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Monday, October 19, 2015

The Nahom Follies, Part 2: Could Nephi Have Known the Exodus Story? Does the Documentary Hypothesis Trump the Arabian Evidence?

First, a word of apology. To prepare for this post, I reread an outstanding book on the Documentary Hypothesis, Richard Elliott Friedman's best-seller, Who Wrote the Bible? , second edition (New York: HarperCollins, 1997). I read the first edition (1987) in the early 1990s and was impressed, but wasn't ready to really learn and understand how significant his research was. Upon rereading, I found it remarkably interesting, even brilliant, with a style that is reads a little more like a thrilling murder mystery than a scholar's review of esoteric research. But my second reading requires this apology: My apologies to tennis stars Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and others for not paying full attention during their recent matches at the Shanghai Rolex Masters Tennis semifinals on Oct. 17, 2015, where I spent much of a Saturday trying to serve two masters--or rather, trying to read while two masters served.

Overview and Summary

In my previous post, "Burying Nahom," I addressed a rather sloppy recent attack among the Patheos.com blogs on the Arabian Peninsula evidence for the plausibility of Nephi's account in the Book of Mormon. Now I'd like to discuss a much more careful criticism from another Patheos Blog, written by someone much more familiar with the Book of Mormon who has the skills and intellect to develop more powerful arguments against First Nephi. I'm referring to the anonymous writer "RT" at Faith Promoting Rumor, whose post "Nahom and Lehi’s Journey through Arabia: A Historical Perspective, Part 1" sets a high standard for Book of Mormon criticism.

RT offers a variety of criticisms against the significance of Nahom and related finds. While I feel he overlooks many vital points, I think he makes a particularly interesting and serious criticism when he appeals to the extensive biblical scholarship behind what is known as the "Documentary Hypothesis" to suggest that First Nephi is obviously fiction, and therefore the Nahom evidence doesn't count because it can't possibly be anything other than coincidence. I'll address other aspects of his critique later, but I feel this is the part of his attack on Nahom that most strongly demands a response. His tone is reasoned and cautious, his approach seems reasonable, his documentation is thorough, and his logic seems solid. In spite of that, RT, like Philip Jenkins, the previously discussed "Nahom Follies" writer, misses some important information.

As I'll show below, one of the most important things he misses is the significant scholarship of Richard Elliot Friedman who persuasively demonstrates that the priestly text, P, which provides much of Pentateuch, was not a late manuscript from after the Exile, but much more likely comes from the time of King Hezekiah, dating it to before Nephi's time (see Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible, second edition, (New York: HarperCollins, 1997)). Thus it is no longer impossible for priestly material to have been known to Nephi.

Yes, the final redaction to combine the distinct older documents into the Torah as we know it apparently came after the Exile and was probably done by Ezra, but the Exodus story is an ancient one that was widely known among the Jews of Nephi's day. Details of how it happened vary among the hypothesized documents and within the OT of our day. Recently Friedman has further explained why it's a serious mistake to use the Documentary Hypothesis and the alleged lack of archaeological evidence for the Exodus to argue that the Exodus was fiction. See "The Exodus Is Not Fiction: An Interview With Richard Elliott Friedman," Reform Judaism, Spring 2014, http://www.reformjudaism.org/exodus-not-fiction. He sees evidence that the Exodus in some way was a historical event and points to evidence in support of some aspects of the concept, though he argues it probably happened to a much smaller group of Hebrews (perhaps the Levites only).

As I'll also show that the references in the Book of Mormon to themes in the Pentateuch lack the major unique elements that characterize P (the importance of central sacrifices, an emphasis on Aaron, etc.), so the case for Nephi relying on material unique to P may be questioned. On the other hand, some LDS scholarship suggests that the brass plates may have been a largely Elohist (E) document, with strong influence from the Northern Kingdom, which is plausible given that the brass plates are a record associated with the tribe of Joseph.

The evidence from the Arabian Peninsula is not vaporized by a Documentary Hypothesis death beam. It still counts as evidence, and indeed, the evidence may be useful in helping us to make critical adjustments to our theories of scriptural formation. If First Nephi has external evidence of authenticity, then it gives us a precious lens into the world of the Jews just before the Exile, allowing us to learn of a sacred record on brass plates that was kept in reformed Egyptian. By examining and inferring what was on the brass plates and what traditions Nephi and his family had, either from the brass plates, oral tradition, or other records, we can obtain precious data about ancient records, the intrigues of priests, the corruption of scripture, and the preservation of the Word of God in spite of all the human influences that get in the way. If Nahom is authentic evidence, it's more than just evidence to help us understand the plausibility of the Book of Mormon; it may be a vital step toward understanding the origins of the Old Testament and testing various elements of the Documentary Hypothesis.


Too Biblical to Be Real?

RT's post at Faith Promoting Rumor leads up to his use of the Documentary Hypothesis by first pointing out that Nephi's parallels to Exodus are suspicious.
The first problem that the apologetic argument faces with regard to Nahom as an authentic ancient reference is that the larger journey narrative recounted in 1 Nephi is for the most part implausible as real history. The account contains many story elements and language that indicate it originated as imaginative mythological literature modeled along biblical patterns, whereas it lacks evidence of certain details that we would expect to find if it were in fact a realistic report of an Israelite family journeying from Jerusalem through the deserts of Arabia.
This is not a problem if one understands that Nephi is writing a sacred text, and that he is likening the scriptures to their situation and creating a moral parable from his journey that he sees, at least eventually, as a divinely crafted parallel to the Exodus. In my opinion this fits what we know of the ancient religious mindset. Types and paradigms of this kind were vital and deliberate, and sometimes richly applied. Nephi is writing sacred history and emphasizing the ways in which his story follows a divine archetype. In fact, he's retelling and probably reshaping his story (not fabricating it!) to emphasize sacred themes in much the same way that the authors of the Bible, according to biblical scholars, may have adapted their writings to achieve specific purposes. This does not make Nephi's work a pious fraud, but a pious retelling or pious redaction of his experience. This should not come as a surprise, for he explains that on the small plates that he is engraving, his purpose is to focus on spiritual things, not mundane details that are more likely to be found on the related but more extensive and more secular large plates.

Recognizing and emphasizing parallels to biblical themes does not render the story fake, no more than if your pioneer grandmother used Exodus themes when she retold her story fleeing enemy mobs by a dry crossing the (frozen) Mississippi River as they fled Nauvoo on the way to the promised land across the plains. The miracle of the quails and many other aspects of the pioneer journeys to Zion could be written with extensive references to Exodus without rendering them non-historical, no matter how much detail was left out in the process.

Given the significance of Exodus to the Hebrews, I think a sacred journey to the Promised Land that didn't consider parallels to Exodus would raise even more serious questions than RT raises (unless he's completely right in his most serious argument based on the Documentary Hypothesis, which we'll address below).

As modern scholars have dug into Nephi's writings, they have found that Nephi's interweaving of key Hebraic themes is pervasive, subtle, and skillful, even to the point of making clever Hebraic word plays (Nahom included) and crafting Semitic poetry in ways that make it difficult to imagine young Joseph Smith doing this, whether using loads of available books to guide him in slowly crafting a thoroughly-researched manuscript or just dictating the text on the fly, as multiple witnesses attest. The interwoven biblical themes in his text are crafted so well, that it should, in my view, count as evidence for ancient origins rather than modern. Consider, for example, the deliberate ways in which his slaying of Laban is patterned after David and Goliath, serving as an important basis for his descendants in recognizing the validity of Nephi's claim to be the rightful ruler of the people. This is explained in detail in Ben McGuire's "Nephi and Goliath: A Reappraisal of the Use of the Old Testament in First Nephi," which also does much to explain why Nephi's focus on preparing a sacred text is not aimed at providing the kind of details RT is asking for. (It also provides some evidence relevant to the Documentary Hypothesis and the relationship between biblical sources and the brass plates that Nephi had.)

Exploring Nephi's use of biblical allusions and themes in his writing, including clever Hebraic word plays, is a fertile field for ongoing scholarship and discovery, not a trivial exposé of poor modern authorship from young Joseph. There is depth and subtlety here. Yes, the story is heavily grounded in biblical themes--not because it never happened, but because it happened to a Hebrew family steeped in the ways of Hebrew writers as they crafted a sacred text that not only would serve to help bring people to the Messiah, but would also serve other purposes such as reinforcing the basis of their political rights.

However, RT has a significant point that may overthrow my reasoning above, for if he is right, there's no way that a real Nephi could have written about the Exodus. Let's explore RT's most potent weapon as he unleashes the Documentary Hypothesis against the Arabian Peninsula evidence.

The Documentary Hypothesis vs. Nephi


Here is what I consider to be the most serious attack RT makes in his post:
[P]erhaps most damagingly, the allusions and references to the book of Exodus in the BoM show that the form of the narrative it presumes corresponds to that found in the Bible, combining both non-priestly (non-P) and priestly (P) material. As is well known, one of the more significant conclusions of two centuries of biblical scholarship is that the story of the Exodus is actually a product of multiple literary sources/strands that were developed and combined over time, including a non-P source (sometimes divided into separate Yahwist and Elohist sources or early non-P and late non-P strands) and a P source that covered similar material but had distinctive theological emphases and content as well. Although many scholars believe that some of the non-P material may date to the pre-exilic or monarchic period, the P source is at the earliest exilic and more likely from the post-exilic/Persian period. The P source would also by necessity have been composed before it and non-P were combined together into one continuous Torah narrative, meaning that the project to conflate the sources would have occurred even later during the Persian period. So in direct opposition to what we would expect if the BoM were ancient, the author of 1 Nephi seems to have known and made use of an Exodus that contained both P and Non-P.
  • The knowledge of P is reflected in 1 Ne 3:3 (Gen 46:8-27; Ex 6:14-25); 4:2 (Ex 14:21-22); 16:19-20 (Ex 16:2-3); 17:7-8 (Exodus 25:8-9); 17:14 (Ex 6:7-8); 17:20 (Ex 16:3); 17:26-27, 50 (Ex 14:21-22); 18:1-2 (Ex 35:30-33).
  • The knowledge of non-P in 1 Ne 1:6 (Ex 3:2); 2:6 (Ex 3:18; 8:27; 15:22); 2:7 (Ex 3:12, 18; 8:27; 17:15; 18:12); 2:11-12 (Ex 14:11-12); 2:18-24 (Ex 15:26); 3:13, 24-25 (Ex 4:21-23; 5:1-2, 6; 7:20; 8:1, 8, 25; 9:27); 3:29-30 (Ex 14:19-20); 5:5-8 (Ex. 18:9-11); 6:4 (Ex 3:6, 15; 4:5); 16:10, 26-29 (Num 21:8-9); 16:35-36 (Num 14:1-4); 16:37 (Ex 2:14; Num 16:1-3, 13-14); 17:13 (Ex 13:21); 18:9 (Ex 32:4-6; Ex 32:18-19).
The extensive borrowing and revisioning of the Exodus story in the BoM is thus most easily reconciled with a modern origin for the narrative. Not only would this provide a setting for such an all-inclusive revisioning to have taken place, but it would explain why various aspects of the borrowing do not reflect the social, intellectual, and literary world of ancient Israel.

That certainly sounds devastating. If the cumulative weight of two centuries of scholarship compels us to recognize that the Jews of 600 BC were not familiar with the Exodus story, at least as we know it, then how could Nephi refer to it? While parts of the book of Exodus from the non-P source may have been available before the Exile, the significant portions attributed to the a priestly source (P) were, according to RT, not around before the Exile. The two were not combined until long after the Exile, so there is no way Nephi could have used both.

Here RT is appealing to what is known as the Documentary Hypothesis. This is a vital aspect of biblical studies in which scholars, after even more than two centuries of exploring the details of the Old Testament, have determined with a great deal of plausible arguments that the Bible as we know it has been crafted from at least four original sources written by different people or groups in different places and times, then finally edited together into the complex and sometimes contradictory Masoretic text that we now have.

