Interview transcript available below
In this episode, we welcome back Jerry Smith who has been on the Leading Saints podcast before. I will remember, yeah, he is the author of Schooling the Prophet, How the Book of Mormon Influenced Joseph Smith and the Early Restoration. Jerry is originally from Salt Lake City and served his mission in Boston, Massachusetts area and later returned there to continue his college education. He now teaches in the School of Business at Boston College and also teaches institute classes at the Boston LDS Institute. He has served as bishop three times and in a stake presidency and in many other church callings.
Specifically in this episode we talk about a very interesting subject regarding the changes or corrections ancient prophets made in the Book of Mormon text— not grammatical changes that Joseph Smith made or others in the translation of the Book of Mormon, but changes ancient prophets themselves made, anciently as they were actually writing this and why they made it.
Through this discussion we discuss the concept of every leader being human and making errors from time to time as they are given a daunting task of leading. We sometimes hold up these Book of Mormon prophets as impeccable leaders. In reality, they were human and we can see a lot of their mortality through their writings in the Book of Mormon but that makes it very rich. It makes it real and we can learn more about the Book of Mormon, about these prophets, about the personalities and so I think you will enjoy this conversation as I geek out with Jerry about the extemporaneous changes that we see in the Book of Mormon.
- Jerry Smith’s first interview on the Leading Saints podcast
- Schooling the Prophet, How the Book of Mormon Influenced Joseph Smith and the Early Restoration
Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide, by Grant Hardy
Jerry Smith: Well, Kurt, nice to just talk to you again.
Kurt Francom: Now you are originally from Boston and you just happened to be in Salt Lake so we thought let’s get together and talk about something.
Jerry Smith: I’m actually originally from Salt Lake City.
Kurt Francom: [00:03:30] Oh right, yes, but you’ve lived there.
Jerry Smith: I’ve lived in Boston for 40 years, so does that count as a Bostonian?
Kurt Francom: Well, you’re the better judge of that than I am. We talked prior in a previous interview, which I encourage all to check out about your book called Schooling the Prophet: How the Book of Mormon Influenced the Early Restoration. Did I get that subtitle right?
Jerry Smith: Almost, How the Book of Mormon Influenced Joseph Smith’s Restoration.
Kurt Francom: Oh yes, of course. That was a fascinating interview and also, I read the book and I encourage people to check that out and learn more about [00:04:00] that, but now, we wanted to connect and talk about some articles that you’ve been researching and putting together about, I don’t know how you would frame it exactly but some of the adjustments that are found in the Book of Mormon, in that scripture and the way they are manifested, right?
Jerry Smith: Yes. This is a discovery. These are discoveries I guess that I came across as I was researching the book Schooling the Prophet, and I was especially interested in Joseph Smith’s interaction with the Book of Mormon and therefore, [00:04:30] what did he read, what did he see, what did he assimilate into his thinking, how did it influence his revelations, and in the process of that, I discovered these absolutely fascinating spontaneous changes and I’ll describe those as we go along, but yes, so that’s exactly it.
Kurt Francom: There’s a few things taken into mind. As we look at the scriptures there. There’s various authors involved. There’s various editors, right, even the Book of Mormon, he compiled these things and obviously put some commentary [00:05:00] in there, and then also when Joseph Smith translated it, there were some adjustments and changes that he went through and even minor punctuation things after that, so you’re looking at this at different levels, as far as you referred to the builders of the Book of Mormon. This isn’t just about the author.
Jerry Smith: That’s right. To me, this was looking at who the people were that built the Book of Mormon. We call it the Book of Mormon because we think therefore that Mormon must have written it. Well that’s not really true. I mean Mormon certainly was [00:05:30] the grand editor and the grand sculptor of the great project but there also were authors that he quoted like Ammon or Alma or Benjamin or Abinadi or even who they quoted, for example Moses from the Ten Commandments. We also have lots of different authors who contributed to the Book of Mormon and for me, what I thought was interesting and relevant for our podcast audience was that these were builders of the Book of Mormon that as [00:06:00] I investigated their contributions, I found that their contributions were very much original to them and you’d find within them, you’d find imperfections, you find pieces of authenticity that you say, “Wow, this sounds like Mormon or wow, this sounds like Nephi.”
When Mormon really was a general and yet he was called to do this grand scriptural project, that was sort of far from where he had been trained all of his professional life [00:06:30] and yet he did this great work as best he could, and of course, we have it today as one of the greatest scriptural volumes we know.
