EFM.jpgThe third installment in a continuing series in which the author probes the hidden treasures of wisdom in that bastion of seminary education, Especially for Mormons. The previous two issues can be found here and here. Today’s text: “The Duke and His Subject.”

Abstract – Two recently discovered manuscripts reveal how translation and copy errors over the centuries have led to erroneous interpretations of this influential text on honoring one’s parents, resulting in widespread apostasy and false doctrine.

The Duke and His Subject

1. More than a century ago, the nobility of England, in their colorful finery, were on a fox hunt. They came to a closed gate, where nearby sat a ragged youngster.

2. “Open the gate, lad,” said the leader of the hunt.

3. “No, this property belongs to my father, and he desires it left shut.”

4. “Open the gate, lad. Do you know who I am?”

5. “No, sir.[“]

6. “I am the Duke of Wellington.”

7. “The Duke of Wellington, this nation’s hero, would not ask me to disobey my father.”

8. And the riders of the hunt rode silently on.

– Stan Miller et al, The Best of Especially for Mormons, p. 15

Versions of “The Duke and His Subject” have been traced as far back as the early Christian church. Hugh Nibley and other LDS scholars have pointed to at least three instances of Josephus referencing the occurrence in his Bellum Iudaicum, though he fails to provide any specifics concerning the incident. The earliest of the seven more complete accounts is found in the Chalcedon Codex (CC) of 1023, discovered in the archives of the Matthias Church in Budapest by three unidentified American tourists in 1975. The term “riders of the hunt” is rendered as equites, a word literally meaning “riders” or “horsemen” which also came to denote a social class of centurions just below the Roman senate. The Duke of Wellington’s role is played by Cestius Gallus. Unfortunately, despite being very well preserved, the CC manuscript is missing the crucial final verse.

The earliest complete account, housed in the British National Archives (BA), dates to 1658 and features King Arthur and the nobles of his court. Unfortunately, the elusive last verse, while present, is compromised by the deterioration of the parchment, leaving only the following:

Venatori cum silentio equitaverunt in p…

Scholars have surmised that the “p” most likely stands for pace (the ablative case of pax, or “peace”): “The hunters silently rode in peace.” The unusual word order is generally attributed to the influence of English copyists over the years. The most widely accepted modern version is thought to have arisen from later reproductions that omit the troublesome final “p.” Careless scribes may then have attempted to translate the verb and hanging preposition too literally, resulting in the English phrasal verb “rode on.”

As a result of this irresponsible record keeping, the traditional interpretation of the passage reinforces the importance of obeying (or “honoring”) one’s parents by appealing to the authority of the character most often depicted as the Duke of Wellington. In essence, the Duke’s respect for the boy’s obedience to his father gives the concept a certain cachet, encouraging us to emulate the example set by the boy and the Duke.

This reading of the material has been perpetuated to such an extent that it is now widely accepted as doctrinal, routinely ascribed to Hartman Rector Jr., C.S. Lewis, or Boyd K. Packer. Apocryphal accounts of the boy Joseph Smith shaming an angry mob into submission by humbly refusing to open a gate that his father “desired left shut” have even been recorded in certain areas of Eastern Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico.

However, a discovery earlier this year in Benington Church, South Lincolnshire, has called the orthodox version of events into question. Two earlier copies of the account in the British National Archives have been found, one from 1607 and another from 1532. The 1607 manuscript, unearthed on April 2, a few days before the other, solves the problem of the final “p”:

Venatori cum silentio equitaverunt in puerum

Nevertheless, this revelation only further muddies the water as the final p-word, puerum (“boy” in the accusative case) completes the phrase thus: “The hunters silently rode into / onto the boy” — an unusual and possibly unique expression whose meaning is not immediately apparent.

The 1532 account, uncovered on April 5, has hit Mormon apologetics like a bombshell. Critics of the church allege that it undermines the historicity of Especially for Mormons as a whole. In what can now only be accepted as the definitive version, the final verse reads:

Venatori puerum cum silentio protriverunt

“The hunters silently trampled the boy.”

It now appears that the 1607 copy had been rather clumsily re-translated back into Latin from the vernacular — resulting in an ungainly, anglicized version of the more elegant 1532 text.

In light of these discoveries, the passage’s true meaning is revealed as explicit and straightforward:

  • There is authority that supersedes that of one’s parents.

  • The consequences of failing to obey said authority are both swift and dire.

Only now do we fully comprehend the extent of the doctrinal damage inflicted by hasty, slipshod bookkeeping. In the future, let us all be more mindful of church leaders’ repeated admonitions that we may only accept Especially for Mormons as the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.