The now classical Documentary Hypothesis owes much to 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. He concluded that there were 4 original documents behind the Pentateuch, each known by a single letter:
  • J, the Yahwist source (J is the first letter of Yahweh when written in German), written around 950 BCE in the southern Kingdom of Judah, so named because it tends to use Yahweh (Jehovah) as the name for God. (Friedman puts J between 848 and 722 B.C.)
  • E, the Elohist source (E) : written c. 850 BCE in the northern Kingdom of Israel, so named because it prefers to use "Elohim" as the name for God. (Friedman puts E somewhere from 922 to 722 B.C.)
  • D, the Deuteronomist source (essentially the book of Deuteronomy) : written c. 600 BCE in Jerusalem during a period of religious reform (Josiah's era). 
  • P, the Priestly source: written c. 500 BCE by Kohanim (Jewish priests) in exile in Babylon. (As we will see, Wellhausen's dating of P is based on several serious errors, according to Friedman.)
Many scholars concluded that J and E were combined prior to the Exile and were available as a redacted document known to scholars today as JE. In theory, JE and D could have been known to Nephi, but RT argues that P was not, and the combination of these documents was not available until even later, after the Exile, by someone such as Ezra.

So if Nephi relies on the Exodus story told in P, and P wasn't written in his day, there may is a problem.

No Exodus story in 600 BC = no real Nephi = who cares about Nahom and Bountiful, right?

Does the Documentary Hypothesis trump Nahom? Does it trump any and all Book of Mormon evidence?

Some fellow Christians and some devout Jews at this point may wish to jump in and help me by pointing out that the Documentary Hypothesis is a theory in flux, filled with weak spots, devoid of extrinsic evidence outside of internal textual analysis (i.e., no manuscript for any of the individual sources has ever been found), and the target of many arguments against it. But I'm not going to focus on the arguments against the basic concept of the Documentary Hypothesis. I think it has significant merit and needs to be considered, tentatively and cautiously. In my view, it cannot be easily dismissed and may have a lot to offer.

For those who value the scholarship behind the Documentary Hypothesis, in spite of many unknowns, here's the most critical factor that RT is missing in his misapplication of the Documentary Hypothesis: There is significant, credible evidence that Wellhausen was seriously wrong in dating of P. The crafting of the P manuscript, according to one of the world's foremost scholars conducting research in the details related to the Documentary Hypothesis, occurred before the Exile, probably in Hezekiah's era, before Josiah and before Nephi. That scholar is Richard Elliott Friedman, who 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. He participated in the City of David Project archaeological excavations of biblical Jerusalem and served as a consultant for PBS’s Nova: "The People of the Covenant: The Origins of Ancient Israel and the Emergence of Judaism" and A&E’s "Who Wrote the Bible?" and "Mysteries of the Bible."

Let's consider the credible case made by Richard Elliott Friedman in his award-winning book, Who Wrote the Bible?

He identifies three serious mistakes that led Wellhausen and others to place P after the Exile. These were:
  1. The idea that the prophets (e.g., Jeremiah and Ezekiel) do not ever cite material from P.
  2. The notion that the Tabernacle was not historical but a fiction created after the Exile and inserted into P to provide a rational in the words of Moses for the centrality of the Temple, which is never mentioned in the Pentateuch. The fabricated tabernacle, according to Wellhausen, was created in P to provide an ancient rationale for the Temple.
  3. The idea that P takes the centralization of worship for granted, as if it were written in a time when there was no doubt that centralization was the norm (i.e., after the Exile).

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 their 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).

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. Finally, Friedman points out that P sources repeatedly teach centralization of worship at the tabernacle, something Wellhausen missed.

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 scholar have published linguistic evidence that P's version of Hebrew comes from before the Exile to Babylon.

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 the second Temple did not have?"

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).

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. That leaves plenty of time for P material to become available to Nephi, or even be recorded on the brass plates (though Sorenson notes that Book of Mormon seems much more closely aligned with the Elohist document).

For further reference, a detailed, scholarly book on the Documentary Hypothesis written for an LDS audience is David E. Bokovoy's Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis-Deuteronomy (Part One) along with Part Two (the paperback is just one volume; it's split in two for Kindle readers). Bokovoy generally accepts the dating of Friedman, and adds many insights about the Mesopotamian sources that appear to have been used by those crafting the various sources. He also explores implications of the Documentary Hypothesis for Latter-day Saints, observing the Book of Mormon account shows a process very similar to the Documentary Hypothesis in play, and also noting that Joseph Smith's concerns about the corruption of ancient scripture and the missing or altered elements in the Bible is consistent with what we can observe happening in the Bible text through the tools of Higher Criticism.

Some of Bokovoy's views may be troubling to some LDS readers, such as his view that the Book of Moses given by Joseph Smith could not possibly have come from Moses. Regarding the Book of Mormon, while he sees some merit in John Sorenson's hypothesis about the dominance of E in the brass plates and the Book of Mormon, he points out a number of places where P and D are relied on, such as references to the Creation story and the Flood. He leans toward Blake Ostler's "expansion theory" for the Book of Mormon, arguing that Joseph may have taken a simpler ancient text and expanded it, enriching it with detailed prophecies about Christ that the Nephites might not have actually had. I struggle with that notion, but admire his thorough scholarship and clear writing, and feel this work is a valuable one for serious students of the Bible to consider.

Another thoughtful article for LDS readers on the Documentary Hypothesis is Kevin L. Barney, “Reflections on the Documentary Hypothesis,” Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 33 No. 1, Spring 2000: 57-99.

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 warning 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 observed the many records that Mormon has cobbled together from records in Hebrew, reformed Hebrew, and at least one Jaredite language, records which he tweaked, 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 modern English--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.

We can see and recognize the hand of humans in each stage of the Book of Mormon's creation: first from the hand of Mormon, including Mormon's editing, his concern about errors that he may be making unintentionally and because of the difficulty of working with the written language (not to mention the challenge of writing on metal plates, devoid of a backspace key--it looks like he may have used "or" instead), his recognition that his limited writing abilities would lead to mocking by future readers, etc. Then we have the hand or tongue of Joseph translating it in a process of steady oral dictation without reference to other documents, giving us text with clear signatures from Early Modern English that really should not be there. In this process, we also see the human touch of Oliver's hand and the hand of other scribes who wrote down what they heard but sometime made obvious errors, many of which they caught and corrected. We can see and retrace the oral process of hearing and writing as we examine the Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon, a divine fruit with clear human influence. Then we have the human influence of preparing a printer's manuscript, and the influence of the printer's hand in adding punctuation and making other changes and sometimes some clear mistakes in printing the manuscript. Then there are other editorial changes, some from Joseph, some from Parley P. Pratt and others, bringing us to modern editions such as the 1981 Book of Mormon in which many attempts were made to correct some of the usually minor mistakes that had crept into the text. And naturally, when this text is translated into German, Chinese, or Navajo, numerous new human influences enter into the sacred text. A divine text becomes "divine plus," or maybe "divine minus." We cannot separate human influences from sacred records, and the sacred text of the Book of Mormon makes that remarkably clear, while also serving as a divine record that, in spite of errors, can be called the "most correct book." It is a remarkable witness of Jesus Christ and of the reality of the Restoration.

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 many human smudges. The Book of Mormon may be just the thing, that is, if it in turn can withstand the fierce assault of the Documentary Hypothesis on its own integrity, for the Book of Mormon relies heavily on the Bible in ways that allow Documentary Hypothesis advocates to also challenge the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

The apparent consensus among the majority on the classical Documentary Hypothesis may not be as firm as RT implies. While I think many aspects of it may be valid, there is tremendous diversity among believers of the Documentary Hypothesis, and a significant body of serious scholars and students of the Bible who find it inadequate. It must be treated with both respect and a dose of caution.

On the other hand, Latter-day Saints are in a surprisingly good position with respect to some of the findings behind the Documentary Hypothesis. We can readily recognize that the creation of scripture can involve multiple documents from many time periods and sources that are combined into a patchwork of sorts as they are redacted by one or more editors, for that is the very process taking place before our eyes in the Book of Mormon, with the important and fascinating distinction that Mormon often allows us to see or infer what source material he is drawing upon. In the Book of Mormon, we can see a scriptural text being redacted before our very eyes, even to the point of having its own version of doublets, of stories told twice or more, especially with the inspired inclusion of the small plates that apparently puzzled Mormon because he recognized he was providing a large amount of duplicated information.

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," Dialog, vol. 10, no. 4, pp. 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.

Sorenson's hypothesis seems to fit in light of the broad characteristics of the 4 sources. According to Friedman in Who Wrote the Bible?,  E challenges the religious establishment in Judah with its priests from the family of Aaron, favors Moses over Aaron, favors prophets such as Samuel over priests (the word "prophet" never occurs in J and occurs only once in P!), and favors Ephraim, and was probably written by a Levite priest from Shiloh which is in Ephraim, from whence Samuel came. The author may have considered himself to be a descendent of Moses. On the other hand, J favors the religious establishment in Jerusalem, favors Aaron over Moses, and never mentions the Tabernacle, which was originally associated with the city of Shiloh, source of the branch of Levite priests that were considered a threat to the priests descended from Aaron in control in Judah.

Other characteristics of note:
  • E contains three chapters of law, which is what we expect in a document written by a priest or priests, while J does not. 1 Nephi 1:15-16 states that the law of Moses was recorded on the brass plates. 
  • The bronze serpent is an important symbol in E and is associated with a great miracle performed by Moses. E is the only source for that story, which also plays an important role in the Book of Mormon. The P document, on the other hand, praises Hezekiah for destroying the bronze serpent, viewed as a tool of idolatry.  
  • E and D refer to the mountain where Moses received his revelation as Horeb, while J and P call it Sinai. While Nephi may make allusions to Moses' experience on the mount as he also obtains revelation on mountains, Sinai is mentioned by name once by Abinadi in Mosiah 12:33, which does not strengthen Sorenson's hypothesis. (Of course, one could argue that whatever it was called in the original Book of Mormon text, Sinai would be a plausible "translation" to make the reference clear with how modern readers know the name of that mountain.) Consistent with Sorenson, the revelation at Horeb/Sinai was important in E but less so in J, which emphasized the covenant to the patriarchs and the House of David over the covenant at Sinai. 
  • The ark of the covenant does not appear in E (nor in the Book of Mormon) and the Tabernacle does not appear in J (in the Book of Mormon, the word tabernacle, possibly alluding to the Tabernacle of the Pentateuch, occurs in a quotation in of Isaiah 4:6 in 2 Nephi 14). 
  • E has no Creation story and no Flood story, at least not that was compiled into the Masoretic text. The brass plates discuss the Creation and the Flood. 
  • When Moses strikes a stone at Meribah and brings forth water from the rock for thirsty Israel, this is a positive miracle in E, but the story is repeated in the Bible from P and there becomes negative, somehow an act of disobedience that dooms Moses to die before entering the promised land. The Book of Mormon mentions that miracle in a positive light (1 Nephi 17:24). Further, the Book of Mormon is so positive about Moses that even his apparent death may have actually have been the miracle of being translated by the Lord (Alma 45:19), in apparent disagreement with the OT but also alluded to by Josephus

The sharp differences between J and E and between all four sources, for that matter, have led some to reject the Bible and their faith entirely. Friedman explains repeatedly that differences in texts that may reflect different interests and perspectives of those shaping the records do not imply that the basic events being treated are all fiction. It is important to also recognize what is shared between these sources. Of J and E, he writes:
The two versions, nonetheless, would be just that: versions, not completely unrelated works. They would still be drawing upon a common treasury of history and tradition because Israel and Judah had once been one united people, and in many ways they still were. They shared traditions of a divine promise to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They shared traditions of having been slaves in Egypt, of an exodus from Egypt led by a man named Moses, of an extraordinary revelation at a mountain in the wilderness, and of years of wandering before settling in the promised land. Neither author was free to make up—or interested in making up—a completely new, fictional portrayal of history.

