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

Saturday, June 04, 2016

The Straight and Narrow Path, the Rod, the Spacious Field, and the White Fruit: Further Thoughts on Lehi's Dream

Not to beat a dead Nephite horse, but I'd like to say a few more things about Lehi's dream and the lessons learned through exploring hypermodern theories of modern fabrication for Nephi's record. Some of these issues touch upon questions raised by commenters in my recent posts on Lehi's vision where I feel further information is needed. Other topics are areas for further exploration.

1. The Straight and Narrow Path: Evidence of Plagiarism or of Translation?
Some critics see evidence of plagiarism or modern origins in Nephi's language about the "straight and narrow path." First, I must say that I agree with John Welch's very thoughtful and intelligent discussion of the confusion around "strait and narrow" versus "straight and narrow" in John S. Welch, "Straight (Not Strait) and Narrow," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 16/1 (2007): 18–25, 83–84 (link is to text only, but the article is also available as an attractive PDF). He argues convincingly that the word should be "straight" as it was printed in all editions of the Book of Mormon until 1981.

Whether "strait" or "straight," the direct combination with "narrow" does not occur in the Bible, but does occur in Pilgrim's Progress, a widely known Christian tome published by Paul Bunyan in 1678. In a dream, Goodwill tells the protagonist, Christian, that there are many ways that go down, "and they are crooked and wide; but thus thou mayest distinguish the right from the wrong, the right only being straight and narrow." Did Joseph plagiarize from Paul Bunyan?

The phrase is actually older than Pilgrim's Progress. The use of "straight" near "narrow" is, of course, found in Matthew 7:13-14:
13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Welch explains that "Had the Lord said, 'Strait is the gate, and straight and narrow is the way,' it would have been more descriptive but less poetic." But there is really no need to specify the shape of the path in this bit of poetry. Crooked, winding paths are already ruled out in the scriptures His audience would have known (e.g., Deut. 5:32-33; see also Ps. 5:8 which asks the Lord to "make thy way straight before my face" and Isaiah 40:3, "make straight in the desert a highway for our God").

Bunyan was not the first to see that Lord's narrow path was also straight, not just strait take the Lord's words and move "straight" and "narrow" a little closer together. According to Welch:
Cyprian, a church father of the third century, in an apparent paraphrasing of Matthew 7:13–14, wrote, “How broad and spacious is the way which leadeth unto death, and many there are who go in thereby: how straight and narrow is the way that leadeth to life, and few there are that find it!” He also wrote, “We must persevere in the straight and narrow road of praise and glory.” (Cyprian Treatise 12.3.6, “Three Books of Testimonies against the Jews,” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965], 534, and Epistles of Cyprian 6.3 (in Ante-Nicene Fathers, 5:284), both as cited by Welch).
Origen also wrote of the "the straight and narrow way, which leads to life" (Origen, Commentary on John 10.28, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 10, ed. Allan Menzies [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969], 408, as cited by Welch).

Welch attributes the popularity of the phrase to Bunyan's influence. However, a search of Google Books shows it was also in use in modern English, or rather, Early Modern English, before Bunyan's day, when the Early Modern English era was nearing its end.  For example, the opening page of John Dee's 1591 "Dr. Dee's Apology" sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury speaks of the "true, straight, and most narrow path" of Christians. Two examples from 1632, both in a Christian context,  include a work by Richard Hooker et al. and a work by Robert Chetwind, have "straight and narrow." Examples are easier to find using a database of Early Modern English such as Early English Books Online proximity search at the University of Michigan. There, I can see, for example, a poem published by Robert Albott in 1600 with "For straight and narrow was the way that he did showe." In 1608, Thomas Bell wrote, "First, that the way to heauen (that is to say Gods commaundements) is very straight and narrow, not wide and long, or easie." I also see examples of "straight and narrow" in non-religious contexts, indicating that the pairing was more useful than just paraphrasing scripture. There are many dozens of examples to consider, with many obviously referring to the way to salvation.

One noteworthy point is that "straight and narrow" was not only part of English vocabulary in Joseph's day, but was also part of the vernacular of Early Modern English (which still includes Bunyan, though he was near the end of the period). I mention this because an important observation about the language of the Book of Mormon--not a theory that we Mormons need to buttress our faith, but a fact-based observation that we are struggling to understand--is that much (not all) of the language of the Book of Mormon shows strong influence from Early Modern English in ways that are not readily derived from the KJV Bible, almost as if there were tight control to give an English text that was often moved away from the English of Joseph's day or from KJV English into something slightly earlier and strangely different, yet plain and familiar, readily understandable to English speakers (unlike some Early Modern English). With this came grammar that is bad by modern standards by acceptable in EModE, a story we've covered here before. For now, the important thing is that "straight and narrow," though related to the KJV, is not a direct KJV phrase, but was an established phrase before Bunyan came along While its presence in the Book of Mormon may come from Joseph's own vernacular, as we would expect with a translation, it is also consistent with the unexpected observation that there are many times of possible tight or "semi-tight" control giving text laden with an Early Modern English approach.

One skeptic who objected to the idea that "straight and narrow" could not be explained by being part of Joseph's vocabulary if I also think that there was tight control with words given to Joseph Smith. "You can't have it both ways!" But I have it both ways all the time when I translate, as do many others in translation work. I turn to automated tools or Chinese friends who give me words directly, but I may edit those myself or do translation in my own words at other times. Normal translation is a complex process and the Book of Mormon itself shows much complexity in the language used. If any mental effort was required from Joseph, and it appears that it was, then his mind and language was not entirely separated from the text. The fact that he edited parts of the text after it was dictated and copied in subsequent editions of the Book of Mormon, often taking out some of the best Hebraisms or Early Modern English characteristics, suggests that his mind was involved to some degree.

Further, using a well-known phrase that has entered into the common vocabulary of a language is not plagiarism. Those who speak of quantitative easing, global warming, a black swan event, a utopian society, etc., are drawing upon recently developed phrases that can legitimately be used in an original work because they are part of our language now, as "straight and narrow" was in Joseph Smith's day, and as it was in the Early Modern English era. Whether the account of Lehi's dream was dictated with tight control using an Early Modern English base text or "setting" of some kind, or whether it was translated more loosely in Joseph's own vernacular, as a translation drawing upon either modern or Early Modern English, "straight and narrow" can be used to describe the path leading to eternal life even if that is not literally how the straightness or strictness of the way was expressed on the gold plates themselves. It's a plausible term to use in a translation and is not a sign of "plagiarism."

2. A Rod or a Railing? Active or Static?
Joseph was presumably familiar with railings and fences. Why not describe the rod as such in the text? "Rod" is not a common way in modern English to describe the function of what we perceive as a common railing in Lehi's dream. But it is a terrific word for an ancient Semitic text. "Rod" conveys the meaning of authority and divine power. In the Old Testament, the word "rod" is introduced in Moses' encounter with God on Sinai, when the Lord asks a significant question: "And the LORD said unto him, What is that in thine hand? And he said, A rod." The rod of Moses would become a tool for smiting enemies or overcoming the barrier to liberty and bringing the Israeilites to the promised land, just as the rod in Lehi's dream brings us to the tree of life. The rod can be used as a weapon to thwart enemies of God, as does the rod of iron in Psalm 2:9, and the smiting rod in Isaiah 10:24 and 11:4. In the latter verse, the Lord "shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth," showing a connection to the role of the rod as the "word of God." Similar action against the wiles of the adversary is a also function of "the word of God" (in context, implicitly the rod, IMO) in Helaman 3:29.  The rod from the stem of Jesse is a Messianic symbol (Isaiah 11:1). All these uses provide relevant context for the significance of the rod, as it might have been understood in Nephi's world. (It is often said that Psalm 2 came after the exile. For evidence of a possibly more ancient origin, see William H. Brownlee, "Psalms 1 - 2 as a Coronation Liturgy,"  Biblica Vol. 52, No. 3 (1971): 321-336.)

