Plagiarism in the Book of Mormon?
Is It Derived from Modern Writings?
This page discusses allegations that the Book of Mormon was derived from modern sources, not from ancient writings. It is a continuation of my LDSFAQ page on alleged problems with the Book of Mormon, one of several pages in a collection of "Frequently Asked Questions about Latter-day Saint Beliefs." This work is the responsibility of Jeff Lindsay alone.
A new LDSFAQ page, "Book of Mormon Plagiarism Theories and The Late War," deals with a popular new attempt to frame Joseph Smith as a plagiarist. It's another case of mistaking chance parallels as plagiarism or fraud, leading to premature rejoicing over the "destruction" of the Book of Mormon. This recently identified "best source" to show plagiarism is a strange and obscure book about the War of 1812 written in scriptural style, The Late War Against the United States by Gilbert J. Hunt. This was also mentioned at Mormanity and initially debunked at Mormon Interpreter by Ben McGuire. Four other Mormanity posts get into the details of this interesting but failed attack on the Book of Mormon:
Related satirical resources:
Apart from the misleading accusation that Joseph Smith simply plagiarized from the Bible in crafting the Book of Mormon (see John Tvedtnes, "Was Joseph Smith Guilty of Plagiarism?"), critics of the Book of Mormon are finding numerous other books and articles that Joseph Smith theoretically might have drawn upon to explain the numerous intellectually intriguing elements of that remarkable text. Hebraic names? Ancient Hebraic poetry? Ancient covenant making formulas? Elements of Mesoamerican culture and civilization? Details of the Arabian Peninsula? Accurate descriptions of ancient war, of olive culture, of ancient kingship riturals, and so forth? Simple: just cut and paste from the ever-growing list of Books that Joseph Smith allegedly might have used to glean ideas for the Book of Mormon.
Finding numerous scattered and often contrived parallels between two texts can be entertaining, but may have offer no valid clues about the origins of a text in question. Parallels abound when you are looking for them, but the critics utterly fail in showing that the Book of Mormon is a modern fraud, or in offering a mechanism for producing the Book of Mormon on the basis of the parallels they have found. Benjamin McGuire's article, "Finding Parallels: Some Cautions and Criticisms, Part One" at Mormon Interpreter reveals some of the problems in jumping to conclusions based on parallels. Also see his excellent Part Two.
As look at the ever-growing list of books Joseph allegedly used in fabricating the Book of Mormon, it may be helpful to consider just what books Joseph actually could have accessed. He did not have a vast personal library. There was a small reading room in Palmyra with a collection of books, but there is no evidence that Joseph Smith or his family members used it. There was a small library five miles from his farm, the Manchester Rental Library, which some critics have said could have provided books of possible relevance to the Book of Mormon. There are membership records for the library-- one had to be a member to fully take advantage of the library--but neither Joseph Smith nor anybody else associated with the rise of the Book of Mormon became a member, nor is there any record of them making direct use of library resources, according to Robert Paul, "Joseph Smith and the Manchester (New York) Library," BYU Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3, Summer 1982, pp. 333-356, which provides a list of the holdings of the Manchester library from 1812 to 1845. There were also bookstores closer to home than the library, and occasional book auctions, so Joseph may have had access to many books other than what was in the library. But the mere possibility of access to numerous books does not mean that Joseph was familiar with them.
However, the location of some resources in the Palmyra/Manchester area may not be particularly relevant to our understanding of Book of Mormon origins, for it was 120 miles away in Harmony, Pennsylvania, where he spent much of his time during the translation of the Book of Mormon. He moved from Manchester/Palmyra to Harmony in 1827 when he married Emma. He was in Harmony when he was translating the 116 pages in 1828, and in Harmony while translating the vast majority of the existing Book of Mormon during April and May of 1829. So, if Joseph wanted to do scholarly research while writing about Lehi or while working on other parts of the Book of Mormon, we should consider what resources Harmony, Pennsylvania might have offered. Could Harmony have been the source of some vast frontier library that anti-Mormons seem to think Joseph used?
Unfortunately for the theories of our critics, Harmony offered even fewer literary and scholarly resources than the Palmyra area. In the chapter, "Was There a Library in Harmony, Pennsylvania?" apparently by John Welch in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon, ed. by John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1999, pp. 283-284), we read:
Harmony was a small town on the border between the states of New York and Pennsylvania. The region was very remote and rural. Recently we asked Erich Paul [Erich Robert Paul apparently is the full name of the author of the previously cited article, "Joseph Smith and the Manchester (New York) Library"] if he had ever explored the possibility that any libraries existed around Harmony in the 1820s which Joseph Smith might have used. He responded: "In fact, I checked into this possibility only to discover that not only does Harmony and its environs hardly exist anymore, but there is no evidence of a library even existing at the time of Joseph's work."
Accordingly, those who have considered western New York as the information environment for the Book of Mormon may be 120 miles or more off target. One should think of Joseph translating in the Harmony area and, as far as that goes, in a resource vacuum.
Even if Joseph had wanted to pause to check his details against reputable sources, to scrutinize the latest theories, to learn about scholarly biblical interpretations or Jewish customs, or to verify any Book of Mormon claims against the wisdom or theologies of his day--even if he had wanted to go to a library to check such things (something he showed no inclination to do until later)--there simply was no library anywhere for him to use.
In addition to the lack of scholarly resources for Joseph to read, it is well known that he was not a bookworm prior to publication of the Book of Mormon. As Robert Paul explains (op. cit.):
It may be that Joseph's own educational training, both formal and informal, had not prepared him at this early age to deal with libraries and bookstores generally. It is known, for instance, that Joseph briefly attended schools in Palmyra in 1818 and that he used several elementary textbooks in arithmetic and reading. There is little direct evidence that his literary skills extended much beyond a cursory acquaintance with a few books. As Joseph's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, wrote in her biography of the Prophet, Joseph was a "remarkably quiet, well-disposed child." He "seemed much less inclined to the perusal of books than any of the rest of the rest of our children, but far more given to meditation and deep study." [Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet (Liverpool: S. W. Richards, 1853), pp. 73, 84.]
And in the same source quoted by Paul, Joseph's mother notes that Joseph had not read the Bible all the way through by age 18. Providing a plausible origin of the Book of Mormon is becoming an impossibly difficult task for those who claim that Joseph drew upon his vast knowledge of books and the Bible to fabricate it.
When critics provide lists of books that allegedly could have inspired various concepts in the Book of Mormon, we should ask if these books were available to Joseph Smith (e.g., were they even published in the United States in Joseph's day?), and if they were, ask if there is at least some hint that he actually used any of the books.
In light of the growing body of impressive evidences of authenticity supporting the Book of Mormon, critics are increasingly striving to find hints in various books of Joseph Smith's day that might have suggested material for Joseph to use. As the "Virtual Joseph Smith Library" becomes ever larger, critics have an increasingly difficult task of explaining how he was able to sort the chaff from the wheat. While a few things about the ancient Americas were known to educated people of Joseph's day, so much of what was in print was unsupported speculation. If the Book of Mormon really is derived from other nineteenth century writings, why is it so curiously different, and so able to become increasingly plausible over time? In fact, the Book of Mormon makes much more sense as an ancient Semitic record composed in Mesoamerica than as nineteenth-century fiction. See John L. Sorenson, "The Book of Mormon as a Mesoamerican Record" in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, ed. by Noel B. Reynolds, (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1997), pp. 391-521. In this monumental survey, Sorenson offers an interesting footnote about the knowledge that Joseph could have gleaned from writings available in his day, which I quote fully on a page at https://www.jefflindsay.com/bme11.shtml. Sorenson shows that the mishmash of speculation and ignorance about the ancient Americas would have done little to guide Joseph Smith into creating a work with so many interesting parallels to ancient Mesoamerica. There is simply no logical basis for Joseph Smith creating the Book of Mormon based on what was known in his day. Given that, the scattered parallels that critics point to in making case for plagiarism consistently fail to impress, and come nowhere close to explaining the origins of that truly impressive masterpiece of ancient literature, the Book of Mormon.
Regarding the books that allegedly were used in Joseph's devious plagiarism, we should actually read the books and see just what one could glean from them. As I read the writings of Alexander von Humboldt, for example, and compare the rich and detailed information on plants, animals, and minerals to the information in the Book of Mormon, it is pretty obvious that Joseph was not relying on von Humboldt, otherwise he was missing huge opportunities to add "instant scientific credibility" to his text. Or in reading James Adair, I am struck with how many alleged evidences Adair conjures up to suggest that North American Indians were derived from Hebrews, but none of these are to be found in the Book of Mormon. The most salient and obvious opportunities to add "credibility" were completely missed, as if there was simply no connection between these books and the Book of Mormon. Truth is, there is no connection. Finding a random phrase or concept on one page out of hundreds that bears some resemblance to a Book of Mormon concept hardly proves plagiarism.
The critics have never been able to provide a reasonable explanation for why Joseph Smith would bother to plagiarize a document like the Book of Mormon. Did he enjoy suffering? Was he insanely suicidal? The mere mention of revelation, visions, angels and gold plates brought serious persecution from others. His life was in jeopardy before the Book was published, and the text even prophesied of the persecutions and rejection by the world that would come with this volume of scripture. The writing was not just on the plates, it was on the wall: trouble was sure to follow. Why publish the text at all? Why not just claim to have had visions and so forth, while keeping anything concrete out of the hands of a critical world?
Hugh Nibley in "The Book of Mormon: True or False?" Millennial Star Vol. 124, November 1962, pages 274-277, offered insight into what is known about plagiarists and their behavior, and contrasted it with Joseph Smith:
Long ago Friedrich Blass laid down rules for testing any document for forgery [Friedrich W. Blass, "Hermeneutik and Kritik," Einleitende und Hilfsdisziplinen, vol. 1 of Handbuch der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft (Nordlingen: Beck, 1886), 269, 271]. Let us paraphrase these as rules to be followed by a successful forger and consider whether Joseph paid any attention to any of them.
1. Keep out of the range of unsympathetic critics. There is, Blass insists, no such thing as a clever forgery. No forger can escape detection if somebody really wants to expose him; all the great forgeries discovered to date have been crudely executed (for example, the Piltdown skull), depending for their success on the enthusiastic support of the public or the experts. The Book of Mormon has enjoyed no such support. From the day it appeared, important persons at the urgent demand of an impatient public did everything they could to show it a forgery. And Joseph Smith, far from keeping it out of the hands of unsympathetic critics, did everything he could to put it into those hands. Surely this is not the way of a deceiver.
2. Keep your document as short as possible [ibid., p. 270]. The longer a forgery is the more easily it may be exposed, the danger increasing geometrically with the length of the writing. By the time he had gone ten pages, the author of the Book of Mormon knew only too well what a dangerous game he was playing if it was a hoax; yet he carries on undismayed for six hundred pages.
3. Above all, don't write a historical document! They are by far the easiest of all to expose, being full of "things too trifling, too inconspicuous, and too troublesome" for the forger to check up on [ibid., p. 271].
4. After you have perpetrated your forgery, go into retirement or disappear completely. For vanity, according to Blass, is the Achilles' heel of every forger [ibid., p. 270]. A forger is not only a cheat but also a show-off, attempting to put one over on society; he cannot resist the temptation to enjoy his triumph, and if he remains in circulation, inevitably he gives himself away. Joseph Smith ignored any opportunity of taking credit for the Book of Mormon--he took only the responsibility for it.
5. Always leave an escape door open [ibid., p. 269]. Be vague and general, philosophize and moralize. Religious immunity has been the refuge of most eminent forgers in the past, beautiful thoughts and pious allegories, deep interpretations of scriptures, mystic communication to the initiated few, these are safe grounds for the pia fraus ("pious fraud"). But the Book of Mormon never uses them. It does not even exploit the convenient philological loophole of being a translation: as an inspired translation it claims all the authority and responsibility of the original.
Granted that any explanation is preferable to Joseph Smith's, where is any explanation? The chances against such a book ever coming into existence are astronomical: Who would write it? Why? Trouble, danger, and unpopularity are promised its defenders in the book itself. Did someone else write it so that Joseph Smith could take all the credit? Did Smith, knowing it was somebody else's fraud, claim authorship so that he could take all the blame?
The work involved in producing the thing was staggering, the danger terrifying; long before publication time the newspapers and clergy were howling for blood. Who would want to go on with such a suicidal project? All that trouble and danger just to fool people? . . .
[T]here were [also] the witnesses, real men who, though leaving the Church for various real or imagined offenses, never altered or retracted their testimonies of what they had seen and heard.
The fact that only one version of the Book of Mormon was ever published and that Joseph Smith's attitude toward it never changed is also significant. After copyrighting it in the spring of 1829, he had a year to think it over before publication and yield sensibly to social pressure; after that he had the rest of his life to correct his youthful indiscretion; years later, an important public figure and a skillful writer, knowing that his book was a fraud, knowing the horrible risk he ran on every page of it, and knowing how hopelessly naive he had been when he wrote it, he should at least have soft-pedaled the Book of Mormon theme. Instead he insisted to the end of his life that it was the truest book on earth, and that a man could get nearer to God by observing its precepts than in any other way [Joseph Fielding Smith, ed., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1976), p. 194.]
Parallelomania has recently been defined as the double process which "first overdoes the supposed similarity in passages and then proceeds to describe source and derivation as if implying literary connections flowing in an inevitable or predetermined direction" [Hugh W. Nibley, "Mixed Voices: The Comparative Method," Improvement Era (October-November 1959): 744-747, 759, 848, 854, 856]. It isn't merely that one sees parallels everywhere, but especially that one instantly concludes that there can be only one possible explanation for such. From the beginning the Book of Mormon has enjoyed the full treatment from Parallelomaniacs. Its origin has been found in the Koran, in Swedenborg, in the teachings of Old School Presbyterians, French Mystics, Methodists, Unitarians, Millerites, Baptists, Campbellites, and Quakers; in Roman Catholicism, Arminianism, Gnosticism, Transcendentalism, Atheism, Deism, Owenism, Socialism, and Platonism; in the writing of Rabelais, Milton, Anselm, Joachim of Flores, Ethan Smith, and the Early Church; in Old Iranian doctrines, Brahmin mysticism, Free Masonry, and so on.
Now a person who has read only Milton, or Defoe, or Rabelais would have an easy time discovering parallels all through the Book of Mormon, or any other book he might read thereafter. [Webmaster's note: Don't forget Walt Whitman's 1855 Leaves of Grass, filled with richer parallels than what Book of Mormon critics have been able to dredge up using other sources, but which could not possibly have been a source for the Book of Mormon.] It is not surprising that people who have studied only English literature are the most eager to condemn the Book of Mormon.
An example of modern fallacies about Book of Mormon content can be found in the controversy regarding the Book of Mormon's profound discourse about mercy, justice, and the Atonement of Christ, which I discuss on my new page, "Mercy and Justice in the Book of Mormon: Ancient or Modern Concepts?" Critics have charged that Book of Mormon theology is too modern, but I seek to show that Book of Mormon concepts can plausibly fit into the fabric of ancient revealed truths known to Jewish prophets and early Christians--truths which were muddled for centuries and restored beautifully in the Book of Mormon. Failure to appreciate what the ancients already knew and wrote can lead one to see modern derivation when it really isn't there.
By the way, to appreciate some of the complexities involved in drawing meaningful parallels from ancient patterns and in finding evidence of "plagiarism," students of the Book of Mormon might enjoy reviewing the controversies related to James Frazer's famous work, The Golden Bough (a book that everyone talks about, many own, and no one reads). See an excellent treeatment by Mary Beard entitled "Frazer, Leach, and Virgil: The Popularity (and Unpopularity) of The Golden Bough" in Modes of Comparison: Theory and Practice, edited by Aram Yengoyan (University of Michigan Press: 2006), pp. 161-192. Frazer appears to have made far too much of some parallels he wanted to see to support a weak thesis, and faced serious charges not just of error in reasoning but of plagiarism, but the latter charge was probably far too harsh given the standards in Frazer's day. This is only marginally relevant to Book of Mormonm issues, but good background for serious students of religion and literature. OK, I digressed. Let's get back to the Book of Mormon.
Some critics claim that Joseph Smith copied much of the structure and content of the Book of Mormon from the 1823 book View of the Hebrews by Ethan Smith (no relation to Joseph Smith). You can read this book online at Archive.org. Ethan Smith's book proposes that the American Indians were the lost tribes of Israel and has several apparent parallels to the Book of Mormon. These parallels include long journeys that were religiously motivated; references to wars, writing, and metal work; and moral overtones such as the denouncement of pride. Also, according to View of the Hebrews, Indians talk of a "lost book" they left in Palestine. But these similarities are rather vague and general. (For elements involving Ethan Smith's citations of Alexander von Humboldt in particular, please see my new page, Alexander von Humboldt and the Book of Mormon.)
An examination of the two books shows that the similarities are far fewer and less significant than the differences. In fact, the Book of Mormon contradicts the View of the Hebrews on almost every major issue that the latter considers (who were the Indians, how did they get to the New World, when did they arrive, what names did they use, how did they live, etc., etc.)
In fact, Brigham Young University's Religious Studies Center actually publishes View of the Hebrews, allowing Latter-day Saints and the rest of the world to see for themselves how unlikely it is that Joseph Smith plagiarized from it. In fact, careful study of that book should do much to strengthen one's appreciation of the novelty of the Book of Mormon. As Andrew Hedges explains ("View of the Hebrews," FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1997, pp. 63-68):
"[T]hose who take the time to read Ethan Smith's oft-cited but rarely seen opus and compare it with the Book of Mormon will find the experience to be wonderfully faith promoting. This is because the further one reads in View of the Hebrews, the clearer it becomes that the Book of Mormon did not -- indeed, could not -- have its origin in it.
Allow me to explain. The tradition in which Ethan Smith was writing was a long and venerable one -- as Richard Bushman has reminded us, English scholars were identifying the American aborigines with Jews as early as the sixteenth century [Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988), p. 136]. The idea reached American shores in the mid-1640s when John Eliot, the famous Puritan "Apostle to the Indians"; Daniel Gookin, the Massachusetts Bay Colony's Indian Superintendent; and other Puritan divines found the similarities between the Algonquin culture and ancient Israelite practices so compelling that they modified the then popular view--which held that the Indians were gentile "Tartars" from Asia -- to suggest that, at the very least, the Indians were descendants of Hebrews who had made their way to America via a land bridge from Asia and were quite likely descendants of the lost tribes who had come the same route [see the online article for extensive references]. Subsequent generations discussed and promoted the idea until 1775, when James Adair fully developed it in his History of the American Indians. Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews was just one of several books and pamphlets written on the topic in both England and America following the publication of Adair's book, all of which echoed the earlier Puritan contention that the Indians were unchurched descendants of the lost tribes who had come to America from Asia via a land bridge or, at most, "by canoes, or other craft" (p. 84) across the Bering Straits.
A close reading of View of the Hebrews suggests that, while some aspects of this reconstruction could be debated, it is generally so complex as to be quite inflexible, based as it is on a relatively conservative reading of the biblical text and a number of suppositions so interdependent that if one should prove false, the whole model would collapse. Any modifications would have to be relatively small and insignificant, which explains why the basic outlines of the model remained virtually unchanged over the course of two centuries' worth of discussion. For example, churchmen over the centuries could (and did) debate how much of the Mosaic law the Indians as the lost tribes had retained after arriving in America. They could do this because such debates did not alter in the least the basic structure of the paradigm, which posited a pre-Christian migration of Israelites who had some knowledge of Old Testament practices. The churchmen did not, however, at any time debate the possibility that the Indians' ancestors knew of Christ's birth before the event, had engaged in such New Testament practices as baptism in Old Testament times, and had been visited by Christ after his resurrection. This was because the mere suggestion of these things would have done violence to their understanding of the Bible, contemporary evidence from Indian cultures themselves, and other parts of the model. For such a suggestion to be true in the context of early America's understanding of the Bible, for example, the Indians' ancestors would have to have been believing Christians who left the Old World after the time of Christ, since early American scholarship emphatically held that the ancient Israelites completely misunderstood their own messianic prophecies and that ordinances like baptism had not been practiced in Old Testament times. This reconstruction would have flown in the face of all existing anthropological evidence, however -- none of the practices in the native cultures studied resembled New Testament practices -- and, unlike the lost tribes thesis, had no basis in scripture. Given the parameters in which they had to work, the suggestion that the Indians' ancestors engaged in New Testament practices would have created rather than solved problems and would have required an entirely new reconstruction of events -- based on a new reading of the text and other evidence -- to be taken seriously. In short, keeping with our example, either the suggestion that the Indians' ancestors practiced baptism or the model proposed by Adair, Smith, and others would have to be false; they could not both be true, nor -- and this is important -- could the former be considered an unimportant, inconsequential, and perfectly logical modification of the latter.
The Book of Mormon, of course, makes precisely this claim about baptism, along with several others that likewise cannot be reconciled with the nineteenth-century model explaining Indian origins. Thus it was that the further I read in View of the Hebrews, the greater the distance between it and the Book of Mormon appeared. Superficially, of course, the two resemble each other, and it was easy to see how someone with an ax to grind against the LDS Church could, with a little creative negligence, make a case against the Book of Mormon. But as I came to understand the complexity and inflexibility of Smith's model, it became increasingly clear to me that the Book of Mormon's teachings concerning Indian origins and destinies were something entirely new on the American scene and represented far more than mere modifications of the existing explanation. They were, to borrow a phrase, a "strange thing in the land" in every respect.
As another useful resource, L. Ara Norwood's book review, " Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon" (FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1990, pp. 187-204) deals with one of the most significant anti-Mormon efforts to explain the Book of Mormon. Her review of David Persuitte's Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon discusses both strengths and weaknesses of Persuitte's approach. It also shows that Persuitte's analysis, even if unchallenged, at best accounts for less than 5% of the verses in the Book of Mormon. Further, the scattered parallels Pursuitte points to do nothing to explain away numerous elements pointing to ancient origins (things like chiasmus, Hebraisms, the accurate details from the Arabian peninsula, etc.).
As I note elsewhere on this page, parallels between unrelated books are easier to find than you might think. I believe that the parallels between the Book of Mormon and Walt Whitmans's The Leaves of Grass are more impressive than anything you'll find by reading View of the Hebrews, but that is due entirely to chance since Whitman's work came long after the Book of Mormon and obviously was not influenced by it (no, don't try to craft an argument that Whitman was secretly collaborating with Mormons to account for these chance parallels!). The finding of parallels by itself means very little.