In style as well, once one version was established as a document bearing sacred national traditions, the author of the second, alternate version might well have consciously (or perhaps even unconsciously) decided to imitate its style. If the style of the first had come to be accepted in people’s minds as the proper, formal, familiar language of recounting sacred tradition in that period, it would be in the second version’s interest to preserve that manner of expression....

Another possible explanation for the stylistic similarity of J and E is that, rather than J’s being based on E or E’s being based on J, both may have been based on a common source that was prior to them. That is, there may have been an old, traditional cycle of stories about the patriarchs, exodus, etc. which both the authors of J and E used as a basis for their works. Such an original cycle would have been either written or an orally passed-down collection. In either case, once the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were established, the authors of E and J each adapted the collection to their respective concerns and purposes. [emphasis mine]
There may be corrupted, altered, or fabricated details between the versions, but there is a core of ancient experience behind these accounts, or even other ancient records, a possibility Friedman also acknowledges.

As an aside, an interesting aspect of the brass plates is that they contained many prophecies of Jeremiah (1 Nephi 5:13) and other prophets. Jeremiah or his scribe is identified by Friedman as the author of Deuteronomy (D), both Dtr1 (the first version of D, before the Exile) and a much smaller body of adjustments made after the Exile, known as Dtr2. If Jeremiah's writings were on the brass plates, Dtr1 could easily have been there, too. Thus, information from all five of the "Books of Moses" may have been present on the brass plates, either from a version of E plus D (Dtr1) and prophetic writings, or an older, more complete document related to E plus D and prophetic writings. If so, Nephi's reference to the "five books of Moses" (1 Nephi 5:11) found in the brass plates could be reasonable. The information may not have been neatly organized in five books, and instead he may have called it the Torah of Moses, with "five books of Moses" being a reasonable translation for modern readers. Or perhaps there were five distinct groupings.  Bible scholarship here may cause us to question whether this phrase was Nephi's or a translator, but questions raised by the Book of Mormon can also help us modify our understanding of Bible origins.

Ultimately, 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, the translated text of the Book of Mormon may not always accurately reflect what was on the gold plates and/or brass plates due to artifacts of translation and even "expansion" by Joseph Smith, as Blake Ostler has proposed. This is where work pointing to frequent evidence of at least some tight control in the translation of the text may be especially helpful and relevant (e.g., Hebraisms and Hebraic poetry, names, and even the puzzling and controversial issue of Early Modern English influences in the text that are independent of or distinct from the patterns of KJV language).

There is much more research to be done and much more to understand. I suspect that as we seek to better extract what was on the brass plates and to relate that material to Bible scholarship, we may learn more about both the Book of Mormon and the Bible.

Are You Saying that an Alleged Sacred Text Engraved on Precious Metal around 600 BC Challenges Some Aspects of the Documentary Hypothesis?

That's exactly what I'm saying. Well, almost exactly, if you'll kindly change one word in that question: delete alleged, because the engraved sacred text is NOT alleged, but real, tangible, and has now been scientifically studied by scholars who have confirmed its date, its reality, and its relevance. Oh, I'm not talking about those engravings, not the gold plates of Nephi nor the brass plates he brought to the New World. I'm talking about the much smaller silver plates, or rather, two small silver scrolls that were found near Jerusalem that have been carefully examined and dated to pre-exilic times around 600 BC, which quote from a passage in Numbers that is part of the P document. This archaeological find further destroys the argument that P was a late creation after or during the Exile. See:
If finding P material on tiny silver plates from Nephi's day helps to overturn some aspects of the "two centuries of scholarship" behind previous theories about the Pentateuch, we might do well to also consider the possibility that Nephi's writings and allusions to Exodus themes, including allusions to possible P material, may be useful in helping us recalibrate the tools used in establishing various versions of the Documentary Hypothesis or competing theories of Bible origins.

As mentioned above, John Sorenson has laid a foundation in evaluating the Book of Mormon in light of the Documentary Hypothesis by pointing out the strong Elohist (E) elements of the Book of Mormon text. I suggest that there are many more veins to explore, using some of the techniques applied by Bible scholars in exploring the OT test. The Book of Mormon is complicated by the lack of the original gold plates to explore, but we do have the translated text, including the richness of Royal Skousen's Earliest Text of the Book of Mormon. There are complex issues to explore, such as the complexities of the dictated language with its strange reliance on a form of English, long thought to just be Joseph's bad grammar, now being shown to contain a strong vein of Early Modern English predating the KJV. Yet there are also apparent Hebraisms that have survived translation, many Hebraic word plays that can be reconstructed. There is also the translation factor of a strong preference for KJV phrases to be used, apparently when appropriate, even when those phrases come from the New Testament. The Book of Mormon is cast into the familiar language of scripture in a complex, subtle, and pervasive way, yet loaded with grammatical structures that predate the KJV. In addition, there are the complexities of numerous documents and authors contributing to the Book of Mormon, whose individual styles also seem to survive translation. Pulling out the various signals that give us the Book of Mormon and extracting more detailed information about what may have been on the brass plates and what Nephi and others knew and said in 600 BC and later, is an opportunity for further scholarship that I trust will be fruitful.

A Lack of P Influence in the Book of Mormon, and Is That a Problem or Strength?

Sorenson's hypothesis that the brass plates were influenced by E seems reasonable given that the plates were from the tribe of Joseph and would be expected to have some of the same influences that the northern E appears to have. Likewise, even though P dominates the Torah, providing over 50% of it and a larger portion of Exodus, the Book of Mormon in my tentative view appears to lack the major characteristics that have helped scholars identify P. These uniquely P elements include an emphasis on the need for priests descended from Aaron and a favoring of Aaron over Moses, extensive details on the construction of the tabernacle, the concept of central sacrifices and worship, the idea that no sacrifice was practiced before the revelation at Sinai, the exalted status of Aaron and the priesthood, and the use of the divine title El Shaddai prior to Sinai.

In P, God is also less anthropomorphic and more ethereal or cosmic. There are no angels. The emphasis is on the law and the role of the official Aaronid priests, who are essential for the purity and worship of the people. P also serves to establish the income of priests, ensuring that sacrifices are made under their control which gives them food, and that tithing is paid through them. In describing some of the characteristics of the priestly source, Friedman in Who Wrote the Bible? says this:

The issue is not just sacrifice. For the author of P, it is the larger principle that the consecrated priests are the only intermediaries between humans and God. In the P versions of the stories, there are no angels. There are no talking animals. There are no dreams. Even the word “prophet” does not occur in P except once, and there it refers to Aaron. In P there are no blatant anthropomorphisms. In JE, God walks in the garden of Eden, God personally makes Adam’s and Eve’s clothes, personally closes Noah’s ark, smells Noah’s sacrifice, wrestles with Jacob, and speaks to Moses out of the burning bush. None of these things are in P. In JE, God personally speaks the Ten Commandments out loud from the heavens over Sinai. In P he does not. P depicts Yahweh as more cosmic, less personal, than in JE. 

This all seems to contrast with the Book of Mormon, where God is anthropomorphic and is seen and heard by men, where angels play a vital role throughout the text, where religion is not centralized and even a temple (more than one, in fact) can be built without scandal in a new land (as the Jews at Elephantine, Egypt did).

While the Book of Mormon mentions Moses over 30 times, always in a positive light (unlike P), the treatment of his brother Aaron is quite unlike P. While the Book of Mormon features the name of Aaron as a name, including the name of a small city, the Aaron of the Old Testament is never mentioned, nor is the Aaronic Priesthood, which seems like a puzzling omission if Joseph Smith was fabricating the Book of Mormon to pave the way for a Church that has both the Melchizedek and Aaronic priesthoods. Priests are ordained, but there is no requirement that they be descended from Aaron or anyone else, it seems; even Lamanites can become priests (Alma 23:4) and prophets.  The priests of the Book of Mormon are expressly unpaid (Alma 1:26), having to labor with their own hands, in strong contrast to P. They are ordained to teach and serve, not to live off the labors of the people--with the notable exception of the wicked priests of King Noah, who show some of the same blindness and corruption that the priests of Jerusalem did in Lehi's day.

Critics have complained that the Book of Mormon is far too unlike the Bible (or rather, unlike P) by failing to emphasize sacrificial rituals (though sacrifice certainly was part of their worship, as we learn in a mere two or three verses, not expanses of P-like text as some critics require). In fact, a number of common complaints about the Book of Mormon's contradicting the Bible or being too unbiblical really are complaints that the Book of Mormon is not following P. The Documentary Hypothesis may helps us better appreciate why that weakness may be a strength of the Book of Mormon, or at least an intriguing, plausible feature worthy of further study.

RT complains that the Book of Mormon is too biblical in drawing upon the Exodus so thoroughly, though I would argue that this is actually a hallmark of the ancient Hebrew world and not a basis for denying the historicity of a pivotal event retold with themes from sacred archetypes. Contra RT, other critics deride the Book of Mormon for being not biblical enough, for failing to show the importance of centralized worship, for thinking that a temple could be built outside of Jerusalem, for not having complex sacrificial rituals established under the order of an elite group of Levites only, etc., but these are complains about the relative unimportance of P in the Book of Mormon, which actually makes sense if the Nephites have been heavily influenced by a northern kingdom E-like text and their forefathers were at odds with the established priests in Jerusalem in Lehi's day.

A Suggested Update for RT

Getting back to the issue of Nahom, in his blog post, RT admits that the south-southwest direction, the description of fertile regions, turning east, etc., suggest a realistic trip. I love the way he sums it up:
In my opinion, the most plausible detail provided in the narrative of 1 Nephi 1-18 is the description of the general route followed by Lehi on his way through Arabia to the coastal location of Bountiful. From all the reporting of events that occurs in this part of the BoM (setting aside the reference to Nahom), the few comments that clarify that the party of Lehi traveled to the Red Sea (1 Ne 2:5-6) and then moved along the Red Sea in a south-southeast direction down the western side of the Arabian peninsula (1 Ne 16:13), “keeping in the most fertile parts of the wilderness, which were in the borders near the Red Sea” (1 Ne 16:14), and then turning east before reaching the coast of Irreantum (1 Ne 17:1, 5) seem to represent informational detail most certainly rooted in real world geography. That is to say, the route appears to accurately account for the shape of the Arabian Peninsula in relation to the Red Sea and Arabian Sea and further agrees in a general way with what we know about the topography of the region and where cross-country travel was most practicable therein. Some of the more “fertile” parts of Arabia are indeed in the high western zones and foothills of the Hijaz, where the climate is slightly more temperate and rare rainfall in the mountains has contributed to the creation of oases on the eastern slopes that sustain more diverse flora and fauna. For millennia this strip of land “bordering the Red Sea” has enabled human transit and trade from north to south and facilitated the development of overland roads. So for Lehi to have followed this general track is notable and [here we go!] in theory could lend support to the assumption that the author of the account was trying to depict real history. [emphasis mine]

Hmm, plausible directions and description for going from Jerusalem to Bountiful--a previously mocked and unknown place that now has an excellent and plausible candidate nearly due east of Nahom--all amount to a general track that is "notable." OK, at least we have an admission that this achievement is notable. [Respecting a complaint from RT, my previously rather unfair and hyperbolic paraphrase of RT at this point has been deleted. The following paragraph is also a bit hyperbolic and tongue-in-cheek, but has been retained, though slightly modified. It is not a direct paraphrase of RT's words, but a tongue-in-cheek attempt to show the humor that I see in RT's treatment of the Arabian Peninsula evidence as merely "lend[ing] support to the assumption that the author was trying to depict real history."]