In the Book of Mormon, Nephi first uses the word rod in an interesting scene in 1 Nephi 3:28-29, where the rod is used both as a tool for smiting and implicitly as a symbol of authority:
[28] And it came to pass that Laman was angry with me, and also with my father; and also was Lemuel, for he hearkened unto the words of Laman. Wherefore Laman and Lemuel did speak many hard words unto us, their younger brothers, and they did smite us even with a rod.
[29] And it came to pass as they smote us with a rod, behold, an angel of the Lord came and stood before them, and he spake unto them, saying: Why do ye smite your younger brother with a rod? Know ye not that the Lord hath chosen him to be a ruler over you, and this because of your iniquities? Behold ye shall go up to Jerusalem again, and the Lord will deliver Laban into your hands.
The angel not only spares Nephi's life, but challenges the use of a rod by the wicked brothers. The question isn't merely "Why do ye smite your younger brother?" but why do they smith him with a rod? This is followed by a challenge to their leadership status: "Know ye not that the Lord hath chosen him to be a ruler over you and this because of your iniquities?" The right to wield the rod is Nephi's, not his elder brothers'. Here the rod is a misused symbol of authority as well as a smiting tool.

With that context having been established, I suggest it is improper to neglect what Nephi and other scriptures already have told us about the symbol of the rod when we encounter it again in Lehi's dream. Obviously the rod, however it was portrayed, was much longer than a typical scepter. It extended along a bank and led to the tree of life. But that doesn't make it a modern railing. Those who gained the benefits of the rod "caught hold of the end of the rod of iron" and then pressed forward by "clinging to the rod" (1 Nephi 8:24), and finally reached the tree of life by "continually holding fast to the rod of iron" (1 Nephi 8:30). The interaction with the rod seems to be one of grabbing and not letting go. This could be advancing along the rod, one grip or handhold at a time, but the language leaves open the possibility that the rod might have been extended toward people on the bank to then pull them toward the tree of life if they would but grab the end and hold on, contrary to the image we tend to have of moving along the rod as we do with a conventional railing. Perhaps the rod as "word of God" played a more dynamic role in leading, guiding, and shepherding people (see the quote from Margaret Barker below on this idea), while also being able to "divide asunder" the cunning, the snares, and the wiles of the devil as does the word of God in Helaman 3:29, and to "land their souls" in the kingdom of heaven (Helaman 3:30).  In any case, it's a dream and elements don't have to have normal dimensions and properties.

Nephi continues using the word "rod" in his writings. In 1 Nephi 17:41, he refers to a active use of the rod to "straiten" the Israelites in the wilderness as he juxtaposes the rod of Moses with the story of the brass serpent on a pole:
And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished.
The rod of Moses, famous for its association with serpents in Exodus 4, is linked here with the brass serpent on a (rodlike?) pole, and the overall effect is to "straiten" the Israelites, or to guide them on a strait (narrow) course that, like the yoke of Christ, is easy but often rejected. Here the rod, the Messiah, and the straight and narrow path are associated. Later uses of "rod" by Nephi are in quoting from the Old Testament, where the smiting action of the rod is mentioned several times (2 Nephi 20: 5, 24, 26; 21:4, 24:29, 30:9).

In 2 Nephi 3:17, the rod as a symbol of power is found in a prophecy of the Lord given to Joseph the ancient Hebrew and recorded on the brass plates, possibly in the Egyptian script or language that Joseph may have used: "I will raise up a Moses; and I will give power unto him in a rod; and I will give judgment unto him in writing." In this couplet, the rod and writing are linked, possibly drawing upon the Egyptian language wordplay in which "rod" (mdw) means "words," in line with the apparent word play in Lehi's dream where the iron rod is explicitly identified as "the word of God." See Matthew Bowen, "What Meaneth the Rod of Iron?," Insights 25/2 (2005). In fact, the Egyptian hieroglyph for "word" is the symbol of the walking stick, a rod, as you can see in Wikipedia's entry, "Walking stick (hieroglyph)." I find this potential word play to be highly interesting and not the kind of thing one would think up on the fly after being impressed by an aqueduct in Rochester, or even with leisurely study in 1829. These findings either support ancient origins for Lehi's vision or provide just one more case of Joseph making a lucky guess in his innovations. Let's at least give that lazy plagiarizer a little innovation credit.

Adding further credibility to the argument for ancient roots of the iron rod as portrayed in the Book of Mormon, non-LDS scholar Margaret Barker writes:

Consider as well the mysterious rod of iron in this Book of Mormon vision (1 Nephi 8: 20; 11: 25). In the Bible, the rod of iron is mentioned four times as the rod of the Messiah. Each mention in the King James Version says the Messiah uses the rod to “break” the nations (Psalm 2: 9) or to “rule” them (Revelation 2: 27; 12: 5; 19: 15). The ancient Greek translation (the Septuagint) is significantly different; it understood the Hebrew word in Psalm 2: 9 to mean “shepherd” and it reads, “He will shepherd them with a rod of iron.” The two Hebrew verbs for “break” and “shepherd, pasture, tend, lead” look very similar and in some forms are identical. The Greek text of the Book of Revelation actually uses the word “shepherd,” poimanei, of the Messiah and his iron rod, so the English versions here are not accurate. The holy child who was taken up to heaven (Revelation 12: 5) was to “shepherd the nations with a rod of iron.” The King James Version of Micah 7: 14 translates this same word as “Feed thy people with thy rod,” where “guide” would be a better translation. Psalm 78: 72 has, “He fed them ... and guided them,” where the parallelism of Hebrew poetry would expect the two verbs to have a similar meaning: “He led them ... he guided them.” Lehi’s vision has the iron rod guiding people to the great tree—the older and probably the original understanding of the word. (Margaret Barker, "Joseph Smith and Preexilic Israelite Religion," in The Worlds of Joseph Smith: The Worlds of Joseph Smith: A Bicentennial Conference at the Library of Congress, ed. John S. Welch [Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press: 2006], Kindle edition, section "White Fruit and a Guiding Rod.")

Let's don't make the mistake of projecting modern views of iron railings into Lehi's dream and then finding that the iron rod is too modern to be from an ancient text. Iron rods, pillars, and bars are attested in the Old Testament and could have been known and recognizable to Lehi and Nephi, with  symbolism and even linguistic aspects relevant to Nephi's usage in an ancient era. Lehi's dream and the rod of iron fits the ancient setting of the Book of Mormon better than a modern railing from Rochester in Joseph's day.

3. New Insights on a Temple Gone Dark: The Use of "Spacious" in the Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon's use of the term "spacious" is another interesting twist in this story. That word is not used in the King James Bible, but is consistently used in a negative context in the Book of Mormon. And in most cases, possibly all, it has an architectural connection (buildings). Thus we have "spacious buildings" (Mosiah 11:8-9), referring to Noah's "elegant and spacious buildings" and "spacious palace," and then Mormon's condemnation of Riplakish, who taxed the people to "build many spacious buildings" in Ether 10:5. But before we read of the great and spacious building, Nephi introduces spacious to describe a field, of all things. But there's something unusual about this field and the other words used to describe it in 1 Nephi 8, as Nephi quotes Lehi:
[9] And it came to pass after I had prayed unto the Lord I beheld a large and spacious field.
[20] And I also beheld a strait and narrow path, which came along by the rod of iron, even to the tree by which I stood; and it also led by the head of the fountain, unto a large and spacious field, as if it had been a world.
A large and spacious field? As if it had been a world? Huh? This always sounded very odd to me--until I read D. John Butler's book, Plain and Precious Things: The Temple Religion of the Book of Mormon’s Visionary Men (2012), available at Smashwords or Amazon for a pittance.

Butler identifies numerous temple themes in Nephi's writings, and explains how the three parts of the ancient Jewish temple are reflected there, as I previously mentioned in a 2012 post, "A Temple Gone Dark," (before I noted the use of "spacious" elsewhere in the Book of Mormon, which strengthens the argument made there). Among the three parts of the Jewish temple, first is the ulam, often translated as “porch,” a room that may be roofless or very tall. Then comes the hekal, the main middle room. That word literally means “building” or “great building.” A high, lofting building. And then comes the debir, the holy of holies, representing the presence and power of the Lord.

