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

Sunday, December 13, 2015

False Positives

Fun with Dice in a Workshop for Management

"Facts" and "data" are what most people use when they make decisions, especially decisions that others see as hopelessly biased and idiotic. The challenge is learning how to interpret facts and how to analyze data so that are decisions are less likely to be blunders based on the many biases and fallacies that can mislead all of us.

In a training class on decision making that I was invited to do for managers in one of my employer's groups in China, I brought in a big bag of dice to help local managers understand a serious example of self-deception in leadership. In particular, I sought to illustrate why criticism of employees for poor results seems to work better than praise for good results. It's an example where solid experience and significant data can actually mislead and deceive..

Everybody in a group of about 50 people were given three dice. I then explained their KPIs (Key Performance Indicators--an important phrase in modern Bizspeak) for the exercise: the company needs high scores. Everyone was asked to shake their dice and roll them once, then record their score. The few with the highest scores (e.g., a sum of 15 or higher) were brought up to the front. A group with about the same number of people with the lowest scores (e.g., less than 6) was also brought up to the front.

Now it was time for their performance review. I approached the high performers and personally congratulated them. I shook each person's hand, thanked them for their amazing achievement, gave them gifts (a candy bar) and cash incentives (a Chinese bill--real money), and praised them as good examples for the rest of the company. The whole room then joined me in loud applause for these high-achievers.

Then it was time for consequences for the low-performers. I shook my head, grimaced, wagged my finger at them, and scolded them for their failure in giving such disappointing results. They were a shame to the company, and we might need to demote them or fire them if they didn't shape up.

With proper rewards and punishments having been meted out, the people in these two outlier groups were given three more dice each and allowed to roll again. Amazingly, the average score of the former top performers now dropped significantly. Almost everyone in that team did more poorly after receiving praise and rewards. But for the ones who had been scolded and criticized, a notable improvement was observed. Almost all of them showed significant gains in their scores. Wow, praise hurts and criticism helps, right?

This pattern is fairly reproducible, and coincides with the vast experience of many coaches, bosses, generals, and leaders of all kinds: criticism and punishment works better than praise; yelling works better than kindness. They have solid experience to prove it, and they are often right, in a sense, but also perhaps terribly wrong.

Obviously, the results with the dice were not likely to be affected by praise or rewards (as long as the participants behaved honestly). What was happening here is a common statistical phenomenon that results in a great deal of self-deception in many fields of life. The phenomenon is "regression to the mean." When there is a degree of randomness, as there is in much of life, random trends that depart above or below the mean tend to come back. Results that are extreme are often statistical outliers, explainable by chance, that are not necessarily caused by the explanations we try to concoct. It's why athletes who make it to the cover of famous sports magazines after a string of remarkable successes tend to disappoint immediately after, leading to the "Sports Illustrated jinx" which may not be a real jinx at all. It's the reason why highly intelligent women such as my wife tend to marry men who are less intelligent, like certain bloggers around here. Since the correlation between female and male intelligence in marriage is not perfect and therefore involves some degree of randomness, the most intelligent outliers among females will tend to marry men who are not such extreme outliers themselves, and the probability is that they will tend to be less intelligent. This works both ways.

Two Books That Inspired My Workshop

My experiment with dice and other parts of my workshop were inspired in part by two outstanding books that I recommend. The exercise with dice was inspired by a story in Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011). I picked this up for airplane reading a couple years ago and found a real gem that I have applied in a variety of ways, though I still readily fall into many of the fallacies of human thought that so easily beset us. The story that motivated my dice exercise for management came from Chapter 17, "Regression to the Mean," pp. 175-176.

Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, once taught Israeli air force instructors about the psychology of effective training. He stressed an important principle: that rewards for improved performance worked better than punishment for mistakes. This is something that we employees tend to understand easily, but is often a mystery to those dishing out the punishments and rewards. One of the instructors challenged him and said that this principle was refuted by his own extensive experience. When a cadet performed exceptionally well and was praised, he would usually do worse on the next exercise. But when someone performed poorly and was criticized, he usually did better on the next run. This was a "a joyous moment of insight" to Kahneman, who recognized an important application of what he had been teaching for years about the regression to the mean. The instructor had been looking for a cause-and-effect explanation to natural, random fluctuations, and had developed an iron-clad theory that was dead wrong. He had extensive real data, but had been deceived by a failure to understand the impact of randomness. Real data + bad statistics (or bad math) = bogus conclusions.

Regression to the mean is one of several important principles Kahnema discusses. Many have roots in mathematics. All have connections to human psychology and the way our brains work. Kahneman is brilliant in illustrating how often we make flawed decisions, and gives us some tools to overcome these tendencies.

Related to Kahneman's work is another math-oriented book which I relied on in my workshop on decision making, and which I highly recommend: Jordan Ellenberg, How Not to be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking (New York: Penguin Press, 2014).

Ellenberg shows how basic mathematics can quickly expose many of the fallacies that we make in our thinking and decision making. Some of his discussions have application to matters that come up in discussions of LDS religion and in evaluation of evidence to support or discredit a theory. He decimates one of the classic "Texas sharpshooter" disasters in religious circles, the utterly bogus methodology used in The Bible Code in which the Hebrew text of the Old Testament was treated as a miraculous, absolutely perfect text filled with hidden prophecies that could be obtained by mathematically rearranging the letters of the text in numerous different grid patterns and then searching for new words in something of a hidden-word puzzle. With computerized tools, thousands of grids could be formed to lay out the letters in new two-dimensional patterns and then these patterns were searched to find all sorts of modern topics.

There's an old joke about a man in Texas who took a rifle and fired a few dozen random rounds into the side of a barn. Wherever the shots were clustered together, he painted a target around them and then told people that he was a sharpshooter. Drawing circles around spaced-apart Hebrew letters on, say, arrangement number 47, 356 and finding a hidden prophecy is analogous to the Texas sharpshooter.

Further, the very premise of a perfect text for the study is completely without logic. There are multiple versions of the ancient Torah with obvious gaps and uncertainties (e.g., compare the Torah in the Dead Sea Scrolls to the version used today: there are differences). Changing one letter in the text would through off the alignments on the selected grid patterns that give mystical results, making the whole exercise obviously bogus.

In "Dead Fish Don't Read Minds" (Chapter 7), Ellenberg warns of the dangers of amplifying noise into false positives when we have the resources of Big Data to play with. With numerous variables to explore and map, it is incredibly easy to find some that seem to correlate. This was brilliantly illustrated in a real but still somewhat tongue-in-cheek paper that managed to be accepted for presentation at the 2009 Organization for Human Brain Mapping in San Francisco, where UC Santa Barbara neuroscientist Craig Bennett presented a poster called "Neural correlates of interspecies perspective taking in the post-mortem Atlantic Salmon: An argument for multiple comparison corrections." (See discussion at Scientific American.)  Basically, this paper reported statistical results from MRI brain mapping taken in a dead fish as the fish was shown photos of people in different emotional states. Dr. Bennett used the power of Big Data to explore MRI signals from millions of positions and found a couple spots in the fish's neural architecture where the fluctuates corresponded well with the emotional state shown in the photos. His paper was a clever way of illustrating the dangers of using Big Data to find correlations that really don't mean anything, much like the work to find "smoking guns" for Book of Mormon plagiarism by doing computer searches of short phrases with hundreds of thousands of books to toy with.

Ellenberg is often critical of religion and believers, and probably with good reason, and mocks some aspects of the Bible a time or two, but religious people can learn much from his mathematically sound approach to thinking.

What Are the Odds of That? Actually, Unlikely Results are Guaranteed

The many fallacies explored by Kahneman and Ellenberg can affect all of us in our thinking and decision making. When it comes to apologetics, Latter-day Saints can fall into related traps if we treat anything from anywhere, anytime as potentially being a relevant parallel to the Book of Mormon or other LDS works. Not every New World drawing of people in two or more tones implies that we are looking at Nephites and Lamanites. Not every drawing of a horse means we are looking at evidence for Book of Mormon horses. And a place called Nehem on a map of Arabia is not necessarily evidence that a name like Nahom existed anywhere in Arabia in Lehi's day. Those things can be random parallels. If they are meaningful, there should be further data that can support the hypotheses put forward. Such finds would be most meaningful if they are part of a large body of information from multiple sources that can serve as convergences useful in assessing the particular question at hand, such as "Is the story of Lehi's trail plausible? Could there have been a place called Nahom where Ishmael was buried, with a fertile place like Bountiful nearly due east?" Such questions can be framed in ways that do not leave the infinite wiggle room of Bible Code explorations. (It was such a question, in fact, that motivated Warren Aston to undertake exploration in the Arabian Peninsula at great personal cost with predetermined criteria for Bountiful, a target already drawn before he ever touched the coast of Oman.)

When we are exploring a hypothesis, false positives can easily result from errors in thinking due to failure to understand randomness and regression to the mean, as well as other mathematical and logical fallacies. A key element in the field of statistics is recognizing that a random result can seem to support a hypothesis when there is not actually a cause-and-effect relationship. The science of statistics provides tools and tests to help differentiate between what is random and what is real, though it certainty is almost always elusive. Statistics gives us some tools to help reduce the risk of seeing things that aren't there, or to know when we might be missing something that is (these topics involves the issues of "significance" and "power," for example). Even for those trained in statistics, there are abundant errors that can be made and false conclusions made.

I'm not a statistician, but I did have 10 hours of graduate level statistics and have frequently had to rely on statistics to assess hypotheses. I even published a little paper on a mathematical issue related to a statistical issue known as the "collector's problem." The publication (peer-reviewed, but still lightweight, IMO) is J.D. Lindsay, "A New Solution for the Probability of Completing Sets in Random Sampling: Definition of the 'Two-Dimensional Factorial'," The Mathematical Scientist, 17: 101-110 (1992), which you can also read online as a Web page or as a Word document. But what really matters is that I am married to a statistician (M.Sc. degree in statistics, now math teacher at an international school in Shanghai)--what are the odds of that? Well, 100%, since that's what happened.

That reminds me of the many mistakes that people on both sides of the debate can make as they argue probabilities. It's easy to see significance in something that happens by chance, especially when we find something that did happen, possibly by chance, and then try to make a case for how improbable that was. Richard Feynman once joked to a class that one the way to campus that morning, he saw a car with a specific license plate, ARW 357. "Of all the millions of license plates in the state, what was the chance that I would see that particular one tonight?" This fallacy of a posteriori conclusions is an easy one to make. It's inevitable that any particular license plate will be rare, maybe even unique in all the world or at least all the state. That odds of that happening are low--a priori, before the event--but a posteriori, the odds are high, as in 100%. Making much of something because it is unusual is an error. But again, today, much of the serious evidence being raised for Book of Mormon plausibility is not of that nature.

Parallels occur all over the place. Parallel words, themes, and motifs occur across large bodies of literature, even when they are surely unrelated. I can take any two texts and find some parallels. Within a sufficiently large text, I can probably find parallel words and phrases that I can sketch out as a chiasmus. If we scour all the names introduced in the Book of Mormon, we should not be surprised to find a few might have apparent connections to ancient languages. We might even not be shocked to find an occasional one whose purported meaning might be construed to relate well to its context. But when numerous names begin to have support and offer useful new meaning for the text, when things like Hebraic wordplays occur many times and in interesting, meaningful ways, then the evidence can become more significant. When linguistic and archaeological evidence bring about interesting and repeated convergences, it may be time to take a deeper look at the evidence rather than assuming it's all chance.

Seemingly unlikely findings are actually quite likely to happen. That truism, however, is not an excuse to disregard meaningful bodies of evidence and convergences that enlighten a text in question.

Progress in Avoiding False Positives

Fortunately, the risk of methodological fallacies is frequently and openly considered among many LDS apologists, contrary to the allegations of critics who sometimes seem blind to their own biases and methodological flaws.

For example, while chiasmus can and does occur randomly, just as rhymes and other aspects of poetry can be found in random text, there are reasonable criteria for evaluating the strength of a chiasmus that can help screen random chaff from deliberately crafted gems. The possibility of false positives was an important factor in the analysis of John Welch as he explored the role of chiasmus in scripture. Others build upon his foundation and even offered statistical tools for evaluating chiasmus. It is still possible for something that appears elegant, compact, and brilliantly crafted to be an unintended creation, but we can speak of probability and plausibility in making reasonable evaluations.

In the early days of LDS apologetics, evidence of all kind was enthusiastically accepted. But gradually, I see LDS writers becoming more nuanced and cautious. A prime example of this is, in my opinion, Brant Gardner in his book, Traditions of the Fathers: The Book of Mormon as History (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2015). He is fully aware of the risk of fallacious parallels, but in evaluating the relationship between a text and history, they must be considered. What matters is how they are considered and what they data can plausibly support. On page 47 [visible in an online preview], Gardner discusses an insight from William Dever, a prominent professor of Near Eastern archaeology and anthropology at the University of Arizona who has been excavating in the Near East for several decades:
Some form of comparison between text and history is always required to discern
historicity. Texts are always compared to archaeology and/or other texts. Sometimes even artifacts require explanation by comparison or analogy to similar artifacts from another culture. Comparisons must be made. The problem cannot, therefore, reside in an absolute deficit in any methodology that makes comparisons, but rather in the way the comparisons are made and made to be significant. One important type of controlled parallel is ethnographic analogy. Dever explains his version of this method:
One aspect shared by both biblical scholarship and archaeology is a dependence on analogy as a fundamental method of argument. . . .

The challenge is to find appropriate analogues, those offering the most promise yet capable of being tested in some way. Ethnoarchaeology is useful in this regard, particularly in places where unsophisticated modern cultures are still found superimposed, as it were, upon the remains of the ancient world, as in parts of the Middle East. Analogies drawn from life of modern Arab villages or Bedouin society can, with proper controls, be used to illuminate both artifacts and texts, as many studies have shown. [William G. Dever, What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? What Archaeology Can Tell Us About the Reality of Ancient Israel (Grand rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2001), pp. 77-78.]
Dever's work deals with the concept of "convergences" wherein multiple lines of evidence, such as evidence from archaeology and from a text, come together and support the historicity of a text in question. In spite of the risk of fallacious parallels or false positives, convergences can be strong and can create compelling cases for the historicity of a text. Dever's work is also relied on by John Sorenson in Mormon's Codex, where extensive correspondences between Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon in many different topical areas are explored. Gardner observes his requirements for a convergence are more demanding than the criteria in Sorenson's approach. But I feel both authors are aware of the risk of random parallels being mistaken as evidence, and are seeking to provide a thorough methodology that combines multiple approaches to establish meaningful though tentative connections that do more than just buttress one point, but which also provide a framework that solves other problems and makes more sense of the text. Convergences that are fruitful and lead to new meaningful discoveries are the most interesting and compelling, though there is always the risk of being wrong.

Gardner's approach also draws upon wisdom from the field of linguistics, which offers many analogies to the problems of evaluating the historicity of a text based on parallels and convergences.

As a result of my orientation, I suggest that we will be best served by an approach applied with great success in the field of historical linguistics. Bruce L. Pearson describes both the problem and the solution:

Sets of words exhibiting similarities in both form and meaning may be presumed to be cognates, given that the languages involved are assumed to be related. This of course is quite circular. We need a list of cognates to show that languages are related, but we first need to know that the languages are related before we may safely look for cognates. In actual practice, therefore, the hypothesis builds slowly, and there may be a number of false starts along the way. But gradually certain correspondence patterns begin to emerge. These patterns point to unsuspected cognates that reveal additional correspondences until eventually a tightly woven web of interlocking evidence is developed. [Bruce L. Pearson, Introduction to Linguistic Concepts, 51]

Pearson’s linguistic methodology describes quite nicely the problem we have in attempting to place the Book of Mormon in history. We cannot adequately compare the text to history unless we know that it is history. We cannot know that it is history unless we compare the text to history. We cannot avoid the necessity of examining parallels between the text and history.

The problem with the fallacy of parallels is that it doesn’t protect against false positives. What is required is a methodology that is more recursive than simple parallels. We need a methodology that generates the “tightly woven web of interlocking evidence” that Pearson indicates resolves the similar issue for historical linguists.
In my studies of foreign language, I've often been intrigued by false cognates that can trick people into imagining connections between languages that might not exist. An interesting involves the English and Chinese words "swallow." In English "swallow" can be a noun involving the ingestion of food or liquid and it can be a noun describing a particular bird. Something similar happens in Chinese, where 燕 (yan, pronounced with a falling tone) is the Chinese character for swallow, the bird, while the same sound and nearly the same traditional character, 嚥, is the verb, to swallow. The latter just adds a square at the left, representing a mouth. It's a cool parallel. If this kind of thing happened frequently, or if there were, say, hundreds of ancient Chinese words that showed connections to English, we might have a case for a systematic relationship between the languages. But there really are not meaningful connections between the languages apart from modern borrowed words and a few rare occurrences that can be chalked up to chance. But exploring parallels between languages is a vital area for research and study--it's how relationships between languages are established in the first place and can help fill in huge gaps in the historical and archaeological record. When the parallels become numerous and show patterns that begin to make sense, it's possible that two languages share historical connections. To me, Gardner's appeal to lessons from historical linguistics makes sense. Parallels can be real and meaningful, or they can be spurious. It's a matter of exploring the data and being open to convergences that enlighten and reveal useful new ways of understanding the data.

In evaluating the Book of Mormon, I believe LDS scholars today generally recognize that there is a risk of finding impressive parallels to, say, ancient Mesoamerica or ancient Old World writings that may be merely due to chance.

In my own writings, I've often pointed to the risk that my conclusions are based on chance, misunderstanding, and so forth, and use my blog as a tool to get frequent input from critics. In spite of their repetitive dismissal of all evidence as mere blindness, bias, and methodological fallacy on our part, occasionally they engage with the data and provide some helpful balance or even strong reasons to reject a hypothesis. It's a healthy debate. We don't have all the answers, we are subject to biases of many kinds, but there is still a great deal of exploration and discovery to do that goes beyond finding random items and painting a bullseye around it.

Sometimes the target was there before the bullseye was there long before the bullet holes were discovered, as in the Arabian Peninsula, which has long been a target for criticism of the Book of Mormon before the field work was done that helped us recognize just how many impressive hits had been scored by the text in First Nephi.

Methodological Error: Not Unique to Mormons

Fallacies of logic and math, of course, aren't unique to believers.

When it comes to the Texas sharpshooter fallacy and related problems with false positives, the critics of Mormonism also have some particular gifts in this area as they scour modern sources to support theories of plagiarism or modern fabrication of the Book of Mormon. Examples of improperly finding meaning from randomness coupled with serious methodological flaws include computer-assisted database searching among thousands of texts for short phrases found in common with the Book of Mormon or allegedly pointing to implausible sources for the Book of Mormon such as the The Late War Between the United States and Great Britain. Naturally, texts written in imitation of the King James style score highly with their abundance of such words as "thou" and "thee" instead of "you," but there is no substance to the claim of plagiarism.

"Parallelomania," in fact, is an increasing problem in the works of critics purporting to explain the Book of Mormon by appeals to numerous other texts. An excellent discussion of false positives from parallels in an anti-Mormon work is found in "Finding Parallels: Some Cautions and Criticisms, Part One" by Benjamin L. McGuire in Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 5 (2013): 1-59. In Part Two, he gets more heavily into the methodology of treating parallels.

There is no doubt that there are many parallels, as there can be between any two unrelated texts. One of my early essays on the Book of Mormon sought to expose the problem of false positives for those claiming Book of Mormon plagiarism by coming up with even stronger examples of parallels than the critics were delivering. The result was my satirical essay, "Was the Book of Mormon Plagiarized from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass?" (May 20, 2002, but slightly updated several times since then), which Brant Gardner kindly quotes from in The Book of Mormon as History (2015, pp. 44-45). Based on the data alone, one can make a strong case that the Book of Mormon borrowed heavily from Whitman's 1855 work or at least had a common source (perhaps Solomon Spaulding was plagiarized by Whitman as well?). That's ridiculous, of course--but the parallels show just how easy one can be mislead by random parallels, coupled with a little creativity and a dash of zeal. If those claiming plagiarism can't clearly outdo Whitman as a control, a reasonable case has not been made.

One of latest posts at Mormanity dealt with my explorations of a hypothesis from Noel Reynolds about the possibility of the Book of Moses and the brass plates sharing some common material. Reynolds' article includes a detailed discussion of what it takes to determine the relationship between two texts. It begins with a consideration of the requirements for one text to depend on another. He is aware of the risk of random parallels and discusses the issues rather carefully, aware of risks and aware of the kind of evidence that is required to find meaningful parallels. He also offers a test case also in the Book of Abraham. Does it depend on the Book of Mormon or visa versa? Very little sign of relationship is evidence in that case. But further tests and more rigor is needed. It's very tentative and speculative, but interesting. Not completely illogical methodology at all, though the results are controversial.

But just as alleged evidence sometimes falls prey to the sharpshooter fallacy as it is improperly used to buttress a theory, the sharpshooter fallacy can easily be misapplied to dismiss legitimate, meaningful evidence. A noteworthy example is found when Dr. Philip Jenkins, a professor of history, dismisses the significance of the evidence for Nahom in the Arabian Penninsula, an important but small piece of the body of evidence related to the plausibility of Nephi's account of his journey through Arabia along the route we often call Lehi's Trail. Jenkins has this to say as he dismisses this evidence:
One other critical point seems never to have been addressed, and the omission is amazing, and irresponsible. Apologists argue that it is remarkable that they have found a NHM inscription – in exactly the (inconceivably vast) area suggested by the Book of Mormon. What are the odds!
By the way, the Arabian Peninsular covers well over a million square miles.

Yes indeed, what are the odds? Actually, that last question can and must be answered before any significance can be accorded to this find. When you look at all the possible permutations of NHM – as the name of a person, place, city or tribe – how common was that element in inscriptions and texts in the Middle East in the long span of ancient history? As we have seen, apologists are using rock bottom evidentiary standards to claim significance – hey, it’s the name of a tribe rather than a place, so what?

