By far the majority of changes between the 1830 and subsequent versions of the Book of Mormon are spelling or grammar corrections. The original text betrays its New England origin in many ways, from inconsistent spelling to incorrect use of tenses and number, as well as incorrect usage of Jacobean English.
There are a few changes which affect the narrative of the Book of Mormon itself. These are summarised below.
1) Changes to the Godhead
It appears that Smith originally had a less than perfect understanding of the Trinity as taught by his Protestant peers. The original Book of Mormon made some startling claims for the divinity of Jesus Christ, much closer to Sabellianism than Trinitarianism. Consider the following -
I Nephi 11:18 And he said unto me, Behold, the virgin which thou seest, is the mother of God, after the manner of flesh.
I Nephi 11:21 And the angel said unto me, behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father!
I Nephi 11:32 ...And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Everlasting God, was judged of the world...
I Nephi 13:40 ...that the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and the Saviour of the world...
In Each of the above instances, the text was corrected by adding the phrase 'son of' in the appropriate places.
It appears that after beginning this revision, Smith realised that he would have to make a very large number of changes to the text, and thus abandoned the project.
2) Changing Benjamin to Mosiah
The original text of Mosiah 21:28 reads:
And now Limhi was again filled with joy, on learning from the mouth of Ammon that king Benjamin had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings; yea, and Ammon also did rejoice.
The problem, of course, is that king Benjamin was dead by this time (Mosiah 6:5). This reference was changed to 'Mosiah' in the 1837 and subsequent editions. However, it appears that this was not the only place where such a change was made. The original text of Ether 4:1 reads:
...and for this cause did king Benjamin keep them, that they should not come unto the world until after Christ shew himself unto his people.
Again, this was changed to 'Mosiah' in subsequent editions. The fact that there are two such changes leads one to speculate that Smith may possibly have had a slightly different course for the narrative in mind. Recall that the 116 lost pages included the story of king Benjamin. It is possible that in this version king Benjamin lived longer. Smith may have got confused between the two versions of the narrative, and inadvertently killed off his protagonist prematurely while rewriting the lost pages.
3) Introducing Christ
The original text of I Nephi 12:18 reads:
...yea, even the word of the justice of the Eternal God, and Jesus Christ, which is the Lamb of God...
The problem here is that the name 'Jesus Christ' was not revealed to the Nephites until II Nephi 10:3.
Wherefore, as I said unto you, it must needs be expedient that Christ--for in the last night the angel spake unto me that this should be his name--should come among the Jews...
In order to correct this contradiction, the text of I Nephi 12:18 was changed to read 'Messiah' instead of 'Jesus Christ'.
As an aside, this whole episode reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the word 'Christ' on the part of Joseph Smith. 'Christ' and 'Messiah' are actually synonymous (see John 1:41), the former being derived from Greek, and the latter from Hebrew. 'Messiah' is used correctly in the Book of Mormon as a title, but 'Christ' is used incorrectly as a proper name, a fairly common mistake among those not fully acquainted with the etymology of the word. The statement in II Nephi 10:3 thus actually makes very little sense.
4) Baptism in the Old Testament
The original text of I Nephi 20:1 reads:
Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, which swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel; yet they swear not in truth, nor righteousness.--
The phrase 'or out of the waters of baptism' was inserted in the 1840 edition.
5) Seraphim or Seraphims
The original text of II Nephi 16:2 reads:
Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.
This is a quotation from the King James Version of the Bible, specifically Isaiah 6:2. In a rare grammatical mistake, the KJV has an incorrect plural for 'seraph'. The correct plural, of course, should be 'seraphim', as the later text of II Nephi 16:2 reads. What this indicates is that the Book of Mormon has a much deeper reliance on the King James Version than Mormon scholars would like to admit.
6) Covering up Camorah
Critics have often pointed out that there is a suspicious link between the hill Cumorah and the angel Moroni, and the Comoros Islands off the eastern coast of Mozambique, the capital of which is Moroni, and has been since before the Book of Mormon. Defenders of the Book of Mormon claim that this is only a coincidence, and that 'Comoros' in fact has very little correspondence with 'Cumorah'. The fact of the matter is that prior to the French occupation of the late 1860's, Comoros was known by its Arabic name, Camora (sometimes also spelled Comora). It is thus more than a little suspicious to note that the 1830 Book of Mormon uniformly spells 'Cumorah' as 'Camorah'. See, for example, the original text of Mormon 6:2:
And I, Mormon, wrote an epistle unto the king of the Lamanites, and desired of him that he would grant unto us that we might gather together our people unto the land of Camorah, by the hill which was called Camorah, and there we would give them battle.
As proof of the above assertion, I offer this section of an 1808 map of Africa.
This is part of the Mozambique channel. Madagascar is the island at the bottom right, and Mozambique is at the left. Roughly in the middle is Camora.
Although this parallel is compelling, it is not enough to establish a definite link between the Book of Mormon and the Comoro Islands. It has been suggested that "Camorah" in the 1830 version is simply a spelling mistake, caused by Oliver Cowdery's less than perfect handwriting. While plausible, it is hard to see how such a mistake could be so consistently made.
Contents Copyright 1997 Curt van den Heuvel