Kurt Francom: Yeah.
Jerry Smith: It’s beautiful.
Kurt Francom: What fascinates me about this research you’ve done is that so many times, even early on from being in primary, we sing these primary hymns where we hold these Book of Mormon prophets and any prophets from the scriptures up on this pedestal that they were sort of the perfect leader and just sort of see that they at times tripped over their words or tripped over themselves as they were striving to be better leaders. To me, it helps, [00:07:00] it encourages me as a lay leader knowing that we’re all figuring out leadership in our own way.
Jerry Smith: That’s right. What I realized as I was investigating this is that Mormon was called to be a writer and an editor of the Book of Mormon and an engraver, and also this was his calling, and to do that, he had to apply tools, his own tools, not just writing tools, not just writing implements but also the skills that a writer would use. Now today, if [00:07:30] we look at the writers and editors of today, I mean I do a lot of writing. I have available to me an electronic thesaurus or I have a grammar check or a spell check or these kinds of devices. They’re terrific. Those are things that we use today and they automate our writing, but when you go back to Joseph Smith or when you go back, way back into ancient times, they didn’t have those things but they did have basic tools that they relied on. For example, they had conjunctions [00:08:00] that joined thought together, that join thoughts and ideas together. They could choose what kind of content to write about. Should they write about history? Should they write about geography? Should they write about doctrine? Should they write about personal revelation to choose their content?
They had their own tools to work with, and Grant Hardy actually did a wonderful job with his book called Understanding the Book of Mormon, where he looked at various editor tools that Mormon [00:08:30] and Moroni used, where they looked at how they structured different narratives in the Book of Mormon, how they quoted different authors, used embedded author quotes and so forth. That was really great contribution. In my work, I discovered these basic writing tools that we’ve actually gone across many times as we’ve read the Book of Mormon and yet we’ve never noticed, we never noticed. I’m going to give you a couple of examples.
Kurt Francom: Yeah, that will be great. Let’s jump into that.
Jerry Smith: For example, this idea of conjunctions, for many [00:09:00] centuries, back to the beginning of time, people have used conjunctions that joined thoughts together. For example, I went to the store and I purchased some milk. Those are two statements but they’re joined by conjunction or I could say I went to the store and I purchased some milk or rather some organic milk. Did you see what I did?
Kurt Francom: The or rather, right?
Jerry Smith: The or rather, that was another conjunction. There, I felt that I said milk but that wasn’t what I really wanted to say. [00:09:30] I really meant to say organic milk. One of the great questions is why did I go back to make that change? Obviously, organic milk seemed to be important to me, and therefore I made that change, and so that gives me a clue as to who I am as a writer. Do you see that?
Kurt Francom: Yeah, yeah.
Jerry Smith: Is it not interesting? When I did my work, I focused particularly on corrective conjunctions, where the authors would go back and correct something that they had done and make a fine tune or a fine change to it, you know?
Kurt Francom: That [00:10:00] clarification almost creates an emphasis of there’s a deeper meaning here that they’re trying to get to us.
Jerry Smith: Exactly. They’re either correcting what they’ve done or they’re amplifying what they’ve done or sometimes they’re explaining but they always use this conjunction. I said this or, then they say or rather or sometimes there’s an or and fine or something. They say something that clearly, they were trying to do it, and I call those spontaneous corrections. They’re spontaneous, they just happen.
Kurt Francom: Would you say some of these [00:10:30] spontaneous corrections or changes came from the fact that they are inscribing these on metal plates and erasing is not much of an option?
Jerry Smith: Yes, I think that is the case. I think that because they were writing on that medium, it was very much a part of writing on metal and they couldn’t change that or in Joseph Smith’s case, his scribes were Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris and others were writing on with hand and paper and they couldn’t easily change that [00:11:00] so they would change this. I think there’s another important thing that Brant Gardner has talked about. He is a scholar in the Mormon world and he’s talked about some of these kinds of changes, these spontaneous changes belong to the world of spontaneous oral speech, so when we speak in oral terms. For example, I have an example in the article how Brigham Young, when he was speaking in the Tabernacle, so this is a speech, and he can’t go back and [00:11:30] stop the recording and fix it so he says, this is quoting Brigham Young in the Ogden Tabernacle, “This is as simple as anything can be and yet it is one of the hardest things to get people to understand or rather to practice for you may get them to understand it but the great difficulty is to get them to practice it.”
Doesn’t that sound like Brigham Young?
