Punctuation & Textual Indifference

One of the strangest things about the Book of Mormon is the almost complete lack of punctuation in the original manuscript. There were a few dashes, but that was it. Another very strange thing is that neither Joseph Smith nor his scribe, Oliver Cowdery, bothered to add any. The task was left to someone totally unfamiliar with the work–the printer. This is amazing! Any writer skilled enough to produce the text of the Book of Mormon would have certainly cared enough about it to add the proper punctuation to his masterpiece…unless there was no punctuation to begin with. That would have been the case if it were written in ancient Hebrew, which had no punctuation.

Why would Joseph Smith let the printer add the punctuation? Maybe he thought the printer would do a better job. This wouldn’t have been true if Joseph Smith was the author of the work or even if he had a manuscript stolen from someone else. Joseph Smith had nothing to gain by letting the printer do it (except a better job of punctuation). And he didn’t advertise the fact.

The same goes for other textual aspects of the book. When corrections needed to be made, Joseph Smith most often left the task to others. See Revelation Book 1: Digging In. That he left the task to others is significant for two reasons. First, it suggests he either didn’t feel qualified himself (which was probably true, having very little education or writing ability) or he simply wasn’t interested. He seems to have felt a sense of responsibility for the revelations, but not ownership. Second, he was trusting of others in allowing them to do the editing. Trust is not a sign of a devious mind or deceptive character.

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