This is an important model for dealing with all future "evidence" that may be uncovered by anthropologists, linguists, archaeologists, botanists, biologists, and other experts. No matter how interesting it may seem, how close and relevant it may appear to something in the text, the text itself can always be dismissed in this manner: "the parallels in the text to these external finds are notable and may, theoretically speaking, lend support to the notion that Joseph Smith was sincerely attempting to sound like he was trying to depict real history." Then we can point out the numerous details associated with the finds that are not in the text. We can explain that the brief references in the text that relate to the external evidences are brief, vague, and ambiguous. And then we can argue that the parallels or bulls-eyes actually miss the mark somewhat, for things in real life are always more complicated than any brief account and, with a sufficiently critical eye, we can always find imperfection and fault with telegraphic descriptions of complicated events.

He continues with on this descending trajectory:
However, when we examine the description of Lehi’s route more closely it becomes clear that its links with real world geography do not provide unequivocal support for the historicity of the narrative. First, the geographical information offered in the text is for the most part vague and highly general in nature, limited mainly to general travel directions and large bodies of water associated with macro-scale Arabian geography, whereas more precise detail about the route is almost wholly lacking, consisting of an occasional generic topographic feature such as a nameless river and valley (1 Ne 2:6) or mountain (1 Ne 16:30; 17:7), or the mention of unspecified “fertile” areas near the Red Sea (1 Ne 16:14, 16). Because of this relative dearth of information about the places visited by the Lehi group, the modern reader is presented with the peculiarity that while he/she can easily grasp the general course of their journey and has a rough idea of where it began and ended, almost everything in between is nebulous and blurry. Not surprisingly, researchers of the BoM have been unable to agree on the precise path followed by Lehi in Arabia or even to identify a single site visited by the group apart from Nahom.
I think that's a stretch. Potter's identification of the Valley Lemuel and the River Laman, though not without alternate candidates, has many compelling correspondences in its favor. Remember, until he did the field work and found the river in a plausible location, the impossibility of such a river existing in Arabia was a major source of anti-Mormon mocking and a sure crutch for any anti-testimony. But then suddenly, surprisingly, there is a river--now a small stream after significant diversion of its waters for other purposes--in a majestically walled valley that would provide safety, shade, comfort, and even trees and fruit, with a river flowing year-round (if that is what is meant by "continually," though perhaps Nephi just meant it was more than a dry wadi whose brief periodic water flows depended on rain, unless they stayed there for several months or more). Why does this not count as identifying a site visited by the group apart from Nahom?

After reading Potter and Aston, I would reword RT's claim as follows:

Original from RT: "researchers of the BoM have been unable . . . even to identify a single site visited by the group apart from Nahom."

Revision: "researchers of the BoM have been unable . . . even to identify a single site visited by the group apart from Nahom, the Valley Lemuel and the River Laman, the place Shazer, and, of course, the place Bountiful."

That little tweak would significantly enhance the accuracy of the RT's article. Of course, if that makes him uncomfortable, he can add the caveat that "there is no consensus on these places especially in light of alternate candidates that have been proposed, for example, for the Valley Lemuel and the place Bountiful."

That's what I think evidence needs to do: help us tweak or revise our theories. Don't let old paradigms bury new evidence before it's even been considered.

A Reminder

As a reminder, the Nahom evidence is more than just a name on a map. Nahom is near the only place where an eastward turn is possible away from the incense trails. Taking that turn and going east brings you to an excellent candidate for a place long thought to not exist, Bountiful. This is more than just a "notable" attempt to sound like a real journey. Given the implausibility of using anything short of modern tools such as satellite maps to identify a Bountiful-like place on the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula and to describe its location ("nearly due east") relative to an actual, accessible, place with a rare place name (Nahom/NHM), is it more likely that the details of the First Nephi journey are best explained as a description from someone who actually made the journey or had first-hand knowledge of Arabia, as opposed to a farmer whose R&D team managed to find a map of Arabia.?

Kent Brown offers this view in his chapter, "New Light from Arabia on Lehi's Trail" in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, one of many online books available at the Maxwell Institute. Here is one except regarding the significance of the eastward turn in Lehi's journey, right after the group has buried Ishmael at the ancient burial place of Nahom/Nehhem:

The most important piece in this section concerns Nephi's note that "we did travel nearly eastward from that time forth," after events at Nahom (1 Nephi 17:1). This geographical notice is one of the few in Nephi's narrative, and it begs us to examine it. We first observe that, northwest of Marib, the ancient capital of the Sabean kingdom of south Arabia, almost all roads turn east, veering from the general north-south direction of the incense trail. Moreover--and we emphasize this point--the eastward bend occurs in the general area inhabited by the Nihm tribe. Joseph Smith could not have known about this eastward turn in the main incense trail. No source, ancient or contemporary, mentions it. Only a person who had traveled either near or along the trail would know that it turned eastward in this area. To be sure, the longest leg of the incense trail ran basically north-south along the upland side of the mountains of western Arabia (actually, from the north the trail held in a south-southeast direction, as Nephi said). But after passing south of Najran (modern Ukhdd, Saudi Arabia), both the main trail and several shortcuts turned eastward, all leading to Shabwah, the chief staging center for caravans in south Arabia. One spur of the trail continued farther southward to Aden. But the traffic along this section was very much less than that which went to and from Shabwah. The main trail and its spurs ran eastward, matching Nephi's description. Wells were there, and authorities at Shabwah controlled the finest incense of the region that was coming westward from Oman, both overland and by sea. It is the only place along the incense trail where traffic ran east-west. Further, ancient laws mandated where caravans were to carry incense and other goods, keeping traffic to this east-west corridor. Neither Joseph Smith nor anyone else in his society knew these facts. But Nephi did.

That's a remarkable feat, like so much about the miraculous and divine Book of Mormon that is, like the Bible, still covered with human fingerprints. In the many steps of engraving, editing, translating, and printing, human hands have played a role. Understanding that process, imperfections and all, can and should help us better understand the Bible and its origins. And understanding the best scholarship on the origins of the Bible may ultimately help us better understand the Book of Mormon, but it's a two-way street. Evidence needs to be considered both ways, not prematurely buried in spite of showing vigorous signs of life when it doesn't fit the reigning paradigm.

Related resources:


Richard Elliott Friedman, "The Exodus Is Not Fiction: An Interview With Richard Elliott Friedman," Reform Judaism, Spring 2014, http://www.reformjudaism.org/exodus-not-fiction

Richard Elliot Friedman, "Current Thought About the Documentary Hypothesis," Introduction to Empirical Models for Biblical Criticism, Jeffrey Tigay, Editor.

Kevin L. Barney, “Reflections on the Documentary Hypothesis,” Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 33 No. 1, Spring 2000: 57-99.

"Bible Texts on Silver Amulets Dated to First Temple Period," Haaretz.com, Sept. 19, 2004.

"Ketef Hinnom," Wikipedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ketef_Hinnom.

Stephen Caesar, "The Blessing of the Silver Scrolls, " BibleArchaeology.org, 2010.
John Van Seters, " Some remarks of the paper by Rolf Rendtorff, "What happened to the 'Yahwist'?", SBL Forum , n.p. [cited June 2006]. Online: http://sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleID=561.

Amazon description of John Van Seters, The Edited Bible: The Curious History of the "Editor" in Biblical Critism.

Konrad Schmid, "Genesis and the Moses Story," BibleInterp.com, Oct. 2010, http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/3gen357926.shtml.

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg, "The Exodus: Does archaeology have a say?," Jerusalem Post, April 4, 2014.

Kevin Christensen, comment on the Documentary Hypothesis, http://lds.net/forums/topic/8162-documentary-hypothesis-and-the-lds-position/page-2.

68 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have waited with interest for this post. Thanks.

I think that one of the beautiful things about The Book of Mormon, and therefore, "tender mercies" of the Lord is that believers and non-believers have good and substantial reasons for their conclusions. The believers' reasons will likely assist them in moving forward to build the kingdom of God and progress in developing Christ-like character. The non-believers' reasons may serve as mitigating factors when they meet Nephi, Jacob, and Moroni at the "pleasing bar".

Anonymous said...

Or pleading bar...

everythingbeforeus said...

???

How many people are going to end up being at this "pleasing bar?" Won't they also have to stand before a "pleasing bar?" Will everyone have to wait until all those who are going to sit at the pleasing bar have first passed their own examinations, and can then rightfully take their place?

This starts to all break down into silliness.

God has given non-believers good and substantial reasons not to believe so that when they face their judgement, he can take it easy on them? Wow...

Anonymous said...

Yes, or pleading bar.

ETBU, It's really not that absurd, unless you think the principle taught in Alma 32:19 is absurd.

everythingbeforeus said...

Is it really a "tender mercy" for God to provide "substantial reasons" for non-believers to come to their conclusions? Isn't that being deceptive?

"Hi,..I'm God. I am going to make a falsehood appear to be true so that those who believe the falsehood will be justified and therefore I won't have to really punish them."

Seriously? First of all, Satan is the one who is supposed to a lie appear to be truth.

Anonymous said...

I was being somewhat flippant in quoting "tender mercies" given its press.

I am not seeing why you are taking from my comment an assertion that it is God that provides the substantial reasons for non-believers to come to their conclusions.

Morgan Deane said...

I enjoyed this article a great deal Jeff. I didn't have the time to muster a response but I'm glad you did. I'm also a specialist in a different field which formed a larger reason why I demurred. My field is military history, and if I might humbly say, I know it just as well as RT knows his field. In all of my research the details I find make an incredibly strong case that the BoM is an ancient document. I read the BoM with that assumption or hypothesis, and I've never found one item or even a whiff of something that comes close to 19th century American warfare. (That includes comparisons with the Late War.) In fact, the more I study the BoM and secular sources I find rather amazing details. For example, a few days ago I discussed my findings from studying half a dozen insurgencies. I found the Gadianton Robbers in BoM are incredibly consistent with them down to rather obscure details: http://mormonwar.blogspot.com/2015/10/mesoamerican-anthology-gadianton-chapter.html

Thanks again Jeff. And good word play in the first paragraph. I got a good chuckle out of that.

Orbiting Kolob said...

I'm withholding judgment until RT posts part 3 of his series, in which he says he "will propose the hypothesis that Joseph Smith had seen and used a map of Arabia to construct his narrative about the exodus of Lehi’s family from Jerusalem."

James Anglin said...

I suppose I can imagine Nephi reshaping his story to highlight all the parallels with Exodus. I'm not sure I can take it seriously, though. If you've actually lived through dramatic events, and believe they were ordained by God, I really think you'd want to set them out exactly as they were, so that God's people can have your story as well as Moses's. The reshaping scenario makes most sense for later redactors, not for participants, and it still only makes sense if the accounts they are reshaping seemed less glorious, in their original version, than Exodus. So if you want to explain away why Nephi's account seems to echo Exodus too closely, then it seems to me you have to talk about later editors pumping up a blander original. The Book of Mormon would need its own Documentary Hypothesis.

The problem here, though, of course, is that once you doubt that the books of Nephi are Nephi's own un-retouched recollections, then it's hard to stop sliding down the slippery slope before ending up at Joseph Smith making everything up. Why would Nephi have been any better at making allusions and parallels between his story and Exodus than Joseph Smith would have been? Even if the P traditions were somewhat known before the Exile, it would seem that Smith knew Exodus better than Nephi could have.

A lot of weight seems to fall upon the arguments about how the English text of the Book of Mormon presents Hebraisms that Joseph Smith could not have constructed. Those arguments may have looked nice as further indications piled on top of a case that was already strong, but if the main case falls upon them to make, do they really hold up? I'm afraid I rather wonder. How many of them are tenuous? How many are obvious enough that Smith could hardly have missed faking them, if he were faking anything? Chiasmus, for instance, seems likely to be a rotten bough. And it's a lot easier than you might think to invent the trace of a Hebrew pun, because being able to imagine what the Hebrew original might have been gives you wiggle room.

Anonymous said...