Less than 5% of the Book of Mormon "related" to View of the Hebrews? I bet if I put on my Sherlock Holmes hat and worked hard enough, I could find 7% to be "related" to Whitman. But that's a 7% solution you don't want to drink.
A key issue in dealing with Ethan Smith or other proposed sources for the Book of Mormon is their failure to account for some of the most impressive elements pointing to ancient origins. There is nothing in View of the Hebrews that provides the kind of evidences for authenticity that we see in the Book of Mormon--including the regular occurrence of chiasmus, an ancient form of parallelism (only recently recognized and appreciated) that is a hallmark of Semitic poetry, and correctly and precisely identifying the places Nahom and Bountiful on the Arabian Peninsula, which no Western scholar could have done in the nineteenth century. Nothing in view of the Hebrews, for example, could have given Joseph Smith any clue about the directions to follow through the Arabian Peninsula (there is no discussion of frankincense trails, or anything Arabian at all, other than a couple general references that provide no useful information), nor is there any clue about the existence of the place Bountiful in present-day Oman. The most exciting evidences of Book of Mormon authenticity have no ties to Ethan Smith.
An important fact to remember is that many people in the early 1800s assumed that the Indians had some connection with the Old World, and popular theories included descent from the lost tribes of Israel. For example, Josiah Priest wrote in 1833, "The opinion that the American Indians are the descendants of the lost Ten Tribes, is now a popular one, and generally believed" (as cited by Hugh Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon, p. 195). Joseph had no need to plagiarize from Ethan Smith for this view, which is probably the most "impressive" parallel between the two works. Ethan Smith's view, though developed in great detail, may not have seemed unusual or noteworthy at the time. This may be why critics of the Book of Mormon in the nineteenth century saw no cause for linking the Book of Mormon to View of the Hebrews--the apparent parallels were not specific, distinct, or unusual. As far as I know, it was only around the turn of the century, when newer theories had supplanted earlier speculation about the origin of the Indians, that Ethan Smith's book began to be mentioned as a possible source for the Book of Mormon. Today, it may seem significant that Ethan Smith proposed an Israelite origin for the Indians, for that idea seems odd and unusual from our perspective, but this broad parallel apparently did not seem noteworthy to critics in the early days of the Church.
While there is no evidence that Joseph Smith ever even saw a copy of Ethan Smith's work, it is still physically possible that he could have had one. I have heard claims that Oliver Cowdery's family had a connection to Ethan Smith. There is no proof of any such connection. For the problems with alleged connections between Ethan and Oliver, see "Oliver Cowdery's Vermont Years and the Origins of Mormonism" by Larry E. Morris from BYU Studies, Vol. 39, No. 1, 2000, pp. 107-129. (If Oliver knew of anything close to plagiarism involved in the Book of Mormon, it's interesting that he never mentioned it or denied his testimony of the divinity of that book, even during the time when he was bitterly upset with Joseph Smith and had left the Church.) If Joseph really did use View of the Hebrews as his primary source, then he must have assumed it was accurate and reasonable. If so, one would expect that he would have relied on it for important details, themes, and concepts. Instead, we find that he repeatedly contradicts its content. If Joseph plagiarized from Ethan Smith, we would expect to find that unique aspects of View of the Hebrews--ideas, names, stories that are not also found in the Bible or other sources--would have been incorporated into the Book of Mormon, but no such "fingerprints" are found. There is no real evidence of Joseph relying on that text. In fact, there are extreme differences between the two texts at every turn which seriously challenge the hypothesis that Joseph plagiarized from Ethan Smith. Consider the following anti-parallels noted by John Welch in his article "View of the Hebrews: An Unparallel" in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, UT, 1992, pp. 83-87:
1. View of the Hebrews begins with a chapter on the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. It has nothing to say, however, about the destruction in Lehi's day by the Babylonians.
2. View of the Hebrews tells of specific heavenly signs that marked the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. Joseph Smith ignores these singular and memorable details.
3. Chapter 2 lists many prophecies about the restoration of Israel, including Deuteronomy 30; Isaiah 11, 18, 60, 65; Jeremiah 16, 23, 30-31, 35-37; Zephaniah 3; Amos 9; Hosea and Joel. These scriptures are essential to the logic and fabric of View of the Hebrews, yet, with the sole exception of Isaiah 11, none of them appear in the Book of Mormon.
4. Chapter 3 is the longest chapter in View of the Hebrews. It produces numerous "distinguished Hebraisms" as "proof" that the American Indians are Israelites. Hardly any of these points are found in the Book of Mormon, as one would expect if Joseph Smith were using View of the Hebrews or trying to make his book persuasive. For example, View of the Hebrews asserts repeatedly that the Ten Tribes came to America via the Bering Strait, which they crossed on "dry land." According to View of the Hebrews, this opinion is unquestionable, supported by all the authorities.
From there View of the Hebrews claims that the Israelites spread from north to east and then to the south at a very late date. These are critical points for View of the Hebrews, since Amos 8:11-12 prophesies that the tribes would go from the north to the east. Population migrations in the Book of Mormon, however, always move from the south to the north.
5. View of the Hebrews reports that the Indians are Israelites because they use the word "Hallelujah." Here is one of the favorite proofs of View of the Hebrews, a dead giveaway that the Indians are Israelites. Yet the word is never used in the Book of Mormon.
Furthermore, a table showing thirty-four Indian words or sentence fragments with Hebrew equivalents appears in View of the Hebrews. No reader of the book could have missed this chart. If Joseph Smith had wanted to make up names to use in the Book of Mormon that would substantiate his claim that he had found some authentic western hemisphere Hebrew words, he would have jumped at such a ready-made list! Yet not one of these thirty-four Hebrew/Indian words (e.g., Keah, Lani, Uwoh, Phale, Kurbet, etc.) has even the remotest resemblance to any of the 175 words that appear for the first time in the Book of Mormon. [Webmaster's note: Likewise none of the names created by Spaulding, or given by James Adair or other modern sources, are found in the Book of Mormon.]
6. View of the Hebrews says the Indians are Israelites because they carry small boxes with them into battle. These are to protect them against injury. They are sure signs that the Indians' ancestors knew of the Ark of the Covenant! How could Joseph Smith pass up such a distinguished and oft-attested Hebraism as this?! Yet in all Book of Mormon battle scenes, there is not one hint of any such ark, box, or bag serving as a military fetish.
7. The Indians are Israelites because the Mohawk tribe was a tribe held in great reverence by all the others, to whom tribute was paid. Obviously, to Ethan Smith, this makes the Mohawks the vestiges of the tribe of Levi, Israel's tribe of priests. If Joseph Smith believed that such a tribe or priestly remnant had survived down to his day, he forgot to provide for anything to that effect in the Book of Mormon.
8. The Indians are Israelites because they had a daily sacrifice of fat in the fire and passed their venison through the flame, cutting it into twelve pieces. This great clue of "Israelitishness" is also absent from the Book of Mormon.
9. View of the Hebrews maintains that the Indians knew "a distinguished Hebraism," namely "laying the hand on the mouth, and the mouth in the dust." Had Joseph Smith believed this, why is the Book of Mormon silent on this "sure sign of Hebraism" and dozens of others like it?
10. According to View of the Hebrews, the Indians quickly lost knowledge that they were all from the same family. The Book of Mormon tells that family and tribal affiliations were maintained for almost one thousand years.
11. View of the Hebrews claims that the righteous Indians were active "for a long time," well into recent times, and that their destruction occurred about A.D. 1400, based upon such convincing evidence as tree rings near some of the fortifications of these people. The Book of Mormon implicitly rejects this notion by reporting the destruction of the Nephites in the fourth century A.D.
12. View of the Hebrews argues that the Indians are Israelites because they knew the legends of Quetzalcoatl. But the surprise here is that View of the Hebrews proves beyond doubt that Quetzalcoatl was none other than--not Jesus--but Moses! "Who could this be but Moses, the ancient legislator in Israel?" Quetzalcoatl was white, gave laws, required penance (strict obedience), had a serpent with green plumage (brazen, fiery-flying serpent in the wilderness), pierced ears (like certain slaves under the law of Moses), appeased God's wrath (by sacrifices), was associated with a great famine (in Egypt), spoke from a volcano (Sinai), walked barefoot (removed his shoes), spawned a golden age (seven years of plenty in Egypt--which has nothing to do with Moses, by the way), etc. Besides the fact that the View of the Hebrews's explanation of Quetzalcoatl as Moses is inconsistent with the Book of Mormon, none of these hallmark details associated with Quetzalcoatl are incorporated into the account of Christ's visit to Bountiful in 3 Nephi.
The foregoing twelve points could be multiplied literally seven times over. In the face of these differences, the few vague similarities pale.
As for the apparent similarities, they are hardly startling and are far outweighed by the differences. It's important to realize that parallel between stories and documents are easy to find. There are many dozens of parallels between the story of the Pilgrim coming to the New World and the Book of Mormon. There are even parallels between the written history of man's journey to the moon and the Book of Mormon. A number of parallels occurred to me within a brief 20 minute period (with the help of an encyclopedia), resulting in the following article which may shatter the faith of some LDS people:
(The following section is just tongue in cheek, but is intended to illustrate a point. Please calm down, people! Of course I know that space exploration came after 1830. Why, it wasn't until at least 1869 that we walked on the moon.)
Numerous parallels between the history of man's voyages to the moon and the transoceanic voyages in the Book of Mormon suggest that accounts of lunar journeys may have been a primary source for Joseph Smith. Consider the following startling parallels:
Was Nephi really Neil Armstrong? Take out the "ph" from Nephi, and you've got the "Nei" of Neil. Was the LEM (Lunar Excursion Module) the source of the name LEMuel? Take out the central "rm" from "Mormon" and you've got "Moon"; take out the "r" and "i" of Moroni and you've got "Moon" again. Yikes--it's all beginning to make sense!
I came up with those silly connections to the moon in about 20 minutes, including the time to find a chart of the moon in an encyclopedia. If I did this sort of thing for a living, perhaps I could even write an entire book: UFO's, the Moon, and Joseph Smith: Uncovering the Black Crater of the Book of Mormon.
To better understand the silliness of the charges of plagiarism based on a few stray parallels between various texts and the Book of Mormon, please see my new LDSFAQ work, "Was the Book of Mormon Plagiarized from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass?" This work shows that an impossible source--published 25 years after the Book of Mormon--provides much better "evidence" of Book of Mormon plagiarism than what the critics have been able to drum up by poring over the works of Ethan Smith, the Apocrypha, Spaulding, Shakespeare, James Adair or anyone else. For any non-divine source to be considered seriously as a possible source of the Book of Mormon, as a minimum it must provide stronger parallels than I have found with relatively little effort (spare time during a period of a week) by examining Walt Whitman's text.
The point is that broad similarities--and even a few apparent specific ones--do not mean that one text is the source for the other. We must look for consistent, specific, and unique similarities to make a case for plagiarism (and they must be more widespread or impressive than the many "impressive" ones I have found in the unrelated text of Whitman). In considering the possibility of plagiarism, one should ask if there is any consistent relationship between the two texts to show that one was used to construct the other. There is not for the candidates that critics have proposed for the Book of Mormon. There is simply no substance to the alleged link between View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon. Even if we assume that every apparent parallel is a genuine sign of plagiarism, View of the Hebrews would only account for a tiny fraction of the Book of Mormon, and would account for none of the truly unique elements such as geographical locations, place names (e.g., Nahom) and human names (e.g., Alma), poetical forms, parallels to other ancient documents, accurate description of ancient warfare, accurate description of ancient olive culture practices, New Year's kingship rituals, etc., etc.
View of the Hebrews apparently was not considered as a probable source for the Book of Mormon by critics in the 1800s, and with good reason, in my opinion: its apparent similarities are too vague and its differences too great. Rather, I propose that it's high time for the critics to seriously consider the possibility that books on the lunar voyages could have been Joseph's source, or, more plausibly (but still impossibly), Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman.
But let's get back to the specifics of the parallels to Ethan Smith's work. Hugh Nibley (The Prophetic Book of Mormon, pp. 194-202) discusses 18 specific parallels which were noted by B.H. Roberts and have been recited by critics (Hogan and Brodie in particular) as evidence of plagiarism. I'll give a few of his comments here:
If there were only eighteen ideas in all the Book of Mormon and about the same number in Ethan Smith's book, then the eighteen parallels would be indeed suspicious. But there are not only eighteen ideas in the Book of Mormon--there are hundreds! So if we are going to use such a tiny handful as evidence, they had better be good. But when we consider the Roberts' parallels, we find that they are not only very few but without exception all perfectly ordinary. In fact, Mr. Hogan in his recent treatment of the subject has unwittingly robbed the eighteen parallels of any significance by going to considerable pains to point out in his introduction that the ideas shared by Ethan and Joseph Smith were not original to either of them but were as common in the world they lived in as the name Smith itself.... This being the case, why would Joseph Smith need to steal them from Ethan Smith? ...
A number of parallels in the list are attributed to Joseph Smith's stealing from the View of the Hebrews, when he could more easily have found the same material in the Bible. This reaches the point of absurdity in parallel No. 12, where Joseph Smith gets the idea of quoting Isaiah from Ethan since the latter "quotes copiously and chiefly from Isaiah in relation to the scattering and gathering of Israel." This is the equivalent of accusing one scholar of stealing from another because they both quote "copiously and chiefly" from Homer in their studies of Troy. Since ancient times, Isaiah has been the source for information on the scattering and gathering of Israel. Any student writing a term paper on that subject would deserve to be flunked if he failed to quote from that prophet without ever having heard of Ethan Smith!...
Again, No. 10, the first chapter of the Views of the Hebrews is devoted to the destruction of Jerusalem. Since the book claims to be searching out the lost ten tribes, it is hard to conceive how it could begin otherwise. There have been many dispersions from Jerusalem, as the Book of Mormon tells us, and many destructions: the one told of in the Book of Mormon is a totally different one from that described by Ethan Smith, which took place hundreds of years before it. It is hardly likely that the Bible-reading Smiths first discovered that Jerusalem was destroyed by perusing the pages of Ethan's book. Neither did Joseph need Ethan Smith to tell him that God's people anciently had inspired prophets and heavenly gifts (No. 6). This has always been a conspicuous part of Indian tradition, but given the popular belief that the ancient Americans were of Israel, Joseph Smith would have no choice but to attribute to them the divine gifts possessed by God's people. Among these divine gifts was the Urim and Thummim (No. 7) described in the Bible, and only dimly and indirectly hinted at by Ethan Smith in describing an article of clothing worn by medicine men--quite a different article from the Urim and Thummim of either the Book of Mormon or the Bible.
The trouble with this last parallel is that it is not a parallel at all, but only something that is made into one by egregiously taking the part for the whole. The same faulty reasoning characterizes the first of the parallels in the list. No. 1: the place of origin of the two works. Ethan Smith's book was written in Vermont, and Joseph Smith was born in Vermont. That would be a very suspicious coincidence were it not that Joseph Smith left Vermont as a child at least eight years before the View of the Hebrews was published. The time scale which invalidates the argument of place of origin is actually given as another parallel between the two books. No. 3: the time of production--it is held to be most significant that the publication of Ethan Smith's first edition and the appearance of the Angel Moroni occurred in the same year. We must confess our failure to detect anything in Ethan Smith's book that might have suggested the Angel Moroni. All that is proved by the dates is that the View of the Hebrews came out first, so that Joseph Smith could have used it. Of course, if View of the Hebrews had appeared after the Book of Mormon there would be no case--though Mrs. Brodie tries very hard to hint that Joseph Smith covered his tracks by later referring to Josiah Priest, whose book did not appear until 1833! Even Mrs. Brodie concedes that "it may never be proven that Joseph saw View of the Hebrews," but even if he had seen it, that would prove nothing unless we could discover something in the Book of Mormon that could not possibly come from any other source.
What the critics seem to consider the most devastating of all the parallels in the list, the one most often mentioned and on which B. H. Roberts concentrates most of his attention, is No. 9, which deals with the general relations of the ancient Americans to each other. The most obvious and immediate objection to the popular theory that the Indians were the ten tribes was that the ten tribes were civilized and the Indians were not. Since colonial times there were two things that everybody knew about aboriginal America: (1) that it was full of savages, and (2) that it was full of ruins left by people who were not savages. If the Indians were from the ten tribes, then they must have fallen from a higher estate, and that estate was mutely witnessed by the ruins. Using these general speculations as his starting point, Ethan Smith, like any intelligent man, goes on with his own surmises: When the civilized ten tribes arrived in the New World, they found themselves in a wilderness teeming with game, (1) "inviting them to the chase; most of them (2) fell into a wandering idle hunt-life," while the "more sensible parts of this people" continued in their civilized ways and left behind them the ruins that fill the land. "It is highly probable," Ethan Smith continues to speculate, "that the more civilized part of the tribes of Israel, after they settled in America, became (3) wholly separated from the hunting and savage tribes of their brethren; that the latter (4) lost the knowledge of their having descended from the same family with themselves; that the more civilized part continued for many centuries; that (5) tremendous wars were frequent between them and their savage brethren." Then gradually (6) "in process of time their savage jealousies and rage annihilated their more civilized brethren." No other explanation is possible, he thinks: "What account can be given of this, but that the savages extirpated them, after (7) long and dismal wars." As to the state of the savages, "We cannot so well account for their evident degeneracy in any way" except the Bible way: "as that it took place under a vindictive Providence, as has been noted, to accomplish (8) divine judgments denounced against the idolatrous ten tribes of Israel" (emphasis added).
Now consider the eight points from the viewpoint of the Book of Mormon. (1) It was not the joy of the chase that led the Lamanites into the wilderness--the greatest hunters in the Book of Mormon are Nephites. (2) The less civilized group did not upon arriving in America "fall into a wandering . . . life." They were wanderers when they got here, and so were their brethren. (3) In the Book of Mormon "the more civilized part" of the people never becomes "wholly separated . . . from their brethren," the two remaining always in contact. (4) The more savage element never "lost the knowledge" of their descent: The Lamanites always claimed, in fact, that the Nephites had stolen their birthright. (5) The wars were neither tremendous nor frequent--they are almost all in the nature of sudden raids; they involved small numbers of people, and, except for the last great war, they are relatively brief. (6) It was not the savage jealousy and rage of an inferior civilization that destroyed the higher civilization--that higher civilization had broken up completely before the last war by its own corruption, and at the time of their destruction the Nephites were as debased as their rivals. (7) It was not a process of gradual extermination but of a quick and violent end. (8) Finally, the downgrading of the Lamanites is not the fulfillment of prophecies about the ten tribes after the pattern of the destruction of God's people (that would be the Nephites); their degeneracy is given a unique explanation that cannot be found in either Ethan Smith or the Bible.
To establish any connection at all between the books of the two Smiths, it is absolutely imperative to find something perfectly unique and peculiar in both of them. Yet there is not one single thing in common between View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon that is not also found in the Bible. Parallel No. 9, discussed above, promises to be the exception to this, containing as it does significant details that are not found in the Bible; yet it is in these very details that the two books are in complete disagreement! Another false parallel is No. 10, the destruction of Jerusalem: Ethan Smith speaks of one destruction, the Book of Mormon of another, but the Bible speaks of both. Here the parallel is not between the two Smiths at all--they are talking of wholly different events--but between them and the Bible only....
So after all Ethan Smith turns in a perfect score; not a single blemish mars the target. In every case where the Book of Mormon might have borrowed from him, it might much more easily have borrowed from the Bible or prevailing popular beliefs. In the few cases where he deals in common with the Book of Mormon with matters not treated in those other sources, the two books are completely at variance.
Finally, if Joseph had stolen material from Ethan Smith, then why on earth would Joseph ever call attention to anything that Ethan Smith had written? But this is precisely what happened in what Michael Griffith describes as a "puzzling incident" on his page, "The Book of Mormon--Ancient or Modern? Could Joseph Smith Have Written the Nephite Record?":
In the June 1 and June 15 issues of the 1842 Times and Seasons there appeared printed extracts from Josiah Priest's book, American Antiquities (1838 edition), which cites and quotes passages from VOTH [View of the Hebrews]. Priest's book was cited as evidence for the Book of Mormon. At that time, Joseph Smith was the editor of the Times and Seasons. A natural question arises: If Joseph Smith had copied from VOTH, would he have risked drawing attention to it by publicly quoting from a book which contained extracts from it? This would have indeed been extremely puzzling behavior if the Prophet had borrowed from VOTH, especially if it had been his "foundational source"!
This is an obvious but important point, and anti-Mormons have yet to satisfactorily explain it. It is just common sense that plagiarists don't go around drawing attention to their sources, especially in a public forum! Since it had not yet occurred to anyone to accuse Joseph Smith of borrowing from VOTH, why on earth would he have risked exposure by quoting (or allowing to be quoted) a book which contained extracts from it?
Why indeed? By calling attention to View of the Hebrews, Joseph provided additional evidence that he had not used it as a source for a deceptive fabrication. Ethan Smith simply was not a source for the Book of Mormon. (For related information on this topic, see my page, Alexander von Humboldt and the Book of Mormon.)
As a postscript, I received this e-mail in 2004 from an LDS couple:
We have done a tiny bit of research (one letter) and found that the one possible source for Joseph to have read the View of the Hebrews by Ethan Smith was supposed to have been in the local Palmyra library.
The Palmyra Kings Daughters Free Library, 127 Cuyler St., Palmyra, New York, 14522 is supposed to be the first library in Palmyra.
IT WAS ESTABLISHED IN 1899! As a reading room only!
This librarian wrote that the closest library in the 1820's and 1830's was perhaps in Canandiague, NY, 13 miles away. Typing on the internet for a library in that city did not even come up with a library now, so probably not in Joseph Smith's time.
I recall reading that there was another reading room in Palmyra present before 1899, but will need to check again. On the other hand, I have since found a Web page at PalmyraNY.com giving the history of Palmyra, New York, which states: "In 1899, the Palmyra King's Daughters Free Library was begun as a reading room. Two years later (1901) the library was chartered as a lending library and has remained so until the present." This is consistent with the e-mail given above.
In any case, nineteenth-century Palmyra does not appear to have been a richly developed source of scholarly information for eager young bookworms, even if Joseph had been one. Of course there were books and booksellers and perhaps even reading rooms--but how can that possibly explain the Book of Mormon, even if Joseph Smith had been interested in such things?
