hundredth part” over “an hundredth part” (4 to 1). We should note that the example from Ether 13:5 also shows that the 1830 typesetter preferred the a before an h-initial word, when he was given the choice.

In the Alma 8:20 example, there were two nearby preceding instances of an with h-initial words that appear to have triggered the change of a holy to an holy in the 1852 LDS edition (namely, an hungered and an humble). Here in 3 Nephi 26:6, there are no nearby preceding instances of an before h-initial words that could have prompted scribe 2 of 𝓟 to change a hundredth to an hundredth. So if scribe 2 is the source for the variation here in 3 Nephi 26:6, the an must have come from his familiarity with the biblical phraseology, namely, an hundred, but not from nearby uses of that style in the Book of Mormon text itself. Since modern English speakers generally expect a hundredth, the odds are therefore greater that the 1830 typesetter made the change from an hundredth to a hundredth. The example in Ether 13:5 shows that he was capable of making such a change, although he did leave all the instances of an before h-initial words unchanged in his typesetting. In this regard, one should note that there are many instances of original an before h-initial words in biblical citations that are replaced by a when quoted in the Book of Mormon. We have the following examples:

  book of mormon king james bible
2 Nephi 13:7 / Isaiah 3:7 a healer an healer
2 Nephi 15:10 / Isaiah 5:10 a homer an homer
2 Nephi 19:17 / Isaiah 9:17 a hypocrite an hypocrite
2 Nephi 20:6 / Isaiah 10:6 a hypocritical nation an hypocritical nation
2 Nephi 21:16 / Isaiah 11:16 a highway an highway
2 Nephi 27:3 / Isaiah 29:8 a hungry man an hungry man
3 Nephi 12:14 / Matthew 5:14 a hill an hill

Within the Book of Mormon text itself, “a hundredth part” is the easier reading. Since the transmissional evidence is equally balanced, the critical text will accept the more difficult reading, “an hundredth part”, for 3 Nephi 26:6.

Summary: Restore the unexpected indefinite article an in 3 Nephi 26:6 since the odds are greater that the 1830 typesetter changed an original an to a than scribe 2 of 𝓟 replaced an original a with an.

Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, Part. 6