Thoughts and Questions Regarding Carmack (2016)

August 2017

I recently read Carmack’s 2016 paper where he argues against Brant Gardner’s loose translation hypothesis in favor of Royal Skousen’s “tight control” hypothesis based on parallels between the original Book of Mormon manuscripts and Early Modern English (EModE) grammar. This brought up new thoughts and questions concerning Carmack’s hypothesis, that I have not addressed in my previous post.  Again, I emphasize my lack of linguistic credentials.  Perhaps many of my concerns could be easily resolved.

An important question that Carmack has yet to fully address is to demonstrate that it is not psuedo-KJV nor common bad grammar of Joseph’s day. The possibility exists that pseudo-KJV also had EModE elements.

In testing a hypothesis, we set the one we are arguing for as the alternative. We take as a null (or assumed) the one we are arguing against (pseudo-KJV, in this case). We then argue that given an assumption of the null hypothesis, the data we observe are highly unlikely. We do this to help shed us of our biases. For example, there are dozens of unlikely and even shocking parallels between the assassinations of JFK and Lincoln.  (See the Wiki article) Yet, if one were to ask how they were different, a list many times longer could be created. A special link between the two president’s assassinations can only be maintained if we cherry pick the evidence by only looking at when they match up.

The only time Carmack argues holding psuedo-KJV as a null hypothesis, is the small section in the paper where he gives evidence that certain BoM phrases are unique to EModE. His entire argument across multiple papers rests on this small section. He spends most of his time giving persuasive evidence that BoM language matches EModE. But this evidence says nothing against the null hypothesis of pseudo-KJV.

The hypothesis still isn’t clear on the question of the poly-lingual nature of the translation, as I raised in my previous post.

 For example, Carmack points out that counsel as used in two verses in Alma follows known EModE constructs meaning “to ask counsel” rather than the modern “to give counsel”. But then why did Mosiah 17 include “with” as in the modern sense?

(Quotations from first edition, as I couldn’t find Skousen’s “critical text” version online.)

Alma 37:37

let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever; counsel the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good;

Alma 39:10

And I command you to take it upon you to counsel your elder brothers in your undertakings;

Mosiah 17:6

And after three days, having counselled with his priests

Carmack says, “Either Smith had read widely in older literature — some of it virtually inaccessible to him — and had mastered its syntax, or he must have read words off the instrument in those instances.”

Or the syntax survived orally, if not written in published books. An analysis of journals, letters, speeches, and other informal writings of the day would be necessary to make his point.

Or, it simply could have been a verbal error, a possibility difficult to test.  We would have to analyze any patterns in the grammatical modifications between the manuscript, printer’s manuscript, and so on.

Hence, there are still a number of issues to resolve for this young hypothesis.  As far as I could tell, there has yet to be a response from potential critics from either the believing or non-believing camp.