How unusual or commonplace was NHM as a name element in inscriptions? In modern terms, was it equivalent to “Steve” or to “Benedict Cumberbatch”?

So were there five such NHM inscriptions in the region in this period? A thousand? Ten thousand? And that question is answerable, because we have so many databases of inscriptions and local texts, which are open to scholars. We would need figures that are precise, and not impressionistic. You might conceivably find, in fact, that between 1000 BC and 500 AD, NHM inscriptions occur every five miles in the Arabian peninsular, not to mention being scattered over Iraq and Syria, so that finding one in this particular place is random chance. Or else, the one that has attracted so much attention really is the only one in the whole region. I have no idea. But until someone actually goes out and does some quantitative analysis on this, you can say precisely nothing about how probable or not such a supposed correlation is.

It's a fair question, but one that has been answered for many years. The NHM name turns out to be exceedingly rare in the Arabian Peninsula. As far as we can tell, it is only found in the general region associated with the ancient Nihm tribe. It's in the region required by the Book of Mormon, with a convergence of data showing that this tribal name was there in Lehi's day, in a region associated with ancient burial sites, a region where one can go nearly due east and reach a remarkable candidate for Nephi's Bountiful. It's part of an impressive set of convergences pointing to plausibility for the journey of Lehi's trail. In light of the new body of evidence, the task of critics has suddenly shifted from mocking the implausibility of Nephi's account to explaining how obvious it all is in light of the knowledge that Joseph and his technical advisory team surely must have found by searching various books and maps, all the time lacking any evidence that such materials were anywhere near, and still being unable to explain the motivation for plucking "Nehhm" or "Nehem" off a rare European map amidst the hundreds of other names, ignoring every opportunity to use the map for something useful. They also fail to explain how any of these sources could have guided Joseph to fabricate the River of Laman and Valley of Lemuel, the place Shazer, or the place Bountiful, each with excellent and plausible candidates. Here appeals to the Texas sharpshooter fallacy or any other fallacy miss the reality of serious evidence and serious convergences that demand more than casual dismissal and scenarios devoid of explanatory power.

Yes, it's fair and important to worry about false positive (and false negatives) as we approach issues of evidence for the Book of Mormon, and against the Book of Mormon as well. Methodology, logic, and intellectual soundness are fair topics for debate. Let's keep that in mind as we explore the issues and watch out for the many fallacies that can catch us on either side of the debate.


Glenn Thigpen said...

Sorry Jeff. You didn't get this peer reviewed. It is not admissable if you don't get it peer reviewed.

(I bit my tongue.)


Orbiting Kolob said...

Jeff, I'm puzzled that you would write that chiasmus can and does occur randomly, etc.

Has anyone argued that the obvious chiasmuses in the Book of Mormon "occur randomly"? My argument has always been that they're in the Book of Mormon because they're in the Bible, and the author of the BoM was imitating the Bible. This has nothing whatsoever to do with randomness.

Glenn, I wish you could understand that secular academic peer review is not the enemy of LDS apologetics. It is, however, the enemy of bad apologetics, which is all the more reason apologists should pursue it.

Quantumleap42 said...


Do you have evidence for your assertion that chiasmus only appear in the BoM because the structures were copied from the Bible? Did this occur randomly? It seems to be that you are implying that Joseph Smith just read the Bible, and naturally produced chiasmus without thinking about it. Or if it was done intentionally then why was it never mentioned by Joseph Smith? I find it hard to believe that he intentionally put them in there and then forgot that he had done it.

If it was something that "anyone familiar with the KJV in the 19th century could have done" then books like The Late War, which was written specifically to mimic the Bible, would have chiastic structures, much like those found in Deuteronomy 8 and Numbers 8. If "anyone" could have done it then we should find many examples of chiasmus in literature from the 1800's. And if it was so prevalent that random farmers could produce it then why did it slip past every academic who studied language and literature up until about the 1920's? So where is your evidence? You say "apologists are not operating in good faith" yet you produce no evidence to support your rather astounding assertions.

Anonymous said...

Terrific post, Jeff.


Orbiting Kolob said...

Quantum, I'm saying that Joseph was very familiar with the sound of the KJV, and in writing the BoM he was trying to imitate that sound, and chiasmus is part of that sound, just like anaphora ("and it came to pass") is part of that sound, just like the cognate accusative ("he dreamed a dream") is part of that sound, and so on and on. In the course of trying to imitate the KJV's sound he naturally produced chiasmus (and many other biblical stylistic elements) without thinking about it.

But no, I'm not saying he put chiasmus in the BoM deliberately. What he did deliberately was try to imitate the biblical style. Think of it this way. Your comment contains adverbs. Did you put those adverbs in your comment deliberately? No, what you were doing deliberately was trying to craft a response to my claims. That's what you were deliberately and consciously thinking about. The adverbs got in there unconsciously. And you could have used those adverbs even if you had never in your life heard the term adverb. You're confusing the use of language with the conscious use of language, and further confusing the use of rhetorical techniques with knowledge of the academic terms for those techniques.

None of what I'm saying here is the least bit astounding. It's all rooted in our uncontroversial understanding of the way people acquire and use language.

Consider this passage from the famous "Ain't I a Woman" speech of former-slave-turned-abolitionist Sojourner Truth:

I have ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear de lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen chilern, and seen 'em mos' all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?

The repetition of the same word or phrase at the end of successive sentences is known as epistrophe. I seriously doubt that Sojourner Truth ever heard this term or studied classical rhetoric at all. Must we therefore conclude that she couldn't have used epistrophe in her speech? Of course not.

Similarly, Smith's ignorance of the term chiasmus does not at all mean he couldn't have used chiasmus -- no more than a child has to know the terms noun, verb, and direct object in order to use them in saying "I want a cookie." This sort of thing just comes naturally.

Before I respond more specifically to your demand for evidence, let me ask you this:

Do you believe Joseph knew how to read? If so, what is your evidence?

After I have your answers, I'll be happy to go on.

James Anglin said...

About chiasmus in the Book of Mormon: at least some of the Book of Mormon chiasmus is something that would be trickier to copy from the Bible, because it is really long and elaborate. To the extent that I want to ask: does any known ancient Hebrew writing really use such elaborate chiasmus? Or is this a hypertrophied form that is unique to the Book of Mormon — in which case it might be interesting, but it wouldn't count so much as evidence of authenticity as an ancient Hebrew text.

The other problem with such a gigantic Book of Mormon chiasm as the one in Alma is that it takes a bit of squinting to see the pattern. The chiasmic form only emerges, in the long text, if you assign the right subheadings to big chunks of verses. This supplies a considerable amount of wiggle room, and every element in the pattern can wiggle independently. If you don't take that wiggle room into account when you estimate the probability of the big chiasmic pattern occurring by chance, then simply because the pattern is long, you easily end up with an overwhelming likelihood that the pattern is real and deliberate. But if you think about how subjectively the verses were grouped and characterized, in order to define the pattern, you should really up the chance of randomness at each step quite a lot. The final probability that the long pattern is real then becomes awfully fuzzy, because small changes in the probability for each item make a big difference when they're multiplied thirty times. At the very least, though, one should say that the very existence of this big chiasm is a lot less clear cut than some apologists have made it out to be.

Anonymous said...

Not sure I could chalk Alma 36 up to an accident of cultural influence.


James Anglin said...

About this latest post: I'm quite impressed. Jeff seems to have quite a good grasp of the subtleties of inductive argument; I reckon he knows enough to appreciate pitfalls in arguments as well as anyone. Professional expertise might help one to recognize pitfalls more quickly, but if you take a bit of time to think about the reasoning, then I'm pretty sure that Jeff's level of statistical awareness is quite sufficient to do the job. Expertise in statistics isn't as big a deal as some people think.

People who don't do much math often seem to regard statistics as a black art. They know that if you don't follow certain arcane rules, your results will be invalid; but they have no idea why. On the other hand, they imagine that if you do follow the arcane rules, then your results will be guaranteed to be true, by the mystic power of statistics. They don't get the fact that statistics is just ordinary common sense, applied carefully. There are no rules so mystical that you can turn weak evidence into fact just by following the rules.

So on the one hand I'm reassured that Jeff, at least, is quite able to handle methodological discussions about inference from evidence. But on the other hand I still have the concern that at least some apologists may not appreciate just how much of that kind of discussion needs to be done.

A good example of what I mean is In my most recent comment before this one: the trickiness of quantitatively analyzing chiasmus. I've seen several Mormon apologists cite the high final probability estimate for deliberate chiasmus in Alma 36 that was claimed by one particular paper, as if citing that one paper was decisive. That's like counting somebody as Heavyweight Champion just because they showed up at the ring wearing shorts. Presenting a quantitative analysis is something, all right: it's like stepping into the ring. But that's just the beginning. You've got to go the distance. That can be tough.

I'm sure that critics and skeptics of Mormonism are also often guilty of underestimating the work involved in really establishing even basic points. The fact is that, even though a bunch of amateurs on either side may have enough wit and knowledge to thresh this stuff out properly, we may well not have the time to slog through to the end.

If that's true, then I think we should admit that, on either side, rather than kid ourselves about how strong a case we can make — for our against — in our spare time.

James Anglin said...

@ Jack:
"Not sure I could chalk Alma 36 up to an accident of cultural influence."

That's what I said. If it's there, it's too big to be an accident. The thing is: it's really not so clear that it's there. It's a loose and subjectively identified pattern in a long text.

James Anglin said...

One more point on the theme of how much attention the premises of inference really require.

"You have to go the distance" doesn't necessarily mean that everyone has to "engage the material". If a hundred dense pages are all based on one flimsy premise that isn't properly established, then carefully reading all those pages would be a poor use of an amateur's limited time.

In fact that's why things that might seem like mere preliminary details need so much careful attention. If you skimp on them, then no amount of detail built on top of them can make up for their flimsiness; if an opponent points out that flimsiness, you can't complain that they ignored all your other hard work. A skyscraper built on sand falls just as fast as a house.

Orbiting Kolob said...

Like James, I'm also impressed with this post. Jeff is taking some big steps down the road that leads eventually to a better understanding of the Mormon scriptures.

Maybe someday we'll see a similar post about the value of academic peer review. As I mentioned above, peer review is not the enemy of LDS apologetics -- only of bad LDS apologetics.

As for Alma 36, there's another question that never seems to get discussed: What in the world would be the purpose of a 39-level chiasmus in the first place?

Techniques like chiasmus are used because they have certain effects on the reader/listener, such as making things more memorable. (Ditto, of course, for anaphora, alliteration, rhyme, rhythm, etc.) Which of the following is more memorable? This...

We should all support one another, both individually and as a group.

... or this:

All for one and one for all!

Clearly the latter is the one more likely to stick in the mind, and that's mostly because of its chiastic structure. Its chiastic structure has a clear and beneficial effect on the reader/listener. But I don't see how there could possibly be any such effect in the case of Alma 36. Even if it is a genuine chiasm -- and not just a methodological artifact created via the clever use of ellipses -- it's simply too big and loose and baggy to have any rhetorical effect. By the time you get to the end you've long since lost touch with the beginning. What, then, could possibly have been the point of creating it? This question applies whether its author was ancient or modern.

The idea that Alma 36 contains a massive chiasmus that is an artistic writerly creation (as opposed to methodological artifact) makes about as much sense as the idea that the BoM is rife with actual EModE (as opposed to scattered bulletholes made by a Texas sharpshooter). These things serve nicely as a hammer for the apologist, because they support the argument that Joseph could not be the author. But we should remember that, in addition to serving the modern purposes of the apologist, such literary marvels must have served some ancient purpose of the author.

At this point I guess the (bad) apologist might say this: The ancient writer's purpose was not to have a rhetorical effect on his ancient audience, but to conceal items in the text that, upon discovery some 1,500 or more years in the future, would confirm the faith of his modern audience. This is the point where the apologist starts preaching solely to the choir. This is the point where the apologist requires us to believe that, while Jeremiah was writing for an audience of 6th-century BCE Jews, Paul for an audience of 1st-century Christians, etc., Nephi and Mormon were writing specifically for an audience of modern Americans. We are being asked to believe something of this particular ancient text that is not true of any other ancient text that we know.

Well, um, okay.... But if we grant all this, we might wonder why these ancient authors would not attempt to persuade their future audiences by providing less equivocal evidence. But at this point the (bad) apologist starts talking about how, yes, God wants us to believe, but doesn't want to make it too easy for us to believe, etc. -- and at this point Gentiles like me simply throw up our hands and say, "There's just no reasoning with you guys. You move the goalposts, your claims are never falsifiable, and whatever it is that you're doing here, you're not arguing in good faith. You're more interested in shoring up your testimonies than in searching for truth."

P.S. FWIW, a 21-level (but very loose and baggy) "chiasm" has been discovered/invented in The Late War -- see here.

Anonymous said...

Please, let's stop with the lame critical analysis by the critics, and stop harping on Alma 36. A good critical analysis must consider at least Mosiah 3:18-19, Mosiah 5:10-12, Alma 41:13-14, and Helaman 6:9-11. See various Welch publications for more, and Edwards and Edwards (2004) BYU Studies for stats.

Also, orbitational analogizes from simple epistrophe to multi-level chiastic construction. Who thinks he's a reasonable analyst who's trying to check his biases in this case?

Orbiting Kolob said...

Anon 12:05, I didn't analogize simple epistrophe to multi-level chiasmus. I used epistrophe to challenge a particular apologetic assumption: that one must know the technical term for a rhetorical figure in order to use that rhetorical figure.

My argument about Alma 36 is that it's not a chiasmus at all -- it's a methodological artifact created by the bogus method of (1) fishing in an expansive sea of text until finding a passage that (2) can be made to appear chiastic by strategically omitting non-chiastic portions of the text. Basically, Welch put his thumb on the scale. Any subsequent statistical analysis that fails to take this into account is meaningless.

(1) above is basically Texas sharpshooter. (2) is just intellectually dishonest. It's basically saying, "This passage is chiastic..." without adding "...except where it's not." It's like James's used-car salesman saying "With its new tires, new brakes, and new paint job, this car is in great shape..." without adding "...except for the leaky head gasket and worn-out transmission."

At any real academic journal this kind of stuff would be pointed out in peer review. That's why these arguments wind up only in pseudo-journals, like BYU Studies, where once again the thumb is on the scale.

If the aim is to do things like better understand the Mormon scriptures and persuade the outside world of their value, then secular academic peer review is your friend, not your enemy.

Peer review is the enemy only if the aim is to shore up the believer's testimony at all cost.

Anonymous said...

Please stop with Alma 36. Okay, not analogizing in one sense, but you're equating epistrophe to production of 7-level chiasmus. They're wholly different. The normal human mind cannot produce the latter subconsciously.

Orbiting Kolob said...

Okay, I'll stop with Alma 36. Will the apologists?

The normal human mind cannot produce the latter [7-level chiasmus] subconsciously.

Actually, I'm not so sure of that. There are plenty of examples of people spontaneously dictating some pretty complex stuff. In any case, Joseph Smith surely had an exceptional mind.

If you'd like to show us the 7-level chiasmus you're referring to, feel free.

James Anglin said...

If you google "Alma 36 chiasmus", the current sixth hit is the article in Dialogue by a guy named Wunderli, which points out a level of shakiness — in the very existence of this giant chiasm — that is disturbing to me. I'm not saying Wunderli has won the whole fight, but he certainly comes out swinging pretty hard for a few rounds. Maybe the chiasmus can somehow be salvaged, but after reading Wunderli's critque, I felt a bit annoyed that Mormon apologists hadn't been more up-front about how much scaffolding is needed to support this purported multi-level pattern.

From the way I'd read apologists referring to Alma 36, I was expecting something almost like a sonnet, with the chiasmus building line after line. Instead it's really an overlay that you have to put onto the text, by declaring passages of varying length to be 'about' certain topics. Perhaps it's not sheer invention — though at the moment that's what I think it is — but it's definitely not the striking literary landmark that I felt led to expect.

Anonymous said...

From Boyd F. Edwards and W. Farrell Edwards (2004).
See their article for formatting.

Mosiah 5:10-12 is a 6- or 7-element chiasm:

(a) whosoever shall not take upon them him the name of Christ
(b) must be called by some other name;
(c) therefore, he findeth himself on the left hand of God.
(d) And I would that ye should remember also, that this is the name
(e) that I said I should give unto you
(f) that never should be blotted out,
(g) except it be through transgression;
(g´) therefore, take heed that ye do not transgress,
(f´) that the name be not blotted out of your hearts.
(e´) I say unto you,
(d´) I would that ye should remember to retain the name written always
in your hearts,
(c´) that ye are not found on the left hand of God,
(b´) but that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be called,
(a´) and also, the name by which he shall call you.

Helaman 6:9-11 is a 6- or 7-element chiasm:

(a) And it came to pass that they became exceeding rich, [not exceedingly]
both the Lamanites and the Nephites;
(b) and they did have an exceeding plenty
of gold, and of silver, and of all manner of precious metals,
both in the land south and in the land north.
(c) Now the land south
(d) was called Lehi,
(e) and the land north
(f) was called Muloch,
(g) which was after the son of Zedekiah; (theophoric suffix)
(g´) for the Lord
(f´) did bring Muloch
(e´) into the land north,
(d´) and Lehi
(c´) into the land south.
(b´) And behold, there was all manner
of gold in both these lands, and of silver,
and of precious ore of every kind;
and there was also curious workmen, [i.e. skilled]
which did work all kinds of ore and did refine it;
(a´) and thus they did become rich.

Anonymous said...

Orbiting and James,

You guys know the Bible at least ten times better than Joseph did when he translated the Book of Mormon. So, now, your job is to sit down and in one long stream of consciousness write as beautiful and complex a chiasmus as is found in Alma 36. Don't think about it. Just let it flow. Let the influence the Bible has had on your prose dictate the outcome.

As for the purpose of Alma 36's structure: Come now. The center piece is about deliverence through Christ's atonement. Could there be anything more important to Nephite Christians?


Orbiting Kolob said...

For cryin' out loud, Jack -- very, very few people have a genius for oral composition, and the vast majority of us don't. (I certainly don't.) This is why the "Book of Mormon challenge" is so meaningless. No serious student of the Book of Mormon has ever said that just anyone could have written the Book of Mormon.

Here's the challenge from Nibley:

Since Joseph Smith was younger than most of you and not nearly so experienced or well-educated as any of you at the time he copyrighted the Book of Mormon, it should not be too much to ask you to hand in by the end of the semester (which will give you more time than he had) a paper of, say, five to six hundred pages in length. Call it a sacred book if you will, and give it the form of a history....

Of course, what a more intellectually honest man would have said would be something more like this:

Since Joseph Smith was younger than most of you and not nearly so experienced or well-educated as any of you at the time he copyrighted the Book of Mormon, it should not be too much to ask any of you who have an exceptional genius for oral storytelling to hand in by the end of the semester a paper of, say, five to six hundred pages in length. Feel free to plagiarize a hundred or so of those pages straight out of the KJV. Don't worry about depth or complexity of character -- cardboard cutouts will do. If you find your imagination running dry, feel free to steal as many plots and motifs as you like from the Bible. If it helps to steal the Noah's Ark plot, go right ahead and steal it, not just once, but twice....

This version is more honest, but lacks punch.

Jeff, Jack's comment is a good example of how a certain kind of LDS apologetics that works well with undiscerning believers can make the Church look stupid to outsiders. It looks good within the fold but ridiculous without. You really ought to stop peddling it.

One of the more unfortunate aspects of all this is the way the apologetics community is opting itself out of the emerging field of Mormon studies. As Mormon studies grows into a legit academic field, people like Dan Peterson, Bill Hamblin, and the rest will either have to abandon their apologetic hobby horses or wind up like the Young Earth Creationists, with no credibility at all outside their little coterie of fellow apologists.

Orbiting Kolob said...

P.S. -- Anon 1:18, will you ask Jack to "please stop with Alma 36"?

I'll try to get to your two examples of chiasmus tonight or tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Jack et al., please stop with Alma 36.

The Edwardses rigorously analyzed chiastic material in the BofM. Accordingly to their methodology, p = 0.02 that 4 compact chiastic passages occurred by chance. That's Orbiting Kolob's position (leaving Alma 36 aside, and replacing one of those with Alma 41:13-14 and another passage with clear chiastic organization). OK believes p < 0.5, p < 0.1, p << 0.1 many times over, for many different BofM elements. Thus the p that OK accepts for JSJr being the author is vanishingly small, yet he will stubbornly adhere to it, as many will.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Orbiting, while chiasmus can play a valuable role in organizing information for oral recitation, it also works well to add meaning and structure in written text. In Alma 36, Alma tells a story that he's already told twice before. First time was exulting over what had just happened--a very spontaneous, dramatic outpouring that doesn't show careful chiasmus. Same with his second retelling. But in Alma 36, years after his experience, he's had time to carefully compose it in a lengthy, formal passage as he gives instructions and teachings to his sons. This is his written record and for the most dramatic and important experience of his life, he has organized it carefully in chiasmus.

