Friday, March 4, 2016

3 Nephi 5: B-Movie Dialogue

Now that the Gadianton Robbers have been effectively destroyed, the Nephites enter a kind of reconstruction era.

Expediency, Exschmediency
There's some weird word selection in verse 2:
And they knew that it must be expedient that Christ had come, because of the many signs which had been given, according to the words of the prophets; and because of the things which had come to pass already they knew that it must needs be that all things should come to pass according to that which had been spoken.

Why is the word "expedient" thrown in there?  This has nothing to do with Christ's coming being expedient.  It only concerns whether or not it happened.  And speaking of expediency, it doesn't seem expedient for these extra words to be thrown into a perfect document which was abridged by an ancient prophet.  If the words "it must be expedient that" had been removed and similarly clunky phrasing had been omitted throughout this sizable tome, how much time would that have saved poor old Mormon?

Mormon Interjects
Partway through this chapter, Mormon cuts in with a needlessly lengthy and circuitously verbose explanation of his abridgment.  He cites his primary sources and announces that he will also speak to the events of his own era.  And then he says this (verse 18):
And I know the record which I make to be a just and a true record; nevertheless there are many things which, according to our language, we are not able to write.
First of all, why does he need to bear his testimony about his eyewitness account?  Later, Moroni will tell us that we need to pray over the Book of Mormon to learn of its truth, but here Mormon is swearing on a metaphorical Bible that his words are the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  He doth protest too much, methinks.  It also brings to mind Dave Barry's oft-used catchphrase for when he was about to blatantly make something up:  "I am not making this up."  Going out of your way to reassure us of its justness and its truthfulness alerts us to the fact that lying about it was a possibility.

Secondly, I'd like some further detail on this language problem.  There are at least a couple of different ways "according to our language, we are not able to write" can mean, but neither of the ones I can think of really work for me.

It could mean that there aren't words in Reformed Egyptian that can accurately describe the events that took place.  But considering that we've already tackled astronomy, complicated military campaigns, a detailed monetary system, and ethereal Trinitarian concepts, I find it hard to believe that the language is too limited to even attempt articulating whatever messages Mormon is omitting. 

Or maybe it's a reference to spatial constraints, as in, "we can't write these characters without running out of space on the plates."  But if that's the case, all those near-perfect copies of Isaiah should have been skipped to make room for more unique, more edifying scripture.

Bad Writings of Great Joy
This chapter contains a few examples of weird writing.  Verse 14 is a good example of how not to construct a straightforward sentence:
And it hath become expedient that I, according to the will of God, that the prayers of those who have gone hence, who were holy ones, should be fulfilled according to their faith, should make a record of these things which have been done—
Okay, so in case you were having trouble following along, let me point out that the phrase "who were holy ones" is an aside within an aside. This sentence is riding the grammatical Inception rabbit hole all the way down into limbo.

Complex sentence structure, much like God's go-to catchphrase in the early sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, is sharper than a two-edged sword.  I know that it's simultaneously one of my strengths and one of my weaknesses as a writer.  But this verse serves a great example of how stuffing your syntax with too much cream filling can backfire—if you're lucky you'll wind up with a dangling modifier or two and if you're unlucky you'll confuse the hell out of your audience. 

But let's move on to a different passage that seems to possess a diametrically opposite problem.  Instead of aiming for elevated prose and miserably missing the mark, verse 25 lazily blunders through phrasing that perfectly meets its own low aspirations:
And as he hath covenanted with all the house of Jacob, even so shall the covenant wherewith he hath covenanted with the house of Jacob be fulfilled in his own due time, unto the restoring all the house of Jacob unto the knowledge of the covenant that he hath covenanted with them.

I count five uses of the word "covenant," four versions of "with," and three references to "the house of Jacob," all in one sentence.  This is generally considered bad writing—by modern standards, of course.  Even as an exercise in chiasmus, it's unimpressive.  And if Mormon really was talking about brevity in verse 18, then all this repetition is kind of self-defeating.  Consider a more concise version:
And as he hath covenanted with all the house of Jacob, even so shall that covenant be fulfilled in his own due time, unto the restoring all the house of Jacob unto the knowledge of that covenant.
See?  So much better!  These issues, combined with similar problems I've already pointed out (see God is a Bad Editor, Everyone Loves a Run-on, and Witnessing a Convoluted Sentence), are indicative of the Book of Mormon's true identity—an unedited first novel by a neophyte novelist.

That's by a neophyte novelist as opposed to by its Nephite namesake.

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