Good points, Jeff. Analysts routinely use debatable points in order to make determinations about the Book of Mormon that they assert as conclusive. Good you're pointing out problems with this particular one-sided analysis, which is a frequent problem. Now that we have learned about the speculative nature of the DH, any argument RT might make is inconclusive. And no matter what RT might say about Smith and Arabian maps, to the reasonable person it must remain unlikely that Smith studied and mastered any such maps (because he would have had to go beyond consulting one). Of course, the hardened and biased among us will strain to make it likely.

James Anglin said...

I forgot to mention my main reaction to this post, which is sorrowful wonder. Mr Lindsay, sir: you put a lot of careful thought and intelligence into this stuff. I'm afraid I still believe that you, and a few other people like you, are putting more and better effort into justifying Joseph Smith's fraud than he ever put into making it in the first place. I hope and pray that all this effort can somehow not be wasted.

Orbiting Kolob said...

to the reasonable person it must remain unlikely that Smith studied and mastered any such maps (because he would have had to go beyond consulting one).

Not so. With the right map in front of you, it would take very little time and effort to get every single one of the travel directions relating to Nephi's Arabian journey, to wit:

(1) Travel south-southeast from Jerusalem for many, many days.

(2) Near a spot called Nahom, turn left and travel many, many days.

(3) End up somewhere on the seacoast.

To get the above, one need only spend a minute or so perusing an early map such as the 1771 Bonne Map of Arabia.

OK, so here the settlement near the eastward turn is "Negem" rather than "Nahom," but still: the "g" sound on this map might simply be a vocalized version of the "kh" phoneme (on other early maps, according to FAIR, it's rendered "Nehhm").

Maybe so. My immediate point is simply that there would be no need for Joseph to have "studied and mastered" an early map in order for it to serve as a source for the Nephite itinerary. If that itinerary was inspired by such a map, it would only take a few minutes to get the whole thing. Anon 1:36 is setting the bar way too high here.

Kevin Christensen said...

Nice work Jeff. I too had noticed how much RT hung on the exilic dating of P, while ignoring the single most prominent modern scholar on the topic, but had other things on my plate. You might want to add as a resource Kevin Barney's excellent Dialogue essay, "Reflections on the Documentary Hypothesis." And of course, things like my essay in Glimpses of Lehi's Jerusalem on First Temple Theology, and Alyson Von Feldt's Occasional Paper essay on the Wisdom Traditions in the Book of Mormon. And John Welch's recent book on Legal Cases in the Book of Mormon. And perhaps Robert Smith's essay on the Book of Abraham as showing J source characteristics. Robert Alter on The Art of Biblical Literature for type scene and allusion.

And I really like the satellite view of the Arabian peninsula over Kent Brown's shoulder in the Journey of Faith video. Sand sand sand, and one tiny patch of green, due east of Nahom.

Anonymous said...

When the critics find something that "proves" the Book of Mormon is made up all the other critics and rabid anti Mormons jump with glee and accept the information without serious questions, and don't question anything.

BUT......when LDS just mention that something might show the Book of Mormon is a true ancient text the rabid antis foam at the mouth while throwing insults, make accusations, and blah blah blah......same old tiring, nit picking, twisting blather.

There is no proof Joseph Smith was committing a fraud, James Anglin. Prove it. You critics keep saying it but don't show proof.

Anonymous said...

Anon- 4;05-

I would not call James Anglin an anti-mormon. A hearty skeptic... yes. But that is totally understandable. From what I have seen, he has been skeptical, but very friendly and respectful to Mr. Lindsay and others. I mean he has made reasonable suggestions based on a naturalistic view. In my honest opinion, it just being chance between nhm and nahom is still the most logical naturalistic explanation.

Jerome said...

Whether there are other evidences for Book of Mormon historicity or not, Nahom has been called the best archeological evidence to date by Jeff Lindsay himself. That's exceedingly strange, considering that less than 1% of Book of Mormon history takes place on the Arabian peninsula. A neutral observer would have to conclude that the writer(s) of the Book of Mormon knew more about names of tribes in Arabia than tribes in Mesoamerica, just as one would have to conclude that Book of Mormon peoples had more contact with Greek speakers than with Mayan speakers. If we stipulate that Nahom is evidence for BoM historicity, apologists for Mesoamerica have some explaining to do.

Christian Adams said...

Thanks so much Jeff.

Anonymous said...

Jerome,

Mesoamerica doesn't have the historical continuity that we find in the middle east.



Jack

Anonymous said...

Archeological digs are not as prevalent in Central and South America as it is in the Middle East. The Middle East attracts more attention by scholars and archeologists, probably due to the fact that three major religions come from there.

The majority of Central and South America has not even been looked at by archeologists, much less dug up and researched. Many sites that have been found but not examined by digs and research have been destroyed.

The Middle East is dry and arid for the most part, perfect for preservation of artifacts. Central and South America are wet and humid which are not ideal conditions for artifact preservation.


It is unfortunate that the MesoAmerican setting for Book of Mormon events has taken hold, just as some believe in the Heartland theory. Both sides ignore much evidence that is found in the Book of Mormon. Both sides manipulate certain information to conform to their particular theories, beliefs and biases.

RT said...

Hi Jeff,

I'm glad that you found my post interesting and provocative and worth engaging with. Just so there would be no misunderstanding, I thought I would briefly respond to several of your points:

"As I'll show below, one of the most important things he misses is the significant scholarship of Richard Elliot Friedman who persuasively demonstrates that the priestly text, P, which provides much of Pentateuch, was not a late manuscript from after the Exile, but much more likely comes from the time of King Hezekiah, dating it to before Nephi's time (see Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible, second edition, (New York: HarperCollins, 1997)). Thus it is no longer impossible for priestly material to have been known to Nephi."

I'm aware of and have read Friedman and that a few biblical scholars (influenced by Kaufmann) have been wont to date P to a period earlier than the exile. But there are enormous problems with this approach and in the last 20 years or so it has tended to be rejected by most mainstream scholars. In short, Friedman's treatment of this question is somewhat dated and has been superseded by more recent work. I myself have done quite bit of work on the question of dating biblical texts and I feel pretty confident that even an exilic dating of P is too early. If you would like a bibliography on this subject, I would be happy to oblige.

"but the Exodus story is an ancient one that was widely known among the Jews of Nephi's day."

I don't think you have reasonably substantiated this statement by any means. It was widely known among Judahites of the late 7th century-early 6th century and yet doesn't appear in authentically dated works from this period, such as in prophetic literature?

"As I'll also show that the references in the Book of Mormon to themes in the Pentateuch lack the major unique elements that characterize P (the importance of central sacrifices, an emphasis on Aaron, etc.), so the case for Nephi relying on material unique to P may be questioned."

Those are not the defining features of P by any means, so I'm a little confused about what you mean here. I have already shown that parts of the BoM narrative are unquestionably dependent on P, but not on a form of P separate from the combined P + non-P narrative.

RT said...

"On the other hand, some LDS scholarship suggests that the brass plates may have been a largely Elohist (E) document, with strong influence from the Northern Kingdom, which is plausible given that the brass plates are a record associated with the tribe of Joseph."

This idea is problematic on a number of levels, since 1) it is not even clear that there was such a thing as an Elohist document; Pentateuchal scholars are increasingly skeptical of this notion, and I happen to agree with them; there is only P and early non-P and late non-P. 2) The BoM is dependent on more than just a putative E, it is dependent on P, early non-P, and late-non P, all in their combined form or the current form of the Bible. 3) None of this material demonstrates a clear connection to the northern kingdom, IMO.

"In fact, he's retelling and probably reshaping his story (not fabricating it!) to emphasize sacred themes in much the same way that the authors of the Bible, according to biblical scholars, may have adapted their writings to achieve specific purposes."

The heavy dependence on Exodus is a problem for traditional historicity for multiple reasons that I have already identified. I am very confident that you would not be able to find one example of an author in the Old Testament doing something comparable to what we find in 1 Nephi, that is, patterning one story almost completely off of another.

"Recognizing and emphasizing parallels to biblical themes does not render the story fake, no more than if your pioneer grandmother used Exodus themes when she retold her story fleeing enemy mobs by a dry crossing the (frozen) Mississippi River as they fled Nauvoo on the way to the promised land across the plains. The miracle of the quails and many other aspects of the pioneer journeys to Zion could be written with extensive references to Exodus without rendering them non-historical, no matter how much detail was left out in the process."

Your examples actually prove my point. These are each basically isolated references or allusions or reenactments, not a full patterning of a narrative, and they are also dependent on a mythic prototype that was very well known in the culture. Religious people were naturally familiar with the narrative of the Exodus and could see them reenacting parts of it. But the same was not the case in the time of Nephi for the exodus story.

"As modern scholars have dug into Nephi's writings, they have found that Nephi's interweaving of key Hebraic themes is pervasive, subtle, and skillful, even to the point of making clever Hebraic word plays (Nahom included) and crafting Semitic poetry in ways that make it difficult to imagine young Joseph Smith doing this,"

I read Hebrew, am very familiar with Hebrew poetry, and disagree with the idea that the BoM reflects anything of the sort. Most of what appears to be Hebraic in nature can be explained far more simply by dependence or mimicry of the KJV style. They could have come very easily dictating on the fly.

RT said...

"Consider, for example, the deliberate ways in which his slaying of Laban is patterned after David and Goliath, serving as an important basis for his descendants in recognizing the validity of Nephi's claim to be the rightful ruler of the people. This is explained in detail in Ben McGuire's "Nephi and Goliath: A Reappraisal of the Use of the Old Testament in First Nephi,"

I don't have time to get into this here, but I don't think McGuire's analysis of the literary sources of the Samuel narrative about David and Goliath is correct, and neither do I think it justified to interpret Nephi's slaying of Laban through the lens of political ideology.

"Here RT is appealing to what is known as the Documentary Hypothesis. This is a vital aspect of biblical studies in which scholars, after even more than two centuries of exploring the details of the Old Testament, have determined with a great deal of plausible arguments that the Bible as we know it has been crafted from at least four original sources written by different people or groups in different places and times, then finally edited together into the complex and sometimes contradictory Masoretic text that we now have."

I'm not exactly appealing to the DH, since I do not accept the classic DH and in any case the DH is fundamentally a literary hypothesis and does not relate primarily to the question of dating.

"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."

This is begging the question. We do not in fact have evidence that Jeremiah and Ezekiel existed before the exile.

"The evidence that made the Tabernacle 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 got other things wrong. Friedman points to a strong strand of textual evidence showing that the Tabernacle was historical and, in fact, was stored in the First Temple."

Just so you know, this theory has not been accepted by most biblical scholars.

"Finally, Friedman points out that P sources repeatedly teach centralization of worship at the tabernacle., something Wellhausen missed."

I have no idea what you mean here. I think it is pretty obvious that P presupposes centralization, as recognized by Wellhausen.

RT said...

"The apparent consensus among the majority on the classical Documentary Hypothesis may not be as firm as RT implies. While I think many aspects of it may be valid, there is tremendous diversity among believers of the Documentary Hypothesis, and a significant body of serious scholars and students of the Bible who find it inadequate. It must be treated with both respect and a dose of caution."

I never said that I support the classical DH or that most scholars do. However, the majority of scholars do accept the basic division between P and non-P that I have outlined and current scholarship also tends to agree about the dating of P in the exile or later.

"two small silver scrolls that were found near Jerusalem that have been carefully examined and dated to pre-exilic times around 600 BC, which quote from a passage in Numbers that is part of the P document. This archaeological find further destroys the argument that P was a late creation after or during the Exile."

This find does no such thing. First of all, the dating of scrolls is debated and Nadav Naaman has recently presented a very compelling argument for dating them to the Persian period, not to 600 BCE. Second, virtually all scholars agree that the quote is not showing dependence on P but rather that P took up a liturgical statement that was common in the culture of the author's day.

"RT complains that the Book of Mormon is too biblical in drawing upon the Exodus so thoroughly,"

I don't recall ever saying anything like this. My argument is more specific, that the nature and scope of the dependence helps identify the time period and context in which it developed and occurred.