Part of the purpose of chiasmus is to give emphasis to key portions of the poetry. The pivot point is obviously the crux and typically is at the heart of the meaning. The outer portions (the beginning and the ending) are emphasized. When there is history being related, the middle portions can be loose and baggy. So whether Alma 36 is 21 steps of just 8 or 9 is not the important thing. Let's look. Here's the chiastic structure showing key words and verses, where you can see where things are compact and where they are loose:

(a) My son, give ear to my WORDS (1)
(d) in REMEMBERING THE CAPTIVITY of our fathers (2);
(e) for they were in BONDAGE (2)
(f) he surely did DELIVER them (2)
(g) TRUST in God (3)
(h) supported in their TRIALS, and TROUBLES, and AFFLICTIONS (3)
(i) shall be lifted up at the LAST DAY (3)
(j) I KNOW this not of myself but of GOD (4)
(k) BORN OF GOD (5)
(l) I sought to destroy the church of God (6-9)
(m) MY LIMBS were paralyzed (10)
(n) Fear of being in the PRESENCE OF GOD (14-15)
(o) PAINS of a damned soul (16)
(q) I remembered JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD (17)
(q') I cried, JESUS, SON OF GOD (18)
(o') Joy as exceeding as was the PAIN (20)
(n') Long to be in the PRESENCE OF GOD (22)
(m') My LIMBS received their strength again (23)
(l') I labored to bring souls to repentance (24)
(k') BORN OF GOD (26)
(j') Therefore MY KNOWLEDGE IS OF GOD (26)
(h') Supported under TRIALS, TROUBLES, and AFFLICTIONS (27)
(g') TRUST in him (27)
(f') He will deliver me (27)
(e') As God brought our fathers out of BONDAGE and captivity (28-29)
(c') KNOW AS I DO KNOW (30)
(a') This is according to his WORD (30).

(cont. in next comment)

Jeff Lindsay said...

Get out Alma 36 and look at the opening lines and then the closing. These are compact and tight, clearly signaling an introduction and ending of a formal passage. Stuff in the middle is more disperse, and then we have the obvious focal point and pivotal point: he fears the presence of God, suffering the pains of a damned soul, harrowed up by the memory of his sin, and then everything changes, reverses at the pivot point. He remembers what he was taught about Jesus Christ, Son of God, and as he calls out to Jesus Christ, Son of God, his suffering is replaced with joy. He's no longer harrowed up, his pain is replaced with joy, and he longs to be in the presence of God. That's an amazing core of the chiasmus, giving emphasis that aligns with the emphasis of the Book of Mormon. It relates well to the theme of captivity and deliverance at the outer portions of the chiasmus. There's still enough structure in between, in the less important zones, to show chiasmic structure, but yes, there it is loose, as it often must be when relating events.

Alma 36 nicely illustrates the way chiasmus can help convey and amplify meaning. It's great poetry, cool literature, worthy of respect and not mere dismissal.

Anonymous said...


That methodology is like looking at tree trunk in order to discover the fibonacci sequence in a tree. You have to back up a bit to capture it. And once you do you discover that the sequence is beautiful and real.


Darned if we do and darned if we don't. At first it was believed that only a moron could have written the BoM -- even Mark Twain believed that. Nowadays the consensus is that he must have been a genius. Which one is it?


Anonymous said...

In fact, I'd say that that methodology is a good example of what Jeff's talking about on this thread: False positives.

Now sit down and create your own chiasmus of similar length. Take all the time you need. Let it breath a little so it isn't stifled be structure and recount a beautiful life changing event.


Anonymous said...

Of note in the Helaman 6 chiastic passage is the following:

The phrase "an exceeding plenty" is currently found in Google books in a 1645 book and in a 1713 book (2nd ed.):

1645 EEBO A48432 John Lightfoot [1602–1675] A commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles
did bring in provisions in an exceeding plenty to the Jewes at Jerusalem for their sustenance in the famine,

"Exceeding rich" demonstrates a type for which the earliest text is completely consistent, against naturalistic expectation: "exceeding(ly)" modifying adjectives never takes the long form. By 1829, "exceedingly" + ADJ predominated and the trend favored it; yet in the dictation, perhaps more than 100 times, we always find "exceeding" + ADJ. These were all edited to the modern {-ly} form in 1920 and 1981. Even the KJB has "exceedingly mad" once.

The heavy "did" use with infinitives in this passage is found only in writings of the 16th and 17th centuries.

"There was" with plural complements was much more common in eModE than in modE. Because the dictation has many more indicia of being a literate, formal text than an illiterate, informal text, it is a better fit with eModE in this regard.

Curious has the older meaning of 'skillful':

1687 EEBO A31771 Charles I, King of England [1600–1649] Basiliká the works of King Charles the martyr
for He brought some of the most curious Workmen from Forein Parts to make them here in England.

The suffix -yahu matches Yahweh in the center of the chiasm.

Two of the above are strong indicators of eModE, and the match of a Hebrew suffix with the tetragrammaton is compelling, occurring at the center of a Hebrew poetic structure. Helaman 6:9-11 is a virtuosic display of eModE and Hebrew poetics.

Glenn Thigpen said...

@Orbiting Kolob,
I implicitly said that I was speaking tongue-in-cheek. However, I would like to point out a that there are a lot of people, non-LDS even, that are finding problems with the peer review process.
There is a process called after publication review where any interested (qualified) party can provide a peer review of the article or whatever in question. In the case of Stanford Carmack's work on eModE in the Book of Mormon, it is available for anyone interested and qualified to review the process that Stanford used to arrive at his conclusions and to actually engage with the conclusions themselves. That has not happened thus far.

You also seem to be using a double standard for levels of evidence critical to the LDS scholarship, at least for yourself. You have asserted that Joseph could have produced the chiasmus in the Book of Mormon because he (a) was very familiar with the bible and (b) was trying to imitate Biblical language, etc. and thus unwittingly produced those structures. However you have produced no evidence to back up that assertion, and one poster has even pointed to a negative result when another author imitated the biblical language in "The late War" and did not really produce any chiasmus. I did look at you link, and I am glad that you said that the chiasmus was "invented".

You also keep harping on the eMode that Stanford has investigated as being part of the Texas Sharp Shooter syndrome. However, it has been pointed out several times that finding eMode in the book of Mormon, at the especially at the frequencies noted, was serendipitous. It was noted by Royal Skousen while working on his Book of Mormon Critical Text project and Stanford has followed up on that with his research.


Quantumleap42 said...

So Orbiting, let me see if I understand what you are proposing. Joseph Smith reads the Bible (I think that answers your first question), wants to imitate the language and "feel" of it so he unconsciously inserts chiasmus into the text. That is quite the claim. To back that up I hope you have solid evidence that doing that is possible. As pointed out by other commenters just because someone can write a couplet doesn't mean they can write a sonnet.

What you are proposing would be roughly equivalent to high school students reading Shakespeare's plays, wanting to write one of their own, and without thinking about it, even knowing anything about sonnets, manage to insert several sonnets into their play. If it is that easy then there should be loads of evidence of students, never having heard of a sonnet, but still suffered through Shakespeare's plays, managing to unconsciously produce sonnets in their writing.

The chiasmus in Alma 36 and in other places in the BoM are not random groupings of words that, if you squint hard enough and roll enough dice, form some sort of structure. They are comparable to the large chiasmus found in Deuteronomy 8 and Numbers 8 in that Bible. They are definite and objectively verifiable. If the chiasmus in the BoM are something that "anyone familiar with the KJV in the 19th century could have done", then there must be evidence of other people naturally producing chiasmus in their writing when they tried to imitate the Bible. Do you have evidence of that happening, or is Joseph Smith the only one? If he is the only one, then why is that? What made him special that he could do something that no one else had done?

As for your question about whether or not Joseph could read, if you were trying to make a point by asking the question, your purpose entirely escaped me. Quite frankly it strikes me as rather odd since whether or not he could read was ever in question. But there are several statements from Joseph Smith and others that he did learn how to read and write. I believe the earliest manuscript we have that was written by him personally is a letter dated "March 3th [sic] 1831". (btw, that letter is interesting because he misspells several words, the general flow is awkward and he manages to misspell Oliver Cowdery's name. Not really what you would expect from the word-smith (ha! pun!) that "wrote" the BoM.) Anyway, it is clear that by at least 1831 he could read.

James Anglin said...

I don't see any part of the Book of Mormon that could sustain the sort of argument Muslims have traditionally made for the Qu'ran — that it is writing too beautiful to be the work of any human being. So the question about Alma 36 is simply: Which human being wrote it? Joseph Smith (or some collaborator of his)? Or Alma? If Alma could have written it, why couldn't Smith?

What advantages would Alma have had over Smith, that would have helped him to write chiasms?

Alma (if he existed) might have been steeped in Hebrew literature; but Joseph Smith was more steeped in ancient Hebrew literature than any Nephite could ever have been. Smith had the whole Hebrew Bible, and he heard it all his life.

It's not clear that Alma would have been any more consciously aware of chiasmus as a literary device than Smith was. Alma didn't have a PhD, either. There's no reason to think that any ancient poets knew the terms that later critics would apply to their technical tricks. Homer wrote no footnotes about synecdoche.

If Alma would nonetheless have known enough to aim at chiasmus because it would make his writing sound nice, Smith could have reached that same knowledge, too, just by hearing enough Old Testament.

Of course it's one thing to have the goal of chiasmus, and another thing entirely to achieve the goal well. But beyond the mere intention of trying to work in some reverse repetition, the tricky work of actually pulling it off would have been no easier for Alma than for Smith. If Alma could do it, why not Smith?

James Anglin said...

@ Jack: I agree, it sort of is "damned if you do and damned if you don't." But to me it doesn't seem that critics are inconsistently making Joseph Smith out to be both idiot and genius. It's that Mormons are exaggerating Smith's achievement, in order to make it seem superhuman, and so support his claim to be a prophet.

When critics perceive his achievements as much less than that, Mormons counter that his achievements were far too great for an average guy. But 'either true prophet or stupid bumpkin' is a false dichotomy. The truth is somewhere between those distant extremes. So Smith was much less brilliant than a historic genius, but much smarter than an average schmoe. That's the damned-both-ways, as I see it.

In fact this is the problem with the whole premise of apologetic arguments that are based on the extraordinary nature of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is extraordinary, but only so far. Only one person in a hundred could have written anything like it; or maybe one person in a thousand, or in ten thousand. If you don't believe that, well, maybe you just don't know enough people. I really don't see the number going as high as 100,000.

One-in-ten-thousand may sound like impressive odds ... but this is once again a Sharpshooter Fallacy. We didn't pick Joseph Smith out at birth, by random, and then find that he produced the Book of Mormon. Instead we waited until the whole religion-drenched Burnt Over District of early 19th century New England produced a successful sect founder, and then we looked at the book he produced to found his sect. We let history sort through a few hundred thousand people for us. It's no great wonder if the person it found was a remarkable guy.

But how common have true prophets been, in the past millennium? Even one-in-a-million is surely too high a rate. Probably one-in-a-billion is closer — if that.

So all the Mormon apologetic arguments about how remarkable the Book of Mormon is, as a book, amount to this:
1) Not a man in ten thousand could possibly have faked the Book of Mormon!
2) Therefore Joseph Smith must have been a man in a billion!
Now that we're talking seriously about statistical fallacies, I hope the gap in this argument is clear. The gap is just too wide. Smith was no average guy, but neither was he one-in-a-billion.

Anonymous said...

Anglin, you're out of your depth here, despite your apparent sincere earnestness. Your numbers are mild and #2 above is not what apologists claim. The event was controlled by deity, and another conduit could have been used.

Anonymous said...


There's a much simpler explanation: The Book of Mormon is what it claims to be.


Quantumleap42 said...


Alma was the designated record keeper of his people. And as pointed out by Jeff there are three versions of his conversion recorded in the BoM. The first two are loose and more along the lines of "here's what happened", while the third recorded in Alma 36 comes late in his life after he presumably had time to develop it into a complex structure. (As a side note, that indicates a natural progression from young man and convert to mature scholar without explicitly mentioning it or talking about it, something you would expect from a historical document and not from a spontaneously produced narrative.)

To say that "Joseph Smith was more steeped in ancient Hebrew literature than any Nephite could ever have been" is quite a stretch since Alma presumably learned Hebrew and was the designated record keeper, while Joseph Smith only began to learn Hebrew years after publishing the BoM.

As for your claim that there are many people who "could have written anything like it", where is the evidence? If there are so many people out there who could have done it, why haven't they? If 1 in 10,000 could have done it then at least some of the 12+ million people in the US in 1830 should have written something comparable. If it were possible, then statistically there should be several books equivalent to the BoM. Where is your evidence? To use the Texas sharp shooter analogy, where are all the other bullet holes? If you claim that it is nothing special, then you have to show that there are others like it.

Anonymous said...

Hi James,

Taking the humanist approach that you have started. Take it a step further now using the numbers you have produced. Let's say 1 in 10,000 could produce a book similar to the Book of Mormon, couple that with the odds of a successful sect leader coming around. What are the odds of those two combined? And, still with the humanist approach that you are taking, I would argue that 1 in 10,000 is still too low for the Book of Mormon given that there are millions of people who have been converted because of the book. How many books have produced those kinds of numbers?

So, the combination of a successful sect leader coupled with a book that has managed to convert millions, I think we have found our 1 in a billion person.


Ryan said...

I've mentioned this before, but there is an interesting hypothesis as to why Alma might have been able to produce chiasmus, and Smith would not. I think many of us Mormons at least accept the possibility that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica. Interestingly, the Maya document Popol Vuh contains various instances of chiasmus, some fairly complex (see here. If there was any connection between the Maya and the Nephites, then it seems plausible that Alma, who kept records, may have been trained in that form of poetry. Even if he called it something else. On the other hand, I can see little reason to believe that Smith should have been trained in any ancient Hebrew poetry. The point that he was familiar with the Bible has already been addressed, but just because I've read Shakespeare doesn't mean I will be unconsciously write in iambic pentameter while trying to emulate him, particularly if iambic pentameter has not been identified as a major part of Shakespearean texts. There's my two cents.

James Anglin said...


I realize that Smith didn't know the Hebrew language when the Book of Mormon appeared. But the Book of Mormon (as we have it) isn't written in Hebrew. The kind of steeping in Hebrew literature that one needs, in order to write chiasms in English, is just steeping in Hebrew rhetorical structures, not steeping in Hebrew grammar and vocabulary. Rhetorical structures like chiasmus survive translation very well, or we wouldn't be having this discussion. The English Bible with which Joseph Smith was surely familiar provides plenty of steeping in Hebrew rhetorical structures like chiasmus.

I suppose it's conceivable that the Nephites either preserved or created a larger body of Hebrew literature than the Old Testament, which was subsequently lost to history, and Alma got steeped better from this larger literature than Smith got steeped from just the Old Testament. This would be pure speculation, however. If we disallow arguments based on pure speculation, then my claim that Smith was more steeped in Hebrew rhetoric than Alma could have been would have to stand.

And even if we allow speculative hypotheses about Alma's superior steeping, it's still not clear that only Alma could have been steeped enough to manage Book of Mormon chiasmus. Even Smith's weaker steeping, in just the Old Testament, would have been sufficient, because if the Old Testament weren't sufficient to convey the idea of chiasmus as a thing to do if you want to sound Biblical, then no-one would ever have claimed chiasmus as a Hebraism, and we wouldn't be discussing it.

James Anglin said...


It's interesting that Mayan literature also uses chiasmus. In fact a lot of literatures do, because chiasmus is a pretty simple device, at least until you start building it up to seven layers or whatever.

But that's why the notion of being trained in chiasmus seems weird to me. On the one hand it seems to me that no great training is needed, just to get the basic idea. And on the other hand it's not clear to me that any amount of training is going to make it easy to construct large and complex chiasms. You're still going to have to hammer out the particular text, and manage to make it seem coherent and not too awkward.

So I still just don't see how even a Mayan cultural context would have made Book of Mormon chiasms substantially easier for Alma than they would have been for Joseph Smith.

Orbiting Kolob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Orbiting Kolob said...

Ryan writes, just because I've read Shakespeare doesn't mean I will unconsciously write in iambic pentameter while trying to emulate him....

Actually, I bet you probably would imitate his iambic pentameter.

But anyway, suppose the following were to apply:

(1) Mr. Jones is very familiar with Shakespeare, in fact, more familiar with Shakespeare's works than any other text; and

(2) Mr. Jones does not normally write or speak in iambic pentameter, and furthermore has never even heard the term "iambic pentameter"; and

(3) For whatever reason, Mr. Jones writes a text using a lot of iambic pentameter.

Would we take seriously someone who then says this? -- "Hey, look! Mr. Jones could not have possibly written that book, because it uses a lot of iambic pentameter, and he's never formally studied poetics. He doesn't even know what the term iambic pentameter means!"

Would we take seriously someone who says this? -- "Hmmm. I don't know where that iambic pentameter came from, but it couldn't have come from Mr. Jones's familiarity with Shakespeare. Nope. No way. It's just a mystery...."

James Anglin said...

@anonymous 8:42:

Calling me 'out of my depth' is argumentum ad hominem, and the problem with that is that it's irrelevant. If my argument is good, then my depth doesn't matter. If my argument is bad, then my depth doesn't matter then, either.

I believe you're right that the essential Mormon doctrine about the Book of Mormon doesn't really depend on Joseph Smith being one-in-a-billion. As you say, there could have been other conduits; the main point is that the Book of Mormon was divinely revealed.

But the rate of such divine revelations seems to on the order of once per several billion human lifetimes. Whereas production of remarkable books happens much more often. The essential point of my critique doesn't depend on Joseph Smith himself, either. It's the Book of Mormon may be quite extraordinary as books go, without being nearly extraordinary enough that it could only be divinely revealed.

And for Mormon doctrine in general I believe that Joseph Smith himself is much more important. I understand that not all that much of Mormon doctrine really comes from the Book of Mormon. The part that the Book of Mormon mainly seems to play in Mormonism is proving that Joseph Smith, Jr., was a prophet of God. It's Smith's later revelations that provide the distinctive theology and practices of Mormonism. Or is this wrong?

Suppose hypothetically that the Book of Mormon were somehow proven to be genuine, but it was also somehow proven that Joseph Smith was a fraud, who murdered the prophet who had really translated the golden plates, and took his place. How much of Mormonism would remain?

Ryan said...

I don't think anyone is saying it was easy for Alma to construct complex chiasmus. Only that it was done deliberately. As Jeff and others have pointed out, there were several intervening years between his conversion (and the initial tellings of it) and the telling as we have it in Alma 36. And the idea that Alma lived in or near a culture where chiasmus was apparently deliberately used suggests that Alma (and other BoM folks) may have been formally taught that particular poetic form, even though I'm sure they applied some name other than "chiasmus." Joseph Smith, on the other hand, lived in a time and place where, although that construct certainly existed in the at least one book that people commonly had, it was not formally taught or even recognized as a poetic form.

Ryan said...

I think if Mr. Jones were saying the whole time "I wrote this," then no, the conclusion would not be that iambic pentameter must mean the work came from somewhere else. If, however, the sequence went something like this:
1) Mr. Jones claims to have found a new work by Shakespeare.
2) Decades later, after Mr. Jones' death, some scholar discovers that iambic pentameter is a major component of Shakespeare's work, and
3) THEN someone finds that Mr. Jones' document also contains iambic pentameter,

that would at least be evidence in favor of Mr. Jones' original claims.

Orbiting Kolob said...

Jeff writes, In Alma 36, Alma tells a story that he's already told twice before....

A conversion so nice, he had to tell it thrice!

It's great poetry, cool literature, worthy of respect....

I disagree. For one thing, its language is hackneyed -- e.g., my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins.... This is not great poetry, just the regurgitation of revivalist cliches. Plenty of great early American Christian writers -- William Bradford, Mary Rowlandson, Jonathan Edwards, John Woolman -- managed to write genuinely moving stuff that qualifies as literary art. Alma 36 doesn't hold a candle.

James Anglin said...

Further @ Quantumleap42:

When I said that maybe one person in ten thousand could have faked the Book of Mormon, I really meant 'could have'. How many would have? That's a lower figure. Most of the people who could have done it would have been too honest to do anything like that — or else would have planned on a safer way of getting fame and power and additional spouses.

But okay, motive and opportunity are both needed for a crime. Including motivation, people who both could and would have faked a Book of Mormon are probably much rarer than one in ten thousand. I don't think my main point needs revision, though.

If an office tower has a hundred tenth-floor windows, and one of those is broken, then it makes sense to point out that only one person in ten thousand could throw a rock as high as the tenth floor. The fact that one particular window had to be picked, out of a hundred, doesn't make the crime any more extraordinary than that one-in-ten-thousand figure. Given such an amazing throwing arm, the particular window hit could just have been any of them. If you find a suspect with that arm in ten thousand, he won't have much luck with a defense that says, "Hey, it's a one-in-a-hundred shot that I would have hit that particular window!"

Of the one-in-ten-thousand who could have pulled off a remarkable fraud, very few would ever choose to produce exactly the Book of Mormon. Most would have tried something else, which would have been equally unlikely. In fact there have been very many ingenious writers whose writings that have persuaded many followers to high commitment. Karl Marx, Emanuel Swedenborg, Helena Blavatsky, Mary Baker Eddy, Ellen White, L. Ron Hubbard, Rudolf Steiner, ... bah. You can surely list many more than these, for yourself.

Not hundreds of millions, no. Founding a religion is definitely rarer than one-in-ten-thousand, I agree; but it's still much less rare than being a true prophet, probably by a factor closer to hundred than to ten. And if the ultimate impact of Joseph Smith was more at the one-in-a-hundred-million level, a lot of that luck is attributable to being in his particular place and time, with a mobile population and an open frontier within reach. Not every sect leader has a Utah to which their sect can move.

James Anglin said...


But how important is it for chiasmus to have been formally taught, or even recognized as a poetic form? It's a simple pattern. You don't have to articulate it as a thing to imitate it. It may take some ingenuity to perform a complex chiasmus, but the kind of ingenuity it takes is not a special kind of ingenuity that is needed for chiasmus alone. The general facility with language that any good preacher needs would suffice to produce fairly elaborate chiasms. And chiasmus is a particularly convenient device for padding out a text to make it longer, because it lets you say everything twice, without being so obvious as just to repeat it exactly.

A major poet could certainly manage some fine chiasmus, without formal training in chiasmus specifically. What is the chance that Joseph Smith, Jr., was at all close to being major poet? Low, for sure. But not nearly as low as the chance that he was an inspired prophet, because poets are much more common than prophets. This is the unavoidably uphill battle that apologetic arguments from the extraordinary nature of the Book of Mormon seem to me to face.

Orbiting Kolob said...