Surprisingly, one of the most common objections to the Book of Mormon is the claim that Joseph Smith plagiarized from Shakespeare when writing (translating) 2 Nephi 1:14, where elderly Lehi poetically pleads with his rebellious children, knowing that he will soon die. In this passage from 550 B.C., Lehi says:
"Awake! and arise from the dust, and hear the words of a trembling parent, whose limbs ye must soon lay down in the cold and silent grave, from whence no traveler can return; a few more days and I go the way of all the earth."
Critics note that this is similar (they often claim that it is nearly identical) to Hamlet, Act III, Scene I, where Hamlet speaks of
"...the dread of something after death,--
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns...."
Does this really present a compelling case for a fraudulent Book of Mormon? According to the critics, Joseph Smith borrowed from Shakespeare in saying that "no traveler can return" from death (obviously is a poetical way of saying that the dead don't return back to their mortal life, for Lehi clearly understood the Resurrection). Certainly the phrasing is similar in this isolated case, though Lehi does not express fear of death nor does he speak of death as being a country. But the poetical idea of not returning from death has been expressed in similar ways for thousands of years by poets and writers, including many from Lehi's time and before. For example, the ancient book of Job in chapter 10, verse 21 says "...I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death."
Later Job writes "I shall go the way whence I shall not return" (Job 16:22). If Lehi is borrowing from Job, do we really have a problem? Lehi surely had read and studied Job and other more ancient Old Testament writers. In another Old Testament passage, Bathsheba mourns the loss of her son, saying "he shall not return to me" (2 Sam. 12:23).
Early Jewish and Christian poets spoke of death in such terms, though they did not literally believe that there would be no return (thanks to the resurrection, of course). Robert F. Smith ("Shakespeare and the Book of Mormon," F.A.R.M.S. paper, 1980) notes that all of 2 Nephi 1:13-15 (not just a single phrase) closely follows ancient Near Eastern texts (Jewish, Egyptian, and Sumerian), citing many examples. A few examples follow:
Descent of Inanna
"Why, pray, have you come to the 'Land of no return,' on the road whose traveller returns never?"
"May you go on the roads of the western ones [the dead]; They who go on them [travellers] do not return."
"There is nobody who returns from there."
"Behold there is nobody who has gone, who has returned."
I also found that Hugh Nibley has addressed this common objection. I quote from the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol.6, Part.7, Ch.21, p.275-277:
"No passage in the Book of Mormon has been more often singled out for attack than Lehi's description of himself as one "whose limbs ye must soon lay down in the cold and silent grave, from whence no traveler can return" (2 Nephi 1:14). This passage has inspired scathing descriptions of the Book of Mormon as a mass of stolen quotations "from Shakespeare and other English poets." Lehi does not quote Hamlet directly, to be sure, for he does not talk of "that undiscovered country, from whose bourne no traveler returns," but simply speaks of "the cold and silent grave, from whence no traveler can return." In mentioning the grave, the eloquent old man cannot resist the inevitable "cold and silent" nor the equally inevitable tag about the traveler--a device that, with all respect to Shakespeare, Lehi's own contemporaries made constant use of. Long ago Friedrich Delitzsch wrote a classic work on ancient Oriental ideas about death and afterlife, and a fitting title of his book was Das Land ohne Heimkehr--"The Land of No Return." In the story of Ishtar's descent to the underworld, the lady goes to the irsit la tari, "the land of no return." She visits "the dark house from which no one ever comes out again" and travels along "the road on which there is no turning back." A recent study of Sumerian and Akkadian names for the world of the dead lists prominently "the hole, the earth, the land of no return, the path of no turning back, the road whose course never turns back, the distant land, etc." A recently discovered fragment speaks of the grave as "the house of Irkallu, where those who have come to it are without return. . . . A place whose dead are cast in the dust, in the direction of darkness . . . [going] to the place where they who came to it are without return." This is a good deal closer to Lehi's language than Shakespeare is. The same sentiments are found in Egyptian literature, as in a popular song which tells how "the gods that were aforetime rest in their pyramids. . . . None cometh again from thence that he may tell of their state. . . . Lo, none may take his goods with him, and none that hath gone may come again." A literary text reports: "The mockers say, 'The house of the inhabitants of the Land of the West is deep and dark; it has no door and no window. . . . There the sun never rises but they lie forever in the dark.' "
"Shakespeare should sue; but Lehi, a lover of poetic imagery and high-flown speech, can hardly be denied the luxury of speaking as he was supposed to speak. The ideas to which he here gives such familiar and conventional expression are actually not his own ideas about life after death--nor Nephi's nor Joseph Smith's, for that matter, but they are the ideas which any eloquent man of Lehi's day, with a sound literary education such as Lehi had, would be expected and required to use. And so the most popular and obvious charge of fraud against the Book of Mormon has backfired."
Even if there weren't cases of nearly identical thoughts being expressed in Lehi's day and before, one short phrase in Hamlet hardly creates a prima facie case for plagiarism in the Book of Mormon, in my opinion.
The list of works that Joseph Smith allegedly plagiarized or drew upon to produce the Book of Mormon continues to grow. In addition to the old standards such as Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews, Shakespeare, Solomon Spalding's writings, the sermons and essays of various preachers, and James Adair's A History of the American Indians, many more works have been identified by critics in recent years such as an obscure book on the War of 1812 (The Late War Against the United States--see my related LDSFAQ page on The Late War) and E.T.A. Hoffmann's The Golden Pot. A recent contribution in this genre comes from Thomas E. Donofrio, whose zealous search for parallels has yielded another group of works that Joseph must have drawn upon, with Mercy Otis Warren's 1805 History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution being at the top of the list. While there may be no evidence that Joseph ever saw this book and, like many favorite candidates for Book of Mormon plagiarism, it does not appear to have been among the books in the Manchester Library where Joseph theoretically could have borrowed books during his translation of the Book of Mormon, it is still possible for Joseph to have encountered it. So does Warren's work succeed in explaining the origins of the Book of Mormon?
One Latter-day Saint thinker quite familiar with the details of parallels between texts explains that Donofrio actually greatly underestimates the number of parallels between the Book of Mormon and Mercy Otis Warren's lengthy work. In fact, there are thousands of parallels, many more than Donofrio's short list provides. See Ben McGuire's "Parallelomania:Criticism of the Textual Parallels Theories" (2007), where we see that there are over 7,000 three-word parallels between Warren's book and the Book of Mormon. Plus there are nearly 2,000 four-word parallels! Amazing! Or so it seems at first glance, until you do some actual analysis and explore the statistics with other texts as well, and then see that this is nothing unusual at all.
Common words and short phrases that are the building blocks of language will be used and repeated by speaker, writers, and translators, inevitably leading to numerous random parallels between texts in the same language, especially when writing about related topics such as war. Finding strings of words scattered in the text and claiming this as proof of pilfering is an exercise one can do with almost any two works, most easily with lengthy works like Warren's three-volume book. For an example of erroneous "proof" of Book of Mormon plagiarism, see my satirical but I think instructive analysis of Walt Whitmans' Leaves of Grass, which I suggest offers far stronger and more numerous parallels than anything Donofrio has conjured up with his sifting of texts. Until you can come up with better parallels than those random parallels, finding a few frequently used English locutions shared by Warren and the Book of Mormon is not particularly meaningful.
First note that McGuire's initial link to Thomas Donofrio's initial article on Book of Mormon parallels is broken, but you can see the archived form of the original article he refers to using these links: "Early American Influenceson the Book of Mormon, Parts 1 & II" and "Early American Influenceson the Book of Mormon, Part III."
Ben McGuire understands "intertexuality" (the manifold connections between a text being studied and other texts) and is skillful in applying computer tools to analyze documents. For valuable background, see his recent and quite relevant works at the Mormon Interpreter: "The Late War Against the Book of Mormon" (2013) and, for a good foundation in the problems of parallels, see especially his "Finding Parallels: Some Cautions and Criticisms, Part One" and "Finding Parallels: Some Cautions and Criticisms, Part Two"(both 2013).
More recently, Donofrio has authored "Book of Mormon Tories" (the link takes you to a hostile "post-Mormon" website) which attempts to partially explain the Book of Mormon as a derivative of Warren's book. (Wish it had been entitled, "No Man Knows His Tories." Missed opportunity--oh well.) Reading that article and the dramatic response from some of the guffawing critics made me shake my head. These people are impressed with parallels such as "safety and welfare," "power and gain," "flock to their standard" and "the cause of liberty"? As if people haven't been writing for millennia about safety, welfare, war, the use of standards and ensigns to gather and organize troops, and the too-frequent need to defend oneself from captivity? The lead example Donofrio gives particularly left me wondering. Joseph Smith apparently had to draw upon this little gem from page 623 of Warren's massive book:
"...they were responsible for all the additional blood that had been spilt by the addition of their weight in the scale of the enemy…"
in order to somehow regurgitate a fragment of Alma 60:16:
"...were it not for these king-men, who caused so much blood shed among ourselves..."
Plagiarism Joseph Smith-style just looks like an awful lot of work, whereas simply blaming someone for a tragedy is the kind of thing anyone can do without having to dig through volumes of other books to get one fragment of a verse at a time. In fact, it's something that has been done for millennia. Warren's fragment on page 623 gives nothing close to a plausible explanation for anything in Alma 60.
I find it puzzling, even bizarre, that a muddled parallel for part of Alma 60:16 would be the lead example when, with a bit of perseverance, Donofrio surely could have come up with much more interesting and even unsettling parallels similar to those that I have shown from a truly impossible Book of Mormon source, Walt Whitman. The many parallels I found illustrate the kind of things that happen due to luck and a touch of creativity from a persistent critic. Thomas, really, you could have made your Tories piece much more interesting. I suggest you contact Ben McGuire for assistance in using electronic tools to create heftier and more impressive but equally meaningless list of parallels.
Some people might find Donofrio's parallel "the standard of liberty" to be especially meaningful, since that is a fairly well-known Book of Mormon term that we sometimes feel is "owned" by the Book of Mormon. Finding it in Warren's book should be unsettling, no? No. You can find it in numerous sources in Joseph Smith's day. In the English language, the phrase "standard of liberty" shows widespread use for many settings other than the Revolutionary War. See for yourself searching Google Books with a time range of, say, 1400 to 1830. The "standard" of the Book of Mormon is also hardly a modern concept. It is usually used in its military sense in the KJV also (see search results for "standard" from BibleGateway.com). Standards are used in war to rally, gather, and organize. Having people gather to a standard or to an ensign is hardly a modern innovation, and rallying to protect one's liberty from invaders or rebels is also not a modern notion. Liberty is also something one finds in the Bible and numerous other sources, not just the Revolutionary War.
You can see how the term "standard of liberty" grew and waned in popularity over time using Google's Ngram viewer. It was definitely used more commonly in Joseph's era than ours. Look at an example from Joseph's era describing Greeks in a recent war, or another describing events during the Roman empire. Or consider an example describing much later events in Italy in the 14th century.
There are many examples of this phrase being used in diverse settings because it's a part of the English language and a useful term to describe a widespread phenomenon, that of stirring people up to defend themselves from captivity. Though the words in the translation are modern, the usage is not. Donofrio and his Tories tell us nothing about the origins of the Book of Mormon, no more than random parallels in Whitmans' writings do.
This objection takes several forms. Some people are bothered by the presence of a version of the Sermon on the Mount in the Book of Mormon. "That's plagiarism!" they cry. But don't they realize that the New Testament, which our most vocal critics usually accept as scripture, regularly quotes the Old Testament? Hundreds of times, in fact. Do our critics also denounce the New Testament for its frequent copying of text from the Greek Septuagint? The angel whose words are recorded in Revelation 2:27, for example, was actually using words from Psalm 2:9. Is that plagiarism?
Plagiarism is the act of deceitfully using someone else's words as one's own. So what about the Book of Mormon version of the Sermon on the Mount? Well, here we have Christ speaking to some Book of Mormon people, using words very similar to those that Christ spoke earlier in Jerusalem. Thus, the Book of Mormon claims that the words of Christ were given by--can you guess who?--yes, Christ. Oh, the shame! Has Joseph Smith no decency?
The argument is also made the use of the specific style of language found in the King James Version is improperly borrowed. Specific language found in the King James Bible was obviously used in many cases when Joseph translated passages that quoted the Old Testament (several Isaiah chapters, for example) or translated passages that expressed ideas nearly identical to passages of the Bible. Besides the Isaiah chapters, the most obvious example occurs when the Resurrected Christ, during His brief but powerful ministry to the Nephites and Lamanites in the Book of Mormon, repeated the Sermon on the Mount. Most of the language in that section follows the King James version of the Bible. Using the language style or even specific language of an existing translation for quoted passages of the text is not improper at all.
John Tvedtnes offered the following insight into the use of KJV language for translation of scripture (e-mail, Sept. 23, 2002):
To be sure, the Book of Mormon was translated into what we often call "King James" Language, though, in fact, the King James version (KJV) of the Bible retained some 80% of Tyndale's English translation and Tyndale was partly dependent on the even older version by Wycliffe. It's a long-standing tradition among Bible versions and only surprises people who are acquainted with modern translations prepared after Joseph Smith's time. I should also point out that several renowned Bible scholars have mimicked KJV style in their own translations of ancient texts. Most notable was Robert Henry Charles, whose two-volume work on the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament is still published by Oxford. Because he did his work around the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, he rendered the texts into KJV language because that was THE Bible par excellence in his day. So, too, with Joseph Smith.
For a thorough discussion by John Tvedtnes of the charges of plagiarism in the Book of Mormon, see "Was Joseph Smith Guilty of Plagiarism?" in FARMS Review, Vol. 22, No. 1, 2010, Pages: 261-275 (Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute).
The objection is often made that King James English is modern, while the Book of Mormon is ancient, so the Book of Mormon must be a fraud to contain modern language. After all, what is language from a book published in 1611 doing in a book allegedly dating to 400 A.D. and earlier? But King James English is not from the original Book of Mormon engravings--it is the vehicle that was used to translate ancient writings into English. A logical explanation is that King James language and phraseology was used as an effective and widely recognized medium for a sacred text, and exact words and phrases found in the King James Version were sometimes used when they adequately matched the meaning of the Nephite record or when Old Testament sources were being quoted.
Note that in Joseph Smith's History, in describing the visitation of the angel Moroni on Sept. 21-22, 1823, Moroni quotes some scriptures to Joseph Smith, largely using King James language but making some alterations in a few verses. Joseph writes, "He quoted also the third chapter of Acts, twenty-second and twenty-third verses, precisely as they stand in our New Testament." Moroni appeared satisfied with using the well-known "standard" translation when it was adequate, and it looks like that approach was followed in the translation of the Book of Mormon. Why unnecessarily change the Bible text and present it in a new and unfamiliar style and create additional controversy and confusion if the text people knew was acceptable?
Some LDS people believe that when Joseph Smith encountered a passage similar to one already existing in the Bible, the printed King James text was used as an aid when that text adequately conveyed the meaning of the passage being translated. The difficulty is that the multiple accounts of those who witnessed him translate never suggest use of the Bible and sometimes seem to rule out that possibility. John Welch and others have suggested that something more miraculous was involved than simply copying passages from an open King James Bible, something on the order of divine quotation or stimulation of latent memories of King James passages.
In any event, there are many differences between related Book of Mormon and King James passages, some major and some subtle, which remind us that Joseph was not simply copying from the Bible. The sophisticated differences between the Sermon on the Mount and the Book of Mormon's Sermon at the Temple are particularly noteworthy, as John Welch has shown in his book, The Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount. Those differences actually resolve many great controversies about the meaning and purpose of the Sermon on the Mount, as well as questions about some of its more obscure or hard to understand passages. Something far more than mere plagiarism is involved. Perhaps Joseph's knowledge of the King James version was used as tool by the Lord to facilitate Joseph's translation of related Book of Mormon passages.
The number of passages in the Book of Mormon that directly quote Bible verses are still a minority of the total Book of Mormon text and hardly account for the Book of Mormon itself. If heavy quoting bothers you, please remember that hundreds of verses in the New Testament are quotes from the Old Testament, some with attribution and many without. In spite of many passages being similar between those two testaments, the New Testament truly is new and offers valuable sacred scripture about Christ, as is the case for the Book of Mormon.
Interestingly, New Testament writers quote the Old Testament in the language of the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament that came long after the original Hebrew scriptures. This point is important to understand:
"When Jesus and the Apostles and, for that matter, the Angel Gabriel quote the [Hebrew] scriptures in the New Testament, do they recite from some mysterious Urtext? Do they quote the prophets of old in the ultimate original? . . . No, they do not. They quote the Septuagint, a Greek version of the Old Testament prepared in the third century B.C. Why so? Because that happened to be the received standard version of the Bible accepted by the readers of the Greek New Testament."
(Hugh W. Nibley, "Literary Style Used in the Book of Mormon Insured Accurate Translation," in The Prophetic Book of Mormon, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Volume 8, p. 215.)
As one example of how often New Testament writers borrowed from the Old Testament ("plagiarized" would be the words anti-Mormon-like critics might use), consider the case of John's Book of Revelation. The Interpreter's Bible (12:358) states that "John was thoroughly acquainted with the Old Testament, and quoted or alludes to it throughout his book. It has been estimated that 278 verses out of a total of 404 contain references of one kind or another to the Old Testament.... yet in no case does he specifically mention a book of the Jewish scripture, and seldom does he quote verbatim." (I am indebted to D.C. Pyle for this quote.)
If New Testament prophets, apostles, and angels were allowed to quote what was then an accepted modern version of ancient scripture, we shouldn't be outraged that Joseph Smith would do the same (or be guided to do the same) in translating the Book of Mormon. (For more information on the nature of the modern Bible and its origins, see my LDSFAQ page on the Bible.)
I'd like to briefly return to the issue of differences between related passages in the Book of Mormon and the Bible. Some of the variants provide insight into Book of Mormon origins. For example, consider 2 Nephi 12, which quotes Isaiah 2. Verse 16 in the King James version says that the day of the Lord will be "upon all the ships of Tarshish." The Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament says that it would be upon the "ships of the sea" but does not mention the ships of Tarshish. The Book of Mormon version has both phrases: "upon all the ships of the sea, and upon all the ships of Tarshish...." I suggest that the version of Isaiah that Nephi had in 600 B.C. had both phrases on it, but the later Hebrew scriptures would lose one phrase while the Septuagint version would lose the other. (I discuss this issue more fully on my page, "2 Nephi 12 and the Septuagint: Evidence for Fraud or Authenticity in the Book of Mormon?". This page includes my response to a critic's attempt to dismiss this subtle internal evidence for authenticity, and offers some additional new possible evidence for Book of Mormon authenticity.) In translating 2 Nephi 2:16, the Book of Mormon follows the King James version but adds a phrase to properly follow the text he was translating. Several other variants in Isaiah passages find corroboration in recently discovered ancient Hebrew documents, while others do not. The issue of Isaiah variants is actually fairly complex and interesting, making it a hot topic now for scholars. The idea of a simple-minded copying of Bible passages has to be rejected, though it is clear that the King James Bible has been drawn upon in the translation process.
Critics wish to explain away 2 Nephi 2:16 by suggesting that Joseph copied from the Septuagint for this verse or that the textual differences between the Masoretic Hebrew texts and the Greek Septuagint were known to scholars and were "likely" to have been discussed by preachers in Joseph Smith's region before he began writing the Book of Mormon. Both arguments are a stretch! The Prophet did not know Greek when the Book of Mormon was being translated, and there is no evidence that he had access to the Septuagint at that time. As for the Tarshish/ships of the sea issue, even if scholars knew of it, why would preachers bother to discuss that issue? Have you ever heard a modern popular preacher getting into textual differences between the Septuagint and the Masoretic text for a phrase that seems to have very little doctrinal significance? Can anybody show me a published sermon, intended for common people, that raised the issue of textual variants for Isaiah 2:16?? Please! I have done a Web search for modern sermons and religious articles that treat Isaiah 2. Except for articles that explicitly discuss Isaiah 2:16 and the Book of Mormon, I have not found anything close to a sermon that discusses the textual variants of that passage. It is NOT common knowledge among modern Christians--why would it be common knowledge among farmers of upstate New York in the 1820s?
Isaiah 9:3, which is related to 2 Ne. 19:32 in the Book of Mormon, provides an interesting example in which Joseph Smith's translation differs from the King James Version. This is discussed in an article by Sidney B. Sperry reprinted in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Spring 1995), p. 180:
I shall turn first of all to the King James Version and read it to you. It is a fairly good translation of the Hebrew.Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. (Isa. 9:3)
Take the Book of Mormon, and we find this reading:Thou hast multiplied the nation, and increased the joy [the not is left out]-they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. (2 Ne. 19:3)
Of interest here--if you were close enough you could see an asterisk in my Hebrew text. You men here in front can see it, and it refers to the qere, or what is to be read as given in a footnote. The ancient Hebrew scribes felt that the text as traditionally handed down was wrong, that the loo, which means "not," should be supplanted by a lo, which would then give the reading as found in the Book of Mormon. In short, a word with the same sound has been improperly substituted for the right one. The Prophet caught the error, and most scholars today would agree in substance with the Nephite reading as one can substantiate with the International Critical Commentary on Isaiah.
Franklin S. Harris, Jr., in The Book of Mormon: Messages and Evidences (The Deseret News Press, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1961), discusses several other Isaiah variants (pp. 50-52):
To Isaiah 29:6 the Book of Mormon (2 Ne. 27:2) reads "and with" for "and" in four places. The Syriac reads as the Book of Mormon suggests. In some cases the Book of Mormon text adds "and," which in Hebrew is represented by a single character "waw," inferring there has been an omission from the present Hebrew text, the addition is confirmed by the Septuagint and the Syriac. Examples are found in Isaiah 3:14 (2 Ne. 13: 14); 48:13 (1 Ne. 20:13); 50:9 (2 Ne. 7:9); 51:18 (2 Ne. 8:18). In Isaiah 48:5 (1 Ne. 20: 5) the Book of Mormon adds "and" which is literally what the Hebrew reads. The Authorized Version translators used "even" in English. "In Isaiah 14:4 (2 Nephi 24:4) the Book of Mormon adds 'And it shall come to pass in that day,' which is without support in the Hebrew. But of striking interest is a similar reading in Codex Alexandrinus (now in the British Museum), 'and thou shall say in that day.' The latter is not found in (Codex) Vaticanus. . . ."An early discovery in this area was reported by Dr. S. B. Sperry (Improvement Era, 38:187; as cited by John Widtsoe, Seven Claims of the Book of Mormon, Independence, Mo.: Zion's Printing and Publishing Co., 1937, p. 59):
"In Isaiah 2:20 (2 Nephi 12:20) where the Book of Mormon reads 'he hath made' for 'they made' the reading is confirmed by Codex Alexandrinus which renders 'he made.' In Isaiah 51:15 (2 Nephi 8:15) the Book of Mormon revises the Authorized Version 'His name' to read 'my name' and interestingly these readings are found in the Septuagint and Latin."
