'Scourged' vs. 'Scorched' in Mosiah 17:

Very often in my work on the critical text of the Book of Mormon, I have discovered cases where the text reads inappropriately. Book of Mormon researchers have typically attempted to find some circumstance or interpretation to explain a difficult reading, but in many cases I have found that difficult readings are actually the result of simple scribal errors.

One example of this is in Mosiah 17:13Ð14:

and it came to pass that they took him and bound him and scourged his skin with faggots yea even unto death and now when the flames began to scorch him he cried unto them saying . . .

The word scourged is found in the printer’s manuscript (in Oliver Cowdery’s hand). This reading is followed by the 1830 and all subsequent editions. Unfortunately, the original manuscript is not extant for this passage.

There are considerable problems with the use of the word scourged in Mosiah 17:13. First of all, the verb scourge means ‘to whip,’ which does not make sense here, especially since faggots (bundles of sticks for burning) are seemingly being used to whip (or perhaps beat) Abinadi to death. One can, I suppose, construct various scenarios in which one can be beaten to death with faggots.

More serious, however, is the fact that elsewhere the Book of Mormon text always refers to Abinadi as having been burned to death, not beaten or whipped: Mosiah 17:18

and in that day ye shall be hunted and ye shall be taken by the hand of your enemies and then ye shall suffer as I suffer the pains of death by fire

Mosiah 17:20

and now when Abinadi had said these words he fell having suffered death by fire

Alma 25:9

thus the words of Abinadi were brought to pass which he said concerning the seed of the priests who caused that he should suffer death by fire

Alma 25:11

and now Abinadi was the first that suffered death by fire because of his belief in God now this is what he meant that many should suffer death by fire according as he had suffered

Thus the current reading in Mosiah 17:13 (“scourged his skin with faggots”) contradicts all other places in the text which refer to Abinadi’s death by fire.

The solution to these problems is to emend the word scourged in Mosiah 17:13 to scorched. In the very next verse (Mosiah 17:14), the text specifically refers to the flames scorching Abinadi (“the flames began to scorch him”). In fact, the word scorch is precisely in accord with Book of Mormon usage. This verb is always used to refer to burning the surface of something. Consider, for instance, the two other uses of scorch in the Book of Mormon text: Alma 15:3

and this great sin and his many other sins did harrow up his mind until it did become exceedingly sore having no deliverance therefore he began to be scorched with a burning heat

Alma 32:38

and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it because it hath no root it withers away and ye pluck it up and cast it out

Interestingly, the same use of scorch for burning people is found in a comment by the Elizabethan John Hooker about the Spanish in the Americas:

they subdued a naked and yielding people . . . and against the course of all human nature did scorch and roast them to death (cited in Paul Johnson, A History of the American People [New York: HarperCollins, 1998], 8)

Now the question is, How did scorched and scourged get mixed up in Mosiah 17:13? I would suggest that the original manuscript (which is not extant here) correctly read “and scorched his skin with faggots.” One possibility is that when Oliver Cowdery came to copy this passage into the printer’s manuscript, he mistakenly read scorched as scourged. This misreading would have been facilitated by Oliver’s frequent misspelling of scourge(d) as scorge(d). Although he wrote scourged in the printer’s manuscript at Mosiah 17:13, Oliver probably misread scorched as scorged, but then spelled it correctly when he wrote it. About 40 percent of Oliver’s extant spellings of scourge(d) are missing the letter u:

1 Nephi 19:9scourgescourge1 Nephi 19:13scourgedscourged2 Nephi 5:25scorgescorge2 Nephi 5:25scor[ ]scorge2 Nephi 6:9[ ]rgescorge2 Nephi 20:26Ñ#151;#151;scourge2 Nephi 25:16[ ]corgedscourgedJacob 3:3Ñ#151;#151;scorgeMosiah 3:9Ñ#151;#151;scourgeMosiah 15:5Ñ#151;#151;scorgedMosiah 17:13Ñ#151;#151;scourgedAlma 23:2scourgescourgeAlma 52:10scourgescourge3 Nephi 20:28Ñ#151;#151;scourge

Reference Original MS Printer’s MS
1 Nephi 2:24 Scourge scorge

Another possibility is that this transmission error occurred during the dictation of the text. In this instance the scribe for the original manuscript might have misheard Joseph Smith’s dictated scorched as scourged. Note, in particular, the similarity in sound between the final ch and j sounds in scorch and scourge.

We should also note one additional factor that may have led scorched to be replaced by scourgedÑ#151;#151;namely, the parallel sentence construction between John 19:1 and the current text for Mosiah 17:13: Pilate . . . took Jesus and scourged him they took him and bound him and scourged his skin

In other words, the familiarity of the language of the Gospels describing Christ’s scourging may have led Oliver Cowdery to substitute the familiar scourged for the unfamiliar scorched in Mosiah 17:13. This same parallelism may also explain why the 1837 printer accidentally dropped the clause “and bound him” from Mosiah 17:13: Pilate . . . took Jesus and scourged him they took him and scourged his skin

This missing clause (“and bound him”) was finally restored to the LDS text in the 1906 Salt Lake large-print edition, undoubtedly by reference to a copy of the 1830 edition. (The RLDS Church restored this clause in its 1908 edition, probably by reference to the printer’s manuscript.)

In other words, both semantic and visual (or auditory) similarity may have conspired to create in Mosiah 17:13 the incorrect reading “they took him and bound him and scourged his skin with faggots.” The reasonable emendation (“scorched his skin with faggots”) thus permits the text to read consistently and plausiblyÑ#151;#151;and without hunting for evidence that people can be scourged to death with faggots.