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

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Two Gems in Alma 7: When Weaknesses in the Book of Mormon Become Strengths

Back-to-back verses in Alma chapter 7 of the Book of Mormon provide interesting lessons for all of us in dealing with the many arguments that have been proffered to demolish the Book of Mormon. I would say that the issues involved in these verses relate to two of the top 10 arguments used against the Book of Mormon. Alma 7:10 is where we have a prophecy that Christ would be born "at Jerusalem, which is the land of our forefathers," giving rise to the argument that Joseph Smith was such a Bible-illiterate ignoramus that he didn't even know that Christ was born in Bethlehem, not Jerusalem. Who can trust a book with such a ridiculous error and such obvious evidence of forgery by an idiot?

Then we have Alma 7:11, where the Book of Mormon once again borrows from the Bible, this time drawing upon Isaiah 53:4. While this verse just uses a short phrase from Isaiah, the Book of Mormon's heavy use of Isaiah and other biblical texts has led to charges of plagiarism, of slavish and dull-witted copying, and suspicious use of King James language. The "plagiarism of the Bible" attack is one of the most common.

Both of these verses have stories behind them that will do much to enlighten those who wish to understand the text. For the many who don't and who cannot risk opening their mind to the possibility that maybe this book could be for real, please just go on knowing that "Jerusalem, not Bethlehem" is all you need to know about this book (just like it's all you need to know about the Bible, too, right?). For those with more interest in learning, wow, what a treasure we have here. See "On Alma 7:10 and the Birthplace of Jesus Christ" by Daniel C. Peterson (I've also got a short discussion on my website). Quick summary: The Dead Sea Scrolls provide evidence that the term "land of Jerusalem" was an authentic ancient Jewish concept describing the territory around Jerusalem, including Bethlehem, just 5 miles from downtown Jerusalem. For ancient Hebrews in the New World, separated from the land of their forefathers by several centuries and thousands of miles, it would be entirely natural to refer to place of Christ's birth as Jerusalem, or certainly the broader and authentic term "land of Jerusalem," when Bethlehem was a minor suburb. It's like me telling people in Wisconsin that my wife is from Salt Lake, when in fact she is from Sandy, a suburb over 10 miles south downtown Salt Lake. In fact, if Joseph Smith were the actual author of the Book of Mormon, of course he would have regurgitated what every schoolchild knows (well, used to know, before recent advances in public education): Christ was born in Bethlehem. Instead we have this pathetic blunder of being born "at Jerusulem, the land" (hello, it's a city, not a land, right?). In light of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the relationship between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, we can now see that this silly blunder is in a strong point in favor of the plausibility of the Book of Mormon as an authentic ancient text. I know, I know, it's just a lucky guess--like the First Nephi information on the location of the ancient burial place Nahom/Nehem and Bountiful in the Arabian Peninsula. But it should at least count for something that one of the top arguments against the Book has, with further research and discovery, become a strong point. This, at least, should NOT be a reason for walking away from the Book of Mormon. (Please, I'm NOT saying that apparent evidence for plausibility equates to PROOF of divine origins.)

The second verse, Alma 7:11, is also quite interesting. Please read "The Hebrew Text of Alma 7:11" by Thomas A. Wayment. Contrary to the worn-out claim that Joseph just slavishly copied from the Bible, there are numerous subtleties in the Book of Mormon text that pose challenges to the claims of the critics. In Alma 7:11, we have language clearly citing Isaiah 53:4, but it is a much better translation of the Masoretic Hebrew text than is in the King James Version. Wayment does a nice job of exploring a variety of related issues, with ample documentation. Here is his final paragraph:
In summary, Alma's fortuitous inclusion of Isaiah 53:4 in his sermon to the people of Gideon allows us to see that Book of Mormon authors did indeed have recourse to a text very similar to our Hebrew Masoretic Text, at least in some ways. In this particular instance, a Book of Mormon author's rendering of Isaiah 53:4, as translated into English by Joseph Smith, is much more accurate than our modern English translations. It is also unimaginable that the Prophet Joseph Smith, without inspiration, could have translated such a passage into English so that it would be more reflective of our Hebrew text than the already well-established English KJV tradition, which contained significantly different wording. Most translators tend to gravitate toward established and authoritative translations of important texts. In this instance it would be natural to assume that Joseph would have translated the Isaiah passage using the wording of his KJV Bible, but instead he translated it literally, being unaware that it was an Isaiah quotation included by an ancient Book of Mormon author.
My take on the use of King James language in the Book of Mormon is that when dealing with quotations from the Old Testament, Joseph as translator made the logical choice of relying on the KJV translation and language, the standard for English scripture, as long as it was good enough. A close look, though, shows many instances in which the Book of Mormon text departs from the KJV, sometimes with profound implications, as we have in Alma 7:11 (but here, Wayment speculates, Joseph might not have recognized the quotation, otherwise he might have relied on the KJV language).

