The 32nd chapter of Alma has an intriguing story where Alma is preaching on the hill Onidah and a group of poor people comes up behind him and asks where they can go to worship, since they aren’t permitted in the synagogues. Alma turns around and starts teaching them. The story is one of my favorite examples of someone acting out a figure of speech: Alma turns his back on his uninterested listeners and starts teaching the ones who want to listen. (Alma 32:6-7)
Alma teaches the poor people that they can exercise faith anywhere, even if they don’t have a building to meet in and quotes Zenos to that effect, a moving discourse meant to comfort outcasts. So why does he scold them immediately after quoting Zenos? “Now behold, my brethren, I would ask if ye have read the scriptures?” (Alma 33:14). Granted, it’s a mild scolding, but why scold at all? Shouldn’t he be encouraging them to read the words of Zenos rather than scolding them for not reading their scriptures at all? The subtle rhetorical shift in the passage puzzled me for a long time.
At my last big-0 birthday I was working my way through Deseret Book’s 1980 facsimile of the First Edition, and Statebird Book was offering Royal Skousen’s typographical facsimile of The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon, and parts 1 & 2 of his Analysis of Textual Variants in the Book of Mormon for half price, or about $80 for all three. With some birthday money I bought them. So, when I got to the bottom of page 317, lines 42-43 in my first edition facsimile I checked it against the original manuscript–yes, extant for this passage–and it reads “these scriptures.” So Alma is not scolding them, he’s asking them if they are aware of the scriptures that can comfort them.
So what happened? Well, here’s 317:42,
Now, behold, my brethren, I would ask, if ye have read the
The end of the line happened, Continue reading