“And It Came To Pass”
The Book of Mormon is often poked fun of by critics for its excessive use of the phrase “and it came to pass”. Humorist Mark Twain once quipped that if that phrase were removed entirely from the Book of Mormon, the book would be a mere pamphlet. Here I summarize the apologetic responses and the scholarly information related to this issue. I first describe the structural function that the phrase plays in the text, and then I describe similar uses of the phrase in ancient Hebrew, Maya, and Egyptian writing. It is good to keep in mind that the symbols and glyphs used by these ancient languages to represent “and it came to pass” would not have taken up nearly the space that it does in English. The idea could be conveyed by a very short word or symbol.
It is my opinion that the cumulative effect of these links with the ancient world, which the Book of Mormon (BoM) claims to be rooted in, points towards an ancient origin.
1. Ancient writing systems had no punctuation. The policy of indenting the beginning of paragraphs became standard only in 17th century. Ancient writers devised symbols to indicate where words or ideas stopped and new ones began. (Robbins).
2. The BoM original handwritten manuscripts had no punctuation, sentences or paragraphs. Those things were all added in by the printer, Gilbert, a non-mormon (Gardner, 24).
3. The ancient writers of the BoM used the phrase “and it came to pass” as a “structural marker that tells the reader to begin a new section.” (Gardner, 25) This is in keeping with ancient writing practices.
4. Gilbert inadvertently, but correctly, recognized the ancient function of the phrase “and it came to pass” as the beginning of a new section, and subsequently used that as a guide for dividing the text into paragraphs (Gardner, 24)(IRR, note 1 Nephi 1-5).
Conclusion: Rather than being anomalous or strange, the phrase “and it came to pass” is used exactly as it should be in the BoM, as an ancient writer would have used it. It exists as a structural marker to give order to the text.
1. The Hebrew form of the expression “and it came to pass” (wayehi) is found in the Hebrew Bible 1204 times, but only translated as “and it came to pass” by the KJV 727 times. In other instances it is translated as a variation with the same meaning, or not translated at all (Parry).
2. The phrase appears in the BoM 999 times (Gardner, 23). Parry says 1,404.
3. In both the Bible and The BoM, the expression is rarely found in poetic, literary, or prophetic writings. Most often, it appears in narratives, histories, and chronologies. The BoM has more histories, chronologies, etc. than the OT relative to its size (Parry).
Conclusion: The frequency of the phrase is not anomalous or strange for a book with ancient Hebrew roots. Joseph translated the Semitic phrase “and it came to pass” more consistently than the KJV translators did. Had Joseph simply observed the usage of the phrase in the bible, it is doubtful (to me) that he would have used it with greater frequency than the bible does, or that he would have properly identified the appropriate genre in which to focus its use.
1. The phrase is found in an ancient Maya glyph (pronounced u-ti, Coe)(can be seen at “Maya” below).
2. The phrase in ancient Maya is used for the same functional reason as for the BoM, to control the flow of action, or to mark a new section (Lund)( Gardner, 25).
3. The glyph was discovered at Palenque, an ancient Mesoamerican city that Joseph Smith said was a BoM city (Lund).
Conclusion: The BoM has a strong link to Mesoamerican languages, especially Maya (time and place). The reformed Egyptian of the BoM shares a structural symbol with the Maya language that means “and it came to pass”. We should expect to find this phrase often in a book rooted in a time and place near to the Maya, and fortunately we do.
1. Egyptian historical texts “begin in monotonous fashion” always with the same stock words; for example, at some periods every speech is introduced with the unnecessary “I opened my mouth.”
2. Dramatic texts are held together by the constant repetition of Khpr-n, “It happened that” or “It came to pass.”
3. In Egyptian these expressions were not merely adornments, they are a grammatical necessity and may not be omitted. (Nibley)
Conclusion: The BoM is written in reformed Egyptian, and therefore it very appropriately repeats the connecting phrase “and it came to pass” in monotonous fashion at the introduction of a new section. Such a device it is a grammatical necessity in ancient Egyptian, although it is awkward and strange in English. It need not exactly mirror known ancient Egpytian textual use, because we are dealing with reformed Egyptian.
The phrase “and it came to pass” is attested for in all of the languages most closely linked to the Book of Mormon. In these ancient writing systems, the phrase is used for a similar or for the exact same purpose as it is used in the Book of Mormon. It is also used with the same frequency as in the Book of Mormon. Instead of being a bad attempt at sounding “biblical”, the phrase “and it came to pass” in the Book of Mormon is used precisely as it should be. In fact, were the phrase not used in this way our critics would have something bigger to complain about. The Book of Mormon fits nicely into the ancient world from which it claims to be derived.
Michael D. Coe and Mark Van Stone, Reading the Maya Glyphs (London: Thames & Hudson, 2001), 33.
Brant A.Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon. (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007).
IRR, scanned images of 1830 Book of Mormon http://www.irr.org/mit/bom/1830bom-1nephi.html
“Maya: Logograms”, AncientScripts.com http://www.ancientscripts.com/maya.html (accessed March 2009)
John L. Lund, Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon, 2007. Quoted and viewed in Kerry Shirts, Book of Mormon “And It Came To Pass”, Backyard Professor Youtube Video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BsXA3ihrxVg (accessed March 2009)
Hugh Nibley, Since Cumorah. The entire section above was quoted directly from Nibley. Nibley quotes Grapow, Das Hieroglyphensystem, 23-25, 31
Sonia Jaffe, Robbins, “Punctuation,” New York University, NYU Web, http://www.nyu.edu/classes/copyXediting/Punctuation.html (accessed March 2009) Quoted in Gardner, 24.
Donald W. Parry, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, Dec. 1992, 29. http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=c2cc9209df38b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&hideNav=1 (accessed March 2009)