As Lehi begins his travel in the dream, he enounters a “dark and dreary wilderness” that joins a “large and spacious field, as if it had been a world” (1 Nephi 8:20). The Hebrew word ulam for the first part of the temple is very close, almost identical in sound, to olam, the word that means “world.” In Butler’s view, there is a Hebrew play on words linking the great and spacious field, “a world,” to the temple’s ulam. If "a world" is a play on words linked to the courtyard of the temple, then "spacious" again could convey an architectural sense. There is a great and spacious courtyard, but dark and dreary from apostasy.

After the ulam comes the hekal, the “great building.” Recall Lehi’s words of what he saw after the spacious field/world/ulam, describing:
a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth. And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit. (1Nephi 8:26-27)
The word “fine” is used repeatedly in the Old Testament to describe the clothing of the priests in the temple, not secular clothing. The people with the fine clothing in the great and spacious building include the priests of the temple in a sinister hekal, part of Lehi’s dark temple experience. Butler also compares the fumes of incense that are part of the hekal with the mists of darkness that lead people astray. The waters of life that are part of many temple scenarios in ancient literature are replaced with filthy waters that lead people astray.

Only those who resist the corrupt religious establishment of his day and the temptations and pressures of the adversary, clinging to the word of God (the iron rod) can make it past the dark ulam and sinister hekal and arrive safely to the debir and the tree of life, also rich in temple imagery.

As is so often the case, there is much, much more going on in the Book of Mormon than meets the eyes of a casual reader rushing through the text. There also appears to be much more going on that can plausibly be attributed to an unschooled farmboy rushing through many pages a day of non-stop dictation with no other documents before before him. Consistency, depth, intrigue, and even clever word plays seem to abound. In my view, this is not the kind of stuff anybody could make up on the fly after bumping into a four-story building near a river and an aqueduct. The most reasonable dating for Joseph's visit to Rochester in July 1829, after the Book of Mormon was already written, only slightly increases the overall implausibility of Rochester's buildings, bridges, aqueduct, river, books, and maps as the source for Lehi's dream, Lehi's trail, or anything else in the Book of Mormon.

4. The Whiteness of the Fruit
While Rick Grunder found an 1838 publication boasting of the abundant fruit in New York, nearly every state has fruit trees and regions that are well known for fruit (Washington apples, Georgia peaches, California and Florida citrus trees, Wisconsin's Door County for cherries, etc.). But finding fruit in New York to explain the fruit of the tree of life is hardly interesting, and doesn't address what really stands out in the Book of Mormon: the unique white fruit of the tree.

Grunder argues that the tree of life vision was created after a June 1829 (actually it was probably July) visit to Rochester, when Joseph was finishing the Book of Mormon as he translated the small plates of Nephi at the end of the translation process. This fails to account for the many references to the words and teachings from the small plates that are woven into the rest of the text, such as Alma 32 where the word of God is compared to a seed that can be planted in our heart and then grow, if carefully nourished, into a tree of life. Alma's description of the tree of life mirror's Lehi's, for it "is sweet above all that is sweet, and ... white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst" (Alma 32:42).  Compare that to 1 Nephi 8: 11-12:
[11] And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen.
[12] And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit.
Nephi also tells us in 1 Nephi 11:8 that "the beauty [of the tree of life] was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow." This is not a New York apple tree, unless there's been some kind of serious industrial accident.

Margaret Barker was impressed with Lehi's description. In the section "White Fruit and a Guiding Rod" of her above-cited chapter in The Worlds of Joseph Smith, she writes:
The tree of life made one happy, according to the Book of Proverbs (Proverbs 3: 18), but for detailed descriptions of the tree we have to rely on the noncanonical texts. Enoch described it as perfumed, with fruit like grapes (1 Enoch 32: 5), and a text discovered in Egypt in 1945 described the tree as beautiful, fiery, and with fruit like white grapes. 21 I do not know of any other source that describes the fruit as white grapes. Imagine my surprise when I read the account of Lehi’s vision of the tree whose white fruit made one happy, and the interpretation that the Virgin in Nazareth was the mother of the Son of God after the manner of the flesh (1 Nephi 11: 14–23).  This is the Heavenly Mother, represented by the tree of life, and then Mary and her Son on earth. This revelation to Joseph Smith was the ancient Wisdom symbolism, intact, and almost certainly as it was known in 600 bce.
There's on old joke about a man on his hands and knees looking for something on the ground under a streetlight one night. A passerby asked him what he was doing. "Looking for a lost key." Where did you lose it? "About a block down the street, I think." So why aren't you searching there? "Because the light is better here." Searching for parallels in the modern era is more convenient, but it's not the right place to fairly evaluate the Book of Mormon.

As is often the case, when looking for parallels to a text in the wrong place, something can always be found, what is found may not be not as meaningful or informative as the parallels encountered when one searches nearer the source. The fake "keys" to the Book of Mormon from Joseph's environment don't really open the book to us. They don't fit the data. And in the case of Rochester and Pilgrim's Progress as purported sources of a major section of Nephi's writing, they fail on numerous counts and don't come close to offering plausibility or explanatory power for the riches that are there.


Christian Adams said...

Thanks for sharing this! Where do you get the time to do this? Your articles seem almost like a full time job.

Anonymous said...

I found a couple of issues with your reasoning/argument as it's presented. First is your addressing of the idea that "you can't have it both ways" in translation. You argue that "normal translation is a complex process," and that Smith had "his mind . . . involved to some degree." The claim of the Book of Mormon is that it wasn't a "normal translation" where Joseph chose which words to use based on the text present on the plates. The claim is that it was a miraculous translation which invovled a seer stone to produce text. This production was achieved often without the plates being physically used, and sometimes with them absent from the room. Joseph had final say over the ultimate text printed, in which his mind was definitely involved, but for your argument to have teeth, it should show that the translated portion you are referencing wasn't produced by word-for-word translation, as is Skousen's claim.

The larger issue I found is in your second point regarding the rod as a static or active element. The flaws in its beginning are especially highlighted by the proximity to the arguments you were making in your first point. You claim "Joseph was presumably familiar with railings and fences. Why not describe the rod as such in the text? 'Rod' is not a common way in modern English to describe the function of what we perceive as a common railing in Lehi's dream." Why should this make a difference if what you argued in your first point is true? The text of the Book of Mormon never attempts to use modern wording--its goal is to sound scriptural and biblical.

You then go on to provide some scriptural examples of the word rod used in various scriptures. It is a weapon, it is a guide, and, you claim, it is a symbol of authority:
"The angel not only spares Nephi's life, but challenges the use of a rod by the wicked brothers. The question isn't merely 'Why do ye smite your younger brother?' but why do they smith [sic] him with a rod? This is followed by a challenge to their leadership status: 'Know ye not that the Lord hath chosen him to be a ruler over you and this because of your iniquities?' The right to wield the rod is Nephi's, not his elder brothers'. Here the rod is a misused symbol of authority as well as a smiting tool." There is no evidence in this text that the rod was a symbol of authority. It is merely a tool. It would be similar to Nephi saying "my brothers beat me with a wet noodle," and the angel saying "why are you beating your brother with a wet noodle? (when a rod would work so much better :^))." If it were a symbol of authority, we would have seen something in the realm of "Know ye not that the Lord hath chosen him to be a ruler over you and to wield this rod?"You then state "With that context having been established" without having really established anything. This, in the argument game, is called a flawed premise. Everything to follow which is based on the established context is suspect because the context was never established in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Continued from above. . . .

All scriptural references to a rod you have cited, barring Lehi's rod, are images of a semi-short, weapon-like item (likely a staff--which would fit the shepherding imagery you presented), not a rod of iron that extends "along the bank of the river, and led to the tree." A rod of that length could never be used to smite.