In Isaiah 5:5 (2 Ne. 15: 5) the Book of Mormon adds "I will" making the clause read "and I will break down the wall thereof." This reading is precisely that of the Septuagint which renders "and I will pull down its walls."
"In Isaiah 5:7 (2 Nephi 15: 7) the Authorized Version translators render the Hebrew 'but behold' which is literally 'and behold' as suggested in the Book of Mormon. To Isaiah 29:21 the Book of Mormon in 2 Nephi 27:32 adds the phrase "and they" to the beginning of the verse. The Septuagint and Syriac both read the same as the Book of Mormon.
For Isaiah 51:15 the Book of Mormon (2 Nephi 8:15) revised the Authorized Version "his name" to read "my name" and interestingly the Book of Mormon form is found also in the Septuagint and the Latin.
II Nephi 13:9 (Compare Isaiah 3:9). In this rather remarkable illustration we shall deal only with the first sentence. The Authorized version reads, 'The shew of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not.' Contrast this with the Book of Mormon which reads, 'The show of their countenance doth witness against them, and doth declare their sin to be even as Sodom, and they cannot hide it.' The Nephite version has a change in meaning. The ancient Syriac version agrees exactly with the rendering of the clause, 'and they cannot hide it' of the Book of Mormon. Furthermore, in our present Hebrew text, it is possible by shifting the last letter of the second verb before the following word, to get precisely the reading of the Nephite scripture for the part of the verse in question. It is possible, too, that a letter of the Hebrew text has dropped out as some scholars may insist. At any rate who can deny the strong evidence of translation at this point in the Nephite text? Few will be likely to deny that the Nephite version has an attractive reading.
These variants find support in other Biblical texts and cannot be explained by slavish copying of the King James Version nor by random guesswork from Joseph Smith. It seems plausible that Joseph was translating an authentic ancient source which had relationships to other ancient sources.
More details on the Isaiah variants are provided by John A. Tvedtnes "Isaiah Variants in the Book of Mormon," originally printed in Isaiah and the Prophets: Inspired Voices from the Old Testament (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1984), pp. 165-177, now available online for free on the FARMS Website.
Some questions remain, of course. In several cases, for example, King James language is used that some scholars now say stems from old translation errors. In the Sermon on the Mount, for example, one critic has identified 11 places where the King James version may be in error, based on comparison with recently discovered ancient manuscripts, and where the Book of Mormon allegedly preserves the error. John Welch carefully considers these challenges in his book, The Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount, pp. 147 ff. In no case is it clear that the Book of Mormon translation is actually incorrect. The differences are so minor as to really make no serious difference in meaning. For example, early Greek manuscripts speak of the body "going off into hell," while the Book of Mormon and the KJV speak of the body being "cast into hell." Is there really a difference here? Other issues are even more trivial, such as whether a plural "ye" or singular "thou" should be used. A more interesting problem concerns the use of the word "almsgiving." I quote from Welch (p. 150):
Matthew 6:1. The earlier texts begin, "Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men"; later ones and the KJV read, "Take heed that ye do not your alms before men." Third Nephi 13:1 also talks about "alms." Has the Sermon at the Temple rendered a false translation? Again the answer is no, mainly because the "righteousness" discussed in Matthew 6:1-4 is unquestionably "almsgiving." All Greek manuscripts that read "righteousness" (dikaiosune) in Matthew 6:1 still have "alms" (eleemosune) in Matthew 6:2. Since the "righteousness" referred to in Matthew 6:1 is clearly "almsgiving," it is not incorrect to translate dikaiosune there as "almsgiving."
For further clarification, the Sermon at the Temple begins 3 Nephi 13:1 with a sentence that is not present in the Sermon on the Mount: "Verily, verily, I say that I would that ye should do alms unto the poor" (3 Nephi 13:1). Since this text makes the topic of these verses explicitly clear, continuing with a reference to "righteousness" would have been awkward, although this could have been done and the reader still would have understood its meaning to be "righteous almsgiving."
Moreover, in Hebrew (and presumably in the Nephite language) there is not nearly so much difference between the two Semitic words "righteousness" (zedeq) and "almsgiving" (Syriac, zedqtha; Hebrew zodaqah, which at Qumran meant "righteousness . . . justified by charity"), as there is between the two Greek words dikaiosune ("righteousness") and eleemosune ("generosity"). Indeed, one of the most important attributes of any person (including God) who is zedeq is that he is charitable: he "gives freely, without regard for gain." "The righteous (zedeq) sheweth mercy and giveth" (Psalm 37:21; see also Daniel 4:27 [Hebrew text 4:24]). If Jesus said in Hebrew, "Watch your zedeq," what did he mean? His message was about generosity, not just "righteousness" in some general sense. The Greek word dikaiosune (from dike, "justice") is, therefore, not a satisfactory term to convey the full meaning of the Hebrew zedeq or its Aramaic cognate, the languages Jesus spoke. "Doing alms," on the other hand, comes closer to conveying the meaning of "righteousness justified by charity." Assuming that Jesus said to the Nephites something like, "Watch your zodaqah" (since he would not have spoken to the Nephites in Greek), Joseph Smith was most correct to translate this by reference to charitable "alms."
Critics usually forget to give the Book of Mormon credit where it is due. One important example involves Matthew 5:22, which reads (KJV) "Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment." The Book of Mormon version (from the Sermon at the Temple) lacks the troublesome phrase "without a cause." Likewise, many early New Testament manuscripts lack that phrase. The difference in the texts, in this case, has genuine doctrinal importance--and here we find the Book of Mormon agreeing with earlier manuscripts and not with a possible error in the King James version.
Anti-Mormon writer Stan Larson has also alleged that the Sermon on the Mount in 3 Nephi does not match the earliest Greek texts. John Gee responds to the charges in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1994, pp.67-68:
Another example . . . is Stan Larson's work, wherein he tries to use textual criticism to show that the Book of Mormon is not an authentic witness to the words of Jesus because its readings do not match those of several third- and fourth-century manuscripts of the Sermon on the Mount in eight places.
Larson maintains that "there is no evidence that anything was written down in Jesus' Aramaic language" (p. 117), although the early second century writer Papias wrote that "Matthew compiled the accounts in the Hebrew language" [Papias, fragment 2, in Eusebius, Historiae Ecclesiasticae III, 39, 16.] Unjustly disparaged for years, Papias's comment has now been vindicated with the publication in 1987 of the Hebrew text of Matthew preserved in at least nine manuscripts [George Howard, The Gospel of Matthew according to a Primitive Hebrew Text (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1987)]. Any attempt to reconstruct the original text of Matthew which fails to take this important version into account may justly be said to be defective as it preserves many early readings. Specifically, three of Larson's eight examples are not supported by the Hebrew version (Examples 1-2, 4, pp. 121-24). Thus, at Matthew 5:27 the Hebrew has lqdmwnym, paralleling the disparaged tois archaiois whose parallel "by them of old time" appears in 3 Nephi 12:27. At Matthew 5:44, the Hebrew has 'hbw 'wybykm w'sw twbh lswn'km wmk'yskm whtpllw bsbyl rwdpykm wlwhsykm ("love your enemies, and do good to those who hate you and provoke you and pray on behalf of those who persecute you and oppress you"). Though this is not identical to 3 Nephi, it nevertheless has those phrases that Larson is so positive are not in the original text. At Matthew 5:30, the Hebrew concludes with msy'bd kl gwpk bghynm ("than that thy whole body perish in hell"). Even if this text does not directly support the Book of Mormon, it destroys Larson's requisite unanimity.
It is extremely difficult to reconstruct an original text from multiple conflicting variants. Sometimes several manuscripts may agree, yet they all depart from what may have been the original. Relying on the dates of multiple surviving manuscripts as an indicator of accuracy is also inadequate, for sometimes a later manuscript preserves a newly discovered and correct original reading that was lacking in earlier manuscripts. It is speculative at best to argue that the Book of Mormon is not valid because some verses closely follow the King James text while departing from some manuscripts that are earlier than the ones used by the KJV translators. Indeed, Gee later notes the improper methodology of such attacks (Gee, pp. 70-71):
From the perspective of textual criticism, there is a further flawed assumption that needs to be exposed. Larson, as many before him, assumes that variants in the Book of Mormon should be reflected in Old World manuscripts. As far as textual criticism goes, it is methodologically incorrect to expect the Book of Mormon to agree or disagree with any given manuscript or set of manuscripts on any given textual variant. We no more expect the Book of Mormon to agree with Sinaiticus on any given variant than we expect the Peshitta or Codex Scheide to agree with Sinaiticus on the same variant. The purpose of textual criticism is not to establish the validity of the manuscript witnesses--such validity is always a given--but to use the manuscript witnesses to establish the text. Thus, from the standpoint of textual criticism, Larson cannot use a hammer whose purpose is nailing down the text to saw the Book of Mormon off from his list of manuscript witnesses. While his study demonstrates the independence of the Book of Mormon, this is precisely what we would expect if it is what it claims to be.
Some critics also claim that the Book of Mormon must be false because phrases from the New Testament are found in parts of the Book of Mormon written long before the New Testament. As John Tvedtnes explained in his review of Brent Lee Metcalfe, ed., New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology (Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1994, pp. 246-249), these arguments fail to consider several factors:
Naturally, I can't answer all questions about the translation and the translation process. There is a difference, though, between an anomaly and a fatal flaw. The former requires research to fine tune our understanding, while the latter is so serious that it demands a major paradigm shift. Details of how the King James version was employed are needed to fine tune our understanding of the Book of Mormon--they do not comprise a fundamental crisis for the text.
Regarding the "Inspired Translation" of the Bible (JST) and the Book of Mormon
Many people have wondered why Joseph Smith proposed some changes to Bible passages in his unfinished "translation" of the Bible (JST--the Joseph Smith Translation) that don't match the corresponding quotations in the Book of Mormon. A key point is that the JST does not claim to be a restoration of the original text -- in many cases, it may be viewed as an improved English rendering of the existing Greek or Hebrew (or, in many other cases, as a theological improvement of something that may have been unclear or incompletely expressed in the original). Thus, a theological improvement of an English rendering can be proposed without invalidating accurate translations of the original text. Given that the KJV text was apparently followed when it was "close enough" to convey the message of the original text, it is possible that the KJV could be clarified or theologically improved in some places without invalidating the Book of Mormon translation. For further details on this issue, see the FAIRLDS.org "Ask the Apologist" response to a question about Joseph Smith and Matt. 6:13 by Kevin Barney.
Many have objected to the Book of Mormon's frequent use of Old Testament material, quoting from many passages, especially Isaiah, where entire chapters are quoted. In some cases, the Biblical text is reworked or interposed with commentary. For example, 2 Nephi 27 is primarily a quotation of Isaiah 29, but it appears the Nephi has expanded portions of that chapter to add further prophetic details about the Restoration of the Gospel. Some critics have said that God does not need to repeat Himself, and that the Book of Mormon must be a fraud because it unnecessarily repeats scripture that God already gave. Such critics show amazing ignorance of the Bible. The words of Christ and nearly all New Testament writers frequently repeat Old Testament passages. Hundreds of New Testament verses are repetitions of text from the Old Testament, often applied to new situations to make a particular point--just as we find in the Book of Mormon.
The recent discovery of other ancient Jewish texts adds further credibility to the Book of Mormon practice of quoting heavily from the Old Testament and reworking Old Testament passages for special purposes. For example, Marilyn J. Lundberg writing for the University of Southern California's West Semitic Research Project, discusses the ancient Dead Sea Scroll text, "The Words of Moses" (document 1Q22 [1QDM]) in an article at https://www.usc.edu/dept/LAS/wsrp/educational_site/dead_sea_scrolls/words_moses.shtml:
The content of the manuscript is heavily influenced by the biblical book of Deuteronomy, which is primarily a long speech by Moses to the people of Israel before they enter the land of Canaan. Deuteronomy itself reviews, quotes and reworks some of the material from Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. The Words of Moses reworks material from Deuteronomy. This is not at all surprising, since much of the literature of this time (3rd century B.C.E. to 1st century C.E.) is based on older biblical texts. It was a common practice, as we can see from many of the Dead Sea Scrolls, to take passages from the Bible and rework them in some way for a particular religious purpose. The Words of Moses was perhaps intended to serve as a reminder to the people to obey the commandments given by God through Moses. It may also have served as a warning of what would happen if they did not.
Book of Mormon passages that draw upon the Old Testament strive for the same purpose: to remind the people to obey God and warn of what would happen if they did not (and, more importantly, to convince people that Jesus Christ is the Messiah).
If the Book of Mormon did not draw upon the words of the Old Testament, then one could rightly question its Semitic origins. The use of previous Jewish scriptures in the Book of Mormon only adds to its credibility as an ancient text with Semitic origins.
This is an interesting issue that has been the basis of several attacks against the Book of Mormon. The italicized words in the King James text are words that the translators had to add in an effort to make the translation be reasonable in English. The italicized words in various editions of the King James text were not explicitly present in the Hebrew or Greek texts. Some critics of the Book of Mormon have pointed to Book of Mormon citations of Isaiah or other texts where the italicized KJV words are also present in the Book of Mormon. This proves, they allege, that Joseph simply plagiarized from the Bible--copying it mindlessly--rather than performing a translation from the gold plates, otherwise why would the same "translator's choice" words be used?
On the other hand, other critics have noted that many of the numerous differences between the Book of Mormon text and the King James Version occur relative to the italicized words, as if Joseph were deliberately but naively trying to add credibility to his "new" translation by changing many of the italicized words to make it look like different "translator's choices" were made while still relying on the King James Bible.
One problem with the latter argument is that there is no evidence that Joseph Smith used a Bible with italicized words or that he was aware of the significance of italics in some printings of the Bible. Oliver Cowdery may have been aware of the significance of italics, but there is nothing to support the idea that Joseph deliberately did anything with the italicized words of the King James Bible or that he even used a Bible in any way during the translation and any preparation of the text for printing. The use of King James language in the Book of Mormon, in my opinion, may have been guided by inspiration, following the existing "standard" translation as long as it was adequate.
More recently, I have encountered allegations that Joseph Smith just slavishly copied from the King James Bible, italicized words and all. The steady borrowing of italicized words from the King James text is thus said to prove the fraud of Joseph's "translation." The problem with this argument, like so many waged against the Book of Mormon and the Church itself, is that it falls apart under closer scrutiny. It's easy to cry out against the effrontery of Joseph Smith's use of italicized words-- but have our critics carefully studied the text? I don't think so. Consider, for example, Isaiah 2 and 3 and their corresponding quotations in the Book of Mormon. In the table below, the KJV verses are on the left, with Book of Mormon verses on the right. KJV verses with italicized words are given an enlarged verse number in a different font. If one or more of the italicized passages in the KJV verse has been changed in the corresponding Book of Mormon verse, then the verse number is in red; otherwise, it is black. As you will see, most of the verses with italics in the Bible are numbered in read because the Book of Mormon versions show subtle changes.
|Comparison of Isaiah Chapters 2 and 3 in the King James Bible versus Isaiah as Quoted in the Book of Mormon: Focus on KJC Italicized Words|
2 Nephi 12
|1 The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.||1 The word that Isaiah, the son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:|
|2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.||2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, when the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it.|
|3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.||3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.|
|4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.||4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plow-shares, and their spears into pruning-hooks--nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.|
|5 O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.||5 O house of Jacob, come ye and let us walk in the light of the Lord; yea, come, for ye have all gone astray, every one to his wicked ways.|
|6 Therefore thou hast forsaken thy people the house of Jacob, because they be replenished from the east, and are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they please themselves in the children of strangers.||6 Therefore, O Lord, thou hast forsaken thy people, the house of Jacob, because they be replenished from the east, and hearken unto soothsayers like the Philistines, and they please themselves in the children of strangers.|
|7 Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots:||7 Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots.|
|8 Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made:||8 Their land is also full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made.|
|9 And the mean man boweth down, and the great man humbleth himself: therefore forgive them not.||9 And the mean man boweth not down, and the great man humbleth himself not, therefore, forgive him not.|
|10 Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty.||10 O ye wicked ones, enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for the fear of the Lord and the glory of his majesty shall smite thee.|
|11 The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day.||11 And it shall come to pass that the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.|
|12 For the day of the LORD of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low:||12 For the day of the Lord of Hosts soon cometh upon all nations, yea, upon every one; yea, upon the proud and lofty, and upon every one who is lifted up, and he shall be brought low.|
|13 And upon all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan,||13 Yea, and the day of the Lord shall come upon all the cedars of Lebanon, for they are high and lifted up; and upon all the oaks of Bashan;|
|14 And upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills that are lifted up,||14 And upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills, and upon all the nations which are lifted up, and upon every people;|
|15 And upon every high tower, and upon every fenced wall,||15 And upon every high tower, and upon every fenced wall;|
|16 And upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures.||16 And upon all the ships of the sea, and upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures.|
|17 And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day.||17 And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low; and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.|
|18 And the idols he shall utterly abolish.||18 And the idols he shall utterly abolish.|
|19 And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.||19 And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for the fear of the Lord shall come upon them and the glory of his majesty shall smite them, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.|
|20 In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats;||20 In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which he hath made for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats;|
|21 To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.||21 To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for the fear of the Lord shall come upon them and the majesty of his glory shall smite them, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.|
|22 Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?||22 Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils; for wherein is he to be accounted of?|
|1 For, behold, the Lord, the LORD of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water,||1 For behold, the Lord, the Lord of Hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem, and from Judah, the stay and the staff, the whole staff of bread, and the whole stay of water -|
|2 The mighty man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the prudent, and the ancient,||2 The mighty man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the prudent, and the ancient;|
|3 The captain of fifty, and the honourable man, and the counsellor, and the cunning artificer, and the eloquent orator.||3 The captain of fifty, and the honorable man, and the counselor, and the cunning artificer, and the eloquent orator.|
|4 And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them.||4 And I will give children unto them to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them.|
|5 And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbour: the child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honourable.||5 And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbor; the child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honorable.|
|6 When a man shall take hold of his brother of the house of his father, saying, Thou hast clothing, be thou our ruler, and let this ruin be under thy hand:||6 When a man shall take hold of his brother of the house of his father, and shall say: Thou hast clothing, be thou our ruler, and let not this ruin come under thy hand -|
|7 In that day shall he swear, saying, I will not be an healer; for in my house is neither bread nor clothing: make me not a ruler of the people.||7 In that day shall he swear, saying: I will not be a healer; for in my house there is neither bread nor clothing; make me not a ruler of the people.|
|8 For Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen: because their tongue and their doings are against the LORD, to provoke the eyes of his glory.||8 For Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen, because their tongues and their doings have been against the Lord, to provoke the eyes of his glory.|
|9 The shew of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! for they have rewarded evil unto themselves.||9 The show of their countenance doth witness against them, and doth declare their sin to be even as Sodom, and they cannot hide it. Wo unto their souls, for they have rewarded evil unto themselves!|
|10 Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him: for they shall eat the fruit of their doings.||10 Say unto the righteous that it is well with them; for they shall eat the fruit of their doings.|
|11 Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him: for the reward of his hands shall be given him.||11 Wo unto the wicked, for they shall perish; for the reward of their hands shall be upon them!|
|12 As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths.||12 And my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they who lead thee cause thee to err and destroy the way of thy paths.|
|13 The LORD standeth up to plead, and standeth to judge the people.||13 The Lord standeth up to plead, and standeth to judge the people.|
|14 The LORD will enter into judgment with the ancients of his people, and the princes thereof: for ye have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses.||14 The Lord will enter into judgment with the ancients of his people and the princes thereof; for ye have eaten up the vineyard and the spoil of the poor in your houses.|
|15 What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? saith the Lord GOD of hosts.||15 What mean ye? Ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor, saith the Lord God of Hosts.|
|16 Moreover the LORD saith, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet:||16 Moreover, the Lord saith: Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched-forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet -|
|17 Therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the LORD will discover their secret parts.||17 Therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the Lord will discover their secret parts.|
|18 In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet, and their cauls, and their round tires like the moon,||18 In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments, and cauls, and round tires like the moon;|
|19 The chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers,||19 The chains and the bracelets, and the mufflers;|
|20 The bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the earrings,||20 The bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the ear-rings;|
|21 The rings, and nose jewels,||21 The rings, and nose jewels;|
|22 The changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins,||22 The changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping-pins;|
|23 The glasses, and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the vails.||23 The glasses, and the fine linen, and hoods, and the veils.|
|24 And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet smell there shall be stink; and instead of a girdle a rent; and instead of well set hair baldness; and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth; and burning instead of beauty.||24 And it shall come to pass, instead of sweet smell there shall be stink; and instead of a girdle, a rent; and instead of well set hair, baldness; and instead of a stomacher, a girding of sackcloth; burning instead of beauty.|
|25 Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war.||25 Thy men shall fall by the sword and thy mighty in the war.|
|26 And her gates shall lament and mourn; and she being desolate shall sit upon the ground.||26 And her gates shall lament and mourn; and she shall be desolate, and shall sit upon the ground.|
Of the 27 verses having italicized words in the King James version of these two chapter, 24 of the corresponding verses in the Book of Mormon show changes in the choice of words used for what was italicized in the Bible. Of the 35 total occurrences of italicized phrases or words in these two chapters, 28 of the occurrences show changes in the Book of Mormon. That's hardly slavish copying! The italics-based case against the Book of Mormon as a translation is without substance.
I think these chapters must have more than the average number of changes in italicized passages. But they suffice to show that when the Book of Mormon quotes Isaiah, something other than route copying occurred. (And in any case, quoting from Isaiah or any other writing and stating that the author is being quoted, is hardly plagiarism! Feel free to quote me on this. Just spell my name correctly when you give attribution, and I'll be happy.)