Jeff, your excerpt of Alma 36 is 220 words; Alma 36 in total is about 1,231. So you've left out more than 1,000 words of a 1,231-word passage. Yes, I know you did so in order to make the chiastic signal stand out from the noise of the larger text. But maybe instead of making a pre-existing pattern visible, you've actually created a pattern where none existed before.

Consider. Between the lines you've identified as (m) and (n) -- between the structural elements "MY LIMBS were paralyzed" and "Fear of being in the PRESENCE OF GOD," there are the following 165 words:

And the angel spake more things unto me, which were heard by my brethren, but I did not hear them; for when I heard the WORDS—If thou wilt be destroyed of thyself, seek no more to destroy the church of GOD—I was struck with such great fear and amazement lest perhaps I should be destroyed, that I fell to the earth and I did hear no more. But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins. Yea, I did REMEMBER all my sins and iniquities, for which I was a tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy COMMANDMENTS. Yea, and I had a murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into….

Two comments:

(1) Within this excised text are several key words (in caps above) from other structural elements of Alma 36. It seems to me that the presence of these words here, "out of order," as it were, weakens if not destroys the chiastic pattern.

(2) The chiastic elements are not of words/phrases, but concepts/images. That's fine, but it seems to that this "chiasm of ideas," if we may call it that, is destroyed by the introduction of other ideas/images "out of order." In the excised passage above, such non-chiastically-placed items would include:

-- the speaking of angel

-- the threat of being destroyed

-- being racked with torment, "harrowed up," etc.

-- rebelling against God and "murder[ing] many of his children"

It seems to me that a chiasmus might legitimately include non-chiastic elements if those elements are comparatively minor, but these elements are not minor. These elements that are left out of the chiasm, or that appear twice (at least once out-of-order) seem every bit as important as some of the elements within it. To illustrate, let me offer this perfectly good little chiasmus:

I have made up my mind, and my mind shall stay made up.

There are two important ideas here, and two elements of the chiasmus. Here's a not-so-good little chiasmus:

Yesterday I made up my mind, and chose beef stroganoff for dinner. And while dining on my stroganoff, I decided that the king shall be executed tomorrow.

If one omits the two major non-chiastic elements here -- the king, the execution -- one can easily see the chiastic structure (with the non-chiastic, out of place elements in brackets]:

a. yesterday
b. made up my mind
c. stroganoff
d. dinner
d.' dining
c.' stroganoff
b.' decided
a.' tomorrow

So, what should we say here? Perhaps we shouldn't count this as a chiasmus at all -- not so much because the pattern is broken, but because of the importance of the elements that break it. Or perhaps we should say, Well, it's kind of chiastic, but it's not very effective at doing what Jeff says that a good chiasm does, which is "to give emphasis to key portions of the poetry." It simply fails to emphasize too much key stuff.

To conclude: At best, Alma 36 is not a very good chiasmus (and certainly not any kind of artistic triumph). At worst, it is an illusion created by excising so much non-chiastic material.

Orbiting Kolob said...

James makes a good point about chiasmus: It's a simple pattern.

Yes. Chiasmus is an extremely simple pattern. A-B-B-A. A-B-C-C-B-A. Etc.

It's also an extremely simple pattern to scale up.

How simple is it to whip up a 5-level chiasmus without being a literary genius? Even for an amateur writer, a chiasmus of 5 levels can be created easily. In fact, with no more time or trouble than it took me to write the preceding two sentences.

Anonymous said...

OK 4:58: E&E 2004 address word~thought interpolation in chiasmus. You might want to see how they account for that in Alma 36 in their Monte Carlo simulations.

Orbiting Kolob said...

Anon 6:31, we can see part of the problem with E&E's methodology right up front when they write this:

Short chiasms are not uncommon in literature. In some cases, the authors undoubtedly intended to use that form for literary effect (that is, by design); in other cases, the elements fell into that form without author intent (that is, by chance).

The main problem -- a fatal problem -- lies in equating linguistic structures that appear without author intent with those that appear by chance.

Why is this a problem? The short answer is that we all routinely produce highly organized linguistic structures without specifically intending to. When a driver cuts into my lane and I yell Watch where you're going, ya dope!, I might have intended to tell him off, but I didn't intend to use any particular sentence structure, word choice, etc. I didn't think to myself, "Hmm, I think I'll lead off with an imperative verb, throw in a bit of slang, and end with an insult." But that hardly means that I used the structure I did by chance. I followed a basic pattern that I'd internalized.

Language use is far more complex than E&E assume. Between author intent and chance lies an entire realm they fail to acknowledge.

They repeat this mistake when they write:

In this study, we develop additional quantitative tools for calculating the likelihood that the chiastic structure of a passage of text could have emerged by chance. From this statistical analysis, one can infer, in some cases, that chiastic structure was likely created intentionally by its author, that is, by design.

They're missing a couple of important things here. As I said, without author intent is not the same as by chance. The arrangement of words and phrases and ideas in any ordinary written text is never random; their arrangement is always governed by our internalized knowledge of grammar as well as by larger organizational and rhetorical structures. The writer might not be wholly conscious of all these governing factors -- which is to say, non-randomizing factors. In fact, typically when we write or speak, we are more typically thinking consciously of the ideas we intend to express, and less consciously of the grammatical and structural ways in which we will express them. Our grammatical knowledge in particular is typically so deeply internalized that we rarely have to apply it with conscious intent.

So there's an entire very important level of composition that takes place pretty much unconsciously -- but not at all randomly or "by chance" -- and thus cannot be described in terms of "intent." The fact that E&E keep equating chance with lack of intent, in a way that ignores this important level, tells me that they should have devoted as much thought to linguistics as they did to statistics.

If I may make an additional, minor point: E&E spend a bit of time taking down the Tanners' claim that a D&C passage contains a 5-level chiasmus, then move on without acknowledging that the passage clearly does contain (at least) a 2-level chiasmus:

(d) for there is no space
(e) in the which there is no kingdom,
(e ́) and there is no kingdom
(d ́) in which there is no space

It's as if someone promised me the moon and the stars, and I complain when they deliver only the moon. This wouldn't be worth mentioning except for the misleading implication that because the passage does not contain the proffered 5-level chiasmus, it contains no chiasmus at all.

Anyway, if E&E had been serious about understanding chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, as opposed to doing apologetics, they'd have worked more closely with some linguists to align their statistical approach with the extremely complex realities of language use. And they would have sought publication at a legitimate academic journal instead of BYU Studies.

Anonymous said...


Can you show one example of chiastic structure from any other non-scriptural text that matches the level of complexity found in Alma 36?

Because it seems like there should be other similar chiasms to be found in the world of english literature if, indeed, Alma 36 is merely an artifact of "stream of consciousness."


James Anglin said...

That's probably a pretty good challenge, Jack. The skeptical hypothesis is that similar methodology to that of E&E would identify complex chiasmus at some significant rate in all texts. Just how significant?

Well, nobody is claiming that the whole Book of Mormon is all deep chiasmus, all the time. So maybe the E&E method only creates false-positive chiasmus once or twice in a hundred pages or so. And maybe it also helps if the text is following a constrained genre in which a small number of stock items always tend to get mentioned, like Alma's account of a conversion experience.

To rule out the skeptical hypothesis decisively would therefore take quite a lot of testing. It would be much more work than E&E did, in just looking through the Book of Mormon.

But maybe the skeptics are lucky this time, and the E&E methodology is actually really powerful at producing false-positive chiasmus. This would be the worst-case scenario for Mormon apologetics based on chiasmus, since it would essentially eliminate the argument entirely. But it would be pretty easy to test for this worst-case scenario, by picking just a couple of plausible target texts — a few longish sermons, say. That might only take a few hours of work, or at most a couple of days.

So a really dedicated critic should probably try that. Turn the E&E method onto a couple old sermons, and see what comes out. But a really dedicated Mormon apologist should also try that same experiment.

After all, if the E&E approach to chiasmus is worthless, then you don't want to put a lot of effort into defending your beliefs with a bogus claim. First of all, it's immoral. The God of truth does not want to be defended with lies. And secondly it's dangerous. If the E&E method is bad, and the first person to demonstrate this out is a skeptic, then years of chiasmus-based apologetics that get discredited would end up having done more harm than good. It would be better for the apologists to learn that bad news first, so they can back off from chiasmus and work on something else.

I can't really say that I'm a really dedicated skeptic. I feel no calling to convert Mormons, and I'm pretty busy. I'm intrigued by Jack's test, and I'd like to try it, but I'm not sure when I'm really going to find those few hours to put into doing it myself. But there are certainly some pretty dedicated Mormon apologists. Maybe one of them could give Jack's test a try, and report the results.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Orbiting, you raise a fair point and have appropriately pointed to a significant weak spot in Alma 36. Yes, sometimes the task of telling the details of a story just won't fit well into a chiasmus, which is why there can be slop in the less important mid sections away from the emphatic pivot point and end points, where the chiasmic elements in Alma 36 are quite nice. But you're right about the many important elements in this loose region--enough of them, in fact, that I suspect there might be something more going on in this chiasmus, if it's authentic and intentional, that is. One idea I'll explore later that at first glance looks interesting is that Walter Bruggeman's important article on "Rising from the Dust" (might have the title wrong--on the run right now and will check that later) might give us an important insight to help see this tale in a new light. Tentative guess -- stay tuned, but I hope I'll have something worthwhile to discuss. If so, of course, it's just more of some pathetic fallacy, of course.

Jeff Lindsay said...

One more thought: the tangent I'm looking at is that the theme of falling to the ground relates to the fall to the dust theme of Bruggeman, which would contrast nicely with being born again. Started thinking about that thanks to your comments, so if it turns out to be interesting, many thanks! Thanks in any case for raising some good questions.

Anonymous said...

The production of novel, 7-level chiasmus like Mosiah 5:10-12 and Helaman 6:9-11 would have been extremely unlikely in a steadily dictated text without prior composition, which is what the BofM is. To argue otherwise is to go against evidence, reason, and experience. The number of levels is important because two or three, not unlikely, but beyond that, each level makes the structure less likely. Virtually no one could keep track of seven levels and reproduce them in inverted order in oral dictation. Most people can juggle one ball between two hands, many can do three, hardly anyone can do five, virtually no one can do seven, although there are some, who have worked really hard. Is there evidence JSJr worked really hard on chiastic production? He didn't even know they were in the text. No one did till Welch in 1967. Add to that the subtle complexity of some of the chiasms. In Helaman 6 a Hebrew suffix and the word Lord match at the center. Moreover, the form of the language involved was foreign to the "author", and as just pointed out, form is generally produced subconsciously, as opposed to content.

To reiterate:

Production of 7-level chiasmus in steady dictation -- highly unlikely.
Hebrew suffix ~ word match at center -- highly unlikely.
Use of (non)biblical eModE form throughout chiasm -- highly unlikely.
Much the same can be said for other chiastic structures in the text.

The above is understandable based on the claims of those involved in the production of the text; it is extremely unlikely from the point of view of Smith as author.

Anonymous said...

Alma 36 is identified as a 15-level chaism -- with the atonement smack-dab in the middle -- here:


And you'll notice that there are several areas where the thematic content of a given level takes a little more explanation than in others. Orbiting points out the largest of these but it is by no means the only one. I think the real question is whether the "slop" in those areas deviates from the theme of that respective level. A quick perusal will show the reader that it does, indeed, stay on task.


Orbiting Kolob said...

Anon 1:52, thanks for the sample chiasms. They're okay, but not works of great literary art. Both strike me as pretty loose or baggy. Let me explain what I mean by citing this famous, very "tight" chiasm:

Madam, I'm Adam.

Here not a single element is out of place. Everything fits the pattern, from the letters, to the words, to the main ideas: "I" is at the center, where it belongs, since the main idea is a speaker introducing himself. On either side are the names of the introducee and introducer. A chiasm probably can't be any tighter than this one.

It's also a very short chiasm. I understand that as chiasms get longer, they inevitably become less perfect. Inevitably, things will start to appear that don't fit the pattern. Words/phrases/ideas not present one on side of the pivot will start to appear on the other, as here:

(d) And I would that ye should remember also, that this is the name
(d´) I would that ye should remember to retain the name written always in your hearts

This Mosiah 5 chiasm is weakened by having an important metaphor (writing in the heart) in one line but not the other. Things are starting to get "loose."

Also as chiasms get longer, words/phrases/ideas might appear on both sides, but no longer be very parallel. At that point the chiastic structure can start to break down and become so inobvious that readers need to have things explained to them, as in Heleman 6:

(g) which was after the son of Zedekiah;
(g´) for the Lord

Here, at the pivotal point, we have hardly any parallelism at all. Is which was after the son of Zedekiah really parallel to for the Lord? Not much. If a skilled ancient author was really trying to be artistic, could he not have done better than this?

Remember the basic apologetic argument: that the production of these chiasms would have been beyond JS's ability. These chiasms, we are told, are so great they must be the work of an ancient writer skilled in the finer points of Hebrew poetry. Obviously, the more skillful the chiasms, the stronger this argument.

I see this argument as weak. It would be one thing if these purported ancient authors actually demonstrated some exceptional literary skills in general. But they don't. They are wordy and repetitive. Their characters are shallow, their images dull, etc. And when they do try their hand at a technique like chiasmus, the results are pretty meh -- certainly no better than JS could have done.

But wait, you will say: Joseph couldn't have written these chiasmuses because he didn't know about chiasmus! I've dealt with this objection elsewhere; here let me just say that it takes two forms: (1) JS didn't know that chiasmus was a "thing," and (2) even if he did know about chiasmus and set out to produce some, he lacked the skill to produce such grand works of chiasmatic art; such wonders could have been produced only by a skilled ancient scribe.

I've responded in detail to (1) elsewhere, explaining why there's no reason to think JS could not have produced chiasmus while mimicking the biblical style in general. In this comment I'm basically responding to (2) above, by explaining why I don't find the BoM chiasmuses all that wonderful in the first place.

If an author -- ancient or modern -- were trying to write great chiasms, he would have done much better than we see in the BoM. The defects are so obvious, and so easily correctable, that they could have and would have been corrected by an author with a modicum of literary taste and skill. If the aim was literary excellence, much of the "bagginess" could have and would have been edited out. It seems much more likely that the author lacked literary taste and skill, and/or that the aim was hewing to the biblical style generally, not writing wonderful chiasmuses specifically.

Hard to say which. But the bottom line is that I see no reason to think JS couldn't have written these passages.

Orbiting Kolob said...

Anon 7:29, how unlikely is it that some random individual could begin composing classical music at the age of five? Exceeding unlikely. Yet Mozart did it. Exceptional people with exceptional abilities do exceptional things, and on a planet with billions of people, odds are very good that we will see various kinds of exceptional people with various kinds of amazing skills. Human history is replete with odd kinds of genius. There's no a priori reason to say Joseph Smith couldn't have had the peculiar kind of ability to do things like produce lengthy (but loose and baggy) chiasmuses. Much stranger things have happened.

Why can't we just admit that JS had exceptional abilities, that he was a certain kind of genius? The apologists would have us believe that he lacked exceptional abilities merely because he had little formal education. This is frankly one of their most embarrassing ideas, almost as bad as their idiotic "Book of Mormon challenge."

Jerome said...

Jeff or Mormanity,

I can think of no better example of the Texas sharpshooter fallacy than the early modern English arguments, when presented as evidence for prophetic ability. No scholar or apologist predicted that if the Book of Mormon is inspired, it would contain EModE. Why would they? Examples of EModE were eventually discovered, someone concluded that this was unlikely, and therefore Joseph Smith must have received the translation through divine means, divine means being the best explanation for an unlikely finding.

One of the problems with the Texas sharpshooter approach is that it relies on retrospectively collected evidence. The target was chosen after the shots were fired. Retrospectively collected evidence is OK for hypothesis generation, but the hypothesis needs to be confirmed in a prospective manner, and the rules for what counts as a hit need to be drawn up before the game is played.

My question to you is, do you not agree that the EModE based arguments for evidence for prophetic ability are exemplary of the fallacious reasoning that you outline in this blog post? If you do agree, why do you present them on your blog episodically?

James Anglin said...

@anonymous 7:29 AM:

In what way does it "go against evidence, reason, and experience" to suppose that some of the more complex Book of Mormon passages may have been written out, rather than dictated on the fly? I really have no idea what you might mean when you say that this hypothesis goes against reason and experience.

As to "evidence", I understand that several eyewitness accounts do claim that the text was dictated. But do these accounts describe the dictation of those complex passages, specifically? Or do they refer only to other parts of the text? I see no reason to suppose that the whole Book must have been dictated extemporaneously, just because parts of it apparently were.

And of course the accounts of people like Oliver Cowdery and Emma Smith are not exactly beyond all suspicion of collusion. If the choice is between ancient writings preserved on gold plates delivered and then recovered by an angel, and the possibility that Smith's wife overlooked a little cribbing on his part, I'm afraid I'm inclined to go with the cribbing. I don't think it's fair to say I'm "going against evidence" just because I refuse to accept every claim made by self-professed witnesses with obvious conflicts of interest.

Anonymous said...

The witnesses are solid 'cause they repeatedly and consistently maintained their view against self-interest.

OK, let's stipulate that Smith was a virtuoso in terms of being able to dictate a few complex chiasms in the course of the dictation, several of which don't appear to be "loose and baggy" to me.

Under that scenario, JSJr still needed to have knowledge of earlier English that wasn't derivable from the Bible whose language he was "steeped" in (we'll stipulate further that he was steeped in King James English). So we must believe without evidence that Smith's dialect contained a significant amount of obsolete English vocabulary, forms, syntax, and systematic tendencies not found in the KJV. In this case, it matters not that Smith might have been a genius. That could not have given him knowledge of obsolete language.

We combine those and we have a situation that was extremely unlikely: a virtuoso in chiasmus whose idiolect was full of English usage that no dialect of his time has been documented as having.

Anonymous said...

Jerome, I think you mean "seeric" ability.

"someone concluded that [eModE in the BofM] was unlikely". A large amount of eModE, not derivable from the King James Bible, is surely objectively unlikely for a text produced in 1829 by a non-specialist (in eModE) as the BofM was.

"the rules for what counts as a hit need to be drawn up before the game is played." The textual data of the BofM is essentially fixed (one can quibble over a conjectural emendation here or there). It can be analyzed and re-analyzed any time and compared with the textual record. Over time eModE patterns will be documented and understood better and better. The apologist will tend to allow more hits, and the critic fewer. The critic actually has more invested in denying hits than the apologist does in positing hits. On the one hand, the apologist knows that just a few solid hits make a reasonable case for the asserted divine origins of the text. So the apologist doesn't care if one particular chiastic passage is diffuse because there are tight chiastic passages. And the apologist doesn't care if a given linguistic feature turns out to be biblical or to have been modern as well as early modern, because there are features that are certainly old and nonbiblical. On the other hand, the critic knows that a few solid hits in hard areas such as linguistic and chiastic form substantially damage the case for fraudulent production. As a result, it is reasonable to assert that critics are inescapably more biased in dismissing possible hits than apologists are in claiming possible hits.

This bears repeating: in this domain critics are necessarily more biased than apologists.

Anonymous said...


"How unlikely is it that some random individual could begin composing classical music at the age of five? Exceeding unlikely. Yet Mozart did it. Exceptional people with exceptional abilities do exceptional things, and on a planet with billions of people, odds are very good that we will see various kinds of exceptional people with various kinds of amazing skills."

True. Nevertheless, we have to remember that Mozart was trained by his father at a very young age in a medium that was a product of his immediate culture. If Mozart we're an eskimo or an Australian aborigine he may not have had the proper nurture that was necessary for his genius to flourish.

So it is with Joseph Smith. Here we have a man who was *not* trained, mentored, or nurtured by any individual or culture to prepare him to succeed in letters. He built fences and felled trees -- that's how he spent his days.

That said, I do believe that Joseph Smith was incredibly intelligent. In fact I believe he was one of the most intelligent beings to ever walk the planet.


Orbiting Kolob said...

Anon 5:01, there's a 6-level chiasmus in the very first chapter of The Book of the Law of the Lord:

(a) Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain:
(b) thou shalt not usurp dominion
(c) as a ruler; for the name of the Lord thy God
(d) is great and glorious above all other names:
(e) he is above all,
(f) and is the only true God;
(f') the only just and upright King
(e') over all:
(d') he alone hath the right
(c') to rule; and in his name, only he to whom he granteth it:
(b') whosoever is not chosen of him, the same is a usurper, and unholy:
(a') the Lord will not hold him guiltless, for he taketh his name in vain.

This chiasm is weakened, I think, by (d) and (d'), but overall it seems as good as those you've cited from the Book of Mormon.

Now, I doubt very much that you believe James Strang was a genuine prophet translating an ancient text. Unless you're a Strangite, you presumably believe The Book of the Law of the Lord was written by Strang himself in the mid 1800s.

But how could he have possibly written the above chiasmus on his own?

After all, according to LDS apologists, chiasmus wasn't discovered in the Book of Mormon until the 20th century; to the likes of Joseph Smith and James Strang, it was completely unknown.

Apparently, the writing of chiasmus at that time just doesn't mean what you think it does. If Strang could do it using his own powers alone, so could Smith.

As for non-KJV EModE, it's most likely a methodological artifact. All the telltale signs are there. For one thing, the BoM doesn't have any lengthy passages that are entirely EModE, just stray syntactic elements here and there. Second, there's no theological or historical or linguistic reason for non-KJV EModE to be there. Ancient Israelites/Americans wouldn't have used it; Smith didn't know it (unless it was part of his spoken dialect); it has no relation whatsoever to the BoM text or story -- no relation of the sort that Hebrew, Egyptian, or Mayan might have; etc. It's like finding a few elements of what appears to be Swahili syntax in The Great Gatsby: probably a false positive.

Orbiting Kolob said...