"This is an important model for dealing with all future "evidence" that may be uncovered by anthropologists, linguists, archaeologists, botanists, biologists, and other experts. No matter how interesting it may seem, how close and relevant it may appear to something in the text, the text itself can always be dismissed in this manner: "the parallels in the text to these external finds are notable and may, theoretically speaking, lend support to the notion that Joseph Smith was sincerely attempting to write something that sounded like it was based on real history." Then we can point out the numerous details associated with the finds that are not in the text. We can explain that the brief references in the text that relate to the external evidences are brief, vague, and ambiguous. And then we can nitpick and show that the parallels or bulls-eyes actually miss the mark slightly, for things in real life are always more complicated than any brief account and, with a sufficiently critical and inflexible eye, we can always find imperfection and fault with telegraphic descriptions of complicated events."

I don't think your paraphrase and representation of my argument is in any way fair or scholarly. I am not nitpicking, but have gone to great lengths to analyze the BoM in a scholarly and methodologically rigorous way, which is a measure of my respect for the BoM and Joseph Smith as a religious innovator. I hope in the future that you will not be so dismissive and reductive of my argument, because in the end, when you reduce and simplify someone's argument merely in order to marginalize and stigmatize it, you only show you're own bias and the quality of debate suffers as a consequence.

That's all for now! I wish you well in your endeavors.

Blake said...

Jeff: Good write up. I think that RT has overstated his position regarding the dating of P. Indeed, it seems that P can be counted to have material that is much older than even Hezekiah. Perhaps this will be useful: http://mosaicmagazine.com/essay/2015/03/was-there-an-exodus/

Blake said...

This also may be helfpul: https://www.jtsa.edu/Documents/pagedocs/JANES/1980%2012/Rendsburg12.pdf

Blake said...

Jeff: In addition, it was a particularly common literary motif to adopt the Exodus as an organizing principle for narratives in Israel both before and after the Babylonian conquest.

My own view of the dating of P is in line with Victor Hurowitz who stated as early as June 1996 in the Bible Review: "My own assessment of the evidence is that P was given its final form in the Persian period—when it was prepared for publication as part of the Pentateuch—but developed out of pre-existent literary sources of a considerably older date. Even if P reached its final form in the post-exilic period, its content, language and style are firmly planted in the literature and customs of the First Temple period. The Priestly literature is a dynamic, growing organism, coming into being in stages. Some features change, but its basic form is preserved. P is thus a mirror not of one particular period in the history of Israel's cult, but of the gradual metamorphosis of the cult throughout her history."

For RT's argument to work, he would have to show that the Book of Mormon reliance on P is not explainable in terms of the older material adapted by P -- and that he clearly has not done.

Blake said...

This is also worth reading regarding references to the Exodus in the Old Testament various layers of sources: http://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/passages/related-articles/exodus-tradition-in-the-bible.aspx

James Anglin said...

@ Anonymous 4:05 Oct 20:

I certainly can't prove that Joseph Smith was a fraud. It was all too long ago, now; and it happened too long before YouTube. About as much negative evidence about Smith's doings and character has been preserved as one would reasonably expect, for a guy who attracted as much attention at the time as he did; but this amount of evidence does not add up to proof. And even if someone did something like dig up some obviously faked plates that could be dated and placed to where Smith was, that still wouldn't really be proof. A keen Mormon apologist could shrug it off: Smith didn't make those plates, or he made them as a decoy to protect the real plates, or something.

So I'm not even trying to prove Smith was a fraud. And I'm quite willing to accept that there could be arguments which, even if they didn't convince me, were coherent and reasonable. I have my own religious faith, and I also acknowledge a lot of other viewpoints than mine as being coherent and reasonable. I'm only interested in poking at apologetic arguments, in favor of the Book of Mormon's authenticity, that seem to me to have clear flaws.

I think the reason I'm currently more interested in Mormonism than, say, Hinduism is that I keep seeing intelligent people working hard to defend Mormonism with intellectual arguments. To me it seems that they must be working much too hard, in fact. I have the impression of seeing someone trying to make a bed with sheets that just don't fit, and yet they patiently walk around and around the mattress, tugging on corners the way Sisyphus shoves on his rock, year after year. Don't they get tired of always looking up from tucking in a bit here to see another corner popping out there? Apparently not; and so I wonder why not.

What it feels like to keep making that bed — whether it's agony or joy — is no business of mine. I'm prepared to believe that it is joy, at least sometimes. I make allowance for faith. What I hope to learn is the thought processes involved in maintaining a world view whose alignment with evidence isn't totally comfortable, because these are processes that we all use, to some extent.

And, less rationally, I have a weird sort of feeling that, even though the Book of Mormon's upholders are wrong, yet their work is not wasted. I have a conviction that somehow God will accept their sacrifice, and bring good out of it. If that sounds as though I might be wavering toward Mormon faith in spite of everything, I have to say, Sorry, but I really don't think so. But to listen to what people like Jeff are saying, and reply as thoughtfully as I can, somehow seems like a right thing to do.

Jeff Lindsay said...

RT, out of respect for your objection, I deleted the hyperbolic "paraphrase" of your statement. and added a comment explaining why. Sorry about that. Will respond to additional comments tomorrow, as time permits. Out of time tonight.

Anonymous said...

I apologize for my comments that implied James Anglin is anti Mormon. I should have made it clear that I do not consider him anti Mormon. Yes he is respectful and that is very much appreciated. At least Mr. Anglin asks honest questions and has good input.

It is people like everythingbeforeus and Orbiting Kolob that use gotcha tactics, are disingenuous, use insults, dish it out but can't take it.

When I left the church for a few years I did not insult it or attack it. I left it alone. I don't understand why ex members claim to be so much happier after leaving the so called mind controlling cult, but yet they attack and hurl insults and spend an awful lot of time arguing. That is dangerous obsession, and they are a cult of their own because of their hateful obsession towards the LDS religion. They do the very things they accuse LDS of doing. But it is alright for them to do it because they are doing it for Jesus. No different than the "lying for the Lord" they accuse LDS of doing.

everythingbeforeus said...

Anon,

Now, I've kept myself out of this discussion because frankly, I don't have the time to read the post and contribute in a meaningful way, and I know I need to stop thread-jacking Jeff's work. Are you trying to lure me into this?

Orbiting Kolob said...

RT, Jeff, and others, what I look forward to is a time when we can have the sort of secular "LDS Scripture Studies" that Joseph Smith's writings deserve. From a secular academic perspective, these debates over BoM authenticity are pointless, since from this perspective the book is so obviously of 19th-century origin.

The debates are pointless, but not without consequence, at least to the extent that silly apologetic hobbyhorses like NHM and EModE divert time and energy from far more interesting questions we might be asking. This is not to deny the legitimacy of the believer's interest in questions of historicity etc., merely to say that nonbelievers have plenty of other, and better, reasons to study the BoM (and BoA, PoGP, King Follett Discourse, etc.).

Literary scholars, for example, should be asking about Joseph's innovations with form and genre. In many ways the BoM seems to function as midrash (basically addressing itself to long-festering questions arising from the absence of the New World and Native Americans from the Bible). Yet it also reads very much like what we now call "fan fiction," maybe even a "Mary Sue" (to the extent that the young Nephi squabbling with his inferior brothers looks an awful lot like the young Joseph Smith himself). Yet in length and historical scope this midrash seems more like an epic, or at least a historical romance (of the sort popularized by Sir Walter Scott and, perhaps not coincidentally, first adapted to an American setting in the 1820s by James Fenimore Cooper).

Midrash, Mary Sue, epic, historical romance -- that Smith was able to produce so utterly ingenious and original a mashup seems to me the true mark of his genius as a writer. (Sorry, believers, but that genius does not reside in his thin characters, weak plots, and often clumsy prose.)

The BoM is also fascinating in terms of theme. Lots of American writers of the Early National Period were writing about burial mounds, Native American origins, etc. -- perhaps most notably, Philip Freneau and William Cullen Bryant -- in ways that parallel this theme's treatment by Smith. Just another currently ignored avenue for literary scholarship. Instead of Freneau's "Indian Burying-Ground" and Bryant's "The Prairies," the arguments are about Gilbert Hunt's The Late War and Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews. The latter works might or might not prove interesting to secular scholarship in terms of fleshing out Smith's use of sources -- the same way Shakespeare scholars are interested in Holinshed -- but their current outsized presence owes mainly to the chokehold that apologetics still has on BoM scholarship.

Scholars interested in American philosophy and theology ought to be all over the parallels between Ralph Waldo Emerson's "self-reliance" and Smith's apotheosis. Smith says, in effect, "Obey the commandments and become a God." Emerson says, "Don't just worship Jesus, obey the divine law of your own nature and become what Jesus was." Just how exactly can we account for the similarity of these two contemporaneous American visions of limitless human potential? A great question for secular academia, I would think.

I could go on and list many additional interesting avenues of inquiry. For now I'm just lamenting all the things that aren't happening (yet) because so much energy gets used up knocking down the wobbling weebles of apologetics.* At some point, the real scholars will forget about Dan Peterson and start frying the bigger fish. Hasten the day.

* For those too young for this allusion, see here. Weebles wobble but they don't fall down.

Anonymous said...

Orbiting Kolob.. people are doing that already. But the BOM is what it purports to be be. THANKS

Anonymous said...

Here, its been discussed since 1961....

http://www.jstor.org/stable/362525?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Orbiting Kolob said...

Thanks for the tip, Anon 7:25. I should be able to access that article and look forward to reading it.

But still, that was more than fifty years ago.

It occurs to me that I've taught American literature courses for some twenty years, and for all that time, every standard comprehensive college anthology of early American lit has included the Jonathan Edwards sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," excerpts from the spiritual autobiography Journal of John Woolman, and probably some other religious writings I can't think of right now. But none of them include the King Follett Discourse or excerpts from the Book of Mormon. Despite their considerable inherent interest and relevance to American religious and intellectual history, these texts don't even seem to be on the academic radar screen. I think that's a pity. Secular scholars and student alike ought to engage with Smith just as they do with Edwards, Woolman, etc.

Anonymous said...

I agree.

James Anglin said...

[I also like OrbitingKolob's point; so in this post I will write as though we all take it for granted that the Book of Mormon is a work of fiction. I don't really mean to imply that everyone reasonable has to think that. Even as a believer, it can be instructive to consider a sacred text as if it were fiction, because even texts that intend to report facts have a lot in common with fiction. My scientific papers have plots and characters, in a way, and they tend to have an easier time with peer review if they tell a good story.]

"Bible fan fiction" is indeed a term that occurred to me for the Book of Mormon. I've heard about fan fiction lately, as a thing; but I don't believe I've actually read any, unless the Book of Mormon does count.

As I understand it, fan fiction is about taking characters from a favorite work, and writing them into new adventures, sometimes in new settings. Putting new characters into a favorite setting is also called "fan fiction", though I'm not sure it's really the same thing. Re-using a familiar plot, with new characters in a new setting, doesn't seem to be fan fiction. It's just good old-fashioned stealing.

The only character whom the Book of Mormon takes from the Bible would seem to be Jesus Christ. It puts him into a new setting, and gives him some new dialogue. But I find the Jesus Christ character in the Book of Mormon to be utterly unlike the New Testament figure of Jesus. Except when he's quoting the New Testament, he talks very differently; and he acts very differently. Without the name, and the New Testament quotes, I would never have guessed that these characters were supposed to be the same person. So I don't think even this part of the Book of Mormon really counts as fan fiction in the usual sense. Or if it does, it's the kind of fan fiction in which Harry Potter repeats a speech from Goblet of Fire verbatim, then rants about mudbloods and uses the Deathstick to vaporize Hogwarts.