Kurt Francom: Yeah for sure.
Jerry Smith: That gives you a window into his soul. Understand no, no, no. It’s practice that matters, you know, so it’s really fascinating. [00:12:00] That’s the idea, these corrective conjunctions where we go back and spontaneously make these corrections.
Kurt Francom: Nice. Some of these changes, like you mentioned, you gave this example of Brigham Young but it’s really, you’re asking yourself when you see this, did this come from Joseph Smith, did it come from Mormon or was it just from the original author.
Jerry Smith: Right, yes. Let’s go into the Book of Mormon itself and let’s look at, let’s look at some of these in the Book of Mormon just to give us an idea and here’s one from the first [00:12:30] book of Nephi, even before the first book of Nephi so this is in Nephi’s prologue to I Nephi and he writes a paragraph here, and here’s what it says.
“An account of Lehi and his wife Sariah, and his four sons, being called, beginning at the eldest, Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi.” Then he goes on and says a lot of other things, and then at the end of that prologue, he says, “This is according to the account of Nephi, or in other words, I, Nephi, [00:13:00] wrote this record.”
Kurt Francom: Just clarifying that this is Nephi speaking.
Jerry Smith: Isn’t that powerful?
Kurt Francom: Yeah.
Jerry Smith: Now, did Joseph Smith write that or did Nephi write that?
Kurt Francom: Right, yeah.
Jerry Smith: Clearly, it’s a spontaneous change. What happened, what happened was it was being written and somebody made that change. It sounds like Nephi. It sounds like, “Listen, I want you to know that I wrote this personally.” Nephi had such an emphasis on this. That’s a very good one. That was one from Nephi. Let’s do another one. Let’s [00:13:30] see if we can find one from Mormon, let’s see. Here’s one from Mormon. This is from let’s see, Mosiah Chapter 7 Verse 1, and so this is Ammon and his brother that are going up into the land of Nephi, where he was going to run into Limhi, the King Limhi. This is now Mormon describing this, “And now, it came to pass that after king Mosiah had had continual peace for the space [00:14:00] of three years, he was desirous to know concerning the people who went up to dwell in the land of Lehi-Nephi, or in the city of Lehi-Nephi; for his people had heard nothing from them from the time that they had left.”
This is Mormon making just a simple geographic change. I said the land of Lehi-Nephi, wait a minute, it was the city of Lehi-Nephi. One of things I find as I go through these examples is I find that Mormon is always [00:14:30] very fussy, very detail oriented about geography and about history. He wants to make sure that his facts are right and this is a good example of this right here.
Let’s do another one with Benjamin. This is King Benjamin. This is from Mosiah Chapter 2 Verse 31 in his great speech, “As you have kept my commandments, and also the commandments of my father, and have prospered, and have been kept from falling into the hands of your enemies, even so.” Now pay attention, here’s where he goes into [00:15:00] it, “If you shall keep the commandments of my son, or the commandments of God which shall be delivered unto you by him, you shall prosper in the land.” This is Benjamin speaking, it sounds like it or maybe somebody who recorded the speech.
Kurt Francom: Yeah.
Jerry Smith: We don’t know, or maybe Mormon who was editing and correcting, we don’t know for sure but here, there’s clearly a change, not the commandments of my son, this is not what I meant. It is the commandments of God [00:15:30] which shall be delivered to you by my son.
Kurt Francom: Further deeper meaning there, further clarification.
Jerry Smith: A deeper meaning, further clarification. I have found in the Book of Mormon 170 of these spontaneous changes, 170. That’s a lot.
Kurt Francom: I got to ask you, everybody sure has their approach or method to studying the scriptures. Is this something that you just decide, “I’m going to start from page one and go through and highlight or circle every time I see these spontaneous [00:16:00] corrections happening?”
Jerry Smith: Yes, that’s exactly what I did. I started at page one and I had the same thought that you thought, that that sounds like a daunting task.
Kurt Francom: Yeah, right.