Jack, you manage to convey about 2/3 of the truth when you write that we have to remember that Mozart was trained by his father at a very young age in a medium that was a product of his immediate culture. If Mozart we're an eskimo or an Australian aborigine he may not have had the proper nurture that was necessary for his genius to flourish. So it is with Joseph Smith. Here we have a man who was *not* trained, mentored, or nurtured by any individual or culture to prepare him to succeed in letters. He built fences and felled trees -- that's how he spent his days.

Of course, in addition to bulding fences and felling trees, JS also spent at least some of his time trying to convince the gullible that he could use his seer stone to find buried treasure for them.

More important, he spent at least some time reading the Bible, listening to preachers, talking with people like Oliver Cowdery and Sidney Rigdon, wondering which of the many contending Protestant sects in the Burned Over District was right. He lived in a time and place where many people were openly speculating about the possibility that Native Americans were descendants of Israelites, etc., etc.

In other words, JS lived in a time and place steeped in many of the very questions that the Book of Mormon just happens to answer. Just a coincidence, I'm sure.

I agree with you that JS was not "trained or mentored" to write great literature, but so what? He didn't write great literature. He was, however brought up in an environment very conducive to writing something like the Book of Mormon. Had he not lived in early 1800s New England, he wouldn't have written what he did.

In choosing a prophet to reveal his truth about ancient America, God could have gone with an Argentinian vaquero, a Quechua Indian from the shores of Lake Titicaca, a slave-trader from Savannah, Georgia, or a stevedore in Newark, N.J., or whatever.

But instead he chose a glass-looking raconteur from a town a short distance from the author of View of the Hebrews. Just another coincidence, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Here's a more accurate representation of the above:

(a) Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain:
(b, c) thou shalt not usurp dominion as a ruler;
for the name of the Lord thy God is great and glorious above all other names:
(d) he is above all,
(e) and is the only true God;
(e', d') the only just and upright King over all:
(c') he alone hath the right to rule;
and in his name, only he to whom he granteth it:
(b') whosoever is not chosen of him, the same is a usurper, and unholy:
(a') the Lord will not hold him guiltless, for he taketh his name in vain.

This is only a 5-level chiasm; it is clearly much weaker than Helaman 6 and weaker than Mosiah 5. The appearance of name 3 times in stray lines weakens it and the stray lines are not in the same place. There are other issues.

EModE is ubiquitous in the BofM. If you study the earliest text, which you apparently haven't, you get a much wider view of eModE usage than the KJV provides. Yet your lack of study hasn't prevented you from making firm declarations.

Anonymous said...


Now we're getting into the subjective. I believe the Book of Mormon to be great literature, at least, in some respects. So we're going to have to agree to disagree on the authorship.

That said, I do agree that Joseph's cultural surroundings had everything to do with preparing him to translate the BoM and establish the church.


Anonymous said...

For a very thorough look at the language of the Book of Mormon, go to Nephi Code......nephicode.com

This site makes much more sense about the Book of Mormon and other subjects pertaining to the LDS religion, than many other popular LDS blogs.

They do not put up with sarcasm and snark, and will not entertain disrespectful dialogue. They are very intelligent and have done exhausting research on many subjects.

James Anglin said...

It's beginning to look as though Early Modern English syntax is this decade's chiasmus. Again I feel like warning Mormon apologists against putting too much weight on this branch. It doesn't look very sound.

0) First of all, a side issue: no part of the Book of Mormon is actually written in Early Modern English. Early Modern English reads like gobbledegook. Google a few old texts, and you'll see what I mean. Royal Skousen isn't claiming that there is actual EModE in the Book of Mormon. Would-be apologists should be sure to avoid making that absurd claim on his behalf. He's not an idiot; don't make him sound like one.

1) Royal Skousen has identified some grammatical forms that were rare in the common speech of Smith's day, but had been much more common a couple of centuries before. He has then found that the frequencies of these constructions in the Book of Mormon are closer to the older levels than to the corresponding frequencies in ordinary speech in Smith's own time. In fact, my understanding is that Skousen has not claimed any cases of Book of Mormon constructions that we know were never used at all in Smith's day. It's only a matter of how often the constructions were used.

2) Linguists will affirm that people's natural grammar is unconscious. What they mean, though, is that when people are simply speaking normally, their application of the grammatical rules of their normal dialect is unconscious. The idea that people cannot change their way of speaking when they choose is obvious nonsense. People learn entirely new languages. They certainly learn new dialects. And they very easily adopt new ways of speaking just for effect, for example to make fun of someone else. Even speaking pig Latin or Yoda-ish comes quite easily with just a bit of practice.

3) It's a very plausible hypothesis that Smith might have deliberately upped the frequency of archaic structures in the Book of Mormon, in an effort to make it sound more solemn and Biblical.

4) Of course it's unlikely that a crude effort at archaism would have come terribly close to the exact patterns of usage of any actual archaic English dialect in particular. But it's almost certain that crudely faked archaism would end up bringing some usage frequencies into line with those of some archaic dialect. Nobody ever guessed in advance that the Book of Mormon ought to show the particular archaic features that Skousen has found; instead, Skousen just searched times and grammatical features until he found some correspondence with Smith's fake archaism, and declared it a wonder. The Texas Sharpshooter strikes again.

5) If all the above immediately obvious objections can really be met convincingly, why hasn't this Book of Mormon EModE grammar stuff been published in any mainstream linguistics journal? A really solid case of dialectical anachronism would be interesting to many linguists, regardless of any possible religious implications.

James Anglin said...

A general word about accusing critics of not having read enough pro-Mormon literature:

Of course the internet is full of cocksure idiots who talk big but have no idea what they're talking about. So the accusation could certainly be fair, at least sometimes.

But the problem with at least some Mormon apologetics is that it's a skyscraper built on sand. All kinds of detailed arguments have been built up, but the premises on which they rest have grave and obvious weaknesses.

A critic can point out those basic flaws, and be sure that the whole structure is unsound because of them, without having to walk up and down the eighty-eight flights of stairs in the skyscraper, in order to 'engage the material'.

Jerome said...

@anonymous 6:25

You miss the point about defining "hits." Whether the Book of Mormon actually contains EModE and whether it is objectively unlikely that an 1829 text would contain EModE are beside the point. Try reading Jeff's blog post again. It's guaranteed that some unlikely things will happen. Defining a "hit" means determining prospectively what counts as evidence for "seeric" ability, not hunting for anomalies that for lack of another explanation get counted as evidence for divine help after the fact. You can always find anomalies. That's why there is pseudoscience.

Anonymous said...

Jerome, that's why there's systematic work. Anglin, you know that this is a data intensive domain that requires considering plenty of data before an accurate picture can emerge. You cannot dismiss this honestly or reasonably without background in it. One item. Skousen has catalogued dozens of instances of nonbiblical vocabulary that the OED designates as obsolete by Smith's time. There is also obsolete biblical vocabulary that an expert in such things might know but that ordinary readings could easily miss. That's just one part of the eModE picture, but an important one.

Glenn Thigpen said...

James Anglin said "4) Of course it's unlikely that a crude effort at archaism would have come terribly close to the exact patterns of usage of any actual archaic English dialect in particular. But it's almost certain that crudely faked archaism would end up bringing some usage frequencies into line with those of some archaic dialect. Nobody ever guessed in advance that the Book of Mormon ought to show the particular archaic features that Skousen has found; instead, Skousen just searched times and grammatical features until he found some correspondence with Smith's fake archaism, and declared it a wonder. The Texas Sharpshooter strikes again."

Except that was not Skousen's meme. Professor Skousen discovered those EmodE artifacts while working on his Book of Mormon critical text project. He naturally went looking in the King James Bible and was surprised to find that there is fairly extensive EmodE artifacts in the Book of Mormon that re not found in the KJV.

That is hardly a Texas Sharpshooter scenario. Stanford Carmack has done extensive research on the matter trying to determine if those artifacts could have been found in literature accessible to Joseph Smith.

I do not know how you come up with the idea that it is plausible that Joseph just made a conscious effort to up the ante of archaic sounding words and phrases, words and phrases that he was unlikely to have been exposed, but just happened to nail a lot of EmodE stuff over and over. If it is plausible, one would expect to find something of this in the literature that Joseph would have been exposed to and/or in the local environment in which he was living. If it could be found that the area where Joseph was raised in his formative years had people speaking and writing using such a dialect, then it would be plausible that he picked it up from his environment. That would be much more plausible than Joseph just making up archaic sounding stuff as he went along and it significant words and phrases just happened to mimic EmodE stuff.
There needs to be some more research through the letters and journals, etc. of people who lived in the areas where Joseph grew up to find out if those people used significant EmodE in their dialects before any of us can actually say yay or nay on the local linguistic environments providing the background for the EmodE that found its way into the Book of Mormon.


Jerome said...


It seems this entire blog post is lost on you.

Tyrone said...

Jerome, my guess is you've only looked at the current LDS text and haven't studied the dictation text. This is important for anyone who wants to be serious and honest about the matter. And what is it about systematic that you don't understand (which Jeff mentioned in the OP)?

Jerome said...

Tyrone, that's nothing but a smokescreen. You don't address my points. You're wrong about my having only looked at the current LDS text. I understand the system better than you do.

Tyrone said...

Jerome, you don't know that you understand the system better than I do. I guessed you hadn't studied the earliest text. Hardly anyone has, and certainly not people like OK and Anglin. Your assertion above makes you sound unreliable. All right, since you assert expertise and knowledge, please explain how the existence of plenty of systematic nonbiblical eModE usage in the BofM is likely from a naturalistic/fraudulent POV.

Orbiting Kolob said...

I'm on the road right now and not inclined to go into this too deeply here, but maybe part of what divides us in the EModE portion of this debate has to do with our understanding of language and what counts as a "hit" -- that is, what it means for Joseph to have written something he could not have encountered in his linguistic environment.

I'm not sure, but I suspect that many of us here are thinking in terms of individual utterances, while I'm thinking in terms of grammar and syntax. The difference is important, if only to better understand the arguments that people like Stanford Carmack and me are actually making.

Very briefly: when we learn our primary language, the two most important things we learn are vocabulary and grammar/syntax. That is, we acquire a stock of words, and we learn the rules (grammar) for putting those words together in the right order (syntax) to produce meaningful sentences.

At first, as children, we pick up all this stuff pretty much unconsciously. It is not initially (and for many people is never) a matter of consciously studying grammar in school.

How do we learn vocabulary and grammar? Initially, as I said, we pick it up from what we hear being said around us. Later we pick up more vocabulary and learn more complex rules of grammar from our formal schooling, our reading, our exposure to more complex language in sermons and lectures, etc., and we internalize our grammatical understanding to the point where we mostly use it unconsciously. (Please don't ask me for evidence that this is how things worked for Joseph Smith. If you do, I'll ask you for evidence that JS learned these things differently from everyone else in the world.)

Here's the first key point: this grammar that we learn and internalize is generative. It allows us to produce or "generate" phrases or sentences we've never heard before. In order to build up the vocabulary and learn the grammar, we need to be exposed to lots of different words and hear them used correctly in sentences. But once we have been exposed to them, we can use our understanding of the grammar to rearrange the words into completely new phrases or sentences without ever having been exposed to those specific phrases or sentences.

Once I've learned a basic vocabulary and a grammatical form -- like, say, noun-verb-prepositional phrase -- I can use that knowledge to generate innumerable utterances, and not just sentences I've probably heard before, like Mommy is in the house or Daddy went to the store. I can also generate sentences that I've never heard before, like The moon jumped over the house or The TV walked into the kitchen.

Once an eight-year old has heard Yoda say, Ready are you? they'll pick up the Yoda-grammar instantly and drive you nuts saying things like There yet are we?

Next: how this stuff applies to EModE arguments.

Orbiting Kolob said...

Here’s how the above applies to EModE arguments.

Suppose JS reads the EModE phrase Thou didst go in the Bible. What we know about ordinary human language acquisition tells us that JS is now perfectly capable of writing not only Thou didst go, but also Thou didst see, They didst go, The king didst command, and so on. That's because once JS has picked up this particular grammatical form, he can quite easily and naturally plug his existing vocabulary into it to create new phrases. For him to do so would be perfectly ordinary.

Now suppose someone says "Oh, wow -- the EModE form Thou didst go is in the King James Bible, but the EModE forms Thou didst see, They didst go, and The king didst command are not in the Bible, yet they are in the Book of Mormon! And they're not in any other texts that JS would have had access to! That's three "hits"! That means the Book of Mormon contains elements of EModE that Joseph could not have picked up from his linguistic environment, which means he could not have written it!"

If someone says that, they're wrong. It's not three hits, it's zero hits.

What counts as a hit is not simply "a phrase that's found in the BoM but not found in JS's linguistic environment."

What counts as a hit can only be "a phrase that could not have been generated by JS using the vocabulary and grammatical forms available to him."

The same goes for such things as EModE command syntax, etc. Once JS encounters an example of a phrase using EModE syntax in the Bible, he becomes capable of generating a zillion other EModE phrases not found in the Bible. The production of these phrases doesn't require him to have any expert knowledge of EModE whatsoever. It would be as easy and as natural for JS to do this as for an eight-year-old kid to pick up Yoda-speak.

So it's not enough simply to say, Here's some EModE that's in the BoM but not in the Bible -- chalk up another hit!
Stanford Carmack realizes this, of course, which is why he doesn't simply crow about "hits" but tries to see if the EModE in the BoM does something else besides merely being there; as I hope to have shown, its mere presence tells us nothing. That's why he tries to show that the EModE in the BoM does things like appearing with a frequency matching that of early English texts other than the Bible. This, too, is misguided -- but to explain that would take far too much time and effort for me now.

James Anglin said...

If anyone thinks that what Orbiting Kolob and I need to do is to read older texts or more detailed analysis, then it is actually this thinking which shows a lack of understanding of the basic issues here. The questions we have been raising are about basic premises. If there is not a straight, clear answer to our questions, then there really is no need for anyone to look any further. If your skyscraper is built on sand, it doesn't matter how high it is.

My wife is a linguistics professor. That doesn't make me a linguist by marriage, but it means that I know quite a lot of linguists. I'm still not any kind of expert on linguistics myself, but I have been able to recognize clearly that linguists use the same kind of reasoning about evidence that physicists do. Their data is very different from our data, but whenever a linguist has explained how a conclusion is supported by evidence, it has been clear to me, as a physicist, that the support was really there. Conversely, whenever I have objected that such-and-such seems like weak evidence or a bad argument, linguists have been quick to take my point — and then either quickly explain the thing they forgot to mention, which resolves my concerns, or else admit that the evidence is indeed poor in this case. So although I haven't read everything written by one Mormon scholar, I know dozens of linguists, and I know that they basically think the same way I do.

The basic problem with this Early Modern Book of Mormon stuff is that the obviously plausible fraud hypothesis is not taken seriously, but is instead dismissed out of hand by appeal to a ridiculously naive interpretation of linguistic nativism. Yes, human judgements about grammar are instinctive; but no, this absolutely does not mean that people cannot change the way they speak. Obviously people can speak strangely if they want, and everybody knows this. Citing Chomsky doesn't change this. If you think that linguistics proves that Joseph Smith could not have spoken with archaic grammar, and could not have deliberately used old-fashioned words and phrases at a higher rate than people of his day normally did, then you have badly misunderstood linguistics.

Anonymous said...

Your output is truly prodigious, OK, despite being on the road.

BofM vocabulary is interesting. The use of "counsel" to mean 'ask counsel of, consult' is declared obsolete by the OED, with this last-dated example (definition 4):

1547 Hooper Answ. Bp. Winchester's Bk. Wks. (Parker Soc.) 141
Moses . . . counselled the Lord and thereupon advised his subjects what was to be done.

This old meaning appears to have been obsolete before American colonization. Here are two BofM examples:

(Alma 37:37) [Alma to Helaman]
Counsel the Lord in all thy doings,
and he will direct thee for good.

(Alma 39:10) [Alma to Corianton]
And I command you to take it upon you
to counsel your elder brothers in your undertakings
— for behold, thou art in thy youth
and ye stand in need to be nourished by your brothers —
and give heed to their counsel.

Interestingly, there are more than 30 possible cases of such obsolete vocabulary.

Anonymous said...

"ridiculously naive interpretation of linguistic nativism"

Now you're getting more assertive, Anglin. It's easy to dismiss something by appealing to generalities. Uninteresting. Whatever.

On the other hand, the did syntax of the BofM is interesting. It matches the 16c in terms of its rate, patterns, and tendencies. Now, repeat after me: rate, patterns, tendencies -- RPT. The last book that has did syntax which is somewhat similar to the BofM's is by Isaac Barrow, who died in 1677. Between that time and the BofM hundreds of thousands of books were published without 16c-type did syntax. Then the BofM appears. Conservatively speaking (bringing it down more than one order magnitude), JSJr had a 1 in 10,000 chance of recreating that syntax. It is extremely unlikely that he had encountered it. He would have needed to read a British reprint of Barrow's book or a reprint of some other obscure book, or maybe he was a Spenserian scholar -- a master of The Faerie Queene. Smith wouldn't have known from experience or the Bible that English had ever used non-emphatic did at 30+% rates in any period of its history. He also wouldn't have known the syntactic distribution patterns of the 16c from reading British reprints, which the BofM matches very closely (see Ellegard 1953). He also wouldn't have known 16c individual verb tendencies with did, even from literary study, which the BofM matches closely. RPT.

The command syntax of the BofM is equally interesting. It's a Caxton match at a deep syntactic level. There is conservatively speaking a 1 in 100 chance that Smith could have produced it out of some presumed biblically inspired attempt. You can check out details in an article and an online presentation.

And so forth, dozens of times over.

Add to that the vocabulary, mentioned above, which Skousen has studied periodically for years. These items are mutually supportive. Because there are at least 30 possibles, it is very likely that quite a few of them were truly obsolete and unknown to Smith. There is no novel literary production of the era that has 30 possibly obsolete lexical items. Each obsolete lexical item used in the text has a low p -- p << 0.5.

So, there is no novel literary production of the era, even counting pseudo-biblical texts, that has:
the obsolete lexis of the BofM
the did syntax of the BofM
the command syntax of the BofM
the causative syntax of the BofM
the suffer syntax of the BofM
the {-th} plural syntax of the BofM
the plural was syntax of the BofM
the "more part" usage of the BofM
the simple dative usage of the BofM
-- all which match verifiable eModE usage and do not match modE usage.

James Anglin said...

Yes, it is easy to dismiss things by appealing to generalities. Or to say the same thing with a different marketing spin: you can save a lot of time by looking first at an argument's basic premises, because if they are weak then the rest is irrelevant.

The likelihood of producing a set of usage frequencies by random is irrelevant. Citing low p values here is like a hitman trying to defend himself in court by pointing out that the likelihood of a bullet hitting the victim between the eyes by chance was very low. If you deliberately try for archaic style, that's not random. If you aim for King James style, but overdo it, you'll hit something even more archaic. Just what earlier period you hit is only a measure of how much you overdid it.

Of course there is no other literary production of Smith's era that has the obsolete style of the Book of Mormon. Archaism to that degree makes things harder to read, and people who are trying to sell books try not to do that. But Smith wasn't offering the Book of Mormon as popular literature. It was supposed to be ancient scripture. An awkwardly archaic style would actually help with that.

James Anglin said...

As to "Caxton match at a deep syntactic level" — that sounds impressive. In fact it sounds like a judgement only a pretty expert linguist would be qualified to make. Much more than that, even: it sounds like a judgement that only becomes plausible if a substantial number of qualified linguists all agree to it independently.

If you think that a reasonable person should be swayed by fine-sounding assertions, whether made by anonymous posters or by maverick professors who aren't publishing in proper professional journals, then I can point you to a lot of fine investment opportunities out there on the internet. They involve rotating magnets and anti-gravity and perpetual motion, and I can tell you in my best professional judgement that they are worthless, but the claims they make sound impressively technical, and some of their proponents have quite genuine academic credentials. Perhaps you should at least read through their detailed pages of explanation before dismissing them on generalities.

James Anglin said...

I'm sorry to be longwinded, but the general issue of generalities versus details is important to me. I think about it a lot, and I'd like to try to air my current thoughts. I want to say that sometimes details are really decisive, but often they can be merely distracting.

Sometimes details are decisive. Max Planck began a radical change in all of physics just by interpolating between two curves on a graph that didn't even differ all that much. Albert Einstein said he felt something snap inside himself when he applied his new theory of gravity to the orbit of Mercury, and found that it yielded a value for the perihelion precession rate which differed from Newtonian theory by just 43 arc-seconds per century. That was exactly the discrepancy between Newtonian theory and observations.

But the reason those tiny details were decisive was that they were focal points of huge, basic principles. How did thermodynamics apply to light? Was gravity really a force, or a distortion of time? The fundamental work of articulating the principles at stake, and confirming that they really were subject to decision on the basis of small details, had been done before the details were examined.

The decisive detail is an exciting story, and it does really happen. But it's unusual. Thinking that this is how empirical evidence always works, because these are the stories you read in popular science, is like watching a lot of romantic comedies, and thinking that relationships are all about the first kiss.

And there's another side of detail, which religious people in particular have to consider — and I include myself among them. Detail can be a fine distraction.

Whatever else faith means, it means that you might be being deceived, and that much of the deception might be self-deception. And one of the best ways for a smart person to deceive themselves is to concentrate attention on safe issues, in order to avoid looking too closely at the dangerous things. "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain." Look at the great and mighty Oz. So I for instance try to ask myself, every so often, whether the concentration of my theology on abstract principles of pattern and detail, and on fundamental physics, rather than careful study of what we know about early Christianity and "the historical Jesus", may mean that I'm really more of a deist than a Christian. Maybe I'm just looking where I'm looking because I know that that direction is safe to look.

To dismiss generalities, by appealing to elaborate details, can be a way of distracting one's own attention from basic issues that may be worrisome onto a safe topic, whose breadth and depth can be counted on safely to absorb years of thought. Invest enough time and effort in those details, and the very investment comes to feel like a powerful argument. "Of course the premises are solid. Just think how many years of thought all rest upon them!"