In another post, I'll mention some interesting insights about how and why the Book of Mormon authors turn to the Old Testament so much. I suppose it's not the kind of thing one would do in trying to pass off a made-up document as new scripture to sell a lot of books, but it is a very plausible thing for ancient writers of Hebrew heritage.

For more on the allegations of plagiarism in the Book of Mormon, see my LDSFAQ article, "Plagiarism in the Book of Mormon? Is It Derived from Modern Writings?" If you have a really warped sense of humor, also see "Was the Book of Mormon Plagiarized from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass?"


rameumptom said...

On Nephi quoting Isaiah extensively, there is great precedence here. Midrashim were commonly written anciently, where a book is extensively quoted and then commented upon. The comments would show how the original text tied into the individual's world events. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, we find many Midrashim on various books of the Prophets. Several of them speak regarding the Kittim, which during the days of the DSS would have referred to the Romans. Yet, the original Kittim were (IIRC, don't have my books on me) from the Greek Islands.

Nephi described how Isaiah's amazing writings fit neatly into a Nephite world view. Of course he was going to quote him.

Secondly, Nephi believed in the testimony of several witnesses. He used three witnesses of Christ to back up his teachings: Nephi, Jacob, and Isaiah.

openminded said...

Any word on why the New Testament was used so frequently as well?

ecep said...

About the 7:10 case:

"This, at least, should NOT be a reason for walking away from the Book of Mormon."

Indeed. The example of your wife, to me, anyway, illustrates perfectly how lame of an argument against the BoM this would be. It strikes me as fairly reasonable to describe a small suburb less than a two hour walk from Jerusalem as being in "Jerusalem, which is the land of our forefathers," especially if the writer was prophetically writing of a place he'd never been.

"But it should at least count for something that one of the top arguments against the Book has, with further research and discovery, become a strong point."

Come now, Jeff. This cannot be reasonably considered as one of top arguments against the BoM.

John Jackson said...

The Book of Mormon's extensive use of Isaiah has, for years, been to me one of the top evidences that the book is true.

Nephi spent formative years in Jerusalem. He was of a religious sort. Of course a major prophet, such as Isaiah, having lived there roughly within the last 100 years, would have been large on Nephi's landscape.

If the Book of Mormon is true, the most likely prophet to be quoted extensively would be Isaiah. And, bingo, that is exactly what has happened.

rameumptom said...

That the Dead Sea Scrolls showed Isaiah as one of the top books (only more copies of Deuteronomy) shows strong evidence for the Book of Mormon. That and Deuteronomy also seemed to influence the BoM, as well (such as Abinadi's testimony, and Nephi's focus on Moses).

openminded said...

As a flip side of John Jackson's reasoning, I've seen no greater evidence of Smith having a bible right next to him while doing parts of the BoM. The language is too close to the KJV.

And as we've seen by archaeological findings, the bible's wording changes over time (from the LXX to the current, for instance). The BoM copies from a newer version of the text than its timeline really allows for. Unless Smith just dropped the golden plates' version and picked up his bible.

John Jackson said...

You make a good point, openminded. The closeness of language is fine with me, however, as I find nothing wrong with Joseph Smith, when he came to parts he recognized from the Bible, turning to the Bible to use it. If the translation process was difficult, requiring mental concentration, it would be easier to just rely heavily on what was already there, the Bible. Perhaps this would even be the natural thing to do. From this vantage point, the closeness of language, too, becomes an evidence the Book of Mormon is true, in that it would be natural to turn to it instead of expending the energy of recreating what already existed.

Bookslinger said...


What would happen in academia if you tried to prove that Walt Whitman copied from the Book of Mormon?

Jeff Lindsay: said...

