Alleged Problems in the Book of Mormon #4, Including Clashes With Bible Scholarship
This page discusses more alleged problems in the Book of Mormon, including clashes with modern Bible scholarship. This is a continuation of related LDSFAQ pages on Book of Mormon problems, including Book of Mormon Problems #1, Problems with Plants and Animals, and Alleged Problems with Plagiarism. These are pages in a collection of "Frequently Asked Questions about Latter-day Saint Beliefs." This work is the responsibility of Jeff Lindsay alone.
This is an excellent question. Based on modern Bible scholarship, a number of chapters in the Book of Isaiah are widely believed to have been written long after Isaiah lived. Some chapters are said to have been written by "Deutero-Isaiah" after the exile. In fact, everything from chapter 40 onward is generally said to come from later sources that could not possibly have been known to Nephi or present on the brass plates. So why do we find, say, excerpts from Isaiah 52 and Isaiah 53 from Deutero-Isaiah in the Book of Mormon?
The use of Isaiah 52 is especially interesting to me, for Isaiah 52:1-2 appears to have been a foundational passage in Nephite religion that was used in several intriguing contexts, as I discuss in the article, "'Arise from the Dust': Insights from Dust-Related Themes in the Book of Mormon (Part 1: Tracks from the Book of Moses)," in Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 22 (2016): 179-232; see also Part 2 and Part 3 of that series. In Part 1, after discussing the Book of Mormon's clever use of Isaiah 52 in the context of several ancient Hebrew motifs, I turn to the Deutero-Isaiah problem:
A Note on the Book of Mormon and Deutero-Isaiah
One can easily object to the influence of Isaiah 52, noted above, as source for dust-related imagery and language in the Book of Mormon. The problem is that many scholars believe that Isaiah chapters 40-55 were written by a second author, called "Deutero-Isaiah" or "Second Isaiah," during or after the Exile, and thus that part of the text could not have been on Nephi's brass plates. A detailed treatment of this issue is beyond the scope of this paper, but there are reasonable grounds for accepting Isaiah as the author of those chapters commonly assigned to a much later source. Richard Schultz, Professor of Biblical Studies at Wheaton College, presents some of these reasons. [Richard L. Schultz, "Isaiah, Isaiahs, and Current Scholarship," in James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary, eds., Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), Kindle edition, chapter 10.]
Kenneth A. Kitchen also makes a brief case for the unity of Isaiah in On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 378-380, pointing to evidence from an Isaiah manuscript in the Dead Sea scrolls in which the full book of Isaiah is written with a division at the end of chapter 33, as if it were viewed as a book with two related halves. The parallelism between these two halves was long ago analyzed by W.H. Brownlee and said to be indicative of an overarching literary structure pointing to unity. [W.H. Brownlee, The Meaning of the Qumran Scrolls for the Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964), 247-253; as cited by Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, 582.] Brownlee calls the structure the "Bifid" format of Isaiah, consisting of seven broad parallel sections in both halves. This approach was taken up and greatly refined by Avraham Gileadi in The Literary Message of Isaiah (New York: Hebraeus, 1994), Kindle edition. Gileadi provides a reworked "Bifid structure" of seven parallel elements and shows broad themes with detailed parallels that strongly unite the entire book of Isaiah in a work whose detailed scholarship has been praised by non LDS and LDS scholars. [See a discussion of the reception given to Gileadi's book by several significant scholars in Marc Schindler, "Deutero-Isaiah in the Book of Mormon?" at FAIRMormon.org.]
The unity of Isaiah was apparently not questioned by the Qumran community in 200 BC nor by New Testament voices, Christ included, who quote from the latter portions of Isaiah as writings of Isaiah and not a later author (e.g., Matthew 12:17, quoting Isaiah 42:1-4, which Christ attributes to Isaiah; and Matthew 8:16-17, quoting Isaiah 53:4, which Christ attributes to Isaiah; see also John 12:37-41, which quotes from Isaiah 53:1 and then Isaiah 6:10, identifying both passages as from Isaiah).
A discussion of the issues for Book of Mormon students is provided by John W. Welch in Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, concluding that portions of Isaiah quoted were probably on the brass plates and most likely authored by Isaiah. [Webmaster's note: see John W. Welch, "Authorship of the Book of Isaiah in Light of the Book of Mormon," in Donald W. Parry and John W. Welch, eds., Isaiah in the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1998), 421-37, see especially 434. Note: the entire book can be downloaded from BookofMormonCentral.com -- a large PDF of over 500 pages.] Welch observes that there are reasonable grounds for accepting the unity of the version of Isaiah on the brass plates, though it may not have included the full book as we know it today. He also notes that the parts viewed as most strongly post-exilic by modern scholars, often ascribed to a "Tertio-Isaiah," are not quoted in the Book of Mormon [ibid., 432-33].
Some wordprint and other statistical or scientific studies have also pointed to unity in Isaiah or at least have not provided support for multiple authorship. For computer analysis in support of the unity of Isaiah, see L. Lamar Adams and Alvin C. Rencher, "A Computer Analysis of the Isaiah Authorship Problem," BYU Studies, 15/1 (Autumn 1974): 95-102. See also L. Lamar Adams, "A Scientific Analysis of Isaiah Authorship," in Isaiah and the Prophets: Inspired Voices from the Old Testament, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1984), 151-64. Adams also discusses other wordprint studies claiming to show support for multiple authors, and explains that these fail basic tests and have seriously flawed methods. A later study showing different results without clear support for the Deutero-Isaiah theory, but with some stylistic differences among sections of Isaiah, is John L. Hilton, "Wordprinting Isaiah in the Book of Mormon," in Donald W. Parry and John W. Welch, eds., Isaiah in the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1998), 439-44.