I don't mean to say that anyone's beliefs or interests fall within that scenario, but just to point out that they in principle could. It's a hazard we run, if we believe things.

And it means that elaborate detail is not just a high card that always trumps generalities. You have to take the discussion of premises seriously, and make the case for how important the details really are, and how they should be interpreted. Brushing off basic questions in order to emphasize details is a bad sign. It sounds too much like, "There is nothing in my hat, nothing up my sleeve, now watch me flourish this bright handkerchief; do not look closely at my hand."

Anonymous said...

Here's the critics' game: Details can be used to tear down the story of those involved in the production of the BoM, but they can't be used to bolster the story, because they are then unavoidably items that distract from the true state of things that our general view points to, even though we haven't studied much. Ungenerous.

Here's the critics' view: Joseph Smith wanted to sound biblical and old so he generated by analogy hundreds of linguistic bits that match EModE usage. We don't care that it's virtually impossible for a human to form by analogy hundreds of instances of lost vocabulary and syntax and reproduce it in novel fashion. We don't care that the probability of that happening is vanishingly low. We don't care that it never happened otherwise. We don't care enough to study the matter. What we care about is telling Mormons a foundational text is fraudulent without seriously studying that text.

Well, who has the better cause here and who has more integrity? I think it's clear.

The critics wrongly fancy themselves to be better informed and to be thinking more lucidly than the apologists. Yet they do not refrain from voicing unstudied opinions on these matters. Have they no self-respect? Have they no sense of decency? It supposeth me that they do not. I wouldn't presume to voice strong opinions on issues in physics or in some other field till I had studied it for quite a few years. Good grief.

James Anglin said...

Why on earth do you consider it "virtually impossible" to generate archaic language? Nobody at all has found anything in the Book of Mormon that Joseph Smith couldn't possibly have said. All that anyone has shown is that old-fashioned forms have been used more frequently than they normally were in Smith's time.

Why do you think that the low probability of doing this randomly means that it can't be done on purpose? You just managed an "it supposeth me". In 2015, that is obsolete. Did you utter it under the tight control of divine inspiration?

Tyrone said...

Anglin, have you read Welch's article on how much might have been known in America about chiasmus in the 1820s? Was he being safe there? No. Was he confronting a "dangerous" issue? Yes. He found two books that would have been available. Deep in their pages are less-than-stellar examples of biblical chiasmus, called by a different name. Joseph Smith could have conceivably read those. Did he? There's no evidence he had those scholarly treatments of scripture and that he had studied them. But did Welch shy away from investigating it? No. Has he been restrained in stating that chiasmus proves divine origins? Yes. You need more background on things before making your assertions. Mormons who have been interested in these matters for 30 years or more know a ton more about all these issues than you do. And they haven't been afraid to confront various difficult issues. And as we know that has been the case for decades and decades. B.H. Roberts's work has been brought up here before (along with negative, inaccurate critical spin). Sidney B. Sperry is another example of considered inquiry. Again, about these peripheral matters you are uninformed. Skousen looks at a wide range of linguistic evidence in his work on the Book of Mormon, both modern and before. He is an examples and analogy expert in the domain of linguistics. He likes to consider all examples. It is actually mainstream theoretical linguists who fall prey to the allure of mistating or ignoring data that don't fit a theory they promote and from which they make a living. If they don't support the theory they lose standing and influence. There are quite a few famous linguists who have done so. By dishonestly pursuing their craft they further their careers.

everythingbeforeus said...

It seems to me that the discussion here is not about whether or not the Book of Mormon is true, but whether or not Joseph Smith could've produced it. I find this funny, because not too long ago, it was those nasty anti-Mormons who were trying to prove that Joseph Smith didn't write it. (Rigdon-Spaulding theory, etc).

The year is 2015. We know what true written accounts look like now. We also know what true, but greatly embellished, accounts look like now (The Illiad etc.) The peculiar thing about the Book of Mormon is that it does not bear any resemblance to either.

To one group, it is definitely true, but not because it has much empirical evidence pointing to this conclusion. It is true because God told them so.

To another group, it is most likely false, because so much of the empirical evidence does point in this direction.

Of course, religious/spiritual truth can never be proven empirically, but the BoM is more than just a religious/spiritual text. It is also an historical account that took place in a specific time and place. We do have another book that fits this description. It's called the Bible.

The religious/spiritual truth of the Bible cannot be proven, but the Bible is also an historical account, and for the most part, much of the history presented, with a few exceptions, can be verified by referring to the historical and archeological record.

The Book of Mormon does not even come close to standing to this kind of scrutiny. Not even close.

However, there are 19th Century Protestant doctrines and expressions in it. There are references to things that the "translator" would've been familiar with (wheat, horses, etc) but which the people the book is about would not have been familiar. The translator was already a well-known con-man thoroughly steeped in a magical world-view, and he went on to craft a non-Christian conception of God, thus contradicting BOTH the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in which God is not the "first cause" but more of a Sorceror's Apprentice who waves his wand and controls the pre-existent matter that is all around him.

Yet, the Mormons, and especially the apologists, soldier on. Everything is stacked against them, but still they rally. If it weren't true, they'd never find out, because their entire method of discerning truth only works to confirm truth, not to reveal falsehood. They have no equivalent method of revealing error.

I've heard many stories of people who have prayed and prayed fervently to get a confirmation of the truth. And despite repeated attempts without any answer, they insist on trying again. And they do so until they get the affirming answer they already expected to receive.

Tell me,...if I pray to God to find out if the church is true, why is silence not a "no?" Why should I continue to pray until I get a "yes?" If the answer is indeed "no," what kind of answer OTHER than silence should I expect to receive? Can anyone answer that question for me?

In other words, if the Church isn't true, how will you know it?

everythingbeforeus said...

Here is an experiment I'd love to see a Mormon perform. Pray to God to find out if the Hindu religion is true. Be sincere. Be willing to change your life according to the answer you receive. Don't settle for silence. Continue to pray until you get the "yes" answer. If you are not willing to become Hindu if you receive a "yes" then you do not have real intent.

It is through this same process that Mormons learn of the "truth" of their beliefs. But never do they try this experiment with information they learn from other belief systems. Because before they even go into this process, their mind is already made up. This process for them is mostly just a way to get God to put his stamp approval on what it is they already feel inclined to believe.

James Anglin said...


I may well need more background, but perhaps you could read more carefully, too. I didn't say that all Mormons, or even all Mormon apologists, are afraid to confront dangerous topics. I went out of my way to say that this was simply a danger, that believers of any kind should remember, including myself. Some brave souls in the past have indeed confronted some dangerous issues. This does not mean that "engage the material" is now a trump card that any anonymous poster can play, when unable to give a clear answer to basic questions.

How much confronting is enough, and how much is just a token gesture? Everyone has to decide for themselves. At some point you have to decide what you believe, and get on with your life. But I think Welch could have done more thinking about just how secure his methodology was against false positives. And if Welch has been restrained in the conclusions he has drawn from chiasmus, I think that other Mormon apologists who have drawn strong conclusions from Welch's work should have thought more about the logical premises of their claims.

You for instance seem to have the premise that no-one could write chiasmus without having learned to do it in some more formal way than simply reading or hearing the Bible. Why do you think that? I submit that thinking hard about that premise is a more dangerous direction to look, than tracking down just how little formal training in chiasmus Joseph Smith could have had.

Anonymous said...

Anglin, you're proving my point. Please get back to us a few years from now when you have studied deeply about these matters. You are out of your depth here and should refrain from offering inaccurate opinions.

As someone who has read the Book of Mormon dozens of times, in different languages, and even studied the earliest text, and who knows Carmack's article on "it supposeth me", I used the phrase to point out to you that the Book of Mormon does indeed have usage that the OED declares to be rare with a sole textual attestation. That of course makes it unlikely to have been generated by analogy to other forms by Joseph Smith because there was no evidence, besides a single remote one that was virtually inaccessible, which could tell someone that the verb suppose was ever used with impersonal dative syntax. Yet JSJR did it four times, in three scattered dictation instances.

Anglin: "Nobody at all has found anything in the Book of Mormon that Joseph Smith couldn't possibly have said."

Answer: How about all the obsolete lexis, felicitously used, taken together? How about "it supposeth me"? That comes very close. And when there are hundreds of things that come (very) close, they add up to something that any quant can appreciate because of the obvious statistical implications. How about "he will cause it that it shall soon overtake you" (3 Nephi 29:4)? There isn't evidence of pronoun doubling with the verb cause in modern English or in the KJV. Only by fortuitous analogy could JSJr have employed it (and there are other examples of it in the dictation). No verb is entirely like another, and just because other similar verbs used such pronominal doubling in eModE doesn't mean cause did. The fortuitous analogy approach ends up having to be applied to the dictation hundreds of times in order to explain the text. It's your prerogative to believe in ubiquitous fortuitous analogical bull's-eyes. We both know the odds of it are vanishingly low, and I reject it.

Anonymous said...


We're aware of your deep-rooted anti-Mormon leanings. We sincerely hope that you can regain your bona fides.

(Alma 47:36)
Now these dissenters,
having the same instruction and the same information of the Nephites,
yea, having been instructed in the same knowledge of the Lord,
nevertheless it is strange to relate,
not long after their dissensions,
they became more hardened and impenitent

Anonymous said...

ebu: "However, there are 19th Century Protestant doctrines and expressions in it. There are references to things that the "translator" would've been familiar with (wheat, horses, etc) but which the people the book is about would not have been familiar. The translator was already a well-known con-man thoroughly steeped in a magical world-view,"

First point: It can be shown that those are not exclusively 19c doctrines and expressions.

Second point: See, for example, this article.

Third point: That's a heavily biased POV which reveals your Amalekitishness.

everythingbeforeus said...

Anon 11:46

Are you aware that Jehovah's Witnesses, when they leave their church, can't leave it alone also? Go to youtube. Search Jehovah's Witnesses. You'll see a lot of videos from disaffected former Witnesses.

So don't be too cocky, kid. My outspoken disaffection against your belief system is no evidence at all that your belief system is true. At the least, it is only evidence that Mormonism, like other equally-deceptive, high-commitment belief systems, produces some disgruntled dissidents.

But instead of quoting "scripture" to me, why don't you just answer the challenge? Pray to find out if any other belief system other than your own is true, applying the same methodology that missionaries ask their investigators to apply. You won't do it, because you are not invested in the truthfulness of any other belief system to the degree that you are invested in your own. And that is the key to making this experiment work. Investment. God's silence is never a "no." It is only "you gotta try harder than that!" There is no "no." And if there is no "no," then the "yes" is meaningless.

Tell me,...where in the scriptures except maybe Moroni does God ever ask us to ask him about the truthfulness of a church? Where? See, you enter into the entire process on a very shaky assumption: that there is a one, true church that needs to be found.

Your own church is sending young men and young women all over the world to present his false assumption to thousands of people. "There is a one true church. We are it. You can find out if we are the one true church by doing what we ask, which is pray to God. He will tell you we are the one true church."

Can't you see the circular reasoning?

In the Bible, Jesus said "Come unto me" before there was a church to come unto. That is because his message was not "Come into the church that I am setting up." His message was, "Come unto me."

The question you need to really ask yourself is this: Do I accomplish what the Savior said by joining a church? Or do I accomplish what the Savior said by doing what the Savior said?"

The Bible

everythingbeforeus said...

anon 12:05

Which doctrines and phrases are you talking about? These?

1. Cannot Look at Sin With the Least Degree of Allowance


“…he beholds an angry God that cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance….”
-from A Compendium of the Travels of the Children of Israel From Egypt to the Land of Canaan. By Ebeneezer Wicks. Albany. Printed by John B. Johnson. 1823. Page 11.

2. New and Everlasting Covenant


“…will remain both the new and everlasting covenant.”

– from A Theoretic Explanation of the Science of Sanctity according to Reason, Scripture, Common Sense, and the Analogy of Things, By Thomas Fessenden. A. M. Pastor of the Church in Walpole, N.H. Printed by William Fessenden. Brattleboro. 1804. Page 267

3. True and Living Church


“This Christian I conceive to be the true, the exemplary, the honoured member of the Lord’s true and living church on earth.”
– from The New Church Christian’s Pocket Magazine and Sunday School Reporter. Thomas Goyder, Publisher. Strand. London. 1824. Page 330.

4. God Would Cease to be God


“God is immutable in his nature or essence, and cannot be otherwise, or he would cease to be God…”
-from The Will of God, A Mystery Proved to be Eternal, Immutable, and Absolute. Sin and the Fall. By Joseph, Francis, Burrell. A servant of Jesus Christ. London: Printed by B. W. and S. Gardiner. 1818. Page 2.

5. Dwell in Unholy Temple


“Will God dwell in an unholy temple?”
– from Selections from the Works of Isaac Pennington to Which Are Added Selections from His Letters. New Bedford. B. Lindsey, Printer. 1818. Page 105.

6. Procrastinate Day of Repentance


“So we see the folly of procrastinating the day of repentance…”
-from A Treatise on the Millenium, or the Latter-day Glory of the Church, by Ray Potter, Minister of the Gospel, Pawtucket. Providence. 1824. Page 293.

7. After All We Can Do


“It is, indeed, of God’s free and undeserved grace that sinful man can ever hope to approach him; after all that we can do, we shall fall far short of any merit…”
-from Sermons by Thomas Trevor Trevor, LLD. London, Printed for J.Hartchard. 1816. Page 153.

8. Denying Yourself of All Ungodliness


“You are working out your salvation with fear and trembling, denying yourself of all ungodliness…”
-from The Washington Theological Reportory, Volume 2, Washington City, J. Ashmun Publisher, 1820-21. Page 194.

9. Plain and Precious


“It is not only to the illiterate and feeble Christian that this plan is needful, but also to the most learned and wise, the most successful minister, as well as those among whom he labours; they having no other support and comfort …than those plain and precious truths…..”
– from Directions and Encouragements for Travellers to Zion: Being an Earnest and Affectionate Address to Professing Christians in general; on several important subjects. By Joseph Freeston. London. Published by Button and Son, P. Mitchell, Printer, 1816. Page. 28.

10. Infant Baptism Abominable


“... and not only preached, but printed, that infant baptism is an abomination to the Lord, and the administrator takes his name in vain, every time he administers it.”
– from Four Sermons on the Modes and Subjects of Christian Baptism by Jabez Chadwick, Pastor of the First Presbyterian Congregation in Onondaga. Utica: Printed for the Author by Seward and Williams, 1811. Page iv.

everythingbeforeus said...

That is only an abbreviated list, by the way.

Anonymous said...

Moroni doesn't ask anyone to ask about the truthfulness of a church:

(Moroni 10:4)
And when ye shall receive these things,
I would exhort you
that ye would ask God the Eternal Father,
in the name of Christ,
if these things are not true.
And if ye shall ask with a sincere heart,
with real intent, having faith in Christ,
and he will manifest the truth of it unto you
by the power of the Holy Ghost.

You're not letting it go harms yourself. Let go, let God. You can do it. Others have and do. Even disaffected J-dubs can let it go.

everythingbeforeus said...

This isn't about me, silly! That is a common Mormon diversionary tactic. I know. I've tried it myself when I was a Mormon. It usually doesn't work, because the people we try it on aren't just fodder for our missionary efforts, they are real people with real experiences and real ideas. Our old Mormon Mind Tricks don't work on nearly as many people as we think they will.

Just deal with the content and the substance of what I write.

Anonymous said...

I could post a lengthy list of older correspondence. Infant baptism was a hot topic already in the 1500s and 1600s. Burning of heretics was a big thing in the 1500s. Denying ungodliness is Titus 2:12. You'd better screen out the biblicals and screen out items that can be found in older language.

Moroni 8:9

Wherefore, my beloved son, I know that it is solemn mockery before God that ye should baptize little children.

1561 EEBO A17662 Thomas Norton, tr. [1532–1584] | Jean Calvin [1509–1564] The institution of Christian religion

But if it come in any mans minde, upon this pretence to mocke at the Baptisme of infantes, he scorneth the commaundemente of Circumcision geven by the Lorde.

What is it that you think 19c phrasal correspondence shows? It will always be weaker evidence than syntactic evidence and obsolete lexical evidence.

Maybe you can find this one in the 19c:

Omni 1:17

And they denied the being of their Creator.

1600 EEBO A16485 George Abbot [1562–1633] An exposition vpon the prophet Ionah

in the cleare light of the Gospell, in a countrey of good learning, and yet do make dispute of the being of their Creator. But I leave these wicked Atheists, and returne to our idolaters,

Can you find the phrase "save it were" pre-1830? (not "save it, were")

everythingbeforeus said...

Denying ungodliness is Titus, yes...but not "deny yourselves of all ungodliness" which is BoM, but before that, in 1820, it is also found in that identical form elsewhere. So the expansion of the Titus language had already happened before the BoM.

Just because infant baptism was already a hot topic by the 1500's doesn't do anything against my argument. Because in early 19th Century writings, we have infant baptism being called, specifically, an "abomination!" And, I didn't include this in my original list, but we also have it being called a "solemn mockery" in a Theology by a guy named John M'Dowell written in 1825!

So, in the early 19th century, we see in non-Mormon writings that predate the Book of Mormon the words "abomination" and "solemn mockery" being used to describe infant baptism, the same words that Moroni just so happened to use (although in their reformed Egyptian form) in the Book of Mormon in the 1st Century AD.

Sorry, anon... the sooner you deal with the very obvious conclusions that one must draw from this irrefutable historical documentation.

everythingbeforeus said...

"With respect to such children, our subject teaches that their baptism can be of little to no service to them....Their baptism profiteth nothing. Yea...this is solemn mockery..."

Theology, by John M'Dowell. 1825

everythingbeforeus said...

It doesn't matter if the same language shows up in the 1500s! Sheesh! That isn't the point! That certainly shouldn't be your point! You believe the Book of Mormon is an ancient American record! Not a 16th Century European record.


Ryan said...

EBU, for the record, I have done as you suggest. Not for Hindu specifically, but for non-denominational/protestant Christianity. I asked God if it was His will that I pursue that path. And I was willing to act on whatever the answer was. I see no reason to fear this, because if the church is true, the answer will reflect that, and if not, I want to know about it. I did not receive "no answer," but rather an answer telling me I was on the path God wanted me to be on. You may dispute the reality of my answer, but I want it known that at least one Mormon has performed your experiment and remains faithful.

everythingbeforeus said...


Interesting. Thank you. If you were already Mormon, what was your reason for praying about another path?

Ryan said...

EBU, I hope you won't mind if I don't go into specifics, but over the course of my life, I've had my doubts. I think any individual, on any path, probably does at some point or another. There are actually a couple of instances in which I've done this, including at least once on my mission when I was having a hard time (btw, I had received a testimony for myself well before my mission, but as you probably know, missions can be really hard), and once post mission when a handful of my friends decided to leave the church, and attack it, all at roughly the same time. Some of their reasoning made me wonder. I basically asked God if they were right, ready to pursue that course. But as He ever has done, He comforted me. I suspect my weakness is a source of frustration for Him, and I am grateful He is so patient with me. I also want to note that these prayers were not about following a church, but about following Christ, whom I have never doubted.

everythingbeforeus said...


Again, thanks. I don't doubt anything you say. I just find this stuff fascinating. I have had a strong experience that has led me away from the Church; whereas other people I love, partly in response to what I have experienced, have had strong experiences that have convinced them to stay. Who am I to doubt their experiences? If I doubt their own, then that places me on very weak ground, too. Ultimately, faith will never have empirical backing. That is the way it is.

In what way were your friends attacking the church? Were they attacking the church directly, or were they expressing their new beliefs which differed from their previous LDS beliefs?

When I write or discuss my own faith transition, I find myself either doing one or the other. I definitely engage in both.

I am curious. You said you asked God if they (your friends) were right. But right about what? Their claims against the Church, or their new belief system, which I am assuming was non-denominational/Protestant Christianity, since that is what you said you prayed about.

And also, you prayed not about a church, but about following Christ. And your answer was that to follow him, you should remain on your current path? Is that correct? Or that remaining a Mormon was acceptable to him?

Again, I only ask because I am trying to figure out the vague, yet paradoxically obvious, ways in which God seems to frequently answer prayers.

In my past, when I was a good Mormon, I have stumbled upon very destructive criticism of the church that did shake me. But at that time, God very lovingly comforted me, and I remained a Mormon for many many more years after that.

I love hearing other people's experiences of this nature. Thanks in advance.

Anonymous said...

ebu: The relevance of older language should be obvious to you from the context of this discussion. I will assume that you are merely trying to be difficult, which is a normal human reaction. Otherwise I would have to assume that you were being obtuse. Here is an example of infant baptism collocated with abominable. I've already provided an example collocated with mock.

1645 EEBO A41009 Daniel Featley [1582–1645] The dippers dipt, or, The anabaptists duck’d and plung’d over head and eares, at a disputation in Southwark

Here is thunder without lightning, thundering in the conclusion; the baptisme of infants is anti-christian and abominable:

The weakness of something like the very good 19c match of sin and "the least degree of allowance" is that we find "with the least degree of " in the 17c a few times. Again, obsolete syntax is a much better diagnostic of possible authorship. Your biases will tell you otherwise. You will disregard obsolete lexis and syntax. They tell us that the linguistic fingerprint of the BofM is eModE. Hence finding phrases like "the being of their creator" is interesting, because it is absent or rare in the 19c when there was one or two orders of magnitude more words published, but it's present in the 17c, and it's in the BofM. The use of "the being" to mean 'the existence' is uncommon later, and the so the phrase isn't found or hardly found. It seems you're allowing personal bias to overcome reason in this regard.

I acknowledge both POVs. Again, 19c phrasal evidence is weaker than eModE lexical and syntactic evidence.

Anonymous said...

edit: we see "with the least degree of {abstract noun}" in the 17c a few times".

everythingbeforeus said...