There is much to be gained from a study of the details in these variants of Isaiah, whether the words are italicized or not. For example, consider Is. 2:20, where the KJV has "they made each one" and the Book of Mormon in 2 Ne. 12:20 offers "he hath made." Though the italicized words in the KJV are open for debate, the Hebrew text used for the KJV definitely has "they made." If Joseph deliberately made changes of italicized words in an attempt to gain credibility, one might understand the deletion of the italicized "each one" in Is. 2:20, but why risk changing "they made" to "he hath made"? Interestingly, this subtle change actually strengthens the credibility of the Book of Mormon as a translation, for the change to "he hath made" finds support in another ancient Bible manuscript, the Codex Alexandrinus, which offers "he made." The Codex Alexandrinus (now in the British Museum) arrived in England in 1628 A.D., 17 years after the King James Version was published. Joseph Smith did not have access to it. So how could he manage to fabricate variants in the Isaiah text that make sense, such as variants in many italicized words (when there is no evidence that he understood the significance of the italics or even had a Bible with italicized words) or variants of other passages that are attested in other manuscripts? (Other examples are given above in a quote from Franklin S. Harris.)
As a further example, the Book of Mormon variant of Is. 2:16 provides subtle but powerful evidence that the Book of Mormon was using a more ancient manuscript of Isaiah than the Masoretic text used by the KJV translators, for the Book of Mormon uses three phrases in that verse, two of which are found in the Masoretic text and a different two of which are found in Septuagint and Targum, as if the original had all three, as does the Book of Mormon. I discuss this issue at length on a separate page, "2 Nephi 12 and the Septuagint: Evidence for Fraud or Authenticity in the Book of Mormon?"
One of the earliest attempts to discredit the Book of Mormon was the argument that it was derived from a lengthy manuscript written by Solomon Spaulding (sometimes spelled Spalding) in 1812. The only known manuscript by Spaulding, now called Manuscript Found, was lost for many years, but was discovered in 1884 and finally published in 1885 (see the article, "Spaulding Manuscript" by Lance D. Chase in Vol. 3 of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism). Now that we know what is in the manuscript, it is obvious that it could not have been the source for the Book of Mormon, as I'll discuss below. The Spaulding theory could survive only as long as the evidence was hidden.
The Spaulding manuscript tells of finding a lost Roman document in a cave near Conneaut, Ohio, which was close to Kirtland, Ohio, the latter serving as Church Headquarters for several years at a time of severe anti-LDS propaganda and persecution. Some people in Conneaut, upon learning of the Book of Mormon, claimed it was much the same as Spaulding's manuscript and that they shared common stories, dealt with Israelites in ancient America, and shared names such as Nephi, Lehi, and Zarahemla. The bitter anti-Mormon Philastrus Hurlbut, who had been excommunicated from the Church in 1833 for adultery, gathered affidavits from family members about the manuscript and its relationship to the Book of Mormon. These affidavits would be published in E.D. Howe's archetypal 1834 anti-Mormon book, Mormonism Unvailed, along with many other affidavits that Hurlbut gathered against Joseph Smith from people who claimed to have known him well. (Interestingly, many of the affidavits condemning Joseph Smith show strong signs of common authorship.) Hurlbut also obtained the Spaulding manuscript and was disappointed to find that it was quite unrelated to the Book of Mormon. While there had never been any indication that Spaulding had written more than one manuscript, Howe and Hurlbut then argued that Spaulding had rewritten the story to deal with Israelites at an earlier time and be in scriptural language. It was alleged Joseph Smith used this rewritten Spaulding Manuscript to create the Book of Mormon and that Joseph had probably received it or information about it from Sidney Rigdon (even though Joseph did not meet Sidney until after publication of the Book of Mormon). This theory became a primary anti-Mormon attack on the Book of Mormon for many years.
In 1884, Manuscript Found was finally discovered in Hawaii among "items shipped from the office of the Ohio Painesville Telegraph, owned by Eber D. Howe, when that office was purchased in 1839 by L. L. Rice, who subsequently moved to Honolulu" (Chase, op. cit.). The manuscript was published by Latter-day Saints and the RLDS Church as well. Supporters of Joseph Smith felt vindicated, for it was clearly not the source of the Book of Mormon (the possibility of a second document will be discussed below). But there were some similarities, as L.D. Chase explains (ibid.):
The Spaulding Manuscript is a fictional story about a group of Romans who, while sailing to England early in the fourth century A.D., were blown off course and landed in eastern North America. One of them kept a record of their experiences among eastern and midwestern American Indian tribes. . . .
There are similarities in the explanation for the origins of both Manuscript Found and the Book of Mormon. The introduction to the Spaulding work claims that its author was walking near Conneaut, Ohio (about 150 miles west of the place in New York where Joseph Smith obtained the gold plates), when he discovered an inscribed, flat stone. This he raised with a lever, uncovering a cave in which lay a stone box containing twenty-eight rolls of parchment. The writing was in Latin. The story is primarily a secular one, having virtually no religious content. A character in the novel possessed a seerstone, similar to objects used by Joseph Smith. However, none of the many names found in either volume matches any of those in the other, nor is there the remotest similarity in literary styles.
Joseph, of course, found the gold plates in a stone box, and the Book of Mormon also deals with people who anciently sailed to the Americas and kept a written record. Therein lie the most "impressive" similarities between the only known Spaulding Manuscript and the Book of Mormon. The statements of various witnesses that had been published about Joseph's alleged plagiarism from Spaulding were suddenly exposed as utter fabrications. To illustrate this with an example, we now quote from President Joseph F. Smith, former President of the Church, a man who was in Hawaii at the time Spaulding's manuscript was located and who was personally involved in the events that followed and who conducted extensive analysis of the contents. The following brief quotation comes from an extensive article, largely forgotten today, "The Manuscript Found," published in the Improvement Era, Vol. 3, No. 4, Feb. 1900, now available at Kerry Shirts' site:
Let us review the statement of one of these pretended witnesses [about the Spaulding manuscript]. We will take the testimony of John Spaulding, brother of Solomon. He says:It was a historical romance of the first settlers of America, endeavoring to show that the American Indians are the descendants of the Jews or the lost tribes.
The fact is, there is not one word in the "Manuscript Story" about the Indians having descended from the Jews. Indeed, after having read it, and copied a large part of it with my own hand, I cannot recall a single reference to the Jews in the whole story. Again:It gave a detailed account of their journey from Jerusalem by land and sea, till they arrived in America, under the command of Nephi and Lehi.
This is made out of whole cloth. "Spaulding's Story" begins at Rome, not at Jerusalem. The words Nephi, Lehi, Nephites and Lamanites do not occur at all in "Spaulding's Story," nor are there any names remotely resembling them, as the "Manuscript" itself attests. Then Mr. John Spaulding is made to say:I have recently read the Book of Mormon, and to my surprise, I find nearly the same historical matter, names, etc., as they were in my brother's writings.
How very differently Messrs. Fairchild and Rice viewed this same matter when they compared his "brother's writings" with the Book of Mormon! They saw "no resemblance between the two, in general or detail." Again, Mr. J. Spaulding is made to say:I well remember that he (Solomon) wrote in the old style, and commenced about every sentence with, "And it came to pass," or, "Now it came to pass,' the same as in the Book of Mormon, etc."
How very unfortunate it is for the author of the foregoing, whether he was John Spaulding or Robert Patterson, or some other person who may have put such cunning words into his mouth, that the phrases, "And it came to pass," or, "Now it came to pass" do not occur anywhere in the "Manuscript Found," much less "commencing about every sentence."
And thus every testimony of these alleged credible witnesses might be controverted, but this one is enough to show the falsity of all, owing to their similarity. The example suffices to disprove the great point which Mr. Patterson desired to establish; namely, that the historical portions of the Book of Mormon were certainly derived from the Spaulding manuscript.
Was there a second manuscript? Not wishing to publish the one Spaulding Manuscript that Hurlbut had found, Howe claimed and used affidavits extracted from three people, that it had been rewritten in a way that made it almost the same as the Book of Mormon. None of the original eight primary witnesses from Conneaut who spoke of the relationship between Spaulding's manuscript and the Book of Mormon ever mentioned a second manuscript or spoke of a revision. There is no mention of a second document or a revision to Biblical language until after Hurlbut returned with the disappointing manuscript of Spaulding. It is Howe who claims that there was no relationship between the known manuscript and the Book of Mormon, and that there must be a second manuscript. As B.H. Roberts explained in an excellent and lengthy analysis of Howe's discussion (Defense of the Faith and the Saints, Vol.2, p.122):
That statement bears all the earmarks of an "afterthought," a silly invention. There is not a single scrap of evidence in all that has been written upon the subject, that goes beyond the date of Hurlbut's delivery of "Manuscript Found," to E. D. Howe, to the effect that Spaulding had written more than one paper that purported to deal with a found manuscript, or the ancient inhabitants of America. . . . Why was it that the neighbors of Spaulding about Conneaut did not say before this manuscript was brought to light by Howe, Hurlbut et al., that Spaulding had written several manuscripts on the subject of the ancient inhabitants of America; one that told of a Roman colony came to America and settled in the Ohio valley, the story of their adventures being "written in modern style;" but that this story he abandoned and wrote another, going farther back with his dates and assigning to the people an Israelitish origin and writing in the old scripture style? How valuable such evidence, ante-dating Hurlbut's coming to Conneaut with Spaulding's manuscript, would be! But it does not exist.
Howe's claim was not that there was a completely new, unrelated missing manuscript, but a missing manuscript that was a revision of the one Hurlbut had found. But such a rewrite would be analogous to rewriting a chapter in Moby Dick to come up with the Book of Genesis (both mention whales and water). It is pure fantasy. Manuscript Found, marked with name of Conneaut on its cover page, was almost certainly the one that the witnesses of Conneaut had heard over twenty years before hearing of the Book of Mormon. The memory and truthfulness of the witnesses, zealous to defend religious orthodoxy, are highly questionable (see B.H. Roberts, ibid.). Even more disappointing is the deceitfulness of Howe.
Any argument that tries to credit Solomon Spaulding for anything in the Book of Mormon faces the overwhelming obstacle of establishing a real connection between Joseph Smith and Solomon Spaulding. There is no evidence that they ever met or that Joseph ever even heard of Spaulding's manuscript before publication of the Book of Mormon. Some recent critics have noted that an uncle of Spaulding lived in Sharon, Vermont at the same time Joseph Smith's family did. However, the Smiths moved away several years before the Spaulding manuscript existed, and left Vermont altogether before Joseph reached the age of ten (Isaac Carter, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 6, No. 2, 1994, p.116). Any conjectured relationship between Joseph and Spaulding during his years in Vermont seems implausible.
The Spaulding theory was rejected by anti-Mormon writer Fawn Brodie in 1946, but continues to be repeated in many anti-Mormon publications (along with many other long-refuted allegations from E.D. Howe and other early anti-Mormons, whose writings are repeatedly parroted). There is no substance to any resurrected form of the Spaulding theory and allegations of a second missing document. Certainly nothing known to Solomon Spaulding could account for the presence of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, or the amazing evidence concerning the Arabian Peninsula in First Nephi, or any of the other evidences of authenticity for the Book of Mormon.
A recent attempt to revive the Spaulding theory is the 45-page work of Vernal Holley, Book of Mormon Authorship: A Closer Look, Zenos Publications, Ogden, Utah, 1983. This publication has been reviewed by L. Ara Norwood in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1 (1989), pp. 80-88.
Michael Ash's page on the Spaulding theory has an excellent quote from a non-LDS writer, Edward E. Plowman, in Christianity Today (October 21, 1977, pp. 38-39):
"...Mormon archivists have assembled a large amount of evidence -- some of it impressive -- to rebut the Spalding theory. They scored a coup of sorts when they discovered that a manuscript page from another Mormon book, Doctrine and Covenants, is apparently in the same handwriting as that of the Unidentified Scribe in the Book of Mormon manuscript. It is dated June, 1831 -- fifteen years after Spalding's death.... The average layman can readily note the striking dissimilarities between Spalding's specimens and the others...."
Therefore, any serious attempt to resurrect the Spalding theory must first account for the resurrection of Mr. Spalding.
Other useful sources on this topic include:
Many anti-Mormons now point to James Adair's 1775 book, A History of the American Indians, as a source for a few parts of the Book of Mormon. You can usually find a modern reprint of this book in your local library, such as Adair's History of the American Indians, edited by Samuel Cole Williams, New York: Promontory Press, 1930. The latter volume provides the entire text of Adair's book, showing the original page numbers from Adair in brackets. The page numbers I will mention below refer to the original text.
Let's see what has caused all the uproar among anti-Mormons. Just how shame-faced is the alleged plagiarism? The controversy centers around a paragraph from pages 377 to 378:
Through the whole continent, and in the remotest woods, are traces of their ancient warlike disposition. We frequently met with great mounds of earth, either of a circular, or oblong form, having a strong breast-work at a distance around them, made of the clay which had been dug up in forming the ditch on the inner side of the inclosed ground, and these were their forts of security against an enemy... About 12 miles from the upper northern parts of the Choktah country, there stand... two oblong mounds of earth... in an equal direction with each other... A broad deep ditch inclosed those two fortresses, and there they raised an high breast-work, to secure their houses from the invading enemy.
Now compare this passage to a section from the Book of Mormon. Here is how the Book of Mormon excerpt is formatted in one anti-Mormon source:
"Yea, he had been strengthening the armies of the Nephites, and erecting small forts, or places of resort; throwing up banks of earth round about to enclose his armies... the Nephites were taught... never to raise the sword except it were against an enemy... they had cast up dirt round to shield them from the arrows... the chief captains of the Lamanites were astonished exceedingly, because of the wisdom of the Nephites in preparing their places of security.... they knew not that Moroni had fortified, or had built forts of security in all the land round about... the Lamanites could not get into their forts of security.... because of the highness of the bank which had been thrown up, and the depth of the ditch which had been dug round about... they [the Lamanites] began to dig down their banks of earth... that they might have an equal chance to fight... instead of filling up their ditches by pulling down the banks of earth, they were filled up in a measure with their dead... And [Moroni] caused them to erect fortifications that they might secure their armies... Teancum... caused that they should commence laboring in digging a ditch round about the land... And he caused that they should build a breastwork of timbers upon the inner bank of the ditch; and they did cast up dirt out of the ditch against the breastwork of timbers..."
Alma, 48:8, 14; 49:2, 5, 13, 18, 22; 50:10; 53:3-4
The full text of the cited verses is provided below, to help the reader understand the context and the distance between verses of interest:
8 Yea, he had been strengthening the armies of the Nephites, and erecting small forts, or places of resort; throwing up banks of earth round about to enclose his armies, and also building walls of stone to encircle them about, round about their cities and the borders of their lands; yea, all round about the land. . . .
14 Now the Nephites were taught to defend themselves against their enemies, even to the shedding of blood if it were necessary; yea, and they were also taught never to give an offense, yea, and never to raise the sword except it were against an enemy, except it were to preserve their lives. . . .
2 And behold, the city had been rebuilt, and Moroni had stationed an army by the borders of the city, and they had cast up dirt round about to shield them from the arrows and the stones of the Lamanites; for behold, they fought with stones and with arrows. . . .
5 Now at this time the chief captains of the Lamanites were astonished exceedingly, because of the wisdom of the Nephites in preparing their places of security. . . .
13 For they knew not that Moroni had fortified, or had built forts of security, for every city in all the land round about; therefore, they marched forward to the land of Noah with a firm determination; yea, their chief captains came forward and took an oath that they would destroy the people of that city. . . .
18 Now behold, the Lamanites could not get into their forts of security by any other way save by the entrance, because of the highness of the bank which had been thrown up, and the depth of the ditch which had been dug round about, save it were by the entrance. . . .
22 Now when they found that they could not obtain power over the Nephites by the pass, they began to dig down their banks of earth that they might obtain a pass to their armies, that they might have an equal chance to fight; but behold, in these attempts they were swept off by the stones and arrows which were thrown at them; and instead of filling up their ditches by pulling down the banks of earth, they were filled up in a measure with their dead and wounded bodies. . . .
10 And he also placed armies on the south, in the borders of their possessions, and caused them to erect fortifications that they might secure their armies and their people from the hands of their enemies. . . .
3 And it came to pass that after the Lamanites had finished burying their dead and also the dead of the Nephites, they were marched back into the land Bountiful; and Teancum, by the orders of Moroni, caused that they should commence laboring in digging a ditch round about the land, or the city, Bountiful.
4 And he caused that they should build a breastwork of timbers upon the inner bank of the ditch; and they cast up dirt out of the ditch against the breastwork of timbers; and thus they did cause the Lamanites to labor until they had encircled the city of Bountiful round about with a strong wall of timbers and earth, to an exceeding height.
Scattered or not, these verses do discuss forts, fortifications, security, enemies, war, walls of earth, and so forth in a context somewhat similar to that of Adair--Native American defense systems--and using language similar to that of Adair. Is this evidence of plagiarism?
Well, it actually looks like a pretty strong case. After all, both Adair and the Book of Mormon talk about "forts of security," banks or mounds of earth, ditches, digging, protection "against the enemy," etc. Now one can point out that the parallels cover just a few words scattered over several chapters and hardly provide any meat that would have been useful to plagiarize. The work of writing the Book of Mormon would not be simplified by drawing upon the passage in question of James Adair. And one can argue that what the Book of Mormon describes is rather different that what Adair describes. In the Book of Mormon, for example, the breastwork is clearly composed of timbers, while Adair describes a breastwork of dirt, and the Book of Mormon further refers to walls of stone and defense around entire cities, not just forts, while Adair's oblong mounds don't really fit what is described in the Book of Mormon.
But the fact remains that common terms and phrasing can be found between the Book of Mormon and James Adair. One critic, for example, claims that the phrase "forts of security" is clear evidence of plagiarism from Adair, for it is an unusual phrase. His search of the Internet turned up no one else (other than people citing the Book of Mormon or Adair) who used the phrase "their forts of security."
Intrigued by these attacks, I looked into the matter myself. Focussing on the key part of that phrase, "forts of security," a search on Google.com (the best general search engine, IMHO) turned up only a few sources that use this phrase. But I knew that Google, like most search engines, is primarily searching modern Web pages, not writings from the time of Joseph Smith. While in modern days we don't talk or write much about forts, security, ditches, breastwork, etc., I wondered if sources from Joseph Smith's day might provide more insight.
Then came the shocking discovery. The very first nineteenth-century text that I searched--a book from 1828 that Joseph Smith may have known of and perhaps even used--provided TROUBLING EVIDENCE OF PLAGIARISM --much more convincing than anything anti-Mormons can point to in Adair or Ethan Smith or Spaulding or other common sources used in anti-Mormon lore. This source, which I fortuitously stumbled upon, showed the following connections (each paragraph is taken from a single section of the source--the phrases are tightly connected, with only a couple words deleted here and there):
. . .fortification . . . deep ditch cut for defense . . . to interrupt the approach of an enemy. The wall or breast-work formed by the earth thrown out of the ditch . . .
Breast-work [a.k.a. parapet] . . . thrown up for defense. . .
. . . fortified place ... surrounded with a ditch, rampart, and parapet [=breastwork!] ... defense ... place fortified for security against an enemy.
. . . a fort ... a place of ... security. . . . Parapet . . . . breast high . . . . elevation of earth for covering soldiers from an enemy's shot. . . .
[D]ig . . . a ditch . . . in the earth. . . . fortify by cutting a ditch and raising a rampart or breast-work of earth thrown out of the ditch.
I had found the SMOKING GUN, an obvious source for many phrases in the Book of Mormon. But it gets worse! I turned to another page of my nineteenth century source, noted a few interesting words there, and then quickly found the very same words in the Book of Mormon. IN FACT, a computer search will quickly confirm that NEARLY EVERY ENGLISH WORD in the 1830 Book of Mormon can be found in my 1828 source, the dictionary of Noah Webster. Here are a few definitions from that 1828 source (only partially cited above), showing word groupings obviously related to the Book of Mormon, much more so that James Adair's work:
FORT, n. [L. fortis, strong.]
1. A fortified place; usually, a small fortified place; a place surrounded with a ditch, rampart, and parapet [= breastwork--see below], or with palisades, stockades, or other means of defense; also, any building or place fortified for security against an enemy; a castle.
1. Any fortified place; a fort; a castle; a strong hold; a place of defense or security. The English have a strong fortress on the rock of Gibraltar, or that rock is a fortress.
2. Defense; safety; security; The Lord is my rock, and my fortress. Ps. 18.
BREAST'-WORK, n. [breast and work.] In fortification, a work thrown up for defense; a parapet, which see.
PAR'APET, n. [L. pectus.] Literally, a wall or rampart to the breast or breast high; but in practice , a wall, rampart or elevation of earth for covering soldiers from an enemy's shot.
1. To cut or dig, as a ditch, a channel for water, or a long hollow in the earth. We trench land for draining. [This is the appropriate sense of the word.] 2. To fortify by cutting a ditch and raising a rampart or breast-work of earth thrown out of the ditch. [In this sense, entrench is more generally used.]
TRENCH, n. A long narrow cut in the earth; a ditch; as a trench for draining land.
1. In fortification, a deep ditch cut for defense, or to interrupt the approach of an enemy. The wall or breast-work formed by the earth thrown out of the ditch, is also called a trench, as also any raised work formed with bavins, gabions, wool-packs or other solid materials, Hence, the phrases, to mount the trenches, to guard the trenches, to clear the trenches, &c.open the trenches, to begin to dig, or to form the lines of approach.
Look at the parallels. (Please, you deluded Mormons, you must confront this evidence and wake from your senseless sleep of delusion.) Mr. Webster uses the phrases "fortified for security against an enemy" and "place of defense or security" in discussing a fort--an obvious connection to the Book of Mormon's "fort of security." And Webster frequently quotes the Bible, as does the Book of Mormon.
What ties did Noah Webster and Joseph have? Were they distant cousins, or were they both friends of Martin Harris? Perhaps Noah Webster dated the sister of Ethan Smith, who lived in the same town as Solomon Spaulding and Oliver Cowdery, who in turn guided Joseph in blatant plagiarism from the dictionary. We could deduce even more, if only Fawn Brodie were here to teach us precisely what was in Joseph's mind as he stole random words from Noah Webster. How could he possibly have hoped to get away with it?
The case against Joseph was as good as closed and I was about to leave the Church and use my savings in tithing to make generous donations to Gerald and Sandra Tanner, when this question hit me: "What does it really mean if the Book of Mormon contains words and phrases also found the 1828 edition of Webster's dictionary?" Just before I called it quits with the Church, it hit me: the nineteenth-century printing of the Book of Mormon shamelessly employed nineteenth-century English because that's the language the translator spoke. And in any single language, different writers discussing common topics may end up using common terms associated with those topics. Talk about war among ancient peoples, and fortifications are likely to come up as a means of defense. Defense against who? Defense "against an enemy." And if they throw up a wall for defense using earth, they may very well discuss digging and mounds or banks and defense and security. And when there is digging of earth, there may very well be a trench or ditch, and a wall or parapet or breastwork.
