Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Pain, Pain, Pain: A Scholar Decimates My Work

My award-winning treatise, "Was the Book of Mormon Plagiarized from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass?," has just been utterly decimated by a young scholar at a major university. Frankly, I have to admit he is right on many of his points, but I hope is wrong about his final conclusions. To come clean, I will share the full message he sent me, and then I'll consider what next steps I may need to take.
I am a graduate student preparing my masters thesis on the origins of the mormon movement based on 19th century reformative doctrines. I am trying to link the doctrines of Josoph Smith to the major social and religious movements of his day. I have just finished reading your piece on the origins of the book of mormon and found it terribly biased and not one bit true or plausable. I doubt you will stop circulation of your paper on my account, but you seem to be deliberately misleading your reader in the hopes of catching someone ignorant unawares. I am not a mormon, and have no interest in the LDS church except as a 19th century religious movement and its evolution into the new millineum, but I am offended as a scholar to see writing so weak and desperate to support a perspective that it sacrifices integrity and empirical probability to give an illusion of possibility.

According to all historical records I have read (except for the mormons, who maintain that it was "translated" in about two months in 1829), the Book of Mormon was written between 1826-1829, and published in 1830. Whitman would have been 7-10 years old at the time. His early education was in type setting (1832), and later as a teacher (1834), his first publication was in the Democratic Review at 20 (1839). It is unlikely that a large portion of his life's masterpiece was completed and ready for plagarization by the time he was 10. Further, Whitman lived in Brooklyn, and Smith lived in upstate NY, and much of the Book of Mormon was written in Pennsylvania as well. In 1830, the white population of New York was 1,873,663 according to the US census. Whitman and Smith lived on opposite ends of the state, both were insignificant boys (smith would have been in his early twenties). It is far less likely that Smith or Cowdery met Whitman than your paper would indicate. Further, the analogies that you show between BofM and LofG are weak and superficial, Whitman clearly wrote about wars and fortifications at the Alamo AFTER the 1936 defense of the San Antonio mission, not as an eight year old living in Brooklyn as your paper suggests. I'm not going to waste more time on you except to say you should be ashamed of yourself. You're not ignorant, which tells me you have deliberately lied and manipulated the ideas of great men to make a weak and futile point. If you are a christian you are going to Hell. If you are a scholar, you are simply unethical.
Ouch. "If you're a Christian, you're going to hell" - maybe this is a good time for those anti-Mormons to be right about us not being Christian. In any case, this is obviously a very painful day for me, coming to the sudden realization that my scholarly work on Whitman and the Book of Mormon was, after all the impressive evidence, completely misguided.

Update: Yes, this is a genuine email, reproduced verbatim. I showed it to my family moments after reading it, and one son said, "Dad, I would have thought you made this up if I hadn't seen the email myself." But really, I've had this kind of reaction several times to pieces that were meant to be satirical.

Now in fairness to the non-LDS student, he was taking on what he thought was a ridiculous and dishonest anti-Mormon Web page. Obviously, he didn't read the whole page or pay attention to some of the details. Missing the (many) hints that it was satirical, his reaction makes sense. In fact, I owe him a double thanks: (1) Thanks for the effort to speak out, and (2) thanks for making me chuckle. The error is understandable, though it is best to read a little more carefully before launching such a heated attack, especially when it involves consigning someone to hell.

12 comments:

Stephen said...

Gee, some people just have no sense of humor.

If you really got this communication (rather than this being an extended joke), it completes the story.

Wonder if the guy realizes by now what you were trying to do?

Sarah said...

I had thought that one of the things they made sure you knew how to do before the "finishing my master's thesis" stage of your education is to read the whole piece you're criticizing... I can't imagine anyone not thinking the "Leaves of Grass" piece is a joke after reading passages like this:

"Now, after years of research and serious investigation into the deepest matters of the Church, Dr. Dr. Dr. Lindsay has created this page to help members of the public better understand the truth about the Book of Mormon and the literally incredible case for its plagiarism from other sources. This work is dedicated to the betterment of humanity, though large cash donations and lucrative speaking contracts will not be shunned. And don't forget to buy the book from your local Christian bookstore. If they don't carry it, well, they're not really Christian, are they?"

I mean, come on.

Bookslinger said...

The emailer failed to see the true purpose of Jeff's satirical piece: to prove that Walt Whitman plagiarized from the Book of Mormon!

Can the church still sue his estate, or is it too late?

G-ma said...

Quick, Jeff--Save yourself!

Go to thisistrue.com and get your very own "Get Out of Hell Free" card (hey, maybe your humor-challenged correspondent could use one too sometime).

Anonymous said...

Well, the poor kid missed the point of the piece (another victim of the grad student habit of just skimming everything) but its hard to put down his judgment that (1) this is just the sort of thing some so-called Christians would say and (2) it needs to be stopped. I think we have to put this kid in the righteous gentile category for now.

-Adam Greenwood

annegb said...

I think it's kind of funny, Jeff, when young people take themselves that seriously. I was like that. You have to give them credit for chutzpah. He'll soften.

Did you ever read a book called, crap, I can see the guy, something about the Emperor, I think.

Anyway, it's about this black profesor and his love life, but there's a side story line as he persues his study of poets and he put forth the theory that Walt Whitman was derivative of an earlier English poet named William something.

I'll have to find it, but I thought that was interesting. I don't know enough to know if it's true or not.

But, if Walt Whitman was/were only ten when JS translated the Book of Mormon, wouldn't that blow your theory all to hell? Regardless of your standing with God LOL.

annegb said...

Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen Carter.

Everett Dae Johe said...

This purported scholarly student, while criticizing others, cannot even seem to get a simple date correct (1936 defense of the Alamo?).

This is a great example of why someone should put aside an immediate bias, and instead of skimming the pages, actually read it and know the entire article. It was meant in satire, but this future "scholar" could not even get that out of it. Heaven help our school systems....

Dan the Man said...

to be fair, there's not a lot of space between the '8' and the '9,' so 1936 instead of 1836 is somewhat understandable.

Floyd the Wonderdog said...

Looks to me like he's ready to take an appointment teaching at any liberal university in this country.

But, honestly, he got it all wrong, as did you Jeff. Francis Bacon wrote the Book of Mormon. JS's ancestors stole the manuscript before leaving England. The MSS was passed down through the family until JS decided to publish it. That explains why it was written in that olde type English.

Jenn said...

hehe.
I am a-shamed of you Jeff! Writing such a horribly inacurate thesis after tearing apart the whole BoM / von Humbolt Theory! I was just beginning to respect your work, and Now this! The church can never trust you as assistant nursery leader again!
LOL!!!!!
The Sad part is, the same guy that emailed you this, probably would subscribe to the whole Alexander von Humbolt theory! Is there no end to the craziness of this world?

ps. I don't think your going to hell, Jeff, I thing God even had a chuckle over this piece!
Jenn

Stacey Pokorney, the "Party Crasher" said...

You know, many non-LDS Christians (such as myself) have studied Mormonism for years and we may understand some of it, but not all of it. I think it may be a bit unfair to assume that Christians will "get it" if you write something tongue-in-cheek about a common misconception that non-Mormons have, and then criticize them for not understanding your humor.

Having said that, having been raised in San Antonio, TX, the "1936" vs the correct year, 1836, certainly raised an eyebrow! But I doubt it was an intentional error - probably just a careless typo.