Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Opposition, 1 – Fixing the Text of 2 Nephi 2:11

Posted by joespencer on September 13, 2012

In this first post on 2 Nephi 2:11, I aim only to fix the text I’ll be working with in this series. That should open the way to the other kinds of work I’d like to do.

Here is the text of 2 Nephi 2:11 as we know it from the current edition of the Book of Mormon:

For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

The text here has been remarkably stable over the course of its life. No official publication of the Book of Mormon from 1830 to 1981 has had a text distinct from this one—except in the case of punctuation—and the printer’s manuscript, which is extant for this verse, has the same text as every published edition of the Book of Mormon. There seems, then, to be little reason to bother about alternative readings.

Nonetheless, Royal Skousen, following a suggestion for Corbin Volluz, has suggested one emendation to the text. Let me quote his discussion at length, because I think his reasoning deserves full exposure:

Corbin T. Volluz has suggested (personal communication) that the phrase “neither holiness nor misery” may be an error for “neither happiness nor misery.” The text here shows no variance with respect to the word holiness, but the original manuscript is not extant. When we look elsewhere in the text (including later on in this same verse), misery is always opposed to happiness (nine times), never holiness:

2 Nephi 2:11 happiness nor misery
2 Nephi 2:13 no righteousness nor happiness . . . no punishment nor misery
Alma 3:26 eternal happiness or eternal misery
Alma 40:15 this state of happiness and this state of misery
Alma 40:15 to happiness or misery
Alma 40:17 to happiness or misery
Alma 40:21 in happiness or in misery
Alma 41:4 raised to endless happiness . . . or to endless misery
Mormon 8:38 greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies

The word happiness is much more reasonable as the opposing member for both occurrences of misery in 2 Nephi 2:11; happiness is an opposite to misery, but holiness is not, except by some kind of conjectured inference (perhaps only those who are holy are happy).

Orthographically, holiness and happiness are similar, so it is quite possible that the original manuscript (which is not extant here) read happiness and was accidentally copied as holiness. In fact, this error would have been facilitated if happiness was actually spelled in O [the original manuscript] as hapiness (that is, with only one p). Although elsewhere Oliver Cowdery consistently spelled happiness with two p‘s (15 times in extant portions of O, 26 times in P [the printer's manuscript]), he did occasionally spell happy as hapy (twice in P: Mosiah 2:41 and Alma 56:11); his six other spellings of happy are correct (three in extant portions of O, three in P). Related evidence comes from Oliver’s spellings of the similar-sounding word happen. Out of 18 occurrences (17 of happened, 1 of happen), he spelled happened eight times with one p (three times in extant portions of O, five times in P). So if Oliver Cowdery wrote happiness as hapiness, then the chances are even higher of the word happiness being miscopied as holiness. Often Oliver Cowdery’s a‘s look like o‘s, and his p has a high ascender, which means that the p of hapiness could have easily been misread as an l.

Summary: Emend “neither holiness nor misery” in 2 Nephi 2:11 to “neither happiness nor misery” in accord with all other pairs of happiness and misery in the text.

[Royal Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, part 1, pp. 494-495.]

This is, I think, a pretty convincing discussion. (The cross-references Skousen provides are even more relevant than he seems to recognize, since so many of them are drawn from Alma 40-42, those chapters that clearly make up Alma’s commentary of sorts on 2 Nephi 2.) I’m willing to follow Skousen’s emendation in the discussions I’ll be wagering of this text. Hence, the text to be used should look, it seems, like the following (with the punctuation, for the moment, from the 1981 version):

For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither happiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

Before turning to the matter of punctuation, I might note the possibility—anything but confirmed yet, to my mind—that there is a dittography (an accidental repetition of something) in this verse. Several reasons make me wonder whether the phrase “happiness nor misery” just before the end of the verse was accidentally reproduced from the first part of the verse (“neither happiness nor misery”)—most likely by Nephi himself in reproducing Lehi’s text (though it is possible, however unlikely, that the second “happiness nor misery” doesn’t appear in the non-extant original manuscript). Since it would take a fair bit of space just to make a case for the dittography, and because I’m not yet convinced that it is worth altering the base text in accordance with this possibility, I’ll leave my discussion of this possibility for a later post.

Punctuation next, then. It should be remembered that Joseph Smith didn’t dictate punctuation, as well as that the printer of the Book of Mormon complained about the complete lack of punctuation in the manuscript delivered to him. And sure enough, a quick glance at the printer’s manuscript reveals that there isn’t a single punctuation mark in the text as it was delivered to the printer. We should feel quite free, then, to explore options with respect to punctuation.

Here’s how the text was punctuated in 1830:

. . . ; for it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass; neither wickedness; neither holiness nor misery; neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body, it must needs remain as dead, having no life, neither death nor corruption, nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

There are some obvious problems here. The semi-colon between “righteousness could not be brought to pass” and “neither wickedness” separates those two a bit too much; the semi-colon between “a compound in one” and “wherefore, if it should be one body” determines interpretation of the meaning of those two phrases a bit too much (something I’ll be addressing in later posts); and the commas in the last stretch of the verse are a bit misleading, separating “life” from “death,” coupling “death” and “corruption,” and splitting “corruption” from “incorruption” in obviously problematic ways. Obviously, we’ll want to make some adjustments here.