I would further argue that the sophisticated application of dust related themes in the Book of Mormon drawing heavily on Isaiah 52 -- to be explored more fully in Parts 2 and 3 -- is something far beyond Joseph Smith's abilities or perhaps even the state of biblical scholarship in Joseph's day and helps make the Book of Mormon itself a witness for the authenticity of the later Isaiah chapters quoted or relied upon in the Book of Mormon.
I would especially recommend Richard Schultz's analysis, the first reference cited above. He explores some of the common reasons scholars view Isaiah as being written by three or more authors, and reveals the faulty assumptions behind these reasons. There is simply no valid reason to assume that Isaiah could not have written about the themes addressed after Isaiah 40 in his day. So yes, while many scholars insist that Isaiah's later chapters came from later eras, this is far from proven and requires accepting questionable assumptions in the first place. There are actually good reasons to accept the integrity of Isaiah, and to accept those portions quoted in the Book of Mormon as being authentic texts from Nephi's era. That is not to say that there were no problems in the manuscripts known to Nephi or present on the brass plates, but rather, there is no fundamental problem with Nephi and his successors quoting from the portions of Isaiah we have in the Book of Mormon.
Finally, I'll observe that the issue of Deutero-Isaiah also came up in a recent article at Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. See Daniel T. Ellsworth, "Their Imperfect Best: Isaianic Authorship from an LDS Perspective," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 27 (2017): 1-27. In the comments section, Ellsworth made this point:
I don't see any reason to believe that any of the BoM Isaiah material is post-exilic. I can't take the critical scholarly view at face value, because I reject the assumptions that require late dating of that material. If those Isaiah passages were written in late Biblical Hebrew or had some other compelling reason for late dating, I might chalk their BoM presence up to some brilliant midrash on the part of Joseph Smith, or some similar explanation. But I simply don't see a need to. To get more specific -- I firmly believe that Isaiah 53 is a response to a vision of the life and mission of Jesus Christ. If I am comfortable with the idea that Isaiah saw Jesus' day, of course I am going to be comfortable with the idea that Isaiah saw the return from exile and could speak to it in his prophetic capacity. I am open to rethinking my interpretations of those passages in the face of some compelling textual or other evidence, but I don't see it. Most things that I have seen presented as critical scholarly "evidences" for DI fall apart shockingly easily under scrutiny, and that scrutiny is from other critical scholars.
I think that's a fair response and reasonable evaluation of the evidence.
This is an important issue. Yes, many Bible scholars accept a variety of theories about the construction of the Bible which often hold that significant portions of its history were fabricated by late, post-exilic writers. Such theories, if accurate, could undermine some aspects of the Book of Mormon such as its acceptance of the reality of the Exodus and the existence of the Davidic Kingdom.
The term "Documentary Hypothesis" is generally used to describe these theories about late fabrication of key Bible stories, though the claim of "consensus" is a weak one, for there are many conflicted hypotheses at play. But the popular and classic "Documentary Hypothesis" largely comes from the work of Julius Wellhausen, a scholar who over a century ago pulled together a great deal of previous scholarship and painted a compelling picture that attempted to reverse engineer the making of the Bible, explaining how different styles of language, different names of deity, and different versions of the same story were patched together in the Old Testament. Using what is now called "source criticism," which takes a microscopic look at the Hebrew text and dissects it into hypothetical source documents, he concluded that there must have been four original documents behind the Pentateuch, each known by a single letter:
The Documentary Hypothesis gained growing support over the century following Wellhausen's work and appeared to have fairly wide consensus among biblical scholars. Some modern European scholars such as Konrad Schmid [see his The Old Testament: A Literary History, translated by Linda Maloney (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), and see Seth L. Sanders, "Review of Konrad Schmid, The Old Testament: A Literary History," Academia.edu] question the existence of several of the source documents of the Documentary Hypothesis, and see the Old Testament as a more complex literary product from the Persian and Hellenistic period long after 600 B.C. There are now multiple schools in addition to source criticism contending with differing explanations for biblical origins. These schools include tradition criticism, which explores the influence of Israel's ancient traditions and oral legends on the modern text; and redaction criticism, which focuses on the work of late redactors and their goals and techniques in shaping the text for theological or other reasons. New hypotheses such as the "Fragmentary" or "Supplementary" Hypothesis have been proposed which build upon rather than overthrow the extensive work behind the Documentary Hypothesis [see David Bokovoy, "The Death of the Documentary Hypothesis," When Gods Were Men, Patheos.com, Jan. 26, 2014]. Through all these lines of thought, there is often a sense that ancient Hebrews couldn't write history, especially in the early days of the rising people of Israel. While the scholars are not united on numerous points, many loudly agree that the Exodus is not historical and would agree that a Hebrew writer in 600 B.C. should not be quoting and using Exodus material from whatever is behind what we call the priestly source.
The attacks on the Book of Mormon based on such Bible scholarship can be very specific, such as denying the reality of Nephi's exodus from Jerusalem to the New World because Nephi's text draws heavily upon Exodus themes in the Bible that allegedly include material from what is known as the priestly source ("P"), and this is said to rule out any chance of historicity. According to some critics, biblical scholarship gives us all we need to reject the Book of Mormon, no reading and pondering required.
While it will catch some Latter-day Saints by surprise, this is a serious argument drawn from the modern world of biblical scholarship offering and the "Documentary Hypothesis" or other flavors of "Higher Criticism" (also called "historical criticism") wherein scholars have dissected biblical texts and created theories about the multiple sources or traditions that appear to be woven together.
