Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Parallels with The Leaves of Grass: More Insights

Many thanks to Ben McGuire not only for his painstaking rebuttal of the “Late Great War Against the Book of Mormon,” but also for responding to my inquiries about statistics of various texts. He kindly ran some analysis on Leaves of Grass (using the text at Gutenberg.org) and the Book of Mormon, since I have previously pointed to Leaves of Grass as a superior albeit impossible candidate for plagiarism compared to the sources critics have been offering as smoking guns. I was hoping that the techniques used by critics to promote The Late War as the ultimate best modern source for Book of Mormon plagiarism would make the Leaves of Grass look even better, but my hopes were not quite fulfilled. Naturally, there is a huge difference in style that will result in far fewer four-word matches in Whitman’s writing because he was NOT writing in redundant scriptural style with Elizabethan English, but was writing fresh, modern poetry loaded with fresh and original phrasing and built of a huge vocabulary.  But the statistics are still interesting.

Here is what Ben reported from his analysis:

Word Count:
BoM: 269,551
LoG: 126,543

BoM: 5,638 (very small for a book its size)
LoG: 12,399 (huge for a book its size)
Shared Vocabulary: 3,054 (marginally higher than expected - this probably helps account for some of your similarities)

Unique three-word Locutions
BoM: 141,342
LoG: 113,608
Shared three-word Locutions: 3,846

Unique four-word Locutions:
BoM: 202,830
LoG: 123,470
Shared four-word Locutions: 609

Of those 609 occurrences, 360 of them are had in common with the KJV [leaving 249 four-word locutions shared between Whitman and the Book of Mormon that are not also in the KJV].

Interestingly enough, only 206 four-word parallels show up between Whitman and The Late War. This in itself wasn't as fascinating as the other issue – of those 206, zero were in common with the KJV. This is actually a fairly startling since Whitman has 1,243 parallels in common with the KJV – The Late War had 2,341 four-word phrases in common with the KJV – but it was trying to imitate that text. So that is certainly an oddity.

These are highly interesting, but The Great War has even more four-word and higher count shared locutions, which is really not surprising since it’s using Elizabethan English.

Ben impressed me with his careful commentary and observations. Instead, let me add mine, which are slightly more tongue-in-cheek, to illustrate some of the dangers of looking too hard for things that aren’t there. Here we go:

How curious that Whitman’s unique, modern poetic style would give so much in common with the Book of Mormon. Is that just due to chance? Well, sure, the Mormon apologist might say. But look at what we have.

Amazingly, 3,054 of the Book of Mormon’s 5,638 unique words are found in the Leaves of Grass. That’s well over half the text! These words aren’t all just randomly scattered, but often occur in lengthy phrases shared between the two texts. There are 609 four-word phrases shared by Leaves of Grass and the Book of Mormon!  If we exclude phrases also found in the Bible (KJV), there are still 206 shared four-word phrases, which is remarkable when one considers that Whitman was not writing in Elizabethan English and was not trying to imitate the Bible. Had he done so, the number would be much higher.

Of course, the parallels become much higher when one examines the text directly, as we will do in a moment. The computerized method might miss plain connections due to changes in spelling, poetic tweaks of word (til versus until, etc.) and the differences between KJV language and Whitman’s modern English (start changing “has” to “hath” and so forth, and watch the stats pile up in favor of Walt).

I then asked Ben about phrases with even more shared words. Here is what he found:

five words: 74 entries

of _the_women_and_children

six words: 7 occurrences


And of course, you need to look at the remarkable 7-word occurrence I report in my Leaves of Grass essay, though it was not found by his computer program.

Now one can begin to see how Joseph composed the Book of Mormon. As he was writing, he recognized that he needed a chunk of text, maybe 3, 4, 5, or 6 words long to complete a sentence or something. So naturally, he opened up a text, perhaps the Leaves of Grass, or some other text as he wished, and snatched a handy phrase like “them and I will make” or “see that the word of”. Rinse, lather, repeat, over and over. Tedious, I know, and perhaps harder than ordinary plagiarism, but remember, when it comes to plagiarism, Joseph may have had some kind of supernatural gift. Let’s grant him that much.

But that only accounts for chunks of text. How about the story line?

