What’s up with the JST? – By Common Consent, a Mormon blog
Kent P. Jackson, Understanding the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (Provo, UT: Center for Religious Studies and Deseret Book, 2022)
Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible: The Joseph Smith Translation and the King James Translation in Parallel Columns (Provo, UT: Center for Religious Studies and Deseret Book, 2021)
I served four stints as a gospel doctrine teacher and one long term as an institute teacher in my stake. As a result, I taught adult classes in my ward and stake for about 25 years, at least 1,000 classes, about half of which would have been Bible-focused. In January of every occupational therapy year, I sometimes made a habit of dropping one of these lessons and devoting an entire class to the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. I specifically remember doing it twice, and I may have done it a third time as well. I know people get a little nervous when I go rogue like that, but I thought we were about to start a two-year Bible-focused stint, and people are going to make JST-based comments in each class. This January 1st tends to be heavily focused on the JST (i.e. the Book of Moses) anyway, so for me it made sense to do a general course on the JST right from the start of the Bible program .
As much as people enjoyed this introductory course, I don’t know how deep it actually penetrated. People seemed to know three things and only three things about the JST: (i) the abbreviation JST stands for “Joseph Smith Translation”, (ii) the footnotes at the bottom of the official LDS KJV (1979/2013) labeled JST have given a JST revision to the KJV with the modified text marked in italics, and (iii) longer revisions have been included in a JST appendix on the reverse. Where it came from and how we should understand it always seemed a bit uncertain to most class members.
We still have a year and a half to go in our current Bible program, so I thought it might be helpful for me to point out two important new resources for your JST study, the titles of which are given in the caption of this post.
If you really wanted to, you could transform into some kind of JST scholar with existing materials. You will start with Bob Matthews A simpler translation (from his thesis), add that of Phil Barlow Mormons and the Bible, get the huge volume of the 2004 Manuscripts (if I remember correctly, I paid $100 for my copy when it was brand new, but the manuscripts are now freely available at the JSPP), read the volume of the Center for religious studies on the subject and read some book chapters and periodical articles. Realistically, the chances of someone doing all of this are pretty slim; most people who are so interested in the subject have already read this material.
But the new Kent Jackson volume is a convenient way to learn all the ins and outs of JST in one non-technical volume of just over 250 pages. Even your teenagers of seminary age will be able to understand this.
On pages 3-5, Kent has a great timeline of scribes, places, and material covered. There were two draft manuscripts: OT1 (most of Genesis) and NT1 (most of Matthew). This material was copied into new manuscripts, OT2 and NT2, into which the rest of the NT and OT would be copied. The original OT1 and NT1 manuscripts were not discarded, apparently kept as some sort of backup. As the project lasted just over three years, a series of scribes worked on it: Oliver Cowdery, John Whitmer, Emma Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Jesse Gause, Frederick G. Williams and Newel K. Whitney (Joseph’s own hand appears multiple times as well).
To give you an idea of the volume, I’ll type in the table of contents:
- Manuscripts and scribes
- Understand the text
- Historical indexes of the manuscripts
- What is the Joseph Smith Bible Translation?
- The vision of Moses
- Creation and Fall
- The First Generations in Genesis
- Reinventing Genesis
- Promises and Priesthood in Genesis
- Shedding light on the story of Jesus
- Complete the words of Jesus
- text and message
- Guiding instinct
- Opening the biblical text
- Restore Doctrine
- “What is the sign of your coming? »
- The New Translation and the Book of Mormon
- The New Translation and the Revelations
- Translated more than once
- Publication of the new translation
- The New Translation and the Pearl of Great Price
- The Book of Moses and Joseph Smith-Mathew
- Footnotes and selections
- The Brigham Young University Edition
- A Testament of Jesus Christ
- For the salvation of souls
There is a common belief in the Church that the JST was never finished. The idea seems to be that the manuscript was theoretically finished on July 2, 1833, so Joseph wasn’t finished because he lived another 11 years without publishing it. Kent is of the firm opinion, and I agree, that Joseph did indeed complete the translation in mid-1833. So why didn’t he publish it? Time, resources, circumstances. The release of revelations (Book of Commandments, Doctrine and Covenants, new editions of the Book of Mormon) was ahead of the JST in the queue, and with everything else, it just didn’t get there before its dead.
As I’ve been working on my own JST project (much of it posted here in draft form on the blog), I’ve noticed a bunch of translation trends. Examples would include replacing the subjunctive “to be” with the indicative “is”; softening the word “damnation” in various ways (like “condemnation”), turning the metaphor into comparison by adding the word “like” to be clear, the metaphor should not be taken literally, and so on. One of my favorite chapters in this volume is the one on “Guiding Instincts”, which of course includes a hint of italicized text, but also lots of other trends.
Our current, solid understanding of textual history has not always existed. At first, the RLDS and LDS traditions made mistakes based on a lack of understanding of the manuscripts. In their original publication of the inspired version, the RLDS made a mistake by using OT1 for Genesis instead of OT2. On the LDS side, Orson Pratt correctly edited Moses to conform to the inspired version, but later James Talmage reversed those edits and favored early newspaper publications, which was exactly the wrong thing to do. We do better when we work together. Of course, it’s a different day now with all of our cooperation on story matters, but learning to cooperate on the JST has been an important step towards a more ecumenical friendship.
One of the things most LDS don’t realize is that the JST material in our LDS KJV is a small fraction, less than 20%, of the whole. And there hasn’t been a very good solution to that. Of course, you can read the inspired version, but this version does not distinguish between KJV text and JST text; it’s just an undifferentiated mass. Which leads to the other volume I want to mention, the BYU edition of the JST with the KJV in parallel columns. Many editorial choices had to be made about how to present the text, and I think the editors have always made good ones. With this edition, you can now read the entire JST and also compare KJV text in parallel columns.
So brothers and sisters, that’s what’s new with the JST.