Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

What is and what isn’t the JST in New Testament study?

Posted by joespencer on December 31, 2006

So, we’re about to begin to study the New Testament this next Sunday. What of the JST? Or rather, what is the JST? With the publication of the original JST manuscripts in 2004, there seems to have been a little more interest among LDS scholars about the JST, but for the most part, things have been left to Robert Matthews’ now almost ancient book. What are we thinking about the JST now, and how should we be addressing those selective footnotes?

I’m still very undecided about exactly what to think of the Joseph Smith Translation, but I have a few initial thoughts (initial: to get things started).

I’m not at all convinced that the JST restores original material. On this account, I think Old Testament Manuscript 1 is really important: Joseph didn’t begin with a bible he was editing (that came later in the project); he began with a full-blown revelation like those in the D&C. Might it be that the JST is a separate revealed text, something other than the Bible, but not necessarily replacing the Bible? And yet, we can’t help but take the JST alongside the Bible, considering it where it makes contact with the KJV, etc. How do we reconcile this?

A second point: when Joseph began to do the editing-the-KJV-version of the JST, was he “translating” anymore? Did the project change fundamentally with that shift? Was it now “a plainer translation” only? This is a major point in the NT, where Joseph did a lot of work on Paul’s writings and so forth, often with violence to the obvious meaning of Paul’s texts. How do we take the JST here? I have some inclinations, but I’d really like to see what can be brought together in a good discussion of the point.

Hence, discuss.

8 Responses to “What is and what isn’t the JST in New Testament study?”

  1. Robert C. said

    I tend to think of the JST as an interpretation of the texts, definitely not a restoring of original text. I once heard the term “midrashic” applied to the JST (or perhaps to chapters in the Book of Moses), which I tend to think of as appropriate (in the sense that it is a commentary on and expounding of the primary text…). I’ll be very interested to hear others’ thoughts.

  2. brianj said

    Joe–these two posts are a nice way to get us started! Thanks!

    My lesson for next week will pick up on one of the curiosities of the JST–I’ll post those notes soon, but direct discussion on that particular point over to this thread.

    There was a related discussion at Times & Seasons in Feb 2006 (see here).

    I’m particularly interested in your question, “…we can’t help but take the JST alongside the Bible… How do we reconcile this?” as it applies to teaching. What should we do with difficult passages of the JST as we teach? Should we introduce the JST as midrashic, as Robert sees it, or should that be left out of the classroom?

  3. joespencer said

    I suppose that what the publication of the original JST manuscripts is beginning to suggest to me is that we have something like two very different things, both called the JST.

    First, there was a full-blown revelation, a text separate from, yet somehow related to, the biblical texts themselves. This version of the JST project is to be found in OT1 and NT1, the first manuscript for the OT and the first for the NT. Unforunately, this version of the project did not last all that long (only through Genesis 24 in the OT, and through the whole of Matthew for the NT). Moreover, when these first manuscripts were copied into what became the manuscripts for the second project (see below), there were major alterations, and I’m not sure exactly how we are to take those.

    Second, there was something like a midrash at work. This version of the JST produced most of what we find in footnotes now, and the material that it constitutes seems to me to be along the lines Robert suggests: midrash, commentary, explanation, correction, simplification, etc. This version is to be found only in OT2 and NT2, the second manuscripts for each testament. It is the one usually discussed: Joseph has a Bible that he uses to guide the translation process, crossing out, adding, etc.

    All of this leaves me with, say, two questions:

    First, should these two JST’s be taken as quite different or separate from each other, or should they be regarded as bound up with the same sort of spirit of inspiration?

    Second, if the former of the two JST’s is to be understood as “more directly a revelation” than the latter (what I’ve subjected to quotes here is how I would probably phrase the position I feel myself leaning towards), then how are we to think about the relationship between that version of the JST and the biblical text itself? Replacement? Alternate possibilities? Interpretation? A separate revealed text that does not necessarily tell us anything (positively or negatively) about the actual biblical text? (If this last one is a good direction to follow: are we free to agree without any pangs of conscience that the bible might well have been a later product?)

    Some thoughts.

  4. klbarney said

    I think you’re making somewhat too big of a deal between the original method of writing the JST out longhand and the later method of simply writing revisions based on markings in the marked Bible. It is true that texts like Moses 1 are more akin to revelation, but overall if you are looking for a single word that best describes what the JST is, I think that word is midrash, as has been mentioned.

    As a matter of pedagogy, I’ve always struggled with what to do when a student resolves some interesting textual problem by simply quoting the JST, as if that were the end of it and there were nothing else to say. I tend to view the JST as the beginning of discussion, not the end, but my students don’t often share that point of view.

    BTW, I noticed that Deseret is selling a complete NT JST, IIRC edited by Thomas Wayment (sp?).

  5. Robert C. said

    Kevin #4: I really enjoy following what you write. Your mention of students caught my attention b/c my first impression was of some night class you teach to students of Mormon Textual Studies or something. Surely my fantasy impression is wrong (aren’t you a lawyer by profession? SS? seminary? Institute?), could you clarify to keep my little-brother-complex-of-missing-out at bay?

  6. klbarney said

    Yes, my day job is as a lawyer. I have taught a half-dozen or so Institute classes over the years, as well as lots of GD. I taught two years of Biblical Hebrew and one of New Testament Greek as stake Institute classes, and I have to admit those were lots of fun–and you’re not likely to find such an LDS Institute class in your local area. So maybe there is a little something to your complex…(g)

  7. Joe Spencer said

    In the end, I think I’m interested in drawing such a sharp distinction between methods because there seems to me to be very little in the written-out-at-length manuscripts that can be used by students to “resolve some interesting textual problem by simply quoting the JST” because the text is so profoundly different. Put another way, the gap between the JST and the Bible is far greater in the written-out-at-length manuscripts than in the later edit-as-you-go manuscripts. The later ones seems on the whole (to me) to be much more concerned with fixing little problems, rather than seeking a revealed text.

    I certainly think that “midrash” is a good way of thinking about the JST generally. I suppose I’m just beginning to wonder, the more I look at OT1 and NT1, at the profound textuality of the earlier JST manuscripts (which contrasts sharply with what often seems to me a anti-textuality in the later JST manuscripts–violence rather than enrichment).

    But I would like to hear opinions to the contrary (I don’t know that I’ve come across any discussion of how different or similar the two methods really were, so this post represents my “original” thinking on a subject I’ve heard no dissenting opinions on). In fact, I’d like to see some very detailed consideration of the matter (though I don’t know that this blog is the place for anything like that). Does anyone know of anything like this already in print?

  8. brianj said

    See here for a comparison of Matthew 5-7, the JST, and 3 Nephi 12-14. One point of interest, in many places, 3 Nephi is different than Matthew, and one might expect that the Nephi text represents the “correct” form of the Sermon on the Mount. One might say the same thing about the JST: it is the “corrected” version. But in some verses, the JST is different from 3 Nephi. I think this is a good illustration of how the JST should not always be seen as a “restoration.”

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