However, significant scholarship provides support for the concept of some kind of ancient Exodus of Hebrews from Egypt and for the existence of scriptural records regarding the Exodus well before Nephi's time. What Nephi knew of the Exodus from the brass plates is not evidence of fabrication by Joseph Smith.
For Book of Mormon students interested in understanding modern debates over the Bible as history and the impact of Higher Criticism on the Book of Mormon, there are several resources I wish to recommend:
In addition to the above books, many shorter articles and papers could be cited. A few of note include:
Let's now look at some specific issues.
The Priestly Source May Predate Nephi
The Documentary Hypothesis is a theory in flux, as are other theories arising from Higher Criticism that tend to challenge the reality of the miraculous in scripture. While there are reasons to question some aspects of the Documentary Hypothesis and other conclusions from Higher Criticism, if we accept that multiple documents, including a P source, were used to patch together the Bible as we know it, there is still room for the Book of Mormon (another highly redacted document from many original sources). The critical issue would be the date of the Exodus material.
What many people fail to mention when speaking of the consensus of scholars on the Documentary Hypothesis is that there are significant scholars who reject Wellhausen's late date for the priestly source. Richard Elliott Friedman, one of the world's premier Bible scholars and a leading proponent of the Documentary Hypothesis, places P before the Exile, probably in Hezekiah's era, which was before Josiah, before Lehi, and before Nephi. Friedman's academic credentials are impressive. He was a student of Frank Moore Cross at Harvard, where he obtained his ThD. He is now the Ann and Jay Davis Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Georgia and the Katzin Professor of Jewish Civilization Emeritus of the University of California, San Diego, and was a visiting fellow at Cambridge and Oxford and a Senior Fellow of the American Schools of Oriental Research in Jerusalem. He is the author of seven books, including the bestselling Who Wrote the Bible? and Commentary on the Torah (New York: HarperCollins, 2000).
Let's consider the credible case made by Richard Elliott Friedman in Who Wrote the Bible? He identifies three serious mistakes that led Wellhausen and others to place P after the Exile (pp. 161-173) These were:
Friedman shows how each of these were serious mistakes. Jeremiah and Ezekiel actually do cite P material several times, showing that P existed before the Exile. For example, Ezekiel 5 and 6 provide a lawsuit of sorts against Israel for not keeping her covenant with God, and the covenant referred to is detailed in Leviticus 26, a P source which Ezekiel relies on with many nearly verbatim passages. Ezekiel and Jeremiah use other portions of P as well (e.g., Ezekiel draws upon P elements of the Exodus narrative). [Who Wrote the Bible?, pp. 161-173]
The evidence that made the Tabernacle, in Wellhausen's view, seem like a conveniently crafted half-scale model of the Second Temple was based on considering the dimensions of the First Temple, not the second, and Wellhausen got other things wrong in his analysis. Friedman points to a strong strand of textual evidence showing that the Tabernacle was historical and, in fact, was stored in the First Temple [ibid., 174-187]. Friedman's conclusion that Tabernacle was finally housed within the First Temple has been criticized, but Hoffmeier, after reviewing the criticism, provides further analysis and finds significant merit in the proposal, even though Friedman's analysis of Tabernacle dimensions can be debated [Hoffmeier, Ancient Israel in Sinai, Kindle edition, Chapter 9, section "The Tabernacle and the Phenomenology of Religion"]. Finally, Friedman points out that P sources repeatedly teach the need for centralization of worship at the Tabernacle, rather than assuming centralization is already widely accepted, something Wellhausen missed [Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible?, 161-173].
Further evidence for Friedman's early dating of P include analysis from Professor Avi Hurvitz of Hebrew University in Jerusalem showing that the language of P is an earlier stage of biblical Hebrew than Ezekiel. Since that 1982 publication, at least five other scholars have published linguistic evidence that P's version of Hebrew comes from before the Exile to Babylon [ibid., 171-72].
Finally, Friedman points out that Wellhausen's theory of P being a post-exilic document and a pious fraud to justify the second Temple does not fit the content of P. P emphasizes the ark, the tablets, cherubs, and the Urim and Thummim -- relics that were completely absent from the second Temple. "Why would a second Temple priest, composing a pious-fraud document, emphasize the very elements of the Tabernacles the second Temple did not have?" [ibid., 207-216].
Friedman notes that the person who wrote P "placed the Tabernacle at the center of Israel's religious life, back as far as Moses, and forever into the future." This person had to be living before "They cast your Temple into the fire; They profaned your name's Tabernacle to the ground" (Psalm 74:7, one of several passages alluding to the Tabernacle having been kept in the first Temple) [ibid., 187].
The data related to the content and the purposes behind the priestly source led Friedman to not only conclude that P was pre-exilic, but that it could be dated specifically to the time of King Hezekiah [ibid., 207-216]. That leaves plenty of time for P material to become available to Nephi, or even be recorded on the brass plates.
A thoughtful article for LDS readers on the Documentary Hypothesis is Kevin L. Barney, "Reflections on the Documentary Hypothesis," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 33/1 (Spring 2000): 57-99. Barney accepts much of Friedman's thinking, as does David E. Bokovoy in his scholarly work on the Documentary Hypothesis written for an LDS audience [Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis-Deuteronomy (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2014)].
