Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

The finger of inspiration: rewriting our righting the writings…

Posted by joespencer on May 24, 2007

Another pretension to repetitive self-importance… :)

Moses 6:5 reads:

And a book of remembrance was kept, in the which was recorded, in the language of Adam, for it was given unto as many as called upon God to write by the spirit of inspiration….

This read, in the “original” JST manuscript (there were two different JST manuscripts for this verse, and I’m referring to the earlier one, which was eventually revised to read as it currently does in the Book of Moses):

& a book of rememberance was keep in the which was recorded in the Language of Adam for it was given unto as many as called upon God to write with the finger of inspiration….

What a curious difference. In the light of recent discussions on the blog, I’d like to ponder for a moment or two on the meaning of the “original” reading.

I suppose that either rendering lays bare something almost entirely ignored in Mormon studies currently: the importance of writing itself for Mormonism. Some months ago, I read Richard Bushman’s “Joseph Smith as Translator,” and its overarching argument—or really, question—has come to saturate much of my thinking: Where on earth did Joseph get this idea to translate (and remember that the “original” revelation we have as D&C 5 said Joseph had a gift to “translate the book” and that he would be given “no other gift”)? I want to ask, I suppose, this question, then: What is the status of the text in Mormonism (and I don’t mean in cultural Mormonism or in current Mormonism; I mean in Mormonism… eternally… or something like that)?

But what of—and here we can only grow pretentious and self-important… though perhaps never so repetitive—the end of the book and the beginning of writing? That is, what of logocentrism? And what of the letter that killeth over against the spirit that giveth life? Wouldn’t a Mormon fascination with the written construct the “A” in differance that stands like a pyramid over the buried corpse? And yet…

Perhaps here we have a way into thinking about the revision from “finger” to “spirit”: Joseph leaves off the letter for the spirit, the bodily for the spiritual, the earthly for the heavenly. Oh, but the difference is far more profound: one writes with the finger, but one writes by the spirit. Is there, then, a reversal of instrumentality in the revision? Confirming the spirit-versus-the-letter reading we have already introduced, one might read “with” as inevitably beginning from the solipsistic subject and “by” as inevitably beginning from the summoning/petitioning Other. But then, what of the common word to both renderings: inspiration? Writing here, whether with the finger or by the Spirit, is guided by a kind of possession, a being inhabited by anOther.

We’re moving too quickly here. What of the “of”? How might one even begin to interpret a phrase like “the spirit of inspiration,” given that “spirit” is built right into the word “inspiration”? Are we speaking there of the “spirit” that is linguistically built into the word “inspiration”? But that seems too pedantic. But what else? And far more difficult, at any rate, is the question of how to interpret the “of” in “the finger of inspiration.” How or wherein does inspiration have a finger? And how can I even begin to think about that?

Is there a reference in all of this to the Law of Exodus? Or to Christ stooped on the ground? Or to witnesses touching the marks on the Savior? Does it point me to Michaelangelo’s Creation of Adam or to Andy Warhol’s Details of Renaissance Paintings (Leonardo da Vinci, The Annunciation, 1472)? What of the indexical quite generally, of indexicality? Of the Spirit or of inspiration as a kind of Index to the Heavenly Book? What of rings (not to mention, as inevitably we shall, robes and fatted calves)? What of the two raised fingers of the Christ in the Eastern ikon? And how would Helene Cixous or Luce Irigaray read this earlier rendering, as well as the later rendering (is Joseph moving toward a more feminine writing?)?

And where do we discover the fingerprints of the Prophet in this rendering and re-rendering? Or the fingerprints of inspiration? How does this rewriting right the writing of Old Testament manuscript 1? Or does it? And how does the rewriting, along with the writing it rewrites, right the writing of the Old Testament itself? And how many fingerprints will we find if we begin to sprinkle dust on a book that has never sat still enough to collect any dust of its own (the Bible)? (By the same token—a rich word in this context—I can only wonder that the fingerprints that inevitably sully the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price are visible at all: these have so rarely been drawn from the shelves that the dust stands an inch thick on them!)

But, of course, I’m ignoring the most important question of all: the finger of inspiration guides the writing of a text that embodies the turn of the hearts of the fathers to the children, and that is to be taken precisely from the dust in order to turn the hearts of the children to the fathers. Shall I travel across the continent, then, to stand before the Saint’s finger? But then I might stand the risk of Chaucer committing to writing what we speak of on the way! Am I right in thinking that more and more I feel the finger of inspiration pointing at me as I fall down before the large and spacious building… at once pointing at me and beckoning to me?

I can’t quite put my finger on the spirit of this revealed word, but it touches me. Inspiration?

2 Responses to “The finger of inspiration: rewriting our righting the writings…”

  1. Robert C. said

    I enjoyed reading this, Joe, though I can’t think of anything interesting to say in response. Might the finger of God that the Brother of Jared saw be at play somehow in the background here?

  2. JakeW said

    What called Joseph to revise his own manuscript? Was it the spirit of inspiration, or the finger? If it was by (or with) either of these, why would he be inspired to change his own text? Is there something erroneous in the former?

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