We can better appreciate the power of chance (?) parallels in works like that of Whitman by analyzing the text directly, rather than relying on a computer to sift out random matching phrases with a statisticians sieve.  I have done this to some degree in my previous work, but allow me to provide some new material where we take a passage or two and show how the art of parallel finding (also known as parallel creating) can be done. I will leave it to the reader to determine if this represents the kind of thing that can simply occur by chance, coupled with creative twisting of the text to create the illusion of plagiarism, or if, in fact, Joseph Smith plagiarized from Walt Whitman’s 1855 Leaves of Grass, perhaps aided by a bit of time travel or other miraculous means. First we turn to Book III, Song of Myself, and look at Section 33. This was selected rather casually because it was one of several passages using the word "ball," but, not surprisingly, there was much more:

  Space and Time! now I see it is true, what I guess'd at, . . .  as I walk'd the beach under the paling stars of the morning.

  My ties and ballasts leave me, my elbows rest in sea-gaps,
  I skirt sierras, my palms cover continents,
  I am afoot with my vision.

Here is a reference to a journey on foot, walking to a beach (that of Bountiful) in a trek that will reach a new continent, led by a vision. It is in the morning when Lehi will find the ball, as hinted at with the word ballasts.

  By the city's quadrangular houses—in log huts, camping with lumber-men,
  Along the ruts of the turnpike, along the dry gulch and rivulet bed, . . . crossing savannas, trailing in forests,
  Prospecting, gold-digging, girdling the trees of a new purchase,
  Scorch'd ankle-deep by the hot sand, hauling my boat down the
      shallow river, . . .

They live in tents (huts) and camp as they march across the Arabian Peninsula, ably described as “along the dry gulch and rivulet bed, . . . crossing savannas.” They are experienced metallurgists, as many LDS scholars have noted, here able to prospect and dig for gold and other ores, as Nephi does. Then, after traveling across hot sand, they come to the “trees of a new purchase,” a new, beautiful place where Nephi will soon be able to make and haul his boat, “my boat,” down the shallow river or lagoon at Wadi Sayq, as Mormon scholars have noted. In other words, they have come to Bountiful. It is a beautiful, wonderful place with water, meadows, honey, and so forth, as Nephi noted and as Whitman more ably wrote when he described that place:

Where the black bear is searching for roots or honey, where the
      beaver pats the mud with his paddle-shaped tall;
  Over the growing sugar, over the yellow-flower'd cotton plant, over
      the rice in its low moist field, . . .
  Over the white and brown buckwheat, a hummer and buzzer there with
      the rest,
  Over the dusky green of the rye as it ripples and shades in the breeze;
  Scaling mountains, pulling myself cautiously up, holding on by low
      scragged limbs,
  Walking the path worn in the grass and beat through the leaves of the brush,
  Where the quail is whistling betwixt the woods and the wheat-lot,
  Where the bat flies in the Seventh-month eve, where the great
      goldbug drops through the dark,
  Where the brook puts out of the roots of the old tree and flows to
      the meadow,
  Where cattle stand and shake away flies with the tremulous
      shuddering of their hides, . . .
Where the pear-shaped balloon is floating aloft,

Yes, Bountiful is beautiful, and has a mountain that Nephi will scale. It has water, trees, paths, honey, vegetation, and, again, a reference to a mystical ball/balloon.  Then, of course, comes the time to embark in a boat and travel across the waters on unknown currents:

  Where the steam-ship trails hind-ways its long pennant of smoke,
  Where the fin of the shark cuts like a black chip out of the water,
  Where the half-burn'd brig is riding on unknown currents,
  Where shells grow to her slimy deck, where the dead are corrupting below;
  Where the dense-starr'd flag is borne at the head of the regiments,

Lehi was nearly brought to death on the ship, and was about to be sent below to a watery grave. Whitman’s idea, of course. And to where are they sailing as they ride on unknown currents to a new continent? Of, course, it’s the New World, as Whitman next describes, a place where they will discover, of course, the horse. But on the way, there is trouble as Nephi’s brothers engage in dancing, laughter, and drinking:

  Approaching Manhattan up by the long-stretching island,
  Under Niagara, the cataract falling like a veil over my countenance,
  Upon a door-step, upon the horse-block of hard wood outside,
  Upon the race-course, or enjoying picnics or jigs or a good game of
  At he-festivals, with blackguard gibes, ironical license,
      bull-dances, drinking, laughter,
  At the cider-mill tasting the sweets of the brown mash, sucking the
      juice through a straw,
And again, a subtle reference to a ball, which plays a role both in crossing the dessert and in sailing to the New World. Next Whitman recalls the death and burial of Ishmael back at the ancient burial place in the Old World, known to Mormon scholars today as Nahom or Nehem:

  Where burial coaches enter the arch'd gates of a cemetery, . . .

