If There Be Faults

by H. Clay Gorton

As Moroni takes charge of the sacred records following the death of his father, he adds two chapters to his father’s record. Apparently he does not anticipate writing more, as he says in Morm. 8.4,

And behold, I would write it also (the intent of the record) if I had room upon the plates, but I have not, and ore I have none, for I am alone.

In commending the record to the eventual reader, Moroni apologetically states,

And if there be faults they be the faults of a man. But behold, we know no fault.

His concern for faults in the record apparently stemmed from the fact that it was written in the hieroglyphs of a reformed Egyptian language, rather than in a modified Hebrew which was the common language spoken by the Nephite people at that time. Moroni states,

And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech. And if our plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew, but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record. (Morm. 9.32-33)

As Moroni states, the Egyptian language was used to conserve space on the gold plates; as a pictogram expressing an idea was much more concise than a phonetic character which expressed a phoneme, or elemental speech sound. A rough idea of the space saving of hieroglyphics over phonetics may be obtained by reference to the Rosetta stone. The Rosetta stone contains the same inscription written in Egyptian hieroglyphs, demotic characters and in Greek letters. The ratio of the area of that part of the Rosetta stone used for the Greek inscription to that used for the hieroglyphic inscription is discussed in "'...and the Language of the Egyptians,' An Examination of the Language With Which the Book of Mormon Plates Were Inscribed." Moroni’s reference to possible faults in the record is intriguing. Numerous ‘stylographical’ errors (as they undoubtedly wrote with some sort of stylus) were made as the Book of Mormon authors recorded their thoughts on the sheets of gold. They all were impressed with the sacred nature of the record, and that it was being prepared for a future people who would not know their language. As Moroni continued his father’s account he reveals that he was shown our day in a vision and described the social conditions at the time when the book was to come forth.(See Morm. 8:26-33) In Mormon 8:34-35 he states,

Behold, the Lord hath shown unto me great and marvelous things concerning that which must shortly come, at that day when these things shall come forth among you.

Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.

In Mormon 9:30 he further acclaims,

Behold, I speak unto you as though I spake from the dead; for I know that ye shall have my words.

Nephi also had a clear vision of the ultimate recipients of the record that he commenced and that bore his name. As he closed his account, he directed himself to his future readers in these words,

And now, my beloved brethren, and also Jew, and all ye ends of the earth, hearken unto these words and believe in Christ... And now, my beloved brethren, all those who are of the house of Israel, and all ye ends of the earth, I speak unto you as the voice of one crying from the dust. (2 Ne. 33:10-13)

The intervening authors undoubtedly shared the same sense of vision that their record would be of inestimable worth to future generations, and that their language would disappear. To aid in the future translation of the record, the interpreters, or Urim and Thummim, were kept with the records and were hid up with the plates by Moroni.(Ether 4:5)

With this sense of mission it is certain that the Book of Mormon authors were concerned not only with what was recorded, but with how the message was inscribed. Inscribing the gold plates was not an easy task. Jacob records, (and I cannot write but a little of my words, because of the difficulty of engraving our words upon plates) and we know that the things which we write upon plates must remain... and we labor diligently to engraven these words upon plates, (Jacob 4:1-3)

From time to time, as the process of inscribing on the plates continued, the authors would inadvertently write a word or phrase that was unintended. This is a common fault experienced by anyone who has so much as written a letter to a friend. In today’s world it is of no great consequence, since an inadvertent word or phrase may easily be erased. But such was not the case when inscribing hieroglyphic characters on thin gold plates. One correction method could have been to scratch out the character. But of course the character and scratch marks would remain, and the eventual interpreter would have been left to determine if the added marks were part of the hieroglyph or not, and the elegance of a painstaking labor would be lost. A much more elegant form of correction was devised and used throughout the Book of Mormon whenever such errors occurred. The author would correct his mistake by simply restating the thought in correct form with the use of the conjunction "or."

The four applications of the conjunction "or" are all used extensively in the Book of Mormon. The exclusive form is used in two applications—to individualize opposite items or equivalent items of a set. The appositive form is used in both the paraphrase and the corrective mode. Examples of the exclusive form in signalizing opposites are—

2 Ne. 2:27 And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death according to the captivity and power of the devil;

Alma 29:5 Yea, and I know that good and evil have come before all men; he that knoweth not good from evil is blameless; but he that knoweth good and evil, to him it is given according to his desires, whether he desireth good or evil, life or death, joy or remorse of conscience.

Examples of the exclusive form in signalizing equivalents are—

Alma 1:30 And thus, in their prosperous circumstances, they did not send away any who were naked or that were hungry or that were athirst or that were sick, or that had not been nourished;

Alma 9:20 Yea, after having been such a highly favored people of the Lord; yea, after having been favored above every other nation, kindred, tongue or people...

Examples of the appositive form in paraphrasing are—

1 Ne. 8:2 Behold, I have dreamed a dream or, in other words, I have seen a vision.

1 Ne. 20:1 Hearken and hear this, 0 house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism,

2 Ne. 5:12 and also the ball, or compass

The corrective form of the appositive "or" is found 69 times in the Book of Mormon. In addition, the phrase "or rather" is used eleven times, and an amplified phrase or explanation to correct an inadvertent phrase is used five times.

