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Interpreting Interpreter

This post is a summary of the article “Verbal Punctuation in the Book of Mormon II — Nevertheless” by John Gee in Volume 57 of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. An introduction to the Interpreting Interpreter series is available at


The Takeaway

Gee notes that the word nevertheless is used consistently in the Book of Mormon to mark a contrast between two phrases. That usage does not match Joseph Smith’s use of the term in either type or frequency.


The Summary

In this article, John Gee argues, based on a method outlined in a previous essay, that the term nevertheless serves a consistent grammatical function in the Book of Mormon. Occurring 177 times, the word is almost always used as an adversative conjunction between two phrases, where the second phrase counters the expectations set by the first. Comparing this to its use by Joseph Smith (bracketing the issue of how it’s used in the D&C), the term is only used once in his early writings, and only five times in his 1835-36 journal. These instances lack the stark contrast often associated with the term in the Book of Mormon.

Gee provides several examples of Book of Mormon usage, starting with an instance in the first verse of the book. In this case, nevertheless prepares readers for the contrast between (1) Nephi’s many afflictions and (2) being highly favored of the Lord. Other examples include: Lehi’s contrast of his son Jacob’s afflictions with having those afflictions consecrated for his gain, Nephi’s contrast between his delighting in the things of the Lord and sorrowing because of his flesh, the distinction between general categories of Nephites and Lamanites and the continued use of more granular tribal distinctions, the contrast between the stiff necks) of the Nephites and God being merciful to them, as well as their being spared despite being visited in great judgment. Later examples include Limhi’s love for his father in spite of his recognition of King Noah’s obvious faults, the death of Nehor failing to put an end to his tradition of priestcraft, building out of cement in the noted absence of timber, the small voice of the spirit that managed to pierce them to the center, the Nephites hardening their hearts following the miraculous displays of spiritual power of Christ’s disciples from prison, the people struggling with the sword even though they wanted to curse God and die, and God bringing the Jaredites out of the sea in defiance of the mountain waves that dashed against them. In each of these cases, the first part of the passage sets a given expectation that is then strongly countered by the second phrase, with the transition marked by nevertheless.

Gee notes possibilities for antecedent terms in Hebrew or Egyptian, but finds no clear candidate. The Isaiah portions of the Book of Mormon contain a nevertheless that is translated in the Bible as , but that Hebrew word is not often used as an adversative, and it is usually translated as “because”, “for”, or “that”. For Gee, this suggests that the Book of Mormon’s use of nevertheless is an artifact of its English translation, even if that translation appears to bear no connection to Joseph Smith.


The Reflection

I’m not sure how many more ways we can see that Joseph didn’t write the Book of Mormon, but this is a welcome addition to the list. Though other grammatical perspectives are more comprehensive (e.g., Early Modern English and stylometry), these brief grammatical surveys provide a detailed look at individual pieces of the puzzle. It’ll eventually be satisfying to see the whole picture—to know the Book of Mormon like God knows us, but until then we can appreciate these dribbles of knowledge that come our way.

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