Jerry Smith: It was a daunting task but I started at page one and I used four editions of the Book of Mormon. I used the Royal Skousen original manuscript, so his reconstruction of the original manuscript. That would be from 1829. Then I used the 1830 [00:16:30] edition, then the 1837, which is the second edition, then the 1840 Nauvoo third edition. I looked at, I went through all of those and watched how these spontaneous changes changed over time, to see how they had changed over time and one of the questions that I asked, this was a key question to the research was who authored these spontaneous changes and here’s the way I asked the question. Were these spontaneous changes the product of [00:17:00] one author or were they the product of many authors or multiple authors? If they were the product of one author, then that would say that maybe Joseph Smith as a translator had put these in, or possibly Moroni because Moroni was the finishing editor for the whole grand scripture of the Book of Mormon, but that would be the one author thesis, or if it was many authors, then that would argue for Alma, Benjamin, Abinadi and all of these, but if there were only several [00:17:30] authors, then that would argue for the three major editors of Nephi and Mormon and Moroni, you know.
Kurt Francom: Yeah.
Jerry Smith: That was really sort of my overarching question for that, and I have to say when I started the project, again because I was so focused on Joseph Smith and his interaction with the Book of Mormon, I assumed that Joseph Smith must be responsible for these.
Kurt Francom: It’s just part of adding clarification to his translation.
Jerry Smith: Yeah.
Kurt Francom: Much like his bible translation.
Jerry Smith: That’s right, because we know that Joseph Smith, after the [00:18:00] first edition was published, that he went back and made different minor grammatical changes and so Royal Skousen and some of those that worked with Royal have identified many of those very small changes and not soon, that therefore, these would be part of that group that he would have made these small changes as he went along, but huge and significant finding, as I compared edition to edition to edition, I found [00:18:30] that Joseph Smith virtually never modified these spontaneous corrections in subsequent Book of Mormon editions, even though one would have expected him to change them, many of these corrections seemed like obvious errors. Joseph was so attuned to that as he was rereading the Book of Mormon you would think that he would go back and make these changes and he did not. To me, that was very telling that he was sort of, ” [00:19:00] Let them be, let them alone.”, as if to say, “I can’t change what Mormon just said here because I don’t think it’s mine to change.”
Kurt Francom: He could have easily, when they said, “Therefore what I mean is.”, he could have just taken that out and just put what he meant by his last statement.
Jerry Smith: That’s right. He could have changed what Benjamin said and he should have changed what Benjamin said because what Benjamin said clearly had a mistake in it. To talk about the commandment of a son, [00:19:30] no it was the commandment of God and Joseph should have changed that, but Joseph didn’t change it and I think by not changing it, that was a signal to the future readers that you know what, I probably, probably I didn’t have a hand in this. This belonged to somebody else, and I believe that Joseph not only respected that fact but I think that Joseph respected those who wrote it. Joseph always felt close to the prophets [00:20:00] of old. I mean he had visions and revelations with them in Section 27 of the doctrine of covenants. He describes through revelation how he will interact with Moroni, with the savior, with Adam, with Peter, James and John, with Mormon, with all of these great prophets and I think Joseph felt like he almost had a relationship with them, and here he is in the Book of Mormon seeing the writings and saying, “Oh, these are the words [00:20:30] of Mormon. This is really Mormon and this is somebody who I really respected and I’m so impressed.”
Kurt Francom: He allowed that personality to come out through his writing, those imperfections, right?
Jerry Smith: Yes, he allowed that to come through. He allowed those imperfections to come through and that’s because they are inimitably Mormon’s, and they’re inimitably Nephi’s and so forth. He just looks at that and says it. One of the things that I discovered and one of the ways I tested my hypothesis [00:21:00] was as I had 170 of these different spontaneous changes, was that I looked at different types of changes. I said can we categorize these, and I did. I found three different categories. One was called a correcting change, where they corrected a mistake. I made a mistake and so I’ll go back and correct it. The second one was I want to amplify what I just said, so therefore I say, well wait a minute, let me continue and expand upon that. The third one is explaining [00:21:30] an unknown term. This is something that you the reader just don’t know what this is so I’ll explain it to you.
Let me give you a few examples of these, okay?
Kurt Francom: Perfect.
Jerry Smith: I think this will be interesting. This is one that is a correcting one in, let’s look at Mosiah Chapter 7 Verse 8. This first example is a correcting example where we’re correcting a mistake and this is Ammon appearing before King Limhi and this is Mosiah Chapter 7 Verse 8, “And it came to pass when they had been in [00:22:00] prison two days they were again brought before the king, and their bands were loosed and they stood before the king.” Now listen carefully here, “And were permitted, or rather commanded, that they should answer the questions which he should ask them.”
Kurt Francom: Permitted and commanded is much different word.