Whitman backtracks at this point and provides Joseph with the inspiration for the First Vision, where the words of a preacher at a camp meeting stir him to look for truth, to look toward heaven, and then to be visited by two divine Friends:

  Pleas'd with the earnest words of the sweating Methodist preacher,
      impress'd seriously at the camp-meeting;
  Looking in at the shop-windows of Broadway the whole forenoon,
      flatting the flesh of my nose on the thick plate glass,
  Wandering the same afternoon with my face turn'd up to the clouds,
      or down a lane or along the beach,
  My right and left arms round the sides of two friends, and I in the middle; . . .

Next we return to Nephi, who faces constant opposition and dickering from his brothers and their families (truly a fickle crowd) as they sail to adventure, aiming for an unknown port in the New World.  The problem with his brothers is so bad that Nephi struggles with hatred for his enemies and feels alone, lost in thought, as he writes in 2 Nephi 4. Whitman put it all this way:

  Voyaging to every port to dicker and adventure,
  Hurrying with the modern crowd as eager and fickle as any,
  Hot toward one I hate, ready in my madness to knife him,
  Solitary at midnight in my back yard, my thoughts gone from me a long while,

Whitman’s next words again recall Nephi’s journey in the Old World, the day and night travel across long roads. This takes us back to the beginning--something of a chiasmus, I suppose, and also recalling the magnitude of his overall journey. Then finally, plainly, he mentions a spectacular, celestial ball, here likened to a heavenly “fire-ball” associated with travel, and a sphere that helps him see vast numbers (quintillions!) of other things (is this the Urim and Thummin as well?):

  Walking the old hills of Judaea with the beautiful gentle God by my side,
  Speeding through space, speeding through heaven and the stars,
  Speeding amid the seven satellites and the broad ring, and the
      diameter of eighty thousand miles,
  Speeding with tail'd meteors, throwing fire-balls like the rest,
  Carrying the crescent child that carries its own full mother in its belly,
  Storming, enjoying, planning, loving, cautioning,
  Backing and filling, appearing and disappearing,
  I tread day and night such roads.

  I visit the orchards of spheres and look at the product,
  And look at quintillions ripen'd and look at quintillions green.

  I fly those flights of a fluid and swallowing soul,
  My course runs below the soundings of plummets.

  I help myself to material and immaterial,
  No guard can shut me off, no law prevent me.

  I anchor my ship for a little while only,
  My messengers continually cruise away or bring their returns to me.

  I go hunting polar furs and the seal, leaping chasms with a
      pike-pointed staff, clinging to topples of brittle and blue. . . .

Balls, spheres, and a pointed staff – the spindles within the ball, of course. It is the famed Liahona. The messengers are the angels who have visited or helped Nephi, and of course, he is the hunter who provides food for the group in their travels. There is much, much more in this section. But let us look ahead, still in Chapter 33, and note some parallels to the military sections of the Book of Mormon, including battles, weaponry, forts, entrenchments, damage and repair of defenses, wounded soldiers, use of materials like stone, wood and iron- - these parallels to the Book of Mormon are extraordinary (perhaps even the name Amalickiah or Amulon is found in “ambulanza”):

  I am an old artillerist, I tell of my fort's bombardment,
  I am there again.

  Again the long roll of the drummers,
  Again the attacking cannon, mortars,
  Again to my listening ears the cannon responsive.

  I take part, I see and hear the whole,
  The cries, curses, roar, the plaudits for well-aim'd shots,
  The ambulanza slowly passing trailing its red drip,
  Workmen searching after damages, making indispensable repairs,
  The fall of grenades through the rent roof, the fan-shaped explosion,
  The whizz of limbs, heads, stone, wood, iron, high in the air.