In general, I should note, Latter-day Saints need not fear the tentative Documentary Hypothesis and its variants. Indeed, it can be a useful tool for understanding some aspects of the Book of Mormon [e.g., see Gerald Smith, "The Book of Mormon and the Documentary Hypothesis," Feast Upon the Word Blog, Dec. 27, 2011] and even Joseph Smith's work with scripture. The complexity and textual sophistication of the Book of Mormon record is one that can help us better appreciate the origins of the Bible. This is especially so when we try to infer what was on the Brass Plates and how their content might differ from today's Masoretic text. John Sorenson, for example, wrote favorably of the Documentary Hypothesis ["The 'Brass Plates' and Biblical Scholarship," Dialogue 10/4 (1977): 31-39]. He proposed that the brass plates may have largely been related to E, the Elohist document. Evidence for that proposal includes the heavy use of "Lord" instead of "Jehovah" among the names for deity in the Book of Mormon: apart from a quotation from Isaiah, "Jehovah" only occurs once, in the last verse of the book. Further evidence includes the many prophets from the Northern Kingdom that are quoted.
But the Documentary Hypothesis and its cousins should be viewed as tentative and applied with caution.
Must Bible Believers Fear the Documentary Hypothesis? Insights from the Book of Mormon
The Documentary Hypothesis, while it has weaknesses and many detractors, must be recognized as having a great deal of serious scholarship behind it. But many people who believe in the Bible as the word of God may feel threatened when they encounter this. After all, it can be quite disturbing to suddenly learn that Moses apparently didn't write the Books of Moses (that is, the Books of Moses as we now have them -- the Hypothesis does not prevent him from having written or having passed sacred history on through oral traditions). To be told that the great stories that are the foundation of the Bible might have been cobbled together from multiple conflicting sources can turn the miraculous word of God into a much more imperfect, man-made work. Can that even be trusted as scripture anymore?
The editorial processes that are being uncovered in the Bible actually reflect some of the Book of Mormon's warnings that the record of the Jews in our day, the Bible, would be heavily edited and have significant losses. That complex editorial process is also what Book of Mormon readers see happening right before their eyes as they observe the many records that Mormon and Moroni cobbled together from records written in reformed Egyptian as well as Hebrew and modified Hebrew from the later Nephites, and at least one Jaredite language. These records he then redacted and commented upon to give us the "crazy patchwork" record of the Book of Mormon, which then went through further changes as it was translated into English (or rather, a puzzling mix of pre-KJV Early Modern English influences coupled with KJV English and some later English, as discussed in Stanford Carmack's work -- what these various influences are and how and why they are there remains a hot topic for research and speculation). To study the Book of Mormon carefully is to unveil a complex combination of sources used by Mormon in his work of redaction. Still today, the more we learn about the Book of Mormon and its translation, the more complex and varied it becomes. Surely we should be able to be comfortable with a complex and heavily edited Bible, especially when LDS scripture teaches us to expect heavy human editing over the centuries of its transmission.
If we can accept the Book of Mormon in spite of its human influences, we should be able to benefit from the divine richness of the Bible that remains in spite of questions, problems, and abundant human influences. We must temper our expectations and remain flexible, recognizing that some things we thought we understood may not necessarily be that way. But that same recognition needs to be applied to the decrees of scholars: what is declared as fact today may not be so tomorrow, and in my view, it would be a shame to abandon God in the process because of what may one day become an abandoned theory of humans.
In an age when the Documentary Hypothesis is shattering the faith of some Jews and Christians, the true but patchwork and human-smudged Book of Mormon may be just the thing to bear witness of the core truths of the Bible. The Book of Mormon may help remind us that the fingerprints of Deity are still in those ancient records in spite of human influences. The Book of Mormon may be just the thing, that is, if it in turn can withstand the assault of the Documentary Hypothesis and Higher Criticism on its own integrity.
Recognizing that multiple sources may have been combined to give us the Bible may be especially important in considering the content of the brass plates in the Book of Mormon. Sorensen, as previously noted, suggested that the content on the brass plates seems to favor the Elohist (E) source and may reflect northern origins [John L. Sorenson, "The 'Brass Plates' and Biblical Scholarship," Dialogue 10/4 (1977): 31-39]. In his study of intertextuality between Nephi's writings and the Old Testament account of David and Goliath, Ben McGuire observed that the apparent allusions to the David and Goliath story in the Book of Mormon are exclusively related to the shorter version of the story found in the Septuagint, and this may be useful in clarifying the origins of the biblical story. See Ben McGuire, "Nephi and Goliath: A Case Study of Literary Allusion in the Book of Mormon," Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 18/1 (2009): 16-31 and also "Nephi and Goliath: A Reappraisal of the Use of the Old Testament in First Nephi," 2001 FAIRMormon Conference, Salt Lake City, Aug. 2001. The latter source has this quote from McGuire:
If the assessment of literary dependency holds true [i.e., that Nephi's account intentionally draws upon the David and Goliath story], we have discovered a unique source of insight into the formation of the traditional text of the Bible, as well as into the contents of the brass plates. There has been a long-standing debate with regard to the original composition of the Samuel texts. This debate has lingered because of the differences between various manuscripts and textual families. For the purposes of this study, this is particularly significant because, as Johan Lust writes, "As far as the Books of Samuel are concerned, the story of David and Goliath is by far the most important of the contexts in which several manuscripts of the Septuagint, among which the early majuscule B, differ considerably from the present Hebrew text. The Greek version . . . is much shorter than the Hebrew. It omits 1 Samuel 17, 12-31.41.48b. 50.55-18, 6a.10-12.17-19.21b.30." Lust further asks: "Which text is to be preferred, the longer or the shorter one? Which criteria allow us to make a proper choice?" The contribution of this study with regard to these questions is to note that the specific markers that Nephi uses within the Samuel text fall exclusively within the shorter source. Nephi only references 17:4-7, 11, 32, 34-37, 45-46, 51, and 54. The notable omission of the longer (and arguably later) additions to the text may well represent the notion that the text of Samuel contained in Nephi's brass plates did not include these additions. This might also suggest some degree of confirmation for the idea that perhaps the earlier text of the account of David and Goliath stemmed from a northern source. The brass plates, belonging to the descendants of the northern tribe of Manasseh, may represent such a source.