This brings up the question, just how long is the river, the path, and the rod that runs along it? In his description, Lehi says "And I looked to behold from whence it came; and I saw the head thereof a little way off." We know in the dream that it was far enough away that Lehi could only yell and wave at his family to get their attention at the end of it: "(15) And it came to pass that I beckoned unto them; and I also did say unto them with a loud voice that they should come unto me." We also know the distance was great enough that those who caught ahold of it "did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree." It was also long enough to accomodate "multitudes" as in "he saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree." So we know that the rod was short enough that you could see people at the end of it and yell at them to get their attention, but long enough to accomodate a mist of darkness and multitudes passing through that mist (I wonder if they went single-file?).

Also, the description of the mode of travel is telling in the above quotes. Those who caught hold of the rod "did press their way forward" (verses 24 and 30). It is the people in the description who are acting; there is no action on the part of the rod--it is static. Your theory that the rod could "pull them toward the tree of life if they would but grab the end and hold on" just doesn't fit the text and I'm not sure that clinging to your theory of a "moving walkway" rod is working to your benefit.

James Anglin said...

"Straight" is not used near "narrow" in Matthew. Jesus said the gate was "strait" — and if you don't believe me that the two English homonyms are entirely different words, believe Royal Skousen, who distinguishes them at length in the first volume of his magnum opus on Book of Mormon textual variations, starting on page 174. (I thank an anonymous commenter on the previous post for the reference.) The words are of course not homonyms in Greek or Aramaic or Hebrew.

But about translation. Can you have it both ways? Tight divine control to insert language Smith could not have known, and yet also fluent 19th century diction, here and there, because Smith's mind was involved?

Well, if you ask the question earnestly, Jeff — can you really not have it both ways? — perhaps you can, at least conceivably. Maybe the seer stone on which letters appeared miraculously was kind of like Google Translate, which rendered gibberish into comprehensible English, but then Joseph Smith allowed himself to revise the wording — or even to insert whole quotations from the King James Bible — whenever he felt sure that he recognized the intended meaning and knew a better way to put it for the people of his time.

But did Smith really consciously revise things he read on the stone because he felt he could improve on God's prose style? Even for a prophet, that seems a bit bold, especially when he knows himself to be an unlettered farmer who can barely write a letter.

Or did Smith just faithfully record exactly what came to him on his stone, but God flipped back and forth between ancient Egyptian puns and 19th century catchphrases?

Okay, maybe God does just write that way. After all, God created James Joyce. But somehow, I don't know. Isn't this getting a little complicated? We're starting to postulate some pretty odd features in how God handled this revelation. I'd be worried that some of these unfamiliar assumptions might have all sorts of unanticipated implications. Do you really want to go there?

The alternative theory, after all, remains rather simple. Smith was doing his best to sound ancient and Bible-ish, and his best was pretty good, but not perfect. So there are bursts of archaic English, and echoes of Biblical Hebraisms, but the archaisms are overdone a bit, and the diction sometimes slips. To me that's plausible and fits the text pretty well.

Jeff Lindsay said...

James, sorry for the obvious blunder. I corrected that sentence to "Bunyan was not the first to see that Lord's narrow path was also straight, not just strait." The original blunder, forgetting that Matthew 7 had "strait" instead of "straight," is still retained but stricken out.

I'm curious if you've looked at the evidence regarding the word plays, the Hebraisms, the poetry, and the unique non-KJV EModE content, and considered how the DETAILS could be achieved using your technique? How, for example, does trying to sound archaic give us any of the word plays that have recently been discovered and analyzed in the Interpreter? How does it give the word/rod linkage, for example, or the ulam/olam + hekel/great and spacious building ties? How does it give us solid, intense chiasmus?

Jeff Lindsay said...

As for the translation technique, it is a matter of record that many grammatical changes were made to clarify things that seemed like errors. Waving the "rent" of Moroni's garment in the air was changed to waving the "rent part" of the garment. The original was bad English, but good Hebrew. Looks like the translation came out rather tightly there. Why? We aren't sure. Perhaps to leave a trace of its origins. But why is much of the English EModE with a pre-KJV flavor, not derivable from just imitating KJV? We don't know. We are in the process of examining the data and seeing where it leads. Was there a pre-translation prepared by someone fluent in EModE? Is it there as latent evidence to be found in a time of need that the translation process is more miraculous than we realized? In any case, the EMoDE flavor is free of the really hard to understand vocabulary in EModE and seems to be nicely designed to be both scriptural in flavor yet generally straightforward for modern readers. Explaining the text as just Joseph trying to sound archaic explains very little of the details. We're dealing with data, not vague perceptions. The data is fascinating and needs to be considered.

Anonymous said...

Two critical pieces that are missing in the EmodE argument are 1) the proof that its use was intentional and 2) the reason for its use--to what end was it used? Otherwise all we are doing is identifying interesting, non-standard grammatical and verbal usages that also happened to be used in a time period of English history in which there was no standard. As you pointed out, EmodE usages in the BoM are not consistent with EmodE language, as the bulk of the text is moden enough to be easily understood by today's readers.

James Anglin said...

Thanks for the correction on strait/straight, Jeff. I acknowledge that it was never an important part of what you're saying, so no real damage was done to your point.

I'm afraid my feeling about the word plays, and even the chiasmus, is that they're all adequately explained by a combination of trying to imitate the KJV (and overdoing it in some ways), and reading stuff into the Book of Mormon, using the great range of possibilities that are afforded by choosing what kind of wordplay to discover.

I haven't done the experiment. But have any Mormon apologists done it, either? The experiment I mean is to look for Hebrew and Egyptian word play in a text that doesn't really have any Hebrew or Egyptian roots. Maybe take something written in old-fashioned English, to raise the rate of Old Testament echoing. There's really an awful lot of freedom for finding parallels.

There's a lot of freedom just from the mere fact that you don't have to find a nice word play in any given word of the Book of Mormon text, but are free to search through a longer passage until you find something. Then, after looking through the English text to find the most promising candidate word, you can look through all the several possible Hebrew originals for that English word, and then for each of those you can search for the most plausible Hebrew pun. The kind of pun involved is very flexible; if you're starting with "rod", for instance, you can aim for an association with almost anything that is in any sense powerful. It also really helps that Hebrew spelling doesn't pack etymology into weird phonetics the way English does with words like "strait" and "straight". In fact you can even ignore all the vowels. And then if Hebrew still doesn't pan out, you can try again with Egyptian. To produce a text in which Hebraisms and ancient-language wordplays could not be found might require divine inspiration.

Then there are other kinds of parallel to attempt, besides puns. Finding a parallel between the Jewish Temple and the geographical layout of Lehi's dream is nice, for example; but if that hadn't worked, you know you could have tried quite a few other things. Maybe the landscape of Jerusalem. Or of the New Jerusalem from Revelation. Or the map of Israel. Or some Book of Mormon geography. Or something from some otherwise obscure bit of ancient mythology. Or, if you're really hard pressed, then, heck: anything right up to about 1750 — as long as Joseph Smith could never have known it.

If an independent investigator had picked out the idea of any such a parallel and written it down in advance, and then you had gone and found it in the Book of Mormon, then that might have been quite impressive. But that's not what happens, here. Instead Mormon apologists search hard for parallels, and trumpet the ones that they find. That's the Texas Sharpshooter, striking again.

James Anglin said...

Do the precise details of Book of Mormon language really need explaining?

If the Book is inspired Scripture, then perhaps they do. If God went to all that trouble through all those miraculous centuries to construct the text just as it is, then any weird features it has might repay close investigation. One should look hard at the data.

If the Book of Mormon was just made up by Smith, though, then its peculiar grammar and vocabulary would just be the haphazard result of amateur imitation of archaic style. There wouldn't be anything to explain. There would be nothing to see in the data but noise.

