Duties of a Biblical Scribe vs. Joseph Smith’s Process
“A thorough understanding of the Bible is better than a college education.” – Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States
“It would be more consistent to call it the work of a demon than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind.” – Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason
Throughout history, one can find a number of opinions on God’s Word, both negative and positive. The two quotes listed above serve as classic examples of how divisive His truth has been.
Today we’re comparing the duties of a biblical scribe to an account of how Joseph Smith translated, and transcribed, the Golden Plates in preparation for the Book of Mormon.
We retrieved info on the biblical protocol from a number of sources, two of which will be listed here as points of reference. In light of this, there’ve been many papers and essays written on, and about, the transcribing process for the Book of Mormon, but questions quickly surfaced upon our discovery of Mr. Maxwell’s explanation.
We’re wondering why members of the Church choose to accept the obvious run-around their leaders offer on such serious matters!
Mr. Maxwell emphatically and unapologetically, stated that Smith ‘did not intend’ to tell the world how the BoM came to be, and therefore, they weren’t able and/or willing, to disclose his methodology either.
Why is this man above the laws of God? Why is it okay for him to act autonomously without the benefit of accountability?
Joseph Smith, A Choice Seer, March 30, 1986; “We naturally would like to know about that process of translation. In October 1831, Joseph Smith was asked by his brother Hyrum, at a conference held in Orange, Ohio, to give a firsthand account concerning the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. The Prophet replied “that it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon; and. . . it was not expedient for him to relate these things” (HC 1:220). Since Joseph, who knew the “particulars,” chose not to describe them in detail then, we cannot presently be definitive about methodology. But we can and should savor the supernal substance of the revelations and translations, which combine to prove to the world “that the holy scriptures are true” (D&C 20:11; see also 1 Nephi 13:39–40).” – Neal A. Maxwell
Keep in mind what His word tells us!
Proverbs 30:5-6; “Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. 6 Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.”
The process of biblical translation took on a new standard operating procedure following the end of the Israelitess’ 70 year exile from Jerusalem. Ezra recovered a copy of the Torah, read it aloud to the nation, and began cleaning house, as they say – Ezra 10.
It was at that time Israel adopted a new system of transcribing scripture. To state that it was meticulous would be a gross understatement, as the process of copying consisted of at least 15 rules and steps of observance, ensuring the scriptural integrity of what God had given to them.
The following list is a culmination from various sources which will be noted at the end.
- They could only use clean animal skins, both to write on, and even to bind manuscripts.
- Each column of writing could have no less than forty-eight, and no more than sixty lines.
- The ink must be black, and of a special recipe.
- They must verbalize each word aloud while they were writing.
- They must wipe the pen and wash their entire bodies before writing the word “Jehovah,” every time they wrote it.
- There must be a review within thirty days, and if as many as three pages required corrections, the entire manuscript had to be redone.
- The letters, words, and paragraphs had to be counted, and the document became invalid if two letters touched each other. The middle paragraph, word and letter must correspond to those of the original document.
- The documents could be stored only in sacred places (synagogues, etc).
- As no document containing God’s Word could be destroyed, they were stored, or buried, in a genizah – a Hebrew term meaning “hiding place.” These were usually kept in a synagogue or sometimes in a Jewish cemetery.
The final item is why we have no original manuscripts of the Old Testament today.
After Jerusalem was sacked by Rome in the First Century, the process was lost. While a Hebrew version of the Old Testament continued to exist, the language wasn’t spoken by many. Greek, and eventually Latin versions, continued to be copied. ScottManning.com
An excellent post on Link’d In is more than worthy of a reader’s time to learn even more about the duties of scribes! Check out what it says at The Bible. Its History, Canonicity and Importance. Joseph David Rhodes. Poetry Baptist Church. July 2013.
Clearly, the process for transcribing authentic scripture is far different than what we’ve seen with Joseph Smith. One must ask if what they offer is worthy of a seeker’s devotion and time.
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