The Book of Mormon may be exactly what the world of Bible scholars and students need to re-evaluate, revise, and perhaps even validate theories on the origin of scripture. If Nephi uses something from P, for example, and we have evidence for the authenticity of Nephi's record, that's the kind of evidence that ought to help us push back on any theories that require P to be post-exilic. When RT applies a popular theory to exclude Book of Mormon evidence, he may actually have things quite backwards. The evidence, if it holds, may be a useful tool in the end for revising weak spots in the theory. Of course, much further work remains to be done.
Is the Exodus Fiction?
Scholars today frequently insist that the Exodus story of the Bible is pure fiction, a belief that supports the assignment of late post-exilic dates to the creation of major parts of the Pentateuch. If the story of Hebrew captivity in Egypt and their escape to Israel is fiction, the Book of Mormon has a problem, and if that story wasn't even written down and accepted by the Jews until centuries after Nephi, it would be fatally flawed. This is why it's important to recognize what scholars really know versus what they might claim.
The case against Exodus is rooted in the absence of evidence. While that absence once was tolerated, today it is taken as evidence of fraud and the Bible, unlike most ancient texts (apart from the Book of Mormon) seems to be treated as guilty until proven innocent [William G. Dever, What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? What Archaeology Can Tell Us About the Reality of Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 128, also Kindle edition, chapter 4, section "Convergencs in the Biblical Period of the United Monarchy"]. Egyptian records do not record the divine humbling of any Pharaoh by their slaves. Archaeologists have not found evidence of Hebrew encampments stretching across the Sinai. The conquest of Canaan and the rise of the House of David have been rejected as fiction due to their lack of archaeological support, making it easier for scholars to criticize the Bible as a literary creation without a connection to actual history.
These many issues are beyond the scope of this paper, though well addressed in the resources given above. But several points should be made. First, the absence of evidence is understandable and need not be evidence that the recorded events never happened. A realistic understanding is needed of what archaeology can deliver. Some significant events in history simply lack archeological evidence. For example, the Egyptian military incursion into Canaan by Thutmose III and a major battle against Megiddo "is one of the best documented reports from the ancient Near East as it is recorded both in royal sources … and in private documents and biographies of officers who accompanied the king." But in spite of a large body of textual evidence and a seven-month siege of Megiddo, "there is still no archaeological evidence from Megiddo for the Egyptian attack" -- even though Megiddo "is probably the most excavated site in ancient Israel, having been investigated with regularity since 1903" [Hoffmeier, "'These Things Happened,'" in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?, Kindle edition, section "The Exodus and Theology"]. The Egyptian documents about the attack were "shaped by religious, ideological, and propagandistic agendas," yet are accepted as obviously having historical content by some of the same scholars who see the Exodus as fiction due to its alleged lack of archaeological evidence [ibid.].
In some areas, it is futile to demand much in the way of archaeology. The Egyptian Delta, where the Hebrew slaves were in Goshen and from whence they escaped, is a surprisingly poor source of ancient archaeological information due to its high water table, flooding from the Nile, and frequent rain. Further, heavy farming has destroyed many potential sites. It was also highly picked over before archaeology became an established discipline. Thus, as Hoffmeier points out, in that region not a single scrap of papyrus from pharaonic times has survived [ibid.]. As for the lack of Egyptian records supporting the Exodus, the highly censored records of grand leaders are unlikely to corroborate their defeat.
However, Egyptian records and other sources of information do provide a great deal of evidence that supports the plausibility of numerous details in Exodus, while also pointing to the improbability of Hebrews centuries later fabricating a record rich in authentic details dating to the right era. Hoffmeier's Israel in Egypt and Israel in Sinai are particularly compelling challenges to those who claim that there is no evidence for the Exodus.
Hoffmeier's treatment of the Exodus is wide ranging. In Israel in Egypt, he addresses the question of whether the picture painted in Genesis 39 through Exodus 15 is compatible with history. In reaching his affirmative conclusion, he deals with evidence for:
For further dramatic evidence of the ancient origins and physical reality of the Tabernacle, read Joshua Berman's original discoveries and his inspiring perspective in "Was There an Exodus?" [Joshua Berman, "Was There an Exodus?"]. There is compelling evidence to recognize that ancient Jews did experience and commemorate an Exodus from Egypt. Perhaps it was of a smaller scale than we are used to thinking, but there is evidence that real events are behind it, not just stories concocted after the Exile.
Also of note in the dating of the priestly source is discovery of two small silver scrolls found at Ketef Hinnom near Jerusalem that have been carefully examined and dated to pre-exilic times around 600 BC. These silver scrolls quote from a passage in Numbers that is part of the P source. See "Bible Texts on Silver Amulets Dated to First Temple Period," Haaretz.com, Sept. 19, 2004. See also "Ketef Hinnom," Wikipedia.org. Also see Stephen Caesar, "The Blessing of the Silver Scrolls," BibleArchaeology.org, 2010. The debate isn't over on these scrolls, but there is apparent archaeological evidence in favor of an early date for at least some of the material in P. Regarding the debate, the dating and interpretation has been challenged by Nadav Na'aman in "A New Appraisal of the Silver Amulets from Ketef Hinnom," Israel Exploration Journal 61/2 (2011): 184-195. That work was then rebutted by Shmuel Ahituv,"A Rejoinder to Nadav Naaman's 'A New Appraisal of the Silver Amulets from Ketef Hinnom,'" Israel Exploration Journal 62/2 (2012): 223-232. From my perspective, though, it appears that the evidence continues to lie in favor of the authenticity of the silver scrolls as an ancient witness relevant to the Documentary Hypothesis.
The theory of the Exodus being a late creation not widely known to the Hebrews before the Exile raises numerous difficulties in accounting for the Hebrew text and the traditions of the Jewish people. In both, the Exodus runs deep. Allusions to the enslavement, the deliverance, the crossing of the sea, the years in the wilderness, and the role of Moses are made throughout the Old Testament. It is deeply engrained in texts from Nephi's contemporaries, Ezekiel and Jeremiah, and his predecessors such as Isaiah (Isaiah 10:24-27, 11:16), Amos (e.g., Amos 2:10), and Hosea (Hosea 2:14-20, 11:1, 13:4, 5) [see Hoffmeier, Ancient Israel in Sinai, Kindle edition, Chapter 1, section "The Wilderness Tradition in the Bible"]. It is inseparable from the traditions and theology of the Hebrews, and yet we are to believe that it was a late concoction after the Exile, sold to a gullible people ignorant of their past? That is a radical new theory that comes not from new archaeological evidence but, in my view, from a new breed of skeptical scholars, the "minimalists," who now insist that the evidence is not enough to justify any respect for historical material in texts they desperately wish to reject.
The evidences in favor of key Old Testament accounts have not received the dispassionate, scholarly interest we might hope for. For example, shortly after the minimalists had declared that the kingdom of David was a myth and that Israel in that era was just a group of agrarian tribes with no king of any kind, several fragments of an Aramaic stela clearly from the ninth century B.C. were found in 1993 and 1994 at Tel Dan in Israel. The text mentions a king of Israel and a king of the "House of David" (Hebrew, bytdwd ), that is, a king of the dynasty of David. The response of minimalist scholars, as described by Garfinkel, was one of panic with desperate efforts to justify skewed readings of the text to excise the evidence for David, displaying "paradigm-collapse trauma" through their "compilations of groundless arguments, masquerading as scientific writing through footnotes, references and publication in professional journals" [Garfinkel, "The Birth and Death of Biblical Minimalism"].
Archaeologist William G. Dever points to such desperate efforts as leading scholars attempting to paint the Tel Dan stela fragments as a forgery, while "other revisionists have turned amusing intellectual somersaults to avoid the obvious meaning of the Dan inscription. The irony is that biblical scholars have long demanded that an archaeologist supplement our 'mute' artifacts with texts. But when we do find a spectacular text, they discard it!" [Dever, What Did the Biblical Writers Know & When Did The Know It?, Kindle edition, chapter 2, section "On Ideology, Bias, and 'Realms of Discourse': Some Case-studies," subsection "Philip R. Davies"]. That response may not be a surprise for students of the Book of Mormon, in light of the reception that the evidence from Arabia has received. Fortunately, the testimony of three witnesses in stone from the altars of Marib and the details of their excavation by non-LDS scholars leave no room for charges of forgery and should keep scholars focused on more pedantic steps to minimalize the impact.
One day, I hope that biblical scholars will recognize that in the Book of Mormon, we have found a spectacular text with treasures of information to enhance our knowledge of biblical origins and ancient Israel.
There are many other issues that can be explored with respect to the reality of the Exodus. One potentially controversial but interesting line of thought is from Noel Reynolds in "The Brass Plates Version of Genesis" in By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday, 27 March 1990, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990) 2:136-173. Reynolds argues that the intricate relationship in language and themes between the Book of Mormon and the Book of Moses can best be explained by having the material of the Book of Moses or something similar present on the Brass Plates. The dependence, he argues, can be seen to be one-way: the Book of Mormon appears to be relying upon content in the Book of Moses and not the other way around. It's an interesting approach, not unlike the textual analysis behind aspects of the Documentary Hypothesis. Part of its significance is that the Book of Moses was given by revelation after the Book of Mormon translation was completed, but the intertextuality appears to reflect Book of Mormon writers drawing upon Book of Moses language and themes, as they do with Exodus and Isaiah, for example, and not the other way around.
Perhaps the alleged weakness of Book of Mormon references to stories of Moses will turn out to be a strength, and will be recognized for its role not only in being a second witness for Christ, but also a second witness for the reality of Israel's ancient deliverance from bondage, a symbol of the deliverance Christ offers through his Atonement. The literary and theological value of such a symbol in no way detracts from its reality. Were it not real, the theological value would be greatly diminished. Each of our lives can parallel the Exodus of Israel and the exodus of Nephi, and be every bit as real as they were.
In Alma 30:50, an apostate Nephite named Korihor is eventually "struck dumb, that he could not have utterance," and acknowledged this by writing "I know that I am dumb, for I cannot speak...." (v. 52) Apparently, the chief judge was confused in the excitement and mistakenly assumed that Korihor was struck deaf, because he immediately "put forth his hand and wroteunto Korihor, saying: Art thou convinced of the power of God?" (v. 51). Critics point to an apparent contradiction: the text says Korihor was struck dumb that he could not speak, yet by writing for him, the chief judge acts as if Korihor was deaf. At least one anti-Mormon web site list this as a serious problem. However, it's not all that unusual. First, since Korihor has to write to communicate now that he has just been struck dumb, it's not a stretch of the imagination for a chief judge communicating with the newly stricken man to respond by writing back, even if hearing was still normal. If it's a mistake, it's a natural mistake that anybody might have made in such a situation.
Further, a Hebrew word that might have been used to describe Korihor's state could make it easy to assume deafness was part of Korihor's problem. The root charash according to Strong's Concordance can mean "to be silent, dumb, speechless, or deaf." So Korihor might have used that world and explained that as a result, he could not speak, but he may also have been deaf or one might have suspected he was also deaf based on using that word. But there are other words that could have been used that would be more clearly focused on speechlessness, such as the word that is most commonly the source of "dumb" in the Old Testament, 'alam, so this is argument may be weak. Perhaps the chief judge's natural confusion regarding the scope of a new disability is the most likely explanation.
In Mosiah 16:6, the prophet Abinadi prophecies of the future coming of Christ. Then he makes a statement that sounds as if it views the coming of Christ as event in the past: "And now if Christ had not come into the world, speaking of things to come as though they had already come, there could have been no redemption." Critics call this evidence of Joseph making a blunder and correcting himself.
Question for the critics: If Joseph were the author rather than translator of the Book of Mormon, why would he need to add a phrase to try to explain away a blunder he had made in the previous phrase? If he saw that as a blunder, he could just correct the whole sentence as he was drafting the Book of Mormon or in preparing the printer's manuscript. It makes no sense to argue he caught himself in an error and made a lame attempt to correct.
Interestingly, there is evidence of error correction on the fly in the Book of Mormon--though not the kind that Joseph would make in composing it, but the kind an engraver would make in writing on metal plates without an easy erase key to fix mistakes. The primary example of this is the intriguing way "or" is used many times as an apparent error correction tool by Mormon, the editor and chief engraver, as in Alma 43:38 "...They being shielded from the more vital parts of the body, or the more vital parts of the body being shielded from the strokes of the Lamanites." Several other examples could be cited, such as Alma 24:19 "...And thus we see that they buried their weapons of peace, or they buried their weapons of war, for peace." These sentences with errors noted and corrected don't make much sense for a text composed by a modern writer with pen and paper, but are plausible if engraved on metal where rather than trying to scratch out previously engraved text, Mormon may have simply written "or" and then provided the fix. For more details, see my "Digging into Golden 'Or' in the Book of Mormon" at the Nauvoo Times.
Here's a question I by email:
My question comes from 1 Nephi chapter 22 verses 15 to 25 when Nephi is explaining things to his brethren about the writings of Isaiah from the plates of brass. In verse 15 it appears that Nephi is referring to Isaiah when he writes 'For behold, saith the prophet,' but then he goes on to quote part of Malachi 4:1. The quote is not 'word for word' but is very close and the cross reference near the bottom of the page is to Malachi 4:1. If Nephi is quoting Malachi around 580 BC, how could he be quoting a prophet whose words were not written for another 150 years? I understand that the book of Malachi was written around 430 BC and therefore would not have been on the plates of brass as they ended with the writings of Jeremiah around 600 BC. When Nephi made the quote he was somewhere in Central America, so how could he know what a prophet was to say in Jerusalem 150 years in the future?
This is an excellent question. To me it seems that in the translation of the Book of Mormon, numerous KJV phrases were used when they matched the sense of what was being translated. Before I get into the specifics of the Malachi passage, let me note that when a phrase is borrowed from a later writer, it does not necessarily mean that ancient writers were apparently quoting future passages -- rather, may be a case of a modern translator (or translation tool?) using the existing KJV as a guide to provide the language for the translation into English. There are two other possibilities to also consider in some cases: (1) the possibility of more recent Old Testament and New Testament writers quoting or drawing from more ancient sources that we no longer have (that is possible with Malachi, for example, who was not averse to borrowing heavily from Isaiah without saying so--and I do not presume that everything Isaiah wrote was preserved); and (2) the possibility of similar or identical concepts being conveyed through revelation.
But let's consider Malachi more specifically. Not only is there a correlation between Mal. 4:1 with 1 Nephi 22, as you noted, but there is also a strong parallel with 2 Nephi 26: 4-6. Here are the parallels:Let's get into the details and take a look. Here are the relevant passages:
23 Which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!Related imagery is used in Isaiah 33:11-12 to warn the wicked:
24 Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust: because they have cast away the law of the LORD of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
Ye shall conceive chaff, ye shall bring forth stubble: your breath, as fire, shall devour you. And the people shall be as the burnings of lime: as thorns cut up shall they be burned in the fire.See also Psalm 83.
6 Thy right hand, O LORD, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O LORD, hath dashed in pieces the enemy.So the concept of the wicked being burned by the Lord as stubble is an ancient one from both Isaiah and Moses. It is possible that Nephi used ancient language to describe this, and that the specific phrasing was close enough to what we have of Malachi in the KJV that it was a suitable fit for translating Nephi's words. It does not mean that Nephi was quoting future passages.
7 And in the greatness of thine excellency thou hast overthrown them that rose up against thee: thou sentest forth thy wrath, which consumed them as stubble.
There are many questions like this that can be raised, for the Book of Mormon relies heavily on biblical language. It seems that when they fit, expressions from all over the Bible, including the New Testament, are used as the raw material of translation. The intertextuality with the KJV is actually remarkable. Pointing to a few words shared and crying foul misses the point, or rather, misses the sophisticated and arguably brilliant way in which KJV language is used in the translation (more on this below).
Critics have objected to two aspects of the combination in Alma 40:13 of "weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth," as well as "weep, and wail, and gnash their teeth" in Mosiah 16:2. The first objection is that this phrase is close to a New Testament phrase, "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30 and Luke 13:28) that is not found in the Old Testament, making it seem that Joseph "plagiarized" from the New Testament. It is also close to "wailing and gnashing of teeth" in Matthew 13:42,50. Second, they object to "weeping and wailing" together since they mean roughly the same thing and are redundant, and allegedly not found in the Bible: "The Bible never uses both weep and wail because in all of these cases they are just alternate translations of the same original word" says one critic at https://m.reddit.com/r/exmormon/comments/1q1tmt/, for example. It's an odd combination of arguments, though. First, we must reject a phrase in the Book of Mormon because it has a combination of words from the Bible, and second, we must reject it because it uses a combination of words NOT found in the Bible. That's a relatively high hurdle for any divinely aided translation of scripture, IMHO.
Is it true that "weep" and "wail" don't occur together in the KJV? Not so fast! Esther 4:3 seems to invalidate that specious argument: "there was great mourning among the Jews, and fasting, and weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes." Here "weeping" is from Strong's H1085, bekiy, and "wailing" is from Strong's H4553, micepd, which in the KJV is typically translated as "mourning" or "wailing." Further, Jeremiah 9:10 has the same combination: "For the mountains will I take up a weeping and wailing, and for the habitations of the wilderness a lamentation." Later in Jeremiah 9:20 we have "wailing" and "lamentation," which is close.
Regardless of how they are translated, a pair of similar words to express mourning is actually a legitimate ancient Hebrew practice attested in many places besides Esther. It's just a natural part of parallelism in Hebrew, especially in poetical expressions. 2 Samuel 1:12 has "And they mourned, and wept, and fasted until even, for Saul, and for Jonathan his son...." The word "mourned" is Strong's H5594, caphad, meaning "to wail, lament, mourn," and "wept" is Strong's H1058, bakah, meaning "weep, bewail, cry, shed tears." A Hebrew word often translated as "howl" is Strong's H3213, yalal, meaning "howl, wail, make a howling." Both yalal and caphad are combined, for example in Micah 1:8 where they are translated in the KJV as "wail" and "howl" in "I will wail and howl," followed by two other Hebrew words for mourning in "I will make a wailing like the dragons and a mourning as the owls." That's wail, howl, wailing, and mourning all in one verse, with four different Hebrew terms. Isaiah 14:31 has "Howl, O gate; cry, O city" in the KJV, with "wail" and "howl" in the NIV. Isaiah 22:12 has "weeping" and "mourning," Isaiah 25:34 and Isaiah 65:14 have "cry" and "howl," Jeremiah 4:8 has "lament" and "howl," Jeremiah 6:26 has "mourning" and "lamentation," Jeremiah 48:31 has "lament" and "cry." Other examples with two terms for mourning or lamenting combined include Genesis 50:10 and many more.
"Wail" and weep" or "cry" cannot be said to come from the same word, as the critic alleged, and can be combined with other terms for mourning, as often happens in the Hebrew Bible. There's no problem here. Translating a pair of terms for mourning as "weeping" and "wailing" poses no problem, even if it looks like it's from the New Testament. It's found in the Old Testament, but even if the Old Testament bulls-eyes from Esther and Jeremiah weren't there, using New Testament terms in the translation is not a problem and does not invalidate the authentic Semitic origins of the Book of Mormon.
But what about "gnashing of teeth"? Isn't that straight out of the New Testament? Perhaps, but as with much of the language in the New Testament, there are ancient echoes to consider. In fact, the combination of mourning with "gnashing of teeth" is found in the Hebrew Bible in Psalm 112:10: "The wicked shall see it, and be grieved; he shall gnash with his teeth." Further, Lamentations 2:16 has "they hiss and gnash the teeth." There is no reason why Book of Mormon writers could not have used similar terms to describe the grieving of the wicked, including a parallel pair of mourning-related terms. Gnashing (upon someone) with the teeth also occurs in Job 16:9, Psalm 35:16, and Psalm 37:12.
Whatever the original Hebrew/Egyptian words were, a poetical pairing of mourning-related words and the vivid imagery of gnashing teeth, all attested in the Old Testament, could naturally and appropriately be translated into familiar KJV language to yield "weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth." This grouping has Biblical support but is not simply plagiarized from the Bible. It's ideal for critics because they can object that it is too much and too little like the Bible.
For details on the profound level of interwoven language, see Nick Frederick's presentation, "'Full of grace, mercy, and truth': The New Testament in the Book of Mormon," presented at the 2015 Exploring the Complexities in the English Language of the Book of Mormon conference sponsored by The Interpreter Foundation. Also see "Why Did Ammon Borrow So Much from Tradition in Alma 26?" at Book of Mormon Central, June 30, 2016; Quinten Barney, "Samuel the Lamanite, Christ, and Zenos: A Study of Intertextuality," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 18 (2016): 159-70; "Why Does Jacob Quote So Much from the Psalms? (Jacob 1:7)," Book of Mormon Central, March 25, 2016, and Taylor Halverson, "Reading 1 Peter Intertextually with Select Passages from the Old Testament," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, 20 (2016): 151-176.
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.
FARMS Reviews of Books and originally, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon -- now archived at ScholarsArchive.BYU.edu (search for items or use the drop-down box to select specific volumes), these volumes offer some of the best resources for intellectually coping with the arguments of many anti-Mormon publications.
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.
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 FairMormon.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 (Constitution.org)--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.