Just like it's hard to talk about modern politicians without eventually using common words like taxation, bribery, scandal, interns, and indictment, it's hard to talk about ancient warfare without having fortifications and walls or earth, especially when you are discussing peoples that actually used walls of earth. And this is where the real similarity comes in: ancient inhabitants of Mesoamerica used banks of earth as one form of fortification. Some Native Americans in North America may have had a related idea. Adair describes the latter, while the Book of Mormon describes the former. That is weak evidence for plagiarism.
Some critics have found other brief passages in Adair that are allegedly plagiarized. One page in Adair (a footnote at page 178, appearing on pages 187-188 in the version edited by Samuel Cole) mentions two round brass plates and five copper plates with something of a hammer shape drawn by Adair. According to him, the Indians held these plates as sacred, with legends saying that they had writing on them and were buried with certain men. Thus, there are some analogies to plates in the Book of Mormon, but a parallel with a few common elements is not plausible evidence for plagiarism.
Some critics also point to the phrase "three days and nights" on page 162 of Adair (p. 171 in Cole's version). Though that exact phrase never occurs in the Book of Mormon, it is supposed to have been the source for a different phrase in Alma 36:10: "And it came to pass that I fell to the earth; and it was for the space of three days and three nights that I could not open my mouth, neither had I the use of my limbs." The phrase "the space of three days" occurs a total of 10 times in the Book of Mormon--and in many other English books. Speaking about the "space" of some number of days (and optionally nights) is a common way of expressing how long an event lasted. Plagiarism? Don't be silly. Adair's use of the phrase occurs in the context of men practicing abstinence before and after battle, completely unrelated to concepts in the Book of Mormon. In fact, if Joseph had plagiarized the Book of Mormon from Adair and was intrigued by the section on page 162 that mentioned "three days and nights," he overlooked a golden opportunity to add plausibility to the text. Native American purification rituals for warriors is offered as evidence of Hebraic origins. Right after the sentence mentioning three days and three nights, Adair states, "This religious war custom . . . seems to be derived from the Hebrews, who thus sanctified themselves, to gain divine protection, and victory over their enemies." If Joseph were plagiarizing, it seems like he would have mentioned "three days and nights" in the context of warrior purification for Nephites of Lamanites, something that could later be pointed to as an evidence for the Book of Mormon. But there is no hint of borrowing anything from Adair, who would have been a tremendously rich source for a plagiarized book linking Native Americans to Hebrews. All the critics can point to are some insignificant passages that can be explained by chance and do nothing to explain how the Book of Mormon was created.
The few random parallels between the Book of Mormon and Adair's lengthy work pale in comparison with what Joseph COULD have plagiarized if Adair had been available and if Joseph were a fraud looking for easy help. Adair, like others of his day, believed that Native Americans were originally Hebrews, and believed that their language, practices, and names were originally Hebraic. Adair offers many hundreds of purported evidences for this connection. If Joseph were looking for some impressive correlations to explain in the Book of Mormon or for ideas to plagiarize, Adair would have been a gold mine. Why not use Adair's discussion of the Indian version of the Hebrew ark of the covenant (see pages 130 and 168-171 in Cole's edition), or the frequent discussion of the Indian chant "Yo He Wah" which is said to be derived from the name "Jehovah"? Why not include Adair's examples of Hebrew words and names among the Indians, or their allegedly Hebrew-rooted rituals, laws, taboos, and so forth? But none of that finds its way into the Book of Mormon. Adair, in spite of its potential richness for a would-be plagiarist writing about Native Americans and ties to Hebrew culture, is utterly unused. Why settle for a couple crumbs about "forts" and "three days and three nights"--useful perhaps for six or seven sentences out of thousands--when hundreds of paragraphs of rich information are waiting to be stolen?
With no evidence that Joseph, the uneducated farmboy, had access to Adair's book or was aware of its contents, the rare parallels are most plausibly the result of chance and the natural use of terminology to describe common factors in warfare. And if the Book of Mormon is true, then we should not be surprised to find that a few things from ancient Book of Mormon culture might have survived among Native Americans, only to be described by later writers, such as the use of walls of earth for defense or the tradition of sacred metal plates.
The charge that Joseph plagiarized from James Adair has no substantive basis. However, I am forced to admit, in light of overwhelming evidence, that Joseph consistently drew upon previously documented words in the English language in crafting his translation. I guess that's a problem many English-speaking translators have had. But I won't let that lessen my respect for the authentic and truthful Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.
Update from June 2002: To better understand the silliness of the charges of plagiarism based on a few stray parallels between various texts and the Book of Mormon, please see my new LDSFAQ work, "Was the Book of Mormon Plagiarized from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass?" This work shows that an impossible source--published 25 years after the Book of Mormon--provides much better "evidence" of Book of Mormon plagiarism than what the critics have been able to drum up by poring over the works of James Adair or anyone else. In fact, Whitman uses words like trenches, breastwork, etc., in ways that provide much stronger parallels to the Book of Mormon than James Adair does--along with literally hundreds of other parallels that would present an astoundingly "iron clad" case for plagiarism, by anti-Mormon standards, except for one little detail: the Book of Mormon came first. The explanation for many of the parallels is simple: those writing about related subjects, such as warfare or ocean voyages, are likely to use similar words and concepts, without any need for plagiarism.
Some of the most interesting parallels between the Book of Mormon and another source occur when we examine the 2 Maccabees, an apocryphal work that Joseph could have known about. Indeed, I understand that his family purchased a Bible in 1828 that contained the Apocrypha, so it's possible that he could have seen the book, though we know we was hardly a Bible scholar or bookworm at the time of translating the Book of Mormon. The main parallels occur in Chapters 1 and 2 of 2 Maccabees, parallels that one critic sees as overwhelming evidence of plagiarism. Why not take a moment right now and read these chapters for yourself, and see if you can spot the evidence for plagiarism. Here are couple of sources to choose from:
Now if you read 1 and 2 Maccabees and then the Book of Mormon, I'm sure you'll be puzzled at the claim of parallelism. As with many documents, one can find a occasional parallel, and as with many King James Version texts or other documents in similar language, one can find similar phrases. But do we find significant passages that have been stolen? Do we find stories that have been lifted and placed in the Book of Mormon? No. If we accept the hypothesis of plagiarism, how much of the Book of Mormon could possibly be explained? A couple of words and phrases at most, leaving us with the fundamental question unanswered: just how did Joseph Smith write the Book of Mormon, if it is not an ancient text?
Let's look at the strongest parallels. Clearly the strongest and most interesting occurs in 2 Maccabees at the end of chapter 1, where we find the word "Nephi." Here is the relevant passage, from 2 Maccabees 1:34 to 1:36:
31 Now when the sacrifice was consumed, Neemias commanded the water that was left to be poured on the great stones.
32 When this was done, there was kindled a flame: but it was consumed by the light that shined from the altar.
33 So when this matter was known, it was told the king of Persia, that in the place, where the priests that were led away had hid the fire, there appeared water, and that Neemias had purified the sacrifices therewith.
34 Then the king, inclosing the place, made it holy, after he had tried the matter.
35 And the king took many gifts, and bestowed thereof on those whom he would gratify.
36 And Neemias called this thing Naphthar, which is as much as to say, a cleansing: but many men call it Nephi.
Nephi is not given as a man's name, but as the name of an object or place. Nevertheless, there it is, Nephi. Even if it was given as a man's name, would that suggest plagiarism? LDS scholars have long argued that "Nephi" has Semitic roots and could have been a name. Finding that word in a Hebraic text points to plagiarism no more than finding names like Jacob or Samuel in the Book of Mormon. Yes, names like Jacob and Samuel occur in Biblical texts that Joseph had access to, but that hardly proves plagiarism. If there was a man named Nephi, then what relevance does the same word in 2 Maccabees have?
There are other parallels cited by critics, who typically suggest that Joseph encountered the Apocrypha just before or during his writing of 1 Nephi toward the end of producing the Book of Mormon. Critics such as the Tanners, for example, acknowledge that 1 Nephi was written after most of the other books of the Book of Mormon (the first few books from the "small plates of Nephi" were apparently the last to be translated, probably because Mormon added those plates after his main compilation of text), and feel that this late addition to the text was influenced by the Apocrypha. This argument breaks down when we find many words and phrases supposedly plagiarized from the Apocrypha occurring in earlier written text in the Book of Mormon, or occurring in other parts of the Bible, so the suggested fingerprints uniquely linking 1 Nephi to Maccabees is quite weak. But let's examine the specific examples offered by the critics, which I mingle with my own discussion and with a few quotes from a related article of John Tvedtnes and Matthew Roper, "Joseph Smith's Use of the Apocrypha: Shadow or Reality?" (FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 8, No. 2, 1996, pp. 326-372):
Note the roll (scroll) record of Ezra 6:2 and "the book of records" of Esth. 6:1. In Ezra 4:15, which postdates Lehi, we find two occurrences of the words in the book of the records of thy fathers, which not only contain the three magical words, but also remind us of the wording of 1 Ne. 1:2 (cf. 3:3, 12, 19; 5:16) and closely parallel the wording (twice) in 1 Ne. 1:17; 19:1, the record of my father (cf. 1Nephi 6:1; Mosiah 1:6). Moreover, we find the word record or records 27 times in the book of Mosiah, which the Tanners acknowledge to have been produced by Joseph Smith before 1Nephi. If the prophet was influenced by the passage in the Apocrypha in 1 Ne. 13:41, how does one explain the use of the word in earlier passages he dictated that have no tie to 1Nephi? Indeed, the word record or records is found eleven times in 1Nephi before the passage the Tanners believe Joseph Smith took from the Apocrypha (1 Ne. 3:19, 24).
Is there evidence of plagiarism because of a common element or several common elements? Read Maccabees yourself and see. To me, it doesn't come close to explaining the actual stories and contents of 1 Nephi. In modern writing, you can find plenty of stories that talk about banks, about money being kept in those banks, and people trying to get money out of the banks. Two unrelated stories can mention banks and money and other aspects of modern life without raising questions of plagiarism. The actual story of 1 Nephi simply cannot be explained by Maccabees. In fact, as I explain in my quoted e-mail below, there are some very serious questions that the critics are ignoring when they try to claim that 1 Nephi was plagiarized. Of all the books in the Book of Mormon, this is the one that most clearly could not have been fabricated or plagiarized by Joseph Smith.
To someone who made much of the above parallels between 1 Nephi and Maccabees in explaining why he cannot accept the Book of Mormon, I sent the following e-mail in 2002:
The parallels are interesting--the name Nephi especially (but it's not given as a man's name in Maccabees, but the name of a thing), and the use of tables of brass and a treasury. However, I cannot see how this rises to a prima facie case of plagiarism. A few scattered words and phrases are related, but that does not explain the origins of 1 Nephi. If we knew--and we don't--that Joseph had never actually read Maccabees, the parallels would have the effect of 1) providing peripheral support for what some LDS writers have been saying all along, that Nephi could be a legitimate Semitic name, and 2) providing further support for the concept of ancient writing on metal tablets (though not necessarily thin plates in book form) and treating them as valuable enough objects to keep in a treasury. The Book of Mormon was quickly criticized for the latter notion--the idea of writing on plates was simply laughable to early critics--so it's surprising that if Joseph were so familiar with Maccabees, that he and his peers did not defend the practice by an appeal to Maccabees.
Frankly, if it weren't for the word "Nephi," I'd say the list of parallels would be truly unimpressive. In past English classes, I used to take two different sources and make lists of parallels, often much better than the parallels the Tanners offer. I found that it's an easy thing to do--no need to raise the specter of plagiarism.
So the real question is this: did a man named Nephi actually exist? Of all Book of Mormon characters, Nephi is the one we can be most certain about, frankly (OK, the Father and the Son are the real most certain Ones, of course). I say that because it is so readily demonstrable that 1 Nephi COULD NOT have been fabricated by Joseph Smith. If you want to see pathetic fudging, look at how the Tanners deal with the evidence regarding the discovery of plausible candidates for Nahom/Nehem and Bountiful in the Arabian Peninsula (and I believe they remain silent about the Valley of Lemuel). These are places that continue to be mocked by some critics--"there can be no such place as Bountiful in the land of sand" or "there absolutely is not any continually flowing river that enters the Red Sea like the Book of Mormon claims"--and yet these places are there.
The directions in 1 Nephi 16 and 17 for reaching Bountiful are remarkably plausible--go south-southeast along the borders of the Red Sea (bingo--that corresponds to ancient incense trails), stop at Nahom to bury Ishmael (an ancient burial place is there--Nehem--and that region is associated with the ancient tribe of Nihm), go nearly due east at this point--turning due east earlier or later would put you in the empty quarter where death would be certain, but due east from Nehem makes the journey to the east coast possible--and then continue on until you reach the shore, where there are a couple of nearby excellent candidates for Bountiful, complete with fruit trees, fresh water sources, cliffs overlooking the ocean flint, metal ore, etc. Wadi Sayq appears to be the best one, and it meets every criterion that can be extracted from the Book of Mormon. I discuss this in more detail on my Book of Mormon Evidences page. This information was unavailable to Joseph Smith. Even if he had heard of southern "Felix Arabia," he could not have known of the east-coast Bountiful, the burial place Nahom, or the directions needed to get to either place. Whoever wrote 1 Nephi, IT WASN'T JOSEPH SMITH. All of the Apocrypha combined with every book and scholar Joseph could have drummed up cannot account for the direct hits found in 1 Nephi. Throw in the Valley of Lemuel as another direct hit--there really is a continuously flowing stream in a major valley in a plausible location corresponding with Nephi's journey in 1 Nephi--something still unknown to most educated people and utterly unknown among Western scholars in 1830--and we've got truly solid evidence for authenticity.
And how do the Tanners deal with this? They argue that Nahom does not correspond to Nehem--the vowels are different!--as if they haven't known for years that vowels in Semitic languages are fluid, and that it's the consonants the really must be considered. NHM = Nahom/Nehem/Nihm. Bingo. And there is no other NHM place name that we know of in the Arabian world, making NHM a rare if not unique place name. And as for Bountiful, they seem to argue that because some earlier LDS writers proposed a different Bountiful candidate 300 miles away from Wadi Sayq, that Mormon scholarship is hopelessly confused and contradictory. What relevance does past ignorance have on the accuracy of new findings? Have you seen anything more substantial from them?
So you'll forgive me if I am perplexed by your charges of plagiarism. The strongest evidence of plagiarism that you have presented is for a text that clearly could not have been fabricated by Joseph Smith. The evidence, consisting of a handful of scattered words and short phrases, can equally well be viewed as simply providing support for the authenticity of concepts introduced in the Book of Mormon. Now, based on Maccabees, we can see that Nephi may have been a legitimate Semitic term and possibly a name. He was a Jew living next to Egypt, at a time when Jews and Egypt were in the headlines, as they were in Maccabees, as they were in Isaiah's day, and as they are in our day. We can see that ancient Jews did have treasuries (where things were kept and where valuable things were removed by others) and they did know how to write on brass. They worked with records, and could even make an abridgment of records when needed. And they built altars with stone, and sometimes there was fire on those stones. So we have a handful of parallels that no nothing to explain the actual contents of 1 Nephi, but do show that the setting and some background elements in 1 Nephi are plausible.
David P. Wright has refined an old argument against the Book of Mormon in which he claims that similarities between Alma 12-13 and Hebrews, particularly Hebrews 7, prove that Joseph Smith fabricated the Book of Mormon (David P. Wright, "In Plain Terms that We May Understand: Joseph Smith's Transformation of Hebrews in Alma 12-13," in New Approaches to the Book of Mormon, Brent Lee Metcalfe, editor, Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1993, pp. 165-229). A rebuttal to Wright's arguments is offered in John A. Tvedtnes's review of Metcalfe's New Approaches To the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology, published in FARMS Review of Books, vol. 6, no. 1 (1994), pp. 8-50, wherein pp. 19-23 deal specifically with Wright's essay. John W. Welch provides another rebuttal of Wright's essay in the same volume (FARMS Review of Books, vol. 6, no. 1 (1994), pp. 145-186, with pp. 168-181 directly focussed on Wright's essay). I also recommend an earlier work by John W. Welch, "The Melchizedek Material in Alma 13:13-19," in John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks, editors, By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley (2 vols., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990, 2:238-72; available online at FARMS), which treats the same material that Wright later examined, but in a way that shows the plausibility and power of the text of the Alma.
Alma 13 contains a masterful discourse by Alma on the role of the priesthood in bringing man to Christ, and speaks of our premortal existence in which we had an opportunity to prepare for great things in this life (an important concept from early Christianity, restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith). The chapter displays an amazing degree of literary sophistication and familiarity with ancient Hebraic concepts that cannot be explained by a few parallels to Hebrews or by common knowledge in the 1830s. Alma 13 is a unique masterpiece. But within this masterpiece, there are several elements which are related to elements in Hebrews. A major thrust of Wright's argument is that Alma 13:17-19 contains six concepts from Hebrews 7:1-4 that are presented in the same order in both texts, said to be conclusive evidence that Alma 13 was plagiarized. A major weakness of Wright's argument, however, is that he overlooks alternate explanations for the similarities, including the possibility of Alma 13 and Hebrews 7 both being based on revelation and/or both based in part on other ancient texts. The six common elements are, according to Wright: "(1) the mention of Melchizedek with the demonstrative 'this'; (2) the mention of his kingship over Salem; (3) the mention of his priesthood; (4) a remark about the meaning of his name or title; (5) a remark about his having or not having a father; and (6) a remark about his greatness" (Wright, p. 171).
For your reference, here are the relevant scriptural passages, Alma 13:17-18 and Hebrews 7:1-4, showing the location of Wright's elements:
|Alma 13:17-18||Hebrews 7:1-4 (KJV)|
17 Now  this Melchizedek was  a king over the land of Salem; and his people had waxed strong in iniquity and abomination; yea, they had all gone astray; they were full of all manner of wickedness;
18 But Melchizedek having exercised mighty faith, and  received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God, did preach repentance unto his people. And behold, they did repent; and Melchizedek did establish peace in the land in his days; therefore  he was called the prince of peace, for he was the king of Salem; and  he did reign under his father.
19 Now, there were many before him, and also there were many afterwards, but  none were greater; therefore, of him they have more particularly made mention.
1 For  this Melchisedec,  king of Salem,  priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him;|
2 To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all;  first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace;
3  Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.
4 Now consider  how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils.
We should compare these passages to Gen. 14:18: "And  Melchizedek  king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was  the priest of the most high God." Genesis 14:18 contains three of Wright's six elements, though element one lacks the word "this" that is found in Hebrews and Alma 13, but adding "this" is a trivial matter that does not require plagiarism to explain. The actual phrase in Alma 13:17 is "Now this Melchizedek," and John Welch (1994, p. 171) notes that "now this" (which is not the phrase Paul uses in Hebrews 7) is used commonly in the Old Testament (e.g., Gen. 29:34; Ex. 29:38; Judg. 20:9; Ruth 4:7; 1 Sam. 25:27; Ezra 7:11; Isa. 47:8;51:21), and in the Book of Mormon (e.g., Jacob 7:22; Mosiah 25:20; 28:18; Alma 1:23,25; 2:2-3,8; 4:17; 14:16; 25:8; 30:19). Alma 2:2 combines "now this" with a proper name: "Now this Amlici." Welch also observes that (Welch, 1994, p. 171):
the phrase "this Melchizedek" is harmonious with the rhetoric of Alma 13 and is a natural occurrence following the two references to Melchizedek in Alma 13:14 and 15, along with several emphatic expressions using the word "this," such as "high priest after this same order" (Alma 13:14), and "it was this same Melchizedek" (Alma 13:15).
Thus, elements one through three of Wright's list offer no reason to suspect plagiarism. The remaining common elements are also unimpressive. For element four, Hebrews 7 interprets the Hebrew name Melchizedek, which can literally mean "King of righteousness," and interprets "Salem" as "peace" so that "King of Salem" can be "King of peace." But the Book of Mormon correlates weakly with Paul's interpretations, since Alma 13:18 only states that he was "called the prince of peace" (not King of peace or King of righteousness) and implicitly relates this to the meaning of Salem in adding "for he was the king of Salem. . . ." The term "prince of peace" occurs in Isaiah 9:6 and is a legitimate ancient Hebrew phrase that does not point to plagiarism from Paul.
Regarding the alleged common element five, Hebrews 7 appears to indicate that Melchizedek was without father or mother, while Alma 13 states that "he reigned under his father." As Welch has observed, Alma 13 in general is a remarkably independent text, with only a few relationships to Genesis 14 or Hebrews 7, and that independence is evident in this case, where Alma 13 states something radically different than the common interpretation of Hebrews 7:3. Not only does the Book of Mormon confirm the fact that Melchizedek had a father, but it makes the highly independent assertion that his father was a ruler also, apparently a king under whom Melchizedek reigned. As we shall see below, there is an independent ancient witness for this statement that Joseph Smith almost certainly did not know about.
Related to element five is the language used to describe the eternal nature of the priesthood, in Alma 13:7, or apparently of Melchizedek in Hebrews 7:3. Alma 13:7 reads:
This high priesthood being after the order of his Son, which order was from the foundation of the world; or in other words, being without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity, according to his foreknowledge of all things -"
while Hebrews 7:3 has:
Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.
Wright sees this as evidence of derivation. Welch offers this analysis (1994, p. 173):
. . . Heb. 7 describes Melchizedek as being without "beginning of days, nor end of life," whereas Alma 13:7 describes his priesthood as "without beginning of days or end of years." The words "end of years" appear in Dan. 11:6. This phrase, like others here, such as those dealing with "beginning" and "end" and "from eternity to all eternity" (Alma 13:7) are common in the scriptures and can be identified with the aid of a computer. In other words, phrases like these in Alma 13 that are crucial to parts of Wright's arguments are not exclusive to Hebrews, and some of them are not found there at all. Thus, one should not overstate the possible influence of Heb. 7 on Alma 13.
As for Wright's common element six, the greatness of Melchizedek is implicit in Genesis 14 and commenting on that could easily have been a natural result of Alma's working with that text, a form of which he would have had on the brass plates. And other ancient documents such as 2 Enoch or Jubilees also recognize Melchizedek's greatness in various ways, so there is no need to consider plagiarism for a concept so directly tied to the ancient story of Melchizedek.
