This post is a summary of the article “Verbal Punctuation in the Book of Mormon I: (And) Now” by John Gee in Volume 50 of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship.
The full article can be read at https://interpreterfoundation.org/verbal-punctuation-in-the-book-of-mormon-i-and-now/.
An introduction to the Interpreting Interpreter series is available at https://interpreterfoundation.org/interpreting-interpreter-on-abstracting-thought/.
The Book of Mormon appears to contain verbal punctuation, including the phrase “And now” (possibly w’th in Hebrew), which often marks chapter breaks or other narrative transitions. It’s use aligns with how verbal punctuation was used anciently, reflects scribal training practices from Lehi’s time, and is much more frequent than in Joseph Smith’s own biblically-styled writing.
In this article, John Gee argues that, despite not having typographic punctuation in the form of periods and commas, the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon has evidence of verbal punctuation, with words or phrases that provide structure to the flow of the book’s narrative. Gee provides several historical examples of these sorts of verbal punctuation, including:
- The Hittite particle (a word which serves a grammatical function, but that doesn’t fit into usual parts of speech) “nu” meaning “now”, which, along with a quotative participle “wa(r)”, was used to open sentences dating back to at least the time of Isaiah.
- The Egyptian particle “ꜥḥꜥ.n”, which was used to mark new sections of narrative. (Note: the term “non-enclitic” used by Gee references the ability of these particles to stand as the first word in a sentence without support from the words that follow.”)
This kind of verbal punctuation also applies to Hebrew. In Isaiah, the expression “wĕ-ʿattāh” (or w’th) literally means “and now”, and is rendered as such when quoted in the Book of Mormon. This phrase serves as verbal punctuation within Hebrew scripture, as well as within letters written during Lehi’s time.
Though Gee makes brief reference to the “it came to pass” as the Book of Mormon’s most frequent verbal punctuation, he focuses instead on the book’s original chapter breaks. These breaks are frequently marked with the phrase “And now” (52%) or “Now” (16%), followed by “Behold” (10%), “And it came to pass” (5%) and the personal name “I” (2%). There are variants within these that Gee suggests may indicate stylistic preferences among the book’s ancient authors.
Gee also considers how “And now” also serves as markers of narrative breaks within chapters—the equivalent of marking a new paragraph. He notes a dozen examples where this appears to be the case, such as:
- “And now” in the book’s title page marking a transition between discussion of the purpose of the book and Moroni’s request for readers to not condemn the book.
- 1 Nephi 1:15-16, where “And now” marks a shift between Nephi’s summary of his father’s experiences and Nephi’s discussion of the content of his own record.
- 2 Nephi 6:7-8, with “And now” signaling an end to Jacob’s quoting of Isaiah.
- Enos 1:18-19 using “And now” to transition from the Lord’s words and Enos’ own deeds.
Gee notes an important implication for this use of “And now” within the Book of Mormon, as it was no longer used in Hebrew following the Babylonian captivity (though an equivalent was preserved in Aramaic). This change suggests that the use of the underlying Hebrew term was part of scribal training prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in Lehi’s day. This scribal education was standardized across Israel and Judah, with a degree of consistency in spelling systems, phraseology, and the use of hieratic numerals. Also, since Egyptian doesn’t preserve an expression equivalent to “And now”, it suggests that, in this specific area, the Book of Mormon was more strongly influenced by Hebrew than by Egyptian.
Lastly, Gee examines the writing of Joseph Smith during and following the production of the Book of Mormon, finding only three uses of “and now”: in a letter to Oliver Cowdery in October 1829, a letter to W. WB. Phelps in 1832, and a journal entry in 1834. Despite using a biblical style in his writing, and at times deliberately alluding to Book of Mormon phrasing (e.g., his 1832 history), Joseph’s use is quite rare relative to the 72+ times it serves as verbal punctuation in the Book of Mormon.
Reading through Gee’s article was a great reminder of two things: 1) that scripture and the stories underlying them were much more often heard than they were read, and 2) that the Book of Mormon is highly structured in a way that implies planning and forethought. The latter has pretty clear implications for the authenticity of the text, given the dictation process. But it’s the former point that I find more poignant. Most of those who were the first to experience the stories of Nephi and Enos and Alma had to hear it at the feet of those they trusted—an experience more akin to Seminary and Sunday School than personal scripture study. That experience would’ve been innately social, and would’ve required listening very carefully. I’ve sometimes doubted the value of running through a line of students and asking them to read scripture verse-by-verse, but it’s helpful to remember that scripture was designed for that type of experience.
“And now” isn’t the only or strongest piece of evidence that brings such thoughts to light (chiasmus probably holds that distinction), but I see it as a useful one, and one that opens up deeper lines of inquiry on the structure of the Book of Mormon text. Those deeper lines could include examining other examples of pseudo-biblical and pseudo-archaic literature, similar to Stanford Carmack’s work, to see if these types of verbal punctuation are common when attempting to imitate a biblical style. It’s those types of comparisons that I see as most informative when asking whether Joseph might have produced that type of language, and allows us to more concretely see the distance between Joseph’s own abilities on the one hand, and the Book of Mormon on the other.