This form of correction in the scriptures is unique to the Book of Mormon, undoubtedly because of the manner in which it was written. In all the Bible, for instance, the "or" correction form is used only one time, in Gal. 4:9.

But now, after that ye have known God or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?

Likewise, in the Doctrine and Covenants, the corrective form is used only one time, in D&C 11:14.

And then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, all things whatsoever you desire of me, which are pertaining unto things of righteousness,

Perhaps the most obvious of all the "or" corrections in the Book of Mormon are found in Alma 24:19 and 43:38. In Alma 24:19 Mormon comments,

And thus we see that, when these Lamanites were brought to believe and to know the truth, they were firm, and would suffer even unto death rather than commit sin, and thus we see that they buried their weapons of peace, or they buried the weapons of war, for peace.

Undoubtedly, Mormon wished to say that they had buried their weapons of war, but as he thought ahead to ensuing statements concerning peace, he inadvertently wrote the word ‘peace’ instead of ‘war’. He quickly recovered by adding the correct phrase introduced by the corrective conjunction "or".

As Mormon abridges the account of General Moroni’s first battle with the Lamanite army under Zerahemnah, explaining the effectiveness of the armament Moroni had developed for his soldiers, he recounts in Alma 43:38,

While on the other hand, there was now and then a man fell among the Nephites, by their swords and the loss of blood, they being shielded from the more vital parts of the body, or the more vital parts of the body being shielded from the strokes of the Lamanites, by their breastplates, and their arm-shields, and their head-plates.

It is obvious that Mormon did not mean to say, as was stated, that the soldiers were protected by their armor from the more vital parts of their bodies. So he quickly corrects himself by adding or the more vital parts of the body being shielded from the strokes of the Lamanites.

The first corrective "or" in the Book of Mormon is found in 1 Ne.14:23, in which Nephi states,

Wherefore, the things which he shall write are just and true; and behold they are written in the book which thou beheld proceeding out of the mouth of the Jew, and at the time they proceeded out of the mouth of the Jew, or, at the time the book proceeded out of the mouth of the Jew, the things which were written were plain and pure, and most precious and easy to the understanding of all men.

The inadvertent word in this passage is "they". Nephi is referring to the Bible, which, as he explains, would contain additional information concerning the fulfilling of God’s covenants to the people of the House of Israel. The word "they", being plural, refers to the covenants of which he speaks, when in reality he wanted it to refer to the book that proceeded "out of the mouth of the Jew". Realizing his mistake, he uses the corrective "or" and repeats the phrase, using the word "book" instead of "they".

By adding the word "rather" to the corrective "or", the authors leave no doubt that they are correcting an inadvertent word or phrase. The eleven "or rather" corrections are as follows:

Mos. 7:8 And it came to pass when they had been in prison two days they were again brought before the king, and their bands were loosed, and they stood before the king, and were permitted or rather commanded, that they should answer the questions which he should ask them.

Mos 8:17 But a seer can know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest.

Alma 1: 1 5 And it came to pass that they took him; and his name was Nehor, and they carried him upon the top of the hill Manti, and there he was caused, or rather did acknowledge, between the heavens and the earth that what he had taught to the people was contrary to the word of God; and there he suffered an ignominious death.

Alma 2:34 And thus he cleared the ground or rather the bank, which was on the west of the river Sidon, throwing the bodies of the Lamanites who had been stain into the waters of Sidon.

Alma 17:18 Now Ammon being the chief among them, or rather he did administer unto them, and he departed from them, after having blessed them according to their several stations.

Alma 30:9 Now if a man desired to serve God, it was his privilege; or rather, if he believed in god it was hisprivilege to serve him; but if he did not believe in him there was no law to punish him.

Alma 36:14 Yea, and I had murdered many of his children or rather led them away unto destruction;

Alma 39:16 And now, my son, this was the ministry unto which ye were called, to declare these glad tidings unto this people to prepare their minds; or rather that salvation might come unto them, that they may prepare the minds of their children to hear the word at the time of his coming.

Alma 50:32 Now behold, the people who were in the land Bountiful or rather Moroni feared that they would hearken to the words of Morianton and unite with his people.

Alma 53:10 And now behold, I have somewhat to say concerning the people of Ammon, who in the beginning, were Lamanites; but by Ammon and his brethren or rather by the power and word of God, they had been converted unto the Lord.

Alma 54:5 Behold, Ammoron, I have written unto you somewhat concerning this war which ye have waged against my people, or rather which thy brother hath waged against them and which ye are still determined to carry on after his death.

In five cases, an amplified phrase was necessary to correct the inadvertent passage. These five cases are reproduced below:

1 Ne.19:7 For the things which some men esteem to be of great worth, both to the body and soul, others set at naught and trample under their feet. Yea, even the very God of Israel do men trample under their feet; I say trample under their feet but I would speak in other words—they set him at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels.