Bookslinger, it would get a good but probably hostile laugh and do even more harm to my reputation. But if we didn't know the dates involved, I think we'd have a better case for Whitman borrowing from the Book of Mormon than we do for some purported Book of Mormon plagiarism.

Jeff Lindsay: said...

EEcp, I didn't say it was one of the best argument, but it is certainly one of the most common, partly because it is so easy and memorable. Along with the even sillier "adieu" argument. Common doesn't mean best.

Bookslinger said...

Jeff, since Leaves of Grass was published in 1855, 25 years after BoM, we do have a case that Whitman plagiarized off the Book of Mormon (published in 1830).

Okay, so I'm going by Wikipedia. Are they wrong with the 1855 publication date for Leaves of Grass ?

Just thinking out loud... perhaps he wrote it long before he published it. However, Whitman was born in 1819, and would have been 10, almost 11, when the BoM was published. So I doubt Whitman wrote the content of LofG prior to the publication of the BofM.

IE, Whitman had ample opportunity to be exposed to the Book of Mormon prior to penning the content of Leaves of Grass. (BTW, Leaves of Grass is a collection of works, not one work.)

I thought part of your use of irony in the BofM/LofG comparison is that Leaves of Grass came out 25years after the Book of Mormon. But your last comment leads me to think otherwise.

Therefore, as your BofM/LofG comparison illustrates, if the logic used by critics of the Book of Mormon holds any water, the same logic would indicate that Whitman plagriarized the Book of Mormon!

Jeff L. said...

My mistake ... Was thinking of the reverse problem, posting too late and in a rush. Yes, Witman came later and while some parts have parallels, I think it is mere random coincidence.

Anonymous said...

In my American Lit I class I teach both the BoM and Leaves of Grass. I try to get my students to entertain the possibility that Joseph Smith and Walt Whitman are both drawing on a common source--not a common text, mind you, but a set of shared assumptions, desires, and the like that were part of the zeitgeist. Ditto, BTW, for Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Cullen Bryant, and others. One can easily see Smith reading parts of "Self-Reliance" and nodding his head enthusiastically in agreement. And if you doubt that Americans of Smith's time were not widely and wildly fascinated with and speculating about Native Amewrican origins, read Bryant's poem "The Prairies," in which he imagines something very much like a plot outline for the BoM.

ando49 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ando49 said...

Emma Smith said that she acted as scribe for JS for hour after hour and said if he had dictated from a book or a manuscript he could not possibly have hidden it from her. She also said that when Oliver Cowdrey was acting as scribe that there was no attempt by Joseph to hide the plates, in fact the plates were actually left covered by a cloth on the table, in open view, while Joseph peered into the seer stone inside the hat. In other words, if Joseph didn't need to have the plates open to translate then why would he need the bible open to copy it? Bushman describes it as a type of induction process. Remember, with the seer stone he could see things that were hidden.

John Jackson said...

Good point, ando49. Perhaps it is the Lord who, in providing the translation to the Isaiah chapters, gave wording so all but exact to what is in the King James Version. Jeff, points out, on his LDS/FAQ webpage, that Moroni, when he visited, quoted from Acts 3, the 22 and 23 verses, according to Joseph, "precisely as they stand in our New Testament." Jeff, also on that webpage, quotes Hugh Nibley as having suggested New Testament writers, in using quotes Jesus and the Apostles and the Angel Gabriel took from ancient writings, did not go back to the original texts, but instead used language of the more recent Septuagint, because the Septuagint was the text the readers at the time were familiar with.
I do not know whether Joseph ever altered from his process of using the seer stone. If he did, and if he did use the King's James Version when he reached the Isaiah chapters, yes, I do think that would be natural.

John Jackson said...

I think of how it is said, You don't need to reinvent the wheel. If Joseph did turn to the King James Bible, it is not a negative.

Anonymous said...

If you don't need to reinvent the wheel, why did Smith feel he needed to reinvent Christianity? Why did Jesus feel he needed to reinvent Judaism? Why did the Jewish founders feel they needed to reinvent paganism....?

Reinvention is the name of the game. The question is always, What to we keep of the old ways, and what do we replace with our own inventions? In this particular case the question is, Why did Smith quote so extensively from Isaiah and not, say, from Ecclesiastes or Job?

rameumptom said...