If you're used to being sure that the Book of Mormon is something important, then the amateur imitation theory may be a shocking disappointment. Instead of a rich banquet of speculation about ghost translators and ancient wordplay, the amateur imitation theory pretty much sends you out the door with a piece of cheese on a cracker. There you go. Yum.

It feels insubstantial. But that's how it is when viewpoints differ. When the other person is ignoring something in your focus, they seem insubstantial; and when they focus on something you want to ignore, they seem perverse.

Anonymous said...

I realize this is just the comment section of a blog, James, but your amateur imitation theory doesn't hold water anymore. You see, before the era of large digital databases, critics such as yourself were relatively free to make uninformed and inaccurate comments about the language of the BofM and not be called out on it. That was because virtually no one could counter the misinformation as it was too difficult to find. That era is over. You're going to have to up your game in this regard. You're going to have to work much harder in order to substantiate assertions.

For example, we now find some of the "amateurish" grammar of the BofM in Bibles that preceded the KJB, such as in the Bishops' Bible, the Geneva Bible, the Great Bible, Tyndale's translations. Quite interesting. When you find "bad grammar" in Bibles, who dares call it bad grammar anymore? The ideologically dug in, I guess.

And virtually all the rest of the questionable grammar is found in the earlier writings of many different authors. Skousen provides hundreds of data points if you're interested in informing yourself. The sheer volume of matching with earlier usage statistically overwhelms any sharpshooter argument you'd like to make.

Anonymous said...

Match the grammar, usage, spelling, etc. with EmodE, and you have an argument. Just because a modern text happens to have bad grammar and word choice that was also present in a time in the history of the English language when there were no standard grammar and usage rules doesn't mean anything other than both are unacceptable according to modern English rules. I provided two examples of "EmodE" usage from two of the BoM witnesses a couple of posts back. One from Martin Harris:

"I do say that the angel did show me the plates containing the Book of Mormon."

And one from John Whitmer:

“I now say I handled those plates. There was fine engravings on both sides. I handled them.”

Both have instances of EmodE usage according to Skousen's definitions. Does that mean they were channeling 16th century language?

James Anglin said...

@Anonymous 7:47:

I'm afraid you seem to be a few pages behind in this story. The amateurishness of imitation to which I refer has nothing to do with Book of Mormon grammar being bad. It's about it being pre-King-James-Bible grammar.

Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack have a sort of hit playing now among Mormon apologists, with their claims that the Book of Mormon's English is too old-fashioned for Smith to have uttered it. In effect it is they, and not I, who are calling the Book's grammar "bad" for its own time. They're not making a defense against critical arguments about bad grammar, but a positive argument for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. They want to prove that no-one from Joseph Smith's own time could possibly have written the Book of Mormon. Their argument leaves open the question of why a translation of ancient texts that was revealed in 1830 should have been written (partly) in the language of 1650. That issue is still under discussion.

My point about amateurish imitation is that I think Skousen and Carmack have misapplied their linguistic dating tools, which do not actually address the question of fraud, because these techniques are based on assuming that a text is written in the dialect of its time and place. I'm saying that an amateurish effort to imitate the old-fashioned language of the King James Bible would naturally tend to overdo the most archaic elements, in a way that would show up in linguistic dating analysis as pre-King-James grammar.

If Skousen or Carmack thinks he can address this possibility with statistical analysis, I'll be interested. I expect that in principle the question could be addressed by more detailed analysis that would compare a fraud model to actual English from the time period that fits the Book of Mormon best. So far everyone seems merely to have ignored this issue.

Vance said...

James, your test is wrong: You suggest that we pick random Hebrew and Egyptian and shoehorn it in to archaic sounding stuff.

Except how could Joseph have done that? It matters not if I can, but how could Joseph? He could barely read and write English, let alone have a genius level command of Hebrew and Egyptian in 1829 that would be necessary to pull this off. And since the first Egyptian Grammar was published after Compillion's death in 1832.... if Joseph had an expert working knowledge of Egyptian in order to create all these puns and so forth; well that is more miraculous than the angel story.

So here's an example of where your test breaks down: can we take a word and find an ancient counterpart? Let's try, say, a word from Mosiah 9: 9, the word "sheum." According to the verse, it was a plant that they tilled the ground with, along with wheat and other things.

Now, let's see. Hebrew? Nope. Egyptian? Nope. Made up word? Possibly! Let's try... Akkadian. Well, what do you know. Akkadians grew a grain they called "Sheum." Probably some form of barley. So clearly Joseph, using his vast knowledge of Akkadian (really?) plopped a perfectly good ancient Akkadian word into the Book of Mormon, in context and with the correct definition. There's even an easy explanation why they were using Akkadian: The Brother of Jared's group came from Akkadian, and probably passed the name down through the ages. Minor detail: no one could read ancient Akkadian until 1857. I'm sure you can explain how Joseph got that one right, James? It's one thing to make up words in your made up story. It's another to properly use your made up word appropriately and with the correct meaning, and be proven right almost 30 years later.

Here's another: I actually play Warcraft III sometimes; and in their Egyptian inspired names, they have a name "Nephi." And I'm pretty sure they didn't copy the Book of Mormon. Nephi and variations are thoroughly Egyptian. 1) Why would Joseph use Egyptian at all in his Hebrew names (why not call Nephi Joshua or something Hebraic?) and 2) exactly how did he get such an Egyptian, appropriate name in 1829?

And so forth. These are not guesses and lucky "well, it sounds like it so maybe there's a connection" like you posit Joseph did. These are actual, literal bullseyes that Joseph or anyone else could not possibly have known.

James Anglin said...

Um, Vance. The idea about chance associations of ancient words is precisely not that Smith put them into the text. The idea is that they aren't really there at all. It's only that if you look far enough afield for a wordplay, you can always find one.

Your "sheum" is such a good example of this that I really thought you might be trolling to make Mormon apologetics look bad. You crawled all over the barn until you found the bullet hole, way up in the Akkadian corner. Then you painted the bullseye. As a matter of fact, if you google sheum, you'll find that the "perfect match" with Akkadian was an error in transliterating Akkadian that was corrected in 1990.

Why on Earth are you so sure that the World of Warcraft didn't copy the Book of Mormon? I used to play fantasy games myself, and I can tell that I got so hard-pressed for good-sounding names that I would steal from anything whatever.

Everything Before Us said...


Joseph could read just fine. He owned many books in this lifetime. Many. And he donated these books to libraries throughout his lifetime. The library records still exist. They reveal that Smith owned many very curious volumes, some even occultic in nature. If you remember your primary lessons well enough, you'll remember that he was reading the Bible (James 1) before he walked into the grove of trees.

It is funny how Mormons need Joseph Smith to be a country bumpkin and an illiterate in order to make their church look true. Islam makes the same claims for Mohammed.

Everything Before Us said...

Vance, you should check out what the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, found at BYU's Harold B. Lee Library website has to say about Sheum. You'll probably be disheartened to find that one of Mormonism's most distinguished academic institutions even says that Sheum is most likely not of Near Eastern origin. And it can't refer to wheat or barley, because in the same passage in which sheum appears, wheat and barley are already mentioned.

Anonymous said...

Two questions Vance's post raised for me.

1)If Nephi is truly an Egyptian name, I wonder how likely it would be for a Hebrew, who are historically famous for being culturally insular, to name his child with an Egyptian name?

2) I think this one may be a good idea for a future post, Jeff. We know cultures can be a bit crazy about their own language and scripture (sometimes together,sometimes not). The Bible was only available in Latin for centuries. The French have language police. I wonder how likely it is, and if there's historical precedece, for a Hebrew to record what he feels is scripture in a language other than Hebrew? This is an honest question that I don't know the answer to.

Everything Before Us said...

Egypt was a symbol to the Hebrew people of their past bondage. To the righteous, Egypt was a symbol of false priesthood, as is seen in the "duels" between Moses's miracles and the Pharoah's priests' "miracles." Egypt is also a symbol of the learning of the occult sciences. Egypt was a hotbed of Gnosticism (an occultic tradition) in the primitive church.