Alma 26:28 And now behold, we have come, and been forth amongst them; and we have been patient in our sufferings, and we have suffered every privation; yea, we have traveled from house to house, relying upon the mercies of the world—not upon the mercies of the world alone but upon the mercies of God.

Alma 49:3 Behold, I said that the city of Ammonihah had been rebuilt. I say unto you, yea, that it was in part rebuilt.

Hel. 2:13,14 And behold, in the end of this book ye shall see that this Gadianton did prove the overthrow, yea, almost the entire destruction of the people of Nephi.

Behold I do not mean the end of the book of Helaman, but I mean the end of the book of Nephi, from which I have taken all the account which I have written.

Hel. 3:33 And in the fifty and first year of the reign of the judges there was peace also, save it were the pride which began to enter into the church—not into the church of God, but into the hearts of the people who professed to belong to the church of God

The relative distribution of the "or" corrections in the Book of Mormon shows a consistency with the particular circumstances of each of the various authors, which represents yet another subtle evidence of the authenticity of the work. The frequency of occurrence of the "or" corrections may be quantized by recording the number of verses per error written by each author, or in each segment of the book. Table I shows the number of verses, the number of corrections and the number of verses per correction in the various pertinent segments of the Book of Mormon. First, the correction frequency between the Small Plates of Nephi and Mormon’s abridgement of the Large Plates is compared. We find an error rate in the Small Plates of 319 verses per error, and in the account from the Large Plates, only 59 verses per error. This difference factor of an error rate 5.4 times greater in the abridgement than in the first person accounts is statistically significant and clearly demonstrates that the two segments were written by different authors.

Comparing the error rate of first person authors against the abridgers, one would expect that the error frequency would be less in original composition than in the redaction of an existing manuscript. Just so, we find a difference factor of 2.2 in favor of the first person authors.

Another meaningful comparison is the difference between the error rate of the total writings of Mormon and Moroni. Mormon spent most of his life on the battlefield. He was appointed to command the Nephite armies at age 16, and stayed in command until he was 52 years old. Between the ages of 52 and 65 he refused to lead the armies because of the great wickedness of the people. But at age 65 he again took up the sword and remained at the front until he was killed in battle at age 74. Moroni, on the other hand, spent most of his life in solitude, a fugitive from the Lamanite armies and the lone survivor of the Nephite nation for over 20 years. One would expect that Mormon’s account, written almost as it were on the run, would have a significantly higher error rate than that of his son, Moroni, who had ample time to concentrate and take the care that was demanded in accurately preparing the sacred record. Indeed, we find that Mormon’s error rate is over ten times higher than that of Moroni. Moroni incurred only one inadvertent error that required the "or" correction in a total of 572 verses, for the lowest error rate of all the Book of Mormon authors. Such remarkable accuracy is consistent with his unique position of 20 years of solitude during which time his record was written.

As Moroni had ample time to review the sacred records, he was undoubtedly aware of the correction technique used by the previous authors. He undoubtedly read the text many times during his 20 years of solitude. When he makes the poignant statement, Behold, we know no fault, he may well have been referring to the fact that all of the "slips of the stylus" had been corrected in the manner unique to the Book of Mormon authors.

It is also of note to consider that the "or" corrections were preserved in the translation by Joseph Smith, which affirms the literality of his translation.

Breakdown of Error Correction Frequency

Source Verses Corrections Verses per Correction
Small Plates 1598 5 319
Large Plates 4476 76 59
First Person Writings      
Nephi 918 3 306
Jacob 266 0 -
Jarom 14 1 14
Mormon [1] 412 5 82
Moroni [2] 216 0 -
TOTAL 1826 8 228
Abridgement Verses      
Mormon [3] 3902 71 55
Moroni [3] 354 1 354
TOTAL 4256 72 59
Total - Mormon 4314 76 57
Total - Moroni 570 1 570

[1] Includes The Words of Mormon and 141 verses of commentary in the Large Plates.

[2] Includes 79 verses of commentary in The Book of Ether.

[3] Includes abridged verses and direct quotations in the abridgement.

References to the corrective "OR"

1 Ne. 14:23 19:4 19:7**

Jacob 5:21

Jarorm 1:14

Mos. 2:31 5:2 7:1, 8* 15, 18 8:17* 11:18 18:4 22:6 25:2 26:39 29:41

Alma 1:15* 2:34* 4:19 5:25 9:1 10:13, 14 11:1, 46 12:1, 31 13:16 14:11 16:16 17:14, 18*(2), 29 19:14,19 21:20 22:19 23:6 24:15, 19 26:28** 30:9* 34:13 35:15 36:14* 37:21 39:16* 43:16, 19, 38, 44 44:23 45:13 46:10 47:2 49:2-3** 50:32* 51:6 53:3, 10* 54:3,5*, 6 56:14, 18 57:8 58:20 59:3 61:8 63:15

Hel 2:13-14** 3:33** 4:22 10:17 11:24 14:21, 31

3 Ne. 3:14 12:23

Morm. 2:1 5:14

Ether 11:21

Moro. 8:22, 27

*— "or rather"

**— amplified explanation