In fact, the emphasis on Melchizedek in Alma 13 is consistent with what at least some non-LDS scholars have noted about ancient Judaism, namely, that Melchizedek was a figure of central importance in early Hebrew religion, before the changes that occurred around the time of the exile and afterwards. In reviewing the scholarly publications of Margaret Barker, who is not LDS, Kevin Christensen makes the following observations regarding her analysis of Melchizedek and Alma 13 [Paradigms Regained: A Survey of Margaret Barker's Scholarship and Its Significance for Mormon Studies, FARMS Occasional Papers (Provo: FARMS, 2001), 54-55]:
The Importance of Melchizedek
In looking to establish the background context for the origins of Christianity, Barker observes that since "Psalm 110, the Melchizedek Psalm, is the most frequently used text in the New Testament, it seemed the obvious place to start." [Margaret Barker, The Risen Lord: The Jesus of History as the Christ of Faith (Edinburgh: Clark, 1996), xii.] She also observes that the Qumran Melchizedek text exemplifies a set of ideas regarding "a heavenly priest figure from the cult of the first temple who would bring salvation and atonement in the last days." [Ibid.] Despite his being mentioned only briefly in the Old Testament, Barker observes thatMelchizedek was central to the old royal cult. We do not know what the name means, but it is quite clear that this priesthood operated within the mythology of the sons of Elyon [the sons of God in pre-exilic Judaism], and the triumph of the royal son of God in Jerusalem. We should expect later references to Melchizedek to retain some memory of the cult of Elyon . . . The role of the ancient kings was that of the Melchizedek figure in 11QMelch. This accounts for the Melchizedek material in Hebrews, and the early Church's association of Melchizedek and the Messiah. The arguments of Hebrews presuppose a knowledge of the angel mythology which we no longer have." [Margaret Barker, The Older Testament: The Survival of Themes from the Ancient Royal Cult in Sectarian Judaism and Early Christianity (London: SPCK, 1987), 257.]
Without presuming to offer a new commentary on the Melchizedek passages in the Book of Mormon [a footnote by Christensen refers readers to writings already cited in my discussion here, including "Wright's skeptical reading" of Alma 13], we should first note that the Alma 13 discussion is crowded with themes that recur in Barker's books as signs of the preexilic tradition -- the Father God [v. 9; compare Margaret Barker, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel's Second God (London: SPCK, 1992), 4-8], his begotten Son as the atoning one [v. 5; compare Barker, The Great Angel, 3, 219], the council in heaven at the foundation of the world [v. 3; compare Barker, The Great Angel, 6-7], the Day of Atonement imagery of garments being "washed white in the blood of the Lamb [v. 11; compare Barker, The Gate of Heaven: The History and Symbolism of the Temple in Jerusalem, (London: SPCK, 1991), 113-114]," angels being sent to "all nations" [v. 22; compare Barker, The Great Angel, 6], judgment [v. 22; compare Barker, The Great Angel, 44-45], hell, and the second death [v. 22; compare Barker, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Edinburgh: Clark, 2000), 312-313]. This puts the Melchizedek passage in the Book of Mormon in tune with the angel mythos presupposed by Hebrews.
Thus, Alma's suggestion that Melchizedek was a figure of significance in Hebrew thought, of whom "they have more particularly made mention" (Alma 13:19), seems out of place based on what we have preserved in the Old Testament, but is consistent with what modern scholars such as Barker and students of the Dead Sea Scrolls have learned regarding Melchizedek in pre-exilic thought.
Regarding Wright's six elements, Tvedtnes correctly points out that there are actually more than six common elements, but had Wright used a more complete list, the order of the elements would no longer offer the apparently impressive match that is so important to Wright. The many common elements pose no problem if one considers the possibility of both Alma and Paul being aware of more extensive traditions or writings about Melchizedek. Here is an excerpt from Tvedtnes (1994):
Wright contends that Alma 13:17-19 is a reworking of Heb. 7:1-4, noting six elements shared by the two texts and appearing in the same order in both. Of the six elements, the fifth seems weak. . . . The fourth element is only a partial parallel. . . .
But these are small points compared to the fact that Wright's list is incomplete. Alma actually begins with a description of the priesthood "after the order of the Son" (Alma 13:1-9), stating that Melchizedek "was also a high priest after this same order . . . who also took upon him the high priesthood forever" (Alma 13:14). The first part of Alma 13:14 has parallels with Heb. 6:20, the verse immediately preceding the Heb. 7:1-4 passage examined by Wright but not included in his list. The second part of Alma 13:14 parallels the statement in Heb. 7:3 that Melchizedek "abideth a priest continually," also omitted from Wright's list, where it should appear after number 5, along with other items also omitted by Wright (Melchizedek "having neither beginning of days, nor end of life" and being "like unto the Son of God," which parallels Alma 13:1-14, noted earlier). Were we to add all these to the list, it would no longer be in order. Abraham's payment of tithes to Melchizedek is also mentioned early in Alma's discussion (Alma 13:15) and parallels Heb. 7:2, which should be inserted after number 3 in Wright's list; this also destroys the order. As we can readily see, had Wright's list been complete, the unique order of his "six elements" would not exist.
But my rejection of Wright's ordered list does not address the fact that there are clear parallels between the material in Hebrew 7 and Alma 13--even more parallels than those enumerated by Wright. Latter-day Saints have long known of the parallels and have assumed that both texts were based on an earlier story available to the Nephites on the brass plates of Laban. This view is supported by Joseph Smith's additions to Gen. 14, but these can readily be seen by nonbelievers as an attempt to resolve what is otherwise a problem by inventing a nonexistent text that could be viewed as ancestral to both the New Testament and Book of Mormon accounts of Melchizedek.
Those seeking to understand, rather than just attack, may then ask if there are any indications that other ancient texts existed that may have been the source of some of the statements made by both Alma and Paul that cannot be derived from Genesis 14. In fact, we now know of a number of ancient documents which greatly strengthen the case for Alma 13 as an authentic ancient text. Joseph Smith probably could not have known of these documents, since most were not discovered or translated until after his day.
Quoting further from Tvedtnes on the issue of other ancient documents (pp. 20-22):
There are, in fact, pre-Christian documents that see Melchizedek in ways not found in the normal Gen. 14 account though known to Heb. 7 and Alma 13. One of these, which is given short shrift by Wright, is the Melchizedek text from Qumran (11QMelch), which depicts Melchizedek as a divine, heavenly being who, at the end of the world, will judge the wicked and rescue the righteous, making expiation for them, removing their iniquities, and raising them up (perhaps referring to resurrection). The text is replete with citations from some of the major messianic passages of the Old Testament, including Isa. 52:7 and 61:2-3 and even Dan. 9:25, where the word "messiah" is used. The Isaiah passage has a herald proclaiming peace (slm) and declaring "thy God ['elohim] is king," using the same term (melek) that forms the first element in the name Melchizedek. In 11QMelch, Melchizedek is identified with the 'elohim in the council of God ('el) in Ps. 82:1-2 (which is cited), perhaps because in Gen. 14:18, he is the "priest of the most high God ['el'elyon]."
Kobelski notes that some early Christians considered Melchizedek to be an angel. He compares the Hebrew title ml'k slm, "king of Salem," with the ml'k slwm, "angel of peace" mentioned in one of the Dead Sea Scrolls (4Q228 1.1.8), 1 Enoch 40:8; 52:5; and in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (Dan. 6:5; Asher 6:67; Benjamin 6:1). Kobelski, who is cited by Wright but apparently not taken seriously, lists seven points of comparison between 11QMelch and the Epistle to the Hebrews and notes that some scholars have seen Heb. 7:3, which is poetic in style, as a pre-Christian text used by the author of Hebrews. This verse contains Wright's element number 5, along with three other points omitted from his list but which likewise have parallels in Alma 13.
But the Qumran document is not the only one to ascribe to Melchizedek the qualities known from Heb. 7 and Alma 13. Some manuscripts of the Slavonic book of 2 Enoch 71-72 tell of Melchizedek's miraculous birth from his dead mother's corpse. Conceived without intercourse, he was born fully developed and able to speak. In manuscript J, God calls him "my child." He is clothed in priestly robes and taken to heaven without tasting death to serve there as priest over all priests. As with Heb. 7, the parallels with Jesus are obvious.
Some of these elements in the 2 Enoch account are found in Joseph Smith's reworking of Gen. 14:25-40, where we read of Melchizedek's childhood prowess (Gen. 14:26), God's approval of him (Gen. 14:27; cf. the words of God regarding Jesus in Matt. 3:17), and of the translation of Melchizedek and other high priests, such as Enoch (Gen. 14:32-34). . . . Some of the JST additions to Gen. 14 are also found in 11QMelch. For example, in Gen. 14:35 JST, there is mention of "the sons of God," paralleling the same term in 11QMelch 2.14. In Gen. 14:36 JST, Melchizedek is given the additional title "king of heaven," which corresponds to his role as heavenly priest in both 11QMelch and 2 Enoch.
Let's look at other clues from ancient documents about the plausibility of the supposed innovations of Joseph Smith in Alma 13.
Wright objects to Alma 13 referring to Melchizedek as a "high priest." He claims that this is an innovation of Joseph Smith based on the term "most high God." Since the Bible says nothing about Melchizedek being a high priest, Alma 13 may appear to be an innovation to Wright and other critics. However, those seeking to understand the Book of Mormon may be interested to know that there are other ancient sources that substantiate Melchizedek's calling as a high priest. As Tvedtnes points out (p. 22), Philo called him a high priest, and the Targum Neofti says he was "in the high priesthood." Wright even makes this admission in a footnote, but fails to see the obvious implication: if Wright is aware of ancient documents that arguably could have been the source for material in Alma 13, is it necessary to assume that Hebrews must have been the source for any material in Alma 13?
But there are still other sources that indicate Melchizedek was a high priest. George Syncellus, a Byzantine scholar who spent time in Palestine, wrote a history around 800 A.D. called the Chronographia, which was compiled from other earlier sources. A translation by William Dindorf (Georgius Syncellus, Chronographia, 2 vols., Bonn: Weber, 1829) is available in Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham, ed. by John A. Tvedtnes, Brian M. Hauglid, and John Gee, Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2001, pp. 224-226), which states that at the time when Abraham was trying to get his father to abandon idol worship, "Melchizedek flourished as first high priest and first king in Salem" (p. 225, emphasis mine).
Further, rabbinical statements convey the ancient Jewish understanding that Abraham was a high priest. The Midrash Rabbah, a collection of commentary on verses of some books in the Old Testament, contains commentary on Genesis that dates to the early fifth century A.D. or slightly earlier (H. Freedman and Maurice Simon, eds., 10 vols., 1939; reprint, London: Soncino, 1961, with portions printed in Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham, ed. by Tvedtnes et al., as cited above). Genesis Explanation 46:5 of Midrash Rabbah (vol. 1, p. 392 of Freedman and Simon, quoted on page 100 of Tvedtnes et al.), states:
"And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly." (Genesis 17:2)
R. Ishmael and R. Akiba [reasoned as follows]. R. Ishmael said: Abraham was a High Priest, as it says, The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent: Thou are a priest for ever after the manner of Melchizedek.
If Abraham was understood to be a high priest on the basis of Psalm 110:4, it was obviously understood that Melchizedek was a high priest as well.
This argument is further strengthened by the Pesikta Rabbati, a ninth-century Hebrew document that includes discourses from rabbis of the third and fourth centuries A.D., where we find this passage in Piska 40:6 (Tvedtnes et al., p. 81):
Another comment on Moriah [the mountain where Abraham was told to sacrifice Isaac]: Abraham said to God: "Master of universes, am I fit to offer Isaac up? Am I a priest? Shem is High Priest. Let him come and take Isaac from me for the offering." God replied: When though reachest the place, I will consecrate thee and make thee a priest. Accordingly, the term Moriah suggests that Abraham was to be a substitute for Shem, his replacement.
In Jewish tradition, Shem is commonly identified with Melchizedek. This passage from Pesikta Rabbati is of interest to Latter-day Saints for several reasons. It indicates that high priests were a known office in the day of Abraham, making it reasonable that Melchizedek was a high priest and showing that Abraham also became a high priest, both consistent with Alma 13. Naming Shem as a high priest is also interesting in light of the revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 138:41, wherein Joseph F. Smith had a vision in which he saw, among many others, "Shem, the great high priest."
Further, Ibn Al-Tayyib, the Arabic Nestorian Christian of the eleventh century, provided commentary on Genesis that mentions Abraham as a high priest. He wrote, "Henana says that Abraham was a high priest and son of a high priest" (quoted in Tvedtnes et al., p. 254). This agrees nicely with the Book of Abraham, which states that Abraham sought and received the priesthood "from the fathers" (Abr. 1:3), and the Lord later states that "I will take thee, to put upon thee my name, even the Priesthood of thy father, and my power shall be over thee" (Abr. 1:18).
The rabbinic understanding that Abraham was a high priest also resonates with the material on Abraham that was provided through Joseph Smith. In light of Alma 13 and other statements about Abraham and the Priesthood, LDS scriptures teach that Abraham was one of the "many" who became high priests anciently (Alma 13:10--see also Alma 13:6-10, where the whole context of this chapter is about those who became high priests). Doctrine and Covenants 84:14 teaches that Abraham received the priesthood from Melchizedek, and Abraham 1:2 teaches that Abraham became a high priest, "holding the right belonging to the fathers," desiring to be "a prince of peace" (as was Melchizedek in Alma 13). To the critics, this must appear to be a radical innovation of Joseph Smith. But as we saw above, Abraham was understood to be a high priest in at least some ancient Jewish traditions.
Midrash Rabbah, Genesis Explanation 55:6 (p. 101 of Tvedtnes et al.), provides further evidence that rabbis understood Abraham to have been a priest like Melchizedek:
R. Joshua said: . . . Now Abraham said, Here am I - ready for priesthood, ready for kingship, and he attained priesthood and kingship. He attained priesthood, as is says, The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent: Thou are a priest for ever after the manner of Melchizedek; kingship: Thou art a mighty prince among us..
This rabbinic statement pointing to the priestly/kingly parallels between Abraham and Melchizedek resonates with the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham, where both Abraham and Melchizedek were or sought to become "princes of peace" and high priests.
The Babylonian Talmud indicates that the priesthood was given to Abraham, and that he was a priest because of the words of Melchizedek (p. 120 of Tvedtnes et al.). Genesis Explanation 55:7 in the Midrash Rabbah also has R. Judah affirm that Abraham was a priest, citing again Psalm 110:4 (ibid., p. 101). Further, Leviticus Explanation 25:6 in Midrash Rabbah reports that:
It was taught at the school of R. Ishmael: The Holy One, blessed be He, sought to make Shem the progenitor of the priesthood; for it says, And Melchizedek king of Salem... was priest of God. But when he blessed Abraham before blessing the Omnipresent and Abraham said to him: "Should the blessing of the servant be given priority over the blessing of the Master?", the Holy One, blessed be He, took the priesthood away from him and gave it to Abraham; as may be proved by the fact that it says, The Lord saith unto my lord, and after this it is written, The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent: Thou art a priest for ever after the manner (dibrathi) of Melchizedek; this means: after the speech (dibbur) of Melchizedek. Hence it is written, Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth. R. Ishmael and R. Akiba reasoned differently. R. Ishmael holds that Abraham was a High Priest. Thus it is written, "The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent: Thou art a priest for ever."
(ibid., p. 105)
A similar point is made in Numbers Explanation 4:8 of the Midrash Rabbah, stating that Shem passed the priestly office on to Abraham who received it not because he was a firstborn, but because he was a righteous man (ibid., p. 109).
There are other ancient documents which suggest that Abraham was a high priest. For example, Ibn Al-Tayyib, the Arabic Nestorian Christian who lived in Baghdad during the eleventh century and provided numerous writings about religion, appears to have been familiar with traditions regarding Abraham. He writes, "Henana says that Abraham was a high priest and son of a high priest. . . ." (transl. by John A Tvedtnes from J.C.J. Sanders, Ibn at-Taiyib: Commentaire sur la Genese, CSCO 274-75, Scriptores Arabici (Louvain: Secretariat du Corpus SCO 1967), 24* and 25:54-59, Section 7, in Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham, ed. by John A. Tvedtnes, Brian M. Hauglid, and John Gee, Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2001, p. 254). Certainly, if Abraham was a high priest, Melchizedek must have been a high priest, also. Thus, the Book of Mormon and other LDS scriptures appear to be on solid ground on this point.
Another alleged innovation of Joseph Smith is the statement that Melchizedek reigned under his father--contrary to the apparent implication of Hebrews 7:3 about Melchizedek having no father or mother. If Melchizedek's father was also a king, as the Book of Mormon implies, then Melchizedek was both a prince and a king. Thus, he could be called a prince of peace, as the Book of Mormon states. Were these Joseph's innovations, or is there evidence that Melchizedek's father actually was a king? Georgius Cedrenus, a twelfth-century Byzantine historian, wrote Historiarum Compendium which summarized a variety of earlier sources. In section 27D of the Greek text, available as a translation by John Gee in Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham, pp. 269-271, we read:
At this time Melchizedek, a virgin priest without genealogy, flourished, foreshadowing by bread and wine the bloodless sacrifice of Christ, our God. Melchizedek was the son of the king of Sidon, the son of Egypt, who also built the city of Sidon. Fatherless and motherless and without genealogy means that he does not descend from the Jewish genealogy, and because his parents, being wicked, are not counted among the pious. (p. 270)
If Georgius Cedrenus is correct, then the statement about Melchizedek reigning under his father in Alma is entirely plausible, for his father was a king (and the passage again confirms the fact the Melchizedek had parents, consistent with Alma 13). Further, the above passage suggests that Melchizedek lived among wicked people, as Alma 13 teaches, for his own parents were counted as wicked.
Alma also implies that Melchizedek had been given special emphasis in ancient sources available to him: "of whom they more particularly made mention." What is the source for this, given that Melchizedek's name only occurs twice in the Old Testament? He is given very little emphasis in the modern Bible. There are some hints that ancient Jewish documents and traditions put additional emphasis on Melchizedek as a priest or heavenly figure. I have already mentioned the document 11QMelch, the Hebrew Melchizedek scroll from cave 11 at Qumran, which sees Melchizedek as an immortal figure of great importance. Wright himself briefly refers to the significance of Melchizedek in ancient traditions, referring readers to 10 sources for more information on "traditions about Melchizedek in Early Jewish, Qumran, Rabbinic, Christian, and Gnostic literatures" (footnote, p. 167). Further, in a footnote on page 170, he writes that "Horton notes that a factor for this description of Melchizedek to be considered along with the silence of Genesis 14 is that this is the first place in the Pentateuch where a priest appears. It this has special significance and receives special attention." In another footnote also on page 170, he cites several other works which discuss a possible "hymnic" source for Hebrews 7:3, suggesting that early Jewish poetry dealt with Melchizedek. The enigmatic early Jewish text, Secrets of Enoch, puts special emphasis on Melchizedek. In a passage dealing with Nir, a brother of Noah, we read that Nir's deceased wife miraculously gave birth to the amazing child Melchizedek:
Noah and Nir feared greatly, for the child was completely grown and spoke with his mouth and blessed the Lord. And Noah and Nir examined the child and declared: This is from the Lord, my brother! Behold the seal of the priesthood on his breast! Noah said to Nir: Brother, behold the Lord has restored the dwelling of his sanctification among us. And they washed the child and clothed him in the robes of the high Priest and he ate the bread of benediction, and they called him Melchizedek. And Noah said to Nir: Guard the child, for the people have become wicked on all the earth and will try to kill him. Nir, praying to God, was told in a vision of the night: "A great destruction is coming. . . . As to the child [Melchizedek], I will send my archangel Michael and he will take the child and place him in the Paradise of Eden . . . and he will be my priest of Priests forever, Melchizedek. And Nir . . . said I know that this race will be destroyed entirely, and Noah my brother will be saved for the procreations, and that a numerous race will arise from his seed and Melchizedek will become the head of Priests."
Secrets of Enoch 23, in Vaillant, Le Livre des Secrets, pp. 80, 82, as cited by Hugh Nibley, Enoch the Prophet, vol. 2 of The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1986, p. 29.
James Davila of St. Mary's College at the University of St. Andrew in Scotland has discussed ancient traditions about Melchizedek. One example is his lecture, "Melchizedek as a Divine Mediator," given February 10, 1998 and summarized at https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/divinity/rt/otp/dmf/melchizedek/ (also here), where he states, "My own reading of the texts is that Genesis is drawing on traditional material from the Judean royal cult (or perhaps even from pre-Israelite traditions) to tie the more recently introduced figure Abram to Jerusalem (Salem) and its temple cult. Psalm 110 seems to indicate that there was a priesthood of Melchizedek tied to the Davidic king in the temple cult." Many other scholars agree that there were movements or traditions linked to Melchizedek which are just touched upon in the existing Biblical references to this important figure. Dr. George Bebawi writes of the priesthood of Melchizedek in an abstract for a conference on "Concepts of the Priesthood in Early Jewish and Christian Sources" held 24 September, 2001 by the Centre for Advanced Religious and Theological Studies. According to Bebawi,
Although Melchizedek appears in only three places in the Bible (Gen.14.18-20; Ps.110; Hebrews 7 [add to this brief mentions in Heb. 5:6,10; and Heb. 6:20]), there are many more traditions about him in the Qumran texts, in the Targums, in Rabbinic tradition, in the Nag Hamadi Gnostic texts, in the Greek, Latin and Syriac Fathers and in Coptic Liturgy. He is cited in support of several different arguments, but he must have been a controversial figure as he is not mentioned in the Targum of Psalm 110, and his name is very obviously missing from Jubilees 13.25-26. [note from J.L.: James Davila argues that Jubilees originally contained material on Melchizedek that was later suppressed.]
In recent years he has become the object of much interest as it is now quite clear that there was a large body of pre-Christian tradition about Melchizedek which is later attested in both Jewish and Christian materials. Modern books dealing with the history of doctrine do not notice that the oldest form of teaching about the universal priesthood has its roots in traditions which were also known to the Rabbis. The polemics and the narrower views were a later development. In the light of this study of Melchizedek, it is also clear that the character of the sacrificial meal, the Eucharist, must take account of the priesthood of Christ as Melchizedek, who offered bread and wine to Abraham.