I am not being obtuse. I think you and I are not talking about the same thing. I am not concerned with the fact that the phrases I have located in the 19th Century also show up in the 16th Century. The exact century is not important, except that they pre-date the Book of Mormon.

What is important and significant to me is that the verbiage that is found in the Book of Mormon is in place within Joseph Smith's culture before he starts to write the book.

And it isn't just the verbiage, it is doctrinal concepts that are couched in very specific language. "Infinite atonement" for instance is a shorthand way of talking about the "Satisfaction Theory of the Atonement" which was developed by two European theologians in the Middle Ages. This is what is significant. "Infinite atonement" isn't found in any Jewish Christian literature (the Bible). It is a Western European/Christian idea. European theological/doctrinal concepts are found within a document supposedly written centuries before and on an entirely different continent!

If you can't see the problem with this, you are the one being obtuse.

There is a geneaology that connects the 19th Century verbiage with the same in 16th European writing. So it is no surprise, given the route of Western Civilization from 16th Century Europe to 19th Century America, that we see the same stuff. We also see the same artistic styles, literary styles, musical styles, etc. 19th Century America came out of 16th Century Europe.

But there is no geneaology, no path, that can connect the 16th-19th Century Western Civilization with a reformed Egyptian text as penned by Mormon and others from 600 BC to 600 AD. So, what are 16th-19th Century Christian doctrinal precepts doing in such a text?

Any reasonable person is going to look at this situation and conclude that Joseph Smith put these into a book he was making up, not translating them from an ancient book he recently found.

Sorry...this has nothing to do "obsolete syntax." Okay...if, as you say, obsolete syntax is a better diagnostic of possible authorship, your EModE STILL doesn't prove the Nephites wrote it! It actually does NOTHING at all for that argument, except shine a tremendous amount of doubt on it.

Seriously, this is utterly ridiculous!

everythingbeforeus said...

Correction: "Satisfy the demands of justice," This is the European Satisfaction Theory of Atonement. This is from the Middle Ages. Europe. Why are the Nephites talking about it? Even before Christ came?

Ryan said...

EBU, sorry to be so long in responding. The attacks I'm referring to were things along the usual lines, some of which were unfamiliar to me at the time- various angles on Joseph's character, the Book of Abraham, the usual stuff about Brigham Young, etc. I don't consider an expression of belief in a different faith to be an attack, just a different view point. So when I say I was basically asking God if my friends were right, what I mean is that I wanted to know if they were right to leave the church. Some of them joined other faiths, some became atheists, and some I'm unsure where they went. But since, as I say, I have never doubted the reality of Christ, I was essentially asking whether a) my friends were right that the church was false and b) if so, where God was to be found. When I say God comforted me, I mean that He affirmed that the church is His, and thus where I should be. This did not give me answers to all of my questions, and there are some that are still unanswered. But as you say, faith is not something that can be empirically backed. If I know that the Book of Mormon is really God's word, and that the president of the church is called of God, warts and all as the saying goes, then I can rest assured that some day the answers I don't yet have will come. Meanwhile, I find myself secure in the arms of the Savior as I do my best (which admittedly is not all that great) to pattern my life after His.

everythingbeforeus said...


How did he confirm that the church is his? I know this is personal stuff, but I really am interested. In what form did the answer come? I know people who have struggled for years, literally, seeking some sort of confirmation, and they do not receive it. I can't explain why. It is just the nature of their experience.

So, what was it about the answer you received that made you certain that the church is Christ's church?

Ryan said...

It was nothing that would be remarkable to anyone who didn't experience it. In fact, it falls under what critics often like to brush of as merely "a feeling." But the reality is that it's not just a feeling, it's more than that. I can't describe it very well, but it was joy and peace and love. It's the same "feeling" I frequently get when I read the Book of Mormon, particularly when I focus on it as a witness of the divinity of Christ. I also often have that feeling when I take the sacrament, give or receive blessings, or go to the temple. I've never felt anything like that in another church, though I do feel it sometimes when I read the Bible. When I would read or hear attacks in their various forms, even if I didn't have a direct answer to them, I would feel that same peace telling me it was ok. In some instances, I have since found satisfying answers. In others, I have not, yet. But I know in whom I have trusted. For me these various experiences in different settings put together have been enough to convince me that Joseph was telling the truth, and the President Monson is his legitimate successor.
I hope you don't take that as an attack on your faith. If you feel uplifted when attending another church, I am glad for you. I don't know why you feel led one way, and I another, and why some people feel like they receive no answer at all. I really just don't know. All I can do is follow what God is telling me as best as I am able. I know it's not a great explanation, but I'm afraid it's the best I can give. Thanks for listening.

everythingbeforeus said...


No, I don't take it as an attack at all. Thanks for sharing.

James Anglin said...

@anonymous 11:16:

A tip about rhetoric. Telling people that they are out of their depth, and need to get back to you after a lot more study, is a much less effective thing to say than you might think. The problem is that it's something cranks and crackpots say quite a lot. I guess you could say that the "Show, don't tell" principle of creative writing goes for arguments, too.

Otherwise ...
I'll bet you a case of beer that well under 1% of books published in 2015 contain the phrase, "It supposeth me." It is really obsolete, and very rarely attested in books written this century. Nevertheless you managed to use it correctly, even felicitously. Could you explain how it is that you could do this, but Joseph Smith could not possibly have done anything like it? What have you got, that he hadn't got?

Anonymous said...

Anglin: If you told me I was out of my depth with physics that I was making assertions about, and knowing I had no degree in physics, that I had only studied it at an introductory level in high school and college, then I would agree with you and start asking questions, trying to learn from you. Only later if I had spent the time in serious study for years would I begin to make assertive claims. So I'm done with this colloquy.

ebu: To be clear, my POV is that the BofM contains a great number of Christ's words:

(2 Nephi 27:20,22,24)
And I [Christ] am able to do mine own work;
wherefore thou shalt read the words which I shall give unto thee.
Wherefore when thou hast read the words which I have commanded thee
And again it shall come to pass that the Lord shall say unto him [JSJr]
that shall read the words that shall be delivered him:

(3 Nephi 21:11)
Therefore it shall come to pass that
whosoever will not believe in my words — which am Jesus Christ —
which the Father shall cause him to bring forth unto the Gentiles
and shall give unto him power that he shall bring them forth unto the Gentiles,


The form of the English of the BofM tells us that they were not Joseph Smith's words. That English form fully supports the internal textual declaration that they are Christ's words. The content you assert to be impossible in a divinely received BofM was of course entirely possible for God. You refuse to acknowledge the POV of a revealed text translated into English by divine power containing universal/eternal Christian truths. So be it. And I'm done with this conversation too.

Quantumleap42 said...

Wow, I leave the conversation for a few days and I come back to a thread with 100+ comments and still growing. A lot of arguing over details when the metaphysics is in dispute.

I should respond to those who took the time to respond to me, so perhaps an analogy would help clarify my points. The thing to remember about analogies is that they can only be taken so far. Analogies come with even more pitfalls when the thing being analogized deals with fundamental differences in metaphysics. When it comes to metaphysical questions, I try to remember these three questions:

1. What is the hardest thing to see?
2. What is the hardest thing to comprehend?
3. What is the hardest thing to change?

They all three have the same answer, “Myself”.

So now the analogy. In 1919 Arthur Eddington made a remarkable observation of the shift in the apparent position of a star as the path of the light was bent by the gravity of the sun during a solar eclipse. This was the first confirmation of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. The theory and its confirmation represented a significant change in our metaphysics that now forms the foundation of our understanding of the universe. It provides answers to the origin and evolution of our universe and also the prediction of rather strange objects such as black holes. For those who do not share the metaphysical paradigm that allows for the existence of gravitational lensing, black holes and other such concepts, trying to explain these things can seem like an exercise in futility (trust me, I know).

For those who accept its divine origin the appearance of the Book of Mormon represents a significant change or difference in our metaphysical paradigm. This paradigm allows for the appearance of angels, revelation and divine authority, all strange concepts to those who do not share this paradigm. For those who do not share this metaphysical paradigm trying to explain these things can seem like an exercise in futility (trust me, I know).

The whole debate regarding the existence of chiasmus, and whether or not Joseph Smith could have written them is like arguing about whether or not Eddington actually saw a shift in the apparent position of the star. Someone might object and say that the atmosphere is full of optical illusions, such as rainbows, green flashes, and mirages (oohhh! did you know that the atmosphere can bend light! how do you know it was the sun and not the atmosphere?). The Eddington apologists respond by insisting that his observation was done in such a way that all those things didn’t play a roll. Critics respond by saying that it really could have been just about anything else, or that all it takes is a bit of squinting to see the shift. It’s nothing special, anyone with a telescope and some eyes can make stars shift their position.

The debate won’t really go anywhere because this isn’t really a debate about the apparent position of a star, or the presence of ancient Hebraic literary structures in the Book of Mormon. This is a debate over fundamental views of reality. Whether or not God would, or could direct Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Mormon, or even if God exists. Those are the real questions here, and they are the hardest metaphysical questions to answer because they go back to my three questions mentioned at the beginning.

[Cont. in next comment.]

Quantumleap42 said...

So how do we resolve the fundamental questions of this debate? I think that what Ryan said above was very profound but that, “it was nothing that would be remarkable to anyone who didn't experience it.” We must try this out and learn by our own experience. There is a lot more to the Book of Mormon than chiasmus, and there is a lot more to the reasons for our faith than literary devices. Given our personal experiences the divine origin of the Book of Mormon is the explanation that has the greatest explanatory and predictive power. Because of that we act according to paradigm we have.

So would it be possible to convince me otherwise. It would be easier to convince me of the non-existence of black holes than to convince me that the Book of Mormon does not have a divine origin. The evidence gained through my personal experience is too great to rationally say otherwise. To extend this analogy just a little further, if it turns out that black holes really don’t exist, as one of my colleagues in my department has been insisting (I think she’s wrong, but that’s a different discussion), then it would only change how I understand black holes, not that these gravitationally compact objects that we currently call black holes have no basis in reality. The evidence for gravitationally compact objects, currently called black holes, is more than a single solution to the Einstein equations.

It is the same way with the Book of Mormon. If the Early Modern English in the Book of Mormon turns out to be nothing more than accident, it will not change my view of the book, but if it is right then it teaches me something about the translation process. There are other evidences, I consider chiasmus to be one that is well established (call it a mirage if you will, but I think it’s solid). But then there are the evidences that come from personal experiences. Like Ryan said in a previous comment, “For me these various experiences in different settings put together have been enough to convince me that Joseph was telling the truth”. Those are the strong paradigm shifting experiences from which our understanding flows.

The details can be debated, but at some point the debate is irrelevant if the true dispute is over metaphysics. That can only be solved by personal experience. Until then there will never be agreement over what constitutes evidence.

Anyway, I should stop before Jeff tells me to get my own blog.

James Anglin said...

That seems like a perfectly reasonable attitude to me. If the Early Modern English features in the Book of Mormon were somehow to be proven to be perfectly consistent with fraud, that would by no means compel everyone to believe that the Book actually was a fraud. It probably should, as you say, affect how believing Mormons understood the Book's translation process. This might be a significant theological adjustment, but by no means would it amount to apostasy.

I think I have a similar attitude, myself, to the bodily resurrection of Jesus. At the moment I'm pretty inclined to believe it. It would obviously be a very unusual event, but I suppose that God might well wish to make such a radical exception to the ordinary rules, given the special circumstances. But if it were somehow proven that Jesus's body was just stolen or lost, in some unlikely chain of events that was still much less unlikely than resurrection, I don't think this would make me abandon Christianity. The Incarnation of the Word of God is not mainly about any particular hunk of meat, after all. I would change my understanding of the nature of the Incarnation; but maybe not even by that much.

I also have about the same attitude to black holes, for what that's worth.

But what I, at least, have been trying to discuss in this thread has not been the fundamental paradigm of revelation, but rather just the nature and strength of the argument about Early Modern English. If I accept the analogy with Eddington's 1919 eclipse observation, I would say that I am setting aside the question of whether spacetime could possibly be curved, and simply pressing Eddington to say something less naively dismissive about the issue of atmospheric refraction.

If it could somehow be proven that the Book of Mormon grammar really was extremely difficult to produce by fakery, it would not make me believe in the Book's inspiration. It would merely make me adjust my understanding of Joseph Smith's intellect and psychology. So it's not as though I have a big axe to grind in this discussion. The apologetic argument about Early Modern English syntax in the Book of Mormon just seems to me to be based on severe misinterpretations of basic linguistics: overinterpretations of what it means for an expression to be obsolete, and for grammar to be instinctive.

Apologists want those concepts to mean things that they just don't mean, because otherwise their whole argument collapses. But when I press them to justify these crucial premises, all I get are angry insistences that I would never ask these questions if I weren't so out of my depth. In other words, the apologists seem to be relying on appeal to authority. To me, that's a bad sign.

Jeff Lindsay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff Lindsay said...

Sorry, have been away. I've been hoping that someone here would help Orbiting with his objections to the chiasmus in Helaman 6, where the pivot point does look obscure (to us English readers), for the connection, if any, must be between the Lord and Zedekiah. Huh?

Orbiting raised a reasonable concern:
Also as chiasms get longer, words/phrases/ideas might appear on both sides, but no longer be very parallel. At that point the chiastic structure can start to break down and become so inobvious that readers need to have things explained to them, as in Heleman 6:

(g) which was after the son of Zedekiah;
(g´) for the Lord

Here, at the pivotal point, we have hardly any parallelism at all. Is which was after the son of Zedekiah really parallel to for the Lord? Not much. If a skilled ancient author was really trying to be artistic, could he not have done better than this?

Fortunately, I'm happy to report that the ancient author actually did a better job than that--in his Semitic language. Take a look at the meaning of the word "Zedekiah" in Hebrew. In Strong's Concordance, the entry for H6667 (Zedekiah), we find this simple meaning: "Jehovah is righteous." It's a name that includes a reference to the Lord and fits an elegant chiasmus rather well.

This does not break apart, as one would expect if Joseph were just subconsciously tossing out parallels in imitation of what he had heard from the Bible. This chiasmus, like many in the Bible, is obscured not only by typesetting but also by translation, one of the may reasons it is hard to notice and implausible to argue that significant and meaningful chiasmic structures can occur in relatively high frequency by mere chance or imitation of what is often rather hidden in the Bible. There's a reason scholar's didn't recognize it's existence until relatively recent times, where it is still unknown to many students of the Bible. It's a minor one, but cool. Hope you can see it now. But yes, you are right, it has the disadvantage of requiring explanation from someone who knows Hebrew or has access to Hebrew tools, which was not part of Joseph's skill set when he was translating the Book of Mormon in remote Harmony.

Jeff Lindsay said...

As for the slop in Alma 36, I've addressed it from what I think is a new but rather dusty perspective in the next post after this, "Dusting Off a Famous Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, Alma 36." I hope students of the Book of Mormon will find some meaningful nuggets in there. Sorry for the length. But I did add an executive summarize to get to the main points quickly.

Glenn Thigpen said...

James Anglin said "If it could somehow be proven that the Book of Mormon grammar really was extremely difficult to produce by fakery, it would not make me believe in the Book's inspiration. It would merely make me adjust my understanding of Joseph Smith's intellect and psychology. So it's not as though I have a big axe to grind in this discussion. The apologetic argument about Early Modern English syntax in the Book of Mormon just seems to me to be based on severe misinterpretations of basic linguistics: overinterpretations of what it means for an expression to be obsolete, and for grammar to be instinctive."

James, can you please explain just how you came about those metrics? Can you explain, using evidence of some sort, that we "apologists" can wrestle with; either agree with or come up with a counter argument. You are speaking in unsubstantiated generalities.Have you read Stanford Carmack's articles on the EmodE in the Book of Mormon? He lays out some very information that a critic can deal with. There are ways of checking his basic linguistic facts about how rare the EmodE occurrences in the Book of Mormon are. He did a lot of research looking for examples of those occurrences in articles, etc. to which Joseph Smith may have had access to.

If you could show other authors who have inserted EmodE in their efforts, before, concurrent, or evan after Joseph Smith, you might have a point.Maybe you could get up with Stanford and educate him on how he is mishandling the linguistics there.


Anonymous said...

Glad you pointed out the chiastic center of Helaman 6 with Zedekiah ~ Lord, Jeff. It was mentioned at 1:52 PM, December 14, 2015, with highlighting given, but ignored or misunderstood. In fact, some here with Hebrew knowledge should have been able to grasp it from the bolding. But you've made it explicit, and probably have pointed it out years ago on this very blog, because it is striking evidence of expert Hebrew authorship. Then you combine that with expert eModE authorship woven into the chiasm and you really have something.

James Anglin said...

It's not about how rare these old-fashioned grammatical constructions are, in any books that Joseph Smith could have read. Because the idea is NOT that he was using them at any frequency that was typical in any source he had. The idea is that he was deliberately using them much MORE frequently than they were used in any contemporary source.

All that Smith had to know, in order to produce this archaic grammar at any frequency he chose, was that grammatical constructions of these forms were POSSIBLE as old-fashioned English. The fact that these forms were possible in old-fashioned English must have been well-known to almost everyone in Smith's day, for otherwise the Book of Mormon would have been notorious in Smith's day for its terrible grammar — and in that case it would never have been accepted as the product of the gift and power of God.

For over 150 years, the dialect of the Book of Mormon passed for being the same as that of the King James Bible. No-one suggested otherwise, until Stanford Carmack ran the numbers to discover that the frequencies of some of its constructions were actually more in line with an older dialect.

Heightened frequency of known but archaic forms is no miracle. All it takes is deliberate over-use of archaic forms.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, time to clear up the misinformation provided by the uninformed.

The only people who knew what the language of the dictation actually was were those who had access to the original MS or who could systematically compare usage against the printer's MS and the first edition. The printer's MS had hundreds of errors and changes introduced as part of the copying of the original MS. The 1830 first edition had hundreds of errors and changes introduced as part of the copying of the printer's MS, which, as just noted, had hundreds of errors and changes introduced as part of the copying of the original MS. The 1837 second edition had a huge amount of grammatical editing incorporated, and it was based on both the printer's MS and the first edition, introducing its own errors. Etc. Not until 2009 did we have access to something approaching the original text of the BofM.

Critics have criticized the language of the BofM since day one.

This begins to show how inaccurate and uninformed the above comment by Anglin is.

Glenn Thigpen said...

Do you have any examples of people deliberately or otherwise inculcating archaic grammar unknown to them in their documents. You are making assertions which you have not backed up with any type of facts. It is not enough to just assert something, that assertion needs to be backed up with some type of evidence, some type of examples for it to be more than idle speculation.

Stanford Carmack was not the person that originally noted the EmodE grammar in the Book of Mormon. Just about everyone was assuming the the Book of Mormon grammar was an effort to mimic the Bible in form and fashion. Royal found some of EmodE during his work on the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project. Stanford has furthered that research.

Can you actually enumerate the probability that Joseph Smith could have just accidentally made up the EmodE without being exposed to it. Even Orbiting is saying that it must have come from his background somewhere (although he has offered no evidence of it), somehow,and not just out of thin air.


James Anglin said...

Calling it "Early Modern English" is just refusing to look at your premise.

All you really have, concretely, is heightened frequency of some archaic expressions and grammatical forms.

("Archaic expressions" include terms labelled "obsolete", which are terms that have become very rare in contemporary writing. Obsolete terms are well known to persist a long time in old books that are still read, and in speech, especially in remoter areas.)

Why do you think that heightened frequency of archaic expressions is hard to explain?

Glenn Thigpen said...

@James Anglin

Why can't you explain, with examples, rather than assertions???

Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack have produced examples of EmodE which, not only were obsolete, were not attested to in any published works to which Joseph could have had access to.

If you wish to assert that Joseph's use could have come from his environment, some examples would help your effort. So far, the only examples that have been found are in the Book of Mormon. Show us something from Joseph's environment, rather than reductionist arguments.


everythingbeforeus said...


What is the theory then concerning this EModE? What am I to take home? How does this fit in with the narrative of the divine origins of the book? What reason do you propose to explain God's choice of EModE in the Book of Mormon translation?

Anonymous said...

everything: To discard a theory because one has determined that any reason for it is lame, is frankly lame. That is especially so in this particular case when it comes from a heavily biased anti-Mormon. (I see no valid reason to complain about this label in this instance since it fits well.)

Suppose there is extensive eModE in the BofM that is not found in the presumed model text, the King James Bible. That indicates expert eModE authorship. Those who have been (proposed as) associated with the composition of the BofM were not experts in eModE. So authorship must be sought elsewhere. Either a human expert in eModE composed the English-language text (and this person also needed to be an expert in biblical studies as well as other things), or what Smith said is accurate: the authorship was divine. That's a succinct and straightforward explanation of the matter wrt eModE.

As noted before, anti-Mormons are more biased in this matter than Mormons. The latter simply note the heavy presence of eModE, taking away the obvious implications, as stated briefly above. The anti-Mormon recognizes this threat to their position, and so they feel compelled to attack it, even unreasonably, to the detriment of their credibility.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Glenn Thigpen said...


I am leaving anything about God, divine origin, etc. out of the discussion. All I am asking is that you, James Anglin. OrbitingKolob, or any other critic that cares to chime in, provide us with some evidence that Joseph Smith could have simplt made up archaic sounding phrases and somehow produced EmodE.

Example could be from other authors contemporary to or preceding the Book of Mormon, from Joseph's own writings, or from letters, diaries, etc. by people who lived in the areas Joseph was raised up.

At this point in time there has been a singular lack any sort of response to the information about the EmodE by critics except assertions that it could (maybe must have) come from his environment. Yet, there has been no evidence produced that EmodE phrases and grammar were part of Joseph's environment.

If you have read Stanford Carmack's, then you will already be aware that the the EmodE in the Book of Mormon is not found in any documents that Joseph may have had access to. Maybe you can find some.


everythingbeforeus said...