I would think Joseph quoted so much from Isaiah because Nephi did. It may be that the Brass Plates did not include Job or Ecclesiastes. Considering the Brass Plates were probably formulated in the Northern Kingdom, it is unlikely they would have had much good stuff on Solomon. As it is, what there is on Solomon in the BoM is rather negative (Jacob condemned his polygamy). That is clearly a Northern Kingdom view of the royal family....
If we look at the Dead Sea Scrolls, we find that some books were more popular than others. There are more copies/fragments of Deuteronomy and Isaiah than anything else among the DSS. Why didn't they have 3 dozen Job or Ecclesiastes? Perhaps for the same reason. Some books are more important to the community than are others.

openminded said...

it's definitely a "what are your standards?" issue when it comes to accepting Smith's use of the bible during translation. As an outsider, the presence of many many biblical verses (including New Testament ones in Old Testament times) in the BoM text are easily explained away by a biblical influence. And by biblical influence, I mean a lot of material easily could have come from the bible; and by standards, I mean finding out that Smith used the bible to write his material gives too much of a hint towards plagiarism than I choose to accept (biblically inspired or God-inspired? The two would be the same, but the presence of the NT is strongly in the wrong time frame).

Joseph Smith turning to the King James means during the writing of the BoM, Joseph Smith accessed a King James.

The golden plates, the direct word of God, took second place to a flawed translation of the bible? Does God want to leave us in the dark while He's enlightening us?

Or is the bible just not entirely important?

John Jackson said...

My Openminded friend:
It would be interesting to double-check Nibley, if we could read the original Septuagint copies and compare them to the earliest versions we have of the New Testament, seeing if the quotes in the New Testament were so close to those in the Septuagint as are the Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon to those in the Kings James Bible.
Explanations for Isaiah in the Book of Mormon following so close to the wording in the King James Bible? I see only the two: 1. God chose to use the King James wording, or, 2. Joseph used it, choosing to rely heavily on it instead of spending so much effort re-doing what was already done.
I'm late for my rec center work out, openminded, but might come back and discuss with you one of the Book of Mormon-New Testament connections, or I might catch it in the next couple days. May you have a good day.

John Jackson said...

Realizing the Church is true, and the Book of Mormon true, when the similarity of Moroni 7:44-47 to I Corinthians 13 was pointed out to me, I knew their must be a reason, but didn't know what it was.
I thought on it, which is right to do, pondering, and also praying. I still have my notes and I'll share with you some possible scenarios I came up with.
Scenario One: God can quote Himself. We teach that all scripture comes from God, so God could give the words to Paul, then give the very same words to another prophet about 400 years later who lived far across the seas and who had never even heard of Paul. God is author.
Scenario Two: Perhaps Mormon's sermon was similar enough to the one given by Paul, that when Joseph Smith was translating, the words from 1 Corinthians came to his mind, and he used them. This would run counter to the accepted understanding that Joseph would see the words appear before him and dictate word-for-word from what he found on the plates, but is it not possible that while much of the Book of Mormon was a word-for-word translation/dictation, some parts were not?
Scenario Three: Paul was quoting from a lost scripture. I am told writers back then were of the practice of quoting others without citing them, and we know New Testament writers often did quote Old Testament writers. So, could this have happened? We do not have an Old Testament scripture like this, but could there have been one and it was lost?
Scenario Four: What of transatlantic or transpacific excursions from the Old to the New World? Could there have been those who reached the Americas between the time of Christ and the destruction of the Nephites about 400 B.C? Such is not ruled out by the Book of Mormon. That it does not mention them does not mean they did not take place. And, if they did take place, they could have brought Paul's writings with them.
Scenario Five: The Book of Mormon contains but a small portion of the record of the Nephites, and much of God's dealings with the Nephite prophets after the time of Christ may be missing. Is it possible God gave writings from the New Testament to one of these Nephite prophets, by revelation? By this scenario, those in America could have had full New Testament books.

openminded said...

