By Mary Lee Treat
Some time ago while researching a certain topic In the Book of Mormon, I spent several hours a day in a concentrated search. In the course of this study, the frequent use of a certain phrase began to surface in my consciousness. Finally, one day the significance of this phrase dawned upon me.
The configuration I had been noticing was ". . . or rather. . . " The context in which I first become aware of its use was in clarifying a preceding thought. For example:
"Now it a man desired to serve God, it was his privilege; or rather, if he believed in God it was his privilege to serve him. . ." Alma 16:10
"And they stood before the king, and were permitted, or rather commanded that they should answer the questions which he should ask them." Mosiah 5:11
I had just read that Mormon said they engraved upon plates in a form of Egyptian because it took less space than Hebrew, their spoken language (Mormon 4:98,99).
I also knew that Jacob had commented upon the difficulty of engraving on the plates:
". . . and I can not write but little of my words, because of the difficulty of engraving our words upon plates . . ." Jacob 3:1
". . . and we labor diligently to engraven their words upon plates . . ." Jacob 3:3
All of these thoughts finally jelled together to the point where I could ask, "What happens when an engraver makes a mistake?" It seemed logical that a clarifying phrase could correct an unclear sentence. Hence the phrase "or rather" or something similar would be utilized.
But what did the engraver do if an actual error was made? Did he have a means to erase? Did he throw away the entire plate and start over?
We know from countless references that the answer to the last question is "no." Metal was precious and evidently not easily acquired. When Nephi's small plates were full the writers didn't add more blank plates. The manufacture of metal plates was evidently difficult and the work of engraving laborious.
Eagerly I began to search for phrases correcting actual errors. I began to find places where errors were corrected by a connecting phrase in direct opposition to the preceding thought. Probably the two clearest examples found so far are these:
"And thus we see that they buried the weapons of peace, or they buried the weapons of war for peace." Alma 14:47
"Now behold, the people who were in the land Bountiful, or rather Moroni, feared that they would hearken to the words of Morianturn . . ." Alma 22:33Here the phrase, "people who were In the land Bountiful" should have been erased and "Moroni" inserted. With no erasers and scarcity of metal, the engraver simply inserted the qualifying phrase plus the correction.
There are countless other examples in the Book of Mormon of clarifying and correcting phrases. Listed below are some additional references for your research. These are not all the references; many more may be found.
It is clear that this consistent use of a phrase for a correcting purpose would not appear If the writer were using pen, ink and paper. Only in a situation where corrections were impossible would this configuration emerge.
What does this small discovery point up? It lends credence to the claim that the records were indeed engraved on metal plates and literally translated into English by means of the Urim and Thummim.
Although small and perhaps obscure, this writing device is added to the ever increasing number of witnesses, internal and external, that the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be.
"No Erasers Reference List"
I Nephi 2:41,1 Nephi 3:245, 1 Nephi 4:32, 1 Nephi 5:225, Mosiah 2:10, Mosiah 5:11, Mosiah 7:25, Mosiah 10:9, Alma 1:92, Alma 2:26, Alma 7:1
Alma 8:21, Alma 8:109, Alma 10:51, Alma 12:28, Alma 12:145, Alma 13:24, Alma 14:47, Alma 14:112, Alma 17:11, Alma 17:52, Alma 19:23
Alma 20:41, Alma 20:48, Alma 22:33, Alma 24:54, Alma 24:63, Alma 26:78, Alma 27:3, Alma 30:19, Helaman 1:51, 52, Helaman 5:86, Mormon 1:22
This article taken from Recent Book of Mormon Developments, vol. 1, p. 54