My point isn't really that the Book of Mormon is bad fan fiction, though I am still pretty upset about the monster it presents under the name Jesus Christ. What I think is that the fan fiction concept doesn't really fit the Book of Mormon. The Book is often tedious and repetitive, but where it's original, it seems to be more original than fan fiction.

And yet the Book of Mormon is self-consciously presenting itself as Scripture in the Biblical tradition. It may not be continuing the adventures of familiar characters, but it is continuing something. Should we try to coin the expression, "fan Scripture"? But I can't think of any other texts like this, and it would be silly to invent a new category if the only work in it was the Book of Mormon. Maybe the New Testament could be considered a sort of fan Scripture for the Old Testament. Or should we include a bunch of apocryphal books? Is there going to be any meaningful distinction between "fan Scripture" and the existing category of pseudo-epigraphia?

The more I think about this, the more clear OrbitingKolob's point seems to become, that the Book of Mormon is a world-class example of something interesting and unusual.

Jeff Lindsay said...

RT, regarding P and "the importance of central sacrifices," my understanding is that this was an important consideration in Wellhausen's logic. Here's an excerpt from Wikipedia's entry on the Documentary Hypothesis:

Yahweh’s presence and Yahweh’s blessings are described in the Priestly source not to be mediated by the king, but by the high priest mediating at the central place of worship....

With D anchored in history, Wellhausen proceeded to place the remaining sources around it. He accepted Karl Heinrich Graf's conclusion that the sources were written in the order J-E-D-P. This was contrary to the general opinion of scholars at the time, who saw P as the earliest of the sources, "the official guide to approved divine worship", and Wellhausen's sustained argument for a late P was the great innovation of the Prolegomena.[39] J and E he ascribed to the early monarchy, approximately 950 BCE for J and 850 BC for E; P he placed in the early Persian post-Exilic period, around 500 BC. His argument for these dates was based on what was seen in his day as the natural evolution of religious practice: in the pre-and early monarchic society described in Genesis and Judges and Samuel, altars were erected wherever the Patriarchs or heroes such as Joshua chose, anyone could offer the sacrifice, and portions were offered to priests as the one offering the sacrifice chose; by the late monarchy sacrifice was beginning to be centralized and controlled by the priesthood, while pan-Israelite festivals such as Passover were instituted to tie the people to the monarch in a joint celebration of national history; in post-Exilic times the temple in Jerusalem was firmly established as the only sanctuary, only the descendants of Aaron could offer sacrifices, festivals were linked to the calendar instead of to the seasons, and the schedule of priestly entitlements was strictly mandated.


According to Friedman, one of Wellhausen's critical mistakes was to conclude that the Priestly source didn't have to urge people to stick to centralized worship because by the time it was written, centralization was naturally assumed (e.g., the Second Temple already dominated as the only centralized place of sacrifice), and that therefore there was no need to add commands about centralized worship at the Tabernacle in creating text about the days before the first Temple.

Also regarding Aaron, here's an excerpt from Wikipedia's entry on the Priestly source:
The Priestly work is concerned with priestly matters - ritual law, the origins of shrines and rituals, and genealogies - all expressed in a formal, repetitive style.[12] It stresses the rules and rituals of worship, and the crucial role of priests,[13] expanding considerably on the role given to Aaron (all Levites are priests, but according to P only the descendants of Aaron were to be allowed to officiate in the inner sanctuary).

Maybe I've given too much emphasis to the issue of centralization and descent from Aaron in my statement? Guess I should reword it.

Jeff Lindsay said...

On the silver scrolls and Naaman's challenge of the pre-exile date, there is a rebuttal published that looks interesting: Shmuel Ahituv, "A Rejoinder to Nadav Naaman's 'A New Appraisal of the Silver Amulets from Ketef Hinnom,'" Israel exploration journal, Vol. 62, Nº. 2, 2012, págs. 223-232. Anyone able to access that to help me understand its content? Difficult to access this online, at least from my perch in China. I can access Naaman and will read that shortly.

Orbiting Kolob said...

The more I think about this, the more clear OrbitingKolob's point seems to become, that the Book of Mormon is a world-class example of something interesting and unusual.

Yes, James. And you're right that the BoM does not quite fit the usual definition of fan fiction. Nephi is not a character in the Bible, but he is nonetheless a character from the world of the Bible, and the fictional world into which Joseph Smith initially places him is the world of the Bible. It's as if someone wrote some Star Trek fan fic whose protagonist was a character who never actually appeared on the show, but who was nonetheless recognizable as, say, a Klingon, whose initial adventures took place on the Enterprise, etc. Of course, if the argument is that Smith basically invented the fan fic form in the late 1820s, then it would hardly make sense to expect him to follow that form as it was re-invented in the late 20th century....

But anyway, the basic idea is that part of Smith's importance to the secular study of literature and culture would be his formal innovations, as a literary scholar would say. In this view, the actual content or themes of the BoM -- the things that are most important to the believer -- are among the least iinteresting things about it. Even though non-LDS literary critics agree that the BoM's plotting and characterization range from ho-hum to "chloroform in print," they still ought to be impressed by its formal features.

Orbiting Kolob said...

Anon 7:25, this morning I read "Mound-Builders, Mormons, and William Cullen Bryant" and thought it was a good example of what I have in mind. It's very basic, demonstrating nothing more than that the Book of Mormon was just one of many early American works responding to the era's fascination with the Indian mounds, but I could definitely see it being used as the first reading in a "Book of Mormon as American Literature" course. It's well documented, and it's written in a way that shows how easy it is to "bracket" the historicity issues and address an audience of both believers and nonbelievers. (Of course, Bible as Lit teachers have routinely been doing this kind of bracketing for generations.)

Anonymous said...

glad you enjoyed it.

Ryan said...

Orbiting Kolob, I am curious about something. It is pretty much entirely unrelated to this post, so I apologize, Jeff, but it may help us all learn something about an interesting person.

In a post a long time ago you mentioned that you wished you had majored in biochem rather than math/physics, and then I mentioned that I was a biochemist, and we had a lively debate about abiogenesis. You have also indicated that you are a professor, so I assumed that you, like James Anglin, were a professor of physics or maybe math. But then you have also said your department had done similar things when Jeff was talking about the professor who had students perform nude for their final. I thought that was an odd thing for a math/physics department to do, but I figured maybe I just misunderstood something. More recently, I get the sense that your credentials are in English lit or something of the sort (which makes a lot more sense relative to the performing nude thing).

Now, in asking my question, I want it clear that I am not accusing you of lying. I believe you probably did math/physics as an undergrad, and then maybe you got into a different field later in life. What I am curious about, then, is how did you go from the hard sciences to something like English lit (or whatever it is you do)? I find that fascinating.

Orbiting Kolob said...

Ryan, back in the day I did two years as a math/physics major, then tuned in, turned on, and dropped out for a few years, and returned to finish undergrad and grad school in English. I've been teaching and writing about literature ever since. The switch was not that dramatic for me, and didn't really surprise those who know me, since I've always been pretty passionate about both the sciences and the humanities.

And just to be clear on a couple of things:

(1) Not to rehash the whole nudity issue, but my involvement with it goes no further than being a member of a department that includes a theater program that requires students to direct a play and to act in one. Each student must choose his/her own play to direct, and theater students being what they are, some of them choose plays involving nudity. And some students choose to fulfill their acting requirement by acting in one of these plays au naturel. The point is that we do occasionally have students getting naked on stage, and sometimes in the course of doing so they are fulfilling a requirement for their major. But as I hope you can see, they're not being required to perform in the nude, since they can fulfill the acting requirement by acting in a play without nudity (as in fact the great majority of them do).

This state of affairs is not all that complicated, but I can easily see some sleazy, outrage-mongering clickbait farm describing egregiously misrepresenting it by putting the words nudity and required course next to each other in a deliberately misleading way.

(2) I'm not really that interesting a person. Certainly not a globe-trotting cosmopolite like Jeff.

Ryan said...

Sorry Orbiting, I didn't mean to imply that you were making your students disrobe in class, or anything of the sort. I only meant to demonstrate my train of thought- that it would be odd for a physics or math department to have nude performances. I can see it in a department that includes theater classes, and I get that it was entirely up to the student. I had to adjust my thinking to realize you were in a department where that sort of thing made sense. And though I often disagree with you, I do think you are an interesting person.

Orbiting Kolob said...

:-)

Stephen Smoot said...

RT says: "I read Hebrew, am very familiar with Hebrew poetry, and disagree with the idea that the BoM reflects anything of the sort."

I also read Hebrew and am familiar with Hebrew poetry, and for me there's no question that the Book of Mormon intimately reflects an awareness of ancient Hebraic poetic and literary form, style, etc. way beyond someone cribbing from the KJV.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who can perform nude has a lot of..... self confidence.


James Anglin said...

@Stephen Smoot and RT:

I don't read Hebrew, but I do a fair amount of talking and (simple) writing in a second language, and my wife is a linguist who studies cross-linguistic influence. So I'm interested in the general problem of recognizing the influence of one language on a text written in another. Would either of you be willing to give any specific examples of Book of Mormon passages that either show, or do not show, awareness of ancient Hebrew language or style?

Beyond that issue itself, I'm a bit confused about its implications for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. If a passage in an English text seems poorly written, then this might be explained as bad translation from an original language. But if the Book of Mormon was translated by the power of God, it's hard to understand why the translation should be bad. Going from Hebrew in reformed Egyptian characters to King James-ish English is already such a miracle; so why stop short of perfection?

What I suppose I could understand would be a case for Book of Mormon English that was not bad, but just unusual in a poetic license sort of way, in such a way as to convey flavor and tone from a Hebrew original. That would be not bad translation, but remarkably good translation. To me, examples of that would indeed be consistent with the theory of divine translation.

But it's not an easy case to establish. So far I haven't seen any examples of anything like that. All I've seen so far have been three kinds of things:
1) Bad-translation theories, where something that's confusing or even outright ungrammatical in English gets "explained" as being the kind of mistake that a translator might make if their English was weaker than their Hebrew;
2) Bad-translation theories, in which some bit of awkward English gets explained as Hebrew-English wordplay, even though cross-linguistic wordplay like that is actually pretty easy to invent, because you get to use the imprecision of translation twice, and even though the alleged puns in question hardly seem important enough that a good translator would commit bad English just to preserve them; or
3) Rhetorical forms like chiasmus and parallelism, which are effective in any language and easy to pick up from the King James Bible.

What am I missing?

Anonymous said...

It is Skousen's studied opinion, after decades of research as a critical text analyst and linguist, that the text was given to Joseph Smith word for word and that he read off revealed words to scribes.

everythingbeforeus said...

If that is Skousen's studied opinion, then I think the book is most definitely a fraud. The book wasn't translated at all then. It was channeled.

James Anglin said...

If I were buying a car, and a guy I knew from church or something was a lifelong car buff who had devoted decades of study to cars, then I might well be perfectly satisfied to buy a car on this one guy's recommendation. On the other hand, though, I might still want to hear advice from a few other people as well — because you never know. Among people who devote decades of study to things, some are obsessive wackos with ideological axes to grind.

Academic scholarship has far higher standards even than car buying. Where I as a nervous car buyer may say, "Wow! Decades of study!", as an academic I'm saying, "Just one guy?"

Orbiting Kolob said...

I agree, James. Apologetics and academic research have decidedly different standards, and this difference has always caused tension in church-sponsored universities.

At BYU there seems to be a struggle going on right now. As a religious university, should it put the emphasis on the "religious" part of the mission, and support the apologists -- who rarely seek peer review and whose work is often academically suspect -- simply because it helps build faith? The downside here is a resulting decline of the BYU degree out there in the wider world where graduates compete for jobs and graduate/professional school admissions.

Or should it put the emphasis on the "university" mission and only support those who submit their work to the independent secular judgment of "the world" and are willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads?

This tension exists at all theologically conservative colleges and universities. At BYU, much to the chagrin of the FARMS-style apologists, the academic standard appears to be gaining.

James Anglin said...