I probably won't have much time to get back to all these points for a few days, so I'm going to drop a line that would apply to whatever rebuttal I would've given:

1) there is a complete lack of New Testament influence in the proposed regions where the BoM takes place,

2)if everything was on the golden plates and the seer stone was right in hand, why would Smith need to use a bible for something so similarly-worded in the first place? An easily-reached conclusion is: there were no golden plates; Smith used a KJV (plus his knowledge of it) and his documented, lively imagination to write the BoM,

3) transatlantic voyagers bringing the writings of Paul with them is a completely unsustainable argument. as for a pacific voyage, that's not even remotely possible,

4) a lost scripture from the OT talking about Jesus Christ? biblical scholars are fairly consensual on how the prophecies about Jesus (according to the NT) don't belong to Jesus at all, and a lost OT scripture that God didnt save for us (or a non-scripture, therefore the verses aren't from God) and is about Jesus isn't plausible,

and 5) the God-is-author argument is pushed aside by the Smith-had-a-KJV-with-him argument. But for the sake of things, I think you'll have to live with the God-is-author side, regardless of critical reasoning.

It's a bit like the Young Earth Creationist's reasoning behind the dinosaurs in terms of how God interacts with us.

I don't like those arguments because that makes anything possible (and so to heck with whatever anyone says), but whatever helps.

That was a bit more than a line.

Until next time

Pops said...

A couple of random thoughts:

The Book of Mormon quotations of Isaiah have interesting differences from the KJV. For example, Isaiah 2:9 is corrected in the Book of Mormon.

And I've found it curious that Church leaders quoting Malachi 4:6 use the KJV wording when the Moroni rendition makes more sense.

John Jackson said...

Well, openminded, you were kind to read my comment. I think all five scenarios are possibilities. The Book of Mormon can be facinating. In my reading today, I found something I had never noticed before, precious to me, but to most people, it would mean nothing. Thanks again, openminded.
Pops, I'll have to read the Isaiah 2:9 and Malachi 4:6 quotes.

ando49 said...

The book of Mormon tells of Christ's visit to America, so for someone to say that there is a complete lack of evidence to support a NT influence in the area where the BOM is alleged to have taken place is either the possessor of ALL there is to know of these ancient people, or he has never actually read the BOM. It's like saying the BOM is not true because Christ never visited the Americas. if he did visit, as the BOM testifies, then he could easily have passed on NT teaching to them, as he did to the old world apostles. On the BOM text issue, we know from studying the original extant manuscript, that the passages containing the Isaiah text in 2nd Nephi were actually written last (June 1829), because after the 116 pages were lost, JS kept on translating from where he left off (starting abruptly at Mosiah) then came back to start at 1st Nephi. Most of the Isaiah passages are contained in this last produced section. Interestingly, Christ quotes a chapter of Isaiah to the New World peoples, again using KJV speak. This section was translated before the Nephi passages. We know that there were several people who witnessed the translation, namely, John and David Whitmer, Emma Smith, Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdrey, Samuel Smith and others. At what point did JS pull out his KJV bible? Did he do it when Nephi was quoting Isaiah, or when Christ was also quoting him. Not one of these eye witnesses say they saw Joseph refer to another book. After the 116 pages episode, he did the translation in then open. How clever JS must have been to pretend he was translating when in fact he was sneakily looking at a hidden KJV. And then, he would develop an interpretation of the same, relating it to the last days, all in a seamless manner that kept producing 20-30 words at a time (then waiting for the scribe to read it back), for hour after hour, with his head buried in a hat.

velska said...

To our "openminded" friend: I am no Bible scholar, but I remember most vividly how Thor Heyerdahl proved his theory that the Egyptians could have crossed the Ocean and visited Americas by sailing his papyrus-reed ship Ra across the Atlantic from near historic Alexandria.

His next project was to prove that the Polynesians could have gone either from the Old or New Worlds by sailing his Kon-Tiki across the pacific.

Ergo, your argument about the simplistic impossibility of transoceanic trips during BoM times is not only not quite accurate, it's against well known facts.

Heyerdahl used nothing that would not have been accessible to the people 2,000 years ago, except perhaps having some emergency fresh water and some other equipment in case of emergency (his grew trained themselves to drink almost exclusively ocean water, for example, but if memory serves, wine also).

I don't know how much Heyerdahl knew about BofM, and as I was not a Mormon during those days -- I never paid any attention to any mention to Mormon-specificity, but he certainly was not a Mormon, AFAIK.

Pops said...

Methinks you need to rework the bit about drinking ocean water - a practice that leads quickly to dehydration and death due to the salt content. I believe they stored fresh water in sealed lengths of bamboo lashed to the raft, and also benefited from rainfall.

rameumptom said...

Jeff, looks like the previous comment is spam. You'll want to remove it.