Jerry Smith: Right, he wrote committed or he wrote permitted and then he said, wait a minute, commanded. That’s a good example of a correcting one. Here’s one of an amplifying one, where we amplify, and this is from Nephi, I [00:22:30] Nephi Chapter 10 Verses, Nephi Chapter 10 Verse 14. This one actually has three of these spontaneous changes in it, which is significant because Nephi was trained as a scribe and he was therefore trained to sort of elaborate on the texts that he had before him, and here Nephi is quoting his father, not quoting but paraphrasing his father, [00:23:00] and so it gives him the license then to correct or to elaborate what his father says, and here’s I Nephi 10:14, “And after the house of Israel should be scattered they should be gathered together again or, in fine, after the Gentiles had received the fullness of the Gospel, the natural branches of the olive tree, or the remnants of the house of Israel, should be grafted in, or come to the knowledge of the true Messiah, [00:23:30] their Lord and their Redeemer.”
Three times, so he says the house of Israel should be scattered and then gathered together again, wait let me explain what I mean by that, or in fine, after the Gentiles had received the fullness of the gospel. Wow, he clarifies that. The natural branches of the olive tree, wait just in case you don’t know what I mean by that, or the remnants of the house of Israel should be grafted in, wait, just so that you understand [00:24:00] what I mean by grafted in or come to the knowledge of the true Messiah, the Lord and their Redeemer.
Nephi, just a powerful one I think right there. The third one was an explanatory spontaneous change, and this is found in I Nephi Chapter 17 Verse 5, and so Nephi writing here says, “And we did come to the land which we called Bountiful, because of its much fruit and also wild honey, and all these things were prepared of the Lord that we might not perish. [00:24:30] And we beheld the sea, and we called Abinadi, which, being interpreted, is many waters.”
Kurt Francom: Interpreted gave some explanation what that word means.
Jerry Smith: Exactly, so that’s what he does. I talked about how I had developed this hypothesis about how did these spontaneous changes appear in the Book of Mormon. Were they the product of one person like Joseph Smith or were they the product of many [00:25:00] people like the various prophets and writers and editors in the Book of Mormon? The way I tested that was as I described, I created these three different categories of different types of spontaneous change. I then looked at how the profiles of each of the writers in the Book of Mormon to see what kinds of spontaneous changes they did. Here’s what I found. Nephi, 83% of his spontaneous changes focused on [00:25:30] amplifying what he had just said. 11% focused on correcting.
Mormon was very different. 41% of Mormon’s changes, spontaneous changes, 41% of Mormon’s spontaneous changes focused on amplifying but 57% on correcting. Isn’t that interesting?
Kurt Francom: Yeah.
Jerry Smith: Mormon corrects 57% of the time. Nephi corrects [00:26:00] 11% of the time. Why are they so different? Nephi elaborates and amplifies 83% of the time and Mormon half that, half as frequently, 41% of the time. Then the other thing that I noticed, this is again testing my hypothesis, Nephi, most of his spontaneous changes focus in prophecy and doctrine, almost always amplifying. Mormon, most of his focus on history [00:26:30] and war and battle, almost always correcting.
Kurt Francom: Interesting.
Jerry Smith: Totally different.
Kurt Francom: Yeah.
Jerry Smith: Totally different. Benjamin, mostly exhortation, and most of the time amplifying, so totally different than the others. Alma, broad spontaneous changes in history, prophecy, exhortation and geography, using both amplifying and correcting about equal proportions.
Kurt Francom: Well, and [00:27:00] so you can start to see some of these personalities come out and which tell you who you wrote what or who made the correction.
Jerry Smith: Then I tested those statistically, using statistical methods and found that statistically, these patterns were significantly different from each other. We have a very high confidence of that statistically that they’re significantly different from each other, at a 98% level of confidence. I came away saying that these were authored not by one person, [00:27:30] not by several persons but by many persons based upon the analysis that I did.
Kurt Francom: I love this, you mentioned these three categories of the spontaneous changes, the correcting, amplifying and explaining the unknown. I think this is a good lesson that we can learn from these prophets as far as leadership goes is sometimes there’s a bishop or at least stake president. You may give a message or whether it’s a lesson or just an offhand conversation that it’s okay to correct yourself by revisiting that conversation again [00:28:00] or amplifying it, like really mailing it in. This is what I mean or maybe there’s further explanation that you can tell that, and I said that to that group but it seems like they don’t get it or they don’t understand where I’m coming from so I’m revisiting it and it’s okay to do that.