Interestingly, though, there seems to have been no adjustment made to the punctuation by Joseph Smith in preparing either the 1837 or the 1840 editions of the Book of Mormon, nor were any alterations made to the punctuation in setting the important 1852 edition (the first edition to have versification). It wasn’t until 1879, when Orson Pratt produced an edition with today’s versification, that changes were made to the punctuation. I’ve marked the changes in bolding:

. . . ; For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass; neither wickedness; neither holiness nor misery; neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body, it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

The first change, of course, is just the capitalization of the first word—but that seems only to have been forced on Pratt because the word “for” was now positioned at the beginning of a verse. The only other change is to be found in the final sequence of commas, where “life” and “death” have been recoupled, as have “corruption” and “incorruption.” This is an obvious improvement. And one of the other things I complained about above was changed in preparing the 1920 edition, to which no changes have since been made. Here’s the 1920 rendering, again with the changes in bolding:

. . . For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

Note that the semi-colons in the first part of the text have been replaced with commas, removing one of the problems identified above. Two smaller changes appear here: “first born” becomes “first-born”; and the comma between “body” and “it” has been removed. Both of these are stylistic. And then there’s one rather curious change: the verse is no longer introduced by a semi-colon (at the end of verse 10), as it had been since 1830, but is instead introduced by an dash. Is this of any real significance? Royal Skousen suggests that the change was made to help make sense of the confusing sentence fragment of verse 10. I think that’s likely. Either way, the content of verse 11 remains, relatively speaking, unchanged.

So there are the options that are on the table in the official publications of the Book of Mormon. What shall I use in the series of posts I’m writing? Here’s how I would punctuate it. I’ll offer a few words of explanation afterward.

. . . —for it must needs be that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass—neither wickedness: neither happiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one. Wherefore, if it should be one body, it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

First, I like the dash and the way it makes sense of the sentence fragment of verse 10. I’ll retain that. Second, for purposes of clarity, I’ve returned the initial “for” to its uncapitalized state. I’ve handled the punctuation of the second verse rather distinctly: I take “If not so, . . . righteousness could not be brought to pass” to be, rhetorically, the core of the sentence, and hence relegate “neither wickedness” to a position on the other side of a dash; and I take the other oppositions there (happiness/misery, good/bad) to be further elaborations, and hence separate them by a colon. I’ve made a fully separate sentence of “Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one”—the wisdom of which will become clear in subsequent posts. Finally, I’ve more or less followed the current punctuation in the last sentence (once it has been separated from the one preceding it).

Now, I’ve been overly detailed here, and I’m sure some find that obnoxious or pedantic. And I’m happy to grant that. But I will be doing intensely close work on this text throughout this series of posts, and these little details make a big difference. At any rate, with the text set, I want to turn directly to matters of context—the larger setting within 2 Nephi 2. To the next post, then!

7 Responses to “Opposition, 1 – Fixing the Text of 2 Nephi 2:11”

  1. Looking at the pattern, I think the following would make sense:
    “If not so, my first born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass; neither holiness nor wickedness; neither happiness nor misery; neither good nor bad.”

  2. [...] 18: “ Stay on the Lord’s Side of the Line” (George Albert Smith Manual)joespencer on Opposition, 1 – Fixing the Text of 2 Nephi 2:11Antony den Dulk on Opposition, 1 – Fixing the Text of 2 Nephi 2:11Opposition, 1 – [...]

  3. [...] comments Opposition, 1 – Fixing the Text of 2 Nephi 2:11 « Feast upon the Word Blog on Opposition, 2 – Contextualizing 2 Nephi 2:11Opposition, 2 – Contextualizing 2 [...]

  4. Here is how I would write the text, without any punctuation, only with natural stops in the text:

    for it must needs be | that there is an opposition in all things | if not so | my first-born in the wilderness | righteousness could not be brought to pass | neither wickedness | neither holiness | nor misery | neither good | nor bad | wherefore | all things must needs be a compound in one | wherefore | if it should be one body | it must needs remain as dead | having no life | neither death | nor corruption | nor incorruption | happiness | nor misery | neither sense | nor insensibility |

    This way of writing the text is based on patterns found here.

  5. Re: Skousen’s comments on the “neither holiness nor misery” bit, perhaps the original word was happiness, but even if the word was holiness, as we now have it in our scriptures, it still (to my mind) fits the text. Holiness is the state of being “set apart,” and Lehi here is talking about the state of the Universe, or universal sphere of inner light, in comparison to the outer realm of darkness. The universal sphere of inner light is, indeed, set apart, or holy, from that outer darkness, so to the prophetic mind, righteousness leads to holiness (within the inner sphere of light), while wickedness leads to misery (outside in the realm of darkness.) The one is a good state or condition to be in, a purposeful one, the other a bad state or condition, one without purpose.

  6. [...] let me remind readers of the text as we’ve fixed it. (We’ve had to leave that behind while looking at translations, note.) Here it [...]

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 322 other followers

%d bloggers like this: