The question raised is a fair one - and the answer ought to be interesting to those who honestly seek truth. The wordiness of the Book of Mormon is actually what we must expect if the writers were using Hebrew or a similar Semitic language to write scripture, for a classic feature of Biblical Hebrew is its apparent wordiness. If the Book of Mormon lacked this basic feature and read like Hemingway, for example, our critics would rail about its lack of Hebraic flavor. Book of Mormon writers, faced with the challenge of engraving their sacred records, were typically highly selective in what they chose to write about, but when they did write scripture, they wrote it in Hebrew style. Why would they depart from their Hebraic literary tradition, the language of sacred scripture?
Scholars of ancient languages have noted that Hebrew tends to be wordier than Greek or other languages. Written Hebrew often has the flavor of an oral language, filled with repetitious elements like chiasmus that would be used to help an orator remember the structure of the story. In the context of a Hebraic document, repetitive phrases serve not only a poetical or stylistic role, they also may occur as an editorial tool (for example, repeating phrases at the beginning and end of a parenthetical remark can serve a role similar to the modern use of parentheses to mark the insertion - a tool known as "repetitive resumption").
Repetition is a hallmark of Hebrew, and repetition and wordiness is highly evident in nearly any translation of the Old Testament into English, as it is in the Book of Mormon. As one writer put it,
One final characteristic, reflecting a tempo of life style perhaps forever gone, is the Hebrew lack of urgency to get a thing said. Any modern editor would feel duty-bound to blue-pencil out much of the Old Testament.One simple example of Biblical wordiness is explained by Richard Elliott Friedman in "Studying Torah: Commentary, Interpretation, Translation" in Judaism, Summer 2001, available at FindArticles.com:
The formulation "And he said, saying..." occurs fairly often in the Hebrew text. Although it feels redundant and awkward in English, I still prefer to retain the extra word--"saying"--to reflect the original.This redundant form, one example of many that could be given, illustrates the inherent wordiness of Biblical Hebrew.
Let's look at a few examples of Biblical wordiness, drawing from the King James Version. These are samples I found just by randomly flipping through my Bible. Wordiness begins right in the first chapter. From Genesis 1:6,7, we have:
6 And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.This could be said with about half as many words. Joshua 24:27 provides another common example:
27 And Joshua said unto all the people, Behold, this stone shall be a witness unto us; for it hath heard all the words of the LORD which he spake unto us: it shall be therefore a witness unto you, lest ye deny your God.Now consider 1 Samuel 4:9-10,21-22:
9 Be strong, and quit yourselves like men, O ye Philistines, that ye be not servants unto the Hebrews, as they have been to you: quit yourselves like men, and fight.Here we have verses which repeat phrases in a seemingly redundant way. Verse 9 repeats "quit yourselves like men" and verses 21-22 repeat "the glory is departed from Israel" and "the ark of God is taken." And verse 10 shows a great deal of wordiness, almost painful wordiness, when it could simply say, "The Philistines won, killing many Hebrews." But 1 Samuel 4 is based on the Hebrew text, and Hebrew writers use a much wordier style than modern English writers do.
Another example of blatant redundancy comes from Job 12:12-13:
12 With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding.The same concept in much the same words is repeated in these two verses. Any literate high-school student could edit out this redundancy. Another example from Job is in chapter 21, verses 2-3:
2 Hear diligently my speech, and let this be your consolations.To the Bible-believing critics who mock the Book of Mormon for having such wordiness, I, too, say "mock on."
Now let's turn to Isaiah, a writer who strongly influenced Book of Mormon writers. In Isaiah 25 verses 6 and 9, we encounter more wordiness:
6 And in this mountain shall the LORD of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. . . .And in Isaiah 28:23, look at how many words it takes to say, "Listen!":
23 Give ye ear, and hear my voice; hearken, and hear my speech.Another of many examples is in Isaiah 4:3:
3 And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem.Next, look also at how many words it takes to deliver some simple bad news to Jerusalem in Jeremiah 21:5-7:
5 And I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and with a strong arm, even in anger, and in fury, and in great wrath.Finally, here is part of Isaiah 24:16:
But I said, My leanness, my leanness, woe unto me! the treacherous dealers have dealt treacherously; yea, the treacherous dealers have dealt very treacherously.See any ways to condense that?
Many phrases in Biblical passages are repetitious, but that is very natural in the Hebrew of scriptures, as it is in the Book of Mormon. One objection that is raised, though, is that the Book of Mormon was written by the difficult process of engraving on metal plates. Wouldn't that force writers to change their style? Wouldn't that force more conciseness, regardless of one's literary training?
The Difficulty of EngravingWhat of the difficulty of engraving? Jacob, the second man to write in the Book of Mormon, mentions the difficulty of engraving and the limitations it imposes to his writing in Jacob 4:1-4:
1 Now behold, it came to pass that I, Jacob, having ministered much unto my people in word, (and I cannot write but a little of my words, because of the difficulty of engraving our words upon plates) and we know that the things which we write upon plates must remain;This stated difficulty in engraving is not necessarily because it was physically hard to make the engravings - gold or gold-alloys are very soft and it is actually easy to make marks. I suspect that a sharp stylus was probably used to write directly in thin, soft plates. Remember that writing per se is "difficult" compared to speaking. I only record a small fraction of my words and activities in my journal because it is difficult to write everything down - it takes much longer to write a speech than it does to say the words. While writing is inherently difficult, and while engraving is certainly more difficult than using a pen, a part of the difficulty could also have been the writing system that was used, apparently using an Egyptian-based writing system for their sacred writings, even though Hebrew (or later, a Hebrew-related language) was the language being used by the Nephite writers. In any case, it seems clear that the difficulty in writing and space limitations on the plates did not stop the writers from writing in true Semitic style.
Let us now consider some specific issues related to the wordiness of the Book of Mormon.
Selective Wordiness: Evidence of AuthenticityBook of Mormon writers obviously were very selective in what they included, but when they wrote scripture, they wrote in the traditional style of Biblical Hebrew, including the use of seemingly redundant poetical forms like chiasmus and numerous other forms of Biblical parallelism, which seem to be essential elements of Hebrew scripture. Many of these forms of parallelism - all of which involve repetition to some degree - could not have been known to Joseph Smith. One such form of Biblical parallelism, known as "paired tricola," was not even recognized by scholars until the twentieth century, but this form is masterfully present in the writings of Nephi, the writer who was most closely familiar with the literary style of the Jews. Attempts by the critics to explain away chiasmus are pathetically weak (pointing to weak and random forms of it in ordinary writings, while ignoring the deliberate and sophisticated use of it in the Book of Mormon, exemplified by Alma 36).
An outstanding article on the topic of Semitic influence in the Book of Mormon text is John A. Tvedtnes, "Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon: A Preliminary Survey," BYU Studies, Vol. 11:1, no. 1 (1970), pp. 50-61; see also John A. Tvedtnes, "The Hebrew Background of the Book of Mormon," in John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne, eds., Rediscovering the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1991), pp. 77-91. Tvedtnes shows that strong evidences of Hebraic language show through Joseph Smith's translation. It makes no sense if the book were a fraud. Also of value is James L. Carroll's Collection of Hebraisms and a short article, Hebrew Writing Styles and Idioms by Russell Anderson. The language of the Book of Mormon cannot be explained as the English of Joseph Smith or the King James English of the Bible. It is more Semitic than either. (See also Book of Mormon Authorship by D. Brent Anderson in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.)
Book of Mormon writers were selectively wordy. The selectivity was driven by time and space limitations, and the wordiness was driven by the formulas of Hebraic scripture, inherently interwoven with wordy forms that seem awkward in English, but which often add to the power and beauty of the text when understood properly (chiasmus is a classic example of this).
Looking at SpecificsLet's look at specifics. Here are some examples of Book of Mormon wordiness, sent to me by an LDS friend who accepts the arguments of the critics and rejects the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. He argued that the wordy passages show a verbal story-telling style and not what one would expect from a laboriously written record. Here are some of the examples he cited, followed by my comments:
1 Nephi 11:30-32 - "And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked, and I beheld . . . And he spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked, and beheld . . . And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked and beheld . . . "It is certainly unlike anything we would use in English. But the stages of the incident are presented in a parallel form, as is so common in Hebrew scripture. And the seemingly wordy use of multiple words related to seeing is very common in Hebrew scriptures. The seemingly redundant use of "look" or related words followed a form of "behold" occurs in over 100 verses in the Old Testament. Why not just say what the person said, instead of saying he looked and then saying what he beheld? Again, Hebrew scripture uses different conventions than modern English, and they make the text seem rather foreign - for so it is. Here are some examples of Biblical wordiness using multiple words to describe what was seen:
Genesis 19:28 - "And he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, . . . and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace."Numerous other examples could be cited. This kind of wordiness is not good English, but it is very Hebraic.
From 1 Nephi 1:7,8:
7 And it came to pass that he returned to his own house at Jerusalem; and he cast himself upon his bed, being overcome with the Spirit and the things which he had seen.This kind of redundancy is also found in the Old Testament. For example, 2 Kings 12:10-11 has:
10 And it was so, when they saw that there was much money in the chest, that the king's scribe and the high priest came up, and they put up in bags, and told the money that was found in the house of the LORD.The money was "told" in verse 10, and then verse 11 begins with "the money, being told." Redundant - but it's acceptable.
One should also notice the poetic parallelism around 1 Nephi 1:7,8. Scanning 1 Nephi 1:7-12, I suggest the following parallel elements need to be considered:
From 1 Nephi 2:8-10:
8 And it came to pass that he called the name of the river, Laman, and it emptied into the Red Sea; and the valley was in the borders near the mouth thereof.Sure, verses 8 and 9 contain redundancy, but they begin a poetic passage in which Lehi teaches his two sons, comparing the river and the valley, respectively, to principles of righteousness. The river and valley are introduced in verse 8, and then Lehi addresses his sons. In verse 9, stating that the speech began after Lehi saw the river emptying into the Red Sea serves as a useful transition to Lehi's words. Removing the first half of verse 9 (the repeated reference to the river flowing into the Red Sea) makes the passage awkward. The redundancy serves a purpose here, as it often does, even though it is awkward to English ears.
From 1 Nephi 3:9,10:
9 And I, Nephi, and my brethren took our journey in the wilderness, with our tents, to go up to the land of Jerusalem.Yes, this is wordy, and it is not in a particularly poetic passage. But this kind of thing is not unique to the Book of Mormon. In Genesis 25:8-11, Abraham dies in verse 8, is buried in verse 10, and then in verse 11:
And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac; and Isaac dwelt by the well Lahai-roi.Here we have the ever-wordy "and it came to pass" phrase, followed by a redundant "after the death of Abraham" which was just explained already. And to compound the crime of wordiness, Isaac is mentioned twice when once would do.
A related example involving "after" plus a repeated statement of what just happened comes from Genesis 50:13,14, involving the burial of Joseph's father:
13 For his sons carried him into the land of Canaan, and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, which Abraham bought with the field for a possession of a buryingplace of Ephron the Hittite, before Mamre.Joshua 3:16-17 to Joshua 4:1 shows a pattern similar to the one objected to in the Book of Mormon. Here the text describes the Israelites miraculously passing over the River Jordan:
16 . . . and the people passed over right against Jericho.We learn three times that the people passed over the river, with two of these times occuring together, separated only by "And it came to pass, when." Joshua 5:11-12 offers another example of this:
11 And they did eat of the old corn of the land on the morrow after the passover, unleavened cakes, and parched corn in the selfsame day.See also Joshua 7:25:
25 And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the LORD shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones.And consider 1 Samuel 18:30:
Then the princes of the Philistines went forth: and it came to pass, after they went forth, that David behaved himself more wisely than all the servants of Saul; so that his name was much set by.This last example compounds the wordiness with the "and it came to pass" phrase before the word "after."