Jerry Smith: Have you as a church leader ever stood at the pulpit and said this and then said, “Wait a minute, I didn’t really mean that. This is really what I meant.”
Kurt Francom: Yeah.
Jerry Smith: I don’t know if you have but I certainly have.
Kurt Francom: Many times, yes.
Jerry Smith: I think that those [00:28:30] that we lead love us for that.
Kurt Francom: Yeah.
Jerry Smith: You know, I really didn’t mean that. I mean I have said things that the pulpit and somebody will say, “Bishop, is that really what you meant to say?” I may go back at a different meeting and say, “You know, I didn’t exactly mean that too.” I think that’s okay, and I do, I approve of you totally that sometimes, I’ll say something and then say, then elaborate on that statement. This is why that’s so important.
Kurt Francom: Going back to what you said about the reason why maybe Joseph left these here is that [00:29:00] it humanizes them and we want to connect with them. They feel more real to us and therefore, we love them deeper because they feel like real people.
Jerry Smith: Yes, and I never thought of that. That’s a wonderful way of thinking of that is that Joseph wanted us to see not only these persons but these leaders as they really were. That’s a powerful, powerful insight.
Kurt Francom: I think those we lead, it’s important to take those moments to not necessarily show that you’re imperfect, but to show that you’re telling the truth that you’re human and they won’t discount [00:29:30] you as a leader because you’re imperfect.
Jerry Smith: We actually live in an age right now when authenticity is really important and it is especially important to the millennial generation that is coming up right now and I think when they see authenticity, one of the things that they feel about scripture is the scripture is perfect, and you know I mean I read it as perfect and it tells me exactly what to do but if you read at a deeper level, you realize the scripture really [00:30:00] is the accounts of these real people who exhibited real personality and real traits and are beautiful. They’re authentic and that’s what makes, to me, that’s what makes the Book of Mormon so vivid, so vivid and so beautiful is because these are real authentic personalities that are speaking to us.
Kurt Francom: Yeah, and I think we can get into that mantra or in that stage where we want of course the doctrines and what the scriptures teach are true and perfect, but sometimes, [00:30:30] the way that message came through these imperfect leaders sometimes come through a little bit rough, and so when we’re interacting with people, it’s maybe better to look at the scriptures rather than the scriptures are perfect, the scriptures are authentic and the more we get closer to that authenticity, then really that’s I think what Joseph Smith was doing with the bible translations. It wasn’t that he was making every word perfect but he was trying to make it more authentic.
Jerry Smith: That’s right. I think the other thing is we talked earlier on in our conversation about layers in the Book of Mormon. We talked about how Joseph [00:31:00] Smith is at the highest layer because he’s the most recent. He’s the one who translated the Book of Mormon, then beneath him is Moroni, who compiled and assembled as the final finishing editor and beneath him is Mormon, and Mormon then quoted beneath him all of these various prophets and generals and judges and great leaders in the Book of Mormon, Captain Moroni and all of these good people that he quotes but at a level deeper than that, [00:31:30] at the deepest level is prophets that were quoted by those generals or those judges or those prophets and for example, Abinadi, as Abinadi wants to speak about the Messiah and who the Messiah really was, he didn’t just speak on his own although he did speak on his own, but he also quoted a great source and guess who he quoted? He quoted Moses and the Ten Commandments and related [00:32:00] that to the Messiah and to the savior, which is powerful because he wanted to link his own teachings to that great doctrine, to the great doctrines of the Law of Moses and relate that then to the mission of the Messiah, of the savior.
Read it on that level and you realize the Book of Mormon wasn’t written. The Book of Mormon was constructed and built layer by layer so that we can appreciate kind of the depth of the authenticity and of the origin of these [00:32:30] great sacred sources from where they come.
Kurt Francom: Yeah, and those layers are important and even in our own life, there’s certain level of layers that we may feel like we need to do this thing so we do A, so B happens but sometimes there’s a lot more steps between there and we get discouraged when we do A but B doesn’t happen, but in reality, the Lord works through these different layers, whether he knew that as Nephi wrote, Mormon would read and compile and Joseph Smith would translate and then by the time we got to [00:33:00] us, our modern day, that message was there and we were able to ponder over it and really get that clarity through the spirit. I mean, obviously the spirit plays a role in that. Sometimes there’s just this process to the way that the Lord’s word is revealed.