So, no...I seriously doubt a righteous God-fearing Hebrew would give his child an Egyptian name.

The fact that Joseph Smith was obsessed with Egypt is very telling. The fact that Hugh Nibley was obsessed with Egypt is very telling. Egypt is a cultural-political-spiritual symbol of false priesthood and counterfeit religion. The Israelites were brought out of Egypt. The Christ child was also delivered from Egypt.

This is all very metaphorical. "Egypt" is a symbol for what we must flee from in order to be brought into our promised land and into our eternal rest. "Egypt" is a symbol of works-based, esoteric spiritual paths with secret knowledge that is given out only to the worthy, based on their worthiness.

True salvation, however, is available to all, in a moment, through Christ.

Anonymous said...

James, there are texts contemporary with the BofM, pseudo-biblical writings, that are an excellent control for testing whether the BofM was a similar effort or whether it surpassed them in its usage of earlier English and biblical language. The analysis is data-driven. We expect that JS would have done no better than these authors who knew the Bible as well or better than JS and were better educated than Smith was in 1829.

First, pseudo's use modern did syntax, the BofM uses 16c did syntax (recall Carmack's paper where these texts are compared). It is a closer match with the KJB than pseudo's in its syntactic distribution, but still very different in rate and individual verb use, which matches the eModE period quite well.

Second, the BofM uses a wider variety of command syntax found in the KJB than pseudo's do. It has all the forms of the KJB, and then some. Pseudo's have a very limited form of command syntax (see Carmack's article and Jeff's blog posting on this).

Third, the BofM uses a much wider variety of causative syntax -- some found in the KJB, all of it found in earlier English -- than pseudo's do.

Fourth, the BofM expertly employs {-th} plural inflection which is found in earlier English, discussed by Lass (1999) and Barber (1997), and barely found or not found in the KJB and not found in pseudo's (see Carmack's article).

Fifth, the BofM uses "more part" language more than any text since Holinshed's Chronicles (1577). Barely found and different in the KJB, not found in pseudo's (see Carmack's paper on this).

Sixth, the BofM uses plural mights more than any text since Malory's Morte d'Arthur. Not in the KJB or in pseudo's. Similar to Malory but distinct in its use, mostly noncontextual, with one instance like Spenser.

Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. . . .

The above is a beginning. The list is long. In this case the "big list" actually says something: the BofM is consistently old in its usage patterns, and pseudo's lag far behind in their sophistication and matching of early English, against expectation.

Everything Before Us said...

Anon 10:07


Wonderful linguistic analysis. But why?

Why would a book that was miraculously brought forth to all the earth to convince Jew and Gentile (the vast majority of which do not speak English)that Jesus is the Christ, be so rooted in an antiquated form of English?

What value would there be in a translation that reflects a form of the target language that no one speaks anymore?

And if there is any value in it, what happens to that value when the book is then translated into French, German, Japanese, Russian, and the native language of the dispersed 19th Century Lamanite peoples? (Remember...one of the book's primary responsibility is to restore to the Lamanite people a knowledge of their forefathers.)

I don't care how much early Modern English is in the translation. I will accept whatever your data tells us about this.

But what is so special about it, considering the purpose of the Book of Mormon? How does this EModE support and advance that purpose?

James Anglin said...

Just what are these contemporary pseudo-Biblical texts? I wasn't aware that this was a hot genre in Joseph Smith's time. If it was, that's another potentially dangerous angle on the Book of Mormon. Anyway, without knowing anything about these other texts, it's hard to tell how representative they would be of general efforts at imitating archaism. If the other authors really were significantly better educated than Smith, for example, this would lead one to guess that they'd be less amateurish in their King James imitation, and hence less apparently over-archaic.

Anonymous said...


Give me a break about your presumptions about Egypt.

For someone that doesn't believe in priesthood, you sure do give it a lot of weight in your post.

Jews took refuge in Egypt after the destruction of the Kingdom of Judah in 597 BC.

Jesus wasn't delivered from Egypt, but Joseph to flight with Mary and Jesus into Egypt to escape Herod.

Coptic (the language spoken in ancient Egypt) is an Afroasiatic language along with Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, etc so a name coming from Coptic could very well have roots in the other languages so not a stretch to have a name with Coptic roots.


Anonymous said...

Contemporary pseudo-biblical texts are fairly well-known by now, James. You may read about them in Eran Shalev's fine treatment in "Written in the Style of Antiquity": Pseudo-Biblicism and the Early American Republic, 1770-1830. Church History, Vol. 79, No. 4 (DECEMBER 2010), pp. 800-826.

And there we have it, folks. James Anglin's comprehensive take on the BofM:

If the BofM had been under-archaic in comparison with pseudo-biblical writings, then that would have meant that JS failed in an attempt to imitate King James style. If the BofM had been just as archaic as pseudo-biblicals, then that would have meant that JS was the author of the BofM just like various pseudo-biblical writers were the authors of their respective texts. And because he has determined that the BofM is over-archaic, then that means that JS was quite amateurish in his King James imitation.

Yes indeed -- James, who is under-informed, knows that the BofM is over-archaic in its usage.

Vance said...

I would like to point out that James's dismissal of Sheum and Nephi as authentic names under the "well, of course there would be bullseyes if Joseph was trying to sound ancient--he could hardly miss having them!" is a neat trick to totally eliminate any possibility of evidence of authenticity.

Consider a hypothetical find of a document, clearly dated around, say 200 BC or AD. Another cave of scrolls, say. One of the documents mentions an ancient prophet named Zenos (rather, "Zns" since no vowels) that had an apparently well known discourse involving Olive trees. James would dismiss it: "Well, of course there's a Jewish prophet named Zenos or Zinas; common enough! And Olives were ubiquitous, so why wouldn't this Zinas fellow talk about olives? It's practically to be expected to find it! In fact, I'd be surprised if every name in the Book of Mormon isn't perfectly correct, because how could it not be? Anyone fraudulently writing so-called 'ancient scripture' can't help but be proven "correct" every time they turn around! "

Isn't that your argument, James? Your dismissal of Sheum as a "Of course it's there; it would have to be! Ancient languages are just pouporri that we can find anything we want, and in fact cannot help but find so called evidence!"

James, EBU is an apostate who is willfully blind, and determined to always find the worst possible interpretation. He's anti-mormon; so that is to be expected. Just as I'm sure the priests of Baal promoted lies and distortions about Jehovah and Elijah, I expect the same treatment from EBU, and in much the same spirit.

But you are alleged to be honestly searching for the truth; and have not made your mind up. Yet you keep making a priori declarations that would suggest otherwise--that you really are here not to seek the truth but rather to be a more subtle EBU. Is that the case or not? If you were honestly searching for the truth, you would not immediately rule out all evidences for the Book of Mormon as illegitimate.

Everything Before Us said...


Joseph Smith ripped off the Bible when he wrote his "olive tree" chapter in Jacob. He combined two parts of the Bible, one that discussed a vineyard where grapes are grown (Isaiah 5) and one that discussed the nurturing of olive trees (Romans 11).

Unfortunately, Smith was a little groggy that day, because olive trees do not grow in vineyards.

This is one clear example of Smith's bungling of Biblical passages.

I don't promote lies about Jehovah, like the Priests of Baal. Mormons promote lies about Jehovah, claiming that he is the Son, and NOT the Father. However, that doctrine wasn't taught in the church until the early 1900's. Before that, Jehovah was taught to be the Father, and Jesus was the Son of Jehovah.

So many people were confused about the identity of Jehovah, (Brigham Young preaching that Adam was God the Father didn't help matters, either), that the First Presidency asked James Talmage to write down a doctrine that he had been developing in which Jehovah was Jesus Christ. Talmage obliged, and thus, the doctrine of the identity of Jehovah was born.

If Jehovah is Jesus, then the One God the Jews worshipped was not the Father.

"Thus saith Jehovah the King of Israel, and his redeemer the Jehovah of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no Elohim" (Isaiah 44:6).