A particularly wordy passage which includes "after" plus repeated actions is Leviticus 14:39-44:
39 And the priest shall come again the seventh day, and shall look: and, behold, if the plague be spread in the walls of the house;Other KJV Old Testament examples having an action, quickly followed by "after" and a repetition of the action, include Joshua 9:15,16; 1 Samuel 5: 8,9; 2 Samuel 17:20-21; 1 Kings 13:19-23; and Genesis 5 and 11, which chapters repeatedly tell of someone begetting a son, and then "after he begat" the son, lived some number of years.
Similar forms occur with the word "when" instead of "after." In addition to Joshua 3:16-4:1, discussed above, consider also Ruth 1:19:
19 So they two went until they came to Beth-lehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Beth-lehem, . . .A similar feature is found in Genesis 19:16,17:
16 . . . and they brought him forth, and set him without the city.Here we have the action, followed by "and it came to pass" and "when" plus a repetition of the accomplished action. And then follows even more redudancy with "escape . . . escape." Other examples of wordiness involving action + "when" + a repetition of the action include Joshua 10:23,24; 1 Samuel 9:14; 2 Kings 18:17; and other passages.
Given the Hebrew precedents, I don't think it is reasonable to complain about the similar construction Example 4 from the Book of Mormon.
From 1 Nephi 4:18,19:
18 Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit, and took Laban by the hair of the head, and I smote off his head with his own sword.See the response to Example 4 above. Same issue. (My friend also objected to similar constructions involving "after" and a repeated action in 1 Nephi 5:9,10.)
From 1 Nephi 4: 32-38:
32 And it came to pass that I spake with him, that if he would hearken unto my words, as the Lord liveth, and as I live, even so that if he would hearken unto our words, we would spare his life.My friend objected to the many uses of "spake" and related words to tell what had been said. I see that a particularly wordy phrase is in verse 34: "I also spake unto him, saying, . . ." Yes, that sounds way too wordy. What was Joseph Smith thinking? Does any English story teller use that kind of verbiage to simply say, "I said"? But please recall in my introductory discussion above, that one classic example of wordiness in Hebrew is the use of constructs like "I spoke, saying." At the risk of excessive wordiness, I will repeat the quotation from Richard Elliott Friedman in "Studying Torah: Commentary, Interpretation, Translation" published in Judaism, Summer 2001 (quoted from page 6 of the online article):
The formulation "And he said, saying..." occurs fairly often in the Hebrew text. Although it feels redundant and awkward in English, I still prefer to retain the extra word--"saying"--to reflect the original.Nephi's wordiness in this case can be attributed to the authentic Hebraic origins of the Book of Mormon, not to some bizarre story-telling style fabricated by Joseph Smith. Old Testament examples of the redundant form "spake ... saying" are illustrated by Genesis 8:15; Genesis 21:22; Exodus 15:1; Exodus 30:17, Zechariah 1:21, and many others.
One could argue that Joseph derived these Hebraic structures from copying the style of the Old Testament, but this cannot account for the many Hebraisms that cannot be derived from the KJV Bible (e.g., using the word "throw" instead of "shoot" to describe the use of arrows in Alma 49:22 - perfectly appropriate in Hebrew!, or the description of Moroni waving the "rent" of a garment in the air in ALma 46:19 in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, which is terrible English but great Hebrew, as John Tvedtnes has pointed out). And some Hebraic poetical elements found in the Book of Mormon such as chiasmus and paired tricola were not recognized to be part of the Hebrew scriptures until more modern times, and these elements are not likely to be picked up by "osmosis" because the King James translation often obscures these poetical elements.