Jerry Smith: It actually might help as we think of how we lead, that we allow those who lead within the church to lead within their layer, and not worry about that layer having to be perfect because we know that the Lord will over time, build layer [00:33:30] upon layer so finely. In the end, people will have received the full blessings, not just of our layer but of all of the layers that we quote and source and love and appreciate those who came before us and it may have been a visiting teacher who said something profound that is then quoted in a release society lesson, that then the bishop will say, “You know, I have to tell you this beautiful experience of this sister as she visit-taught, you know and so you have [00:34:00] these layers and I think we should appreciate that and love the spirit and love the gospel as it happens at those layers.”
Kurt Francom: Yeah, I love that because sometimes, I remember being called as the elders quorum president and I served for about a year before I moved on. At the end of the year, I felt like man, I didn’t really have much of an impact but we don’t understand I was in one layer and then the person coming after me was picking up where I left off and continued in his layer, right? Through those layers, that’s where [00:34:30] great, great things happen. It doesn’t need to happen with one person and with one incidence.
Jerry Smith: Right, that’s a wonderful way of saying it, yes. I shouldn’t worry about my contribution. I should be grateful that I’ve been able to participate in this layer and add a layer to this person’s development, this person’s spiritual development.
Kurt Francom: You can definitely see that in missionary work, right, that the seeds are planted along the way and everybody, there’s a discouraged missionary 10 years ago that planted a seed where now, another missionary 10 years later is picking that fruit that was [00:35:00] planted long ago.
Jerry Smith: That is true.
Kurt Francom: I want to ask you as far as just kind of stepping back and just taking a different direction but I think there’s a lot of leaders out there that, I know myself, I go through phases where I’m sort of discouraged with my scripture study. I sort of know that I’m supposed to do it and it seems like you have this pattern with your research that you’ll find this interesting corner of the scriptures and just sort of spend some time there and dig in and I think that may come from your research background being a professor and an academic. What [00:35:30] encouragement would you have for somebody who is spending time with the scriptures and they’re just discouraged? They’re reading it but they’re having a hard time really getting in depth into finding a certain niche or a corner they can really benefit from.
Jerry Smith: I think that the Book of Mormon can be read as layers, for sure. I think that I can read it everyday and receive great spiritual enlightenment everyday, spiritual insights that will help me for today that’s at one layer. I think that I can go to the Book of Mormon [00:36:00] for insight to help me address the Lord about a particular problem I’m having and I can use the Book of Mormon for that so that’s a different layer. I usually like to read the Book of Mormon or all scripture. I love the Old Testament. It is so deep. I love the New Testament, which is so deep. I love the doctrine of covenants, so all of these, but usually when I read them in a deeper level, I like to ask this question. Who is speaking here and why are they saying this [00:36:30] and why is this here? Who is speaking here? This is Abinadi that’s speaking here. Abinadi is quoting the Ten Commandments. I’ve read those Ten Commandments and I’ve always asked why are the Ten Commandments in the Book of Mormon.
We just read them in the bible, but then I ask the question why are they here. Why does Abinadi quote these? Why did Mormon choose to quote Abinadi in there and why did Mormon choose this account of [00:37:00] Abinadi quoting Moses in the Book of Mormon? Could it be, and this is now I’m wondering and I ask the Lord, is this because Mormon wanted to be sure that future readers understood that the Book of Mormon is founded on the great teachings of Moses, just as the Jewish bible, the Hebrew bible is a great, is founded on the Law of Moses, so it is for the Book of Mormon as well. Isn’t that interesting.
Kurt Francom: Yeah.
Jerry Smith: [00:37:30] I don’t know, so I ask this question, and that then leads me to the questions of, “Well, how does this read in Exodus?” All the way, how does it read in Deuteronomy? That’s a different, and they read differently in Deuteronomy than they do in Exodus. Why is that? Then they read here in the Book of Mormon slightly differently and now, with elaboration by Abinadi, why is that? I keep asking these questions of why and then inevitably, to me there are floods of revelation. [00:38:00] I write them down and there are insights that help me appreciate how deep the Book of Mormon is or how deep the Old Testament is. I often describe the Old Testament as being a jagged scripture that has, is hard to read sometimes but when you get beneath the surface, you see just how beautiful and how authentic it really is. That speaks to me and says these were great prophets. They were authentic prophets. Some of them were very rough prophets [00:38:30] but wow, is what they teach beautiful. That tells me by the way today, I may be a rough leader, I hope not, but the Lord called me to do it and I’m doing the best that I can and it helps me as a follower to say he or she is a rough leader but I love him anyway. I see him trying and I sustain him with all that they’re doing.