  Again gurgles the mouth of my dying general, he furiously waves
      with his hand,
  He gasps through the clot Mind not me—mind—the entrenchments.

Whitman ends this chapter much as the Book of Mormon ends, with a terrible war of destruction and the tragic death of a great general, General Mormon himself. From the journey across the desert and Nephi’s walk that began in Judea with the aid of God, to the sailing to the New World and the wars and chaos of later centuries, down to the final tragic death of the great Nephite general, a few pages of Whitman has it all. This is the kind of density of parallels that is sorely missing in the purported smoking guns offered by previous scholars trying to explain the origins of the Book of Mormon. Whitman, as I have shown, provides a much more sensible match. And as a bonus, he prefigures the whole concept for the First Vision. Defenders will offer the pathetic excuse that “Leaves of Grass came long after the Book of Mormon and is an ‘impossible source.’ The parallels simply illustrate what chance can do when two people discuss related broad topics.”

Those apologists always manage to come up with some kind of convenient excuse, don’t they?

To add to their argument, the apologists may protest that while Chapter 33 of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass may have a few strong parallels to war stories and the Liahona in the Book of Mormon, it still does nothing to explain things such as Book of Mormon name “Alma” nor the many stories of the Book of Alma such as the hundreds of young stripling warriors of Alma 53, the marching of prisoners of war, the ability of young soldiers to take many times their number in enemy lives with their matchless use of weapons, the use of defensive breastworks on key fortifications, rites of surrender, and the giving up of arms. Yes, I must admit they are right, Whitman’s brief Section 33 in "Song of Myself" does not offer obvious parallels for all of these points to meet the unreasonable demands of apologists. For that, we must turn the page to the even briefer Section 34, where in the opening lines we immediately see further inspiration for much of what is in the Book of Alma, or, shall we say, the Book of Alamo?

Now I tell what I knew in Texas in my early youth,
  (I tell not the fall of Alamo,
  Not one escaped to tell the fall of Alamo,
  The hundred and fifty are dumb yet at Alamo,)
  'Tis the tale of the murder in cold blood of four hundred and twelve young men.

  Retreating they had form'd in a hollow square with their baggage for breastworks,
  Nine hundred lives out of the surrounding enemies, nine times their
      number, was the price they took in advance,
  Their colonel was wounded and their ammunition gone,
  They treated for an honorable capitulation, receiv'd writing and
      seal, gave up their arms and march'd back prisoners of war.

  They were the glory of the race of rangers,
  Matchless with horse, rifle, song, supper, courtship,
  Large, turbulent, generous, handsome, proud, and affectionate,
  Bearded, sunburnt, drest in the free costume of hunters,
  Not a single one over thirty years of age.

Those stripling warriors of Whitman were matchless with rifles, just as Whitman is matchless when it comes to smoking guns. Hey, that looks like Hebraic parallelism that just fell from my lips. See how easy it is to forge scripture when you’ve got Whitman for inspiration? And when you’ve got a touch of imagination, a bit of persistence, and the kind of curious, furious faith that enables one or drives one to see very big things that probably are not there.

Whitman, of course, does nothing to explain the origins of the Book of Mormon, though I feel it does it much better than The Late War


Bookslinger said...

Jeff, Isn't the English of the KJV better described as "Jacobean English" rather than "Elizabethan English" ?

According to Wiki,

The Elizabethan era was 1558 to 1603.
The Jacobean era was 1603 to 1625.
The KJV was published in 1611.

Bookslinger said...

Well, on a closer reading, the Wiki article does lump the Elizabethan era and the Jacobean (King James) era under the heading of "Early Modern English".

Jeff Lindsay said...

Good question, Bookslinger. But as long as people understand there is a different flavor of English in the era of the Bible that is being followed to some degree in the Book of Mormon and in The Late War, that should suffice.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Another source to consider is the poem Soohrab, published in 1814 in Calcutta, which could easily have made it to New York by 1827. The published text mentions "curious devices" of gold (p. 72), a "standard worked with curious art" (p. 106), and on page 50, there is reference to a ball and two portions of a cut spear (spindles??), weapons, armor, etc. And then most startling, we find the word "stripling" several times, including--hold your breath--the full phrase "stripling warrior" not just one, not just twice, but three times! There are many more parallels, of course. Of course!