Perhaps due to the rarity of very early documents, it is difficult to know what additional writings concerning Melchizedek, if any, might have been available on the brass plates that Alma had. But given the growing evidence of Melchizedek's importance in traditions of the ancient world, it is not unreasonable for the Book of Mormon to contain a reference to others who gave emphasis to the role and greatness of Melchizedek.
Those who think that Joseph Smith simply made up this information about Abraham and Melchizedek should explain why there are both ancient Jewish and Christian sources providing support for these supposed innovations.
I once received e-mail from a critic who claims that the Book of Mormon was plagiarized in part from the writings of a British preacher, George Whitefield, who toured the US during 1739-1741 and wrote many sermons that were collected and published in 1820. This argument was popular, at least for a while, in some anti-Mormon circles. The critic who contacted me and even created a web page on the issue found a small handful of short parallels between a few verses from the Book of Mormon or Doctrine and Covenants, and concluded that Joseph Smith was borrowing from others. A leading argument was that the use of "wo, wo, wo" shows plagiarism. Here is some of my response to him:
Finding occasional parallels hardly proves derivation. Many of the parallels you point to have the Bible as a common source. Surely you know that Revelation 8:13 offers the phrase, "Woe, woe, woe to the inhabiters of the earth"? A triple "wo" hardly points to plagiarism from Whitefield! It also does not point to plagiarism from the New Testament. Repeated phrases occur throughout the Old Testament and are a common form in Hebrew poetry--and are effective in English as well. Ezekiel 16:23 offers a double wo, for example. No, no, no, I can't buy your argument here.
Surely you know that the Bible is a more likely source phrases involving the words Jew, Gentile, bond, and free? 1 Cor. 12:13 has "Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free . . ." But the construct of "A or B, C or D," ... to include a large spectrum of people is part of a much more ancient pattern of speech that doesn't require plagiarism. Using KJV language to express Nephi's Hebraic construct poses no problem for a translation into KJV-style language. In any case, Whitefield is irrelevant, when so many of your examples use language from the Bible.
You should also know that "palms in their hands" comes from Rev. 7:9, and the concept of celebrating God with palms (in ones hands, where else?) is well known, occurring in John 12:13 and Lev. 23:40. Of course many ministers are going to use that symbolic phrase. Crowns of glory on heads (where else?) are mentioned in Prov. 16: 31, and related phrases (crowns of glory without the explicit head, for example) occur in Isaiah 28:5, Isaiah 62:3, Prov. 4:9, Ps. 8:5, Jer. 13:18, Heb. 2:9, and 1 Peter 5:4. By the time Section 109 was written, it may have been that Joseph had heard from others expressions of final glory that brought palms and crowns together, and drew on that phase. So what?
Before your claims of derivation or plagiarism can be taken seriously, you need to show stronger and more extensive parallels than can occur by chance or by logical groupings of words that one would use when speaking about a topic. I suggest that the current gold standard for what can occur by chance--a natural result of writing on related topics--is found by comparing the Book of Mormon to Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. The analysis is at https://www.jefflindsay.com/bomsource.shtml, presented in the manner of an opponent of Joseph Smith making a case for plagiarism. The two texts are obviously unrelated, yet there are numerous chance parallels that are far stronger than anything you've offered as evidence. Until you can offer more convincing evidence than that, you don't have a credible case for derivation.
And in general, you need to consider the possibility of other common, well known sources when there are apparent parallels--not that there needs to be a source at all, mind you, because different writers can use the same words without plagiarism by chance, as we see abundantly in the Whitman analysis. But for your reference, based on a quick look, you will see that "the earth groaned" occurs in the translation of Homer's The Iliad, Book II, and in other places in that famous text, and need not be explained by an appeal to Whitefield or anyone else. It's not that Joseph read Homer, but expressions in such texts have a way of becoming part of the vernacular of the language.
The Book of Mormon is a masterful, rich, and authentic Semitic work far beyond the ability of anyone in Joseph's day to fabricate. The effort cast it aside by pointing to minor parallels with other sources doesn't even come to close to explaining its actual contents. To understand this better, see https://www.jefflindsay.com/BMEvidences.shtml--and please read the text carefully and think. Could anyone have fabricated this work??
Subsequent note: The critic also raised allegations that Joseph Smith borrowed from Jonathan Edwards, Senior, and his son, Jonathan Edwards, Junior. I'll deal with these issues at a later date. While there is no evidence that Joseph ever any works from either of the Edwards in his hands prior to 1830, sermons from the father were available in print a decade earlier. It may be that key sermons from Jonathan Edwards were not in print until 1829, the year that translation of the text was completed, which may have made it difficult to serve as a source for the Book of Mormon. But in any case, I encourage readers to look at the sermons of either of the Edwards men (available online from several sources, such as www.jonathanedwards.com) and see if there is anything there that could really explain the Book of Mormon. To me, the parallels are the kind that can readily occur by chance when people are writing about related topics. Finding related phrases in two modern sources hardly proves derivation, especially when similar phrases have been part of religious discourse for centuries. Critics are too swift to think that concepts debated in the modern era are novel to our time.
This is one of the most entertaining explanations for the Book of Mormon. Grant Palmer (a.k.a. "Paul Pry," a pseudonym he used in earlier anti-Mormon writings), the anti-Mormon writer posing as a Mormon just trying to "increase faith, not to diminish it," certainly deserves a little credit for his originality in coming up with E.T.A. Hoffmann's tale as a source for the Book of Mormon. I can see how it was an appealing idea back when the infamous "Salamander Letter" was thought to be authentic. The "Salamander Letter" suggested that the story of Moroni and the golden plates began as a folk-magic experience involving a mystical white salamander, providing an interesting parallel to The Golden Pot, which also emphasizes a mystic encounter with a salamander. But when the "Salamander Letter" was exposed as a fraud from Mark Hoffmann (no known relation to E.T.A. Hoffmann), Palmer still clung to his theory, suggesting that esoteric aspects of the tale could account for Joseph's whole encounter with the divine in his stories of visits from angels and God. The theory would make a little more sense if the tale had been available in English before 1827, for Joseph had been speaking to others of divine visits well before then. It is suggested that the mysterious "Walters the Magician" might have known of the original German tale, published in 1814, and might have been a source to get that information to Joseph.
Those who are interested in or troubled by Palmer's claims are encouraged to read the actual text of the English translation of The Golden Pot at Google Books. Read that first, and then ask yourself: "Even if this text had been available to Joseph Smith, how can it possibly explain anything about the Book of Mormon?"
An excellent review of Grant Palmer's approach and discussion of E.T.A. Hoffmann's tale has been provided by Louis Midgley, "Prying into Palmer," FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 15, No. 2, 2003, pp. 365-410.
Hoffmann's highly romantic and sticky sweet style of prose is unlike anything in the Book of Mormon. (You can read an illustrative portion of the tale in my play about Joseph Smith's purported fabrication of the Book of Mormon, One Day in the Life of Joseph Smith, Translator Extraordinaire of the Book of Mormon.") His mythical tale of the student Anselmus has no genuine relationship to anything in the Book of Mormon. To create the illusion that it does, Grant Palmer must embellish the story, as Midgley shows. Palmer claims, for example, that Anselmus "translates" ancient manuscripts in strange characters, but Palmer is deceptive: no translation occurs at all. In the key portion of the story, Anselmus serves as a copyist, copying manuscripts that are in Arabic, Coptic, and other strange characters. But there is no translation, and no supernatural "help" in translation, as Palmer also claims. I suspect that he clings to Hoffmann's tale because of his fascination with the tale of salamanders in another Hoffmann's document that Palmer once believed to be authentic and devastating to the Church. When the relevance of that document was literally blown away by the explosive exposure of Mark Hoffmann as a master forger, Palmer could not abandon his investment in E.T.A. Hoffmann's salamander tale as a source for the Book of Mormon. But I challenge you to compare the documents yourself and see if there is the least merit to Palmer's fantasy.
Excellent question. Yes, this was a known term in Joseph Smith's day, and that may account for the exact choice of wording as opposed to something like "endless sacrifice" or "endless Atonement" or "Atonement without limit." However, the notion of an infinite Atonement in Christian theology is not something that originated in Joseph's era, and it was not unique to Universalists. A quick search at Google Books shows results such as a Presbyterian text in 1765, the work of an Irish bishop in 1660 writing of the infinite price paid in the Atonement, and an English clergyman, Anthony Burgess, discussing the possibility of an "infinite atonement" in 1654.
The Christian doctrine of an infinite atonement to pay for human sin is commonly said to originate from Anselm in the 11th century, as I discuss on my LDSFAQ page on mercy. Anselm teaches that offenses against God, an infinite being, are infinitely grievous and can only be paid through the sacrifice of the Son, whose life has infinite value and thus, by dying on the cross, paid an infinite price capable of atoning for all mankind (see Anselm, Chapter 14 and 18a). It's not quite what the Book of Mormon teaches, but similar terminology is applied. At least in the English translation, though, we don't find the precise phrase "infinite Atonement" in Anselm, though it's what he is discussing.
But related concepts can be found earlier. See Robert D. Culver, Th.D, "The Doctrine of Atonement Before Anselm," paper presented at the Evangelical Theological Society's National Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, November 19, 2003. Here are a few excerpts:
Tertullian (160-230) seems to have introduced the important word "satisfaction" to Christian theological language in a treatise on repentance. He did not, however, use the word in connection with the Calvary work of Christ. He probably derived the term and the idea it represented from Roman law (Tertullian had been a lawyer) "where it referred to the amends one made to another for failing to discharge an obligation." In one of Tertullian's treatises he spoke of God as one to whom in repentance "you may make satisfaction" (On Penitance 7.14) and desire to make satisfaction is a reason for confession (On Penitance 8.9). Though Tertullian did not use "satisfaction" in explaining the Godward meaning of Christ's sacrifice on the cross he apparently introduced this heavily freighted word into the vocabulary of Christian theology. Furthermore, Tertullian understood what later was implied in "satisfaction" saying in his treatise On Modesty (22.4), "Who has ever redeemed the death of another by his own, except the Son of God alone? . . . Indeed, it was for this purpose that he came--to die for sinners." Only a little later than Tertullian, Hilary of Poitiers (300?-367) a most competent and articulate theologian, became the first known to equate "satisfaction" with "sacrifice" of Christ and to interpret the death of Christ as the "act of reparation to God on behalf of sinners" (Exposition of the Psalms, on 53:12-13). Here in the translation of H. F. Stewart are the significant statements of one of the greatest of the early Christian theologians. Hilary said Jesus' suffering on the cross "was intended to fulfill a penal function" and he received "penalty." He relates the penalty to "the sacrifices of the Law and then, interprets the work of Christ in these words,
It was from this curse that our Lord Jesus Christ redeemed us, when as the Apostle says: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us, for it is written: cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree [Gal 3:13 ]." Thus He offered Himself to the death of the accursed that He might break the curse of the law, offering Himself voluntarily a victim to God the Father . . . offering to God the Father." [NPNF, IX pp. 246, 247]
This is the doctrine of satisfaction by substitionary sacrifice many centuries before Anselm, Thomas and Calvin. [See page xcv (95) of Introduction, "The Theology of St. Hilary of Poitiers " NPNF for competent evaluation of Hilary's insight.]
Later Culver turns to Pope Gregory the Great, whom he credits for preserving an earlier understanding of the Atonement in his writings:
Gregory the Great (540-604), bishop of Rome and recognized as pope (590-604), is said to be like the doubleheaded Janus of Rome--looking back upon the patristic age and bringing it to an end while also in the midst of the collapsed civilization of antiquity, stepping out in the dark age that lasted until the beginnings of the revival of learning in the eleventh century. . . .
It is a providence of God that Gregory carried into the medieval epoch a sound conception of the atonement so far as it had been stated up to his time. Gregory is the first outstanding representative of "the hierarchical spirit which was now to mould and corrupt Christianity for a thousand years, we are naturally surprised to find in the writings of one whom some regard as the first pope, representations of the atoning work of Christ so much in accordance with the Pauline conception of it."
Gregory, though he aided and abetted the errors and abuses that much later brought on the 16th century Reformation, was also a cogent advocate of the central doctrine of scripture we describe as atonement by vicarious satisfaction. Among his voluminous writings is his Moral Discourses of Job, wherein he stresses that "guilt can be extinguished only by a penal offering to justice. But it would contradict the idea of justice, if for the sin of a rational being like a man, the death of an irrational animal should be accepted as a sufficient atonement." He follows, saying the sacrifice must be a man, a man unstained by sin. "Hence the Son of God . . . assumed our nature without corruption . . . made himself a sacrifice for us . . . a victim without sin, and able both to die by virtue of its humanity and to cleanse the guilty, upon the grounds of justice" (Book XVII, 46 as cited by Shedd, Op. Cit., pp. 263, 264). Gregory in thinking of "justice" in the sense implied in vicarious satisfaction--i.e. divine justice.
He does not describe this sacrifice as infinite, as Anselm did, but saw it as an offering to pay for sins, one that requires the sacrifice of a perfect being, the Son of God. The concepts are close to those of the Atonement on the Book of Mormon that are said to have been derived from Joseph's day. Anselm and Pope Gregory show that consideration of the power of the Atonement dates back many centuries before Joseph's day.
As for the infinite/endless nature of the Atonement, we can look to more ancient sources than Anselm. In the New Testament itself, we can find the eternal or infinite scope of the Atonement. For example, Colossians 1 indicates that it affected "all things," whether in heaven or earth:
18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
19 For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;
20 And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.
21 And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled
22 In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:
Hebrews 9 and 10 speak of the atonement's eternal impact, a final sacrifice that can redeem us forever. His great sacrifice provides "eternal redemption" for us (Heb. 9:12), for he bore the sins of many (Heb. 9:29) and "by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified" (Heb. 10:14). The blood of animals, though offered for centuries, was of no value in removing the sins of man (Heb. 10:1-4), but was a symbol of Christ (Heb. 10:1). Surely this ultimate sacrifice was an eternal/infinite sacrifice. The fact that people were still discussing it in Joseph's day does not destroy the historicity of the Book of Mormon, even if the exact wording Joseph used in his translation may have been affected by the currency of the phrase "infinite atonement" in his era. On the other hand, regardless of what some Universalists were saying in Joseph's day, "infinite" may have been the best translation for the word Nephi and Alma used a few times to describe the power and magnitude of the Atonement.
It is a common assertion that the themes of the Book of Mormon are simply derived from the themes that were being discussed in Joseph Smith's day. For example, the issues of salvation, baptism for children, self-defense, the dangers of political corruption, and so forth were certainly discussed in Joseph Smith's day, as they are discussed in our day and have been discussed for many centuries. They are not unique to Joseph Smith's day by any means. However, the political issues in the Book of Mormon can be construed to resemble events in the early 1800s, the time when America was a new experiment in democracy (actually a republic, not a democracy). Critics point to the end of kings and the rise of democracy in Mosiah as being a simple parallel with the rise of the United States. But the case for plagiarism is quite weak, for the Nephite's new form of government was actually very different from what America had.
Richard Bushman commented on this issue in "My Belief," BYU Studies, Vol. 25, No. 2, p. 27:
When I was asked to give some talks in Utah during the bicentennial of the American Revolution, I decided to examine the political principles embodied in the Book of Mormon and make some application to our Revolution and Constitution. I thought this would be simple enough because of the switch from monarchy to a republic during the reign of Mosiah. I was sure that somewhere in Mosiah's statements I would find ideas relevant to the modern world. With that in mind, I accepted the invitation to talk, but not until a few months before I was to appear did I get down to work. To my dismay I could not find what I was looking for. Everything seemed just off the point, confused and baffling. I could not find the directions for a sound republic that I had expected. Gradually it dawned on me that the very absence of republican statements might in itself be interesting. I long ago learned that it is better to flow with the evidence than to compel compliance with one's preformed ideas. So I asked, instead, what does the Book of Mormon say about politics? To my surprise, I discovered it was quite an unrepublican book. Not only was Nephi a king, and monarchy presented as the ideal government in an ideal world, but the supposedly republican government instituted under Mosiah did not function that way at all. There was no elected legislature, and the chief judges usually inherited their office rather than being chosen for it. Eventually I came to see that here was my chance to emulate Nibley. If Joseph Smith was suffused with republican ideas, as I was confident he was, then the absence of such sentiments in Nephite society was peculiar, another evidence that he did not write the Book of Mormon.
Rather than a nation with separation of Church and State with three branches of government, the Book of Mormon shows a republic after Mosiah in which there were simply judges of different ranks, with the chief judge sometimes also being the head of the Church. We see a society in which priests and keepers of sacred records played an important role in guiding the affairs of state, a situation much more at home in ancient Mesoamerica that it was in the early days of the Unites States. And we learn much about kings, especially in Lamanite society, where we see a network of kinds organized under a chief king--again something foreign to Joseph Smith but at home in ancient Mesoamerica.
The environmental theories for the Book of Mormon just don't explain anything.
Excellent question. The KJV of Deuteronomy 18:15-19 speaks of the Lord "requiring it of him" who rejects the Prophet the Lord will raise up in the future (the Messiah):
The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; According to all that thou desiredst of the Lord thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not. And the Lord said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.
Deut. 18 is quoted twice in the Book of Mormon, both in 3 Nephi 20:23 and 1 Nephi 22:20, but with different language that more closely follows the way Peter quoted Deuteronomy in Acts 3:22-23. Instead of "requiring it of him," the Book of Mormon passages speak of being "cut off from among the people" and Peter speaks of being "destroyed from among the people," all more severe than the KJV for Deut. 18 and all involving "from among the people" instead of "of him." Sloppiess by Joseph Smith, an inept plagiarizer?
As is typical of so many apparent problems in the Book of Mormon, there may be more here than meets the rapid scan of a critical eye. A more careful look reveals that this particular passage in Hebrew is complex and can plausibly have had an original meaning that Peter could rendered as "destroyed" or "cut off," and from among the people instead of "from him." In fact, this apparent weakness in the Book of Mormon may actually be a strength pointing to its ancient Semitic roots. See "The Prophet Like Moses" by John A. Tvedtnes and E. Jan Wilson, Insights, The Maxwell Institute, Vol. 27, No. 5, 2007. To see the Hebrew, open the PDF file for the 2007 Insights publication and scroll down to the article by Tvedtnes and Wilson. They get into some interesting details, but here's a key excerpt:
The authors explore both the issue of "cut off"/"destroyed" and "from among the people," and find confirmation for their proposals by examining related passages in Ezekiel, for example. In light of the evidence, they offer this conclusion:
It seems clear that Peter rendered the Hebrew "from the people" rather than "from him." Because this is not the reading of the Septuagint (usually cited in New Testament quotations of the Old Testament), and because it is dependent on the Hebrew text rather than the Greek, it is significant that the Book of Mormon scribes understood it in the same way that Peter did. Peter's Hebrew source evidently read the same way as the Deuteronomy passage on the brass plates that Lehi carried out of Jerusalem about 600 BC.
Thus there is a plausible case for the Book of Mormon passages being derived from a reading of the ancient Hebrew text, not just some random passage from the New Testament. In light of that evidence, the Book of Mormon language may indeed be "significant." If Joseph were a plagiarizer, why on earth borrow a New Testament paraphrase of Deuteronomy when the KJV text was right under your nose? But what we have is actually plausibly consistent with the theory of an ancient Semitic understanding of Deut. 18 perhaps shared both by Peter and the editors of the brass plates that the Nephites had with the Hebrew scriptures. Not proof of anything, but hardly a horrific blunder that destroys the Book of Mormon. It's one of those things like the awkward language of the original text or the wordiness of, say, chiasmus, that rather than pointing to a weakness, may reflect something more, perhaps even the strength of ancient Semitic origins.
One Day in the Life of Joseph Smith, Translator Extraordinaire of the Book of Mormon--a script for a satirical skit dealing with allegations that Joseph Smith plagiarized from numerous sources in preparing the Book of Mormon.
The Spalding Enigma: The Fallacy of Repetition Continued? A Critique In Progress by Wade Englund--facts and analysis that further shatters the Spalding Theory for the origins of the Book of Mormon.
John Tvedtnes, "Was Joseph Smith Guilty of Plagiarism?," FARMS Review, Vol. 22, No. 1, 2010, Pages: 261-275. Good reminder about what plagiarism means and what the problem is with the critics' approach to the Book of Mormon.
Sidney Rigdon Did Not Work with Joseph Smith before 1830--a page by Wade Englund rebutting one of the pillar's of the Spaulding Theory.
Alexander von Humboldt and the Book of Mormon--one of my pages.
The 'Fiery Darts of the Adversary' in 1 Nephi 15:24 by Stephen Smoot challenges the claim that Joseph plagiarized Paul's language in Ephesians 6:16 regarding fiery darts. The concept was known in Old Testament days and is used in the Hebrew of the OT, though not properly translated in the KJV.
FARMS Review of Books--reviewing books that deal with Book of Mormon topics, filled with great apologetics information.
Free Online Books at the Maxwell Institute--many gems for a lifetime of reading.
The Manuscript Found--President Joseph F. Smith's discussion of the Spaulding theory, written in 1900. Important information from someone with firsthand experience with the matter.
Russell Anderson's page on the Spaulding theory--with conclusive proof that the 1884 find is the "Second" manuscript.
Mercy and Justice in the Book of Mormon: Ancient or Modern Concepts?--a new LDSFAQ page posted Nov. 13, 2002.
Isaiah Variants in the Book of Mormon by John A. Tvedtnes.
Tools to Detect Plagiarism--useful programs for comparing text files, prepared by the University of Virginia.
Book of Mormon Language--useful discussion the languages that may have been used by Book of Mormon writers, including a short discussion of Hebraisms.
Kevin Barney on the differences between the JST and the Book of Mormon--an article at FAIRLDS.org. Good background for questions on the use of the KJV text in the Book of Mormon.
Primary Source Documents Pertaining to Early American History--a vast online collection of materials that influenced early American colonists. Read through these yourself and see if anyone cold have fabricated the Book of Mormon with full access to such materials. For example, consider a Dutch minister's description of the Iroquois, printed by Ebenezer Hazard in Historical Collections (Philadelphia, 1792), and see how much of Book of Mormon and Mesoamerican civilization Joseph might have gleaned.
Oliver Cowdery's Vermont Years and the Origins of Mormonism by Larry E. Morris. This contains a section debunking the allegation that Oliver Cowdery and Ethan Smith were connected. Source: BYU Studies, Vol. 39, No. 1, 2000, pp. 107-129.
Does Helaman 13–16 Plagiarize View of the Hebrews? - blog post from Stephen Smoot responding to another claim of plagiarism from Ethan Smith. The claim is without substance.