That last link is to a blog post by William Hamblin, a full Professor at BYU. If that's standing up for ancient Book of Mormon studies, then maybe he should have stayed sitting down, because his failure to mention any specific major achievement of the field makes a bad impression. It's like an NBA player striding out onto the court and shouting, "You say I got no game?" Then when everyone's waiting for him to prove them wrong by sinking a three-pointer, he just says, "That's mean!" and goes back to the bench.

Jeff Lindsay does a much better job than that right here, it seems to me.

Orbiting Kolob said...

I think that's the kind of embarrassment BYU is increasingly trying to avoid. Personally, I think it's a good (and overdue) strategy: let people do apologetics to their heart's content; just let them do it elsewhere, so that the lunacies that will inevitably emerge form it (e.g., horses refers to tapirs, the BoM is written in Early Modern English) don't discredit the university.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Back to RT's comments, regarding the idea of the Exodus being known among the Hebrews before the exile, he said "I don't think you have reasonably substantiated this statement by any means. It was widely known among Judahites of the late 7th century-early 6th century and yet doesn't appear in authentically dated works from this period, such as in prophetic literature?"

Hosea, a pre-exilic prophet, refers to Egypt:

But I have been the Lord your God ever since you came out of Egypt. You shall acknowledge no God but me, no Savior except me. I cared for you in the wilderness, in the land of burning heat. (Hosea 13:4-5 NIV)

1“When Israel was a child, I loved him,

and out of Egypt I called my son. . . .


5“Will they not return to Egypt

and will not Assyria rule over them

because they refuse to repent? (Hos 11:1,5 NIV)

Is Hosea now disputed as part of the prophetic literature?

Jeremiah and Ezekiel also make references to the Exodus. After this error was pointed out in Wellhausen's work, people now claim that those parts must have been written later, but what is the evidence that the language of Jeremiah is post-exilic? It is often close to D from Josiah's day.

On top of that, Friedman has made reasonable arguments about the reality of the Exodus, and also see J Berman's article at Mosaic Magazine: http://mosaicmagazine.com/essay/2015/03/was-there-an-exodus/.

Perhaps the biblical minimalists are overdoing the undoing of the Bible.

Anonymous said...

Yes, they desperately are overdoing it. It's rather lame, but it keeps researchers busy and creates jobs and conferences and a patina of respectability. Untangle things and pontificate endlessly about inconclusive matters. If your work tends to strike down the possibility of the divine, then you have a greater chance of advancing in your career. Ever learning and never coming to the knowledge of the truth.

Orbiting Kolob said...

Anon 2:02, you write that, according to Skousen, the text was given to Joseph Smith word for word and ... he read off revealed words to scribes.

Does that mean Skousen believes the translation was "tight control" for the entire text? This would be significant as it would eliminate the "loose control" explanation for the presence of KJV translation errors. That explanation never made sense for other reasons, but it would be nice to know that a Mormon expert of Skousen's stature rejects it on textual grounds.

Dogberry said...

Yes, "tight control" (JBMS 7.1 (1998):24), all the way. Skousen has concluded, based on MS evidence, printed edition evidence, internal textual evidence, and external textual evidence that the translation was tightly controlled, word for word. That view accepts that the KJV was used in the English-language translation. KJV readings were often used word for word. Nevertheless, many times there are changes. What may look like "loose control" is attributable to the divine faculty that translated the text.

KJV errors: Textual usage like satyrs, pleasant pictures, quick understanding, seraphims, etc. are hardly errors. Satyrs are part goat, the next two are difficult passages that have puzzled translators for a long time. They can be cast and recast in multiple ways (how about a nice Segond reading for the second one?; and anyway, we're far from the earliest MSS). As for double-plural seraphims, it was the dominant way to express the sense in earlier English (and double plurals are found throughout the world's languages). The Red Sea passage is probably an error, but what does it tell us about authorship? Not much. It could be an error that was on the brass plates, that Nephi made, or that Smith made. Inconclusive. See Skousen's ATV on this.

On the tight control view: Smith re-transmitted an English translation carried out by a divine agency, which used the KJV for biblical passages (for the most part). That is understandable given the KJV's prominence in 1820s America. Still, there are more than 800 word/constituent differences in bulk biblical passages. So either the divine agency made a lot of changes, or Smith did. The problem with the latter view is that in addition to standard 1769 readings, there is a Coverdale reading, there is a 1611 reading (probably more), and there are tweaks of the language that are found only in earlier English. So if we say Smith used a Bible, then he needed at least three. And would there have been 800+ changes with a scribe reading back to Smith what had just been written, in order to check accuracy? Probably not. And there is at least one other possible Coverdale element in the text, so that reading cannot be called a one-off thing.

Orbiting Kolob said...

Smith re-transmitted an English translation carried out by a divine agency, which used the KJV for biblical passages (for the most part). That is understandable given the KJV's prominence in 1820s America....

That does not strike me as "understandable" at all, Dogberry.

I suppose one could see why a "divine agency" would use the KJV version insofar as doing so actually afforded a faithful translation of the ancient text, but in the process of doing so, wouldn't that divine agent -- being divine and all -- know better than to replicate flat-out mistakes made by King James's scholars? It's inconceivable that these errors would have been present in the ancient original; why in the world would a divine agent take a biblical passage that was correct in the original and change it to something wrong in the translation?

Joseph Smith said it was the most perfect book on earth. Given that, and given the fact that the passages in question are from (as you correctly point out) the single most important book in 1820s America, and given the Book of Mormon's supposedly earth-shattering role in restoring God's True Church, why would a divine agent put mistakes into it?

Far from being "understandable," it boggles the mind. It just shows the mental contortions the apologist is willing to peform when the evidence conflicts with the testimony.

Face it, people: the Book of Mormon is a product of the 19th century.

flying fig said...

To the faithful LDS, the ONLY explanation for KJV errors and added italicized words found in the BoM is that God purposely put them there. Any other explanation destroys the eyewitness testimony that Smith did not use a bible, destroys the credibility of Smith as a true prophet, and destroys the credibility of the BoM as an ancient text.
Jeff knows it, FARMS knows it and as we've seen how troubling issues are usually handled, the Church will simply ignore it until enough members take notice and they issue a formal explanation, declare its not a big deal and for everyone to get over it.

As you said, Orbiting, it's simply "inconceivable that these errors would have been present in the ancient original; why in the world would a divine agent take a biblical passage that was correct in the original and change it to something wrong in the translation?"

Dogberry said...

As indicated above, OK, most of the so-called errors, are not errors. They have been declared to be errors as a negative apologetic tactic. What we see above, folks, from OK and ff is lame apologetics from the other side. Best to ignore their fierce anger when their faithless views are reasonably assaulted.

flying fig said...

Fierce anger? Sorry, but that's your own interpretation of my comment. The fact is Jeff and FairMormon acknowledge there are actual KJV translation errors and added italicized words in the BoM

"FairMormon does not take about position that God revealed 1769 KJV errors to Joseph, nor does FairMormon "concede" that Joseph copied KJV text over to the Book of Mormon. What FairMormon does do is acknowledge that there is scholarship that supports either position...Some LDS scholars believe that Joseph copied Biblical passages over to the Book of Mormon...Other scholars take the position that when Joseph reached a Biblical passage in the translation, that God, in most cases, simply gave him the ability to quote the verse as it existed in the currently available Bible."

http://en.fairmormon.org/Criticism_of_Mormonism/Online_documents/Letter_to_a_CES_Director/Book_of_Mormon_Concerns_%26_Questions#Response_to_claim:_.22Contrary_to_FairMormon.E2.80.99s_assertion_above_that_God_himself_revealed_the_1769_KJV_errors_to_Joseph.2C_FairMormon_is_conceding_here_that_Joseph_copied_KJV_text_over_to_the_Book_of_Mormon.22

They realize either God added the mistakes or Smith copied from a bible. Both are equally damaging but are admittedly the only explanation.

Orbiting Kolob said...

Quite right, FF.

BTW, note the double standard that apologists apply to the evidence. The apologist goes gaga over every tiny bit of arcane evidence that (say) the BoM contains pre-KJV EModE, no matter how sketchy it is (and how inherently senseless it is; what could possibly be the reason for the BoM to have any such language at all?). But not so when it comes to much more powerful, obvious, and relevant evidence such as the presence of KJV errors.

It's as if two people were arguing over whether their uncle is rich, as follows:

John the Apologist: Uncle Bob is rich!

Jim the skeptic: Why do you say so?

John A: Well, he has a nice suit.

Jim S: But appearances can be deceiving. I've seen Uncle Bob's credit rating, and it's terrible. The last check he wrote to me bounced. The bank is repossessing his house.

John A: But he's rich, I tell you! Why else would he wear a hat that looks just like the one worn by Thurston Howell III on Gilligan's Island?

Jim S: Ooookay.... Did I mention that he lost his job two years ago, and that his unemployment ran out, and that I found him last week on the on-ramp with a cardboard sign asking for gas money?

John A: See! You know who else doesn't go in to work in the morning? Rich people!

Dogberry said...

Sorry, KJV "errors" are not powerful evidence. As stated, this is a negative apologetic tactic. One should have more respect for Skousen's opinion on this matter, and the text itself!, than for FairMormon's take on this, or Lindsay's opinion, or Gardner's, or Hardy's, etc.: JS read words -- 2N27:9,11,20,22,24.

Dogberry said...

2N27:11,19,20,22,24.

flying fig said...

Dogberry, How can it be a negative apologetic tactic when FairMormon, Jeff Lindsay and BYU emeritus professor of Church history and doctrine, Richard Lloyd Anderson all boil it down to the two explanations, God did it/ Smith copied a Bible?

"The Book of Mormon incorporates text which seems to be taken from the Bible, including passages which are now considered to be mistranslations in the King James Version" -fairmormon.oeg

FairMormon's explanation? Answer: God revealed the mistranslations to Smith

"Given this evidence, we could assume that the Biblical (mistranslated) passages were revealed to Joseph during the translation process in a format almost identical with similar passages in the King James Bible" -fairmormon.org

But Richard Lloyd Anderson (emeritus professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU no less) has a different take on the issue:

"the language in the sections of the Book of Mormon that correspond to parts of the Bible is quite regularly selected by Joseph Smith, rather than obtained through independent translation. For instance, there are over 400 verses in which the Nephite prophets quote from Isaiah, and half of these appear precisely as the King James version renders them. Summarizing the view taken by Latter-day Saint scholars on this point, Daniel H. Ludlow emphasizes the inherent variety of independent translation and concludes: “There appears to be only one answer to explain the word-for-word similarities between the verses of Isaiah in the Bible and the same verses in the Book of Mormon.” That is simply that Joseph Smith must have opened Isaiah and tested each mentioned verse by the Spirit: “If his translation was essentially the same as that of the King James version, he apparently quoted the verse from the Bible.” Thus the Old Testament passages from Isaiah display a particular choice of phraseology that suggests Joseph Smith’s general freedom throughout the Book of Mormon for optional wording" - Richard Lloyd Anderson -emeritus professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU

Dogberry said...

Here I address Anderson, whose historical work I respect. His linguistic work... Is he a trained linguist? No. He's a first-rate historian. First, Anderson probably did not use the dictated text (2009 Yale is the proxy for this) to make these comparisons. The same with Ludlow, who was not an expert in King James syntax or in earlier English. As a result, no rigorous comparison has yet been made between the dictation and bulk biblical passages. Second, there are more than 800 differences, and some of them show awareness of other biblical readings, and some of them show implicit knowledge of earlier English forms not found in the KJV. Thus it is reasonable to reject the above assertions.

Also, had FairMormon asked Skousen to consult and write their answers with respect to these questions, then we would have something reliable. But it wasn't him. Who has written these? Do we know? Was it Gardner? If so, then we must take it with a grain of salt. Gardner isn't reliable because his translation theory is wrong. He follows Ludlow et al. down the primrose path.