From 1 Nephi 7:13:
13 And if it so be that we are faithful to him, we shall obtain the land of promise; and ye shall know at some future period that the word of the Lord shall be fulfilled concerning the destruction of Jerusalem; for all things which the Lord hath spoken concerning the destruction of Jerusalem must be fulfilled.Yes, this is wordy. However, verse 13, together with the next part of verse 14, appears to form a brief chiasmus, a characteristic form of parallelism in ancient Hebrew. Verse 14 begins with "For behold, the Spirit of the Lord ceaseth soon to strive with them . . . ." The structure of the chiasmus, as I see it, is:
It may be too small to be a "serious" chiasmus (and could be parsed in other ways), but the Bible also has many examples of reverse order repetition of brief elements like this. One example is Psalms 124:7:
7 Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped.The structure of this simple chiasmus is:
Wordiness as an Editorial Tool: Repetitive Resumption (2005 Update)The following information comes from an Aug. 18, 2005 post on my LDS blog, Mormanity:
Many insights into the often wordy Hebraic literary techniques that are also found in the Book of Mormon are provided by David E. Bokovoy and John A. Tvedtnes in their outstanding book, Testaments: Links between the Book of Mormon and the Hebrew Bible (Tooele, Utah: Heritage, 2003, 232 pages). This carefully written and well documented resource adds new depth to our insights about the Hebraic roots of the Book of Mormon text. These insights show rich levels of meaning or help us understand the reasons for some of the unusual features of the text.
And it came to pass as he was thus pondering -- being much cast down because of the wickedness of the people of the Nephites, their secret works of darkness, and their murderings, and their plunderings, and all manner of iniquities -- and it came to pass as he was thus pondering in his heart, behold, a voice came unto him saying:While it was easy to add dashes for the English translation, repetitive resumption with the phrase "it came to pass as he was thus pondering" would have been a valid editorial technique to achieve the same effect in Hebrew. The resulting text is far too redundant for modern English ears, but this foreign level of wordiness is actually an echo of ancient Hebraic origins.
The authors reformat several Book of Mormon passages using bold to mark the repeated phrase in repetitive resumption and parentheses to help delimit the parenthetical comment or editorial insertion. Here is one more of many examples:
Alma 8:6-8Today Biblical scholars recognize that the Bible shows many signs of editorial revisions, following the same pattern that we see in the Book of Mormon, where inspired editors make it clear that they are editing earlier documents to create an inspired abridgment. And one of the techniques common to ancient editors of both texts was the use of repetitive resumption - just one of many Hebraic elements that we can find in the Book of Mormon text (others include chiasmus, for example).
Interestingly, the more we learn about ancient scripture from the Old World, the more we can appreciate the crafting of the ancient scripture from the New World, for both have common roots.
ConclusionThere are many more examples of wordiness that one could find in the Book of Mormon, as well as in the Old Testament. In my view, these wordy forms are foreign to English but were part of the language of scripture to the ancient Jews, and to Book of Mormon writers. Complain about the Book of Mormon being too Hebraic, if you will, but the wordiness of the text is most reasonably interpreted as indirect evidence of authenticity rather than evidence of fraud.
About this pageThis page deals with apparent problems with the Book of Mormon, offering refutations and explanations from the perspective of Jeff Lindsay, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is one of several pages in a suite of "Frequently Asked Questions about Latter-day Saint Beliefs." This work is solely my responsibility.
Other Pages of InterestBack to the LDS FAQ Index
The Book of Mormon and the Fullness of the Gospel - An excellent essay by Michael B. Parker answering the common anti-LDS allegation that the Book of Mormon cannot have the "fullness of the Gospel" as the Lord told Joseph Smith (they claim that the book would have to contain all LDS doctrines, but that is hardly what the Lord meant).
Evaluating Witnesses of the Book of Mormon by Steven C. Harper.
The Three Witnesses by Mike Ash.
"More Than Meets the Eye: Concentration of the Book of Mormon" by Steven Walker in BYU Studies, vol. 20, no. 2 (1980), discussing the surprisingly concentrated nature of the Book of Mormon text.
Curator: Jeff Lindsay , Contact:
Created: Aug. 3, 2002
Last Updated: Aug. 19, 2005