Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh as one

I was listening to an audio recording of the Book of Mormon, and when it got to the part where Nephi says they "did live upon raw meat in the wilderness" (1 Ne. 17:2), I wondered how the word meat was to be understood. Certainly by Joseph's time it had already acquired its modern meaning of "animal flesh," but the language of the Book of Mormon is patterned after that of the King James Version of the Bible, which even in its time was very linguistically conservative. For example, even though the KJV was written in Shakespeare's day, and Shakespeare commonly uses singular ye/you after the French fashion, as a more formal or respectful alternative to thou/thee, the KJV follows the older Anglo-Saxon convention, in which ye/you is always plural and thou/thee is always used for the singular. (This is an extremely helpful feature of the KJV text, making it much less ambiguous than modern thou-phobic translations.) Joseph Smith mostly imitates the KJV, but imperfectly so, and there are many unambiguous instances of singular you in the Book of Mormon. Sometimes the two groups of second-person pronouns almost seem to be in free variation -- for example, "And now Zoram, I speak unto you: Behold, thou art the servant of Laban." (2 Ne. 1:30). Would even Shakespeare have countenanced singular you when addressing a servant?

In another case of its linguistic conservatism, the KJV always uses meat to mean "food" and never in the narrower sense of "animal flesh." How aware was Joseph Smith of that usage, and how closely did he follow it in the Book of Mormon? Need we imagine the Lehites chowing down on steak tartare, or did Nephi perhaps mean salad?

I'll post my conclusion on that question later, on my Book of Mormon blog. Here I just want to note a striking synchronicity occasioned by my preliminary research into it.

While the audio recording was still playing, I used my computer to search the Book of Mormon text for meat, then for food, and finally for flesh, trying to get a sense for how the text uses those words. Since the search function on the website formerly known as lds.org is unusably bad -- I believe "an abomination in the sight of the Lord" is the technical term -- I was doing Ctrl-F searches on a text file from Gutenberg. That means that rather than seeing a whole list of search results on the screen at once, I had to click through them one at a time.

When I clicked for the second search result for flesh, it was 1 Ne. 17:35:

Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God. But behold, this people had rejected every word of God, and they were ripe in iniquity; and the fulness of the wrath of God was upon them; and the Lord did curse the land against them, and bless it unto our fathers; yea, he did curse it against them unto their destruction, and he did bless it unto our fathers unto their obtaining power over it.

The exact instant I clicked, and the screen jumped to this verse with the word flesh highlighted in orange, the audio recording also said the word flesh -- and then I realized that it was reading this very verse! My curiosity had been piqued, you will recall, by 1 Ne. 17:2, and now the audio had gotten to verse 35. I had been listening with half my attention and skimming search results with the other, and now suddenly the two came together, and what I was reading on the screen was exactly the same as what the recording was saying.

This is similar in kind, though not in content, to the sync recently documented in "A loaf of bread is dear."

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