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  • Writer's picturestephenstrent7

Where on Earth is Calno?

Possible ruins of Calno — associated with Nippur; excavations photographed in 1893 by John Henry Haynes, (Courtesy University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology)


Where Science Meets the Book of Mormon: Come Follow Me Lesson: March 4-10; 2 Nephi 20-25

The heading to 2 Nephi chapter 20 states, “The destruction of Assyria is a type of the destruction of the wicked at the Second Coming—Few people will be left after the Lord comes again—The remnant of Jacob will return in that day—Compare Isaiah 10. About 559–545 B.C.” We then read in 2 Nephi 20:5, 6, and 9, “O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is their indignation. I will send him against a hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets…Is not Calno as Carchemish? Is not Hamath as Arpad? Is not Samaria as Damascus?” These verses are word for word exactly the same as Isaiah 10:5, 6 and 9.


If we look up those verses at Bible Hub, in my opinion, the closest we can approach today to the original Hebrew, we read in verse 9, “Not Calno Carchemish Not Hamath Arpad Not Samaria Damascus.”1 I am fairly confident that the shorthand of Reformed Egyptian, with which Nephi and then Mormon wrote on the Gold Plates, would have been at least as brief. From the hand-written printer’s copy of the Book of Mormon, we read for verse 9, “is not Calno as Carchemish is not Hamath as Arpad is not Samaria as Damascus”.2 


Concerning the Book of Mormon translation process, Royal Skousen has stated, “The idea of a revealed text raises an important question: To what degree did the Lord control the dictation of the Book of Mormon? There appear to be three possible kinds of control over the dictation of the text: 1. Loose control: Ideas were revealed to Joseph Smith, and he put those ideas into his own language (a theory advocated by many Book of Mormon scholars over the years); 2. Tight control: Joseph saw specific words written out in English and read them off to the scribe-the accuracy of the resulting text depending on the carefulness of Joseph and his scribe; 3. Iron-clad control: Joseph (or the interpreters them - selves) would not allow any scribal error to remain (including the misspelling of common words) . One can also conceive of mixtures of these different kinds of control. For instance, one might argue for tight control over the spelling of specific names, but loose control over the English phraseology itself.”3 


In my past blogs, I have opined that the Book of Mormon was written under “Loose Control.” My wife, Kathleen, disagrees. It is her opinion that Joseph saw the text as it appeared word for word on the seer stone. Her opinion agrees with those of several eye-witnesses, including Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery. Skousen cited a statement by, “Emma Smith (Edmund Briggs interview, 1856): ‘When my husband was translating the Book of Mormon, I wrote a part of it, as he dictated each sentence, word for word, and when he came to proper names he could not pronounce, or long words, he spelled them out, and while I was writing them, if I made a mistake in spelling, he would stop me and correct my spelling, although it was impossible for him to see how I was writing them down at the time.’” Skousen also quoted, “David Whitmer (Eri Mullin interview, 1874): ‘. . . the words would appear, and if he failed to spell the word right, it would stay till it was spelled right, then pass away; another come, and so on.’”4


Skousen continued, “Several witnesses to the translation process claimed that Joseph Smith sometimes spelled out names to the scribe. And we find evidence in the original manuscript in support of this process. Frequently the first occurrence of a Book of Mormon name is first spelled phonetically, then that spelling is corrected; in some instances, the incorrect spelling is crossed out and followed on the same line by the correct spelling, thus indicating that the correction was an immediate one. For example, in Alma 33:15 the text of the original manuscript reads as follows: for it is not written that Zenos alone spake of these things but Zenoch also spake of these things. Oliver Cowdery first wrote Zenock using the expected ck English spelling for the k sound when preceded by a short vowel. But then Oliver crossed out the whole word and immediately afterwards, on the same line, wrote Zenoch, thus indicating that the spelling agrees with the biblical name Enoch.”5


So, going with Kathleen’s opinion, which I value more than any other, I will consider what to do with the phrase, “Not Calno Carchemish Not Hamath Arpad Not Samaria Damascus.” If Joseph Smith saw that phrase or if that phrase was in our extant Book of Mormon, it wouldn’t make much sense because English, unlike ancient Hebrew, has verbs. In the King James Bible, the phrase was translated as, “Is not Calno as Carchemish? Is not Hamath as Arpad? Is not Samaria as Damascus?” That makes sense out of an otherwise non-sensical phrase. An alternative might be, “Was not Calno like Carchemish? Was not Hamath like Arpad? Was not Samaria like Damascus?” But, given at least those two ways of Anglicizing the verse, why would God — or whoever His messenger was that was providing the translation — not give the most familiar version, as contained in the King James Bible?   