Go check out the original Hebrew of that verse above. You'll see that my insertion of "Jehovah" and "Elohim" is correct.

If there is no God beside Jehovah, Vance... then who is this God Elohim that you worship?

Trust me, Vance...your church has you so confused over this issue about Elohim and Jehovah, it is really sad.

I think you need to do some research. Start reading your Bible.

James Anglin said...

@Anonymous 3:53:

Once again, the claim that the language of the Book of Mormon is more archaic than the King James Bible is not my claim. It's the emphatically stated claim of the good Mormon scholars Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack. They advance this claim as an argument in favor of the Book of Mormon's authenticity. I, on the other hand, make no claim to be super-informed about the Book of Mormon. I just think about the posts and comments here. This is a blog, not a for-credit seminar.

I often participate in discussions of topic about which other people know a lot more than I do. I never hesitate to say when I think something doesn't make sense. The response I'm used to getting from that, when people really do know a lot more than me, is along the lines of, "Oh, right — it doesn't sound sensible, unless you know X. The gist of X is ... . We think X is true because Y." Brush-off answers that do more sneering than explaining, on the other hand, are associated in my mind with people who don't actually know all that much themselves, but who really want their favorite conclusions to go unquestioned.

James Anglin said...

Shalev's article seems to be paywalled, though I could maybe get it from him directly through ResearchGate. Is it going to be worth the effort? Does Shalev's article analyze different dialectical features of these eight mostly short works in pseudo-Biblical style, apart from the Book of Mormon, that were written between 1744 and 1854? Or does it mainly discuss their content?

In any case the list of pseudo-Biblical works is not actually very long, and none of its works is anywhere close to the length of the Book of Mormon. Is this really enough data identify a stylistic signature of fake archaism? Especially when the other authors were much more educated than Joseph Smith?

I do know that some quantitative comparisons have been done with this data. For example, I don't want to advertise anti-Mormon sites here, but I have seen critical analysis claiming that the frequencies of several uncommon non-Biblical word combinations in the Book of Mormon are much closer to the frequencies of the same expressions in Hunt's Late War than they are to the frequencies of these expressions in other works. Looking closely at the data may indicate that the Book of Mormon's style wasn't just copied from the King James Bible, but it may also suggest that its style was copied from other sources instead.

James Anglin said...


So I have a neat trick to eliminate the possibility of evidence of authenticity. Let me point out another way of looking at this.

Suppose someone offers me evidence for a miraculous prophecy, but their supposed evidence consists literally of seeing shapes in the clouds. I point out that this whole kind of evidence is inherently fluffy, because anyone can see whatever shapes they like in the clouds. Should I be impressed if this cloud-based prophet retorts that I am using a neat trick to eliminate the possibility of evidence for their prophecy?

Some kinds of argument are just inherently weak, especially in relation to the heavy burden of evidence that they are supposed to support. Arguing that the Book of Mormon must have been miraculously translated from ancient plates that were delivered by an angel, because the Book of Mormon mentions "sheum" as a food plant and you can find an Akkadian word for some kind of grain that involves "s" and "m", is an inherently weak kind of argument. No argument along these lines is going to be convincing to a neutral observer, because no argument along these lines should be convincing to a neutral observer.

Anonymous said...

James, Shalev isn't a linguist and doesn't discuss the form of the texts very much. He likes Snowden's book the most (1793). He also mentions Hunt, Linning, Leacock as authors, and a much earlier one from the 1740s.

James wrote: "Once again, the claim that the language of the Book of Mormon is more archaic than the King James Bible is not my claim. It's the emphatically stated claim of the good Mormon scholars Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack."

That's not accurate. As stated, you're under-informed. You don't take the time to inform yourself adequately. I understand that this is a vast, detailed topic. You really have to be into language to get a good picture of things. Skousen has said and written that he thinks the vocabulary of the BofM is found textually from 1540 to 1740. The 1611 KJB has a lot of language from the 1530s because of Tyndale and Coverdale. Its vocabulary is, on average, older than the BofM's. The BofM also has a lot of language that can be found in the writings of authors from the 17c. Both Skousen and Carmack give examples from the entire span of the eModE period (from Caxton to the beginning of the 18c).

As a concrete example, "its" usage in the BofM (40 of them) corresponds mainly to the 17c. The KJB has more than 900 thereofs (the BofM has 160), corresponding to 16c usage. It has only one "its", in Leviticus ("its own"). (That 2-gram is a good way to search for it and not come up with false positives.) "Its own" is barely found in the 16c. So obviously, the BofM is a younger text in terms of "its" usage, but it's still eModE in character (20% its). Hunt's pseudo-biblical text is 15% its, Snowden's is 2.5% its, Linning's is 31%, Leacock's is 0% its (28 thereofs). Not much should be made of these numbers, and its and thereof are not synonyms. (That's one of the problems with prior wherefore analyses on the BofM. Wherefore and therefore aren't perfect synonyms. Often they're synonymous, but sometimes they're not.) Thereof usage is a simple way to sound biblical, one that most could do to a certain extent.

Because the BofM is a revealed text, and the Lord did the translation or had it done, the Lord could choose from centuries of expression, and did. (Note that AoF 8's "translated correctly" is OED def. 1a, as is JS's meaning of his translating the BofM; the chief current sense of "translate" is OED def. 2a, 'rendering into another language'.) Aggressively stated, the odds of a divinely revealed text are one in a trillion. (Sharpshooter odds are negligible, one in a thousand or so, if we expansively assume that one of a thousand forms of English could be stipulated by apologists.) Conservatively stated, the odds of JS formulating the BofM out of his own language, biblically influenced, are one in a trillion trillion, clearly beyond divine odds and crushing sharpshooter odds. I'm out. Cheers.

Everything Before Us said...

Anon 8:21


Wonderful linguistic analysis. But why?

Why would a book that was miraculously brought forth to all the earth to convince Jew and Gentile (the vast majority of which do not speak English)that Jesus is the Christ, be so rooted in an antiquated form of English?

What value would there be in a translation that reflects a form of the target language that no one speaks anymore?

And if there is any value in it, what happens to that value when the book is then translated into French, German, Japanese, Russian, and the native language of the dispersed 19th Century Lamanite peoples? (Remember...one of the book's primary responsibility is to restore to the Lamanite people a knowledge of their forefathers.)

I don't care how much early Modern English is in the translation. I will accept whatever your data tells us about this.

But what is so special about it, considering the purpose of the Book of Mormon? How does this EModE support and advance that purpose?

Vance said...

Well, EBU: I will answer your question about your translation when you answer this: According to your argument, you've just eliminated Jesus and the Holy Ghost as divine. If Jehovah is the Father... then how is His Son divine, and what about the Holy Ghost? Only One God, see, and according to you, that God is not Jesus.

I'll confess to a bit of confusion, though, here. I thought pretty much all Christians equate Jesus and Jehovah--that is the main complaint against Jehovah's Witnesses by Protestants, after all (Jehovah's Witnesses preach the same thing you just did). Are you on board with them?

I don't think you can claim that we Mormon's are all anti-Bible for believing that Jesus and Jehovah are the same being by claiming that there is only one God, God the Father who is Jehovah... for that means you are denying the divinity of Jesus. Good luck reconciling THAT view with the whole Bible. That's your landmine to navigate, not mine. The doctrine of the Trinity does not help you here; you cannot claim some view of the Trinity to include Jesus in the concept of Jehovah as the One God and at the same time complain that we Mormons are all wrong if we say Jehovah is Jesus. The only way your complaint makes sense is by rejecting the divinity of Christ and the Holy Ghost.

Which, now that I think about your past conversations, makes total sense: you've argued that Jesus is not necessary for salvation before (when I asked about how did faithful Jews who never heard of Jesus could go to heaven, you stated it was not necessary for them to believe in Christ). So Jesus really, in your view, is mostly irrelevant and not necessary for salvation. No wonder you don't believe He is God. And I don't think you've ever acknowledged the role of the Holy Ghost either, or stated what He does. Again, irrelevant. Right?

