In 2004 the church authorised a publication of the Book of Mormon by the publisher Doubleday. Along with this new edition there was a change in the wording of some of the chapter headings. These changes were first systematically studied by a BYU student on the LDSphilosopher website who did a side by side comparison of the two editions, the results of his study can be found here. At the end of last year the Salt Lake Tribune announced that the changes were introduced into the churches online editions and were planned to be in the next edition published by the church.
The significance of these changes did not go unnoticed by the blogging community who were quick to pick up on the changes made to the chapter headings. The Mormon Matters website did a podcast in which the changes were considered in relation to a renewed commitment to the King James bible. In particular was a focus on the changes in reference to the Lamanites and racial comments on them.
The BlackLDS website gave an instructive analysis of the changes. In this they not only looked at the changes made to the chapter headings, they also looked at the introduction and change in the footnotes to certain passages of scripture. The changes that are dwelt on generally are the change in 2 Nephi 5 and Mormon 5. In 2 Nephi chapter 5 the words in the chapter heading “the Lamanites are cursed, receive a skin of blackness” were changed to “the Lamanites are cut off from the presence of the Lord, are cursed,” and in Mormon chapter 5 it removes “The Lamanites shall be a dark, filthy and loathsome people” and replaces it with “Because of their unbelief, the Lamanites will be scattered, and the Spirit will cease to strive with them.“
Both of these changes are significant as it distances the church from racist interpretations of the scripture. In 2 Nephi 5 it shifts the meaning that a skin of blackness was the curse, to the notion that it was being cut of from the presence of the Lord, this is mirrored in the passage in Mormon 5 which no longer associates dark with filthy and loathsome. In conjunction with these change are significant changes to the footnotes. These really amount to more references to 2 Nephi 26:33 in footnotes to the following scriptures: 1 Nephi 12:23, 2 Nephi 5:21, Alma 3:6, Mormon 5:15. This new footnote means that the reader should see them in reference to this scripture which talks about the all inclusiveness of God, that
‘he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both jew and gentile.’ (2 Nephie 26:33)
The addition of this footnote changes the way in which the reader understands and interprets the scriptures mentioned above, all of which could be used, and in fact has been used to justify a racist doctrine. The point of this post however is not to discuss the racial implications of these changes but reflect upon the way in which chapter headings and footnotes impact upon the way in which we understand and interpret scripture. This was noticed by a comment on the changes at the Times and Seasons coverage of the changes when Julie M. Smith said:
I think there is a message here on the power of the footnotes and headnotes to influence how we read. I frequently find myself frustrated with the direction in which the notes takes the reader.
The role of footnotes can be understood more in light of paratextuality. Recently I have been reading up on the literary theories of intertextuality, in particular the theories of the French thinker Gerard Genette and paratextuality. Intertextuality comes out from the work of Julie Kristeva, Mikhail Bakhtin and Roland Barthes. The basic idea is that in order to understand any text we need to look at the relationship that it has to other texts, that each text is made up of networks of quotations, references, inferences, and allusions. We can not understand a text then in isolation but must understand it in reference to way in which it is embedded in this network of textual relationships. That each word used in a text is a signifier to all the other ways in which the word has been used in the texts of the moment in which the text is composed. Barthes describes this in the following way:
the text is entirely woven with citations, references, echoes, cultural languages (what language is not?) antecedent or contemporary, which cut across and through and through in a vast stereophony. (Barthes, Image – Music – Text, 1977, p160)
If then we want to find the meanings of a text it means reconstructing the citations, references that are intrinsic to the text by virtue of the language that it is written in. Gerard Genette built upon these ideas and refined the theory and subdivided it. One of the subdivisions that he gives is paratextuality. Paratext is the devices that are put around the text within the book, and outside of it. These are mechanisms that are designed to mediate and direct the reader in ways in which the text should be read. These are the titles, subtitles, prefaces, introductions and material arrangement that inform the reader of how they should understand the text.
Genette places a high significance of the role of the paratextual elements of a book or text. This is because they help us to understand what the author intends, and the framework is an indication of what they are attempting to do with the text. They are a means of communicating what the text is and the intention of it. For a sacred text such as the Book of Mormon this is very significant. They are also ways in which the publisher can intrude upon the text and change the text without a physical change to the text itself. In the simple case of the title of the book this in a subtle change radically alters the readers experience. Changing the subtitle from ‘The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Christ’ to ‘The Book of Mormon: A 19th Century Historical Fiction’ radically interferes with the readers experience and way in which they will understand and take meaning from the text. Nothing has been altered in the actual text, but the meanings that can be gained have been reconfigured by the addition and removal of four words to the paratext of the text.
This then means that the changes to chapter headings, are not simply a language change but they reflect deeper changes to the way in which the Church intends the text to be read. This means that the footnotes, headings, titles, introductions of the standard works are highly significant parts of the way in which we approach and use scripture, it is needed then that we explore in detail the function that chapter headings have on how we interpret scripture. The changes give us a reason then to stop and consider how the headings have been used to structure the way we think in a bigger context then the changes made in the 2004 edition.