One popular anti-Mormon site cites Alma 24:19 as an example of a really strange blunder in the Book of Mormon. It has this confusing passage: “…they buried their weapons of peace, or they buried the weapons of war for peace.” The authors point out that “weapon of peace” just seems crazy. They think it’s a mistake. And I suspect they are right.
What, a mistake? Sure – there are plenty. Any text that passes through human hands is going to have mistakes introduced somewhere. But in this case, I suspect the mistake may have been Mormon’s, not Joseph’s, Oliver Cowdery’s, or a printer’s. Remember, Mormon was writing on golden plates. Once you engraved a word, it wasn’t easy to erase. So if you’re working on the phrase “weapons of war, for peace” and make the error, “weapons of peace,” without an eraser you might just have to continue writing to add the correction, using “or” to introduce it. A few LDS writers have pointed to a variety of passages that are consistent with this “no eraser” theory. I think the primary online reference on the topic is “No Erasers” by Mary Lee Treat. Mary lists a number of passages where an engraving error may have been corrected by restating what was meant, just the way we do it when speaking, but not like what you would expect for a book being composed by someone working on paper where it’s easy to strike out a passage and revise it on the spot. I believe later authors noted the significance of the word “or” in such passages, and pointed out a variety of interesting passages that Mary missed.
One passage not listed in Mary’s article is Mosiah 7:8 [correction: it’s mislabeled in that article as Mosiah 5:11], which my family encountered recently as we were reading through Mosiah. Here we read about a man named Ammon and some other Nephites from Zarahemla who came down to search for the people that went back to Lamanite territory to settle the original land of Nephi. Ammon and some others are seized by King Limhi’s guards, who mistook them for some other trouble makers. Mosiah 7:8 tells us that “when they had been in prison two days they were again brought before the king, and their bands were loosed; and they stood before the king, and were permitted, or rather commanded, that they should answer the questions which he should ask them.” Why use “permitted, or rather commanded”? If they were commanded, just say so.
If Mormon were preparing gold plates reciting this story and wrote “permitted” first by mistake, not having an eraser, he could have corrected it by adding “or rather, commanded” after the error. But why would there be such an error in the first place? Read the rest of Mosiah 7 for a clue. In verse , the king concludes some remarks with, “Ye are permitted to speak.” And in verse 12, Ammon rejoices that he is yet alive and that he is “permitted to speak.” So I think that Mormon, being familiar with the text that he was about to copy, had “permitted to speak” on his mind from the later conversation, and very naturally engraved “permitted” in Mosiah 7:8, when the record actually had “commanded.” The mistake is perfectly natural given the text that follows, and the use of the “or” to correct the scribal error makes sense for someone engraving on gold. But for someone crafting and revising a text on paper, “permitted, or rather commanded” seems out of place.
One of many interesting little textual issues in the Book of Mormon that seem strange or awkward until the context is considered – in this case, the context of an authentic, ancient document engraved on golden plates.