Records of conversations, arguments, preaching, and other interpersonal communications are found in scriptural and non-scriptural ancient works. Scholars naturally ask critical questions about the source and accuracy of these passages. Are they “genuine,” are they purely constructs of what the author wanted them to say, or a mix? Thucydides gives us an interesting look into his methodology-
Some speeches I heard myself, others I got from various quarters; it was in all cases difficult to carry them word for word in oneâ€™s memory, so my habit has been to make the speakers say what was in my opinion demanded of them by the various occasions, of course adhering as closely as possible to the general sense of what they really said.
–History of the Peloponnesian War (1:22).
This principle is also at work with the Biblical conversations, as evidenced by several introductions to the Bible, and sources like the NIV Study Bible’s introduction to Acts, which notes, “The speeches are obviously not verbatim reports.”
Was this meant to mislead ancient readers into thinking these were word-for-word quotations?
“… the challenge of the Hellenistic historian was to create speeches that, on the one hand, were appropriate to the speaker and occasion and, on the other hand, served to advance the author’s own narrative aims. Ancient readers knew this, and were not expected to believe that such speeches were merely reproductions of what was really said on a given occasion.”
-Steve Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, ?? (My electronic source lacks page numbers, but it’s in chapter 6.)
Since the Book of Mormon authors labored under the same pre-modern disadvantages (no tape-recorders) and advantages (oral culture with better memories?), I think it reasonable to assume that a similar process was at work in the record-keeping of the sources Mormon and Moroni edit in producing the Book of Mormon. (In contrast to the Bible, in which the editorial process must be carefully teased out, Mormon frequently gives us the sources he used- such as the records of Alma, letters, the names of plates.)
Alma provides us an explicit example of what Thucydides describes. Everything we know from Abinadi’s preaching of the Gospel comes from Alma Sr., who had heard it first-hand and then fled. Safely “concealed for many days, [Alma] did write all the words which Abinadi had spoken.” [Mosiah 17:4]
That Alma may not have accurately capture all of Abinadi’s words doesn’t necessarily invalidate the principle that such passages in scripture are inspired, unless you believe that we cannot rely upon the scriptures unless they are 100% accurate in all they say, as generally expressed in the following selections from letters to Biblical Archaeology Review.
if the account of Ai is not just as the Bible says it was, then the writer of the Book of Joshua was misleading, deceptive and void of any inspiration from God.
BAR 11:04 (July/Aug 1985).
Either a person believes the Bible to be the inspired, infallible Word of the Living God, or it is the work of man and of no value or help in anyone’s life!
BAR 12:01 (Jan/Feb 1986).
I’m glad that LDS are not doctrinally bound to such un-meetable criteria of inspiration in the scriptures or to the false dichotomy expressed above.
1)Thomas MacKay, “Mormon as Editor: A Study in Colophons, Headers, and Source Indicators” JBMS 2:2 (1993). (Covers the sources Mormon indicates.)
2)Grant Hardy. â€œMormon as Editorâ€ in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1991): 15-28. (Covers Mormon’s editorial shaping of the records. Recommended.)