James, with all due respect, that's nonsense. Linguistic evidence is important. If I wrote a story set somewhere and put in a few german words, and some of my story members came from German lands.... and later on, it was found that indeed these german words were in fact German: Isn't that kind of important? Especially if German was only translated after I wrote my book? How is that "irrelevant?" Still, I agree: akkadian appears to be a one-off. How about the heavy Egyptian stuff, written before Egyptian was translated? How is that "weak evidence?" The book points out that Lehi was familiar with Egyptian, and that is likely why he used an Egyptian name for Nephi. The Jews had great ties with Egypt during this time... consider the temple at Elephantine. This, of course, explains why Lehi knew he could offer sacrifices outside of Jerusalem (a common "Mistake" that critics charged Joseph with, until said temple at Elephantine in Egypt was found. That attack has disappeared. Funny, that. Amazing how many attacks have just gone away as evidence has conclusively proven the Book of Mormon correct in these areas.)

Everything Before Us said...

Well, EBU: I will answer your question about your translation when you answer this: According to your argument, you've just eliminated Jesus and the Holy Ghost as divine. If Jehovah is the Father... then how is His Son divine, and what about the Holy Ghost? Only One God, see, and according to you, that God is not Jesus.

I did not say I believe that Jehovah is only the Father. Jehovah is the name of God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit).

There is only one God. The Bible teaches this. The Book of Mormon is very clear about this (Alma 11). If the Jews worshiped Jehovah as the one God, then where does that leave the Father?

All Christians do equate Jehovah with Jesus. Because Jesus is God. The Father is God. Jesus is God. The Holy Spirit is God. But there are not three Gods. There is one God, who exists eternally as three persons, Father, Son, Spirit. The name of this God is Jehovah.

It is Mormons who separate them out, and call only Jesus "Jehovah." But they only started doing this officially around 1916. Before then, Jehovah was considered to be the Father.

Jehovah's Witnesses are more in line with Mormonism than with Christianity. They believe in One God. But that One God is ONLY the Father.

I don't deny the divinity of Jesus, Vance. You are really confused here.

You deny the full divinity of Jesus, because those who are not able to enjoy the full presence of deity in the next life will be in the Terrestrial Kingdom, where they can enjoy the presence of Jesus. So, clearly, in Mormon doctrine, Jesus can't be fully divine, or else those in the Terr. King. wouldn't be able to abide his presence.

The doctrine of the Trinity does not help you here; you cannot claim some view of the Trinity to include Jesus in the concept of Jehovah as the One God and at the same time complain that we Mormons are all wrong if we say Jehovah is Jesus. The only way your complaint makes sense is by rejecting the divinity of Christ and the Holy Ghost.

I am not saying Mormons are wrong to call Jesus "Jehovah." Mormons are wrong to say that God the Father is not Jehovah.

Again. I don't reject the divinity of Christ or the Holy Spirit. Mormons do. Or else they believe that there isn't just one God, but three Gods.

Unknown said...

EBU, you know you are confused. We Mormons follow the Bible, which shows One God, in three persons. Distinct, separate persons. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Most clearly demonstrated at Jesus' baptism, but all through the Bible. Jesus prays to His Father, a separate person. He says that the Holy Ghost will come later, but not now because He (Jesus) is with them at the moment. The Holy Ghost is distinct. Jesus said that His Father was greater than Him, which doctrine you directly reject (and said rejection is one of the great causes of the Apostasy).

Mormons in no way deny the full divinity of Christ with the concept of the terrestrial Kingdom--that's an absurd argument. Jesus is not going to live in the terrestrial Kingdom; He will just visit. Did Moses die when He went into the presence of God on the Mount? Of course not. Was Mary able to abide Jesus' presence after He was resurrected? How about for those 40 days where the Resurrected, fully glorified Lord taught His apostles and church members? When Paul heard Jesus talking to him on the road to Damascus; did Paul die? Not at all. Could we abide Jesus' presence? Not His full presence, but His limited one? Certainly. The LDS church never, ever claims that Jesus dwells in the terrestrial Kingdom--He visits it, just as He visited earth. Your argument is seriously asinine, and you should be ashamed to have even made it, because you know better, EBU.

I note that the Book of Mormon clearly demonstrates that Jesus and the Father are distinct individuals, just as the New Testament does. God the Father introduces His Son to the Nephites in Bountiful. Jesus prays to His Father; and acknowledges that the people pray to Him because He is with them at that moment.

They are One God, but they are Three people, united as One. The Old Testament is admittedly sometimes confused on this subject, but nevertheless refers to Elohim as divine as well as Jehovah; and sometimes rolls them both into the same Person. This is appropriate, because They act as One, speak as One, and yet are distinct, and thus sometimes you can refer to Them collectively and sometimes Individually-- as Jesus does, and the rest of the Prophets. When "Thus sayeth the Lord" is used, it's usually not important who of the Three issues the statement (indeed, usually it is the Holy Ghost who is relaying the message to the prophet); it is Their collective voice. But when it comes time to talk about Their distinct roles--God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Testator-- then it is important to separate Them out.

Everything Before Us said...


I think you are confused about what the doctrine of the Trinity actually states. You think that by pointing out that the Father and Jesus manifested separately at baptism that you are refuting Trinitarianism. You are actually refuting Modalism.

Most Mormons do not understand the subtle distinctions between the two.

One God in Three Persons is the Trinity. Trinitarians believe that the Father is not the Son is not the Holy Spirit. They are three persons. But all are fully the one God.

Elohim is the generic Hebrew word for "God." It is used to refer to false gods and it is used to refer to the One God. Elohim is not the proper name of a person.

Whether Jesus visits or permanently resides in the Terrestrial Kingdom is not the issue. The issue is that the people in the Terrestrial Kingdom can abide in His presence. However, they cannot abide in the Father's presence. So how exactly are the Father and the Son both fully God?

Anonymous said...

Seems like every discussion between EBU and Vance follows the same trajectory into the weeds and off topic. To preempt the latter discussion, I read this the other day in the BoM and thought of their typical conversation (Alma 25:15-16):

15 Yea, and they did keep the law of Moses; for it was expedient that they should keep the law of Moses as yet, for it was not all fulfilled. But notwithstanding the law of Moses, they did look forward to the coming of Christ, considering that the law of Moses was a type of his coming, and believing that they must keep those outward performances until the time that he should be revealed unto them.

16 Now they did not suppose that salvation came by the law of Moses. . .

James Anglin said...

Vance, it's not "linguistic evidence" to hunt through Middle Eastern languages and eras, and through the Book of Mormon, until you can find a couple of consonants that line up.

Nor does it seem to be linguistic evidence to declare "Nephi" an Egyptian name. The Wikipedia entry on "Etymology of Nephi" lists five non-Egyptian sources, of which at least three would have been readily available to Joseph Smith, before mentioning that John Gee suggested that Nephi might come from the Egyptian Nfr, and Hugh Nibley thought it could be related to Nehri (which I guess he somehow figured was an Egyptian name). This is once again hunting until you line up a few consonants.

Egyptian had a lot of words, you know, and evidently they are all fair game. They were all written without vowels, and apparently it's acceptable to match only some of the consonants. If you can't claim an Egyptian antecedent for a Book of Mormon name by those rules, you're just not trying. My point is not nonsense at all: this kind of "linguistic evidence" is inherently weak and unpersuasive.

Anonymous said...

That's the beauty of the "Reformed Egyptian" concept. It's a language no one has heard of that is supposed to have roots in real Egyptian. Add to that the concept of writing Hebrew with the language and you've opened up all sorts of possibilities. If it doesn't fit the Hebrew model, then we'll just use the Egyptian one. Doesn't fit either? Well there are other cultures in the area where the word probably came from. It's a large sandbox with virtually endless possibilities. Add to that the fact that it was translated into an archaic form of English on purpose and for no reason, and you've added a whole new layer to what's possible.