Of the original hand-written copy of the Book of Mormon, which was placed into the cornerstone of the original Nauvoo Temple, only 28% has survived. That manuscript jumps from 2 Nephi 9:42 (p. 64) to 2 Nephi 23:1-7 (p. 77), so that 2 Nephi chapter 20 is part of the missing pages.6 Therefore, we don’t know if there were any crossed-out words in 2 Nephi chapter 20 in that manuscript. When we currently have for that portion is the printer’s manuscript, which Oliver Cowdrey copied by hand from the original.


Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers states that, “The six names [in Isaiah 10:9] obviously pointed to more recent conquests in which Sargon and his predecessors had exulted. One after another they had fallen. Could Judah hope to escape?”7 Calno was a lesser-known place, which may have been known by other names, whereas Carchemish was a well-know city captured by Sargon II, a Neo-Assyrian king, in 717 BC, and later was the scene of a great battle, which brought an end to the Assyrian Empire.8


It is very likely that this part of Isaiah, if not all of Isaiah, was written in verse, making the material easier to memorize. For most Israelite scholars, it may not have been written down until after the captivity, and therefore, the Brass Plates of Laban may have been an anomaly at the time.


Socrates said, “If men learn this [to write], it will implant forgetfulness in their souls. They will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks.”9


When I was younger, I loved the 1959 song, MTA, by The Kingston Trio. I memorized it and sang it a couple of times at family reunions for our “Talent Show.” It’s a simple song and it goes like this (with a couple of my modifications):


Well, let me tell you a story of a man named Charlie

On a tragic and fateful day

He put ten cents in his pocket, kissed his wife and family,

Went to ride on the MTA


Well, did he ever return?

No, he never returned and his fate is still unlearned

He may ride forever ‘neath the streets of Boston

He’s the man who never returned


Charlie turned in his dime at the Kendal Square station

And he put for Jamaica Plain

But when he got there, they told him, “One more nickel”

Charlie couldn’t get off of that train!



Now, all night long Charlie rides through the tunnel

Thinking, “What will become of me?

How can I afford to see my sister in Chelsea

Or my cousin in Roxbury?”


Charlie’s wife goes down to the Scollay Square station 

Every day at a quarter past two

And through the open window she throws Charlie a sandwich

As the train goes a rumblin’ through!


Now, you citizens of Boston, don’t you think it's a scandal

How the people have to pay and pay?

Fight the fare increase, vote for George O’Brian

Let’s get Charlie off the MTA!


Or else he'll never return

No, he'll never return and his fate is still unlearned He may ride forever ‘neath the streets of Boston

He's the man who never returned.10


I’ve been to Boston a couple of times, but I’ve never ridden the MTA. As far as I know, I’ve never been to the Kendal Square station, Jamaica Plain, Chelsea, or Roxbury. I don’t think I’ve ever been to the Scollay Square station at a quarter past two and I don’t know George O’Brian. But none of that has kept me from belting out my favorite song. I once even thought of taking up the banjo so I could do a better job of singing that song. Because of the rhyme and meter, the song was very easy to memorize. Likewise, many Israelites may not have known much about Calno, Hamath, or Arpad; but like with the MTA, the rhyme and meter allowed for the scholars to easily memorize the names. Likely, Nephi was able to recite the verses. However, for anyone of Lehi’s descendants not born in Jerusalem, those places were just names, but like the MTA, the place names were still part of the story.

Thanks to Kathleen’s arguments, and the testimonies of those who were there during the translation of the Book of Mormon, I am now of the opinion that much, if not most, of the Book of Mormon, such as 2 Nephi 20:9, showed up word for word on the seer stone. However, I still believe that some parts of the Book of Mormon were given to Joseph Smith as ideas. Therefore, I agree with Skousen’s proposal that, “One can also conceive of mixtures of these different kinds of control.” Because of Doctrine and Covenants chapter 9, I still think that at least some parts of the translation were more complicated than simply seeing words.


Trent Dee Stephens, PhD




1.; retrieved 29 February 2024

3.     Skousen, Royal, How Joseph Smith Translated the Book of Mormon, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 7: 22–31, 1998;; retrieved 29 February 2024

4.     Ibid

5.     Ibid

7.; retrieved 29 February 2024

8.     See my last week’s blog

10.; retrieved 29 February 2024


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1 Comment

David Busath
David Busath
Mar 02

Welcome. I agree with the transcription theory. I want to learn more about Royal’s analysis!

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