I am not discarding any theories. I want to hear a theory. I haven't heard one yet. I've only been shown hard evidence that EModE is in the Book of Mormon. I don't dispute that. I will even accept the documentation that it is in the BoM at such a frequency that Joseph Smith couldn't have put it there. I am on board with all that.

Now...I just want to know what you all make of it. I know your theories will just be theories. I just want to hear your ideas. That's all. I am very interested in this discussion. I really am. And I have learned a lot.

You say, "Either a human expert in eModE composed the English-language text (and this person also needed to be an expert in biblical studies as well as other things), or what Smith said is accurate: the authorship was divine."

I am not convinced that these are the only two options. But I'll play along. So, tell me exactly how EModE in the Book of Mormon proves that Smith was accurate in stating the book to be divine? How do you jump to this conclusion?

Is EModE a sign of divinity in other books?

everythingbeforeus said...


Some of the EModE in the BoM IS in the Bible.


Anonymous said...

Of course eModE is not a sign of divinity in isolation. It is a sign of divinity in connection with the facts of the specific case at hand. As explained rather clearly above. Those who set down in writing the BofM were not experts in eModE. The BofM exhibits extensive nonbiblical eModE so an expert is called for. And of course some of the eModE in the BofM is in the KJB.

everythingbeforeus said...

Okay,...so what reason would God possibly have in putting EModE into the Book of Mormon? And if God wanted it in there a little bit, why didn't he just have the whole thing written in complete EModE, rather than just a few grammatical structures?

I think your thesis really needs a lot more support. I just don't think the presence of EModE is proof positive of the book's divine origins. It just raises far more questions than it ever answers.

Anonymous said...

It is apparent that you have chosen to be willfully ignorant about the matter. What was written above? Extensive eModE. Is that a little bit? No. Sorry, lame response on your part.

Nick Frederick's research shows that there is much complex interweaving of KJV language in the BofM. As an analyst with blinders on, you focus on this and say, short-sightedly, that JSJr must be the author since there is so much KJV lg in the dictation. However, there is a huge amount of non-KJV eModE in the BofM as well. Then in your dishonest, misleading way you respond that there is only a little bit, and that it raises more questions than it answers. Wrong on all counts.

The non-KJV eModE in the BofM harmonizes with the KJV-style eModE in the BofM. Given the presence of bulk biblical passages (containing some nonbiblical eModE tweaks) and the extensive interweaving of KJV phrases in the BofM text, it makes sense that adjacent BofM language is what might be called broad eModE (the earliest text [2009 Yale ed.] certainly gives the reader a wider glimpse of eModE usage than the KJV does). KJV language is essentially narrow eModE, restricted in various usage patterns. It does not give readers examples of quite a few usage possibilities and tendencies of the Early Modern period. If the BofM text went from narrow biblical eModE to modern English over and over, then the text would be less consistent in form and less fluid.

It really is time for you to study the matter instead of repeatedly issuing inaccurate statements. I doubt you have studied the earliest text. It is very different in form from the current LDS text. If you don't want to buy the 2009 Yale edition, then you can look at Skousen's Analysis of Textual Variants for free online at Interpreter. But it's easier to read the earliest text. On almost every page you'll run into eModE usage that sounds strange or ungrammatical because it isn't biblical. For instance, right off the bat one can read "I know that the record which I make to be true". This complementation switch can be found used by Thomas More and others in eModE. It is found three times in the earliest text.

everythingbeforeus said...

I am dishonest and misleading. Okay, I also throw rocks at windows in the dead of night and pop balloons at the county fair. I am an awful person.


How does EXTENSIVE EModE prove that the book is divine? It only proves that Joseph Smith couldn't have written it. It doesn't therefore follow that the book is divine.

Glenn Thigpen said...

EBU said,

"Some of the EModE in the BoM IS in the Bible."

That is not disputed. It is the presence of EmodE in the book of Mormon that is not in the Bible, and the relative frequency of it that is the puzzle.

And in another post, EBU said: "How does EXTENSIVE EModE prove that the book is divine? It only proves that Joseph Smith couldn't have written it. It doesn't therefore follow that the book is divine."

And I actually agree with that statement.

So now comes the kicker. If the EmodE demonstrates that Joseph Smith could not have written the Book of Mormon, your new task is to cogently present to us an alternative naturalistic explanation, a person who could have written the Book of Mormon using the EmodE. However, the EmodE is not the only reason that Joseph Smith could not have been the author of the Book of Mormon. But you have to start somehwere.


everythingbeforeus said...

Have you ever considered the possibility that Joseph Smith channeled the book through the power of deceptive spirits who spoke Early Modern English?

It is a "different Gospel" after all. And Paul warns us about angels who bring us a different Gospel. (Remember, the word Gospel means "good news," and it refers specifically to the account of the life, ministry, and death/resurrection of Jesus Christ. So by that definition, which is Paul's definition, the Book of Mormon IS a different Gospel.)

There is at least one dark alternate story of Moroni's visit which no one hears about now. Joseph was visited at the Cumorah site by a man who had his throat slit from ear to ear.

If you think this is strange, there is a breakaway group that considers this story authentic. And this cut-throat angel who visits Joseph Smith first claims to be a Saxon, before later revealing himself to be Moroni. Some Saxons eventually settled in parts of England. These are the Saxons of the "Anglo-saxon" which is Old English, an early form of English.

See the connections?

Joseph Smith, contrary to Biblical admonition, was channeling the spirits of the dead (necromancy). As a result of this activity, he produced another Gospel, also contrary to Biblical admonition.

Far-fetched? Of course it is. But is it any more far-fetched than the official narrative?

Anonymous said...

Yes, Glenn, it will be very difficult for ebu to plausibly propose alternative authorship. The setting down in writing of the BofM is very well documented and witnessed, including by Michael Morse. There has never been evidence of another MS that preceded the original MS and at this point in time the odds are vanishingly small that there ever will be evidence of an earlier MS. Furthermore, an eModE expert must have been the author, with native speaker competence in eModE, and also with extensive knowledge in other domains, including Hebrew, Hebrew poetics, Greek, geography, rhetoric, historical matters, etc. I conclude from all this that ebu's position rests on extremely shaky ground. Perhaps he should acknowledge this fact with respect to the BofM in future conversations with family.

Anonymous said...

Good luck, ebu, with your far-fetched notions. I rest with open-minded Christians who can see the BofM for what it is: a beautiful, Christ-centered text.

everythingbeforeus said...

You should check out the Church of the Living Messiah, publisher of the online site called Voice of Zion Magazine. They have new scripture! It is called the Book of Ponael. It was transmitted through a seerstone to Samuel Warren Shaffer in November of 2009. Ponael was the great-great grandson of Amoz the prophet, father also of Isaiah, and he wrote his record in reformed Egyptian also, just like all the prophets of the school of the prophets in Jerusalem.

And guess what...there is even the EModE "did" syntax in this book! Amazing! The Second Book of Ponael, Chapter 10, Verse 6 says: "And it came to pass that I did take up the pen and did write these things, and did take the Records which Azmiah had kept and did add them unto my chest of relics."

How in the world!? Amazing.......Four times in only one verse!

Also, check out the Latter Day Church of Jesus Christ. They are also Mormon offshoots in the UK. And guess what! Yes...they have lost scripture too. They have a sacred text that was revealed to them and which claims to be the dealings of God with the ancient inhabitants of the British Isles!

It's called the Book of Jeraneck. According to their site, "Now a record has come forward written by those that lived anciently upon the land of Great Britain between the years 3000 B.C until 700 B.C and much of what they have written will shock and destroy many of the false ideas that many of these learned men of the world have had to say concerning the past of those that lived long ago upon the land of Great Britain. The book of Jeraneck stands as the record of a dying civilisation of early Britain which had constructed Stonehenge and the other stone circles, hill forts and burial mounds and other such places as meeting places and places of worship of Almighty God, the same God who brought them from the Tower of Babel to Britain to have them serve Him as His People."

So much revelation going around these days. So many lost records! I wonder where everyone got this idea?

Anonymous said...

It's the systematic did usage that is important, not one verse or even one chapter. And of course this particular usage, which you have not analyzed systematically, could very well have arisen under the influence of the BofM. You go on quite stupidly, ebu, and I've had enough of your ravings. You know that when JSJr was born, there was 1/7 the number of people on earth, and they didn't have (easy) access to the vast amount of information that we do now. If you were a reasonable fellow, you would look at different sides of the issue, and investigate it deeply. But you do not. If you did, you would know that the eModE argument rests on hundreds of pieces and dozens of types of solid textual evidence. It's not just did syntax; it's much more, in varied syntactic domains. Add to that dozens of cases of apparently obsolete vocabulary usage. You've painted yourself into a corner that you don't want to paint yourself out of. You can if you will. Cheers, and Happy New Year.

everythingbeforeus said...

I will go on quite stupidly a little longer with my ravings.

Let's not forget James Strang, who also found a buried record and translated it by the power of God, and even won Martin Harris to his cause. Yes...the same Martin Harris who never denied his testimony of the Book of Mormon.

Let's not forget Christopher Nemelka who is Hyrum Smith reincarnated, and who translated and brought forth the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon. Many people read this book and had a spiritual confirmation that it was true.

Let's not forget Muhammed, too. Under the inspiration of the divine, he recorded scripture that claims to be the most correct book on earth, filling in the gaps of the imperfect Bible. Have you ever read the Koran? Have you prayed to find out if it is true? If not, why not?

See what company you are in? You are dealing with scoundrels and charlatans. You are dealing with the same people described in 2 Peter 2. These are the false teachers that you have been warned about. Joseph Smith is in the same company.

You need this all to be true, because you have built your life upon it. I understand where you are, because I was there.

But here is one question for you to ponder. If the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is NOT God's church, how would you know? What would it have to do in order for you to realize that it isn't what it claims to be. If you seek truth, you need to answer this question. Otherwise, you have painted yourself into the corner.

Anonymous said...

Tangential, inconclusive matters. Saul acted like a scoundrel for a time. How do you know your much-loved biblical passages weren't penned by charlatans? How do you know they speak truth? You are operating inconsistently and irrationally. Your anti-Mormon sentiments are clouding your judgment.

Glenn Thigpen said...

EBU Said, "Have you ever considered the possibility that Joseph Smith channeled the book through the power of deceptive spirits who spoke Early Modern English?"

That is one possibility. After all Pearl Curran supposedly channeled a spirit who called herself Patience Worth and produced over four hundred thousand words over a period of some twenty-five years. This so-called automatic writing also supposedly contained information about things that Pearl could not have know. I don't know if that has ever been debunked.

Joseph had to receive that information from a source external to himself. So we are back to whether it is of divine origin or other. And that lies in the spiritual realm, with spiritually discerned answers.


James Anglin said...

@Glenn Thigpen:

Why would Joseph Smith have needed to read an example in order to produce a form like it?

First of all, verbal examples are just as good as anything written. I cannot retrieve two-hundred-year-old echoes from Joseph Smith's childhood, so obviously I cannot prove that he ever heard any old-fashioned phrases. It is, however, perfectly plausible that Smith did hear a lot of old-fashioned language from old folks around him; the Book of Mormon is a Mormon scripture with a lot of other challenges to face from skeptics; and the notion that the Book was composed by someone who naturally spoke Early Modern English is problematic even for Mormon doctrine. I would say that this places the burden of proof pretty decisively on the people trying to assert that the language of the Book of Mormon could not have been composed by the man who dictated it. So it's not a problem for me that I can't prove what Joseph Smith heard. It's a problem for you, that you can't prove what he didn't hear.

Secondly, and even more decisive in my view, there is what Orbiting Kolob observed just recently: language is productive. That's kind of the whole point of language, in fact. We are not all just parroting back previously heard phrases. Our brains are pre-loaded with linguistic instincts that recognize grammatical structures so that we can apply them in novel ways. So Smith would not necessarily have needed even to have heard an archaic construction, ever in his life, to have known that it was valid and used it. He would merely have needed to have heard enough constructions like it to recognize the pattern.

By now I have asserted many times, in this thread and others, that the concrete evidence for Early Modern English in the Book of Mormon consists solely of heightened frequency of archaic expressions which Smith would have known to be valid old-fashioned English. I have pointed out that this scenario has an obvious explanation: deliberate over-use of archaisms.

In response to this simple, basic point, I have seen vague assertions that the Early Modern English in the Book of Mormon is somehow too expert or perfect for anyone born after 1700 to have produced it. Just what about it is so expert or perfect has not been made clear. As far as I have noticed, nobody has made any specific claims about the evidence beyond what I have said: heightened frequency of archaisms. (I include here the claim of obsolete terms, since that is all that "obsolete" really means — an annotation in the OED is by no means proof that Smith never heard or saw the like.)

And I have seen demands that I produce proof that Smith knew old English — as if the whole concept of Early Modern English in the Book of Mormon were so obviously reasonable, and the evidence of archaism so unambiguous and compelling, that I bore a burden of proof.

And I have seen appeals to the authority of Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack as experts, the laces of whose sandals I as a mere physicist am unworthy to untie, even though none of their material on Early Modern English in the Book of Mormon has faced peer review by historical linguists.

Folks, I'm afraid I've done my best and I give up. If you really don't see how ridiculous this Early Modern English stuff is, I'll have to leave you to it. Just don't get your hopes up that it's going to convince any non-Mormons.

Anonymous said...

Anglin wrote: "the concrete evidence for Early Modern English in the Book of Mormon consists solely of heightened frequency of archaic expressions which Smith would have known to be valid old-fashioned English."

That is not so. Smith didn't know that the BofM's did syntax was old-fashioned English. Take "it supposeth me". Only by fortuitous analogy could Smith have produced it. He had no evidence that the simple dative was used with this verb. He knew about simple dative forms from the KJB, but he also knew that many verbs didn't use the simple dative. Also, take "counsel" = 'consult'. Only by chance could Smith have used it with that meaning in the text. He didn't know it had been used with that meaning in the 16c. There are many mutually supportive lexical items. There are many mutually supportive syntactic items that could have been appropriately used only by fortuitous analogy. There are many mutually supportive syntactic systems in the BofM. So Anglin, what you accept is improbable analogical bull's-eyes 100 times over and more. And in the case of vocabulary you accept that dozens of apparently obsolete words were in Smith's dialect, or that he made dozens of lucky hits in meaning. The probability of either view is very low.

This is not the place for the exemplar-based evidence that gives a fairly comprehensive picture of eModE in the BofM. Also, what do you think of a non-physicist who calls an evidence-based theory of fundamental physics ridiculous? You don't have the background to make a similar claim with any degree of confidence about the BofM. Yet you do it anyway because of your strong bias. You are more biased than virtually every Mormon about this matter. But your claim must be summarily rejected not because of your prejudice, but because of your lack of knowledge.

Take the did syntax evidence which you have briefly considered. You know that hundreds of thousands of new books were published without 16c did syntax patterns between the last new book that had it (probably in the 1670s) and the BofM. You know that as a non-expert Smith didn't know about heavy did usage. He didn't know that it had been English usage for about a century in the Early Modern period. You know that it wasn't derivable from the KJB, the Bible he read. All he knew from that text was that the translators didn't like to use the word "ate", so they used "did eat" most of the time. So yes, Smith could have used did at a 30% rate, because the emphatic use was in his language and it is conceivable that he could have made an analogical leap from "did eat", but the probability of that is low because no one else did it in his time and no one had done it since the 1600s. However, Smith not only did that, he also made a fortuitous hit in the syntactic distribution as studied by Ellegard (1953), and he also made a fortuitous hit in using it heavily with certain verbs that used it heavily in the Early Modern period, and in using it lightly with certain verbs that used it lightly in the Early Modern period. All this makes the p value of this particular part of the BofM quite low. Thus did syntax, running through the whole text, can be viewed as a foundational item, supported by hundreds of other linguistic features in the text, including other syntactic systems, syntax, morphosyntax, and lexis which match identifiable Early Modern usage and do not match modern usage.

Glenn Thigpen said...

@James Anglin

All of your assertions are empty rhetoric, devoid of the slightest attempt to provide any references. Your accusations of an appeal to authority are inapt. It is not an appeal to authority when using experts in a field to cite references. Of course, your appeal to authority is fine, especially since you are quoting are referencing OrbitingKolob for your authority.

The references that have been cited provide data that can be evaluated, quantified, analyzed if you wish to refute them. The arguments for the EmodE heightened frequency in the Book of Mormon and the EmodE that is found in the Book of Mormon but in no other documents that would have been accessible to Joseph is not ridiculous, but the assertions without evidence in rebuttal certainly are.

So you may exert this discussion declaring victory, and Orbiting Kolob may cheer you on, but you have provided me nothing to even try to refute. No citations, No evidence. No examples. Sounds a bit like Baghdad Bob to me.


everythingbeforeus said...

And still....no one here can tell me why God put 16th Century English in a translation created in the 19th Century of an ancient American record. Until someone can even begin to propose an intelligent answer to this question, all of this is complete and utter nonsense. It is nothing more than extremely intelligent people using their amazing intelligence to say nothing of any significance at all.

Was Joseph Smith channeling a dead 16th Century Englishman through the seerstone? Is God a 16th Century Englishman?

Please...someone...make some sense of this!

Anonymous said...

"The non-KJV eModE in the BofM harmonizes with the KJV-style eModE in the BofM. Given the presence of bulk biblical passages (containing some nonbiblical eModE tweaks) and the extensive interweaving of KJV phrases in the BofM text, it makes sense that adjacent BofM language is what might be called broad eModE (the earliest text [2009 Yale ed.] certainly gives the reader a wider glimpse of eModE usage than the KJV does). KJV language is essentially narrow eModE, restricted in various usage patterns. It does not give readers examples of quite a few usage possibilities and tendencies of the Early Modern period. If the BofM text went from narrow biblical eModE to modern English over and over, then the text would be less consistent in form and less fluid."

James Anglin said...

I will say no more about Book of Mormon grammar. I am not claiming victory, but confessing exhaustion.

I did happen to look up a bit more about Stanford Carmack and Royal Skousen, and learned some interesting things about Skousen.

First of all I might almost have met him. He spent a semester in 2001 at the MPI for Psycholinguistics, in Nijmegen, where my wife was a fellow for five years. She left in 1999, but if Skousen had come just two years earlier, I would very likely have met him while visiting my wife. (We were married then, but had jobs in different countries. Academia is like that.) A two-year miss is small, for the size of the world.

Secondly, his main work in linguistics — apart from the Book of Mormon text project — has been to develop a thing he calls 'analogical modeling'. It's a rather specific machine learning algorithm with a misleadingly general-sounding name. The idea is neat, but crudely implemented — and Skousen doesn't seem to have done much to distinguish its essential ideas from implementation details that seem pretty arbitrary. The algorithm's main advantage seems to be that it is straightforward to execute — and that's not a bad feature. So Skousen has gotten a couple of books and several book chapters out of it. That's a bit thin for a whole career on its own, but if you put it together with his Book of Mormon original text work, he looks like a respectable scholar. On the other hand, the only other people who seem to have used Skousen's analogical modeling are a couple of his local colleagues.

The third thing is weird: he's gotten into quantum mechanics. Seriously — he's posted e-prints to the quant-ph section of ArXiv. It's the recent development of his analogical modeling. He wants to invoke quantum computing to somehow make the exponential scaling of his algorithm seem like less of a problem. (Exactly how it will help is less clear; I can't tell whether he's hoping that linguists will start using his algorithm once they get quantum computers, or suggesting that the human brain might be using quantum computation to implement his algorithm in actual speech.) Unfortunately, though, Skousen seems to have read only a bit about quantum computing, and nothing at all about quantum mechanics. A couple of sentences in his lengthy e-prints are trivial, a few more are mistaken, and the rest simply have nothing to do with quantum mechanics or computing. It's not full-blown crackpot, but it's uncomfortable reading. No cringe, but some twinge.

So Skousen is a respectable scholar, but a certain amount of flakiness is in his analogical set, as it were. Having read some of his work within my own field, I'm more reluctant than ever to rely on his authority about dialectical fingerprinting without getting some second opinions from linguistics peers.

(I can find very little about Carmack. He has a BA in linguistics from Stanford and a PhD in Spanish from UCSB, but he seems to be an amateur scholar. Amateur scholars can be excellent, even without doctorates; but by the same token I'm afraid it's quite possible to get a PhD without being an excellent scholar. So Carmack's a mystery.)

Anonymous said...

I think some European scholars have researched in Skousen's analogical modeling, and I remember from his Interpreter bio that Carmack has a PhD in Hispanic Languages, specifically studying Old Catalan and Old Spanish.

Anonymous said...

Anglin, taken from a recent Carmack article:

Stanford Carmack has a linguistics and a law degree from Stanford University, as well as a doctorate in Hispanic Languages and Literature from the University of California, Santa Barbara, specializing in historical syntax and textual analysis. In the past he has had articles published on object–participle agreement in Old Catalan and Old Spanish, and on Georgian verb morphology. He currently researches Book of Mormon syntax as it relates to Early Modern English and contributes, by means of textual analysis, to volume 3 of the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project, directed and edited by Royal Skousen.

James Anglin said...

Thanks for the info about Carmack. I think I did see a reference to that Georgian work somewhere, with his name somewhere near it, but I couldn't tell whether he was the author.

It's still hard to size him up. It's a significant academic accomplishment to earn a PhD from UCSB and publish some research papers, but research is a whole range of high mountains. In some places the going is relatively easy, with lines in place and steps carved. The places where no-one has been before can be a lot harder than that.

It's in principle perfectly possible for somebody to be able to publish a competent little study on a technical point in an established topic, and yet be so far out of their depth on new or fundamental issues that their work verges on crackpottery. For Carmack to come with his degree in Old Spanish and a couple of technical papers, and talk now about Early Modern English in the Book of Mormon, is kind of like a new cardiology intern attempting to perform the world's first brain transplant. Yes, he's a doctor, but it's still not clear that he's qualified for the job.