Kurt Francom: Yeah, and I gain so much from that, just thinking of the questions you ask as you go through the scriptures or even outside the scripture, [00:39:00] even in your calling, whatever, those questions are catalysts to inspiration, to revelation. You’re sort of opening that door by asking that question and just be prepared to either write it down or retain it somehow and I think that’s a great advice for enhanced scriptures is just really asking those questions that challenge what you’re reading or push yourself to look deeper into what you’re reading.
Jerry Smith: I really do, and I love that about it. For me, I’m always very interested in people, in persons. I was as [00:39:30] a leader, I always loved people. I loved to read about, I loved not to read about, I loved to probe into the persons who are in the scriptures, who were they really, who was Rebekah in the Old Testament. What a powerful woman she was? Why was that, she was the wife of Isaac, why is she such a powerful person? Those are great, great questions. I love Ezekiel as a prophet. I love Isaiah as a prophet.
Kurt Francom: Yeah.
Jerry Smith: I love Mormon as a historian [00:40:00] prophet. To me, they have their personalities that speak to us.
Kurt Francom: Nice. Well, where can people, as far as these spontaneous changes research that you’ve done, where would you point people to if they want to really dive in and learn more about your research and what information you’re putting together?
Jerry Smith: Two sources. One is that I described them in chapter one of Schooling the Prophet, and that’s published by the Maxwell Institute and available at Deseret Book and Amazon and so forth on some different places. Then I really explore these spontaneous [00:40:30] changes in depth in two articles that were published by the interpreter and the interpreter is available online, if you do a Google search for LDS interpreter, it will take you right to the website, the Interpreter Foundation. You’ll find these articles. They are entitled Improvisation and Extemporaneous Change in the Book of Mormon, and there’s article one and article two. They sound like big words and they are, Improvisation and Extemporaneous Change in the Book of Mormon. They’re in [00:41:00] volume 23 of 2017, so the very first volume of the year and they’re the second and fourth articles in there so you’ll see them there if you look at them online. That’s where they are.
Kurt Francom: Perfect, and just sort of final question, as you think and not that you’re necessarily finished with this research but as you’ve gone through and pinpointed and recognized these spontaneous changes, how does that deepen your testimony in the gospel and your discipleship?
Jerry Smith: I think it has helped me appreciate how scripture [00:41:30] gets constructed, and imagine, I’ve learned this from the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is the newest scripture we have, appeared in the 19th century, and it’s teaching me how scripture got constructed. It wasn’t written by Joseph Smith. It wasn’t written by Mormon. It was actually constructed by prophets and editors and all of those who contributed to the Book of Mormon. It then caused me to ask, “Is this the way the Old Testament was constructed?” I think so. [00:42:00] This is why the New Testament was constructed. Then I realized that my appreciation for how scripture is built, how it’s created, comes from the Book of Mormon and where did we get the Book of Mormon? Literally from revelations. I could say, “Well, the Old Testament came from scribes who wrote historically, and we preserve those records through time and we have them today.” The Book of Mormon wasn’t that way. The scribes wrote anciently, but then they were [00:42:30] lost, and then they were revealed in the 18th, 19th century.
For me, it helped me understand what scripture really is. I think the other key understanding that I had for the Book of Mormon was this insight that Joseph retained all of these spontaneous changes in the Book of Mormon intact as they were, and it helped me appreciate that Joseph was putting forth into the world a book of scripture that was the work of God. It was [00:43:00] commissioned by God and yet it had its own imperfections in it. That took courage, even as he made all of his different grammatical changes, still he retained those, and I thought that that took great courage. To me, it was a witness that Joseph wasn’t the author of the Book of Mormon, that he was the one who guaranteed that we will receive it and that we’ll receive it as it was given to him and that therefore went into the world, great [00:43:30] testimony.
I certainly have deepened my testimony with the Book of Mormon. I’ve always had a testimony of it. I’ve always asked questions of it and that’s one of the reasons that I explore these topics is because my own curiosity and through that curiosity now, feel like my goodness, the Book of Mormon is a beautiful thing, and because of that, I say the same thing about the Old Testament. Many people who question the validity of the Old Testament, I say, “No, no. This is scripture just [00:44:00] like the Book of Mormon is scripture.” Normally, we would say that the Book of Mormon is scripture just like the Old Testament is scripture, and I say, “No, no. The Old Testament is scripture just in the same way that the Book of Mormon is scripture.”